Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Geneen Roth (shared on Facebook, July 2022)
I believe in love. And beauty.
I believe that every single person has something they find beautiful and truly love. And I believe that if you follow this love all the way to its end,
if you start with the thing you find most beautiful
and trace its perfume back to its essence,
you will perceive an intangible presence, a swath of stillness,
that allows the thing you love to be visible
like the openness of the sky reveals the presence of the moon.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Cliff Reed)
May we keep the flame of truth
burning brightly among us, and by
its light find the treasure within
that is courage, wisdom and loving kindness.
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,
victims of violence and war,
suffering in any way,
Reading Everything Falls Away by Parker J. Palmer (shared on Facebook, July 2022)
Sooner or later, everything falls away.
You, the work you’ve done, your successes,
large and small, your failures too. Those
moments when you were light, alongside
the times you became one with the night.
The friends, the people you loved
who loved you, those who might have
wished you ill, none of this is forever.
All of it is soon to go, or going, or long gone.
Everything falls away, except the thread
you’ve followed, unknowing, all along.
The thread that strings together all you’ve
been and done, the thread you didn’t know
you were tracking until, toward the end,
you see that the thread is what stays
as everything else falls away.
Follow that thread as far as you can and
you’ll find that it does not end, but weaves
into the unimaginable vastness of life. Your
life never was the solo turn it seemed to be.
It was always part of the great weave of
nature and humanity, an immensity we
come to know only as we follow our own
small threads to the place where they
merge with the boundless whole.
Each of our threads runs its course, then
joins in life together. This magnificent tapestry –
this masterpiece in which we live forever.
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 Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth
“Mr Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” I wish that was my line (but alas, it belongs to James Joyce), since it perfectly expresses the mass twenty-first century evacuation from our bodies. We think of ourselves as walking heads with bothersome, unattractive appendages attached. … We crash around in our arms and legs, let them lift for us, hold our children for us, walk for us, without ever taking time to actually live in them.
Your body is the piece of the universe you’ve been given; as long as you have a pulse, it presents you with an ongoing shower of immediate sensate experiences. Red, salt, loneliness, heat. When a friend says something painful to you, your chest aches. When you fall in love, that same chest feels like fireworks and waterfalls and explosions of ecstasy. When you are lonely, your body feels empty. When you are sad, it feels as if there is a Mack truck sitting on your lungs. Grief feels like tidal waves knocking you down, joy like champagne bubbles welling up in your arms, your legs, your belly. Our minds are like politicians; they make stuff up, they twist the truth. Our minds are masters at blame, but our bodies… our bodies don’t lie. Which is, of course, why so many of us learned to zip out of them at the first sign of trouble.
Prayer Partakers of the Divine by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love, may we understand that
we are products and partakers of the Divine,
whether we like it or not,
as are all things that live, all things that exist.
With our minds we explore the mystery that is Divine,
seeking light in darkness,
and darkness in light.
As our souls seek communion with each other
in love and fellowship,
so they seek and find the Divine.
We cannot see God face to face,
yet we encounter God all the time and everywhere,
if we have eyes to see and ears to hear,
senses to connect us with what is around us –
and spirits to reflect.
The Divine is the Great Mystery
we can never really know, and yet
the Divine is no mystery at all.
May we have the clarity and humility to realise it.
Reading from A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller
We make only one choice. Throughout our lives, we do only one thing – again and again, moment by moment, year after year. It is how we live our days, and it is how we shape our lives.
The choice is this: What is the next right thing for us to do? Where in this moment, shall we choose to place our time and attention? Do we stay or move, speak or keep silent, attend to this person, that task, move in this or that direction?
With each succeeding moment, we make a new choice. After each decision, there is another. And another. These are not enormous choices, decisions about whether to change careers, get married, or move to a new city. Our choices are small, quiet, intimate things that flow from us as water from a mountain spring, simple, endless, each thimble of water tumbling into the next, creating a small stream that somehow, with neither a map nor a plan, through surprising twists and curving around unforeseen obstacles, somehow inevitably finds its way down the mountain to the sea.
If we follow our tiny stream, we will see that at every turn it makes a choice, to go right or left, over or around, or to pool up for a while, waiting to spill over. The stream knows nothing of what is ahead, is not conscious of planning for the future. It simply follows the path of least resistance, motivated by gravity. … So it is with our lives. The only choice we make – what is the next right thing to do – responds to a similarly vital inner gravity, an invisible thread that shapes our life, as our life meets the world.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Pat Womersley from With Heart and Mind 2
Creative and Loving Spirit –
You are incomprehensible in your otherness,
yet accessible to us in our everyday
experiences of living and relating,
and revealed in treasured moments of disclosure.
You are recognisable in gifts of grace that bring
blessings even in the darkest times.
Help us to be more responsive to your untiring invitations
to open our hearts and change our minds.
May we venture more courageously into unknown territory,
allow ourselves to feel both joy and sorrow more sensitively,
and acknowledge how little we know and appreciate
the inner reality of others.
May we honour the uniqueness and value
of their experience and hard-won wisdom,
respect their vulnerability, and never allow
our caring and concern to limit their freedom to change and grow.
Above all, may we be thankful
not only for your precious gift of being,
but even more for continuing possibilities of further becoming. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Follow the Thread
In the well-known fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, which the Brothers Grimm shared with the world in 1812, Hansel leaves a trail of breadcrumbs during their walk into the dark forest, so that they can find their way back home. But unfortunately, hungry animals and birds eat them all, so they are lost. As we often become during our lives, when we stop discerning and following the deepest thread of our lives.
I believe, with Parker J. Palmer and Wayne Muller, that there is a more reliable way of moving along the path of our spiritual lives, so that we can live with true integrity. Palmer speaks of “the thread you’ve followed, unknowing, all along, the thread that strings together all you’ve been and done, the thread you didn’t know you were tracking until, toward the end, you see that the thread is what stays as everything else falls away.”
What is this thread? I suppose in one sense it could refer to our conscience, or to that deepest part of ourselves, which is where God, which Cliff Reed refers to as “the Divine… the Great Mystery” lives. Certainly, Wayne Muller perceives it that way. In his wise words, which we heard in our final reading, he writes, “We make only one choice. Throughout our lives, we do only one thing – again and again, moment by moment, year after year. It is how we live our days, and it is how we shape our lives… The only choice we make – what is the next right thing to do – responds to a similarly vital inner gravity, an invisible thread that shapes our life, as our life meets the world.”
Again, that thread, which Muller calls a “vital inner gravity.” He asks, “What is the next right thing for us to do? Where in this moment, shall we choose to place our time and attention? Do we stay or move, speak or keep silent, attend to this person, that task, move in this or that direction?”
I don’t know about you, but to me, this seems to be such a simple approach to life, much less stressful than being worried about a thousand possible alternatives. You just concentrate on the Next Right Thing – give that your time and attention, and then go on to the next one.
But I’m very conscious that “simple” does not mean the same thing as “easy”. This moment by moment approach to our lives *is* elegantly beautiful in its simplicity, but it is by no means easy to do. Because it means that we have to be conscious, awake, moment by moment, so that we make our many small choices with awareness, rather than blindly, depending on how we are feeling at the time. Actively considering each choice, moment by moment, actually sounds like quite hard work. But it is the most important work in the world.
If we look at our lives, really examine them, we can see that they *are* the result of all the choices we have made, in the past days and months and years. Like Wayne Muller’s mountain stream, it is a gradual, moment by moment, process. Like the stream, we “know nothing of what is ahead, [are] not conscious of planning for the future. [We] simply follow the path of least resistance, motivated by gravity. … The only choice we make – what is the next right thing to do – responds to a similarly vital inner gravity, an invisible thread that shapes our life, as our life meets the world.”
Yes, the results of this process have shaped our lives. All of us are where we are now, today, because of our past choices. And where we end up, tomorrow and the next day, will depend on the choices we make today.
It’s about learning to understand what is right for us on the deepest level – what will nourish our hearts and souls, as opposed to making us feel fearful, worried, or empty. Of course it is never possible to re-track, to un-do the choices we have already made; but we can try to be more aware of the choice-making process, so that we don’t compromise all the time, choosing the seemingly easy over the right. Because very often, a choice made in haste, just to get it over with, actually leads to more worry and heartache, rather than less.
Brené Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, suggests that “what silences our intuitive voice…” (which is another way of identifying “the thread”) “… is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We like sure things and guarantees so much that we don’t pay attention to the outcomes of our brain’s matching process. For example, rather than respecting a strong internal instinct, we become fearful and look for assurances from others.” We ask questions: ‘What do you think?’ ‘What would you do?’ and ‘Should I do it, or do you think I’ll regret it?’
Brown continues, “A typical response to these survey questions is, ‘I’m not sure what you should do. What does your gut say?’ And there it is. What does your gut say? We shake our head and say, ‘I’m not sure’, when the real answer is, ‘I have no idea what my gut says; we haven’t spoken in years.’”
Which is where Geneen Roth’s insight about listening to our bodies comes in, because, as she writes, “Our minds are like politicians; they make stuff up, they twist the truth. Our minds are masters at blame, but our bodies… our bodies don’t lie.”
So how can we cultivate this very sane approach to our lives? How can we follow the “breadcrumbs from God”, as Wayne Muller so beautifully expresses it, elsewhere in his book? Discerning what the next right thing is, is something we need to practice every day. We also need good, honest friends, to whom we can go for advice when we are struggling, and who will tell us honestly and compassionately how we are doing – whether we seem grounded and centred, on the right track, or off-course and flailing. We also need to *be* such friends, to one another.
To give you a personal example, I have recently been invited to do something which involves a lot of time and expense (no, nothing to do with Unitarianism!) And I have been struggling with whether to say yes (the easy, people-pleasing option) or no, which is what my heart wants. I keep remembering Brené Brown’s wise words, when she suggests that we “choose discomfort over resentment.” In other words, that we choose to stay in our integrity when we are asked to do something which we have neither the inclination nor the time to do, and Just Say No. Otherwise, if we say “yes” and do whatever it is, we are likely to feel grumpy and resentful the whole time. Which is far from following the thread of our deepest selves.
I have shared my concerns with a dear friend and as a result, I have decided to listen to my intuition, to follow the instincts of my gut. But it’s so hard. I know that the person concerned will think less of me if I refuse, but I know I must not keep on swithering, which is the hardest thing of all. Living with uncertainty is not easy. In fact, most of us find it distinctly un-easy. I think we have to believe that if we follow our intuition truly, it will not let us down. And we will be able to remain in our integrity and follow the thread of our deepest beliefs. Which is never, ever wrong.
Integrity is not something we can achieve all at once, it is the work of a lifetime. Yet every time we choose the way of integrity, the way of truth-telling, the way of following the deepest thread of our lives, the more it will become habitual and the braver we will become. It is up to us to make the attempt to be authentic, to live with integrity, to be true to ourselves and what we value in our hearts, rather than trying to persuade ourselves into inappropriate feelings, just because they are what the majority in society believe. It is not a particularly comfortable way to live – it is much easier to run with the crowd and to follow others – to “fit in”.
But if we can learn to follow the “still, small voice” of our consciences, to follow where that invisible thread is leading, there is a better chance that we will do some good in the world. We are all inter-connected – to other human beings and to this beautiful planet we live on. As Joel Miller wrote, “Any act one of us will choose must change other lives, just as every act others choose changes our own lives.”
May we all choose to trust our intuition, the deepest desires of our hearts, and follow the deepest thread of our lives, the “breadcrumbs of God” that will lead us to a place of centred integrity.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we strive to discern the deepest thread of our lives,
And learn to live with integrity.
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