In the Storm Together – 24/05/20

Hello everybody and welcome to our Sunday message for Kensington Unitarians and our friends around the world. We’re all here spinning in space on our blue boat home of a planet, all together, and yet also apart, all in this experience of life together and yet living such different lives. I can’t remember now which hapless politician foolishly said that we were ‘all in this together’ – meaning that we’re all having to stay at home and be physically isolated from one another. It didn’t take long for people to point out sharply that the experience of being forced to stay at home is shaped by the size of your home, the state of your bank balance, whether or not you have the skill or the funding to access the Internet, how available green spaces are for you and whether you feel safe – either indoors or outdoors, the kind of relationship you have with those you are sharing living space with, or how near and how kind or how noisy, or nosy, your neighbours are when you live alone. The list of the variables in our lives never ends.

Writer Damian Barr explored this idea further in a poem that starts
I heard that we are in the same boat.
But it’s not that.
We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.

So I invite you to ready yourself for a reflective time, made holy by our many connections the world over, our ties of kinship and friendship, of shared values and a commitment to making this world a better place for all, a place of greater equality, greater compassion, greater love.

I’ve lit our Unitarian chalice flame and invite you to do the same if you wish, its light reminding us of the light we bring to the world when we share our stories and listen to one another, and show interest in one another.

So let’s take a moment of stillness, let’s take a conscious breath, breathing in and out, bringing all of ourselves to this moment, to the here and now of our living, and to the 7.8 billion people who live with us here on earth.

Writer and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams has long been a favourite of mine, bringing together as she does individual and collective human existence along with a deep concern for the care of the earth. She wrote:

‘A good friend of mine said, “You are married to sorrow.” And I looked at him and said, “I am not married to sorrow. I just choose not to look away.” And I think there is deep beauty in not averting our gaze. No matter how hard it is, no matter how heartbreaking it can be. It is about presence. It is about bearing witness. I used to think bearing witness was a passive act. I don’t believe that anymore. I think that when we are present, when we bear witness, when we do not divert our gaze, something is revealed—the very marrow of life. We change. A transformation occurs. Our consciousness shifts.’ Words from Terry Tempest Williams.

And so I invite us to take that idea of bearing witness to the world’s sufferings into a time of reflection and prayer now as we allow ourselves to go deeper and to connect with that which we hold to be of ultimate worth, the ground of our being and the source of all that is; the great mystery of which we are all part. All of us, not just some of us.

And let us be brave enough to bear witness to our own lives in honesty – our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, the ways we may have fallen short in the last week of how we might aspire to be, the times when we have felt lost and alone and uncertain.

And let’s take some time to hold a steady and unflinching gaze upon all that troubles us about our world – situations that may elicit our disappointment, our disgust, the cruelties and injustices – let us hold witness to the many ways that human life falls short of how it might be. Let us bring our presence, our simple presence, to what is, that having borne to witness to what is, we may also be part of what might be, a great flourishing for humanity that we know could be possible, a recalibrating of the scales of justice to favour those in need rather than those who have too much, the discovery of new ways of living that could be sustainable for all beings and could save our miraculous planet earth for generations yet to come.

And in a shared moment of stillness now I invite you to speak your prayers for those you know to be in need this day – the individuals and the places in the world most in need… that your love and your care may touch those in need this day and that by perhaps just small acts of kindness life might be made easier for another because we have done something this day, and may this be for the greater good of all, and to that aspiration let us say … amen…. So may it be.

Damian Barr wrote: ‘I heard that we are in the same boat.
But it’s not that.
We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.’

His poem ends with these lines:

‘So, friends, we are not in the same boat.
We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different. And each one will emerge, in their own way, from that storm.
It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, more than looking, seeing.
See beyond the political party, beyond biases, beyond the nose on your face. Do not judge the good life of the other,
do not condemn the bad life of the other.
Don’t be a judge.
Let us not judge the one who lacks, as well as the one who exceeds them. We are on different ships looking to survive.
Let everyone navigate their route with respect, empathy and responsibility.’

Now any of us living life with a spiritual perspective know the teaching of don’t judge others. It’s found in all the world’s spiritual and philosophical teachings because it’s something we do all the time. We can’t stop ourselves – our minds are designed to weigh up occurrences and people we meet, and do a speedy assessment about the likely risks or opportunities there before us. Tribal living has wired us to sort out where we belong, who are our people, and exactly what we think about all the other tribes. So unless you’ve already reached enlightenment I reckon you’ll have been doing some judging and assessing this week, like most of us do every week. The politicians we admire or detest, the people in the street we appreciate or fear, the behaviours we emulate or feel repelled by.

As countries of the world face the storm of a new virus it is obvious that we are in very different boats – from affluent cruise liners and super yachts to small fishing vessels and frighteningly inadequate and over-crowded dinghies taking refugees to a possible new home, where they may not be welcomed with warmth and hospitality. We must never forget the injustices that these different vessels represent. Only when we imagine our whole planet earth as a vessel, one vessel, one boat carrying us all, can we start to imagine at a deep level, how we are in this together. For we are all part of the one human race, we are all living on one planet, now how then shall we live, how then shall we learn to weather the storms together, no longer thinking just of ourselves, no longer caring for our own tribe, our own nation. One of the most inspiring conversation themes I’ve had with people in recent days is to speak our visions, our hopes, for the good that might emerge from this coronavirus crisis that has swept our planet. It has been such a remarkable upturning of every day life. Let us all work to ensure that good does indeed emerge from this strangest of times, not just return to old ways of being, to ‘more of the same’.

Our message this morning started and will end with a favourite hymn tune played for us by Abby Lorimier in her own delightful arrangement for the cello. It’s an old Welsh hymn called Hyrfrodol, which can be translated as cheerfulness. Here are verses of the hymn we sing to this tune, blue boat home – its picture of us all together spinning in space moves me greatly:

Though below me I feel no motion
Standing on these mountains and plains.
Far away from the rolling ocean
Still my dry land heart can say:
I’ve been sailing all my life now,
Never harbour or port have I known.
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home.

Sun my sail and moon my rudder
As I ply the starry sea,
Leaning over the edge in wonder,
Casting questions into the deep.
Drifting here with my ship’s companions,
All we kindred pilgrim souls,
Making our way by the lights of the heavens
In our beautiful blue boat home.

I give thanks to the waves upholding me,
Hail the great winds urging me on,
Greeting the infinite sea before me,
Sing the sky my sailor’s song:
I was born upon the fathoms,
Never harbour or port have I known.
The wide universe is the ocean I travel,
And the earth is my blue boat home.

Words by Peter Mayer

And so a blessing for our week ahead. May we be gentle in our judgements of one another, thoughtful in our assessment of situations, brave witnesses of the depths of folly and heights of wisdom we humans can span. May we view one another truly as kindred pilgrim souls, living remarkably varied lives on our one blue planet home, travelling the universe, our infinite starry sea, leaning into life in wonder, and bravery, rather than averting our gaze. Let us be good travelling companions one to another, awake to the miracle that is life itself. Amen, go well every one and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

24th May 2020