Love’s Many Forms – 14/02/21
Opening Music: All you need is love played by Peter Crockford
Opening Words and Chalice Lighting:
Thanks to our pianist Peter Crockford for managing to re-create the sound of The Beatles and their instruments telling us that All you need is love – just on one piano. And that famous song introduces the theme of today’s service, which is Love – love in its many forms.
It’s good to see you all here on Zoom this morning for Kensington Unitarians’ weekly Sunday gathering. For those of you I haven’t met before my name is Sarah Tinker and I’m the newly retired minister of this congregation. Welcome to congregation members, friends and visitors from far and near. Though many of us long to be able to meet in person once again, there is certainly a benefit of meeting in this digital realm isn’t there, connecting with one another across physical distances. We also bid a warm welcome to those of you who will be watching this service on video sometime in the future, listening in to a podcast or reading the script online. There are many ways to join in.
And if you are with us in person this morning, do feel free to engage at a level that’s right for you. There are two hymn singing opportunities today, chance for a few people to light a candle and say a few words, but it’s fine just to sit back and relax, turn your camera off if you prefer, or if you need to move around.
So I invite us all to take a moment now, to take a conscious breath and as we breathe out to know that we have arrived here and now. Let’s imagine the connections between us all, across time and space, as we gather to consider the part love plays in human life here on earth, the way that love in its many forms shapes our existences, forging connections of the heart – as I light our chalice flame, a single flame that connects us with Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities the world over.
May love be with each of us this day and all days
May love fill our hearts as generously as the sun shines upon us
May love guide our lives as surely as a river seeks the sea
And may we know that we are loved
Just as we are, for who we are, and for all the unique gifts our presence
brings to this world this day and all days.
Our simple chalice flame bears witness to the humanity we all share.
One people, one planet, one shared life.
May we learn to live in peace.
May we care for what we have.
May we know love as our true purpose.
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. Jenny and Jane our hosts and I will do our best to spot if you want to speak and can’t unmute yourself.
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 in our hearts today – for our joys and our griefs weave us together in the fabric of community. Our lives are connected. Let’s take a moment now to think of the joys and concerns we have heard spoken this morning… these glimpses into one another’s lives and the life of our wider world… and let’s hold them – and each other – in loving compassion as we move into a time of prayer now. Let’s each do what we do to get ourselves into the right state of body and mind – maybe shift your position, find a position that helps you focus – close your eyes or soften your gaze – whatever assists you to be fully present with yourself, with each other, and with that larger presence which holds us all.
Time of Reflection and Prayer
I call on the divine spirit of life and of love to bless our time together here today and to enfold us all in the warmth and companionship of our shared humanity. May we remember that we are not alone. We share the challenges and the delights faced by humanity around the world.
And as we celebrate our human ability to love, may we find a healthy balance in our own lives, a sense of the flow of giving and receiving needed at different times in life, of holding and being held, of caring for others and caring for ourselves.
Inevitably there are times in life when we are less than loving – with others and sometimes with ourselves. Sometimes it is hard to know ‘what love would do now’ for our lives and our relationships are complex and many layered. But in a few moments of stillness let each of us reflect if we so wish on what message there might be for us in the question ‘what might love do now?’ (pause)
In a world where fear and hatred sometimes seem so strong, may we be reminded of the soft and gentle strength that loves brings to our world.
And in a brief time of shared silence now we can send our loving thoughts and prayers to those we know are in need this day. (pause)
And may we find ways to bring love into life, in the smallest and simplest of ways, small gestures, thoughtful acts, kindness expressed, care and interest shown. And may this be so for the greater good of all, this day and all days, Amen.
Hymn: What Wondrous Love
There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now – called what wondrous love is this – from the American folk tradition and sung to a haunting old English ballad tune. If you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine and they are particularly lovely words, describing how at times we feel ourselves sinking down in life and are helped by the love of others gathering round us. This recording is of our congregation in Kensington singing together a few years ago – hence the rustling of hymnbooks – but we are in fine voice. We’ll all now be muted here on Zoom so do join in singing at home if you’d like to.
Reading: video of Denis Conway reading Mark Nepo’s ‘Love Like Water’
Hello all of you; greetings to you Kensington Unitarians from Dublin and from Dublin Unitarians at St Stephens, where I’ve been involved for many a long year, since my wife Elaine and I were married there by Bill Darlison. My name’s Denis Conway and some of you might recognise me as I stayed in the flat above your church a couple of years ago when I was in London, I had a part in a West End play and needed somewhere to rest my head. Art Lester, Bill and I have been friends for a good while and they suggested I asked your minister Sarah if she knew of anywhere I could stay. And she offered me a room. Now I hear that she’s moving out of that welcoming flat on her retirement and I’d like to wish her – and you as a congregation – all the very best for the future. We’re living through some strange and troubled times aren’t we. But love and kindness and generosity of spirit will help us through I reckon. And that’s the message of this reading and of today’s service. I’m going to read a piece by American writer Mark Nepo and it’s called Love Like Water. I wonder how it speaks to you this morning.
Love Like Water by Mark Nepo
Water in its clear softness fills whatever hole it finds. It is not sceptical or distrusting. It does not say this ditch is too deep or that field is too open. Like water, the miracle of love is that it covers whatever it touches, making the touched thing grow while leaving no trace of its touch.
Most things break instead of transform because they resist. The quiet miracle of love is that without our interference, it, like water, accepts whatever is tossed or dropped or placed into it, embracing it completely.
Of course, we are human and are easily hurt if not loved back or if loved poorly. But we waste so much of life’s energy by deliberating who and what shall be worthy of our love when in the deepest elemental sense, these choices are not in our province, any more than rain can choose what it shall fall upon.
In truth, the more we let love flow, the more we have to love. This is the inner glow that sages and saints of all ages seem to share: the wash of their love over everything before them; not just people, but birds and rocks and flowers and air.
Beneath the many choices we have to make, love, like water, flows back into the world through us. It is the one great secret available to all. Yet somewhere the misperception has been enshrined that to withhold love will stop hurt. It is the other way around. As water soaks scars, love soothes our wounds. If opened to, love will accept the angrily thrown stone, and our small tears will lose some of their burn in the great ocean of tears, and the arrow released to the bottom of the river will lose its point. Only love with no thought of return can soften the point of suffering.
(About the Author: Mark Nepo is a poet, teacher, storyteller and author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, The Book of Awakening. This excerpt is taken from The Book of Awakening).
Meditation and Silence: Love’s Many Forms with chalice flame video
Thank you Denis for reading that for us and do send our greetings to Dublin Unitarians – they’re a fine congregation. We’re moving into the meditative part of today’s service when we’ll have a few words to lead us into silence, during the silence there’ll be an image of our chalice flame to look at if you want, and then the silence will end with a piece of music – a song sung for us by soprano Lucy Elston called We’ll gather lilacs – written by Welsh composer Ivor Novello. It has a sweet message of people being reunited once more and Lucy and I thought it rather fitted the socially distanced times we’re living in. During the song there’ll be a slideshow of photos – which we’ve put together with love’s many forms as its subject. Thanks to those of you who’ve provided photos.
Let’s get ourselves into a comfortable position, feel free to turn off your videos, take your shoes off, whatever feels right for you. Maybe have a stretch, perhaps lift your shoulders up and let them circle back and down, letting go of any tension you might be aware of.
With eyes open or closed, your facial muscles eased and relaxed, especially perhaps your busy forehead, just let thoughts go for a while, 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 and love that we are. Let’s imagine breathing in a love that accepts us just as we are, and breathing out a message of love to our world, especially any particular community or individual who may be in need of love this day.
And in this more rested state I invite you if you wish to consider all the many forms of love in life for you, the many aspects of existence where your heart knows what it is to be open and flowing, unguarded, trusting: you might think of the earth itself, our only home, of the many animals we share life with, of living plants and landscapes, of neighbours and friends, family and partners, of those we work alongside and those who take care of life’s necessities, how love is expressed in our work and in our hobbies and projects, in our creativity and exercise. As we share this quiet time together now let’s meditate upon love’s many manifestations, love’s many forms of expression. Our silence will end with a song and photos. (Three minutes shared silence.)
Music: We’ll gather lilacs again with photo slideshow
Short Address: Love’s Many Forms
Just a few words now about love’s many forms, and I wonder if any of my thoughts chime with your own. It’s Valentine’s Day today, February 14th, and every year I have a little grump about a day dedicated to romantic love. I feel a bit like Scrooge does about Christmas with his Bah humbug!
But it’s provided us with a useful starting point from which to explore love’s many expressions and if nothing else I was glad this week in searching through my collection of readings to find that piece Denis read for us earlier on – Love Like Water by Mark Nepo. I need a regular reminder that to withhold love does nothing but hurt the withholder. Rather we need to be letting love flow:
‘If opened to, love will accept the angrily thrown stone, and our small tears will lose some of their burn in the great ocean of tears, and the arrow released to the bottom of the river will lose its point. Only love with no thought of return can soften the point of suffering.’
You don’t often see a message like that written on a Hallmark card do you. But it’s the message of all the great spiritual teachers – that we humans can let love flow and in so doing transform the world. If we wanted a spiritual exercise for the next week or two – simply observing ourselves as we go through our days – and watching out for all the times we withhold love – would perhaps be illuminating. It would show up the power of our preferences and our opinions, our fears, our avoidance of potential hurt.
I’m reminded of that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quote: ‘Love is the only force which can make things one without destroying them…Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire’.
Harnessing the energies of love – that’s a fine aim for any community. Thanks to Jane for assembling our slideshow and to those of you who sent me pictures or suggested particular aspects of love to consider. As a community I think we’ve a particularly strong sense of love for our planet earth home and all its inhabitants, we love certain landscapes and trees and plants.
A friend connected with the Findhorn Community up on the far north east of Scotland reminded me recently of that community’s guiding principle that work be viewed as love in action. This goes far beyond simply finding enjoyment in what we are doing – it calls us to stay awake and conscious in what we do, be alert to possible learning and guidance, pay attention to the way we are working, even when, or especially when, something is a challenge or downright unpleasant.
Love has many potential forms of expression in our lives. And let’s remember love never requires us to put up with situations that are harmful to us. On the contrary, we all need to recognise the times to say no or to walk away from particular circumstances. Love can be tough when it needs to be. By setting clear boundaries we help one another and allow love to flow safely. So shall we join all of us in letting love flow through us – staying awake and alert to the many ways we express love in the living of our precious lives, amen.
Hymn: Walk in the Light of Love
We can sing together again now, alone and together here on Zoom, when we’ll be safely muted. This hymn is a cheery one called ‘walk in the light of love’ and it’s sung by the Unitarian Music Society, thanks to them for this recording. And it’s fine just to sit back and listen if you’d rather or have a walk in the light of love round your room.
Time for some announcements now. As always much gratitude to our Zoom hosts Jane and Jenny – without whom these services just would not happen, thanks to Denis Conway for our reading and Peter Crockford and Lucy Elston and Laurence Palmer for great music today. There are plenty of other opportunities to keep in touch in the week ahead – there are a few places for Heart and Soul this evening – let Jane know if you’d like to come along to a particularly lovely spiritual gathering online – tonight’s theme is wilderness. There’s the coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday. And next Sunday we won’t be holding a Kensington Unitarians service as we’ve been invited to join the FUSE gathering – that’ll be at 11am and we’ll send info round about that – FUSE stands for festival of Unitarians in the south east. The service is free to attend but if you’d like to join workshops and hear their speaker on the Saturday it’s £20 to register. I think it’ll be worth it.
Do drop us an email if you are quite new to our Sunday gatherings. It’s always good to hear from people. And thank you everyone who has made a donation recently or taken out a standing order. Every bit helps in these challenging times for all organisations and charities. This week we’ll be sending election papers out to members of the congregation – it’s a chance to elect people to service on our Executive Committee, the beloved EC. Do get back to Jane or me if you want to know more about this when your papers arrive. At the end of the service, after our closing music, we’d like to take a photo so do stick around for that if that’s ok with you and we’ll have a chat over coffee in smaller groups too, to which is everyone is welcome. For our closing words I suggest we all click on gallery view on our screens so we can see us all in community together.
Today’s closing words honour the Chinese New Year festival which started on Friday.
I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. Let us take that warmth and our sense of loving connection back into our wider world, that so needs a message of oneness and togetherness.
As the Chinese community enjoy their new year celebrations at the start of this New Year of the Ox, may each of us enjoy those ox-like qualities of quiet determination and willingness through loving service, to make this a happier world for all. Let’s remember that how we choose to live can make a difference to the lives of others.
In the week ahead may each of us know that we do indeed walk in the light of love, and so bring love to shine on all our endeavours, amen, go well all of you and blessed be.
Closing Music: Spread a little happiness played by Peter Crockford
Rev. Sarah Tinker
14th February 2021