Eating the Darkness – 25/10/20

Opening Music: Handel – for behold darkness shall cover the earth

Opening Words: Our planet earth home spins around her sun and tilts on her axis as she spins, moving us now in our northern lands away from the sun’s rays. The days become shorter, the nights longer. Temperatures cool and we light fires and switch on boilers and put on more layers of clothes. And we gather together with others, as people have always done, to bring one another good cheer, to support one another, to re-kindle connections forged by love.

And so we gather here on this wet autumn morning, bringing as we must do, all the stuff of our lives – the joys, the worries, both emptiness and fullness, happiness and sadness, determination and uncertainty – it’s all here with us now, for we carry life with us – precious cargo and great burden as it may feel at different times.

So let’s take a moment to acknowledge to ourselves how we are feeling at this moment, let’s think of the journey that’s brought us here – the life journey that reminds us it’s worth getting up and gathering with others, that life has more to offer when it’s shared with others. And let’s remind ourselves and in so doing remind one another, that all are welcome here, whoever you are, however you are, whatever has brought you here, let’s encourage each other to be who we truly are, here in community, one with another.

And let me welcome you all to this our virtual community of Kensington Unitarians, created not just by you who are with us this morning but also by a goodly bunch of podcast listeners around the world and those of you who will watch this gathering on a video some time in the future. Welcome to you all. Today we explore a theme of darkness, in keeping with our move into autumn here in Britain.

As I light our chalice flame, connecting is with a worldwide Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist community, may it remind us of our human need for both light and dark in life. For we cannot have one without the other. May this flame also remind us of our human need for the good company of others – we are social creatures and we are nourished by one another.

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 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 good to hear some other voices, 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. These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Prayer and Reflection: London author Iain Sinclair writes, “If people are telling you a story about themselves, they gradually map their own local territories and know themselves better.”

And so as we join together in a time of prayer and reflection blessed and inspired by the spirit of life and love that holds us all in the embrace of existence, let us be aware of all the people in this virtual room together now, aware of the wider worshipping community of which we are part, strengthened by this time of togetherness, enabled to go deeper in our thoughts and prayers here together now. In this community we share the stories of our lives – let’s think in gratitude of all those who have listened to us over the years here and in other parts of our lives.

We too listen to the stories of others – may we know how to be better listeners – less sure perhaps of what we are hearing and of what we know to be true – more curious and gentle explorers of other people’s perspectives – their hopes and fears.

May we through our telling and listening to the stories of our lives come to know ourselves and one another better. May each and every one of us feel encouraged to be who we truly are. May we have the courage to be ourselves and allow others the freedom to be themselves.

How shall we listen to the stories of our world community this day? How can we expand our thinking beyond right and wrong, beyond goodies and baddies, to a deeper understanding that knows the place where we are all one – all expressions of one light, one love, one humanity that has such diversity amidst our oneness.

In stillness now let us direct the thoughts and prayers of our hearts to those we hold in love and care as well as those we find more difficult to love – those we disapprove of or fear: (pause)

May we truly understand love’s ability to transcend all differences, may our transcending love help in the healing of our world this day and all days
And to that aspiration let us each say Amen, that so may it be.

Reading: Here are some extracts from an excellent book by Rachel Naomi Remen called Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal

“Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to each other’s stories once again.

“Most of the stories we are told now are written by novelists and screenwriters, acted out by actors and actresses, stories that have beginnings and endings, stories that are not real. The stories we can tell each other have no beginning and ending. They are a front-row seat to the real experience. Even though they may have happened in a different time or place they have a familiar feel. In some way they are about us, too.

“Real stories take time. We stopped telling stories when we started to lose that sort of time, pausing time, reflecting time, wondering time. Life rushes us along and few people are strong enough to stop on their own. Most often, something unforeseen stops us and it is only then we have the time to take a seat at life’s kitchen table. To know our own story and tell it. To listen to other people’s stories. To remember that the real world is made of just such stories.

“Until we stop ourselves or, more often, have been stopped, we hope to put certain of life’s events ‘behind us’ and get on with our living. After we stop we see that certain of life’s issues will be with us for as long as we live. We will pass through them again and again, each time with a new story, each time with a greater understanding, until they become indistinguishable from our blessings and our wisdom. It’s the way life teaches us how to live.

Meditation: Led by Sonya: Befriending Darkness

Good morning everyone my name is Sonya …. Today I will be offering an interactive open eye and closed eye meditation called Befriending Darkness. Just as we need the Light for our well-being, we also need the dark. Just as the bear needs to hibernate to restore and energise so do we humans. This time of year we get the gift of an extra hour of darkness and it reminds me / us to receive this time as an opportunity to give ourselves extra nurturing and nourishing. So if you are sitting comfortably and wear glasses I invite you to take them off as we do a healing for our eyes.

Rub hands to build in warmth and place gently over your closed eyes. Allow the warm of the darkness to relax any tension in the eyes and head and breath deeply to relax the entire body. Gently remove your hands and open your eyes and put your glasses back on. Now I ask that you look around the room and focus on one thing that you love seeing everyday – if you can’t find anything then a colour that you love in the room. Allow yourself to receive the light of this object, what it makes you feel, the positive memories you have associated with it etc…. Now close your eyes – take a breath. Often we need to turn off the light, to enter the dark to integrate all the gifts that we receive. Allow the dark to soothe you and bring you into a deep state of relaxation. I am reminded of times when I have gone to the theatre, concert or cinema and when the lights go down and we are in the dark, there is a calm excitement that enters my being, waiting for the light to inspire me once again. Or waiting for a full moon so I can go walk in the luminous darkness and feel the glow of the full moon and the sparkling stars. We are earth bodies with an eternal light much like the diamond deep in the earth. I leave you with those images and perhaps a few of your own to enter into befriending the darkness in silence, we’ll hold 3 minutes together in silence which will be ended by a prerecorded piece of music by Sandra – you may know the Simon and Garfunkel tune that starts with the words hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. Thank you.

Silence – 3 minutes

Music: The sound of silence

Address: Eating the Darkness

I’ve called this address – eating the darkness – and I have writer and collector of stories Phil Cousineau to thank for this description. And he was given it by a shaman in the Philippines, who used it to describe the telling of stories in the dark evenings with just firelight to illuminate the gathered people’s faces.

Here in Britain in the 21st century the clocks have now been turned back – we had the comfort of an extra hour in bed this morning – but we know that extra hour is the gift we receive in return for an earlier sunset and longer nights now, as we head towards winter.

I’ve long been fascinated by the relatively recent arrival of readily available light for us humans. For most of our species’ time here on earth, our light sources were primarily the sun and the moon – and the light of a fire. Lives were governed by the presence or absence of the greater light of the sun and the lesser light of the moon – and by the availability of fuel to burn on a fire or later in history to make into torches, candles, oil lamps.

A while ago some of us visited the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum – one of the pieces that I stared at for a long long time is known as the Lion Man. I asked the museum if I could borrow this Lion Man figure but all they’d give me was this picture on a mug – this is the catalogue description

‘The Lion Man is a masterpiece. Sculpted with great originality, virtuosity and technical skill from mammoth ivory, this 40,000-year-old image, found in a cave in Southern Germany, is 31 centimetres tall. It has the head of a cave lion with a partly human body. He stands upright, perhaps on tiptoes, legs apart and arms to the sides of a slender, cat-like body with strong shoulders like the hips and thighs of a lion. His gaze, like his stance, is powerful and directed at the viewer. The details of his face show he is attentive, he is watching and he is listening. He is powerful, mysterious and from a world beyond ordinary nature. He is the oldest known representation of a being that does not exist in physical form but symbolises ideas about the supernatural.’

The figure made of bone is worn as though it has often been handled – passed round a group of people perhaps. We’ll never know its original use or meaning. What we do know is that when they experimented with similar tools and materials it took 400 hours at least to make a figure like this – this was a society that had time to make something beautiful.

In the exhibition there was a film of this figure being held in front of a source of light, a flickering fire perhaps – and showing the remarkable shadows it would have cast on a cave wall. So atmospheric. This figure may have had spiritual or societal significance – it seems likely to have been used in the telling of stories, myths perhaps – that may well have helped those people of the Ice Age deal with the living of their lives.

We 21st century people have our TVs and books to tell us stories don’t we and light sources we can switch on and off when we want. I’d like to say that we all have sources of warmth we can turn on too – though we do well to remember how many people in our society face fuel poverty as winter comes – people who stay cold because they fear not having enough money to put into the pre-payment meter. Two people this week have mentioned to me going to bed early so they don’t need to keep the heating on.

The times we are living in are very unequal aren’t they. The times we live in are also quite disturbing for many of us – as governments of the world struggle to contain the covid 19 virus and manage the pressures it brings to health services. And I think many of us as individuals are struggling too aren’t we – uncertain how best to safely live our lives, to maintain our livelihoods, to keep our social connections strong. We all have different versions of this particular life story to tell don’t we.

That shamanic phrase – eating the darkness – it connects for me with the words we heard earlier from Rachel Naomi Remen. She was trained and worked as a doctor for many years – and through her work realised the damage that can be done to patients if medical systems treat their symptoms alone rather than the whole person, the whole person within a wider familial and societal setting. She has done so much to encourage medics to explore their patients’ life stories with them – ‘everybody is a story’ she tells us and ‘real stories take time’. Here in Britain we are moving into the darker time of the year – what better way to spend our time than in the telling of stories – and the listening to stories told to us by others.

And in the telling of our stories we are perhaps enabled to digest our lives better – another way of eating the darkness – coming to understand our own life journey, being nourished and even strengthened by what we have experienced rather than held back or limited by our past. Friends, these are not easy times for many of us – but let’s do what we can to make best use of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Let’s do some collective eating of the darkness this winter and await the spring’s new growth that will arrive – in its own good time.

Hymn: There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now but if you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine. Thanks to the Unitarian Music Society who have recorded this hymn – when our heart is in a holy place – with its line that so connected for me with the theme of today’s service – ‘when we tell our story from deep inside and we listen with a loving mind, and we hear our voices in each other’s words, then our heart is in a holy place’. And if you like singing, here on Zoom you can join in with full voice, safe in the knowledge that we will all be muted and no-one will hear you.

Announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jenny for the crucial background work of hosting today and to Sandra our pianist. 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, next week is All Souls and we’ll be having a simple ritual to honour those we love who have died. You’re also welcome to join our 10.30 coffee morning on Tuesday. West London GreenSpirit group’s next meeting – on October 31st at 3pm. Poetry on Nov 5th. Thank you everybody who has made a recent donation recently to help our church finances keep in good shape and thanks to everyone who now donates by standing order. 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 Sandra playing George Harrison’s here comes the sun – to remind us that the light returns – 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 for all those who feel unable to eat the darkness, whose life stories are hidden. And may each of us in the days ahead cherish the stories of our lives and take time to explore the stories of others – let us be good companions for one another along this some times rocky, some times wondrous road of life. Amen, go well all of you in the coming week and blessed be.

Closing Music: Here comes the sun

Rev. Sarah Tinker

25th October 2020