Good Work – 5/7/2020
Zoom Service #1 – Text to Follow Along at Home
Opening Music: Bach Cello Suite 1 – Abby Lorimier
Hello everybody and welcome to this online service on Zoom for Kensington Unitarians. Welcome to our congregations members, to friends and visitors joining us today, and to all of you who may be listening to, or watching, this service some time in the future. Let’s together create this as a sacred time and space, made holy by our presence and by our intention. For though we choose to keep a physical distance yet we can create community across those physical distances by spending time together and by affirming the value of gathering in community in this way. Let’s join in taking a conscious breath together and allow that to settle us in the here and now, choosing to spend this time in attending to matters of the spirit.
And so I light our chalice flame, this symbol of our Unitarian community the world over, the oneness of its light reminding us that we are one people, living one life here on our one planet earth home. Let’s focus for a few moments on this flame, let’s imagine a light shining within each of us and beaming out to a world so in need of its illumination and warmth. As the Buddha reminded his followers, a candle could give light to a thousand other candles and its light would not be diminished in the slightest. I wonder how each of us might share our light with the world this day.
Candles of Joy and Concern:
Each week in church we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, where we invite one another to light a candle and share something that is in our heart. You might choose to light an actual candle at this time or imagine a candle flame and speak silently or out loud what it is you wish to tell others this day.
…May we remember those who have spoken, those they have named, and those issues we hold in silence in our hearts. And may everyone find someone to share their joys and concerns with this day if they so wish.
Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of the NHS our National Health Service. Let’s pause for a moment in recognition of the skills, commitment, achievements, kindness and diversity of over 1.9 million NHS staff members, across more than 350 different professions, especially aware of the great sacrifices they have made in recent months in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, especially those staff members who died because of their work.
And so we join in a time of reflection and prayer, as I call on the divine spirit of life and love to be with us now and to bless all that we say and do together this day.
Life in our world continues to be uncertain and many people are worried, afraid, confused. May we all find places of inner peace deep within us, to bring us steadiness when so much is unsure.
There is much that angers us – injustice, lies, cruelties both deliberate and thoughtless. May we find inner guidance showing us how to most effectively channel our frustrations and our rage.
When in weariness we think to give up, may we find the energy and the commitment to continue to take one more step in creating a world where love and justice and compassion empower human societies.
In a few moments of stillness now I invite you to speak your own prayers for those you know to be in need this day – those people or places or situations that you hold especially in your heart …
And may our world be a little brighter for everyone this day, and may we do what we can with what we have, to spread the illumination of light and love, and let us to this aspiration say together ‘amen’, so may it be.
Reading: ‘Good Work’ by Elias Amidon read by John Humphreys
This reading is an extract from a piece called Good Work, written by Sufi teacher Elias Amidon from his ‘Notes from the Open Path’ writings online.
I believe we can contribute to real change, and that we do, every time we turn our hearts, minds, and bodies to what I’m calling here good work.
What’s good work? Any work that heals. Any work that protects and nurtures life in its wholeness. Any work that contributes to the beauty and flourishing of the community of life on earth. It’s that simple.
The challenging practice for each of us is to ask of whatever work we find ourselves doing: “Is this good work? Does it heal? Does it protect and nurture life? Does it contribute to the beauty and flourishing of life on earth?”
And one more thing, now that I’m giving advice: even good work can become anti-life if we treat it as drudgery. Sweeping the floor, chopping vegetables, washing the windows — these tasks definitely nurture life, but that nurturing can be betrayed by our attitude if we resent doing them. The other day I was trying to fix a small leak in the plumbing in the crawlspace under our house, a task I felt fine doing, until I had to wriggle under a pipe on my belly through the dust and cobwebs, and suddenly I cursed, feeling irritated and sorry for myself. The sound of my curse stopped me. I lay there in the dust and realized what I was doing — I was making good work into bad work. I was letting a challenging situation for my aging body infect my spirit with annoyance and self-pity. That’s all I needed in that moment, that realization. My irritation vanished. I kept wriggling along, got to where I needed to be, and fixed what needed fixing. Good work, all of it.
The point I’m hoping to make here is that in the face of all that’s going wrong, all that’s mean and destructive and unholy, neither complaining nor giving up will change the trajectory we’re on. Our very best chance of making a better world is for each of us to find and create good work, the work that needs to be done. There’s so much of it!
Spoken Meditation – with words from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Breathing in, I am aware of my in-breath
Breathing out, I am aware of my out-breath
Breathing in, I am aware of my body
Breathing out, I release any tension in my body
Breathing in, present moment
Breathing out, wonderful moment.
Music: played by Peter Crockford
Earlier on, we heard some words for meditation by Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. They’re adapted from his book about mindfulness at work where he tells a lovely story of a busy scholar who found him gardening at Plum Village in France, tending to his lettuce plants. The scholar suggested he’d be better spending his time writing his valuable poetry, since anybody in the community could grow lettuces but only Thich Nhat Hanh could write in the special way he wrote – poetically offering people the world over his take on ancient Buddhist teachings.Thich Nhat Hanh turned this small encounter into another useful teaching for us all – that in order to serve the world with his poetic meditations he also needs to spend time tending to the vegetable garden. And the quality of attentiveness we bring to each aspect of our life will make a difference to every aspect, not only of our own living but to the life of the wider world.
And it’s a similar message Sufi teacher Elias Amidon brings us in the reading we heard earlier on – we’re living in a troubled time and that is for sure. We may feel overwhelmed by the needs we are aware of all around us, the many issues that cry out not just for our attention but for our action. In the face of such great need it’s hardly surprising that many of us experience hopelessness and disempowerment at times. But the antidote to such great need, and the contribution we can make to our world, is the ‘good work’ Elias reminds us. And what is the good work?
“Is this good work? Does it heal? Does it protect and nurture life? Does it contribute to the beauty and flourishing of life on earth?”
The good work, for most of us, may be small, may be personal, may seem insignificant or even futile. And yet…… It is still worth the effort. Just as drops of water can slowly wear away the toughest of stones, just as roots of a plant may bit by bit work their way into a crevice in a wall, just as a gentle breeze might open a gateway just a little bit wider and allow some creature the opportunity to seize its birthright of freedom – so may our small actions bring about change in our world.
Here in Britain we have experienced months now of changed ways of living. Our lives have centred, for many of us, within our homes or close localities. I’ve been so moved to hear how people have been managing their lives during these days. Those of you who have been noticing the smaller details of life, enjoying window boxes and balconies and gardens and allotments; appreciating the creatures we share our planet earth home with, even here in busy London – the birds and the foxes; people putting their energy into growing plants for food and for their beauty. Many of us have deepened our appreciation of neighbours and friends now we have more time to say hello and stay to talk – at a safe distance of course. Those of you who’ve been out to the shops have told me of chats with shop assistants or delivery drivers – where you’ve taken the opportunity to thank them for working and making life a bit easier for the rest of us.
And as we pay greater attention to the small aspects of everyday life we’re being given an opportunity to pay greater attention to the qualities we bring to any task and any encounter. It matters how we approach every aspect of our living, including the attitude we bring to all that we do. In these demanding times in which we live, let’s all dedicate ourselves to doing good work and bringing the best of ourselves to the fore. Who knows, we might just change the world.
Hymn: One More Step
Closing Words, Extinguish Chalice
I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. And I send the light of this candle out into a world for all those who yearn to belong, that nobody need feel excluded this day. Let’s take a moment to breathe in an awareness of others with us this day and breathe out a loving appreciation of one and all.
Way back in the first century AD, a time perhaps just as troubled as our own, Rabbi Tarfon wrote these words of advice for those who care about our world : ‘Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.’ Let’s us in the days ahead take one more step and do our good work as best we can, with love and commitment guiding our way, amen, go well everyone and blessed be.
Closing music: Daisies played by Peter Crockford, sung by Trevor Alexander
Back into breakout rooms
Rev. Sarah Tinker
5th July 2020