This service was written before the terrible earthquake in Turkey. May we hold all the people affected by it in our prayers.
Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Andy Pakula
With each new day, we are offered another step in life’s sacred journey, an invitation to join in the flow of life that streams around us.
Today, we may face a barren desert landscape to cross.
Parched as our reserves of hope dwindle.
Some days, a lush oasis appears, offering its succulent gifts of joy to delight our hearts.
Each day, we arrive, but not to stay.
We travel on…
Pilgrims in search of the holy land that glistens in our dreams,
Journeying toward a destination that we must seek
And that none ever reach.
Spirit of the journey, God of many names.
May we step out boldly,
Venturing eagerly forward,
Accepting all that each mile has to offer.
May we know that within the journey itself lies our destination, and that the holy city waits to be discovered in every heart.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point).
words by Gordon B. McKeeman)
Deep calls unto deep, joy calls unto joy, light calls unto light.
Let the kindling of this flame rekindle in us the inner light of love, of peace, of hope.
And “as one flame lights another, nor grows the less,”
we pledge ourselves to be bearers of the light, wherever we are.
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: Think Positive found on the internet
Once upon a time there was a bunch of tiny frogs, who arranged a running competition. The goal was to reach the top of a very high tower. A big crowd gathered around the tower to see the race, and cheer on the contestants, but quite honestly, no-one in the crowd really believed that the tiny frogs would reach the top of the tower. There were comments like:
‘Oh, WAY too difficult!’ ‘They will NEVER make it to the top.’ Or ‘Not a chance that they will succeed. The tower is too high.’
The tiny frogs began collapsing. One by one … Except for those, who in a fresh tempo, were climbing higher and higher… But the crowd continued to yell, ‘It is too difficult! No-one will make it!’
More tiny frogs got tired, and gave up… But ONE continued higher and higher and higher… This one wouldn’t give up! She kept on going, her little legs taking the strain, until she finally reached the top. When she got back down again, all the other tiny frogs naturally wanted to know how she had managed to do it. How she had found the strength to succeed and reach the goal.
It turned out… the winner was DEAF! And the moral of the story is: never listen to other people’s tendencies to be negative or pessimistic, because they take your most wonderful dreams and wishes away from you – the ones you have in your heart. Always think of the power that words have, because everything you hear and read will affect your actions. So a little selective deafness when people tell you that you cannot fulfil your dreams may take you very far indeed.
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 Cheerfulness from Inner Beauty, published by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University
Cheerfulness is when the brow of the hill seems close. When you are taking the last few steps forward. It is the unique experience of the day before a special event, the last few moments. It is when you have passed through so much and there’s only a little to go, and that little is easy, because you’d only lose if you turned back. Cheerfulness is the brilliance of being free, even of having to choose, because everything you’ve done up to this point has already dictated the future. So how can we be cheerful, when we’ve got so far to go?
It is a matter of clarity and conviction. First, you have to be able to see beyond the present, to have such vision that you can sense a good future, not just for you, but for everything. You have to know in your bones that the whole movement of life is towards what is good and that all hills have valleys, all seasons have summer. Then you have to live that, or else cheerfulness is just bravado in the face of despair.
Cheerfulness in its true form is earned. You have to work for it, clear away enough of the rubbish inside that you can see. For this you have to know how to cordon off weakness, to refuse it entry into the rest of your life. People talk about being ‘whole’, but until the end, you have to become an expert at being in pieces, so that your eyes are always dancing even if your feet are dragging.
Prayer by Maureen Killoran
Spirit of all blessing,
be with us
in the ordinariness of our days.
May hope’s light guard us and keep cynicism from our hearts.
May the energy of laughter build endurance for the dark times of our lives.
May creativity’s vision grant the possibility of seeing old relationships with new eyes.
May the oil of healing keep us from anger’s hardness or despair.
May the mantle of humility give us courage to admit when we are wrong.
May compassion’s loom weave in us the discipline to forgive.
May patience help us bear in mind that ours is not the only scale of time.
May the flame of justice be a beacon for the choices we must make.
May peace be ever in us and sustain our stressful days.
Spirit of all blessing,
be with us in the ordinariness of our days. Amen
Reading from The Last Victory by Stanley A. Mellor
Optimism, generally, is a way of facing the mystery and problem of life that is characterised by a certain ability to “cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt”, to believe that doubt, difficulty, and even despair, have a sunnier side. That on the whole, and in the last resort, the significance of this universe and of our lives is a real significance, and not an illusion, and is expressible, if at all, then truly only in terms of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, our longing for these and achieving of these. Such optimism, you will observe, stretches away to the furthest confines of time and bounds of space. It is not limited to events of a day and hour, nor concerned only with breaking the clouds of a moment…. The optimism one really wants has to be infinitely more than a pious belief in the future, more than a mere worship of progress, more than even the brightest, though illusive, certainty that, if only you give them time enough, things will all come right in the end. One needs the optimism that is born out of blackest pessimism, that is bought with a price, paid for in heart’s agony and blood, the optimism that realises the delusiveness of time, the possible vanity of progress, and will not be content to establish itself on anything less than recognition of the eternal here and now.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Maureen Killoran (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love, endless mystery of life:
You are the music that sounded before our world was born,
sound and silence woven throughout the ages,
far beyond the most profound wisdom humanity has been able to touch.
Be with us, deepen our willingness to live without certainty;
to take the risks of living on the edges of our creativity;
to step beyond the boundaries of possibility and hope.
Help us always to remember that we are in our essence the magic of star stuff:
that we are kin to all that is and was and may yet come to be.
Teach us to temper our impatience, to retain our conviction that what we do makes a difference;
that even our smallest act can contribute to the good of a greater whole.
Be with us in our uncertainties. Rejoice with our small triumphs.
Comfort our losses. Remind us we are never alone, not in our joys or in our tears.
May we feel your presence, today and always. Amen
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
A while ago, I received an unexpected, but most welcome, gift through the post, a copy of a slim, manila-coloured book called The Last Victory: Studies in Religious Optimism by Stanley A. Mellor, Unitarian minister of Hope Street Church (how appropriate!) in Liverpool. Each of the four short sections is based on an address delivered at the church during the darkest days of World War One. The author explains, “Their purpose was … to remind people again of the conditions under which glowing faith must always furnish its warmth in a finite world, to face certain fundamental perplexities in the life of faith, and to provide encouragement and hope. The responsibility of surviving into the world of peace after war … must press heavily on every sensitive spirit, and the need for radiant constructive faith in the ultimate goodness and worth of life is very great and will become greater.”
The whole book is a paean of hope; of “radiant constructive faith in the ultimate goodness and worth of life”. It spoke to me very deeply. Rev. Mellor was a Unitarian pacifist, at a time when this view was most unpopular, and with William J. Piggott, he wrote a wonderful rallying cry entitled, The Fellowship of Emancipation for Freedom and Peace, which resulted in the foundation of the Unitarian and Free Christian Peace Fellowship in 1916. I am proud to be its Secretary, more than a hundred years later.
The attitude that shines through all of this is his, “certain ability to ‘cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt'” – an immovable belief that life is fundamentally good; and that ultimately, the good will prevail. He is careful to explain that this is, “infinitely more than a pious belief in the future, more than a mere worship of progress, more than even the brightest, though illusive, certainty that … things will all come out right in the end.” The religious optimism Mellor espouses is, “unswerving belief in what I have called the solidarity of goodness, the belief that, if once you get hold of the good in any measure or degree and give your life to it, to support it and do battle for it, then, no matter what appearances to the contrary may be, in the last resort, the whole universe is on your side, you are in touch with something solidly triumphant from first to last throughout the whole amazing and problematical texture of history and experience.”
The whole book resonated with me at a profound level. I had a true epiphany – that I am that kind of religious optimist, who continues to believe in the ultimate good in the face of the evidence. Which is why the words of Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings have always moved me so greatly: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass. … There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”
The part of The Last Victory which has brought the most enlightenment is where Mellors insists that, “Optimism is not a scientific certainty, no true optimist ever said it was. It is an affirmation of the spirit, a risk accepted by the soul. … Call it what you will, belief in the unseen world, belief in the reality of the Ideal, faith in the solidarity and eternal value of goodness … the certainty remains that without it Humanity cannot go forward, and without it we ourselves can do no good and worthy work in the world.”
This kind of optimism is what fires volunteers to work to alleviate the terrible conditions in the refugee camps the world over, to give just one example; that inspires people to join pressure groups which are working for a better world, whether it is for peace, or climate change or the alleviation of poverty. A world such as Mellors and Piggott dreamed of in their Unitarian and Free Christian Peace Fellowship manifesto, way back in 1916. A world which is still worth fighting for, cynical politicians to the contrary. People may sneer, and dismiss me and others like me as hopelessly idealistic, but without optimists like us, what good would ever happen? If Nelson Mandela had not had belief in spite of the evidence for a free South Africa, would it have happened? If Gandhi had not believed in equality for the people of India, would it have happened?
The Brahma Kumaris point out that cheerfulness, “is a matter of clarity and conviction. First, you have to be able to see beyond the present, to have such vision that you can sense a good future, not just for you, but for everything. You have to know in your bones that the whole movement of life is towards what is good and that all hills have valleys, all seasons have summer. Then you have to live that, or else cheerfulness is just bravado in the face of despair.”
And I think that 20th century novelist, Margaret Lee Runbeck, would agree. She once wrote, “Happiness is not a station to arrive at, but a way to travel.” By contrast, the American Declaration of Independence speaks of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as “certain inalienable rights”, with which all of humankind is endowed. I agree that we all have the right to life and the right to liberty, but I’m not so sure about “the pursuit of happiness.”
Because I believe that happiness (or cheerfulness) should be not the goal of our lives, but a way of being in the world, which makes our journeys through life more enjoyable, and enables us to make a positive difference. I think that pursuing happiness might actually lead to not being happy, where we are at the present moment. If we fall into the “if only” trap, we can actually be postponing the possibility of happiness.
For example, “I’ll be happy, if only I could lose ten pounds.” “I’ll be happy, if I get a promotion at work.” “I’ll be happy, if only…” You can fill in the blanks yourself. I believe that the knack is to find ways of being happy, being cheerful, where we are, right now. In other words, as Runbeck wrote, “Happiness is not a station to arrive at, but a way to travel.”
People have been writing about the benefits of optimism, the joys that come from having faith in the good, for millennia. The first century Roman philosopher and statesman, Seneca, urged us to, “Enjoy life! It flees at a rapid pace.” Which is something I have always striven to do. In fact, I have sometimes been accused of being naïve, idealistic and teeth-grindingly positive, by less optimistic friends. But I would far rather try to stay cheerful, to see the good in any situation, than to drown in the bad. I consciously try to live in the present, neither regretting the past, nor worrying about the future. Well, I try…!
For example, I woke up this morning to find a white frost on the ground, together with a pale blue sky and sunshine, and I could not wait to be out in it. I wrapped up warmly and headed up into the forest. And every brown leaf had its own glittering trimming of silver, lit by the early morning sun. While I was walking, I tried to be fully present to the beauty around me, not thinking about the work I have to do today. And as a result, my early morning walk has set me up for the day.
You might say, “Well, it’s easy for you to be cheerful – you have never known real sorrow, genuine suffering or misery.” And that’s true to a certain extent – my life has been incredibly blessed on the whole. I have a loving husband, two wonderful grown up children and some very dear friends.
Nevertheless, I am nearly 63. I have not got to this point in my life without being acquainted with sorrow, suffering and misery. I have lost people who were dear to me. I have suffered physical pain. But I have also been blessed with a natural “glass half-full” temperament and have rarely suffered from either anxiety or depression. Both of which, I am well aware from being with friends who suffer from these, are debilitating and all-consuming.
So I know that we must also strive to be compassionate towards those who are suffering, who are miserable, who are anxious, who are in pain, who cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Karen Armstrong writes that true compassion is about dethroning the ego and genuinely trying to put ourselves in the other person’s place, meeting them where they are, without trying to “make it all better”. Which involves deep listening, without our own agenda. It’s about doing whatever we can to help.
And not being offensively bouncy and upbeat, trying to “cheer people up”. Not being Tigger to their Eeyore. Because when someone is suffering, miserable, grieving, or in pain, the last thing they need is to be slapped on the back and told that it will all be over soon, and to get over it. That is an incredibly unhelpful, offensive (if well meaning) way to behave.
And so I try to remember Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s words, which Brené Brown often quotes, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well enough can we be present with the darkness of others.” Without trying to flip on the light, to make it all better.
May we have faith in the good, so that we are able to stay cheerful in spite of whatever happens in our lives.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we have faith in the good,
and strive to make the best of the lives
we have been given.
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, Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley