How Are You? – 29/03/20

Good morning everybody and welcome to Essex Church and to this special podcast of a Sunday morning message for Kensington Unitarians and for all our friends around the world. Thank you for listening in. This message lasts about 15 minutes. We’re recording this message in week two of our new way of being – avoiding face to face contact and instead finding new ways to connect, one with another. I wonder how this last week has been for you? Let’s each of us take a moment to think back, to take stock, to ask ourselves how would we describe the last week in a few words.

I’ve heard from people who are understandably anxious about these sudden changes to our lifestyles, some people are experiencing a great sense of loss at not being able to meet up with friends or family, at having routines disrupted and being forced to stay mostly indoors. For many living alone, social isolation can indeed bring actual feelings of isolation, of loneliness, whilst others seem to be enjoying time alone and a sense of settling in to an unexpected but perhaps quite welcome retreat from the outside world. Some of you are living with others and may be delighting in one another’s closer company, whilst others I know are finding enforced togetherness quite difficult. Some people have very real, practical concerns – about food supplies perhaps or access to medicines, some are facing serious financial worries and my heart goes out to you if these are situations that you are in. I’m also holding all of you in my heart who have concerns about your health for one reason or another. Just because a new virus has sneaked into town it doesn’t send all other health issues away, does it.

So let’s imagine these many and varied situations we find ourselves in, let’s keep breathing, calmly and steadily, breathing in acceptance of all that is and breathing out all that we feel ready to let go – our anxieties and fears, our responsibilities, the many practical issues that require our attention – for now let’s stay with our breathing, in the here and now of wherever we are.

I am sitting here with a simple candle flame in our Unitarian chalice, a symbol of the cup of all being and all oneness that holds us all in every moment of our lives, connecting us with the unity of all existence, reminding us that we are truly never alone, that there is a power greater than all of us and within all of us, that connects us and is our true source, experienced differently by each of us, yet there for us in whatever way has meaning for us. If you are someone who finds comfort in a candle flame, why not stop this podcast for a moment now and light your own candle, and have a lit candle or even simply a picture of a candle flame with you whenever you want to connect with a comforting presence.

And as I sit here now with this chalice flame I’m beaming out a sense of connectedness and love and compassion to all of you who might be listening in at any time in the future. If ever you are feeling a bit troubled, why not light a candle, focus on its flame, a tiny flame which manages to encompass both fragility and power, and through your focus on the flame sense your connection with the greater life of all that is.

Here’s a poem written by American poet William Stafford called Yes. Stafford writes simply and manages to express deep and serious matters with a sparkle of light. See what you think of his poem called ‘Yes’ – the words of which you’ll be able to find online if you want. He’s writing about life not being in our control and yet our having the ability to find some bonuses in any circumstances. It’s poem that could have been written for our times.

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out — no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

And so I wonder what bonuses there might be for you in these strange new circumstances we find ourselves in. Are you noticing small details more than usual? The planet Venus shining so brightly in the night sky, the new moon that will be showing more of her lunar beauty each night now until the super full moon on April 8th. The spring blossom if you are living in the northern hemisphere, along with the bird song which continues even through the night here in London. Are you appreciating food more, now that it is a little more uncertain? Or friendship, when a text message, card, email or phone call take on greater meaning than they might generally have.

If life and all its struggles start to seem too much for us it can help to make a list of gratitudes – of the bonuses of our current lives. I hope each of us has some bonus in life to feel gratitude for right now.

And I invite you to bring that feeling of gratitude into a shared time of reflection and prayer now as I call on the spirit of life and love to be with us now and to bless all who are connecting in this way.

As our world community is called on to deal with this serious health situation, let us beam out a mighty message of gratitude to all the carers and health workers who are daily doing all they can help to help those who are suffering. Let us give thanks for their hard work, their commitment, their courage and their skills, all of which are being put to the test in the tough times we are in. May we who must simply isolate ourselves, do that to the best of our ability, knowing that we do that not just to keep ourselves safe but also to keep everyone else safe too and to avoid placing any greater strain on our health services than is already there.

Let us hold all the world’s leaders in our thoughts and recognise the impossible strain that is placed upon them. May they rise to the challenge of working together as a world community, may they step beyond any petty factionalism and be inspired to be greater than they might sometimes be. May they inspire us to think of the greater good of all and may we control our impulses to blame or fault find or to think only of ourselves. Our world needs each of us now to step up into a new way of being, of thinking globally and bringing new life to the knowledge that we are truly in this together.

Each of us will have people in our lives for whom we hold particular care and concern – in a few moments of shared stillness now I invite you to say your own prayers, your own words of compassion for those known to you personally or the people and places in the world who are especially suffering in these difficult time (pause) ………. May the love and care you are feeling beam out now to those in need and may our world be a little brighter because of your presence in it this day, and to that let us each say, amen.

I’ve called this Sunday message ‘How are you?’ It’s a question I’ve been asked quite a bit this week and I’ve been asking people the same. How are you? In everyday life we’d probably ask a question like that and not expect much of an answer. ‘Fine thanks and you?’ would be a standard social response wouldn’t it. But we’re not in everyday life anymore. Our normal everyday lives have been turned upside down, for most of us that is. So this week when I’ve asked people ‘how are you?’ I’ve heard a much greater variety of answers and many people have answered in much greater depth. That’s certainly true for me. I seem to be living in an extended therapy session at the moment where feelings are heightened, where one issue can easily trigger off some memory, some new connection or insight. My brain is making connections between all sorts of different times of my life. I’m not feeling comfortable or peaceful, but I’m certainly feeling alive and awake. I’ve decided to look on this as a bonus of these troubled times – just about every daily routine has been shaken up and disturbed and I’m no longer taking anything for granted.

So when I ask you ‘How are you? I wonder what emerges for you. And I wonder if you can find someone to reach out to, to explore what’s going on for you at the moment. Because you matter. And what you are experiencing matters. And because for each of us there will be people we can turn to. Not meeting up physically, because by isolating our physical beings we are giving everyone a chance to stay healthy and virus free. By isolating our physical beings we are giving our healthcare system the best chance to help those who are in need right now and in the days ahead. So the challenge for us is to find other ways to turn to one another – through online meetings and emails and phone calls and chats across the garden walls, and waving at neighbours and writing letters and sending cards. Let’s be as inventive as we can be in making the connections we need and to ensure that nobody is left out. Let’s each of us make an effort in the week ahead to check in with someone new and ask them how they are. Let’s each of us in the week ahead make the effort to go a little deeper when someone asks us that ‘how are you? question. For we know don’t we that every time we express ourselves a bit more fully, a bit more deeply, every time we share some of our vulnerabilities, we encourage another person to do the same. And that’s how we build intimacy in human relatedness, though we may be thousands of miles away from each other, or simply in the next street.

There’s a quote that really speaks to me – taken from Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings – in which the Hobbit Frodo Baggins says wistfully that he wished this hadn’t happened. Isn’t there a wistful Hobbit in most of us at the moment that wishes this horrid and frightening virus had not appeared in our lives. ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’ said Frodo. ‘So do I’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’ And that’s our task isn’t it – to decide what to do with the circumstances we find ourselves in, to decide what to do with the time that is given us, to decide what to do with the resources we have, however limited they may be.

So my friends, a closing blessing for all of us in the days ahead: may we be gentle with ourselves and one another. May we understand our many resistances to accepting how things are, and the resistances that others will be experiencing. And then let us ask one another ‘How are you?’ and take the time to answer fully and to listen fully – knowing that through our deep sharing of life’s both tough and beautiful moments we are helping to create a world of connectedness, compassion and love. May those qualities sustain us and strengthen us until we meet again, amen, go well and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker