Rev John Carter Unitarian Minister at Hull & Lincoln chapels gives his reflections on the theme of
“across the barren plains to find a home”
Unitarian Sunday Reflections
(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)
16 May 2021
Order of Reflection
“Needs of the One, Needs of the Many”
QUOTES FOR OPENING REFLECTION
“In the solitude of each, which none can lose and none by share,
as also in the fellowship that binds us thus together,
O Holy Spirit,
make Thy dwelling with us.”
~ A Powell Davies
We light our chalice, this candle, as a sign of our connectedness, of our journey on this spiritual quest….
We take a moment to reflect on our life and living of this week…
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.
May the Great Spirit of the Journey walk with us today.
GATHERING HYMNAL REFLECTION
“Be ours a religion”
words by Theodore Parker, Sing Your Faith no.8
Be ours a religion
which like sun-shine goes everywhere
its temple all space,
its shrine the good heart,
its creed all truth,
its ritual works of love.
Religion: Context, form, and continuity
by David Usher, Life Spirit, Lindsey Press, 2015
One thing that organised religion does is provide context and form. It gives shape and direction to the individual’s personal spiritual journey. Very few of us would be able to invent our own religious beliefs or practices if left solely to our own devices. Organised religion provides a community of identity which reaches back to the traditions of past generations and forwards to the future. That continuity is essential, even if it is in constant evolution and change. Indeed, there is always evolution and change, even in those religions that try to adhere most tenaciously to the tradition of the past. A religion might proclaim a truth as eternal, but its interpretation of the eternal truth is always subject to the passing influences of the time.
Religion is not only about a community of the past, it also creates a community of today. The very word comes from the Latin word religio, meaning a bond. That has a double meaning. Religion binds people to each other, bringing them into community. And it binds the individual person into a sense of their own wholeness.
The quest for an ethical basis to life
by David Usher, Twelve Steps to Spiritual Health, Lindsey Press, 2013
Most of us have a sense of right and wrong. We want to live with integrity and authenticity. We want an ethical code. And we want it not only for our own benefit: we want our life to touch that of others. Some people distort personal spirituality into an exclusive focus on themselves. They think that it is all about them. That the only thing which matters is that they get themselves to some imagined paradise, and it does not matter what happens to others. I think there are very few absolutes in spirituality, but here is one: if your spirituality is only about you and the state of your soul, so that you have no regard for the physical or spiritual well being of others, then your spirituality is a worthless corruption.
Authentic spirituality is about living in right relationship with others, all others, in ways which contribute to their good as much as it does to your own. Every great spiritual teacher has said the same, if in slightly different form.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Spirituality is the earth for connection with meaning and purpose, and connection with ethical living. It is a practice, and it also is a discipline. It requires work if it is to be healthy and flourish. For this to happen you need to practise your spirituality. You can choose what your practice will be, and having chosen it, you have to do it. That is what ever you chose to do, the important thing is that you do it.
Spirituality is not only about connection – with the universe, with meaning and purpose, and with ethical living – it is the repeated, intentional engagement with that which creates and facilitates that connection.
Religious Experience: Valley of Death
by Howard Thurman, from Deep River as recorded in Essential Writings , Orbis Press, 2006, p85,86.
“The religious experiences of the slave were rich and full because his avenues of emotional expression were definitely limited and circumscribed. His religious aspirations were expressed in many songs delineating varying aspects of his desires. The other worldly hope looms large, and this of course is not strange: the other-worldly hope is always available when groups of people find themselves completely frustrated in the present. When all hope for release in this world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order. The options are very few for those who are thus circumstanced. Their belief in God leads quite definitely to a position that fixes their hope on deliverance beyond the grave. What a plaintive cry are these words:
Don’t leave me, Lord
Don’t leave me behin’.
There is desolation, fear, loneliness, but hope, at once desperate and profound!”
It’s all you need!
People of the Way…
by Dave Tomlinson, How to be a bad Christian
“Christians were originally called ‘people of the way’ — people who followed the example of Jesus in making love a way of life.
Too often, the gauge used to judge the genuineness of a person’s faith is their beliefs: do they believe a, b, and c? Do they measure up to what is deemed orthodox faith? But Jesus had a different approach. He was less concerned with a person’s beliefs (theological word called Orthodoxy: right or correct belief or worship) than he was with their behaviour (theological word called Orthopraxis: right or correct actions or behaviours).
Jesus said, ‘This is how everyone will recognise that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.’ (Jn 13:35 The Message translation)
Love is what matters; the rest is window dressing.
We don’t need to be told this, do we?
We instinctively know that love is what counts; that all you need is love. It’s in the DNA of every religious tradition, every moral system. Every bad Christian/Jew/Buddhist/Muslim/Hindu/Humanist knows that love is the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
If Religio, the latin root for religion, means to bind. We face a problem, as we now often hear to bind, as to be in bondage, even enslaved to something of which we have no control over. Why I appreciate David Usher’s thoughts on Religion and on Spirituality is that he is highlighting the understanding of the non-conformist and dissenting Christian traditions, that is bond or to bind is not enslavement but connection and relationship. We become a part of a larger whole.
In theological speak, we are about a practical theology centred in relationship. It echos the rabbinical teachings summed up well by that radical rabbi called Jesus, “love G_D with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
It is about relationship and connection to the other. Be the other the divine (life, cosmos, G_D) or the created (human of all form, animals, all life).
In the following readings and hymnal reflections, I invite you to listen to the subtle interplay of this relational connection between the individual and the community.
“Where my free spirit onwards leads”
words by Alicia S. Carpenter
Where my free spirit onwards leads,
well, there shall be my way;
by my own light illumined
I’ve journeyed night and day;
my age a time-worn cloud I wear
at once I wore my youth;
I celebrate life’s mystery;
I celebrate death’s truth.
My family is not confined
to mother, mate and child;
but it includes all creatures
be they tame or be they wild;
my family upon this earth
includes all living things
on land, or in the ocean deep,
or borne aloft on wings.
The ever spinning universe,
well, there shall be my home;
I sing and spin within it
as through this life I roam;
eternity is hard to ken
and harder still is this:
a human life when truly seen
is briefer than a kiss.
The Place Where We Are Right
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
By Phillip Simmons, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect life
Member of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Phillip was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease at the age of 35, he died in 2002 from MND-related complications.
“I don’t know what awaits me after death:
reincarnation as a houseplant or, if I’ve really racked up the bad karma, as a plastic surgeon in San Diego.
Maybe the afterlife really is wings and harps and Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel, singing “in the Upper Room.”
Maybe it’s nothing, absolutely nothing.
I try not to make too much of those moments when I’ve had what Wordsworth called “intimations of immortality,” when I have sensed the presence of another order of existence flickering like orange flames at the edges of the one I now know.
Maybe these perceptions, and all religious feelings, are just delusional constructs that give the human species some evolutionary adaptive advantage by keeping us from annihilation one another even more efficiently than we do now.
But I do know that whatever communion with the Divine I may have when this life is done will surely be prepared for by my seeking always to dwell in the Divine as I find it here, in this life, in this very moment. In each unfinished and imperfect day I struggle to find myself at home in this body, however flawed and failing, in this breath, however laboured, in this speech, however halting.
Each day, I work to make my home among the people I find about me. I write these words to make a sort of house in which you and I may dwell together for a time. Only in such work, in building a house of peace in the present moment, a house of peace not only for ourselves but for all who may be in our presence or our hearts — only in such work can we be made whole.
We are here, in the unfinished house of the now, for the duration.
The joy is in the building.”
from Fingerprints of Fire….Footprints of Peace
by Noel Moules
“My fingerprint is a symbol of who I am, an icon of my identity. Fingerprints are common to every human being, yet unique to each individual. I rarely think of my fingertips and the marks they make, yet each time I touch something they leave their impression. Not only do they imprint the surface with microscopic contours as distinct as a personal signature, but also they leave behind molecular DNA that can trace every touch I make directly back to me.
Fingerprints remind me of the physical power of touch; whether an intimate expression of love, or a hind and compassionate gesture that reaches out to draw someone to a place of safety. Without physical touch, neither animals nor humans will thrive. A fist leaves no fingerprints, only bruises. Touching should always be life-giving.
Once I was at a conference for young activists, invited to speak about the way different faiths understand the concept of peace. The session went well, provoking animated discussion during our mealtime conversations. There was much talk about spiritual influences and choices. Around the table phrases such as ‘I am a Christian’ and ‘Are you a Buddhist?’ began to be used.
Across the table from me sat a young woman.
She thoughtfully listened to everything being said.
She took her time; I could see she was reflecting.
Then in a clear, gentle voice she asked:
‘I am Fran, who do I have to be anything else?’
This question, simple yet so profound, hit me like a thunderbolt, like a koan – that disturbing statement given by a Zen Buddhist master to aid enlightenment: this question lives with me to this day.
Her question is about identity; how do I understand it? Is it about me: who am I and how do I understand myself? What is my unique fingerprint?
The brilliance of Fran’s question is the way it reveals how culture and religion each tend to deal with personal identity by wrapping us in ‘garment’ designed and sewn together by other people for us to wear.
We take them without thinking and dress in them with gratitude, because we want to belong.
This almost always leads to a self-understanding that is conformist and creates attitudes that easily become doctrinaire, leaving personal individuality and true identity as secondary, and in extreme circumstances virtually erased.
Clothing is a very powerful symbol of identity; it is intriguing the way it both covers and reveals us at one and the same time. If we choose to use the metaphor of ‘garment’ when thinking about identity, we need to see ourselves as ‘bespoke people’, with an identity that is tailored to communicate who we really are and not one that is like a uniform or an ‘off-the-peg’ fashion item.
It is the statement, ‘I am Fran’ that cuts to the heart of the issue.
Authentic identity always begins with who and what we are deep within ourselves.
The Rabbi Jesus said ‘Out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
Maybe it is not so much who am I? as it is How do I respond?
Take a few moments and reflect:
What spoke to you in the readings?
What words, ideas, thoughts jumped out to you?
What did not work for you?
How does this speak of the sacred, the holy, that greater sense of life and connection for you?
How does this enhance your personal spiritual journey?
(Moment of Silence)
A)“It was the wind” A Navajo Chant
B)“We breathe thy life” Rev. A. Powell Davies
It was the wind that gave them life.
It is the wind that comes out of our mouths now
that gives us life.
When this ceases to blow we die.
In the skin at the tips of our fingers
we see the trail of the wind,
it shows us the wind blew
when our ancestors were created.
And thus we open our hearts to say this simple prayer…
“We breathe thy life, O God, as we breathe the air about us,
help us to breathe it more deeply.”
“When I am frightened”
words by Shelley Jackson Denham
When I am frightened, will you reassure me?
When I’m uncertain, will you hold my hand?
Will you be strong for me, sing to me quietly?
Will you share some of your stories with me?
If you will show me compassion, then I may learn to care as you do,
then I may learn to care.
When I am angry, will you still embrace me?
When I am thoughtless, will you understand?
Will you believe in me, stand by me willingly?
Will you share some of your questions with me?
If you will show me acceptance, then I may learn to give as you do,
then I may learn to give.
When I am troubled, will you listen to me?
When I am lonely, will you be my friend?
Will you be there for me, comfort me tenderly?
Will you share some of your feelings with me?
If you will show me commitment, then I may learn to love as you do,
then I may learn to love.
“The Beltane Blessing”
from the Carmina Gadelica
Bless o threefold true and bountiful…
Everything in my dwelling…
From hallow eve to Beltane eve…
Bless everything and everyone…
What time the sheep shall forsake the fold
What time the goats shall ascend the mount of mist
May the tending of the Triune follow them…
Listen and attend me
Morning and evening as is becoming in me,
In thine own presence,
O spirit of life.
Rev John Carter Unitarian Minister at Hull & Lincoln chapels gives his reflections on the theme of
“across the barren plains to find a home”
Rev John Carter Unitarian Minister at Hull & Lincoln chapels gives his reflections on the theme of Story – “Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the Universe together into one garment for us.”
Rev John Carter Unitarian Minister at Hull & Lincoln chapels gives his reflections on the theme of Peace – ““Everything is changing, nothing is our own.
Not seeing clearly, we perpetuate the disease of the world.
May we, living rightly, come to know Truth;
That, abiding in peace, we may bring peace to all beings.”