Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Carolyn Owen-Towle (adapted)
Come into this house of worship. Come in bringing all of who you are. Rest and quiet your week-worn spirit, for you are here to touch again eternal springs of hope and renewal.
Calm your hurried pace. For this hour, let the cares, the fretfulness and worry be set aside. Forgive yourself—you are so very worthy of moving on, of making new efforts, of trying again.
Know that you are not alone. There is strength and caring support for you here. You will find comfort if you but ask. Look around. You are a part of potential community. You can make it what you will.
Enter into this place of worship.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). words by Jean L. Wahlstrom
In this small flame dwell:
the beacon light of lanterns guiding travellers home;
the warmth of hearth fires tended through the generations;
the transforming energy of furnaces and the power and life of our sun.
May these blessings —
warmth and light and life-giving energy —
be kindled in each of us.
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 A Blessing is a Protective Circle of Light from Benedictus by John O’Donohue
What is a blessing? A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen. Life is a constant flow of emergence. The beauty of blessing is its belief that it can affect what unfolds.
To be in the world is to be distant from the homeland of wholeness. We are confined by limitation and difficulty. When we bless, we are enabled somehow to go beyond our present frontiers and reach into the source. A blessing awakens future wholeness. We use the word ‘foreshadow’ for the imperfect representation of something that is yet to come. We could say that a blessing ‘fore-brightens’ that way. When a blessing is invoked, a window opens in eternal time…
We never see the script of our lives; nor do we know what is coming towards us, or why our life takes on this particular shape or sequence. A blessing is different from a greeting, a hug, a salute or an affirmation; it opens a different door in human encounter. One enters into the forecourt of the soul, the source of intimacy and the compass of destiny.
Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, that place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of a life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now.
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 To Bless and Be Blessed by Tania Márquez, Part 1
Blessings were an important ritual at home. Every morning when we were getting ready to leave our home for school, my mom would stand by the gate, where we stopped before taking that first step outside our home, and she would give us a blessing. She blessed us by making the sign of the cross on our face and chest. She also taught us a prayer to say as we left the house. Sometimes, I would turn back and would see her waving from the front door and sending another blessing from a distance. For her, the world outside was scary and dangerous; her hope was that those blessings would bring us back home and safe, to be together again.
No matter how chaotic our morning was, no matter how late we already were for school, her blessing suspended us in time for a moment. And right after it we were back to the same rhythm, to go on with our lives, to keep rushing to get where we needed to be. There was something very real and profound about this daily ritual.
Prayer by Nicky Jenkins (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Too often we focus on what is wrong.
Teach us to focus on what is right,
and to finish each day with gratitude.
Too often we look to the future in fear.
Teach us to expect joy,
and to look forward to what may come.
Too often we try to control our lives.
Teach us to trust in life,
and to welcome the gifts without fear.
Too often we close down the doors of our hearts.
Teach us to risk opening them,
and to receive love and blessings.
Reading To Bless and Be Blessed by Tania Márquez, Part 2
As an adult, it took me a long time to realize that I, too, could bless. It was not easy to learn that I had the ability to bless, to send my good wishes and wishes of safety to those I love, or simply to recognize the sacredness of something or someone. Growing up, I had learned that elders, priests, mothers, and nuns could bless and—well, I was none of those for a long time. But then I discovered that blessing something or someone is recognizing their sacred nature, caring for them enough to want them to be protected, and a way of expressing my gratitude and reverence for them.
I believe now that all of us can bless, and when we stop to do so we create a pause: a breathing moment in our day to recognize what is holy or that something needs our recognition and care. A pause, perhaps, to interrupt the sped up rhythm of our bodies and minds. We can create blessings that recognize the sacredness of things, that affirm and validate us or others, blessings that make us and others feel affirmed, blessings that are prayers for all of us to find our way home, to our sanctuary, to our safe spaces and people.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Michael R. Leduc (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we look with gratitude upon this day, for the beauty of the world, for the first radiance of dawn and the last smouldering glow of sunset.
Let us be thankful for physical joys, for hills to climb and hard work to do, for music that lifts our hearts in one breath, for the hand-clasp of a friend, and for the gracious loveliness of children who remind us of the wonders of life.
May we be appreciative above all for the concern and love of those around us; for the exceeding bliss of the touch of the holy, which suddenly awakens our drowsy souls to the blessed awareness of the divine within us and within others.
Let us count our blessings in the silence…
For all of this, and for the countless other blessings present in our lives, let us be grateful. Amen
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
It has been a tough couple of years for many of us, and we may find it difficult to remember how very fortunate, how very blessed we are, to have survived with our souls reasonably intact, just to be alive and in the world.
One of the things which reminds me of my good fortune, is the joy I feel whenever I discover a new word. (weird, I know, but that’s me). And a while ago, on Facebook, a friend shared a post from someone called Anthony Smith, which read, “My new favourite word is Pronoia (the opposite of paranoia). It’s the belief that everything in the universe is conspiring to support you.”
My heart instantly leapt in recognition – yes, I do believe that this is what the universe is like, oftener than we might believe. There are hidden blessings waiting for us, everywhere, every day.
I had never come across the word “pronoia” before. So I Googled it, as you do, and was surprised to find multiple references, including a dedicated website, pronoia.net. A guy called Rob Brezsny has written a book called Pronoia is the Antidote to Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. I’d like to share an excerpt from it with you, which I found on the website Free Will Astrology:
“Definition: Pronoia is the antidote for paranoia. It’s the understanding that the universe is fundamentally friendly. It’s a mode of training your sense and intellect so you’re able to perceive the fact that life always gives you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it….
“Objective of Pronoia: To explore the secrets of becoming a wildly disciplined, fiercely tender, ironically sincere, scrupulously curious, aggressively sensitive, blasphemously reverent, lyrically logical, lustfully compassionate Master of Rowdy Bliss.
“Hypotheses: Evil is boring. Cynicism is idiotic. Fear is a bad habit. Despair is lazy. Joy is fascinating. Love is an act of heroic genius. Pleasure is your birthright. Receptivity is a superpower.
“Procedure: Act as if the universe is a prodigious miracle created for your amusement and illumination. Assume that secret helpers are working behind the scenes to assist you in turning into the gorgeous masterpiece you were born to be. Join the conspiracy to shower all of creation with blessings.”
I have to confess that I find some of Brezsny’s terminology a little bizarre (particularly his choice of adverbs), and don’t agree with all he says (I don’t see despair as lazy, nor pleasure as a birthright, for example). Nevertheless, his central idea that the universe is a benevolent place and that being receptive to our blessings will make us happier, is something I can go along with. It speaks to my condition.
He suggests a daily practice, which I found quite interesting: “Push hard to… grow your devotion to the truth, fuel your commitment to beauty, refine your emotional intelligence, hone your dreams, negotiate with your shadow, cure your ignorance, shed your pettiness, heighten your drive to look for the best in people, and soften your heart – even as you always accept yourself for exactly who you are with all of your so-called imperfections.”
Our three readings this morning all speak of the wonderful power of blessing another person. The Irish mystic, John O’Donohue, calls a blessing, “a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen.” He suggests that a blessing “is different from a greeting, a hug, a salute or an affirmation; it opens a different door in human encounter. One enters into the forecourt of the soul, the source of intimacy and the compass of destiny.” And that blessing someone can help them to become whole.
His definition chimes well with Tania Márquez’s experience of being blessed by her mother as a child, as she left home for school each morning. She suggests that a blessing suspends someone in time for a moment, which is very similar to John O’Donohue’s statement that, “When a blessing is invoked, a window opens in eternal time.”
My understanding of the power of invoking a blessing on someone is that it somehow alerts the divine (as if it needed alerting) to our good wishes for that person, our benevolent feelings towards them. As O’Donohue says, “The beauty of blessing is its belief that it can affect what unfolds.”
Tania Márquez’s revelation that it took her a long while to realise that she, too, had the power to bless, really struck a chord with me. She wrote, “then I discovered that blessing something or someone is recognizing their sacred nature, caring for them enough to want them to be protected, and a way of expressing my gratitude and reverence for them.”
Yes, all of us can invoke blessings on other people. We don’t have to be paid up members of the clergy. We can all do it. As she says, “We can create blessings that recognize the sacredness of things, that affirm and validate us or others, blessings that make us and others feel affirmed, blessings that are prayers for all of us to find our way home, to our sanctuary, to our safe spaces and people.”
I truly believe that each of us can bring blessings to the wider world – to the chance-met stranger, to the people in our city, town or village, to causes we care about. If you believe, as I do, that every human being has a spark of the divine in them, then we should try to respond to every person we meet as though we are encountering a possible new friend. I wonder how different our world would be if we tried to bear that in mind, every day?
Unitarian Universalist Jay Abernathy wrote, “We are all blessings to this world. Our work of building bridges of connection by finding and naming and affirming those blessings we are, is the work of nurturing our spirits and healing our world.” He continued, “Each of us has at least one blessing – I believe each of us offers MANY blessings – to this world, in who we are. But sometimes, we and our world might have a difficult time affirming and seeing those blessings.”
He suggests looking into ourselves and “discover[ing] again one of your blessings, one of your gifts to the world. Loving, peaceful, generous, compassionate – there are so many traits and blessings. What is yours?” This could be a lovely practice to use when we are feeling down about ourselves.
Another aspect of blessings is our ability to recognise when we feel blessed. Sometimes, another person may bless us directly with words. I will never forget an experience I had on a Saturday intensive during my spiritual direction training. There were twelve of us and the course leader asked us to do the following exercise: Six of us sat in a circle, the other six standing behind. Each standing person was asked to think silently of what they would want the most important person in their childhood to say to them, and then to go around the seated circle, whispering it into the right ear of each seated person. Then we swapped, and the seated people did the same to the other six.
To receive the six benedictions was incredibly powerful – I was in tears by the end, and I was not the only one… And then to share my own blessing with those six friends, “My precious child, I love you just the way you are” was also so very special. It left us all with deep feelings of thankfulness and connection. In the words of Marianne Wilkinson, “If I choose to bless another person, I will always end up feeling more blessed.” So very true.
Sometimes, the blessing we experience will be less overt, and will need to be sensed and appreciated. One time that I was very conscious of feeling blessed happened three years ago, when my husband and I spent a week in our favourite part of Wales with my daughter and her fiancé. The kids were tired out from work, and so was I. So we decided to take each day as it came. We got up late, had leisurely breakfasts, then headed out to explore that beautiful part of Wales – Dolgoch Falls, Portmeirion, Harlech Castle (and the wonderful ice-cream shop just below it), the Panorama Walk above Barmouth, and Bodnant Gardens. We ate some fabulous meals, and relaxed each evening, either playing some hilarious games of pool or watching DVDs together.
Each day was different and each day was wonderful. Full of wonder. We managed to let go of “ought to” and “need to” and simply went with the flow. Whatever we did, wherever we went, I tried to be present and full of wonder and joy and gratitude. The whole week was a lesson in the gentle art of being present, of having no particular goal in mind. Of simply being. Looking back, it was one of the best holidays ever. I was so blessed.
I’m going to close with Tania Márquez’s blessing, for all of us: “I bless the beauty of your being, the sacredness of your breath, the unfolding of your spirit, the fullness of your humanity. I bless each moment you pause to recognise all that is holy in and around you.”
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we experience blessings in our lives
And may we invoke blessings for others.
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