Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Andy Pakula
Come into this circle of community. Come into this sacred space.
Be not tentative. Bring your whole self!
Bring the joy that makes your heart sing.
Bring your kindness and your compassion.
Bring also your sorrow, your pain.
Bring your brokenness and your disappointments.
Spirit of love and mystery; help us to recognize the spark of the divine that resides within each of us.
May we know the joy of wholeness.
May we know the joy of being together.
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 Linda Hart.
We light this chalice as a symbol of the spark of life which abides within us and around us.
May it be as a light in a dark night, a light in a window that welcomes the weary traveller home.
May it be as a light in the hand of a trusted friend, that guides us along the path.
May it be as the light in the face of one we love, bright with joy.
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 The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say,
“Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits along with you at your board, remember that the other one is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
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 Moments of Joy by Lindy Latham, from With Heart and Mind
Perhaps one of the most difficult things that we have to do during our everyday lives in this troubled and demanding world is to discover how to embrace and experience moments of joy as they are offered to us. Is it possible for them not to be dimmed through our awareness of the pain and demands of others, which can also include a feeling of guilt at our good fortune in the face of their difficulties?
I believe that we can do this without denying the suffering of others, or turning our backs on their needs, or indeed by just leaving them temporarily on the back burner whilst we delight in our own joy.
For me it is about learning to hold them together, so that by being alive to our own wonders and delights, this feeling can flow out to individuals and the world in a way that is both healing and enriching.
Equally as important, during the times when we are feeling overwhelmed and crushed by our own personal situations, is to find a way among the chaos to let those glimpses of joy move in. This is not to remove the pain, but to remind us of who we really are, and give us the confidence that ‘this too will pass’.
Prayer by Adam Slate
Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love,
Spirit of Hope, Spirit of Justice,
God known by many different names:
You have given us a day unique from any other.
You have connected us, all of us, with each other, and with the world, in ways that are largely a mystery to us.
You have given us little instruction other than to be present in our own lives, to feel wonder at the creations of the universe, and to love one another.
You have put gifts and challenges in our paths, joys and sorrows, strengths and frailties, some of which we have already encountered, and others we have yet to discover.
On this unique day, may we receive exactly what it is that we need.
Reading Snakes and Ladders by Alison Thursfield from With Heart and Mind
The board game we know originated in the ancient Indian game of Moshka-Patamu. It was devised as a metaphor for the living of life, and included ideas of virtues and vices, and of reincarnation. The Victorians then adapted it to what we have now.
To remind you: the board is made out of squares numbered 1 to 100. Bridging these squares, at random, are snakes (head up, tail down) and ladders. The counters are moved at the throw of a dice, again at random. A counter landing on a snake’s head has to slither down to the tail end, but landing at the base of a ladder it climbs to the top. In either case the journey continues onward from the new position.
One’s journey in life seems similarly random with unexpected twists. There are setbacks. Sliding down a ‘snake’ literally brings us low, but in life as in the game, we must pick ourselves up and carry on. Sometimes one is given a boost, we are uplifted. The ‘ladder’ may take us to unexpected places, new areas to explore or new fields in which to grow.
But there is one aspect of the game which is rarely noted. The last few squares are free of either snakes or ladders. The last bit of the journey must be travelled on one’s own. But more than that, it may be a time of waiting because one cannot leave the ‘board’ until one throws the exact number on the dice to finish. One may throw it very soon, or it may take a long time.
We never know how many throws of the dice we have left.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Alison Thursfield from With Heart and Mind
How am I travelling my life’s path?
Remembering any setbacks or troubles,
can I accept such things,
pick myself up and carry on?
Am I aware of people around me
trying to cope with their problems?
Am I ready to turn aside like a ‘good Samaritan’
if I see another who has suffered a setback
and who needs my loving support?
My times of joy uplift me and fill me with happiness
and I give thanks.
But can I share such times
without boasting of my good fortune?
Can I enjoy another’s happiness without envy?
Am I courageous enough to think about my end,
and contemplate how I spend my waiting time?
May I give thanks for the gift of life,
and accept with equanimity
all that I encounter on my path.
I would trust the guidance of the indwelling Spirit at all times.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address “Laughter Holding Both His Sides”
The title of this week’s service comes from the pen of that great Puritan, John Milton, who once wrote about Mirth’s companions: “Jest and youthful Jollity, / Quips and Cranks and Wanton Wiles, / Nods and Becks and Wreathed Smiles… / Sport that wrinkled Care derides, / and Laughter holding both his sides.”
I’ve chosen it as my theme for this week in tribute to Barry Humphries, who graced our screens and stages as Dame Edna Everage, and who passed on Sunday evening at the good old age of 89. Dame Edna and her alter ego Sir Les Patterson brought a lot of laughter and joy into the world.
I saw her (him!) live once, many years ago and her stage presence was fabulous. She was larger than life and brought so much joy and laughter to the audience. When the news of his passing broke last Sunday, I saw a post on Facebook of Dame Edna’s encounter with Prince (now King) Charles and Camilla. She gate-crashed the Royal box at a theatre and made them both laugh so much. Which is such a precious gift.
There has not been much to laugh about in the world in recent times. Which is why I think we need to celebrate any instance of joy we find. At the moment, there is so much to be sorrowful about and, paradoxically, so much to be joyful about too. Our sorrows may include the climate change and cost of living crises, which are both affecting so many, or they may be more personal, to do with passing of a loved one, or an illness we cannot shake off. Yet our potential to feel joy is limitless as well.
I totally understand Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet, when he says, “the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears…. The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Because joy and sorrow are the deepest feelings that human beings can have, and I truly believe that it is not possible to experience either deeply, unless we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to whatever life throws our way; all its joys, all its sorrows. If we choose to numb our responses to life, because we are scared of being too sorrowful, that we won’t cope with the despair, the disappointment, the loss, the grief; we are also numbing ourselves to the possibility of feeling deep joy. And that is truly sad.
Each person’s life is a rich tapestry of joys woven around with sorrows. I do believe that they are inseparable, and that to feel one, you have to be open to feeling the other. Like the Prophet says, “Together they come, and when one sits along with you at your board, remember that the other one is asleep upon your bed.”
Having the capacity to feel great joy and great sorrow also means that we have the capacity to love greatly. Which is surely a gift? The trick is learning to hold them both together, as Lindy Latham suggested in our second reading, “so that by being alive to our own wonders and delights, this feeling can flow out to individuals and the world in a way that is both healing and enriching.”
The Medieval Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, once wrote, “Laughter is a weather-lightening flash of joy in the soul, a flickering of the Light outside, as it shines inside.” And it is so true! No matter what is happening to us, laughter will lighten our mood. So long as it is true laughter, coming from a place of inner joy.
I have never forgotten a passage in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, in which he divides the causes of human laughter into “Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy.” He goes on, “You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such a time shows that they are not the real cause.”
Screwtape describes Fun as being, “closely related to Joy – a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us.” (us being devils trying to tempt humans away from God). He continues, “In itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.”
But the Joke Proper, Screwtape says, “which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field…. The real use of Jokes or Humour is… specially promising among the English, who take their ‘sense of humour’ so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame…. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful – unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke.”
Lewis concludes, “But Flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people, the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No-one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it…. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.”
Coming back to Barry Humphries, I think his / her particular brand of humour comes in on the side of the angels – at least, most of the time. And I was sad to hear of his passing, because each death diminishes our world. Each time I hear about the death of someone else, whether known to me or unknown, I remember that each person was an individual, with parents, a partner, children, friends, who will grieve his or her passing. And I think of the words of John Donne,
“No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were:
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Yet each person has left an indelible mark on the world, by the simple fact of having lived. And that is surely an occasion for joy. So many of the funerals I have conducted have been “A celebration of the life of…”. And people have laughed and cried, shed tears and shared memories. Which is how it should be.
Alison Thursfield’s thoughtful contribution to With Heart and Mind reminds us that life is a journey full of unexpected twists, full of joys and sorrows. I am sure that most of you played snakes and ladders as children. My step grandson has a new version, which involves rockets and black holes. I well remember the joy of skipping several lines of the board by “climbing” a ladder, only to be cast back down to the bottom by sliding down a snake. It is a wonderful analogy for life, as we all experience it. It is entirely possible to be full of joy at one point in the day, then full of sorrow later on.
To give you a personal example: the other day I went out for a walk around the fields which surround our village. The weather was beautiful, Spring was showing herself everywhere, in the ditches and the hedgerows and the fields themselves. I saw a red kite wheeling overhead, riding the thermals with such grace and majesty, and heard the pure song of a skylark. It was just gorgeous, and my heart was full of joy.
Then I came home and logged on to Facebook, to find that a dear friend had died in hospital. My bubble of joy burst, and I was filled with sorrow by the news of his passing.
And yet, the fact that I had been open to the joy of the surrounding Spring helped me to be able to cope with the sorrow I felt. Without the one, the other would have hit me a lot harder. I do believe that if we live our lives vulnerably, at a deep level, we become more resilient to sorrow. And laughter does lift the soul.
I believe that if we are to live our lives fully, feeling every emotion, every joy, every sorrow, we will be incomparably richer thereby. I will finish by sharing the first two verses of Rumi’s famous poem, The Guesthouse:
“This being human is a guesthouse
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness
Comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and attend them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.”
In spite of the sorrows and griefs of this time, may we all come through it safely, and be cleared out for some new delight. And may we be aided by times of laughter and joy.
Closing Words by Ant Howe
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we take with us some of the joy of this gathering…..
May we go forward with hope…..
May we live rightly, in peace with one another….
And may we know the blessing of God until we gather here again.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley