Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Alex Brianson
We gather this morning to share a particular kind of community – a community of faith in which each of us is free to quest for our own ways of being spiritual and religious.
We gather this morning to think about how we have done this until now, and how we might do this from now.
We are none of us the same as we were twenty years ago or even last week; we are none of us the same as we shall be in five weeks or ten years.
As the paths of our lives cover new terrain, may we find helpful new thinkers, concepts, and understandings of Spirit, or of the highest good in life, and new ways to interpret those we have loved long and hard.
And may we be open to the voice of wisdom, wherever – and however – we find it.
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 light this chalice
to bring light to our minds,
wisdom to our souls, and
warmth to our hearts:
light to show us the Way,
wisdom to walk it truly,
warmth to enfold our fellow
pilgrims with compassion.
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,
Reading: Going with the Flow: Thought for Today, 22nd May 2023
Everything that comes to us, comes to pass or, more accurately, for us to pass on. Not just the money in our pocket, but wisdom, objects, ideas, even opportunities, all come to us, so that, at the right moment, we can pass them on. This is called flow. Being in the flow means being aware that the river of life is flowing to us at every moment. Being in the flow means accepting whatever comes and putting it to good use, before passing it on.
Going with the flow means allowing whatever comes to move on freely, without holding on in any way. If we do not pass on, we are trying to block the flow, and that’s when we feel pressure in our life. Pressure is always self-inflicted. Every time you feel ‘under pressure’ look at what you need to release and to pass on to someone else. Once you do you can …relax…again.
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 The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
Now we come to what could be called the most characteristic element of Taoism-in-action. In Chinese, it is known as Wu Wei… Literally, Wu Wei means “without doing, causing, or making.” But practically speaking it means without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort. It seems rather significant that the character Wei developed from the symbols for a clawing hand and a monkey, since the term Wu Wei means no going against the nature of things; no clever tampering; no Monkeying Around.
The efficiency of Wu Wei is like that of water flowing over and around the rocks in its path – not the mechanical, straight-line approach that usually ends up short-circuiting natural laws, but one that evolves from an inner sensitivity to the natural rhythm of things…
When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us, we reach the level of Wu Wei. Then we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of minimal effort. Since the natural world follows that principle, it does not make mistakes. Mistakes are made – or imagined – by man, the creature with the overloaded Brain who separates himself from the supporting network of natural laws by interfering and trying too hard.
Prayer The miracle by Sydney Knight
Greater Spirit, we pause for a moment to consider the strange miracle of our present prayer:
that we are here, alive, aware, conscious of ourselves, of each other, of Thee.
We are immersed in a great mystery, the mystery of living being.
We, who once were not, who have no memory of our beginnings,
who know not when our individual awareness began,
who sometimes wonder whence we are,
yet feel within us the unbroken thread of
that life which goes back to the beginning of time.
We did not ask for life, yet we are here,
and life is ours.
We love life, for within us is the Spirit of Life.
Help us, we pray, to treasure this mysterious, miraculous gift,
neither despising nor neglecting any opportunity for good,
neither spoiling nor avoiding any moment of beauty,
neither marring nor falsifying any vision of truth,
never shunning any possibility of love.
Increase in us awareness of ourselves as
privileged custodians of a life which is not ours alone;
of a life which we inevitably share with others,
in which all hurts are felt by all,
and in which good is shared by all.
Give us always to remember that our life is also thy life.
O God, the constant miracle of our very being,
day and night, from before our birth
until the end of our days. Amen
Reading from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
It’s not the Clever Mind that’s responsible when things work out. It’s the mind that sees what’s in front of it and follows the nature of things. When you work with Wu Wei, you put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. No stress, no struggle. Egotistical Desire tries to force the round peg into the square hole and the square peg into the round hole. Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don’t belong. Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit round holes, but not square holes. Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.
And when you try too hard, it doesn’t work. Try grabbing something quickly and precisely with a tensed-up arm; then relax and try it again. Try doing something with a tense mind. The surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard – one that thinks too much…
Down the centuries, man has developed a mind that separates him from the world of reality, the world of natural laws. This mind tries too hard, wears itself out, and ends up weak and sloppy, Such a mind, even if of high intelligence, is inefficient. It goes here and there, backwards and forwards, and fails to concentrate on what it is doing at the moment. It drives down the street in a fast-moving car and thinks it’s at the store, going over a grocery list. Then it wonders why accidents occur.
Time of Stillness and Reflection How does one address a mystery? by Gordon B. McKeeman
How does one address a mystery?
Cautiously — let us go cautiously, then, to the end of our certainty, to the boundary of all we know, to the rim of uncertainty, to the perimeter of the unknown which surrounds us.
Reverently — let us go with a sense of awe, a feeling of approaching the powerful holy whose lightning slashes the sky, whose persistence splits concrete with green sprouts, whose miracles are present in every place and moment.
Hopefully — out of our need for wholeness in our own lives, the reconciliation of mind and heart, the conjunction of reason and passion, the intersection of the timeless with time.
Quietly — for no words will explain the inarticulate or summon the presence that is always present even in our absence.
But what shall I say?
Anything — any anger, any hope, any fear, any joy, any request, any word that comes from the depth of being addressed to Being itself — or, perhaps, nothing, no complaint, no request, no entreaty, no thanksgiving, no praise, no blame, no pretense of knowing or of not knowing.
Simply be in the intimate presence of mystery, unashamed — unadorned — unafraid.
And at the end say — Amen.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Going with the Flow
The Chinese religion or philosophy of Taoism teaches that we need to learn how to go with the flow, not meddling with the natural way, the Tao. In The Tao of Pooh, which explains the principles of Taoism through the characters and actions (or non-actions) or Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit and the other inhabitants of A.A. Milne’s The World of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff explains this quite deliciously by using the Winnie the Pooh song, Cottleston Pie, in which Pooh poses three riddles: “A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly; a fish can’t whistle and neither can I; and Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.”
“A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly” is another way of saying that we can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are. In other words, everything has its own place and function in the world, according to its own Inner Nature. If we pay attention to the Inner Nature of things and other people, we know where they belong. We also know where they (or we) don’t belong.
Second, “A fish can’t whistle and neither can I” is a simple recognition that everyone has their own limitations and it is the wise person that knows them. Then we won’t waste time doggedly trying to do what we are not designed for. Once we face and understand our limitations, we can work with them, instead of them working against us.
Last, “Why does a chicken, I don’t know why” is a celebration of the fact that actually, we don’t have to know why things work as they do, just rejoice in it. Everything has its own Inner Nature. The trick is to work with it and recognise that Things Are As They Are.
To conclude in the words of the Tao Te Ching, from the translation by Stephen Mitchell, “The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done. If powerful men and women could centre themselves in it, the whole world would be transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. People would be content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire. When there is no desire, all things are at peace.”
Closely related to recognising Things Are As They Are is the principle of Wu Wei, the way of water. Translated literally, Wu Wei means “without doing, causing, or making”. But practically, it means, “no going against the nature of things.” Our second and third readings, from Benjamin Hoff’s book, The Tao of Pooh, explains what a difference this can make, when we stop fighting and simply go with the flow. Because the flow of life is much stronger than we are.
The trick of Wu Wei is that we don’t have to try to make things work out, we simply allow them to do so. And somehow, things happen in the right way at the right time. Put another way, Wu Wei is the art of being. It is the art of being in such harmony with the Tao that everything happens as it should – not forced, not sought after, not planned, not bought, not desired – it just happens.
I guess that another way of saying this would be to say that we need to move out of the centre of our worlds, need to trust that things will work out well without our efforts. I am slowly coming to realise that many of the pressures in our lives (certainly many of the pressures in my life) are self-inflicted. It is my distracted self who chases after material possessions, who needs to be in control, who perpetually worries about the next thing, who strives after perfection, and who finds it hard to let go of old regrets and grievances. I’m doing it all to myself.
I’m beginning to learn that the starting point for breaking out of all this pressure, for getting away from all this self-inflicted stress, is Just Letting Go, learning to go with the flow. However, relinquishing control, stepping out of the centre, sitting still and letting nothing happen, are all incredibly difficult for me. And I guess this is true for many of us. It involves trust – trust that things will work out without our help, trust that God has got our backs. And it’s a slow process.
In the last decade or so, I have tried to observe a regular rest day and to practice a regular morning sit, during which I meditate and pray. Which enables me to be grounded in my body, and able to live more wholeheartedly. Yet it is not so easy to cultivate as it is to write about… Because it involves living in the present and choosing to let go of perfectionism and joyless striving, and allow ourselves to… yes, drift, to go with the flow. Which is not something that comes naturally to many of us (me included!). And if we try to “work at” achieving calm within, guess what? We’re doing it wrong… inner calm can only come when we let go of conscious effort and allow ourselves to be at rest. To sit in the silence, to rest our hearts and souls. Being content to let go, to not achieve, to trust.
All these concepts are so foreign to most of us – it seems far more natural to throw our whole selves into the effort of achieving something. Many of us find it difficult to abdicate control, to allow things to turn out as they will, without our volition. It still surprises me, when I do manage to do this, matters turn out well, as often as not.
Coming back to The Tao of Pooh, I now recognise that when I began my spiritual journey, I was far more of a Tigger, bouncing around enthusiastically, rushing into things with little reflection, or like Rabbit, who was too clever for his own good. It has taken years and long practice to begin to learn to trust, to let go, like Pooh. Yet like I said, I have found that when I do, somehow, things tend to work out…
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.” Yet trusting the universe is vital, if we are to learn to go with the flow.
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 think 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 understand that faith and trust are facets of our deepest nature. But as life goes on, and we encounter betrayal in our lives – as we surely will – that faith and trust can be eroded. It can take a lifetime to choose to be sufficiently vulnerable to dare to trust again. 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 now understand that if we are to live authentically, in faith, we need to take the bold step of trusting. Otherwise, our souls will shrivel in our bodies and we will turn into suspicious, armoured-up people who trust no-one. Which is not a happy way to live. I’d like to finish with a beautiful poem called Patient Trust, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which illustrates exactly how to go with the flow…
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability –
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without due haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
I believe that if we can learn to trust, we will find ourselves more in the flow in the course of our journeys through life.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we learn to let go sufficiently
to go with the flow,
to trust that all will be well.
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