As With Gladness… – 12/12/21
Opening Music: ‘Joy to the World’, tune ‘Antioch’ performed by Abby Lorimier and Peter Crockford
Opening Words and Lighting of 3 Advent Candles: ‘Joy’ by Megan Visser and Anna Blaedel (adapted)
Joy to the world, for peace shall come;
Joy to the earth where truth is all;
Joy to our hearts, good-will to all!
This third Sunday in Advent we light three candles.
We light the third candle as a symbol of joy—
not just any simple cheer, but the experience of joy that cannot be contained.
Advent asks us to proclaim our gladness as a gift to the world
even when sorrow and uncertainty abound.
May we share our hearts through our words,
our music, and the way we live our lives.
Let the fullness of our joy lead to more freedom.
The Joy of God-With-Us does not come as
naïve optimism, or surface level feel-good-ness.
Joy cannot be imposed from on high. Joy cannot be commanded.
The Joy of God-With-Us is mingled with grief, exists side by side with mourning,
knows that pain and death are all too real, but do not have the final word.
This joy tends tenderly to beauty, and softness, and the gladness
that comes from paying attention to what matters.
The Joy of God-With-Us is collective, liberating us from deadly despair.
Joy is gestating in darkness; it comes unexpectedly.
Joy invites our expectation, and demands our participation.
Prepare the way, for joy with sorrow.
May Joy be birthed among, within, and through us, this Advent.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel…
Words of Welcome
And so with the warmth of our advent candles to greet us, I bid you all a warm welcome to this Sunday service for Kensington Unitarians, taking place both here in person at our church in Notting Hill and also on Zoom, through which people are joining us from their homes. A very good morning to you all. For those of you I’ve not met before my name is Sarah Tinker, I used to be minister with this congregation until I retired nearly a year ago.
Our intention is to offer hybrid services so people can worship with us in person or online and in future services people at home will be able to speak to us and we here will be able to see and hear you. But the wiring for interactive services like that still needs a bit of work here in our beautiful but quirky building, so for now we are simply streaming this service. But if you are with us on Zoom today, be assured that Hannah is your host and there will be chance at the end of the online service for you all to have a virtual coffee and chat time as usual.
Let me thank all of you here in person for doing all you can to keep one another safe in this on-going time of pandemic, by wearing masks and keeping a social distance from one another. Let’s take a pause now to bring all of ourselves here and now, wherever that may be, let’s breathe into this moment of Sunday worship here and now, as we move towards the possibility of people joining our worship actively from anywhere in the world. And let’s breathe out and release any niggles and tensions as best we can, especially any tricky journeys you might have had or any worries that are in your mind – let’s lay them to one side at least for a while, so we might fully experience this chance to be together.
And so I light our chalice flame, connecting us with progressive Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities the world over – its light reminding us of lights the world over that shine in the darkness and lift people’s spirits and provide a beacon calling to those who have lost their way. Our service title ‘As with gladness’ is the start of an old carol – as with gladness they of old, did the shining star behold. May we be like stars for one another and illuminate the way, for which of us does not at times feel lost and confused in this world both troubled and joyful.
And may this shared chalice flame – seen here in Essex Church and by all those with us online – may this one flame symbolically bring together these two elements of our community together – Kensington Unitarians, together in person and online, one community, one congregation.
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 an opportunity 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. In the future we will be able to hear the joys and concerns of people at home on Zoom as well as here in person but we’re still awaiting the necessary bits of electrical wiring. But I do have some messages sent me in advance by ……. And now I invite some of you here to come and light a candle and tell us briefly who or what you light your candle for. We’re asking people to keep their masks on for this candle lighting today, given the rising rates of infection. Thanks all of you for taking care of one another.
I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our hearts, those aspects of our lives which we might not 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 glimpses into our common human condition and the life of the world we share, like the many threads of a richly patterned woven tapestry of life … and let’s hold these threads – and each other – in our hearts, with compassion. Thank you.
Reading: ‘Advent’ by David O. Rankin
During the Advent season, we celebrate the qualities of faith, hope, love, and joy. Yet these must be viewed through the prism of paradox.
No Faith is worthy without the capacity to doubt all things—for then it is only credulity.
No Hope is possible without the spectre of defeat in the wings—for then it is only dreaming.
No Love is strong without the dread of loss in the heart—for then it is only passion.
No Joy is complete without the certainty of sorrow in the future—for then it is only frivolity.
Thus, it is wrong to mislead people with simplistic notions, for they distract us from the fullness of life. After all, the seas have storms, the clouds have lightning, and the roses have thorns—forever.
Reflection on Unitarianism’s Love of Paradox:
M&S new Christmas sweater has been in the news this week, with BELIEVE written colourfully across the front – now a hit apparently with Anglican women priests. Several friends sent me a message asking if I would be buying a sweater or knitting one specifically for Unitarian women preachers – DOUBTFUL, HMMM… IT DEPENDS WHAT YOU MEAN BY …. LET’S HEAR WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS ARE ABOUT THAT or FINGERS CROSSED & HOPE FOR GOOD LUCK.
I don’t know about you, but Unitarians’ willingness to accept that believing encompasses doubting, that love holds loss as its close companion, and that joy and sorrow are forever intertwined, each giving the other its piquancy, its flavour – this acceptance of uncertainty, this willingness to admit discomfort in matters of faith – that’s what attracted me to a Unitarian community all those years ago. I like viewing life through ‘the prism of paradox’ as David Rankin writes. Because paradox seems to contain both humanism’s emphasis on reality, alongside mysticism’s encompassing of ‘this… and that’.
How did Kahlil Gibran the Lebanese mystical Christian writer express this in his most famous work The Prophet?
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Time of Prayer and Reflection: in recognition of Human Rights Day (10th December) and International Migrants Day (18th December)
Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December – the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948.
With ever increasing numbers of migrants moving throughout the world, the UN General Assembly declared the 18 December as a day to celebrate the role of the migrant and the contribution that migration brings to development.
As we move into a time of prayer and reflection let us hold in our hearts and awareness all those people in our world who are prevented from travelling and all people who are forced to move.
Let us pray for all people who have had to leave their homes for any reason – all displaced persons, all refugees, all asylum seekers, all immigrants. It is hard for many of us to imagine what it must be like to feel the need to leave our country and seek refuge and a new life in another, but those of us who are blessed with homes of comfort and safety can give thanks for the blessings we have.
There are some among us who are far from the place we know as home, some with joy and some with sadness. Let us think of those far from home with love and with commitment to help all people feel welcome here in our church community. May we also remember with compassion that there are many people in our world unable to travel, forced to remain where they are, because of poverty, because of oppressive regimes, because of cultures that repress the imagination of other ways of being. May we who are free feel deep gratitude for our freedoms, never taking our good fortune for granted.
The issue of refugees and displaced people is a concern throughout our world. Let us pray for the lawmakers and enforcers who have such a difficult task. May they be blessed always with compassion in their words and actions – may they never forget that they too might find themselves without a home and in danger at some time. When the words economic migrant are used to describe people that some developed countries are trying to shut out may we have the humility and the grasp of history required to remind us that our good fortune is based entirely on our ancestors moving about the earth to seek better conditions for themselves and their offspring – us.
Let us be active supporters of organisations that build bridges across divides – like the United Nations and the increasing number of groups campaigning to make the tough lives of refugees a little more bearable.
And in our own lives let us never slip into complacency in our thinking – but rather be ever grateful for that which we have, ever attentive to the needs of others, doing what we can, however small – to make this world of ours ever more just, more humane, more compassionate, a place where joys and sorrows are forever inter-woven – and to that aspiration let us say together – amen.
Words followed by Music: Besancon Carol
People look east! the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.
Furrows be glad! Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That, in course, the flower may flourish.
People look east, and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.
Stars, keep the watch! when night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
Meditation on O come O come Emmanuel: with words, music and silence
One verse of music unannounced
And so we enter the meditative part of our service, a chance to turn inwards and go deeper, so you might want to ready yourself by adjusting your position, getting comfy, perhaps softening your gaze, closing your eyes or focusing on a candle or light from a window. This meditation invites us to consider the sorrows and joys that we are holding at present. It also mentions the possibility of holding the sorrows and joys of this world. If any of that jars you, isn’t what you need to focus on this morning, then please ignore me and think your own thoughts, focus on something that works best for you. After a few more words from me we’ll hear another verse of music from Peter and Abby, we’ll then hold a good three minutes in silence together, which will be ended by more music.
You might want to adjust your posture, perhaps straighten out and soften your back and shoulders, let tension drop away into the earth beneath our feet. You might like to have your hands gently resting on your lap in a cupped shape.
And with the gentle rhythm of our breathing helping to settle us, I invite you to imagine your cupped hands containing your life’s sorrows and joys, your sources of gladness and sadness, held together, contained – perhaps by something greater than yourself, a sense perhaps that all life is here, that our individual experiences are mirrored by others who share this planet earth home, each with hopes and fears, times of tears and times of laughter. Some of us acknowledge a power greater than ourselves that contains all, others are comforted by recognising that our human experiences are shared by others, that we are never truly alone in what we experience, though the illusion of aloneness for us can sometimes be strong.
And if it now feels right for you I invite you to imagine holding the world’s joys and sorrows in love and compassion, acknowledging both our powerlessness and the importance of witnessing what is – with an open and compassionate heart. And as we enter a shared stillness together now we might continue to hold all that is or imagine laying them in other safe hands or another safe place.
Our joy is our sorrow unmasked. And the self-same well from which our laughter rises was oftentimes filled with our tears.
3 minute silence followed by music
Reading: ‘You Be Glad at that Star’ by Clarke Wells (Read by John Humphreys)
Several years ago and shortly after twilight, our 3 1/2-year-old tried to gain his parents’ attention to a shining star. The parents were busy with time and schedules, the irritabilities of the day and other worthy preoccupations. “Yes, yes, we see the star—now I’m busy, don’t bother me.” On hearing this, the young one launched through the porch door, fixed us with a fiery gaze and said, “You be glad at that star!”
I will not forget the incident or his perfect words. It was one of those rare moments when you get everything you need for the good of your soul – reprimand, disclosure, blessing. It was especially good for me, that surprising moment, because I am one who responds automatically and negatively to the usual exhortations to pause-and-be-more-appreciative-of-life-unquote. Fortunately, I was caught grandly off-guard.
There is a notion, with some truth in it, that we cannot command joy, happiness, appreciation, fulfilment. We do not engineer the seasons of the soul or enjoin the quality of mood in another, and yet, I do believe there is right and wisdom in that imperative declaration – you be glad at that star!
If we cannot compel ourselves into a stellar gladness, we can at least clean the dust from the lens of our perception; if we cannot dictate our own fulfilment, we can at least steer in the right direction; if we cannot exact a guarantee for a more appreciative awareness of our world – for persons and stars and breathing and tastes and the incalculable gift of every day – we can at least prescribe some of the conditions through which an increased awareness is more likely to open up the skies, for us and for our children.
It is not always the great evils that obstruct and waylay our joy. It is our unnecessary and undignified surrender to the petty enemies: and I suggest it is our duty to scheme against them and make them subservient to human decree – time and schedules, our irritabilities of the day, and other worthy preoccupations. Matters more subtle and humane should command our lives. You be glad at that star.
Address: ‘As With Gladness…’ – the part joy plays in our lives
That word ‘joy’ – it’s used a lot. If you find yourself watching TV adverts at this time of year – you’d think joy was a direct result of buying new sofas, supermarket trolleys stuffed full of food, purchasing the most expensive new toys and technology for your loved ones, particularly children. But we Unitarians, we who’d rather not have the word ‘Believe’ written colourfully across our Christmas sweaters, we’re not so likely to fall for capitalism’s favourite mantra – consume more and joy will be yours. We’re perhaps a bit closer to gloomy old Wordsworth’s thinking when he wrote that in ‘getting and spending we lay waste our powers’. Wordsworth goes on to write that ‘Little we see in nature that is ours’ – but I’d disagree with him there – I think more and more of us are finding deep sources of joy in the natural world – from walks in woods, tending to plants, feeding the birds, campaigning to preserve landscapes and habitats for future generations.
But what is this thing called joy and how might we define it? How would we explain ‘joy’ to a group of aliens if they happened to park their spacecraft right next to us one day? It’s more than happiness isn’t it. Joy has a deeper quality. It may also involve something beyond what I sometimes describe as the small self – that little ‘me, me, me’ voice that most of us contain – that thinks of just myself and my particular concerns. That’s why I was so pleased to find the list that’s on the handout today – and if you’re joining us online or watching this recording sometime in the future – you can find the script for this service on our Kensington Unitarians website, which includes a list of qualities of a joyful mind. These come from Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest and writer. What is clear from his list is his understanding that our experiences of joy come from within us. Our joy begins in our mind, rather than with any external cause.
Richard Rohr lists some of the qualities of a joyful mind. Is there one such quality that you might work with in the week ahead?
When your mind does not need to be right.
When you no longer need to compare yourself with others.
When you can live in contentment with whatever the moment offers.
When your mind does not need to be in charge.
When your mind is curious and interested, not suspicious and interrogating.
When your mind does not ‘brood over injuries.’
When you do not need to humiliate, critique, or defeat those who have hurt you — not even in your mind.
When your mind does not need to create self-justifying story lines.
When your mind does not need the future to be better than today.
When your mind can let go of obsessive or negative thoughts.
When your mind can think well of itself, but without needing to.
When your mind can accept yourself as you are, warts and all.
When your mind can surrender to what is.
When your mind does not divide and always condemn one side or group.
When your mind can find truth on both sides.
When your mind can critique and also detach from the critique.
When your mind can wait, listen, and learn.
When your mind can live satisfied without resolution or closure.
When your mind can admit it was wrong and change.
When you can observe your mind contracting into self-preservation or self-validation, and then laugh or weep over it.
When your mind can find God / love in all things.
We used this list in a service some years ago now and I’ve had the list pinned up ever since. The quality of a joyful mind that shouted most loudly to me then was the next to last one: When you can observe your mind contracting into self-preservation or self-validation, and then laugh or weep over it. That’s the one I’ll probably need to keep working on for the rest of this life. So joy for me has an expansive quality and a depth about it. It bubbles from within, sometimes in response to an outside stimulus. Joy goes beyond the personal for me. I could explain that perhaps by describing joy as a quality of the life force itself, that bubbling energy of the young at play, be that an exuberant toddler or a leaping lamb; of a bud bursting open in response to spring’s early warmth; of the troubled finding something that makes them smile once more; of a ravaged landscape slowly re-wilding itself.
It’s this transpersonal element that in joy that takes it beyond personal happiness for me. This week though I’d been playing around with that older word ‘gladness’, meditating on that old carol line describing the start of the magi’s journey towards the infant Christ: ‘as with gladness men of old, did the shining star behold’. We can share in the gladness when we find our own stars to follow, when the path becomes, for a while at least, clear before us, when we know what the world needs of us and what particular gifts we can bring, identifying our contribution to the greater good.
My hope for us all in these sometimes discouraging times we’re living through is that we too can find that inner wellspring of joy that bubbles forth in response to the world, or despite the weaknesses of our human societies, when we know ourselves to be part of something so much greater than our small self-focused selves, when we can be ‘glad at that star’ and know the true joy of being alive in this moment, the only moment there is. Amen.
Thank you to our musicians Abby Lorimier and Peter Crockford for creating such lovely music for us today and thanks to Jane for all the background work of dealing with wires and technology beyond my comprehension. After the service if you’d like to stay and talk we’ll invite you to enjoy the garden or move into the hall so we have space to unplug all these wires. Let’s all stay aware of the kind of social distances each of us is comfortable with – it’ll be different for different people.
There are lots of chances to get together in the weeks ahead.
Getting to Know You’ Walk – there will be a ‘Getting to Know You’ walk after church today. This will not be a strenuous walk but a relatively local amble. The aim is to provide a Covid-safe opportunity to make connections within the congregation and get to know each other.
Last Chance to join our Virtual Christmas Choir: We are putting together a (virtual) choir of members and friends of the congregation to include in our Christmas Eve service. If you would like to be a part of this it would involve recording yourself singing along at home to guide tracks of a few well-known Christmas Carols. Anyone can join in, we’re not aiming for professional quality, just a community singalong! Please get in touch with Jane ASAP if you are interested as we need you to record and send us your videos by Monday 13th December so we have time to do all the editing. We’ll send detailed instructions and provide coaching!
‘Heart and Soul’ – Even if you’ve never been to a ‘Heart and Soul’ spiritual gathering before you’re welcome to give it a go for the first time. We spend about an hour and a half exploring a chosen theme and praying together in a gently structured way. These groups are a great opportunity to connect more deeply with others in the congregation (and beyond!) There are still spaces available to join Jane on Sunday and Friday at 7pm online for next week’s gatherings on the theme of ‘Joy’. Email email@example.com to book.
Coffee Morning – Join us for our popular community social get-together this Tuesday morning. Please bring your own beverage to our Zoom meeting at 10.30am on Tuesday. It’s fine if you join a little later than this.
GreenSpirit Yuletide / Winter Solstice Gathering – The West London GreenSpirit group invite you to join them on Tuesday 21st December in person at Essex Church or online via Zoom for their Yuletide / Winter Solstice celebration. This will be from 1.15pm for a 1.30pm start and finishing by 3.30pm. We’re planning a quietly reflective gathering with chance for your own creative response to the season. Have your favourite pen and paper and/or craft materials with you as we listen to messages from the Earth’s steady heartbeat and connect with evergreen branches. How might we increase the light or embrace the dark at this time of year? With seasonal music and chance to share our responses to these themes, this promises to be a cheering way to mark the shortest day. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Christmas Eve service on Zoom at 5.00pm with favourite carols and meditative stillness and words.
New Year’s Day Gathering – John Hands and Heidi Ferid will host an in-person gathering (subject to the changing Covid situation and government guidance) at Essex Church on Saturday 1st January at noon. The theme will be ‘remembering and looking forward’. If you have any questions please email email@example.com.
‘How to be a Unitarian’ Course – we are planning to hold a course in early 2022 to help people get a sense of our Unitarian religious tradition and find their place in it. This should be particularly valuable for newcomers but we encourage long-standing members to sign up too so you can share your wisdom and make connections with others from our own congregation and others around the country (and beyond). There will be some taught content and some relatively short readings to look at between sessions but – despite the tongue-in-cheek title – the heart of the course is our own personal reflection and group exploration of what it means to be a Unitarian today. Over six Thursday evenings (7-9pm) on Zoom.
Closing Blessing: Gratitude by Max A Kapp
Often I have felt that I must praise my world
For what my eyes have seen these many years,
And what my heart has loved.
And often I have tried to start my lines:
‘Dear earth,’ I say,
And then I pause
To look once more.
Soon I am bemused
And far away in wonder.
So I never get beyond ‘Dear Earth’.
And so dear Earth, dear people, dear creatures and plants of infinite variety and delight – let ‘thank you’ be our one prayer, our answer to the troubles we inevitably experience in life, our response to the anxieties and uncertainties of our time.
May the gratitude we feel in our hearts, light up our faces, encourage us to smile once more and thank life for its great gifts to us and to thank one another for being alive with us, all part of this great adventure, this unknown path of magic and mystery and great kindness.
Amen, go well everybody and blessed be.
Closing Music: ‘Salut d’amor’ by Elgar performed by Peter Crockford and Abby Lorimier
Rev. Sarah Tinker
12th December 2021