This Being Human – 26/04/20

Hello everybody and welcome to Essex Church and to this podcasted Sunday morning message for Kensington Unitarians and for all of you listening in, here in London, in other parts of the UK and around the world. Thank you to Abby Lorimier, our music scholar who is currently with family over in the States and who has contributed music to start and finish today’s message – from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite 3.

Before starting this recording each week I sit and imagine people listening in to our Sunday message sometime in the days ahead. Some of you I know well and may have heard from you in the last week or two. Thank you for being in touch. Some of you I’ve never met, or not yet anyway. Our ages will vary and our life circumstances too. But what we all have in common is our shared humanity and that’s what today’s message is all about. I hope it can be of use to you, wherever you are, whatever your situation, whoever you consider yourself to be, and however you are feeling at this time. Let’s each of us find a comfortable place to sit and be for this short time, just 15 minutes or so of time for us, time for reflection, time for new insights perhaps to emerge. And what a time we are going through – ‘unprecedented’ is the word we hear used again and again to describe an experience that none of us have shared before. So many people, in so many places, being asked to physically isolate ourselves from one another in order to halt the transmission of a virus invisible to the human eye. So many people with lives disrupted and routines turned upside down. How often in our Sunday services have we considered that our experiences in life are both unique and shared – all part of what it is to be human. And this being human doesn’t always go to plan, does it.

So I invite us all to take a few conscious breaths, allowing our breathing to steady and settle us as we think of the 7 and a half billion or so fellow humans we share this planet earth home with – many of whom will be dealing with lives not as they were just a few weeks ago. Let’s breathe into what we are personally experiencing, and release any thoughts and feelings that are not serving our highest good at this time. And through our breathing let us send thoughts of compassion to all those who are troubled or uncertain or unwell this day.

This podcast is just one of the ways our Kensington Unitarians community is keeping in touch. Everyone is welcome to join us at our weekly coffee morning or Thursday afternoon group on Zoom, or the Heart and Soul sessions that are now being run online throughout the week. Or let us know if you’d like a phone call or a card. There are people who’d be glad to get in touch with you.

Each week I’m lighting our Unitarian chalice flame here in our church and inviting you to light a candle too – so do pause this message if you want to light a candle of your own, or simply imagine one burning brightly for you. Its flame is connecting us one with another and it’s symbolising our connection with communities the world over who care, as we do, about justice and freedom and living according to our values as best as we can. I hope this candle flame that burns in the chalice next to me can help you sense a connection with all those you love around this world, all those you share life experiences with, all those whose hearts like yours yearn for a fairer way of living for all beings.

And let’s take that yearning for justice in the life of our world into a time of reflection and prayer as we call on the divine spirit of life and love to be with us now and to bless all that we engage with this day. May our day be filled with gratitude, for even the smallest gifts of life we notice this day. Let us not miss those small gifts for they are still precious – the simple foods, the small gestures, the tiny glimpses of beauty we might sometimes fail to spot.

And for many of us in recent days there will have been times when we have fallen short of our aspirations – when we have been less than we might wish to have been – let us accept all that we are and have been as part of what it is to be human – flawed creatures living imperfect lives, yet with potential to pick ourselves up and re-set our aims once more. May we find in our hearts the power of forgiveness when it is time to forgive – forgiveness for ourselves and others.

And may the love we feel for others in our world beam out now to all those we know to be in need this day – the individuals and the societies known to us personally or those we hear of only in the news. And let our prayers be with all those working in health services the world over, that they may be properly equipped to do the jobs we expect of them, that they may be fairly paid for putting their lives on the line for us, that they may know our appreciation and care, as they care for us.

And in these times when we so need committed leadership, may all leaders commit themselves to working tirelessly for the good of all, beyond political parties and ideologies. May our world leaders be inspired truly to work together for the common good. And may we too be inspired to think beyond our own small lives and to think rather of the greater good of all, this days and all days, amen.

This Being Human is a Guesthouse’ by Rumi
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Our thanks to Jelaludin Rumi, 13th century Sufi poet, and thanks to Coleman Barks for his inspired translations of Rumi’s texts. Our every day lives are often quite busy guesthouses for every emotion under the sun. But tell people they can only go out once a day for an hour’s exercise, tell people they can’t see their friends, use public transport, go shopping, enjoy sports, do their work, go to school – the guesthouse of unwanted and uninvited emotions soon becomes quite crowded for some of us. I wonder how your guesthouse has been recently. I’m still working and talking to lots of people and finding out how people are responding to these changed times we are in. I’m delighted to hear from people who are by and large feeling quite settled, enjoying a change of routine, finding pleasure in their own company and having plenty to do. Rather more of us are unsettled in one way or another, challenged by the enforced changes, feeling anxious or disturbed.

This week has been the start of the Islamic festival of Ramadan, a sacred time for Muslims, marked by fasting during the hours of dawn to dusk and deep spiritual reflection. I wish all who will be marking this festival Ramadan Mubarak. Greetings to you all at this holy time. The roots of the name Islam refer to submission to the will of Allah. I don’t know about you but I need periodic reminders in life that I am less in charge of my own existence than I sometimes imagine or hope to be. Living through a global pandemic that has turned ordinary life upside down may be just the time for us to think about what we can and cannot control in life. If Jelaludin Rumi was with us today he’d be encouraging us to gain all we can from this experience – extolling the value of accepting all that comes our way and allowing it to flow through us, not clinging on unnecessarily, yet holding ourselves open and available for all that may arise. Unexpected guests, guides from beyond, let’s value each and every insight that comes our way in the week ahead. Let’s move beyond our preferences of liking this and not liking that, of appreciating this and despising that. This being human is a guesthouse and we’re clearly not entirely in charge of the guest list. What a surprise!

And so my friends all blessings for the days that lie ahead, with thanks for the sublime music of Bach played for us by Abby to end our Sunday message and with the words of Rev. Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr originally written in 1943, and known now as the serenity prayer:

“God, give us grace
To accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things that should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish
The one from the other.”

Amen, go well all of you and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

26th April 2020