Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Martin Gienke (adapted)
We come together in this sacred space from many directions
Following a myriad of routes and roads of life
To get to this point
From here we will go our different ways
In different directions
May our time together for this hour
Strengthen us and our resolve
To travel the right road
On the trail of Truth
As we speed on let us not forget our fellow travellers
To stop and help if they’re fallen
To guide them wisely if they’re lost
to encourage them in their own journey
May our onward journey
Be as challenging and exciting as that so far
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 and climate change hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help each other, however we may.
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 Better than before by Gretchen Rubin
Often, we know we’d be better off if we refused a temptation, but it’s hard to resist that extra glass of wine, that impulse purchase, that last hour of TV… It was always the same – the temptation, the giving in, the promise of moderation, and then the slide into overindulgence.
For dealing with this kind of temptation, we’re often told, “Be moderate. Don’t indulge every day, but don’t deny yourself altogether, because if you do, you’ll fall even further off the wagon.” For a long time, I kept trying this strategy of moderation – and failing….
Eventually, I learned to reject this advice. Somehow, I figured out that it was easier for me to resist certain temptations by never giving in to them. I kept hearing advice from experts that this strategy was bound to backfire, however – so why did it work?
I came across the answer in a casual remark made by… the eighteenth century essayist Samuel Johnson. When a friend urged him “to take a little wine”, Dr Johnson explained, “I can’t drink a little, child; therefore I never touch it. Abstinence is as easy to me, as temperance would be difficult.”…
Like Dr Johnson, I’m an Abstainer: I find it far easier to give up something altogether than to indulge moderately…. When we Abstainers deprive ourselves totally, we conserve energy and willpower, because there are no decisions to make and no self-control to muster….
Moderators, by contrast, are people who do better when they indulge moderately… Abstainers and Moderators behave very differently. A Moderator [can] eat one square of chocolate every day… For Abstainers, having something makes them want it more; for Moderators, having something makes them want it less.
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.
Reading from The Care and Feeding of our spirits in Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
People often ask, “Where is the line between pleasure or comfort and numbing?” In response, author and personal growth teacher Jennifer Louden has named our numbing devices “shadow comforts.” When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone, and feeling helpless, the booze and food and work and endless hours online feel like comfort, but in reality they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.
Louden writes, “Shadow comforts can take any form. It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness – a real comfort – or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself – a shadow comfort.”…
The invitation is to think about the intention behind our choices… [which] requires self-examination and reflection… Ultimately these are questions that transcend what we know and how we feel – they’re about our spirit. Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions, ultimately diminishing my spirit? Are my choices leading to my Wholeheartedness, or do they leave me feeling empty and searching?
Prayer Each Day by Andy Pakula (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
With each day, we are offered another step in life’s sacred journey
an invitation to join in the flow of life that streams around us
Today, we may face a barren desert landscape to cross
Parched as our reserves of hope dwindle
Some days, a lush oasis appears
Offering its succulent gifts of joy to delight our hearts
Each day, we arrive, but not to stay
We travel on…
Pilgrims in search of the holy land that glistens in our dreams
Journeying toward a destination that we must seek
And that none ever reach
Spirit of the journey, God of many names
May we step out boldly
Venturing eagerly forward
Accepting all that each mile has to offer
May we know that within the journey itself lies our destination
And that the holy city waits to be discovered in every heart.
Reading from Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis (adapted)
The second half of life is a continuing dialectical encounter with divergent truths [which] include the recognition that this is our life, not someone else’s, that after our thirtieth birthday we alone are responsible for how it turns out, that we are here but a fleeting instant in the spinning shuttle of eternity, and that there is a titanic struggle going on within each of us for the sovereignty of the soul. To grasp this reality, live with it, accept its summons, is already to enlarge the frame of reference through which we see our life….
We must learn to read [our symptoms] as clues to the wounded wishes of the soul, or as the autonomous protest of the soul over our mismanagement. We learn to exercise a form of discipline that requires the daily scrutiny of life: “What did I do, and why, and where did it come from within me?” We engage our soul’s agenda, which requires a humbled attitude, and a wary watchfulness. It requires that we understand that our lives, even when fraught with outer difficulties, are always unfolding from within….
“So where did this outcome, this event, come from within me?” is a most critical, and potentially liberating, question. To ask it consistently requires a daily discipline, increased personal responsibility, and no little amount of courage.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Pilgrim’s Prayer by Cliff Reed (adapted)
Guiding Spirit, show us an open road, a pilgrim track.
The blind alleys of our folly wear a dreary look, we must break out and find a better way.
Show us the path of deliverance from the byways and cul-de-sacs in which we wander, trapped in a maze of old ideas, old hatreds, old fears; condemned to tread the same old ground we have trodden before.
We seek the bright highway to wholeness, which cuts through the walls and spans the chasms keeping us apart; which unites those who have been sundered, binds up our shadowed, fractured world like a ribbon of light.
We would join the pilgrims of the human race, search out the healing, holy shrine where souls, people and planets are made whole.
Show us your highway, O God, open our eyes to see that it runs just outside our door. Help us to make the first step along it. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address It ain’t what we do, but the way that we do it
The title of this week’s service is adapted from a song originally written by jazz musicians Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young. It was first recorded in 1939 by Jimmie Lunceford, Harry James, and Ella Fitzgerald and was called ‘Taint what you do but the way that you do it. However, the version I know was recorded in 1982 by the bands Bananarama and Fun Boy Three.
My path into the second half of life, into a growing awareness that the “why” of my actions was more important than the “what”, began in the mid-noughties, and accelerated in the early 2010s, after I read Brené Brown’s two books, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. Both books made me yearn to live more wholeheartedly, more authentically.
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.
And I’m not saying for a moment that this first half of life work is not necessary – on the contrary, 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”.
In December 2016, I attended a three-day Richard Rohr retreat at Holland House near Evesham. It was based on Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, about the two halves of life and was led by Ian Spencer, then Warden of Holland House. It was a marvellously rich few days, which fundamentally changed my life, how I thought of myself.
The first day was mainly about the first half of life. We were asked to think about what the stand-out elements of our own first half were, and my response was, ‘self-worth being based on the approval of people I care about, leading to a strong desire to please and perform.’ Then we were invited to go off and draw a picture of the river of our lives. My first response was, ‘Oh, no, not drawing. I’m not arty – why can’t we write it down instead?’ When I shared this later, Ian pointed out that this was due to conditioned learned in the first half of life.
As a matter of fact, my life river startled me by its spiritual accuracy – I drew a meandering horseshoe shape, then started filling in important events without consciously thinking too much. To my great surprise, the point of the horseshoe, at which it began to turn in a new direction, coincided directly with 2001, the year in which I led my first worship service. I had subconsciously divided my life into two unequal halves – the first 41 years and the last 22 years. Which actually correspond fairly accurately to my spiritual journey, although my real awakening didn’t start until 2006, when I began the Worship Studies Course and intensified after attending my first Summer School in 2009. That river of life exercise is one I would heartily recommend to everyone.
It is commonly during the second half of life that we begin to yearn for something other than earthly goals – a sense of longing can possess our souls, turning us towards the spiritual, towards the divine. This second half of life pilgrimage does not have an end point – we travel on, deeper into the heart of God, letting go of the things which seemed so important in our earlier years – status, belongings, and so on.
This second half of life journey towards authenticity and wholeness is about the attempt to become whole, about being the same “me” wherever we are, and whoever we are with, rather than cutting our cloth according to the circumstances. It is also about doing a lot of shadow work, about digging deep to discover the real person, the open and vulnerable person behind the façade we have spent so many years carefully cultivating. Then working out how to integrate that authentic self into the real world out there. It is a tough call, not for the faint-hearted. But so worthwhile.
I have come to understand that if we are to live authentically, with 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. For me, 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.
This path towards authentic living is a long process of self-examination. As James Hollis said in our final reading, the necessary shadow work “is a continuing dialectical encounter with divergent truths.” Most of us (including me) are naturally reluctant to confront our shadows – those inner parts of ourselves which were formed earlier in our lives and which we hide away deep within us and avoid dealing with. But I have come to understand that when we ignore the shadows in our lives, we are not living authentically. All of us have shadows – the elements of our lives we do not want to face up to, the parts of our personality we are in denial about. Dealing with these aspects of our lives is called shadow work. It is only when we choose to go deep that we can understand ourselves fully.
Doing this necessary shadow work can be very painful, but it is necessary, if we are to grow into our best selves, our whole selves. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows or walking through beautiful woodland. It is by learning from the shadows, from the sad and painful things that have happened to us, that we grow. It is only when we embrace our shadows – which have something to teach us, if we are patient enough to sit and observe them, rather than rushing into action to make ourselves happy again – that we can become whole, live authentically.
Choosing to live authentically is also about making conscious choices in our lives. It is about thinking things through before making a decision, so that we choose the path that leads to integrity. Because each time we make a decision, choose a path, this has the effect of closing off the alternative choices, the paths not chosen. In order to gain something, we generally have to give something else up. So we must be careful.
To give you one example, ten years ago this week, I finally stopped bolstering my confidence with alcohol, or drinking to numb my feelings of inadequacy. I had begun to drink more regularly during my thirties and forties, until it got to the point that I was drinking at least some wine every day.
My journey towards being alcohol-free was a gradual one. It took at least 18 months from my first serious recognition that I had a problem (in early 2012, although I had been uneasy about my drinking for a long time) to actually making the commitment to being AF – alcohol-free – on 2nd September 2013. Which was the result of a long period of shadow work, during which I became uneasily aware that, like Samuel Johnson, I could not “drink a little”, so my only option was to abstain completely.
I first scared myself in March 2012 when, having read an article about alcohol problems in the paper, I sat down and worked out how much I was drinking – way more than the recommended government guidelines. But I decided I could moderate, and only drink at weekends, and see how it went. The hard truth took a while to sink in. And I hadn’t then read Gretchen Rubin’s book and realised that moderation would never be the answer for me, as I am a born Abstainer.
Being a minister, God got involved, and I decided to make a commitment to Him and to some ministerial friends at our annual Ministerial Fellowship conference on 2nd September 2013. Which I did. It was a powerful ceremony which helped me to keep straight in the difficult early months of my sobriety. It also helped to know that I could share my struggles with those friends. And now it is ten years later, and I have never regretted my choice.
Truly, it is the “why” rather than the “what” which matters, if we are to live authentically, in consonance with our deepest values. It ain’t what we do, but the way that we do it.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we be brave enough to take the bold step
of entering into a conversation
with our deeper selves,
and choosing more authentic lives.
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