Living in Uncertain Times – 17/05/20

Once again our thanks go to Abby Lorimier for providing the beautiful cello arrangements to accompany this podcasted message for our Kensington Unitarians community. Good morning everybody and welcome to you all. Our opening tune was from the chant – by the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept – and its haunting harmonies speak to me of times of uncertainty and anxiety. In a week when our politicians have tried to speak with confidence of a roadmap to bring our society out after two months when we have mostly stayed at home, many of us find ourselves unsure that such a map is ready to be drawn, never mind followed.

All the more important then that we nurture our spiritual resources to guide us through uncertain, or uncharted territory. My hope is that this Sunday Message will help steady and strengthen us, support us in being able to find paths that are right for us, encourage us to trust our inner sources of guidance, unique to us and our own particular circumstances.

So let’s start by bringing all of ourselves to this time and to the place where we are. Let’s scan our own bodies and our own sensations to assist us in being in the here and now, following our own breathing, deepening and lengthening each breath and allowing the slowing of our breath to bring a sense of relaxation and greater ease. Let’s lay to one side any disturbing thoughts or feelings, any sense of judgement that we or our situation should be different from the way they are. Just for now let us rest in a knowing that it is OK, that we are OK, using the remarkable power of accepting what is, of being at peace with the circumstances we are in, of telling ourselves that it is alright to feel what we feel. Whatever we feel.

And into this field of acceptance let us bring the light of our Unitarian chalice flame, which signals the warmth of acceptance that all humanity yearns for. In our Sunday services we will often welcome people ‘whatever you are, wherever you come from, however you are feeling this day and whosoever you choose to love’ – for ours is a universalist message of love for all humanity. You may wish to pause this message now and light your own chalice flame connecting you with people the world over, or simply imagine such a flame shining brightly within your heart now.

I’m grateful to whoever passed on this reading to me. It’s called Life’s Beautiful Uncertainty … and it’s taken from a book published in 2015 by author Matt Haig called Notes on a Nervous Planet.

‘Maybe happiness is not about us, as individuals.
Maybe it is not something that arrives into us.
Maybe happiness is felt heading out, not in.
Maybe happiness is not about what we deserve because we’re worth it.
Maybe happiness is not about what we can get.
Maybe happiness is about what we already have.
Maybe happiness is about what we can give.
Maybe happiness is not a butterfly we can catch with a net.
Maybe there is no certain way to be happy.
Maybe there are only maybes.
If (as Emily Dickinson said) ‘Forever — is composed of Nows — ‘, maybe the nows are made of maybes.
Maybe the point of life is to give up certainty and to embrace life’s beautiful uncertainty.’

Let’s take that image of life’s beautiful uncertainty into a time for reflection and prayer now when our spoken prayer will lead into Abby’s repeat of the waters of Babylon tune and that will be followed by a short time of shared silence for our own thoughts.

And so let’s call on the spirit of life and love to be with us now and to bless all that we say and do this day. And may the god of our hearts and our understanding, the divine presence, the mystery of all that is, within us and beyond us, help us to know our intimate connectedness with all life. This connectedness can comfort and restore us in these times of fragmentation and isolation. Let us say to ourselves: I am a unique and essential part of the greater whole, part of all existence. I bring my unique offerings to the world.

And let us give thanks for the gifts of others, all those who are working so hard in the fields of care giving and health care and politics and science and those maintaining essential services. Let us give thanks for those who run businesses and who are dealing with such unexpected times, some taking a terrible strain upon themselves.

Let us find the gracious depths to thank even those we disagree with, those we doubt, those we fear even – for these are essential aspects of life here in human society. Let us especially honour all those who admit they do not know, are not sure, all who are brave enough to embrace uncertainty in nervous times, for their honesty encourages us to be honest in our not knowing.

And as we embrace uncertainty may our prayers embrace all those who suffer this day – the anxious, the frightened, those in physical pain and all who are unwell, those who are in need of medical care and all who are reaching the end of life and those who are suffering the heartache of bereavement, of hopes dashed and futures brought to a halt.

And in this time of stillness I invite you to speak your own prayers for those you love, for those you are concerned for and for all places in our world where people’s lives are unimaginably tough. This day can we particularly focus our care and concern on the people of Syria and the Yemen and Afghanistan that peace might prevail in their societies and allow much needed food and medical supplies to reach all who are struggling to survive. Let us never be so concerned with our own struggles that we forget the struggles of our wider world, where justice is still but a distant hope. And let us seek this in the name of all that inspires us to seek a world of greater equality for all beings, and to this aspiration let us say amen.

One of my sources of comfort in these disturbing times is to return to favourite books of old and one of those was written by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety.

Watts writes about our yearning for security: ‘To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.’

So let’s do all we can to live peaceably in a state of not knowing, in the state of uncertainty and constant change which is life itself. Paradoxically, the more we can accept how we are and hear the message that all our feelings are ok, even the disturbing, the violent, the uncomfortable and contradictory, the greater our ability will be to live well in uncertain times. We’ll be hearing Abby’s cello music at the end of today’s message. The tune comes from the American folk tradition and both its tune and lyrics speak to me of our yearning for a better world.

American Catholic writer Brian Doyle clearly understands our human yearning for certainty when he writes: “Of course you do your absolute best to find and hone and wield your divine gifts against the dark. You do your best to reach out tenderly to touch and elevate as many people as you can reach. You bring your naked love and divine courage and salty grace to bear as much as you can, with all the attentiveness and humor you can muster. This life is after all a miracle and we ought to pay fierce attention every moment, as much as possible. But you cannot control anything. You cannot order or command everything. You cannot fix and repair everything. You cannot protect your children from pain and loss and tragedy and illness. You cannot be sure that you will always be married, let alone happily married. You cannot be sure you will always be employed, or healthy, or relatively sane. All you can do is face the world with quiet grace and hope you make a sliver of difference.”

And so my friends a closing blessing for our week ahead: may each of us learn better how to live in these uncertain times. May we become students of life itself and practice our skills in facing the world with quiet grace, hoping we can make a little bit of difference in the life of another. May our words soothe another’s suffering, may our acts ease the lives of others, may our kindness touch another’s heart. And may we treat ourselves with equal kindness that love may indeed flow freely through us.

Amen, go well and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

17th May 2020