Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words from the Sanskrit
Look to this day –
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities
And realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action, the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
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 Joy Croft
As is our custom here, we light the chalice – and see!
The flame of truth burns bright,
fed by the vision of each of us,
rising from the heart of us all.
Let its light shine out as our lives shine out,
brightening the dark places of the world,
bringing wholeness and peace.
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 Cliff Reed (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
For the people suffering under aggression and unjust war,
we ask the strength and endurance to prevail.
And may we find wise ways to help them to do so.
For the aggressor and the tyrant,
we ask the grace of utter defeat,
that they may learn humility and be freed
from the folly of their arrogance,
their inhumanity and their criminal ways.
For the human instruments of the oppressor and the warmonger,
those fooled or forced into the commission of evil deeds,
we ask the insight to see the wickedness
and illegitimacy of their master’s orders –
and the courage to disobey them.
For ourselves and all humanity,
we ask for the impulse to be kind,
to be generous to those driven from their homes and homeland,
those in desperate need of welcome, food and shelter,
those seeking refuge from the scourge of war,
those cruelly touched by violence inflicted on them
without valid reason or just cause.
For us all, we ask for the love to heal all enmity
and for the wisdom to bring us, weak and sinful
as we are, to the way of peace with justice.
May it be so,
Reading from Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Newport writes about Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s “new economics”, as detailed in the first chapter of his famous book, Walden:
The first and longest chapter of Walden is titled ‘Economy’. It contains… a surprising number of bland expense tables, recording costs down to a fraction of a cent… Thoreau’s purpose in these tables is to capture precisely… how much it cost to support his life at Walden Pond – a lifestyle that… satisfies all the basic human needs: food, shelter, warmth, and so on. Thoreau then contrasts these costs with the hourly wages he could earn with his labor to arrive at the final value he cared most about: How much of his time must be sacrificed to support his minimalist lifestyle?…
This magician’s trick of shifting the units of measure from money to time is the core novelty of what the philosopher Frédéric Gros calls Thoreau’s “new economics”, a theory that builds on the following axiom, which Thoreau establishes early in Walden: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
…Thoreau’s new economics was developed in an industrial age, but his basic insights apply just as well to our current digital context. The first principle of digital minimalism… states that clutter is costly. Thoreau’s new economics helps explain why.
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 Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Thoreau’s new economics… demands that you balance this profit [the value that engaging with digital apps and social media adds to your life] against the costs measured in terms of “your life”. How much of your time and attention, he would ask, must be sacrificed to earn the small profit of occasional connections and new ideas that is earned by cultivating a significant presence on Twitter? Assume, for example, that your Twitter [or any other online] habit effectively consumes ten hours per week. Thoreau would note that this cost is almost certainly way too high for the limited benefit it returns.
If you value new connections and exposure to interesting ideas, he might argue, why not adopt a habit of attending an interesting talk or event every month, and forcing yourself to chat with at least three people while there? This would produce similar types of value but consume only a few hours of your life per month, leaving you with an extra thirty-seven hours to dedicate to other meaningful pursuits…
Thoreau… asks us to treat the minutes of our life as a concrete and valuable substance – arguably the most valuable substance we possess – and to always reckon with how much of this life we trade for the various activities we allow to claim our time.
Prayer by Gabor Kereki, from Songs for Living (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
We are thankful for life and its challenges,
for our ability to dream and
the opportunity of adventure.
We are thankful for life’s difficulties
and of the strength of the soul
that overcomes them.
We are thankful for hard toil
and the strength of our arms,
for disappointments and our ability
to meet them.
Let us not lose our spirit of adventure
when life becomes difficult,
but hopefully try again.
Let us have courage to explore
new ways and new worlds – and
let us become pioneers
of our own time and generation.
Reading Why are you waiting? by Judith Gass, from Life Prayers (adapted)
Why are you waiting to begin your life?
Do you think the world must care and come soliciting?
Listen to the knocking at the door of your own heart –
it is only faint because you have not answered.
You have fooled yourself with preparations.
Time left laughing, while you considered possibilities.
Wake up! You have slept long enough.
Wake up! Tomorrow may be too late.
When you finally dare open the door,
your life will begin arriving.
Cautiously at first, unbelieving
that the gate so long locked against the tide
has finally been opened.
Then with swells of neglected dreams,
then with waves of joyful revelation,
the sea will follow.
You will be swept by the full and magnificent tides
of your own longing,
that no-one else can give you,
that no-one else can claim.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Creative silence by Vincent B. Silliman, from Songs for Living
There is quiet that is all emptiness; and there is quiet that is life.
There is quiet that is rich with appreciation, with gratitude and with love.
There is quiet that is creative; there is quiet that is full of generous purpose and serene determination.
There is quiet that is the very atmosphere of onward things – of life and growth that shall be in the days and years to come.
There is quiet within the mind, the heart, the spirit – when outside there is no quiet at all.
There is quiet wherein is order, when without there are contention and disorder.
There is quiet that is wisdom, though the noises of misunderstanding and dissensions are loud.
Let us seek quiet, now and then – an inward quiet, the quiet that renews and reinvigorates, glorious quiet, the quiet of serenity, the quiet that confronts with confidence the clamour of our fear.
Let us seek quiet – blessed quiet that is life and that opens out to more life.
May we appreciate the times of quiet and stillness in our lives,
And let us seek a quiet aspect of living that is full and intense and real.
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Today Well Lived
I only bought Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism, on a whim, because it was on offer as a Kindle daily deal for 99p. But I have found it to be a fascinating and challenging read, which has caused me to reflect seriously about how much time I spend mindlessly browsing on my smartphone – usually either on Facebook or Pinterest – or playing time-consuming games like Match 3D. In fact, I would guess that the total time I spend on social media or playing games is not far short of the ten hours a week Newport mentioned in our second reading. Which has shocked me. I agree with him that “this cost is almost certainly way too high for the limited benefit it returns.”
Although I am not of the generation which grew up with smartphones (those born in the nineties and later) I, like many people of my age, have embraced the possibilities that a smartphone offers – the ability to stay in contact with Unitarians all over the country on Facebook, for example, or to discover wonderful new crochet patterns on Pinterest. And the ability to text my family and close friends to stay in touch when I am out and about is very useful (it would have been marvellous in the days when my husband was delayed on his evening commute from London and I was at home, wondering when he would get back). And I find the alarm and timer and weather forecast functions very useful. And have three prayer or meditation apps, which I use during my morning sit (not all at the same time!)
My phone and I are not inseparable… when I am out walking, I only pull it out of my pocket to take a photo of something beautiful, that fills me with wonder. And it spends quite a bit of time sitting silently in my handbag. Unlike some people, who seem to have their phones in their hands all the time and seem to prioritise connecting with the digital world almost more than connecting with the people they are with. It always makes me sad when I see people allegedly out for a meal together, who spend more time texting absent friends or scrolling through news feeds than in talking with their dinner partner. Or someone walking with a child, who is trying to engage their attention, but they are too busy looking at their phone to notice. Yet who am I to judge? If I had grown up with a smartphone, as the younger generation has, I would quite possibly have done the same.
In our first reading, Newport cited Henry David Thoreau’s axiom, “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” And I have realised that the cost of fiddling around on Facebook or Pinterest, or playing an online game, is too high. I can remember when smartphones first became popular, in the mid-noughties, being shocked when a friend of my son’s came for tea and brought his smartphone to the table. It seemed so rude! But nowadays, it is unremarkable. It is far more usual to have our phone sitting by the side of our plates, sitting at hand *everywhere*, than not.
Newport’s book has made me uneasily conscious that my relationship with my smartphone is not an entirely healthy one. It is not simply my servant, enabling me to do things I could not otherwise have done, like letting my husband know I’ve arrived somewhere, or staying in touch with my adult children. I am not living today “well” as the Sanskrit poet of our opening words suggests. Slowly, insidiously, my phone has become my go-to method of filling odd moments of time. I find myself checking Facebook or scrolling through Pinterest in the evenings, when Maz and I are watching something together on TV. Digital Minimalism has made me conscious of this, has made me ask why I’m doing it.
Reading the book has made me understand that I am not living in consonance with my values. I have allowed the ever-present “convenience” of my smartphone to distract me from being fully present to those I am in the same room with. It has made me appreciate that I have been allowing it to invade my life and to hijack time when I should enjoy space and silence and being in community with my loved ones.
Newport recommends doing a thirty-day digital declutter, during which you don’t use social media and time-consuming apps at all. While at the same time thinking deeply about what it is that gives your life value and actively searching out alternative means of filling your life with these things. He ran a challenge at the beginning of 2017 when he invited the readers of his blog to do this, expecting forty or fifty responses… He got over 1,600. And many of them reported that during the thirty days, they found not having access to their phone’s features was hard at first, but that after a while, they rediscovered so many important things – the joys of reading, or crafting, or proper, undistracted interaction with their loved ones. Then, after the thirty-day period is up, he recommends reintroducing only those apps which add real value to your life.
The lesson here is that we each have a finite amount of leisure time available to us. And that it would be well for us to spend that time doing things which enrich us and nourish us, rather than making us anxious or distracted. As Newport comments, “Thoreau… asks us to treat the minutes of our life as a concrete and valuable substance – arguably the most valuable substance we possess – and to always reckon with how much of this life we trade for the various activities we allow to claim our time.”
I loved the words of Vincent B. Silliman’s piece, Creative Silence, which we listened to during our Time of Stillness and Reflection. He invites us into the “quiet that is life”, and suggests that we “seek quiet, now and then – an inward quiet, the quiet that renews and reinvigorates, glorious quiet, the quiet of serenity, the quiet that confronts with confidence the clamours of our fear…. Let us seek a quiet aspect of living that is full and intense and real.”
I wonder why we find it so hard to be quiet? To simply be? To sit with our thoughts, or listen to some peaceful music with our full attention, or read a good book, or do some crafting. It seems that these days, many of us are not happy unless we have some background noise in our lives. Whether this is literal noise, such as background music, or figurative noise, such as mindlessly browsing our phones, which fills our minds with other people’s thoughts and opinions. Do we actually need to know all this about the lives of people we only see rarely? Do we need the ability to disappear down the rabbit hole of clicking on links in newsfeeds, until we are anxious and frazzled?
Novelist Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “In forever knowing, we are forever blessed. But to know all, were the curse of a fiend.” Perhaps he means that when we use the knowledge we have for good and useful purposes, we are “forever blessed” but that if we take in everything we see, hear and read uncritically, that would be “the curse of a fiend.”
A while ago, I became aware of several friends who had decided to take holidays from social media, because they found reading all the thousands of news items and stories, and worse, the comments below them, made them feel belligerent and depressed by turns. When we engage with posts that are spewing hatred and intolerance, or with whose views we disagree, root and branch, it is can be difficult to remain objective, not to get sucked in.
On the other hand, I believe that each of us needs to choose our battles carefully, to decide what matters to us, what we “forever know” and to defend those things against people with diametrically opposing views. The whole Black Lives Matter movement is a good example. When uninformed people riposte with “All Lives Matter” or with racist comments, it is easy to rest on our white fragility, our white silence, our white apathy, shrug our shoulders and scroll on down. Rather than engaging honestly and deeply with the conversation, explaining why the balance has been skewed for so long, and what we can do ensure that black voices are heard, black people and others with non-white skin matter, and to help dismantle the system of white supremacy in which many of us were born and brought up. This is using social media responsibly, in consonance with our values.
So it is time for me to do a re-set. I have deleted some apps from my phone and silenced all notifications except phone calls and texts. I have announced on Facebook that I will only be checking it once a day, for ten minutes, and have asked that anyone who needs to get in touch more urgently to ring me, e-mail me or text me. Because I want to live my life well, to be completely present to my family, my friends and what I am experiencing in the present moment, to make sure that each of my todays is “well lived”. I have decided to relegate my phone to a back seat, and only bring it out when using it adds some real value to my life.
What might “living today well” look like for you?
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we be fully present in our lives,
Rather than distracted or anxious.
May we choose to spend our leisure time
In activities which nourish our souls.
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