Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by David Usher
Open your hearts to the wonder of worship.
Open your minds to the eternal quest for meaning and truth.
Open your eyes to the miracle of creation.
Open your arms to the embrace of your fellow men and women.
Open your souls, and let the divine sweep in.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Jane Blackall.
May the light of this chalice be a reminder of the
shared values and principles around which we gather:
upholding the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
cherishing all those diverse creatures and habitats
with whom we share this Earth, our home;
seeking human liberation and flourishing;
serving the common good of all.
May this little light, and all it represents, make a home in our hearts;
where it will ever guide us back to our highest aspirations,
and help us be responsive, creative, just, and loving,
in this complex and ever-changing world.
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,
Suffering in any way, Amen
Reading from Honouring the Earth: Prologue by Maria Curtis, from Cherishing the Earth – Nourishing the Spirit.
If the Earth is the primary revelation of the divine;… if God is immanent in the natural world, as Panentheist theologians claim; if we regard Earth as our sacred Mother, along with many pagan and Indigenous people; if the world is “charged with the grandeur of God”, in the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins – our attitude should be one of reverence. The gift of life comes unmerited, undeserved. We should be delirious with joy and gratitude for this bounty. We have our senses to perceive the riot of colour, scent, and sound; we have the joys of touch and taste; we have minds that can apprehend beauty. We should celebrate the diversity of all forms of life on Earth. Miraculous, the creativity inherent in matter….
What would it mean to honour the Earth? To be in right relationship with the Earth – her land, oceans, rivers, air, and all her plants and animals? I think we know what an unholy relationship looks like. On our shores in the British Isles, privatised water companies are pouring untreated sewage straight into the sea… Even the Moon cannot escape this abuse; I cannot get out of my mind the image of used nappies abandoned by astronauts on its surface. That is not reverence…
We humans have sullied the Earth. We have fouled our own nest. Our exploitation of the Earth’s resources has despoiled the plant. We have treated living things, plants and animals, whole ecosystems, as if they were just stuff, rather than beings; we have shown no respect for the millions of years that went into creating them.
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 An Earth Spirit Perspective by Penelope Quest, from Cherishing the Earth – Nourishing the Spirit. (adapted)
In our increasingly industrialised and technological modern world, we seem to have lost touch with our natural environment, yet everything that we have is provided by our planet Earth, from our food and clothing to our homes and all that we have within them. We plunder the planet for its minerals and metals, its coal and oil and gas, to provide us with electricity to operate ever more complicated manufactured devices, as well as providing heat and light and means of transport.
And all of this means that we have largely lost our sense of connection with the natural world, and our respect for, and our sense of gratitude to, ‘Mother Earth’. We have placed ourselves at the pinnacle of creation, rather than seeing ourselves as simply part of the web of life. It has become even more apparent in recent years that our greed for ‘progress’, our culture of demanding ‘more, more, more’, is responsible for degrading the environment and creating the current climate-change crisis. Instead of asserting dominance over the natural world, we need to develop a sense of humility that will lead us towards a more reciprocal relationship with it….
[Yet] we have become much more aware of our environmental responsibilities now that climate change is beginning to have such an impact on our lives, with sometimes disastrous changes in weather patterns. We also recognise that it is not just humans who are being affected by these changes, but that all forms of life, from animals, birds, fish and the insects we need for pollination, to plants, crops, and trees, can be affected by droughts and floods, temperature changes, and fires.
Prayer Earth Mother, Our Fragile, Floating Home by Kate Dean, from Cherishing the Earth – Nourishing the Spirit.
Our fragile, floating home,
We hear your weeping.
As we sit in our comfort,
Help us to see how changes – large and small –
Can make a difference to our suffering siblings.
Let us put the natural world
At the heart of every action,
At the centre of every decision,
Choosing to tread lightly on the earth
So that we may be good ancestors
To those not yet born
And good stewards
Of that which is yet to grow.
May we not be bowed down
By our despair for the future,
But use our anger as potent fuel
To energise our actions
For a fairer world
Reading from Owning the Shadow, Becoming Conscious by Sheena Gabriel, from Cherishing the Earth – Nourishing the Spirit.
Of course, it must be admitted that religion contributed to the mess that we are in… Scripture taken too literally created a mindset of domination, giving rise to the Protestant work ethic and the Industrial Revolution, and encouraging wealthy factory owners (some of them Unitarians) to pollute the skies, rivers and soil in the name of progress….
But if religion is part of the problem, secularism has not served us any better: our shrines are now shopping malls, and our gods are celebrity icons. We have disconnected from nature, and until we learn to see Earth as a living being, as indigenous peoples do, we will continue to exploit her. People have talked about the ecological crisis for decades… The theologian Augustine of Hippo, 1,500 years ago, lamented his slow awakening to God’s love: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new! You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.” That lament is my own as I belatedly awaken to the beauty of the Earth, and the consolation that nature provides is marred by my awareness of its suffering. I find myself weeping at film footage of a scrawny polar bear rummaging for scraps of food in a town miles away from his melting home, and at images of the last two white Northern Rhinos on the planet – mother and daughter.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Sheena Gabriel (adapted)
Spirit of all that is,
We give thanks for beauty unnoticed,
for the many miracles of nature,
which lie like un-opened love letters,
strewn about our feet,
awaiting a response.
May we not be blind or indifferent
to the prodigious gifts that come our way.
Grant us the vision to see
the world with fresh eyes;
to look beneath the surface of things
and be open to secrets that lay hidden.
And help us to remember that despite
the pain and suffering that haunts our world,
somewhere in the universe
Beauty is always unfolding;
silently, secretly, without fan-fare,
waiting to be discovered…
May it be so, Amen
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address Earth Day 2023
Yesterday, 22nd April, was Earth Day. According to the National Today website, “For the past 50 years, Earth Day has been celebrated by billions of people around the globe, annually every April 22, to join together in promoting awareness for the health of our environment. Why should we continue to celebrate this holiday? Some people may view it as just another holiday, or an excuse to wear green and a flower crown, similar to St. Patrick’s Day, but with serious concerns about our changing environment being studied and addressed today by prominent scientists, politicians, and young climate change activists alike, some people are adapting to more environmentally friendly ways of living — every day, not just on April 22 every year.”
And this year, at our General Assembly meetings, a new book was launched, called Cherishing the Earth – Nourishing the Spirit, from which all the readings of today’s service came. We are becoming ever more aware of the climate crisis that is affecting the whole of the blue-green planet we call home. The book presents a variety of responses by Unitarians – lay people, ministers, and children – to the global ecological crisis we are currently facing. Their insights range “from the prophetic and political to the practical and intensely personal.” And all of the contributors are clear that we are in this situation because of our past and present blindness to the downsides of “progress” and that we urgently need to Do Something before it is too late. If it is not already too late…
Yet humankind has not always been aware of the damage we are doing to the planet and its inhabitants, to all the living things which make up the interconnected web of life. The German poet Heinrich Heine lived in the first half of the nineteenth century, when human, industrial and technological progress was seen as an unambiguous good. He wrote, “I believe in progress. I believe humanity is destined for happiness.” We Unitarians too, believed in the progress of humankind, “onward and upward forever.” Sadly, in the 175 years since Heine’s death in 1856, we have come to understand that progress is far from being a universal good. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. Back then, all the industrial and technological progress came at a price ignored by many – the terrible working conditions of the industrial poor and the exploitation of people and lands all over the world.
In terms of the Earth’s history, humankind has not been around for very long – for the last few minutes of a twenty-four hour day. But our impact on the planet has been out of all proportion to that time. And it is not even as though humankind has always had a bad effect on the planet’s resources: for centuries and millennia, people lived on the earth more or less in harmony with it, growing the food they needed to eat, and mining the minerals they needed to make basic tools.
And this still holds true in so-called “primal” cultures today. For example, Native American religion tends to be closely related to the natural world. The local terrain is elevated with supernatural meaning, and natural objects are imbued with sacred presences. Ceremonial rituals involving these supernatural-natural objects are meant to ensure communal and individual prosperity. Native Americans have a love for and a reverence for the land they live on and understand that there is an underlying balance in Nature which must not be upset. And the same applies to other indigenous cultures, such as the Aborigines and the Maori. There is a lovely bit in the film Crocodile Dundee when Mick Dundee is explaining to Sue (the New York reporter) about the relationship between the Aborigines and the land. He explains that they don’t own the land; they just live on it and with it “It’s their mother.” We also have a thriving Pagan tradition in this country, which has much in common with other primal religions around the world.
In the “old days” (that is, before the Industrial Revolution) most of humankind lived much more closely to the earth. It is only in the last two hundred years, with the huge technological so-called “advances” that have been made in Western society, that the connection has been broken. In that time, to quote Jonathan Helfand, a Jewish theologian, “Western man has acted as master and lord of his environment, paying no heed to the effects of his actions on the environment. In the name of progress, water, land, air, and the wildlife they support have been despoiled and depleted, perhaps beyond reclaim.”
The protest group Extinction Rebellion was founded in October 2018 and will be holding a large scale protest this weekend. So many people have been galvanised into action by the grim realisation that our planet is under active threat. That our lives, and the lives of all living creatures and plants, are under threat. That it is almost too late to do anything about it. But that nevertheless, the effort has to be made.
I know that many Unitarians will be spending at least part of the long weekend down in London to join the protests. I am so glad that we are a part of this, because we only have one planet. XR are seeking to help people to understand that there are better ways to live, based on a lifestyle which Unitarian author, John Naish, calls “enoughness”.
Because in spite of all the publicity for the climate crisis, we are still a society of consumers, with our heads buried firmly in the sand. Natural resources such as gas and oil are running out and the biodiversity on which our planet depends for its health is at risk from the activities of humankind. And it is not only “other people” who are to blame. We are all to blame. I’ve been watching the new David Attenborough programme Wild Isles, in recent weeks, about the natural life in the British Isles. And he has made it crystal clear that species of animals, birds, fish, plants and insects are dying out, here, now, because of the activities of humankind in our country.
In 2019, Extinction Rebellion published a book called This is Not A Drill. In it, the authors wrote, “This is a crisis that requires radical system change on a scale never seen before…. The challenge we now face is extremely daunting. Because the problem, unfortunately, is not just the climate. The problem is ecology. The problem is the environment. The problem is biodiversity. The problem is capitalism. The problem is colonialism. The problem is power. The problem is inequality. The problem is greed, and corruption, and money, and this tired, broken system. The problem is our complete and utter failure to imagine any meaningful alternative.”
Harsh words, but true ones. Which I believe we all need to hear. And it is not as though this is fresh news. Nine years ago, or thereabouts, the AGM of the Midland Unitarian Association was held in Shrewsbury, and our guest speaker was Brighton Unitarian, John Naish. A few years earlier, in 2008, he had published a book called Enough: Breaking Free from the World of Excess. When he spoke to us in Shrewsbury, he preached the doctrine of “practising enoughness in a world of more, more, more.” He explained that instead of forever chasing after the next goal, the next project, the next gadget, we should appreciate what we have and be grateful. And that we should grow our gratitude by appreciating the bounty of our lives.
At our GA meetings earlier this month, our Anniversary Service preacher, Rev Winnie Gordon, spoke out powerfully for the need for all of us to “show up for justice.” Among many other issues, she spoke about climate change, saying, “World leaders agreed in 2015 that we should do everything possible to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Currently it stands at 1.15°C, dangerously close to that limit. An estimated 30% of species face increased extinction rates as earth’s temperature rises, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Last year saw record-breaking temperatures, floods, and droughts. Storms devastated many regions, destroying crops and livelihoods, pushing communities to the brink of famine. One third of Pakistan was plunged underwater. Wildfires devastated wildlife, land and homes. Of the 59.1 million people internally displaced in 2021 across the world, most were displaced by climate-related disasters.”
She went on to ask, “When will we wake up and truly be aware of the problems and how we are complicit in them?” And stated, “Our faith calls us to responsibility for the fate of this planet. Calls us to account for each other in our working, playing, nurturing and growing, our educating and profiting – in this world, now and for all generations to come. Activism transcends creed, dogmas, doctrine, and social constructs (if done right), and mends (makes whole) the divisions and separateness. That our individualistic beliefs create.” Her words were a powerful call to action, for all of us, by all of us.
I believe that if we are to save our beloved blue and green planet, we will need to make extensive changes to how we live our lives, far beyond putting stuff out for recycling. Each of us has a responsibility, both to the planet and to future generations, to both make greener choices as individuals and to show up for justice, so that we may find ways to collectively make a difference.
Closing Words by Vince McCully and Sue Woolley
Spirit of Life and Love,
May God bless us with honesty
And in our honesty with ourselves, wisdom.
And in wisdom, knowledge.
And in knowledge of ourselves, humility.
And in humility, acceptance.
And in acceptance of our limitations, trust in God.
And in our trust in God, courage to live as God wishes us to – happily, in love and harmony with all creatures and with all of creation.
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