Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Alex Brianson (adapted)
We gather today to share a particular kind of community – a community of faith in which each of us is free to quest for our own ways of being spiritual and religious.
We gather today to think about how we have done this until now, and how we might do this from now.
We are none of us the same as we were twenty years ago or even last week; we are none of us the same as we shall be in five weeks or ten years.
As the paths of our lives cover new terrain, may we find helpful new thinkers, concepts, and understandings of Spirit, or of the highest good in life, and new ways to interpret those we have loved long and hard.
And may we be open to the voice of wisdom, wherever – and however – we find it.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point).
words by Cliff Reed
We kindle our chalice flame.
By its light we meet each other
face to face.
In each other’s faces
may we sense another light,
the one divine Light
that glows within us all.
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
Story The Hare and the Tortoise from Aesop’s Fables, from the website of the Library of Congress https://read.gov/aesop/
A Hare was making fun of the Tortoise one day for being so slow.
“Do you ever get anywhere?” he asked with a mocking laugh.
“Yes,” replied the Tortoise, “and I get there sooner than you think. I’ll run you a race and prove it.”
The Hare was much amused at the idea of running a race with the Tortoise, but for the fun of the thing, he agreed. So the Fox, who had consented to act as judge, marked the distance and started the runners off.
The Hare was soon far out of sight, and to make the Tortoise feel very deeply how ridiculous it was for him to try a race with a Hare, he lay down beside the course to take a nap until the Tortoise should catch up.
The Tortoise meanwhile kept going, slowly but steadily, and after a time, passed the place where the Hare was sleeping. But the Hare slept on, very peacefully, and when at last he did wake up, the Tortoise was near the goal. The Hare now ran his swiftest, but he could not overtake the Tortoise in time.
The race is not always to the swift.
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 Accuracy from Inner Beauty, published by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University
Accuracy is being in the right place at the right time; it is moving from a position of quiet to a position of speech at the right time; moving from participation to withdrawal, from work to play, from laughter to thought, from colour to plainness – all of these at the right time. Accuracy is the most delicate point of transition from one thing to another.
Accuracy gives form to all those deep feelings that fill life. It enables them to be expressed as they should be, with coherence and power. It ensures that nothing goes too far, is overdone, flogged to death. It is a gentle control, not as obvious as discipline because discipline generally inspires action, whereas accuracy keeps a check on it, but is every bit as important.
Accuracy comes from knowing how to live spiritually in a material world, how to make the meeting point between mind and matter a happy and precise one. An accurate person knows therefore how to retain health, because they never push themselves too far, but also how to avoid weakness. They understand the most subtle effects of thought on the machinery of the body, understand the relationship between what comes into the mind and what the lips speak, between what is touched by the hands and what the actions are. Each meeting point holds a secret. Accuracy understands that.
Accuracy… is the strength to retain depth and stillness inside so that you approach each second with respect – slowly, in the right way. If you move too fast, you miss the meeting point between things and become like the hare who scampered but lost the race. It is safer to be a tortoise!
Prayer by Alex Brianson
Spirit of Life, you who animate the Universe
Help us to remember the gift that is a human life.
With our consciousness and senses, we can touch, taste, see and feel
So much that is good, and alluring, and enticing.
Spirit of Life, some of us here today may be thinking of concerns more than joys,
Of loss rather than enjoyment.
For those of us, we ask for healing and restoration.
To those of us, we pledge our aid.
Just as cares arise, so shall they pass.
Just as grief pains, new joy beckons.
Spirit of Life, may we remember that life is a dance.
And may we ensure that we move to the rhythm divine.
So may it be. Amen.
Reading Before the action, the pause by Jopie Boeke, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
Some years ago, I came across the saying, “before the action, the pause”. It has stayed with me ever since and has helped me in times of difficult decision-making.
Waiting is difficult for many people, including me. I get impatient in long queues, I groan when I just miss the green traffic signal and I sigh when my husband does not answer my question immediately. Zen teachers say: ‘When you are most tempted to do something, don’t.’ This is probably good advice.
We are tempted to work constantly on things. Home improvement centres give us an opportunity to work on weekends and evenings as well. Many times people tell me they cannot go to church because they have too much to do on Sundays. My usual answer to them is: ‘I understand’. And I do, I truly do!
But what would happen if instead I reminded them, and myself, of the value of sitting down quietly sometime each day (and if not each day, then at least once a week at church!) to let distractions go, to refuse busy thoughts and to listen for the ‘still small voice’ that speaks below the noisy world? We just might find the real foundation for action, at the same time discovering solace and direction in the quiet centre within each of us. In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr: ‘Just because we do nothing does not mean that nothing is being done.’
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Jopie Boeke, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
Spirit of Life, we confess that too much of our lives consists of responding to questions:
Why and how?
We yearn for times when the wheels of hurry! hurry!
will temporarily stop,
and no-one interrupts the quiet.
Spirit of silence,
shut the door of the busy world;
let peace surround us.
Lead us to an open plain so that our souls can expand –
one with the earth and the universe –
as far as the infinite horizon.
Only then shall the fertile fields of our hearts
receive the seeds of calmness.
Spirit of stillness, give us times of such solitude. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Before I came across the piece about accuracy in the lovely book Inner Beauty, published by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, which I shared as our second reading, it had not occurred to me to think of accuracy as a spiritual virtue. Because my copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘accurate’ as, “careful, precise; in exact conformity with a standard or with truth; hence -ACY”.
But the Brahma Kumaris have taught me that it is so much more than that. They see it as, “being in the right place at the right time; [enabling our deepest feelings] to be expressed as they should be, with coherence and power.” They suggest that it “comes from knowing how to live spiritually in a material world, how to make the meeting point between mind and matter a happy and precise one.” And that it is “is the strength to retain depth and stillness inside so that you approach each second with respect – slowly, in the right way.”
In other words, it is a really powerful virtue, one which gives us the power to be in “gentle control” of our lives. If we are spiritually awake, if we are aware of these powers which living in the world with accuracy gives us, our lives will surely be more balanced, more fulfilled, happier.
I think that in some sense, living an accurate life is similar to living a mindful life. It is about approaching each situation, each person with care and respect, not being in too much of a hurry. I believe that there are two ways of walking in the world: blindly or attentively. Sometimes, we turn into “walking heads”, so full of our thoughts that we simply do not see the beauty around us. And that is such a waste… I have sometimes “woken up” part way through a walk around our village or in Salcey Forest and have realised that I was thinking about something completely different and had not been present at all to the beauty around me.
The 19th century Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote, “We enjoy travelling the world to find beauty, but we have to carry it within us, otherwise we won’t find it.” Because there is always beauty, even in city streets. In fact, I find it astonishing, on the rare occasions when I visit cities these days, the amount of green and growing things that are there. And of course, there is also beauty in man-made objects like buildings and statues and street art – even advertisement hoardings can be beautiful. As, of course, are people. But we have to be awake to it, have to be attentive to it. This is where living accurately comes in. It helps us to be awake and attentive, it helps us to be mindful.
And I think that living an accurate life is about refusing to lose ourselves in what is happening all around us. It is about being mindful about who we are, who we’re with, how we are interacting with the world around us. Which can be a big ask, sometimes. The German poet and playwright Goethe gave us a clue when he wrote, “I return to myself and find a world.”
The part of that quotation which fascinates me is, “I return to myself.” It reminds me how often we (or at least I) are so lost in our minds that we reduce ourselves to walking heads, as I said earlier. We walk around unaware of all else that is going on, in our hearts, in our guts, in our bodies and in our souls. And by “gut”, I mean that part of us that works on intuition. The part of us that reacts to experience with physical sensations. That part of us which we so often ignore, but which actually, we should spend a lot more time with, because it can always be trusted. It is an important aid to living an accurate life.
If we can genuinely “return to myself” (ourselves) and be fully present to the world from every part of us, I believe that we would interact with the rest of the world in a profoundly different way. Because it would surely be easier to see people and events truly and accurately, with integrity and compassion, if we were present to ourselves as well. I do believe that everyone and everything is sacred and should be treated with the utmost respect. And I think that we can only appreciate that if we are fully present ourselves. If we make the choice to live mindfully or, as the Brahma Kumaris would have it, accurately.
Which is not to say that trying to live mindfully, with accuracy, is easy. Speaking personally, I have always found it more natural to jump into a situation and do something, rather than sitting passively (or receptively), waiting for something to happen to me. I find it difficult to do as Jopie Boeke advised in our Time of Stillness and Reflection, to “shut the door of the busy world; let peace surround us.”
But in recent years, I have learned that we are called human beings for a reason. We are not called human doings. Sure, there are times and places where action is imperative and we should be “up and doing” as the hymn writer says. Nevertheless, I have learned that simply being also has its place. Time to sit still, breathe, reflect. Simply Be.
Because it is when we give ourselves the time to Simply Be, to be still, to wait on the time, that deeper insights come, those nudges from the Divine that we would otherwise not have noticed, being too busy hurrying from one place to another, one task to another.
I have found a fascinating article by Zindel Segal on the Mindfulness website (https://www.mindful.org/difference-between-being-and-doing/), in which he explains that the mind has two basic modes: Doing mode and Being mode. He says that the job of the Doing mode “is to get things done – to achieve particular goals that the mind has set. These goals could relate to the external world – to make a meal, build a house, or travel to the moon – or the internal world of self – to feel happy, not make mistakes, never be depressed again, or be a good person. The basic strategy to achieve such goals involves something we call the ‘discrepancy monitor’: a process that continually monitors and evaluates our current situation against a model or standard – an idea of what is desired, required, expected, or feared.”
Which I guess in one sense is similar to the Brahma Kumaris idea of accuracy. But not entirely. As they point out, accuracy “is a gentle control, not as obvious as discipline because discipline generally inspires action, whereas accuracy keeps a check on it, but is every bit as important.”
Segal continues by describing what the Being mode feels like: “The focus of the Being mode, on the other hand, is ‘accepting’ and ‘allowing’ what is, without any immediate pressure to change it. ‘Allowing’ arises naturally when there is no goal or standard to be reached, and no need to evaluate experience in order to reduce discrepancies between actual and desired states. This also means that attention is no longer focused narrowly on only those aspects of the present that are directly related to goal achievement; in Being mode, the experience of the moment can be processed in its full depth, width and richness.”
To me, this sounds much closer to the Brahma Kumaris definition of living accurately. In the penultimate paragraph of that reading, they write about being aware of meeting points; that living accurately is about “how to make the meeting point between mind and matter a happy and precise one. An accurate person knows therefore how to retain health, because they never push themselves too far, but also how to avoid weakness. They understand the most subtle effects of thought on the machinery of the body, understand the relationship between what comes into the mind and what the lips speak, between what is touched by the hands and what the actions are. Each meeting point holds a secret. Accuracy understands that.”
I come closest to Being when I am out walking in nature and can lose myself in the glories of creation. But having discovered this idea of living with accuracy, I’m planning to try to be more aware of my motivations in the busyness of everyday life; of the meeting points between mind and matter, between thought and action. Perhaps simply being conscious of the Being mode, of the concept of accuracy, may enable me to stand back sometimes, to breathe, to allow and accept what is happening, in those moments.
Because I know from experience that although this way of living can be difficult, it is so worthwhile. It is a richer, less stressful way to live. It’s about choosing to live in harmony with the world around us, rather than insisting on our own way, rather than fighting it.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we learn to live mindfully
And to apply the virtue of accuracy to our daily lives.
May we learn to be aware of the right time
To either do or be.
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