Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words from A Regular Sunday by Jeffrey Bowes
Here we have gathered to make another link in the chain of days that binds our lives in fellowship.
We bring our whole self to worship, with all the pleasures and the pains of our daily lives. All our hopes and dreams and fears are here with us. Our remembrance of days past and of people gone before us rests in our hearts. In thought and prayer, we gather our loved ones around us, those who are with us today, those who are close as neighbours and family and friends, and those who are far away.
We trust and hope that here there will be ease for the heart, refreshment for the spirit, challenge for the mind, and a way to make peace in our lives and bring peace in the world.
We offer our friendship in fellowship, our service in community, our care in mutual support through the trials and troubles of daily life, and our devotion one to another in sharing the high days and the happy days.
May we feel, as true presence, a spirit of unity and love, of friendship, of mutual desire to find joy, happiness, high aspiration, and a deep sense that we are connected as one with all living things.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point).
words by Cliff Reed
We gather in a house of peace,
where violence of hand or tongue
are unwelcome strangers.
The Spirit is among us as we breathe and sing and pray,
speaking gentle, kind, and friendly words.
Within us and through us may Divine Love reach out,
cooling hearts in which resentment burns,
warming hearts made deathly cold by hatred,
reviving hearts grown lukewarm with unconcern.
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 Where does your pebble walk to? from the Oriental tradition, quoted in The Golden Thread by Dorothy Boux
Where does your pebble walk to, Grasshopper?
It walks. Its journey is to nowhere.
Each journey begins, and also ends.
Then the ending is the bottom of the pool.
Does not the pebble, entering the water, begin fresh journeys?
It seems unceasing.
Such is the journey through life. It begins, it ends, yet fresh journeys go forth. Grasshopper, when I was a boy I fell into a hole in the ground and I was broken and could not climb out. I might have died there; but a stranger came along and saved me. He said it was his obligation, that for help he had once received he must in return help ten others, each of whom must then help ten others, so that good deeds would spread out like ripples from the pebbles in a pond.
I was one of his ten and you became one of mine. I pass this obligation on to you.
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 The Godseeker’s Guide by Rabbi Lionel Blue
Hospitals are turning out to be the best seminaries I’ve ever attended. … It’s kindness from nurses which has helped me as much as technology, and I hope that that doesn’t get lost in the system. I don’t forget words like, ‘Well, me poor darlin’, let’s see if we can get yer going today – yer’s a brave lad.’ I thank her profusely and she remarks to the ward, ‘Well, it can’t be me beauty so it must be me charm’…. And I think of the nurse who popped a teddy bear into a young man’s bed to await his return from a hard time in the treatment room….
The problem is, ‘How do you teach kindness?’ – especially if you haven’t experienced much as a child. Perhaps by remembering the kindnesses you’ve received and the unkindnesses you’ve suffered and what both felt like, and also the kindnesses you’ve shown and the unkindnesses you’ve inflicted, and how you catch kindness from other people, like measles, not from books. A lot of unkindness comes because people don’t like themselves. So, take credit for the good you’ve done, treat yourself kindly, and you’ll be kinder to others.
The old rabbis said that the Temple was destroyed not by Roman might, but because people weren’t kind or generous enough to each other – if our world goes bust, it will be for the same reason.
Prayer by Leaf Seligman
We pause in the stillness to rest for a moment, to quiet ourselves so that we can feel what stirs within us. Each breath draws us closer to the pulse of life and with each exhalation we make room for something new. May we find in this gathering the comfort of those who care. May we encounter patience along our growing edges and compassion in our most tender spots. Here may we find the inspiration and encouragement we need to face our challenges and nurture ourselves. And in the presence of suffering across the globe may we redouble our efforts to practice kindness where we are, with the hope that the light of our actions travels like the light of faraway stars. May our gestures of compassion and generosity seed possibility. May we walk humbly with one another, choosing reconciliation over resentment as we try to live right-sized. When life presses in and shifts us off balance, when pain assails us, when frustration mounts, may the rhythm of our breath steady us and bring us back to a place of gratitude.
Reading from Focus: How One Word A Week Will Transform Your Life by Cleere Cherry Reaves (adapted)
There are bumper stickers, T-shirts, and all kinds of products that speak to the importance of kindness. We like to pay it forward when we can post about it on social media. We enjoy serving on a mission team where we had already scheduled: “Okay, this week I will be kind and selfless.” We don’t mind being kind when we feel as though the action or character will be reciprocated.
But how do we feel about kindness when it’s not so easy to be kind? How do we feel about kindness when the subject of our attention isn’t someone we particularly like? How do we respond to an interruption in our day when it is asking us to forgo our own schedule and answer the need of someone else? It is in these moments that the source of our kindness is tested. Does it stop being based on our preference, or are we walking in the same kindness that [God] extends to us?
The kindness of Jesus is the type that ignores one’s own opinion or preference, forgets any mishaps, and decides to simply extend a hand regardless. Many times we fear that if we are kind beyond what is deserved, we will not be able to set a standard or prove a point. But what if our standard was grace and kindness?
What would our lives look like if we decided to be out-of-the-box kind?… If we chose to respond with mercy, to give without expectation of reciprocation, and to walk in a way that lets others know we are not operating on our own accord, we would allow ourselves to be used to bless others. We would initiate a new way of communicating that stopped focusing on being right…
It is often the little moments that matter the most to us; it is the times where someone has taken the time to see us, when their acknowledgement and generosity felt like the hug we did not even know we needed. Let us be that same hug, deep breath, and extended hand for others.
Time of Stillness and Reflection The Metabhavna or Prayer of Loving Kindness
The Buddhist Mettabhavna, or Prayer of Loving Kindness, is often used in Unitarian services, or for personal meditation. This is my version of it. After each line, I invite you to close your eyes, and pray for the people concerned, using the words given, if you wish…
First of all, we pray for ourselves: May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from harm, may I find peace.
Next, we pray for our loved ones, those people who are dear to us: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone less well-known to us, about whom we have no strong feelings, but whom we might know better, if we made the effort: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for people we don’t know, for all the people who are doing their best to make a positive difference in the world, and for those who are lost in places of scarcity and fear: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone we dislike, or find it difficult to get on with: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Finally, we pray for the world: may all be well, may all be happy, may all be free from harm, may all find peace.
May all find peace, today and always, Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Kindness is a virtue which helps our social interactions to go more smoothly. I was interested to find our first reading, from the Oriental tradition, as retold by Dorothy Boux, in which helping others is seen as an obligation. As the anonymous storyteller remarks, “I was one of his ten and you became one of mine. I pass this obligation on to you.”
Because while we may find it easy to be kind to people we know and like, it is often not so easy to extend our kindness to people we don’t know or whom we don’t like. Which is why the words of our final reading, by Cleere Cherry Reaves, are such a challenge to us. I’d like to repeat some of them, because she poses questions we need to answer, if we are to live in the world as kindly as possible: “How do we feel about kindness when it’s not so easy to be kind? How do we feel about kindness when the subject of our attention isn’t someone we particularly like? How do we respond to an interruption in our day when it is asking us to forgo our own schedule and answer the need of someone else?” and, “What if our standard was grace and kindness?… What would our lives look like if we decided to be out-of-the-box kind?”
“What if our standard was grace and kindness?” I think that what she is saying is that it is our duty, our obligation, to be kind to others, all the time, not just when it’s easy, not just when we feel like it. The question that particularly spoke to me was, “How do we respond to an interruption in our day when it is asking us to forgo our own schedule and answer the need of someone else?” Because I know that I find this difficult. I plan my working week carefully and like to be uninterrupted when I am working. Particularly if it is work that involves my whole attention – like putting this service together, writing this address.
So if a phone call comes, or the door bell rings, my first reaction is often impatience with whomever it is. I will sigh inwardly, then go and answer it. What I’m saying is, I end up doing the right thing, but reading that question reminds me that I need to be less controlling, more charitable, more generous with my time. And to let go of the desire to control my own destiny. Because helping another is absolutely the finest way to live, the simplest way to grow into our best selves.
And we should remember that even a small kindness can make a big difference to someone else. I’d like to share a true story, something that happened to me some years ago, in the shopping centre in Northampton. I noticed a stall in the foyer, which had been set up by some members of the St Giles congregation, and they were offering free hand massages and nail painting.
On impulse I stopped, and got my hands massaged by a kind lady named Elizabeth. We got talking, and I asked her why they were doing this. She explained that they wanted to show God’s love to the people of Northampton. And that there were some events for children up at the church. I thought that this was such a lovely thing to do – they weren’t proselytising, or anything like that – just trying to make some people’s days a little brighter. I can only say that it worked – I was touched by her kindness, and my hands felt wonderful.
Kindness, whether to ourselves or to others, is closely related to compassion. It means responding to the best in another person (or ourselves) and forgiving the worst. It means making a positive difference to their lives, by small acts of kindness – remembering to send a birthday card, giving them a ring ‘just because’, listening with the ear of our hearts, and knowing them well enough to tiptoe around their tender spots and rejoice with them when they are happy.
Many of us are quite good (when we remember, or when it is easy or convenient) at being kind to other people. But not so good at being kind to ourselves. How often do we perform small acts of kindness to ourselves? How often do we cut ourselves some slack when we have made a mistake, give ourselves a small treat if we’re feeling down, allow ourselves to take a break if we’re feeling tired, choose not to beat ourselves up if something unfortunate happens? I would certainly never speak to anyone else as harshly as I sometimes speak to myself, nor blame them as quickly as I blame myself. Why do we behave differently towards ourselves than we do to other people? Because each of us is “unique, precious, a child of God” as the Quakers have it.
I love the words of Frederick Buechner, about how we act towards strangers can have a real knock-on effect. He wrote, “As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference or with hostility towards the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops, or in what far place my touch will be felt.”
Which is another analogy for the ripple effect of our first reading.
And I believe that this is as true about showing kindness to ourselves as it is about showing kindness to others. When we choose to be kind to ourselves, when we choose to look on our past deeds and thoughts with kindness, we are forgiving ourselves, and allowing ourselves to grow into the best people we can be. Instead of slapping ourselves down, keeping ourselves small.
I love Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s words, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” With the Quakers, I believe that there is “that of God in everyone” (including ourselves). A divine spark reaching out to the rest of the universe and to God. But we make the discerning of this difficult if we are always judging ourselves and others, rather than being kind to each other, kind to ourselves.
Some Unitarians believe in the Holy Spirit as Cliff Reed wrote in Unitarian? What’s That?, as, “the active divine presence in individuals and communities, as the divine breath that gives us life, as… the divine mystery moving among us and within us as we work and worship.” The belief in God as the Spirit working through human beings is one which many Unitarians, including myself, are increasingly warming to. While we may have rejected the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient God, many of us still believe that God definitely exists, as that “active divine presence” that Reed refers to. And it may help us to be kind to ourselves as well as to others if we remember that we too have that divine spark within ourselves.
Kindness is a wonderful thing – it costs nothing (or very little) to be kind and the benefits can be enormous. A little kindness to others can grease the wheels of our social interactions. And it is not only in our deeds that we can show kindness, but also in our words, whether written or spoken. Of course it can take some thought – for example, instead of confronting someone with whom we disagree, we can instead choose to take a deep breath and follow Unitarian minister Chris Goacher’s advice: “There are many ways to be generous to people right now, we don’t have to wait. If we are motivated by loving kindness and compassion, we can make people happy right now, beginning with Right Speech. Being aware of the danger of careless or unmindful speech leads us into a world of loving kindness. We can make the world a better, happier place. Maybe we could begin to practice mindful speech by using Socrates’ ‘triple filter’. Ask ourselves – is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?”
“Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?” If we remembered to ask ourselves those questions before we respond to any situation, whether it is with other people, or when we have done something we’re not happy about, I believe our lives would be much happier, as we have shown compassion to ourselves and others.
And we have to be kind to ourselves – it is difficult to be kind to others if we are continually beating ourselves up for our supposed shortcomings. May we all learn to cultivate kindness in our lives. Let us be gentle with one another in the coming days and weeks. May we remember that each person we meet is a vulnerable human being, each with their own preoccupations, hopes, dreams, and fears, and try to respond with kindness and gentleness in every encounter that we have with others.
I will finish with the words of Mother Teresa. “Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbour… Let no-one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”
May it be so.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May the deeds of our hands and
the words of our mouths be kind and gentle,
to ourselves as well as to others.
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