The Time of Our Lives: Online Service for Sunday 23rd January 2022

Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words by Sophia Lyon Fahs


We pause in reverence before the wonder of life,

the wonder of this moment,

the wonder of being together, so close yet so apart,

each hidden in a secret chamber,

each listening, each trying to speak,

yet none fully understanding,

none fully understood.


We pause in reverence before all intangible things

that eyes see not, nor ears can detect,

that hands can never touch,

that space cannot hold,

and time cannot measure.


Fling wide the windows, O my soul!

The bright beams of morning are warm.


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 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Charles Howe


We light this chalice to affirm that new light is ever waiting

to break through to enlighten our ways,

that new truth is ever waiting

to break through to illumine our minds,

and that new love is ever waiting

to break through to warm our hearts.

May we be open to this light and to the rich possibilities that it brings us.


Opening Prayer


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 world in which Covid again seems to be rampant,

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 In Betweenness by Richard S. Gilbert


We live

in between intervals of gratitude and joy,

in between seasons of contrasting colour,

between floods of brightness, and seas of whiteness.


We live

On a remote island outpost in fathomless space,

Between stars and moons and planets and void,

Surrounded by meteors, comets, rays, and nothingness

In which there is no right or left, up or down –

Only betweenness.


We live

Not quite at the apex of joy,

Nor in the nether region of sorrow,

But in the moving space between,

Uncertain of our location.


We live,

Walking from city of birth to death,

Hoping along the way

To see something of beauty,

To touch hands with those we love,

To give more than we get,

To make some sense of it all.

We live in betweenness.


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. Amen


Reading Celebrate the Interval by Richard S. Gilbert


Life is a brief interval between birth and death,

It is composed of a few notes between Prelude and Postlude,

It is a drama quickly played between the rising and falling of a curtain.


What shall we do with that interval of time?

What combinations of notes shall we play?

What thespian mask shall we wear?


The transience of life tempers our joy,

Discordant notes reverberate in the soul,

The ending of the play is ever in doubt.


Yet the brevity can be rich with joy,

A simple tune caresses our ears,

The play produces laughter from time to time.


Why, then, are we so careless with time?

Why do we not sound the music of our hearts?

Why do we not feel the stage beneath our feet?


Is it not time to enjoy the interval?

Is it not time to play our own melody?

Is it not time for us to act our part?


Life is a brief interval between birth and death.

May we celebrate the interval with joy,

May we sing the song that belongs to us,

May we act as if our very life depended on it.


It does.


Prayer by M. Susan Milnor


Eternal God, Mother and Father, Spirit of Life,

We are grateful for the companionship of hearts and minds

seeking to speak the truth in love.

We are grateful for our heritage, for the women and men before us,

Whose prophetic words and deeds make possible

Our dreams and our insight.

We are grateful for the gift of life itself, mindful that

To respect life means both to celebrate what it is

And to insist on what it can become.

May we always rejoice in life and work to cultivate

A sense of its giftedness,

But may we also heed the call to transformation and growth.

May we find in ourselves the strength to face our adversities,

The integrity to name them, and the vision to overcome them.


May we honour in pride the heroines and heroes of our past,

But may we also keep company with the fallen, the broken and the oppressed,

For in the dazzling of noonday’s heat, and in

The star-studded shimmering of night’s rich blackness,

We are they.



Reading Fancy and Fact by Richard S. Gilbert


Let us learn to play with life,

For we seem to work too hard at it.

Let us learn to sing when we have only spoken,

For the melody casts our words on winds of hope.

Let us learn to enjoy cadences of poetry instead of pages of prose,

For they may be closer to the rhythms of life.

Let us make room for fancy while we give fact a rest.


Let us take more time to build a snowman than to shovel a walk.

Let us lift our face to the heavens

And let the snow caress our eyes and tantalise our tongues,

While we forget its treacheries underfoot.

Let us learn to smile when we are tired with the work we have to do.

Let us laugh when our tensions give rise to anger.

Let us learn to be merciful when we want to be judgemental.


Let us play in the fields of myth and legend,

For news and facts will always be there.

Let us sample the whimsical words of the poets

More than the studied words of the scholars.

Let our thoughts roam in realms of imagination

Rather than linger in quagmires of reality.


May hope find its way into our hearts

Even when our minds tell us there is no hope.

May charity speak to us even when we have nothing to give.

May loving kindness be with us when our store of love is exhausted.

Let it be so for a time, for a season,

And perhaps that season will linger and take hold,

Never to let us go.


Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Richard S. Gilbert, adapted)


Consider the cosmos – an eternal dance of mass, energy, and spirit.

Consider the stars – how gracefully they wheel through space

In perfect rhythm, year by celestial year…


Consider the planets – how they spin and sweep

Always in the same way, never missing a beat,

Their pattern perfect around the mother star…


Consider earth which dances and is danced upon.

Faultless is the rhythm of the seasons,

Majestic the axial pivoting which centres the global dance.

Behold the variety of movement –

Spontaneity in the midst of regularity,

Predictable, yet full of surprise.


Consider people and the dance of life –

The initial impulsive movement,

the naïve grace that succeeds it,

the rich undulation of maturity,

the deliberate grace of old age,

the final rest of death.




We are partners in a cosmic dance.
May our dancing be for joy. Amen


Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address The Time of Our Lives


Putting this service together has been a new experience. I’ve been spending a few days with my best friend in a little village near Kendal in Cumbria and was supposed to be going home on Sunday afternoon (the 16th). But on the Sunday morning, I got a phone call from my dearly beloved, to tell me that the boiler at home has broken and he has no idea when it might be mended (isn’t it weird that these things *always* happen at a weekend or on a Bank Holiday?) At any rate, I was invited to stay in the warmth of my best friend’s house for another 24 hours. Fortunately, I have my laptop with me. So I asked my husband to e-mail me last week’s service (to give me some structure to work to) and here I am.


Of course, I have none of my usual books with me. If my best friend had not been a Unitarian minister, I would have been stuck. I was delighted to find a copy of Richard S. Gilbert’s meditation manual, In the Holy Quiet of This Hour, which gave me the inspiration for this service.


The readings I’ve shared with you this morning each look at the time we spend on this earth – the time of our lives – from a slightly different angle. The first is about our life’s journey, “We live, walking from city of birth to death, hoping along the way to see something of beauty, to touch hands with those we love, to give more than we get, to make some sense of it all. We live in betweenness.”


And the only part of all the “betweenness” that really matters is now. I’ve been reading a lot about living in the present lately and have come to recognise that “now” is the only time that has any significance whatsoever. The past is over, and cannot be changed, and dwelling on it, either with nostalgia or regret, is a waste of time. And the future is something which is coming at a rate of 60 seconds a minute, 60 minutes an hour and 24 hours a day, whether we are looking forward to it, or worrying about it. I concede that it is important to at least do some planning for future events, but not to the extent that we spend all our time longing for some mythical future time, when everything will be wonderful, and we will have all that our hearts desire. Or worrying about some other mythical future time, when we have lost all that gives our lives savour. As Gilbert wrote, all we can do is to hope “along the way to see something of beauty, to touch hands with those we love, to give more than we get, to make some sense of it all.”


All of which we can only do in the present.


The second reading, Celebrate the Interval, uses two gorgeous metaphors, of music and acting, to ask some important questions about how we live our lives. Gilbert asks us, “What shall we do with that interval of time? What combinations of notes shall we play? What thespian mask shall we wear?” Because although we had no choice about being born and will have little choice about when and how we die, we do have some control about the time in between those two events. It is up to us to choose how we live our lives – the combination of notes we will play and the mask (if any) we will wear. These are important questions, which will have an impact not only on our own lives, but on the lives of those around us. Because each time we interact with our world, our attitudes and motives will affect others.


He goes on to ask, “Is it not time to enjoy the interval? Is it not time to play our own melody? Is it not time for us to act our part?” I think that the message here is that each of us is a unique human being, with a unique contribution to make in the world. He prays that we may “celebrate the interval [of our lives] with joy, sing the song that belongs to us [and] act as if our very life depended on it.”


Because of course it does.


But it was the advice Gilbert gives in our final reading, Fancy and Fact, that really spoke to me. The first two lines of the reading summarise it: “Let us learn to play with life, for we seem to work too hard at it.” I know only too well that it is very easy to get bogged down in the latest to-do list, not realising that each day will bring new “to-do” items, so it’s never possible to be done. Which can lead to us running harder and harder to try and keep up, which leaches all the joy and spontaneity from our lives. The German physicist and writer of aphorisms, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg once wrote, “You should never have so much to do, that you never have time to reflect or meditate.”


It is ironic that, the more we love our jobs, the more we see them as a vocation, rather than a job, the less time we seem to make just to do nothing. Do Nothing. Sit. Relax. Simply BE. Yet it is vitally important to “make” that time. Because if we simply carry on beavering away, not looking after ourselves, we will eventually burn out. And then wonder why…


Time for spiritual reflection, time out of our everyday lives, time to simply play and enjoy life, is such an important thing. It brings our lives back into balance, helps us to take a long reflective look at the matters which are concerning us, and hopefully allows us to move back into our lives with lower stress levels.


I honestly believe that it doesn’t matter what form this time out takes, so long as we have the intention to step away from work, from facts, completely. We might curl up in a comfortable chair, allowing our fancy free rein as we bury ourselves in an enthralling story or wonderful poem, or listen to some sublime music, or craft something beautiful with our hands. I do all these regularly and time spent with words and music and creativity brings my life back into balance.


Another of my sure fire routes back into balance is a walk in Salcey Forest. I am so blessed to live so close to it. As I walk, I notice God’s creation all around me – the trees, the bushes, the wildflowers, the birds singing in the trees – so loud and present, but so difficult to spot! And I try to spend 10 to 20 minutes in my bedroom, in front of my shrine, each morning, with my prayer beads. I know from experience that, if I lose the habit for a couple of weeks, (which if I am honest, happens only too easily) I am more wound up, more easily irritated, less relaxed, less able to give myself to others.


Our time out, our connection with fancy, might be attending worship on a Sunday, or a Heart and Soul session in the week, or walking a labyrinth, or reading a spiritual book and doing some quiet lectio divina. Or journaling. Or praying. Or yoga. It doesn’t really matter, so long as we do it, preferably each day.


Our souls will love us for it.


The American motivational speaker and writer, Denis Waitley, has some sound advice for us, which links beautifully with Richard Gilbert’s words. He wrote, “Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.”


“You still have an entire tomorrow.” Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it hopeful? Whatever we have done in the past, each new day is full of new possibilities and new hope. So let us give thanks to God, who has given us Time in which to move and live and hope and dream.


It is now that matters. It is the present that we should be concerned with. Only the present moment is sacred, and whether we are in grief or in joy, in gratitude or in despair, or somewhere in between, we need to pay attention, be present in the present. I find great comfort in the belief that C.S. Lewis explains in The Screwtape Letters – that we will be given the strength to deal with whatever joy or sorrow come our way in the present. But not the strength to cope with worrying about possible future alternatives, most of which will probably not happen.


May we all experience life, moment by moment, understanding the words of Rumi’s poem, The Guesthouse: “Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.” He goes on to say, “Welcome them all.” Let us truly appreciate what we have today, now, this minute, for very little lasts forever.


And let us resolve to spend our precious time more wisely, following Richard Gilbert’s advice, because it is the only way I know to have “the time of our lives.”


“Let us learn to sing when we have only spoken,

For the melody casts our words on winds of hope.

Let us learn to enjoy cadences of poetry instead of pages of prose,

For they may be closer to the rhythms of life.

Let us make room for fancy while we give fact a rest.”

May it be so.


Closing Words by Robert Mabry Doss (adapted)


For all who all who see God,

May God go with us.

For all who embrace life,

May life return our affection.

For all who seek a right path,

May a way be found…

And the courage to take it,

Step by step. Amen


Postlude Lady of Hill by Elizabeth Harley