Beauty All Around – 11/04/21

Opening Music: Chalice Meditation by David Kent ‘With Open Hearts we Welcome All’

Opening words and chalice lighting

Hello everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ weekly Sunday gathering here on Zoom. For those of you I haven’t met before my name is Sarah Tinker and I’m the recently retired minister of this congregation. Welcome to congregation members, friends and visitors from far and near. It’s good to see you all this spring Sunday morning. I also bid a warm welcome to those of you 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 us. And if you are new to this community, do get in touch if you’d like to, send us an email perhaps. And do feel free to join in today at a level that is comfortable for you. There are two hymn singing opportunities today, there’s 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 and have a stretch.

Our theme for today is ‘Beauty All Around’ and it’s a celebration of life’s many beautiful aspects. I’ll be exploring the idea that what we focus on to some extent becomes what we are most aware of. My hope is that something in this gathering will be helpful for you in some way, perhaps sparking off a new thought, a new perspective on your path in life. But if any of what I’m saying doesn’t feel right for you at the moment – that’s also useful.

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, the tender connections of the heart that are forged by gathering together – as I light our chalice flame, a single flame connecting us with Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities the world over, part of a progressive, contemporary and also historic, faith community.

These opening words are written by Susan Maginn – Come into this room, weigh into this chair, breathe into this body, the very body that will be you, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
Come into this day, raise your gaze into this light, this one steadfast sun who watches over all growing beings, even you, even now.
Come into this heart and break into the boundlessness of wild beauty, no beginning or ending in you, but flowing through like whitewater, reaching toward all that ever was and ever shall be.

Candles of joy and concern

Each week when we meet in person at our church building in Kensington 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. Jeannene our host and I will do our best to spot if you want to speak and can’t unmute yourself. (thank each speaker by name)

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

Joel Millar writes:
Let our lives be a prayer
That waters dry souls
Mends broken hearts
Refuses to be terrorized
Seeks this world’s beauty
And carries us through its storms.

Let us join now in a time of shared prayer and reflection in which I call on the divine spirit of life and of love to be with us now and to bless all that we do and say together today. Let’s give thanks for the beauty of this day, for the beauty of our planet earth home, on which we live our days, and for life’s gifts we are given…

The times in which we live are often turbulent. We hear so much of the world’s problems and can feel so helpless in the face of such seemingly irresolvable dilemmas in our own lives as in the life of the world…
Let us pray for the world’s leaders, that they might work for the highest good, transcending the limitations of their particular group or party, aligning themselves with the greater good of all rather than their own self interests…

As we pray for the people of Mozambique and the Yemen, Iraq, Iran and Syria, the Palestinian territories, people in central African countries and all the other troubled places of our world that they might find a way to peace, that their lives might be touched with beauty as well as justice…
As we pray for all those whose lives are harsh and unrelenting, who suffer through poverty, ill-health, abuse and injustice…

As we pray for people in our own lives for whom life is challenging…
And as we pray for the painful places inside ourselves…

Let us imagine a beam of light and love surrounding all difficulties and dilemmas and bringing fresh hope and insight and possibility, inspiring each of us to do what we can to lift burdens and ease suffering, and may this be so for the greater good of all, amen.

Reading: ‘Beauty All Around Us’ by Alberto Villoldo, read by Pat Gregory & John Humphreys

Alberto is the founder of the Four Winds Society, an organization dedicated to the bridging of ancient shamanic traditions with modern medicine and psychology.

“Beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty all around me”—these words come from a Navaho prayer of gratitude, from a person who sees only beauty in the world.

Seeing beauty is not a passive act—it is an active and empowering deed. When you see beauty above all else, beauty will seek and find you—you begin to practice beauty. You transform the map you carry of reality, and which you most likely inherited from your parents when you were young. When your internal maps are filled with beauty, your outer world is likewise infused with splendour.

When you practice beauty, you have time in your life, because beauty takes you into the timeless. Beauty requires stillness, pausing, stopping in your tracks at the sight of the new blossom in the almond tree or the cactus flower that only blooms for one night. As you practice beauty you get to taste infinity and touch your own immortality. You will have time to laugh, time to meditate, time to help others.

Perceive beauty even when there seems to be only ugliness around you. When everyone else sees darkness, point out the flickering flame that lies hidden in the shadows. Let someone else explain why it will not last, why it is sure to fade with age, why it’s not as important as that mess just over there.

Bring beauty to every moment by smiling sincerely. Find something beautiful in every person you speak with, even if it is a difficult and challenging conversation. … We can perceive such people from the level of hummingbird and recognize them as a perfect symbol of our need to learn how not to personalize other people’s unhappiness. … We can recognise them as our teacher ….. and remember what we’re meant to learn: not to overreact to criticism, not to become defensive, but to remain centred when others are upset or fuming. Then we can bring beauty to the moment by smiling.

Give others the gift of seeing the beauty within themselves and within every situation. Speak words of beauty, including the words “Thank you.” Bring flowers home. Say a gracious word to a colleague. Uplift a friend. We will experience greater happiness and wellbeing while transforming the world by bringing beauty and healing where there is ugliness, alleviating the suffering of others, and creating peace where there is conflict.

The sages discovered that creation is not complete, that on the seventh day the Great Spirit was not finished, and said, “I have created the butterflies and the whales and the eagles. Aren’t they beautiful? Now you keep at it.” By perceiving only beauty we are dreaming beauty into creation.

Hymn: Brother Sun, Sister Moon

There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now – it’s called O brother sun and sister moon – it’s based on words by St Francis of Assisi and it celebrates our connection with all the elements of our universe. You may recognise the tune as an old Scottish folk tune – ye banks and braes. Both hymns today were recorded at our service in Kensington – so don’t be alarmed by the rustling and coughing. We’ll all now be muted here on Zoom so do join in singing at home if you’d like to – we won’t hear you rustling and coughing. If you would rather not sing, that’s fine.

Meditation and silence:

We’re moving into the meditative part of our gathering now – we’ll have some words to guide us into stillness, then there’ll be a video of our chalice flame to focus on and after about 2 minutes of silence the video will be a slide show of photos connected with our theme of beauty – thank you to everyone who sent in photos for this slide show. What a talented bunch of photographers you are. I wonder which of these images you’ll particularly like – and what image of beauty you might choose to show. Peter Crockford our pianist will be playing from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata – a piece that many might describe as beautiful, full of feeling.

This meditation invites us to consider beauty’s many forms – as always in Unitarian activities feel free to think your own thoughts and meditate in your own way. My words are simply suggestions.

So let’s get ourselves into a comfortable position, feel free to turn off your video if that helps, enjoy that feeling of resting in your chair if you are sitting down, the sense of the earth beneath you, slip off your shoes off if you like or put your feet up, whatever feels right for you. Maybe have a stretch, and lift your shoulders up and let them circle back and down, releasing any tension you might be aware of.

With eyes open or closed, your facial muscles eased and relaxed, softening your forehead and the muscles of your head and neck, let’s take a breath in and breathe into a connection – connection with the many beautiful aspects of life on earth.

And in this more rested state I invite you to consider some of the unexpected places and times and ways you yourself have discovered beauty. What is beautiful for you?

Let’s enter a quiet time together now, with our chalice flame, which will end with our instrumental music and that slide show of photos.

(Two minutes shared silence.)

Music and Slide Show: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played by Peter Crockford

Address: Beauty All Around

There are many aspects of living in London that delight me, but the arterial roads that lead out of our capital city are a source of dismay. Living at the church over in west London meant that the A40 was a regular route I took – and a regular source of disappointment. It’s such an ugly road – so busy, so much litter. But just occasionally it would provide useful story material for our church newsletter. So some of you will have already heard this story of the day I sat in a traffic jam quietly fuming at how ugly the A40 was, when I saw a man in dusty builder’s clothes, walking along the central reservation with a bag of tools in one hand and a twig of flowering philadelphus in the other. He occasionally lifted the twig to his nose and smiled. Mock orange is its common name and it smells so delicious – I was instantly taken back to a childhood garden where a philadelphus bush flowered. The traffic eventually cleared and I drove on – but for weeks afterwards I kept noticing mock orange flowering in places I’d never noticed before.

Lebanese mystic Khalil Gibran reminds us that
‘The appearance of things changes according to the emotions;
and thus we see magic and beauty in them,
while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.’

When we notice these moments of beauty I think we are activating a part of ourselves. It takes a bit of effort because for many of us it’s easier to notice the bad bits, the difficult moments, the ways in which the world proves our negative stories about it.

Now I’ve moved over to east London, the A40 has been replaced by the A13, a road which is surely in the running for the ‘ugliest road in London’ competition. It too has traffic jams which force me to stop and observe. This week’s delight was to be stopped by Barking Creekside – which turns out to be one of London’s lesser known flood barriers – where the River Roding comes to join the mighty Thames. And as I peered over the roadside barrier I caught a sight of willow trees just coming in to leaf, hanging over the grey muddy edge of the river – and looking – quite beautiful. Khalil Gibran is right – when we allow a new vista to awaken us, we discover the beauty in ourselves as well as in our world.

Isn’t that what photography can do for us – in capturing a moment it allows us to savour the transient – it was lovely receiving the emails with people’s photo choices this week – particular thanks to anyone who managed to take a photo of something that flies or wriggles – like a child or a bird or a butterfly. And in case you were wondering about the photo of the bird, the tiny great tit in someone’s hand, it stayed in their house for a little while and then flew off safely.

As I looked through those photos I was struck by how far removed they are from our society’s so-called ‘beauty industry’. Today’s not the day to explore that ghastly topic in any depth – but I do recommend to anyone who’s interested the work of psychotherapist Susie Orbach on this topic. In particular her book called Bodies, where she describes the beauty industry’s effects – on all of us – but particularly on young women – by using digitally ‘improved’ images which then undermine young people’s confidence in their own shape and image. It’s a topic I think we should all be concerned about. Yes, human societies have probably always admired idealised forms of beauty – but never before have we had the power of the internet to place such ideals constantly before us.

All of us who care about this need to speak out and we might do well to develop a new focus, upon a beauty of the spirit – the essence that shines through from inside someone. This beauty is forged by life itself, it is shaped by our behaviours and our attitudes. Sufi teacher Elias Amidon describes it thus: ‘those more tangible forms of beauty first trained us in beauty’s mystery and power, and continue to do so. But they hold the potential to lead us to an even more profound recognition of the possibilities of human evolution and the human spirit’. This beauty is ‘life-deep rather than skin-deep’, borrowing a description from writer Ursula Le Guin. Such a beauty is not simply the preserve of the young – think of Rembrandt’s portraits of older people – a lifetime of experience shining in their faces, in their eyes. Our news media here in Britain have made much of the death of Prince Philip this week and I’ve especially appreciated seeing the photos of him in later life.

When I asked people to send me photos of what beauty meant to them it was inevitable that most of the images would be of our natural world. We live on a planet of such extraordinary beauty don’t we. And springtime here in the northern lands is such a delight. We are in the midst of a rolling programme of blossom and flowers. Here in London we are stopped in our tracks by cherry blossom and magnolia trees. The first bluebells are showing a hint of blue in the woods. Let’s encourage one another to notice the beauty all around us. As our awareness grows of the terrible damage humanity is inflicting upon our planet – let’s notice the antidote – beauty. Perhaps that’s what Dostoevsky meant when he enigmatically wrote, ‘Beauty will save the world’. And let’s recognise not only the beauty of spring blossom and fresh green shoots – but also the beauty of goodness, of kindness, of right action and the pursuit of justice. And so may it be, amen.

Hymn: Sleep my child

We can sing together again now, alone and together here on Zoom, when we’ll be safely muted. This hymn is a comforting one, sung to an old Welsh song tune Ar hyd y nos, all through the night. This recording is from our congregation last year. Excuse the rustling. And it’s fine just to listen if you’d rather or have a leg stretch round your room.

Time for some announcements now. As always much gratitude to our Zoom hosts Jenny and John – without whom these services just would not happen, thanks to Pat and John for our reading and Peter Crockford and David Kent for lovely 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 Blackall know if you’d like to come along to a particularly lovely spiritual gathering online – this week’s theme is Mistakes. There’s the coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday. And next Sunday Jane will be leading our 10am service. Do drop us an email if you are quite new to our Sunday gatherings. It’s always good to hear from people. 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. To make a quick payment just go to our Kensington Unitarians website and on the front page there’s a Donate button to click on. Or you’ll find the details needed to make an online banking payment or set up a standing order. 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 invite you to stay for a chat over a cuppa afterwards too, if you don’t need to dash off. For our closing words, some of which are written by an American UU minister and friend of our Kensington Unitarians congregation Amy Zucker Morgenstern, I suggest we all click on gallery view on our screens so we can see us all in community together.

Closing Blessing with words from Amy Zucker Morgenstern

And so I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. Let us take this warmth and our sense of loving connection back into our wider world, a world that yearns for a message of beauty and acceptance.
‘Within the heart of the flower, the fountain of beauty
Within the heart of the community, a fire that warms and dances
Within the heart of each of us, a spark of the spirit of life.
Holy, holy, holy.’
In the days ahead may each of us find glimpses of life’s precious beauty and pass that beauty onwards to share with others we meet along the way, amen, go well all of you and blessed be.

Closing Music: O what a beautiful morning played by Peter Crockford

Rev. Sarah Tinker

11th April 2021