Gathering in Community – 13/09/20
What called us here this day? What called us to this community of justice, freedom, truth and love? What spoke to us amidst the noise of everyday life and reminded us that to gather in community and to attend to matters of the spirit is a fruitful path for us to choose?
Good morning everybody, I’m Sarah Tinker and I’m with Kensington Unitarians on Zoom this late summer morning. Welcome to this time that we spend together, with music, words, silence and the good company of one another. I think of these gatherings of ours as a time to reconnect – we reconnect with one another, but we also have chance to reconnect with something within ourselves, and with that which we sense as being greater than ourselves – be that our connection in community one with another, or our connection with the great mystery of which we are surely part. My hope is that there will be something in this service that speaks to you and to your issues, something that might resonate with you in the week ahead, something that might help you to make sense of the week that has passed. And this hope also applies to any of you watching this as a video or listening in on a podcast some time in the future
Many of us feel a bit churned up by the times we are living through. In the way that a jar of muddy water will settle and become clear if left still for a while, perhaps we too can experience a greater clarity through spending time here together today. Here’s some muddy water that might represent any troubles that you’re experiencing at present – any worries or burdens that it’s hard to shed. This water is troubled now, shaken as some of us are shaken by life at the moment. Let’s see if this water has cleared a little by the end of our time together this morning.
And so I invite you now to take a moment, take a conscious breath perhaps and when breathing out have a sense of letting go of anything that might stop you from being fully here in the present moment, and breathe in a sense of peace and connectedness.
As this chalice flame, symbol of our world wide progressive religious community, burns brightly – so may we find a path of love that shines for us and shows us our next steps in creating a world of peace, a peace that begins within each and every one of our hearts.
Candles of Joy and Concern: If you are a visitor with us here today a special welcome to you and an invitation to join in at whatever level feels right for you. 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 an opportunity 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 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 Jenny will do their best to spot if someone wants to speak and can’t unmute themselves. Here’s one more candle that I light now and may it represent all the issues that we each of us carry in our hearts – especially those issues, both joys and sorrows too tender to share in public. These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.
A Prayer for the Sacredness of Community by Andy Pakula
Let’s settle into our selves now for a moment, allowing the time and space we need to reconnect with the wisdom within, with the sacred as we understand it.
Each day of our lives, we contend with challenges and we encounter wonders. We have our deep sorrows and our enlivening joys. And most of the time, we face life in our essential aloneness.
We join together in community because we have come to know somehow that our aloneness is not enough. We have learned that the myths of individual self-sufficiency are false and sometimes toxic. We have learned that independence weakens us and our world while interdependence strengthens us all.
Alone, we struggle to find the strength to cope with hard realities. We cast about for answers with nothing to hold on to. Alone, we fail to be present to life’s wonders and to know the deep satisfaction that comes of appreciation and gratitude. Alone, our perspective narrows until we can see little more than the inside of our own minds and our immediate frustrations.
Together though, we find strength. At our best times, our togetherness brings a courage into our hearts that we could not have expected. It brings a force of love that threatens to burst from our usually tentative hearts. It deepens our longing for justice throughout our world.
Together, a spirit emerges among us. We understand this spirit in so many different ways and know that no words are adequate – no images accurate – no understandings sufficient.
And yet we know that the something that becomes present participates with us to recreate our lives and our world. It is to this spirit that we address ourselves now.
Unnameable spirit, be in us and among us. May we come to open our hearts to all that is. May we be with one another in authenticity and in compassion. May we broaden our view to take in all manner of things without judgement.
Hear our silent prayers spoken inwardly now in a few quiet moments, our cares for those around us and for our world………….
Help us to be a community of spirit – a community where love becomes real, where acceptance is unconditional, and where justice is a necessity.
And to these aspirations of our hearts let us say together, Amen
Reading: ‘Love Like Water’ by Mark Nepo
Water in its clear softness fills whatever hole it finds. It is not skeptical or distrusting. It does not say this gully is too deep or that field is too open. Like water, the miracle of love is that it covers whatever it touches, making the touched thing grow while leaving no trace of its touch.
Most things break instead of transform because they resist. The quiet miracle of love is that without our interference, it, like water, accepts whatever is tossed or dropped or placed into it, embracing it completely.
Of course, we are human and are easily hurt if not loved back or if loved poorly. But we waste so much of life’s energy by deliberating who and what shall be worthy of our love when in the deepest elemental sense, these choices are not in our province, any more than rain can choose what it shall fall upon.
In truth, the more we let love flow, the more we have to love. This is the inner glow that sages and saints of all ages seem to share: the wash of their love over everything before then; not just people, but birds and rocks and flowers and air.
Beneath the many choices we have to make, love, like water, flows back into the world through us. It is the one great secret available to all. Yet somewhere the misperception has been enshrined that to withhold love will stop hurt. It is the other way around. As water soaks scars, love soothes our wounds. If opened to, love will accept the angrily thrown stone, and our small tears will lose some of their burn in the great ocean of tears, and the arrow released to the bottom of the river will lose its point. Only love with no thought of return can soften the point of suffering.
Meditation and Ritual – Water Blessing
We’re going to have a water meditation and ritual now so you might like to get a small bowl or glass of water or simply imagine you have some water to dip your fingers into. There is a tradition in our Essex Church congregation and in many Unitarian Universalist congregations the world over, to hold a gathering of the waters ceremony each year in early autumn. It’s often used as a symbol of a community of individuals joining together as one. People would bring water from their homes or from their travels and pour the water into a shared bowl.
In recent years as our awareness of water’s environmental importance has grown, this water ceremony has evolved and we use it as a potent reminder of the oneness of all life and the finite resources that all life shares here on planet earth. This meditation invites us to think of particular aspects of life on earth and at the end of each section we are invited to place our fingers first in the water and then to touch our faces – or our hand if we prefer that. And together repeat the words – for we are one.
So let’s ready ourselves for this extended guided meditation which will lead into 3 minutes of shared silence together and that will end with some beautiful piano music from the Scottish folk tradition. Let’s get as comfy as we can, take one of those lovely gentle freeing breaths and with our water nearby, let’s soften our gaze and turn our attention inwards.
We live in a world with finite resources and water is a gift we must share. Yet too many people and animals know drought – when rains fail to arrive and crops wither. Let us dip our fingers in water, touch our lips – or our other hand if we prefer –, remember all those who thirst this day and say together – we are one.
We live in a world where fires destroy livelihoods and lives. Let us think of those forced to flee the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos this week because of fire, and those living in the Amazon, in Indonesia and on the west coast of the United States – and say as we dip our fingers into the water and touch our necks – or other hand if we prefer – and say together – we are one.
We live in a world where floods are an increasing concern as climate change alters rainfall patterns and seasons. Let us think in loving compassion of all those whose ways of life are being changed forever by global warming, as we dip our fingers into water and touch our cheeks, that the coolness of this water may inspire us to live more simply that others might simply live – and let us say together – we are one.
We live in a world where so many people suffer from emotional storms and struggle with feelings and relationships and with the day to day challenges of existence. Too many feel isolated and alone. May we all work to develop greater understanding of ourselves and one another that human beings might find ever more creative ways to live harmoniously and deal with life’s challenges with greater love and compassion. As we dip our fingers into the water and touch our foreheads – let us say together – we are one.
We live in a truly amazing world, our blue green planet earth home spins in space around a life giving sun, in our vast Milky Way galaxy that is one of perhaps 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. There is still so much we do not know. We sense spiritual wellsprings that give us glimpses of life’s great mystery. Let us honour our interconnectedness with our earth and with all living beings, and as we do so let us remember that we must share earth’s finite resources with all beings. As we dip our fingers into the water for this final time, let us give thanks for this miraculous life giving substance of which we are made and bring our hands to our hearts in gratitude for life as we say the words together – we are one – and as one enter the fellowship of silence together.
Music – O Waly Waly played by Sandra Smith
Address – Gathering in Community
We called this service Gathering in Community and I guess most of us would agree that gathering in community is a good thing. We humans are a social species and we need one another in order to survive. We’re also individuals and so we live with an interesting push pull kind of relationship with one another – we draw together, we move apart, we want to be closer or want more space. This is what it is to be human and depending on our social circumstances and levels of privilege and our temperaments, we experiment with the dance between individuality and collectivity throughout our lives – with more or less awareness, and exploration, of what drives us, what motivates us, what limits us.
Living as we currently are, in a time of global pandemic, We’ve all been presented with a mighty challenge, haven’t we, of how to maintain our sense of community connection whilst keeping a safe distance from people. These are not easy times – no wonder some of us feel a bit on edge, a bit weary of it all.
But if any good can come out of such a time as this my hope would be for a renewed awareness of our need for one another, a greater understanding of our quite remarkable differences from one another and an increased willingness to speak out in gentleness and love, to say what we need and yearn for, to ask questions of one another and find out more about our hopes and fears, our concerns and our motivations. In these times when we need to hold back physically for the greater good of all, let’s not hold back emotionally. Let’s communicate with one another as freely as water and air move in our biosphere.
At the end of today’s service we’ll hear the tune of an African American song Wade in the water. You may know the chorus – wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the water. It’s a song I’ve sung over many years but it’s meaning changed for me when someone explained its use as a code song for slaves attempting to escape, telling them to follow the river and find supportive people as they travelled. When wind and storm troubled the waters the hounds searching for escapees would be less likely to be able to track them. That’s a chilling image isn’t it.
Wade in the water is based on the New Testament verse of John 5:4 – ‘For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease they had.’
There are many ways today in which our societies are dis-eased. And I wonder if you, like me, can at times feel quite despondent about humanity and our ways of being. But troubled waters may wake us up, shake us up. Personally I know I’ve a lot of waking up to do to the injustices on which my comfortable life is based. And I think being part of a supportive community is one of the best ways we can learn more about life, learn more about one another, learn more ways to bring about a life of greater justice, greater compassion and greater love for all.
Hymn: There’s an opportunity to sing a song now but if you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine. If you like singing then you can join in with vigour, safe in the knowledge that we will all be muted and no-one will hear you. This song is called Come sing a song with me that I might know your mind, and I’ll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find, and I’ll bring a song of love and a rose in the winter time, always feels like a celebration of human connection and our ability to love and support one another through the bad times and the good.. Thanks to the Unitarian Music Society for this recording. (check muted)
Announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jenny for all the essential background work of hosting today and to our pianist Sandra Smith. It’s good to spend 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 our 10.30 coffee morning on Tuesday. There are a few spaces left for this week’s Heart and Soul gatherings and make a note in your diary for the West London GreenSpirit Autumn Equinox celebration on Tuesday 22nd September. I keep mentioning the red DONATE button that can now be found on our website’s front page just about every week – and that’s because every time I mention it some kind person uses it to make a donation to keep the work of our community going strong. Except – I had a look at it the other day – just to remind myself how pleasing the Donate button was – and it turns out it’s not red at all – it’s yellow and blue. But whatever the colour it works and you’ve been using it to give money to our church community and I’m very grateful. Thanks also to all of you giving monthly standing order donations – they’re really help. 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 short piano piece – but first let’s have a look at our jar of muddy water – has 40 minutes in a Unitarian community brought it some clarity and peace of mind? Yes – look the muddy waters have cleared and I hope you also are feeling refreshed by this time we’ve spent together. 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 who hunger and thirst this day may be helped by others.
Poet and liturgist Marcia Falk writes:
Eternal wellspring of peace
May we be drenched with the longing for peace
That we may give ourselves over
As the earth to the rain, to the dew,
Until peace overflows our lives
As living waters overflow the seas.
May our troubles lead us forwards, this day and all days, that we might know peace, amen, go well everyone and blessed be.
Closing music: Wade in the Water played by Sandra Smith
Rev. Sarah Tinker
13th September 2020