Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Look to this day from the Sanskrit
Look to this day – for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision,
but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to 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 to each other,
in reverence and love.
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
Reading from Not Just the Outcome, But the Process by Joshua Becker
45 days ago, I became a full-time writer. Since making the change, friends and acquaintances have asked often how I enjoy my new role in the world. I typically respond by saying, “Well, you know what they say… I hate writing, but I enjoy having written.” I’ll go on to describe the difficult and unsexy writing process. But then I’ll describe how wonderful it feels to finish something that will be read and will live on to be picked up by any person, anywhere, at any point in the future. It’s a wonderful feeling really. And the quote is actually a pretty good description of the process.
But there’s one problem with my response—it focuses all joy on the outcome rather than the journey. It finds fulfilment in the product, but not in the process. And this tendency to focus positively on the outcome while lamenting the journey is far too common.
We long for the house to be clean, but hate the steps to get there. We look forward to reaching a desired weight but suffer through the diet or the exercise. We desire the college degree, but despise the homework assignments along the way. We live for the weekend when our work will be done, but complain about the idea of Monday morning coming again so soon.
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 Not Just the Outcome, But the Process by Joshua Becker
This approach of only appreciating joy in the outcome robs us of countless moments along the way. When joy is only found in the final product, the rest of our lives are experienced as something to be avoided, endured, or suffered through.
This approach has other short-sighted, negative effects:
- It discounts the role and importance of work and effort in our lives.
- It misses opportunity to celebrate the small steps we take along the way.
- It overlooks the value of exercising discipline.
- It fails to appreciate the value of discomfort in our growth.
There is a better way: Mindfulness. Mindfulness maintains a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surrounding environment. It does not delay joy until the finish line. Instead, it seeks meaning and intentionality throughout each step of the process.
I learned this practice when I first stopped using a dishwasher. While I used to view washing dishes as a chore to be dreaded, I suddenly began to view it as the final step in our meal and an act of service to my family. This new approach began to change the way I viewed this chore and many others.
There is a Zen proverb… that often gets modified around my house. It starts to sound like this, “When washing the dishes, wash the dishes. When doing homework, do homework. When playing with your friends, play with your friends. When cleaning the bathroom, clean the bathroom.” Each time, it communicates the same meaning:
Recognize the importance and the joy in your present activity. Be mindful in every moment and each step of the journey. There is indeed great joy to be found in the process—not just in the outcome.
Prayer by Geoffrey R. Usher, from With Heart and Mind 2
God of the simple life, we withdraw
from the noise and the confusion of the world around us,
and seek the stillness at the heart of life.
Help us to put aside the many distractions
that clamour for our attention:
the concern with getting and spending,
rather than listening and reflecting;
the accumulation of material goods,
rather than spiritual insight;
the assumption that wealth of possessions
will satisfy all our needs.
Help us to clear away the confusion of our daily lives,
and to focus on what is truly important,
not only for our physical needs but also for our spiritual welfare.
Help us to be satisfied with enough,
and not always to crave for more.
May we be grateful for the abundance of good gifts
that are available to us,
but may we not be wasteful.
May we build right relationships with our families,
with our neighbours and friends,
and with ourselves.
Reading from Spirit of Sacredness by Celia Cartwright, from With Heart and Mind 2
Thomas Moore, in The Soul’s Religion, speaks of spiritual growth, stressing the need for ‘emptiness’. He says that, ‘To enter the area of the spiritual and the holy, the precinct of the sacred, requires a profound openness of mind and heart…’
It took a death to empty me, a death to strip me of much I held as religion, faith, belief; a death to enable me to challenge the unchallenged and begin in earnest my own journey along the path of my Unitarian faith. Sometimes, I re-encountered familiar scenes: the humility of Jesus, the myths of the ancients; but often I found new vistas, new experiences, new understanding – some absurd, some rational, some fascinating, and some simply wonder-full.
Sometimes, in the busyness and fullness of my life, I find myself yearning for the emptiness; so I make time to stop and empty myself, knowing the thread of my Unitarian faith will hold me safe. From the emptiness I re-engage with what is truly real, both the rational and the mystical, for each has its own place in my spiritual lexicon. In the emptying and the filling I find inspiration for the next stage of my journey.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Celia Cartwright, from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now.
Let us reach out to gather your strength about us and within us.
In the humdrum and the hurly-burly of our lives
we need strength for our journey,
strength to hold us when we falter,
strength to share with those who walk alongside us,
strength to keep going when the road is long and difficult.
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now.
Let us reach out and gather your calmness about us and within us.
In the midst of the clamour that fills our days
we need a quiet place in which to stop and rest,
a quiet place where our racing thoughts can slow
to a pace that we can begin to manage them, to sort them,
to act upon them, or dismiss them.
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now.
Let us reach out and gather your joyfulness about us and within us.
In the midst of the routine that fills our days
let us be reminded that life is far from ordinary,
that joy lies waiting in each bright shaft of sunlight,
in the singing of birds and the form of the hills and the valleys,
and in the presence of those who share this life with us.
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now, in the silence.
We open our hearts and minds,
and we receive your gifts with gladness.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Process Is Important Too
The 19th century Russian novelist Turgenev once advised, “You have to arrange life so that every moment is meaningful.”
And yes, I agree that this ought to be something towards which we aspire. As Joshua Becker explained in our first and second readings, the process of doing something is as important as the final outcome, and if we want our lives to be rich and meaningful, we need to celebrate the small moments along the way, rather than being so fixated on our end-goal, that we tend to “focus positively on the outcome while lamenting the journey.” Which is such a waste of potential joy!
And Friedrich Schiller, the German playwright, once wrote, “Do not lose yourself in the distant time! Take the moment that’s yours.” Over the past few years, I have come to believe that God’s presence is everywhere, in our ordinary, everyday lives, in all the moments we disregard and rush through, because our eyes are fixed elsewhere. I believe that through sacred living – weaving moments of attention into our everyday lives and recognising the sacred there – we will find that which gives our lives purpose and meaning. Sacred living (or mindfulness, as Joshua Becker calls it) is about living with a new level of awareness. It is about going through each normal day paying attention to what is happening in each passing moment. It is about noticing the presence of the divine, the numinous, everywhere – in the natural world, in other people, in ourselves, in the mundane tasks of our lives, and in things that happen to us.
Then, we will be able to pray with Mary Jean Irion, “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savour you, before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.”
Amen… Because today is all we have. I believe that today is the only place in which time touches eternity. I love the Sanskrit affirmation with which this service began: “Look to this day – for it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence: the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.”
Yet how often do we spend our days (or one day, or even part of a day) being totally present? Appreciating every moment, every interaction, every person or object or phenomenon our senses come into contact with? I know I don’t!
So how do we spend our days? Many of us, especially as we grow older, spend them living in the past, looking back with either pleasure or regret (or a mixture of both). And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being nostalgic about our past lives, so long as the past is a place we visit, rather than the place we live. As the Sanskrit wise one said, “yesterday is but a dream.” It is no longer real.
Others of us spend our days in the future, always heading towards the next goal, the next hill to climb. Our diaries are full for weeks to come, and there always seems to be a long to-do list on the go. I write a new one, every Monday morning, to make sure that all the things I need to get done in the forthcoming week, somehow get done. And yes, forward planning is important, as we try to juggle home life, work life, looking after children, looking after parents, some sort of social life. If we didn’t plan, everything would come down crash. But sadly, this means that we are often so fixated on the outcome of what we are doing, we forget to enjoy the process along the way.
How much more fun we might get out of our lives if we could “slow down and smell the roses”! Yet I also believe that it is probably not possible to spend every moment of our lives in a meaningful way. Perhaps it may be, for some who are very far advanced on their spiritual journey – people like the late Vietnamese Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh, for example. But I (and I guess, most of us) are still very far from achieving that total mindfulness which Turgenev seems to be recommending, arranging our lives so that “every moment is meaningful.”
I do try to be spiritually awake and aware, and to be present for as much of my waking time as I can, so that I can appreciate the world around me, the people around me, more. But sometimes, I just want to Blob. To turn off my brain and sit in front of something entertaining on the television.
Or lose myself in a wonderful book. And I have found that it is nearly impossible to do this “mindfully”. I sit with my eyes flying across the page, filling my mind and heart with the story that is going on in front of my eyes. I guess that at such times, I am fully present to what is happening in the book. But I don’t think that is the same as making every moment meaningful. For me, mindful reading is when I detach slightly from the story and admire what the author is doing with their choice of words or phrases. Or maybe that’s just the writer in me.
Or am I misunderstanding what Turgenev meant? Does arranging our lives so that every moment is meaningful mean something else? Is it more about being present to what we’re doing – whatever that is – whether or not it has meaning for us? In which case, Joshua Becker’s advice makes sense – as he wrote, “Mindfulness maintains a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surrounding environment. It does not delay joy until the finish line. Instead, it seeks meaning and intentionality throughout each step of the process. I learned this practice when I first stopped using a dishwasher. While I used to view washing dishes as a chore to be dreaded, I suddenly began to view it as the final step in our meal and an act of service to my family. This new approach began to change the way I viewed this chore and many others.”
I think mindfulness, being aware of the daily processes of what we do, depends in part on our attitude to life. I honestly believe that if our outlook is positive, and we pay attention to what we are doing, almost any ordinary day can become a better day. As the Roman poet, Horace, once wrote, “The ideal day will never come. It is today, if we make it so.”
Which made me wonder about what my own “ideal day” might look like. I crave your indulgence: here is my ideal day. Yours will differ (of course) because you are not me. But I would love to know what your ideal day would look like…
I would wake up early, naturally, not through an alarm. The weather would be warm and sunny – ideal for taking a walk in Salcey Forest. So I would do my morning sit and then head out to soak up the Forest’s natural beauty.
Refreshed, I would come back and write my Morning Pages before sitting down to do some writing. And because this is my ideal day, the words would flow easily and I would complete the latest scene for my novel, full of vivid colour and detail.
Then I would wander back downstairs and do whatever Unitarian work needed doing, being fully present to the needs of the day. After which, I would be free to spend time on my latest crochet project. At the moment, I’m working on a cardigan for myself, which is fun.
During the day, I would turn on the radio to hear that the Russians have withdrawn from Ukraine and that the United Nations has launched two initiatives: one to end world poverty and the other to combat climate change, and that all the countries of the world had signed up to both (well, I can dream…)
In the evening, pleasantly tired, I would sit with my husband in the lounge, watching a programme we both enjoy, with the cat purring on my lap. Then I would enjoy a nice warm bath, before retiring to bed with a good book.
I count myself blessed that this ideal day is often a truth (apart from the good news on the international front) rather than an ideal. But here’s the thing – would I appreciate it, if I was not being mindful of what was happening, moment by moment?
Let us all strive to be open to appreciating the multifarious processes of our lives, rather than being fixated on only the outcomes. May we focus our joy on the journey as well as the finish line. Amen
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we learn to be mindful in our
everyday lives, so that we appreciate
the ordinary days which are our lot,
neither pining for the past, nor yearning for the future.
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