Love’s Tender and Demanding Path – 10/7/22

Opening Music: played by Sandra Smith

Opening Words: ‘A Love Prayer’ adapted from words by Rev Mark Belletini

Love, you are strong as a dark blue mountain.
Love, you are as fluid as a wide silver river.
Love, you are as splendid as clear night sky.
Love, you are as mysterious as a dark forest.
Love, you as wise as enduring friendship.
Love, you are true power, not mere distraction
Truth, not deceit,
Purpose, not impulse,
Poetry, not prose,
Sing, not sang,
Now more than tomorrow,
But tomorrow more than yesterday.
Love, condense yourself into this moment,
Permeate the silence that joins us in community,
So that in the fire of the words to come,
The promise of this time
Might be wrapped in peace.

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words, written by Mark Belletini, welcome all of us who have gathered this morning for our Sunday service. Welcome to those of you who are here in-person here at Essex Church and also to all who are joining in via Zoom from your homes, far and wide. For those of you I’ve not met before, I’m Sarah Tinker, at one time minister with this our Kensington Unitarians congregation. Now happily retired and also happy that I can still connect with you all like this from time to time.

If you are new to this community, we’re especially glad to have you with us, and do stay for a chat after the service if you want, or come to one of our small groups to get to know us better. And if you’re a regular here– thank you for all you do to build this community and to spread our Unitarian message of equality and oneness.

So whoever you are, however you’re feeling today, wherever you’ve come from, know you are welcome here with us, just as you are. And that welcome applies too to any of you watching this service at later date, or listening to our podcast or reading this as a script – there are so many ways now in which we can connect and there’s space for you here with us.

Today’s service is titled ‘Love’s Tender & Demanding Path’. In the next hour we’ll be asking that old question: what would love do now? And we’ll be exploring the power of love as a guiding principle in human life.
So let’s take a moment now to arrive here fully – let go for a while of the busy or challenging aspects of our lives, release anything that’s bothering us – at least for this moment, taking if we want one of those lovely calming breaths, slowly breathing down into the core of our being and as we breathe out we can awaken to the beauty of this moment, here in this gathered community – be that in person or connected through the digital realm, it’s good to be together, it’s good to make time and space for connection – connection with ourselves, connection with one another, and connection with that which we hold to be of greatest worth.

And our chalice flame is lit, its one light connecting us with the worldwide Unitarian and Unitarian and Universalist community, a progressive religious community.

This simple chalice flame bears witness to the humanity we all share.
One people, one planet, one shared life.
May we learn to live in peace.
May we care for what we have.
May we spread love, wherever we may be.

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. To make it easier for the technical team we’ll ask 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.

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 telling us. Thanks all of you for taking care of one another.

(in person candles)

Now those of you joining us on Zoom, we invite you to light a real or imaginary candle and tell us who or what you’re lighting your candle for – and 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)

Let’s take a moment to focus on these candles and the voices we’ve heard, and the glimpses of human life that we share, our joys and sorrows weaving us together like a tapestry of community life. 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 and Reflection

Let’s settle ourselves now for a time of reflection and prayer, we who are so often busy and distracted by the world we live in or by the busy, buzzing thoughts inside our heads. Let’s enjoy this opportunity for stilling ourselves, making time to tend to matters of the heart, aligning ourselves with the spirit of life and love in which all is held. …

We create this as a sacred time and place by our presence here together, grateful for the gift of life itself, yet knowing that we each carry our own particular burdens or concerns, we each cherish our special hopes and dreams.

In recent times there may have been times when we have been touched by the love and care of others – if so, let us be grateful for those human connections.

There may have been times when we could have shown greater care for another – if so, let us understand our human frailty and resolve if we can to ease the lives of others, as we seek to ease our own existences.

We may feel troubled by the turbulent times in which we live, the uncertainties of our own country’s political systems, the frightening events occurring in places like Ukraine, Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, the economic pressures facing so many people.

May all such human dilemmas be held in the heart of a love that will not let us go, a love so much greater than ourselves, a wondrous love that may lift us when we feel ourselves to be sinking beneath life’s struggles.

On this warm day in London we might experience such a love as a gentle cooling breeze upon our cheek, an unearned gift to all.

And in a few shared moments of stillness I invite you to seek the love and support you need this day …..

And let us send our loving prayers to those we know to be in need this day ….

May all beings find comfort this day and to this aspiration let us join in saying that ancient word, amen, so may it be.

Hymn 18: What Wondrous Love

And so we invite you if you wish now to join in singing our first hymn – which is called ‘what wondrous love’. It’s sung to an old American folk tune, a marvellously mournful tune I always think, which matches its message so well – life is tough and we are helped through it by the love of others, a love that will not let us go. I’d like to live in a society where that could be true for everyone. Here in church we have words on our hymnsheets and if you’re with us on Zoom the words will appear on your screens and you’ll be safely muted so you can sing out loud if you want. And here in church we’re keeping our masks on to help keep one another covid free as cases rise once again. Let’s sing about that wondrous love that cares for one another.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this
that brings my heart such bliss,
and takes away the pain of my soul, of my soul,
and takes away the pain of my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down beneath my sorrows ground,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul, O my soul,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul.

To love and to all friends I will sing, I will sing,
to love and to all friends I will sing.
To love and to all friends
who pain and sorrow mend,
with thanks unto the end I will sing, I will sing,
with thanks unto the end I will sing.

Reading: ‘Give All To Love’ with words from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Rev Linda Hart (read by Brian Ellis)

This reading begins with words adapted from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, titled ‘Give All to Love’. The poem is then followed with words from the Rev Linda Hart, a Unitarian Universalist minister from the States – who worked for some years as minister of our Richmond congregation here in London.

Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good-fame,
Plans, credit and the Muse,
Nothing refuse.
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope:
High and more high
It dives into noon,
With wings unspent
Untold intent;
But it is a god,
Knows its own path
And the outlets of the sky.

Give all to love, writes the poet. Follow it utterly.
If only we could.
Too often we are captured in that which is not love, captured by petty concerns, old wounds,
pains that peck away at our hearts. Sometimes blinded by all the concerns that press upon us,
sometimes blinded by grief beyond words or understanding, sometimes blinded by anger,
sometimes blinded by assumptions, and so we turn away from love, following paths which lead us far from love,
far from hope, far from healing and wholeness.
Hope beyond hope, it is possible to turn, to find our way again.
May our eyes be opened to the path of love, and may our hearts have the strength to follow:
that we may be released from that which captures us, put down the petty concerns, salve the wounds, release the pains;
that we may see more clearly what is within us and before us, the love that is available to all, that creates room for sympathy, for care, for community, for intimacy;
that we may find ourselves circling closer to a healing in ourselves, in our relationships,
for our world,
that we may recognize again the wholeness that embraces us, of which we are a part.
Give all to love, follow it utterly, and we turn ourselves. Hope beyond hope, may we find our way. May our eyes be ever and again opened to the path of love, and may our hearts have the strength to follow. Words from Linda Hart

Words to lead into meditation: Love As Our Guiding Principle

Thank you Brian for that reading. We’re moving into the quiet, meditative part of our service now – there’ll be a few words from me to lead into a good three minutes of silence – which will end with a chime from our bell. And then Sandra our pianist will play the classic Beatles love song, Something.

So let’s ready ourselves now in whatever way works for us – adjust our position, soften our gaze or close our eyes, maybe switch off your cameras at home if that’s more relaxing for you. Let’s be aware of our bodies in our seats, our feet perhaps resting on the earth below us, the places of connection between our body and the furniture or the floor. Let’s enjoy a few gentle, conscious breaths, nothing forced, just natural, restful breathing. We might have a sensation of sinking a little bit downwards as our muscles relax, we might feel the muscles of our face and neck and shoulders particularly relaxing, we might want to move a bit so we’re more comfy.

Our meditation today is called Love as our Guiding Principle and I invite you if you wish in our quiet time to consider how love might be a guide in our lives – not particularly the heightened state of romantic love – lovely that can feel at times – but the steadier kind of love that sticks around and sees things through, the loves that cares, that is kind and compassionate, and sensible, and wants the best for others as well as for ourselves. How might this kind of love shape our human living? How might this kind of love guide our path, assist us in making choices and decisions, shape how we think and speak about others, help us in our dealings with those we find difficult?

As we enter the fellowship of silence together, I wonder how love might guide us this day, what could be different with love at the helm?

Silence ended by our bell.

Music: ‘Something’ by George Harrison, played by Sandra Smith

Reading: ‘Psalm 23 For This Moment’ by Rev Kevin Tarsa (read on Zoom by Maria Wallace)

May I remember
in this tender moment
that Love is my guide,
shepherding me toward ways of openness and compassion.

I have what I need, really,
with Love at my side,
above me, below me, in front of me, behind me,
inside every cell of me,
Love infused everywhere!

Just when the weight of the world I inhabit
threatens to drop me in place
and press my hope down into the ground beneath me
Love invites me to rest for a gentle while,
and leads the centre of my soul to the quiet, still,
restoring waters nearby that,
I had not noticed.

And so, Love,
sets me once again on its tender and demanding path.

Even when the walls close around me
and the cries of death echo through untold corners,
gripping my heart with fear and sadness,
I know…
I know
that all will be well,
that I will be well,
when Love whispers
near to me,
glints at the corner of my eye,
rests with gentle and persistent invitation upon my shoulders.

Yes, Love blesses me,
Even as the sources and symbols of my pain look on.
Love blesses me from its infinite well,
And I turn
and notice…
that goodness and kindness and grace,
follow me everywhere,
everywhere I go.

I live in a house of Love,
Love that will not let me go.

I live in a house of love,
And always will.

Address: Love’s Tender and Demanding Path

Thank you Maria – that version of the 23rd Psalm really touches me – paraphrasing that line – we live in a house of love, love that will not let us go – that’s my kind of religion. Perhaps it resonates with some of you too.

But with me, it’s largely aspirational. I’ve grasped the theory – that living from a place of love is ‘a good thing’ – but it’s easier said than done isn’t it. I wonder how this week has been for you. We’ve had my grandson Zak and a friend’s dog Lassie staying with us – two creatures I love very much. Yet by day three my love is wearing thin. When I said it would be ok to cook naan breads from scratch I didn’t realise I’d have to be the kitchen assistant for two hours and that it would involve a hot oven and using every mixing bowl the cupboards possessed. When I said it’d be fine for Lassie to wander in the garden I didn’t realise she’d choose to have a poo and do that scratching the ground thing that dogs do, right on top of some favourite and delicate plants. Love as an idea … well, it’s lovely. Love as a reality can be more of a challenge to maintain.

I’ve heard a wise spiritual teacher explain that love will bring to the surface all that is unlike itself – in order for the work of healing to begin. And that this is the task of being human – to learn and grow, to develop ourselves through exploration and understanding of our responses to life. Where we find ourselves ‘out of love’, that is the task – to gently unravel the knots and tight places in our being so that we can return to a state of loving kindness – for ourselves and for all those we share this life with.

Here in Britain it’s been ‘one of those weeks’ in politics hasn’t it. I’ve been watching the unfolding saga of our Prime Minister’s resignation and the stepping up of potential candidates for this position of leader of our country. And because this service theme of ‘love’ has been in my mind I couldn’t help but ponder what leader might our country have if the main quality we sought in leadership was ‘love’. Yes they’d probably also need to have an economic crystal ball and extensive experience in managing teams of people and a remarkable skill in managing the media, not to mention world diplomacy – but what a difference it could make if everyone who sought high office had to prove that they had cultivated their heart centre, had to show us that they would govern with love. Because love lifts us beyond self-interest. Love widens our perspectives so we don’t forget the most needy in our society. Love reminds us to put ourselves in the position of another before we judge them and to work with others rather than against them. Love is not adversarial by nature.

It’s perhaps worth reminding ourselves that these aspects of love are not about love as an emotion – which, like any emotion, is a fleeting thing that comes and goes with the moment. No this kind of love is a way of being in life, it’s an orientation that starts with a loving relationship with our self and then reaches way beyond selfhood. It’s an orientation that reaches beyond any sense of ‘us and them’ to a wider vision where we experience connection and oneness with all that is. This is ‘love’s tender and demanding path’ that we heard of in Kevin Tarsa’s re-working of the 23rd Psalm.

In Brian’s reading earlier on we heard the Rev Linda Hart, a good friend of this congregation and one-time minister with Richmond Unitarians, describe this yearning: ‘May our eyes be opened to the path of love, and may our hearts have the strength to follow: that we may be released from that which captures us, put down the petty concerns, salve the wounds, release the pains’. And it’s worth adding that this path of love does not require us to let others walk all over us. The path of love requires us to be tough at times and to speak up when we know wrongs are happening. But it also requires us to maintain that loving orientation even as we protest, even as we stand up for what we know to be right.

And I reckon this is the work of a lifetime – to expand our capacity for love and to allow its power to work through us, to guide us, to be the principle with which we live our lives. And this truly is work – work of self-examination, with a commitment to honesty, work of picking ourselves up and starting again when we fall short. In one of my notebooks this week I found this quotation from Kabir, the 15th century Indian mystic poet.

“It is easy to bear the heat of fire and likewise it is possible to tread the edge of the sword. But to sustain an unchanging love is a most difficult business.” ‘But to sustain an unchanging love is a most difficult business’ – beautifully expressed by Kabir.

So I invite you to join me in the weeks ahead as we watch the political shenanigans unfold and as the life of our wider world continues to trouble us deeply – let’s observe and hold that question in our hearts: ‘what would love do now?’. It’d probably whisper a suggestion to us – turn off the TV or radio, go and do some gardening. Or take a walk in the park. Or why not make some naan bread from scratch?!

Hymn 131: Love Will Guide Us

Our closing hymn speaks of love as our guide in life and you can find the words on your hymnsheet or up on your screens. Feel free to stand, sit, sing or simply enjoy the music. Whatever we get up to, love can guide us.

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
hope inside us will lead the way
on the road from greed to giving.
Love will guide us through the hard night.

If you cannot sing like angels,
if you cannot speak before thousands,
you can give from deep within you.
You can change the world with your love.

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
hope inside us will lead the way
on the road from greed to giving.
Love will guide us through the hard night.


Thanks as always to everyone who’s helped with today’s service – our tech team of Jane, Ramona and Jeannene – without you nothing could work properly! Thanks to Brian and Maria for our readings today and big thanks to Sandra Smith for stepping in as pianist and to Harold for finding some suitably romantic music to end our service.

This congregation has a life beyond Sundays – thank you to everybody who was involved in this last week’s concert and poetry evening. Our online Heart and Soul sessions are available to everybody – an online spiritual gathering – and the theme this evening is Integrity and apparently every single elected MP has signed up to find out more – but there’s still space for a few more of you to join in. See Jane or send her an email if you want to know more.

There’s a congregational Zoom coffee morning every Wednesday and do stay if you can after the service today as we’ll be serving coffee, tea and biscuits in the hall after the service. For those of you who are on Zoom today there will be virtual coffee hosted by Maria afterwards so please do hang around for a chat.

And a date for your diaries – on Sunday 31st July the West London GreenSpirit group are inviting people to join them here for a picnic and a walk in the park. And to make that easier they’re planning to join in the morning Zoom service from here at the church. Have a chat with me or David Carter if you’d like to know more.

For our closing blessing now you can find the words of an ee cummings poem on your hymnsheets, or the words can be found on our website – in the sermons section we put the scripts of every service there – so if there’s ever a reading you’d like to find again it will be there –including this sweet poem by ee cummings, called ‘love is a place’.

Closing Blessing: ‘love is a place’ by e.e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

May each of us in the week that lies ahead find a place called love in our hearts, a love that contains everything, cherishes everything, guides everything – that we may never feel lost or alone. And with love in our hearts, may we reach out to others who may be sinking down and be in need of a helping hand or a kind word or deed. For in this strange and wondrous thing called life we are all in it together and none of us escapes alive. This is the adventure, this is the place and this is the time – right now. Amen, go well all of you and blessed be.

Closing Music: A Romantic Medley sung by Harold Lorenzelli

Rev. Sarah Tinker

10th July 2022