‘Be Still’ – 7/4/24

Prelude: More Silvana Variations – Paul Harris (after Weber) (performed by Benjie del Rosario & George Ireland)

Opening Words: ‘Be Still for a Moment’ adapted from Amy McKenzie Quinn and Elena Westbrook

Welcome to this common, sacred space.
Common, because we are all welcome.
Sacred, because here we transform the ordinary
and attend to the profound.

We carry with us our regrets, doubts, fears, stories, laughter;
may they inspire our worship.
Above all, may we each meet what we need most to find,
On this day, in this common, sacred space.

In a world beset by troubles
that seem eternal and insoluble,
sometimes the only thing we can do
is be still for a moment
to remind ourselves what is real:
the sun that rose again this morning,
the dirt beneath our feet,
the air whispering in and out of our lungs.

So, this hour, let us be present in each moment as it unfolds.
Your simple attention is what makes these moments holy.

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words welcome all who have gathered this morning for our Sunday service. Welcome to those of you who have gathered in-person at Essex Church, to all who are joining us via Zoom from far and wide, and anyone watching on YouTube or listening to the podcast at a later date (please get in touch if you’re our there – we’d love to know you’re tuning in). For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m Jeannene Powell, and I’m a member of Kensington Unitarians.

This morning’s service is titled ‘Be Still’ – we’ll be reflecting on the spiritual benefits of stillness – and it features guest preacher the Rev Dr Rory Castle-Jones, minister with Gellionnen Unitarians in Wales. As it’s a long way to come on a Sunday morning he’s going to be joining us on video a bit later on.

But before we go any further let’s take a moment to get settled and centred and ready to worship. This is an hour in which we can catch up with ourselves and connect with what matters most in life. A time for spiritual nourishment. So let’s just take a few breaths – slow right down – be here now.

Chalice Lighting: ‘May Our Spirits Be Renewed’ 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 this gathering is part.

(light chalice)

In this quiet hour may our spirits be renewed.

In this gathering of friends may we be ready
to extend ourselves to those in need,
and with trust to receive the hand that is offered.

In this community of ideals may we remember the principles that guide us
and reflect upon those things that give meaning to our lives,
renewing our dedication to serve the highest that we know.

In this time of worship, may our minds be open to new truth,
and our hearts be receptive to love,
as we give thanks for this life we are blessed to share.

Hymn 21 (purple): ‘Come and Find the Quiet Centre’

Let’s sing together. Our first hymn is number 21 in the purple book, ‘Come and Find the Quiet Centre’. For those joining via zoom the words will be up on screen. Feel free to stand or sit as you prefer.

Come and find the quiet centre
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the space where we are freed:
clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace;
God it is who speaks and names us,
knows our being, touches base,
making space within our thinking,
lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we’re shrinking,
finding scope for faith begun.

In the Spirit let us travel,
open to each other’s pain;
let our lives and fears unravel,
celebrate the space we gain:
there’s a place for deepest dreaming,
there’s a time for heart to care;
in the Spirit’s lively scheming
there is always room to spare.

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 Eila Forrester

Let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer. This prayer is based on some words by Eila Forrester. 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)

We gather here to be quiet and to pray,
to find a time for our inner selves,
our souls and spirits which lie hidden
and often neglected within us.

Let us now sit quietly and wait for the voice within us.
Let us simply listen, and be still for a while. (long pause)

Some of us, this day, will feel empty and tired, grey and listless.
But emptiness and tiredness are also prayer, a cry for spiritual food
and an aching need for soothing refreshment and strength to go on.

Some of us feel alone, aware of our need for someone to love us.
This too is prayer without words, a longing and a sorrow which seeks
for the healing spirit of love, the embrace of God’s concern for us
in spirit and in soul, and in the practical hands of caring people.

Some of us are happy enough, some content,
some have hope and plans for tomorrow:
all these are prayers – prayers of giving, prayers of gratitude,
prayers of creating thought and dreams.

So let us gather with our wordless prayers –
prayers of our inner selves, our inner truth.
May God be with us in these prayers, sustaining them
and enabling us to grow more aware of our wordless selves.
May we be aware of the waters of our own spirit
which are always there for us to drink
if we will sit still, wait, and listen. (pause)

And in a few moments of shared silence and stillness now,
may we speak inwardly some of those deepest prayers of our hearts —
the joys and sorrows we came in carrying – in our own lives and the lives of the wider world.
Let us each lift up whatever is on our heart this day, and ask for what we most need. (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 Reading: ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46)

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Hymn 150 (purple): ‘Stillness, Creeping Through This Place’

Our next hymn is number 150 in the purple hymnbook, ‘Stillness, Creeping Through this Place’. I don’t think we’ve ever sung this one before, so it may be an unfamiliar tune to most of us, but the words are lovely so it’s worth us making the effort to learn it, and we’ve got Benjie to help us today. I’ll ask George to play it through before we sing. The words will also be up on screen. As usual, feel free to stand or sit as you prefer.

Stillness, creeping through this place,
softly come and gently hold us;
here, apart from urban race
your quiet calmness be among us.
May we rest within your calmness;
rest beside you, quiet stillness.

Silence, spreading all around,
quietly seeping in between us;
here, away from city sound
with your peacefulness enfold us.
May we feel and trust your presence,
know your peace, deep healing silence.

Spirit, moving through this space,
weaving in and out among us;
here, your pattern brings new grace,
with your breathing, life endow us.
May we your first breath inherit,
feel your breathing, primal spirit.

VIDEO Pre-Recorded Reading: ‘My Support is in the Mountain’ by Eirion Phillips (Rory Castle-Jones)

This reading is called ‘My support is in the mountain’, by the late Rev. Eirion Phillips, minister of both your church – Kensington – and mine, Gellionnen Chapel in south Wales.

I will share it with you both in the original Welsh, and in English translation…

Mae fy nghymorth yn y mynydd,
Lle caf iachad o’r clywfau daearol sydd arnaf…

Fe ddof o hyd i’r graig sydd a heulwen yn tywynnu arni;
ac i’r nant sydd yn ymdroellu yn ysgafn;
ac i’r coedwigoedd sydd yn gwmni i mi.

Felly rhaid i mi aros am amser maith,
hyd medraf dyfu o’r graig;
Ac hyd nes bod y nant yn rhedeg ynof a thrwof;
ac hyd nes na allaf rannu fy hunan oddiwrth un o’r coed sydd o’m hamgylch.

Yna fe wn nad oes dim yn cyffwrdd a mi,
nac yn gwneud i mi redeg i ffwrdd.
Mae fy nghymorth yn y mynydd…
yr hwn sydd yn rhan ohonof.

My support is in the mountain,
Where I find healing from earthly trials…

I find the rock with sunlight shining upon it;
And the stream which gently twists;
And the woods that keep me company.

I have to wait a long time, until I can grow out of the rock,
And until the stream runs in and through me,
And until I can no longer distinguish myself from one of those trees around me.

And then I know that nothing can touch me,
or make me want to run away.
My support is in the mountain…
which is a part of me.

Meditation: ‘Keeping Quiet’ by Pablo Neruda

Thanks Rory. We’re moving into a time of meditation now. I’m going to share a poem titled ‘Keeping Quiet’, by Pablo Neruda – this poem speaks of how the world might be transformed by stillness – and the poem will take us into 3 minutes of silence. The silence will end with a bell. Then we’ll hear some music for our continued meditation. So let’s 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, the words are an offering, you can use this time to meditate in your own way.

‘Keeping Quiet’ by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

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

Interlude: Adagio – Remo Giazotto Tommaso Albinoni (performed by Benjie del Rosario and George Ireland)

In-Person Reading: ‘Necessary Stillness’ by Christine Slocum

This short reflection by Unitarian Universalist lay person Christine Slocum opens with a few words from a poem by Mary Oliver: “Sometimes I need / only to stand /wherever I am / to be blessed.”

Christine Slocum continues: We can be many things. Friday afternoon? We were traffic. Car traffic. You usually find both of us on bicycles to commute, but work took us too far that day. My colleague lives on the way, so I offered to drive. At day’s end, we were departing downtown.

Theoretically, we were heading towards his home. In practice, we lingered on the same block, advancing one car length per light change. It felt like the street was doing an award-winning performance of a parking lot. I had tried to bypass the highways by cutting through downtown, but a street was closed and the traffic lights were out of sync. It took time.

There was not a single indication of frustration in my colleague’s body, words, or demeanour. I didn’t have to be elsewhere for a while. Conversation came easily. I do enjoy his companionship. At the same time, I felt guilty for how long it was taking.

Reflecting on the experience, I realized that I wasn’t impatient for impatience’s sake. It was more that I feel almost a moral obligation towards advancement. It’s all progress, improvement, efficiency, the next thing. It’s capitalism, it’s white supremacy, it’s a deeply and viscerally internalized cultural ethic towards forward momentum. It permeates my entire perspective. My discomfort was the dissonance of failing to meet that expectation. There I am, present in necessary stillness, and my body tingles with a version of the same anxiety I feel when I sense my career is stagnating, or I’m failing to become better in all the ways our society suggests we should. Miles per hour or milestones per lifetime: it all feels the same.

When I could be present in the moment, sitting in the car, relaxing my sense of obligation towards speed? That let me recognize the true experience: good company and conversation. Connection makes life rich. This mindset towards “progress” sets me up to miss it.

What other circumstances am I failing to recognize when I don’t embrace the necessary stillness? Where else am I failing to see that the need to exist in the moment is a required part of whatever journey I’m taking? When else am I failing to understand that maybe life doesn’t have to be ever-upward in order to be well-lived?

She concludes with a few words of prayer: May patience teach us presence; may presence show us all of the blessings of the moment and keep our attention on what truly matters.

VIDEO Pre-Recorded Sermon: ‘Be Still’ by Rev. Dr. Rory Castle-Jones

“Be still, and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10
“Stopiwch, mae’n bryd i chi ddeall mai Duw ydw i” – Salm 46:10

How do you feel about being still? How did you feel about being still and silent during our prayers today?

Are you someone who likes sitting still and relaxing? Or does stillness and silence make you feel a bit uncomfortable? Some of us love stillness, others struggle. And I’m one of the strugglers. I’m a fidgeter! Sometimes I struggle with the whole concept of “relaxing” – at least if that means sitting and being still. I like to be busy, active and “doing” – not just “being.” And so, I find the words from the 46th Psalm quite challenging: “Be still, and know that I am God” I wonder if any of you feel the same…

In his 2019 book ‘Stillness is Key’, Ryan Holiday writes that stillness is: “To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear what needs to be heard. To possess quietude — exterior and interior.”

The world’s various religious and philosophical traditions tend to emphasise the importance of stillness as a spiritual practice for our wellbeing, our souls. In Judaism, we find not only the 46th Psalm’s call to stillness, but many other similar messages. In Isaiah, for example, we hear: “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” And the Christian tradition inherited this. We might think of Jesus’ many retreats to pray and meditate in stillness – or of his famous command to the stormy seas on his fishing boat: “Peace, be still”.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu advised that: “silence is a great source of wisdom”, while the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “There’s a radio playing in our head, Radio NST – Non-Stop Thinking. Our mind is filled with noise, and that’s why we can’t hear the call of life, the call of love. Our heart is calling us, but we don’t hear. We don’t have the time to listen to our heart.” Wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh.

As I said, I’m someone who has struggled with stillness – and silence! But I’m slowly learning to love it… at least in small doses. For the past few years, I’ve gone on an annual retreat to St Beuno’s Spirituality Centre in north Wales. There I’ve learned about different ways of prayer and meditation, including Ignatian Spirituality and centering prayer, which we had a taster of earlier, and which I now try to do every day. The more time I spend in stillness and silence, the more I have found myself to be less anxious, less wound-up, and feeling less of the need to be busy, busy, busy.

Another spiritual practice for me is to spend time on the mountain near where I live, walking my dogs, Edna and Alma.
I try to stop at some point on my walk, even if only for a couple of minutes, to be still. The mountain is called Gellionnen – meaning ‘Ash Grove’ – and it is also home to the chapel where I work, of the same name.

Often on my walks, I think of those words by Eirion Phillips which we heard earlier, written about the mountain where he grew up and where he later ministered. “Mae fy nghymorth yn y Mynydd” – “my support is in the mountain,” Eirion was minister of both Kensington Unitarian Church and my own chapel, Gellionnen, during his long service as a Unitarian minister.

I wouldn’t say that I now find it easy to be still, or silent. My mind still wanders off, I find it hard to focus, and often impossible to sit still… But the more I practice, the easier and more rewarding it becomes. The times in my day when I’m still are the times I feel closest to God, most at peace, most relaxed and fulfilled. In the 46th psalm, God calls on us to be still in the context of a world filled with noise and conflict and war. Whether we are experiencing a period of happiness, calm and fulfilment in our lives at the moment, Or a time of chaos, confusion and sorrow, God invites us to be still.

This week, I invite us all to pay attention to the moments of stillness in our lives – or the lack of them. To notice when we are still and how that feels. To consider whether we perhaps need more stillness in our lives, To know God, as the 46th psalm says?
To hear our heart, as Thich Nhat Hanh says? To find the support we need, as Eirion Phillips did – and as I do – up on the mountain? We bring our address today to a close by returning to the 46th Psalm:

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Be still, and know that I am God. AMEN.

Hymn (on sheet): ‘A Dream of Widening Love’

Time for our last hymn, it’s on your hymn sheet, ‘A Dream of Widening Love’.

We rest awhile in quietness,
The world not to forget,
But rather shape the silence
And words and thoughts we’ve met
To nobler ways of living,
To hope-filled truth, above
Our narrow selves, to seek one
Great dream of widening love.

We share a world where sorrow
And poverty and greed
Live side by side with privilege
Of wealth beyond true need;
Yet though we cannot alter
All ways of humankind,
We ask a strength within us
To right the wrongs we find.

We know that strength is weakened
By narrow truths and fears,
That still we claim true knowledge,
Deny the changing years:
Yet here, within the silence,
We question what we know,
That through more honest persons
All humankind may grow.

To find Eternal Meaning
Deep in each passing hour,
To seek beyond the confines
Of our small powers, one Power.
Strength deep within our being,
Arise as hope and will:
Come, silent living Spirit,
With peace our spirits fill.


Thanks to Rory for offering our sermon this morning. Thanks to Ramona for tech-hosting. Thanks to Shari for co-hosting and welcoming everyone online. Thanks to Benjie and George for lovely music this morning. Thanks to our readers. Thanks to Patricia for greeting and Pat and John for making coffee today. For those of you who are here in-person – please do stay for a cuppa after the service– that’ll be served in the hall next door. If you’re joining on Zoom please do hang on after for a chat with Shari.

If you’re here in-person I encourage you to stay on for the Many Voices singing group with Gaynor and Tati. It’s primarily an LGBTQ+ group but all friendly allies are absolutely welcome and congregation members can go free of charge.

We also have our regular online ‘Heart & Soul’ Contemplative Spiritual Gathering, tonight and Friday at 7pm, this week’s theme is ‘Consideration’. We gather for sharing and prayer and it is a great way to get to know others on a deeper level. Email me to book your place for that.

This week we think we have the in-person community singing on Wednesday night – that’s still TBC – so if you’re planning to come please email Jane and she’ll keep you posted.

And Sonya will be here as usual for her Nia dance classes at lunchtime on Friday.

Next Sunday is a special occasion – we’re going to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of this congregation – Jane and Sarah will be co-leading a special service and there’ll be a congregational bring-and-share lunch after. Look out for Liz with a sign-up sheet so you can let her know what food you’re planning to bring for that.

And if you want to join us for this month’s ‘Better World Book Club’ – that’s meeting on Zoom at 7.30pm on Sunday 28th April – we’re exploring ‘What’s in a Name?’ by Sheela Banerjee. Please do pick up a flyer if you’re here in-person as we’ve lined up all our books until August.

And a reminder: We’ve sent out an email to all members this week asking you to re-affirm your membership, we do this once a year normally, in the run-up to the AGM. Please do fill in the Google Form without us having to nag you about it! Thanks. If you’re someone who’s been coming to church for a while and you’re interested in becoming a member please do have a chat with Jane, or me, or a committee member. It’s not about money, there’s no requirement to donate, it’s about pledging your support and sense of belonging, and it’s good for morale for those of us who are keeping the show on the road if you feel able to say ‘yes, I am a member of this congregation, this is something I am proud to be part of.’

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 Laura Dobson

May we leave our time together
with spirits uplifted
and hearts enlivened,
renewed in our quest for peace and justice,
ready to face whatever comes our way
with trust in the steadfast love of the Eternal. Amen.

Closing Music: Molto Moderato – Carl Baermann (performed by Benjie del Rosario and George Ireland)

Jeannene Powell and Rev. Dr. Rory Castle-Jones

7th April 2024