Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Verona Conway
Our worship is to the holy spirit of the universe
who sustains it in love and makes it ever new
each moment of time.
Our prayer is for light to see the way,
truth to teach us how to walk,
faith to give us the courage to keep on
through all discouragements.
Our friendship is with each other,
as fellow seekers after true happiness,
fellow workers in the service of the spirit.
May our worship, our prayer, our friendship,
be fully blessed in this hour.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Cliff Reed)
As leaves flame yellow, red and gold,
and flames and sweet aromas
rise from autumn bonfires,
so too we kindle our chalice-flame
in thanks for the season’s beauty
and the love that makes us one.
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 To Autumn by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
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.
Reading Prayer for Late Autumn by Vernon Marshall, from In Praise of the Mystic Dancer
This next reading, strictly speaking, is a prayer rather than a reading, but I like it so much that I decided to use it anyway…
Builder of seasons, Mother of Nature,
The days shorten, the skies darken,
And we feel the ache of the gloom of autumn.
The months before us seem like a desert
In which we cannot discern an oasis.
We yearn for that renewal which comes with the spring,
With the strength of the sun, the growth of the buds.
But all around us is a beauty we often fail to see.
Let not our souls be filled with gloom
When you have provided seasonal gifts.
The trees, though leafless, are not lifeless,
The plants, though not vernal, are yet vital.
There is an energy and a power
Bubbling within the fabric of our earth.
Let our souls tap that force.
Let us become attuned to the vigour that is life.
Let us see your benevolent face in the greying aspect of autumn.
Embrace us with your warmth,
Calm us with your peace, enthuse us with your love of our world,
And breathe into us the breath of God,
By which we live.
Prayer The Beauty that is Autumn by Cliff Reed
God of the earth, divine mystery,
whom we perceive in creation’s majesty,
we pause in wonder before the beauty that is autumn.
We are grateful for the glory of the dying leaves,
on their way from greenness to leaf-mould –
but so much more.
We give thanks for migrating birds:
those that filled the summer woods and skies,
but have now gone,
those who seek our winter land
in flight from fiercer cold.
We are grateful too for the strange ways
of fungus and toadstool,
drawing brief lives from death and decay,
yet so soon dead and decaying themselves.
For all that enriches our lives in this season,
for all that awakens our souls to the splendour of life –
so varied, so ever-changing –
we offer our gratitude.
Make us worthy of the world that is in our care.
Reading Here, there and everywhere by Joan Wilkinson from With Heart and Mind
Stepping through the gate into Chatsworth Park early this morning, I saw the yellow, brown and golden leaves quietly swirling to the ground, glinting in the sun that was just breaking through the cold, damp mist of morning. I crunched through the dead leaves piled at the bottom of the great gnarled trees with their roots going deep into the earth. This avenue of trees reaching high above created a canopy which had caught the morning mist whose weighted drops dislodged the last of the season’s leaves.
The Great World Soul of our Mother Earth is in the coming to birth, growth and death of each leaf and each tree, wherever it may be. So, too, is every child born of Mother Earth, bound in loving relationship to her through the seasons of their lives.
Worship is here, right now, and wherever we might be as we turn in reverence and give thanks for life in all its wonder and diversity.
The Great World Soul is in the golden leaves falling in season and for that we give thanks. But when we plunder Mother Earth, the Great World Soul weeps through the tears of mothers no longer able to feed their children. Seasons are no more. Kill Mother Earth and we will die.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Joan Wilkinson)
May we live in peace within the community of Mother Earth,
Respecting all that to which she gives birth.
From the smallest grain of sand to the greatest mountain range, she is there.
We are fed from her abundance.
May we learn to plant and reap in harmony with her laws.
Both microbes and men are sustained from her bounty.
Forgive our greed and teach us how to live modestly,
that all living beings may be sustained in their season.
It is with awe, reverence and joy we walk upon this sacred earth.
Let us ponder these things in the silence…
May we celebrate and care for our earth community
In all its diverse life forms – for you are there.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
This is a beautiful time of year, as the days begin to get shorter and the nights longer. Last night, the clocks changed, and suddenly, it is getting darker much sooner than we expect. The long heat of the Summer is over (even if it was sometimes rather too much for us), and we can settle down and hope for a few last warm, golden days before the Winter sets in. In our hemisphere at least, the harvest has been largely gathered in; although this doesn’t mean what it once did. For the last few weeks, the sounds of this traditional agricultural task have been drifting in through my open window, reconnecting me with the rhythms of the natural world. Even if it is now largely done by machines.
And as Vernon Marshall reminded us, in our second reading, Autumn need not be a time of sorrow, as the summer comes to an end, but that “all around us is a beauty we often fail to see.” I count myself so very blessed to live in the countryside, where this beauty is all around me. But there is also beauty to be found in our city streets, have we but eyes to see it.
I think it is a shame that Western society has grown so far away from the cycle of the seasons, and the agricultural round. Even when I was a child, which I know my children think was sometime in the Dark Ages, but really isn’t so long ago, harvest still meant something, at least to a child brought up in the countryside. But now, ask anyone where their food comes from, and they are likely to reply, “from the supermarket”. You can buy pretty much anything all year round – strawberries in December, parsnips in June. We’ve got a recipe book at home called The Cookery Year, which is full of wonderful recipes to cook for each month of the year, using “seasonal ingredients”. And at the beginning, there is a four-page table entitled The Fruit and Vegetable Year, which explains what you can get from which country at particular times of year. It makes fascinating reading.
It is very odd. Each Spring, I declare that Spring is my favourite season. And each Autumn, I declare that Autumn is my favourite season. I guess I love the in-between seasons, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, when there is a reasonable chance of warm, sunny days, when it is a pleasure, rather than a penance, to walk abroad, either round the village, or in my beloved Salcey Forest.
I go up into the Forest as often as I can – it only takes five minutes to walk from my front door, to the gate which leads to the path to the Forest. I can be in the “Forest proper” in ten or fifteen minutes, which is such a blessing. The Forestry Commission has done a lot of work to ensure that the path is navigable all year round (when we first moved to the village more than twenty years ago, it used to be “wellies only” except in the driest part of the Summer). Nowadays, I can walk in trainers for most of the year, and walking boots for the rest. Working from home as I do, I can choose my times of walking, whenever the weather seems propitious, or to clear my mind, or to soothe my spirit.
Some years ago, I wrote a blogpost about the changing colours in the Forest in Autumn, which remains at the top of my blog’s “hit parade”. I’d like to share a part of it with you this morning …
“The Autumn colours have been glorious this year – the leaves have been every possible shade of red-russet-copper-brown-gold-yellow-green that the eye could see or the heart could imagine. The sheer beauty of it all has taken my breath away” (and does every year) “especially when the multifarious colours have been backlit by sunshine against a vivid blue sky. Which is why I count myself so blessed to live within walking distance of it all, on the outskirts of Salcey Forest, although the wonderful displays of colour have been everywhere this year, not least in the trees lining the roads that I drive along.
In his wonderfully funny book, Notes from a Big Country, Bill Bryson muses about this wonderful annual display of vivid colour. ‘What is all the more remarkable about this’ (he writes) ‘is that no-one knows quite why it happens. In Autumn … trees prepare for their long winter’s slumber by ceasing to manufacture chlorophyll, the chemical that makes their leaves green. The absence of chlorophyll allows other pigments, called carotenoids, which have been present in the leaves all along, to show off a bit. The carotenoids are what account for the yellow and gold of birches, beeches, and some oaks, among others. Now here is where it gets interesting. To allow these golden colours to thrive, the trees must continue to feed the leaves even though the leaves are not actually doing anything useful except hanging there looking pretty. Just at a time when a tree ought to be storing up all its energy for use the following spring, it is instead expending a great deal of effort feeding a pigment that brings joy to the hearts of simple folk like me, but doesn’t do anything for the tree.'”
It is a mystery, but a beautiful one, and is one of the many reasons why I love Autumn so much – it is a feast for the eyes and the heart. I have very much enjoyed the last few weeks, when these glorious Autumn colours have made themselves evident again.
The other main reason I look forward to Autumn is this: I don’t know whether it is hot-wired into my DNA, or whether it is the fruit of having spent so many years in or around education, but for me, the new year begins in September. Not January, which is a mere accident of the calendar, but September. So for me early Autumn is the time of year when I can stop frantically planning for the future, sit still for a while, and take stock of what I have achieved during the past twelve months. It is also, very importantly, an opportunity to be grateful and to give thanks for the good things that have happened in the past twelve months. I think we don’t do this enough. And finally, it is a chance to review what has not gone so well, particularly if it was my fault, and to resolve to do better next year.
This year has been different, as I have been so busy with my duties as GA President, that there has not been much time for reflection. However, last weekend I only had a Zoom service to do, and so had an opportunity to do so. One morning last week, I went out for a walk in the Forest. Blue sky and warm sunshine and a rainbow of wonderful Autumn colours – every shade of green, yellow, gold, copper, bronze, red and brown. I walked along the sunlit path into the forest and was reminded of a genius line by David Bowie, from his song, Eight Line Poem, “the sun that pins the branches to the sky.”
I was also reminded of the gorgeous passage in The Lord of the Rings, when Galadriel is singing about Lothlorien: “I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew; I sang of wind, a wind there came, and in the branches blew.” That wind was blowing the leaves from the trees into my path in a fine golden drizzle. When I got home, I noticed that one had lodged itself in my hair, and that our porch was filled with more from the hydrangea at the front of the house.
Through the hedge that lines the path, I could see the yin and yang of ploughed and stubbled fields, dark brown and pale gold. The sails of the wind turbines a few miles away were turning lazily and, ahead of me, the path stretched into the distant forest, bathed in sunlight.
I stood awhile in silence, and thanked God for all this beauty, and for the privilege of being awake to witness it.
That short walk enabled me to re-centre my soul, to stop, look, and listen to the beauty all around me. No matter how busy we are, or how little inclined to brave the weather (it started to pour with rain soon after my return), I think it is always worth the effort of getting outside, into nature. Because it has a unique ability to bring some perspective to our lives – to help us to realise that we and our little human doings are not the centre of the universe. All around us, the natural world is quietly, elegantly, without fuss, preparing for the onset of winter. Which will come, no matter what we do or say or think.
May we be grateful for the circling seasons, and give thanks for the beauty all around us.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we take time to appreciate
the beauties of Autumn all around us.
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