Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed
In the quietness of this place and the peace of this hour,
may we come close to our deeper selves.
Fantasies and daydreams too often cloud our minds,
and we use our time and energy pursuing empty goals.
In busy-ness we lose our way.
Let us listen to the deep insistent call within us.
May we learn to love our poor fragmented selves
that they may be healed.
And may we turn that love outwards,
that it might heal the wounds which hate and fear have made.
Let us not be deceived about ourselves or about our world,
so that we neither crash in disillusion nor be twisted by cynicism.
If truth and clear vision be granted us, then let us give thanks.
May we stand face to face with ourselves,
recognising that which is truly ours,
and that which is the imposition of others.
And as we do, may we feel the love which unites us all in the depths of our being.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.05 am on Sunday morning) words by Paul Stephan Dodenhoff)
For this one hour, Spirit of Life
we let go.
For this one hour,
may we let go of our anxieties,
our petty grievances,
and our distractions.
If only for this one hour,
let the flame of this chalice
burn them from our hearts and minds
and light our way to peace and serenity.
For this one holy hour.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
in this not quite yet post-Covid world,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Reading from Unitarians Together in Diversity by Sue Woolley
Other people used Advent as “a time for withdrawing into myself for the winter season, and the coming of a more reflective season”. One called it a “time of quiet and being inwardly reflective, while at the same time being open to the dawning of new light”. Another saw it as “a time to deepen into the darkness and focus on inner work, while anticipating the return of the light at the rebirth of the sun”. One person described a personal practice during Advent: “It is a time to work through darkness to light, to experience each week peace, joy, hope and love with candles, and use the time to once again examine ourselves… It is a waiting, preparation time to be used slowly, not in the rush that is usually Christmas.”
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust.
Reading 5 December St Sabas (439-532) from 365 saints: your daily guide to the wisdom and wonder of their lives by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker
Much of our world is flooded with noise pollution. In the classic Dr Seuss story, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the Grinch hated the Whos for all of their celebration, but the one thing he hated the most was, “the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!”
For most of us, our days (and our nights) are filled with noise. Silence is something we rarely, if ever, experience. While becoming a noise-hating Grinch shouldn’t be our goal, we all need some silence for our souls.
St Sabas loved silence. Perhaps he treasured it so much because he had so little of it as a child. His father and mother left him in the care of an aunt and uncle when he was very young. The aunt was so cruel, he ran away to another uncle when he was eight. This uncle and the first one then got into a series of law suits and discord over who should have the money from the Sabas’s estates. The friction (and noise!) was so upsetting to St Sabas, he ran away again to a monastery, where he could finally find the peace and quiet he wanted.
Sometime soon, find a quiet place where you can let the quiet rush over your being like a healing balm – a place where, along with Robert Browning, you can allow “silent silver lights and darks undreamed of… hush and bless [you] with silence.”
Prayer by St Teresa of Avila (adapted)
Today may there be peace within.
May we trust that we are exactly where we are meant to be.
May we not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in ourselves and others.
May we use the gifts that we have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to us
May we be content with ourselves just the way we are.
Let this knowledge settle into our bones, and allow
our souls the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
May it be so, Amen
Reading by Paul H. Beattie
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I remember many things too easily forgotten: the purity of early love; the maturity of unselfish love that seeks nothing but another’s good; the idealism that has persisted through all the tempest of life.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I find a quiet assurance, an inner peace, in the core of my being. It can face the doubt, the loneliness, the anxiety — it can accept these harsh realities and can even grow because of these challenges to my essential being.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I can sense my basic humanity, and then I know that all men and women are my brothers and sisters. Nothing but my own fear and distrust can separate me from the love of friends. If I can trust others, accept them, enjoy them, then my life shall surely be richer and more full. If I can accept others, this will help them to be more truly themselves and they will be more able to accept me.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I know how much life has given me: the history of the race, friends and family, the opportunity to work, the chance to build myself. Then wells within me the urge to live more abundantly, with greater trust and joy, with more profound seriousness and earnest striving, and yet more calmly at the heart of life.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Richard S. Gilbert)
In the midst of the whirling day,
In the hectic rush to be doing,
In the frantic pace of life,
Pause here for a moment.
Catch your breath;
Relax your body;
Loosen your grip on life.
Consider that our lives are always unfinished business;
Imagine that the picture of our being is never complete;
Allow your life to be a work in progress.
Do not hurry to mould the masterpiece;
Do not rush to finish the picture;
Do not be impatient to complete the drawing.
From beckoning birth to dawning death we are in process,
And always there is more to be done.
Do not let the incompleteness weigh on your spirit;
Do not despair that imperfection marks your every day;
Do not fear that we are still in the making.
Let us instead be grateful that the world is still to be created;
Let us give thanks that we can be more than we are;
Let us celebrate the power of the incomplete;
For life is always unfinished business.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address The Peace of Silence
I was looking through my little book of 365 saints this morning, to find a theme for this week’s service and was delighted to find that today, 5th December, is dedicated to St Sabas, who sought peace in the silence of the desert, where he set up his first monastery in the Kidron Valley, south of Jerusalem, in 484 BCE. The monks under his guidance lived solitary lives in individual huts, only coming together for church services.
Then I remembered that some of my survey respondents thought the season of Advent, now upon us, is a time of stillness and reflection, as we saw in our first reading, “a waiting, preparation time to be used slowly” in the lead up to Christmas. Doesn’t that sound good? But as most of us know, the inner peace that stillness and silence can bring can be one of the most difficult things to attain, and even harder to hold on to.
Yet our souls cry out for it. Go into any bookshop and visit the ‘Mind and Spirit’ section. You will find the shelves groaning with titles like The Little Book of Calm or Chicken Soup for the Soul or De-stress your life in 30 days (I made the last one up, but I’m sure that such a title exists). And there are videos and podcasts we can watch and listen to, to teach ourselves meditation or yoga or Pilates to enable us to relax and find some peace in our lives.
As a Unitarian, I believe that there has to be a God-element or spiritual element as well. I love the words of one of our more modern hymns, by John Andrew Storey:
“I sent my soul some truth to win; my soul returned these words to tell: “Look not beyond, but turn within, For I myself am heaven and hell.
And as my thoughts were gently led, half-held beliefs were seen as true; I heard, as, new, words Jesus said: “My friend, God’s kingdom lies in you.”
Now though I labour, as I must, to build the kingdom yet to be, I know my hopes will turn to dust, if first it is not built in me”
Martin Luther King Jnr once said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” In other words, if we do not have inner peace, we will not be able to achieve lasting outer peace. Many wise ones, from widely different eras, say the same. Many centuries ago, Lao Tse recognised that for there to be peace in the world, there must first be peace in the heart. And the oft-quoted opening lines of 20th century poet Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata also urge this course of action: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
As usual, the Quakers have got it spot on: number 3 of their Advices and Queries asks us, “Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God’s guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God.”
Inner peace is so important. We’re not supposed to live our lives at top speed. Every person needs to have some time to centre down, to be at peace, to recharge their emotional and spiritual batteries. Being a person of faith has taught me the truth of this.
Because there are times when being busy, busy, busy just gets too much. The thought crosses our minds, “Stop the World! I want to get off!” But it won’t stop, so we need to consciously make the effort to schedule some time to step off the treadmill. It may take a little creative selfishness to realise that we are quite entitled to do this, and quite a bit of planning to reschedule our activities and find a free time-slot, but it can be done. It doesn’t have to be a long time, this time of stillness and reflection, even ten minutes can be enough, although most would recommend twenty.
What we do in this time of stillness and reflection will depend on the individual. We might choose to meditate or pray or simply go for a walk with no fixed destination in mind. There is no right or wrong way to do this. The ideal for me is to follow the Quaker advice and “find a way into the silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength”, although I find it very hard to stop my mind buzzing round and around, flitting from concern to concern. But if I do manage it, (which doesn’t happen every day) it really helps. And I know that the days when I skip this practice, I am not as balanced, more easily stressed out.
I have a meditation app on my phone, called Headspace. It is run by an ex-Buddhist monk called Andy Puddicombe and it has taught me a lot about how to meditate. One of the concepts he mentions is the “Blue Sky”, which is also a metaphor used by Martin Laird in his wonderful book, Into the Silent Land. Laird writes that our thoughts and feelings are like the weather, but that there is something deeper within, which is not affected by changes in that weather, that is deep, and luminous, and aware. Laird refers to it as a mountain, Mount Zion. Which is “that of God” deep within each of us.
This was illustrated memorably for me one day when I was driving home from Evesham. Most of the sky was covered with thick black rainclouds, but there was a gap between them, through which a patch of clear blue sky could be seen. Seeing that bright blue sky behind those menacing clouds helped me to understand that although our thoughts, moods and feelings may change from day to day, or even from moment to moment, there is a deep, peaceful sky-blue awareness behind and above them, into which we can sink, if we just have the patience to sit in silence for a while and let our passing emotions do just that – pass by. It is not easy by any means – the chattering monkeys will come through loud and clear, the inner video is always there, ready to seduce our attention away. But fleeting moments of peace are possible, and the knowledge that this deeper, calmer centre is there within us, accessible through silence, may help us in our everyday lives. It surely helps me.
One way of encouraging our awareness of the possibility of inner peace is simple yet profound – mindful breathing. Paying attention to the miracle that is our breath, that keeps us alive from moment to moment without our being aware of it. I was looking through some old Inquirers the other day and found a fascinating article by Peter Hawkins, which was talking about borders, which he referred to as “the spaces between places, between roles and between times.” His argument was that we all need a breathing space between activities so that we can finish off one thing properly before starting on the next. He recommended instituting a brief “spiritual practice”, which he defined as “a ritual to fully finish one event and empty myself before I cross the boundary into the next event.” This could be something as simple as taking a couple of deep breaths while focussing on your breathing. I thought that this was a really interesting idea. Breathing space.
The practices of mindful breathing and silence can help us to see things from a balanced perspective. When we are rushing around all day it can be difficult to see things as they really are – if we are sufficiently stressed out, everything that happens can be viewed as yet another source of irritation, from the phone ringing to the postman knocking. This is not only unfair on the rest of the world, it is also unfair on us.
I know it can be tempting to wind ourselves tighter and tighter in an effort to stay on top of things, but that way lies madness. Nothing or nobody is supposed to be under tension the whole time, and eventually something will snap, which could have been avoided by taking a little time out and seeing things clearly. Once again this is easier said than done, but we can always ask for help – from God or from other people.
Seeing clearly can also help us to understand that we are not responsible for everything, and this is the last point I’d like to make this morning. Nobody is Superman, or Superwoman, it is not an admission of failure to ask for help, or to admit that something is outside our control. Anyone (everyone) can only do their best in all the ways they can, then commend the result to God. Again it’s about finding a sense of perspective – realising that each of us is only one person and that the world is wide. I don’t mean that we should not strive to do our very best, just that having done that we should be satisfied and at peace.
May we all find our own inner peace in breathing and silence.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we find the time in this busy season
to rediscover the peace that
can come from silence and rest.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley