Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Worship, prayer and friendship by Verona Conway, from Reflections
Our worship is to the holy spirit of this 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,
And may we go out stronger and wiser to work in a world that so profoundly needs strength, wisdom and compassion.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point).
words by Cliff Reed
Kindler of the stars
and of the fire at Earth’s heart,
be with us now as we kindle this flame,
symbol of our own flickering spirits
as they reach out to you and to each other
in reverence and love.
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 Ant and the Grasshopper, A Fable by Aesop adapted by https://www.enchantedlearning.com/
One beautiful summer day, a lazy grasshopper was chirping and sitting and playing games, just as he did every day. A hard-working ant passed by, carrying a huge leaf that he was taking back to the ant’s nest.
The grasshopper said to the ant, “All you ants do is work all day. You should be more like me and play, play, play!”
The ant replied, “I’m storing food for the winter season. You should be working, for just the same reason. What will you eat when the weather gets cold? How will you feed your hungry household?”
The grasshopper laughed. “All you ants do is work and worry. Slow down, don’t be in such a hurry. Just look around, there’s plenty of food. Don’t give me advice, that’s just plain rude.”
The ant kept working, the grasshopper kept playing, and winter soon came. The ant had prepared for the winter and had just enough food stored in the nest to last through the cold, harsh weather.
Now that winter had arrived, the grasshopper couldn’t find any food, and soon became very hungry. But he remembered the hard-working ant he had made fun of during the summer. The grasshopper went to the ant’s nest and asked for food.
The ant, who was still busy keeping the food clean and dry, said, “I toiled to save food for the winter freeze, while you spent the summer playing in ease. I stored just enough food for the winter, it’s true, but I can’t feed you all winter, or I’ll starve too.”
The ant gave the grasshopper a few crumbs, but the grasshopper was cold, miserable and hungry all winter. The next summer, the grasshopper worked hard to store food for the upcoming winter. That next winter, the grasshopper was well fed and happy. He had learned to think ahead and plan for the future.
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 Focus: How One Word A Week Will Transform Your Life by Cleere Cherry Reaves (adapted).
Did you know that the word ‘diligent’ comes from the Latin word ‘diligere’, which means “to value highly; take delight in”? In English, we often translate this concept to mean “working hard”, which is not completely incorrect. The English definition of diligent is “careful and serious in your work” or “done in a careful and determined way.”
When Jesus speaks about diligence, he attaches it to delight, to care, to love. When we watch our hearts with care, life is brought forth out of our diligence. It is through diligence that we experience abundant life – a life of delight.
What happens when we only give effort in order to cross off a task, but disassociate our delight from our effort? We compromise our potential. We can say (and make ourselves actually believe the lie) that care is not required to complete a task; however, the person who does care and delights in that task completes it in a way that displays the character of God.
We may try to do and give and exert energy while separating our heart from it. But that’s not diligence! That’s automation – robotic attention without the assertion of care. Care requires our heartstrings and that is what God is after.
Let’s be diligent in what we do today – even in the annoying, mundane, or particularly difficult parts of our work. [Then] we really can find meaning and delight in all things.
Prayer Disciples by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)
who makes the sun to rise
in glory over the shining sea
and causes the waves to lap
eternally on the shore-line,
be with us as another year begins,
and help us to be true disciples of Jesus.
Whether our life’s journey be across
billowing oceans or along hard roads,
help us in our resolve to make it
with love in our hearts
and compassion in our hands.
This we ask in the name of him
whose example we follow
and in the spirit of all his messengers,
apostles, and fellow-voyagers.
Reading Right Effort in Buddhism: Part of the Eightfold Path by Barbara O’Brien, from https://www.learnreligions.com/
Right Effort, sometimes called Right Diligence, is the sixth part of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. The Buddha taught that the Eightfold Path is the means to realize enlightenment. Right Effort (in Pali, samma vayamo), along with Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, make up the mental discipline section of the Path.
The most basic, traditional definition of Right Effort is to exert oneself to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities. As recorded in the Pali Canon, the Buddha taught there are four aspects to Right Effort. Very simply:
- The effort to prevent unwholesome qualities — especially greed, anger, and ignorance — from arising.
- The effort to extinguish unwholesome qualities that already have arisen.
- The effort to cultivate skillful, or wholesome, qualities—especially generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom (the opposites of greed, anger, and ignorance)—that have not yet arisen.
- The effort to strengthen the wholesome qualities that have already arisen.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Unanswered Prayer by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)
O God, who doesn’t seem to answer prayer,
who leaves the hungry to starve, the poor to die,
the oppressed to suffer, and the wars to rage,
why don’t you answer prayer, if you’re there at all?
But maybe that’s the wrong question.
Rather, why don’t we, humanity, answer prayer?
Why do we leave the hungry to starve
when there is food enough to feed them
and the means to grow more?
Why do we leave the poor to die
when there are resources enough
to heal the sick, clothe the naked,
and shelter the houseless?
Why do we leave the oppressed to suffer
for want of liberation, and wars to rage,
when we could stop them if the will for peace
ruled our counsels?
O God, who can only answer prayer
with human hands, human courage,
and human caring, stir us to the love
that feeds the hungry and heals the sick,
strikes down oppression, frees the slaves…
You are the will for peace with justice.
You are the love that reaches out to us
From others in our need.
God of our inmost hearts,
who calls us to seek you there,
may we find you and so become
your loving presence in this suffering world.
May it be so, Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
When our District’s Ministers’ Meeting went for a Summer day trip last July, we visited Gloucester Cathedral. And in the cathedral’s bookshop was a little, spiral-bound calendar, called Focus: How One Word A Week Will Transform Your Life by Cleere Cherry Reaves. I had a good look through it and thought, “I could use the prompts in this for next year’s services.” So the themes for all of my services this year will be from this source.
“Diligence” is an interesting and not much used word, these days, except in the legal context of “due diligence”, which Wikipedia defines as, “the investigation or exercise of care that a reasonable business or person is normally expected to take before entering into an agreement or contract with another party or an act with a certain standard of care.”
Like most of us, I guess, I have always believed that to be diligent is to be careful and hardworking and serious about a particular task. Like the industrious ant in Aesop’s fable, a version of which we heard earlier, who stores up food for the winter, unlike the feckless grasshopper, who would rather play and sing. It seems to be quite a cold, logical virtue. Something necessary, but not enjoyable.
So I was surprised to learn from Cleere Cherry Reaves that the word comes from the Latin word “diligere”, which means, “to value highly; take delight in.” I have never associated diligence with delight. But I find the idea a very attractive one.
I wonder whether that is what is wrong with our society, with the ways in which we approach our necessary tasks? We do them seriously and work hard at them. But how often do we take delight in them? Or are we more usually thinking, while we are working, “Once I’ve got my work done, then I can do something I enjoy”? How much more rewarding our work would be if our diligence included taking delight in what we do! If we brought to it all the passion and devotion we bring to our hobbies, to our creative lives.
Last year, I learned about an early 20th century German Expressionist artist, called Paula Modersohn-Becker, who wrote, “You simply have to devote your whole self to the one, original matter. This is the way something can and will come into being.”
She died at the tragically young age of 31, days after giving birth to her first child. But she left copious letters and journals, which share her passion for her art. In one extract from her journal, she wrote, presciently, “I know that I shall not live very long. But I wonder, is that sad? Is a celebration more beautiful because it lasts longer? And my life is a celebration, a short, intense celebration. My powers of perception are becoming finer… with almost every breeze I take, I get a new sense and understanding of the linden tree, of ripened wheat, of hay… I suck everything up into me. And if only now love would blossom for me, before I depart; and if I can paint three good pictures, then I shall go gladly, with flowers in my hair.”
This passion, this devotion, really spoke to me, as a fellow creative (although nothing I ever produce may live up to her art). It is easy to dabble with art or writing and never get anywhere. It takes intense devotion to produce something worthwhile. And time and patience and dedication. I have been writing my current book for three years now and do not grudge a minute of the time I have spent on it.
But it is only since I have become a minister that I have learned to bring this same attitude to my work, to bring to it the passion and devotion that is required of me. Perhaps that is the difference between a job and a vocation. When we have a vocation, a calling for our work, we will take delight in it, do it with passion as well as thoroughness. Be diligent in the true sense of that word.
I love the words of Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, who wrote, “Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgement wage war against your passion and your appetite.” I think that this is so true of all of us – at some times, we are cool and logical and reasonable, at others, we are fiery and illogical and passionate. But we don’t always bring our fiery passion to our work. Perhaps we should. Perhaps we would enjoy it more – even do it better – if we did.
In our early years, one of the names that Unitarians were known by was “Rational Dissenters”. I looked this term up in Wikipedia and was interested to find the following description, “Like moderate Anglicans, they desired an educated ministry and an orderly church, but they based their opinions on reason and the Bible rather than on appeals to tradition and authority. They rejected doctrines such as the Trinity and original sin, arguing that they were irrational. Rational Dissenters believed that Christianity and faith could be dissected and evaluated using the newly emerging discipline of science, and that a stronger belief in God would be the result.”
And I absolutely agree that what we believe and how we behave should be subject to our reason and conscience. But I also believe that there is more to life than being perfectly reasonable and logical. I agree that the final authority for an individual’s faith should be their own conscience. But I think that this involves our hearts as well as our heads. Our passion and devotion as well as our reason. I believe that there are some things in life that are beyond reason – how we love, how we feel compassion for others, and also, to some extent, what we believe, what gives our lives meaning.
I think that both reason and passion are important – I am increasingly finding that while I can reject certain beliefs on the grounds of reason, there are some aspects of “doing religion” or having faith that are beyond reason. For example, I have a growing awareness of God or the Spirit at work in the world. This is on the basis of intuition, not reason, but I believe it is real.
Head and heart together, reason and passion. If we can bring our passion to our work, not simply doing it because it has to be done, I believe we will get better results. If we can take delight in what we do, throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into the things we care about, with no holding back, no partial commitment, the joy we find in the work will be its own reward.
As we saw in our final reading, part of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism is Right Effort, sometimes called Right Diligence. The explanation Barbara O’Brien gives of this may have struck you as logical, about the head rather than the heart. But I believe that Right Effort can also involve the heart. It is about doing the things we are passionate about (and even our work) with our whole selves, with heart and mind and soul.
In his wonderful book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller argues that “Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest.”
I think that this is how many of us view being diligent – not being afraid of hard work, always chasing after the next goal. But Muller argues that, “In the trance of overwork, we take everything for granted. We consume things, people and information. We do not have time to savour this life, nor to care deeply and gently for ourselves, our loved ones, or our world.”
So he advises us to observe a Sabbath, so that we have time to “Remember that everything you have received is a blessing. Remember to delight in your life, in the fruits of your labor. Remember to stop and offer thanks for the wonder of it.”
I wonder how different our lives would be if we always delighted in the fruits of our labour? I believe that this is the true meaning of diligence. If we could see our work as a blessing rather than a curse, and take delight in it, valuing it highly as part of our diligence, I am sure we would be the happier for it.
Which is why I love the words of Lyman Abbott, the American Congregationalist theologian and author, who wrote, “Put all your ambition, all your enthusiasm, into the work of service. Make it the aim of your life to leave the world better and happier because you have lived in it, and take without greed or grasping what the world will give you of service in return.”
May it be so.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we be truly diligent in all that we do,
Taking delight in making a difference in the world.
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