Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by David Usher
Bring your hopes and anticipations.
Bring your joys and celebrations.
Bring your sorrows and lamentations.
Bring your faith and adorations.
Bring to this hour of worship, all that makes your life real and meaningful,
that it may be blessed by communion with the lives of others.
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 Sarah Lammert (adapted)
The element of fire represents passion,
veracity, authenticity, and vitality.
If the chalice is the supporting structure of Unitarianism,
then we are the flame.
We are the flame, fanned strong by our passion for freedom,
our yearning for truth-telling,
our daring to be authentic with one another,
and the vitality we sustain in our meeting together.
In all of this there is 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,
Suffering in any way, Amen
Reading from Holy Transition by Richard Rohr, 3rd May 2023 [adapted by him from Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, by Richard Rohr]
The Latin word limen means “threshold.” Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, in transition, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control.
The very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive—blank tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled. Liminality keeps us in an ongoing state of shadowboxing instead of ego-confirmation, struggling with the hidden side of things, and calling so-called normalcy into creative question.
It’s no surprise then that we generally avoid liminal space. Much of the work of authentic spirituality and human development is to get people into liminal space and to keep them there long enough that they can learn something essential and new.
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 Holy Transition by Richard Rohr, 3rd May 2023 [adapted by him from the introduction to Oneing, 8, no. 1, Liminal Space, Spring 2020]
We all need to consciously spend time at the thresholds of our lives, and we need wise elders to create and hold such spaces for us. Liminality is a form of holding the tension between one space and another. It is in these transitional moments of our lives that authentic transformation can happen. Otherwise, it is just business as usual and an eternally boring, status quo existence.
Over the decades, I’ve seen the need for such liminal spaces again and again. Without some sort of guidance and reframing, we don’t understand the necessary ebb and flow of life, the ascents and descents, and the need to embrace our tears and our letting go as well as our successes and our triumphs. Without standing on the threshold for much longer than we’re comfortable, we won’t be able to see beyond ourselves to the broader and more inclusive world that lies before us.
Revelation 3:20 tells us that Christ stands at the door and knocks. Too many of us want to show up at the doorway looking prim and proper and perfect. We stuff our egos and anxieties in the front hall closet so Christ won’t see them when we open the door. But Christ isn’t showing up to see our perfect selves. Instead, we are invited into a real, deep, transformative conversation, there on the threshold between who we are and who we can become, if we are willing to let go of what holds us back.
Prayer by Lucy Harris
Creative Spirit, who gives us the power
to set our own meaning to our lives:
Help us to look afresh at our fears and failings
in such a way that we can instead
take the bold step of trusting.
Trusting ourselves to be true to our uniqueness
in a way that is good for us,
and fulfilling of our role in the universe.
Trusting others that there will be that of good and security
that will give our lives clarity and meaning.
Trusting You that there is form and pattern
within which we can move and learn according to our nature.
And all of this, so that we add into the sum
of all inclusion, connection, and love, and hence
oneness in the world. Amen
Reading True Religion by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place
If a religion is true,
it sets you free to be your true self;
it nurtures loving-kindness in your heart;
it humbles you before the Ultimate – and your neighbour.
If a religion is true,
it challenges your conscience and opens your mind;
it makes you responsible for yourself and your world;
it stirs you to seek the liberty and well-being of others.
If a religion is true,
it deepens your awareness and nourishes your spirit;
it brings you comfort and strength in grief and trial;
it connects you to other people and to the life of the universe.
If a religion is true,
it will care less for dogma and doctrine than it will for love;
it will care less for rules and customs than it will for compassion;
it will care less for the gods we make than for the people we are.
May ours be a true religion!
Time of Stillness and Reflection For Ourselves by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth (adapted)
We pause to be conscious of that which
makes each of us unique –
the colour of our eyes and hair and skin;
our height and build; the face that is ours
alone; the inner self that no one knows;
our heritage of genes and family, of culture
and of faith, with which we build
our own special lives;
the abilities and disabilities that give us our
potential to grow and create as no-one else can;
the place where we live – the town or city,
the village, coast or countryside – that helps
to make us who we are;
our interests and hobbies; our taste in music,
books, or fashion; our likes and dislikes – all
the things that make us distinct.
Let us give thanks for who we are:
as individuals, each one unique;
as humankind, in which our individuality
contributes to the whole.
Let us respect and celebrate our own uniqueness
and each other’s too.
May it be so, Amen
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address Liminal Space
As Richard Rohr explains in our first reading, “The Latin word limen means “threshold.” Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, in transition, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next.” The next stage being the one in which we can risk being our authentic selves.
Brené Brown defines authenticity as follows: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” And that takes courage. When we are still in the liminal space between longing to let go of the mask and gaining the courage to do so, it can be a scary space too. It generally happens when we come at a crisis point in our lives, and do not have the necessary tools to cope with what is happening to us. Unless we are held and supported by someone further along the spiritual journey than we are, we can founder, and never make the transition into our next stage of life. I count myself blessed to have had such people in my life, so that I am now able to live more authentically, more wholeheartedly. Which is the life on the other side of that liminal space.
Over the last fifteen years, I have learned that in order to live an authentic life, we have to be brave enough to take off the masks we wear and show our true selves to the world. The mask of competence, the mask of “Everything’s fine”, the mask of “I can make it alone”, the mask of “I don’t need anything (or anyone).”
Until then, I had spent most of my life hiding behind those masks, because the thought of sharing my need for empathy, companionship and help was a scary one. But taking that step, choosing to show my vulnerable self to the world has been a vital one on the journey towards my true self, my life in God. I found the Enneagram an incredibly useful tool on my journey (two steps forward, one step back). I discovered in 2010 that I am a Three, the Achiever, who would rather gnaw her own leg off than admit to needing other people’s praise and approval, but in desperate need of them, nonetheless. Slowly, slowly, I have learned to peep out from the liminal space, and to trust other people with my vulnerability. My journey is by no means over yet, but simply knowing that behind the mask is my true self, helps somehow.
I have always loved the bit in the original Bridget Jones film when everything has gone wrong at her dinner party – her soup was contaminated by blue string, and her orange sauce turned into marmalade – but her friends toast her health “To Bridget, who we love, just the way you are.”
To be loved “just the way you are” is the most precious gift. And to live as our authentic self is the richest, most rewarding, and possibly most difficult, way to live. Becoming who we really are, growing into the people we were meant to be all along, is a long process, full of risk and danger. But also full of light and joy. It is something which tends to happen more as we approach middle-age, than earlier on in our lives, unless we are lucky. In the first half of life, we tend to be preoccupied with growing up, finding our place in the world, establishing a career and a family, or close group of friends, and then settling into that unique niche, which we have carved out for ourselves. This is certainly how it happened with me.
I’m not saying for a moment that this first half of life work is not necessary – it is vital. By the time we are approaching middle age, most of us will have a particular position in the world, a particular identity, particular roles, whether in the workplace or outside, and will be identified by particular labels. My principal labels and roles as I started this inward journey towards authentic living were “mother”, “wife”, “librarian”, “Unitarian” and “runner”.
I learned that this second half of life journey towards authenticity and wholeness is about the attempt to become whole, about being the same “me” wherever I was, and whoever I was with, rather than cutting my cloth according to the circumstances. It was also about doing a lot of shadow work, about digging deep to discover the real me, the open and vulnerable person behind the façade I had spent so many years carefully building. And then working out how to integrate that authentic self into the real world out there. I have found it a tough call, not for the faint-hearted. But so worthwhile.
Part of the journey has been about reclaiming a childlike trust in life. For me, being childlike means being open and vulnerable and trusting and curious, rather than closed down, armoured up, mistrustful and cynical. It is a courageous way to live because it means that we are more vulnerable to being hurt by others. And when we have been hurt in the past, it may be very difficult for us to trust others again, to trust that the universe is not (all appearances to the contrary, sometimes) “out to get us.”
Jesus has two things to say about little children. The versions that follow are from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. He says, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Then a breath later, he underscores this by saying, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
This is not an easy message for most of us adults to hear. Jesus seems to be saying that we need to open our hearts, to accept the world as it comes. Which ain’t easy. Yet I have found that when I am closed down, armoured up, mistrustful and cynical, I think the worst of others, I become defensive and bitter. And I don’t want to live my life like that. I want to believe the best of others, I want to reach out with love and compassion and curiosity. I want to be as brave as a little child. I want to trust that the universe is (on the whole) a benevolent place in which to live. Is that naïve of me? Quite possibly. Does it make me happier? Definitely.
I have come to believe that faith and trust are facets of our nature which we are born with. But as life goes on, and we encounter betrayal in our lives, that faith and trust can be eroded. It can take a lifetime to choose to be sufficiently vulnerable to dare to trust again. When we are at the point of decision, that is liminal space.
These betrayals, which sadly seem to be an inevitable part of life, need not be great ones which bring our whole world crashing down around us. Any time someone lies to us, even a white lie, or doesn’t turn up when they said they would, or is unkind to us, we can feel betrayed. Once we feel that way, it can take a lot of time to build up sufficient faith to make the world seem trustable again. It can even shake our faith in the essential goodness of humankind.
Yet I have come to understand that if I am to live authentically, in faith, I need to take the bold step of trusting. Otherwise, my soul will shrivel in my body and I will turn into a suspicious, armoured-up person who trusts no-one. I would not be “me” any more.
Part of learning to trust has been often choosing to leap before I look, rather than being sensible and sober and looking before I leap. I have tended to be impulsive about seizing new opportunities to grow as a person. I’ll see an advert for a new online course (for example) and sign up for it just because it looks interesting. I have always tried to jump in the direction of new opportunities, choosing to say “yes” to life, rather than “no, I can’t, I’m scared, what if I fail?” I would far rather try something new, something different and not succeed, than rest on my (very few) laurels and not LIVE.
I love the Quaker Advice which I first came across in my late twenties, “Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak.” I have rarely regretted following it, even if it does sometimes make me feel vulnerable. I would far rather dare and fail, than not dare at all.
Because if we do not take that leap, we will either remain in the liminal space, not daring to move forward in our lives, or we will regress into the first half of life. Which would be a shame, because the second half is so much richer, so much more fulfilling. We are fortunate to belong to a faith tradition in which we can find the support we need to move forward. As Cliff Reed wrote, “May ours be a true religion.”
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we find the courage we need
to move through the liminal space
and enter the second half of our lives,
where we can dare to be our best,
most authentic selves.
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