Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Each Day by Andy Pakula
With each new day, we are offered another step in life’s sacred journey
an invitation to join in the flow of life that streams around us.
Today, we may face a barren desert landscape to cross
Parched as our reserves of hope dwindle.
Some days, a lush oasis appears
Offering its succulent gifts of joy to delight our hearts.
Each day, we arrive, but not to stay
We travel on…
Pilgrims in search of the holy land that glistens in our dreams
Journeying toward a destination that we must seek
And that none ever reach.
Spirit of the journey, God of many names
May we step out boldly
Venturing eagerly forward
Accepting all that each mile has to offer.
May we know that within the journey itself lies our destination
And that the holy city waits to be discovered in every heart
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 the light of our liberal faith: may it be
the light of knowledge to dispel ignorance,
the light of reason to dispel superstition,
the light of love to dispel bigotry and inhumanity,
no matter what their guise.
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.
Reading by Mark Belletini
For religion to be significant, it has to provide more than the comforts of community. It also had to provide opportunities for deepening, for what I call spiritual growth, and for the casting down of false images of stereotypes, which hurt us all. A good religion has to open us to the real diversity of our modern world. For our work as liberal religious people is not to be competitive with others, and to find ways to supersede others, but rather to find ways to supersede ourselves, to grow beyond our limitations and our constrictive boundaries, each and every one of us. Diversity, you see, must not end up being some sort of feel-good slogan, a word we keep in our back pocket to make us feel like we’re broad minded. Diversity is a gift. But it cannot be a gift… unless it is received. It is only received when there are hands and hearts open enough to receive it. And the opening of fists into welcoming hands and welcoming hearts is our spiritual work….
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 The Bridge by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place
Jesus said, “This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build a house on it.”
Jesus said, “Become passers-by.”
We are passers-by. On our journey we cross the bridge; and though we may linger, we cannot stay.
The bridge carries many passengers. We are not alone with those of our own faith or race or nation. It is an ever-changing cavalcade that crosses over.
Each of us is engaged on our own journey. No two are quite the same. Yet the bridge has but one beginning and one end, and these we share.
The bridge is graceful, bathed in the light of sun and moon and stars. From its wide span, we see a rich landscape. There is no need to rush – and miss the beauty of the moment.
The bridge is not ours. Others will follow. We must leave it clean, uncluttered and strong for them.
The bridge is wide enough for us all. We must travel as fellow pilgrims – sharing our tales, helping each other, admiring the view.
We are passers-by. We cannot live on this bridge forever. Even if we try to build houses here, we must still move on and leave them.
Let us accept the journey in faith and hope; travel together in peace and joy; and know that – for all our differences – we are but one company.
Prayer by Sue Ayer
Spirit of Life and Love, we have gathered here in search of answers to hard questions. We have come in search of understanding, in search of community.
We have come in search of hope and healing.
Let this be a place not only of searching, but of discovery.
Let this be a place not only of learning, but of wisdom.
Let this be a place not only of meeting, but of connection.
And let this be a place where healing fosters giving
And hope fosters service.
This is our prayer: that we may create here a circle of love,
Ever expanding, ever growing,
As we seek to know you, the source of our being.
Reading True Religion by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place
If a religion is true,
it sets you free to be your true self,
it nurtures loving-kindness in your heart,
it humbles you before the Ultimate – and your neighbour.
If a religion is true,
it challenges your conscience and opens your mind,
it makes you responsible for yourself and your world,
it stirs you to seek the liberty and wellbeing of others.
If a religion is true,
it deepens your awareness and nourishes your spirit,
it brings you comfort and strength in grief and trial,
it connects you to other people and to the life of the universe.
If a religion is true,
it will care less for dogma and doctrine than it will for love,
it will care less for rules and customs than it will for compassion,
it will care less for the gods we make than for the people we are.
May ours be a true religion!
Time of Stillness and Reflection In the Socinian Spirit by Cliff Reed (adapted)
God of truth and loving kindness, we gather in your name,
as so many have done before us,
to seek and speak the truth in love and comradeship.
Save us from the arrogance of telling others
what they should believe.
Give us courage and clarity, humbly to witness
to our own faith without
harming or oppressing others.
We ask that each and every person be free
to express their heartfelt beliefs and honest questionings,
and that they allow other people
the liberty to do the same.
Though we claim the right to advance
our own thoughts in matters of faith and the spirit,
help us never to wrong others or attack them as we do so.
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Travelling in Good Company
The 16th century German theologian, Martin Luther, who famously nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the doors of All Saints Church in Wittenberg in 1517, thereby starting the Protestant Reformation, has some good advice for us: “We must ascend gradually, on a flight of stairs to other stages. No-one becomes the first in one fell swoop.”
This is good advice, not only for life in general, but also for the spiritual journey. At least, for Unitarians. Because I understand that some Christians have a profound conversion experience and make the huge step from non-belief to accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour in “one fell swoop”, as Luther said.
But we Unitarians tend to be more cautious. Our faith is based on what our reason and conscience tell us is right and true. And that may change over time. What I believe now, in my early sixties, is very different to what I believed in my twenties. As the 19th century Unitarian minister Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” And this becoming is often not a straight road, with no diversions, no backsliding. Which is why most of us only manage to move two steps forward, one step back at a time.
There are many lovely quotations about the spiritual journey in Stephen Lingwood’s anthology, The Unitarian Life: Voices from the past and present. One I particularly like is by Michaela von Britzke, who wrote, “A spiritually growing person – like a spiritually growing congregation – is developing awareness and a capacity to pay attention to what is at hand in daily tasks and encounters, as a template for understanding and filling a place in the wider scheme of things.”
I also like Cliff Reed’s analogy of the journey through life being like crossing a bridge, which we heard as our second reading. As he writes, “Each of us is engaged on our own journey. No two are quite the same. Yet the bridge has but one beginning and one end, and these we share… The bridge is wide enough for us all. We must travel as fellow pilgrims – sharing our tales, helping each other, admiring the view.” And his exhortation that we must “accept the journey in faith and hope; travel together in peace and joy; and know that – for all our differences – we are but one company.”
The 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, also used the analogy of a bridge for the journey through life: “No-one can build the bridge on which you have to cross the river of life, no-one but you.” In other words, we are all responsible for our own lives, for our reactions and attitudes towards whatever and whoever we encounter. The ways in which we react and change (or stay the same) can have a profound effect on our journey through life. If we do not learn from our mistakes, do not grow and deepen our spiritual lives through our trials and joys, then our bridges across the river of life will be flimsy structures, and we will be liable to fall into the river and be swept away.
I think he is saying that the more we experience, the more we learn from those experiences, the more likely we are to grow as people, both mentally and spiritually. And the more we grow, the easier it will become to navigate our way through our lives. And we will have a firm foundation under our feet, with which to do so. Whereas, if we don’t learn and grow, we are liable to repeat the same mistakes; our bridges over the river of life will keep falling into disrepair, and we will keep falling through the gaps and re-experiencing the same problems and griefs.
I also believe that the vast majority of people do this thing called “life” better, and more successfully, if we learn from others, if we live our lives in community. Which is why being part of a Unitarian community is so important – we may each be on slightly different paths, following different sources of insight and inspiration, but we know that there are other people along the way, who can help and support us. To repeat the words of Sue Ayer’s beautiful prayer, “Let this be a place not only of searching, but of discovery. Let this be a place not only of learning, but of wisdom. Let this be a place not only of meeting, but of connection.”
Speaking personally, I know I would not be the Sue Woolley I am today, had it not been for the generous, empathic, gentle input from family, friends and mentors along the way. I would have become mired in my sadness and loss and been unable to climb out and move on. For me and, I guess, for most of us, life is a journey best taken in company.
Sometimes, along the way, as UU Sarah York wrote in Singing the Living Tradition, “We receive fragments of holiness, glimpses of eternity, brief moments of insight. Let us gather them up for the precious gifts that they are and, renewed by their grace, move boldly into the unknown.” These “fragments of holiness, glimpses of eternity” can help us on our journeys, enabling us to move onto the next step and “into the unknown.” But we often need the help of others to be aware enough, attentive enough, to see them for what they are. And what these fragments and glimpses mean to one person may not speak to the condition of another (to use the Quaker phrase).
Which is what being part of a Unitarian religious and spiritual community means. Being able to talk to other people about our own spiritual journeys and to hear about theirs is so precious. Because we never know what the effect of our stories might be on other people. I have heard some wonderfully inspirational stories over the years, which have changed the way I travel through life.
Another essential element for the spiritual journey is trust. Every day we are on this earth, we are adding new adventures, new experiences to our lives. And we always, always take our past experiences along with us. Every human being is the sum of their experiences. And these past experiences will inevitably have an impact on how we perceive what is front of us today, now. That is how we learn, how we grow.
I don’t think it is possible to “start afresh”, to leave our pasts behind us. At least, not completely. Because our brains do not get wiped clean of our memories. But it is possible to process our experiences, to discern their meaning, to learn from them, and then to move on, enriched by them. Wise, empathic company is good for this process as well.
And I think it helps if we can trust that the universe is a benevolent place. When I started my spiritual direction training, we were given a beautiful poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on the first week of the three year course – such a gift! It is called Patient Trust, which I have found is essential for the spiritual journey:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to read the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability –
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you:
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstance
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
That his hand is leading you,
And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
In suspense and incomplete.”
To conclude, I believe that the good company of others is essential for the spiritual journey, so that we can learn to grow into our best selves. We need to have open minds and open hearts, so that we can receive insights and wisdom from our fellow pilgrims. But we also need to have the individual courage to take the first steps, and Teilhard de Chardin’s “patient trust” that we will get there in the end. Life is a journey of discovery and connection, of ups and downs, of times of wonderful joy and deepest despair. But if we can find the good company of some fellow travellers with whom to share the experience, it is always, always worth taking a risk and diving deep into the river of life.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we welcome the chance to
Share our spiritual journey with friends,
Each gaining strength from the other.
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