Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed
As the true prophets of God have always told us,
the Divine will is for mercy and compassion,
love and justice.
May we, and all true worshippers of the one true God,
never suppose that vengeance and cruelty,
hatred and murder, serve the Divine purpose.
In the spirit of human solidarity and oneness,
we join in worship.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Cliff Reed)
Out of the fires of war
let us kindle the chalice of peace.
Out of the fury of battle
let us create a passion for peace.
Out of the turmoil of conscience
let us weave the calm of peace.
In the one Spirit that we share,
let us celebrate the vision of a
world made just and free – and
find the strength to build it,
a little at a time.
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 by Mohandas K. Gandhi:
If someone with courage and vision can rise to lead in non-violent action, the winter of despair can, in the twinkling of an eye, be turned into the summer of hope. It is possible to live in peace.
Non-violence is not a garment to put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being. It is possible to live in peace.
Non-violence, which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain. It is a plant of slow growth, growing imperceptibly, but surely. It is possible to live in peace.
If a single person achieves the highest kind of love, it will be sufficient to neutralise the hate of millions. It is possible to live in peace.
If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children. It is possible to live in peace.
The future depends on what we do in the present. It is possible to live in peace.
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 Growing Side by Side by Lauri Bower
We are all bound together
on a life raft called Earth.
When fighting breaks out
in one corner of the raft
it affects us all
as the whole raft becomes
There is no use blaming,
there is no use asking who started it.
The seeds of war go back many generations.
The seeds of peace are also present
growing side by side
with seeds of anger, hate, resentment.
Like the poppies in Flanders fields
springing from the same root.
In the midst of fighting
are those who want peace
seek for understanding instead of accusation
offer love instead of fear and confusion.
When we know
when we all know
the fighting hurts ourselves
more than those we call
other, the enemy
then our bombs and weapons
can be laid down.
Hands will offer friendship
instead of pain and destruction.
Hearts will be open
instead of closed off, cold.
When we know
when we truly know
your pain is my pain
your happiness is my happiness
we can let go of the seeds of
fighting injustice, seeking revenge,
let them go back to sleep.
We can awaken seeds of peace
we can awaken seeds of love.
We can look up and see
we are all bound together
on a life raft called Earth.
We can only live if we live together.
Prayer by St. Francis of Assisi (adapted)
Lord make us instruments of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Reading It is easy to cry peace by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth (adapted)
It is easy to cry ‘peace’
when we are not oppressed by tyranny.
It is easy to invoke patience
when our loved ones are not in chains.
It is easy to call for restraint
when our children are free from fear.
It is easy to be even-handed
when our sister is not being raped,
and our brother is not being tortured.
It is easy to mouth smooth pieties
when cruelty and injustice are not before our eyes.
It is easy to quibble about legalities
when we have laws that protect us.
It is easy to debate rights and liberties
when terrorists haven’t strewn our streets
with bloody, broken bodies.
It is easy to light candles
when our family isn’t burning,
or to sing sweet songs when hatred
isn’t screaming in our ears.
It is easy to be sure
when we are far away,
safe in our certainties.
Spirit of Love, don’t let us use you
to excuse our failure to relieve those
who suffer torment at human hands,
or to make a difference when we can.
Time of Stillness and Reflection A Buddhist Litany of Peace
As we are together, praying for Peace, let us be truly with each other.
Let us be at peace within ourselves, our bodies and our minds, our emotions and our spirit.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves.
Let us be aware of the source of being common to us all and to all living things.
Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion, let us open our hearts to receive compassion – for ourselves and for all living beings.
Let us pray that all living beings may realise that they are all brothers and sisters, all nourished from the same source of life.
Let us pray that we ourselves may cease to be the cause of suffering to each other.
Let us pledge ourselves to live in a way which will not deprive other beings of air, water, food, shelter, or the chance to live.
With humility, with awareness of the uniqueness of life, and with compassion for the suffering around us, let us pray for the establishment of peace in our hearts and peace on earth.
May it be so.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Unitarian Day of Peace
A while ago, a Unitarian friend commented, “A religion or a faith (any faith, or any philosophy for that matter) that needs to be defended with aggression or arrogance is not a faith or religion that I recognise as true, and it is not a ‘strong’ faith with a good foundation, but a weak one, that seeks to cover up its own shakiness.”
I believe these words also have wisdom for our own Unitarian context. While Unitarians on different parts of the belief spectrum are not likely to descend to actual bodily violence against each other, there can be some pretty fierce (and, to my mind, disrespectful) altercations on Unitarian pages on Facebook.
Which I find ironic since, in the words of the founding father of Unitarianism in Transylvania, Francis David, “we need not think alike to love alike.” Cliff Reed, Minister Emeritus at Ipswich, puts it this way, in Unitarian? What’s That? “The Unitarians are a community of people who take their religion or their spirituality, liberally. That is to say, we hold that all people have the right to believe what their own life-experience tells them is true; what the promptings of their own conscience tells them is right. We say that each person’s spiritual or intuitive experience deserves respect; that everyone’s deep reflection and reasoning on religious or ethical questions should be taken seriously… Our local religious communities offer a setting where people can worship, explore, and share faith together in an atmosphere of freedom and mutual respect.”
A few years ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with that statement. But I now believe that while people have the right to believe what their life experience and conscience tells them to be true, it is essential that these ideas pass the Pagan test of, “so long as they don’t harm anyone else.” In other words, if anyone feels the need to defend their beliefs with aggression or arrogance, as my friend said, then perhaps they need to go back to the Golden Rule and consider whether what they are writing or saying is likely to upset or offend others.
That said, there are certain things I believe, and believe passionately, that some, with their different views of the world, do not believe. And it is hard for me to see these cherished beliefs trampled into the dust by their insistence that their reality is the only true one.
I believe that peace is to be worked for, and witnessed for, and struggled for, and that war and violence and knee-jerk retaliation should only be the very, very last resorts, not the automatic go-to solution. I believe that the governments of the Great Powers, mainly in the West, but also in Russia and China and Saudi Arabia, are so invested in the arms trade, and in violence and intolerance and hatred of the Other (whoever the Other might be) that there is currently little hope for peace. The invasion of Ukraine, to name the war most in the news at present, has now been going on for more than six months and seems no closer to a resolution.
Which makes the need to witness for the possibilities that peace and compassion bring ever more urgent, day by day. I also believe that Western privilege and widespread Western white, male, Christian, blindness to that privilege are facts. We simply cannot appreciate what it is like to be persecuted or picked on daily, simply on account of our religious beliefs, the colour of our skin, our sexual orientation, or our different abilities. The only one I have some insight into, being a woman, is male privilege. And even that is denied by many, in 21st century Britain.
I believe that only when we make the empathic attempt to show compassion, by learning from what others say and write about how it feels to be Muslim, or Black, or gay, or transgender, differently able, or in any other way Not Like Us, that we have any hope of moving past that bastion of privilege and meeting people where they are. As human beings, each a child of God, each with the same divine spark within, each with the same potential for good or evil.
I think we have to start where we are. As I said, it’s all about compassion – trying to empathise with other people by imagining ourselves in their shoes. I am not naïve enough to believe that we can “make it all better” by simply witnessing for peace and compassion. But we can at least try to be compassionate, where we are. For every other person we encounter is also a human being, a child of God, utterly worthy of being treated with justice, equity, and respect. As American poet John Roedel wrote, when the Russians invaded the Ukraine, “I can’t force peace on the world, but I can become a force of peace in the world, because sometimes, all it takes is a single lit candle in the darkness to start a movement.”
Perhaps we can each make a resolution to reach out in friendship to our neighbours, to our friends, and even to casually-met strangers, be that “single lit candle”. Perhaps if we can witness for peace in our own lives, this might have a knock-on effect, as the people we show compassion to, show compassion to others in their turn, and so on. Who knows what we may be able to achieve, if we are brave enough to reach out in friendship, reach out in compassion, witness for peace?
Unitarian minister Chris Goacher once wrote a beautiful prayer for Remembrance Sunday, which began, “We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others.” It continued, “but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop and the actions taken in our name.” So I believe that we also need to find a better answer to the question posed by Canon Dick Sheppard in 1936: “Of what would they wish us to think? Not that they were heroes; not that there was any special virtue in the manner of their dying; not of the tragedy of youth snuffed out; not even that we loved them, and still remember. They would wish us to think of what they died for.”
The dead of the First World War died in a “war to end all wars.” And yet, twenty years later, precisely because of the way the politicians made the peace after 1918, Europe and the world were embroiled in war once again, and all the sacrifice came to naught. And we have been at it ever since.
It is now generally accepted that the First World War was a senseless waste of human life. But many folk would argue that the Second World War was justified, on the grounds that Hitler had to be stopped. However, like most wars, this too soon got out of hand, and both sides bombed civilians indiscriminately, culminating in the unprecedented horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There may not have been a “World War” since 1945, but there has never been World Peace. And of course, horror is being piled upon horror in Ukraine, as I write this. And the Middle East is also (as always) unquiet, to say the very least. Not to mention Africa and other parts of the world. As a human race, we seem to have learned nothing about living together in peace.
I believe that it is the responsibility of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead. Faith groups and others the world over are attempting to influence their governments and fellow citizens to work toward a more peaceful, happier world, in which war would not longer be necessary. We just all need to work together, and to keep at it, until humankind finally realises that peace is so much better than war, for everyone. There are so many ordinary people getting together, the world over, to work for peace and reconciliation. Let us hope that their voices are heard.
I believe there are other ways of resisting evil, apart from war. Look at the Norwegians and their non-violent resistance during the Second World War. Look at Mohandas Gandhi, whose words we heard earlier. Look at modern day prisoners of conscience. Look at the people of South Africa in the 1990s, who chose truth and reconciliation over revenge. If only enough people would take the trouble to think for themselves and to see past the accepted Government line, I am sure that the world could become a more peaceful place. But it seems that retribution is seen to be more important than peace in most people’s minds. Why is revenge the first thing anyone thinks of if they are injured? Or is it me? Am I just an idealistic fool?
I don’t know…
Most wars are allegedly fought to bring peace – a most ingenious paradox! We should remember the dead, and the sacrifices they made, but also pledge ourselves to make our world a better place – to end all wars, to relieve world debt, to feed the hungry, to find a cure for currently incurable diseases, to stop destroying our environment. It is still a beautiful planet, or it could be, if we could only learn to live together in peace, and to share its resources equitably and sustainably.
May it be so.
Closing Words by Sue Woolley and Christina Smith
Spirit of Life and Love,
May the blessing of peace be ours and
May the unity of love enfold us on whatever roads we travel.
May we remember what we have shared here and
Use this fellowship of compassion and peace to sustain and nurture 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