Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Rebecca Solnit, from Recollections of my Non-existence
Change is the measure of time, and I discovered that in order to see change you had to be slower than it, and that by living in one place for a quarter century, it became visible to me.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Cliff Reed)
We light this chalice
to bring light to our minds,
wisdom to our souls, and
warmth to our hearts:
light to show us the Way,
wisdom to walk it truly,
warmth to enfold our fellow
pilgrims with compassion.
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,
Story Change your thinking (source unknown)
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.
One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window.
The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.
Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.
The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and colour of the world outside.
The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every colour and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.
As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.
One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band, he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.
Days, weeks and months passed.
One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.
As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.
Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.
It faced a blank wall.
The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.
The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”
Epilogue: There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations. Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared, is doubled.
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 Uncertain World by Cliff Reed, from Beyond Darkness
In a world that is uncertain,
where all our plans may be swept away at any moment,
we can put no trust in the structures we erect,
the structures we inherit.
If they are all that we bequeath,
then we are bequeathing nothing that will last.
But we are human beings who have found in each other
a community of values.
It is these that unite us, inspire us, move us.
It is the love which underlies them that gives us
joy in one another, that gives us what strength we have.
As we face the tumults that await us,
that will make our plans as meaningless as any
that human beings have ever made,
we dedicate ourselves to the values
that make us truly human –
humble before the Infinite,
humble before each other’s deepest needs,
humble before the glory
and the terror of Creation.
We draw on our fund of values
and offer one another
what strength we have – and, in love,
we offer the world what we have found.
Prayer Spirit of Prophecy by Cliff Reed, from Beyond Darkness
May the spirit of prophecy be with us –
the spirit that speaks out against cruelty,
corruption, and injustice,
the spirit that speaks truth to power,
the spirit that isn’t cowed
by the bullies, bombasts, and tyrants.
May the spirit of prophecy be with us –
speaking out for this planet and its myriad creatures,
calling us and all people to reverence and protect
the cycles of nature.
May the spirit of prophecy be with us –
poured out upon Earth’s sons and daughters,
upon young women, young men, and all
who dream dreams of wholeness, beauty, and peace.
May it be so, Amen
Reading Green Revolution by Mel Prideaux, from With Heart and Mind
Real change is slow and incremental. Apparent sudden change, like a political revolution, is always the result of a long process of development and activism.
Real change happens person by person. The big issues like climate change can be reduced to thinking about our own actions, now. Individual choice about how to travel, how to heat our homes and what to buy will be what tips the balance in favour of the globe. All the politicians can do is attempt to influence individual choice.
Real change is about more than appearances. Why drive a low emission car, if by doing so you justify driving more often? Why use recycled paper but not recycle your own waste paper?
Real change can be painful but is rewarding. It is painful to change the driving habits of a lifetime, to forego a foreign holiday, to pay more for green electricity; but the long-term rewards are a future for our planet and our children.
Change is necessary.
Change can be a spiritual discipline. A green revolution requires people like us thinking through our actions and their consequences. It involves us taking seriously our responsibilities to the planet and to each other.
The green revolution will ride on the wave of a spiritual revolution when people everywhere listen to each other and the earth, and recognise that what unites us is much greater than the barriers we build between us.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Mel Prideaux, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
We are all blessed in so many ways.
In this time of stillness, reflect on the blessings in your life. Maybe concrete blessings such as a home, a car, a family, an education, or maybe more intangible blessings such as peace, beauty, love.
Hold one of these blessings in your thoughts. Spend some time reflecting on the responsibilities that are linked to the blessing. (for example, if your blessing is your home, perhaps your responsibility is to care for it and ensure it does nothing to damage other homes. If the blessing is peace, perhaps the responsibility is to work towards peace for everyone).
Let us consider these blessings in the silence… [silence]
We give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.
We recognise our roles as agents of change.
May we commit ourselves to our responsibilities as global citizens,
May our prayers be heard, may our prayers be heard.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address Real Change
The Hungarian spiritual writer, Elisabeth Haich, once wrote, “Life is movement, change, transformation.” And of course, she’s right. Much though we may hate to hear it, as often as we may kid ourselves that our lives are going on very much the same as they always have, it simply isn’t true. I’m not the same person as I was yesterday, or last week, or last month, let alone last year. And neither are you. Even if, as Rebecca Solnit wrote, “in order to see change you ha[ve] to be slower than it.”
Because we live in a world where we are always encountering new things – new experiences, new people, new thoughts and ideas, new nudges from the Spirit. And we cannot help being changed by them. It may take us a while, screaming, protesting, and dragging at the hand that is trying to lead us forward, but we’ll get there in the end.
How much better to be open to movement, change, transformation. To embrace it, even… I honestly believe that it is up to us to keep our hearts and minds and spirits open to new experiences, so that we may grow as people. It’s also important to be nice to ourselves, to understand our natural inclination towards the status quo, and not beat ourselves up when we resist movement, change, transformation. And to understand that these things are just as hard for everyone else we know, and not to blame them when they, too, resist.
A while ago, our son persuaded us to watch an astonishing video on YouTube, called Timelapse of the Future: A Journey to the End of Time, which took the longest view of our future as it is possible to take. It is well worth a watch. It showed that everything, absolutely everything, is subject to change. Watching it made me feel very small and insignificant. On the scale of universes, we are not even microscopic dots on microscopic dots. Nevertheless, we are here in a particular time and place, and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can where we are, to ensure that Nature continues to flourish, rather than dying.
As Mel Prideaux wrote in our third reading, “Real change happens person by person. The big issues like climate change can be reduced to thinking about our own actions, now. Individual choice about how to travel, how to heat our homes and what to buy will be what tips the balance in favour of the globe… Change is necessary. Change can be a spiritual discipline. A green revolution requires people like us thinking through our actions and their consequences. It involves us taking seriously our responsibilities to the planet and to each other.”
I love the quotation by Forrest Church, late Unitarian Universalist Minister at All Souls in New York City: “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” In other words, we don’t need to conquer the world right off the bat. Changes are made by individual people, doing what they can from where they are, using the skills that they have, and being open to change and growth.
I would guess that all of us could make a list of “things that are wrong with the world.” They might include, poverty, war, homelessness, exploitation of the planet, violence, marginalisation of “the other” (whomever the other might be) – the list is endless and depressing. And overwhelming. What can we, individual little people, do about it all?
The answer, I believe, is in the words of 13th century Persian poet, Saadi, “It is not an art to conquer the world; if you can, conquer a heart.” “If you can, conquer a heart.” Use the mind, heart, and abilities we have been given to change one person’s mind, to pick up one piece of litter, to choose to buy one eco-friendly bottle of washing up liquid, to sign one petition, to attend one protest. Then, to further the washing metaphor, “rinse and repeat.”
This approach also applies to tasks which feel “too big” for us. When faced with a serious and complicated task (or a task which we feel is serious and complicated), it is human nature to procrastinate, to do that which is easiest, and to ignore that which is difficult and overwhelming.
Let me give you an example. A while ago, I read about a wonderful writing program called Scrivener and knew it would ultimately make my writing life easier. But it was such a massive temptation to carry on using the same old, less efficient software that I knew so well. Because the struggle to learn how to use a new piece of software efficiently daunted me.
So I downloaded a free trial edition and spent an evening going through the tutorial. I could see that once I’d got to grips with it, it was going to make my novel so much more fun to write. But it was packed full of unfamiliar features. In the end, I ordered a copy of Scrivener for Dummies, and gave it a proper go. Because I knew that once I’d taken the first step of actually engaging with the software, it would become easier and easier to use, as I became more familiar with it. And so it has proved.
But that first step is the most difficult. Conquering one heart is the most difficult. The greatest amount of energy is used when we start moving. From standing still to first step takes more energy (certainly more emotional and spiritual energy) than the following steps. But after that, a sort of virtuous feedback loop is set up, and as we form a new habit, make a change in our lives, it becomes easier to maintain it, the longer we do it.
Some years ago, I was given an amazing little book called Who Moved My Cheese? which had the subtitle, An amazing way to deal with change in your work and your life. The basic plot was simple: four beings (two mice and two Littlepeople) are living in a maze and looking for cheese – “cheese being a metaphor for what we want to have in life, whether it is a job, a relationship, money, a big house, freedom, health, recognition, spiritual peace, or even an activity like jogging or golf” as the author, Dr Spencer Johnson, explains. The two mice are Sniff “who sniffs out change early” and Scurry “who scurries into action.” The two Littlepeople are Hem, “who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse” and Haw, “who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing can lead to something better.”
Although on one level, it is a very simple tale – when the cheese runs out at one Cheese Station, the two mice immediately head off to another part of the Maze and eventually find some new cheese, whereas the two Littlepeople take longer to react – it is a profound metaphor for our attitudes to change. Some people sense very early on that change is in the air, and trim their sails accordingly, and some rush straight into action in the new direction. But others, like the Littlepeople, find change very challenging. Some, like Hem, simply cannot accept that a change has taken place, and stay as they are, in the stubborn and despairing belief that things will go back to what they were. (note: this never, ever happens). Others, like Haw, are afraid of change at first, but then common sense kicks in and they realise that anything is better than staying on the sinking ship, or in the losing situation, and slowly, warily, move on and discover that actually, change can be positive.
In the story, Haw leaves Hem at the old, empty Cheese Station and sets out to find New Cheese. On the way, he makes a series of discoveries about himself, and leaves little notices up on the walls of the Maze for Hem to find, should he summon up the courage to leave the old Cheese Station. In the process, he learns how to cope productively with change, so that it is an opportunity rather than a challenge. I’d like to share the notices with you:
- They keep moving the Cheese. (change happens)
- Get ready for the Cheese to move. (anticipate change)
- Smell the Cheese often so you know when it is getting old. (monitor change)
- The quicker you let go of Old Cheese, the sooner you can enjoy New Cheese. (adapt to change quickly)
- Move with the Cheese. (change)
- Savour the adventure and enjoy the taste of New Cheese! (enjoy change!)
- They keep moving the Cheese. (be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again)
Each of us has been given a brain and a heart to approach the new in a spirit of curiosity, rather than dread. Let us use them as best we can, so that we may grow into the best people we can be. Because it is only by embracing the new that real change, necessary change, will happen in the world. Let us pray to be awake and aware and open to new experiences.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we keep our minds and hearts and spirits
Open to change, so that we are able to embrace it,
Rather than fearing it.
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