Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Welcome (with thanks for Rev John Fairfax, 1623-1700) by Cliff Reed (adapted)
Welcome to this religious and spiritual community,
‘where we meet not only one with another,
but all with God’.
Through the generations we have come
to celebrate the love that is divine,
to be its human channels to each other,
and to reflect the light of hope on to
the world’s darkness.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). words by Cliff Reed
May ours be a morning light to guide the young,
a shining noonday sun to make our life’s way plain,
and a fire, warm and welcoming,
when evening comes.
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,
A prayer for all who are suffering, because of war or other conflicts… by Sue Woolley and Archbishops Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell.
Spirit of Life and Love,
God of peace and justice,
Let us pray for not only the people of Ukraine,
Whose suffering fills the news,
But also for people the world over,
Who are suffering because of war,
terrorist action or other violence.
The people of Afghanistan, Algeria, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Chad, Colombia,
The Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali,
Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar,
Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan,
Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia and Yemen,
To name those suffering the most at present.
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 for peace.
Reading That Different Fulcrum by Yvonne Aburrow
What is the fulcrum of your life?
Do you keep it in that drawer of odds and ends
Near the sink? Or in the basket of mismatched wool and thread
That sits neglected under the bed?
Does that old key still have a matching lock?
What about the oddments sitting quiescent
In the basement, gathering dust?
Are any of these the key to your dreams?
The one lever that would make you turn
And view your life from a new angle,
Or lift the carpet that hides the stain on the floor?
What is that different fulcrum,
That would turn your face to look up at the stars
Or down at the flowers around your feet?
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 from Called or Collared by Francis Dewar (adapted)
Maybe sometimes you are aware of [a nudge from the Divine] in the brief twinkling it takes to decide whether to be honest or not at a particular moment in a conversation that seems to call for it or whether you take refuge in silence or in platitudes. Maybe sometimes you notice it in suddenly being aware, as you go about your daily activities, of a small kindness you could do or a contribution you could make and you refrain, from the fear that you will make yourself vulnerable, ‘I’ll look foolish’, or ‘My offer may be rejected’, or ‘So-and-so will undoubtedly misinterpret it’. Perhaps you have noticed it on a larger scale, in the beginnings of a desire to take some creative step, which you have acted on with a strong sense of inner rightness and peace: or which you have funked with the subsequent depressed feeling of having been basically untrue to yourself?
These are the kinds of ways you begin to be aware of God’s personal calling; not usually in the grand gesture, but in these tiny daily opportunities to be truer to what you are and could be. As you begin to live a little more in this kind of way, He/She will begin to call you to take more distinct and perhaps more noticeable initiatives, which then begin to be more identifiable to yourself and others as a calling from God. But writ large or writ small, the process is fundamentally the same. ‘The longest journey starts with but a single step.’
Prayer Star Maker, Meditation on words from ‘The Machine Stops’ by E.M. Forster by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth
whom once we tried to make in our own image,
believing ourselves the noblest of all creatures visible,
we pause in stillness.
Century after century
we have woven garments for ourselves,
garments of thought and ingenuity,
shot through with the colours of culture,
sewn with threads of self-denial.
Once they seemed heavenly –
when we wore them loosely
and could shed them at will.
But they have stiffened and tightened
and strangled us with our own
arrogance and illusion.
Could we shed them still?
Rediscover the naked divine essence
of body and soul – and live by it?
Rekindle the colour of our tired, faded ideas?
Can our spirits grasp again the stars
from which we came?
teach us the humility that makes us free.
Reading from Death: the Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
I have shared this reading before, but I am sharing it again, because it speaks so clearly (at least, to me) about what a nudge from the Divine feels like…
You must give up everything in order to gain everything. What must you give up? All that is not truly you; all that you have chosen without choosing and value without evaluating., accepting because of someone else’s extrinsic judgement, rather than your own; all your self-doubt that keeps you from trusting and loving yourself or other human beings.
What will you gain? Only your own, true self; a self who is at peace, who is able to truly love and be loved, and who understands who and what s/he is meant for. But you can be yourself only if you are no-one else. You must give up ‘their’ approval, whoever they are, and look to yourself for evaluation of success and failure, in terms of your own level of aspiration that is consistent with your values. Nothing is simpler and nothing is more difficult.
Time of Stillness and Reflection In an unquiet world by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth (adapted)
God of our hearts,
whose Oneness makes us one,
in an unquiet world, let us be quiet.
In an unpeaceful world, let us be peace,
in an unkind world, let us be kind,
in an unjust world, let us be just,
in an unloving world, let us be love.
Make of our speaking the things you want us to say,
make of our deeds the things you want us to do,
make of us what the world needs us to be.
So may our lives be a blessing to all,
and our spirits the channels of your Spirit.
May it be so, Amen
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Nudges from the Divine
The starting point for this service was the beautiful poem by my friend, Yvonne Aburrow, in which she asks, “What is the fulcrum of your life?” and “Are any of these the key to your dreams? The one lever that would make you turn and view your life from a new angle, or lift the carpet that hides the stain on the floor?” As she said earlier in the poem, this fulcrum, this lever, might not be something spectacular, something unique. It need only speak to us as individuals, to our spiritual hearts. And gently nudge us into action.
Which made me think about the times I have received a nudge from the Divine, which has sent me onto a new path, a new way of being in the world. Many mystics, including my favourite Catholic theologian, Richard Rohr, suggest that our lives are divided into two parts. The first, which probably lasts at least into our forties, unless we are lucky, is the First Half, during which we grow up, establish our place in society and take on the values and norms of that society.
The Second Half, most usually when we are in our forties and onwards, is when we come to wisdom and realise that there is more to life than security, survival, getting on and getting ahead, and the approval of others. In my case, it began in my early forties, when I first read the slim Quaker booklet, Advices and Queries, which is full of challenges and questions as to how to live a good and wise life. Reading it was my first nudge from the Divine. I cannot describe it in any other way – it feels as though a voice is saying, “This means you, Sue Woolley. You need to do something about this.”
But it was doing the Worship Studies Course and then ministry training, when I was in my mid-forties and very early fifties which really broke me wide open and helped me to understand that I was still very much in the First Half of life and needed to unlearn so much in order to make space for true wisdom. To turn my life in a new direction.
I’m very much a “words” person, so it is generally reading or hearing new words of wisdom that constitute this nudge from the Divine. Let me give you an example: just before I began my ministry training, I attended my very first Summer School. And towards the end of it, I was filled with doubts as to my fitness to become a Unitarian minister. At which point the then Minister of the Week, Rev Lindy Latham, sent me the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, which was our third reading. These simple words had a catalytic effect on me. And I have tried to live by them ever since.
But it need not be words that galvanise us into action, that make us want to change our lives, to become better people, to live more in consonance with our values. It could be practically anything – a programme about climate change may nudge us into being more mindful about our carbon footprints and determined to minimise them any way we can. Or we may hear something that pierces our hearts with its sweetness or sorrow. Or it may be the huge grief of losing a loved one. Nudges from the Divine can come in many forms. They change the way we perceive life and ourselves in relation to that life.
The Romantic poet William Blake, once wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.” (excuse the non-inclusive language). And I recently discovered that The Doors of Perception is also a book by Aldous Huxley, published in 1954, which explains his psychedelic experiences under the influence of the drug mescaline in May 1953. According to Wikipedia, “Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, ranging from the ‘purely aesthetic’ to ‘sacramental vision’.
I do not believe that we need to be under the influence of dangerous drugs to experience the possibility of infinity in the everyday world. The “doors of perception” – our senses – may be cleansed through spiritual awareness and through moments of grace (those nudges from the Divine). At such times, we may experience the ordinary world, everyday events, with a heightened awareness and infinite gratitude.
Such an experience might occur when we are out in the natural world and are brought up standing by the singular beauty of a sunrise, or a waterfall, or a mountain, or a individual flower in all its wondrous complexity. Or the sight of a star bearing bright witness in the darkening sky. Or the sound of a beautiful song or piece of music. The song Pilgrim by Enya has been doing this to me, the past few days. Or bending over our sleeping child or other loved one and being filled with so much love, that we feel our hearts may burst.
For me, God, the Divine, Spirit of Life and Love, is eternal, infinite, and real. But not unknowable. Or at least, not entirely. I believe we can only get glimpses of the Divine, but we can be aware of Him / Her / It in everything around us, in ourselves and in each other.
Which makes me a panentheist, which is defined in Cross’s The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church as “the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part of it exists in Him [sic], but that His [sic] Being is more than, and is not exhausted by, the universe.”
So the Divine is not only beyond and eternal and infinite, but also immanent, within all things. As the Quakers would say, there is “that of God in everyone”. To which I would and “in everything.” So it is not surprising that when we are simply living and experiencing our everyday lives, we can experience the Divine, receive nudges from the Divine.
I was first shown this as a little girl, when my father took me out into the garden and asked me to look – really look – at one flower and appreciate the wonderfully intricate design of it. He told me (and I’m paraphrasing now) that the amazing way that everything fits together is evidence for the existence of God, because nothing so wonderful and intricate could have come into being at random. (Which I know some Unitarians would disagree with, but it is what I believe).
And, unlike many of the nuggets of wisdom that parents share with their children, that one has stayed with me. I am still filled with awe and wonder at the beauty and intricate coherence of the natural world, and often stop, on my walks in the forest, to give thanks.
The understanding that this Divine presence also extends to humankind has taken longer to penetrate. Until, five years ago, I received another nudge from the Divine. I had bought myself a Celtic-style silver cross. For many years I had repudiated the symbol of the Christian cross, associating it with death and failure. But attending the Encounter course at the London Centre for Spiritual Direction opened my heart in ways I had not reckoned on. So I bought a cross.
One morning, I was applying some moisturiser to my face, using a magnifying mirror for the purpose, when the mirror slipped, canting to a different angle. And I noticed the cross around my neck and realised that instead of a circle at the centre, it had a heart.
This hit me with the force of a revelation. I saw that God was Love at the centre of everything. A belief which has changed my life. For the first time, I was able to accept God’s love for me and to realise that my job in the world was to love others in that same wholehearted way.
Nudges from the Divine may come to us in many forms, but most often through our senses. We can only become aware of these, of the presence of the Divine in our lives, by detaching from our monkey-mind, ego-driven selves and finding Him / Her / It in the stillness. In his book Everything Belongs: the Gift of Contemplative Prayer, Richard Rohr argues that the busy, acquisitive world we live in is the antithesis of this stillness and is the reason why it is so hard for modern people to let go and simply be.
The Buddha, Jesus, Hafiz and many other mystical teachers all stress the importance of being awake, of being aware of what is happening in the present moment. Rohr shares an amusing conversation between a Zen master and his disciple:
“Is there anything that I can do to make myself enlightened?”
“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”
“Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”
“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”
Rohr says, “We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness. Little do we realise that God is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As we take another, it means that God is choosing us now and now and now.”
Which is why I try to sit in silence for fifteen minutes every morning – so that I will not be asleep when the sun begins to rise. So that I will be sufficiently aware of nudges from the Divine.
Everyone’s spiritual journey is different and will be unique to them. But being awake and aware can help us to discern the influence of the Divine in our lives. Of the fulcrum or lever that can change our lives for the better. May it be so for us all, now and always.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we be sufficiently awake and aware
To discern the presence of the Divine
And to act on its nudges.
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