Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words from the Hebrew Bible
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
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 Paul Stephan Dodenhoff)
For this one hour, Spirit of Life,
we let go.
For this one hour,
may we let go of our anxieties,
our petty grievances,
and our distractions.
If only for this one hour,
let the flame of this chalice
burn them from our hearts and minds
and light our way to peace and serenity.
For this one holy hour.
Opening Prayer by Cliff Reed
In the quietness of this place and the peace of this hour,
may we come close to our deeper selves.
Fantasies and daydreams too often cloud our minds,
and we use our time and energy pursuing empty goals.
In busy-ness we lose our way.
Let us listen to the deep insistent call within us.
May we learn to love our poor fragmented selves
that they may be healed.
And may we turn that love outwards,
that it might heal the wounds which hate and fear have made.
Let us not be deceived about ourselves or about our world,
so that we neither crash in disillusion nor be twisted by cynicism.
If truth and clear vision be granted us, then let us give thanks.
May arrogance never trap us into thinking that truth has but one aspect.
May we stand face to face with ourselves,
recognising that which is truly ours,
and that which is the imposition of others.
And as we do, may we feel the love which unites us all in the depths of our being.
Reading: from Sabbath: Finding rest, renewal and delight in our busy lives by Wayne Muller.
What makes life fruitful? The attainment of wisdom? The establishment of a just and fair society? The creation of beauty? The practice of loving kindness? Thomas Jefferson suggested that human life and liberty were intimately entwined with the pursuit of happiness. Instead, life has become a maelstrom in which speed and accomplishment, consumption and productivity have become the most valued human commodities. In the trance of overwork, we take everything for granted. We consume things, people, and information. We do not have time to savor this life, nor to care deeply and gently for ourselves, our loved ones, or for our world; rather, with increasingly dizzy haste, we use them all up, and throw them away.”
He goes on to say that we have lost the rhythm of work and rest, and explains that, “Sabbath honours the necessary wisdom of dormancy … We too must have a period in which we lie fallow, and restore our souls … Sabbath time … is a time to let our work, our lands, our animals lie fallow, to be nourished and refreshed. Within this sanctuary, we become available to the insights and blessings of deep mindfulness that arise only in stillness and time. When we act from a place of deep rest, we are more capable of cultivating what the Buddhists would call right understanding, right action, and right effort.”
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 Silence: A User’s Guide by Maggie Ross
The choice for silence or noise, for carefulness or carelessness, is ours in every moment. To choose silence as the mind’s default in an accelerating consumer culture – a culture that sustains itself by dehumanizing people through the unrelenting pressure of clamour, confusion, and commodification – is indeed a subversive act.
For the reality is that our lives hang in the balance: between speech and silence, action and reflection, distraction and attention, extinction and survival. We bear responsibility for maintaining this balance, just as our choices for or against silence can affect the choices of everyone around us, choices that have both material and psycho-spiritual consequences. We seem to have forgotten this responsibility, for in the present time we are disconnected from the wellspring of silence and stillness that is necessary for human beings to thrive. These living waters no longer animate the speech and activity of our minds and bodies, lost as we are in a wasteland of our own making. If there is to be a viable ecology, if we are to remain human, if our lives are to have any meaning, if we are to continue as a viable species, it is essential that we restore the flow that enables our everyday lives to be informed by the riches found in silence.
Prayer by St Teresa of Avila (adapted)
Today may there be peace within.
May we trust that we are exactly where we are meant to be.
May we not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in ourselves and others.
May we use the gifts that we have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to us.
Let this knowledge settle into our bones, and allow our souls the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us,
That we may be content with ourselves just the way we are.
Reading by Paul H. Beattie
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I remember many things too easily forgotten: the purity of early love; the maturity of unselfish love that seeks nothing but another’s good; the idealism that has persisted through all the tempest of life.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I find a quiet assurance, an inner peace, in the core of my being. It can face the doubt, the loneliness, the anxiety — it can accept these harsh realities and can even grow because of these challenges to my essential being.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I can sense my basic humanity, and then I know that all men and women are my brothers and sisters. Nothing but my own fear and distrust can separate me from the love of friends. If I can trust others, accept them, enjoy them, then my life shall surely be richer and more full. If I can accept others, this will help them to be more truly themselves and they will be more able to accept me.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I know how much life has given me: the history of the race, friends and family, the opportunity to work, the chance to build myself. Then wells within me the urge to live more abundantly, with greater trust and joy, with more profound seriousness and earnest striving, and yet more calmly at the heart of life.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Richard S. Gilbert)
In the midst of the whirling day,
In the hectic rush to be doing,
In the frantic pace of life,
Pause here for a moment.
Catch your breath;
Relax your body;
Loosen your grip on life.
Consider that our lives are always unfinished business;
Imagine that the picture of our being is never complete;
Allow your life to be a work in progress.
Do not hurry to mould the masterpiece;
Do not rush to finish the picture;
Do not be impatient to complete the drawing.
From beckoning birth to dawning death we are in process,
And always there is more to be done.
Do not let the incompleteness weigh on your spirit;
Do not despair that imperfection marks your every day;
Do not fear that we are still in the making.
Let us instead be grateful that the world is still to be created;
Let us give thanks that we can be more than we are;
Let us celebrate the power of the incomplete;
For life is always unfinished business.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address Sabbath Rest and Silence
Both silence and Sabbath rest can enrich our lives, if we let them. Time for reflection and rest is so important. It is only too easy to rush from task to task, ticking off items on the to-do list, and then straight on to the next thing. Yet there are times when being busy, busy, busy, just gets too much The thought crosses our minds: “Stop the world! I want to get off!” But it won’t stop, so we have to consciously make the effort to schedule some time to step off that treadmill. It may take a little creative selfishness to realise that we are quite entitled to do this, and quite a bit of planning to reschedule our activities, and find a free time-slot, but it can be done. The most important thing is that we commit to it, on a regular basis, and do it consistently.
Because we’re not supposed to live like this. Every person needs to have some time to centre down, to be at peace, to recharge their emotional and spiritual batteries. I believe that one of the most important of God’s creations is the Sabbath – a time to rest, to re-group, and come back to our everyday lives refreshed. One reason why my faith is so important to me is that it has taught me that there is another way of living, even if I don’t always follow it.
The idea of resting every seventh day goes back to Biblical times. Right at the beginning of the Bible, we are told that God created the world in six days, and then rested on the seventh day. This concept was taken up by ancient Israel, and was one of the ten commandments laid down by God via Moses in the Book of Exodus: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” For Jews, the Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday evening with the lighting of a candle, and a shared meal, and continues until sundown on Saturday.
When Christianity began two thousand years ago, they took on this principle (broadly speaking) and met firstly on Saturdays, but then on Sundays, to participate in the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist. Later on this got hedged round with a lot of do’s and don’ts, but today an increasing number of Christians try to observe a Sabbath day once a week, in which they “rest in Christ”.
While most Unitarians would not describe themselves as Christians, I believe that there is still a space for a practice of Sabbath observance in our lives.
At our annual Unitarian Summer School a few years ago, the topic of the engagement group I was in was “inner peace”. We looked at various different paths to this desirable goal, and one that really caught my attention was this idea of Sabbath observance; of resting on the seventh day. Generally I find that it is only too easy to do bits and pieces of work every day, whether for church or home, and never really have a proper day off. Coincidentally, I had bought a book on the subject a few weeks earlier, and had found the idea very attractive, but hadn’t done anything about it. However, at Summer School that year, a group of us decided to pledge ourselves to making the effort to practice Sabbath observance in our own lives at home.
Obviously, as a minister, I couldn’t choose to observe the Sabbath on a Sunday, which is a work day for me, so I decided to try going from Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening. I started with a lit candle and a shared meal, and spent the rest of the evening reading and stitching. The first time I tried this, my husband and daughter were out all day, so I was free to spend the day in rest and silence. I never dreamed it would be so difficult!
I had decided that it would be a screen-free day – no computer, no mobile phone, no TV, and also a housework-free day. At that time, on a normal day, it was my practice to get up, have a shower, eat breakfast, and then log in to the computer to check for incoming e-mails, and to look on Facebook. But this day was going to be different.
I had decided not to set an alarm, and to spend the day stitching, reading, journalling, and reflecting, perhaps listening to some classical music, but nothing rowdy. But by half-past nine in the morning, I was feeling decidedly twitchy, as though I ought to be doing something. At this point I realised that Lynne Baab, author of Sabbath Keeping, had been right. I too was one of those people who had been sucked into the trap of judging myself and my life by what I do, and by what I achieve. The tricky bit of the day was going to be slowing down, stopping, just being. And trying to find God in the silence.
Lynne Baab suggests that as the Sabbath is supposed to be about resting in God’s presence, one should spend some time sitting, just breathing, being, rather than doing. I have always found this hard. But that day, I was taught how to be still, and how to simply be, by our laid-back cat. He came and sat on my knee, and I stroked him, and he purred, and then had a doze, while I just sat, and reflected on the love and trust he gives me, each and every day. My cat was an angel that day, a messenger of the divine.
Looking back, several things about that first Sabbath day surprised me: how long the day seemed, and how slowly it passed (although this was not a bad thing, just surprising); how much I missed writing on a computer – using pen and paper now seems odd; and the strong feeling of disconnection that came from not checking my e-mails or being on Facebook. But it was a good day. I did feel rested, and by the end of the day I had relaxed sufficiently to be still, and to trust to God to do the rest. I appreciated the gift of unhurried time, the opportunity to pause, to reflect, to think, without feeling that I had to dash off and do the next thing on the to-do list.
In the years since then, I have tried to incorporate a regular Sabbath half-day into my week (usually Tuesday evening to Wednesday lunchtime). If I miss it, I am more tired, more grumpy, more stressed. I have come to realise in recent years that inner peace is of fundamental importance to human well-being. And not just once a week either.
As usual, the Quakers have got it spot on: number 3 of their Advices and Queries sums it up beautifully: “Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. … Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God.”
So as well as a weekly Sabbath half-day, I also have a time of prayer and meditation for ten minutes each morning. A time of stillness and reflection, a time to be with God. I have been doing this for years now, and it is still, sometimes, the hardest part of the day, as my monkey mind continues to chatter and whoop, refusing to stop, to let go, to be still.
But increasingly, I am finding that if I can just be at rest physically, allow myself to relax into that stillness, mental and spiritual peace will follow. Usually it doesn’t last for very long, but I am beginning to see the benefits. I have now been doing it long enough to miss it if I have to rush out early doors. Tranquillity and quiet are becoming necessary parts of my life.
What we choose to do with our time of rest and silence, whether it is daily or weekly, will be up to each individual. We all have different ways of relaxing. The ideal for me is to follow the Quaker advice, and “find a way into the silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength.” Which is what I aim for in my morning sit. My Sabbath half-day is spent screen-free, doing activities which nourish my soul.
May you all find a way to inner peace.
Closing Words by Mark Mosher deWolfe (adapted) and Sue Woolley
Spirit of Life and Love,
In our lives, may we know the holy meaning,
the mystery that breaks into it every moment.
May we live at peace with our world,
and at peace with ourselves
And may the love of truth guide us in our every day.
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