All Souls: Undying Echoes – 05/11/23

Musical Prelude: Capriol Suite – P. Warlock (arr. N. Warburton) II. Pavane (played by the Kyan Quartet)

Opening Words: ‘They Are with Us Still’ by Kathleen McTigue (adapted)

In the struggles we choose for ourselves,
in the ways we move forward in our lives
and bring our world forward with us,

It is right to remember the names of those
who gave us strength in this choice of living.
It is right to name the power of hard lives well-lived.

We share a history with those lives.
We belong to the same motion.

They too were strengthened by what had gone before.
They too were drawn on by the vision of what might come to be.

Those who lived before us,
who struggled for justice and suffered injustice before us,
have not melted into the dust,
and have not disappeared.

They are with us still.
The lives they lived hold us steady.

Their words remind us and call us back to ourselves.
Their courage and love evoke our own.

We, the living, carry them with us:
we are their voices, their hands and their hearts.

We take them with us,
and with them choose
the deeper path of living. (pause)

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words – by Kathleen McTigue – welcome all who have gathered this morning, for our special Sunday service for All Souls. Welcome to those of you who have gathered in-person at Essex Church and also to all who are joining us via Zoom from far and wide. For anyone who doesn’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall and I’m Minister with Kensington Unitarians.

This morning’s service has the theme of ‘Undying Echoes’ – to mark All Souls’ Day, which was last Thursday – we will take time to remember and honour the loved ones we have lost. It’s a chance to reflect on the ways in which we have been changed by knowing, loving, and being loved by them. And later in the service I’ll invite you – if you wish – to name those ‘undying echoes’ – the ways in which their presence, their influence, lives on in us, and in the wider world, after they have gone.

Before we go any further let’s take a moment to settle ourselves and really arrive. There’s plenty going on in the world right now, and doubtless plenty going on in each of our lives as well, one way or another. Perhaps it’s all still bouncing around in your mind or making itself felt in your body. So let’s be a bit intentional about putting that to one side as best we can – just for this hour or so – we can pick it all up again later if we need to. Let’s shake out any ‘bleurgh’ we brought in. And let’s make this hour sacred with our intention, our attention, our own generous and compassionate presence.

Chalice Lighting: ‘All Souls Chalice Lighting’ by Florence Caplow

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)

As we kindle this the flame, we honour and remember
Those who have passed into the mystery.
Their brightness lives on in our vision;
their courage lives on in our commitments;
and their love continues to bless the world through us.

Hymn 152 (purple): ‘Thanks Be for These’

Let’s sing together now. Our first hymn is number 152 in your purple hymnbooks, ‘Thanks Be for These’. We don’t sing it that often so I’m going to ask Xiaowen to play it through once in full before we sing. For those joining via Zoom the words will be up on screen. Feel free to stand or sit as you prefer as we sing. And sing up as best you can.

Thanks be for these, life’s holy times,
moments of grief, days of delight;
triumph and failure intertwine,
shaping our vision of the right.

Thanks be for these, for birth and death,
life in between with meaning full;
holy becomes the quickened breath;
we celebrate life’s interval.

Thanks be for these, ennobling art,
images welcome to our sight,
music caressing ear and heart,
inviting us to loftier height.

Thanks be for these, who question why,
who noble motives do obey,
those who know how to live and die,
comrades who share this holy way.

Thanks be for these, we celebrate,
sing and rejoice, our trust declare;
press all our faith into our fate;
bless now the destiny we share.

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.

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. Please do get up close to the microphone as that will help everyone hear (including the people at home). You can take the microphone out of the stand if it’s not at a good height and have it microphone pointing right at your mouth. And if you can’t get to the microphone give me a wave and I’ll bring it over to you. Thank you.

(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

Let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer. This prayer is 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)

At moments like this we gather, each alone in our solitude.
May we embrace this moment, in silence, allowing
the gentle breath to clear our minds,
and soothe our weary souls.

At moments like these we try to put aside
the daily obstacles, the headaches and irritations;
we try to lay down our worries about the world’s troubles
and open ourselves to the pulse of Life, the flow of Life.

We may carry with us fears and hopes about health or illness,
about work or relationships, about success or failure;
for a moment we seek to set them aside too,
and take time to nurture our deepest selves…

We know that we need one another
and we must keep faith with one another
if we are to keep faith with the world –
to play our part in making peace and justice –
to live each day with generosity and mercy –
to do the holy work of Love.

In this quiet time, when we open ourselves to the depths,
may we sense and know the Spirit of Life and Love within us –
ever at hand – guiding and sustaining – so the strength we need
and the compassion the world needs will come to us
in our times of trial and transformation. (pause)

In a few moments of shared stillness now, let us call to mind those people and situations who are on our hearts this morning, thinking of all those issues that concern us close to home, and those troubled places the world over, and let us hold them gently in loving-kindness. (pause)

And let us hold ourselves in loving-kindness too. Each of us faces our own private struggles.
We must discern a way through all the many challenges and opportunities that life brings.
So let us rest in self-compassion now as we ask silently for what we need this day. (pause)

And let us take a moment to reflect on the week just gone in a spirit of gratitude; let us notice and give thanks for all those blessings, large or small, that have helped to lift our spirits.
Maybe we can prepare our hearts to receive life’s goodness in the week ahead. (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 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

In-Person Poem: ‘All Souls’ by May Sarton (read by Juliet)

Did someone say that there would be an end,
An end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning?
Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend,
The cold bleak voices of the early morning
When all the birds are dumb in dark November –
Remember and forget, forget, remember.

After the false night, warm true voices, wake!
Voice of the dead that touches the cold living,
Through the pale sunlight once more gravely speak,
Tell me again, while the last leaves are falling:
“Dear child, what has been once so interwoven
Cannot be raveled, nor the gift ungiven.”

Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited –
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.

Dark into light, light into darkness, spin.
When all the birds have flown to some real haven,
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen, and feel now new-cherished, new-forgiven,
As the lost human voices speak through us and blend
Our complex love, our mourning without end.

Hymn (on sheet): ‘Undying Echoes’

Thanks Juliet. Let’s sing again now. Our next hymn is on your hymn-sheet, ‘Undying Echoes’, the hymn for which today’s service is named. It echoes the theme of the poem by May Sarton we’ve just heard, I think. The words will be up on screen as usual. Feel free to stand or sit as you prefer.

The lives which touch our own each day
Are influenced unconsciously
By views we hold, the things we say,
Our simple acts of charity.

On earth we still receive the light
Of stars burnt out in aeons past,
The lives of those who served the right
Shine with a lustre that will last.

This life of ours can never end,
Its influence still perseveres;
For by our deeds we ever send
Undying echoes down the years.

In-Person Reading: ‘Immortal, Invisible’ by Victoria Safford (read by Jane)

This reading, by UU minister Victoria Safford, has become quite a regular feature of our All Souls services – I would be happy to include it every year – after all, we will likely hear it with new ears each time, as we experience new losses, as our perspective shifts over time. For me, the piece speaks so well to one of the biggest questions of life-and-death we can ever ask – one about which the answer is destined to remain to some great degree unknowable. This is what Safford has to say. She writes:

Where do they go, do you think, when they die? Our mothers and brothers and lovers, colleagues, children, and friends? You turn your head and suddenly they have slipped away – but where? What’s happened? What remains?

I find myself telling a young child things I didn’t know I believe about death, things that shock me, make me wonder. We come across a small dead turtle in the road and we decide to bury it. So with a stick we scrape a space on the edge of someone else’s grass and put the little disk of shell in the hollow of the earth, and I tell what will happen to the turtle, to the muscle and the blood and the eyes and the shell. He loves this. “It all goes back to the earth,” I say, “into new soil, and new plants will use it and grow, and birds will eat the plants, or we will, and the birds will scatter seeds, which turtles might eat, round and round and round it goes.” This much I know is true. But I also say, because the child is clearly waiting to hear more, clearly he knows that this cannot be all: “And the spirit of the turtle comes out and goes back into everything, into the stars and the sun and you and me. Everything the turtle was returns to everything and it is not lost.”

We’re both a little shocked at that, and pondering, as we continue walking.

That same child was told not long ago by a well-meaning relative that her dead cat (the relative’s dead cat) is happy now in “kitty heaven.” And the fact is, though I roll my supercilious eyes and make derisive noises, I don’t know now and never will whether “kitty heaven” is real (or “kitty hell” for that matter). The child and I, and all the poets and philosophers, the scientists and scholars, are equal in our ignorance on this and equal in our expertise when someone asks, “What will happen to the turtle?” – or to us. Bowel and blood and bone change into other things – dust and drop and molecule – but what about the soul? The heart is water and flesh; it decomposes fast, or burns. But what of the heart’s contents?

What we know for sure when someone dies is loneliness. What we know is the lifelong struggle to remember. What we know, beyond biology and chemistry, what we know forever and ever are the questions: what remains of him, of her, what remains of you… in me?

Meditation: ‘What we love lives on…’

Words – perhaps words quite familiar to some of us by now – by Victoria Safford. Let’s take them into a time of meditation now. I’m going to invite you to spend some time pondering that question ‘what remains of him, of her, of them, in me?’ For those who are in the church there’s space in the centre of your hymn sheet with simple prompts for you to ponder and maybe write down what comes up (for those of you online there was a link to a downloadable version in the Friday email). I’d encourage you to notice who comes to mind – maybe people you were very close to have died – maybe the loss was really recent – please be gentle with yourselves in where and how you focus. Or it might be that you are more fortunate, and your life so far is relatively untouched by such loss. Maybe there are prominent public figures, artists, activists, who have left ‘undying echoes’ in your life.

We’ll move into three minutes of silence now, during which you can reflect, and note things down. Think about the ways in which the presence of our loved ones lives on in us and in the wider world. There’ll be a chance to name these loved ones and share a little of what’s come up later in the service. Perhaps you can reflect on ways in which they’ve shaped your way of being in the world. The silence will end with the sound of a bell. Then we’ll hear some music from the Kyan Quartet to continue the meditative mood. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – adjust your position if you need to – put your feet flat on the floor to ground yourself – close your eyes. As we always say, this is just an offering, feel free to use this time to meditate in your own way.

And I’ll send you into the silence and the pondering with the words by Leslie Takahashi that are on the front of your order of service: ‘They are more than remembered, they are memory itself. For what we love lives on in the way our beloved dead accompany us through our life — their words and wisdom our guide, their humour our relief, their restless concern for the world our charge.’

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

Interlude: Waltz after Lasse in Lyby – Danish String Quartet (played by the Kyan Quartet)

INTERACTIVE Sharing for All Souls: Honouring our Beloved Dead

We’ve come to a time in our service to mark All Souls with a simple ritual to honour the memory of those we have loved who have died. UU minister Christine Robinson says: ‘At this darkening time of the year, our thoughts turn to things past, to life retreating, to those who are no longer with us. Images come to our minds; of dear companions, who once graced our lives, loved ones whom we miss, persons whose lives made an impact on our lives; of all those who were here, contributing, caring, and are now gone. Our memories bring both joy and sadness; let us not push these feelings away. For our recollections attest to the enduring importance of these friends, this love, our memories. May these brave and lovely spirits live again in our tender thoughts, and prove that death and distance are powerless to sever the bonds that connect truly loving hearts.’

We’ve got about ten minutes for our ritual and we’ll do this in a similar way to the Candles of Joy and Concern – I’ll invite the people in the room first – then the people on Zoom. As ever it’s an invitation not an obligation – there’s no pressure. By default we will leave this bit in the recording of the service, so if you join in but don’t want to be included in the video that goes on YouTube, have a word with me or drop me an email to let me know straight after the service and I’ll make sure to edit you out.

So for the people in the room, please come up when you’re ready, take the microphone, speak the name of the person you want to remember, and a sentence or two to acknowledge and honour the ways in which their presence and their influence lives on in you. You are welcome to name more than one person, but be aware of how long you’re speaking, so that everyone who wants to join in can have be heard in the time we’ve got. Sadly we won’t have time to hear more of your shared story during the service today but these conversations can always continue afterwards.

(in person ritual)

And if that’s everyone in the room we’ll go over to the people on Zoom next – we’re going to do this slightly differently than usual – when you’re ready to speak please put your hand up and Ramona will spotlight you when she sees you. When it invites you to unmute please do so and please go ahead and speak – say the name of the person you want to remember, and how you were connected to them in just a word or two. And we’ll light a tealight candle for you here.

(zoom ritual)

If that’s everyone… thank you for joining in with our All Souls Ritual. Let’s close it with a blessing.

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
whom we know best in our own loving and being loved,
hold us as we remember those we have loved,
and those who have loved us.

May our gratitude shine in our lives,
may our tears soothe our tender souls.
Help us to know that we are not alone in our grieving,
and help us also to come to that peaceful place
in which we can take what we learned
from those who have gone before us,
and integrate it into our own lives.

Remind us that we, too, are mortal;
that the only enduring legacy we leave
is the love that shines through our lives. Amen.

Hymn 44 (purple): ‘Give Thanks for Life’

Time for our last hymn, an uplifting one, and in fact a reprise of the tune we finished with last week – number 44 in the purple book – ‘Give Thanks for Life’. Again, please stand or sit as you prefer.

Give thanks for life, the measure of our days,
mortal, we pass through beauty that decays,
yet sing to God our hope, our love, our praise:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Give thanks for those whose lives shone with a light
caught from the Christ-flame, gleaming through the night,
who touched the truth, who burned for what is right:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Give thanks for all, our living and our dead,
thanks for the love by which our life is fed,
a love not changed by time or death or dread:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions

Thanks to Ramona for tech-hosting. Thanks to Shari for welcoming everyone online. Thanks to Juliet for reading and of course to all who shared in the service. Thanks to the Kyan Quartet for lovely music, to Xiaowen on piano for accompanying us for the first time, and Benjie for singing support. Thanks Liz for doing coffee and Julia for greeting. For those of you who are in-person – please do stay for a cuppa and cake after the service – raspberry madeira cake this week – it’s served in the hall next door. If you’re joining online hang on after for a chat.

We have various small group activities during the week. Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering, takes place twice a week online. It’s a great way to get to know people more deeply. Send me an email if you want to sign up for Sunday or Friday. This week’s theme is ‘Legacy’.

The in-person Poetry Group is happening this coming Wednesday – a chance to share your favourite poems and reflect on them in good company – have a word with Brian if you want to know more about that and let him know if you plan to come so he can arrange to have printed copies on hand.

Next Sunday we’ll hold our Remembrance Sunday service and that’ll be led by me and Patricia.

Details of all our various activities are printed on the back of the order of service, for you to take away, and also in the Friday email. Please do sign up for the mailing list if you haven’t already. 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.

I think that’s everything. Just time for our closing words and closing music now.

Benediction: based on words by Simon John Barlow

In this season of remembrance:

we remember, in gratitude, all those who came before us
to prepare the paths which we now tread;

we remember, in love, our family, friends and lovers who,
though not with us today, still guide our footsteps;

we remember, in awe, the miracles of daily life
which inspire us and raise our spirits.

we remember, in joy, the love divine and human
which surrounds and uplifts us always;

we remember, in peace, the light within us all
which brings the strength for growth.

and we remember, in acceptance, our task of sharing that
inner light with all around us wherever we go.

May it be so, for the greater good of all. Amen.

Closing Music: Capriol Suite – P. Warlock (arr. N. Warburton) V. Pieds en l’air (played by the Kyan Quartet)

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

5th November 2023