Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Alex Brianson (adapted)
We gather today 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 today 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)
We light this chalice in praise of the sacred,
Which is all around us,
Present to our senses,
In the most ordinary things.
We light this chalice for presence
May we see the flame of the sacred, everywhere.
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.
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
Story Seeing God with an Inner Eye by Mary Ann Moore (adapted)
Once there was a child who wanted to see God. She looked everywhere, but she couldn’t see God.
One night, while she was sleeping, she heard a voice as she dreamed. The voice said, “Are you the child who wants to see God?”
“Yes, I am,” she said in her dream. “But I’ve already looked everywhere.”
“Well,” the voice replied. “Maybe it isn’t where you looked but how you looked.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, did you use your ordinary eyes or did you use your inner eye?”
“I – I guess I used my ordinary eyes. What’s an inner eye? I don’t think I have one.”
“Oh, yes, you do,” the voice explained, “everyone has an inner eye. You just need to learn how to use it.”
“Where is my inner eye?” the child asked.
“Some people say it is where your heart is. And some people say it is in your mind. Others say it is the eye you see with in your dreams. Each of us has to find out for ourselves where our inner eye is. But everyone has one, if they just take the time to find it.”
“Will I really see God if I use my inner eye?” the child asked.
“Try it and see,” said the voice. And then all was quiet.
The next day the child eagerly got up and set out once again to see God. She went outside and sat on the earth. She closed her ordinary eyes and concentrated on seeing the earth with her inner eye. After a while she saw God in the rocks and the plants and the animals.
Then she lay down and looked up at the heavens. Again she closed her ordinary eyes and concentrated on seeing the heavens with her inner eye. And she saw God in the clouds and sun and the moon and the stars.
She walked to the house of God and went in. She sat quietly and closed her ordinary eyes and concentrated on seeing the house of God with her inner eye. She saw that God was in the quiet and in the love of the people.
“I do have an inner eye,” the girl said happily to herself. “Now I can see God in the earth and in the skies and in the quiet and in the love of people. God is in everything. I can see God in everything when I see with my inner eye.”
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 Let Me Hold You While I May by Mary Jean Irion
It’s been a normal sort of day — common, like a rock along the path. Nothing about it would make one stop suddenly, pick it up and exclaim over it as one might do with a
shell or a glistening piece of quartz.
What was it really, this normal day? It was routine mostly.
It was pleasant now and then.
It was irritating now and then.
It was deeply joyous now and then.
It was sobering and frightening now and then.
It was blessed with love throughout.
Just a normal day.
A normal day?!
Holding it in my hand this one last moment, I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock. It is a gem, a jewel.
In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this.
In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this.
In time of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this.
In time of hunger, homelessness, and want, people have raised bony hands to the skies, and stayed alive for this.
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, savour you, bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want more than all the world your return.
And then I will know what now I am guessing: that you are, indeed, a common rock and not a jewel, but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth in all its strength and plenty puts a gem to shame.
Prayer by Tamara Lebak (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
We gather this day to be reminded of the sacred in the ordinary.
The holy moments of waking yet again to a new day.
The feel of the earth beneath our feet
The crisp cool air on our skin
The joy of being welcomed by our fellow travellers
The warmth of this place.
Help us this day to be fully present in our living
Awake to each breath.
Remind us that Life is taking place in the in-between
As well as in our lofty goals.
Remind us that the detours and the details craft the path
And make it our own.
Help us to remember that we did not make this day.
But that we have the glorious pleasure to greet each moment as it unfolds,
To reach out and kiss its cheek as though
It were a visitor who has come a long way just to see us.
These and the prayers of our hearts we now lift up in the silence.
Reading: The chalice of our being by Richard S. Gilbert
Each morning we hold out the chalice of our being
To be filled with the graces of life that abound—
Air to breathe, food to eat, companions to love,
Beauty to behold, art to cherish, causes to serve.
They come in ritual procession, these gifts of life.
Whether we deserve them we cannot know or say,
For they are poured out for us.
Our task is to hold steady the chalice of our being.
We carry the chalice with us as we go,
Either meandering aimlessly,
Or with destination in our eye.
We share its abundance if we have any sense,
Reminding others as we remind ourselves
Of the contents of the chalice we don’t deserve.
Water from living streams fills it
If only we hold it out faithfully.
We give back, if we can, something of ourselves—
Some love, some beauty, some grace, some gift.
We give back in gratitude if we can
Something like what is poured into our chalice of being—
For those who abide with us and will follow.
Each morning we hold out the chalice of our being,
To receive, to carry, to give back.
Time of Stillness and Reflection
Spirit of Life and Love,
Let us take a moment to appreciate all the gifts in our lives:
the things we take for granted, which make our lives easy and secure.
But more importantly,
the blessings that money cannot buy:
the love of our families;
the companionship of our friends;
this beloved community of freedom and trust;
the beauties of nature;
our bodies – those complex systems that work in such mysterious ways;
the very air that we breathe.
Help us to realise how rich we are already.
Help us to realise that true happiness lies in appreciating what we have.
Help us to share the blessings, Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Using Our Inner Eyes
Like the little girl in Mary Ann Moore’s story, many of us look for God everywhere, but are unable to find Him/Her, because we are looking in the wrong way – not using our inner eyes.
Over the past few years, I have come to believe that God’s presence is everywhere, in our ordinary, everyday lives, if we had but eyes to see, and ears to hear. I believe that through sacred living – weaving moments of attention into our everyday lives, and recognising the sacred there, we will find that which gives our lives purpose and meaning. Sacred living is about living with a new level of awareness. It is about going through each normal day paying attention to what is happening in each passing moment. It is about noticing the presence of the divine, the numinous, everywhere, in the natural world, in other people, in ourselves, and in things that happen to us. Then, as Mary Jean Irion wrote, “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savour you, before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.”
Because today is all we have. Today is the only place in which time touches eternity. I love the Sanskrit affirmation: “Look to this day – For it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence: the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.”
Yet how often do we spend our days (or one day or even part of a day) totally present? Appreciating every moment, every interaction, every person or object or thing our senses come into contact with? I know I don’t!
So how do we spend our days? Many of us, especially as we grow older, spend them living in the past, looking back with either pleasure or regret (or a mixture of both). And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being nostalgic about our past lives, so long as the past is a place we visit, rather than the place we live. As the Sanskrit wise one said: “yesterday is but a dream.” It is no longer real.
Others of us spend our days in the future, always heading towards the next goal, the next hill to climb. Our diaries are full for weeks to come, and there always seems to be a long to-do list on the go. I write a new one, every Monday morning, to make sure that all the things I need to get done in the forthcoming week, somehow get done. And yes, forward planning is important, as we try to juggle home life, work life, looking after children, looking after parents, some sort of social life. If we didn’t plan, everything would fall down crash.
But the downside of this, is that the busier we are, the less often we find time to be. Simply be. We miss the wonders that fill our normal days, as we charge, head down, onto the next thing. We rarely take time out, slow down, stop, smell the roses. Our inner eyes are wide shut. Is it any wonder that stress is at unprecedented levels?
Time for reflection and rest is so important. Because 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 present to what is in front of our noses, to recharge our emotional and spiritual batteries. I believe that one of the most important of God’s creations was 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. But without time for rest and renewal, sacred living is difficult to sustain. Our inner eyes remain closed.
It is more difficult to observe the Sabbath today, than it was decades or centuries ago, when almost everyone took the Sabbath seriously. Shops weren’t open on Sundays, businesses closed their doors, and everyone headed to church. Sabbaths are much more difficult in contemporary life. In fact, in a society that values busyness and productivity, observing a Sabbath is downright countercultural.
That’s not to say contemporary society doesn’t encourage us to relax. To the contrary, most secular women’s magazines and television talk shows … instruct us to indulge ourselves. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional bubble bath, [this isn’t] quite the same thing as Sabbath. The key to a Sabbath isn’t merely rest. Rather, it’s that in our rest we turn our attention to God, whose rest our Sabbath mirrors.
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.
For the last few years, I have tried to observe a half-day Sabbath, from Tuesday evening to Wednesday lunchtime. It is my time to slow down, stop, simply be. I don’t use technology – no computer, no mobile phone, no TV, and aim to spend the time doing things which nourish my soul – crocheting, stitching, reading, journalling, and reflecting, perhaps listening to some classical music, but nothing rowdy. When I first started doing this, it made me feel decidedly twitchy, as though I ought to be doing something. At which 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. That the tricky bit of the day was going to be slowing down, stopping, just being. And trying to find God in the silence. But I have stuck with it, by and large, and it really works. I return to my everyday life refreshed, with the lens of my inner eye wiped clean again.
Another way of trying to raise our awareness of the present is to sit, each morning. A time of stillness and reflection, a time to be with God. A time to pray, a time to meditate. I have been doing this for some 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. And they help me to be more aware of the wonders of the ordinary, to open my inner eye.
As you can see, this is a very different approach to life. It involves being open and trusting, taking life as it comes, with thankfulness. Most importantly, it involves being aware, as much as we can, of the marvels around us, whether they are people or places or things. I’m not saying that we can do all this all at once; it is the work of a lifetime. But just being aware of this different approach to life may make a difference; it may help us to realise that the world is a pretty amazing place, and to count our blessings and recognise the wonders with which we are surrounded.
I am finding that when I do remember to think about the spiritual aspects of everyday life, and start being aware of the many manifestations of God’s presence in the world, I’m enjoying it more, appreciating things more. Hopefully in time, if I practice it faithfully, it will transform my life, and how I connect with other people and with the world.
May we be able to experience the Divine presence in the ordinary days of our lives.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we find a way to slow down enough
to open our inner eyes to the Divine presence
who is waiting patiently for us to notice them.
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