Henry David Thoreau: Prophet of Simplicity: Online service for Sunday 8th May 2022


Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words by Elizabeth A. Parish


Come ye into this house of worship!

Come in and find peace and rest,

inspiration and aspiration, fellowship and love.

Come in and find light for your darkness,

a friend’s touch for your loneliness,

and music for your soul.

Come in and let your heart sing for

all the blessings that are yours this day.


Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). words by Cliff Reed


Kindler of the stars

and of the fire at Earth’s heart,

be with us now as we kindle this flame,

symbol of our own flickering spirits

as they reach out to you and each other

in reverence and love.


Opening Prayers


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.



Story Not enough room by Rabbi Lionel Blue


Grandpa, Grandma and their family lived in a tiny house, and my Uncle Abie, who was built like a six-foot gorilla, slept with his legs dangling out of the window. Grandma complained to her miracle man who told her an old story:


A poor good woman, just like you, Mrs Goldstein, went to her rabbi – such a wise man – weeping, “We live in one room, my husband, me and my children, and we fall over each other.”


“Buy some chickens!” said the sage. The astonished woman bought some. Later she returned, ever more miserable.


“Rabbi,” she said, “the chickens cluck and the children scream and my husband complains I’m going mad!”


“Get a nanny-goat!” said the sage. The woman sobbed, but bought a goat in the market.


The next day she was back. “Rabbi,” she said, “your advice is too hard for me. I’m not holy enough.”


“I’m sorry,” said the rabbi. “Sell the goat and get rid of the chickens.”


After the sabbath service, the woman rushed up to him. “Without the nanny-goat and chickens, life’s so wonderful,” she said, “so much space and quiet. I’ve never had it so good, thank God.”


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 Enough by John Naish


We need to develop a sense of enough. Or, if you fancy, enoughness. Or even enoughism. We have created a culture that has one over-riding message – we do not yet have all we need to be satisfied. The answer, we are told, is to have, see, be and do even more. Always more. But this is bearing strange fruit: levels of stress, depression and burnout are all rising fast, even though we live amid unprecedented abundance. Our planet doesn’t look too happy either.


We urgently need to stop over-stimulating the powerful ancient instincts that make us never satisfied. Instead we must nurture our capacities to appreciate the unprecedented wonders now at our feet. In the Western world we effectively have everything we could possibly need. There is no ‘more’. We have to learn to live ‘post-more’. This isn’t about turning the clocks back or having less. It’s about realising that we’ve arrived… Enoughness is a path to contentment. It’s about personal ecology, about each of us finding our own sustainable balance as individuals. Enoughness is the tipping point, beyond which getting more of anything makes life worse rather than better.


Prayer by Forrest Church


Spirit of Life and Love,

Let us awaken from the soul-crushing allures of sophisticated resignation and cynical chic, to savour instead the world of abundance and possibility that awaits just beyond the self-imposed limits of our imagination.

Let us awaken to the saving gift of forgiveness, where we can, in a single breath, free ourselves and free another.

Let us awaken to the possibility of love; body, mind and spirit, all-saving and all-redeeming love.

Let us awaken to the blessing of acceptance, expressed in a simple, saving mantra: Want what we have; do what we can; be who we are.

Let us want what we have – praying for health, if we are blessed with health; for friendship, if we are blessed with friends; for family, if we are blessed with family; for work, if we are blessed with tasks that await our doing.

And if our lives are dark, may we remember to want nothing more than the loving affection of those whose hearts are broken by our pain.

Let us do what we can – not dream impossible dreams or climb every mountain, but dream one possible dream and climb one splendid mountain, that our life may be blessed with attainable meaning.

And let us be who we are – embrace our God-given nature and talents. Answer the call that is ours, not another’s, thereby enhancing our little world and the greater world we share.


May it be so. Amen


Reading from Enough by John Naish

Our world turns us into ingratitude spotters, gazing fixedly at the limitless things in life that we don’t already have. … When our soul’s well of thanks is boarded over like this, we lose our ability to take delight in the abundances that surround us – something that the Roman Emperor and Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, cautioned against in his Meditations, writing, ‘Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess and thankfully remember how you would crave them if they were not yours.’ … Psychological research reveals that the practice of gratitude is one of our crucial never-enoughs, one of our immaterial, inexhaustible resources that offer us sustainable pathways to contentment. Thankfulness can enhance our satisfaction with life in ways that the next consumer product never will. Could you ever, in fact, be too grateful for all the good things in your life? Along with other neglected qualities, such as commitment, anticipation and mindfulness, gratitude offers a science-backed way of buoying our souls.

Time of Stillness and Reflection by Marta M. Flanagan (adapted)


Holy One, known by many names, you make your presence known to us in the sunshine of winter, in the dance of the flame, and in the lingering embrace of a trusted one.


Fill us this day with your warmth, your power, your strength. Help us to see our lives with a freshness born of the spirit. Lift up the blessings: the loved one, the ones we treasure for simply being themselves – the ones we laugh with, the ones who teach us to trust ourselves. Hold close the ones who are ill this day, those who feel the discouragement of the body. Stand by those who know their time is limited. Fill them and us with courage, with peace.


Gracious One, release us from our burdens. We bring the memories of the past, times when we fell short, times when we were hurt. We have fear: worries of what will be and how we will make do. We get carried away with small concerns: the daily issues that press upon us. Help us to let go. Free us from inner bonds.


We look at ourselves: the advantages we have been given, the opportunities we have seized. Fill us, O Spirit, with a sense of gratitude for the gifts that are ours: knowledge, skills, and hard-won insights. Nudge us to give back, to reach out – sharing our talents, our riches, and ourselves with those who are discouraged, disheartened, or simply unaware.




Gracious Spirit, grab our attention, seize us with the brightness of the day, with the miracles of life itself, that we might be filled with new passion, new resolve, heeding your quiet call to take the next step. Amen


Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address Henry David Thoreau: Prophet of Simplicity


6th May marked the 160th anniversary of the death of Henry David Thoreau, an American Transcendentalist and friend of leading 19th century Unitarian theologian Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau is perhaps best known for his book Walden, or Life in the Woods, in which he describes the results of a two-year experiment in simple living. In July 1845, he moved to a small, self-built house on land owned by Emerson in a forest around the shores of Walden Pond. The house was in “a pretty pasture and woodlot” of 14 acres that Emerson had bought, a mile and a half from his family home. A quote from the book explains what Thoreau was trying to do:


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Today, I would like to mark the anniversary of Thoreau’s death by exploring what value such a philosophy might have for us in the 21st century. Because in our digitally-connected society, it is very easy for us to pay more attention to things which are going wrong in our lives, or in the world, and to miss out on appreciating our blessings and being grateful for the wonders and joys of everyday life. I think that this is what Thoreau was getting at.


Because we do live in a world of wonders. Computers, especially the Internet, have transformed our lives. It is salutary to reflect that my iPhone has more technological whammy in it than the computers used to support the Apollo 11 mission fifty years ago! And my faithful sat-nav never ceases to astonish me: a small machine that somehow links up with satellites up in space, and knows exactly where my car is on the planet’s surface. It really is amazing.


But the shadow side is there too. Technology has enabled many evils as well as many benefits: the surveillance of everyone, everyday via CCTV, folk so obsessed with checking their phones that they ignore the people in the same room with them, climate change caused by acid rain and holes in the ozone layer – the list goes on. And all this technology doesn’t seem to have made us any happier or given us fuller, more meaningful lives.


I believe that things started to spiral out of control with the advent of the first PCs – personal computers – in the early 1980s. For the first time, this amazing technology could be owned and used by ordinary people. My first computer was an Amstrad PCW, with green letters on a black screen, and 256K of memory. And I thought it was brilliant. Then Bill Gates introduced Windows, and Unitarian Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet and gifted it to society, and the whole computer world took a giant leap forward. On the entertainment front, first videos, then CDs and DVDs and YouTube and satellite television changed the way we experience music and films. Today, hundreds of every-day objects have little computers inside them to make them work. Mobile phones are everywhere, and the smartphones so many of us own are mini-computers all by themselves.


The sad thing about all this progress is that it is all taken so much for granted, especially by young people, those born in the last thirty years, who have grown up with it. They simply cannot imagine a world without computers and smartphones and satellite TV. Which has made them very hard to impress. Their sense of wonder has atrophied.


I wonder whether it has all gone too far. Most people in the West already have absolutely everything they need. And yet, we seem to have this hunger for more and more, the newest, the brightest, the glitziest gadgets we can lay our hands on. Last year’s gadgets are discarded as “so yesterday” so we have to work yet harder and longer to “keep up with the Jones’s”.


But need it be this way? As John Naish so wisely writes, “We have to learn to live ‘post-more’ … Enoughness is a path to contentment.” We don’t seem to appreciate all the marvels we have. Almost everyone I know is very fortunate and privileged. But are we grateful? Or do we just take it for granted? Why aren’t we all content with the very much we have? Is it because we just don’t take time out to appreciate our good fortune? I believe it might be.


Admittedly, it is only too easy to take all our modern marvels for granted (until they go wrong). We live in an immensely complex world, entirely reliant on the work of others and on technological innovation to live our lives. We press a switch or turn a key, and the computer turns on, the light turns on, the car starts. We turn on a tap and water comes out, fresh and drinkable. We go shopping, and the shops are full of goods that have been delivered by a complex logistics network. How often do we actually consider where things come from, and how many people we are dependent on for our consumption? All these things are taken for granted; it is the nature of the complex society we live in. It is mundane, every-day, not a matter for wonder.


Well maybe it should be. If we lived mindfully, with awareness, paying attention to the every-day miracles that make up our lives, maybe our sense of wonder would return, and we would truly appreciate what we have. I have a book at home called Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, which has really made me re-think how I approach that same every-day life. The authors, Frederic and Mary-Ann Brussat, explain, “The readings in this book reflect the wide variety of approaches and experiences of the sacred in everyday life. Many of us recognise the presence of Spirit moving in our lives through encounters with things, places, nature, and animals. … Our activities also put us on a spiritual path, [as does] being moved to service. A spiritual perspective is perhaps most evident in our relationships. We use this term broadly to refer to the many connections in our lives.”


Reading it (and John Naish’s book) more than a decade ago was a revelation for me. The Brussats have collected hundreds of examples from contemporary books and films, which they use to show the reader how to see the world with fresh eyes.  Before reading it, it would never have occurred to me to thank my hoover for picking up the dirt so well, or to see the spiritual benefits of washing up mindfully. But I know now.


So how can we rediscover our sense of wonder? As people of faith, we have a head start on everyone else; we are at least accustomed to thinking about spiritual matters, to looking at the world from another angle than the mundane. I truly believe that anyone can learn to approach life from a spiritual perspective.


The Quakers have Simplicity as one of their testimonies. As they explain on their website, “The testimony to simplicity is integral to Quaker faith: our spiritual responsiveness depends on being as free as possible from dependence on material security. Quakers therefore seek to resist the temptation to define their place in society by acquiring possessions. In so far as we are led towards true simplicity we will increasingly be called to dissent from much of what the modern world stands for.

Simplicity is not just about possessions but also about attitudes. …Simplicity involves constantly challenging the way we live and what our true needs are, and especially how our own standard of living is sometimes achieved at the expense of others. It means standing aside from the fuelling of wants and manufacturing of new desires.”


This is a very different approach to life. It involves taking life as it comes, with thankfulness, appreciating what we have, and not always wanting more. Most importantly, it involves being aware, all the time, of the marvels around us, whether they are people or places or things. I’m not saying that we can do all this all at once; it is the work of a lifetime. But just being aware of this different approach to life may make a difference; it may help us to realise that our part of the world is a pretty amazing place, and to count our blessings and recognise the wonders with which we are surrounded. And to have the insight to realise that actually, we don’t need the latest gadget / thingummy that is being plugged as a “must-have” in the media.


Enoughness is good.


May we all remember to count our blessings, and realise how very rich we are and, like Thoreau, realise that, “Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of [hu]mankind.”


Closing Words


Spirit of Life and Love,

May we learn to live more simply,

and to appreciate the very much we already have.

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