Service 31.5.2020, 10:30am, Walking our paths with sacred steps
Karl and Mark Stewart
Live Youtube Broadcast and watch again at: https://youtu.be/xGkWP7BNmdk
You join us today from our home, from where we are leading this act of worship for Bristol Unitarians. It matters a great deal to us as a community of seekers, to ask what matters, to ask the why questions, to ask ourselves with each other the same questions. We look to see the matter in seeking and continuing seek all that is tangible, to go over trodden and untrodden ground of faith and belief. Over the past months we have been given a new order to live the fullest at all of our being, to stand, look and wonder at that matters. We have those questions to ask too, so please join us, as we search in this time together. Amen.
Opening words (Karl) Chalice Lighting (Mark)
We welcome you today as you join us, welcome as you maybe join us for the first time, wherever you join us from in our region and further in the extended tapestry of family from our congregations around the country. All people of our many faiths and denominations, you are welcome. Come as one in seeking, as we may join together in searching, as we walk the sacred road together, Amen.
Opening introit – (Karl introduce, Mark play)By Karl
Be in our vision,
Come in our seeing,
Voice of God be in our speaking.
Grace and light, footsteps now walking -
To the day guiding,
Be in the waking,
Be in our working,
Candles of Joy and Concern – Karl introduce
Purple Book no. 30 ‘Each seeking faith is seeking light’. (Karl play, Mark introduce)
Readings from Spiritual Literacy (Mark)
Story ‘A searching Novice’. (Written and read by Karl)
There was a knock at the door of my room, I opened it and there standing was a young man.
‘Are you the minister of the order,’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘How can I help you?’
The man replied, ‘well, you don’t know who I am?’
‘No’, I replied.
He introduced himself as Tom, to which I answered, ‘ah yes, I was told of your coming’.
‘Well what are you waiting for?’ he said.
I was quite taken aback and told him that I didn’t follow.
Tom said, ‘well, you knew I was coming, so let’s get to work then’.
‘What work?’ I queried, to which Tom replied with excitement, ‘well ministering! You know, going out to serve the people. I want to be a minister - this is why I am here, to answer the call, I want to be a minister. I’ve prayed on it’.
‘Calm down, calm down,’ I said, ‘come in, sit down and tell me all you have done.’
‘Well,’ said Tom, ‘where do I start? Let’s see, I’ve done tea and coffee making after the services, I’ve done some church cleaning - not the most enjoyable of things’.
‘No,’ I said, acknowledging this point, ‘not at all - and so have I’.
Tom continued, ‘I’ve been to see people when they have been ill, or when someone dies. I have also spoken with people on the phone if there has been a problem’.
‘So have I,’ I said.
‘I’ve been to the committee meetings, dropped off shopping, given lifts to church,’ he told me, to which I replied that I had too.
Tom said, ‘Wait, what do you mean you have done these things as well?’
Tom continued, ‘And as well as that, I’ve read in services and sung with the choir, and well I’ve even put the money in the bank’, to which I replied that I also had done these things.
Tom really was confused, and so I said, ‘Let me tell you this: all these things you have done are not done once. We do them over, over and over again. But now let me ask you this: when you did all those things, whether with others, or on your own, what did you feel?’
‘Um well,’ said Tom, ‘I felt as though I was part of something’.
‘And now how do you feel about holding reverence to life, and all the people you know and those you will meet on Sunday and all the days after?’
Tom replied to this: ‘I hold all that is life in my heart and all those I see and serve too.’
‘Well,’ I told him, ‘I’d say then you are already part way there to being a minister. The insight is, Tom, it’s not the title that matters, it’s the deeds. Go well and search with all that is life. And do it with gentle and sacred steps’.
Purple Book no.41 ‘From the crush of wealth and power’. (Mark play, Karl introduce)
Walking our paths with sacred steps.
May I invite you to a sacred moment of feeling present, while you sit within the seat of these moments. I would like to picture with you a waterfall just very gently coming over a ravine, that hasn’t been interfered with by any human, it’s just there as part of the stream of nature as the divine unknown spirit intended it to be.
From this as these moments have passed I hope we can look together at the present life, in this real everyday. Over the past months we have had to adapt the way we live, and have had to question the importance of what really matters; we will have had this opened up to us, through each of our individual perceptions. A discovery of treasures and meaningful gifts. The gifts we receive in the grace of the divine in all tangible ways. As this real everyday is temporary there is still much to savour.
During this time we have been given in the very literal meaning of guidance and authority presented with much new and unforeseen regulation, who knew this would be? This will have been for many a challenging tapestry of feeling isolated, boxed in, mentally imprisoned, marginalised. Perhaps not to mention any impression of being disabled in the given everyday, though knowing oneself to be only too able. As the new impression of this life has greeted us with the chance; in the new silence to hear the birdsong, that was always at the same volume. Only now the silence within allows us to hear it all the more.
At the beginning we were invited to look at this waterfall in our mind, this very slight stream of water falling; is running into a stream. I’m standing at a pool as it gathers. Take any colour in the water you wish and call it community.
This is where we are joined in the presence of each other where we are seeing the faces of those we know in the sacred memory of each of our minds, this is where we are seeing the new faces that we all met over the past few weeks in this virtual joining. Where candles were lit and understanding was given, where each other’s stories are held in love, trust, peace and hospitality. Here’s the place where we listen with each other, this is where we are called to enquire, where we find the answers together. With no one leader but that of ourselves. You come to the door and ask why, and have the strength of courage to say here I am also weak, and I don’t know. In a moment of prayer divine and loving spirit, come and join the strength of this community and keep with us the light, as we keep it with you.
You might want to take another colour from the water fall for authority. We were told in the past weeks to almost retreat, not to go out and to only do the essential, shopping and going to work if you had to and just exercise a while. This was all intended in safe keeping for us all. With this we look at this group in community and keeping safe in all we explore. But here this is where we have our own authority, this is where we are in charge of ourselves, we allow he divine to take charge with us. I take this opportunity to ask if you have ever thought of looking back before you came to this Unitarian community or to earlier times if you have been in this community life long. Did you ever think you would have this sort of authority? This is where we are crafting our ways in sacred steps, and these steps are those that are to be trodden gently. This is where we hope to heal with each other, and not feel oppressed.
As we travel together we are granted the grace of the divine to see in each other with love. In this moment of prayer, may we seek in each other the authority to grow, and discover together with the discernment of knowing when we walk together and know when to lead or follow with love.
We have had much time apart, coming back to looking at the waterfall, take a colour out from the water as you wish, and share with someone in your mind that thread, it is a strand to hospitality that says here we come together again. We are here to share this journey together, the door was always and is always open. As we go along the way we pull along the spirit that is there in its presence for us. Whilst we allow the whispers of the small cymbals of love that we are may the words we share, may they travel to the many, not lost in the resonance of the dogmatic deafening clangour. Send them out as we sing in faith’s story and song, this is my home in the spirit, this is your community to come and share in. We are that little whisper to resound with love and take the presence of the silence, as we hear the small voice of stillness within. In this moment of prayer, come to us spirit, be you God or any other, join us together when apart in your flowing love. Allow us your unknowing as we assure with each other.
The sacred path to walk and keep walkingComing back to the waterfall again I wish to take a strand of colour out of the flow and share with you. We may have different colours for what this means to us each as individuals. As we keep walking back to community where the longing is to be together again. At this time in these sacred moments may we bring all the strands of colour we have together, share with all who we meet as we come out of this fasting and share the feast, where all come to be once again. What can we become as we look up and around in all manner of what may appear to be true. In this moment of prayer may we seek the grace of all that is the spirit’s light, the truth in all we seek that we can become.
As we walk this path with sacred steps, may we be the whisper in the winds of change, those words that echo not as the deafening dogmatic clangour, but the small cymbals of love and hospitality we hope to be. May I invite you, or even challenge you share in all that is this very rich and full sanctuary, in this communion. If it is to be said that we are not the church that shuns, judges, turns away, closes the door or the church that says only this is right because the holy law says so.
I ask you to come here and again come with the authority you know you have, or may still be discerning. And we will be the body of grace together that says, ‘Alleluia, hosanna, praise and thanks be’. We will say we don’t know and its as well not to know, we will assure with one another as we seek faith and light. May we walk in the days to come in the mind, body, and spirit of all our journeys, the missions of grace that may take us by our calling, as the light is the beacon that will show the ways to many. And bring the exile home yourself, as all we do matters.
And now some questions to ponder. Is the spirit going to find you new freedom within? Are you going to answer the calling to what you can become? Is there gratitude at the centre of all your being and what you appreciate? Are you all you can be for now? Will you take the grace and reverence of all that is holy? Come again to the holy place, where there is the silence within and greet it with your doubts, as it will greet you with what is to be sure.
In this moment of prayer be you God or any other, be in our vision, in our waking, in all our seeing. And pray with us that this day is true. Amen.
Silence – (Karl introduce. Mark close by playing ‘I think it’s going to rain today' by Newman Randy.Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it's going to rain today
Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles
With frozen smiles to chase love away
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it's going to rain today
Tin can at my feet
Think I'll kick it down the street
That's the way to treat a friend
Bright before me the signs implore me
To help the needy and show them the way
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it's going to rain today
Green Book no.177 ‘We can become’. (Mark play, Karl introduce)
Mark Address: What matters most
During the lockdown, I, like many others have had the chance to reflect on ‘what matters most’.
Time and time again for me, the same questions keep coming up: ‘what is life for?’ ‘what are we meant to be doing in it?’ ‘what constitutes success?’ ‘what is a good use of one’s time?’ ‘what is our mission here?’ ‘what is the point of life?’
It’s often been said that there is no way out of our current form of global capitalism, because all the economies of the world are so interconnected, and it would be mean economic ruin if any country were to withdraw from the global system.
But has this virus offered an unexpected opportunity to press the re-set button on our current form of global capitalism?
Instead of just aiming to go back to business as usual, does this pandemic offer us an opportunity to usher in a new world order, where the resources of the earth are shared fairly amongst its inhabitants, and we treat our resources and our home with respect and care?
I’m imagining a new world order where our value is measured by more than just how much we can contribute to the economy.
I’m imagining a world where we seek and acquire knowledge, for knowledge’ sake – not just because of a financial incentive attached to it.
And where we can learn playfully and inquisitively, throughout the whole of our lives, not just in a tight time-span of our youth, befuddled with deadlines and bench-marks.
I’m imagining a world where retired and elderly people are valued and revered, not dismissed and hidden away.
And where the most prized treasure is the uniqueness of each individual’s experience.
I’m imagining a world where the sharing of our experiencing is not monetised and manipulated like it is in much of social media and popular culture, but where our sharing is treated with honour, dignity and discretion.
Amidst all the sorrow that this virus has brought, there is an opportunity to live differently, and I for one would be very sad to see that opportunity go to waste.
The knee-jerk reaction is for us to be able to return to how things were before as quickly as possible. But the identifying of key-workers has, in a way, sorted the wheat from the chaff, and reminded us of what is essential to life. It has given us a basis from which we can work – bringing back in education, socialising, the arts, entertainment, but maybe leaving out the grind of the rat race, and making money for money’s sake.
The virus has shown us that no amount of money can keep us safe from it. The world needs a new incentive to keep on turning. As painful as it is, we need to ask ourselves ‘what is the point of life?’, ‘what is it for?’, ‘how do we measure success?’ ‘What is a good use of our time here?’
We need to know that there is more to strive for in life beyond the acquisition of wealth, for the health of our own souls and for the health of the planet.
So let’s start to challenge these assumptions in all our interactions. Let’s spread our plan for a new world order in all our conversations, in our social media posts and in the example we set in where we choose to spend our money and how we choose to spend our time. It’s not only bad viruses that can spread from person to person, good news can spread too. Just as we’ve all done our part to stay inside, in spite of the financial consequences, let’s use this opportunity now to spread the message of sharing, looking after each other, playful curiosity, and a new world order.
In this time many of us have been brought to a renewed reverence for and an appreciation of nature, as a grounding, reminding us of what matters most, and what persists. So I would like to finish with this poem,
‘IN THE TIME OF QUIET’ by Philippa Atkin.No one’s told the daffodils about the pause to Spring
And no one’s told the birds to roost and asked them not to sing
No one’s asked the lazy bee to cease his bumbling round
And no one’s stopped the bright green shoots emerging through the ground
No one’s told the sap to rest, deep within the wood
And stop the sleepy trees from waking, wreathed about in bud
No one’s told the sky to douse its brightest shades of blue
And stop the scudding clouds from puffing headlong into view
No one’s asked the lambs to still the springs beneath their feet,
To stop their rapid rush and quell each joyful bleat
No one’s told the stream to halt its gurgle or its flow
And warned the playful breezes, not to gust and blow
No one’s asked the raindrops not to fall upon the earth
And fail to quench the soil in the season of rebirth
No one’s locked the sun down, or dimmed the shimmer of the moon
And even in the darkest night, the stars are still immune
Remember what you value, remember who is dear
Close the doors to danger and keep your family near
In the quiet all around us take the time to sit and stare
And wonder at the glory unfurling everywhere
Look towards the future, after the ordeal
And keep faith in Mother Nature’s power and will to heal
PrayersLet us pray.
We pray when there is no more we can say, or do or give to help.
We pray that the great ‘thy’ will be done.
We hand it over to the divine.
So let us hand over this virus to the divine.
Let us hand over its wide-ranging and painful fall-out to a spirit of wisdom, beyond our present holding and discerning.
Let us pray that the way forward from this pandemic will fall on the minds and the hearts of the power-brokers, as fresh dew of grace, and that we might all discern a new way together.
Let us pray that we have the courage to make the bold choices needed to usher in a new world order of kindness and fairness.
Let us pray for all those suffering at this time to be comforted and upheld. For those mourning loved ones, who might not have been able to be with them at their time of passing.
For the dear souls who have passed on; for their shelter and reconciliation.
For those in fear of the financial road ahead – that we might share more freely with those in need, and that new paths may open up to them.
Let us give thanks for all those who have put themselves at risk to help others at this time. For all those who have used their expertise and skills to save and protect lives.
Let us give thanks to all who have shouldered the burden of responsibility during this time, and let us try to forgive them where they have erred.
In the name of all that is holy,
Purple Book no.196 ‘We sing the faith’. (Karl play, Mark introduce)
Closing Blessing: ‘A blessing to meet again’ by Karl
Until we gather again to become one
May we stay connected
The chalice keeps us joined
Take sacred steps on all our paths
And bless one another
Until we meet again
Until we meet again