Stranger than Fiction: Online Service for Sunday 27th February 2022


Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats


Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light.

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half light,

I would spread my cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


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 Cliff Reed


We light our chalice

to celebrate our heritage of light:

the light of science and of art,

the light of story and of poem,

the light of nature and of reason,

the inner light of spirit and of truth.


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 has not yet gone away,

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 Writing the Popular Novel by Loren D. Estleman


Fiction… should be better than life, or it has no business being here in the first place.

… “Better than life” in this context refers to the natural human craving for sense and order, and the responsibility of the writer to satisfy it.


The world cries out for editing. Life is chaotic and absurd, and people are imperfect, unpredictable creatures. There are no beginnings or endings in nature. One episode not only leads to another, but often runs parallel or perpendicular to it, while incidents with the potential to be dramatic and fascinating have an exasperating habit of petering out, their promise unfulfilled and whatever lessons they might contain obscured by their own ambiguity. As intelligent adults, we accept this situation because we’re resigned to the wisdom that we can’t change it. When it becomes too much to endure, we turn from it to a world that offers reason and delivers closure. This is why reading is so often described as “escape.” Simply stated, we expect fiction to make sense because life does not.


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 Words, words, words Thought for Today 18th February 2022 (adapted)


Words! They are all around us! We see them. We use them. Harsh words, soothing words, biting words; words that give pain and sorrow; words that give joy and pleasure. They are vital to communication. When words are spoken there are reactions, negative or positive. Either thoughts are triggered or emotions fired or actions performed.



Words colour our behaviour. And how lovely it is to hear words that are calm and free from rancour and aggression. To hear words that lift the soul and leave it with renewed vigour. Such words are the sparks of purity.



It is important to remember that our speech indicates what is in our minds. As the thinking, so the words uttered. Mental calmness makes our words calm. A pure mind makes for pure words. It is said that speech may exalt someone to kingship or send him to the gallows.


We should never let ourselves indulge in false, bitter and vicious speech. Our words should reflect our true, inner nature, that of purity and peace. Words, once spoken, can never be recalled. They reverberate all around, beyond our control. Today, as we utter words, what effect will they have on those who hear them? Will they be the words that are poisonous and cause pain? Or will our tongues be like that of the nightingale, sweet and so very soothing and lovely to the ear?


Prayer For the Wordsmiths by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth


Divine Word, who speaks in us for our re-creation and salvation,

we give thanks for the wordsmiths whom your gift of words has inspired.

For those who reveal to us the secrets and strivings of their souls,

that we might better understand and nurture our own.

For the poets whose words move, delight, and challenge us,

weaving webs in which are captured wonder, joy and pain.

For the storytellers, bards and skalds, the novelists, playwrights and scriptwriters,

who transport us to other worlds that we might better understand our own.

For those who bring to us the arcane mysteries of science in words that we can comprehend,

and help us in our striving to understand the universe.

For those who bring us news from our tumultuous world,

the information with which to make our choices and our judgements.

For those whose skill is to translate the words of others,

reversing the Babel curse and restoring the wholeness that was lost.

Divine Word… we give thanks for all the honest, healing wordsmiths of the world.



Reading Imagination by John Mellor


Imagination is the ability to dream dreams, to visualise concepts and new ideas; to be creative, to have a thought and visualise it in a tangible way. It is the ability to simply suppose!

It is a fundamental part of human life
– a positive thought process and a source of inspiration.

Imagination came spontaneously to us as children, but we have been taught rationalism is to be desired above imagination. We need to acknowledge the importance of thinking and experiencing images…

The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope. Our belief is stimulated by our imagination.

The gift of imagination can release in us a whole flood of ideas, giving us the ability to look beyond our own situation, to extend our understanding and help us to discover the new. Jesus excelled in the use of imagination. A grain of mustard seed, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan, to name just a few.

It is through imagination that we form our pictures of God. It is a precious gift and this imagination helps us to reach out to a God who is ultimately beyond our reason and our understanding, but who on the other hand is as close and near to us as the very air we breathe…


Time of Stillness and Reflection Transcendental Thoughts by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)


When we look at the world, there is that within us which orders the world, not simply observing it; an intuitive sense that transcends and comprehends the multiplicity we experience.


When we look at a physical object – be it a table, a planet, or a human being – we see its dimensions, its shape, its material properties; but in doing so, we sense that there is a lot more to it than that!


When we explore the natural world, the human world, the infinite deeps of space, or the infinitesimal minutiae of quantum physics, we sense and know that we, the explorers, are one with the explored; that the fact of our existence is one with the fact of all existence.


Let us ponder these things in the silence… [silence]


When we talk of God, we talk of that which flows between our own being and all being, immanent in both, transcendent in both, connecting both.


May we know this in our hearts. Amen


Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address Stranger than Fiction


It was the American author Mark Twain, who caused one of his characters, Pudd’nhead Wilson, in his book of the same name, to say, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to probability, and truth ain’t.”


Truth is stranger than fiction – how very true this is. I loved the passage in Writing the Popular Novel, which formed our first reading. Loren D. Estleman has the right of it: “The world cries out for editing. Life is chaotic and absurd, and people are imperfect, unpredictable creatures.” To which last I would add, a silent ‘Thank God’.


As a writer myself, it always makes me laugh when a character in a book says something like, “It was incredible.” or “I couldn’t believe my eyes.” When I know full well that whatever unlikely, incredible thing is happening, it is because the author has decided that it will. The difference between real life and fiction is that we have absolutely no control over what happens, either to us, or in the world. But we do have the free will to choose how we respond to it, either skilfully, to use the Buddhist word, or not. Whereas even the most rounded, complex fictional character is doing what they do, thinking what they think, saying what they say, because the person who created them has made it so.


In fiction, the call to adventure is always, always answered, because otherwise, the book or film would be a very short one! Samwise Gamgee reflects on this on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, towards the end of The Two Towers. He says, “I used to think that [adventures] were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting… But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them usually – their paths were laid that way… But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.”


Let me give you an up to date example of authorial manipulation. A couple of Sundays ago (the 13th), the latest episode of Call the Midwife ended on a cliff-hanger: two of the central characters, Dr Turner and Sister Julienne, were involved in a train crash and looked as though they wouldn’t survive. But last Sunday, we found out that both of them did. Phew! In most fictional works (with the possible exception of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones) the central characters will tend to win through in the end. Because we, as readers, find this so much more satisfying. The main character will be changed at the end of the book or the film, but they will survive in some form. As Loren D. Estleman explains, “When [real life] becomes too much to endure, we turn from it to a world that offers reason and delivers closure. This is why reading is so often described as “escape.” Simply stated, we expect fiction to make sense because life does not.”


Nevertheless, we are reasoning creatures, who use words to attempt to make some kind of sense of our world, which is far untidier and more chaotic than fictional ones. Which is why the words we use, whether they are in speech or in writing, are so important. Because of the impact they may have on those who hear or read them.


Which is why the message of our second reading, the Thought for Today, is so important.  Given the huge impact that reading other people’s words can have, I believe that all writers, whom Cliff Reed calls ‘wordsmiths’, and speakers, have a responsibility to be careful about the words they write and say. Because words have power. They can paint a picture in a reader’s or listener’s mind, influence them for good or ill, or even to rush off and change their lives. So it is vital that we who make our livings through words are careful about what we write, what we share. And I don’t mean only authors of fiction. I also mean journalists, non-fiction writers, storytellers, teachers, lecturers, even ministers and other worship leaders. We always need to bear in mind the influence that our words might have on the reader or listener.


This is also true in conversation, for everyone. And doubly true when posting on social media. The saying I learned in the playground, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, is the most inaccurate maxim I have ever heard. Bones mend, bruises heal, but harsh words, teasing words, belittling words, words filled with hate, can leave scars that never heal. They have a real and very evil power. Even when the person saying them thinks they are doing it in jest, or are unaware of the power of what they are saying.


Another saying from my childhood, often quoted by my mother, was, “If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” And I’ve seen a quote about right speech, “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?” attributed to the Buddha. I googled it just now and found a fascinating article on a blog called Fake Buddha Quotes. The author gave a genuine quote, translated from the Vaca Sutta, written in Pali, by Thanissaro Buddha, which is even better, if not as snappy, as the fake quote. It reads,


“Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless and unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

  • It is spoken at the right time.
  • It is spoken in truth.
  • It is spoken affectionately.
  • It is spoken beneficially.
  • It is spoken with a mind of goodwill.”


Such words are a power for good.


Coming back to truth being stranger than fiction. This is why our powers of discernment, aided by our imaginations, are so important. As John Mellor wrote in our final reading, imagination is powerful, “giving us the ability to look beyond our own situation, to extend our understanding and help us to discover the new.” But we have to be careful. We have to discern whether the things presented to our imaginations are presented from a place of truth, honesty and kindness, or whether they are shared with malicious intent.


Because, as I said last year, words have power. Words have so much power, especially in conjunction with the human voice. They can be used to encourage, sustain, energise and uplift; or they can be used to arouse hatred, bitterness, despair and all other kinds of bad feelings. On the one side, look at someone like Martin Luther King, and his “I have a dream” speech. On the other, turn on any documentary about World War Two, and listen to Hitler mesmerising his German subjects into going along with policies of vengeful genocide. Or Donald Trump, fomenting ill-will and division with his every Tweet.


Words have so much power. With one word of praise or blame, one human being can build another one up, or fling them into the pit of despair. The human memory has an uncanny knack of remembering words spoken in anger or despite, which can cause people with fragile self-esteem (that is to say, all of us, deep down) to think badly of themselves, whereas words of praise may be shrugged off. How many times have you heard an actor or singer say that they only remember what is said in the bad reviews, even if those are outnumbered ten times by positive ones? I can now attest to the truth of this – the one “bad” review I have on Amazon haunts me… But a friend who is also a published author told me that you’re not a real author until you’ve had a bad review, which cheered me up again. Although why that should be true, I’m not sure.


I also quoted Unitarian minister, Rev Phil Silk, last year. He wrote, “Let us recognise the importance of being careful communicators ourselves; careful to think and feel clearly what we want to say; careful to convey messages in ways appropriate to the intended audience; careful to be honest but not hurtful; wise enough to know when to be silent and when to speak.”


And because we are human beings, rather than fictional characters, we need to take his advice, to ensure that the words we choose to use (because we can choose, unlike those characters) are a power for good, rather than a power for evil. That they build up, rather than breaking down. That they inspire, rather than wounding. Because we live in the real world and truth, although it can often be stranger than fiction, is in our gift. We can choose to be “honest but not hurtful, wise enough to know when to be silent and when to speak.”


May it be so.


Closing Words


Spirit of Life and Love,

Open our hearts and minds

To new words and new insights,

Written or spoken by the many wordsmiths in our lives,

And may we be careful about the words we use ourselves.

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