Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
One hundred and ten years ago this year, Captain Scott’s Antarctic Expedition reached the South Pole. One hundred and ten years ago this month, they died in their lonely tent, a few miles from safety. My service is a tribute to their courage and dedication.
Opening Words by Kirk D. Loadman-Copeland
We are called to gather in worship as a beloved community.
We are called to set aside distractions and anxieties,
that we might touch deeper springs and be renewed.
We are called to seek and to share comfort for the hurts that afflict.
We are called to desire more love, more justice, and life more abundant.
We are called to truth, to mercy, to humility, and to courage.
Let us answer the call with the ‘yes’ of our lives.
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 kindle a light against the darkness.
We affirm hope against despair.
We invoke love against indifference.
come amongst us,
enflame our souls
as we meet in your name.
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,
And the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help 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,
And once again, we pray for the people of Ukraine, using some words by Archbishops Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell
God of peace and justice,
We pray for the people of Ukraine today.
We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons.
We pray for all those who fear for tomorrow,
that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them.
We pray for those with power over war or peace,
for wisdom, discernment and compassion
to guide their decisions.
Above all, we pray for all your precious children, at risk or in fear,
that you would hold and protect them.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Reading Scott of the Antarctic from the BBC History website
Robert Falcon Scott was born on 6 June 1868 in Devonport. He became a naval cadet at the age of 13 and served on a number of Royal Navy ships in the 1880s and 1890s. He attracted the notice of the Royal Geographical Society, which appointed him to command the National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904. The expedition – which included Ernest Shackleton – reached further south than anyone before them and Scott returned to Britain a national hero. He had caught the exploring bug and began to plan an expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole. He spent years raising funds for the trip.
The whaling ship Terra Nova left Cardiff, Wales in June 1910 and the expedition set off from base the following October, with mechanical sledges, ponies and dogs. However, the sledges and ponies could not cope with the conditions and the expedition carried on without them, through appalling weather and increasingly tough terrain. In mid-December, the dog teams turned back, leaving the rest to face the ascent of the Beardmore Glacier and the polar plateau. By January 1912, only five remained: Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans.
On 17th January, they reached the pole, only to find that a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen, had beaten them there. They started the 1,500 km journey back. Evans died in mid-February. By March, Oates was suffering from severe frostbite and, knowing he was holding back his companions, walked out into the freezing conditions never to be seen again. The remaining three men died of starvation and exposure in their tent on 29 March 1912. They were in fact only 20 km from a pre-arranged supply depot.
Eight months later, a search party found the tent, the bodies and Scott’s diary. The bodies were buried under the tent, with a cairn of ice and snow to mark the spot.
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 extract from Captain Scott’s Diary
Wednesday 17th January: We started at 7.30, none of us having slept much after the shock of our discovery. We followed the Norwegian sledge tracks for some way; as far as we make out there are only two men. In about three miles we passed two small cairns. Then the weather overcast, and the tracks being increasingly drifted up and obviously going too far to the West, we decided to make straight for the Pole according to our calculations. At 12.30 Evans had such cold hands we camped for lunch – an excellent ‘week-end one.’ …To-night little Bowers is laying himself out to get sights in terrible difficult circumstances; the wind is blowing hard, T. – 21 degrees, and there is that curious damp, cold feeling in the air which chills one to the bone in no time. We have been descending again, I think, but there looks to be a rise ahead; otherwise there is very little that is different from the awful monotony of past days. Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend to-morrow. …Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it.
Prayer by Virginia P. Knowles
Spirit of creative good, be with us when we are afraid.
Grant us the courage to do what we have to do.
Grant us the peace that passes understanding.
When we fail to find courage, or peace,
May we find compassion for our brothers and sisters who also fail.
May we sometimes win the prizes that we fight for,
And may we then know both pride and compassion.
May we be open to the candor of old age,
And to the freshness of childhood.
May we give good memories.
May we receive good memories.
May we have faith, O God.
Be merciful to us and help us to be merciful
To one another and to ourselves. Amen.
Reading extracts from Captain Scott’s Diary
Friday, March 16 or Saturday 17 – lost track of dates, but think the last correct. Tragedy all along the line. At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn’t go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and we induced him to come on, on the afternoon march. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come.
Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates’ last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not – would not – give up hope till the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning – yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.
Thursday, March 29 – Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.
And then the moving final entry: For God’s sake look after our people.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Spirit of Light and Darkness by Cliff Reed (adapted)
As we gather on this bright morning,
we may forget the darkness in which
our fears take hold; the subconscious
caverns where dwell the things that
trouble our dreams and sometimes
fill our nights with monstrous terrors.
At times, they even break into our
waking hours, robbing us of peace
and confidence, casting shadows
over the light of day. At the root
of our being, something gnaws away
at our faith, our hope, even our love.
But we know that you are with us…
Spirit who dwells in the darkness and
the light, grant us courage.
Help us to understand the hidden things we fear.
Remind us that when we face our mythic beasts,
our demons and our dragons,
the monsters of the id that haunt our shadows,
you are there with us and we need not be afraid.
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Scott of the Antarctic
Like many British children, I was brought up on the story of Scott of the Antarctic and admired the bravery and courage of the Expedition members. Robert Scott and his companions were heroes of their time – brave explorers pushing back the limits of humankind’s knowledge of the Earth.
And yet, the end of the tale was so very sad – Titus Oates’ noble self-sacrifice “I am just going outside and may be some time” always moved me to tears – it was hard to understand how he found the courage to lay down his own life in the hope that without him to slow them up, his friends might be able to reach safety. But the ferocious weather was against them, and they died in their tent, a scant dozen miles away from a supply depot.
I wonder, what it was that kept them going as long as they did – I think it must have been the belief that they were doing something that was worth giving their all to. There is a lovely bit in the Peter Jackson film of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings which reflects this – Sam and Frodo are standing in the ruins of Osgiliath, and Frodo asks Sam what gives him the strength to carry on. Sam replies that it is his belief “that there is some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Most of us will never be in such an extreme situation as Captain Scott and his companions. Nevertheless, all of us will have times when we feel “down” and wonder why we bother to get up in the morning, as there seems to be nothing to look forward to, nothing worth fighting for.
At times such as these, friends are vital. If we can share our troubles with someone who loves us “just the way we are”, the chances are that we will be able to get over the bad patch and realise that yes, life is worth living, and that yes, we do have the courage to face whatever comes our way.
Courage is an interesting concept. Here is a definition by poet and philosopher, David Whyte: “Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public, to show courage; to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade, but a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart.
Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. Whether we stay or whether we go – to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.”
I find this definition fascinating. The definition of outward courage – being brave, doing something “under besieging circumstances” is perhaps the most common understanding of courage in our society today. The image that comes straight away into my mind is that of St George slaying the dragon. Every soldier who goes into battle shows courage. But such deeds are not a part of most of our lives. As I said earlier, most of us will live our whole lives without having to undertake a perilous task, or endure physical dangers.
But inner courage is something we could all do with more of. It is about living wholeheartedly; about standing up for what we believe in. In David Whyte’s words, which I make no apology for repeating, it is “to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to … live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on.”
Above all, courage is the willingness to be vulnerable. As Brené Brown wrote in The Gifts of Imperfection, “Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Because it is often so much easier to Do Nothing. To keep your head down and your mouth shut, and not to stand up and speak out in a difficult situation. Yet I believe we *must* find the courage inside ourselves, to speak out against wrongdoing, to act with integrity, to not stand aside and let those in power get away with doing evil things, because we might put ourselves in the way of trouble.
Because if we don’t, the consequences could be dreadful beyond imagining.
We live in a troubled world. Everywhere we look – on Facebook, in the news – there are stories of ordinary people, people just like us, being deprived of their rights, imprisoned, or denied access to benefits, because of the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender, or their religious faith. Not to mention the dreadful wars going on – the Russian invasion of the Ukraine is an example that is in all our minds and hearts at present.
And that is far from being the only conflict going on in the world right now. The website crisisgroup.org reminds us that, “Battle deaths, after all, tell just a fraction of the story. Yemen’s conflict kills more people, mostly women and young children, due to starvation or preventable disease, than violence. Millions of Ethiopians suffer acute food insecurity because of the country’s civil war. Fighting involving Islamists elsewhere in Africa often doesn’t entail thousands of deaths but drives millions of people from their homes and causes humanitarian devastation.”
Which brings me back to courage, to standing up for what we believe in, to trying to make a difference in our world, here, now. In the Statements of Belief which appear on Unitarian websites, we say things like, “We affirm the universal values of love and compassion, peace, truth, and justice.”
But how are we turning that affirmation into action? How are we making a difference?
Sometimes, courage is just taking the first step. The first step which takes us outside of our comfort zone, moving us from a place of inaction and “walking by on the other side” as the priest and the Levite did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, to a path towards acting from a place of integrity, standing up for what we believe in, speaking out against evil and injustice, wherever and whenever we encounter it.
It involves being in touch with our feelings, our beliefs, feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. It isn’t easy; nothing worthwhile ever is. It involves laying our comfortable lives on the line, being awake to the many injustices in our society, in our daily lives, in the wider world, and daring greatly. Taking a deep breath and being seen and heard. Because it’s worth it. Because we are worth it. It is about saying “yes” to life.
But… sometimes, just sometimes, courage can also be about saying “no”. A while ago, I was invited to take on another role in the Unitarian movement nationally. My first instinct was to say “yes”, particularly as the person doing the asking was somebody I like and respect very much.
But a little voice in the back of my head was saying, “Hang on a minute, let’s think about this.” And I did start to think about the many calls on my time, both paid and unpaid. My ministry, my work for the Worship Studies Course, and my spiritual direction and pastoral work among other things. Not to mention the fact that I will be taking on the role of President of the denomination in April. And also the fact that I have a body and a spirit and a marriage, all of which need nourishing.
And so I said “No, I’m so sorry; I can’t commit to anything else.” It took a lot of courage, as I hate disappointing people. But it was the right thing to do, for me, at this time. I have learned that I need to have the self-respect to look after myself and to ring-fence some “me-time” and some time to spend with Maz, who I really don’t see enough of, even now. But I know that if I had said “yes”, I would have felt resentful and depleted, which would have done no-one any good.
How will you show courage, in the weeks and months to come?
Spirit of Life and Love,
Give us the courage to move out
Of our comfort zones,
To say a wholehearted “yes” to
Making a positive difference in the world.
But let us not forget that we also need
To care for ourselves. Burn out helps no-one.
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