"Yes to life - in spite of everything" - Service led by John Harley 15.11.2020

Bristol Unitarians Service 15th November 2020 – Zoom – Revd John Harley. 

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything – what troubles you in these challenging times and can we rediscover our sense of serenity?

Leadin music: Chopin – Waltz in C sharp Minor https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0RFcF48Ebp58PyMPfyxVbd https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1lOVilzLQuYY2fnFrQ76DK

Opening words

Chalice lighting

By ee cummings

Hymn - Now Thank We All Our God (lyrics on video)


Reflections on Autumn

I asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, "No. During the whole spring and summer I was completely alive. I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this form. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, 'I will see you again very soon'."

That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from the leaf.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

A poem written by our very own Karl and recently published in the Inquirer


Here in Autumn's waking

This new and familiar season is born,

Returning as it did last year,

Putting to rest the exhausted branches of Summer's leaves,

So strong, the trees holding.

The new day

Again and again.

Just as the sun rises as it's able,

Over the houses and office blocks.

The crisp morning air that passes undaunted,

Again, find ourselves coming full circle,

Walking the path through the season.

Autumn hasn't a promise or oath,

It just is.

This Autumn sun

Different in its purity;

Not that of Summer -

It has a new message.

Every walking and waking second

A falling leaf passes by again.

Whilst these days put to rest the summer,

We know it'll come again,

But first let us see the beauty of each season as it arises,

It has no wish from now to the next.

The season just is,

Winter isn't far - that'll tell us another story.

For now we can enjoy the leaves

And the work that we see squirrels doing:

Feasting and searching with each other,

As they, like us, harvest for Winter's coming.

May we all remain present as will the seasons,

As the Autumn days turn straw-like in the fading sun

And the sepia light,

As it finds its way to the joyful dark of sunset.

Karl Stewart, Bristol Unitarians.

Max Richter – Autumn 11 The Four Seasons Recomposed


Candles of Joy and Concern

Let us pray –adapted from a prayer by Renee Senolges

What troubles you? What stresses you out? What do you worry about?

Serenity – Emmanuel Lopez https://open.spotify.com/track/29p3MoJADyj8W6i1Y1eYO2

Sharing of troubles…..

I have gathered some wisdom for you.

In the night, when the owl is less than exquisitely swift and perfect, the scream of the rabbit is terrible. But the scream of the owl, which is not of pain and hopelessness and the fear of being plucked out of the world, but of the sheer rollicking glory of the death-bringer, is more terrible still. When I hear it resounding through the woods, and then the five black pellets of its song dropping like stones into the air, I know I am standing at the edge of the mystery, in which terror is naturally and abundantly part of life, part of even the most becalmed, intelligent, sunny life — as, for example, my own. The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. There is only one world.

Mary Oliver

No one can feel free from danger and destruction until the many torn threads of civilization are bound together again. We cannot feel safer until every nation, regardless of weapons or power, will meet together in good faith, the people worthy of mutual association. There can be a happy world and there will be once again, when men and women create a strong bond towards one another, a bond unbreakable by a studied prejudice or a passing circumstance.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Frankl writes:

It is not only through our actions that we can give life meaning — insofar as we can answer life’s specific questions responsibly — we can fulfill the demands of existence not only as active agents but also as loving human beings: in our loving dedication to the beautiful, the great, the good. Should I perhaps try to explain for you with some hackneyed phrase how and why experiencing beauty can make life meaningful? I prefer to confine myself to the following thought experiment: imagine that you are sitting in a concert hall and listening to your favourite symphony, and your favourite bars of the symphony resound in your ears, and you are so moved by the music that it sends shivers down your spine; and now imagine that it would be possible (something that is psychologically so impossible) for someone to ask you in this moment whether your life has meaning. I believe you would agree with me if I declared that in this case you would only be able to give one answer, and it would go something like: “It would have been worth it to have lived for this moment alone!”

Viktor Frankl

The Northern Lights – Ola Gjeilo https://open.spotify.com/track/06xbnCwbZ6ccSij5v9ccOt

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Serenity prayer

Hymn: Just as long as I have breath


Closing Words
Expect Life!

By Elizabeth Tarbox

Expect Life By Elizabeth Tarbox from her book Evening Tide

Do not live too far in the past or the future. Live now.

In each moment expect a miracle: ten kinds of birds at the feeder, and the tracks of a fox in the snow.

Pick up a magnifying glass and scrutinize that crocus. See the pollen at the center of the daffodil, life's dust, death-defying life. Be astonished at the flower, arrested by its beauty.

Run naked through the garden early in the morning and hope the wild geese fly by.

Get silly and laugh loudly with your grandchildren or your grandparents. Refuse to leave the dead behind, but bring their memory to all your chores and games and corners of quiet, warm tears.

Know always that joy and sorrow are woven together; one cannot be without the other. If you love, know that sometimes your love will bring you tears; if you grieve, know it is because at some time you were willing to love.

Do not be afraid to die today. But expect life!

Music: Landau by Penguin Café and Kathryn Tickell https://open.spotify.com/track/3NL6X66aAV7cGNVAMIok5g