Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Ant Howe
In this sacred gathering may the joyful find space to praise….
May the inquirers feel safe to question…..
May the lonely find the touch of a friend……
May the singers be given a tune to sing…..
May the lost discover the way…..
And may we all experience the touch of the Holy in this hour.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). (words by Linda Hart)
We light this chalice as a symbol of the spark of life which abides within us and around us.
May it be as a light in a dark night, a light in a window that welcomes the weary traveller home.
May it be as a light in the hand of a trusted friend, that guides us along the path.
May it be as the light in the face of one we love, bright with joy.
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 from Sound and Silence by David Dawson, from With Heart and Mind
Do we now live in a noisier world? Is there a greater variety of sounds around us? Are we more or less tolerant of sound? These and other questions are asked when you think about the sounds that surround our everyday lives – the soundscape. Some sounds can be very welcome to most people – the natural sound of running water, the wind in the trees, laughter, the voice of a loved one. Even mechanical sounds can be music to the ears of some: the well-tuned motor car, the steam engine.
And it’s not always to do with volume – loud sounds bad, quiet sounds good. It is to do with context – the right sound in the right place is usually fine, but the wrong sound at least irritates and it might do much worse….
So much sound around us. Do we ever now have silence, or something approaching silence, and if we do, are we able to enjoy the beauty of silence, or are we threatened by the absence of sound?
Musicians work with sound and silence, and they are of equal importance. The composer frames sounds with silence; for the performer, it is often the silence between the sounds that has the greatest impact.
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 from Listening for Our Song by David Blanchard
On sabbatical in East Africa, I heard a story of a people who believe that we are each created with our own song. Their tradition as a community is to honour that song by singing it as welcome when a child is born, as comfort when the child is ill, in celebration when the child marries, and in affirmation and love when death comes. Most of us were not welcomed into the world in that way. Few of us seem to know our song.
It takes a while for many of us to figure out which is our song, and which is the song that others would like us to sing. Some of us are slow learners. I heard my song not necessarily from doing extraordinary things in exotic places, but also from doing some pretty ordinary things in some routine places. For every phrase I heard climbing Kilimanjaro, I learned another in a chair in a therapist’s office. For every measure I heard in the silence of a retreat, I heard another laughing with my girls. For every note I heard in the wind on the beach at Lamu, I gleaned more from spending time with a dying friend as her children sang her song back to her. What came to astound me was not that the song appeared, but that it was always there.
Prayer Sing to God in your heart: a prayer for St Cecilia’s day (22nd November) by Cliff Reed
Spirit of Life and Love,
She sang to God in her heart – so legend says of Saint Cecilia.
He played the harp to soothe a troubled kind – so it is written of David.
With music we praise, give thanks and worship.
With music we feed our spirits, soothe our
pain, celebrate our joys.
Great Spirit, whose universe resounds with
the soft harmonies and crashing chords of
creation – the music of the spheres –
we give thanks for music’s healing and
inspiration, its mysterious power
to rouse or quiet us.
May we treasure the gift of music, sing to
God in our hearts, and use its beauty for
the healing of all troubled souls.
Reading from Listening for Our Song by David Blanchard
Our songs sing back to us something of our essence, something of our truth, something of our uniqueness. When our songs are sung back to us, it is not about approval, but about recognizing our being and our belonging in the human family.
It is good to know our songs by heart for those lonely times when the world is not singing them back to us. That’s usually a good time to start humming to yourself, that song that is most your own.
They can be heard as songs of love or of longing, songs of encouragement or of comfort, songs of struggle or of security. But most of all, they are the songs of life, giving testimony to what has been, giving praise for all we’re given, giving hope for all we strive for, giving voice to the great mystery that carries each of us in and out of this world.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Steve Dick, adapted)
We take a few precious moments to turn inwards.
Tune out the sounds and bustle of the noise that surrounds us.
Listen to the melody of freedom within the music of our hearts.
It can be heard when we can be quiet and peaceful enough to hear the song of our soul … the still small voice within that warbles our story as a ballad still being composed.
Knowing that sustaining faith and inspiring vision can only be in harmony when the inner voice is free …
Hear the rhythm, sing the rhythm, be the rhythm …
The rhythm that flows through the verses of our internal bible.
The beginning verse of liberation, freedom from that which wounds the spirit of life in us and in our companions in this world.
The middle verse of continuing revelation, freedom to grow and develop as stories are told and shared and change our worlds.
And the third verse that embodies the melody necessary to complete the rhythm.
And when the heart song has been sung and the percussion added
Our soul has completed tapping out the rhythm of freedom …
The refrain of our prayer is to take our voice wherever to share the melody of our hearts – to sing it, to hear it and to live it.
So may it be. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Music of the Heart
Saint Cecilia was born and martyred in the 3rd century CE and, according to Wikipedia, “is venerated in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden. She became the patroness of music and musicians, it being written that, as the musicians played at her wedding, Cecilia ‘sang in her heart to the Lord’. Musical compositions are dedicated to her, and her feast, on 22nd November, is the occasion of concerts and music festivals.”
So I thought it would be appropriate today to reflect on the importance of music in our lives. One of my favourite quotations about music is by the German poet Goethe: “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
According to Wikipedia, music is “an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, metre and articulation), dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture.” This is a fine technical explanation of music, but it does not explain how music has the power to move us and reach into our hearts.
Human beings are complicated organisms – we have bodies, we have minds and we have souls. In order to grow into the best people that we can be, we need to nourish all of them. In religion (perhaps particularly in Unitarianism), our bodies often get ignored; all the emphasis is on what we think and believe. But our bodies need nourishment too – we have to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and so on. If we neglect them, we will become unhealthy, and all of a sudden everything seems twice as difficult, like pushing a hippopotamus uphill. If we look after our bodies, they will look after us.
Rabbi Lionel Blue shared an interesting viewpoint about bodies when he wrote: “My body is not just a lump of meat. It thinks, and has its own insight. Many times it came to my aid when my mind and my soul could not help me. I was in a train at night, surrounded by Arabs making their long way home to Morocco. Our politics and our religions were separated by two decades of misunderstanding and political animosity. It was hunger which brought us together, not theology or ideology; common hunger and the desire to have a little taste of what the other person was eating.”
Before I read that, I hadn’t really thought about my body having feelings of its own. But it’s true: if I am sad, I don’t want reasons or explanations or even spiritual insights; I just want a cuddle. And it is my body – through my senses – which gives me access to a whole world of beauty and spirituality. When I walk in Salcey Forest, the feel of the sunlight on my skin, the beauties of nature all around me and the sound of birdsong combine into one joyous paean of praise for the universe.
Through what we see and hear, smell, touch and taste, we can be transported from our mundane lives into another dimension.
Bodies have their own memories too – for example, have you ever been transported to another time and another place by a smell or a sound or a taste? I only have to hear the first chord of The Air That I Breathe by the Hollies to be back in 1974, fourteen years old and very sad. I cry every time I hear it – can’t help it! Even though the circumstances of my life have changed beyond recognition, and the emotional scars of young love have long healed, my fourteen-year-old self is somewhere in there, and reacts when she hears that song.
And I love David Blanchard’s idea that each of us has a song of our own, which can “sing back to us something of our essence, something of our truth, something of our uniqueness. When our songs are sung back to us, it is not about approval, but about recognising our being and our belonging in the human family.”
What would your song be? I think mine is End of the Line by the Travelling Wilburys. Which makes me feel happy and joyful and full of life.
Music can affect us in many ways, some obvious, some not so obvious. For example, when I am driving, and get stuck in a traffic jam, I automatically switch the radio on to Classic fm, which I find soothing; it helps me to keep my patience and not get wound up about the delay. And generally, I am very careful not to listen to music like Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf or Highway Star by Deep Purple when I am driving, because it subconsciously makes me drive faster.
Music has the power to move us, to change our mood. This is well-recognised by the people in charge of public spaces – shops, restaurants, pubs, for example. The organisation Music Works has conducted research about the effect of music on shoppers, and the results may startle you. 90% of the people surveyed said they were more likely to recommend a store that plays music they like to their friends and family; 76% of retailers believe that they can positively influence the behaviour of customers through playing music; and 60% of retailers agree that playing music not only increases staff productivity but also makes the staff more friendly towards customers. Furthermore, 84% of customers like shops that play in-store music, and 77% of people say that music is an important factor in creating the ideal atmosphere in store.
Personally, I found this research startling – I actively dislike the loud music in most stores these days, but I guess I must accept that I am in a small, out-of-date minority!
Music can also be used more subtly to stir people’s emotions. For example, who remembers that marvellous moment in the Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca, when the singer in Rick’s Bar begins to sing the Marseillaise to drown out the Nazi singing on the other side of the bar? I am getting tingles down my spine just thinking about it. And I am sure that all of you could name particular instants in films where the music – often a song – has a profound effect on the mood of not only the people in the film, but also on the cinema audience. Another example might be the singing at football matches, which unites fans in a bond of partisanship. And of course, it can also be used less harmlessly, to control the hearts and minds of those who hear it.
What is it about music that has the power to thrill us, to move us to tears or laughter, to calm us? I have often wondered what it is about music that elicits such emotions. Philosophers and biologists have asked the question for centuries, noting that humans are universally drawn to music. It consoles us when we are sad, pumps us up in happier times and bonds us to others, even though listening to an iPod or singing “Happy Birthday” does not seem necessary for survival or reproduction.
Music has always played an important role in worship. For me, the ideal start to a worship service is to take my seat in silence, and listen to the prelude. It quietens my thoughts and puts me into a worshipful frame of mind. I would much rather save the talking until after the service. And the interlude in the middle of the service is also an interval of peace between the prayers and readings and the address. Finally, the postlude brings me gently back into the mundane world.
One of the most powerful parts of our worship services are the hymns – that combination of words and music can get a message across far more deeply than the spoken word. And they are memorable and speak to our senses – some make us joyful, some make us sad, some make us think, some uplift us. A clever worship leader will choose their hymns with care.
In the second volume of With Heart and Mind, Rev. Dr. Arthur Stewart muses about why hymns are so important, not only to regular worshippers, but also to people who never attend church except for rites of passage:
“As church life, church belief and church attendance have all become seemingly less and less relevant today, what is it about hymns that has remained significant in many people’s lives? Put it another way, why is it that the single element in religious life that has a popular prime-time weekly television programme devoted to it – Songs of Praise – is enjoyed each Sunday by millions of viewers? The answer must be that, in a manner not generally understood, hymns are meaningful in people’s lives in ways which, for example, the creeds, the dogmas, the doctrines, the rituals, the sermonizing, the prayers, are not.
Is it merely because they are musical that they are memorable – that we love them? Or is it (as I believe) something more profound: that they embody the best of all what people believe; they reflect people’s fundamental and basic theology. Hymns are the accessible receptacle of that belief. People can turn to them readily and in any hour of need.”
I also take David Dawson’s point that, particularly in the last decade, when mobile smartphones have become ubiquitous, there is now “so much sound around us. Do we ever now have silence, or something approaching silence, and if we do, are we able to enjoy the beauty of silence, or are we threatened by the absence of sound?”
Music, words and silence – we need them all.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we allow music to feed our souls,
And nourish our spirits.
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