Being Together in Times of Loss, Beauty and Joy - service from Rev. Lindy Latham 10.5.2020

Being Together in Times of Loss, Beauty and Joy.

Good morning to you all!

As we join together – perhaps not all at the exact same time – I invite you to have a candle or special object to focus on during times of contemplation.

It is a great privilege to be sharing my thoughts and those of others with you all during these extraordinary times as we gather together feeling loss, seeing beauty and hopefully experiencing joy in a new and different way.

[If you have copies of the Purple Hymn book [Sing Your Faith] and like to sing-along, you may like to have it to hand.]

Chalice Lighting
[ by Rev. Cliff Read]

We kindle the spark of God within ourselves when we serve others,
and bring a glow of joy to other people's lives.

Opening Words
[ by Rev Cliff Read]

We gather to share our faith
in the spirit of freedom,
our doubts
in the spirit of honesty.

We gather to focus our love in prayer,
to send it to those who suffer and grieve-
in our own community
and in the wider world.

We gather to strengthen
the goodness that is in us,
that goodness may be
stronger on the earth.

We gather to worship.

Welcome to this time of sharing.

Whatever time it is, and wherever you are this is a time for us to come together with the sense of community, to turn aside from distracting pre-occupations and to make time for contemplation and prayer and a space for you to bring to mind your own personal joys and concerns and the prayers in your hearts.

I know that hymns are meant for singing! However, sometimes reading them can bring a greater meaning to the words when are not struggling with an unfamiliar tune!

So with this in mind...I invite you now to sing or read the words of our 1st hymn taken from:

SING YOUR FAITH 181..Wake, now, my senses...

Wake, now, my senses, and hear the earth call;
feel the deep power of being in all;
keep with the web of creation your vow,
giving, receiving as love shows us how.

Wake, now, my reason, reach out to the new;
join with each pilgrim who quests for the true;
honour the beauty and wisdom of time;
suffer thy limit, and praise the sublime.

Wake, now, compassion, give heed to the cry;
voices of suffering fill the wide sky;
take as your neighbour both stranger and friend,
praying and striving their hardship to end.

Wake, now, my conscience, with justice thy guide;
join with all people whose rights are denied;
take not for granted a privileged place;
God's love embraces the whole human race.

Wake, now, my vision of ministry clear;
brighten my pathway with radiance here;
mingle my calling with all who would share;
work toward a planet transformed by our care.

A story...

I imagine that many of you, like me, are wondering what are the right things to be doing at the can we be of best use to each other and the world.
Some of the time I feel selfish here in my own home and garden surrounded by a lovely tree filled green space and not being able to do much to help those in desperate situations.
I found some comfort in this story which although better with pictures [and maybe some puppets!], I will attempt to share with you now.

The Three Questions
[based on a story by Leo Tolstoy, adapted by Lindy]

There was once a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act.
I want to be a good person” he told his friends. “But I don't always know the best way to do that”
His friends wanted to help him and so he asked them three questions:

  • When is the best time to do things?
  • Who is the most important one?
  • What is the right thing to do?
His friends were Sonya the heron, Gogol the monkey and Pushkin the dog.
They all did their best to answer and be helpful and in answer to “what is the right thing to do?” this is what they came up with:

  • Flying” said Sonya the heron
  • Having fun all the time” answered Gogol the monkey.
  • Fighting” barked Pushkin straight away.

......but Nicolai, however much he loved them, did not think their answers were quite right.
I know” he thought.. I will go and see Leo the turtle. He has lived for a
very long time...he will know the answers to my questions.

And so after a long hike up the mountain where Leo lived, Nicolai found him digging in his garden...he was old and digging was hard for him.
Nicolai then asked Leo his three questions:

  • When is the best time to do things?
  • Who is the most important one?
  • What is the right thing to do?

Leo listened and sat down as he was tired, and Nicolai carried on digging for him.

Just as he had finished, the wind blew and it started to rain heavily and as they moved to the cottage, Nikolai heard a cry for help. A little way down the path he found a Panda whose leg had been injured by a fallen tree.
Nicolai took the Panda to Leo's house – made a splint for her leg. He put her to bed and she went to sleep, but on wakening she said:

Where am I and where is my child?”

The storm was still raging, but Nikolai went out to look for the young panda. He found her, cold and shivering in the woods and took her to her mother who was so happy to see her.….

In the morning the storm had eased, the sun was shining and the Pandas were happy to go back home.

Nikolai felt as peace with himself...he had wonderful friends and he had saved the panda and her child...but he still had a sense of disappointment... he had still not found the answer to his questions.... so he asked Leo once more..

But your questions have been answered!” he said.

Have they?” said Nikolai

Yesterday, if you had not stayed to dig my garden, you wouldn't have heard the Panda's cry for help in the storm. Therefore the most important time was the time you spent digging my garden. The most important one at that moment was me, and the most important thing to do was to help me with my garden.
Later when you found the injured panda, the most important time was the time you spent mending her leg and saving her child. The most important ones were the panda and her baby and the most important thing to do was to take care of them and make them safe.”

Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now.
The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.
For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in the world”

This is why we are here”.

Time now for personal reflection on these words by Henri Nouwen:

We cannot change the world by a new plan,
project or idea,
We cannot even change other people by our convictions,
stories, advice or proposals,
but we can offer a space
where people are encouraged to disarm themselves,
lay aside their occupations and preoccupations
and listen with attention and care to the voices
speaking in their own centre.”

I invite you now to take the time you need
to meditate on your own joys and concerns....
to the story of the three questions...
to the voices in your own centre..

Now let us “sing” again!!

SING YOUR FAITH: 211, Where are the voices for the earth?
[verses 1, 2&4]

Where are the voices for the earth?
Where are her eyes to see the pain,
wasted by our consuming path.
Weeping the tears of poisoned rain?

Sacred the soil that hugs the seed,
sacred the silent fall of snow,
sacred the world that God decreed,
water and sun and river flow.

We are the voices of the earth,
we who will care enough to cry,
cherish her beauty, clear her breath,
live that our planet may not die.
Shirley Murray b. 1931

A Story from “The Moth Snowstorm” by Michael McCarthy.

River estuaries play an important part in Michael McCarthy's book – the story of his heartbreak of the destruction of wildness, of wilderness in the name of progress.

This story focuses on the South Korean determination to build and modernise their country in the name of economic growth, being blind to what they were doing to the natural environment.

There was protest after protest about a project to build a sea wall – possibly the longest in the world – at Saemangeum, a tidal flat on the coast of the yellow sea in South Korea.

Yes, Saemangeum, the tidal estuary, home to a vast population of wildlife is gone because of the sea wall.

To feel the real impact of this story you need to read it – but I would like to convey a little of the pain suffered by so many as they watched this awful event unfold. - being powerless to stop it.

Finally in 2003, two Korean Buddhist monks and two Korean Christian ministers led a SAMBOILAE.

This is a long spiritually and physically demanding “physical meditation”.

SAMBOILAE means”Three steps and a bow”. Doing three steps and then dropping on their knees and bowing to the ground.
This was done to express their sympathy with the creatures that would die in the estuary's destruction.

This meditation took them 65 days – done in all weathers- from Saemangeum to Soul.
When they arrived in Soul, the two monks and two ministers were met by 8,000 people.
This story brought up many feelings for me – gratitude, the need for forgiveness, regret, a humbling and sense of powerlessness and much more.

All of us, in varying degrees, are complicit with so much of the destruction going on in our planet. We cannot help it – we can only do our best.

For me I have thought that such a simple and deeply spiritual action could be used in other situations – helping me to be more mindful of things I take for granted ….on my daily walk pausing occasionally and bowing my head for a few moments to increase awareness of what I can so easily forget.
You might like to try this now for a few minutes, walking slowly round your chosen space with occasional pauses to bow your head in contemplation....

And now words of meditation leading to a time of quietness
and personal reflection.

You can't remake the world
without remaking yourself.
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.
We could use it
to turn on our inward lights.
We could use it to use even the dark
and negative things positively
We could use the new era to clean our eyes,
To see the world differently
To see ourselves more clearly.

Ben Okri from his book “Mental Fight”:

Thoughts and reflections..

Writing this on May 8th, VE day 75 years ago, I am mindful of the mixed emotions that day [and today] of the great sense of loss as well as joy and relief.

There have been many comparisons made between World War 2 and what we are experiencing now.

Although different in form, many of the same emotions are being triggered.... fear and division together with sadness and loss and anger.... and maybe hope for a better future from lessons we have learnt.

.... we can also perhaps see that there could be a similar root cause for both of these worldwide events.......the need for power and control...and the drive towards material greed and benefits for a few, ignoring the needs of the many including of course the natural world.

And so, using some of the thoughts of Joan Bakewell – writer and broadcaster – she says that:

The war taught us many things: fellow feeling, shared values, resourcefulness. ...we knew it would end and that the world would be changed.
Above all, we appreciated the power of the state to organise for the benefit of we acknowledge the damage the recent years of austerity have done to the lives of the poorest and in that sense to us all. With both the war and the pandemic have come the resolve, hardly formulated today but widely shared, that we can't go back to the old days.”

Words of hope.

As well as the grief, despair and loss that has and is being experienced, the one great gift that they have given the world, I believe, is this sense of togetherness.

Of course, even without wars and pandemics, pain and suffering goes on all day, everyday everywhere, and we can so often be caught up, as is only natural, in our own personal concerns that we can forget that the way we live can have a much larger impact on all our sisters and brothers world wide.

Wars and pandemics force us to focus – they make us sit up and be more aware – to open our hearts and see beyond our own green and pleasant land, our own circles of family and friends, our own local communities.
Of course it can also do the opposite. It can create barriers of fear and greed, encouraging us to hunker down and look after our own.

I feel a bit hunkered down right now, but like many of you, not through choice.
I feel limited as to what I can do to help those in far more desperate situations than mine..I am aware of how fortunate I am...

It is easy then to feel guilty, and then to feel uneasy about feeling guilty because it is not a very helpful emotion! Or is it?

It could be used as a stimulus to help us to focus and unlock the the gifts we have that can be used to make a difference.

So on Thursdays we go out into the streets to show our appreciation to all the front line workers...

This Friday is VE day, a day when we give thanks for the ending of the war in Europe 75 years both cases not forgetting the enormous pain and loss created in these situations.

So this is where we start, being together in loss laced with gratitude and thanks. Loss can bring into sharper focus other emotions and feelings and actions.

My loss of freedom has given me a greater sense of what is going on around me – friendship with neighbours I hardly knew.......the opportunity to grow plants from seeds knowing I would be able to take care of them...[ not always going away!]

Children not going to school are finding new ways of getting on with their siblings and doing remarkable things to help [some of the time anyway!]

Our Unitarian Heart and Soul Zoom gatherings are connecting us with a wider community – some world wide – some of no faith. This “Doing Church” without the usual building and format and expectations can offer a more open and safe space for people to explore their own spiritual needs.

Loss brings with it new experiences.

Crisis creates new opportunities.

I have shared Michael McCarthy's story about the Monks and Christian leaders expressing their sorrow to the earth and creatures sacrificed in the name of progress.
In the same book Michael tells stories about beauty and joy.

Here is one of them I am going to simply call “Bluebells” [slightly adapted]

He starts...

.”Let me tell you about a wood. Five times in the one week I went to this wood.
Five separate trips, on five successive days.
And each time, after the first time, I paused before entering. I savoured the moment. It felt like the anticipation before meeting a new lover – the elevated heart beat, the certainty of impending pleasure – but it was more than that, it was the anticipation of a sort of ecstasy, at beholding what the wood contained, hidden in its depths, which was something truly exceptional, as exceptional as a crashed flying saucer, I found myself thinking.
Each time I stopped at the gate I said to myself, I know what is in there........

It was blue
It was a blue that shocked you.
It was a blue that made you giddy.
It was a blue that flowed like smoke over the woodland floor, so that the trees appeared to be rising out of it, a blue that was not solid like a blue door might be solid but constantly morphing in tone with the light and the shade, now lilac, now cobalt, a blue which was gentle but formidably strong, so intense as to be mesmerising: at some moments it was hard to believe it was composed of flowers...

But that was the beauty and joy of the bluebells.....their floral richness...a dozen bluebell heads nodding on every thousands of overwhelming blueness at the bottom of the woods.”

It is, I believe, this beauty which can bring us great joy even in times of loss of whatever kind, human kind or in the natural world.
Faith in something greater than ourselves...

Beauty and joy come in many forms... through love and care for those we know and don't know and by receiving the kindness of strangers.....

Yes, this crisis has created opportunities to find joy in places we least expect or may have taken for granted or just not noticed.

For me:
  • Finding a meal in my porch as a gift from my new neighbours:
  • Watching my runner bean seeds germinating and the leaves unfurling.
  • Noticing the incredible beauty of the pine tree flowers before they turn into cones.

I could go on, but now it is your turn!

If you are on your own, you might like to make a list of what brings you joy...
If you are with a partner or family you may like to share with each other.

Now it is time for our last hymn:

Sing Your Faith 98: Love will guide us.

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
hope inside us will lead the way
on the road from greed to giving.
Love will guide us through the hard night.

If you cannot sing like angels,
if you cannot speak before thousands,
you can give from deep within you.
You can change the world with your love.

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
hope inside us will lead the way
on the road from greed to giving.
Love will guide us through the hard night.

Sally Rogers

Closing Words

Hold in your thoughts all that lies in your heart.

Hold in your thoughts all that gives you joy.

Hold in your thoughts all that gives you solace and peace.”


With very much love to all of you and hope to “see” you soon, and also to truly “be with you soon.”

With thanks