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 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). (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.
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 overshadow us.
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 Allowing the Flow, by Richard Rohr, Adapted from “Karma,” The Mendicant 11, no. 2 (Spring 2021): 1.
To whom much is given, much is required. —Luke 12:48
The above quote from Jesus might be considered the Christian equivalent of what Hindus and Buddhists call “karma.” Reversing modern slang, “What comes around, goes around.” This isn’t about any monetary payment, but a certain kind of inevitability or even a “divine economy.”
In the world of grace and freedom, for a channel to be opened, it must flow forward, through, and toward something else—or the channel becomes blocked. Negative energy and intention produce a negative energy response—usually quite quickly. We clamp on to it like Velcro. In contrast, positive energy and intention produce positive energy outflow—if not now, eventually. The positive and appreciative response demands consciousness and choice—and freedom on our part. Otherwise, it slides off us like Teflon. Appreciation and gratitude must be chosen.
We usually do not recognize or appreciate all that we have been given gratuitously (the “free flow”). Instead, we often concentrate on how we have been offended. The negative rebound that we send back to another is almost always immediate—and unrecognized as negative energy on our part. We need to work and pray for most of our lives to recognize and resist this game. Negative karma is much more powerful than positive. Velcro works better than Teflon, at least in the spiritual life….
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 Love Work, Thought for Today, 11th November 2023
You always have a choice but you forget that you have it. Do you remember the energy and enthusiasm you had on the first day of your first job? You consciously chose to do the work you had gladly accepted to do. But then you gradually fell asleep to the choice you made, and the day became “I have to” go to work, instead of “I want to” go to work. You forgot to see all the opportunities which come with work – opportunities like learning, nourishing and being nourished by others, developing new relationships, expanding your personal capacity. Instead you decided it was just something that you had to do to ‘get the money’.
This is why most people are sleep-walking through their lives, and they don’t know it. The solution, choose your work every day, put the energy of love into your relationships…every day, even if you don’t particularly like your job or the people around you. And you’ll be amazed at how your life transforms. When you choose to put love into what you do, the universe will move heaven and hell to let you do what you love.
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 three short extracts from If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
When writing, you should feel not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another…. Do not forget to keep recharging yourself as children do, with new thinking called “Inspiration.” Try to be free and open to all things and don’t pretend and don’t fret.’’’
There are many people… who consider worry a kind of duty. Back of this I think is the subconscious feeling that Fate or God is mean or resentful and that if we do not worry enough, we will certainly catch it from Him. But they should remember that God said that we should cast off anxiety, so that we could “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven” (i.e. live creatively, greatly, seekingly, in the present. “and all these things” (beauty, happiness, goodness, talent, food and clothing) “will be added unto you.” Of course, He is right.
Dean Inge says that the great mystic philosopher Plotinus described “living in the present” like this: “In our best and most effective moments, when we really ‘enter into’ our work, we leave it behind… This is the experience of Pure Spirit, when it is turned towards the One. When we reach this stage we often doubt that the experience is real, because the ‘senses protest that they have seen nothing.’ Hence there is a kind of unconsciousness in the highest experiences of the Soul, though we cannot doubt them, not in the least.”
In other words, it is when you are really living in the present – working, thinking, lost and absorbed in something you care deeply about, that you are living spiritually.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Thomas Rhodes, adapted)
Let us enter into a time of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.
Feel the earth beneath your feet as it supports you.
Feel the love of this virtual community as it surrounds and enfolds you.
Feel your breath as it flows in
and out of your body.
Listen to your heartbeat.
Listen to your heart.
Take another breath, and hold it.
The air you hold in your body is the most precious thing in the world,
for your very life depends on it.
And yet, none of us can hold on to it for more than a moment,
or else we would strangle and die.
What is most precious to us must be released,
so that we may live, and live fully.
Look into your heart, find what is there, and hold it.
The love you hold within your heart is the most precious thing in the world.
And yet no one can hold on to it any more than your heart can withhold its blood,
or else we would die from loneliness and misery.
What is most precious to us must be shared,
so that we may love, and love fully.
Look into your life, at those things that are most precious to you.
Look again, you will find that their value lies not in being held,
but in being shared.
Life, love, laughter, longing,
may we share these precious gifts
that they may return to us, multiplied beyond measure. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Allowing the Flow
We are all busy people, with many pressures on us to meet deadlines, and never quite getting there, wherever “there” is. So today, just for this one holy hour, as the chalice lighting invited us, let us try to let go. Let us try to “allow the flow” of the Spirit through our lives, as Richard Rohr advises us, and not fret over things which are outside our control.
Which most parts of our lives are, to be honest. Both Richard Rohr in our first reading and the anonymous author of the Thought for Today in our second reading, emphasise the fact that we have both freedom and choice in how we respond to the events in our lives. As Rohr comments, “We usually do not recognize or appreciate all that we have been given gratuitously (the “free flow”).”
I did a service about going with the flow as recently as June, but it is a topic I keep coming back to, probably because I’m not terribly good at it. I recently came across a lovely quotation by Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Little Mermaid and other much-loved children’s tales. He wrote, “’Life alone is not enough,’ said the butterfly. ‘You must also have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.’”
And yes, I agree with him to a certain extent. The things and experiences we love – sunshine, freedom, a little flower, in the butterfly’s case – can make all the difference between enjoying our lives (allowing ourselves to be within the flow) and merely existing, dragging ourselves from one day to the next without any moments of transcendence and joy. And as the author of the Thought for Today reminds us, “You always have a choice but you forget that you have it.” As they say, the best way to avoid being negative is to, “choose your work every day, put the energy of love into your relationships…every day, even if you don’t particularly like your job or the people around you…. When you choose to put love into what you do, the universe will move heaven and hell to let you do what you love.”
Life is a mystery – we have no control over when and how we enter it, nor how or when we will leave it. And, to be honest, we don’t actually have that much control over the time in between. All of us grow older, and closer to our final day in this life, at a rate of 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year. I was saying only yesterday, “I can’t believe it’s mid-November already – it will be Christmas before we know it.” Because this past year has simply flown by.
Yet I recognise that this is a subjective view and that for some people, the months of this year will have dragged, each day seeming to last an eternity. In fact, of course, all our views are subjective, precisely because each of us inhabits a unique body, each of us perceives the present in a unique way, depending on our past experiences, and on our physical, mental and spiritual health.
Yet I share the views of both Richard Rohr and the anonymous author of the Thought for Today post, that each of us can choose how we respond to our experiences, which can make all the difference to our overall happiness or sadness. As Richard Rohr wrote, “Negative energy and intention produce a negative energy response—usually quite quickly. We clamp on to it like Velcro. In contrast, positive energy and intention produce positive energy outflow—if not now, eventually. The positive and appreciative response demands consciousness and choice—and freedom on our part. Otherwise, it slides off us like Teflon. Appreciation and gratitude must be chosen.”
So much of life is outside our control (or at least, partly so) – our health, how other people interact with us, the body and mind and spirit we were born with… we cannot control other people and how they treat us, we cannot control the past, or the future, or the outcomes of our actions (although we can do our best to influence them in the right way), or how well (or badly) we age or our overall health. We cannot prevent ourselves from getting hurt sometimes, and we cannot control how much suffering there is in the world… if only we could!
Yet we can control our responses to all of these. It can be quite difficult to choose not to engage negatively with negative people and experiences, but if we can manage to step back and not indulge ourselves by reacting emotionally – in short, if we can simply allow the flow – I do believe that our lives could be much happier. It’s a matter of learning to let go of what we cannot control and of appreciating and being grateful for all the good that happens in our lives.
Easy for me to say, so difficult for any of us to do! But also, so worth the attempt.
When we do manage to allow the flow, we may find that there is a new calm within us, which may, as the 19th century writer, Adalbert Stifter once wrote, “let us drift carefree to new shores.” Which sounds very attractive to me.
I think he’s right, because he included the word “carefree”. We are often able to drift to new shores under stress (although we may rather be paddling frantically than drifting!) But I agree that in order to be carefree, and to fully open ourselves to the possibilities of allowing the flow and hence reaching those “new shores”, calm within does help. A lot.
Yet as with the cultivation of appreciation and gratitude, this is not as easy to implement as it is to write about. Because it involves living in the present, being happy and absorbed in whatever we are currently doing, as Brenda Ueland suggests. We need to choose 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 surrender to the flow, to be at rest. To sit happily and quietly in the silence, 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. But it is important to try to overcome this instinct, if we can. As the great Greek philosopher Plotinus said, ““In our best and most effective moments, when we really ‘enter into’ our work, we leave it behind… This is the experience of Pure Spirit, when it is turned towards the One. When we reach this stage we often doubt that the experience is real, because the ‘senses protest that they have seen nothing.’ Hence there is a kind of unconsciousness in the highest experiences of the Soul, though we cannot doubt them, not in the least.”
And as Brenda Ueland added, “In other words, it is when you are really living in the present – working, thinking, lost and absorbed in something you care deeply about, that you are living spiritually.”
Yet many of us find it difficult to abdicate control, to allow the flow, to allow things to turn out as they will, without our volition. I have found it so surprising that, when we do manage to do this (or rather, not do it!) matters turn out well, as often as not. Which reminds me of Benjamin Hoff’s wonderful book, The Tao of Pooh, which I quoted extensively from in a service last June. He explains the principles of Taoism through the characters and actions (or non-actions) of Pooh, Piglet, Tiger, Eeyore, Rabbit and the other inhabitants of A.A. Milne’s The World of Pooh. I found reading it enlightening – when I began my spiritual journey I was far more of a Tigger, bounding around enthusiastically, rushing into everything with little or no 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, to allow the flow, like Pooh.
Yet when we can manage it (which will not be always) we will find that an inner calm does descend, and we can “drift carefree to new shores.”
As the great Celtic poet and theologian John O’Donohue, recommends, may we find some grace and awareness within ourselves, so that we are able “to live / Like a river flows, / Carried by the surprise / Of its own unfolding.”
May it be so, Amen
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we learn to allow the flow,
so that we can live in the present,
and let go of the stress and worry,
the desires and grudges of our 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,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley