An Earth Celebration – 15/11/20

We gather here on Zoom on a wild and wet Sunday morning, at least that’s the weather here in London in November 2020. I wonder what the weather is like where you are. For our world is a big place with different hemispheres, varied weather and terrain. And it’s home to a world population of some 7.8 billion people, a planet we share with some 8.7 million different species of other living beings. We are truly not alone. Yet we are unique, each and every one of us bringing our own particular version to this human life story, to this time and this place. And so I welcome you to this gathered community of Kensington Unitarians. I’m Sarah Tinker and I’ll be leading this 40 minutes or so of earth celebration, along with technical support from Jane and Jeannene, a reading from John, some great images and a beautiful video from the Hannah Brine choir.

Kensington Unitarians is a community that celebrates diversity, that encourages independence of thought, and supports us all in being truly ourselves. Here we remind one another of our interdependence, that our journeys of life affect the lives of others and are shaped by the circumstances into which we are born. If you’re visiting us today please feel free to make yourself comfortable – we’re always glad to see one another’s faces but it’s fine to switch your camera off here on Zoom if you’d rather, and join in at a level that works for you. Let me also welcome anyone who might be accessing this gathering by video sometime in the future – I hope you’ll find something here that speaks particularly to you and what’s going on in your life at the moment.

So let’s all take a moment, a conscious breath and acknowledge our arrival here at this time and this space, acknowledge our yearning for times of reflection and calm, opportunities to ponder upon the living of our lives, to wrestle with the deep issues of our times and to strengthen our sense of connectedness with that which is greater than simply ourselves.

Today’s service explores and celebrates our relationship with the earth on which we live and so this chalice is lit for our beautiful spinning blue green earth – our home – this chalice is lit – for all the people of the world – this flame is kindled – for all the creatures of the earth and the waters and the skies – may each of us find gratitude in our hearts for this marvel that is life here on earth.

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 this. 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 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. And I invite you now to enter a time of reflection and prayer.

Time of Prayer and Reflection:

I call on the divine spirit of life and love to be with us now and to guide us, now and always, so that we move forward with clarity and purpose individually and collectively. We each of us have our own unique path to walk in life, our own talents to express as well as our own challenges to deal with along the way. We have our flaws and our weaknesses as well as our glories and our delights. We also share the paths we walk with the whole of creation and we are painfully aware of the problems the world faces today – over-population, decimation of landscapes, over-use of finite resources, the damage of climate change, – problems so large that it is sometimes easier to shrug our shoulders and think that there is nothing individually we can do.

May we be the people who don’t shrug our shoulders, who don’t ignore the signs. May we be the people who do something, however small, but do something, that will help to sustain life and life of a good quality for all here on our dear planet earth, here where we all live the only life we know – together with every other aspect of existence. May we be the people who encourage one another to share what we have and to enjoy the simple pleasures of life without the need to consume endlessly. May we be the people who know that we have enough, more than enough, to live well.

Let us pray for our world, for our beautiful planet, spinning in space, our home that contains such richness and diversity, endless sources of wonder and pleasure – our planet home that is so challenged by the actions of humanity.

I invite you now to think of the world’s struggling communities and environments – so many to choose from – places of warfare or civil strife – places of environmental degradation – areas where fear and confusion rule – let us think of these places and know that there is always a possibility for change and improvement and that by our care and concern and positive action we can make a difference.

You might also want to think of issues in your own lives or those of people close to you so that something of the peace and tranquillity that we know here touch those issues and those lives – so that all of creation may know the possibility of change and improvement – and may this be so for the good of all. And to that aspiration let us say Amen, so may it be.

Reading with Pale Blue Dot Image

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Shared Reading on Image of Earth

Thank you John – that’s one of my favourite readings. We’re going to share another picture of the earth taken from space now and on it there are words that I invite us to speak in unison. I’ll start each line and invite you to speak the words in bold. (share image)

This prayer comes from the Ute (pronounced Yute) tradition in North America – the tribe whose name was used for the state of Utah. This will take us into a time of meditation so you might want to get yourselves comfortable now as we’ll hold 2 minutes in silence after the shared reading and then we’ll be showing a video from the Hannah Brine choir. When we’re not in lockdown one of Hannah’s choirs Kensington Singers meets in our church. It’s lovely to see a few faces I know in this video including dear Sonya.

In our invitation email for today’s service we suggested you bring something of the earth with you – you might want to have that close with you in this meditation time – or simply be aware of a favourite tree near your home, or a favourite houseplant or pet, those autumn leaves outside on the pavements, the sound of the rain or the wind. Let’s all feel our connection with the earth as we say together the title of this reading on our screens – Earth Teach Us.

Earth Teach Us
Earth teach us stillness
as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach us suffering
as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach us humility
as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach us caring
as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach us courage
as the tree which stands all alone.
Earth teach us limitation
as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach us freedom
as the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach us resignation
as the leaves which fall in the autumn.
Earth teach us regeneration
as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach us to forget ourselves
as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach us to remember kindness
as dry fields weep for the joy of rain.
Ute prayer (adapted)

Let’s hold the silence together.

Silence (2 mins) then Earth Prayer music video

Address: Earth Celebration

Do you know I’ve realised this weekend that it’s never too late to fall out of love with something. And this has been a long and quite passionate relationship – at least on my side. It started when I was 4 and for some reason which I now suspect was due to childcare issues in a busy family – I was sent to school and put in a class with older children. My nursery was on the ground floor but every afternoon I had to climb the stairs to the big classrooms and join the big children and I was both scared and fascinated by the children and by the classroom. And in the corner of that classroom was an enormous globe that could spin round if you dared to touch it. Marvellous. And I’ve been appreciating globes ever since. I even have two inflatable globes. And when I blew up this globe for this service and looked carefully at it, my heart sank. Because I noticed for the first time that a globe like this shows at least a little of what we humans have done to the earth – we’ve divided it up into different coloured sections; we’ve put barriers up that stop people moving around; if my globe was big enough and accurate enough it would show how we’ve hoarded water so only some people can access it.

So that’s it. My love affair with globes is over. But my love for the earth – that gets deeper all the time. I wonder how you’d describe your relationship with our planet earth home. We’ve used two photo images today – taken of the earth from space. Many of us know these images yet isn’t it fascinating to think that still only a few hundred people have actually seen the earth from space in real life. Some of those astronauts have spoken of it as life changing moment, a perspective shifting experience, a cognitive change that induced awe and wonder as they contemplated the size and colour of our planet in relation to the cosmos in which we spin.

Michael Collins piloted the command module on the Apollo 11 mission when astronauts first landed on the moon. Afterwards he wrote of seeing the earth from space:

‘The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don’t know. I don’t know to this day. I had a feeling it’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s home, and it’s fragile.’

These images of our planet are a vital part of raising environmental awareness – because if we know what a remarkable planet this earth is, then perhaps we humans can work together to protect it. Let’s hope so. And let’s do the little we can do to raise awareness and to adjust our own lifestyles to harm earth less by our presence.

I’m going to suggest three ways of being in this world that can help raise our awareness:
• Pay attention
• Give thanks
• Ponder life’s mysteries

And just by chance – for each of these there is a Kensington Unitarians activity to help you. The theme for our Heart and Soul gatherings this very week is Paying Attention. If you’ve not attended Heart and Soul – created by our very own Jane Blackall, it is a contemplative spiritual gathering in which we can take time to reflect on life in the company of others. These small groups help us connect with one another and go a little deeper. Each week a chosen theme guides us to consider life through a different lens. Here’s one of the quotations for this week – words from Episcopalian priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor, telling us the value of noticing in life.

‘Paying attention requires no equipment, no special clothes, no (golf) green fees or personal trainers. You do not even have to be in particularly good shape. All you need is a body on this earth, willing to notice where it is, trusting that something as small as a hazelnut can become an altar in this world.’

And of course we can pay attention on our own, but there is something special about paying attention with others – for we can share our unique perspectives one with another and widen our vista.

And the second awareness raising suggestion is for us to give thanks, to develop our gratitude muscles, to strengthen our sense of good fortune for the gift of life we possess. And we all know that it’s a lot easier to feel grateful when we’re feeling safe, secure, sure of ourselves, happy. A lot of people are experiencing stress and we must acknowledge that. And then we could share the sometimes hidden truth – that even in the direst of circumstances, finding something for which we are grateful can help us endure, can lift our spirits and sense of hope. I’m grateful to whoever it was in a dark time of my own life suggested I wrote 3 things that I was grateful for at the end of each day. And when I reported back to them that I was starting to feel a glimmer of hope – they said ‘great – now write down 10 things you’re grateful for each day’. We Kensington Unitarians have helped form a West London GreenSpirit group which combines environmental and spiritual approaches – and our seasonal celebrations are really helping us express our gratitude for our lives here on earth.

And the third suggestion is to ponder life’s mysteries – for surely there are many. We humans often think we are so clever and yet there is so much that we do not yet understand about our own bodies and minds, about the oceans, and the earth itself. Cosmologist Brian Swimme’s description of the development of life on earth, always makes me smile: ‘Four and a half billion years ago, the Earth was a flaming molten ball of rock, and now it can sing opera.’ Another of his quotes I’ve long appreciated is ‘you take hydrogen gas and you leave it alone and it turns into rosebuds, giraffes and humans’.

If you’ve not had a look at our Kensington Unitarians Whats App group called Nature carries on…. – I recommend it to you as a delightfully undemanding touch of the toe into social media – as we post photos or snippets of news about the natural world we notice around us.

So three ways of being in this world:
• Paying attention
• Giving thanks
• Pondering life’s mysteries
And my love affair with globes – it’s officially over. But the earth itself and all its myriad forms? – that’s a lifelong love. Amen.

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 – weaver God creator – with its expressive closing line that so connects with our gathering theme today of the interdependence of all that is – ‘Gently may we live that fragile earth be left; love and justice joined – the fabric’s warp and weft’. The tune is an old French carol – not the tune we more often sing with these words. 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: And so some announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jeannene for all the professional work of hosting today and to Hannah Brine and her choir for their music video. 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, where we’ll be celebrating Beethoven’s 400th birthday with superb music and Harold and me considering what we can learn from such a great life of creativity despite adversity. You’re also welcome to join our coffee morning on Tuesday with its earlier than usual start time of 10am. There may be a few places left for Heart and Soul this evening Sunday, or Friday. Make a note of the West London GreenSpirit group’s next meeting – Monday December 21st at 3pm – when we’ll be celebrating the winter solstice. All welcome. Thank you everybody who has made a donation to help our church finances keep in good shape and thanks to everyone who now donates by standing order. Your contributions show up as a significant little sliver on our financial projections pie chart. Thank you for helping to keep our message of love and justice joined – out there in the world. 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 Benjie playing What a Wonderful World on his clarinet – in a recording from one of our services a few years ago – 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 it might bring warmth to all those who struggle this day, for whom life is tough and justice is hard to find.
May we who are gathered here today go peacefully
May we go gently with ourselves and with others
May we take care of our precious lives and our precious world
Stopping from time to time in wonder and amazement
And giving thanks.
Amen, go well all of you and Blessed be.

Closing music – Benjie playing what a wonderful world

Rev. Sarah Tinker

15th November 2020