Wonder – 20/06/21
Opening Music: ‘Apple Trees in Bloom’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (1.58)
Opening Words: ‘Call to Worship’ by Victoria Safford
What if there were a universe,
a cosmos, which began in shining blackness,
out of nothing, out of fire, out of a single, silent breath,
and into it came billions and billions of stars, stars beyond imagining,
and near one of them a world, a blue-green world so beautiful
that learned clergymen could not even speak about it cogently,
and brilliant scientists, with their physics, their mathematics,
their empirical, impressionistic musing, in trying to describe it,
would begin to sound like poets?
What if there were a universe in which a world was born out of a smallish star,
and into that world (at some point) flew blackbirds,
and into it swam sperm whales, and into it bloomed crocuses,
and into it blew wind to lift the tiniest hairs on naked arms in spring,
and into it at some point grew onions, out of soil,
and in went Mount Everest and also the coyote
we’ve spotted in the woods about a mile from here,
just after sunrise on these mornings when the moon is full?
(The very scent of him makes his brother, our dog,
insane with fear and joy and ancient inbred memory.)
Into that world came animals and elements and plants,
and imagination, the mind and the mind’s eye.
If such a universe existed and you noticed it, what would you do?
What song would come out of your mouth, what prayer,
what praises, what sacred offering, what whirling dance,
what religion and what reverential gesture would you make
to greet that world, every single day that you were in it?
This call to worship, by Unitarian Universalist minister Victoria Safford, welcomes all who have gathered on Zoom for our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today – also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching on YouTube, at a later date. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and having been part of the congregation for 22 years I’m now Ministry Coordinator here and also a Ministry Student at Unitarian College. Today I’m delighted to be co-leading our service with my dear chum Jef Jones – the recently retired Lay Pastor of Brighton Unitarian Church – and this morning our theme is ‘Wonder’ – and the shape of the service is going to be just a little different than usual, instead of a sermon, Jef is going to treat us to a long and uplifting guided meditation.
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 insight perhaps. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to introduce yourself if you’d like. Or you might think about coming to one of our small-group gatherings during the week as they’re a good way to get to know people more organically and get a rounded sense of the congregation. And if you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come each Sunday. 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.
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. You can quietly lurk with our blessing – you know how to find us if you want to be in touch.
Chalice Lighting: ‘New Light’ by Charles A. Howe (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.
We light this chalice to affirm that new light
is ever waiting to break through to enlighten our ways:
That new truth is ever waiting to break through to illumine our minds:
And that new love is ever waiting to break through to warm our hearts.
May we be open to this light, this truth, this love, and to the rich possibilities that it brings us.
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. This prayer is based in part on words by Laura Horton-Ludwig.
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 Laura Horton-Ludwig
Spirit of Life, God of All Love, light within and without,
mystery from which we have all emerged, within which we live and die:
be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the silence
and stillness at the centre of our being. (pause)
As people of faith, we seek to live in a spirit of love,
a spirit of community, justice, and peace.
And yet, in so many corners of the world both far and near,
we see exploitation and coercion, divisiveness and hate.
We struggle to respond to the outer world
and our inner dramas in ways that manifest love.
At times we may fear that love will not be strong enough.
At times we may question whether love really is at the root of all things,
in this world with so much struggle and suffering and discord.
This is the mystery within which we live and die.
These are the questions that haunt our days and nights.
And yet we are not without hope.
Our struggles and our questions testify to our longing for peace, for love.
In the stillness and silence of our own heart
we read the imprint of love: a light within.
May it keep hope alive.
May it guide us all as we seek to act wisely and well.
May it help us to be vessels of compassion for one another and for our world. (pause)
In a quiet moment now, let us look back over the week just gone, to take stock of it all – the many everyday cares and concerns of our own lives – and concentric circles of concern rippling outwards – ‘til they enfold the entire world and all those lives which touch our own. Let’s take a little while to sit quietly in prayer with that which weighs on our hearts this day.
And let us also take a moment to notice all the good that has happened in the past week – moments of uplift and delight; beauty and pleasure; all those acts of generosity and kindness. There’s lots to be grateful for. So let’s take a little while to sit quietly in prayer and give thanks.
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: ‘Do You Hear?’ (Kensington Unitarians 2017)
Time for our first hymn, ‘Do You Hear?’; both of our hymns today are recordings of our own Kensington congregation singing back at the church in 2017 so please excuse any coughing or rustling. The words will appear on screen so that you can sing along – or you might prefer just to listen – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all muted throughout so nobody will hear you.
Do you hear, O my friend, in the place where you stand,
Through the sky, through the land, do you hear, do you hear,
In the heights, on the plain, in the vale, on the main,
In the sun, in the rain, do you hear, do you hear?
Through the roar, through the rush, through the throng, through the crush,
Do you hear in the hush of your soul, of your soul,
Hear the cry fear won’t still, hear the heart’s call to will,
Hear a sigh’s startling trill, in your soul, in your soul?
From the place where you stand, to the outermost strand,
Do you hear, O my friend, do you hear, do you hear,
All the dreams, all the dares, all the sighs, all the prayers –
They are yours, mine, and theirs: do you hear, do you hear?
Reading: ‘I am a Millions-of-Years-Old Wonder’ by Mary Feagan (read by Marianne)
I am a millions-of-years-old wonder.
I am an international – no, cosmic – treasure.
I ought to be safeguarded in a museum somewhere like Paganini’s old violin. I ought to be gasped at, talked about in hushed, amazed, reverential tones. Viewers would touch me gently and feel lucky.
Daily newspaper headlines could say, “Mary Feagan Exists Again Today!” Radio and TV shows could discuss me, my ordinary events – that I saw a blackbird with my millions-of-years-old eyes and heard it sing with my highly advanced, evolutionary ears; that my graceful hands with opposable thumbs fed my sensitive mouth delicious strawberries that it tasted.
Then without a conscious thought, my brilliant brain directed my masterful, complex digestive system to assimilate and use them for fuel to wash dishes, write poems, hold babies, laugh, and give kisses.
No one would completely understand or dare to finally say how my marvellous, magical, famous, fine self exists, really.
I am just, bottom line, a millions-of-years-old wonder. You are too.
Short Reflection by Jef Jones:
Good morning everyone, I’m Jef and I’m delighted to be co-leading this service today.
As Jane has said our theme is wonder, and there won’t be a sermon this morning – instead I’d like to share with you just a few thoughts about wonder, and two guided meditations – a short meditation and a long one later on – both related to our theme.
So before we come to our first meditation, a few words about wonder, which will lead us into a short guided meditation on that theme, followed by some stillness and some gentle music.
There are many different types of it: wonder is wonderfully varied! Sometimes we are just stopped in our tracks, astonished by the grandeur of a sea storm, or by the gentle beauty of late evening light on a landscape, or we are moved by a piece of music or a painting, moved in a way that we cannot quite put into words. Sometimes wonder is what happens between human beings – I’m thinking of those moments, for example, when we are falling in love, and feel only love for the whole world. Or we might see – as if for the first time – the miracle of a newborn child and be amazed or experience the joy of hearing the voice of a dear friend who has been away and find ourselves happily astounded by its resonance.
There is another type of wonder that happens we see the ordinary as if for the first time and are filled with appreciation – that tree we walk past every day and had taken for granted until now ; that face we see all the time at work, a face whose ordinary but precious kindness is suddenly real to us, that cup of tea we knew we really needed, but in the miracle of the present moment, in the drinking of it, it is the most welcome and restoring thing in the world.
And sometimes – if we are lucky – we are unaccountably visited by an overwhelming experience of connection and joy, by a presence outside of ourselves or within ourselves or both; we are uplifted or consoled or serene or inspired in ways we could never have imagined. This gift cannot be commanded but is as real as it is mysterious.
The Irish poet W B Yeats describes just such an experience in his poem Vacillation, in one passage he says
“My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.”
These words of Yeats seem to entertain the possibility of Grace, which in Christian ideas is a sudden and wondrous bestowal of God’s love and light – my body of a sudden glazed. Yet the poet has been reading. He sits with An open book and empty cup and perhaps reminds us to add to our categories of wonder the power and beauty of words. Perhaps for a writer who has just been reading, a book is itself a gift of love and light. Whatever exactly has happened, however he has arrived at this moment, it is a dynamic one. It brings a happiness that is holy and democratic – so great my happiness/That I was blessed and could bless.
I’d like to give you an opportunity now to consider your own experience of wonder and so we come to our first guided meditation on that theme
Introduction to Meditation by Jef Jones:
I would invite you to recall a time of wonder, a moment in your life when you felt transported, when you were amazed when you experienced awe.
The cause might have been is might have been cosmic,
you may have been looking up at the night sky,
contemplating a landscape perhaps,
or you might have been moved by a poem or a painting.
Or you may simply have been struck
by the extraordinary joy of an ordinary moment,
by the presence of another human being perhaps,
or the miracle of a good and ordinary day.
What was it like to be in that moment?
What were your feelings, your emotions?
What did you see, what were the colours, the sounds?
What were the smells, the taste, the textures?
And now, today when you bring that experience of wonder into your awareness what are your feelings?
You may wish to give thanks for that time of wonder.
We’re coming now to a time of shared stillness, which will be followed by some music.
In the presence of our chalice flame let us be still together.
Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video
Musical Interlude: ‘Far Out’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (2.09)
Guided Meditation on Wonder by Jef Jones: (12-14 mins)
Thank you Marilisa. We come now to a second longer meditation. Just before we start I’d just like to say that what I mean by wonder in the context of this meditation is not a certain type of theatrical fabulosity – I should confess that I am fond of theatrical fabulosity – but that is not what I mean by wonder, in this context. I hope that what I do mean will become clear.
I’m going to begin with some words from St Augustine
“People go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
I am saying to you now that St Augustine is right: you are part of the wonder of the universe. Most of us accept that the living world and the universe of which it is a part are full of wonders – but we often struggle to accept the wonder of ourselves. How can you possibly believe that the universe is full of wonder which stops quite exactly when it reaches you. I am now inviting you to contemplate the wonder that is you.
THE WONDER THAT IS YOUR BODY:
I am inviting you to begin by contemplating the wonder that is your body. Your body as it is right now is wonderful. Of course you may sometimes be frustrated with your body; you may resent the pain or discomfort you have from injuries or illness or ageing, you may struggle with a disability or with a chronic health condition. You may judge your body for its shape or size, or feel judged by other people. Yet, right now you are alive, and right now – however you are feeling in your body this morning, whatever judgements you or others may make about it, your body is one of the wonders of the universe. Your senses, your appetites, and your sexuality, your capacity to breathe in and out, all of these are wonderful. The taste and fragrance of an orange, that lovely ache in your limbs when you have been out for a good long walk, your capacity to feel the sun on your face, to hear the rain on your window. Your hands, your voice, your unique and wonderful face are wonders of the universe.
I’d invite you now to just take a moment to give thanks for the wonder of your body.
THE WONDER THAT IS YOUR MIND
I would invite you now to contemplate the wonder that is your mind. Your mind this morning right now really is wonderful. You might sometimes resent your mind, you might resent your experiences of depression, anxiety, stress or the many other ways in which our mental well-being can be challenged. Yet right now your thinking self, your intelligence is wonderful. Your ability to reason, to question, to imagine, to make decisions, to dream – these are all astonishing things that your mind does everyday. Planning, remembering, assessing, communicating your needs and your boundaries, you could do none of those things without your mind. Your sense of who you are, your capacity to express yourself and to understand others when they express themselves – we take these things for granted and yet they are wonders; these processes are breath-taking wonders of the universe
Just for a moment I would invite you to give thanks for the wonder that is your mind.
THE WONDER THAT IS YOUR HEART
Your heart – the home of your feelings is wonderful too. Of course sometimes we are heartsick – we are sad or angry, we are lonely or disappointed, we are frightened or defeated. Surely having feelings isn’t always easy but difficult feelings come with being alive, and sometimes they motivate us to make changes in our lives, and sometimes they inspire us to change the world. And your capacity to love and be loved, to love and be loved in so many different ways, on this Sunday in June 2021 is quite wonderful. Your ability to be content and kind and connected is astonishing. Your passion, your tenderness, your loyalty, your righteous anger, your sense of fun and delight – these gifts of the heart are shining wonders of the universe.
I would invite you now to give thanks for the wonder that is your heart, the home of your feelings
THE WONDER THAT IS YOUR SOUL
And now I’d invite you to contemplate your soul, your spirit. It is wonderful. The soul can be, of course, elusive. It is difficult to define but we might think of it as our essence, our unique energy, our truest self. We can suffer in our souls – when we are mistreated, when the conditions of our lives do not sit well with us, when regret and guilt overwhelm us. Your soul is where you experience inspiration and true freedom, it is in your soul that you know deep inner peace. Your soul is the root of your most authentic self and so it is the source of your most intense connection and the anchor of your faith and your values, the inner shrine of your spiritual practice. Your soul is full of wonder.
Take a moment now to give thanks for that elusive but empowering mystery that is the wonder of your soul.
THE WONDER OF YOUR WHOLE SELF
I’d invite you now to give thanks for the wonder that is your whole self, for your body, your mind, your heart and your soul, for the mysterious and creative ways they interact within you to make you whole. I would invite you now to give thanks for your story, for your adventures, for your setbacks and achievements, for your joys and sorrows, for the unique and human wonder that you are. You are no more or less wonderful than anyone else but the whole of you has its unique place in the cosmos; you have your wondrous being among all the other wonders of creation. I’d invite you to truly own that experience of wonder I asked you to consider earlier– that capacity for wonder, it lives within you, that openness to being amazed and filled with awe and love and gratitude for the world- that is part of who you and it is one of the ways you belong.
To paraphrase Augustine and Yeats together
We wonder at the heights of mountains, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, without pausing to notice the wonder that is ourselves. We are blessed and can ourselves bless. Amen
Hymn: ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ (Kensington Unitarians 2017)
We come now to our second hymn, ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’. Once again this is a recording of the Kensington congregation singing back in 2017. As before the words will be up on your screen in a moment and we’ll try to keep you all muted.
O Brother Sun, you bring us light,
all shining ‘round in fiery might.
O Sister Moon, you heal and bless,
your beauty shines in tenderness.
O Brother Wind, you sweep the hills,
your mighty breath both freshens and fills.
O Sister Water, you cleanse and flow
through rivers and streams, in ice and snow.
O Brother Fire, you warm our night
with all your dancing coloured light.
O Sister Earth, you feed all things,
all birds, all creatures, all scales and wings.
O Sister Death, you meet us here
and take us to our God so near.
O God of Life, we give you praise
for all your creatures, for all your ways.
Just a few brief announcements this morning: Thanks so much to Jef for taking us on a wonder-ful meditation! Thanks to John for hosting and Jeannene in support, Marianne for our reading, and Marilisa for our lovely music (and being game for our quirky requests). As ever there are a number of opportunities to connect in the week ahead: Tomorrow our Green Spirit group is meeting at 7pm to mark the Summer Solstice – contact Sarah or David to sign up. We have coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday – always excellent conversation – newcomers welcome. Heart & Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering – this week’s title is ‘I Don’t Know’ – a few spaces left tonight /Friday at 7pm. Even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start.
We’re also starting to offer in-person gatherings at church, hopefully four each month, the next ones are on Sat 26th June with Michael Allured or Wed 30th with Brian Ellis. Booking is essential, and Covid-safe protocols will be in place. Sign up with the leader(s) of the ones you want to go to. We’re still trying to gauge demand for these in-person gatherings, and if there isn’t enough interest for this many to be viable yet we’ll have a re-think, so do sign-up if you want to come along. There are also two more concerts coming up at church in a series that Abby our music scholar is putting on – last week’s was great and there’s a link to the video in our Friday email – still places available if you want to attend in-person (next is string quartet on Tues 22nd at 7.30pm).
Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service, to chat in small groups, if you’d like. If that’s not your thing, as I said at the start of the service, do get in touch via email if you’d like to introduce yourself, as it’s harder to get to know people during online services. 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 for a service marking the end of Pride month – both celebrating the gains that have been made down the years – and considering how far we sadly still have to go, how much aggro and inequality LGBTQIA+ people still face the world over, and what we can each do to help matters – several friends of the congregation will be sharing their reflections on ‘what we want allies to know’. And there’ll be some musical treats in next week’s service too.
We’ve just got our closing words and another song from Marilisa to finish now. 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 Marjorie Newlin Leaming
There is so much we don’t know.
And much that we’ll most likely never know.
So, remembering that the universe is
so much larger than our ability to comprehend,
let us go forth from this hour with the resolve to stop trying
to reduce the mysteries of the cosmos to the size of our limited view…
so that wonder—that sense of what is sacred—can find space
to open up our minds and illuminate our lives. Amen.
Closing Music: ‘Love’s In Need of Love Today’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (3.02)
Jane Blackall and Jef Jones
20th June 2021