Reversals of Fortune – 28/03/21
Opening Music: performed by Peter Crockford
Opening Words: ‘Sabbath Home’ by Kathleen McTigue (adapted)
Here in the refuge of this Sabbath home
we turn our busy minds toward silence,
and our full hearts toward one another.
We move together through the mysteries of this life:
the bright surprise of birth and the shadowed unknowns of death.
In our slow walk between the two we will be wounded;
and we will be showered with grace, amazing, unending.
Even in our sorrows, we feel our lives
cradled in holiness we cannot comprehend,
and though we each walk within a vast loneliness,
the promise we offer here is that we do not walk alone.
This is a holy space in which we gather –
the light of the earth brought in and held,
touched then by our answering light:
the flame of a chalice, the flicker of a candle,
the lamps of our open faces brought near again.
In this space of silence and celebration, solemnity and music,
we make a sanctuary and name our spiritual home.
Into this home we bring our hunger for awakening.
We bring compassionate hearts, and a will toward justice.
Into this home we bring the courage to walk on after hard losses.
Into this home we bring our joy and gratitude for ordinary blessings.
By our gathering we bless this space. In its shelter we know ourselves blessed.
These opening words by Unitarian Universalist minister Kathleen McTigue 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 all 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. I’ll be co-leading our service today with our loyal and long-serving trustee Harold Lorenzelli.
If you are here for the first time today – we’re especially glad to you have you with us – welcome! 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 each and every one of us finds something of what we need at church this morning.
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. You can quietly lurk with our blessing – though of course we hope we will get to meet you at some point – whether that’s in a virtual sense or over a cup of tea in Kensington… eventually. There’ll be various other opportunities to join in as we go along there’s no compulsion to do so.
In this morning’s service we will be reflecting on ‘Reversals of Fortune’ – life’s sometimes quite dramatic ups and downs – and the way in which triumph and disaster seem so closely interwoven. We’ll consider how best to weather twists and turns of fate and, perhaps, put them in perspective.
Chalice Lighting: by Atticus Palmer
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)
We call this light before us in hope that
we may always remain a strong community,
working together to make the world a better place.
When we are grieving or sad,
When we are challenged,
When we need help,
This light guides us out of the darkness.
When we are cheerful,
When we celebrate,
When we accomplish a great task,
The chalice reminds us to share our happiness with others.
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 a time of prayer now, based in part on words by the UU minister Bruce Southworth. 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.
Prayer: based on words by Bruce Southworth
Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
in whom we live and move and have our being;
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)
Each of us here gathered carries our own private griefs and burdens.
Sometimes we can share these, and for the open hearts which respond, we are grateful.
Sometimes the world bears heavily upon us; we struggle alone, search the depths,
and long for healing, for renewed hope, for strength, which give their grace and peace.
This spring morning, let us give thanks for all of nature’s bounty.
Let us give thanks for caring friends and compassionate neighbours.
Let us give thanks for the communion of all those who seek to serve others.
May we be strengthened in our efforts to be of service,
and may we always be mindful of all the good in our lives;
whatever privilege, success, and joy we have been blessed with.
May our prayer be that we always see clearly
and keep before us the commandment to care;
striving always to be generous, inclusive, and open, and to use our own good fortune to lift up others.
On this day and every day, may we give thanks,
but let us also be dissatisfied with the world as it is,
for a new world, a realm of love, is still waiting to be realised.
May our spirits and bodies be nourished and nurtured
as we give thanks in praise of all that sustains,
heals, and holds – all that is holy and Good. (pause)
In a quiet moment of reflection now, let us look back over the week just gone,
and call to mind those challenging and unsettling moments we have lived through.
This week may have brought challenges for us, for our loved ones, for our community,
for ordinary people the world over. Let us hold all those struggles in the light of compassion.
(pause – 30s)
And let us also take a moment to call to mind all the blessings that have come our way.
This week may have brought moments of uplift and delight; beauty and pleasure; or
maybe just a little respite and relief. Let us take time to give thanks for all that is good.
(pause – 30s)
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: ‘Thanks Be for These’ (Unitarian Music Society)
It’s time for us to sing together now – well, together-but-apart, given the limitations of Zoom – and our first hymn today is ‘Thanks Be for These’. It’s perhaps not a very familiar hymn to us but it seemed very appropriate to the theme of this morning’s service with its opening lines: ‘Thanks be for these, life’s holy times / Moments of grief, days of delight / Triumph and failure intertwine / Shaping our vision of the right.’ 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– and we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all muted so don’t worry nobody will hear you.
Thanks be for these, life’s holy times,
Moments of grief, days of delight;
Triumph and failure intertwine,
Shaping our vision of the right.
Thanks be for these, for birth and death;
Life in between with meaning full;
Holy becomes the quickened breath;
We celebrate life’s interval.
Thanks be for these, enobling art,
Images welcome to our sight;
Music caressing ear and heart,
Inviting us to loftier height.
Thanks be for those, who question why;
Who noble motives do obey;
Those who know how to live and die;
Comrades who share this holy way.
Thanks be for these, we celebrate;
Sing and rejoice, our trust declare;
Press all our faith into our fate;
Bless now the destiny we share.
Story: ‘You Never Know’
Once upon a time in China there was a poor old farmer.
The farmer had a single horse that pulled his plough, led his wagon, and was his sole means of transportation. One day, a bee stung his horse, and it bolted free, racing off into the mountains and disappeared. The old farmer searched for his horse but could not find it. After returning home, his neighbours came and said, “We’re sorry about your bad luck in losing your horse.”
But the old farmer merely shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bad luck, good luck? You never know.”
A week later his horse came back, accompanied by twelve wild horses which the old farmer was able to corral, and suddenly he had a great unexpected windfall. News spread through the village, and his neighbours came and said, “Congratulations on your good luck. It’s a bonanza.”
To which the old farmer merely replied, “Good luck, bad luck? You never know.”
Now, the farmer had a son, who decided to make the most of this unexpected windfall. The son saddled one of the wild horses, hoping to tame the animal and turn it into a fine work horse that could be sold for a profit. Unfortunately, the horse threw him to the ground and broke his leg in three places. When word spread about his accident, many neighbours came to the old farmer and said, “We’re sorry to hear about your son and his bad luck of getting hurt.”
The old man merely shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bad luck, good luck? You never know.”
Well, two weeks later, war broke out between two provinces, and every man aged fifty or younger was conscripted to fight. Because the farmer’s son had fallen from a horse and broken his leg, he could not go to war. It turned out to be a stroke of good luck and it probably saved his life, because every villager who was conscripted was killed in battle.
We humans never know the whole story until it is over. Certain events may appear unfortunate or very bad at the time, but in the larger picture these same events often turn out to hold blessings in disguise, and bring about some unexpected good as life continues to flow onward. You never know.
Meditation: ‘Reversals of Fortune’ by Rev. Teresa I. Soto
Thanks Harold. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. You might like to have a wiggle and get as comfortable as you can – put your feet flat on the floor to help ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes. Whatever helps you to settle and get into a meditative space.
I’m going to read a poem called ‘Reversals of Fortune’ by UU minister Teresa I. Soto. This poem 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 a song, John Ireland’s ‘Santa Chiara’, chosen for its reference to Palm Sunday, and performed for us by Trevor Alexander and Peter Crockford. As always, of course, these words, and images, and music, are just offerings – see where they lead you – but also feel free to think your own thoughts, and meditate in your own way.
‘Reversals of Fortune’ by Teresa I. Soto:
People wake up to ordinary days all the time,
and then, somehow, as though things were just
too peaceful, they experience drastic reversals
of fortune. The car resting on its roof. The fall,
the broken bone. The less than hoped for grade,
the broken heart when a pet dies. You get it.
You never know what’s in a day. Except you; you
are the golden thread running through. I know
that these reversals will test you. You may move
through, burdened with a fresh, wet grief. Or
for now, you may arrive at this moment unscathed:
What you need to know is that there is nothing larger
than the love that is your destiny. And the love may,
at times, feel opaque and distant, like a looming
thundercloud, too far to reach. If that’s too hard
to locate, find your breath, a thread of your life.
Find your community, friendly face and open hand.
What’s true is that some changes call for every
skill that we possess. The deeper truth remains:
changes will eventually change. Let your heart
flex. Let it grow. Allow a reversal to be a moment
in which you are the constant, while you give
yourself kindness and heaping, joyful love.
Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video
Musical Interlude: ‘Santa Chiara’ performed by Trevor Alexander/Peter Crockford
Address: ‘Reversals of Fortune’ by Harold Lorenzelli
When, earlier this month, I was giving thought to this morning’s talk I was mindful that between the writing and the delivery of such there may occur some event which would render my musings untimely if not downright unseemly. Disasters of one kind or another have a way of wrong footing us and when misfortune unexpectedly strikes even the most innocuous of homilies can seem like a slap in the face. The news of late with regard to the pandemic has been encouraging and I suppose we are all beginning to feel cautiously optimistic in that respect. I don’t think there can be a clearer example of a nation, a world, holding their collective breath for so long ever. Slowly there is a sense that progress is being made. There have been setbacks, there always are, but despite these, there seems to be a small light at the end of the tunnel.
Over the last year events have challenged what could be seen as a sort of benign lethargy, events seemingly beyond our control that have challenged not for the first time our habitual, cosy worlds. We have learnt not to over-indulge in displays of self-satisfaction. It’s certain that this last year has provided us with much food for thought about the fragility of the human condition and our precarious place in what to many seems a hostile, threatening world. I don’t think there has ever been a time when our reserves of resilience, our need for empathy, our stock of moral fibre has been more thoroughly tested.
Parallels of reversals in fortune abound in history. The notorious earthquake that shook Lisbon in 1755 at the time of Voltaire led him to question many of the established truths of the day, including people’s belief in a beneficent deity. Admittedly Voltaire was at the time satirising the view put about by the philosopher Leibnitz that this was the best of all possible worlds since God who was considered to be perfection could not possibly go against his own creation. Well, we may be a little more sophisticated these days with regard to our conception of God and we tend to separate natural disasters from the man-made kind but the fact remains that faith, however you define it, can struggle to accommodate the vision of a world where, to put it mildly, bad things happen whether or not they be of our own making. Most days there will be something that happens to shake any sense of complacency that we may nurture.
Today is Palm Sunday when the Church celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and none of us can be unaware of the fact that a few days later his life was ebbing away on a cross on Golgotha. Here was a man who risked everything for a vision of a world that challenged the status quo. An example of selfless devotion to a cause that advocated the notion of a fairer society where the weak were sustained and traditional social and religious stereotypes challenged. Such reversals in fortune are indeed a sober reminder to us all how often success and disaster lie as uncomfortable bed companions.
With the knowledge that life is unpredictable, threatening and given the often random, inconsistent nature of our destinies, how should we deal with those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Hamlet put it? Should we hope for the best and prepare for the worst, as Benjamin Disraeli put it? Faced with the evidence, are we in danger of adopting a kind of passive resignation given our seeming impotence in the face of what may seem like overwhelming odds? So often we experience either the feeling that we have little say in how the world turns or we have our hopes confounded by the dramas of our daily lives when events conspire to shake our faith in what we may well believe is the essential goodness of the world. Life, people, can indeed disappoint. And when that happens we must, I believe, guard against a tendency to judge the whole by the part.
This last year has shown us how the bonds of commonality bind us to each other. Never was there a time when we learnt more the importance of solidarity. Communities have come together in unforeseen ways, people have rediscovered old values. However small, however seemingly insignificant the steps we take, change for the better can and does arise. The image of the phoenix rising from the ashes is a powerful symbol for the regeneration of hope. I used to tell my students that language learning was two steps forward and one step back. Samuel Beckett, the arch priest of pessimism would say fail if you must and next time fail better.
I am, as you’ve probably guessed, basically, an optimist and before you start throwing things at me, let me remind you ….quote: that scientific studies have shown that people who are over optimistic often have enhanced motivation which enables them to do better in the face of challenges than people with more realistic assessments of their own talents…end of quote. Well, it’s worth a thought. A belief in our basic ability to transcend our condition… to survive. Circumstances may conspire to challenge such a view but if we do survive it will not be in spite but because of our circumstances. I hope you, like me, can find the true grit to do just that.
Hymn: ‘We Sing the Faith’ (Kensington Unitarians)
Thanks Harold, for your thoughtful reflections on the reversals we so often face in life, and the resources we might draw on – hope and solidarity and an eye on the bigger picture – to rise to these challenges. Time for us to sing once again – our second hymn is ‘We Sing the Faith’ – a good Welsh hymn tune – again I chose it for the words which I thought chimed nicely with Harold’s hopeful conclusion: ‘We sing the hope, which shows us there are ways / for living through our very darkest days / and glimpse beyond a path which leads us on / to find the place where new days have begun.’ This time we’ll be singing along with a recording of this congregation made back in 2018 (so please forgive any coughing or rustling you can hear).
We sing the faith, which gives us confidence
for human dwelling in the vast immense
and finding there within the great unknown
that there’s a cosmic law and order shown.
We sing the hope, which shows us there are ways
for living through our very darkest days
and glimpse beyond a path which leads us on
to find the place where new days have begun.
We sing the love, which is creation’s law,
and in a single whole its parts will draw;
and since parts turn and swerve, collide and move,
forgiveness is the final form of love.
Faith, hope and love: we honour each and three
but there’s one virtue which we all agree
stands out among the others far above
and that ‘the greatest of the three is love’.
Thanks to Jenny for hosting, Peter and Trevor for the lovely music, Harold for giving our address. 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 – this week on ‘The Sacred’ – we have a few spaces tonight or on Friday. Even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start.
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 – a cheerful tune to send us out by Trevor/Peter. 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 Maureen Killoran
May we know this ending
As more than a time of goodbye.
May the warmth of this community
and the memory of our chalice flame
sustain our hearts and encourage our minds,
as we engage the blessings
of life’s challenges and joys.
The service has ended.
Your service – to life – has begun.
Go in peace. Go in hope. Go in love. Amen.
Closing Music: ‘It’s a Lovely Day Today’ performed by Trevor Alexander and Peter Crockford
Harold Lorenzelli and Jane Blackall
28th March 2021