Unitarian Sunday Reflections

(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)

05 March 2023



Lincoln Service

11 am

Musician: Jennifer Young

Worship Leader: John Carter


Hull Service

4 pm

Musician: Andrew Palfreman

Worship Leader: John Carter




“Wandering the edges of the Desert”

Reflections on Lenten Practices

Via Negativa



HULL PRELUDE: German songs




“There is no way to peace;

Peace is the way.

There is no way to enlightenment;

Enlightenment is the way.

There is no way to liberation;

Liberation is the way.”

~  Thicht  Nhat Hanh



Welcome to each and to all:

seekers, journeyers, questing, and content.

May our time of reflection and worship,

fill our desire for wholeness and belonging.

In this time together we are made worthy…..



by John Carter

We light our chalice to open ourselves to a Lenten spiritual journey

         to release that which needs to be released.

         to incorporate that which we now need for growth.

         to transform our lives into avenues of health and          hospitality.


We light to become co-creators of a life and of a world

         of justice, love and peace.




Once again we gather, and we take time to reflect on our lives and living….


  • For what am I the most grateful?
  • For what am I the least grateful?
  • In this past week, when did I feel connected, a sense of deep belonging, to another, to myself, to nature, to the transcendent, life, God?


May our reflections continue in this time together, as we join to reflect on the deep things of the divine, and so we pray…


“May the spirit of life, guide us today” AMEN



(Lincoln) SYF 126 “Open the door, step right inside” words by Joyce Poley

(Hull) SYF 4 “All that its abundant living” words by Andrew McKean Hill




“The Four Paths of Creation Spirituality”

by Matthew Fox, from Occupy Spirituality, North Atlantic Books, 2013.


The Four Paths are conceptual, but they’re thoroughly grounded in experience, and they return to experience. The backbone of the Creation Spirituality tradition is its naming of the spiritual journey in the Four Paths.



The Four Paths address the question, where will God — where will the experience of the divine — be found in our life? Creation Spirituality responds: the divine will be found in these places:


          In the Via Positiva: in the awe, wonder, and mystery of nature and of all                          beings, each of whom is a “word of God.”


          In the Via Negativa: in darkness and nothingness, in the silence and emptying,           in the letting go and letting be, and in the pain and suffering that constitute an             equally real part of our spiritual journey.


          In the Via Creativa: in our generativity, we co-create with God; in our                                   imaginative output, we trust our images enough to birth them and ride them                         into existence.


          In the Via Transformativa: in the relief of suffering, in the combatting of                        injustice, in the struggle for homeostasis, for balance in society and history, and            in the celebration that happens when persons struggling for justice and trying               to live in mutuality come together to praise and give thanks for the gift of being and being together.


These Four Paths give us an integrated conceptual framework that can help us create a well-integrated spiritual life. They validate the naming of archetypal religious icons that are still useful to us, whether we’re speaking in Christian language about the cross or about the resurrection, or about the mystical experience that creation is, or about compassion. They help to explain that our spiritual practice are just one experience of the spiritual journey, and as valid and important as this is, it is only one part of the journey.


The Spiritual Life

by Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily


          “The ancients tell a story of the spiritual life….


‘A young monastic came upon an elder one day sitting among a group of praying, working, meditating people.


‘I have the capacity to walk on water,’ the young disciple said.’ ‘So, let’s you and I go onto that small lake over there and sit down and carry on a spiritual discussion.’


But the Teacher answered, ‘If what you are trying to do is to get away from all of these people, why do you not come with me and fly into the air and drift along in the quiet, open sky and talk there.’


And the young seeker replied, ‘I can’t do that because the power you mention is not one that I possess.’


The Teacher explained, ‘Just so. Your power of remaining still on top of the water is one that is possessed by fish. My capacity of floating through the air can be done by any fly. These abilities have nothing to do with real truth and, in fact, may simply become the basis of arrogance and competition, not spirituality.


If we’re going to talk about spiritual things, we should really be talking here.”



(BOTH) SYF 27 “Dark of winter, soft and still”



1st Kings 19: 1-3,

from The Inclusive Bible


1 Now, Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah did, and how he killed all the prophets with the sword.

2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them!”

3 Full of fear, Elijah fled for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his attendant there,

4 while he himself into the desert…


8 he traveled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of YHWH came to him: “What are you do ing here, Elijah?”

10 Elijah replied, “I have been very zealous for YHWH God Omnipotent. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death by the sword. I am the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me, too.”

11 God said,

           “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWH, for YHWH is              about to pass by.”


          Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the                          rocks by YHWH’s power—but YHWH was not in the whirlwind.


          After the wind there was an earthquake—but YHWH was notin the                                         earthquake.


12      After the earthquake came a fire—but YHWH was not in the fire.


          And after the fire came a gentle whisper.*


13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.


Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”



The Mirage

by Anthony De Mello, Wellsprings


I walk into a desert where the sand and sky

stretch out into infinity

and I am all alone.


Solitude is an act of love, a kindness to myself.

Nothing here distracts me from myself,

so I give my time to thinking of

and speaking to myself

in a positive, friendly kind of way.


Solitude brings perspective:


There were people on the earth

three thousand years ago

whose problems were as big as mine

 — or even bigger.

I get into those times in fantasy and see them.


Where are those people now?

I search for what remains of them.


I come to earth three thousand years from now.

The old familiar places

 are invaded by the desert of the jungle

or by a people whose language, food, and living habits

are completely foreign to me.

The very names of my hometown and my country

have been changed!

I stand on the spot I am on now

 —if I can find it —

and look back on my problems

of three thousand years ago!


Solitude gives distance.

Distance brings serenity

with which to see what lies in store for me today

before I leave the desert.




from the book Life Tides

by Elizabeth Tarbox, 1944-1999, UUA Minister


The sun rose over Monument Valley this morning. lt was quiet, a quiet you could feel inside, broken occasionally by the greeting of an unknown bird or animal. The red desert dawn hit the rocks and set them alight, tall sentinel rocks pointing to the red and orange sky and to an eternity of waiting. 


I was in Monument Valley at sunrise once. It was June 1972. The sun impacted the sky and there were three of us there, watching, touched for one holy moment by the immensity of that sunrise, struck to silence by the presence of the sacred. We are so frail,- we share a few moves, a few breaths, our hearts beat to the rhythm of the universe for a moment or two, and we are gone. But the sun rises over Monument Valley each day as it has done for ages before I lived, as it has done all these thousands of mornings since the day l was there, as it will long, long after my footprints are gone from the earth. We live for a time only, but during that time we can, if we choose, find places like Monument Valley at sunrise and stand there and pause in our activity and find an infinite peace, a peace not of our making, a peace which truly does defy our understanding. It is there for us; we need only pause and wait for it to come. 



(Lincoln) SYF 201 “What shall we say to them” words by Peter Sampson

(Hull) SYF 209 “When sudden terror tears apart”





Spirituality formed in a vacuum”

(Examination of the Via Negativa)



During my university years, one of the literature classes that I took was the basic study of the different literary genres. One project we were assigned was to create a poem, but to do it in such a way that illustrated it’s meaning or emotional context in the way that it was laid out.


So I wrote of my childhood home being in the wheat fields of western Kansas..


And each line I wrote had each letter in a flowing up and down wave pattern… so that in the end, the poem looked like the wind on a field of grass or wheat. I don’t remember the words that I wrote, but its style I expressed the reality of the area of the great plains where I grew up. Sometimes this area was called the great North American desert, due to the fact that the rain fall is more like the desert, than it is of lush landscapes of Europe or even the eastern coast of North America.


The sparse landscape of the desert regions, teach a person a way of seeing and experiencing beauty.


The Hebrew bible, and also the christian texts of the Bible are products of desert life. Beauty is defined in the minutia of life, the power of the spirit is described by flood waters, values are seen in the language of ever flowing waters. The spirit of life is both gifting and dangerous, God is both undefined and uncontrollable. Images of power don’t always speak for the power of this God. Elijah learned that the hard way, after demonstrating in fire and water the power of God over Baal, he gets threatened and flees for his life and runs for 40 days and nights, till he hides out in a cave, and waits for God to show up….. and we have great wind, but not God, great fire, still not God, and then deep quaking of the earth, yep and no God….. but when all was still, both Elijah and the cave and the world, in the silence God asks “why are you here?”


To me this demonstrates the power of the spiritual practice known as the via negativa, that is the way of subtraction, a spirituality of minimalism, negation, and simplicity.


Another way of observing this dynamic is through the liberation theology of margins. Or edges. That is we see God in the people and life of the margins, that is in those who do not have the power of wealth, or military might, or political power, or in today’s parlance of celebrity and influencer abilities. This is the field and the people in which the divine is at play. In the biblical narratives this is often identified in the language of widowed and orphan, but it is also known as the stranger. Jesus even moved it to cover those we call enemy, be they personal or national. Other examples include those who are living with disease, such as leprosy, or that fun one which bugs Unitarians known as demonic possession. All of these things represent people who are on the edge of society, living with a designation of worthless by the status quo.


This dynamic of marginality was witnessed in other ways and in the development of some spiritual practices. The early Christian monastics went to live on the edge of society, others out into the deserts, to be monks and hermits. In Ireland, monks brave rough waters of the north Atlantic to go to the Skellig Islands to form communities, living a minimal life eking out a subsistence lifestyle.


It was known to be a desert experience, or life, or calling. Expereiences that led to the creation of many classics of mystical, or spiritual, writings and thought.


Lenten practices is one of the best known example of the use of via negativa.

Especially the practice that involves fasting or giving up something for the 40 days. This was for opening up our lives to the spiritual life, or we could say becoming self aware, or more centred, attuned, open, awake.


We see this pattern throughout mystical history and writings, one Christian mystic was known to only take the eucharist for her physical nourishment and yes she had many respected visions. Many students of the spiritual life see the deprivation of the fast as a way to unlock our spiritual connections. The desert, the wilderness, the vacuum of space, can illustrate this spiritual reality of negation and of limit as ways to open our minds, hearts, bodies, and souls to the transcendent, or we could use that metaphor, God.


Still we need to remember and to recognise that the way of fasting, or any form of extreme deprivation, is not the only way to access this experience. We can also sit in silence, to limit the words and images that daily flood into our hearts and minds. That we can allow stillness to touch and to open us the gifts of life.


Spiritual practices point us to a deeper understanding that We are more than material beings, that life is more a simplistic bending to our basic urges. This spiritual exploration is about connecting and being connected. Belonging. We call it community, we also call it interdependence of life.


What ever spiritual, meditative, or reflective actions we take, it should always move us in this direction: that is our life becomes more relational, justice centred, peace making, and compassionate to all life.


The via negativa is but one of the overall disciplines for our spiritual growth and development that we can access. There are three others that we will explore over this next month. Within, to repeat what has been said, this discipline there are two familiar practices that we can use here and now: fasting, or giving something up for a period of time; and to use silence in our prayer and meditative life.


May we continue to seek ways to explore the spiritual life, and the connections we find within the desert, and in the way or life set on the margins.


MUSICAL INTERLUDE: Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. Andrew Lloyd Webber



Wandering Around An Oasis

Praying in the Way of the Desert



Great Spirit


Mover of the cosmos,

Inhaler of life,

Exhaler of beauty,


Divine Breath…


I come to this time,

          a person of northern European extraction,

          a person versed in the ways of several Desert Peoples,

                     but not one of these regal peoples.

          yet I am truly moved by

                     their spirit,

                               their teachers,

                                         their prophets,

                                                   their way of Prayer.


And I can only pray as one moved by what I hear…

          I cannot explain the why and how’s of these people’s prayers…

                     I can only respond in my limited understandings

                               hoping that I give honour to the beauty of their way.

                                                   that I give honest reflection of their wisdom.


I am limited,

          I am open,

                     I am searching,

                               I am moved by beauty.


The desert speaks much of beauty.

          I saw it in the ways that the wind,

                                         moves, shakes, and forms

                                                                        the sands of the deserts,

                                                                        the grasses of the plains,

                                                                        the leaves of the cottonwood,

                                                                        the breath of my body.


The waving wheat declares the divine breath.

          The golden, yellows, and brown shine with the sun.

                     The water rising where unexpected simmers with life.

In the bleakest moments I sense this divine beauty,

          and I praise you Great Spirit.


So may I continue to walk in beauty,

          filled, fulfilled, filling


I walk in beauty.


I walk in beauty,


I walk


In beauty


I walk.


May it always be so….




(Lincoln) SYF 10 “Be that guide whom love sustains” words by Carl G. Seaburg

(Hull) SYF 106 “Nothing distress you” words by Teresa of Avila



May we walk this week in the sense of the desert life,

Living edges, sustaining life,


Being the compassion needed in our world today.




HULL POSTLUDE: In Munchen Steht Ein Hofbrauhaus (accordion).

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