Comfort Ye, My People – 19/04/20

Comfort me, comfort me, comfort me o my soul, comfort me, comfort me, comfort me o my soul.

Hello everybody and welcome to Essex Church and to this podcasted Sunday morning message for Kensington Unitarians and for our friends around the world. Thank you to Jen Hazel for singing for us this morning, a message of comfort for these troubled days.

I’m imagining you listening in to this message sometime in the days ahead and I’m hoping that this connection can be of use to you, whoever you are, whatever your situation, wherever you are, and however you are feeling at this time. And what a time we find ourselves in – with so many people, in so many places, being required to physically isolate ourselves from one another. We often remind ourselves in our regular services that our experiences in life are both unique and shared – all part of what it is to be human. As many of our everyday lives continue to be turned upside down, I think some of us are needing to take time quite consciously to settle ourselves, to breathe into what we are experiencing, so let’s now take this time to be with what is, allowing the gentle rhythm of our breathing to steady us in the here and now, sensing a worldwide connection of faith and love and compassion, reminding us that we are not alone.

Today’s podcast lasts about 15 minutes and it’s one of the ways we Kensington Unitarians are keeping in touch as a community. Do think of joining us at our weekly coffee morning or Thursday afternoon group on Zoom or let us know if you’d appreciate a phone call or a card. There are people who’d be happy to get in touch with you.

Each week I light our Unitarian chalice flame here in our church building and invite you to light a candle too – whenever you want to tune in to something greater than yourself, whenever you seek a way to convey your care and concern for others – as our Quaker friends say – ‘to hold one another in the light’. And that’s what I’m doing right now – holding all of us in the light that we might know reserves of strength and wisdom and comfort are there for us to access whenever we are in need. Persian mystic Hafiz wrote ‘I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being’. May that astonishing light be with you in the days ahead – a source of strength and wisdom and comfort for each of us.

And that word ‘comfort’ has been much with me this week. I’ve been touched to hear healthcare workers explaining the efforts they make to comfort those in their care. I can imagine that you, like me, are so grateful to everyone who is working to support the rest of us – those in hospitals and other care settings, those in shops and in transport, people out in the fields picking our vegetables. And I won’t be the only one feeling frustration and anger that key workers do not always have the safety protection that they need to do their jobs properly.

So let’s take the strength of our feelings into a time of shared reflection and prayer and call on all that is just and merciful to be with us now, to hold the power of our feelings in this time when so many of us feel powerless – that our shared concerns may be channelled in ways that bring about change – that our society’s systems might work more effectively and that we as a world community might work together for the greater good of all. As we face the shared problem of a virus that is new to our human immune systems, may all leaders and scientists of the world be inspired to share problems, insights and solutions. May all leaders be guided towards truth, truth that rests beyond all bluster and pretence. May they find the humility to admit when they have made mistakes and do not know which way to turn. For is that not what it is to be human – aren’t most of us uncertain and unsure at times, don’t we too make mistakes and lose our way?

When life troubles us may we be comforted by all that is kind and of good cheer and may our yearnings for justice be translated into actual changes in our world community, that through this crisis new ways of being might emerge, that will better serve all living creatures and will properly care for our planet earth home – the earth that nurtures the precious gift of life we have each have been granted. May we be guided to use that gift wisely and treasure it, this day and always, amen.

And so friends, some thoughts on this word comfort, that will perhaps spark off ideas of your own. I wonder where you are right now? Do you have a particularly comfy place that you like to sit or lie? A friend was describing their dog Buster to me the other day and how that now the spring sunshine has arrived Buster has re-discovered his favourite spot in the garden where he curls up and soaks up the warming rays of sun – all day if he’s allowed to. What are your favourite spots at the moment? People tell me of their favourite tree that they like to visit in the local park or a view out of a window that always lifts their spirits. Some of us find certain pieces of music especially comforting or like to return to old books or poems, which bring us a similar kind of pleasure as talking to an old friend.

Most of us have self-soothing techniques to help calm us and steady us, especially when life is challenging or frightening and it all feels too much to bear. And like most things human, self-soothing can be helpful or harmful or a bit of both. As we move into a further phase of physical distancing here in Britain and other parts of the world it might be time to look at our habitual ways of being and check that they are serving us well. ‘Moderation in all things’ my dear mum used to say to us all when we were young – until a wayward friend taught us Oscar Wilde’s version – ‘moderation in all things, including moderation’. But it’s up to us to decide what works for us in life, it’s up to us to decide if we’ve got the balance right for now and we can use our reflective abilities and perhaps have a chat with someone we trust to help us review how we’re dealing with these very strange times.

I’m not the only one who has re-discovered the comfort to be found in cuddly toys. One of the youngsters who joined our recent online coffee morning was mightily amused to see plenty of older people with favourite teddy bears or other stuffed toys that we were happily introducing to others. It reminded me of AA Milne’s description of Piglet in the book Winnie the Pooh.

“But Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two.”

Well I don’t know about you but I keep forgetting what day of the week it is or what I’m meant to be doing next and I’d probably struggle to recite the seven times table if I was put on the spot. So if you are feeling anything similar then I do hope we can find our version of a small stuffed toy called Piglet who slips so easily into a pocket and is very comforting to feel.

And we all know that the spiritual path is filled with contradictions. No sooner have I suggested that we all hunker down and find our sources of comfort, then I’m telling you to watch out that we don’t become too comfortable. These days are troubling and because of that they hold great potential. These days are disrupting the lives we took for granted, the ways of living we considered to be normal. But our old ways of being, for many of us, were lives of great privilege, and came at a certain cost for others and for our planet earth home. I was inspired by these words doing the rounds recently on social media from Brene Brown ‘We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.’ Thank you to Brene Brown for those inspiring words: ‘We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.’

Yes we need to find sources of comfort for ourselves and one another but let’s not get too comfortable. Let’s not miss this quite remarkable opportunity we are in to turn a keen eye to the ways of our world. Let’s speak out clearly about all that feels wrong to us and work together with others to build new ways of being, ways that could make life truly more comfortable for all people, for all creatures and for this, our planet earth home.

And so a Closing Blessing before Jen Hazel sings for us again:

May our week ahead be filled with the comfort we yearn for and the discomfort we need, that pain might be eased and potential reached, singers of the songs that the spirit longs to hear. Amen, go well all of you and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

19th April 2020