Apologies for no recording this week: I have Covid.
Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
A few weeks ago on Facebook, my friend and colleague, Rev Kate Brady McKenna, asked how folk recognise Spring. And her reflection on the responses, We Have Many Springs, appeared in the 19th February issue of The Inquirer. And tomorrow is the Spring Equinox.
Opening Words The Season of Hope by Cliff Reed
Give thanks for Spring! Here again,
with its promise ever-new,
with its many-yellowed flowers,
its bright songbirds proclaiming
their presence to the world –
a world darkened, as ever, by human folly,
by war and suffering undeserved.
But still, give thanks for Spring,
the season of hope.
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 greet the Spring
and to rejoice in life’s renewal,
pledging ourselves to be good stewards
of this beautiful, blossoming earth.
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 Wade Miller-Knight
Spirit of love within us, and in all people, We pray for the people of Ukraine,
Especially for those fleeing their homes, and those made homeless.
For those defending their homeland against unprovoked aggression,
including those who engage in active non-violent resistance.
And for all who are able to give humanitarian help.
We thank you, Spirit, for the light of Your love
that shines most brightly in Poland,
whose government has pledged to allow unlimited numbers of Ukrainian refugees in, and provide them with food, medical care, and temporary accommodation,
this light that shines also in Ukraine’s other neighbours willingly receiving refugees: Slovakia, Moldova, Hungary, and Romania; and also in Germany.
God bless them all.
We pray with compassion also for the people of Russia, Donetsk and Luhansk,
and for the good of all people who pray under onion domes
and try to love the one God of us all.
We pray that any gains made by the force of coarse and cruel evil be short-lived.
May the pain and sorrow, loss and grief pass.
And may the enduring strength of Good soon prevail, in Ukraine, in Russia, and everywhere in Europe.
Reading We have many Springs, Part 1, by Kate Brady McKenna
We see the promise of Spring even in November. Spring, from November.
That promise is given to us more clearly in January.
And we see it February, at Imbolc in the beginning, and in the middle, when the geese arrive back on the lake.
In early March, the news tells us we are in meteorological Spring. And in late March, Spring is shown to us again, when the Vernal Equinox, and the ‘springing forward’ let us feel Spring, and the coming of April proves to us that it’s here.
We feel the delight of Spring even into May. Spring from November, Spring until May.
We have many Springs.
It’s dates in the calendar, and it is not dates in the calendar. It has everything to do with the weather, and it has little to do with the weather. it is the warmth of the sun, and it is lightness and it is temperature.
It is the longer days. It is high blue skies and white clouds. It is a quality in the air. It is a feeling, a feeling we know and which goes beyond words. It is a taste, a freshness, a clarity in the air. It is the desire to stop and breathe in, rather than the need to put your face in your scarf and rush.
It is a smell, it is a sort of feeling. A fresh coldness different from the winter’s cold. A scent, of new beginnings.
We have many Springs.
It is when we don’t have to defrost the car. It is Crème Eggs in the shop. It’s leaving our hat, our scarf, our gloves, our big coat at home. It’s watching Punxsatawney Phil, the groundhog, believing he might predict the weather, and knowing he won’t. It’s wearing a teeshirt outside. It’s drying the washing outside. It’s swimming, outside, in water warmer than your cold tap. It is lunch on the garden bench, and it is tea in the light. It is getting up in the light and driving home without the car lights on. It is evenings which are light, despite the snow and hail.
We have many Springs.
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 We have many Springs, Part 2, by Kate Brady McKenna
We see it in birds as they start to fly to-and-fro with twigs, ready to build their nests; as they sing their hearts out; as they feed from our garden feeders; and we see it with the first evening sighting of a rabbit. The frogs in the pond and the lambs in the fields tell us that Spring is here.
We see it in snowdrops – beautiful winter flowers, but winter flowers carrying to us the news that hellebores are not far behind, and daffodils and crocuses and primroses, and tulips, and scyllas are following them. It is knowing there will be bluebells. We see it in trees as they bud, we see it in catkins, we taste it in when we nibble fresh hawthorn leaves.
Far from home, it is the flowering of tulip trees. We see it in the ground as the garlic springs forth, reminding us that the earth will feed us.
We have many Springs.
We feel it in our very souls. We feel it when we think of Aslan on the move. And it is intuition: we know it in our body and our spirit. It is the lifting of our hearts. Lift up your hearts! We lift them up unto the sun. We feel it when we start to expect, rather than to plod.
It is Lent, it is Candlemas, it is Easter, and like Easter, it moves. It is Imbolc, it is St Brigid, it is the equinox.
We have many Springs.
Prayer by John Knopf (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Spring is a time of movement and unrest. It is, a poet has written, “the cruellest time”. It was the time of the crucifixion. Keep our hearts steady through its storms, our faces firm against the rain and hail.
It is a time for pruning and for repair, for discarding what is broken and useless, for repairing what is worn, but useful. May we have the judgement to know which is which, and the strength to do what is needed with both.
Spring is a time of light and glory, of the snowdrop, the crocus and the daffodil. Open our eyes to see its gifts. May the green gold of spring shine in our hearts, our spirits be filled with its coinage of beauty.
Spring is a time of cleansing airs. Let us open our windows to the breath of heaven, our hearts to the winds of change. Fill our lungs with new life, our sails with the breath of power, that we may live and sail to the glory of God.
Reading from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Now I’d like you to sit back, close your eyes, and transport yourselves back to the time when you first read Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. I am going to read you the immortal opening passage, when Mole feels the effects of Spring in his blood.
The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘Oh, blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged, and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself ‘Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.
‘This is fine!’ he said to himself. ‘This is better than whitewashing!’ The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the far side.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Meditation on the Equinox by Thomas Rhodes (adapted)
Over our heads, the great wheel of stars shifts,
the spring equinox manifests itself,
and for one precious instant, darkness and light
exist in balanced proportion to one another.
Within our minds the great web of neurons shifts,
new consciousness arises,
and for one precious instant, experience and meaning
exist together as revelation and epiphany.
Within our hearts the great rhythm of our lives shifts
a new way of being reveals itself,
and for one precious instant,
the nexus of the body and the seat of the soul
truly exist as one.
Let us give thanks for those times in our lives
when all seems in balance.
For those times are rare and precious.
the equinox shall pass, the revelation may be forgotten,
and our actions will not always reflect our true selves.
Let us be quiet for a moment together.
Through our gratitude
we may remember who we are,
reflect on who we may become,
and restore the balance which brings
equanimity to our lives.
May it be so, Amen
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address We Have Many Springs
Spring is my favourite season. After the short, grey days of winter, with their seemingly endless rain and gloomy clouds, it is so nice to see the odd bit of blue sky and sunshine! I try to go for a walk most days, either in the forest or round the village, depending on the weather, and I have noticed squillions of buds starting to form on the trees and in the hedgerows, and the first brave Spring flowers pushing up their heads through the soil of the verges and in people’s gardens. If the sun is shining too, the whole walk is a quiet pleasure, which sets me up for the day.
Today, as I write this address, it is another beautiful blue sky day, and Spring is well and truly here. On my walk this morning, the annual frenzy of growth was evident, at the sides of the path, in the hedgerows, and in the trees. Everywhere, there were buds and flowers and blossoms, and a thousand different shades of green. And it was beautiful. When I opened my ears, the air was full of birdsong, and deep in the forest, I heard the rat-a-tat of a woodpecker. On such a day, it feels good to be alive.
Spring has always been an important season for people, right back to earliest times. Indeed, in “the old days”, before we could fly fruit and vegetables into our shops from around the world 365 days a year, the last few weeks of Winter were hard for people, who had to subsist on dried or otherwise preserved greens and fruit until the growing season began again. It is also the time of year when the days start to lengthen, and the evenings and mornings get lighter, and we naturally react to that – we are creatures who need natural light, even if we don’t realise it, cocooned in our electric wombs.
I loved Kate Brady McKenna’s beautiful reflection, We have many Springs, which formed our first two readings. I thought it was a wonderful idea, asking how people perceived the arrival of Spring. And the responses were so varied – some wrote about the appearance of flowers and buds on the trees, warmer weather and blue skies, others about the differences the warmer weather made to them – being able to wear lighter clothes, being able to dry the washing outside, the joy of lighter mornings and evenings. Yet others felt it at a deeper level, at the soul level – as she wrote, “We feel it in our very souls. We feel it when we think of Aslan on the move. And it is intuition: we know it in our body and our spirit. It is the lifting of our hearts… We feel it when we start to expect, rather than to plod.”
And as John Knopf wrote in his lovely prayer, which we heard earlier, Spring “is a time of light and glory, Of the snowdrop, the crocus and the daffodil … May the green gold of spring shine in our hearts, Our spirits be filled with its coinage of beauty.” As Mole found out when he tunnelled up to the surface in that immortal opening passage of The Wind in the Willows. Spring is a wonderful time, “The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and .. the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout.”
I think it is important that we can continue to experience the wonder of Spring – the sense of divine renewal, the small annual miracles of the first flowers and the first buds appearing. They have got to be a sign of hope, that Winter cannot last forever. There is the wonderful dichotomy between the revelation of the eternal round, and the revelation of that which is new. Every Spring we encounter something never before seen, a glimpse of potential for the future.
Spring is also the time when we feel renewed and have new resources of energy. It is no accident that Spring cleaning has endured as a tradition through the centuries. Partly it is a necessity (more so in times past, when people almost hibernated during the cold winter months, and Spring was the time of the big clear out). But it is almost an instinct too – it is a time for taking stock of what we have, of discarding the broken and useless, of repairing what is worn but useful, and of setting our faces forward for the year ahead. If we don’t carry out a periodic Spring clean, our lives can become cluttered and stagnant, with no space for renewal and growth. You can guess by this that I’m not just talking about physical Spring cleaning, satisfying though that is, but also about mental and spiritual Spring cleaning. It is only too easy to plod along in the same old ways, carrying out the same old duties, not realising how flat and dull our lives have become. Sometimes we need to have a good breath of fresh air blowing through our lives, revitalising us and setting us on a new path in good heart.
So I think we need to take a periodic look at ourselves, take stock and move on. But the process of self-examination is not an easy one. One of my favourite theologians is the wonderful Rabbi Lionel Blue, who I listened to regularly on Thought for the Day on Radio 4. I have most of his books, which I have read and re-read, and was lucky enough to go and see him “live” once, before he died. Over the years, he has taught me that the only thing that God wants from us is for us to be more kind, more generous to everyone (including ourselves) and more honest, both with ourselves and our fellow travellers in the world. It is about listening to that inner voice, whether we call it God, or the light within, or our conscience, and about doing the right thing rather than the easy one. So that we can “remember who we are, reflect on who we may become, and restore the balance which brings equanimity to our lives,” as Thomas Rhodes suggested in the words of our Time of Stillness and Reflection.
I am so very blessed. I have a lovely husband, two wonderful grown-up children, a nice house, good friends, a job that I love and enough money in the bank – what more could anyone wish for? But I know that without regular spiritual practices, I tend to ignore what’s going on at a deeper level, in my heart and soul. It is very easy to move out of balance, out of equanimity. And I am so grateful that it is now becoming possible to be in community with fellow Unitarians once more (so long as we are careful and respectful of each other), because it is they who enable me to go deep. Being part of a loving, living Unitarian community helps me to think and reflect on matters of the heart and soul, secure in the knowledge that there are loving arms to catch me, if I fall. I think that sometimes we underestimate the importance of our own Unitarian communities to their members. There is nowhere else that I can think of where it is possible to bring your whole self, and be wholeheartedly accepted, warts and all. And that is so precious.
But are our Unitarian communities always “fit for purpose”? Are they truly places where our members can learn new things and grow into their best selves? I wonder.
I believe that all congregations (and Districts!) need a regular Spring cleaning, so that we can discard the things that aren’t working and bring in some new ideas to attract more people through our doors. I think we need to take stock of our strengths and weaknesses, then make a plan to move on. And perhaps this Spring, when we are sensing the impact of the Covid pandemic, is an ideal opportunity to undertake this kind of evaluation. How do we want to be together in community now that we are open once more? What can we take forward from what we have learned about being in virtual community for the last nearly two years? Are there things we do not want to go back to?
By the time this service is delivered, on Sunday, Unitarians in the Midlands will have gathered for our first in-person Annual General Meeting since 2019. It feels as though we are gradually coming out of the crisis of the pandemic and finding new ways of being together, being in community. Our Guest Speaker will have been Lizzie Kingston-Harrison, the GA’s new(ish) Congregational Connections lead, and I hope that we will all have been inspired by her to strengthen our connections to each other.
And next month the General Assembly of Unitarian & Free Christian Churches will also be holding its Annual Meetings in person. I’m not sure whether the normal number of folk (over 300) will turn up, but it will be wonderful to be able to participate in the rich experience that is the Annual Meetings once again. And to feel renewed and refreshed by the interactions.. Truly, Spring is the season of renewal, the season of new hope.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we sense the tendrils of renewal
That Spring brings to our hearts.
May we, like the new plants, feel reinvigorated,
Ready to try something new.
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