Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Andrew Usher (inspired by words of Bruce T. Marshall)
We have gathered in this oasis of peace from many places, with many thoughts. We pause together now, to allow ourselves to settle into this space at this time, letting the cares of the outside world relax their grip.
As we take the time to reflect on our presence here, let us give thanks for all the small moments which make our lives so special. May we recognise in those small moments, that divine grace which is present at all times, if only we would be aware of it.
We acknowledge with regret the moments when we have been less than we would wish to be: the moments when we have forgotten the divinity within ourselves and within others: the moments when life is hard on us, when we cannot face the world, when our sorrows seem too much to bear.
May we have the strength and the courage to affirm that there is divinity in these moments too. May our hearts be turned, that we might see divine grace working wherever we look, and may that recognition lighten our burdens. And where we still cannot see that grace, may we be filled with the spirit to bring love, grace, compassion and hope ourselves to those places where it is needed.
May we find peace and renewal in this place, and may we take that peace with us, that it may fill the world.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). Words by David Usher.
We light this candle as a symbol of our faith.
By its light may our vision be illumined;
By its warmth may our fellowship be encouraged;
And by its flame may our yearnings for peace, justice
and the life of the spirit be enkindled.
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 The Peace Book by Louise Diamond
The search for inner peace is the search for our natural self. The natural self lies beyond our particular personality. It is the core of our being, where we are innocent, loving, and fully present, like a newborn baby. This is the place where we touch the essence of life itself.
To find our natural self, we must learn to calm the inner battles and struggles we so often face. We must also learn to touch, at will, that deep pool of serenity and clarity that is the soul’s birthright. To do either of these, we first need to slow down – way down.
We need to quiet the chatter and clutter in our minds so we can remember our true nature, like parting the clouds to find the deep blue sky, empty and endless. Here, in this place, we are wise, joyful, vibrantly alive – we are who we are meant to be, whole and holy, at peace, in peace, radiating peace, like the ripples of a pebble tossed into a lake. This is where all is possible, and everything begins.
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 Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let not this blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams; it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
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.
May we be content with ourselves just the way we are.
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.
May it be so, Amen
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 Tony McNeile, adapted)
Let us take time for a meditational prayer.
Just to sit quietly and focus on being in this sacred space.
Let all other thoughts subside.
Let them go to the back of the mind.
And in the silence of this space,
let our thoughts focus on our inner selves, on the quiet centre within.
Focus on this centre to feel an inner peace
that can rise up to fill all your thoughts.
Be aware of the peacefulness of this space…
Think of the many prayers that have been said here.
Feel the holiness that has come through prayer.
This is the place and the time to be closely connected to the faith of this space.
So let our quiet minds tune in to the holiness, absorb it into the quiet peacefulness of our inner selves.
Reach for the divine which only we in our hearts understand.
May our prayers for peace, both without and within, be heard.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address Paths to Inner Peace
This week’s service follows on from the MUA Autumn Taster Workshop last weekend, Paths to Inner Peace, a rich and inspirational day, during which the participants were introduced to (or reminded of) various spiritual practices and invited to give them a try. All to aid in the cultivation of inner peace.
I suspect God was trying to give me a nudge along the way – I have never run a course or workshop, in the entire fifteen years I’ve been serving the District, during which there were so many interruptions by outsiders. And each time I was annoyed by this, it made me realise just how far I have to go, on my own path to inner peace.
The 19th century Austrian writer, Adalbert Stifter, once wrote, “Only the calm within ourselves lets us drift carefree to new shores.” And I think he’s right. Because he included the word “carefree”. We are able to drift to new shores under stress (although we may rather be paddling frantically than drifting) but I do agree that in order to be carefree, and to fully open ourselves to the possibility of “new shores”, calm within does help. A lot.
Yet it is not so easy to cultivate as it is to write about… as I discovered last Saturday! Because it involves living in the present, and choosing to let go of perfectionism and joyless striving, and allow ourselves to… yes, drift. 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. But it should not be surprising that, when we do manage to do this, matters turn out well, as often as not.
Which reminds me of Benjamin Hoff’s wonderful book, The Tao of Pooh. In which he 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. 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. But when I do manage it (which, like I said, is far from always) that inner calm does descend, and I am enabled to “drift carefree to new shores.”
In our first reading, Louise Diamond reminded us, “We need to quiet the chatter and clutter in our minds so we can remember our true nature, like parting the clouds to find the deep blue sky, empty and endless.” I find this image incredibly helpful, particularly since experiencing it one afternoon some years ago, when I was driving home from Evesham.
I noticed an amazingly dramatic sky ahead of me, mostly filled with dark, rain-heavy clouds, but also with a patch of bright and unchanging blue sky behind it. It reminded me of a metaphor much used by Martin Laird in his book, Into the Silent Land, which is about learning how to do contemplative prayer. He explains that our thoughts and feelings are like the weather, but that there is something deeper within, which is not affected by changes in that weather, that is deep, and luminous, and aware. Laird refers to it as a mountain, Mount Zion. But whichever metaphor we use, I believe that inner calm is “that of God” within each of us.
Seeing that bright blue patch of sky behind those menacing clouds helped me to understand that although our thoughts, moods, and feelings may change from day to day, or even from moment to moment, there is a deep, peaceful, sky-blue awareness behind or above them, into which we can sink, if we simply have the patience to sit in silence for a while, and let our passing emotions do just that – pass by. It’s not easy, by any means – the chattering monkeys are loud and clear; the inner video is always there, ready to seduce our attention away.
Of course, sitting in silence may not be *your* path to inner peace – you may prefer to walk in nature, become absorbed in a craft, or any number of other spiritual practices. The main reason for Saturday’s workshop was to offer various different practices, in the hope that the participants would find something which appealed to them; something which might help them to attain the elusive goal of inner peace.
Over the years, I have found that fleeting moments of inner peace can happen, and the simple knowledge that this deeper, calmer centre is there (the blue sky behind the clouds) may help us in our everyday lives, which may be far from peaceful. It certainly helps me.
I love the words of Max Ehrmann’s famous poem, Desiderata, which are pinned to the notice board next to my desk. I think we are all vulnerable to times of unrest in the rollercoaster that is our lives. It can be hard to find the spiritual resilience to roll with the punches and to bounce back from small disappointments. I find it helpful to be on the lookout for small things that go right, rather than beating myself up about every tiny little thing that goes wrong (like the interruptions on Saturday). Re-reading it this morning, three particular sentences jumped out at me:
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune…. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
“Whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.”
Whenever I read them, I feel as though a gentle hand has been laid on my shoulder, and I hear a quiet voice reassuring me that everything is all right.
The attainment of inner peace is a journey, two steps forward, one step back. It can be difficult to attain, and more difficult to hold on to. But we need it – we need it so much. Go into any bookshop, and look in the ‘Mind and Spirit’ section. You will find the shelves groaning with titles like, The Little Book of Calm or Chicken Soup for the Soul or De-stress your life in 30 days (Okay, I made the last one up, but I’m sure that such a title exists). And there are innumerable DVDs and podcasts which offer to help us on our way to this elusive goal. As a Unitarian, I believe that there has to be a spiritual element as well. I love the words of one of our more modern hymns, by John Andrew Storey:
“I sent my soul some truth to win; my soul returned these words to tell: ‘Look not beyond, but turn within, For I myself am heaven and hell.’
And as my thoughts were gently led, half-held beliefs were seen as true;
I heard, as, new, words Jesus said: ‘My friend, God’s kingdom lies in you.’
Now though I labour, as I must, to build the kingdom yet to be,
I know my hopes will turn to dust, if first it is not built in me.”
Martin Luther King Jr once wrote, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” In other words, if we do not first have inner peace, we will not be able to achieve lasting outer peace. There has to be a balance, some clarity, which Louise Diamond describes as, “the soul’s birthright”. Because when we are rushing around all day it can be difficult to see things as they really are – if we are sufficiently stressed out, everything that happens can be viewed as yet another source of irritation, from the phone ringing to someone wandering into a workshop needing a question answered. I believe that when we react with annoyance or irritation, this is not only unfair on the rest of the world, it is also unfair on us as individuals.
Some of us wind ourselves tighter and tighter in an effort to stay on top of things, but that way lies madness. Nothing or nobody is supposed to be under tension the whole time, and eventually something will snap, which could have been avoided by taking a little time out, and seeing things clearly. Once again this is easier said than done, but we can always ask for help – from God or from other people.
Seeing clearly also means understanding that we are not responsible for everything. Nobody is a superhero. It is not an admission of failure to ask for help, or to admit that something is outside our control. Anyone (everyone) can only do their best in all the ways they can, then let it go. Again it’s about finding a sense of perspective – realising that each of us is only one person and that the world is wide. I don’t mean that we should not strive to do our very best, just that having done that we should be satisfied and at peace.
May all be well, may all be happy, may all find peace. Amen
Closing Words by Andy Pakula (adapted)
There is a place of peace,
A place of wisdom,
A place of love.
May this sacred centre be our guide,
May it be our strength for the journey,
May it fill us with hope when all seems hopeless,
And may it lead us to know the sacredness in all.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley