Remembrance Sunday – 8/11/20
Opening Music: Peace Like a River
Opening Words and Chalice Lighting: Good morning everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians Sunday gathering. Today we’re marking Remembrance Sunday and here in our virtual service on Zoom we’ve just heard a traditional African American song that starts with the words ‘I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul’. The idea we’re exploring in today’s service is that we humans contain both peaceful and warlike potential impulses within us. How then shall we best move towards peace and away from war. As Unitarians we do not have one message to proclaim on a day such as Remembrance Sunday. Some people here are pacifists and view war as a crime against our very humanity, some people may consider war a sometimes terrible necessity. Your lives, just like the lives of all other human beings, will have been touched by war in different ways because war is an uncomfortable reality for us all.
So let’s start by finding some peaceful place within our very being, here in the present moment. I invite you to take a conscious breath and use this breathing, in and out, to centre and steady yourself, for we are living in turbulent times. All the more reason for us to stay connected with the part of us that is not swayed by the news, by the weather – be that real or metaphorical, let’s keep connected with that essence of us that takes the longer view, that accepts the great mystery that is life, and seeks an inner calm that will hold us steadily through it all. It’s good for us to be together on this day. Please make yourselves comfortable, if you’d rather switch your cameras off that’s fine.
Our chalice flame is lit. May this living flame, symbol of our world wide progressive religious faith, burn brightly today to commemorate all those people whose lives have been taken or blighted by warfare the world over, not least of whom are the civilians. As well as those who fight and are wounded or killed in wars let us remember the old, the young, the animals and all those who are caught up in warfare not as participants but as shocked and frightened bystanders. May this our sacred flame burn brightly today as we remember and reflect.
Candles of Joy and Concern
Time of prayer and reflection for Interfaith Week
And so I invite you now to join in a time of prayer and reflection as I call on the spirit of life and love to be with us now and to bless all that we say and do together here this day. As we in Britain mark the start of Interfaith Week let us give thanks for the life and work of the previous Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks who died yesterday and who did so much in his life to further interfaith communication and co-operation. Let us then dedicate ourselves this day to the shared tasks of our society – making connections between different groups, healing divisions, working harmoniously to resolve social issues born of poverty, ignorance and injustice.
As Unitarians we can celebrate all that connects our world faiths, the fundamental shared values that unite all people of goodwill; we can celebrate the distinctive features of each faith and be enriched by their unique qualities; and we can work tirelessly and with respectful curiosity to increase opportunities for dialogue and to deepen understanding.
Let’s take a moment now if we wish to think of groups or individuals who we find difficult to accept …. Can we do more to remain open hearted towards those who are different from us?
Let’s take a moment now, if we so choose, to think of individuals or groups for whom we are concerned …. Be they people close to us, or people whose lives we hear through the news …. Is there some action, however small, that we could take this day to ease suffering? And if not, can we remain an open hearted and loving witness to the struggles of others?
On this Remembrance Sunday as we remember all those affected by warfare, may we both as individuals and as a community commit ourselves to the task of living our lives for the peace and wellbeing of our society, our wider global community and the planet that is our home. May our lives express our faith and our values, this day and all days, amen
Reading and Real People: The young dead soldiers
Reading: The American poet Archibald MacLeish who wrote this poem called The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak was well aware of the terrible sacrifices made by young soldiers in warfare. As a young man, he had served as an artillery officer in World War I and had witnessed suffering and death on the battlefields of Europe. During the Second World War, he wrote this powerful poem that not only commemorated the dead, but also made it clear that those of us who survive bear a special responsibility to make the deaths of these soldiers meaningful.
The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak
The young dead soldiers do not speak. Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.
Sarah’s piece with photo: This photo was taken in the Netherlands in August 1937 at an international Scout Jamboree, as they are called; a camp bringing boys from all over Europe together for a week. Sitting at the front of the photo, bottom right, is my uncle Donald – my mother’s only sibling, her older brother. I remember my mum telling me what fun Donald was and how much he loved scouting – and how he especially enjoyed these international camps, meeting young people his own age, learning other languages, having fun together. He was pen pals with boys in several countries after that camp. By 1941 Donald had joined the RAF and was dead, killed in a plane crash in northern Africa, caused not by the so called enemy – but by a faulty plane. Donald was a real young dead soldier and I mourn the cutting short of his life. On Remembrance Sunday I remember not only Donald but my mum and their parents, my grandparents – because of course all of their lives were changed forever by his death. I also remember my mum telling me how excited he was to join the RAF and to wear his uniform, how proud his mum was of him. Warfare is complex.
Michaela will speak about her father, who she never met, who died towards the end of the 2nd world war.
As we settle ourselves for a time of shared silent meditation now, which will lead into a traditional 2 minutes of silence for all those whose lives have been blighted by war. And our silence will come to an end with a beautiful arrangement of Sibelius’ music Finlandia – part of his Karelia Suite – a piece of music which helped to bring about Finnish independence.
So let’s get as comfy as we can wherever we are sitting or lying, perhaps straighten our backs a little and let our shoulders fall back and downwards towards the floor, enjoying the sense of all our weight rooting us into the earth beneath us through the structures of our buildings, yet still we are connected with the earth on which we live our days. You might want to soften your gaze or close your eyes and allow some ancient words from Lao Tsu, author of the Tao Te Ching, to speak to you, and to help each of us understand ourselves a little better this day.
If there is to be peace in the world There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities There must be peace between neighbours.
If there is to be peace between neighbours There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home, There must be peace in the heart.
Allowing our breath’s gentle rhythm to help turn our attention inwards, I invite you if you wish to consider Lao Tsu’s words – if there is to be peace in the world there must be peace in the heart, can we find within ourselves a position of peace even in relation to that which we find difficult or disturbing. Let’s focus upon an inner peace with the strength to remain peaceful whatever occurs. If there is to be peace in the world let there be peace in the heart, as we enter the silence together.
Silence: 2 minutes
Music: an arrangement of The Song of Peace from Finlandia by Sibelius
Some thoughts on human nature
Unitarians regularly surprise me, but I imagine that most of us today are feeling a sense of relief that Joe Biden seems to have won the election for the American presidency. For one of the most powerful countries in the world to be governed in a calmer manner will affect us all. But amidst the celebrations and the sense of relief there is a spiritual learning opportunity for us all. A few years back on several occasions we had candles of joy and concern lit in our services here at Essex Church for our inner President Trump – we were jokily reminding ourselves that whenever we demonise a particular individual we are projecting aspects of ourselves that we find hard to own, onto another person. 20th century psychology, particularly the work of Carl Jung, introduced the concept of the shadow into everyday understanding. The idea that we repress elements of ourselves that are considered unacceptable and possibly then project such attributes onto others. Jung suggests that we examine carefully any strong negative reactions we have to other people, individuals and groups. What characteristics do they share? How might we be denying such elements in ourselves?
Today I think we need to explore our own inner Trump supporter. It would be easy enough to dismiss them as foolish and misguided. We’d probably be too polite to admit openly any stronger judgements about education or lifestyles. We’d probably be too polite to admit openly any feelings of superiority, but we might own our fear and hatred, our denial of their points of view and attitudes. 71 million or so people voted for Donald Trump. We have to face the realities of living in a world where people hold so many varied and oft times opposing world views. When I think that thought, I find it remarkable that we manage to live as peaceably as we do. But that is achieved by ignoring, by not engaging, by keeping to our own little groups who think like us. We keep those blinkers on (in America they call them blinders – part of a horse’s harness to prevent them being spooked by scary movements), and avoid all who might threaten our view of the world and of humanity.
Another way though is to take off the blinkers and look around our world. Breathe in all those varied world views, breathe out our own inner contradictions, our own facsist, bullying, warlike natures, admit our own violent thoughts – our belief that the world would be a better place if everyone thought the same as us. Can we learn to accept and even love our world society just as it is, so very flawed, so disappointing and confusing and frightening, can we hold all that is in love and in compassion? On Remembrance Sunday can we face the reality of humanity’s warlike nature, can we own the battles that we fight within ourselves.
War goes on and it takes many forms. So let’s remember those who have died in warfare in times past and times present. Let’s do all we can to avoid such wars in the future and to find more humane ways to deal with world conflicts. When we hear politicians speaking of nationalism, of glory, or demonising some perceived enemy near or far let us not be caught up in such patriotic fervour. Let’s remember instead the common humanity we share with all people and the common life force that runs through all living beings who share our planet earth home.
When we find ourselves despairing about the state of our wider world and about conflicts in distant lands, let’s focus our attention back to our own country and work to heal the divisions that exist here. And periodically let’s remember to examine the state of our own thinking, our own feelings. It may be that some discord within our own lives is waiting to be healed. There may be a new thought to have, there may be a brave conversation for us to start, there may be an act of reconciliation that needs us to set it in motion. Then the loss of so many lives through warfare may not have been in vain. Then the remembering we engage in this day may bear fruits of peace and love and justice. May this be so for the greater good of all, amen.
Hymn: For the Healing of the Nations
Peace is finding ways to communicate – to speak and to listen
Peace is being prepared to give ground sometimes
Peace means acceptance of that which is
Peace means finding gentle ways to right wrongs
Peace means respect for those who are different from us
Peace requires justice
Peace is like sweet music after harsh and discordant sounds
In the week ahead may each of us find the meaning of peace in our own lives and share the seeds of peaceful possibilities with others we meet along the way, amen, go well all of you and blessed be.
Music: Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations
Rev. Sarah Tinker
8th November 2020