Loved Like a Hazelnut – 24/10/21

Opening Music: Handel’s Water Music played by Peter Crockford with photo of a hazelnut tree

Words of Welcome and Chalice Lighting: Welcome to this day and to this gathered community of Kensington Unitarians here on Zoom. Our Unitarian movement welcomes all people of goodwill who seek a faith to guide our steps, to stir our hearts and challenge our thinking. We value spiritual exploration, we value the power of community to build a fairer world and we value making time and space for connection – connections with ourselves, connections with one another and connections with that which we hold to be of greatest worth. So let’s take a moment to sense all those connections, …… (light chalice) and may this our simple chalice flame, worldwide symbol of our Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist faith, remind us of the oneness from which all else unfolds. One people, living one life on this our one planet earth home.

If you are here for the first time today with us on Zoom – a particular welcome to you. I hope you find something of value to you here. Please do stay afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to introduce yourself if you’d like. Or think about coming to one of our small-group gatherings during the week as they’re a good way to get to know people and find out more about us as a congregation. And if you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to build our togetherness. Even on Zoom, we each help to co-create this sacred space, this sense of community. And welcome to all of you who might be reading or watching this service some time in the future. So whoever you are, however you are, whatever has brought you here, know you are welcome, just as you are. Let’s take a moment to breathe that welcome in and to acknowledge that we belong, whatever that means for us.

As we always say, feel free to do what you need to do to be comfortable this hour – it’s lovely to see your faces in the gallery and to have a sense of togetherness – but we know some prefer 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.

Today’s service has a theme of ‘Loved like a hazelnut’ – a reference to the writings of 14th century and early 15th century Julian of Norwich, who lived through a time of devastating plague – I’m hoping that we too in this on-going time of pandemic can find some comfort in her words. I’ll be exploring the contradictory ideas that we individually matter greatly and that we are also completely insignificant. Let’s remember that in Unitarian gatherings you don’t have to listen to me or believe what I’m saying – these are just ideas that may or may not be useful.

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, let’s all be aware of how long we’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. Don’t worry 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 as we want to hear from you. And if your device allows, do switch to gallery view at this point so we can all see everybody. 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 the issues for people in our community and their connections with our wider world. We might think too of something that we’re aware of and didn’t speak about. …. All life is represented here – matters small and great, sources of both joy and anxiety – let’s imagine that the whole world rests here and that our loving compassion and thoughtful actions may be a comfort and a support to those in need… and let’s hold them – and each other – in compassion and loving-kindness …as I hand over to our congregation’s chair of trustees John Humphreys who has a reading for us.

Reading: ‘A Pale Blue Dot’ by Carl Sagan

Thanks Sarah. When you gave me this reading you said you reckoned you’d used it in at least one service every year over the last 15 years and I’m not surprised. It’s one of those readings that needs to be heard – written by astronomer Carl Sagan and it’s his attempt to put us humans in our place, to put us in a universal perspective. As we move closer to the COP 26 meetings to be held in Glasgow – meetings that could find ways for our world community to stop us humans damaging our planet earth home irreparably – it would be a good idea for every one of us to consider our planet from the perspective of space. This reading is called a pale blue dot and that refers to one of those early photographs of the planet earth taken from space.

“Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Time of Prayer and Reflection:

So let’s each do what we need to do to get ourselves into the right state of body and mind for a time of reflection and prayer – perhaps shift your position, finding a position that helps you turn inwards – 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 greater life which holds us all, as I call on the divine spirit of life and love to be with us now and to bless all that we say and do together here today. Let us pray for the ancestors – for those who came before us and prepared the way. We who are part of the great history of humanity from people’s earliest times on this planet, have the precious gift of life to be grateful for. Yet there may be those in our personal history for whom we may feel more complex emotions – in a brief time of shared silence I invite you to seek peace for your ancestors …….

There may be within you some tensions, some unresolved issues …. in a brief time of shared silence I invite you to seek peace for yourself …….

And in our world, our oh so busy, so turbulent world; let us pray for all those involved in conflicts that ways forward may be found; let us pray for all those who feel helpless, that they might have strength to carry on, let us pray for the world’s leaders that integrity may help them to rise above self interest and instead truly seek the highest good of all – at this time we especially think of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 that will be held in Glasgow in November – and pray that all involved can work together collectively to respond creatively to our global problems – brief shared silence – may our love for our planet inspire us all.

And let us give thanks for the love we know in life, for people we care about and those who care about us, for simple pleasures, for laughter and kindness, that all beings might feel lovable and loved this day. Amen

Hymn: Come Down O Love Divine

Our first hymn today is based on the writings of 14th century mystic poet Bianco da Siena. They’re beautiful words and the tune is by Ralph Vaughan Williams. We’ll all be muted so do feel free to join in singing or simply sit and listen to this recording from the Unitarian Music Society. You might like to imagine love encompassing you.

Reading: ‘You Matter’ by Matthew Rosin

You matter.
There is no one like you; never will be again,
from the birth of the earth to its outermost end.
You —
an eager shout, a sacred “Yes!”
that moves your flesh, your bone, your breath.
she, he, ze, they, you are whole and okay,
gracefully teaching your truth and your way.
cannot be forgotten. We cherish you so.
Your voice and your hands can do more than you know.
see old things anew. You turn them and test them.
Your wonder exhausts our old words to express them.
speak and lay bare all you dig up and hold
aloft from the dust of conventions grown cold.
up-end every rock and pursue every glimmer
and give a new name to each sparkle and shimmer.
chart out new paths, go beyond our horizons:
new friendships, new stories, your hope always rising.
welcome and wanted, whatever your skin,
wherever the neighborhood you were born in.
play across fences that keep us divided.
Old walls become weak where your love is ignited.
call us to kindness and questions, reminding:
the life of our living is found in the finding.
There is no one like you; never will be again,
from the birth of the earth to its outermost end.
You matter. You do. We’ll keep learning with you.
Now stand on our shoulders. See what you can do.

Meditation, Silence, Music: From Mozart’s Divertimento #4, played by Benjie Del Rosario & Peter Crockford

We’re moving into the meditative part of our gathering now – when after a few words of introduction, we’ll hold a couple of minutes silence with our chalice flame video and that will then lead into clarinet and piano music – from Mozart’s Divertimento #4. There’ll be a gentle video to focus on if you’d like of a chalice flame and lots of hazelnuts gathered together in an autumnal display.

So I invite you to ready yourself for 5 minutes or so of meditation, find a comfy position that works for you, maybe turn off your camera if that’s more restful for you, and do a scan of your body to see if there are tensions that might be released, perhaps lifting your shoulders and rolling them back and down, straightening your back, taking one of those belly deep breaths that help settle us, allowing the gentle rhythm of your breathing to soften your whole being, enjoying a sense of sinking down a bit towards the floor, knowing that the earth holds us. And with a softened gaze, with heart and mind open and loving I invite you to consider the message of the poem we just heard: you matter. Let’s enter this time of silence together now.

Address: ‘Loved Like a Hazelnut

In the summer, I had the good fortune to visit the city of Norwich and found the church of St Julian there. Mother Julian as she is often known, was a 14th century anchorite who lived in retreat in a small, cell-like space by the church for some 50 years. She lived through tumultuous times of plague, of political and economic disturbance and through her writings she gave a message of a God of loving acceptance, a message which was far from the punitive religious orthodoxy of her time. Julian had visions and one of her most famous visions is of a hazelnut – just like this one – a very small round nut.

Julian wrote: “And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

This theist language, this sense of God as a personal being, creator of all that is, theism isn’t my particular faith position, but I know some of us gain great comfort from such an expression of faith. So do please translate any of this into language and concepts that have meaning for you.

It may not express my faith, but Mother Julian’s writings as a Christian mystic and as the first woman writer in English have long touched my heart. And when I attended a service at Mother Julian’s Church in Norwich I was delighted that they brought out a bowl of hazelnuts and blessed them and gave each of us one. And because they’d given me a hazelnut I re-read that passage we just heard from Julian’s most famous writings Revelations of Divine Love. And I found myself re-interpreting it – as we Unitarians often do. Way back now I made a decision that it is alright to re-interpret sacred texts – there is a Unitarian description of this as ‘revelation is not sealed’ – the idea that there is always more for us to explore and discover in the realm of faith. I like to think of this as a particular aspect, our unique selling point(!), that we can proclaim about our progressive tradition – our faith is ever evolving and each of us is encouraged to express our religious ideas in a way that works for us.

So with gentle apologies to Mother Julian and respectful acknowledgement of her faith let me tell you what message these hazelnuts have for me. And I’d like to hear what message they might hold for you.

Perhaps I could start by introducing these hazelnuts to you – because there are three different sorts – there is one hazelnut that came from Julian’s church. There are some hazelnuts from Kent – where they’re sometimes known as cobnuts – some of them are still in their leafy wrappings. And then because I didn’t think I had enough hazelnuts for this service there’s some more that came from Waitrose supermarket on Friday where I was glad to see them sitting in a display of Christmas nuts. And even though they are all hazelnuts and really quite similar to one another – I already have my favourites, my preferences – because this is what it is to have a human mind. We are created to distinguish, to differentiate, to like this and therefore dislike that. We polarise issues.

Mother Julian is offering us another way of being in this world –a way of compassionate, non-judgemental love. Can we imagine a love that does not have favourites, does not differentiate by approving some and disapproving of others?

How many of us have been caught up in striving, in competition, of fearing that we personally are not good enough to receive love and acceptance? This way of thinking leads us to try ever harder or simply give up in despair and hopelessness. Imagine the comfort of knowing we are loved and accepted just as we are. That is the message for me in Julian’s vision of the hazelnut. There is a power greater than ourselves that knows us with all our faults and foibles and accepts and loves us despite everything.

Modern society emphasises individualism. This encourages in some of us a bit of an obsession with being special, of needing to stand out from the crowd, a need to be recognised as unique, a yearning to be singled out. The reading You Matter that we heard earlier on is a healthy version of that yearning for me. I could imagine reading it at a child’s naming ceremony and delighting in giving them this message that they have their own particular gifts to bring to the world. And alongside that message I hold an image of many hazelnuts together – so many that it’s quite hard to distinguish one from another – and yet they are all individually and collectively special.

Sometimes I wonder if this emphasis on our individual specialness unwittingly perpetuates the polar opposite in some of us – a fear that we lack worth, that we’re not good enough. Maybe Mother Julian’s vision of a hazelnut can help us understand that we are simultaneously hugely important individually and of complete insignificance.

Let’s seek then a message that works for us:
• God loves us
• We are important in this universe
• We matter
• Each of us is one of many hazelnuts, all known and cared for, unique and yet part of the whole

And then let’s return to the vital tasks of life here on earth, with Carl Sagan’s wise words to guide us: ‘Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.’ Amen

Hymn: What Wondrous Love

Another opportunity to sing again now, this beautiful song ‘what wondrous love is this’ refers to the many ways we are helped by the love of others in our lives. This is a recording of our congregation and at the start you’ll perhaps hear the sound of me eating a bag of crisps very close to the microphone.

Announcements: A few brief announcements this morning: Thanks to Jeannene Powell and Johns Davies and Humphreys for hosting, John for reading, and Peter Crockford and Benjie del Rosario for lovely music, made technically possible by Abby Lorimier. Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service, to chat together, 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. We’ll be back next week on Zoom at 10am when Sonya and I will be here Honouring our Ancestors and sharing insights on life and death. Do feel free to share the link with your friends. As ever there are a number of opportunities to connect congregationally in the week ahead: Coffee morning 10.30 Tuesday – always excellent conversation – newcomers always welcome. Heart & Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering – on ‘A Leap of Faith’ – tonight and Friday at 7pm. Even if you’ve not been before it’s an open gathering and newcomers are welcome – as Jane Blackall is on holiday let me know if you’d like the contact details for Gavin, Rita and Peter who are hosting those gatherings this week. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch during the week, drop each other a line, meet up for a walk and a chat. For those of you who find the natural world a source of your spiritual connection, then do make a note of the next West London GreenSpirit group gathering on Monday 1st November at 7pm – when we’ll be celebrating the Samhain festival and honouring those who have inspired us in life. We’ve got our closing words and music now. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point, if you can, so we can all see each other and get a sense of our gathered community as we close.

Closing Blessing: And so I extinguish this chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. May we carry its warmth and its light to those who yearn for a sense of their own worth and yearn for a true understanding that we are all part of some great mystery encompassing us all.

Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan, wrote these words known as The Mystics Prayer – and I think they make a fine blessing for us all for the week ahead:

(Give me, Oh God), May we be granted
Deep thoughts
High Dreams
Few Words
Much Silence
The narrow path
The wide outlook
The end in peace.
Amen. Go well and blessed be

Music: ‘Estuary’ by Christopher Gunning played on clarinet by Benjie Del Rosario, accompanied by Peter Crockford

Rev. Sarah Tinker

24th October 2021