On the Path: Pilgrimage of the Heart – 19/06/22

Opening music: Chalice Meditation Chant – ‘With Open Hearts’, lyrics by Rev Joy Croft, music by David Kent

‘With open hearts, we welcome all who search,
With open hearts, we welcome all who love.
To celebrate this life in all its richness,
To show new truth wherever it may lead us.’

Opening Words of Welcome and Chalice Lighting:

With open hearts, we welcome all who search,
With open hearts, we welcome all who love.
To celebrate this life in all its richness,
To show new truth wherever it may lead us.

Good morning everybody and welcome indeed to Kensington Unitarians’ Sunday morning gathering here on Zoom. Welcome to those of you here in person this morning – it’s good to be with you all. Welcome to those of you who may watch this service as a video some time in the future, and welcome to all who read this script or listen to our podcast. There are many ways to connect.

For those who’ve not met me before I’m Sarah Tinker, I’ve retired from full time ministry and I’m enjoying chances like this to be with congregations I know and love.

Our theme today is called On The Path: Pilgrimages of the Heart and we’re exploring that idea of life itself as spiritual journey – for those who view existence through a lens of mystery, wonder and gratitude.

I wonder if these words written by Lyn Cox inspire you as they do me, to explore this idea of life as a shared journey, I wonder if any of her descriptions chime with your own experiences in life at present.

Invitation To Join The Journey by Lyn Cox (adapted)

‘Come you accidental pilgrims, you who find yourself on a journey of surprise and wonder. Come you who emerge into this place as an act of liberation. Come you who seek a life of mindfulness and a place to test your thoughts. Come you who bring hearts of all kinds: heavy hearts, rusty hearts, hearts broken open in revelation, hearts full of love to share. Come you who seek courage, and you who have more courage than you realize. Come you who stand behind the curtain, gathering up the resources to claim your truth. Come you who have felt uncertain (have been in a bubble), you who are poised for transformation.

We begin our story again, gathering courage, love, mindfulness, and a sense of purpose. We gather as people of all ages, of different abilities, different backgrounds, and different perspectives. We share our values of justice and kindness, (a covenant), a direction for our shared journey, and a commitment to encourage and challenge one another to spiritual growth.

This path will ask much from us. Let us move forward with love. Let us move forward with appreciation for one another. Let us move forward knowing we are not alone. Whoever you are, whatever your gifts, you are welcome to join this journey.

(lifting chalice) Our chalice flame is lit, its one flame connecting us with progressive communities the world over and reminding us that we are one people living on one planet, connected by the spirit of light and love shining in you and me and in all that exists.

Candles of joy and concern:

Each week when we gather together, be that online or in our Essex Church building, 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. So you might like to switch to gallery view at this stage if your device allows that – and if you would like to light a real or imaginary candle and tell us who or what you light your candle for – just unmute yourselves when you are ready and speak out.

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, knowing that our joys and sorrows weave us together in the fabric of community. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns, both spoken and unspoken… all those glimpses into our shared human condition and the life of the world… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness this day.

Time of reflection and prayer: A Solstice Prayer for All Who Migrate

Let us ready ourselves for a time of reflection and prayer, as the time of the summer solstice draws near here in the northern lands, the time when the sun shines brightly upon us and our days are long and warm. The sun, source of all life here on earth, shining down upon all of us, giving light to each and every human being, though our life experiences and our fortunes in life differ so greatly. We know that millions of people have moved across the surface of our planet this year, for many reasons.

And so let us pray for all who migrate.

Here in this world of form and matter, where all beings move towards pleasure and away from pain, when all creatures seek to survive and prosper, let us pray for all who make journeys of migration. Let us honour the adventurous spirit that pushes people to seek better situations for them and their families for surely we know that spirit within ourselves. Let us with humility acknowledge the fear and desperation that forces some people to leave their beloved homelands and seek places of refuge, of safety, of liberty and justice in other lands where people speak a different language and may not always be welcoming.

May we never forget those who are trapped – by warfare, by poverty, by tyrannical regimes, those who cannot simply make a new life for themselves, that we might never forget to be grateful for the freedoms of our own lives, that we might support all those who seek greater freedom to be who they truly are. May all migrants be blessed, may all migrants be greeted with compassion.

Let us also remember those who journey for spiritual purpose, those who leave their everyday lives behind to step out into the unknown, who step out in faith, trusting themselves to the great spirit, the god of their hearts and understanding, seeking new insights through chance encounters. May all pilgrims be blessed.

And this day let us direct our thoughts and prayers to all who make journeys, out of choice or necessity, to all who offer hospitality or who risk their own lives helping others along the way, – a shared moment of silence – spirit of love – guide us in ways to give life the shape of justice and compassion – this day and all days.

And may our own journeys through life, our own steps along the path, be for the greater good of all, and to that aspiration let us join in saying if we so wish, amen, so may it be.

First hymn: Field of stars, written by David Kent & Lyanne Mitchell

We’ll sing our first hymn now – it’s quite newly written by Unitarian friends David Kent and Lyanne Mitchell, it has a lovely tune and it’s based on the famous pilgrimage route which leads pilgrims to the burial place of St James, Spain’s patron saint in Santiago de Compostela. With traditions reaching back to the 9th century, medieval pilgrims would carry a wooden staff and wear scallop shells, which point the direction along the route. The shells identify the pilgrims and bring a sense of connection. The Compostela is like a passport that pilgrims get stamped to show their progression – compostella also is translated at times as ‘field of stars’ and it’s that image that this hymn explores. So feel free to join in if you want – we’ll all be safely muted, or simply sit back and enjoy the tune and the lyrics which will appear on your screen. Field of stars.

Reading by Harold Lorenzelli: ‘Camino’ by David Whyte

The Spanish word Camino translates as path or road or way. It is also used to denote the ancient pilgrimage path that led the faithful across both France and Portugal by varied routes towards the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, in the far north west of Spain. It’s a testing journey, requiring faith and endurance, as well as the kindness and hospitality of strangers along the way. I this poem called Camino, written by modern poet David Whyte, he describes one pilgrim’s journey – motivated by personal loss to set on the Camino, a path where people may both lose and find their sense of self.

Camino’ by David Whyte

The way forward, the way between things,
the way already walked before you,
the path disappearing and reappearing even
as the ground gave way beneath you,
the grief apparent only in the moment
of forgetting, then the river, the mountain,
the lifting song of the Sky Lark inviting
you over the rain filled pass when your legs
had given up, and after,
it would be dusk and the half-lit villages
in evening light; other people’s homes
glimpsed through lighted windows
and inside, other people’s lives; your own home
you had left crowding your memory
as you looked to see a child playing
or a mother moving from one side of
a room to another, your eyes wet
with the keen cold wind of Navarre.

But your loss brought you here to walk
under one name and one name only,
and to find the guise under which all loss can live;
remember, you were given that name every day
along the way, remember, you were greeted as such,
and treated as such and you needed no other name,
other people seemed to know you even before
you gave up being a shadow on the road
and came into the light, even before you sat down,
broke bread and drank wine,
wiped the wind-tears from your eyes:
pilgrim they called you,
pilgrim they called you again and again. Pilgrim.

Words for meditation: ‘On the path: life as pilgrimage’

Thank you Harold. That is a beautiful poem. That image of a journey is such a key image for humanity isn’t it. There is a traveller’s spirit in many of us, though our lives may stay mostly in one place, yet we know what travelling can bring, we are drawn to the path, to the way, as a way of exploring ourselves as well as the terrain the path leads us through. We learn through exploration, through our encounters with the unknown, with the unfamiliar or strange. In our lives as travellers we don’t always get to choose where we travel. Life brings us difficulties as well as delights and we may wish our road in life had taken a different turn at some points. Sometimes the track is too demanding, the gradient too steep, we may need assistance from our fellow travellers. In our time of meditation now we have some music played for us by Peter Crockford – Handel’s Siciliana – based on an old Italian dance tune – and we have photos of tracks, of paths, of places of pilgrimage. The music lasts about 3 minutes and then we will have 2 minutes of silence. The final image is of a sculpture to be found at the very end of the Camino – beyond Compostela – where pilgrims take off their worn boots and treasure their scallop shells, symbols of the journey they have completed.

I wonder what thoughts these images will stimulate for you. Let’s ready ourselves now for this time of meditation – on the path: life as pilgrimage.

Video and Photo Slides, with Handel’s ‘Siciliana’ played by Peter Crockford, followed by silence


There is an old Chasidic story about the child of a rabbi who used to wander in the woods. At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were dangerous. The father did not know what lurked there.

He decided to discuss the matter with his child. One day he took him aside and said, “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder why do you go there?”

The boy said to his father, “I go there to find God.”

“That is a very good thing,” the father replied gently. “I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?”

“Yes,” the boy answered, “but I’m not.”

The little child felt differently in the woods. I reckon many of us probably have special places, favourite spots or landscapes that we go to, places where we are able to connect – connect with ourselves perhaps, connect with that which is most meaningful to us, places where we are able to get things in perspective, places where new insights are more likely to emerge. When we speak of pilgrimage, it doesn’t have to mean a great journey – some pilgrimages are small in steps but perhaps mighty in their effect on us – they are the times when we make space for something other than the ordinary, the routine. And it takes courage to make time for ourselves sometimes doesn’t it. It takes commitment to go to the woods, or the garden, or the church, or a favourite spot. I hope we all get to visit our own special places from time to time.

I’ve just spent a few weeks away in northern Spain and Portugal. It’s an area I’d visited many years ago. What surprised me this time was just how many people we encountered were following the old camino pilgrimage routes, walking for weeks and months, eventually arriving in the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela and visiting the shrine of St James. These pilgrims were a motley bunch – for it has always been thus – that pilgrimage calls to different people in different ways. Different ages, different levels of fitness, different styles of walking and styles of clothing, very different reasons for walking I imagine. It was a surprise to see how many used a traditional wooden staff to help them on their way, as pilgrims of the Middle Ages would have used.

The concept of pilgrimage is found within all the world’s religions – travelling to a shrine or some other special place in order to connect with a higher power, to seek healing or other assistance. In medieval Europe pilgrimage was a highly organised aspect of religious life, a required method of doing penance for one’s sins and receiving eternal salvation. Interesting that the idea of pilgrimage is so very popular in our more secular times. Let’s think of what a pilgrimage requires of a pilgrim and why that might attract people.

A pilgrimage is time set aside from the everyday, from the mundane routines of our lives. Pilgrimage may offer adventure, new vistas, new experiences, a chance to be different from the person we’ve long known ourselves to be.

I’ve known more than one friend set off on a pilgrimage and find themselves needing to ‘send stuff home’ in the post – don’t most of us carry more than we need – both in reality and metaphorically? Walking a certain distance with a backpack brings that weight of the baggage we are carrying into our conscious awareness. Pilgrims learn to prepare for their journey and travel light. Take only what you really need.

On a pilgrimage we are encouraged to be open to encounters of all sorts – to let the journey affect us – to engage with whoever and whatever comes your way. And through these encounters and through the travelling we’re creating an opportunity for new insights to emerge – though a transformation may not be immediate – possibly weeks or even years later a new perspective may come from the time when we set off on the path. On pilgrimage we can learn from the challenges – we may recognise the tests that life brings us – as stages on the journey – as obstacles to be surmounted – that may break us and yet paradoxically bring us new strengths. The poem called Camino that we heard earlier on, written by David Whyte, describes a pilgrimage used to transition from one phase of life to another, pilgrimage as a way to come to terms with loss in life, pilgrimage as an opportunity to drop a previous identity – and to wait for a new identity to develop, to emerge.

Joseph Campbell, professor of literature and explorer of the world of mythology, wrote that ‘we must be willing to let go of the life that we had so that the life that is waiting for us may be experienced’. Pilgrimage is a letting go of the familiar and it requires of us a trust – trust in the unknown path that lies before us – and trust in our own capabilities to deal with what we find on the path ahead. This is faith, for there are no guarantees. The future becomes the present with every step we take.

On pilgrimage, as in life itself, we journey both alone and together. Nobody completes the same pilgrimage though the path may look identical on a map, And though the destination is important, as it was to our ancestors in the Middle Ages, yet most of us – in life as on a pilgrimage – come to realise that it is the journey not the destination that matters most, the path, our daily lives, are our temple and our sacred shrine.

Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy’s poem Ithaca describes this understanding so beautifully – here are a few extracts from that fine poem:

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her, you would never have taken to the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithaca means.

I know that some of you have been on pilgrimages and I look forward to hearing tales of journeys – to Canterbury and Jerusalem, to Lourdes and Santiago, to Walsingham and to some of the places of pilgrimage that are not owned by any one religion – the distant waterfalls and mountain tops and old forests revered by people of ancient times.

Some of us will never make these traditional journeys. And yet pilgrimage is still possible – as a way of thinking about our life journey as a journey of discovery in which we are challenged and brought up short and heart-warmingly encouraged and inspired at times by those we meet along the way. These might be called pilgrimages of the heart. Even in life’s most adverse circumstances – we can embark on an inner journey – with our body and our inner felt senses as the terrain to explore – we can contemplate the quality of our relationship with our self and with the world in which we live and with the companions we meet along the path. Whether we stub our toe on a mountain track or getting out of the shower – there’s a message awaiting us – if we choose to listen out for it. For pilgrimages, like life, usually hurt us at some point, rarely go quite as we planned, and hold fresh perspectives for us if we can stay open to receive them. Buen Camino – greetings on the journey everyone.

Hymn: To be a pilgrim, with gendered language painlessly altered

An invitation to sing now – we’ll all be muted so we can wake the neighbours if we want to – it’s the pilgrim’s hymn that tells of hobgoblins and foul fiends and we’re pleased to have been able to change its originally gendered language to include everyone. This is a recording from our church in Kensington and you’ll hear me faffing about with seating at the start. So let’s enjoy this old pilgrim hymn, with words originally written by John Bunyan.

Who would true valour see
Let them come hither;
For we will constant be
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make us once relent
Our first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset us round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;
Our strength the more is.
No lion can us fright,
We’ll with a giant fight,
And we shall have the right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt our spirit;
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away,
We’ll fear not what they say,
We’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.


Thanks as always to our technical support crew who make these services happen – John Davies and Jeannene Powell.

The congregation has 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 ‘Gratitude’. And there’s still chance to book to join the West London GreenSpirit group summer solstice gathering on Zoom on Tuesday 21st June at 7pm. Please email to book for that or have a chat after the service.

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. Our music scholar cellist Abby Lorimier is holding a concert at the church on Tues 5th July.

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 in the Friday email too.

Closing Blessing:

There is a Buddhist saying ‘When you are in doubt about where you are meant to be, look down at your feet’. In the week that lies ahead, let us stay awake to where we are, to what our current surroundings and our stage of the journey requires of us, and to our fellow travellers – for all may reveal the precious insights we need to make more of this gift of life. If in doubt about where we are meant to be, let’s look down at our feet, for feet remind us we are on the path of life, pilgrims of the heart.’ Amen, go well and blessed be.

Closing Music: Cantata BWV147 by JS Bach, played by Peter Crockford

Rev. Sarah Tinker

19th June 2022