What Wondrous Love – 03/05/20

Good morning everybody and welcome to Essex Church and to this podcasted Sunday morning message for our Kensington Unitarians community and for friends the world over. Our message this morning began with the hymn tune What wondrous love is this – a beautiful piece from the Sacred Harp folk hymn tradition and I’ll be reading those words as a meditation later in this message. Thanks to Abby Lorimier who created today’s cello arrangements for us.

This podcast lasts about 15 minutes and it’s an opportunity to tune in to ourselves – so I invite you to do that now – take a conscious breath and check how you are right now. Are you sitting comfortably? What could help you feel more relaxed? Do you need to take more care of your physical well-being in the days ahead and what simple steps could you take to ease your body?

How is your emotional well-being in these strange times? Can it be ok with you, to feel all that you feel, with all the contradictions that are part of our emotional lives? Can you find someone to share your experiences with, someone who accepts you just as you are? Our community of the spirit will gladly put you in touch with someone to talk to if you let us know your need.

How are your thought processes chugging along? Are you spotting when your thinking is sticking in those habitual ruts? Are you able to broaden your awareness and accept that you won’t be right all of the time? This especially goes for any of us who find ourselves in positions of leadership right now!

Let’s together create this as a sacred time and space, made holy by our attentive presence. Let’s be willing to transcend the everyday and bring new vision, new insight to our lives and to the life of our world.
Beside me today I have our Unitarian chalice flame burning brightly and beaming out a message of inclusion to you all, connecting us with progressive communities the world over, where people are inspired to live lives shaped by their values and by their commitment to building a world of greater justice and deeper more wondrous love.

I wonder if these hymn words speak to you as they do to me – what wondrous love is this? For me the words are a reminder of the power of love and friendship to lift us in life’s toughest moments, in those times that come to all of us, when we feel ourselves sinking down. This is a love and friendship that transcends life and death, a love that reaches effortlessly across physical distance, time and space. I hope each of us in these challenging times we’re in can find our sources of love and connection, to help us know we are never alone. So let’s appreciate the message of these three verses, whatever they say to us, and they’ll be followed by cello music and a brief silence, before we move into a time of reflection and prayer:

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this
that brings my heart such bliss,
and takes away the pain of my soul, of my soul,
and takes away the pain of my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down beneath my sorrows ground,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul, O my soul,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul.

To love and to all friends I will sing, I will sing,
to love and to all friends I will sing.
To love and to all friends
who pain and sorrow mend,
with thanks unto the end I will sing, I will sing,
with thanks unto the end I will sing.

And so let’s invite the spirit of life and love to be with us now, the god of our hearts and our understanding, mystery of all that is known and unknown – let’s each of us tune in to that which calls us to be the best that we might be, to that which reminds us that we are loved and accepted just as we are, that which knows us to our very core of our being, our secret yearnings and places of shame, our hopes and our fears. Let’s bring all of us to this time and this place and allow ourselves to be whole, to be complete – in understanding that the more we can accept ourselves in our frailty and our magnificence, so too will we be better able to accept others in their entirety. Each with unique gifts to bring to our world.

And as the countries of the world each attempt to deal with the effects of a viral pandemic, let us pray for all leaders that they may be inspired to work together for the good of the world community rather than working for their own country alone. May leaders be inspired to co-operate, to share their wisdom as well as their practical resources. May each of us be inspired to share rather than to hoard, to co-operate and seek ways forward rather than to live for ourselves alone. May our world community awaken to the reality of our shared planet earth, a deepening understanding that our actions affect others for we are bound with ties of mutuality and inter-dependence.

With gratitude in our hearts let us offer prayers for all those working in health and social care, all those working in shops and other essential services. With every mouth of food, and sip of water, each switching on of light and gas, may we be aware and thankful, knowing that such simple luxuries are still only available to the privileged of our world.

And let us pray for all those who are unwell, those who are bereaved, all who are frightened, or find themselves in economic distress. May wondrous love hold all in their time of need and may we hold all those who suffer in our hearts, held in the light of love and compassion. And to this aspiration let us each say amen, so may it be.

So friends, I wonder how you are doing this week? It’s part of my job to keep in touch with people and it’s a delight to hear how peaceful these days of staying at home are for some of us. But they are in the minority. I’d say most people I speak to at the moment are experiencing the inevitable stresses of a life so far removed from normal. Some are living in circumstances far from ideal – facing practical difficulties or the challenges that come from close proximity with people you may be very different from. Being apart together can really add to a sense of isolation. I’m not alone in feeling angry and irritated more than I usually feel – it can be quite a challenge can’t it to own our own distress in response to this curtailment of our freedoms. If you are struggling with loneliness or any other feelings at present please do let someone know. And if you are longing to escape, if frustration is getting to you, seek some support from someone who knows you well and who will accept all you’re experiencing and then remind you that we are keeping our physical distance from one another in order to keep everyone safe from infection. And this too shall pass. For now let’s rest in a wondrous love that takes us far beyond the details of our day, let’s rest back in the arms of something far greater, a love that connects one with all and that will guide us and protect us when we find ourselves sinking down.

I’m recording this message just after the earth centred festival of Beltane, the first of May, a festival that celebrates fertility and love and passion and new life. Springtime is moving into early summer here in the northern lands. Traditionally this is the time when cattle are led out into the pasture and though our freedoms are still constrained I hope we can find our inner freedom in the days ahead and be inspired by a wondrous love that transcends all lockdowns, all boundaries and borders. May each of us know such a love.

Today’s message will end with another favourite hymn tune played by Abby on the cello – Tis a gift to be simple tis a gift to be free ….. to turn, turn, will be our delight, til by turning turning we come round right. A tune to cheer our spirits.

And here is a blessing for each of us, a blessing for Beltane, written by ministry student Laura Dobson:

Even as we cannot touch
Hand to hand
May we keep touching
Heart to heart

May you know Love
Within and without
May the buds of your imagination
Blossom and bloom
Into ripe fullness
May you flourish and flower
Like the incredible Being
You Are

Go well all of you in the week ahead and truly blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

3rd May 2020