Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words A Year of Life by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place
From birth to twenty – spring:
all riotous, bursting, surging growth.
From twenty to forty – summer:
maturing, seeding, calming ripeness.
From forty to sixty – autumn:
slowing, reflecting, greying wisdom.
From sixty to eighty and beyond – winter:
resting, letting go, enjoying bright days before the night.
In the darkness, something stirs.
Spring will always come again –
the cycle doesn’t stop with me or you.
For this year of life, give thanks!
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Cliff Reed)
May ours be a morning light to guide the young,
a shining noonday sun to make our life’s way plain,
and a fire, warm and welcoming,
when evening comes.
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 Why we are here by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place
We are not here to judge, but to live as best we can, in peace and harmony with our neighbours, always aware of our own shortcomings.
We are not here to condemn, but to give such encouragement and assistance as we can to those we meet along the road.
We are not here to lecture others on goodness, but to ask how well we match up to the best that we know, the vision in our souls, and then try harder.
We are not here to claim a place with the ‘elect’, a place in heaven, but to live on this earth with love in our hearts and kindness in our deeds, just like everyone else.
We are not here to speak for God, but to heed the divine voice in ourselves and to be the divine presence in this glorious, complex and suffering world.
We are here to love our neighbour as we love ourselves; to be human to the best of our ability.
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 Autumn Life by Malcolm Sadler, from With Heart and Mind
I well remember the year I reached my 60th birthday. A group of boaters from Stratford went up to the Boat and Caravan Show at the NEC and I was somewhat surprised (and even a little embarrassed) when I was informed that I could enter for less than half the full price of admission as I had reached 60! There was much leg-pulling by my friends, and a little bit of envy as well.
In the ensuing weeks and months – and even years – it has gradually dawned on me that I am a pensioner, one of the greying band of older folk who, we are told, are growing in numbers so rapidly that in the future the younger generation will find it impossible to cater for us properly. Now that I have passed 70 the feeling that I am well into the autumn of my days gets stronger day by day. The only thing to really look forward to, if I am spared, is in four years’ time, being able to watch television free!
But it is no use being too gloomy and dwelling on the dark side of things; like the animals, one must make preparations for the coming winter as best one can and hope that our circle of friends will gather round to give any necessary support needed. This is where a religious community such as ours comes into its own, for we each know one another and are ready to give support and love, and that, surely, is what we are put on this earth for – to give friendship and support and, most importantly, love to one another as we pass through this life.
Prayer Reflection by Malcolm Sadler, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love, let us reflect on
sixty – seventy – milestones on life’s journey,
the autumn of one’s years.
Friends and acquaintances fall by the wayside,
leaving unfillable gaps.
Living on borrowed time – if the Bible is to be believed.
Inevitability – the march of the seasons.
Shakespeare’s ‘slippered pantaloons’ seem all too real
‘sans teeth, sans everything’
seems just around the corner
as years take their inevitable toll.
One dreads them having any effect on the mind.
But it is not too late!
there is still more time for other people,
there is still time for love,
much more love – hugs of real pleasure.
Don’t delay – now is the time
to change someone’s life for the better.
Love is what life is about.
At the end, one can genuinely say,
‘My living has not been in vain.’
May it be so, for all of us, Amen
Reading Snakes and Ladders by Alison Thursfield, from With Heart and Mind
The board game we know originated in the ancient Indian game of Moshka-Patamu. It was devised as a metaphor for the living of life, and included ideas of virtues and vices, and of reincarnation. The Victorians then adapted it to what we have now.
To remind you: the board is made out with squares numbered 1-100. Bridging these squares at random, are snakes (head up, tail down) and ladders. The counters are moved at the throw of a dice, again at random. A counter landing on a snake’s head has to slither down to the tail end, but landing at the base of a ladder, it climbs to the top. In either case, the journey continues onward from the new position.
One’s journey in life seems similarly random with unexpected twists. There are setbacks. Sliding down a ‘snake’ literally brings us low, but in life as in the game, we must pick ourselves up and carry on. Sometimes one is given a boost, we are uplifted. The ‘ladder’ may take us to unexpected places, new areas to explore or new fields in which to grow.
But there is one aspect of the game which is rarely noted. The last few squares are free of either snakes or ladders. The last bit of the journey must be travelled on one’s own. But more than that, it may be a time of waiting, because one cannot leave the ‘board’ until one throws the exact number on the dice to finish. One may throw it very soon, or it may take a long time.
We never know how many throws of the dice we have left.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Alison Thursfield, from With Heart and Mind, adapted)
How am we travelling our life’s path?
Remembering any setbacks or troubles,
can we accept such things,
pick ourselves up and carry on?
Are we aware of people around us
trying to cope with their problems?
Are we ready to turn aside like a good Samaritan
if we see another who has suffered a setback
and who needs our loving support?
Our times of joy and uplift fill us with happiness
and we give thanks,
But can we share such times
without boasting of our good fortune?
Can we enjoy another’s happiness without envy?
Are we courageous enough to think about our end,
and contemplate how we spend our waiting time?
May we give thanks for the gift of life,
and accept with equanimity
all that we encounter on our path.
May we trust the guidance of the indwelling Spirit at all times.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Why are we here?
I had not read Cliff Reed’s insightful affirmation, Why we are here, which was our first reading, for some time. When I came across it this morning, while I was searching for some opening words for this service, it really affected me. These are important considerations: Why are we here? How are we travelling the path of our lives? Will we leave the world a better place than we found it?
My husband had his 65th birthday last weekend, and I am in my early sixties. So it seems a good time to consider these questions and to answer them as best I can. Of course, it is important to touch base occasionally, to reflect on why we are here and what we are making of our time, throughout our lives, however old or young we are. It is not solely the province of those who are, in the gentle words of Malcolm Sadler, “in the autumn of [our] days.”
To return to Cliff Reed’s beautifully balanced reading, he has a lot to say about what we are not here for: “to judge… to condemn… to lecture others on goodness… to claim a place with the ‘elect’, a place in heaven… to speak for God.” If we spend our lives in such activities, not only will we not be happy, but we will also make others unhappy too.
Instead, he suggests that we “live as best we can, in peace and harmony with our neighbours… give such encouragement and assistance as we can to those we meet… ask how well we match up to the best that we know…live on this earth with love in our hearts and kindness in our deeds… heed the divine voice in ourselves and… be the divine presence in this… world… love our neighbour as we love ourselves.”
In other words, we are here “to be human to the best of our ability.” Which may feel like quite a tall order some days. Because it is so very easy to slip into the ways of living Cliff Reed deplores – judging, condemning, lecturing – thinking we are better than other people. Whereas, the best way of living is to do the best we can to be encouraging and to help others, to live on this earth with love, listening to the voice of the Divine in our hearts.
Of course, at times, we will fall from our best selves, we will fail to live up to the best that we know. We are only human after all. But the good news is, we can always pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, make the necessary amends and start fresh the next day. Each day we are given is a new opportunity to make the best of our lives. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” And that we should, “Write it on [our] heart[s] that every day is the best day in the year.”
Quite often, it is the beginning of the journey which is most difficult. We may have resolved to do better, to be kinder, more generous and compassionate, to be grateful for all the good things in our lives, yet taking that first step can be difficult. Especially if we have fallen into bad habits of seeing the hole rather than the doughnut (as in the aphorism by McLandburgh Wilson, “Twixt optimist and pessimist, the difference is droll: the optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole.”)
It is a well-known maxim that any journey starts with a single step. Which is often the most difficult one to make. Think about driving a car: it takes more engine power to move the car from stationary to moving, than it does to move it from slower to quicker. And, once we have taken that vital first step, subsequent steps somehow seem easier.
It can be both exciting and daunting to begin a new project. On the one hand, we are excited about the new idea that has seized our imagination and are full of enthusiasm to get on with it. On the other, if we make the mistake of looking up from what we are doing at that moment and see how very far we still have to go, we may become discouraged and wonder whether we will ever get there.
So perhaps it is best to concentrate only on the next step, whatever the next step might be – to walk an extra 500 steps today, or write a scene or a poem, or find some readings and prayers for a service – you may guess that these are some common ‘next steps’ from my own life! Or our next step may be more spiritually significant – to be grateful next time someone does us a kindness or something nice happens to us; or to be compassionate rather than judgmental.
But we do need to make a start. My husband and I watched the wonderful film, Ghost, last weekend, followed by a mini-documentary which was included with the DVD. Patrick Swayze, who starred as Sam Weet, the ‘ghost’ of the title, commented that making the film had helped him to understand that life can be shorter than we expect it to be, that it can suddenly be cut off without warning, and that therefore we need to do the good things, express the love we feel, now. Rather than putting them off.
Which chimes well with Alison Thursfield’s thoughtful comparison of our lives to a game of snakes and ladders. As we heard earlier, she wrote, “One’s journey in life seems similarly random with unexpected twists. There are setbacks. Sliding down a ‘snake’ literally brings us low, but in life as in the game, we must pick ourselves up and carry on. Sometimes one is given a boost, we are uplifted. The ‘ladder’ may take us to unexpected places, new areas to explore or new fields in which to grow.
But there is one aspect of the game which is rarely noted. The last few squares are free of either snakes or ladders. The last bit of the journey must be travelled on one’s own. But more than that, it may be a time of waiting, because one cannot leave the ‘board’ until one throws the exact number on the dice to finish. One may throw it very soon, or it may take a long time. We never know how many throws of the dice we have left.”
And in our first reading, Malcolm Sadler gives us the same message. He wrote, “This is where a religious community such as ours comes into its own, for we each know one another and are ready to give support and love, and that, surely, is what we are put on this earth for – to give friendship and support and, most importantly, love to one another as we pass through this life.”
“That is what we are put on this earth for – to give friendship and support and, most importantly, love to one another as we pass through this life.” I cannot think of a better goal for any of us. It is an excellent answer to the question I started this address with: “Why are we here?”
But because we do not know how long we will be here, we need to take action now. In other words, we need to “seize the day” and start to change our lives for the better now, rather than later. So that we can live the best lives we are capable of living, make a difference in the world, leaving it a better place than we found it. If we resolve to be “human to the best of our ability”, that is a worthwhile path for the journey of the rest of our lives.
Sometimes, our resolve to do better may be given impetus by a spiritual experience. This happened to me in March 2013, when I realised that I had been given a particular life to lead, and that it was up to me to make it the best one I could. I understood for the first time that I was taking the first tentative steps on a journey that would take the rest of my life. With that epiphany came the slow recognition that although my knowing had changed through the insight I had received, all the rest of my life still had to catch up, so to speak. In habits and attitudes, I was still the same person I had always been. And that it would be the work of a lifetime, with God’s help, to get myself into alignment, into wholeness, into belonging.
And so I wrote a prayer for the journey, which I have adapted for this occasion and which I will leave you with:
Spirit of Life and Love, without and within,
may we be aware of You as we make this journey.
Guide our steps,
that we may grow into our best lives,
governed by simplicity, integrity, and compassion.
Help us to recognise that this journey
will take the rest of our lives,
and that although our steps will falter,
doubts will come,
help us to hold on to the fact that
anything is possible with You.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we seize the day and resolve
To grow into the best people we can be,
Now rather than later.
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