Journeying: Inner & Outer – 02/08/20

Opening Words: 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 on YouTube some time in the future. If you are new to our Zoom gatherings a particularly warm welcome to you today and please join in at a level that is right for you – it’s lovely to see people’s faces but we understand when people on Zoom sometimes prefer just to listen. There’s no requirement to join in, in any active way, although there is chance to speak and sing if you want. Your presence here and you being comfortable and at ease matter most to us. So let’s together now create this as a sacred time and space, made holy by our presence and by our intention. For though we choose to maintain our physical distance for the good of all, yet we can create community across those physical distances by spending this time together and by affirming the value of gathering in community in this way. Our imaginations can connect us across physical distances. Let’s join in taking a conscious breath together and allow that to bring us to the present moment, here in our bodies – our unique and individual mode of transport for this life journey – unique and yet intimately connected by our shared experience of life itself in the material realm … creating this as an opportunity to tune in to ourselves, to one another and to that which guides us on our journey of life.

Chalice Lighting: 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 ….. we can imagine a light shining within each of us and beaming out to a world so in need of its illumination and warmth. And may this light remind us that we are not isolated beings but connected, in mystery and miracle, to the universe, to this community, and to one another.

Candles of Joy and Concern: Each week when we meet here in church in Kensington or here in our online congregation 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. So here in our Zoom service we’ve given a good few minutes for some of you to tell us of a joy or a concern, and to light a candle, real or imaginary, and say a few words about what it represents for you. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself so everyone can hear you and then re-mute yourself when you’ve finished speaking. Do give it a go as it’s quite special to hear some other voices and perspectives, and let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for so others have chance to speak too. And I suggest we all now switch to gallery view so we can see everyone’s faces. Our hosts Jane and Jeannene will do their best to spot if someone wants to speak and can’t unmute themselves.

So let’s now think of the joys and concerns we’ve heard expressed today, let’s breathe them in as precious glimpses of what it is to be human, ….. and as we breathe out release anything that we feel ready to let go – that we might hold this human condition we all share as lightly and lovingly as we are able. May we remember those who have spoken, those they have named, and those issues we hold in the silence in our hearts. And may everyone find someone to share their joys and concerns with this day if they so wish…..

Prayer: And now we can carry those joys and concerns into a time of reflection and prayer as we join together in calling on the spirit of love and life to be with us now and to open our hearts and minds that we may breathe in fresh insights and release all that feels stale and stuck within us. And we pray though many of us are unsure who or what we pray to, yet knowing the true value of going deeper in life, of opening ourselves to the source of all that is, within us and beyond us, expressing our gratitude for life itself and for the unique creatures that we are.

May we learn to care well for all that is –
Can we care for ourselves a little better in the week ahead?
Can we care for our relationships a little better this week –our neighbours and friends, our families and co-workers, even those who challenge us – can we appreciate others more?
Are there aspects of our living that could do with a caring touch? Something needing mending, or clearing, or sorting in some way? Can we seek help – reaching out for support – if that would make a task or situation a bit easier?
And as we consider our wider world – may our thoughts and prayers be with all leaders of our world – that they might be motivated by the highest of principles rather than their own self-interest. As our world community struggles to contain the pandemic that has shaken up all our lives – let us each in our own quiet way give thanks for those who work to make things better, to make people better, to improve the lot of the poor and the oppressed. ……

We know that so many people’s journeys through life are beset with injustice – those caught in warfare or living under repressive regimes, people needing healthcare where there is little to be had: may all who are troubled by life’s inequalities find some peace this day, may all who are in need find practical support this day, and in a few moments of shared stillness let us direct the prayers of our hearts to places and people for whom we are concerned …… and may we be guided by love to find ways to assist one another and ourselves – this day and all days, amen.

Reading: ‘The Journey’ by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Meditation: For Lammas Time

In the earth centred wheel of the year this is Lammas time – the time of the first harvests. It’s traditionally a feast of gratitude and celebration for all nature’s gifts to us. And anyone who has visited a farmer’s market or greengrocers recently will know just how plentiful the fruit and vegetables are looking. I’m enjoying hearing about people’s allotment and garden crops and seeing photos of wonky courgettes and plentiful tomatoes.

So in a moment I’m going to lead us in a spoken meditation and that will be followed by a good few minutes held in silence together and that will end with the sound of very own Abby Lorimier playing a particular beautiful yet mournful bit of cello music. It’s such a distinctive tune that I wanted to tell you a bit about it.

It’s from a very interesting solo cello suite by the British composer Judith Weir, who is a Master of the Queen’s Music. The pieces are all based on folk songs collected by the Lomax brothers from African American prisoners in the American South during the early 20th century. As Abby wrote to me, ‘this music seems very fitting for the time we are currently living in. ‘Unlocked’ explored themes of captivity, heritage, and the desire for freedom’.

The first movement, which we’ll hear today, is called ‘Make Me a Garment’ and it was collected from prisoner Roscoe McLean in 1936 in the tuberculosis ward of Florida Penitentiary. I so hope that Roscoe McLean when on to recover from his illness and to a life of freedom beyond that prison.

We’ll have about 6 minutes altogether for this meditation, so let’s get comfortable, perhaps softening our gaze or closing our eyes, paying attention to the quality of our breathing and slowing the breath down, or softly deepening it, breathing in to our belly; …… we might feel some of the tension leaving our shoulders as they move downwards towards the floor, ….. we can relax the muscles of the head, face and neck, maybe even imagining a soothing hand brushing cares from our forehead, or wherever we hold the inevitable tensions of our lives, in our backs maybe or even in the back of our calf muscles or our feet and toes; we have so many different muscles that can hold tension without us realising, let’s use the rhythm of the breath to ease our bodies. And as we move into a time of shared stillness together let’s give thanks for the bounty of life’s harvests and commit ourselves to a more just and equal sharing of life’s gifts.

Silence followed by music.

Journeying: Inner and Outer

I’ve heard it said that the German language has all the best words – and I’ve been thinking about an old favourite word this week – schadenfreude – combining the German word schade meaning damage and freude meaning joy – the finding of pleasure in the troubles of another human being. The source of my schadenfreude this week was a certain government secretary of state for transport who had immediately to cut his Spanish holiday short because of a suddenly imposed government quarantine on anyone returning from Spain. Like so many rulings during this time of pandemic, it came out of the blue, it was imposed from above and it adversely affected the lives of ordinary people. Though perhaps for the best of reasons – to keep them healthy and safe. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, usefully pointed out that Schadenfreude is “the revenge of the impotent.” And this time of lockdown has left many of us feeling a lack of power over our own lives hasn’t it.

We could have a show of waving hands here on Zoom to get a sense of who has experienced what. Shall we wave if our work has been disrupted these last few months, if we’ve had to cancel holidays, or had a get together with friends or family cancelled, or had travel plans disrupted. Let’s wave if we’ve felt uncertain about getting back on public transport or unsure about what we should or shouldn’t be doing or uncertain how safe we feel about making plans to meet up with others. No wonder if some of us try and make ourselves feel a little better by giggling about a person in power who has to leave his family behind on holiday and come back to England and a fortnight’s quarantine. That schadenfreude eases the boredom, the jealousy or the rage, the frustration or despair – or whatever feeling we happen to be experiencing – for a little while at least. But I know that the spiritually advanced members of our congregation rise well above this finding of pleasure in the troubles of others. You don’t mind if your own holiday plans have come to naught. Because you know the value of another sort of journeying – an inner journey that requires no passport, no tickets, no timetables, no face masks even. You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home. You can stay in your pyjamas, under the duvet – and yet take the most worthwhile of life journeys imaginable.

Joseph Campbell, the academic and explorer of the universals to be found in mythologies the world over, has written extensively about this inner journeying – and this particular quote could have been written for the times we find ourselves in: ‘Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the centre of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.’

Yes it’s great fun to get out there in the world – to visit wondrous waterfalls and buzzing capital cities and landscapes so very different from our own – deserts, sea shores, mountains, valleys. Travel widens our horizons, reminds that this planet of ours is remarkably diverse in its landscapes – as diverse as its inhabitants. Travels broadens our perspectives – reminds us that there are myriad ways to kneel and kiss the ground. But most of us who have spent some time travelling, at some point reach a similar realisation – that wherever we travel, however far and distant our journeys are – still we bring ourselves with us. And that’s the dawning moment when another journey beckons us – an inner journey, a journey of self-exploration and potential self-understanding.

I wonder what times in your life have triggered the inner journeying? For some it comes in times of breakdown, of illness perhaps or the crashing end of a job or a relationship or a long cherished dream? These times might feel dramatic or desperate. For others the prompt that has us embark on our inner journey arrives more quietly – perhaps with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction or a growing awareness of a yearning for something ‘more’ in life.

Spiritual teacher Krishnamurti describes it like this: ‘This journey I am proposing that we take together, is not to the moon, or even to the stars. The distance to the stars is much less than the distance within ourselves. The discovery of ourselves is endless, and it requires constant inquiry, a perception which is total, an awareness in which there is no choice. This journey is really an opening of the door to the individual in relationship with the world. So, the understanding of ourselves is not to the end of individual salvation, it is not the means of attaining a private heaven, an ivory tower into which to retire with our own illusions, beliefs, gods. On the contrary, if we are able to understand ourselves, we shall be at peace, and then we shall know how to live rightly.’

Krishnamurti makes two useful points here. An inner journey is not a one off holiday to a Spanish resort. An inner journey is a bit of a lifetime’s commitment. We choose to be inquirers and we choose to examine our relationship with the outside world. We are no longer content to stay stuck in any particular emotional state. We no longer hold on to our way of viewing the world as the only way to see the world. When we commit to inner journeying we commit to the path of the curious – who asks themselves – why did I just laugh at that bit of the news I heard on the radio about our secretary of state cutting short his own holiday. What’s going on in me? And it’s not just government officials that can be our teachers – neighbours, work colleagues, friends we’ve fallen in or out of love with – everyone at different times may hold some worthwhile teaching for us if we take the time to look more closely and examine our inner experiences. So that’s Krishnamurti’s first point – there are endless things to discover about ourselves if we take a look inside ourselves instead of blaming others and finding fault.

Krishnamurti’s second point is that far from a self centred, self-obsessed path to take, the inner journey brings us back to a better quality of relationship with the world outside and with other people. Taking an inner journey helps us to know how to live in right relationship with others and with our wider world. So don’t expect to receive any holiday postcards from me this year because most of us won’t be going near any postboxes in foreign lands. But as our lives continue their topsy turvy journeys through this pandemic I reckon quite a few of us are learning a great deal about ourselves – and I remain quietly optimistic that a change might just come. Shall we all join in that possibility? Amen.

Hymn: We are Travellers on a Journey

Announcements: And so some announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jeannene for their extensive background work today and to our musicians Abby Lorimier and Benjie Del Rosario. All of you much appreciated. It’s been such a pleasure to see all of you today, albeit on a screen rather than in person. We’ll be back again next week for a 10am service here on Zoom, and you’re also welcome to join us for our 10.30 coffee morning on Zoom on Tuesday and there are some spaces left for Heart and Soul, our alternative spiritual gathering. Invite David Carter to speak about The Universe Story – Thursday@3pm. Like most organisations we’ve had a serious dip in our finances – so many thanks to all of you now making standing order payments to help the congregation and those who have made one off donations – our donate now button can be found on the front page of our Kensington Unitarians website.

We’re going to have some closing words in a moment followed by Benjie Del Rosario playing the well-loved Gershwin tune from the musical Porgy and Bess – I invite you to select gallery view on your screen now so that we can all see each other for the closing words.

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 the world for all those whose journeys are disrupted or blocked, that they might find their way forward in a world that too often blocks the paths of those in need.

We fellow travellers on life’s journey, we who share the path, let us also share our stories of our inner explorations, our unique experiences of life itself, speaking and listening with one another in great compassion, deepening our connections and our understanding of the many ways there are to live this precious thing called life. Amen, go well and blessed be.

Amen, go well everyone and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

2nd August 2020