A Sense of the Eternal – 19/07/20
Opening Music: Song without Words Op 19 no4. Mendelssohn (2.16)
Opening Words: Good morning all of you and welcome to our Kensington Unitarians’ Sunday gathering online. Welcome to our members of our congregation, to friends and visitors with us today, and to all who may be listening to, or watching, this service on YouTube some time in the future. If you are with us in the virtual space of this Zoom meeting please feel free to join in at a level that feels right for you, you don’t have to speak or sing – and though we like to see everyone’s faces I know that sometimes most of us like to take the option of turning our cameras off. So please make yourself as comfortable as you can.
We are living in strange times where many lives and ways of being have been turned upside down. These gatherings are one way we work to keep a sense of community in a time when it’s sensible to keep a physical distance. Let’s do all we can though to create a feeling of togetherness, and to be as inclusive as we can be. There is a space here for each and every person who values equality and justice and love as guides for our living and being in this world. And today I want to say an especial thank you to all of you who’ve been making an effort to reach out to people who cannot join us online – in the week ahead let’s each of us think of someone who may be feeling isolated and let them know we care about them.
In today’s service I’m grateful to have Sandra Smith’s music to lift our spirits and Harold Lorenzelli’s thoughts about eternity and that which gives our living a sense of meaning and purpose. We’re keen to involve others in these gatherings so do get in touch if you have something you’d like to say or do for us all.
Chalice Lighting: And now, as I light our chalice flame, symbol of our Unitarian and Unitarian and Universalist community the world over, I invite you to breathe in its warmth and light, let it be a focus for each of us and a reminder that we are part of something so much greater than our own existence. One light, one life force, one planet earth our precious home.
Candles of Joy and Concern
Prayer: For those of us living here in Britain the name John Lewis perhaps has us thinking of a well loved, worker-owned department store, the John Lewis Partnership. But over in the States this weekend people are honouring the life of another John Lewis who has just died aged 80 – a civil rights activist who campaigned alongside Martin Luther King Jnr back in the 60s and a highly regarded congressman, serving Georgia for over 30 years. Here are some words John Lewis wrote just a year ago: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”
And so let us ready ourselves for a shared time of reflection and prayer now, each of us aligning ourselves with the god of our hearts and understanding, or that which calls us to be the best that we might be, our source of inspiration and guidance, the great mystery of all that has been and all that is and all that ever shall be.
In a world where so much is uncertain and unsure, where so much about life can mystify us if we consider it in all its glory and complexity ……. Still let us find ways to be grateful, remember to express our gratitude for gifts small and large, for the astounding miracle that our individuality is, with our awareness of both our shared humanity and our aloneness, small specks of existence that we are amidst the great vista of life on earth. Let’s focus in silence on something for which we are grateful this day……..
Most of us will have experienced times recently when we’ve been stopped in our tracks, when our plans have gone awry and life has shaken us up. Let us be people who despite everything find a way to make a way out of no way – may we be blessed with a flexibility and a determination to find a way, to keep moving forward and to do what we can to bring about needed change in the ways of our world……
Knowing that so much change is needed, let’s spend a few moments with our own thoughts and prayers focused on those in need this day, especially those struggling with mental and physical health concerns and those whose basic needs are so far from being adequately met……
May we have resources find the best methods to improve the fortunes of others and may we know when we need to make trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble, to help in the healing processes of which human societies are so in need.
And may all that we do be for the greater good of all, this day and all days, amen.
Reading: ‘Rock’ – a poem by John Hands
Sure form and shape, structure and foundation of all
this natural world about us, and within
symbol of us made steadfast in your image.
Patience, patience you possess immeasurable;
for in your abstruse core particles revolve around
eternal nuclei, through which in some strange mode
you meditate in shape transfixed, until salt winds and
inexorable sneaping frost slowly, steadily transmute you
into organic forms that nurture us anew. Yet
massive and unperturbed, indifferent to our fate you
match the depths of elements within us. Whatever we become
here anchored to this place, or whether cometted
in your transmuted particles to other worlds as yet
amorphous and gaseous, we shall still
survive in your rapt essence; remote yet intimate,
dispersed yet concentrate, indigenous yet alien,
Rock for our foundation: dust for our deliverance.
Meditation: by Robert T Weston – Out Of The Stars
I invite you to turn your attention inwards now as we enter a time of meditation. These words are taken from a meditation called Out of the Stars by Robert Weston and they’ll lead into a couple of minutes of silence which comes to an end with a beautiful piece of piano music Sure on this Shining Night by Samuel Barber.
So rest comfortably as you can in your seats, aware of the space around you and the sounds and other sensations where you are, yet able to move beyond them, taking this time to go within, to rest deeply within yourself. I wonder what images and sensations these words conjure up for you.
Out of the stars in their flight, out of the dust of eternity, here have we come, stardust and sunlight, mingling through time and through space. Time out of time before time in the vastness of space, earth spun to orbit the sun, earth with the thunder of mountains newborn, the boiling of seas. Earth warmed by sun, lit by sunlight, this is our home. Out of the stars we have come. Part of a mystery that hides within mystery, back through the mists of all time. Out of the stars, rising from rocks and the sea, kindled by sunlight on earth, arose the great stream of life, of which we are all part. Let us ponder this mystery in our hearts, this mystery of life itself.
Out of the sea to the land, up from darkness to light, rising to walk and to fly, out of the waters there came life. Life from the seas, warmed by the sun, washed by the rains, life from within, giving birth.
This is the wonder of time, this is the marvel of space; out of the stars came the earth and the life on earth, what marvels are these, what wonders are we – star kissed sparks of life and love, – breathing , being – infinite specks of infinite potential – out of the stars and the sunshine and the blessed waters of life. And as we enter the fellowship of silence let us celebrate our wondrous individuality as well as the shared miracle of existence that connects us all.
Music for Meditation: Sure on this Shining Night – Barber
And now I hand over to Harold who’s going to make us all jealous by telling us what a great holiday he had a few years ago.
Address by Harold Lorenzelli: Hello, one and all. A year or two back I found myself on the deck of a yacht in the becalmed waters off the coast of Croatia. It was late at night. The only sound was the gentle lapping of water against the hull of our boat. The sky was clear and being free of light pollution we were able to gaze unimpeded up into the firmament. At the end of the holiday we were all asked to single out a memorable event and yes, I chose that night. At the time I was reminded of the lines from the song by Vaughan Williams…the Infinite shining heavens….and the idle stars of the night were dearer to me than bread. They tell of the nature of those sublime moments when the things of this world, the world of contingent reality, our appetites and daily preoccupations, fade before that sense of eternity that sometimes overwhelms us. For a precious moment in time we connect with something beyond and bigger than ourselves….and the fact that the stars are idle, that their beauty is effortless, that they neither seek our approbation nor our disapproval is part of their attraction. They are a natural gift with no strings attached. They quite simply are, like the lilies that neither grow nor reap…. Now let me take you back in time a little to my student days when I read French at Durham University. During my course of study a poem by Victor Hugo caught my attention. It dealt with a painful episode in his life. His beloved daughter, recently married, had drowned in a boating accident. Overcome with grief, he poured his soul into a poem where he tried to come to terms with the immeasurable loss he felt. He struggles to understand and finds some consolation as he contemplates the natural world around him. Faced with the immensity of creation he reclaims his reason, as he puts it. Nature does not so much reflect his feelings in the tradition of the Romantic poets as provide a steadying backdrop, a context in which to place his loss. In this instance it is the vastness of the universe that does not so much overwhelm him as embrace him. Whilst acknowledging the enormity of his loss, he finds a kind of peace….We now move to a prison cell in North Africa where a man faces the death penalty for a murder which he cannot explain. We are in the world of Albert Camus, and the book is The Outsider or L’etranger as it is known in French. The crime is never fully explained….the perpetrator is of course responsible for his act but he is also a victim….a victim of his own apathy and, in a more precise sense, of the society, as it is portrayed, which has no values to offer him. The man in question had lived a hedonistic life up to his imprisonment, barely reflecting on life or his place in the world. It is only when his freedom is taken from him that he begins to appreciate what he has lost. There he is, gazing up at the stars and finally he becomes aware of just what life means to him. Previously it had held no value that was apparent to him because he had never discerned in the workings of the universe either the presence of God or any principle of order. At the end of the book, however, he grasps something new to him: the unique value of life, not just of life in the abstract but of his life which is inexhaustible in the present and must be lived with passionate enjoyment to the full. In a moment of self realization his indifference vanishes. In the words of the song we sometimes sing at church, he answers yes to life. Life which at that point for him has a more poignant value because it is fragile and under threat. Even the gap that was evident between him and the world no longer dismays him….Previously he had never seemed to fit in, surrounded by a universe which was both impenetrable and meaningless. In his final moments, as he gazes up at the night sky, that same indifference of the world now seems tender and fraternal. He is no longer threatened by it. Like the stars in the heavens the world about him simply is. He has finally found an accommodation with it. Thus, by different routes, people reach an affirmation of life. Our need for purpose and permanence, our aspiration for love, our striving for meaning is affirmed. Somehow we must all find our place in this world. So what is that route to peace and fulfilment? For some it will lie in the contemplation of the natural world that surrounds us that revelation comes. Thus can we come to appreciate the oneness of creation and the singularity of our condition. So, do those cold stars, relics of long dead worlds that look down on you, inspire you with a sense of inner purpose, do they illumine the path you tread, do they comfort or disconcert you? Do they shed light on your condition? Do they fill you with a sense of awe or dread? Do they help you understand more clearly who you are?…..those uncountable angel stars showering sorrow and perhaps light…. So there they are, out there in the night sky, waiting to be acknowledged or ignored. A world of unfathomable mystery that draws us out of ourselves or an irrelevant backdrop to our self-obsessed meanderings. Are those stars the key to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe or merely images of dead worlds that have outlived their purpose, condemned forever to look down on us in blind indifference. Are you satisfied to have your path illumined by the garish neon lights of the city or like me, are you moved to wonder in awe at the eternal silence of the stars…..
Hymn: A Fire-Mist and a Planet
A fire-mist and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A star-fish and a saurian,
And caves where cave-folk dwell;
The sense of law and beauty,
A face turned from the clod —
Some call it evolution,
And others call it God.
Haze on the far horizon,
The infinite tender sky,
The ripe, rich tints of cornfields,
And wild geese sailing high;
And over high and lowland,
The charm of golden rod –
Some people call it nature,
And others call it God.
Like tides on a crescent sea-beach,
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our hearts high yearnings
Come welling, surging in,
Come from the mystic ocean
Whose rim no foot has trod –
Some people call it longing,
And others call it God.
A picket frozen on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
And Socrates drinking hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions, who, though nameless,
The straight, hard pathway trod –
Some call it consecration,
And others call it God.
Announcements: Thanks to Jane and Jeannene for hosting and co-hosting this gathering on Zoom today. They make it look easy but ……!
Do join us for our regular coffee morning this Tuesday at 10.30. There are spaces in our evening spiritual gathering Heart and Soul this evening and Tuesday – it’s a lovely restful way to spend an evening in good contemplative company with others – great silences and great music.
Thursday@Three sessions coming up soon.
Closing Words: For 14 billion years our cosmos has been evolving – from swirling gases exploding into atoms, and slowly forming matter, the building blocks of who we are today, we wondrously, strangely, remarkably aware creatures – with feelings and imaginations and some little understanding of what is. May this partial knowledge inspire us to live well, to appreciate all that is, to accept how little we know, and to play our part, as best we can, in the great unfolding mystery of life, amen, go well and blessed be.
Closing Music: Festive Procession – Paul Bryan
Sarah Tinker and Harold Lorenzelli
19th July 2020