Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Fluent by John O’Donohue
I would love to live / Like a river flows, / Carried by the surprise / Of its own unfolding. (repeat)
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Paul Stephan Dodenhoff)
For this one hour, Spirit of Life
we let go.
For this one hour,
may we let go of our anxieties,
our petty grievances,
and our distractions.
If only for this one hour,
let the flame of this chalice
burn them from our hearts and minds
and light our way to peace and serenity.
For this one holy hour.
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: The Chinese Chalk Circle by Derek Smith
In the olden days, one of the provinces of China was invaded by enemy soldiers. The Lord Lieutenant of the province was arrested. His wife managed to escape, but she was so concerned with taking her fine clothes and jewellery with her, that her baby boy could not be found. He was left behind, and no one knows what happened to him.
Some months later, the invaders were driven out of the province. The Lord Lieutenant had been killed, but his wife was still alive. She returned and went looking for her baby son, because he was now the heir to all the Lord Lieutenant’s vast fortune of money, houses, and lands. She searched everywhere, but could not find him.
Eventually, in desperation, she claimed that the baby boy of a poor woman who took care of silkworms was her son. The mother denied her claim, but the Lord Lieutenant’s wife insisted, and took her claim to a judge. He listened to both women, each claiming to be the mother. Then he ordered a chalk circle to be drawn on the ground. The baby boy was then placed in the middle of the circle, and each of the two women was asked to take hold of an arm. At a given signal, they were each to pull as hard as they could, and the one who managed to pull the baby out of the circle would be the winning mother.
When the signal was given, the Lord Lieutenant’s wife, thinking of all the money and houses and lands, pulled as hard as she could, but the other woman, thinking of the child, refused to pull at all. The Lord Lieutenant’s wife won easily. The judge then ordered a second contest to make sure. Again, the Lord Lieutenant’s wife, with dreams of a fortune, pulled as hard as she could, while the woman who took care of the silkworms, thinking only of the child, didn’t pull at all. Again, the Lord Lieutenant’s wife won.
Then the judge picked up the baby and handed him to the woman who took care of the silkworms, and said: “The child is clearly yours, because your love for him is such that you would rather let him go, than have him harmed.”
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 Camas Lilies by Lynn Ungar
Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas
opening into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you — what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down —
papers, plans, appointments, everything —
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
Prayer by Cliff Reed
In the quietness of this place and the peace of this hour,
may we come close to our deeper selves.
Fantasies and daydreams too often cloud our minds,
and we use our time and energy pursuing empty goals.
In busy-ness we lose our way.
Let us listen to the deep insistent call within us.
May we learn to love our poor fragmented selves
that they may be healed.
And may we turn that love outwards,
that it might heal the wounds which hate and fear have made.
Let us not be deceived about ourselves or about our world,
so that we neither crash in disillusion nor be twisted by cynicism.
If truth and clear vision be granted us, then let us give thanks.
May arrogance never trap us into thinking that truth has but one aspect.
May we stand face to face with ourselves,
recognising that which is truly ours,
and that which is the imposition of others.
And as we do, may we feel the love which unites us all in the depths of our being.
Reading Why live simply? by Ray Lovegrove
The reasons for adopting a simple lifestyle are often only perceptible to those who do so. Ask any practitioner, and you will get a range of answers, varying from those who see it as a way of ‘opting out’ of the system, to those who see it as a spiritual path which helps them to add an additional dimension to their lives. As for myself, as a Quaker, I see a simple lifestyle as a way of focussing my attention on important things, whilst clearing away the physical and mental clutter that goes with life in a post-industrial society. Those ‘more important things’ include my family and a kind of three-pronged communion with God, my community and myself. For you, it might be very different, but while our reasons for travelling the road to simplicity may differ, our direction is the same – the desire to live a more simple, more satisfying, more rewarding life.
In this ‘new life’, we accept the need to be more self-sufficient, less dependent on the consumer-led society around us, and more satisfied with what we have. We do not expect a simpler lifestyle to give us more money, more material possessions, more power over the lives of others, or even more time, but we do expect that the quality of our lives, and the lives of those we come into contact with to be touched by the beauty and grace-like calm of simplicity.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Thomas Rhodes, adapted)
Let us enter into a time of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.
Feel the earth beneath your feet as it supports you.
Feel the love of this virtual community as it surrounds and enfolds you.
Feel your breath as it flows in
and out of your body.
Listen to your heartbeat.
Listen to your heart.
Take another breath, and hold it.
The air you hold in your body is the most precious thing in the world,
for your very life depends on it.
And yet, none of us can hold on to it for more than a moment,
or else we would strangle and die.
What is most precious to us must be released,
so that we may live, and live fully.
Look into your heart, find what is there, and hold it.
The love you hold within your heart is the most precious thing in the world.
And yet no one can hold on to it any more than your heart can withhold its blood,
or else we would die from loneliness and misery.
What is most precious to us must be shared,
so that we may love, and love fully.
Look into your life, at those things that are most precious to you.
Look again, you will find that their value lies not in being held,
but in being shared.
Life, love, laughter, longing,
may we share these precious gifts
that they may return to us, multiplied beyond measure. Amen
Musical Interlude Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Letting Go
We are all busy people, with many pressures on us to meet deadlines, and never quite getting there, wherever “there” is. So today, just for this one holy hour, as the chalice lighting invited us, let us try to let go.
It is very easy to spend our lives chasing after the next thing that needs doing, the next goal that presents itself to us, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We move forwards through time, and it is natural to look to the future. But I am afraid that this is often at the expense of appreciating what we have in the present. This is certainly true in my case. I always have a to-do list on the go – especially this year – and have to consciously put a weekly Sabbath into my diary, so that I can let go, and spend some time just being.
This is why I found the words of the poem by Lynn Ungar, which I shared as our first reading, so moving: “What of your rushed and useful life? Imagine setting it all down – papers, plans, appointments, everything – leaving only a note: ‘Gone to the fields to be lovely.’ Be back when I’m through with blooming.” Such a fabulous reminder that actually there are other things than the current task, which are just as important, if our lives are to be rich and meaningful, rather than rushed and pressured.
I am slowly coming to realise that many of the pressures in our lives (certainly many of the pressures in my life) are self-inflicted. It is my distracted self who chases after material possessions, who needs to be in control, who perpetually worries about the next thing, who strives after perfection, and who finds it hard to let go of old regrets and grievances. I’m doing it all to myself.
I’m beginning to learn that the starting point for breaking out of all this pressure, for getting away from all this self-inflicted stress, is Just Letting Go. Which for an Enneagram Type 3 (The Performer) who is highly motivated to be achieving stuff all the time, is pretty darn difficult. But as Richard Rohr writes in Discovering the Enneagram: “To be healed and redeemed, Threes must learn to be alone. They need a place of silence and seclusion, where there is no public feedback, no applause, and no admiration. Contemplative prayer and silent meditation are the appropriate “prescriptions”. When Threes begin to discover their inner world, in the beginning they generally make that into a project too: they want to meditate successfully. It takes a while before they notice that the point is to do nothing, to learn nothing, simply to exist.” Oh dear!
Relinquishing control, stepping out of the centre, sitting still and letting nothing happen, are all incredibly difficult for me. And I guess this is true for many of us. It involves trust – trust that things will work out without our help, trust that God has got our backs. And it’s a slow process. But I have found that sitting in silence is a sure route towards inner peace.
Letting go of desire, the advertising-driven craving for ever-more material possessions, is also hard. Simplicity is one of the five Quaker testimonies. In their Advices and Queries, they say: “Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle, freely chosen, is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?” On the Quakers in Britain website, they explain: “Quakers are concerned about the excesses and unfairness of our consumer society, and the unsustainable use of natural resources. We try to live simply and to give space for the things that really matter: the people around us, the natural world, our experience of God.”
And I am finding that these beliefs, these ideas, matter increasingly to me. I know that my lifestyle is currently very far from simple, and that the way I live has more of an impact on the environment than it should. But I am working on it. For example, in the last two years, I have been trying to eat more healthily. I am still very bad at buying new books whenever I see them but try to really consider whether I need other consumer items, such as clothes or jewellery, or gadgets. Because I do believe that “a simple lifestyle, freely chosen, is a source of strength.”
Living in the 21st century is a complicated business. Never before have we been bombarded with so much information or had so many possibilities as to how we spend our leisure time. We carry around in our pockets and handbags gadgets which can take photos, show films, play games and access millions of websites from around the world, all at the touch of a button (or, more likely, a screen, these days!). I do sometimes wonder whether we have lost anything among all this bounty. And whether we might not actually be better off without some of it. Whether we should just let some of it go.
Worrying about the next thing is an insidious problem. Because if we are forever thinking about the future, then we do not appreciate what is happening in the present. So another important aspect of letting go involves noticing what is happening at each passing moment, and being present. I find the words of Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata, so moving and so speaking to my condition (as the Quakers would say). The whole poem is full of good advice about living in the present and appreciating what you have: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” And “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.” And “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.” And “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” Whenever I read it, I feel centred, as though someone has patted me on the shoulder and said, “There, it’s all right. Things are fine. You’re fine.”
Letting go of the need to be perfect, being “gentle with yourself” is another hard one. So I was reassured this morning to read the words of Francis de Sales, “Stop worrying. Whatever it is that you must do to follow the path that God has shown you, do to the best of your ability. And when you have done it, move on to the next thing. Don’t keep re-running it in your mind, trying to decide whether your efforts were too little or too much, whether it was a great deed or a small one, whether you might have done better. If it wasn’t sinful, and you were trying to do the will of God, it is enough. Don’t worry. Move on. Simply. Calmly. Peacefully.” I guess that means that our best is always good enough, and that striving after perfection is not necessary. Which is good to hear.
Letting go of loved ones is always hard, but always necessary. It is now nearly a decade since my two children-no-longer-children went off to university, and it took me years to come to terms with not having them around. But now I am glad that they are happily living their own lives and rejoice whenever I see them.
Letting go of a loved one who has died is, of course, the hardest thing of all. The process of grief is a long and complicated one, and is different for every individual. One of the most important aspects of being a religious community is being there for people who are going through this long, sad, angry process. The only thing we can do is to be there for them, as sympathetic, empathic presences.
Letting go of the negative things, which keep us rooted in the past – self-doubts, regrets, and petty grievances, grudges and old hatreds – is also tough. Doing this involves forgiving ourselves, and forgiving other people, and asking for others’ forgiveness. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu launched the Forgiveness Project a few years ago, and I think it is fantastic. Starting from the point that “there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no-one undeserving of forgiveness”, they have devised a Fourfold Path of Forgiving, which involves Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship.
This is not easy stuff, by any means. It involves letting go of the desire for revenge, or even justice, letting go of old grudges, and allowing oneself to heal and become whole.
As they explain, “If you are seeking to forgive, we hope to point the way to freedom. We will show you how you can release a perpetrator’s hold on you, and free yourself from the biting chains of resentment and anger that bind you to your experience. If you are in need of forgiveness, it is our hope that this book will show you a clear path to freeing yourself from the shackles of your past and help you to move forward in your life.”
Letting go, whatever form it takes, can be a tough call. And we need the support of friends, of a spiritual community, to do it wholeheartedly. May we be such friends to each other.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we learn to let go of the stress
And worry, the desires and grudges of our lives.
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