Adversity and the Human Spirit – 15/08/21
Opening Chant: The inspiration of spirit, the liberation of love – a Chalice Meditation by David Kent
Good morning everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ Sunday gathering here on Zoom. For those of you I’ve not met before I’m Sarah Tinker, until last year minister with this great congregation, and still very much committed to our community and its message of open-hearted, open-minded inclusivity – compassion, conscience and spirituality bringing us together. It’s good to see you all. And I bid a warm welcome to all those who might be listening in to a podcast of this service in the future or watching a video of it on YouTube.
If you are with us on Zoom this morning feel free to join in at a level that is right for you – it’s fine just to sit back and listen and switch off your video if that’s more restful for you. There’s no need to join in, in any active way, although there are opportunities to speak and sing if you want at several points in this gathering. But as in all Unitarian activities, you can choose to take part in a way that works best for you. Our theme for today is ‘adversity and the human spirit’ and I’m joined in worship leading by Corrina Dolso. Our hope is that there will be something in our service today that speaks to you, wherever you are in life, however you’re feeling this morning, whatever’s on your mind. Let’s take a moment to get a sense of how each of us is feeling this morning, what it is we bring with us to this gathering. … We can create this as a sacred time and space by our presence here together, making this a time for our own thoughts, an opportunity for opening ourselves to new insights and possibilities. Let’s take a gentle connecting breath together – in and out – and use this moment to get a sense of what it is we might most need this morning.
This chalice flame connects us with the world wide community of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists. Its one light reminds us that we are one people, living one life, on our one, precious, planet earth home.
Chalice lighting: ‘For every time’ by Maureen Killoran
For every time we make a mistake and we decide to start again, we light this chalice.
For every time we are lonely and we reach out to another, we light this chalice.
For every time we are disappointed and we choose to hope, we light this, our chalice.
Candles of Joy and Concern
Each Sunday when our Kensington Unitarians community meets, we share candles of joy and concern, where we invite a few people to light a candle and speak of something that is in their 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. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and just 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 quite special to hear some other voices and perspectives, visitors do feel free to join in – 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. Our hosts Jeannene and Corrina will do their best to spot if someone wants to speak and can’t unmute themselves. And you’ll hear me thank each speaker by name – to let them know they’ve been heard and to signal that the space is free from someone else to speak.
I have one more candle here – to represent all the issues we haven’t spoken of today that we hold within us. You might like to pause for a moment and think of what really matters to you this day. Let’s remember that these joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.
Reading: ‘The Violin Maker’ by Megan McKenna
“Once upon a time there was a master violin maker. His instruments were exquisite, and the sound that could be drawn forth from them was beyond description. He only accepted a small number of apprentices, and he took them through the long and arduous process of making a violin from the choice of the tree to how to string the piece at the very end, after the varnish. There was one apprentice, an especially adept one, who had trouble with only one aspect of the process: the choice of wood. He had mastered all the other levels but would balk at the choice of which tree to mark and cut to form the base of the violin. Finally the master took him out to the forest again.
“It was the dead of winter, a frightfully cold and windy day, with snow swirling and ice thickly hung in all the trees. They walked north and the master starting marking out the trees.
“‘Why?’ the apprentice queried. ‘Why these?’
“The master answered, ‘They face due north and they take the brunt of the wind, the chill, and the ice. They make the best violins.’
“They returned. The storm grew stronger, and the student asked his teacher, ‘Master, doesn’t it bother you to think about the trees that you marked standing alone in the wind, standing against all this ice and fury? Have you no pity for them?’
“The master eyed him and smiled, ‘No, not at all. You see, they are being tuned!'”
Prayer and Reflection:
Now I am going to lead you into a time of prayer.. so please make yourself comfortable, close your eyes or direct your gaze away from any distractions, and let yourself turn inward and find the quiet still space inside yourself…the place which also helps you connect with others and that which is greater than ourselves….
Spirit of life and love
The mystery that surrounds us all…that which we can’t touch… but which we can know…
When we are faced with tough times in our lives, may we see the gift of love and connection that we can find with others….
If we find that we are struggling, help us to acknowledge the strength we can find within ourselves to carry on…
When the world seems like it is cold and uncaring, may we find the light within us to shine and warm ourselves and others….
May we find the beauty amongst what might seem like ugliness and despair…..the beauty and hope of sunrises, and the light of stars in the night sky after sunset…
May we act in kindness towards others, who might be facing adversity which we can’t see…
May we show compassion to others who are in need of understanding…..
May we show love and understanding for ourselves, so that we can heal our wounds and help others with theirs…
May we reach out to those who might need our help and let them know that they are not alone…
May we find purpose and meaning in our lives which will spur us on through difficult times…
May we transform our struggles into love, courage, and beauty… to live more peacefully… and be guided by our desire to live in harmony with ourselves and others…. Amen.
First Hymn: Moods of Summer
It’s time for our first hymn now and it’s called the moods of summer, written by a much appreciated Unitarian minister and hymn writer Sydney Knight. He’s comparing the many moods of summer to our own lives – I like the way he writes so poetically. And haven’t we experienced summer’s many moods this summer of 2021 here in Britain. The words will appear on our screens and we’ll all be muted so feel free to sing out loud or hum along – whatever feels right for you.
When the summer sun is shining
Over golden land and sea,
And the flowers in the hedgerow
Welcome butterfly and bee;
Then my open heart is glowing,
Full of warmth for everyone,
And I feel an inner beauty
Which reflects the summer sun.
When the light of summer sunshine
Streams in through the open door,
Casting shadows of tree-branches,
Living patterns on the floor;
Then my heart is full of gladness,
And my soul is free of care,
For my life is sweet and joyous
Like the gentle summer air.
When the summer clouds of thunder
Bring the long-awaited rain,
And the thirsty soil is moistened ,
And the grass is green again ;
Then I long for summer sunshine,
But I know that clouds and tears
Are a part of life’s refreshment,
Like the rainbow’s hopes and fears.
When, beneath the trees of summer ,
Under leafy shade I lie,
Breathing in the scent of flowers,
Sheltered from the sun-hot sky;
Then my heart is all contentment,
And my soul is quiet and still,
Soothed by whispering, lazy breezes,
Like the grasses on the hill.
In the cool of summer evening,
When the dancing insects play,
And in garden, street and meadow
Linger echoes of the day;
Then my heart is full of yearning,
Hopes and memories flood the whole
Of my being, reaching inwards
To the corners of my soul.
Reading and Meditation: ‘The Beauty of Woundedness# – John O’Donohue
The Irish priest and philosopher John O’Donohue has written about the beauty of our woundedness, the beauty of our woundedness. I wonder if some of his ideas resonate with you. He writes poetically and deeply so I’ve broken this reading up into short sections and I’ll pause between each of them to allow his ideas to sink in a bit:
‘There are times when life seems little more than a matter of struggle and endurance, when difficulty and disappointment form a crust around the heart. Because it can be deeply hurt, the heart hardens. … Yet though the music of the heart may grow faint, there is in each of us an unprotected place that beauty can always reach out and touch.’
‘When we decide to explore our lives through creative expression, it is often surprising to discover that the things that almost destroyed us are the very things that want to talk to us. … The wound has left its imprint. And …the dark providence of suffering wants to somehow illuminate our lives so that we can now discover the unseen gift that it bequeathed. … Beauty is not all brightness. In the shadowlands of pain and despair we may find slow, dark beauty.’
‘Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place. For instance, compassion is one of the most beautiful presences a person can bring to the world and most compassion is born from one’s own woundedness. When you have felt deep emotional pain and hurt, you are able to imagine what the pain of the other is like; their suffering touches you. This is the most decisive and vital threshold in human experience and behaviour.’
These words can lead into our time of meditation, when we might consider how adversity has shaped us in life. Have there been times for you when something new has emerged out of difficulty, have we occasionally found beauty or creativity as O’Donohue suggests, in some of our wounded places?
So let’s ready ourselves for this quiet time, feel free to switch off your camera, lie down for a while perhaps, soften your gaze or close your eyes. Our meditation will start with two minutes silence followed by our church pianist Peter Crockford playing part of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata – written when he was still in his twenties – yet already showing his remarkable ability to feel life’s poignant qualities and express them in his musical compositions. Our chalice flame will be on our screens as a video so we can focus on that if we want. So let’s take one of those releasing breaths in and out, slowing our breathing and allowing it to soften and release some of the tension our bodies often hold, let’s be aware of the earth beneath us holding us steady, the air around us lifting us, helping us straighten our spines, encouraging our shoulders to move back and down, any facial tension of the cheeks and foreheads gently releasing, even the many small muscles in our feet and toes can enjoy a sense of release, of letting go for a while as we enter the fellowship of silence together.
Silence and Music: Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata played by Peter Crockford
Address: Adversity…. by Corrina Dolso
At some points in our lives we are all faced with adversity. Adversity might be defined as a difficult or unpleasant situation. These challenges may be relatively small. Or they may be enormous and devastating or might rumble on for years and we cannot see an end in sight, but either way, tough times are going to happen to us all at some or many points in our lives. And we know all too well that some people’s lives are filled with difficulties whilst others have less to bear. How do we humans get through these times? Might adversity sometimes strengthen us – like the violin wood we heard about in the story earlier on?
From childhood, we grow up hearing, reading, and watching stories about adversity. Stories told to us of our own family members, or those we read in books or see in films or TV. Stories of people, families, and even animals who are faced with difficult and unpleasant situations, not necessarily always life threatening, but situations which throw up obstacles to overcome and difficult times to endure. The characters must find ways to come together and draw from their inner strengths and find ways to grow.
Now imagine if every story we read or were told, ended with all the characters unable to overcome a difficult situation, turning back, not bothering to look for ways to keep going, or simply choosing to give up. If all the stories we were told ended like this, we might have a very different view of how to approach and live through adversity. We might start to believe that the human spirit is not meant to endure, overcome, and grow. Instead, we know from stories based in truth and fiction, of people who choose courage, dedication, awareness, insight, inner strength, and resourcefulness. We know that the human spirit is driven to not only endure and survive, but also learn, grow, and transform.
These stories of overcoming adversity are actually a good way of preparing us for later life. Knowing about people who have lived through tough times can also give us a backdrop for our own lives and can form part of our inner language about ourselves and our capabilities. The stories I refer to highlight bravery and courage, rather than revenge and vengeance. These stories involve sorrow and pain that leave our characters wounded from the adversity they have faced, and it is how they reshape themselves, and their lives which is where we can also draw inspiration in own tough times. My parents and grandparents told me their stories and they always stuck in my mind and formed a basis of inspiration in my own life. My father grew up in post war Italy and my mother grew up on a remote farm in Australia. Their true stories of struggle, loss, hardship, and survival made me not only understand the people they were, but that facing adversity can come with a choice. I wonder what you learnt about life’s difficulties from your family.
Living through adversity can reshape us. We must be careful not to let it make us dwell in anger and fear and not let it shut ourselves off from growth and connection. Adversity if we choose to let it, will teach us resilience, humility, courage, perseverance, and perspective.
I think it is important to keep a kind of adversity spectrum. This helps me enormously to know that I have faced tough things and got through them, and a reminder of the resilience that we have developed. It helps me to feel more confident about riding the waves in my life. I have learnt to trust myself which makes it much easier to face difficulties head on and reframe them to find a constructive way to deal with the situation. I can draw on how I dealt with tough times and use this to plan out how I will get through any tough times ahead, that I know will inevitably come. Even if I am scared, I now simply accept that this is part of life, part of being human and something that goes in hand with the beauty and joy that life brings.
John O’Donohue talks about the woundedness we face in life and how there is beauty in this. It is through adversity that we are wounded. We can become broken down, beaten, and left feeling raw and fragile and we must not sit in a place of pity and anger. That will only make us shut off and reject the beauty inside and around us. We can also look at this as an opportunity to deeply understand the full range of the human condition. It is not until we have faced real adversity, real struggle, and deep pain that we can really have a deep compassion for others. Knowing pain, suffering and hardship is different to imagining what it must be like…. If we have never experienced some of the darker side of life, if we have never been wounded, then we are just looking at it as if through a window, there is something between us to protect us. If you have been through that window so to speak, then you can’t go back, you can’t unknow what you now know, you feel it firsthand. This can make you a powerful beacon for others who have experienced the same level of suffering and those who need guidance through the storm. This is the new gift you now have and can share with others.
When you have been broken, when you have lived through periods of difficulty, it can also open a perspective that the smallest and sometimes that most mundane things about life are precious and beautiful. Suddenly you can see the wonderment in the everyday, and a deep sense of gratitude can emerge that possibly wasn’t known to you before. We will always be touched by beauty and there is always going to be a place deep inside us which craves beauty and love, we should always choose to see this. You can reframe your perspective on life even in hard times. You can look for wonderment and find it in the smallest of things. You can form deeper more meaningful connections to those who shared tough times with you, and you can see their beauty with more clarity too. I know that through adversity I have also developed a deeper respect, admiration and understanding of the people I have shared these times with. I have also been able to help people and guide them through their own storms by knowing and feeling their pain and having a deeper compassion and empathy for their situations.
And yes, we all know that some adversity cannot be worked through. We all know that some of life’s challenges cannot be overcome. Yet even in our times of utter despair and brokenness, even when we reach the end of the road and know we can’t go on – yet still the human spirit has a remarkable gift of resilience – the ability to find beauty and human connections in the toughest of times. I hope that you too can find that gift of resilience when you need it most.
Adversity changes us…we can’t live through tough times without becoming transformed by the experience, somehow changed, altered, and with a new perspective. We don’t know what life will throw at us, but we can choose how we respond to this and to the wounds that adversity will inflict on us. I know I am not the only one here today who has had difficulties in life. I hope that we can find the beauty, however ugly a situation we find ourselves in.
We can choose to see the beauty, and we can also choose who to become – and indeed we can choose who we already are – creatures of spirit, able to transcend, able to rise above and beyond ….. amen, so may it be.
Hymn: Comfort Me
Thank you Corrina. There’s chance now to sing together now – a beautiful chant called Comfort me. It reminds me of our human need for comfort in times of adversity. Perhaps hearing this can remind us all of the way we can comfort and support one another as a community. Do pick up a phone or send a text message or email, or arrange to meet someone for a walk and a talk. And if you feel yourself to be in need of some comfort and company – do please ask one of us.
Comfort me, comfort me,
Comfort me oh my soul;
Comfort me, Comfort me,
Comfort me, o-h my soul.
Sing with me, sing with me,
Sing with me oh my soul;
Sing with me, sing with me,
Sing with me, o-h my soul.
Speak with me, speak with me…..
Dance with me, dance with me….
Comfort me, comfort me…..
My thanks go to Jeannene for all the behind the scenes work of hosting this Zoom gathering today and to Corrina for all her input. It’s a pleasure to work with you both.
Thanks to all of you for being here today. This congregation has a life beyond Sunday mornings and we can all look out for each other so why not reach out with a text or an email or come along to one of our other gatherings so we can get to know one another better.
Opportunities to get together this week include our Tuesday coffee morning, Heart and Soul groups this evening and Friday – on the theme of ‘Lost and Found’. And we invite you all to sign up for the Summer School events which are happening on line – starting next Saturday evening. You need to register for these by email, you can then attend the service and talks either live online or watch later. They’ve an inspiring theme for 2021: ‘Why Are We Here? Discerning our Unitarian Mission in an Upturned World’.
And Veronica has a birthday picnic in Kensington Gardens planned for next Saturday – so let us know if you’d like to come along to that.
Thank you everyone who has made a donation recently or taken out a standing order. Every bit helps in these difficult 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 invite you to stay for a chat over a cuppa, if you don’t need to dash off. For our closing words, I suggest we all click on gallery view on our screens so we can see us all in community together. And let me tell you a bit about our closing music – played for us in a video by Peter Crockford – thanks to Peter for recording today’s music for us – and he’s introduced me to a composer I’d not heard of before – John Stanley, who was composing music in the 18th century. And our closing words today …
Environmental activist, author and teacher Joanna Macy writes that ‘The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe’.
In the days ahead, let us allow life’s inevitable challenges to open our hearts, that we might know the world’s suffering alongside its beauty. And may the spirit that holds us all, guide and protect us all the days of our lives. Amen, go well each and every one of us, and blessed be.
Closing Music: John Stanley’s work played by Peter Crockford
Rev. Sarah Tinker and Corrina Dolso
15th August 2021