Here and Now – 05/04/20

Good morning everybody and welcome to Essex Church and to this special podcast of a Sunday morning message for Kensington Unitarians and for all of our friends around the world. It’s good to think of you listening in to this message sometime in the future. This podcast lasts about 15 minutes and we’re recording it in week three of our new way of being, avoiding physical proximity, but more than ever seeking out new ways to stay together. Our church building remains closed but our church community stays connected and we’re working to ensure everyone can keep in touch. So please do send us a message and let us know how you are.

Let’s use this short time as an opportunity to settle into ourselves, to rest for a few minutes, knowing that though we may be alone, we remain connected through time and space to so many other people going through similar experiences to us. So I invite you to settle into wherever you are right now, on a favourite chair perhaps or cushion, and allow your breathing to help you find a sense of calm, to sink a little bit deeper into your sitting or lying, aware of all the places your body is touching the chair or floor, aware of gravity weighting you down and connecting you with our mother earth home on whom we depend and upon whom the days of our lives are lived. And through this earth connection we are part of all that lives, part of the great inter-connected web of all existence.

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, feel free to pause this podcast now and light your own candle. Having a lit candle with us or even simply a picture of a candle flame, can be very comforting and can remind us that just as one candle flame can help light a thousand other flames, so too may our simple presence help bring warmth to others.

And as I sit here now with this chalice flame, I’m beaming out that warmth to all of you who might be listening some time in the future. Please know that there are people who care about you, who love and respect you, and who are looking forward to a time when we can meet again.

For Christians around the world, today is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, the day that marks Jesus’ ride into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey – greeted by a crowd singing his praises and laying before him the traditional palm leaves reserved for royalty and victory marches. Yet within a few days the same crowd would be calling for his death. Life can take sudden and unpredictable turns, as many of us are experiencing right now. Who could have imagined just a few short weeks ago that we would now be expected to isolate ourselves from one another, that so many people would have been laid off work or required to work from home, that all of us are being told to stay at home and away from others.

In such unexpected times we need to find inner resources that can help keep us steady – I wonder if this line of poetry from Wendell Berry speaks to you as it does to me – he writes “I rest in the grace of the world and am free.”

And I invite you to join me in a short meditative time when these few words will be followed by a short time of stillness,
May you rest in the grace of the world and be free.
In weakness, may you sense the strength of the eternal hills, and rest in the grace of the world.
In failure, may you be upheld like the buoyancy of water, and rest in the grace of the world.
In limitation, may you remember that your inner choices may be as great as the expanse of the sky, and rest in the grace of the world.
In insecurity, may you feel the solid earth beneath your feet, and rest in the grace of the world.
In despair, may you hear the joy in birds’ singing, and rest in the grace of the world.
In fear, may you feel the warmth of the strengthening spring sun, and rest in the grace of the world.
May each of us rest in the grace of the world and feel free.”

Here in Britain and in so many other countries of the world we have reason to give thanks for our health service and to all the nurses and care workers and doctors – all those who are working tirelessly to care for those who are unwell.

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 people of the earth and especially all those who care for others, those working in health and caring professions.

Let us extend our gratitude towards all those whose work is needed to keep our society functioning with as much efficiency as it is – those who clean our streets and deliver our post, grow our food and work in our shops, the scientists and all those seeking to ease the troubles this coronavirus has brought to our world community. May all those whose work is particularly challenging, dangerous or demanding feel our acknowledgment of their sacrifices, made for the greater good of us all. And may we who have been asked to stay home and stay safe, do that with a good will, knowing that we too make our sacrifices for the greater good.

And may we also understand with compassion those who find it difficult to comply with such rules, those whose lives are chaotic or who struggle to live alone or with others in cramped conditions. Let us particularly today think of those whose home circumstances are difficult.

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 demanding times (pause) ………. May the love and care you are feeling beam out now to those in need and may they be comforted by your love, and to that let us each say, amen.

I’ve called this Sunday message ‘Here and Now’ yet I’m probably not the only one who still rather wishes that we weren’t here in this situation that we’re in and that ‘now’ could return to ‘back then’ when we thought that life would continue much as it usually does and that our best laid plans would unfold just as we wanted them to. I am painfully aware, as I know you too will be, of all those whose lives are being profoundly and personally affected by the coronavirus pandemic and my heart goes out to all those who are ill, all those who are bereaved, all those who are dealing with loss and the fear of loss. One of the many people currently being cared for by the NHS here in London is the poet Michael Rosen and he is particularly in my thoughts because of a poem he wrote to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of our health service. It’s called These Are The Hands – and here are the first few lines of his poem:

“These are the hands
That touch us first
Feel your head
Find the pulse
And make your bed,”

The poem lends its title to a new anthology of poetry by NHS workers that is raising money for NHS Charities Together’s urgent Covid-19 appeal. Rosen wrote a foreword for the collection, which was published last week, in which he described the NHS as “a perfect symbol of how we can care for each other across a whole society”. You’ll be able to find the complete poem online or get in touch and I’ll send you a copy. And do hold Michael Rosen and his family in your thoughts and prayers these coming days, along with all those who are caring for him and the many others they are treating.
It is not easy is it, to stay in the here and now during difficult times. Our minds are designed to be busy. Our thoughts rush around trying to make sense of the senseless. We go back into the past and chew it over, again and again. We race into the future and imagine we can make life a bit more safe and predictable if we just think a bit harder about it all. We soak up information about the circumstances we are in and find it hard to switch off from the news or the websites or the opinions of others. No amount of telling ourselves that the past is over and the future is yet to be will still a troubled mind. We need to strengthen other resources instead. Our spiritual practices can help us in these times – handing over responsibility to a power greater than ourselves, trusting in something other than ourselves, calling on the god of our hearts and our understanding or whatever wording and imagery works for us. Exercise can help us ease our minds too – taking a walk or a bike ride or doing some digging in a garden or simply emptying a drawer or a cupboard and having a good clear out – or maybe listening to some favourite piece of music or working on an art and craft project.

And we can utilise some simple techniques designed to help people to stay in the present moment by focusing on our senses. You may know this exercise to help calm anxiety, which I’m finding helpful at the moment. It’s also easily adapted if any of the senses mentioned don’t work for you. You can create your own favourite list of ways to be in the here and now. You might like to give this one a try right now. Focusing on breathing in slowly and steadily, deep down into your belly and slowing your outbreath, allowing a little pause between the in and the out breath. Finding a gentle steady rhythm for your breath.

Now I invite you to find 5 things that you can see around you and say their names out loud or quietly in your mind, 5 things you can see right now. Now 4 things you can touch – your head or hair or knee perhaps, the arm of a chair, a pet, a piece of paper, a phone or laptop. Now find three things you can hear and say their names. Then two things you can smell and one thing you can taste – that coffee or tea you drank a while ago perhaps. Let’s use this simple exercise to steady ourselves whenever life feels a bit too much, whenever we find ourselves losing our calm centre.

So my friends, a closing blessing for all of us in the days ahead:

Adapted from words by James A. Hobart

As we depart one from another, let our hearts be secure through every human season.
Let our hearts be secure in seasons of anguish as in seasons of joy, in seasons of failure as in seasons of success, in seasons of uncertainty as in seasons of security.
Let our hearts be secure in this (dual) reality: we are worthy recipients of love and support we can never earn, and we are worthy providers of love and support others cannot earn.
Let our hearts be secure, for hearts know and understand and will respond when invited in. May it be so. Amen, go well and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

5th April 2020 (Palm Sunday)