Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Advice no. 7, from Quaker Advices and Queries.
Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?
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 David Usher:
Open your hearts to the wonder of worship.
Open your minds to the eternal quest for meaning and truth.
Open your eyes to the miracle of creation.
Open your arms to the embrace of your fellow men and women.
Open your souls, and let the divine sweep in.
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 Maybe you have other plans by Bob Wightman, from With Heart and Mind 2
I woke up early today, excited over all I get to do before the clock strikes midnight. I have responsibilities to fulfil today. I am important. My job is to choose what kind of day I am going to have.
Today, I can complain because the weather is rainy, or I can be thankful that the grass is getting watered for free. Today, I can feel sad that I don’t have more money, or I can be glad that my finances encourage me to plan my purchases wisely and guide me away from waste. Today, I can grumble about my health, or I can rejoice that I am alive.
Today, I can lament over all that my parents didn’t give me when I was growing up, or I can shout for joy because I have a job to go to. Today, I can complain because I have to go to school, or eagerly open my mind and fill it with new knowledge and understanding. Today I can murmur dejectedly because I have to do housework, or I can feel honoured because God has provided shelter for my mind, body and soul.
Today stretches ahead of me, waiting to be shaped. And here I am, the sculptor who gets to do the shaping. What today will be like is up to me. I get to choose what kind of day I will have!
Have a great day, my friend, or maybe you have other plans.
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 Flexibility, from Inner Beauty: A Book of Virtues by the Brahma Kumaris
Flexibility is the beauty of a child, whose bones have not yet been hardened, whose body has not yet begun to store the effects, the tensions of life. Instead, there is smoothness, quickness, joy. Flexibility in an adult is not suppleness of body, but subtlety of thought, such vigilance that there is no storing or harbouring pain. It is pain that causes blockages, stops ease of response and cuts happiness dead. It is rare to find a flexible adult, one who hasn’t become a “walking habit”, but who is still reacting freshly, unconditioned, unafraid. How is it possible?
One secret is renewal. If there is a constant flow of new feelings, it is like a shower, washing away the bits and pieces of reactions unexpressed, which if left, accumulate to form fears or prejudices. To find new feelings, to refuel, you don’t have to go anywhere, except inside you, away from the obvious. Going away from the obvious is a spiritual holiday, and a person is always easier when they’ve been away.
The problem with normal holidays is that you cannot bring the sunshine back with you. To be flexible, you have to go away, mentally withdraw, but you also have to return bearing something deep and original from inside, something to use, or else the shock of bumping into life again makes you start and harden.
Prayer A blessing of openness by Mark Hutchinson (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we be willing to have no opinion sometimes,
May we be open to other opinions at all times,
May we challenge and be challenged.
May we fall into our infinite selves.
May we bless others as they fall too.
May we experience all of this house our world,
May we bless others as they experience too.
May we be transformed and allow transformation from and in others.
A Blessing of Openness so the air of infinity breathes throughout All That Is.
Reading from Flexibility, from Inner Beauty: A Book of Virtues by the Brahma Kumaris
Withdrawing is a habit [which] should be [as] sacredly held as rising early or eating in peace. These are the doors that you can stumble through if in trouble and find composure again. So whilst childlikeness, softness, is the beauty of being flexible, discipline is its basis.
But you can be too strict. When habits have been adopted as systems and you can’t get rid of them, when they haven’t been internalised and deeply appreciated, then life is rigid and dull. Where there is flexibility, you can let go of everything visible, because the discipline is part of your bones.
In a perfect world, flexibility would simply be an expression of joy, an unbidden somersault into the air, suppleness of mind and body together. A dance. In the meantime, it is moving with the times, slipping through life as gently and strongly as possible. And, above all, making all problems into teachers.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Trust by Matthew Smith (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
In this moment let us be conscious
of the free gifts of air to breathe
and solid ground beneath our feet.
Conscious of these natural realities,
Let us likewise recall the importance
of interpersonal trust in our lives.
While being open to others
Carries its risk,
We know our hearts will shrink and wizen
If we live mainly by suspicion.
As persons of inherent worth and dignity –
Each and every one of us –
Let us claim the right to demand
Justice and accountability
From those in positions of power.
Let us also be willing to open ourselves
To love and trust –
For our own dear sakes.
There is good in the world,
And there is good in people.
Sometimes we need to look deeply –
But it is there.
We know there are tens of millions of hearts
Yearning for the same things that we do –
Fairness, love, care for the earth, compassion.
As we reach out
Let us have resolute faith
That we will connect with those
True hearts – the companions
We really need for life’s journey.
So it is that we recognise and celebrate
This hard but invaluable work
Of trusting and reaching out –
In our own personal lives,
And in the practise of spiritual community.
May it ever be so.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Over the years, I have found that curiosity and openness, or “flexibility” as the Brahma Kumaris have it, are the keys to many doors; keys that have opened doors in my mind and heart.
The metaphor of a key opening a door is a common one in our society. Without a key, it is difficult to step through the door of new knowledge, new insight. It is no accident that the word is also used to explain the lines on a graph, the figures in a diagram. Without it, the graph or diagram remains incomprehensible. But with it, it all begins to make sense.
Keys come in many shapes and forms, both literal and metaphorical. When I was growing up, it was a tradition to be given the key to the door of your parents’ house on reaching the age of 21. “I’ve got the key to the door / never been twenty-one before” went the song. In this case, the key was symbolic of the entrance into the world of adults.
In my experience, a key can also be a nudge from God, a revelation. Reading the first two pages of Alfred Hall’s Beliefs of a Unitarian was a significant key for me, unlocking the wonderful faith of Unitarianism. It felt like a revelation from God, when I read those pages, more than forty years ago. As though I was stepping into a new world, which suddenly made sense to me. I have often found that books can be keys to new worlds of understanding. So can films, television programmes and material found on the Internet.
Keys can also unlock knowledge we would rather not possess. But once the door has been opened, it is not possible to ‘unknow’ the knowledge it has been hiding. We have to incorporate it into our lives and, if it has alerted us to some evil in the world, some flaw in ourselves, it is our responsibility to do something about it. Like Pandora with her box, we have to live with the knowledge we gain. Fortunately, we always have hope, the only virtue (according to the myth) that remained when she slammed the lid shut.
New knowledge, new ideas, can often be hard to accept, difficult to incorporate into our lives. But I have always, always been grateful for my innate curiosity and for the learning which has resulted from choosing to turn the keys to many doors. I would not be the person I am today without that impulse to discover, to learn, to remain curious, flexible, “open to new Light” as the Quakers advise.
Being curious and flexible, open to the new, can help us to live with movement, change and transformation. Which is necessary, in order to not only survive, but thrive. Because much though we may hate to acknowledge it, as often as we may kid ourselves that our lives are going on very much the same as they always have, it isn’t true. I’m not the same person as I was yesterday, or last week, last month, let alone last year.
Life is never static: we live in a world where we are always encountering the new – new experiences, new people, new thoughts and ideas, new nudges from the Spirit. And we cannot help being changed by them. It may take us a while, screaming, protesting, and dragging at the hand that is trying to lead us forward, but we have to accept it in the end.
I have found it much easier to cope with change, movement and transformation when I have consciously chosen to be open to them. To embrace them, even… I believe it is up to us to keep our hearts and minds and spirits open to new experiences, so that we may grow as people. Yet it is also important to be kind to ourselves, to understand our natural inclination towards the status quo, and not beat ourselves up when we resist movement, change, transformation. And to understand that these things are just as hard for everyone else we know, and not to blame them when they, too, resist.
Letting go of the old can be even more difficult. Many of us find it easier to hold on to old grudges, old hurts, old griefs, preferring to stay behind our armoured souls in case life hurts us once again. It is much more courageous to remove our armour, reveal our vulnerabilities and embrace the new.
Each of us has been given a brain and a heart, which can help us to approach the new in a spirit of curiosity, rather than dread. So I try to use mine as best I can, so that I may grow into the best person I can be. I strive to be flexible, awake and aware and open to new experiences.
The Brahma Kumaris say, “Flexibility is the beauty of a child, whose bones have not yet been hardened, whose body has not yet begun to store the effects, the tensions of life. Instead, there is smoothness, quickness, joy.” Many of us adults find it difficult to retain this quality, as we grow older. Yet I have come to believe that reclaiming a childlike trust in life is important. For me, being childlike means being open and vulnerable, 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.”
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 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, sufficiently flexible, 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 have come to understand that if I am to live authentically, with 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. As Matthew Smith said in our Time of Stillness and Reflection, “We know our hearts will shrink and wizen if we live mainly by suspicion.”
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, a proverb that has been with us since 1546, when John Heywood recorded it in A dialogue conteinyng the number in effect of all the proverbs in the Englishe tongue. 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 am so grateful that it takes very little to awaken my curiosity. I’m like a cat, fascinated by anything that moves, even if it does sometimes mean chasing after rainbows. Or like a dog, nose down, hot on the trail of something new and exciting, my tail wagging. My curiosity, my thirst for learning, has led me in many directions. I have continued to learn whenever a subject has sparked my interest. Sometimes, it has led me down a rabbit hole into nowhere particular. Yet I have always enjoyed the journey. Whenever I come across something new, which piques my interest, my response has always been to want to find out more. Why not give it a go: it can be great fun!
Spirit of Life and Love,
Give us the courage to remain flexible, open and curious,
To approach our lives like little children.
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