People Want Peace – 06/03/22

Opening Music: ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ performed by Abby Lorimier, Georgia Dawson and Toby Morgan (2.20)

Opening Words: ‘Let Us Learn Peace’ by L. Annie Foerster

Peace is more than the absence of worry.
It is the creation of safe havens for all;
It is the building of security for everyone;
It is the forgiveness of self, as well as one who would harm you.
Let us seek contentment; let us learn peace.

Peace is more than the absence of discordance.
It is the intent listening to diverse points of view;
It is the intentional speaking of all voices, one at a time;
It is the tension within silence that welcomes all thoughts.
Let us seek harmony; let us learn peace.

Peace is more than the absence of tension.
It is studying the hard lesson of letting go;
It is breathing through pain into tranquillity;
It is forming friendship out of enmity.
Let us seek serenity; let us learn peace.

Peace is much more than the absence of war.
It is observing the promised truce when anger would say, “no”;
It is finding the just compromise when the ego would say, “do it my way”;
It is striving for reconciliation when the heart would say, “revenge.”
Let us seek amity for all the earth; let us learn peace. (pause)

These opening words, based on some by retired UU minister L. Annie Foerster, welcome all those who are gathered on Zoom this morning to take part in our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today, and also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching on YouTube, at a later date. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and I’m Ministry Coordinator with Kensington Unitarians.

If you are here for the first time today – we’re especially glad to you have you with us – welcome! I hope you find something of what you need in our gathering this morning. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to say hello and introduce yourself if you’d like. Or you might try coming to one of our various small-group gatherings to get to know us better. And a particular welcome to our friends from Brighton Unitarians who are here on a virtual away-day! If you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come each Sunday. Even on Zoom, we have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, this sense of community.

As we always say, feel free to do what you need to do to be comfortable this hour – it’s always lovely to see your faces in the gallery and get a sense of our togetherness as a congregation – but we know for some it will feel more comfortable to keep your camera mostly-off and that’s fine. Similarly there’ll be opportunities to join in as we go along but there’s no compulsion to do so.

This morning’s service was inspired by a quotation from the life-long peace and justice activist Dorothy Day – we’ll hear a lot more about her later in the service – the quote we’ll reflect on is: ‘People want peace, but not the things that make for peace’. Quite challenging words, perhaps, and we’re going to spend a little while reflecting on them together this morning.

Chalice Lighting: ‘Out of the Flames’ by Sara Eileen LaWall (adapted)

Before we go any further though, I’ll light our chalice, as we always do whenever 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.

Out of the flames of fear and uncertainty
we rise with courage of our deepest convictions
to stand for justice, inclusion and peace.

Out of the flames of rigour and scrutiny
we rise to proclaim our transformative faith
with hope to heal a fractured and hurting world.

Out of the flames of doubt and confusion
we rise to embrace the mystery and wonder
of all that is and all that is still yet to be.

Out of the flames of hate and injustice
we rise with the irresistible force of love;
a love that celebrates our shared humanity.

Out of the flames we rise, together.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church in Kensington or here as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle (real or imaginary) and say a few words about what it represents.

When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. Let’s leave a pause between one candle and the next, so we can honour what’s been shared. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time, or there’s a technical hitch of some sort – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.

(candles – thank each person)

I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that 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 Calvin Dame (5 mins)

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, the light within and without.
Be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the silence
and stillness at the centre of our being. (pause)

May we this day be grateful for the gift of life which is ours,
remembering that today and always that the
precious life we have and hold is to us a mystery.

May we this day be reminded of the responsibilities we carry,
not so that we may be intimidated or overwhelmed,
but so that we may be true to them,
so that we may be faithful in carrying them forward.

May we this day maintain a sense of perspective,
remembering who we are, engaging the tasks at hand,
but understanding our limitations, understanding our own shortcomings,
forgiving ourselves and others when we fall short of perfection.

May we this day be inspired, be filled with new breath,
be filled with new enthusiasm, ready to see fresh opportunities,
new perspectives, unnoticed avenues for fruitful action and resolution.

And may we this day remember those virtues
that bless our lives and bless the lives of others,
the virtues of caring and concern,
the virtues of truthfulness and respect,
the virtues of charity, good work, and patience,
remembering that this world may be made a little
more fair, more just, more equitable, by our humble efforts. (pause)

In our company this morning, and every time we gather in community, there will be
those whose hearts are freshly broken open by all the world’s sufferings:
by loss and grief, rejection and loneliness, disappointment and meaninglessness;
by all the horrors and injustices of this world… we might especially think of Ukraine today.
Let us spend a quiet moment directing prayers of loving-kindness to the broken-hearted. (pause)

In our company this morning, and every time we gather in community,
there will be those whose hearts are full and overflowing, despite everything:
buoyed by the beauty of nature and culture, comforted and uplifted by family and friends.
Let us spend a quiet moment directing prayers of thanks for all that is good in our lives. (pause)

In our company this morning, and every time we gather in community,
there will be those who are simply keeping on keeping on as best they can:
their hearts a blessed, messy, blend of all life’s mixed emotions, in the midst of it all.
Let us spend a quiet moment asking for what we need to face life’s ups and downs. (pause)

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: ‘Our World is One World’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society

Time to sing; our first hymn today speaks of our human interdependence; the way in which our individual choices can impact others around the globe, for good or ill. It’s titled ‘Our World is One World’ (it’s sung to the tune ‘Chernobyl’). The words will be on screen so you can sing along – you might prefer just to listen – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all kept safely muted.

Our world is one world:
what touches one affects us all —
the seas that wash us round about,
the clouds that cover us,
the rains that fall.

Our world is one world:
the thoughts we think affect us all —
the way we build our attitudes,
with love or hate, we make
a bridge or wall.

Our world is one world:
its ways of wealth affect us all —
the way we spend, the way we share,
who are the rich or poor,
who stand or fall?

Our world is one world,
just like a ship that bears us all —
where fear and greed make many holes,
but where our hearts can hear
a different call.

Reading: The Story of Dorothy Day – excerpts of an article by Sister Joan Chittister (adapted)

As I mentioned at the start of the service, today’s title is inspired by a quote by Dorothy Day, ‘People want peace, but not the things that make for peace’. And I thought it would be inspiring – especially in the week of International Women’s Day, coming up this Tuesday – to lift up the story of this remarkable woman as an example to us all. She was a radical activist for peace and justice, an American Catholic, born in 1897 and died in 1980, and there’s a campaign for her to be canonised, made a saint, which has been officially recognised by the Catholic Church so she’s now referred to as a ‘Servant of God’.

I want to share with you some excerpts of an article about the life of Dorothy Day by Sister Joan Chittister from this book (hold up): ‘A Passion for Life: Fragments of the Face of God’ which identifies some ‘unofficial saints’ – people of integrity and holiness. Chittister says ‘in their eyes burn the eyes of a God who sees injustice and decries it, sees poverty and condemns it, sees inequality and refuses it, sees wrong and demands it be set right. These are people for whom the Law above the law is first in their lives’. And one of these is Dorothy Day.

I just want to show you a couple of photos of her – in youth and in old age – I think sometimes when we think of people who have lived great and admirable lives we tend to imagine them just as the finished article – and perhaps that makes it harder for us to take note of their example as something that has relevance for our own lives and how we live them. This young woman we see pictured here was already making courageous choices, living with integrity and holiness. And here’s the modern icon of Dorothy Day painted by Robert Lentz who illustrated this book.

So this excerpt is a bit longer than our usual readings, about six minutes I reckon, settle in.

Joan Chittister writes: The thing I have always liked about Dorothy Day is that she was one of the people she dedicated her life to serving. She was not an uptown philanthropist. She was not a nun looking for a good work to do. She was not a government bureaucrat distributing money before getting the commuter train to Long Island. She was the real thing. She was an unwed mother, a disillusioned citizen, a poor woman, a disaffected churchgoer, an unemployed observer of the human race. She had lived in a tenement of which, as a child, she had been ashamed. She had worked hard to earn nothing and lived in a cheap, vermin-ridden apartment because she couldn’t afford anything else. But for the grace of God, Dorothy Day herself could have easily been the Bag Lady of the World par excellence.

She had dropped out of everything worth belonging to, if what you are about in life is credentials. She had dropped out of her family. She had dropped out of college. She had dropped out of capitalism. She had dropped out of churches. She had dropped out of marriage. She had dropped out of the system. She had dropped out of a world marked by all the niceties that finishing schools could provide. Dorothy Day lived in a world of her own. She understood life, she said, out of experience. “I see only too clearly how bad people are. It’s my own sins that give me such clarity.”

But if Dorothy Day is a model of anything at all, it is certainly the fact that life is not over till it’s over. What Dorothy Day raised out of the ashes of her life is a monument to living.

It was her conversion to Catholicism—the church of the poor Christ who came “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly,” the church of the immigrants, the outcasts, the marginalised —that gave her the greatest clarity of all. The fact is, as much as she believed in them, her various causes failed her. The rise of a new social order in communism inspired her to hope for a better world, but it did not feed her spirit, and (in her time) it betrayed its own best ideals. A commitment to the elimination of poverty was important, but ran aground on the survival-of-the-fittest philosophy of capitalism, and gave no insight into the way to deal with those poor for whom rugged individualism was not an answer. Social revolution was a worthy aim but all-too-often ended in a violence she had always found suspect. Only when she found “the church of the poor” did the vision eventually clear for her.

Dorothy Day wrote: “People want peace, but not the things that make for peace.” (repeat)

For Dorothy, the things that “made for peace” were the daily, unstinting, unlimited works of mercy. She listed them in a 1949 article and made them the centrepiece of her life. She said: “The spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead. The corporal works are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbour the harbourless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.” It was a clear program, and she followed it until the day she died.

She began publishing The Catholic Worker, a penny newspaper, to admonish and instruct and counsel and comfort people everywhere who like her could not make sense out of a world that called itself Christian but had gone officially mad, grinding people under heel in the name of private enterprise, destroying nations in the name of liberating them, enslaving people in the name of human rights. She opened soup kitchens. She began hospitality houses. She was jailed for her part in a suffragette demonstration and participated in a gruelling hunger strike to break the resistance of society to the demands of women.

In the end, Dorothy Day was herald to the church, herald to the state, and herald to the poor. And she did not do it by converting others. She did it by changing her own small corner of the world. She was still going to jail at the age of seventy-five. She was still witnessing to a personal poverty that confronted the systemic sin of exploitation by “living simply so that others could simply live.’’ She was still answering the letters of people who preferred a less public display of belief, a more antiseptic religion. “If we are not being persecuted for our beliefs and life, there is something wrong with us,’’ she wrote. Indeed, everything that people didn’t like about her she ended up being proved right about.

The temptation, of course, is to mourn the loss of a leader in a time that cries for leadership. The difference here, however, may be that what Dorothy Day led was a revolution of attitudes and a revolution of personal responsibility. She is the icon of the kind of leader that everyone else, anyone else, can be, not by changing other people but by changing themselves.

Meditation: The Prayer of St. Francis (adapted) – led by Maria

We’ve now come to a time of meditation. This week our words for meditation will be the famous Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’. This will be followed by a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen. The silence will end with some gentle jazzy music from Abby, Georgia, and Toby. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – adjust your position if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to ground and steady yourself – you might like to close your eyes. See what these traditional words of St. Francis evoke in you and what they might inspire in your own life. As we always say, these words, images, and music are just an offering, feel free to meditate in your own way. (pause)

God, make me a channel of thy peace, that
where there is hatred, I may sow love;
where there is wrong, the spirit of forgiveness;
where there is discord, harmony;
where there is error, truth;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there are shadows, light;
where there is sadness, joy. (pause)

God, grant that I may not so much seek
to be comforted, as to comfort;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. (pause)

God, make me a channel of thy peace.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘Triste’ by Antonio Carlos Jobim – performed by Abby Lorimier, Georgia Dawson and Toby Morgan (3.38)

Short Reflection: ‘People Want Peace’ by Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

‘People want peace,’ as Dorothy Day said. So far, so uncontroversial. Surely most of us do indeed long for peace, though in ‘ordinary times’ perhaps most of us don’t spend that much of our time actively thinking about it. But it seems we are living through pretty extraordinary times right now. The unfolding events in Ukraine, and their global ramifications, are front-and-centre in the news and in the minds and hearts of many of us. I was at the church, in Kensington, on Friday and saw that people protesting the invasion had tied hundreds of sunflowers to the barriers outside the Russian embassy (so I was moved to bring sunflowers to our service today as a sign of solidarity).

In the last week or so, I have heard from many people expressing a sense of being overwhelmed with distress at the news coming out of Ukraine, and anxiety about how events might yet escalate. More than that, there’s a kind of anguished impotence in the face of it all, a sense that (beyond donating to the Disasters Emergency Committee or the Red Cross perhaps) there’s not much we can do. We might show up at a protest or a vigil, we might express our outrage with friends or online, but in the face of unilateral aggression that has resisted all diplomatic attempts to avert it, we might well feel helpless and hopeless. Peace, in this situation, seems like it’s out of our hands.

‘People want peace,’ said Dorothy Day, ‘but not the things that make for peace.’ That’s challenging. What did she mean? The way I understand it – my best guess – is to say that the conditions for peace – not just peace between warring nations but peace in every dimension of human existence and at every scale – peace is dependent on a whole lot of groundwork. And this groundwork is taking place all over the planet, every single day of our lives, and it needs all of us to get stuck in. There might not be much that you or I can do to directly influence what’s happening in Ukraine right now but there is plenty we could do, just where we are, to play our part, and help nudge the unfolding human story towards greater peace and justice, for the sake of future generations.

Dorothy Day said that the ‘things that make for peace’ were daily, unstinting, unlimited works of mercy: ‘to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead. The corporal works are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbour the harbourless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.’ (end quote)

Now the words that Dorothy Day used might not be language that you or I would naturally use today but it’s a powerful – and demanding – rule of life that she prescribes for the peacemaker. For her, the groundwork for peace consists of acts of mercy – meeting the needs of the worst off – the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed – and also bold acts of resistance and revolt against the injustices which made the people poor, marginalised and oppressed in the first place. It might come (relatively) easy to us to comfort the sorrowful or visit the sick. Perhaps we don’t feed the hungry or clothe the naked with our own hands, or harbour the harbourless in our own homes (though I do know Unitarians and others who do engage first-hand in these good works), but I know many of us support charities who do this vital work on our behalf. Dorothy Day’s life is a hardcore example of what it means to live as a peacemaker but still, I guess we’d nod along, so far.

What about ‘admonishing the sinner’ and ‘instructing the ignorant’? These phrases might be a little more jarring to modern Unitarian ears but I’d still argue we should embrace the spirit of them both. We need to attend to our moral compass in all spheres of our lives and the life of the world we share. And when we discern that things are morally wrong – when people are behaving unjustly – causing harm to others, whether that’s out of malice or ignorance – we need to call them on it. Even if our chances of righting that wrong, or changing that behaviour, seem slim, there is value in speaking up, testifying to what is right, if only because of the influence we might exert on others, when we voice that ‘this is not right, and it doesn’t have to be this way’; ‘another world is possible.’ We need to name what’s really going on in front of us, as we see it, and speak our truth out loud. Even if we don’t go as far as publishing a newspaper to ‘admonish and instruct’ like Dorothy Day did.

I’m not just thinking about – I’m not even especially thinking about – large scale geopolitical rights and wrongs here. I’m thinking about all of the many injustices we witness every day, the harmful behaviours we encounter, including ones we might be tempted to just shrug sadly about, for a quiet life, rather than risk difficult conversations and confrontations. I’m thinking about scrutinising all the ways-we’ve-always-done-things and asking hard questions about what we might need to change, maybe change pretty radically, for the sake of the common good. And doing this at all scales of our lives – in our personal relationships, communities, society – truly seeking peace and justice (because we can’t truly have one without the other). What power, privilege, or resources might we need to give up – or redistribute and share more equitably – to make peace a reality for future generations? It’s tough stuff. No wonder people don’t want ‘the things that make for peace’, as Dorothy Day said.

It might not seem entirely obvious how this approach connects with our feelings and concerns about what’s going on in Ukraine – or any of the other relentless horrors we witness in our world day-in-and-day-out – and laudable as our little-local-actions-for-peace in our own community might be, we might feel like they don’t count for much, given the scale and complexity of what we’re up against. But just yesterday a friend shared a quote on this matter, one which I found helpful and hopeful, and so I want to share it with you. It’s by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, an educator and activist, who simply wrote: ‘It can be overwhelming to witness, experience, and take in all the injustices of the moment; the good news is that they’re all connected. So, if your little corner of work involves pulling one of the threads, you’re helping to unravel the whole damn cloth.’

Let us take heart from that image, and pull on whatever threads are in our reach, each doing our little bit to unravel the ‘whole damn cloth’ of injustice, and usher in the reign of peace that is our heart’s desire. For the world needs each and every one of us to play our part as peacemakers in whatever way we can. To close, I offer you a blessing for peace, adapted from Maureen Killoran:

As we are confronted by upheaval and chaos,
may we have the wisdom to believe in peace.
Surrounded by voices of discord and disagreement,
may we have the audacity to speak up for peace.
Lured by the seduction of despair and resignation,
may we have the courage to maintain a vision of peace.
And may we each use our gifts in the service of love, justice,
and peace, for the greater good of all. Amen.

Hymn: ‘We’ll Build a Land’ sung by the Unitarian Music Society

Time for one more hymn, it’s rather stirring, and one of my favourites: ‘We’ll Build a Land’, which paints a picture of a world transformed – a realm of love, justice, and peace – that we might yet live to see realised. As always, do sing along at home, or simply listen if you’d rather.

We’ll build a land where we bind up the broken.
We’ll build a land where the captives go free,
where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning.
O, we’ll build a promised land that can be.

Come build a land where sisters and brothers,
anointed by God, may then create peace:
where justice shall roll down like waters,
and peace like an ever flowing stream.

We’ll build a land where we bring the good tidings
to all the afflicted and all those who mourn.
And we’ll give them garlands instead of ashes.
O, we’ll build a land where peace is born.

We’ll be a land building up ancient cities,
raising up devastations of old;
restoring ruins of generations.
O, we’ll build a land of people so bold.

Come, build a land where the mantles of praises
resound from spirits once faint and once weak;
where like oaks of righteousness stand her people.
O, come build the land, my people we seek.


Just a few announcements: Thanks to Abby, Georgia and Toby for our music, Maria for leading our meditation, and John for co-hosting today. We’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service as usual so you can stay and chat 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 say hello, or come to some of our other events. If you can bear to hang around we like to take a group photo after the closing music.

Our online programme continues: we have coffee morning as usual at 10.30am this Tuesday, this week hosted by Liz, and there are still a few spaces left for our Heart and Soul spiritual gatherings (Sunday and Friday at 7) on ‘Meeting’ – even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start.
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, and look out for each other as best we can.

Next week we’ll be holding a hybrid service, and that should be ‘proper’ hybrid, so people on Zoom can join in with the candles of joy and concern in a fully live and interactive manner. After the service there’ll be a special ‘Getting to Know You’ walk led by David Carter which will include a visit to the statue of St Volodomyr where we will lay flowers in honour of the people of Ukraine. Save the date for the next hybrid service after that, which will be on Easter Sunday, 17th April. We’re about to start training up all the extra tech hosts we need so the hope is that we’ll be doing hybrid services twice a month from May. If anyone here is technically adept, with an ability to focus and attention to detail, who can face the thought of getting to church early on Sundays, and who might be willing and able to get trained and join the tech hosting team, let me know!

Another call for help: On 27th March we’ll be having a congregational service for Mother’s Day. If you might want to say a few words, or perhaps a longer reflection, on the meaning of mothering in your life, please do get in touch so we can have a chat about ways in which you can contribute. We’ll be taking the subject in the broadest sense, and acknowledging that our relationships with our mothers and motherhood can be quite complicated, we won’t just be doing the Hallmark greeting card version, it’ll be a much more nuanced view of Mother’s Day and all it evokes in us.

We’ve just 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.

Benediction: based on words by Samuel A. Trumbore

Every week we gather together, to find peace, here.

Our words and music offer peace
with the hope of instilling it in us.
Now, take the peace you have found here,
back out into the world with you.

Renewed in our faith and inspired to act,
Let us be the peacemakers the world aches for;
And, by being peacemakers each day,
in the place where we find ourselves,
let us find the peace we long for, too.

Go in peace. Make peace. Be at peace. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ by Francis McPeake performed by Abby Lorimier, Georgia Dawson and Toby Morgan

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

6th March 2022