Be More Tree – 12/06/22

Musical Prelude

Opening Words: ‘It is Good to be Together’ by Rev. Linda Hart (adapted)

We enter into this time and this space
to join our hearts and minds together.

What is it that we come here seeking?
Many things, too many to mention them all.

Yet, it is likely that some common longings draw us to be with one another:
To remember what is most important in life.
To be challenged to live more truly, more deeply,
to live with integrity and kindness and with hope and love,
To feel the company of those who seek a common path,
To be renewed in our faith in the promise of this life,
To be strengthened and to find the courage to continue to do
what we must do, day after day, world without end.

Even if your longings are different than these, you are welcome here.
You are welcome in your grief and your joy
to be within this circle of companions.

We gather here. It is good to be together.

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words, written by an old friend of this congregation, the Reverend Linda Hart, welcome all those who have gathered this morning for our Sunday service. Welcome to those of you who have gathered in-person here in Kensington, at Essex Church, and also to all who are joining us via Zoom from far and wide. We’re delighted to have you all with us this morning – wherever you are, whoever you are, however you are – your presence means really something. And let’s not forget all those who connect with our community via the podcast, the YouTube channel, or simply by reading the text of these services on our website. We love hearing from people in all sorts of circumstances who appreciate being able to join our beloved community and hear our Unitarian message. If it’s your first time joining us this morning, we’re especially glad to have you with us, perhaps you might like to hang around for a chat, drop us an email, or come to one of our small groups. May our circle grow still wider as we put our shared values into practice, finding ways to include those who might otherwise be unable to join our community, and reaching out in love to all those who would share the Unitarian way.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and I’m ministry coordinator with Kensington Unitarians. Today we’re having another hybrid service thanks to the sterling efforts of Jeannene and Ramona who are sitting at the back of the room and making this possible. It’s always possible that we’ll encounter technical hitches along the way but each time we do this we learn something and get a little bit closer to it being seamless and something we just for granted. And I want to thank all of you here in-person for doing all you can to keep everyone as safe as possible while Covid is still in circulation, by keeping your masks on throughout the service, including while we sing hymns and light candles, as we each do our best to stay safe and well.

Today’s service is a celebration of trees and their wisdom – I’m calling it ‘Be More Tree’ – through poetry and inner reflection we’ll consider our relationship with trees and what we can learn from them. We could easily have filled an hour with excellent tree-poems but I’ve been moderately restrained…

Let’s take a moment now to settle ourselves and become fully present in the here and now, into this time of togetherness, wherever we may be. Let’s breathe into this moment of worship, and co-create this sacred space, by our intention and our presence. And as we breathe out let us release anything that is stopping us from being present in this moment – any aggravations we are carrying – any preoccupations or distractions – let’s lay them to one side at least for an hour or so.

Chalice Lighting: ‘The Light that Shines in All’ by Gary Kowalski

Let’s light our chalice flame now, as we do each week. This simple ritual connects us in solidarity with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proud and historic progressive religious tradition of which we are a part.

(light chalice)

May unity and peace abide within us.
May wholeness and joy touch our hearts.
May kindness and compassion fill our universe and reverence fill our days.
May we see the light that shines in all.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, 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 and say a few words about what it represents. This time we’re going to go to the people in the building first, and take all of those in one go, and then I’ll call on the people on Zoom to come forward. The plan is that we’ll switch this around!

So I invite some of you here in person to come and light a candle and then if you wish to tell us briefly who or what you light your candle for – do use the microphone so everyone can hear you and get nice and close in so it picks you up properly – I’ll switch that on in a moment. We’re asking people to keep their masks on for this candle lighting, but please do speak up, because we want to hear what you’re saying. Thanks all of you for taking care of one another.

(in person candles)

And if that’s everyone in the room we’ll go over to the people on Zoom next – you might like to switch to gallery view at this stage – just unmute yourselves when you are ready and speak out – and we should be able to hear you and see you up on the big screen here in the church.

(zoom candles)

And I’m going to light one more candle, as we often do, to represent all those joys and concerns that we hold in our hearts this day, but which we don’t feel able to speak out loud. (light candle)

Time of Prayer & Reflection: based on words by Bruce Southworth

And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now. This prayer is loosely based on some 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,
we turn our full attention to you, the light within and without,
as we tune in to the depths of this life, and the greater wisdom
to which – and through which – we are all intimately connected.
Be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the
silence and stillness at the very centre of our being. (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 we 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: ‘Spirit of Earth, Root, Stone and Tree’

Let’s sing together now. Our first hymn this morning is one we sing quite a lot (for good reason): ‘Spirit of Earth, Root, Stone and Tree’. For those of you present at the church in-person you’ll find the words on your hymn sheet and for those joining via Zoom they’ll be up on your screen to sing along at home. Please feel free to stand or sit, as you prefer, as we sing together.

Spirit of earth, root, stone and tree,
water of life, flowing in me,
keeping me stable, nourishing me,
O fill me with living energy!
Spirit of nature, healing and free,
spirit of love, expanding in me,
spirit of life, breathe deeply in me,
inspire me with living energy!

Spirit of love, softly draw near,
open my heart, lessen my fear,
sing of compassion, help me to hear,
O fill me with loving energy!
Spirit of nature, healing and free,
spirit of love, expanding in me,
spirit of life, breathe deeply in me,
inspire me with living energy!

Spirit of life, you are my song,
sing in my soul, all my life long,
gladden and guide me, keep me from wrong,
O fill me with sacred energy!
Spirit of nature, healing and free,
spirit of love, expanding in me,
spirit of life, breathe deeply in me,
inspire me with living energy!

Introduction to Poems:

There are many, many, wonderful poems about trees and I guess we’ll all have our favourites. So I’ve picked just a few of them to share in today’s service – the first one is written by our very own Marianne Harvey – a poem dedicated to the beautiful apple tree in her garden (Antony will read).

Poem: ‘My Soul’s Companion’ by Marianne Harvey-Bertrand (read by Antony)

Here you are solid, solemn, strong
everchanging, withstanding,
standing with me through all these years;
I hold you in my arms and rest awhile,
your bark’s rough ridges gently
soothes the worry lines of my face.

I so love your hermetic language
of leaves, fungus and worms
your smells and groans as you sway;
from dawn to dusk light is your lover
till a last birdsong eclipses your presence
and I lose you ambushed in the shadows.

As winter looms, its icy cold breath
strips you leafless, desolate, silent,
the vixen moans under the pine tree.
You wage many cold bitter battles,
I shudder, tremble with you,
I hold you tight from my window.

Then spring gently rolls in,
soft winds and birds sing as one,
magic returns to the garden;
your sap rises, your buds explode
such a bold crimson radiance;
Vivaldi plays in my head.

Magpies scatter their opinion,
blackbirds remember their hours
squirrels frolic here, there, everywhere!
All Summer you aim for the sky
your canopy waves to a distant sea
and my soul soars with you.

Soon, rains slap and rainbows follow,
Winds woosh and your spent leaves
sigh a last gasp from their frothy deathbed;
the sun seems to lie low and time
casts vast shadows and fast clouds of sorrow;
todays and tomorrows come and go.

Last night, I glimpsed you with a yellow moon,
both cloaked in a luminescent shroud
for a twilight kabbalah, perhaps a prayer;
o to have the eyes to read your wisdom,
the ears to hear how far your voice travels
as you hitch a hike on the wind!

Tonight, I hear you, heart to heart, tell me
quietly “t’is late, times are a-changing,
all is not well and will no longer be.”
O my tree, my friend, my soul’s companion,
as the story of men and trees unfolds
I hold you tight from my window.

Poem: ‘London Trees’ by Kathleen Raine (read by Juliet)

Out of the roads of London springs the forest,
Over and underworld, the veritable Eden
Here we have planted for our solitude,
Those planes, where thoughts unblamed among the leaves may run.

Sensing us, the trees tremble in their sleep,
The living leaves recoil before our fires.
Baring to us war-charred and broken branches,
And seeing theirs, we for our own destruction weep.

And women, sore at heart, trying to pray
Unravel the young buds with anxious fingers
Searching for God, who has gone far away,
Yet still at evening in the green world lingers.

Obedient still to Him, the toiling trees
Lift up their fountains, where still waters rise
Upwards into life, filled from the surrounding skies
To quench the sorrows thirsting in the world’s eyes.

Poem: ‘When I am Among the Trees’ by Mary Oliver (read by Brian)

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Words for Meditation: ‘Advice from a Tree’ by Ilan Shamir

Thanks Brian, Juliet, and Antony. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer some words – from a piece titled ‘Advice from a Tree’ by Ilan Shamir – to take us into a few minutes of shared stillness. The silence will end with the sound of a bell, then we’ll hear some meditative piano music from Peter, and that will be followed by another poem which Chloë has kindly pre-recorded for us. 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. As we always say, the words are just an offering, feel free to use this time to meditate in your own way. So as I share this ‘Advice from a Tree’ perhaps we might each listen out for a particular line or phrase that calls to us today. What are the trees saying that we might particularly need to hear?

Dear Friend,

Stand Tall and Proud.
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth.
Reflect the light of a greater source.
Think long term. Go out on a limb.
Remember your place among all living beings.

Embrace with joy the changing seasons, for each yields its own abundance.
The Energy and Birth of Spring;
The Growth and Contentment of Summer;
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Autumn;
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter.

Feel the wind and the sun
and delight in their presence.
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
and the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life:
Simple pleasures; earth, fresh air, light.

Be content with your natural beauty.
Drink plenty of water.
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes.
Be flexible. Remember your roots.
Enjoy the view!

Period of Silence and Stillness (~3 minutes) – end with a bell

Musical Interlude

Pre-Recorded Reading: ‘The Kindness of Trees’ by Jackie Kay (read by Chloë)

Deep in the forest there stood
A tree whose heart beat in the winter wood
Who understood everything that was bad
And everything that was good.

It extended long arms to woo you
As the winter wind blew and blew
And every thing a child could think,
The tree already knew.

And every time a boy was sad,
The tree dropped a pine.
And every time a girl got mad,
The tree roared in the wind.

In the dead mid-winter night,
The tree blew a hello, goodbye;
When every child was asleep in bed,
The tree sang a lullaby.

And when Christmas time came round
The tree’s song soared and soared.
And when gifts adorned the ground,
The tree blushed, made a sssh sound.

And people gathered round the tree:
To sing the winter song, in harmony;
One to keep the bright light glowing,
A song of what we know without knowing.

It had a sad and piercing melody –
A worry for the ash, sparrow, bee.
The polar bear, the ice melting.
A worry for you, me, dear tree.

In the depths of the winter wood,
The friendly tree stood, kind and good,
And breathed a word that caught the mood:
A pledge, a promise, a plea for good.

Reflection by Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

Victoria Safford, a Unitarian Universalist minister, once told the story of a child in the Sunday school of her church in New York state. This young boy was overheard by his mum, talking about the UU church they went to, and the little boy said ‘I don’t know the name of it, but the church where we go, we’re really interested in trees. All of us believe in trees.’ His mum, presumably amused by this, but perhaps also a bit concerned about what the boy had been picking up in Sunday school, got in touch with the minister to ask whether it might be time to supplement his understanding with a more comprehensive Unitarian theology. Victoria Safford reflected on this, saying: ‘I don’t know if there is a more comprehensive Unitarian theology. All of us believe in trees. Like my young comrade, I’ve always been “very interested in trees”, meaning I have always (as far back as I can remember) had a spiritual orientation that unfolds itself, reveals itself outside, and inside, one that cannot be contained within any single creed or book or building or tradition.’

Now, I know what Unitarians are like, so I wouldn’t dare go as far as Victoria Safford did in saying that ‘all of us believe in trees’ – I’m wary of any such generalisations about what ‘we all’ believe in – but still it’s my hunch that we are indeed a tree-loving bunch on the whole. And there are different ways in which we each might come to love trees and learn from them. We might think of trees-in-general, a kind of abstract notion of the tree, and what it symbolises: In the poems we heard earlier, Kathleen Raine wrote of how God still lingers in the ‘green world’, and how London trees ‘quench the sorrows’ of we humans who are still spiritually searching in the midst of life’s struggle; Mary Oliver wrote of how she is saved by being amongst the trees, who remind her that they – and we – have come into the world ‘to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine’; and Jackie Kay – I believe her poem, which Chloe just read for us, was written in collaboration with a class of London schoolchildren, and was commissioned by the Norwegian embassy to celebrate the presentation of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree a few years ago – Jackie Kay hints at trees as wise beings who benevolently watch over our human lives, and deeds, and misdeeds, and which perhaps call us to be our best selves.

As I mentioned earlier, there is so much poetry written about trees, so many stories, and lots of folklore too; we might each have a favourite poem or tale that comes to mind this morning. Or perhaps your love of trees is not quite so abstract or arm’s length – maybe you have a real-world relationship with a particular favourite tree (like Marianne does with her apple tree) – a creature-to-creature connection between a-particular-human and a-particular-beloved-plant. Long-lived trees accompany us for years and we see them grow, and flourish, and fruit, endure through all seasons, all weathers, and sadly sometimes we see them sicken, and die, or be felled, as well.

I came across a lovely quote from Satish Kumar – activist, environmentalist, pacifist – the founder of Schumacher College and long-time editor Resurgence magazine – the quote can be found on the front of today’s order of service (and also on the ‘sermons’ section of our website along with the full text of today’s service and all our services). Satish Kumar writes: ‘How much I can learn from a tree! The tree is my church, the tree is my temple, the tree is my mantra, the tree is my poem and my prayer.’

How much we can learn from a tree! And there are, approximately, 8.5 million trees in London – or at least there were at last count – so there’s a whole lot of learning right here on our doorstep. But I wonder, is there one tree that comes to mind as being particularly special to you, or significant? Of course it doesn’t have to be a tree in London, think about one that’s close by to you, if you can, wherever you are. One that’s been in your life a while, that you see quite often, have some sort of relationship with? Maybe even one you could visit in the next week or so? Or perhaps a tree from your childhood, or from some other time in your life, that holds special memories? Maybe one that you can only visit in your memory, now, but which is significant to you. I’m not going to limit you to one tree – you may well love a great many trees – but for now maybe let’s just focus on one of them.

And let’s return to a meditative state of mind, if we can, to see what we might learn. I thought it was worth making time for another pause here so that we can each go deeper with ‘our’ tree. So I invite you to ask that tree – in your imagination – what it has to teach you right now – what message, or lesson, or subtle guidance, it has for you in this season of your life. Maybe there’s a question you’re struggling with or a possibility that you’re wondering about. What would your tree say to you? It might not be something that you can put into words. More of a feeling, a hunch, a nudge towards the deeper wisdom to which and through which we are all ultimately connected.

Let us sit in silence and stillness for just a few minutes now as we each take the time to inwardly, imaginatively connect and commune with our tree and see what it has to say to us this morning. And after a few minutes I will end the time of silence by sharing my favourite poem, simply called ‘Tree’, by the Finnish poet Solveig von Schoultz, to bring this short time of reflection to a close.

(2-3 minutes of stillness)

‘Tree’ by Solveig von Schoultz

There’s nothing for it but to be more tree.
Make peace with the soil. The ever changeless soil.
Changeless: the stones.
The gravel changeless.
Forever nailed to this: immobility
Be moved in the tree’s direction:
deeper down.
Can a tree that loves the gale become a gale?
A tree can do nothing but wear out its crown.
Be shaken by visions
shot through with burning cries.
The nailed-down tree roaring
born to tree
thrusts its longing inwards
in tree-form.

The dark-shadowed one grows broader. Broad,
the column pushes down, and with no fear of height
sings its leaf-heart greater towards the clouds.
Rest for all travellers
safety for birds and seeds
always in motion
deep in its innermost wood.

There’s nothing for it but to be more tree.


Hymn: ‘Moods of Summer’

Time for our last hymn, and it’s ‘Moods of Summer’. This is one we usually save for high summer but there’s no harm in singing it in a spirit of travelling-hopefully. Once again the words are on your hymn sheets and will be up on your screens. Feel free to stand or sit as you feel moved. Let us sing.

When the summer sun is shining
Over golden land and sea,
And the flowers in the hedgerow
Welcome butterfly and bee;
Then my open heart is glowing
Full of warmth for everyone,
And I feel an inner beauty
Which reflects the summer sun.

When the light of summer sunshine
Streams in through the open door,
Casting shadows of tree-branches,
Living patterns on the floor;
Then my heart is full of gladness,
And my soul is light and gay,
And my life is overflowing
Like the happy summer day.

When the summer clouds of thunder
Bring the long-awaited rain,
And the thirsty soil is moistened,
And the grass is green again;
Then I long for summer sunshine
But I know that clouds and tears
Are a part of life’s refreshment,
Like the rainbow’s hopes and fears.

When, beneath the trees of summer,
Under leafy shade I lie,
Breathing in the scent of flowers,
Sheltered from the sun-hot sky;
Then my heart is all contentment,
And my soul is quiet and still,
Soothed by whispering, lazy breezes,
Like the grasses on the hill.

In the cool of summer evening,
When the dancing insects play,
And in garden, street and meadow
Linger echoes of the day;
Then my heart is full of yearning,
Hopes and memories flood the whole
Of my being, reaching inwards
To the corners of my soul.

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions:

Just a few announcements now: Thanks to Jeannene for being our tech host today. Thanks also to Ramona for helping with the set-up early this morning. Thanks to Hannah for co-hosting on Zoom, to Antony, Juliet, Brian and Chloë for reading, and to Peter for playing for us today.

For those of you who are here in-person, there’ll be a chance to stay for refreshments if you’d like to, Brian will be serving coffee, tea and biscuits in the hall after the service. Please keep your mask on until you get into the hall for the sake of those being Covid-cautious. For those of you who are attending via Zoom there will be virtual coffee hosted by Hannah afterwards so do hang around for a chat (bring your own beverage). And maybe share your tree stories!

We have various small group activities during the week, both online and in-person, for you to meet up. Coffee morning is online at 10.30am Wednesday. There are still spaces left for our Heart and Soul gatherings (online Sunday/Friday at 7pm) and this week’s theme is ‘Encouragement’. And a date for your diary: The West London GreenSpirit group will be having a summer solstice gathering on Zoom on Tuesday 21st June at 7pm. Please email Sarah or David to book for that.

In terms of in-person happenings: You’re invited to join ‘Many Voices’, a singing-for-fun group, primarily for the LGBTQ+ community, but allies are also very welcome to join. This is run by Marilisa Valtazanou, who most of you will know as she regularly sings in our Sunday services, and the next meeting will be on Sunday 26th June at 1.30pm, half-price entry for congregation £6. Then our poetry group will meet again in the first week of July, on Wednesday 6th at 7pm, get in touch with David, Brian, or Marianne if you want to know more and to sign up in advance.

The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch, look out for each other, and do what you can to nurture supportive connections. All this information is also on the back of the order of service and the details were in the Friday email too.

Next week the service will be back on Zoom at 10.30am and it’ll be led by our former minister Sarah Tinker. I think that’s everything. Just time for our closing words and closing music now.

Benediction: based on words by Chris Rothbauer

Our time together draws to a close, but our worship does not cease; in the days to come,
May our lives be reflections of the beauty, peace, and joy that is possible in the world;
May we notice and appreciate all the quiet goodness that we encounter everyday;
May we each tend and nurture the patch of earth on which we find ourselves;
And may the love we have found in this gathering sustain us as we go our separate ways. Amen.

Closing Music

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

Sunday 12th June 2022