Our O So Human Bunch of Flowers – 23/8/20
Opening Music: An English Country Garden
Opening words: Hello everybody, I’m Sarah Tinker, minister with our Kensington Unitarians community. And here we are for our virtual Sunday morning gathering, on Zoom, reaching out and connecting with you wherever you are, however you are feeling today and whatever is going on for you in life at this time. That word ‘connection’ is what this is all about – for we are living aren’t we, through a time when we need to keep our physical distance in order to keep one another safe – and that very real experience of distance needs us to make an extra effort to find other ways to connect. So thanks to all of you who are here this morning and a big thanks to everyone who has reached out to connect with someone this week who can’t be with us online in this way. Those phone calls, cards, gifts arriving in the post help people know that they belong.
A warm hello as well to those of you who are listening on a podcast, or watching a video of this service on YouTube some time in the future. Those of you who are with us on Zoom and are new to our Sunday morning gatherings please feel free to join in at a level that is right for you – it’s fine just to sit back and listen and switch off your video if that’s more restful for you. There’s no need to join in, in any active way, although there is chance to speak and sing if you want at several points in this gathering. But simply your presence here in community is what matters most……
Our gathering today is a celebration of flowers and it reminds us of a yearly ritual held in many Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities around the world – known as the flower communion. This ritual was created in the 1930s by Nobert Capek, minister with the Prague Unitarian community in what was then Czechoslovakia. We’ll hear a bit more about Capek later on but we’ll start with words attributed to him to invite us into shared sacred space together – let’s settle ourselves in this here and now, time and place, with a conscious breath now:
Enter with me the sacred space.
Bring with you what is yours—
a burdened heart, a joyous song,
a wearied spirit, a seeking mind.
Bring the gift of yourself to the altar.
It is an honourable gift.
Enter into the communion of flowers.
Enter with joyful hearts.
Enter with reverent thoughts.
It has taken long months beneath cold ground for these flowers to prepare their blooming.
It has taken each of us long times of growth through sorrow and joy to prepare for our living now.
The blooming season is short,
The flowers stay only a brief time.
We are travellers upon the earth: travellers through all too brief life times.
Therefore let our moments be bountiful.
Let us rejoice in our unique colours, aromas, and sounds.
Let us celebrate together in love;
that as we travel away, we take with us the memory of golden hours together among the flowers.
Chalice Lighting: And our chalice flame is lit, as it is in all our gatherings. May it remind us of the light shining within each of us, within each living being and throughout all of creation.
Candles of Joy and Concern: Each week when we meet in our building in Notting Hill or here in our online congregation, we share 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 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. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and just speak out so everyone can hear and then re-mute yourself when you’ve finished speaking. Do give it a go if you’d like to, 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 each now switch to gallery view on our own screens so we can see everyone. Our hosts Jane and Jeannene will do their best to spot if someone wants to speak and can’t unmute themselves. These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken,
weave us together in the fabric of community.
Prayer and Reflection
Let’s bring the joys and concerns we’ve heard expressed today into our time of reflection and prayer, along with all those issues we carry quietly in our hearts. Let’s make ourselves as comfortable as we can, take a bit of time to turn inwards, to bring all of ourselves to this moment, align ourselves with that which guides our living in this world, the god of our hearts and our understanding, the ground of our being.
In a week filled once again with news of people like us trying to move from one part of the world to another and meeting so many hardships along the way let us pray for all people who have had to leave their homes for any reason – all displaced persons, all refugees, all asylum seekers, all immigrants. It is hard for many of us to imagine what it must be like to feel the need to leave one country and seek refuge and a new life in another, but those of us who are blessed with homes of comfort and safety can give thanks for the privileges of our lives.
There are some among us who are far from home. Let us think of those currently away from home with love and with commitment to help all people feel welcome here in our church community.
The issue of refugees and displaced people is a concern throughout our world. Let us pray for the lawmakers and enforcers who have such a difficult task. May they be blessed always with compassion in their words and actions – may they never forget that they too might find themselves without a home and in danger at some time. When the words economic migrant are used to describe people that some developed countries are trying to shut out may we have the humility and the grasp of history required to remind us that our good fortune is based entirely on our ancestors moving about the earth to seek better conditions for themselves and their offspring – us.
May our world community find ever new creative ways to help one another and to overcome the problems that cause people to leave their homes – economic uncertainty and inequality, hatred and oppression, warfare, hunger and shortage of water. Let us be people who rise to the challenge and keep searching for humane ways to resolve complex issues.
And in our own lives let us never slip into complacency in our thinking – but rather be ever grateful for that which we have, ever attentive to the needs of others, doing what we can, however small – to make this world of ours ever more just, more humane, more compassionate, a friendlier and more beautiful home for all – and may this be so for the greater good of all – amen.
And now let me hand over to Pat Gregory who knows a thing or two about growing plants.
Flowers are our Friends by Pat Gregory
Flowers are our friends. When my children were small I did gardening as a way of earning some extra money and one of the gardens I worked on belonged to an elderly lady who had dementia. Whenever I visited her she would say that the flowers were her friends and she was never alone when they were blooming. Her daughter made sure that she always had a vase of beautiful flowers on her kitchen table. She opened my eyes to the beauty and simplicity of how nature can take us to a level of consciousness beyond our everyday perception. Nature shows us that whatever happens there is always growth – we can see beyond our everyday problems and watch the flowers grow. I now have an allotment in which I grow many different vegetables and they often surprise me when they produce exquisite flowers instead of the vegetables I expected. I have learnt to honour all plants and before working in the garden I tune in and send love and gratitude for the wonder they have brought into my life, then somehow like magic I know what is needed – more light, more water or maybe some fertiliser. It seems that all life visits the garden, the bees, butterflies, caterpillars, slugs and snails all go about their business side by side, pollinating, eating the vegetables and laying eggs. This has shown me that there is enough for us all if we allow nature to guide us. Some plants grow enormous and fast whilst others take their time and slowly develop as if they are shy of showing themselves. It’s the same with people – they have their own way of growing and if we allow enough space for this to happen they will often surprise us by flowering beautifully. There is such joy to be had when we watch as nature unfolds in its own time and we give attention moment by moment to this wonder of being alive.
Show Marianne’s picture: Thank you Pat. Marianne Harvey showed us this embroidered picture the other day at our coffee morning when we were talking about this celebration of flowers. Marianne has had this picture for some fifty years and she is so grateful to the embroiderer for putting so much life and love into this little piece. This is our invitation to remember how blessed we are with nature’s abundance and that we can find solace there in nature in life’s difficult times.
Meditation: And now we move into a time of meditation, so you might want to get into a comfy position where you can relax for 6 minutes or so – as there’ll be a reading about the wonderful variety of people comparing us with flowers, that will lead in to 3 minutes in silence and our silence will end with some piano music. Feell free to switch off your video for this section if you prefer, or close your eyes or soften your gaze and take one of those lovely breaths that go deep into the belly and as you release the breath you release some of the tension that all of us store – those muscles in our shoulders and backs, the tension in our faces, now is a time when we can let go, accept who we are and listen to this beautiful description by Claire Feingold Thoryn of a bouquet of people and an invitation for us to be grateful for them all.
Let us give thanks for a bouquet of people.
We give thanks for children. Like tulips and iris, they multiply around us, making the world ever more filled with colour, beauty, and new life. May we bless them as they replant themselves ever further from us, knowing that they need their own space to grow into.
We give thanks for generous neighbours (friends), as constant in bloom as echinacea and whose gifts lift up our body and spirit.
We give thanks for feisty friends as indomitable as geraniums,
and for continuous people, who, like bittersweet and ivy,
hold on and never let go…and can never be gotten rid of.
For crotchety friends, as prickly as rosebushes; their beauty a secret that is only discovered through careful gardening.
For surprising people, who at first glance seem dour and then blossom into joy as quickly as forsythia.
For funny friends, silly as snapdragons,
And serious friends, complex as chrysanthemums.
For comfortable people, their gentle presence as soothing as the sweet smell of lilacs.
For stormy weather neighbours, who stand by us in hard times, like lily of the valley that cannot be deterred by shade or shadow.
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time
And young friends coming on fast as phlox.
For folks as unpretentious as dogwood,
(as persistent as pachysandra),
as steadfast as azalea,
and who, like snowdrops, can be counted on to see you through the winter and remind you that spring always comes.
For loving people (friends), who wind around us like wisteria and embrace us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings,
And, finally, for forget-me-not friends, gone but never forgotten. Their beauty lives on in our memories and hearts.
For this bouquet of people, who brighten our lives each in their own way, let’s give thanks as we enter the fellowship of silence together now.
Music: Wild mountain thyme
Some Thoughts: Our o so human bunch of flowers
I want to start with some words from Ram Dass that have helped me over the years:
“When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying, ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.” Words from spiritual teacher Ram Dass.
What he’s describing is a vital aspect of choosing a spiritual approach to our living. Many people living in this world stick to their own tribe or family or nation or interest group or political party or football team. The tendency then is too distrust the outsiders, the people who look or sound different from us, those whose views of the world are different from our own. If we are truly to live our spiritual values we have to take steps towards those people who are different from us – at least in our thinking. When we find ourselves judging and assessing others – which of course is the task the human mind evolved to carry out – am I safe with this person or this group, are they a threat to me – if we’re on the spiritual path we’ll get a little reminder from time to time of the truth – that we are one people and we have to work on that oneness here in our own heads – in our habitual ways of thinking that need a shake up from time to time.
I mentioned earlier on that the flower communion ritual was created by minister Norbert Capek for the Prague congregation in the 1930s. People would bring a flower to church on that particular Sunday, place them in a shared bowl and at the end of the service they’d leave with a flower different from the one they’d brought with them. A bouquet of people, our o so human bouquet of people – it’s a powerful way to remind a community that it is made up of individuals – each with unique characteristics – together creating something quite beautiful.
Norbert Capek died in a Nazi prison in the 2nd world war. He could have stayed safe in America when war broke out but he chose to go back to his congregation and he worked with others to bring Jewish refugees to places of safety. I suspect if Capek were alive today he’d point out to us that the rise in hatred and division that we are witnessing does have some parallels with Europe in the 1930s. The other week I jotted down a few words written by journalist George Monbiot – who wrote “Beware of anyone who describes a human being as something other than human being.” A quick look through some newspaper headlines will show us how the flames of fear and hatred are being fanned in this country of ours.
We have government ministers who are giving us textbook examples of what sociologists call ‘othering’ – the describing of groups of people in such a way that they seem alien or separate from us. It’s a remarkably effective technique and one that in truth we all use to define ourselves and our positions in the world. The spiritual task for us all then is to return our thinking to an image that includes all of us – just one bunch of flowers, one human race – containing flowers we may not like, flowers we may rightly have concerns about, flowers we may fundamentally disagree with. But we’re all in this vase of human existence together – now how shall we live? Pondering that task of living together is going to be my spiritual exercise for the week ahead – perhaps you’d like to join me.
There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now but like all Unitarian activities this is optional. If you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine. But if you like singing then do join in with gusto, safe in the knowledge that we will all be muted and no-one will hear you. And this hymn, bring flowers to our altar, reminds us of what we can, and do, bring to the life of our world. I hope you enjoy this recording from the Unitarian Music Society – bring flowers to our altar.
Bring Flowers to our Altar
Bring flowers to our altar to show nature’s beauty,
the harvest of goodness in earth, sky and sea.
Bring light to our altar to guide every nation
from hatred to love and to humanity.
Bring a dove to our altar its wings ever flying
in permanent quest for the peace all may share.
Bring bread to our altar the hungry supplying
and feeding the poor who depend on our care.
Bring hope to our altar in your gentle dreaming
of all the good things that will make your heart glad.
Bring love to our altar, a bright witness beaming
to all who are burdened, or lonely or sad.
Bring work to our altar to help every nation
and celebrate all that’s already achieved.
Come yourself to our altar in true dedication
to all the ideals we in common believe.
Announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jeannene for all the focused background work of hosting today and to our pianist Sandra Smith who found some lovely music to fit our floral theme and to Pat Gregory and Marianne Harvey for sharing their thoughts. It’s been a pleasure to spend time with you here today. 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 Tuesday. And get in touch with Jane our outreach officer if you’d like to hear about some online talks this week as part of our annual Unitarian Hucklow summer school. There are daily speakers on the excellent theme of ‘Speaking the Truth in Love: Having the Courage of our Convictions in a Post-Truth Age’ Our Thursday@3 group is this Thursday August 27th when our poetry group returns – all welcome to bring a favourite poem or two – can you let me have those by Weds lunchtime so I can get them out to all attendees. Thank you to everyone who has made a donation towards church running costs in the last week – they are much appreciated and help to keep our particular work going out in the world. My suggestion for the third week running is if you have any spare money in your pocket or bank account, donate to the Red Cross Appeal for the Lebanon and the Yemen crises. Don’t forget we have a virtual coffee time to chat after the service in small groups if you’d like to join in – and we’d like to take a photo of us all as soon as the music ends, so do stick around if you don’t mind being in a photo. We’re going to have some closing words in a moment followed by the one and only Cornish floral dance tune – one to jig along with at home if you like – I invite you to select gallery view on your screen now so that we can all see each other for the closing words and enjoy a feeling of connection in community.
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 that all lives can be blessed by the beauty of nature in which we live and of which we are part. And may our lives, privileged as we are in so many ways, may our lives reflect the beauty all around us, gifts of nature, unearned and so often taken for granted. May we notice the beauty in our living, and do what we can to share and enhance the beauty that surrounds us all the days of our lives.
Amen, go well all of you and blessed be.
Closing music The Cornish Floral Dance played by Sandra Smith
Rev. Sarah Tinker
23rd August 2020