Light the Lamps – 13/12/20

Opening Music: The Light of the Spirit

‘There will come a time for most of us when we’ve got to decide whether we’ll light our lamps, even when we’re sure there isn’t enough oil to keep them burning . . . We light a candle, take a breath, and reconnect with the flow of a life infinitely larger than our little beating hearts—a life we are part of no matter what, that calls us back, lifts us up, and sustains us. Light the lamp, though the oil has run out. Light the lamp, and we’ll do what we can.’

Hello everybody and welcome to this Sunday gathering of Kensington Unitarians and friends on this third Sunday of Advent. Welcome to those of you here with us on Zoom, welcome to those reading this script at home or listening in some time in the future. I hope there’ll be something in today’s theme of lights shining in darkness that will speak to you in your life at this time.

Our opening words were written by Kathleen McTigue and refer to the Jewish 8 day festival of Hanukkah, which started at dusk on Thursday. And today is the feast day of St Lucia – celebrated with candles in Scandinavian countries. Here in the northern hemisphere we are moving towards the darkest time of the year – all the more reason for us to bring lights into our homes and into our lives.

Each week in our service we light a chalice flame – as I light ours, let’s each of us take a moment to take a conscious breath and to take stock of ourselves at this moment – how are you this day? If we’re a representative sample of humanity we’ll probably cover many states of being – from enthusiasm to weariness, from irritability to deep restfulness, from despair to hope and all the endless possibilities in between. Let’s aim to accept how we are – the more we can accept ourselves as we are, the easier it is to accept everyone else just as they are.

This chalice flame connects us with progressive religious communities the world over – communities where people are free to explore their own faith in good company with others – and that’s what we’re doing when we meet here on Zoom, just as we do when we meet in person. Do please make yourselves comfortable today – there are times when you can say something or sing but there’s no need to – and much as we like to see all our faces you may at times feel more comfortable switching off your camera and relaxing. Whatever feels right for you today.

Candles of Joy and Concern: Whenever we gather together, whether it’s in person at our church here in Kensington or as we are now as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle, real or imaginary, and say a few words about what it represents. When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. If you are going to speak, let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.

Words from Roy:

There’s a quotation from Albert Schweitzer that you’ll have heard from time to time in our Unitarian services: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

I’d like to say express our gratitude to you Sarah as our minister for the many ways in which you’ve kept the lights brightly burning for us Kensington Unitarians over the last 15 years here for us. I hear it’s your 66th birthday today – you’ll soon be receiving that long awaited state pension and stepping back from full time work. I won’t suggest singing happy birthday but let’s give Sarah a birthday wave here on Zoom – we wish you a very happy birthday and a happy so-called retirement.

This reading ‘Wired for Connection’ by Erin Powers is about Christmas lights – I wonder if you’ve put any decorations up so far this year? It’s also about our human connections and it starts with a quote from David Maraniss:

“I believe that life is chaotic, a jumble of accidents, ambitions, misconceptions, bold intentions, lazy happenstances, and unintended consequences, yet I also believe that there are connections that illuminate our world, revealing its endless mystery and wonder.”

Erin writes: It’s a familiar scene each holiday: no matter how meticulously the strings of lights were put away, they always seem to come out a tangled mess. What happens to them all through the year as they wait in their boxes?

And so the tradition of untangling the lights begins. We unwind them carefully, uncrossing and unlooping wires, stretching them out to their full length, all the while being mindful to not damage the bulbs which hold so much potential.

I find that people aren’t that different. We often feel like a jumbled mess of string lights: tangled up within ourselves, not knowing how to get undone or how to get back to our sparkly selves — especially when the holidays approach. Throughout the year, each struggle adds another tangle to the lights until by year’s end, we’re wound so tightly that we don’t even know where to begin. Sometimes we need a little help to sort ourselves out.
It’s been said that it’s easier to untangle a string of lights if you plug them in; the brightness of the little bulbs help to guide our fingers through the tangles. It’s no different for people. Connecting with friends, family, therapists, or trusted advisors can shine a little light to help us untangle ourselves, and to help us stretch out to our full potential.

Humans, just like strings of lights, are wired for connection. It’s when we’re wound most tightly that we need the connection most of all. We’re at our best when we are plugged in to each other. We find our true purpose and spark with others, not alone — and it’s in these connections that we shine most brightly.

Prayer and Reflection

Thank you Roy for that reading. Erin Powers ends that piece of writing with a short prayer and I’ll use her words to lead into our own time of reflection and prayer. So you might want to get yourself in a comfy position where you can focus in a way that assists you in aligning with that which holds us all, that spirit of love and life within all that exists.

‘Great and endless mystery and wonder, may you never stop giving us opportunity for connections that light the fire inside each of us. And may we never stop seeking and reaching out for connections with each other, even when we are so tangled and wound so tightly that we struggle to find the plug.’

We live in a world that needs us; a world that needs us to be the best that we can possibly be, a world that is calling us to shine a spiritual light in a material dimension. And how might we shine that light? Through our smallest actions, through the quality of our thoughts, through the love for others and for ourselves, a love that finds expression in so many ways.

We live in a world that needs us to be able to sit through the darkness, to endure life’s many troubles, to be resilient in the face of injustice and to hold out a hand to those who are struggling to make it through.

May we use the power of our thoughts and our actions to shine a light in troubled places both in ourselves and in our wider world that conflicts may be resolved and peace may prevail. We all know some of the troubled places in ourselves – our burdens and anxieties, the difficulties that assail us – may they be lightened and eased, may we find our strength and resilience; we all know some of the troubled places in other people – may they be lightened and eased, may strength and resilience be theirs; we all know some of the troubled places in our world – may they too be lightened and eased, may new sources of strength and resilience bring renewal – and may we each find a way to play our part in this great mystery that is life – playing our part, however small it may be, utilising the potential we hold for connection, connection made for the greater good of all and to this aspiration let us us say, amen, so may it be.

Meditation – ON LIGHT

Good morning, my name is Sonya … I will be taking you through a guided “Light” meditation today and then we will finish with some silence and some gentle music to end the meditation. I recently read two things about the animal kingdom, and I wonder if you grew up in a place where there were fireflies. I loved catching them when the lights went on. I found out that they turn their lights on and off to call their mates. It’s a mating call for your friends to come and play. I thought that was a lovely image. When we are lit up, we want to be in connection. We want to share, play.

The other one was the vampire Squid, it has a very large eye. It puts a cape on itself, it turns itself inside out like a cape to protect the light. So they use it for protection. Like us, we protect our light, we honour it, and use it for connection. I thought these would be wonderful themes that we could play with for our meditation.

Let’s get ourselves into a comfortable position, feel free to turn off your videos, take your shoes off, whatever feels right for you. With eyes open or closed allow yourself to enter into a more silent space. Take a breath in and breathe into the connection once again with ourselves, with our bodies, with our heart, with the light that we are.

As we are there, I invite you to pick a candle and I’m wondering what colour it is, what shape, what container is it in, scented or unscented. Imagine, sense or feel lighting the candle and imagine, sense or feel the light, the glow, the warmth of that light and let yourself receive it into your heart… to every cell of your body, let the light twinkle like stars within. Breathing in that warmth, let it glow out and expand into your room, into the people you share your space with, into your communities, into the world, the land, the animal kingdom, the whole planet. And as we connect with our light, I wonder what your relationship is with the light.

I wonder do you like campfires and the connection that comes with that? Or do you like one candle light and being in the silence? Or at this time of year do you enjoy fireworks – different shapes, different colours? Is it moonlight, starlight, sunshine? What LIGHT do you like to cultivate, the protecting light, the connecting light? At this time of year what would you like to birth, what would you like illuminated in your life?

In my culture the translation for giving birth, is giving light! Dar luz. Let us give ourselves our light, let us be reborn once again into the light that we are and enjoy the sparkle and the shine of who you are. As we take this into the silence, surrounded by all these other lights that we are with today, grounding them into our bodies and celebrating our light.

Silence followed by music: Ma’oz Tsur (Chanukah) – Traditional Jewish Hymn

Address: Light the Lamps

I wonder if you, like me, enjoy seeing Christmas lights brightening up our streets and homes. Up in Muswell Hill in north London this year I have seen a giant lit-up menorah – with its traditional 9 candles celebrating the Jewish festival of Hanukah. The Jewish tradition does I think tell some of the best stories, often stories that gently poke fun at their own community. To enjoy this story I’m going to tell, all you need to know is that until thirty years ago or so Hanukah was a very, very minor Jewish festival. I heard this story told by UUA minister Ishmael Ford and I’ve adapted it a bit.

It’s a story from the turning of the 19th into the 20th century, a story that tells of somewhere in the eastern part of Germany where a Hassidic rabbi, following the nature of Hassidic spiritual leaders, had a vision. It was a terrible vision. He saw what would happen to the Jews of Europe over the first 50 years of the 20th century.

Shaking with terror the rabbi began to fast and to pray for a whole week, hoping to intercede on behalf of his people. Finally the prophet Elijah was sent to him. The prophet said, “Rest your heart my son, the unnameable One proclaims a new age in Jewish history that will follow those terrible times. Let me show you.” And in a flash Elijah and the rabbi were on a street corner in Muswell Hill, in this very year of 2020. It was Hanukkah and there were menorahs in many house windows, in windows that belonged not only to Jews but Christians too and candles were burning even in the windows of people who had no religious connection. The prophet Elijah showed the rabbi that in the midst of the shops there was an illuminated, huge menorah. They even walked by a synagogue with a sign out front announcing a Hanukkah party – on something called Zoom.

The rabbi exclaimed, “Amazing! If they do this for such a minor holiday, I can barely imagine what they do for the Sabbath!”

Now it may be the power of the spirit that has caused Hanukah to become such an important festival for the Jewish community or it may be the power of our commercial world, ever eager to find new marketing opportunities, and not wanting anyone to be left out of the spending frenzy that is Christmas time. Whatever the reasons I am glad that after the horrors of the mid-20th century the Jewish community is buoyant enough and feels safe enough to switch on the lights.

But let’s not pretend that all is hunky dory in our multicultural society, nor our wider world. There always have been and perhaps always will be forces that pull us in the opposite direction. Fascists groups are quietly spreading their messages of hate, crimes of racial and religious hatred continue and indeed increase. Nationalism seems to be in the ascendant once more.

In many other countries in our world people are far from free. There is much still to be done to envisage a world of freedom for all, a world where people’s basic needs are met. We all have some role to play in that work of co-creation. I opened a Christmas card this week from Amnesty International – with their slogan: it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

Just one candle – in the face of our world’s seemingly insurmountable issues it is understandable if we sometimes feel despair. In the face of the challenges that we ourselves face in our own lives and in the lives of those we care about – it is understandable if our hopes diminish at times. Life is tough, as is the living of it.

In the turning of our planet earth we are given the changing seasons of the year, mirrored by the seasons of the human spirit. We’re gathering materials for our winter solstice celebration on the 21st December, and I read once again of the ancient pagan origins of many of our festive traditions – the spiky holly that was thought to ward off evil spirits, the evergreen mistletoe that was revered partly because it grew without any root system, the candles and fruits that remind us of brighter, sweeter times, the Yule log that brings good fortune to the household’s hearth.

The lighting of just one candle, literally and metaphorically, can remind us of brighter times and of our own power to switch on the lights.

The Jewish Hanukah story is based on a historical event of the tyrannical Syrians invading Jerusalem in 165 BCE, of being repelled at last by the brave group known as the Maccabees. It’s the story of the special oil in the temple that was enough to last only one day and yet miraculously burnt for 8 days till more oil could be ritually prepared.

Don’t we all want to repel tyrants and have an occasional miracle happen in life?

The Christmas story brings us at this time of year its powerful imagery of the innocence and infinite potential of new life born in seemingly inauspicious circumstances in a stable, new life that proclaims itself as the light of the world.

Can’t we all at times be a light to the world – in the simplest of ways – in our speaking and listening to one another, in our smiles and expressions of care and concern, in the way we dress or in the beauty we bring into our homes, in the writing of personal messages on those Christmas cards we may or may not get round to writing.

There’s no shortage of stories and images for us humans to explore from these festivals of light. And one of the gifts for us in living in our multi-faith, multi-cultural world is that we can choose the stories and the symbols that work for us. If the vibrancy and meaning of our celebrations have diminished, then we can re-create them and give them new life. At the end of 2020, a year when so many of our established ways of being have been turned upside down, we don’t have to engage in tired old rituals if we don’t want to. If they have lost their meaning, we can seek new sources of light in the darkness. So let’s each of us find ways to bring new life and meaning to our winter celebrations and be sure to connect with others who may be in need of us as we are of them, amen.

Hymn: At the start of today’s service we had a picture of our advent wreath with its three candles lit – reminding us we are in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Every week we’re singing carols together – using recordings from our congregation’s carol services in previous years – so don’t be alarmed by any rustling and coughing – but we’re singing with much gusto in this recording and now we are here on Zoom you can join in too – with words to follow on our screen, and safe in the knowledge that we’ll all be muted – so do sing if you’d like to – or just sit back and enjoy the music if you’d rather. Today’s carol, It came upon the midnight clear, was written by a Unitarian minister Edward Sears in the States in the mid- 1800s. It’s not a jolly carol, there’s no fa la la la la in its message. It’s a carol that names the state of the world clearly, as a world of sin and strife. Its tune is melancholic and Sears wrote the lyrics at a time of personal difficulty when he was also affected by news of revolution in Europe and by the Mexican-American war that had just ended. Perhaps its message can help us hear the song of angels beyond the hubbub of our own turbulent times.

Announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jenny for the essential and not always sufficiently appreciated background work of hosting today. Thank you to Sonya for your really uplifting meditation on light and to Benjie del Rosario whose clarinet we heard playing for our meditation and will be heard again at the end of our service. 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, when we’ll be holding our annual Carol Service. Everyone is welcome, feel free to share the link with your trusted friends. You’re also welcome to join our weekly coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday, where the conversation becomes ever more varied – last week we moved between personal identity and the changing taste of brussel sprouts over the decades. Margaret Marshall is holding a Christmas special Finding your voice singing workshop on Thursday 17th Dec – this Thurs at 3pm. All welcome. And remember our West London GreenSpirit group is hosting a Winter Solstice celebration on Monday 21st December at 3pm. You can book for both these by contacting me. 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 modern piece of clarinet music – which I won’t pronounce correctly – Undertale Bonetrousle – music from a popular video game – it sounds quite like klezmer music to me, from the eastern European Jewish tradition, and it brings you greetings for this festive season, with the multiple meanings it has for various religious traditions. Those of you with us on Zoom now might like to select gallery view on your screen so that we can all see each other for the closing words and enjoy a feeling of connection in community.

Closing Words: Our closing words are called Candles for Christmas – words written by Howard Thurman.

I will light candles this Christmas –
Candles of joy despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days.
Candles of graces to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living.
Candles that will burn all year long.

May each of us in the days ahead find our own candles of resilience and good cheer and share that light with others we meet along life’s pathway. Amen, go well everyone and blessed be.

Closing music: Undertale – Bonetrousle played by Benjie del Rosario

Rev. Sarah Tinker

13th December 2020