Unitarian Sunday Reflections

(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)

20 February 2022


Service Theme





“God is hiding in the world.

Our task is to let the divine emerge from our deeds.”

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel



words by John Carter


We light our chalice, this candle,

          as a sign of our connectedness, our community, and of our journey on this spiritual quest called life….



We take a moment to reflect on our life and living of this week… as we reflect…. explore and ask of yourself….

          What was good? Healthy?

          What was not good? Unhealthy?

          What moments, events, conversations, time alone

          that allowed me to connect to another, to life,

                               to that which may be called Divine.


As we end these reflections, as we move to worship, may we continue to reflect on the things that make life whole and how we may grow ourselves into them.

May the Great Spirit of the Journey walk with us today.




HFL 17 (HFL CD1-TK2)

“Song of Thanksgiving”

words by Edwin Theophil Buehrer


We sing now together our song of thanksgiving,

Rejoicing in goods which the ages have wrought,

For Life that enfolds us, and helps and heals and holds us,

And leads beyond the goals which our ancestors sought.


We sing of the freedoms which martyrs and heroes

Have won by their labour, their sorrow, their pain;

The oppressed befriending , our ampler hopes defending,

Their death becomes our triumph, their loss is our gain.


We sing of the prophets, the teachers, the dreamers,

designers, creators, and workers, and seers;

Our own lives expanding, our gratitude commanding,

Their deeds have made immortal their days and their years.


We sign of earth’s comradeship now in the making

In every far continent, region and land;

With folk of all races, all times and names and places,

We pledge ourselves in fellowship firmly to stand.




“Religion is a way of walking, not a way of talking.”

by Louis Jacobs, from the Preface of Safed Spirituality: Rules of Mystical Piety, the Beginning of Wisdom, Paulist Press


“Religion is a way of walking, not a way of talking.” This saying, attributed to Dean Inge, a pioneer in the study of mysticism for it’s relevance to the world of the twentieth century, provides an adequate summary of the particular thrust of the sixteenth-century Jewish mystics who come so vividly alive in this lucid presentation of their thought and practice. Activists as well as contemplatives, their profound mediations on God in the heavens resulted in a heroic attempt to walk humbly with God on earth.



by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,

from Essential Writings, Orbis Press, 2011


According to the Bible, the “inner” life of nature is closed to man (humanity). The Bible does not claim that things speak to man; it only claims that things speak to God. Inanimate objects are dead in relation to man; they are alive in relation to God. They sing to God. The mountain melt like wax, the waters tremble at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 77:17;97:5).


“Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” (Psa. 114:7).


Whose ear has heard the tree sing to God? Has our reason ever thought of calling upon the sun to praise the Lord? And yet, what the ear fails to perceive, what reason fails to conceive, the Bible makes clear to our souls. It is a higher truth, to be grasped by the spirit.


Modern man dwells upon the order and power of nature; the prophets dwell upon the grandeur and creation of nature. The former directs his attention to the manageable and intelligible aspect of the universe; the latter to the mystery and marvel.


What the prophets sense in nature is not a direct reflection of God but an allusion to Him. Nature is not a part of God but rather a fulfilment of His will.


Lift up your eyes on high and see who created these.


There is a higher form of seeing. We must learn how to lift up our eyes on high in order to see that the world is more a question than an answer. The world’s beauty and power are at naught compared to Him. The grandeur of nature is only the beginning.


Beyond the grandeur of God.



HFL 175

“Let Us Break Bread Together”

Negro Spiritual adapted by Trevor Howarth Jones


Let us break bread together every day,

Let us break bread together every day.

          If we break bread together,

          If we share all we have to share,

We will make a blessing come our way.


Let us all sing together every day,

Let us all sing together every day.

          If we all sing together,

          If we share all we have to share,

We will make a blessing come our way.


Let us all pray together every day,

Let us all pray together every day.

          If we all pray together,

          If we share all we have to share,

We will make a blessing come our way.


Let us all work together every day,

Let us all work together every day.

          If we all work together,

          If we share all we have to share,

We will make a blessing come our way.



Nothing is holy except that we sanctify it


by Michael Benedikt

from God Is the Good We Do: Theology of Theopraxy, Bottino Books.


Nothing is holy except that we sanctify it;

          and thus everything is potentially holy     

                     except cruelty, disease, and untimely death.


God stills our rage: “He maketh us to lie in green pastures.”

God teaches by example and by encouragement.     

God teaches by trust.     

God speaks to us

          in that “still, small voice” that does not come from anything except life

                     working itself out,                    

                     blind at first,               

                               but then giving itself eyes,                    

                                         and then eyes to see those eyes.



“Acquaintance With the Depths”

by Tom Owen-Towle, from Freethinking Mystics With Hands, Skinner House.


  1. Eugene Pickett, UUA President 1979, said:


“The old watchwords of liberalism — freedom, reason and tolerance — worthy though they be, are simply not catching the imagination of the contemporary world. They describe a process for approaching the religious depths, but they testify to no intimate acquaintance with the depths themselves. If we are ever to speak to a new age, we must supplement our seeking with some profound religious findings.”


The leading principles of Unitarian Universalism— freedom, reason, and tolerance— are instrumental values rather than terminal ones. They are effective vehicles fro engaging life’s depths and enabling us to creat transformative communities of hope and love. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his Divinity School Address of 1838, articulated the same vision when he said to unseasoned ministers: “Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint people at first hand with Deity!”


The key word for both Emerson and O. Eugene Pickett is acquaintance. It means more than exposure, is different from mastery. Acquaintance resembles what Jewish philosopher Martin Buber called meeting. He once remarked: “I said we believe; I mean, of course, we meet!” Buber maintained that the religious struggle requires soulful encounter, what the Psalmist referred to as “deep calling unto deep.”


Freethinkers are often caricatured as drowning in lofty abstractions, while mystics are depicted as lost in metaphysical mist. As freethinking mystics at our finest, Unitarians navigate the depths rather than the shallows of religion firsthand, be it through the senses, intuition, or reason. We employ our eyes and ears, composing principles truthful to our core commitments and to our caring of others.


Religion has been associated predominantly with height imagery. Its theology, its standards of morality, its architecture are all portrayed as remote and thrusting heavenward. But Unitarians and Universalists ardently disagree. We underscore the view expressed by Sophia Fahs…


“The religious way is the deep way… the way that dips into the heart of things…that sees what physical eyes alone fail to see, the intangibles at the heart of every phenomenon.”

Words from Today’s Children and Yesterday’s Heritage.


The Gospel of Luke offers us a story about the depths.


After a frustrating night of fruitless labour, Peter and his companions are cleaning their nets in preparation for going home. Suddenly, Jesus appears on the bank, just off shore, teaching the crowd. As they push in on him, Jesus gets into Peter’s boat and asks him to pull out a little from the shore. Then Jesus directs Peter to “put out into deep water and spread out your nets for a catch.” Peter initially resists Jesus’ request: “Master, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing.” Peter eventually relents “…but if you say so, I will spread out the nets” They then catch such a huge number of fish that their nets begin to tear. They call their companions to come help with a second boat, and the final catch fills both boats nearly to the sinking point.


Jesus’ invitation to drop our nets into the depths can be seen as an overture to a more profound exploration of our souls. We are sorely frightened to leave the surfaces of existence and to delve downward into consciousness and growth. Yet Unitarian religion is relentless in beckoning us to climb down from elevated perches, to vacate the comfortable surrounds of life’s surface, and to enter life’s depths where authentic suffering, joy, and meaning await us.




“For All That is Our Life”

words by Bruce Findlow


For all that is our life

We sing our thanks and praise:

For all life is a gift

Which we are called to use

To build the common good

And make our own days glad.


For needs which others serve,

For services we give,

For work and its rewards,

For hours of rest and love:

We come with praise and thanks

For all that is our life.


For sorrow we must bear,

For failures, pain and loss,

For each new thing we learn,

For fearful hours that pass:

We come with praise and thanks

For all that is our life.


For all that is our life

We sing our thanks and praise;

For all life is a gift

Which we are called to use

To build the common good

And make our own days glad.



How do you react to these words?




What do they mean to you?

In what ways do you find empowerment for or from each concept?




I could begin by asking a very annoying question.


Why are Unitarians so afraid of certain theological words? We go out of our way to avoid them, spin longer and oft time convoluted phrases to say the word or brief phrase. I know I get caught up in this pattern.


The not always good of this is the fear of offence. I may just offend someone if I use the God too much. So I go off on explanation pattern, or some other convoluted way of qualifying what I meant. Often I may say God, however you understand that metaphor…


What I am seeing as a trend is that we Unitarians as a faith or religious community, are now doing more disservice than helpful service. It seems we have made the sense of comfort as more important than reasonable challenge to our individual ways of thinking and being.


Let us be honest with ourselves.


We all have experience in some form or fashion, the malpractice of religion, some worse than others, and each of us for our own mental and spiritual health must find a way to understand it and to deal with it. We also know that many of the ways we deal with trauma often lead to more self harm than help. And a side note here that often the way our society reacts to these behaviours is to in fact make them worse. Look at the ways we deal with addictions in society. The majority of it has a punitive edge. We find others to blame, and do so…


It develops into a vicious circle.


And we are not helped by it.


We need to converse with each other and we need ways of challenging our preconceptions….


Last September when I was at the Ministers conference and retreat, I had a time I received the medal of office. Which I would have received a year and half earlier when I stepped into the role of President of the Minister Fellowship.  That was during the early months of the first lock down. So none of us knew where or what we would be or even if we would meet in person again.


This past September was our first in person gathering since those cloudy stormy early days of Covid…. And the previous president had it with him, and I asked the gathering how we should do this, as you can guess I did so in my jokey self effacing way, because well God forbid that I simply accept attention in such fashion. Several month later a colleague of mine called me out on it. She was right, in my self effacing protective mode I made what was a high honour into a joke, and thus devalued the office, and in doing so that action became an overall devaluation of the position of ministers and ministry.


In our conversation around what happened, she came to realise that the jokeiness of the moment had a place. She heard what I and my predecessor, who was also in the conversation, were saying. And we also agreed with her assessment. We didn’t change what happen, we devalue the other’s experience of the situation. We simply came to an understanding and I suspect that we also came away from that moment with greater clarity.


As stated before each of us has experience the malpractice of religion in our own ways. I suspect that all of us equally have a sense of what religion can give us, and that is why we are here. In a way to leap into it with the hope that we will find answers and closure.


That is what today’s readings did to me this week.


They invited me to examine my history, and look beyond the hurt of it, and to reclaim some meaning and passion.


I may have remarked to you that I don’t think I would have gotten on well with Joseph Priestly. When I was training for the ministry, I read some of his works, and must say, I found him to be whiney, arrogant, unforgiving, and a religious pit-bull.


Many of the negatives I had with fundamentalist preachers of my childhood.


One thing I could fault him on, was his passion, his passion for a faithful reasoned theology, his passion for clarity in following Jesus, his passion for exploring what we experience as life in his day and age.


He had passion,


Passion that informed his ministry, both in religion and in scientific exploration.


Fundamentalist forms of religion have claimed words, theology, identity that we need to reclaim. Those words that trigger us, we need to take back and reform or find their root meaning for healthy religious discourse.


Words like Spirituality, not as other than religion, but driving force of true religious discourse.


Words like mission, witness and yes ministry.


Not in the form of institutionalisation, but in the form of practical work of the day to day membership.


Each of us have a mission, or a witness, or a ministry.


We find our calling in our passion.


When I was studying for my masters degree in the states, I took a course on the Heroes of the Black Religious Movements of the US. Our professor, who was also head chaplain for Bethany Hospital in Chicago, would challenge each of us every time we met.


One of the lasting challenges was that each person we were reading and studying had a passion…. What is your passion?


We all had to name our passion.


Keep your eye on your passion, it drives you, and it will be fuel for your god called ministry.


What is your passion?





Words by Rebecca Parker



for a moment

the typewriters will stop clicking,

the wheels stop rolling,

the computers desist from computing,

and a hush will fall over the city.

For in an instant, in the stillness,

the chiming of celestial spheres will be heard

as earth hangs poised

in the crystalline darkness, and then




Let there be a season

when holiness is heard, and

the splendour of living is revealed.

Stunned to stillness by beauty

we remember who we are and why we are here.

There are inexplicable mysteries.


We are not alone.

In the universe there moves a Wild One

whose gestures alter earth’s axis

toward love.

In the immense darkness

everything spins with joy.


The cosmos enfolds us.

We are caught in a web of stars,

cradled in a swaying embrace,

rocked by the holy night,

babes of the universe.


Let this be the time

we wake to life,

as spring wakes,

in the moment of winter solstice.





HFL 212

“The Golden City”

words by Felix Adler


Sing we of the Golden City

Pictured in the legends old:

Everlasting light shines o’er it,

Wondrous things of it are told.

Only righteous men and women

Dwell within its gleaming walls;

Wrong is banished from its borders,

Justice reigns within its halls.


We are builders of that City,

All our joys and all our groans

Help to rear its shining ramparts;

All our lives are building-stones.

For that City we must labour,

For its sake bear pain and grief;

In it find the end of living,

And the anchor of belief.


And the work that we have builded,

Oft with bleeding hands and tears,

Oft in error, oft in anguish,

Will not perish with our years —

It will last, and shine transfigured

In the final reign of right:

It will pass into the splendours

Of the City of the Light.



By Rev John Carter


Embracing all that life offers us,

Looking to each other

Seeing all our giftedness and beauty

Opening our arms to greet all that we meet…


We depart in peace, to live, to serve, to be that which our world needs.


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