Sunday 28 April 2019

To Live in Ever Widening Circles

At the recent Ministerial Fellowship pre-conference meetings we focused on what is often called “small group ministry”. We explored our experiences of leading what are also referred to as “Covenant” and or “Engagement” groups. It was good to hear and listen to other’s experiences. It was lovely to open up to colleagues and to listen to them open up to one other. We truly "engaged" with the subject.

I have been reflecting ever since on the groups I have been a part of in the congregations I have belonged to and I have served. As well as my ministerial support group and other groups I have been a part of and led in other Unitarian settings. I also thought about intentional groups of people I have been involved with in recent years and throughout my life. It seems that I belong and move in a variety of groups of people, small and large. I noticed that many overlap in interesting ways.

I think what I love the most about such groups, is that they allow those who are part of them to truly engage in fascinating ways. When they work really well, they operate in invitational and open ways. What I mean by this is that when people share who they are, they begin to invite the other to do the same. They show me that the most personal is often the most universal. They have also revealed, beautifully to me, what being open with others is really about.

I used to think that to be open, with another person, meant that you told them everything about yourself. I no longer see it this way. Openness seems to me to be more about inviting those you are engaging with to come as they are, exactly as they are, in this moment. Openness, it seems to me, is about opening and widening your circle to include ever more, to invite the other and in so doing they will do the same, thus creating ever widening circles. In so doing people begin to live by what Parker J Palmer has named “Soul Truth”

During the conference Rev Liz Birtles led a group based on the Quaker and educator Parker J Palmer inspired by his book “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life”, now as you have no doubt noticed I have a love of Parker J Palmer’s approach to life and spirituality. The following is an extract from “A Hidden Wholeness”. Here he describes a way to develop a circle of trust which enables those who find it difficult to speak to share their truth. He writes:

"In Western culture, we often seek truth through confrontation. But our headstrong ways of charging at truth scare the shy soul away. If soul truth is to be spoken and heard, it must be approached 'on the slant.' I do not mean we should be coy, speaking evasively about subjects that make us uncomfortable, which weakens us and our relationships. But soul truth is so powerful that we must allow ourselves to approach it, and it to approach us, indirectly. We must invite, not command, the soul to speak. We must allow, not force, ourselves to listen."

"We achieve intentionality in a circle of trust by focusing on an important topic. We achieve indirection by exploring that topic metaphorically, via a poem, a story, a piece of music, or a work of art that embodies it. I call these embodiments 'third things' because they represent neither the voice of the facilitator nor the voice of a participant. They have voices of their own, voices that tell the truth about a topic but, in the manner of metaphors, tell it on the slant. Mediated by a third thing, truth can emerge from, and return to, our awareness at whatever pace and depth we are able to handle — sometimes inwardly in silence, sometimes aloud in community — giving the shy soul the protective cover it needs."

"Rightly used, a third thing functions a bit like the old Rorschach inkblot test, evoking from us whatever the soul wants us to attend to. Mediated by a good metaphor, the soul is more likely than usual to have something to say. But the fact will count for nothing if we fail to recognize that the soul is speaking or fail to pay attention to what it says."

Here I feel that Palmer captures beautifully what I call spiritual intimacy, creating and holding that space that is open and invitational where new truths can emerge and the circles of invitation ever widens. Such circles can be transformative for the individual involved and can affect how they live in their every day lives. I have witnessed this powerfully with several people who have engaged in the grief group I have been “facilitating” these last two years. That said I have seen it in so many of the circles I move in as they have widened and deepened.

As I was reflecting on all of this a poem by Rilke began to sing in my heart and soul. It seems to speak so powerfully to me of what the purpose of living in an engaged way is all about, as we invite others into our lives we invite more of the true experience of living both in and out., as these circles widen and our experience of life both deepens and widens. I’m not sure we ever truly know more, but we will certainly experience more, which only leads to ever more questions and thus, to quote Rilke, we begin to truly live our way into some kind of answers. Here is Rilke’s poem

"I Live My Life In Widening Circles" by Rainer Maria Rilke

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Rilke’s poem so beautifully evokes the image of ever expanding spheres, much like ripples on a pond, those concentric cirlces. It brings to my heart the idea of moving from the centre of the circle and expand and stretch ourselves to include ever more of life. As we are expanded we expose ourselves to new experiences and people, this is both exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. As the journey continues fear evaporates even though the circles are never completed, certainly not the last one. That said one is compelled to give their whole life to the experience. This is the classic spiritual journey, as it is not about the destination, this is not the gift, the gift is the journey itself. The beauty is not in the outcome but the experience. The poem beautifully reminds me how wonderful it is to live in such a way, to ever widen the circles so as to include more people, more ideas, more experiences, rather than to live in contracting spaces that seek to cut out that which makes one feel uncomfortable, which just makes life smaller and less fulfilling.

Now sadly, as I look at the world right now, I do not see ever widening circles. In fact what I see more of is ever decreasing circles, people circling the wagons and trying to keep others out. The end result, is the disease of the age, ever more growing distrust and loneliness. As we decrease these circles to keep out those we see as somehow different, as other, distrust and violence grows. This is happening within community and across communities, within nations and between nations. We are closing in and keeping out, building walls, when what we ought to be doing is building bridges.

Well actually maybe we don’t need to build bridges perhaps what we need is to widen our circles and invite the other in. Edwin Markham captured this beautifully in the middle section “Outwitted” from his lovely poem “Epigrams”


He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

So what can we do? Well I believe we can do much. Where does it begin? Well I believe it begins in our own hearts and souls, in our own homes and in our own communities. We need to begin to expand our own circles. We need to begin to live more invitationally and openly, we need to invite the other into our circle. This is risky and scary I know but my goodness our world needs it. This to me is our ultimate religious role and task. In so doing we will not only allow others to be less afraid of us and who they are, but we will also liberate ourselves.

Now this is no easy task, of course it is not. That said I believe that it is one that is worth undertaking. I believe it is the challenge of our age. I believe that maybe it is the task and the challenge of the open faith tradition I have found a home within. I believe that it is our task to ever widen our circle so as include all, for there can be no limit to love. This begins by putting love at the core of the circle and to understand that if we see love as the circumference we will see there is no limit, for no one can be excluded from love. For if they are, it is not love.

For love is eternal and love is perfect and love knows no limits.

I will end this "blogspot" with some words by Wendell Berry

The Larger Circle, by Wendell Berry

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,
And the hands of those who come after us.
We enter the little circle of each other’s arms
And the larger circle of lovers,
Whose hands are joined in a dance
And the larger circle of all creatures
Passing in and out of life
Who move also in a dance
To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it
Except in fragments.

Sunday 21 April 2019

Questions about life, before, during and after: An Easter reflection

I had a rare opportunity a couple of Sunday’s back of being present at Dunham Road as people began to arrive. This was because we could not conduct worship at Urmston as the town was cut off due to the Manchester Marathon. As I stood at the entrance of the chapel I found myself chatting with Martin and Carolyn. Carolyn was sharing her thoughts on an interesting talk she had heard that week given by a Hindu woman discussing her traditions perspective and understanding of reincarnation. Martin and myself listened with interest and I remember saying something like "I’m not sure what I believe about such things." We made the usual, probably inappropriate, jokes of hoping we don’t come back as a slug or something similar. I then went and led worship, interestingly we were exploring the subject of “What you give your heart to.” A little later I was thinking about the conversation and remembered a similar one I had only a few weeks earlier with a woman called Elaine. Elaine is very important in Sue’s life. She is someone who guides her spiritually and has led a women’s circle that Sue has participated in these last 12 months. Sue had asked me if I minded having my astrological chart "done" by Elaine. I agreed to, although part of me felt a little unsure about it. I gave my birth details, the time, date and place and then went to meet Elaine for the results. I enjoyed both a wonderful and fascinating conversation with Elaine, during which she asked me if I believed in past lives. I said “I just don’t know. I am truly agnostic about past lives and even what happens to us after we die. I said I suspect that some aspect of us lives on but in what form I have no clue, I have to declare myself as truly agnostic about these things, as I have no knowledge. That said I am open minded, open hearted and my spirit is certainly open to the possibility, but that I prefer to think about one life at a time. That’s more than enough for me. Whatever happens to us when we die it cannot be any stranger than this life, which day by day seems to be way beyond my imaginings. It’s funny I do not feel agnostic about a relationship with a Power Greater than myself in this life, I call myself a “Universal Theist”, but what happened before and after this life I can offer very little I am afraid. Although day by day, as I live more spiritually alive I find myself believing ever more in the possibility.

We humans often ask the question, what happens to us when we die, but how many of us ask what happens before we are even born? That may well be a far more interesting question.

Having professed my agnosticism about the afterlife I am now going to contradict myself as I believe strongly that loves lives on in the lives of those we have touched, even after our physical lives end. I know this from personal experience. So perhaps there is some formed idea here. They are part of us in spirit in some way, sometimes I can feel that powerfully. As the song goes, “The ghosts are part of us.” Forrest Church put it so beautifully when he said: “The greatest of all truths is that love never dies, that every act of love that we perform in this life is carried on into another life and passed on into another life, so that centuries from now the love carries, and that is the work of religion. The opposite of love is not death. It is fear. Fear is what armors our hearts. If our hearts are armored, they’ll never be broken, and I have seen so many people get hurt in love and then try to protect themselves against it, and when they protect themselves against love, they protect themselves against the only thing that is worth living for.”

I would add to that that the purpose of religion is to bring that love to life and to share it with our world. This is the work of transformation. This to me is the true message of Easter.

There are many layers to the “Easter Mythos”, that if we allow it to can touch all of us. In order to be touched by the magic of Easter you do not have to believe in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, you can believe in Easter without having to accept that this actually happened. In fact perhaps it loses some of its power if we focus purely on this. What is clear to me is that Easter is about the Power of Love that grew from that empty tomb. Whatever we may think about bodily resurrection, something definitely lived on beyond the physical death of Jesus. While his body may no longer have remained in the empty tomb, some beautiful aspect of his life certainly remained. Love was born again, even after the body was killed.

I believe it is the same with every life and the love that life leave behinds, something beautiful always remain.

This brings to mind those beautiful words often shared at funerals by that famous author “Unknown”

“Something Beautiful Remains” – Unknown

The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle
warmth still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it echoes
on in sweet refrains.....
For every joy that passes,
something beautiful remains.

Every life leaves its mark. Every life impacts in some way. We should never think that we are insignificant, that we do not matter. We impact on everyone and everything around us. Everything that we do and everything that do not do matters. There are those who I have known and who have loved me, who have been gone many years, who are still impacting on my life. Of their lives, something beautiful remains.

Easter is a reminder to me that even after death something beautiful remains. It is an acknowledgement of life’s sacredness. It is a reaffirmation of life that not even death can end. Easter for me is about birth and re-birth, again and again and again…

But what about “Resurrection”? What can that mean? Well “Resurrection” for me is about bringing to life the love that was born again on Easter morning. I have come to believe that this is truly our religious task. I believe that this is what it means to bring to life the “Kingdom of Heaven” that is constantly spoken of in the Biblical accounts. What I have come to call the “Kin-dom” of Love”, for all are equal in such a Commonwealth. To live in such a way of being is to recognise the oneness of all life.

This actually brings me back to astrological thinking and Elaine’s charts. She suggested to me that I had lived many lives. and that that I was at a stage of real potential right now, if I was willing to take it. This got me thinking of Joseph Campbell and his views of mythos. He wrote of Easter: “It is very much the longing to be born anew the way nature is. All these elements fit together. Easter is calculated as the Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is evidence of a concern centuries before Christ to coordinate the lunar and solar calendars. What we have to recognize is that these celestial bodies represented to the ancients two different modes of eternal life, one engaged in the field of time, like throwing off death, as the moon it’s shadow, to be born again; the other, disengaged and eternal. The dating of Easter according to both lunar and solar calendars suggests that life, like the life that is reborn in the moon and eternal in the sun, finally is one.”

This got me thinking of Easter as a metaphor for bringing about this oneness of all life. That what Jesus was trying to teach humanity about  was oneness, about harmony. Isn’t this what the “Kin-dom of Love” is?

This brings to mind the following passage from the Gospel of Thomas, one of the many that was not included in the Bible:

Jesus said to them:

When you make the two one,
and when you make the inner as the outer
and the outer as the inner
and the above as the below,
and when you make the male and the female
into a single one
. . . then shall you enter [the Kingdom]

Now of course many believe that the Kingdom is the place that we go to when we die, if chosen. I do not believe that this is what Jesus was speaking of in the Gospels. Remember he said (in the Canonical Gospels) that the “kingdom is within you” or that it is “at hand” (here now). I believe that he was teaching that the key is to bring “The King-dom” alive within ourselves and to share that with our world, therefore building the beloved community of love. I have come to believe that this is the love that is born again as the stone was rolled away and seemingly found to be empty, because from that emptiness love was once again, born again.

From nothing comes everything; from Despair is born Hope.

We all have this day, we all have this time, what shall we do with it? The key I believe is to fully live it. To bring forth what is within us. To incarnate love in our lives is to become fully alive. The second century philosopher Irenaeus said “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” This to me is the word becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us, this is the divine love fully alive. This is truly bringing forth the kingdom that is within us. If you want to know the divine presence in life, then all you have to do is to find the courage to live fully alive and then to bless the world with your very presence and thus inspire others to do the same. And thus enjoy the kingdom of God, the kin-dom of love right now.

It’s time to bring the kin-dom of love to life. It is time to begin living this one wonderful life we have been given…

This is the Love that is born again on Easter morning. This is what grows from the emptiness of the tomb when the stone is rolled away…From nothing to everything…From Despair, Hope is born again…

Now I would like to end with these words of blessing by David Whyte.

“Easter Blessing”

The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may that hidden darkness be your gift to give,
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join all of your previous disappearances
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new now, and newly alive.

David Whyte: Easter Morning 2015
In Memoriam John O’Donohue

Sunday 14 April 2019

Finding the Courage to Journey in Love

Fear and division do seem to be abound. It is not just in this our land but other lands too. It bothers me greatly as it ought to and I know that it troubles most of the people I speak with from day to day. We as, a people, just seem to be becoming ever more anxious.

Now fear is common to most folk in one form or another and we respond to it in a variety of ways, the two most common being fight or flight. To turn away in fear is no less damaging than turn towards it in anger and hate. How we respond to one another and to life really matters, as I so often say everything matters, every thought, every feeling every word and every deed. How we are with each other matters a lot. No, we can’t change the whole world, but we can effect one another and inspire one another in ways of loving courage.

Yes, we are living in fearful and distrustful times. It matters how we respond to this fear and distrust. Do we turn away in denial? do we respond in anger and make things worse? Or do we live in faith and love and thus overcome the fear with courage, an act born of love.

I remember a while ago chatting with an old friend. We got talking about our early childhoods and how we were aware of fear being present even at four and five years old. He told me of his first day at school, that when his mum left him at the school gates, as he walked into the playground, a kind of panic took over him. In the noise and confusion of the children playing he reacted badly and in the midst of the maelstrom he bit another child. He told me that for many years, as he was growing up, this was his response to fear, to attack, to fight. As I listened I recalled a painful memory that my mum always shared about my childhood. It obviously upset her as she took me to the school gate at Birstall County Primary School. She watched me walk in and look at all the children running and playing and screaming, just having fun. Like my friend I was utterly overwhelmed by this, but my reaction to the maelstrom was the opposite to his. I just went and sat in the corner on my own, searching desperately for the courage to join in. Eventually I did, as I have always done, it just took me time to adjust to something new. Last summer I revisited my old school as I showed Sue the places where I grew up. It looked so small but the biggest difference was the cages built around the walls of the school and the security gates you had to pass through to enter. I'm not sure if the gates were to stop intruders from entering or to keep the children in. I remember thinking to myself what a sad sign of the times we are living in. The school is just a few hundred yards from the spot that the M.P. Jo Cox was murdered.

Fear is an ever growing presence in our times. It troubles me greatly and we all respond to it in different ways. Fight and flight operate in a variety of ways. I suspect that fear will always be a part of our human make up. We are meant to experience certain forms of it for it points out danger. The solution to fear is not to get rid of it, the key is to find the courage to over come it.

So how do we overcome the power of this debilitating fear? How do we find the courage to just to be all that we are born to be?

Well it takes just a little faith and a little love to create the courage to just be, to live the life that is in front of us. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Which of course it is, but it is far from easy. I believe in love and I believe in life and through living in love and remaining open to life, despite its difficulties and fear present I find the courage to truly be, to overcome the power of unnatural fear. Love will always overcome fear; love will always enable us to find the courage to truly be all that we can be.

Now a powerful example of finding the courage to face what is in front of you is Jesus, particularly the Holy week narrative whose beginning is marked today on Palm Sunday. A week that ends with Easter Sunday a day of re-birth, resurrection and new beginnings. But before this we see love, betrayal, pain, humiliation, fear, courage and faith. I remember trying to imagine this experience as I walked around the narrow streets of the old city of Jerusalem and as I myself entered the city through several of its gates; as I watched the pilgrims visiting the holy sites as the local people just getting on with their ordinary lives.

The Gospel accounts say that as he entered Jerusalem Jesus did so with the knowledge of what he was going to have to endure. He knew and accepted that his journey was going to be hard in which he would endure a great deal of suffering, but he accepted what was ahead of him; he accepted the reality of the situation. He did so but not without fear and doubt, both were present during this final week of Jesus’ life. In Gethsemane, just before he was betrayed he went off to pray alone, as he often did to commune with God (Mark 14.36). He threw himself to the ground, wept bitterly and prayed a simple prayer “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.” He was in turmoil and genuine fear, for he knew he must face what was ahead of him alone, but eventually he surrendered to what he must do. He found the courage in silence, in prayer.

Five days after the triumphant entry of Palm Sunday Jesus was crucified. He accepted that this was part of his journey, but not without fear and doubt. How could there not be fear and doubt? He had to face this agonising death alone, he had been rejected by everyone, even his closest companions. Moments before the end he did not cry out the comforting words of the 23rd Psalm “I shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil for thou are with me.” No, instead he quoted the much starker 22nd Psalm “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me? He did not quote the comforting words “My cup runneth over”, instead he cried out “I thirst”.

This though was not the end the real power came from those final words, born of love, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In those words lay the courage to be who he truly was; in those words he expressed his faith; in these words he expressed the power of love; the love of God and the love of neighbour as for self. In this moment he surrendered himself to his purpose and to his God as he uttered those immortal words “Father, I commend my life unto thy spirit.”

Now it may be difficult for we who live in 21st century Britain to identify with this. What can the Holy week narrative teach we who live in our time and place? Surely we will never endure such agony and surely we will never be abandoned by everyone to face our struggle alone?

Well let’s look a little more closely. Haven’t we all experienced paralysing fear from time to time and haven’t we all experienced that sense of utter abandonment as we have had to face our struggles alone, which in the end we all have to do from time to time. Yes of course we all have love and we have support, but sometimes we have to face the pain and struggle alone. No one else can give us the courage to be who we truly are, this only comes in facing up to life’s vicissitudes.

And where do we find that courage? Where do we find the courage to be, to live open and faithful lives, in spite of all the difficulties? Well no doubt we all understand that differently, but for me it always seems to begin in and through prayer. When I stop fighting life and reconnect through prayer I always find the courage to be. As I remember John Midgley once say in a sermon at a time when I was crippled with grief and resentment and was struggling to find the courage just to get out of bed and face life, that “The prayer for courage is the one prayer that is always answered.” I have seen the truth in this statement over and over again, although we still have to walk through the fear with the courage that is born again within our frail human being. As I have also heard it said “Prayer doesn’t change things, prayer changes people and people change things.

We will always know the emotion of fear, we will always feel it. We need it, it is a natural instinct. That said we need not be enslaved by it. We need not live in fear of fear itself. To be free all we need do is live with integrity, live in love and the courage to be will begin to be given birth once again within us and it will shine out of us. In doing so not only do we liberate ourselves, but we also become a light to others who in turn may be inspired to liberate themselves and others too.

We cannot escape the pain and suffering that accompanies the joy of living. If we want to know the love present in life we also have to accept the pain and suffering we all experience in life too, no one is exempt from this. As we all know only too well.

Just look at the last 12 months of your own lives. I’m certain you have all experienced success and failure this year and that you have also known the joy of new life and experiences too, I know that I have. I am certain too that all our lives have known the pain and suffering of illness and death, if not in ours, then in the lives of those we hold most dear. Life truly is awry.

When the difficulties come we all cry out in pain and ask why is this happening to me? We ask for our own cup of suffering to be removed, but eventually we accept reality, we surrender to reality and in our own ways cry out “Thy will, not mine, be done”. We get what we get in life, whether we deserve it or not, we certainly can’t avoid some things and if we try to all we really avoid is life’s beauty. No one can escape the suffering that is present in life. It’s not what we are here for. What we are here for, I have come to believe, is to give birth to the love within us, to find the courage to fulfil whatever it is we are here to fulfil , and to truly become all that we were born to be.

Easter is nearly here. Easter a day of re-birth, resurrection and new beginnings. So let’s give birth to the love that is within us and bring a little light to the dark places of our world. It sure needs it. Our world needs us to live by faith and hope and love…It needs us to find the courage to become all that we were born to be…And in so doing we automatically encourages others to do the same…Remember you are the light of the world and this world needs you to let your little light shine…

Thursday 11 April 2019

What do you give your heart to?

We live in an increasingly secular age. Less and less people attend places of worship. I am from this generation myself. For most of my life I had no interest in religion. I didn’t see the point. I only became interested due to several spiritual experiences that I wanted to make sense of. I have never found the answers just a life beyond imagining.

I am a religious person and I am also spiritual one too. It was not enough for me to experience my spirituality alone. I needed to find ways to express it and people to share it with. This is why I needed to community and this is why I eventually found a home with Unitarians, a community that does not demand that I conform to what it told me was the truth, more a space where I could live with my truth, my faith and doubt and to share that with others.

Thank you.

I recently conducted my first funeral with Sue. It was for the mother of a mutual friend. It was a deeply emotional occasion and I was moved observing family and friends coming together in mutual love and support. Like most families there was history and complication but I observed the members coming in devotional support for one another. The father of the grandchildren is Muslim and he and the whole of his family had come to offer respect to the loss in the family and of course to support the three children. This is something I see often in this work and it suggest to me how much we still need places where we can come together in love and share loving support. I believe that we humans need to offer devotion to one another and to life itself, whether we believe in God or not. We also need to worship. Well the truth is that we do in fact all worship, even if we are unaware of the fact that we are doing so. We all hold something of highest value in life, even if we are not fully aware of it.

For as it says In Matthews Gospel Chapter 6 v 21 “21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What we treasure the most, what we offer our heart to is what we worship.

Ralph Waldo Emerson the great 19th century Transcendentalist had something interesting to say about worship. He wrote:

“A person will worship something, have no doubt that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behoves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

These words by Emerson have been vibrating in the core of my being, the marrow of my bones for quite some time now. Like I have said, a few years ago I would have dismissed them out of hand. I would have simply rejected them and said I don’t worship, how can I worship I don’t believe in anything. That said things did dominate my imaginations and my thoughts and they did determine my character, by falling into non-being and nothingness, by rejecting life I had become nihilistic and this did dominate my thoughts.

But is this worship?

Well let’s take a look at what we mean by worship.

Worship has its roots in Anglo-Saxon English “worthscipe” or similar variations and meant a condition of being worthy, honoured or renowned . It only became connected to reverence paid to a supernatural being during the 13th century. Worship is not something that is only conducted in places such as here at certain times of the week. We worship all the time; we worship whatever it is that we hold in highest regard. As Mr Emerson says what we worship is what dominates our lives our actions. Therefore it is important that we are careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping me are becoming.

I remember a while ago coming across a “Meme” on facebook that read “If money is the root of all evil why does the church keep asking for it”. Now I know that this was a critique of organised religion, especially the wealth of churches etc and I’m certainly not one to argue against such a critique. That said the Meme is misquoting badly here and failing to understand what the passage from 1 Timothy ch 6 v 10 is saying. The actual quote is “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil...” It is not so much money that is the problem, but the love of it. By loving money you make it the thing of greatest value in your life. You place its value above anything and everything else and therefore by doing so you may begin to neglect everything else; everything else decreases in value. In Matthew ch 6 v 24 Jesus said something similar when he stated “no one can serve two masters. Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

I do not actually believe that these quotes are really about money at all by the, they are more about what we value the most in life, about what is of ultimate worth to us. We need to pay attention to the things that matter in our lives. We all worship, even if we do not believe that we do. We all give our love, our attention, to something and it is this that dominates our lives.

What we treasure, what we offer our heart to, what we worship really matters. For we all worship something or perhaps someone. By the way I suspect the worship of individual people is perhaps the most dangerous form of worship. I was recently in a rather shocking conversation with someone who suggested that as far as Demagogues go Donald Trump isn’t so bad. I found myself half agreeing when compared to some of the demagogues of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and then thought, hang on a minute there is no such thing as a good demagogue. A demagogue is a demagogue and the a personality cult of any kind is so often deadly dangerous.

You who come and worship together here, do not all believe alike. Something that I believe we all celebrate, certainly something our free religious tradition celebrates. Our tradition, I believe is not so much believing alike, but loving alike. It’s about celebrating difference and working towards acceptance. This is not easy. To me it requires deep faith.

To be a Unitarian is both a blessing and a curse. To be a Unitarian religiously is not easy. To believe in and follow the Unitarian religious ethos is not the easier softer option. Far from it!

As Burdette Backus said "We sometimes hear it said by some of our own members that you can believe whatever you please. Actually we are confronted with a paradox; we are not free to believe what we please, we are free to believe what we must."

Yes we do believe that everyone has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves and that each individual’s life experience and their reflections upon these experiences must form their own understanding of their own truth. Our communities accept people as they are warts and all and beauty spots too. That said to truly call yourself a Unitarian is not just to believe whatever you like. We as individuals must stand by what we believe. Reason and rationality are as much cornerstones of our tradition as are freedom and tolerance.

It is not easy being a Unitarian, but then who ever claimed that life was meant to be that way. That said it can be incredibly rewarding because to me it's the only way I've found that can reveal what I would describe as acceptable truth and perhaps most importantly give my heart to that that which I believe, to devote my life to it, to worship.

So what is it that you give your heart to? What do you worship? Where is your treasure to be found? For what you give your heart to will shape your life? Something to ponder perhaps.

What we worship matters, as Emerson said “A person will worship something have no doubt about that...that which dominates our imaginations and thoughts will determine our lives and character...for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

What we worship, what we love, what we give our heart to dominates who are and we how we are. Therefore it is vital that we are mindful, attentive and critical about our habits. We need to understand what it is that we hold of highest value in our lives and why we do so. This is why we need to pay attention to our lives. This is why communal worship is of such high value to me. Yes ok it was life changing spiritual experiences that brought me in search of answers in spiritual communities, but it is not this that held me there. I found so much more by coming to commune, to worship with others. I discovered that by worshipping with others , if only for one hour a week I was then better able to focus my attention to what really matters during the rest of my time.

Everyone desires and we all possess imagination; everyone holds something of highest value in their lives. We worship whatever it is that dominates our hearts. This is why it is important what we worship, because as Emerson said “What we are worshipping, we are becoming.”

So be careful what you worship because we all do so, whether we care to admit it or not.