The Carnival Continues – 30/08/20

Opening Music: 1.35 Friedrich Zachau – Fugue

Opening words: Hello everybody, I’m Sarah Tinker, minister with the Kensington Unitarians community. And here we are, gathered once again, in this virtual Sunday morning space, on Zoom, reaching out and connecting with you however you are feeling today and whatever is going on for you in life at this time, wherever you are and whatever is calling to you. This morning we are joined by visitors from the Godalming congregation and so an especial welcome to you and to anyone else who is visiting us in person today.

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 your presence here in community is what matters most so please make yourself comfortable……

My hope is that each of us will find something in this gathering that touches a need in us – be it for laughter or serious thought, for stimulation or soothing, for comfort or challenge, may we all find something of that which we seek. And if you come with a heavy heart this day, know us to be a community that can bear the weight with you.

If life had not been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic, the streets here in Notting Hill over the next two days would have been very lively indeed. For this should have been the 54th Notting Hill Carnival – the largest street festival in Europe. The carnival is continuing as an online music event this year and our theme today explores the idea of life’s carnival continuing even though our ways of connecting with one another have had to alter so much over the last five months in order to keep one another safe. If you’ve ever been to a carnival you’ll perhaps have a sense of how very physical it is – with music that vibrates through your body and fills your ears, great food, all your senses are heightened. People speak of the effect of the crowds, of merging in a mass of human beings, all up for having a good time, dancing and singing. So I thought some words of kindness for these bodies of ours would be a good way to start today – and I invite you to take one of those deep, conscious breaths now as a way to settle us in the here and now – letting go any niggles of mind or body, for a while at least. These words of welcome are written by Sean Neil-Baron and I wonder if any of his words speak directly to you today:

Your body is welcome here, all of it.
Yes, even that part. And that part. And yes, even that part.
The parts you love, and the parts you don’t.
For in this place we come with all that we are
All that we have been,
And all that we are going to be.
Our bodies join in a web of co-creation, created and creating.
Constantly changing, constantly changing us
Scarred and tattooed, tense and relaxed
Diseased and cured, unfamiliar and intimate
Formed in infinite diversity of creation
Your body is welcome here, all of it.
So take a moment and welcome it
Take a moment to feel in it.
Take a moment, to be in it.

Chalice Lighting: And our chalice flame is lit, as it is in all our Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist gatherings. Its one light is reminding us that despite our world’s many divisions we are indeed one human race living our lives upon this, our one planet earth home. Now how shall we live?

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 – visitors you are most welcome to join in. 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 source of life’s meaning and purpose for us, the ground of our very being.

Let us hold in our hearts this day all those who long to party, who miss their social lives and feel aggrieved that rules are interfering with their pleasures. May they remember their responsibilities to the greater good of all. May each of us find ways to connect safely with others and especially ways to reach out to people who may be feeling isolated at the moment.

Let us think too of all the young people starting school this next week and those who teach them, that they may find pleasure in learning and in being together once more. May they be safe.

We know that life is a mix of joy and sorrow and we know that life opportunities are not fairly distributed amongst us. May all those who know sorrow also find joy this day on their journey through life and may the joy-filled be gentle in sharing their happiness with others.

Let us take a moment in quietness now to speak our own prayers for those we know to be in need this day …..

And may each of us find ways to bring the prayers of our hearts into the work of our hands, and to that aspiration let us say together – amen.

Reading: On Joy and Sorrow by Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Meditation: ‘Holding ourselves lightly’

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 – there’ll be a few words about our ability to hold ourselves and our lives lightly, that will lead in to 3 minutes in silence and our silence will end with some piano music. Feel free to switch off your video for this section if you prefer, and remember that you don’t have to follow these suggestions at all – they are just suggestions and you may have your own way of relaxing and going deeper. But if it works for you, you might 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 can imagine releasing some of the tension that all of us store – those tight muscles in our shoulders, necks and backs, the tension in our faces, now is a time when we can stretch them a bit and help them release and let go, increasing our feeling of ease, perhaps using the gentle rhythm of our breathing to bring us an increased sense of lightness in the body. We might find ourselves lifting up a bit in the chest area, straightening our backs which can help our shoulders drop down towards the floor, perhaps imagining a string from the crown of our heads lifting us up just a touch, easing the force of gravity for a few minutes, playing with the idea of holding ourselves lightly.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron writes:

‘The key to feeling at home with your body, mind, and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet, comes from being able to lighten up. This earnestness, this seriousness about everything in our lives-including [spiritual] practice-this goal-oriented, we’re-going-to-do-it-or-else attitude, is the world’s greatest killjoy. We may be limiting our(We lack a) sense of appreciation because we’re so solemn about everything.’

Her words may not resonate with you at all this morning and that’s fine – but I wonder if there is some message here for some of us when we ask ourselves the question how might we hold ourselves more lightly as we enter the fellowship of silence together now, a silence that will lead into some piano music played for us by Peter Crockford.


Music: Love never grows old – Parr Davies

Reflection by Harold Lorenzelli:

I was going away. After much internal debate, procrastination and not a little anxiety, a decision had been made. We booked a passage on Eurotunnel and the dye was cast. No going back now. My companion and I had both been super cautious for nigh on five long months of semi isolation and we were finally off. We left by the mantle of night and emerged into……well, the gloom of an early morning in France, to be honest. But we were there, we had made it. There were no flags to mark our arrival, no shouts of welcome. It was on to the motorway and off we went. But oh the exhilaration, the sheer childish excitement of it all. Free from the shackles of confinement and heading for a house with a pool and hosts eager to join with us in a few days of shared meals, possible cautious outings and a birthday celebration with the lady of the house to boot. They were as eager to see us as we were to see them. Their own children and grandchildren were back in the UK, unable for various reasons to make the trip. We basked in each others company. Lazy days by the pool….shared meals, cool drinks and amiable banter. The joy was in slowly getting to know my hosts who I had only met at the odd party thrown by my companion, Xmas carols, quick conversations before you moved on to another couple, that sort of thing. We had all been terribly spoilt in our previous lives of gregarious intercourse. How little we valued those casual conversations of the past, those snatched anecdotes, brief encounters before heading for the next animated group. Now we had time to savour every word and gesture, to air those favourite jokes, put on silly voices, and pretend that all was well for a few days. And of course all was well, we were doing what human beings were made for, socializing with our neighbours in a relaxed, congenial environment. Mealtimes were an opportunity to swap favourite recipes, recount memorable feasts and share memories of past failures too. Mine concerned a waiter in New Zealand some years back. I had complained about the minuscule portion of risotto that I had been served. I remember being reduced to eating my meal grain by grain so as not to embarrass my friends should I finish too soon. When I dared complain, which I don’t do very often, the waiter remarked that chef wished to point out that quality came before quantity….and I was silenced. But back to the holiday….if there was one thing that was missing it was the Gallic habit of kissing on both cheeks….la bise, as it is known. There’s a whole etiquette of how many pecks you may take….is it three for an acquaintance and up to five for a close friend, or is it the other way round?….and doesn’t it depend on whether you are in the provinces or the Metropole. Ah well, they will have to wait until this whole sad mess we call Covid 19 is finally over. It’s a small price to pay for helping to contain this terrible virus and it certainly challenges our ingenuity in finding safe ways of being with each other. Of course we were not together the whole time….there was plenty of opportunity for quiet reflection, whether taking a snooze by the pool or retiring to one’s bed for a private moment or two. It was during such times that one inevitably reflected about the whole experience. We all need that private time to process the events of the day but it was good to be with people. I don’t know about the rest of you but I sort of come alive when I’m with people, though because of my circumstances I spend a good deal of time on my own. Oddly enough it’s not necessarily the conversation that is the chief attraction. Many’s the time I’ve been with friends where there have been periods of relative quiet where we were able to relax into a comfortable space which did not require words. That is perhaps the mark of solid friendships. But this holiday was more about getting used to the unfamiliar territory of social proximity. Don’t you just hate the way ‘social distancing’ has become an acceptable part of our language? It seems so counter-intuitive to our natural urge to embrace and not shy away from our neighbour….. but live with it we must, for we know that it is for everyone’s well-being. The holiday was a success despite being cut short by a mad dash through the night and early morning to avoid the newly imposed quarantine measures. We did it. We survived it. We made it back home. Was it all worth it? Of course it was. Old friendships were strengthened and new ones begun. The RAF has a motto….Per ardua ad astra…through adversity to the stars….well there was nothing arduous about this particular encounter, if you discount the terrible queues at the Blackwall tunnel on our return to England. But that’s become almost a rite of passage and it gave me the very welcome opportunity to share my tale with you all this morning. Vive la France, vive l’Angleterre and long live the joy of connecting with others, responsibly!

Hymn: ‘Here I Am’
Thank you Harold. 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, Here I am, reminds us how much more we can achieve when our strengths join with the strengths of others. I hope you enjoy this recording from the Unitarian Music Society, sung to a tune some of us will remember from childhood – Here I am, all alone, can’t do this job on my own.

Announcement: My thanks go to Jane and Jeannene for all the essential background work of hosting today and to our pianist Peter Crockford who brought us our music and to Harold Lorenzelli for telling us what he did on his holidays. It’s been great to spend this time with you here today. We’ll be back again for next week’s gathering at 10am here on Zoom, and you’re also welcome to join us for our 10.30 coffee morning on Tuesday. 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. Because of your generosity we have not yet had to dig too deeply into church reserves. If you win the lottery do think of Essex Church and our new DONATE button on the front page of our website. 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 a classic of pub sing-alongs – the tune Friends and Neighbours made popular by Max Bygraves – one to sing 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: 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 sweet pleasures that harm no-one but rather contribute to the greater well-being of all in this carnival of our lives.
Unitarian minister Cliff Reed wrote these lovely closing words called Life’s Sweetness. I wonder if they in any way speak particularly to you today:

Grant us freedom from the fear of the future
That blights the present.
Grant us freedom from the too-desperate hoping
That denies this moment, now.
Grant us the freedom to taste life’s sweetness
And to live it lovingly…
…to let go when the time comes,
And so be blessed.
Amen, go well all of you in the week ahead and indeed blessed be.

Closing Music: Friends and Neighbours

Rev. Sarah Tinker (and Harold Lorenzelli)

30th August 2020