Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Here to Love by Cliff Reed
We are here to love –
to love each other,
to love our frail, wounded selves,
to love our broken world,
and to love its suffering people.
Let us worship, so that
love will flow.
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 Cliff Reed
We kindle a light against the darkness.
We affirm hope against despair.
We invoke love against indifference.
come among us
enflame our souls
as we meet in your name.
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,
Story Think Positive (source unknown)
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 had gathered around the tower to see the race and cheer on the contestants.
The race began…. Honestly, no one in the crowd really believed that the tiny frogs would reach the top of the tower. You heard statements such as: ‘Oh, WAY too difficult!!’ ‘They will NEVER make it to the top.’ ‘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…. 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! At the end everyone else had given up climbing the tower. Except for the one tiny frog who, after a big effort, was the only one who reached the top!
THEN all of the other tiny frogs naturally wanted to know how this one frog managed to do it? A contestant asked the tiny frog how he had found the strength to succeed and reach the goal? It turned out…. That the winner was DEAF!
The wisdom of this 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 words have.
Because everything you hear and read will affect your actions! Therefore, ALWAYS be…. POSITIVE!
And above all: Be DEAF when people tell YOU that you cannot fulfil your dreams! Always think, I can do this!
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 Determination, from Inner Beauty: A Book of Virtues by the Brahma Kumaris
Determination is an unbroken line, a backbone. It is when every situation is anchored to an unseen aim, that still, keeps everything together. Without determination, life becomes scattered. Experiences are pleasant and kept, unpleasant and left. It’s random and one is at the mercy of life.
Determination makes you sit up straight and love everything, because it’s all part of moving forward. Day and night you have the feeling that you only have to seek and you can touch the hard core of wisdom that rests inside each moment. You can focus on that, let the toughness be in seeking that and then action is automatically as it should be. Gently right.
Battering at life from the outside, trying to change what’s visible is inverted determination. It makes your face hard and unyielding and though it may bring visible success, there can be a floundering inside.
Prayer by Jenny Jacobs (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Here we are amongst our fellows, in a place where we feel safe, a place we know and where we are known, in a loving community.
With all the problems and challenging situations in our lives, nevertheless, we have the safe still point of this community, on this Sunday, in this place.
Let us give thanks for the stability we enjoy in our lives amidst our friends and families.
Let us pray for all of our brothers and sisters whose lives are not so blessed; whose lives and communities are devastated by war, by terrorism, by famine, by drought, by sickness, by climate change.
Let us open our hearts so that we can empathise with our fellows and feel their pain.
Let us remember and hold in our hearts those who have had to leave their communities, hoping to build new relationships and new lives in foreign lands.
Let us recognise all those things we have in common with them and with people everywhere; our shared hopes and aspirations, for a settled home, a safe haven, rewarding work, a bright future for our children.
Let us help build our society into a place which extends the hand of welcome to all those who need it both without and within.
Let us work towards a safer, fairer world for all, wherever they may be.
Let us live our lives in such a way that we always behave towards others with the same care and compassion we would hope to receive ourselves.
Reading from Determination, from Inner Beauty: A Book of Virtues by the Brahma Kumaris
Determination is not therefore a matter so much of action as of stillness. When a quality of mind – peace, happiness, depth, purity – can remain still and uninterrupted by the bumps of life, that is true determination. Such stability, maintained for long enough, penetrates the surface of life anyway and it changes. The bumps go.
You have to feed determination, to nourish the qualities you wish to keep with you constantly. How? By understanding them, examining them, using them. They are a part of your nature anyway, but it’s been winter for so long that they’ve gone underground. Sometimes you have to burrow to find them and coax them to the surface. Hence the need for silence.
Silence brings the strength to go on, the steadiness to succeed, the softness to slip past difficulties unnoticed. If determination breaks, it’s best to stop for a few moments, be silent and find value again, or else what you do will be spineless. Feel the bones of the situation, then fall in love with the task.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Anne Mills (adapted)
Whilst acknowledging the turmoil and uncertainty of our lives, we pray, also, to resolve and improve our situation. We have choices: we can walk, trusting that the natural rhythm achieved will bring relaxation from tension; we can listen to favourite music, hoping to create inner peace; we can sit quietly, meditating towards a state of complete tranquillity.
The being we may call God resides deep within our hearts, loving and nurturing us, out of immense concern for our spirits’ well-being. We feel ourselves gently directed towards peace and serenity, to connect with them both.
Let us all reach into the depths of our being, where we can hear and respond to a “still, small voice”, which speaks so meaningfully to us.
This is our prayer: may it extend to all who feel a longing to calm their minds and allow their souls true freedom. Amen.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
I have never forgotten an encounter I had one evening, a while ago, before the pandemic in fact. I was travelling home from London, after a long day. When we pulled in to Northampton station, I realised with dismay that I would have to climb the long, steep flight of stairs to get over the footbridge onto Platform 1, and hence to the exit. And my feet were hurting, because I’d been to a formal meeting and had had to wear posh shoes… so I was feeling a little sorry for myself.
I was about a third of the way up when I noticed a small boy (who couldn’t have been more than three years old) toiling up the stairs ahead of me. He was wearing a little rucksack on his back which had the Superman logo on it, and was climbing the stairs steadily, in spite of the fact that each one was probably at least knee-high to him, so a lot of hard work. Yet I got the sense that he was up to the task, and would carry on until he reached the top, without stopping, without complaining.
And I thought, “Superman indeed! If he can do it, so can I.” His example of steadfast determination, like that of the little frog in our story, made my day. He taught me a valuable lesson.
Because sometimes, particularly as we get older, life can seem a bit much. We may have started our day feeling fine and upbeat, but by the end of it, it can take all the determination we can muster to continue, to not give up on our given task, the work that is ours to do.
The German playwright and poet Goethe once wrote, “the beginning is easy and the final stages are the most difficult and rarest to reach.” And yes, I agree that we often start new projects with great enthusiasm and then, once we get down into the nitty gritty, the hard grind of what writer Deborah Chester calls the “dark, dismal middle”, means our enthusiasm for continuing can peter out and we have to call on all our reserves to finish the work (whatever it is) properly. It takes great determination and dedication to do this. We will need a large dollop of self-belief (and, perhaps, belief in the value of the task) to keep plugging on.
One wonderful example of determination in action is the attitude of everyone involved in the making of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. I have the boxed sets of these, which include a series of documentaries about how the films were made, which I watch regularly. And I am struck, every single time, by the loving attention to the smallest detail of every aspect of the production – the ethos seems to have been, “Why make a good film when you can make a great film?” I am awed by the time and trouble taken by everyone involved to go that extra mile, to ensure that every single aspect of the production was the best it could be – the art and design work is extraordinary, to give just one example. There must have been thousands of people involved in the work (including two poor souls who actually wore out their fingerprints making chainmail for two years!) And all of them seem to have been infected with the same desire, the same determination. Which I think is admirable and praiseworthy.
Watching the documentaries reminds me of the Rule of the Last Inch, as propounded by one of the characters in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel, The First Circle. Here it is:
“Now listen to the rule of the last inch. The realm of the last inch. The job is almost finished, the goal almost attained, everything possible seems to have been achieved, every difficulty overcome – and yet the quality is just not there. The work needs more finish, perhaps further research. In that moment of weariness and self-satisfaction, the temptation is greatest to give up, not to strive for the peak of quality. That’s the realm of the last inch – here, the work is very, very complex, but it’s also particularly valuable, because it’s done with the most perfect means. The rule of the last inch is simply this – not to leave it undone. And not to put it off – because otherwise your mind loses touch with that realm. And not to mind how much time you spend on it, because the aim is not to finish the job quickly, but to reach perfection.”
However, I’m not sure I entirely agree with this. I was once a perfectionist. Now I am a striving good-enougher. I have come to believe that striving for the perfect can be the enemy of good enough; that sometimes, our perfectionism can cause us to burn out, because we believe we can never attain that last inch. Yet I also believe that doing the best job we can, with whatever the job in hand is, IS important. And that we can choose to “put the thought of all that we love into all that we make” (or do) as Tolkien’s Lothlorien elves do, rather than doing our work half-heartedly.
I think the important thing is that we approach whatever our task is, in the right spirit, with both love and determination. Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet:
“Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”
What is the work of our lives? As individual Unitarians and as Unitarian congregations, perhaps it is to bear witness for Unitarianism where we are. Yet sometimes, when we are tired, or feeling discouraged, even beginning something new can seem too difficult – not easy at all, Goethe notwithstanding. Especially if we believe that the task ahead of us is going to be unrewarding or complicated. It is only too easy to put off beginning, to do other things to distract ourselves from what we ought to be doing.
And then, if we do manage to make a start, it is only too easy, but fatal, to listen to those voices of self-doubt in our heads. Perhaps our congregation is declining, with no new people joining, and the negative thoughts begin to whisper in our ears, “There’s no point in struggling on.” “Why bother making the effort?” “Might as well quit now.”
I believe we have to get over this self-doubt, by telling ourselves, “We’re doing this. It may not be the best [whatever] in the world, but this task, bearing witness for Unitarianism, is ours to do, and we are going to stick with it, because it has to be done.”
As the Brahma Kumaris write, “Determination is an unbroken line, a backbone. It is when every situation is anchored to an unseen aim, that still, keeps everything together.” If our unseen aim as an individual congregation is to bear witness for Unitarianism, then we can unite around that, and find the determination from somewhere to keep on, keeping on.
Because we’re worth it. Because Unitarianism is worth it. We are all human beings, who have been given free will, and we can choose to follow a variety of paths through our lives. It can take quite a bit of determination, sometimes, to choose to follow the best we know, rather than slipping back into our comfortable, but not so good for us, habits. But we do have the firm foundation of our faith on which to stand, so that we are in a better head and heart space to follow that “best”.
I’d like to finish by repeating part of the advice of the Brahma Kumaris, which formed part of our second reading:
“You have to feed determination, to nourish the qualities you wish to keep with you constantly. How? By understanding them, examining them, using them. They are a part of your nature anyway, but it’s been winter for so long that they’ve gone underground. Sometimes you have to burrow to find them and coax them to the surface. Hence the need for silence.
Silence brings the strength to go on, the steadiness to succeed, the softness to slip past difficulties unnoticed. If determination breaks, it’s best to stop for a few moments, be silent and find value again, or else what you do will be spineless. Feel the bones of the situation, then fall in love with the task.”
May it be so for all of us, Amen
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we find the determination
to do the tasks which are ours to do.
May we not be discouraged, nor give up
May we be given the strength to carry on.
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