Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by David Usher (adapted)
We come together today, seeking a reality beyond our narrow selves; that binds us in compassion, love, and understanding to other human beings, and to the interdependent web of all living things.
May our hearts and minds be opened this hour, to the power and the insight that weaves together the scattered threads of our experience, and help us remember the wholeness of which we are part.
We come together to renew our faith in the holiness, the goodness, the beauty of life.
To reaffirm the way of the open mind and the full heart;
To rekindle the flame of memory and hope;
And to reclaim the vision of an earth more fair, with all her people one.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Cliff Reed)
We gather in a house of peace,
where violence of hand or tongue
are unwelcome strangers.
The Spirit is among us as we breathe and sing and pray,
speaking gentle, kind, and friendly words.
Within us and through us may Divine Love reach out,
cooling hearts in which resentment burns,
warming hearts made deathly cold by hatred,
reviving hearts grown lukewarm with unconcern.
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, Amen
Story: When has the night ended? By Bill Darlison
A rabbi gathered his students together very early one morning, before the sun had risen. ‘How do you know when the night has ended and the day has come?’ he asked them.
One student answered: ‘When you can see an animal in the distance and you can tell whether it is a sheep or a goat.’
‘That’s not the answer,’ said the rabbi.
‘When you can tell whether a distant tree is a fig tree or an apple tree,’ said another.
‘No,’ replied the rabbi. ‘That is wrong, too.’
A few more students had a try, but each time the rabbi shook his head. ‘Tell us, then,’ said one student, ‘when do we know that the night has ended and day has come?’
‘When you can look at the face of any man or woman and see them as your brother or your sister. If you cannot do this, it is still night, no matter what the time of day,’ said the rabbi.
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 The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong
Here again, the religious traditions were in unanimous agreement. The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for the rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul, and for Muhammad, not to mention Confucius, Lao Tse, the Buddha, or the sages of the Upanishads. … Compassion has been advocated by all the great faiths because it has been found to be the safest and surest means of attaining enlightenment. It dethrones the ego from the centre of our lives and puts others there, breaking down the carapace of selfishness that holds us back from an experience of the sacred. And it gives us ecstasy, broadening our perspectives and giving us a larger, enhanced vision. … We are liberated from personal likes and dislikes that limit our vision, and are able to go beyond ourselves.
Prayer by Leaf Seligman
We pause in the stillness to rest for a moment, to quiet ourselves so that we can feel what stirs within us. Each breath draws us closer to the pulse of life and with each exhalation we make room for something new. May we find in this gathering the comfort of those who care. May we encounter patience along our growing edges and compassion in our most tender spots. Here may we find the inspiration and encouragement we need to face our challenges and nurture ourselves. And in the presence of suffering across the globe may we redouble our efforts to practice kindness where we are, with the hope that the light of our actions travels like the light of faraway stars. May our gestures of compassion and generosity seed possibility. May we walk humbly with one another, choosing reconciliation over resentment as we try to live right-sized. When life presses in and shifts us off balance, when pain assails us, when frustration mounts, may the rhythm of our breath steady us and bring us back to a place of gratitude.
Reading Right Speech by Chris Goacher, from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.’ Remember learning that at school? I believe it is the most erroneous thing that we can teach children. A broken arm will heal in time; a broken soul may take a lifetime, if at all.
Some time ago, following the dubious behaviour of two radio broadcasters, we saw the power of words; words can destroy relationships, a career, a reputation; they can also destroy a childhood, a love, a faith. Many people recognised that a boundary had been crossed; and what was suggested as funny or entertaining was anything but.
In Buddhism, there is a concept of ‘Right Speech’. Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “There is a saying in Vietnamese, ‘it doesn’t cost anything to have loving speech.’” It is true, we need only choose our words carefully, and we can make people very happy. Many people believe that they will be generous once they have accumulated huge wealth; young people dream of becoming doctors or movie stars or rich and famous people, before they can help people.
There are many ways to be generous to people right now, we don’t have to wait. If we are motivated by loving kindness and compassion, we can make people happy right now, beginning with Right Speech. Being aware of the danger of careless or unmindful speech leads us into a world of loving kindness. We can make the world a better, happier place. Maybe we could begin to practice mindful speech by using Socrates’ ‘triple filter’. Ask ourselves – is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?
We have seen for ourselves the consequences that uncaring, unmindful speech can bring. Let us promise to be aware and compassionate to each other… beginning now.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Chris Goacher, from With Heart and Mind 2
Let your mind rest.
Let the rhythm of your breathing be to you a safe haven.
Let all but this moment be forgotten… for a time.
So much of our speech is reflective of our inner feelings.
Are we really angry with our friend, or embarrassed that they have discovered our error?
Have we scolded our child for using bad language when we should have realised that it is from us that they have learned such words?
Have we been guilty of gossiping and offering judgement when we should have been caring?
For a moment, let us reflect on such times…
In recognising times when we have fallen short of this ideal, let us also recognise times when we have felt the pain and disappointment of words that have been said to us, and about us… painful times.
In forgiving, may we too be forgiven, and in remembering the costs of unmindful speech, may we learn and aspire to do better.
Words have the power to break us down or to build us up; to generate hate, or create love, to open the gates of Heaven or Hell.
This is the responsibility we have for each other.
May the words we choose be true, kind, and helpful.
May it be so, Amen.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
The title for this week’s service was prompted by a quotation I saw on Facebook recently, by Karen Salmansohn: “View your life with kindsight. Stop beating yourself up about things from the past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, ‘What was I thinking?’, breathe and ask yourself the kinder question, ‘What was I learning?’”
Kindsight – such a wonderful concept. One of my favourite Catholic divines, St Francis de Sales, once wrote, “When it comes to being gentle, start with yourself. Don’t get upset with your imperfections… It’s a great mistake – because it leads nowhere – to get angry because you are angry, upset at being upset, disappointed because you are disappointed… You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it.”
“You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it.” Oh. How often do we pile anger on top of anger, upset on top of upset, and disappointment on top of disappointment, rather than trying to gently, kindly, rationally explore how not to repeat our mistakes? I know I do…
In the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus bids us to be wary of judging others if our own copybook is less than spotless, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.”
It is only too easy for us to judge others without really knowing them. To judge them by how they look, what they say, how they act. Without knowing what is in their hearts, what their motivations are, what their life experience has been, which has led them to this point in our lives.
If we don’t remember this, it is easy, very easy, for us to put the blame for our own situation on others, blaming them for our own pain and discomfort. In her wonderful book, Daring Greatly, sociologist Brené Brown writes about what she calls ‘the blame game’:
“If blame is driving, shame is riding shot-gun. In organizations, schools and families, blaming and finger-pointing are often symptoms of shame. Shame researchers June Tangney and Ronda Dearing explain that in shame-bound relationships, people ‘measure carefully, weigh, and assign blame.’ They write, ‘In the face of any negative outcome, large or small, someone or something must be found responsible (and held accountable). There’s no notion of ‘water under the bridge’. They go on to say, ‘After all, if someone must be to blame and it’s not me, it must be you! From blame comes shame. And then hurt, denial, anger and retaliation.’”
Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort. We blame when we’re uncomfortable and experience pain – when we’re vulnerable, angry, hurt, in shame, grieving. There’s nothing productive about blame, and it often involves shaming someone or just being mean. If blame is a pattern in your culture, then shame needs to be addressed as an issue.”
And even if we are not blaming other people, many of us (myself included) blame ourselves, far too easily. How often have we done something wrong or made a mistake, and said to ourselves, “You idiot! Why did you do that?”
That is not showing kindsight. What would our relationship with ourselves be like, if we chose to follow Karen Salmansohn’s advice and “instead of slapping [our] forehead and asking, ‘What was I thinking?’, breathe and ask [ourselves] the kinder question, ‘What was I learning?’”
Kindness, whether to ourselves or to others, is closely related to compassion. It means responding to the best in another person (or ourselves) and forgiving the worst. It means making a positive difference to their lives, by small acts of kindness – remembering to send a birthday card, giving them a ring ‘just because’, listening with the ear of our hearts, and knowing them well enough to tiptoe around their tender spots and rejoice with them when they are happy.
Many of us are quite good (when we remember) at being kind to other people. But not so good at being kind to ourselves. How often do we perform small acts of kindness to ourselves? How often do we cut ourselves some slack when we have made a mistake, give ourselves a small treat if we’re feeling down, allow ourselves to take a break if we’re feeling tired, choose not to beat ourselves up if something unfortunate happens? I would certainly never speak to anyone else as harshly as I sometimes speak to myself, nor blame them as quickly as I blame myself. Why do we behave differently towards ourselves than we do to other people? Because each of us is “unique, precious, a child of God” as the Quakers have it.
I love the words of Frederick Buechner, about how we act towards strangers can have a real knock-on effect. He wrote, “As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference or with hostility towards the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops, or in what far place my touch will be felt.”
And I believe that this is as true about showing kindness to ourselves as it is about showing kindness to others. When we choose to be kind to ourselves, when we choose to look on our past deeds and thoughts with kindsight, we are forgiving ourselves, and allowing ourselves to grow into the best people we can be. Instead of slapping ourselves down, keeping ourselves small.
I love Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s words, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” With the Quakers, I believe that there is “that of God in everyone” (including ourselves). A divine spark reaching out to the rest of the universe and to God. But we make the discerning of this difficult if we are always judging ourselves and others, rather than being kind to each other, kind to ourselves.
Some Unitarians believe in the Holy Spirit as Cliff Reed wrote, as, “the active divine presence in individuals and communities, as the divine breath that gives us life, as… the divine mystery moving among us and within us as we work and worship.” The belief in God as the Spirit working through human beings is one which many Unitarians, including myself, are increasingly warming to. While we may have rejected the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient God, many of us still believe that God definitely exists, as that “active divine presence” that Reed refers to. And it may help us to be kind to ourselves as well as to others if we remember that we too have that divine spark within ourselves.
Kindness is a wonderful thing – it costs nothing to be kind and the benefits can be enormous. A little kindness to others can grease the wheels of our social interactions. But it can take some thought – for example, instead of confronting someone with whom we disagree, we can instead choose to take a deep breath and follow Chris Goacher’s advice, which I shared as our final reading: “There are many ways to be generous to people right now, we don’t have to wait. If we are motivated by loving kindness and compassion, we can make people happy right now, beginning with Right Speech. Being aware of the danger of careless or unmindful speech leads us into a world of loving kindness. We can make the world a better, happier place. Maybe we could begin to practice mindful speech by using Socrates’ ‘triple filter’. Ask ourselves – is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?”
“Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?” If we remembered to ask ourselves those questions before we respond to any situation, whether it is with other people, or when we have done something we’re not happy about, I believe our lives would be much happier, as we have shown compassion to ourselves and others.
I will finish with the words of Mother Teresa. “Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbour… Let no-one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”
And kindness to yourself – it is difficult to be kind to others if we are continually beating ourselves up for our supposed shortcomings. May we all learn to cultivate kindsight.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we be kind to ourselves and kind to others,
recognising the spark of the divine within us all.
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