Sowing Seeds – 21/03/21

Opening Music: ‘Here Comes the Sun’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou

Opening Words: ‘Our Souls Speak Spring’ by Evin Carvill Ziemer (adapted)

If we lived in another climate
our souls might speak other languages;
We might speak oasis or permafrost, dry season or monsoon.

But our souls speak spring.
Our souls speak green shoots pushing through last year’s leaves;
Our souls speak flower buds stretching to sun;
Our souls speak muddy puddles and nest building,
damp earth and worm casts, tiny green leaves and frog choruses.

We speak spring because spring sings in us.

We gather to nurture our faith in our own growing;
Our own courage to push through;
Our own blossoming in beauty;
Our own small part in the spring of this world.

So come, let us worship together.


On this weekend of the spring equinox, these opening words – by Unitarian Universalist minister Evin Carvill Ziemer – mark the changing season, the hopefulness of spring, and they welcome all who have gathered here on Zoom this morning to take part in our Sunday service. Welcome to members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us ‘live’ today – and also those may be listening to our podcast, or watching this service on YouTube, at a later date. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall and – having been part of this church for going-on 22 years – I’m now the Ministry Coordinator for the congregation, also currently your ministry-student-on-placement, as part of my final year of training with Unitarian College.

If you are here for the first time today – we’re especially glad to you have you with us – welcome! I hope you find something of what you need here – a bit of consolation or spiritual uplift perhaps. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to introduce yourself if you’d like. And if you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come each week. Even on Zoom, we have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, this sense of community.

So whoever you are, however you are, know you are welcome in this space, just as you are – I hope this is a place where we feel able to be real and ‘bring our whole selves to church’ – we are proud to be a congregation of all sorts! – so please do make yourself at home.

As we always say, feel free to do what you need to do to be comfortable this hour – it’s always lovely to see your faces in the gallery and get a sense of our togetherness as a community – but we know for some it will feel more comfortable to keep your camera mostly-off and that’s fine. Similarly there’ll be opportunities to join in as we go along there’s no compulsion to do so. We hope you’ll say hello at some point – but you can quietly lurk with our blessing.

In this morning’s service we’ll be reflecting on ‘Sowing Seeds’ – a suitably spring-y metaphor for intentionally bringing about transformation in our lives and in the wider world. What wisdom might we glean from this notion of seed-sowing, to help us nurture our own hopes and dreams, and give us a sense of perspective on the setbacks and our successes we will face along the way?

Chalice Lighting: ‘Determined Seed’ by Laura Wallace (adapted)

I’ll light our chalice now, as we do each Sunday, and at other times when we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the historic and progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

(carefully take and light chalice – hold it up)

As soil holds the determined seed,
this sacred space holds our weariness,
our worry, our laughter and our celebration.

Let us bring seed and soul into the light of thought,
the warmth of community, and the hope of love.
Let us see together, hear together, love together.

And may this chalice flame remind us of
our shared intention to help sow the seeds
of a better world; one where all are truly free to flourish.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church in Kensington or here 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, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. Let’s leave a pause between one candle and the next, so we can honour what’s been shared. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time, or there’s a technical hitch of some sort – 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.

(candles – thank each person)

I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that candle to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… and let’s hold them – and each other – in compassion and loving-kindness as we move into an extended time of prayer now, based in part on words by the Unitarian Universalist minister Maureen Killoran. So let’s each do what we need to do to get ourselves into the right state of body and mind for it – maybe shift your position, intentionally adopt a prayerful posture – close your eyes or soften your gaze – whatever helps you get your heart in the right place to be fully present with yourself, each other, and that larger presence which holds us all.

Prayer: based on words by the UU minister Maureen Killoran

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
in whom we live and move and have our being;
to breathe your sacred name is a blessing.
As we turn our attention to the depths of this life –
the cosmic mystery and wisdom that abides in All-That-Is –
we tune in to your Holy presence within us and amongst us. (pause)

Here we are gathered – called perhaps by our sense of sacred purpose,
or duty, or the longing for community; called to be together on this day
to worship; to lift up that which is of highest worth and which directs our lives.
Here we are gathered – called to hold ourselves to our highest values –
to remind ourselves of those hopes and dreams and possibilities which,
sometimes, in the rough-and-tumble of this world, it can be hard to hold on to.
Here we are gathered – called to do our part in building beloved community – to help
sow the seeds of a better world – to tend this patch of earth where we find ourselves.

Here, now, some of us have come in pain, bearing sufferings both physical and emotional.
To those who are dealing with health concerns, we pray for courage and healing.
To those who are feeling lonely and isolated, we pray for comfort and connection.
To those who are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, we pray for rest and solace.
May we pause for a moment now, and hold gently all the concerns,
named and unnamed, that are present in our gathering. (pause)

And here, now, some of us have come with joy bubbling in our hearts – despite everything.
May we give ourselves permission to feel those joyful moments even in the midst of struggle.
May we rejoice together, recalling that our joys are multiplied when they are shared.
May we remember and return to gratitude for the simple pleasures of our days.
And may we pause for a moment, and in the silence, give thanks for one blessing,
no matter how small, that has touched our life in this past week. (pause)

May this time we spend together be a blessing on our hearts, on this congregation, and may this precious blessing extend outward through each one of us so as to grace the wider world.

God of all love, we offer up our joys and concerns,
our hopes and fears, our beauty and brokenness,
and call on you for insight, healing, and renewal.

As we look forward now to the coming week,
help us to live well each day and be our best selves;
using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen.

Hymn: ‘Gather the Spirit’ (Unitarian Music Society)

Time for our first hymn, ‘Gather the Spirit’; in a way it’s a continuation of our candle-lighting and prayers, as it affirms the strength we gain to face life’s ups and downs by gathering in community. The words will appear on screen shortly so that you can sing along with this recording by the Unitarian Music Society – or you might prefer just to listen, it’s rather a lovely hymn – and we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all muted so nobody will hear you if you do choose to join in.

Gather the spirit, harvest the power.
Our separate fires will kindle one flame.
Witness the mystery of this hour.
Our trials in this light appear all the same.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit of heart and mind.
Seeds for the sowing are laid in store.
Nurtured in love and conscience refined,
with body and spirit united once more.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit growing in all,
drawn by the moon and fed by the sun.
Winter to spring, and summer to fall,
the chorus of life resounding as one.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Reading: The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4: 1-20 – The Message – read by Antony)

This morning we have two short readings – the first is a famous bible passage, ‘The Parable of the Sower’, which I’ll read from a modern translation called ‘The Message’. The second is a short poem which echoes this parable, ‘Idiot Wind’, which will be read for us by the author, Rev. Bob Janis-Dillon.

Mark 4: 1-20 – The Parable of the Sower

[Jesus] went back to teaching by the sea. A crowd built up to such a great size that he had to get into an offshore boat, using the boat as a pulpit as the people pushed to the water’s edge. He taught by using stories, many stories.

“Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

When they were off by themselves, those who were close to him, along with the Twelve, asked about the stories. He told them, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward a welcome awakening. These are people—

Whose eyes are open but don’t see a thing,
Whose ears are open but don’t understand a word,
Who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.”

He continued, “Do you see how this story works? All my stories work this way.

“The farmer plants the Word. Some people are like the seed that falls on the hardened soil of the road. No sooner do they hear the Word than Satan snatches away what has been planted in them.

“And some are like the seed that lands in the gravel. When they first hear the Word, they respond with great enthusiasm. But there is such shallow soil of character that when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.

“The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.

“But the seed planted in the good earth represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams.”

Reading: ‘Idiot Wind’ (written and read by Bob Janis-Dillon)

Listen, he said, it’s like this.
Some idiot farmer has thrown your plans into the wind, like seeds.
God knows why.

On the highway, 18-wheelers roar continually
over several of your dreams.
Don’t worry, the birds are cleverer than those monsters,
they’ll get there, eventually, somehow.
But, buddy – you won’t.

The best of your hopes? The very cleverest ones?
Shooting up behind FastSaveMart.
You can go see ‘em now, if you want to,
sunlit and lanky, proud little nothings.
Get there quick, though – tomorrow they dry up. Done.

An expectation gets lucky, sometimes,
finds a nice bit of soil, moistened by an upturned soda can,
and vigorously becomes a bolder version of itself,
so courageous amidst the cardboard and twist ties,
only the weeds are stronger.

Most mystifying of all, perhaps,
are your successes: exploding from the tilled earth
rising above our heads in glory,
like a jewelled sceptre, or a middle finger.

That’s just how it is, he said.
And how could a fool live in a world like this?
And what numbskull is taking score?

Meditation: ‘Planting Seeds’ ~ 3min

Thanks Antony and Bob for our readings today. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. You might like to have a wiggle and get as comfortable as you can in your chair (if you’re in a chair!) – put your feet flat on the floor to help ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes.

There’ll be just a few introductory words to lead us into our time of meditation. These words will take us into a good few minutes of shared stillness, during which we’ll put our chalice-cam up on screen, in case you find it restful to watch the moving flame.

And for our meditation music this week we have something a bit different – courtesy of an organisation called ‘Empty Hands Music’ founded by former rap artist Nimo Patel – their website says: ‘Empty Hands Music’s mission: is to spread seeds of goodness in the world through selfless service, music, and love. All of Empty Hands Music’s offerings are gifts to the world.’ So I want to thank them for their generosity. Nimo now works with underprivileged kids in Gujarat, India, and invites donations for that project, so I’ve chipped in on our behalf in appreciation for their work. The track we’ll be hearing is called ‘Planting Seeds’ and it’s by Nimo featuring Daniel Nahmod. I should say the accompanying video is one many of us will likely find to be rather poignant with all its imagery of people in community with hands outstretched. But rather heart-warming too.

I found this track on the website, and I thought I’d share what they had to say about it, and offer a few thoughts for you to ponder, to take us into our time of meditation. As we always say, these words, and images, and music are just an offering – not an obligation – you are of course free to think your own thoughts, and meditate in your own way.

So this is what have to say about the track ‘Planting Seeds’:

‘This is a song and message that we can carry into our daily lives.
The idea of planting seeds without expectation of the fruits.
To plant seeds of love without expecting love in return.
To plant seeds of hard work, without expecting success or accolades.
To plant seeds of peace, without expecting the world to always be peaceful.
In the end, this is what we can do…plant our seeds, water the plants,
then let it take its own course… [and, as the chorus of the song says]:

Whatever grows will grow, whatever dies will die,
Whatever works will work, whatever flies will fly,
Whatever fails will fail, what’s meant to soar will soar,
We are planting seeds, nothing more.’


So as we move into a time of shared silence and stillness now I invite you to consider the seeds you have planted in the course of your life: Seeds of love; Seeds of service; Seeds of inspiration; Seeds of justice; Seeds of peace. Look compassionately on yourself, and the seeds you have planted, however it turned out. And perhaps consider too what seeds you are called to plant now, in this new season of life.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘Planting Seeds’ by Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod (3.28)

Short Reflection: ‘Sowing Seeds’ by Jane Blackall

When people ask me about Unitarianism – what it is we do, what’s special about our church – I never really give the same answer twice… but one thing I often say is that we seek wisdom from wherever we can find it. So, for example, in this week’s service we’re drawing on ancient stories from the Bible – one of Jesus’ parables – also the best of contemporary Unitarian thought – my mate Bob’s recent poem – and alternative expressions from spiritual-seekers around the globe such as that track we heard from Nimo Patel. But if we’re going to talk about sowing seeds there’s one authority on the subject we just can’t ignore: Monty Don. So I made a point of tuning in on Friday night, for the first episode in the new season of Gardeners World to see if Monty had any wisdom that I could bring to you this morning. You can’t say I don’t take my research seriously!

So let’s start with the Gospel According to Monty Don; if you’re sowing literal seeds – on Friday he was encouraging the nation’s gardeners to sow chilli seeds indoors and broad beans outdoors – Monty says (I was watching on iPlayer and I ran it back so I could write this down!): ‘it’s a mistake to think that you can just scatter the seed any old how and they’ll all just sort themselves out… because then it just becomes survival of the fittest and a lot of the seedlings won’t do very well’. The wise words of Monty Don. When I heard that I couldn’t help thinking of our readings today.

In that well-known Bible passage, the Parable of the Sower, that Antony ready for us earlier, Jesus likens the seed being sown by a farmer to ‘the Word’ being planted in those who hear it. In this story we are the seedbed, the soil, into which ‘the Word’ is sown, with… variable results. So how might we interpret this notion of ‘the Word’, as Unitarians? Well, this parable turns up in three of the Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, in slightly different versions, with a different emphasis – ‘the Word’ also gets rendered as ‘the Word of God’ or ‘the Word of the Kingdom’ – as Unitarians we’ll each have our own way of making sense of that language. My take on ‘the Word’ is to think of it as something like ‘God’s Way’ or ‘The Message about God’s Way’ – spiritual and ethical teachings about the way of Goodness, Truth, Justice, and Love – and also guidance on how we might best live in alignment with that path. Maybe what is being sown, then, is the seed of a better world for all. A vision of how life could (and perhaps should) be instead of the way it often is.

If you don’t feel a particular connection with the Christian tradition, or even the God-language, perhaps this notion of ‘sowing the seeds of a better world’ is a more universal way of thinking of it. Those values of goodness, truth, justice and love transcend any particular religious tradition really. So maybe, in this teaching story, Jesus is saying that ‘the Word’ is a seed sown in each of us – we hear wise guidance about how we can live by those values and bring about a better world – but somehow ‘the Word’ doesn’t always germinate, or take root, or grow to its full potential in us. We hear that wisdom – we might like the sound of it, in theory, and aspire to live by it – but there’s a lot going on in our lives and any number of other concerns can divert us from our best intentions. Seeds of goodness, truth, justice and love don’t always reach full maturity in our lives and the world. I think most of us would acknowledge the truth in that. Spiritual seed-sowing is a bit hit-and-miss.

But let’s take the themes of that parable and run a bit further with them, as Bob Janis-Dillon did in his poem, ‘Idiot Wind’, which he read for us earlier on. In his version, the seeds cast into the wind represent all our cherished plans, and dreams, and hopes, and expectations… which, again, face a range of mostly-inauspicious endings: variously crushed, scavenged, shrivelled, and choked. A bleak outlook, perhaps. We want to shape our lives, or the world, for the better but it often seems the odds are against us. Yet sometimes – just sometimes – things mysteriously come good. A few seeds do thrive, despite everything. And it’s not necessarily that we’ve done anything right. There is an element of chance involved. A stray gust of metaphorical wind may just carry our precious hopes onto fertile ground so they miraculously ‘rise above our heads in glory’ and ‘produce a harvest beyond our wildest dreams’.

So, if we do want to try and bring about some significant change, despite the odds – whether that’s to help create the better world that we (and God) dream of – or to realise our own personal hopes and aspirations – is there any practical wisdom we can extract from this metaphor of sowing seeds? Well, when it comes to seed-sowing, there’s an old proverb that comes to mind. There are lots of variations but my version is: ‘One for the rook, and one for the crow, one to rot, and one to grow’. The country wisdom being that, for every flourishing plant, you need to sow four seeds, to take into account the pests and diseases that will likely strike most of them down prematurely. So if we’re going to sow seeds of change it helps to sow them generously. Take lots of small steps, small actions, in support of your hopes and dreams, and maybe a few of them might just succeed, nudging your life (or the world) just a little further along in the direction you were aiming for.

And – I’m sure Monty Don would back me up on this one – often there is something you can do to prepare the ground and improve the conditions your ‘seeds of change’ are going to land in. Rather than scattering your seeds haphazardly you might actively seek more fertile ground (and add compost or mulch to enrich the soil, add vital nutrients, and improve its structure). You could water your little seedlings, diligently keep on top of the weeding, chase away the birds. Similarly, if you’re trying to help bring about a better world, you might do well to focus your efforts where you’re most likely to have an impact, in a way that plays to your strengths. Choose an issue, or a project, or a community you really care about and make that ‘your patch’, at least for a season or two, and get stuck in. Commit to the change that you want to see. You might call in support and encouragement from others – get the nourishment you need – and take care to protect yourself from naysayers and those who divert you from your purpose. There are all sorts of things that might improve our chances of bringing about the transformation we seek. But there will always be factors beyond our control – in the end, to sow, we have to let go.

And, finally, it’s worth remembering that the seeds we plant – the seeds of a better world – those seeds of goodness, truth, justice and love – might well bear fruit that we never get to see. We might despair of making any meaningful difference in this world – but we can never know what impact our actions will ultimately have – so we must sow and tend our seeds in faith. And in that spirit I’d like to close with an echo of those words which took us into meditation:

‘This is a message that we can carry into our daily lives:
The idea of planting seeds without expectation of the fruits.
To plant seeds of love without expecting love in return.
To plant seeds of hard work, without expecting success or accolades.
To plant seeds of peace, without expecting the world to always be peaceful.
In the end, this is what we can do…plant our seeds, water the plants,
then let it take its own course… [for as the song says]:
We are planting seeds, nothing more.’ Amen.

Hymn: ‘A World Transfigured’ (Kensington Unitarians)

Time for us to sing once again – our second hymn is ‘A World Transfigured’ – a good Welsh hymn tune – and this time we’ll be singing along with a recording of this congregation made back in the summer of 2017 (so please forgive any coughing or rustling you can hear; if you listen very carefully you’ll also hear Sarah saying ‘do sit down’ at the end!). This hymn speaks of hope for the future – that better world which is still possible – if we plant the seeds of change today.

Wonders still the world shall witness
Never known in days of old,
Never dreamed by ancient sages,
Howsoever free and bold.
Sons and daughters shall inherit
Wondrous arts to us unknown,
When the dawn of peace its splendour
Over all the world has thrown.

They shall rule with wingèd freedom
Worlds of health and human good,
Worlds of commerce, worlds of science,
All made one and understood.
They shall know a world transfigured,
Which our eyes but dimly see;
They shall make its towns and woodlands
Beautiful from sea to sea.

For a spirit then shall move them
We but vaguely apprehend —
Aims magnificent and holy,
Making joy and labour friend.
Then shall bloom in song and fragrance
Harmony of thought and deed,
Fruits of peace and love and justice —
Where today we plant the seed.


Thanks to Jenny for hosting, Antony and Bob for our readings, and Marlisa for the lovely music, also Empty Hands Music for their generosity in sharing the track we used for our meditation.

As ever there are a number of opportunities to connect congregationally in the week ahead: Coffee morning 10.30 on Tuesday – always lively conversation – newcomers always welcome. Heart & Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering – on ‘Simplicity’ – few spaces tonight (or you can do it on Friday with Rita). Even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start.

Next Saturday is the first of our monthly ‘Spiritual Backpack’ online retreats – we’ve got nearly 30 Unitarians and friends signed up but there’s still space for a few more if you’re quick – these will be contemplative sessions in which we’ll reflect on qualities that you might like to cultivate in your life and tuck away in your ‘Spiritual Backpack’ to help you get by in these challenging times. There’ll be lots of time for solo reflection but also some time to share in groups with others. The first session, 2-5pm next Saturday, is on ‘Flexibility, Adaptability, and Flow’. Sign up ASAP.

Though the deadline for contributions to the Creative Congregational Journal has technically passed I will still accept contributions in the coming week on the theme of ‘Home’ – thanks to those who’ve already sent a great range of writing and artwork – room for more if you’re quick.

Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time afterwards, to chat in small groups, if you’d like. And if you can bear it we like to take a group photo after the closing music so stick around. We’ll be back next week on Zoom at 10am. It’s fine to share the zoom link with trusted others. If you’re new please do get in touch to introduce yourself – drop us an email – or stay for a chat.

We’ve just got our closing words and music now – and in fact, quite by coincidence, Marilisa chose a Pete Seeger song for us to end with, without knowing he was a Unitarian Universalist! So I invite you to select gallery view at this point, if you can, so we can all see each other for the benediction and get a sense of our community-and-connectedness as we close.

Benediction: based on words by Norman V. Naylor

Our hearts and minds turn now toward the everyday.

As we leave this space made sacred by our presence,
let us take with us at least some seed of understanding,
hope and courage, and drop it into the confusion of the world.

Let us nourish that seed, that it might grow as a tree of life,
giving shelter to the weary and hope to the despairing.

And, in the days to come, let us notice and nurture
those seeds of possibility that happen to fall our way,
that we might help to grow a better world, for the greater good of all. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Garden Song’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (3.02)

Jane Blackall

21st March 2021