Bristol Unitarians Catch-Up 25/05/2020

Here's what you missed!

Transcript of Rev. John Harley's 'Thought for the Day' on BBC Radio Bristol, 22/05/2020

The very popular yearly event in Bristol - the Grand Iftar - was due to take place last night and sadly was another casualty of the pandemic – it attracted 6000 people last year – from all different faiths and none. The Grand Iftar is the street celebration which marks the breaking of the fast towards the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Instead Muslims4Bristol delivered a thousand hot meals to key workers. Hopefully Bristol will plan an even bigger Grand Iftar next year. Ramadan commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed – peace be upon him. I wonder whether many of us have experienced some kind of revelation during the lockdown. I looked up the definition of the word revelation in the dictionary and it said ‘something that is revealed - especially an enlightening or astonishing disclosure’. For many of us the last few months have been very tough and frustrating – domestically and financially – for many there has been the heart-breaking loss of loved ones due to Covid 19 - yet also some of us have discovered a sense of grace or enlightenment. There have been revelations of creativity – people of all ages rediscovering their imagination and drive to create, revelations of being more aware and awake to the beauty of nature, revelations of compassion towards NHS staff and all the key workers who give their time and skill to the common good and revelations of what really matters in life. I hope we can all ease the lockdown safely and gently - may we also take all our personal revelations into our everyday lives for they are precious insights.

Sunday Worship on 17th May 2020 with John and Lizze Harley

Seeing the dearest freshness deep down things – a quote from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins 

Music: With a little help from my friends – James Taylor

Chalice lighting

Our lives of are made up of small moments:

Having a quiet thought that makes us happy

Wondering about a question that puzzles us

Giving help to another

Listening to a person and being listened to

Sharing something that makes us sad to a friend

Noticing a bird or a tree or a flower of beauty

Offering a thought that might help, just a little to make more sense of it all

Our gathering here is just such a moment

It is a small thing we do in gathering, in joining up together beyond space. Yet it is significant. May we affirm and celebrate the moments that we share here today.
Let us be mindful in this sacred space of words by

Emily Dickinson: “Forever is composed of moments.”

May we be present in these precious moments we have been given


Words adapted from those by Bruce Marshall

Welcome – to all of you wherever you are, whatever you are holding in your heart in this moment, whether you have a poor connection or a strong connection with this technology, or a fuzzy or clear picture, all of your being is invited - you are welcome and you are with us loud and clear in this holy time

Let us say hello and greet one another in any way you like – we can bless each other, do virtual high fives – use what ever sign you like to be fully present and say good morning….

"You've Got A Friend" by Carol King

When you're down and troubled,
And you need some love and care,
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me,
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there
You've got a friend

If the sky above you grows dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind begins to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud
Soon you'll hear me knocking at your door

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, running, yeah, yeah, to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there
And I'll be there, yes I will.

Now, ain't it good to know that you've got a friend
When people can be so cold?
They'll hurt you, yes, and desert you
And take your soul if you let them,
Oh, but don't you let them

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, running, yeah, yeah, yeah, to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there, yes I will.
You've got a friend

You've got a friend
Ain't it good to know, you've got a friend?
Ain't it good to know?
Ain't it good to know?
Ain't it good to know, you've got a friend?

Oh yeah, now
Oh, you've got a friend
Yeah, baby
You've got a friend
Oh yeah...
You've got a friend


Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio
A True Story

It was the bitterly cold winter of 1220 in the Italian town of Gubbio. The snow was falling heavily and the ground was covered in ice.

The animals in the woods and the countryside were starving. They could find no food in the freezing conditions. In order to survive, the hungry animals went into the town where the people fed them scraps of food.

One day, a hungry wolf arrived in the town. Just like the other animals, he too was searching for food.

The people were terrified of him, so they hid inside their houses. Children were not allowed to play outside. Everyone was too frightened.

The wolf returned each day.

A young man called Francesco arrived in town. He came from the nearby town of Assisi. Francesco loved animals and he knew how to speak their language.

The people of Gubbio told Francesco about the dangerous beast that was scaring the town.

So, Francesco decided to visit the wolf.

In the forest, the wolf jumped out from behind the trees, growling and showing his sharp teeth. He tried to frighten Francesco but it did not work. Instead, Francesco just stood calmly and said, "Brother Wolf, be good! "

The wolf stood still, listening to Francesco's words. The young man continued to speak:

"The people of Gubbio wish to live in peace. They are very frightened of you. If they promise to feed you every day will you promise to be their friend and to stop killing the animals?"

The wolf listened carefully.

A few moments later, he lifted his right paw for Francesco to hold. Everyone could see that the wolf had changed and that now he was their friend.

Every day, during the next two years, the wolf visited the town of Gubbio, but the people were no longer afraid! They left plates of food outside so that the wolf could eat plenty. Children stroked him and played with him.

The wolf was happy because he no longer suffered from hunger and he felt loved by the people. He was not a dangerous beast. Instead, he was a true friend.

Everybody was happy.

The people of Gubbio lived peacefully with the wolf for two years, until a tragedy occurred! The wolf died! The people of Gubbio were heart-broken and they all wept with great sadness. The wolf, who was once considered an enemy, was so terribly missed.

They had lost a great friend: their Brother Wolf.

A time of prayer

On Wednesday the Bristol Unitarian community were shocked by the sudden death of one of our beloved friends – Jean – our thoughts and prayers are with her family. Let us now join together for some time of stillness and peace – many of us have experienced grief or loss in these strange and disconcerting times, we appreciate your realness and humanness in this moment - let us reach us reach out to all those who are experiencing loss and lostness in these challenging times – let us be alongside each other, let us hold out our hands, let us all remember our place in the vast tapestry of life and death, and our belonging in the family of all things.

Let us hold some silence within some words of prayer which will be followed by a piece of choral music exploring the gift of compassion


“When sorrow comes, let us accept it simply, as a part of life. Let the heart be open to pain; let it be stretched by it. All the evidence we have says that this is the better way. An open heart never grows bitter. Or if it does, it cannot remain so. In the desolate hour, there is an outcry; a clenching of the hands upon emptiness; a burning pain of bereavement; a weary ache of loss. But anguish, like ecstasy, is not forever. There comes a gentleness, a returning quietness, a restoring stillness. This, too, is a door to life. Here, also is the deepening of meaning – and it can lead to dedication; a going forward to the triumph of the soul, the conquering of the wilderness. And in the process will come a deepening inward knowledge that in the final reckoning, all is well.”

~A. Powell Davies



May you be blessed in the holy names of those
Who, without you knowing it,
Help to carry and lighten your pain.

May you know serenity
When you are called
To enter the house of suffering.

May a window of light always surprise you.

May you be granted the wisdom
To avoid false resistance;
When suffering knocks on the door of your life,
May you glimpse its eventual gifts.

May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.

May memory bless and protect you
With the hard-earned light of past travail;
To remind you that you have survived before
And though the darkness now is deep,
You will soon see the approaching light.

May the grace of time heal your wounds.

may you know that though the storm might rage,
Not a hair of your head will be harmed.

John O'Donohue


followed by Philip Glass Compassion from his Symphony No 5

All people have the heart
which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others.

– Mencius 2.A.6

Gladly do I rejoice
In the virtue that relieves the misery
Of all those who suffer
And place them in happiness.

Thus by the virtue collected
Through all that I have done,
May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.

May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Til everyone is healed.

May a rain of food and drink descend
To clear away the pain of thirst and hunger
And during the aeons of famine
May I myself change into food and drink.

May I become an inexhaustible treasure
For those who are poor and destitute;
May I turn into all the things they could need
And may these be placed close beside them.

– Bodhicaryãvatãra 3:1, 7-10

Candles of Joy and Concern

May all our hopes and prayers and wishes burn brightly in our lives and show us the way on all our journeys



God's Grandeur

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Written by Lloyd Stone in 1934 between the world wars – it was a song of hope for all nations ‘for lands afar and mine’ – he acknowledged love for his own country but balances this with the love that others feel around the world for their nations


(Jean Sibelius - Finlandia 1899 / Words Lloyd Stone - 1934)

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

A song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is,

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating,

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,

A song of peace for their land and for mine.

Margie and Chris…..

Reading: An extract from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Victor Frankenstein comes face to face with the creature he has brought to life high up in the mountains. Victor narrates:

"Devil," I exclaimed, "do you dare approach me? And do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head? Begone, vile insect! Or rather, stay, that I may trample you to dust! And, oh! That I could, with the extinction of your miserable existence, restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered!"

"I expected this reception," said the dæmon. "All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends."

"Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art! The tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! You reproach me with your creation, come on, then, that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed."

My rage was without bounds; I sprang on him, impelled by all the feelings which can arm one being against the existence of another.

He easily eluded me and said,

"Be calm! I entreat you to hear me before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous."

Address – John

Lizzie and I recently watched the National Theatre production of Frankenstein online – it was awesome in the real sense of the word. In the scene we witnessed in the reading the scientist and his creation come face to face in the wilderness – and they seem like equals somehow – they both need each other – they are both flawed beings – Frankenstein is obsessed with science and recognition and seems unable to allow his family to love him, and the monster is rejected by society and simply in need of love and kindness. The dialogue that takes place high up in the mountains is moving, desperate and somehow beautiful – perhaps they listen to each other for the first time in the story. One ground-breaking feature about the production was that the two actors – Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller swapped the roles of the troubled scientist Frankenstein and his suffering creature over alternating nights – and this, for me, really worked because of course their fates are woven together, they are like two sides of one personality and perhaps they are an embodiment of humanity and how we relate to all that we create and produce and invent.

Mary Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was just 18. It is possibly one of the most powerful stories exploring the human shadow – the scientist rejects his own creation as soon as he sees it’s twisted form – but his creation tracks him down causing mayhem. Frankenstein wont face up to the chaos he has brought into the world. The concept of the shadow was studied by the swiss psychoanalyst C J Jung – the part of ourselves we don’t want to accept – many stories help us explore it – including the Wolf of Gubbio – St Francis advises the villagers to feed the wolf rather than hunt it - I guess we all have a shadow – so do societies, institutions and nations – even economic systems – humanity does also.

This made me think about our present situation. For many people the lockdown has made time stand still – for some of us we feel we have a stronger dialogue with the natural world, rediscovering a sense of grace and mindfulness – a new dialogue with neighbours, strangers, a sense of compassion and love, really, for key workers and those that risk their lives for us and a renewed opportunity to be more tuned in with ourselves - for some they feel more aware of their dreamlife. Incidentally Mary Shelley based Frankenstein on a dream she had.

And what about the wilderness of international relations and domestic politics? Can we befriend our shadow in these realms – can nations reach out to eachother and work for the common good in fighting the virus? Is there a new spirit of cooperation and collaboration across parties in the House of Commons? The poisonous and polarised politics we saw in the Brexit arguments seem to have given way to a calmer, more respectful atmosphere in the chamber. I have seen opposition parties seek genuine dialogue with the government and seek the truth through tough questioning. There seems to be less name calling and more calling to account.

Many of the mystics remind us it is never too late for us to start a dialogue with a neighbour or a family member or friend we feel distant from or a part of ourselves. Forgiveness and hope are obtainable and possible.

Rumi, the Sufi poet of the 13th century said “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”

Even if you have broken your vow a thousand times. Beautiful words. And In the story of Frankenstein the monster describes himself as a fallen angel. Aren’t we all fallen angels in some shape or form?

Our relationship with our extraordinary planet is not broken beyond repair. Isn’t it remarkable that only a few months ago we were witnessing huge protests by Extinction Rebellion saying enough is enough - that we have to take climate change seriously and make real sacrifices. The critics said those rebels are in cuckoo land – and that we can’t stop consuming and flying and polluting – it’s just how Capitalism is wired. And look at what we have achieved now - even if it was in response to a pandemic – we can have an honest conversation with Mother Earth – we don’t have to stay in denial.

Perhaps one of the biggest legacies of the lockdown is that yes anything is possible for humanity. Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem God’s Grandeur expresses there is always hope, always a chance to press the reset button, a time to rebuild. He writes ‘there lives the dearest freshness deep down things……

The world broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings’ Amen

"With A Little Help From My Friends"

What would you think if I sang out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song
And I'll try not to sing out of key
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm gonna try with a little help from my friends

What do I do when my love is away?
(Does it worry you to be alone?)
How do I feel by the end of the day?
(Are you sad because you're on your own?)
No I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm gonna try with a little help from my friends

(Do you need anybody?)
I need somebody to love
(Could it be anybody?)
I want somebody to love

(Would you believe in a love at first sight?)
Yes I'm certain that it happens all the time
(What do you see when you turn out the light?)
I can't tell you, but I know it's mine
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Oh I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends

(Do you need anybody?)
I just need someone to love
(Could it be anybody?)
I want somebody to love

Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm gonna try with a little help from my friends
Oh I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends
With a little help from my friends

Copyright: Writer(s): Paul McCartney, John Lennon

Benediction: Be like water

run deep run clear
fill any space to its
own dimensions
respond to the moon, to gravity
change colors with the light
hold your temperature longer
than the surrounding air
take the coast by storm
go under ground
bend light
be the one thing people need, even when they’re fasting
eat boulders, quietly
be a universal solvent

by Rev Kendra Ford

Music: Ain’t no mountain high enough – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Coffee and break out groups