Words of Wisdom – 29/08/21

Opening Music: ‘The Nearness of You’ performed by Mikaela Livadiotis

Opening Words of Welcome: ‘We Arrive Together Here’ by Andy Pakula (adapted)

We arrive together here:
Travellers on life’s journey.
Seekers of meaning, of love, of healing, of justice, of truth.

The journey is long, and joy and woe
accompany us at every step.
None is born that does not die.
None feels pleasure that does not also feel pain.
The tear has not yet dried on the cheek
but the sweet smile arises unbidden.

Numerous are our origins, our paths, and our destinations
And yet, happily, our ways have joined together here today.

Spirit of Life. God of all Love:
May our joining be a blessing
May it bring comfort to those who are in pain
May it bring hope to those who despair
May it bring peace to those who tremble in fear
May it bring wisdom and guidance for our journeys.

And though this joining may be for just a moment in time
the moment is all we can ever be certain of.
So may we embrace this and every instant of our lives.

These words, adapted from some by Andy Pakula, welcome all who have gathered here 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 catching up on YouTube, at some time in the future. 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 within weeks – honest – of completing my training at Unitarian College.

This morning’s service is titled ‘Words of Wisdom’ – I put out a call for congregation members to share their stories of times when someone offered a phrase or a sentence that stayed with them – a little pearl of wisdom that brought insight, perhaps which changed their way of looking at life, and which they’ve carried with them ever since. Marianne and Charlotte kindly stepped up and we’ll be hearing from them later in the service. And I suspect this is a topic that we could return to endlessly so if you’re inspired to share your own ‘words of wisdom’ do get in touch in the week!

Before we go any further, though, let’s take a moment to make sure we’ve fully arrived. Do what you need to do to settle in – you might want to wiggle and stretch first – scrunch your shoulders up and let them go – or perhaps take one conscious breath… Set aside, if you can, anything that you don’t need to think about for the next hour. And do feel free to turn your camera off if that makes it easier for you to focus – of course we like to see all your lovely faces – but if you prefer to lurk that’s fine. There’ll be various opportunities to join in as we go along but all are entirely optional. Whoever you are, however you are, you are welcome in this gathering, just as you are.

Chalice Lighting: ‘Carnival of Lamps’ by Cliff Reed (adapted)

And now I’ll light our chalice, 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 proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

We each bring our light to join the ‘carnival of lamps’.
We come as individual souls to gather in community,
finding our purpose in connection and the sharing of wisdom,
our freedom in the self’s surrender, and our oneness in diversity.

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. And if you seem to be having trouble unmuting yourself please wave and one of the co-hosts will try to help with the unmuting. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s enough time for everyone who might want to speak. 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.

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 heart today, those stories which we don’t feel able to share out loud this morning. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those little windows into our shared human condition and the life of the world we share… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness for a moment or two. And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now.

Prayer: based on words by Bruce Southworth

You might first want to adjust your position for comfort, close your eyes, or soften your gaze. There might be a posture that helps you feel more prayerful. Whatever works for you. Do whatever you need to do to get into the right state of body and mind for us to pray together – to be fully present here and now, in this sacred time and space – with ourselves, with each other, and with that which is both within us and beyond us. (pause)

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. (short 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.

Each of us here gathered knows something of life’s blessing too.
This bright 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.

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)

Spirit of Life – God of all Love – as this time of prayer comes to a close,
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: ‘Those Who Seek Wisdom’ by the Unitarian Music Society

Our first hymn today is ‘Those Who Seek Wisdom’. It speaks of the way in which we seek wisdom to help us live well, to walk in the way of truth and courage, as we weather life’s many storms. The words will appear on screen for you to sing along with the Unitarian Music Society – we’ll try to keep you muted – but if you don’t fancy singing it’s absolutely fine to just listen instead.

Those who seek wisdom
Seek truth and courage,
Walk through the darkness,
Endure through the storm.

Those who meet wisdom
In youth or old age
Know that the wonder
Is always new-born.

They know the vision
In words is spoken.
They live the vision
Without words in deed.

Touching with loving
In healing the broken,
Touching with dreaming,
With vision they lead.

Rise out of weeping,
Joy in this hour.
Sing out our greeting
In this new-born day.

Now may our meeting
Rekindle the power
Of truth and courage
To walk in the way.

Reading: ‘The Gold Stars and the Bittersweet’ by Victoria Safford (adapted)

This reading, by the UU minister Victoria Safford, tells a story of some accidental words of wisdom.

One afternoon, someone left a strange and beautiful message sellotaped to my office door. The author didn’t even leave a name, though I knew who it was; her message simply said, “I forgot to tell you when we met this morning, there are little gold stars all amongst the bittersweet. It’s all there, mixed together.”

I had just met with this person, who was not quite in a crisis but dancing on the edge, talking and weeping and raging through one of those hard, hard, moments that can last for weeks or months or years. It was painful stuff, faced with courage. Here, hours later, was this slightly mysterious, elegant message, and I thought how amazing it is that some people can render even the most desperate experience poetically, and what a gift this is, this making of art out of ashes, and how rare. I was very moved.

The next day, there came a second message from the same person on the church answering machine, slightly altering my view of things. “It’s me again, calling back about the stars and bittersweet. I forgot to tell you, I stuffed it all in bin bags, and they’re in the cupboard in the social hall. Those berries make a dreadful mess.”

Well, there’s not much poetry in that. As it turns out, there were no metaphors at work at all. Before our appointment that morning, this person had been cleaning up after a church party, for which the decorations had included branches of bittersweet cut from members’ autumn gardens, and long strings of gold tinsel wire to which tiny metal stars were fixed. So it really was all rubbish.

But I’m intrigued by conversations and by language that can speak of bin bags, cupboards, golden stars, and bittersweet, and refer with equal accuracy to the very depths of human hope and suffering or to the details of a clean-up operation by the church committee. And I know that I am called – as I expect we are all called – to places where the sacred and the ordinary are mixed up together, where work is prayer, and prayer is song, and songs are sacraments, and sacraments are silent, or spoken brokenly in messages we sometimes barely comprehend, in words we speak in love to one another and to the golden stars.

Meditation: based on words by Kelly Murphy Mason

We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer a few words, based on a reflection by Kelly Murphy Mason, on tuning in to the source of inner wisdom to which we all have access. These words will take us into a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen. And then the silence will come to an end with some gentle piano music played by our guest musician Mikaela Livadiotis. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – have a wiggle if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to help ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes. And as I always say, these words, these images, this music, it’s just an offering – feel free to meditate in your own way – go with your own leadings. (pause)

In the unity of the spirit, in the sanctity of this gathering, let us quiet ourselves as we settle into a meditative moment, a time when we can each listen to that still, small voice within.

All our souls speak to us, if we trust ourselves to hear them.
What do they tell us this day, in this very season, as we tune in?

Whether our innermost yearnings find voice in a sincere intention, a prayer,
a fragment of text that is sacred to us, or inspiring words remembered,
a profound lament, or sudden insight, let us honour what comes.

Let us stay present to the wisdom that arises within.
Let us welcome whatever arrives, be it bidden or unbidden.

Let us find rest in our calm centre, that secure core of our being,
which houses our surest sense of the holy.
Let us allow ourselves to know consolation.

And let us grow mindful, ever mindful – not only of ourselves,
but also of those dear to us, those here in our midst, those absent today,
those held close in memory, those in distant places – all those we have known,
from whom we have gained wisdom, and with whom we’ve shared our own.

Feeling ourselves enfolded in loving kindness that is everywhere abiding,
let us enter into a time of sacred silence and stillness together now.

Silence: 3 minutes silence

Musical Interlude: ‘Elegy’ performed by Mikaela Livadiotis (2.04)

Reflection: ‘The Power of “No”’ by Marianne Harvey

When Jane asked me to write something about words of wisdom, I said “No”

Yes, ‘No’ is my word of wisdom.

‘No’, such a tiny word, barely a word at all, rolls out so easily for some. For others, it can be the most resistant obstinate word to usher out in any circumstances, a mule of a word that simply won’t come out without stirring up guilt or fear of rejection, fear of anger, fear of resentment, covert or overt retaliation even.

By the way, have you noticed that in most languages it is also two-letter word? No is clear, simple and takes no prisoners but it can harbour a variety of different intonations from no, no, no, no, no… so make sure that your no is really a no.

A very small incident in my professional life brought me the lesson I needed to explore the power of no.

One of my assistants used to collect art exhibition catalogues and had built a considerable library over the years. In those days, there was no online buying and postage was expensive for these costly unnecessarily verbose catalogues. Between you and me, have you ever read one from beginning to end?

Shortly after I joined my Organization, I had to go to Belgium to visit my family who lived 2 hours away from Brussels. My Assistant asked me whether I could bring him the catalogue of a Magritte exhibition which was taking place at the time. As a newcomer and eager to please, I stopped in Brussels and purchased the catalogue. Somehow it even felt a bit mean to ask for the money although these catalogues, as you know, are not cheap. He was happy with his freebie, and so was I, until history repeated itself a few times. Resentment started to build up and when he asked me for the third time, I blurted out that it was not convenient because my family did not even live in Brussels, and I was not even interested in that particular exhibition and It meant having less time with my family and it was expensive and… and .. !!!!

What happened then was so simple, so direct, so true that it left me speechless. He looked at me quite unphased and he just said: “you can always say “no”.

Of course I could but why was it so difficult?

There were no dire consequences to my saying ‘No’ in that instance and my resentment dissipated. Of course, it is not always as simple as that. Some people just won’t take no for an answer and will cajole or sulk or cry or threaten and that’s where our assertiveness skills come into play: acknowledging the other person’s feelings in a supportive way whilst all the while holding like dear life to ‘No’. No can be softened or embellished, “I do wish I could do this, but no, I cannot do this right now or ‘ No I am not able to do this but I hear what you say and I wish it could be otherwise etc..

Indeed, saying ‘no’ can be life affirming for both parties; as a matter of fact, hearing ‘no’ could be precisely what the other person needs, who knows?

Reflection: ‘People Do What They Can with What They Have’ by Charlotte Chanteloup

Since I was little, I have struggled with rigid thinking: this is the correct way to do this; that is wrong, my way is the best way. I was often judgmental: why does she have blue hair, that’s weird! How does he not know the answer to this question, it’s so easy! My mother was very helpful in fighting this way of thinking, and she taught me to be more open-minded about people’s level knowledge. I also don’t care about hair colour anymore!

She thought she wasn’t a very clever person (I disagreed with that) but she knew she had a lot of emotional intelligence. She was able to talk to anyone and she was loved everywhere she went. On the contrary, I was (and often still am) very uncomfortable in social situations and will make a lot of effort to blend in in group settings.

For a long time, I had trouble communicating with my dad. We just did not get along. This was the subject of many conversations between my mum and me over the years. During one of these conversations, she told me “People do what they can with what they have”. And she said it many times again later on, “People do what they can with what they have”. It seems quite simple, but it has been difficult to apply to my relationship with my dad. He was not “someone”, he was my dad, and we know that parents are superhuman beings who never get anything wrong! Yet, I knew the facts: he grew up in a house where intellect was more valued than empathy, and he grew up without his father, who left when he was little. Never mind the facts, we still didn’t get along. So, my mum repeated, “People do what they can with what they have”.

It took a long time, more than a decade for me to really understand it, intellectually and emotionally. So, people aren’t perfect and don’t communicate exactly the way I want them to. That’s fine! I learnt about the 5 languages of love, and I’ve recognised that my dad and I show that we care in different ways. I can now receive his love in a more meaningful manner and express mine in a way that he will understand. And our relationship grows from it.

This has affected positively my relationship with others as well. I don’t assume the worst of people before even knowing them. For example, I was recommended an osteopath. From what I’d heard, she was good but unpleasant and a strange character all-around. It turns out that she wasn’t a cheerful person, but she was very kind to me.

Life is hard, people try their best. And, even so, it’s worth remembering that sometimes we will need to remove ourselves from a situation or a relationship for our own safety or sanity. But we owe it to each other to look at difficult situations or conflicts and try to see the best in people. Sometimes it’s not enough, and people fall short of our expectations, but we fall short of other people’s expectations as well sometimes. Maybe we all learnt from it, and we gained tools. And since we’ll have more, we’ll do better.

Hymn: ‘When Our Heart is in a Holy Place’ by the Unitarian Music Society

Thank you Charlotte and Marianne for your words of wisdom! I think this a theme we can definitely return to in another congregational service sometime in the coming months so please do get in touch if you think you might have something to contribute next time around. Time for one last chance to sing together. This closing hymn is a bit of an old favourite: ‘When Our Heart is in a Holy Place’. We’ll try to make sure you’re muted; feel free to sing or listen as you’d rather.

When our heart is in a holy place,
When our heart is in a holy place,
We are bless’d with love and amazing grace
When our heart is in a holy place.

When we trust the wisdom in each of us,
Ev’ry colour, every creed and kind,
And we see our faces in each other’s eyes
Then our heart is in a holy place.

When our heart is in a holy place,
When our heart is in a holy place,
We are bless’d with love and amazing grace
When our heart is in a holy place.

When we tell our story from deep inside,
And we listen with a loving mind,
And we hear our voices in each other’s words
Then our heart is in a holy place.

When our heart is in a holy place,
When our heart is in a holy place,
We are bless’d with love and amazing grace
When our heart is in a holy place.

When we share the silence of sacred space
And the God of our Heart stirs within,
And we feel the power of each other’s faith
Then our heart is in a holy place.

When our heart is in a holy place,
When our heart is in a holy place,
We are bless’d with love and amazing grace
When our heart is in a holy place.
When our heart is in a holy place.


Thanks to John for co-hosting today, to Mikaela for our music (and Abby for putting us in touch), and to Marianne and Charlotte for their reflections. There are a number of opportunities to connect in the week ahead: Coffee morning on Zoom at 10.30 on Tuesday. You can still sign up for Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering, at 7pm tonight on the theme of ‘Grace’. If you’ve not been to H&S before I’ll just mention that this is a session which usually lasts for about an hour and a half, with about 8-15 people, where we have a very structured way of reflecting together on life, and prayerfully sharing our gratitudes, and our concerns, and exploring a spiritual theme together. These sessions are spaces for deep sharing about things that matter and the regular participants often say that they feel like ‘family’ due to the bonds that develop.

We’ve just had a week of events for virtual summer school asking the question ‘Why Are We Here?’ and listening to six differing perspectives on what our Unitarian mission should be in a world upturned by climate change and Covid and all the other challenges and injustices we face. I’m definitely biased but I thought the talks were great and they’re all up online for you to watch at your leisure. The link was in the weekly email. We’re going to have a series of online mini-retreats to explore what these ideas might mean for us in practice and what we can do as congregations to respond – even if it’s only in a relatively modest way – to the world’s needs. The first of these mini-retreats is coming up on Saturday 25th September from 2-5pm so save the date if you’d like to come and join in the conversation with Unitarians from all over the country.

Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time afterwards, 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 again on Zoom next week at 10am so tell your friends. It’s fine to share the link. And feel free to drop us a line during the week to get in touch if you’d like to say hello. This congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings and it’s good to know that people are reaching out to each other with texts and emails and calls to keep in touch and show they care. We know that it’s a bit harder for newcomers to make connections during this time while we’re still mostly meeting online so I do encourage you to drop in on some of our small-group activities like coffee morning and H&S where it’s a bit easier to make those deeper connections.

We’ve just got some brief closing words now, followed by some closing music. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point so we can all see each other and get a sense of our community-and-connectedness for this closing.

Closing Words: based on words by Eileen B. Karpeles and Philip Randall Giles (adapted)

If that which is most holy lies within the human person,
and if the greatest power in the world shines
flickering and uncertain from each individual heart,
then let us dedicate ourselves to nurturing that light, here in community.

For the power of good in any one of us must at times waver.
But when a group is dedicated to nurturing the power of good,
it is rare for the light to grow dim in all of us at the same moment.

So may we borrow courage and wisdom from one another;
may our wisdom show itself in compassion and understanding;
and may the fruits of the spirit be ever more apparent in our lives.

And as we part, may our sense of connection
warm us and keep us, until we’re together again.

May it be so, for the greater good of all. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening’ performed by Mikaela Livadiotis (2.17)

Jane Blackall

29th August 2021