Ringing the Changes – 27/12/20
Opening Music: God rest ye merry gentlefolk – Trevor Alexander & Peter Crockford
Opening Words of welcome and chalice lighting
Good morning everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ Sunday gathering here in the digital realm. It’s good to see your faces and to know that we, individually and collectively have chosen to spend this time together. A warm welcome also goes out to any of you watching this service as a video at some future time, or reading this script, or listening to an audio recording on a podcast. And thank you to people for getting in touch and letting us know that these gatherings matter to them in these continuingly troubling times we find ourselves in – people are valuing the many different ways we can keep connected, one with another, until it feels safe and sensible to meet again in person.
We opened this service with Trevor Alexander singing the old carol to us – God rest ye merry gentlefolk – with its second line ‘let nothing ye dismay’. But I think ‘dismay’ might be a description some of us would use about the times we’re living in – as the covid pandemic continues to demonstrate its remarkable ability to spread and we need to continue to limit our social contact in order to protect one another. Thank you for all you are doing to keep yourselves and one another safe and in the weeks ahead let’s support one another as best we can to get through these darker days.
So let’s take a moment to settle in to the here and now, to align ourselves with that which holds us all, dedicating this time together as sacred time, allowing a warm sense of love and connection to flow through us all to all those with us and beyond – to those we are connected with across time and physical space – for love flows ever onwards and reminds us we are not alone.
I light our chalice flame this morning to celebrate the mystery of life and to connect us with progressive religious communities the world over – may this simple flame shine a light of understanding on the year that has nearly past and a light of hope for the year that is to come and a light of love upon each of you this day.
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.
I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently within us this day, those stories we perhaps don’t feel able to share out loud. And let’s think of all those joys and concerns we have heard … all those glimpses of our shared human condition and the life of our wider world … and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of love and compassion for a moment.
The words of a shared reading will come up on our screens in a moment – written by Jan Berry very much I think for this time of year, as it uses imagery from the journey of the magi – the wise ones who followed a star from distant lands to honour the birth of Jesus in a stable. I wonder if any of her images particularly speak to you about your own journey in life at this time. Feel free to read along out loud – you might want o say the words in bold or read the whole piece or simply enjoy listening.
Shared Reading: ‘Travelling On’ by Jan Berry (adapted) (reading together words printed in bold)
When hope invites us to journey,
elusive, beckoning onward
but never in our grasp:
May we have the wisdom and the courage to travel on.
When dreams glimmer in the distance,
fading, clouded and hidden
or shining with new brightness:
May we have the wisdom and the courage to travel on.
When established patterns collapse
into the uncertainty of the unknown
and security dissolves into a memory:
May we have the wisdom and the courage to travel on.
When the illusion of success
threatens to divert us
and silence our souls’ yearning:
May wisdom and imagination inspire us to travel on.
When we think our journey has ended
in the star-lit glow,
only to find the end is a new beginning:
May wisdom and imagination inspire us to travel on.
Time of Reflection & Prayer:
Let’s join now in a time of reflection and prayer, finding a position that is both comfy and prayerful for us, as I call on the spirit of love and life to be with us now and to bless all that we do and say together here this day. As we move towards the close of this calendar year, let us each find reasons for gratitude in our hearts even if life is demanding far too much of us at present, still let us find reasons for gratitude and treasure them in our hearts. A welcoming smile, a kindly offer, a helping hand, the song of a bird, the beauty of a flower in winter time, the warmth of community … let us each now if we wish silently think of something for which we are grateful at this moment …… and let the warmth of our gratitude help us face any areas of life that are a struggle for us right now, particularly those aspects of life where we wish we could be more than we are, the petty niggles, the sharp responses, the longing that things might be different, the places where we get stuck in knowing it all, or feeling self righteous, any times when we get stuck in those old repeating patterns – may a sense of spacious peace help us to find new possibilities and ways forward, new ways to be, new ways to accept if needs must, what is as it has to be.
Let us pause for a moment in stillness as our earth spins onwards, rest in ‘not knowing’, in uncertainty, awaiting that which will unfold in life.
And as we turn our attention to matters of the world, may we hold in loving awareness all those in anguish this day, all those for whom life is a struggle over which they have no control, ……… may each of us do what we can with what we have to ease the sufferings of others all allow the healing power of love to flow more freely – this day and all days, and to that aspiration let us say, amen.
Reading: (Carolyn) This reading is a quite well known poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson and it forms a small part of his major poetic work called In Memoriam published in 1850, shortly before he was appointed poet laureate here in Britain. This reading is called A Prayer for the New Year and we’ve slightly adapted it. It’s perhaps worth remembering that Tennyson’s personal and family life was full of difficulties and upsets, particularly in the earlier part of his life. This poem will have been written in the late 1840s in Victorian Britain, when cholera and typhoid epidemics surged through the heavily built up slums of our cities and when civil unrest was developing in many European lands. Life was not peaceful or easy in those mid years of the 19th century. Perhaps quite like our own times, there was a yearning for more peace, more tranquillity, less division. Tennyson seeks in this poem a chance to bid the old farewell and to welcome in a new and sweeter era in the year ahead. I wonder if his poem can still speak for us today.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let it die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let it go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to humankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant heart and free,
The greater love, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the dawn that is to be.
Meditation followed by silence (3 mins): ‘The earth is waiting for you’ by Thich Nhat Hanh – image on screen
We’ve come to the meditative part of our morning gathering now – I’ll say a few words to help us find a comfortable position, then a short reading from the Buddhist meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh will appear on our screens and that will lead into a good three minutes of shared silence together. Then the silence comes to an end with Abbie Lorimier, who has been our congregation’s music scholar for the last year, playing her arrangement of Silent Night.
Both the reading and the silent night carol speak to me of the importance of our earth to us and the ways in which some of us have over the last year connected with far greater awareness with the earth, with the weather, the trees and plants, and creatures we share this planet earth home. The enforced slowing down of our busy lives has benefits for some of us.
So let’s ready ourselves for meditation – perhaps straighten our backs a bit, change our sitting position if we want, soften and deepen our breathing and allow ourselves to take a releasing breath, maybe hunching up our shoulders and letting them to drop back and down, open our chests to let the air flow easily, soften our gaze – and now some words for us from the Buddhist tradition:
The Earth is always patient and open-hearted.
She is waiting for you.
She has been waiting for you
for the last trillion lifetimes.
She can wait for any length of time.
She knows you will come back to her one day.
Fresh and green, she will welcome you
exactly like the first time,
because love never says, ‘This is the last time’;
because Earth is a loving mother.
She will never stop waiting for you.
Music: Abby Lorimier Video of Silent Night
Some thoughts on years old and new and ringing in the changes
We’re in the in-between times – between Christmas and the New Year. It’s often a time of year that feels different – what’s that word beloved of theologians – liminal, a liminal time and space – betwixt and between – as the old year moves towards its close and the new year waits in the wings ready to reveal itself. And we are on that threshold, a time to pause awhile and ponder that which has almost passed and that which is to come. May each of us find a particular value in this time of pausing.
I wonder what adjectives we each might use to describe this year of 2020. In a way much of the year has been a time of pausing – a time when our taken for granted freedoms were removed. It’s been a year of such serious economic challenge for so many individuals and organisations – including our own Kensington Unitarians congregation – we had never predicted that a virus could bring our successful lettings income to a halt with such speed. And these economic challenges will continue for many in the months ahead.
Many of us have received a powerful lesson in a key life curriculum – that our best laid plans can be shaken up in a moment – that we are not always in charge of our own journeys through life, never mind the wider societal journey which we travel collectively.
And yet paradoxically some of us have found great comfort in the year 2020, the comforting realisation that we live on a remarkable planet, teeming with life, providing us with all the elements we need for existence. The air has tasted sweeter, the wind has kissed our cheeks when we’re outside, the sky is so very beautiful in its many changing vistas, through the days and the nights.
I’ve long been inspired by the writings of Joanna Macy, environmental campaigner and Buddhist, writer of many important books and courses. I especially recommend her most recent work on despair and empowerment called The Work That Reconnects. Here are some words of Joanna Macy’s from an online interview.
“Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure. In all great adventures there comes a time when the little band of heroes feels totally outnumbered and bleak, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings or Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress. You learn to say “It looks bleak. Big deal, it looks bleak.”
Our little minds think it must be over, but the very fact that we are seeing it is enlivening. And we know we can’t possibly see the whole thing, because we are just one part of a vast interdependent whole–one cell in a larger body. So we don’t take our own perceptions as the ultimate.
This may be the last gasp of life on Earth, and what a great last gasp, if we realize we have fallen in love with each other. If you are really in the moment of experiencing our reality, you don’t say “Oh I won’t experience this because it’s not going to last forever!” You’ve got this moment. It’s true for now.”
So what might we take with us into the year ahead:
• accept that we’re powerless and face our despair about the state of our world.
• don’t allow that despair to paralyse us into doing nothing. Let’s get up and do something, however small, to make this world a better place, every single day.
• Pay attention to those small moments of joy every single day – take nothing for granted. Recognise the miracles of life within us, within one another and all around us
• let’s monitor our news intake and not allow the media giants to bring us down. Let’s be informed but not stultified.
• fall in love again with life, here and now, and remember that nothing, literally nothing, lasts forever.
And let’s do what we can in the year that lies ahead to bring to life the vision of hope and possibility we have for our own lives, for our society and for our world. And so may that be, amen.
Carol: And now we have an opportunity to sing together the beautiful meditative hymn Dark of winter – with words to follow on our screen, so do join in if you like singing, safe in the knowledge that we’ll all be muted – or just sit back and enjoy the music if you’d rather.
Announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jenny for the crucial background work of hosting today and to our musicians Trevor Alexander and Peter Crockford, Sandra Smith our pianist and Abby Lorimier for her cello playing. We’re fortunate to have such professional music for these gatherings. 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 Jane and I will be exploring Julian of Norwich’s statement All Will Be Well. You’re also welcome to join our 10.30 coffee morning on Tuesday. We have a full moon afternoon retreat on Dec 30th and a New Year poetry group on Sat 2nd Jan – get in touch if you’d like a place for those groups. 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 the beautiful Carol of the Bells. It’s worth knowing a bit about this piece of music which has become a popular Christmas piece of music here in the west but which people in the Ukraine would recognise as a New Year well wishing song from the folk tradition. The piece we’ll hear was based on the folk song and written in 1916 and written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich and titled ‘Shchedryk.’ The song tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful year that the family will have. May our closing tune bring each of you good wishes for the year ahead. 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.
Despite everything this is indeed a remarkable world;
And the journey of life is a wondrous and mysterious gift of consciousness.
Despite everything love can warm the coldest of places;
despite everything life goes on – fired by passion, inspired by commitment, guided by kindness and quirkiness and all that is human and humane – making life worth living in this sometimes painful, sometimes poignant, sometimes confusing – but still often beautiful world.
Amen, go well all of you and blessed be.
Closing Music: Carol of the Bells
Rev. Sarah Tinker
27th December 2020