Thursday 26 March 2020

Alone but Not Lonely in a Time of Isolation

This is the second piece of devotional that I have put together for sharing together, during the shutting down of worship due to the Corona virus outbreak. I am posting it before Sunday. If you would like to share it with myself and the two congregations I serve, please feel free to do so. We will worship together but physically apart, either at 10am or 11,30am on Sunday 29th March. all you need is an open heart, mind, spirit and soul. A small candle will be helpful. I have also included some suggested music to listen to during the quiet times in the service. I have not included hymns this time as it is a little impractical. If you have favourite hymns or song to sing along to, please feel free to do so.

Sunday 29th March 2020 Devotional Worship 


We have joined together to worship, physically separate but deeply connected in heart, mind, spirit and soul. Our branches may not be touching, but are roots and intertwined. In this spirit of mutual love I invite us to still ourselves in silence…To prepare ourselves for worship…Let us be still and let us be silent together…Let us invite a loving presence to be amongst us and to awaken within us…

Chalice Lighting

I invite us to light our chalice flame and speak the following words…

At this time, in our individual homes, but connected in mutual love we have lit our individual chalice flames.

As we do so let us remember that we are part of a community of love, acceptance and faith.

May our dancing flame inspire us to fill our lives with our traditions ideal of love, justice, truth, compassion and hope.

May we find the courage to live these ideals.


I invite you now to join together in a time of prayer...these word’s of prayer will be followed by the prayer that Jesus taught, the Lord’s prayer, which I invite us to say together, if we wish to.

Let us pray

God of love, Divine Spirit of compassion be present here with us this day.
Help us to attune ourselves to the great mysteries of creation, to the wonder of the moment.
Awaken our senses to life itself, to what is both beautiful and holy.
Help us to experience your spirit as it flows through all of life
That is present in our hearts and souls and those of our brothers and sisters.
Help us to let down those barriers that separate us from one another and from our true being. Help us not to deny our weaknesses or to become enslaved by the fear of imperfection.
Bring us into harmony oh God show us how to be all that were born to be
Deliver us from impatience, intolerance and most of all hate
Bring us to that place of compassionate self giving and self liberating love.
Show us the way oh us the way


Lords’s Prayer

“A message from past President Rev Celia Cartwright”
I thought you might like this little reflection from our past President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the Rev Celia Cartwright

“Rumination on being isolated from C19”

I am a fixer of things. A maker of ways to achieve things. I will turn myself inside out to make my family’s life easier.
This virus has changed that.

Today all I can do is let my daughter’s dog out and, well and ........
I cannot look after my granddaughter full time, I cannot make my daughter’s burden any lighter.
I cannot do anything to help my son.
I cannot aid the sick.
I cannot keep a friend company.
I cannot hold a hand.
I cannot do very much.
I can stay cheerful and phone my friends
I can spend uninterrupted hours playing with a complicated crochet pattern
I can read my book without interruption
I can stay well in isolation and cause my son and daughter no worry
I can face-time with my granddaughter every day.
I can talk to my daughter and my son on the phone
I can play 60’s music and pretend I’m a teenager again
I am lucky I can walk out of my door into open country.
I can go for a walk
I can write
I can rearrange the furniture
I can be creative
I can make bread
I can stay well.

Maybe this can be not all fear and trepidation but a time to re-engage with things I never get time for.


I thought you might like a little bit of wisdom from my favourite Nasrudin, perhaps the holiest fool around. I wonder what he’d be doing right now.

"The Missed Appointment"

A philosopher made an appointment with Nasrudin to have a scholarly discussion. When the day came, the philosopher dropped by Nasrudin's house as planned. However, Nasrudin wasn't home. The philosopher angrily took his pencil out of his pocket, wrote "Asshole" on Nasrudin's door, and then left

Nasrudin finally came home later and saw this. He quickly realized that he had missed his appointment, and he darted off to the philosopher's house.

"Forgive my error," Nasrudin told the philosopher when he got there. "I totally forgot about our appointment today. But when I got home and saw that you had written your name on my door, I came here as fast as I could."

"Man is Stuck in Tree"

One day, a local man climbed up a rather tall tree.

Shortly thereafter, however, as he tried to make his way back down, he soon discovered that the trip down might not be as easy as the trip up. In fact, try as he might, he simply could not figure out a way to get down the tree without putting his body at great risk of falling to the ground.

He asked a few passers-by for help, but no one knew what to do.

A few local people gathered near him and tried to help, but he remained stuck.

Then Nasrudin walked by and devised a plan. He threw a rope up to the man and said, "Tie this around your waist."

The people nearby wondered about what Nasrudin was doing. They asked him his plan, but he calmly replied, "Just trust me--this works."

When the man had the rope tied around his waist, Nasrudin pulled on the rope. Upon his doing this, the man fell from the tree and hurt himself. The bystanders, horrified to see this happen, remarked, "What kind of a plan was that?"

"Well," Nasrudin replied, "I once saved someone's life doing the exact same thing."

"Are you sure," one man asked.

"Yes," Nasrudin replied. "The only thing I'm not sure about is whether I saved him from a well or from a tree."

"Man Searches for Joy"

One day, Nasrudin began talking to a man from another town. The man lamented, "I am rich, but I am also sad and miserable. I have taken my money and gone traveling in search of joy-but alas, I have yet to find it."

As the man continued speaking, Nasrudin grabbed the man's bag and ran off with it. The man chased him, and Nasrudin soon ran out of the man's sight. He hid behind a tree, and put the bag in the open road for the man to see.

When the man caught up, he located the bag, and his facial expression immediately turned from distress to joy. As the man danced in celebration of finding his bag, Nasrudin thought to himself, "That's one way to bring joy to a sad man."

Inspirational Readings

Here are a couple of readings on solitude and what it can teach us.

“The Great Failure: A Bartender, A Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth” by Natalie Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg on her Zen teacher's thoughts about ways to deal with loneliness.

" 'Roshi, now that I am divorced, it is very lonely.'

" 'Tell me. What do you do when you are alone in the house?'

"I'd never thought of that. I became interested. 'Well, I water the plants,' I faltered, then continued, 'I wash a few dishes, call a friend.' The momentum built. 'I sit on the couch for hours and stare at the bare branches out the window. I play over and over Paul Simon's new album about New Mexico — I miss it there.'

"His attention encouraged me: 'Lately, I've been sitting at my dining-room table and painting little pictures.' I looked at him. Suddenly my solitary life had a texture.

" 'Is there anything wrong with loneliness?' he asked in a low voice. I shook my head. All at once I saw it was a natural condition of life, like sadness, grief, even joy. When I was sitting with him, it didn't feel ominous or unbearable.

" 'Anyone who wants to go to the source is lonely. There are many people at Zen Center. Those who practice deeply are only with themselves.

" 'Are you lonely?' I entreated.

" 'Yes,' he nodded. 'But I don't let it toss me away. It's just loneliness.'

" 'Do you ever get over it?'

" 'I take an ice-cold shower every morning. I never get used to it. It shocks me each time, but I've learned to stand up to it.' He pointed at me. 'Can you stand up in loneliness?'

"He continued, 'Being alone is the terminal abode. You can't go any deeper in your practice if you run from it.'

"He spoke to me evenly, honestly. My hunger was satisfied — the ignored little girl still inside me and the adult seeker — both were nourished.”

“SOLITUDE” by John O’Donohue

Solitude is one of the most precious things in the human spirit. It is different from loneliness. When you are lonely, you become acutely conscious of your own separation. Solitude can be a homecoming to your own deepest belonging. One of the lovely things about us as individuals is the incommensurable in us. In each person, there is a point of absolute nonconnection with everything else and with everyone. This is fascinating and frightening. It means that we cannot continue to seek outside ourselves for things we need from within. The blessings for which we hunger are not to be found in other places or people. These gifts can only be given to you by yourself. They are at home at the hearth of your soul.

Excerpt from ANAM CARA

Time for Personal reflection

I invite us to join in time of quiet reflection and meditation. A personal time, a private time, but a time we share together, even though we are physically apart, we are still worshipping together. To lead us into this time please share aloud the following verses from Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 5, known as “The Beatitudes”. Following the words there will a time for shared silence. I would suggest between five and ten minutes, but whatever feels comfortable for you. I suggest that you break the silence with a favourite piece of music. I would suggest perhaps the hymn “Be Still my Souls”, or maybe Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” or anything of your own choice

Let us still our minds, quieten our thoughts, connect to our bodies, to our breathing, to the breath of all life, let us be still and silent together…

Matthew chapter 5 vv 1-10

5When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

SILENCE (Suggest we take 5-10 minutes to sit in complete silence


Music of own choice or perhaps "Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkle

"The Sounds of Silence"


Spring is a time of new life. The buds are appearing on all the trees. This became particularly clear as Sue and I walked the dogs along the canal bank on Monday morning. The dogs were full of beans and adventure too, awakening to the new life all around. Unfortunately we cannot fully engage and experience the new life that is budding in this awakening seasons, as we would normally do, we are being asked to isolate, to protect each other. This seems unnatural, but we must spend time in physical isolation, alone. We have to hibernate, to go against nature and our natural instincts at this time of year. We must spend time alone.

As I sat my desk and spoke with Sue about material to explore with you, to offer you spiritual sustenance, she suggested something about going inward to slowing down and being in. so I thought solitude, being alone and feeling lonely. I then remembered a phrase I love “Lonely but not alone: Alone but not lonely”.

Solitude and loneliness are not the same. There is a great gulf between solitude and loneliness. One can experience solitude without being lonely and yet can we miserably lonely and be surrounded by people. Solitude is a physical state; where as loneliness is an emotional, psychological and spiritual one.

The difference between loneliness and solitude can be monumental and yet subtle. They may look alike,but aren’t experienced alike. It is comparative to seeing a body as naked, rather than a person being a nude. Naked is stripped and vulnerable, naked is lacking clothes; whereas a nude is a beautiful bare body, it is art. Loneliness describes all that is lost, when we are alone; whereas solitude describes all that is gained in our physical isolation.

The Unitarian poet May Sarton, in her book “Journal of a Solitude” claimed that her time alone was her real time. She felt that life meant nothing, unless it could be reflected upon. She discovered her true self, in this time. This is when she discovered who she really was, what she cared about and what she believed. This enabled her to bring that fuller richer self back into her relationships and the world.

Ann Morrow Lindbergh felt that the difference between chosen solitude and loneliness lies in self awareness. She claimed that “when one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others…Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others. ”

It would appear that loneliness is really all about lack of connection. And this loneliness can occur because of physical, emotional or spiritual disconnection. T.S. Elliott wrote that “Hell is a place where nothing connects”. Loneliness is hell.

There have been times in my life when I have been surrounded by everyone I could wished to be around and yet felt utterly alone. There have been other times when I have been physically alone and yet I experienced not one semblance of loneliness. Being alone and experiencing loneliness may look similar, but they could not be more different. One is about connection and the other disconnection.

This Spring is going to be difficult for us all, as we are going to have to live more like we would in winter. This time of isolation may well feel like a long winter. We are all going to experience feelings of loneliness, as we isolate physically from one another. It will feel like we are in the midst of the longest winter of our lives at times. If we use this time wisely this does not have to be the case; if we utilise this time in the right way, it can actually help us to connect to those deeper harder to reach parts that can come to life when all of this is over. I was thinking of this as Sue pointed the new spring buds, the light tint of green appearing on the still barren trees. They are creating life, ready to fully sprout again. Like all life they need time time to come fully to life, just like we do. Those trees have never known the ache of loneliness that we human feels.

Loneliness is something that everyone experiences at some time in their life. We need not fear it, I suspect it just a part of the human condition. That said it’s not something that you ever get used to. When it comes, it does not mean that there is something wrong with us and it is not a terminal condition. Just talk and listen with any and you will find that they have felt like this and many times too. Share your feelings over the phone with friends and family, or make full use of social media and the internet if you have access. You will find that these are feelings that we all share.

There can be many causes for our loneliness. If we lose someone we love dearly, a spouse, a partner, a parent, a dear friend, that loss can lead to a deep sense of loneliness. We feel like something is missing in our lives, which of course there is, our loved one. If we suffer a debilitating illness we can often become cut off from social contacts, this can lead to a sense of isolation. When we move house or change jobs a loneliness can set in too, we feel like a fish out of water. Even the seemingly self-confident can feel lonely at such times. When these things happen the mistake we can often make is to isolate even more, thus increasing this sense of loneliness. This can be a danger to some of us in the current situation that we all find ourselves in when all normal social ties have been removed. We all need to make effort to stay connected in new ways. We need to get creative.

Having said all that, this experience of loneliness may not be as negative as we might realise, for it can lead to new opportunities. It offers a chance to connect to those often untouched parts within ourselves, to connect to those inner resources and of course it can help us to understand the loneliness that others suffer too. It can help us develop empathy and thus help us to connect with others in deeper more meaningful ways.

Loneliness is not the end of anything. It can actually be the beginning. It is an opportunity to see and experience life in new ways. It can become a call to ourselves to help alleviate the loneliness and suffering in others. It has the capacity to transform our lives. Loneliness need not be seen as an affliction, instead it can become an opportunity to transform both our own lives and that of others; our experiences of loneliness can become a gift that can transform our lives and the lives of others.

The Epistle Paul had something interesting to say on loneliness in his timeless first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13. He wrote 'For now we see in a mirror, dimly (as through a glass, darkly), but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.' He is contrasting how we view life now with the life that he believed will be enjoyed in what is called “God’s Kingdom, yet to come”. Suggesting that in our current state we do not see things clearly and that this is a cause of loneliness. Thus suggesting that the problem is that we do not see God, each other or life fully (‘face to face’) and thus we feel cut off, separate and alone. He is suggesting that only after death will we see fully. Paul is of course drawing on the Jewish tradition here, that no one can ever see the face of God, that it is always partially hidden behind a veil.

In the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus says that, 'Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.' Suggesting a way to see clearly the face of God and thus one another. Could this be the bridge that relieves ours and others loneliness? To live purely by our own vulnerable human hearts. I think that maybe it is. In so doing we begin to create the Kingdom of God, what I prefer to name the “kin-dom of Love” right here right now. I have come to believe that this is what it means to live spiritually alive; this is what it means to remove from our being the veils that separate us from the Divine, from life and the people around us, thus relieving the ache of one another's loneliness.

The problem is, of course, that so few of us want to go there. How many of us want to experience what it means to be alone, we fear it so much. We need not fear being alone. You can be “Lonely but not alone” and you can be, “alone but not lonely”.

Being alone, surrendering to physical isolation can help us surrender to the power of the moment we all find ourselves in. This brings to my mind some favourite words by David Whyte. “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness…”

So many people fear these two things, "darkness and the confinement of our aloneness." The truth is that we need to experience them in order to truly connect with what is at the core of all being and to fully connect with life itself and the people we share our lives with. In so doing we see life as it really is and we begin to build that kin-dom of love, we live together one and all.

It is quite possible to be, “lonely but not alone” and you can find yourself completely “alone but not lonely”. The key is connection, connection to ourselves, to life, to the people around us and to whatever we believe is at the core of all life, what I call God. Sometimes it takes an experience of deep loneliness to allow us to know this, to see clearly.

Loneliness is something we will all experience in our lives. I bet we have all felt it at some time in the last week. The problem isn’t the feeling itself, but how we respond to it. It may well be an opportunity to connect. To connect to those deep places within us, to connect to the core of all life and to truly connect to one another. The problem is not the feeling of isolation and loneliness, but how respond to this experience.

We all feel lonely at times. Loneliness is the one thing that you are not alone in, feeling. May our shared loneliness lead us all to deeper connections.


Prayer followed by time of silent Reflection
I invite us once more to come together in prayer. Please say these words of prayer out loud and then follow the prayer with another time of reflective silence, again five to ten minutes or whatever feels comfortable. You could break the silence with more music for reflection, perhaps the hymn “We shall overcome”, or “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode or even sing the hymn “Spirit of Life” yourself. I will leave a copy of the words for you below.


I invite us to once again join together in a time of prayerful silence. I will lead us lead ourselves into this time of silence by saying aloud the following blessing “Choose to bless the world” by Rebecca Parker

Your gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or curse the world.

The mind's power,
the strength of the hands,
the reaches of the heart,
the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting

Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
bind up wounds,
welcome the stranger,
praise what is sacred,
do the work of justice
or offer love.

Any of these can draw down the prison door,
hoard bread,
abandon the poor,
obscure what is holy,
comply with injustice
or withhold love.

You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?

Choose to bless the world.

The choice to bless the world is more than an act of will,
a moving forward into the world
with the intention to do good.

It is an act of recognition,
a confession of surprise,
a grateful acknowledgment
that in the midst of a broken world
unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.

There is an embrace of kindness
that encompasses all life, even yours.

And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
there moves a holy disturbance,
a benevolent rage,
a revolutionary love,
protesting, urging, insisting
that which is sacred will not be defiled.

Those who bless the world live their life
as a gesture of thanks
for this beauty
and this rage.

The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
to search for the sources
of power and grace;
native wisdom, healing, and liberation.

More, the choice will draw you into community,
the endeavor shared,
the heritage passed on,
the companionship of struggle,
the importance of keeping faith,

the life of ritual and praise,
the comfort of human friendship,
the company of earth
the chorus of life welcoming you.

None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility, waiting.

Music Of personal choice or sing the following verse twice 

"Enjoy the Silence"

"Spirit of Life"

“Spirit of Life” by Carolyne McDade

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.


Let us return to our lives in peace.
Let us endeavour to deeply regard each other and all life.
To listen to all as they speak, including the promptings of our own hearts and minds.
To speak what each of us must speak, in truth and love.
And to be ready in any moment to disarm our own hearts,
And to always live as if a realm of love had begun.

And may the blessings of God be with us in all that we feel and all that we think say and all that we do.


Friday 20 March 2020

Wedding's Eve: A Journey of, through, by and to Love:

I have to admit it was not what we had planned when I made that proposal on the rocks of Capernaum at the waters edge of the Sea of Galilee. I had said to Sue "Susan Blackshaw when you are free and things are a little less complicated, will you marry." She said "Yes, yes,yes". We had no idea what we as humanity would have to face.

These last few weeks we have had to come to terms that our dreams for our wedding weekend would not come to mind. Robbie Burns springs to mind "The best laid plans of mice and me often go awry". Things do not work out the way we would like them to. We are all having to come to terms with this. As we face this ever growing nightmare that is the global pandemic, that is Corona Virus. There is nothing personal about it, it affects us all. It humbles us all. It shows just how finite we are, it grounds us in reality, it shoes how deeply everyone of us is connected and how all our lives are deeply interdependent, everything that we do and do not, every breath and interaction can lead a chain reaction that can lead to life giving love or could potentially destroy the lives of many. We are all living by chaos theory today. Every action and inaction can set off a chain of events that affects us all. Sure none of us can doubt that me. I often say that everything matters, every thought,every feeling, every word, every deed. That there is no neutrality in life. that this should teach us just how sacred all life it, how sacred and precious every thing is. That we can either bless and sanctify life through our very human being, or we can desecrate life. This could not be any clearer today. Wendell Berry comes to mind here "There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places." What we do and do not do in the coming weeks will realise this.

Sue and myself accepted that had to hold a tiny private wedding in the place we had planned. With just a few people that Sue needed to stand with her, her two children Lucy and Barney and a couple of friends. I had to make the hard decision to tell my nearest and dearest that they could not be their physically. We had to play our part in this. I decided I could stand alone. I was not alone. I had the love of so many people running through my veins, bound up in my heart and soul and the love of God through which I am sustained in every breath.We were to marry in the eyes of the God of our limited understanding, but infinite experience, the law of this land and our dear precious love. We would enjoy our day of celebration when we come through all of this together. No one knows when that will be, it is important to be honest about this reality, to live in, through and by Hope but not by blind optimism.

We had also planned to lead worship together the day after our wedding. We thought it would be a lovely gift to our loved ones who would be staying over and the two communities that I lead and we are both a part of. It was "Mothering Sunday", or "Mother's Day" if you prefer. We spent many hours thinking through how we link the loving nurture of Mother and spiritual community. We wrote the service and were about to deliver that too, when we had to suspend all worship.

Once the acceptance began to set in and after shedding many tears. We began to think about what we could do. How to keep the community together, how to hold and feed one another spiritually, emotionally, and so many other ways in body, mind, spirit and soul. We could no longer physically worship together, we could not meet to share our joys and concerns, our hope and despair, to explore our lives and spiritualities, to socialise. We have spent many days thinking of ways to begin to do so. To serve our communities and the wider human community, my goodness it is so needed. What we came up for Sunday will not be sustainable, but it will work for this weekend.

Sue suggested that we should all worship together at the same time, but not physically together. To do so from our own homes. We talked about and decided that we would go and delver a copy of the full service, a tea light candle and a posy of flowers and leave them on every congregants door step. So we put to all together, followed all suggested precautions, we had hundreds of pairs of vinyl gloves, purchased for the wedding buffet. I used many pairs that day.

When we set off we had no idea what we had awaiting us, a journey of love, in love and by love. We had a lot of ground to cover, from Stoke, to Glossop and to Ainsworth near Bolton, as well as other parts of Cheshire and of course all over Trafford, taking in Altrincham and Urmston. We set off with about 80 posies,tealights and scripts, along with a love letter explaining how we be developing all kinds of ways to keep our roots, hearts,minds and souls connected in these days of physical isolation (I do not like the term social isolation because we can still be socially connected even if we are not physically together.) It was an amazing experience. We set off just before 8am and had to finally give up at just before 10pm. Not your tradition pr-marriage feast,it was though truly a Love Feast. Sue stayed with me until about 6pm but had to spend time with her children, I carried on til the end with the love of so many people bound up in my heart and good pumping the blood and air through me, inspired by love, a a journey through,by and to love. We did not get to every single one in the end, we never completed the plan, we did not achieve perfection. In the end we had to email a few of the scripts.

We did have a few interactions from a safe distance as the odd person saw me delivering. The offered their love. I have never seen more loving eyes staring back at me. Love is a deeply powerful experience. Their were many tears shared on our journey around a large part of the North West of England, on our mission of love. there was much joy and laughter, we weren't perfect as the odd negative words were shared. We live in fearful times. We received many phone calls and messages from folk. We both nearly wet ourselves as every public toilet we came across was closed, due to the virus. So I am sorry but we did have to go by the road side at near Plumbly train station. Yes we did wash our hands.

The only sad things about the day were as we drove past a couple of packed out pubs and saw folk socialising too close together. I tried not to express anger. Also the groups of young people, let out of school in the evening as I drove around Urmston and Sale. Hopefully as things settle in we will all accept to need to keep social distance, all our lives depend upon it.

A beautiful day, but one of exhaustion.

May the Love that I call good come alive and live in and through us all, may we find the courage to be and do what is required in these coming weeks. I and I know many others will do all we can to to help to hold us spiritually, others will take care of our physical needs. We need to not only survive this, but nurture our humanity. I know that we will, I live by hope. It is my north star, my guiding star. We though must bring that hope alive and inspire one another, to let that love incarnate in and through our very mortal, human, finite lives. When this is all over we will need to continue through this as we rebuild together, unity, service and love as we all recover together. We will recover from this, we will be different,things will change,but then the spiritual life has always been about transformation rather than transcendence. This always occurs in life, in the muck and love of life, in the soil, in the earth, we are human, we are born of the earth, humus. This is what it means to recognise our common humanity, to truly live in and by humility. we are not God's, we are mortal, we are finite and our lives depend on us holding ourselves in our hearts, minds, spirits and souls as we live through this.

May the love that is God live through us all.

Now I need to go get ready, as I marry my True Love today.

I will not proof read this. I cannot go through the emotion of re-reading it again,so I apologies to all the those with a better grasp of the English language than me. This is the stream of my imperfect consciousness and I believe I should let it stand as it is.

I love you all...I love the world...I love this world...

I will leave you with a favourite poem and my favourite song of all time

"I Love the World" by New Model Army

“Hope” by Vaclav Havel

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.

Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.

It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,
even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.


For all who Mother by Danny and Sue

Please find below the "Mothering Sunday" service that Sue and myself were to deliver to the two congregations I serve this Sunday at 10 at Queens Road Unitarian Free Church, Urmston and at 11am Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel, Altrincham. It was to be the first service we would lead together an. We marry on Saturday 21st and we were hoping to share this service with our loved ones as well as congregants. Alas this cannot happen due the Corona Virus outbreak. No one can congregate. So today Sue and myself have delivered a tealight candle and posy of flowers to every congregant I serve, we left them on their doorsteps. On Sunday we have asked them to share the service at home, in physical isolation but connected in heart, mind, spirit and soul. If you would like to join with us at the above times. Please feel free to do so. All you need is a flower, a candle, a open heart, mind, spirit and soul. I will over the weeks find new ways to keep us all connected. Not sure what, but not tomorrow, for tomorrow I marry my beloved...Much love to you all.

Mothering Sunday 2020 Please share during our usual time of worship together


Welcome to our time of worship together. You are most welcome to join in this special day in our calendar, Mothering Sunday; a day when we have come to celebrate motherhood. Before we begin our service by lighting our chalice flame, we have a few notices.


I invite us to still ourselves together in a time of silence. Let us invite a loving presence to be here amongst us to connect us together in mutual love, even in this time of physical isolation and to awaken from deep within us.

Chalice Lighting

(Light our individual candle)

May the warmth of our chalice-flame be to us a reminder of the warmth we knew in our mother’s womb and a promise of the warmth we seek in this community of the way of love

Hymn 68 “I Dream of a church”

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s laughing
as she rocks in her rapture, enjoying her art:
she’s glad of her world, in its risking and growing:
‘tis the child she has borne and holds close to her heart.

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s weeping
as she crouches weighed down by the sorrow she sees:
she cried for the hostile, the cold and no-hoping,
for she bears in herself our despair and dis-ease.

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s dancing
as she moves like the wind and the wave and the fire;
a church that can pick up its skirts, pirouetting,
with the steps that can signal God’s deepest desire.

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s loving
as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost,
a church that can free, by its sharing and daring,
the imprisoned and poor, and then shoulder the cost.

God, make us a church that joins in with your living,
as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release,
a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring;
lioness of your justice and lamb of your peace.


I invite you to join together in a time of prayer. Let us pray

Loving God help us to know a mother’s Love...

“We feel the happiness of true creation when we give birth to a child. The beat of a mother’s heart is wonderful music: bearing the reassurance of dawn, the warmth of noon, the purple sunset. It is in one word, wholeness.”

We come to give thanks for the mothers who bore us and nurtured us; to celebrate the love and kindness we received from them.

We come to give thanks for the children entrusted to us for a little while.

Holy One, Be with us in both joy and the grief they bring.

We come to give thanks for this wonderful creation, for our mother the Earth, and for the glory of life in which we share.



The celebration of Mother has a long history. It dates back to the time of ancient Greece and Rome. It is not merely, as some would suggest, a creation of the greeting cards company to make money out of us. The celebrations of mother and motherhood has been with us for many centuries. It is said that Mothering Sunday was about returning home either to family and or the Mother Church. Returning to a place of total acceptance and love, a place where the love within us can grow, a place of nurture.

These days Mothering Sunday has become known as Mother’s Day, following the American tradition that is celebrated in May, and not the middle Sunday of Lent.

Mothering Sunday, Mother’s Day, whatever its actual true origins is enshrined in this image of returning home, and this sense of belonging to something more than ourselves. Whether that is actually of children returning to the family home having been working away or of people returning to the mother church. Either way it’s about returning home to a place of safety; it is about returning home to a place of renewal, of re-birth, not only for ourselves but for others too; it is about returning to a place of love and total acceptance of who we are, exactly as we are, no matter what we have done or where we have been, we are accepted with open loving arms. It’s about returning to that place where love is not only born but nurtured and grown and brought into true being.

Mother’s Day is the celebration of being held and nurtured in the spirit of love. Mother’s Day is about celebrating the spirit of mother.

In these days when we cannot hold one another physically close we can hold each other, nurture one another with our hearts, our minds our spirits, our souls, held lovingly by the one eternal soul of life…We all need to live by that love in these difficult days, we need love and accept one another in the way that the mother, or at least the ideal of mother does…May we reach toward that, even in fear, may we find the courage to offer one another the love of mother.

Today we celebrate the spirit of mother; today we celebrate and give thanks to those who gave birth to our being, but we do more than that. Today we celebrate those who have nurtured and brought to life the love within us whether they are the ones who gave birth to our bodies or helped nurture and bring to life something within us. Today we celebrate the spirit of mother; today we celebrate those who have nurtured our lives whether in body, in mind, in heart or spirit.

Also today in celebrating the spirit of mother we acknowledge our responsibility to one another as individuals and a community to nurture, to bring to life, the love within ourselves, one another and the wider human community.

The truth is that all of us are constantly giving birth to something each and every day. We are all a part of the Divine Creation and re-creation it is really important to recognise this. As Annie Dillard wrote “ We are here to witness creation and to abet it…We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are all around us and to praise the people who are here with us.”

This is nurture, this bringing alive the spirit of mother, this is what we celebrate this day.


“Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom & Joy” by Joseph G. Healey

Joseph G. Healey on an African teaching story about the grace of God

"A little East African boy in Dar es Salaam wanted to meet God. He knew that it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his bag with small, sweet cakes and a large bottle of soda and started on his journey.

"He had been on his way for about ten minutes when he met an old woman. She was sitting in a park by the Indian Ocean just staring at some African birds. The boy sat down next to her and opened his bag. He was about to take a drink from his soda when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry, so he offered her a small cake. She gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. Her smile was so pretty that the boy wanted to see it again. So he offered her a drink from his soda. Again she smiled at him. The boy was delighted!

"The little East African boy and the old woman sat there all afternoon eating and drinking and smiling, but they never said a word. As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and got up to leave. But before he had gone more than a few steps he turned around, ran back to the old woman, and gave her a big hug. She gave him her biggest smile.

"When the boy opened the door to his own home a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face.

"She asked him, 'What did you do today that makes you so happy?'

"He replied, 'I had lunch with God.' But before his mother could respond, he added, 'You know what? She's got the most beautiful smile I've ever seen!'

"Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home in the Upanga section of town.

"Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked, 'Mother, what did you do today that makes you so happy?'

"She replied, 'I ate small cakes and drank soda in the park with God.' And then, before her son could respond, she added, 'You know, he's much younger than I expected.'


“FAREWELL LETTER” by David Whyte

(For All the Mothers Who Have Passed Away)

She wrote me a letter
after her death
and I remember
a kind of happy light
falling on the envelope
as I sat by the rose tree
on her old bench
at the back door,
so surprised by its arrival
wondering what she would say,
looking up before I could open it
and laughing to myself
in silent expectation.

‘Dear son, it is time
for me to leave you.
I am afraid that the words
you are used to hearing
are no longer mine to give,
they are gone and mingled
back in the world
where it is no longer
in my power
to be their first
original author
not their last loving bearer.
You can hear
words of affection now
only from your own mouth
and only
when you speak them
to those
who stand
before you.

As for me I must forsake
and be bound gladly
to a new childhood.
You must understand
this apprenticeship
demands of me
an elemental innocence
from everything
I ever held in my hands.
I know your generous soul
is well able to let me go
you will in the end
be happy to know
my God was true
and I find myself
after loving you all so long,
in the wide,
infinite mercy
of being mothered myself.'

P.S. All of your intuitions are true.


in River Flow
New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press © David Whyte

David Whyte writes:

A mother remains a mother even after they have passed away, and in many ways the conversation between mother and son, mother and daughter, if we allow it, can deepen, intensify and lead to new forms of love, long after their going. My mother had lost her own mother at just thirteen years old, and I had the strongest intuition just after she had passed, that she was returning to a childhood that had ended far too soon in the Ireland of her youth. To acknowledge a mother, but also to let her go into her own personhood, independent of that the fact that she brought us into this world, may be one of the more difficult steps in the deepening maturity of that indissoluble bond. DW

Hymn “Bring Flower’s to the altar”

Bring flowers to our altar to show nature’s beauty,
the harvest of goodness in earth, sky and sea.
Bring light to our altar to guide every nation
from hatred to love and to humanity.

Bring a dove to our altar its wings ever flying
in permanent quest for the peace all may share.
Bring bread to our altar the hungry supplying
and feeding the poor who depend on our care.

Bring hope to our altar in your gentle dreaming
of all the good things that will make your heart glad.
Bring love to our altar, a bright witness beaming
to all who are burdened, or lonely or sad.

Bring work to our altar, to help every nation
and celebrate all that’s already achieved.
Come yourself to our altar in true dedication
to all the ideals we in common believe.


From “The Divine Feminine: Exploring the Feminine Face of God Around the World” by Andrew Harvey, Anne Baring

Andrew Harvey and Anne Baring on the nurturing power of the Divine Mother.

"Why is the image of the Divine Mother so important? To answer this question, we need to look no further than our experience of birth into the world. First of all, there is the experience of the embryo in the womb; the experience of union or fusion and containment within a watery, nurturing matrix. After the traumatic experience of birth and the sudden and violent expulsion from this matrix, the prolongation of the earlier feelings of close relationship, trust, and safety is absolutely vital. Without the consistent and loving care of the mother in early childhood, the child has no trust in itself, no power to survive the negative life experiences, no model from which to learn how to nurture and support itself or to care for its children in turn. Its primary response to life is anxiety and fear. It is like a tree with no roots, easily torn up by a storm. Its instincts have been traumatized and damaged. With the love of the mother and trust in her presence, the child grows in strength and confidence and delights in itself and in life. Its primary response is trust.

"Without this experience, life becomes threatening, terrifying. Without it, the effort of living exhausts and dispirits. Intense and constant anxiety means that there is no resting place, no solace for loneliness, no feeling that life is something to be trusted and enjoyed. Without this positive image of the feminine, fear, like a deadly parasite, invades the soul and weakens the body. Those cultures that have no image of the Mother in the godhead are vulnerable to immensely powerful unconscious feelings of fear and anxiety, particularly when the emphasis of their religious teaching is sin and guilt. The compensation for this fear is an insatiable need for power and control over life. How hungry the human heart is for an image of a Divine Mother that would, like an umbilical cord, reconnect it to the Womb of Being, restoring the lost sense of trust and containment in a dimension that may be beyond the reach of our intellect, yet is accessible to us through our deepest instincts.”

“Love Letter to the Earth” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh on how Mother Earth is present in every cell of our bodies.

“Beloved Mother of All Things”

"Dear Mother Earth,

"I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognize that you are present in me and that I'm a part of you. I was born from you and you are always present, offering me everything I need for my nourishment and growth. My mother, my father, and all my ancestors are also your children. We breathe your fresh air. We drink your clear water. We eat your nourishing food. Your herbs heal us when we're sick.

"You are the mother of all beings. I call you by the human name Mother and yet I know your mothering nature is more vast and ancient than humankind. We are just one young species of your many children. All the millions of other species who live — or have lived — on Earth are also your children. You aren't a person, but I know you are not less than a person either. You are a living breathing being in the form of a planet.

"Each species has its own language, yet as our Mother you can understand us all. That is why you can hear me today as I open my heart to you and offer you my prayer.

"Dear Mother, wherever there is soil, water, rock or air, you are there, nourishing me and giving me life. You are present in every cell of my body. My physical body is your physical body, and just as the sun and stars are present in you, they are also present in me. You are not outside of me and I am not outside of you. You are more than just my environment. You are nothing less than myself.

"I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you. I promise to be aware that your health and well-being is my own health and well-being. I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.

"Sometimes I forget. Lost in the confusions and worries of daily life, I forget that my body is your body, and sometimes even forget that I have a body at all. Unaware of the presence of my body and the beautiful planet around me and within me, I'm unable to cherish and celebrate the precious gift of life you have given me. Dear Mother, my deep wish is to wake up to the miracle of life. I promise to train myself to be present for myself, my life, and for you in every moment. I know that my true presence is the best gift I can offer to you, the one I love."


I invite us to join together now in a time of communal silence. A time for personal prayer, meditation and contemplation.

As we do so I invite us to hold our posies and to reflect in the eyes of your heart those who you would normally share this time of worship together.

In this time of physical isolation may we know that we are united by the one breath of all life. May feel those roots of love that connect us all, that move beneath our physical lives…

Let us still ourselves…Quieten our minds, still our thoughts, connect to our bodies, to our breath, the breath that connects all our lives…the one eternal breath of all life, that enlivens our finite lives…

Let us be still and silent together

Time of shared silence

Music for meditation (Choose a piece that means something to you)


“Daisies are our silver”

1.Daisies are our silver,
Buttercups our gold:
This is all the treasure
We can have or hold.

2.Raindrops are our diamonds
And the morning dew;
While for shining sapphires
We've the speedwell blue.

3.These shall be our emeralds
Leaves so new and green;
Roses make the reddest
Rubies ever seen.

4.God, who gave these treasures
To your children small,
Teach us how to love them
And grow like them all.

5.Make us bright as silver:
Make us good as gold;
Warm as summer roses
Let our hearts unfold.

6.Gay as leaves in April,
Clear as drops of dew
God, who made the speedwell,
Keep us true to you.

Address (Written by Susan Blackshaw, she will be Susan Crosby by the time that we share this worship on Mothering Sunday)

It is Mothering Sunday so perhaps I might start with some personal context around this day ... I am the mum of 2 teenagers, Barney is 19 and Lucy is 16 (going on 17 ... 🎶 ) . My mum sadly died when I was in my 20s, I was the baby of 3 children and mum and I had always been very close.

So when I started to think about what I might share today I pondered various themes including loss, frustration with teenagers, coping with upset and as I meditated on the subject of having no mother to physically visit on Mother’s Day it led me to want to talk about when for one reason or another our own mothers are not there for us - The role of wiser women in our lives.

When my own mother died I missed so many things .. I longed for her arms around me, her interested eyes as I told her tales of my life and dramas, the way we often made each other laugh until we cried. I am absolutely blessed these days to share these wonders with my own beautiful daughter and often feel strongly the connection of ancestry that runs through the family line.

I feel a little young to say it but, without the generation above me gone I suppose I am the matriarch of this little branch of our family tree. I take that seriously and in much of my spiritual practice it is with reference and reverence that I sit in circle for 7 generations of women past and 7 generations to come.

It puts me in my place.

I missed not only the unconditional love and physical affection of my mum but also the loss of that maternal voice who knew me and spoke the truth, to say at times “pull yourself together”, “get over yourself”, “step up”. It was as though with no mum around to perform to, I lost the will to be my best self.

So much is said these days about nurturing our own ‘inner child’ through self development and therapy and believe me I tried! Personally speaking, I had years of therapy, banging on every week about myself. I was not able to be entirely honest back then and though the therapists (I exhausted 2 of them!) gave me their time (not for free by the way) I never really uncovered much truth about myself.

I had to become open to other voices ... to stop trying to analyse myself and looking at my own naval but rather opening up to guidance from influences and help both visible and invisible.

The transformation in me, like most folk, has been gradual and is ongoing.

I have spiritual practices in my life. I pray, I meditate, I do all sorts of ritual, chanting, dancing, singing to keep revitalising the channels that might bring in some help and direction from the Great Spirit of the Universe that I have come to believe is guiding me.

On the human side it is by listening, reading, watching, emulating other women whom I respect that I have learned so much. Some of these women are actively in my life - I am blessed with an abundance of friends and a handful of remarkably close relationships - some of these women I may never meet in person, but to whom I will forever be deeply grateful for the wisdom they have passed on. Writers and thinkers like Brene Brown and her knowledge on the importance of belonging and vulnerability, she is a social scientist and researcher but can translate her work into spiritual practice too. I have piles of books by the bed, full of wisdom to be read.

There are universal truths - ways to whatever religion, faith or background that we can live by and with. To be kind, considerate, patient with others. To witness these ways of being in others gives us a glimpse of how we might grow towards practising them ourselves.

The nurturing spirit of our mothers may be absent or present in our lives but we can find it in other places besides that biological connection. I had to open to that idea or live without this key ingredient in my recipe for the good life.

It might be a spiritual mentor, a senior colleague who takes us under their wing, a religious leader, it might be a woman who is feeling the lack of someone to whom she can pass on her own stories, a junior on whom to spread her sparkles, her sayings, the things she has learned. We have a natural instinct to share and to hear the knowledge of ancient ways. This can be in practical and more abstract ways; sharing recipes, a listening ear, it can be passing on our own family traditions and quirks and it can be reaching further than that ...

I was introduced to Jamie Sams book ‘The 13 Original Clan Mothers’ by a woman who has been fundamental to me on my journey to spiritual enlightenment (not that I claim to be at my destination yet!)

In this book “The wisdom and beauty of Native American Women’s Medicine, the teachings of the 13 Original Clan Mothers” various aspects of the feminine principle are represented and serve as role models and Spirit Teachers for contemporary women and men on their personal spiritual journeys. Through ancient teachings, through stories of connection with all physical beings we are guided to discover our own gifts, talents and abilities.

I warmed to this approach on first reading. Tribal wisdom, which would have been passed down in the oral tradition, passing and receiving guidance through the experience of our elders. A very appropriate contemplation for Mothering Sunday.

As a professional Celebrant I have conducted many funerals, a handful of weddings and, perhaps my favourite, services and ceremonies to welcome a new baby into the world.

When I am honoured to conduct Baby Naming Ceremonies I will always refer to that age old expression “it takes a village to raise a child”. I will be saying that to a room full of people who have been invited to share in a very special day offering welcome to the new life in the tribe and offering support to the parents of that child. It is always a day full of love and laughter, hope and expectation. I always ask for a bit of audience participation and a good call and return to the congregation I ask “will you be there?” To a hearty reply of “Yes, we will be there!”.

Jamie Sams the writer who gathered these stories into this important book relates: “There are 2 bylaws that are Native American Traditions - protect the women and never do anything that would hurt the children

We look to create a world where women can feel safe anywhere and anytime. When that occurs, the nurturing of children’s dreams is taken care of by women who have become extensions of the Earth Mother and thus Mothers of the Creative Force.”

Harmony comes when there is no pecking order in those who nurture. Whether we are at home full-time with our children, juggling 2 jobs, running our own businesses, working full time with a partner at home as principal caregiver... No matter what the personal circumstances or life choices we remember that we would never do anything that would hurt the children. If we are struggling with the weight of responsibility take a leaf from the Native American book and ask for help, bring in others to meet your children’s needs, share the joy of raising and nurturing those lives.

The practice of learning through observing is the way that Native American Tribes have taught Clan or family members to develop their skills for centuries. We are only as accomplished as those we choose as our role models or teachers. When a child showed a skill or talent of some kind, the family would go to the Tribe Member who was the very best at that particular thing and ask if the child could learn from that person. This ensured that the child would learn from the very best teacher available.

We can take these learnings wider than the human role models, what about those trees with the root systems that feed each other, support each other in times of danger, some would say “talk to each other”. The living world beyond the human gives us many examples to emulate.

Today there are an abundance of ways to find role models. Books, seminars, schools, the infinite internet. We can make it our priority to develop new ways to look at our lifestyles and our environment. We can decide to live in a way that shows respect for the Earth Mother and All Our Relations.

Everything in life is our teacher and everything is alive. The discovery of that aliveness is the adventure of life, who or what will teach us today?

There are many habits and set ideas which we hold onto even though they limit us from the world of positive change. Preferring to stay in the familiar comfort of disappointment, resentment and fear we see others we might admire but can’t seem to make a decision to change ourselves. It is far easier to see the wrong behaviour in another than it is to see our own refusal to take right action.

It is also easy to be stuck in our own ideas for others..

It was with great relief that I happened upon my first Unitarian service ... I knew that I had moral and ethical beliefs but would not want to commit to any doctrine or set of rules.

I’m not very good at being told what to do!

The rigidity within belief systems that makes one faith the true faith and all others false is one of the mainstays of destruction in the world today.

However I realise these days that I do like being shown what to do by those I admire and I love to look for signs as I go about my daily and nightly business. How can I be the best version of me, for the greater good? Instances happen all the time. What about the idea that there is no coincidence only God instances? I am willing to be taught.

In the Native American Way of the Ancestors, if a person received a dream or vision about a particular way to perform a task, ceremony, or healing, it was never questioned because it was between that person and the Great Mystery. They would then share this wisdom with the the rest of the tribe. Through suggestion and positive role modelling the wiser members might pass on ways of being to those who are seeking some answers.

The question would be “why are we not listening to inspiration and direction as the planet speaks to us?”

I have been attending Unitarian services for 4 years now but come from a Church of England background. Initially it was about sharing sacred space with others on a Sunday but I find the philosophy of the movement is integrating more and more throughout my life. Acceptance of difference and the freedom of thought. Tolerance of others is the norm. As in the Native American tradition if people chose to dress differently or follow any course of action that was not hurting others, it was accepted as their way of doing things and was not judged. For the most part, families living in a tribal situation did not stick their noses in anyone else’s business unless they were asked to.

“Protect the women and never do anything to harm the children”

This could translate now to protect the nurturers, gender is not the issue here, rather seeing woman as the feminine principle which can be present in men too.

We gather the gifts of woman when we allow all persons to make their own choices about who and what they want to be and then allow them to find a path that suits their personality and unique way of learning those skills. These are the gifts of the good mother who refuses to smother her children but instead gives responsibility according to each child’s capacity. This manner of allowing a child to develop the ability to respond from his or her sense of integrity, his or her soul/orenda/voice within ensures that the children will become self-reliant.

On this Mothering Sunday we can make a decision not to say “do as I do” but to give unattached guidance, proper boundaries and at the same time providing a fertile ground for developing the seeds of potential.

By taking responsibility for our own personal vision and learning from our role models and guides we can then become a role model for others, whether we are aware of it or not.

The more gifts we gather and the more skills we develop, the more enlightenment we are able to share with others.

For women and for men. For those with children of their own. For those whose mothers are still alive. For those who grieve. For little ones with dreams of the future....

Stay awake to the teachings of the world - to Mother Nurture - and the potential is limitless. The time has never been more fertile - who or what will teach you today and who might you teach?



I would like to invite us to join together once more in prayer…Let us pray..

Let us pray

Prayer for All Who Mother

We reflect in gratitude this day for all those whose lives have nurtured ours.

The life-giving ones
Who heal with their presence
Who listen in sympathy
Who give wise advice ... but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us
Who have held us gently in times of sorrow
Who celebrated with us our triumphs -- no matter how small
Who noticed when we changed and grew,
who praised us for taking risks
who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours Mothers
let us honour all mothers
men and women alike
who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life, and sustenance, and vision to us.
Dear God, Mother-Father of us all,
grant us life-giving ways
strength for birthing,
and a nurturing spirit
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings
entrusted to us by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate.
Give us the heart of a mother today.


Hymn “Earth was given as a garden”

Earth was given as a garden,
cradle for humanity;
tree of life and tree of knowledge
placed for our discovery.
Here was home for all your creatures
born of land and sky and sea;
all created in your image,
all to live in harmony.

Show to us again the garden
where all life flows fresh and free.
Gently guide your sons and daughters
into full maturity.
Teach us how to rust each other,
how to use for good our power,
how to touch the earth with reverence.
Then once more will Eden flower.

Bless the earth and all her children.
One creation, make us whole,
interwoven, all connected,
planted wide and inmost soul.
Holy mother, life bestowing,
bid our waste and warfare cease.
Fill us all with grace o’erflowing.
Teach us how to live in peace.


There is too much hardship in this world to not find joy,
every day
There is too much injustice in this world to not right the balance,
every day
There is too much pain in this world to not heal,
every day

Each of us ministers to a weary world.
Let us go forth now and do that which calls us to make this world
more loving, more compassionate and more filled with the grace of divine presence,
every day

And may the love of God hold us and sustain us in all that we feel and all that we think and all that we say and all that we do.


Sunday 15 March 2020

Speaking Truth in Love: The Three Fold Test

I recently attended a district meeting of our local congregations, it was the annual AGM. Sue came into town with me, not to attend the meeting. No, she went to do some shopping. We both got off the tram at the top of Market Street. Sue headed to Afflex Palace while I headed towards Cross Street Chapel. I had almost an hour to spare, so I sauntered slowly through the crowds. It was utter bedlam. It wasn’t so much the shoppers as folk selling their wares. Whether that be goods or ideas. There was lots of football paraphernalia on sale, after all it was the Manchester derby the next day. I passed a slightly crazed preacher calling out the “sinners” in the city and the world, preaching the word of a God I don’t relate to. There were others promoting their own religious traditions and of course political causes. There was also a young four-piece band playing and being filmed. As I reached the bottom of Market Street I was confronted with a silent protest with some horrific video images being played. I walked through utter chaos, everyone was shouting, nay screaming at one another. They were all drowning each other out, so much so I couldn’t really hear a thing that was being said. As the song goes “Everybody’s talking at me, but I don’t hear a word they are saying”. Only they weren’t talking, they were screaming about their causes. Some very worthy ones, I’m just not sure that this is the way to carry a message.

I just wanted to get away, to find some peace before the meeting I was not feeling particularly enthusiastic about. I carried on walking. I was not yet ready to go and sit in Cross Street Chapel, I wanted a little peace in the crazy city. I headed to Saint Ann’s Square I wanted to sit quietly and pray alone. It was a wise choice. As I reached the square I heard the most beautiful tenor voice singing an aria. I sat down on a bench and just sank into the music as it touched my soul, my spirit, as I connected in prayerful inner silence. After fifteen minutes I rose again, put some money in the man’s pot and went to the meeting.

The meeting was conducted in a good spirit. There were opinions expressed, people agreed and disagreed. Much was discussed and it was all done deeply respectfully; strong opinions were expressed and we all listened to one another lovingly and respectfully. A lot was left unresolved but the meeting lifted my spirits. Not because of the decisions that were reached, it was not a great success in that sense, but the respect in which the meeting was conducted. It was good to be in this spiritual oasis in the heart of what seemed at times a crazy city.

Sadly this appears to be a rare thing in our day and age; it seems that we, the people, are always shouting at one another these days. Discourse and dialogue has on the whole gone the way of the dodo, we have all but lost civility and respect. Truth is hard to find too. It seems that so many of our public figures are crying wolf all the time. Who do we trust, who do we believe? It would appear that debate is more about proving how wrong the other is rather speaking truth in love. It seems that everybody is shouting at each other, who amongst us hears a single word that is being said.

Of all the crisis that we face in this our current age, I suspect that one of the most destructive is one of love, respect and dare I say civility. We need to stop seeing one another as the enemy who we must defeat.

Now one place where decency and civility in discourse has all but disappeared is on our online discourse. I suspect that most folk could do with some lessons in minding our cyber manners. An example of this was shared at the MDA meeting I attended about inconsiderate behaviour on a denominational facebook page. It happens in all walks of life. Online abuse and bullying is growing. People say and share things online that they would never dream of doing face to face. Online interaction is not the same as face to face interaction, but the damage done by inconsiderate behaviour can be equally destructive. Lies are also spread far more easily on such forums. People are disbelieved, public figures are not trusted and in our current climate we do need to trust medical experts etc. The capacity to appear almost anonymous online can lead to ugly lies being spewed without constraint, these can lead to the destruction of reputations.

Now please don’t me wrong I am not wishing to come across as what some describe as a “snowflake” healthy dialogue is vital, criticism is too. The problem stems from how we communicate and offer our criticism. There is also the need to for humour too. I saw much of this at the MDA meeting, which included healthy teasing, what some call banter. I witnessed it last Monday too at my stag do as friends engaged in gentle teasing of one another about their differing political views.

Humour is so vital in life and loving teasing is an expression of this. As William B Irvine put it in “A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt- And Why They Shouldn’t”

"Playful teasing is one important way in which social bonds are strengthened. You don't, if you have any sense, tease strangers on the bus, since they will find your behavior insulting. Nor do you tease people you have just met. But if you know someone and want your relationship with that person to be even closer, teasing is one way to achieve your goal. Teasing implies a level of acceptance and even intimacy. Indeed, if no one ever teases you, it could well be because you don't have any close friends.”

If you spend time in my family teasing or joshing as we used to call is a real sign of deep affection. No doubt I will be getting a roasting next Saturday as my brother gives his Best Man speech.

There is a place for loving humour in the way we communicate with each other. It is a vital aspect of human bonding.

So I’ve laid out a few of the problems, all well and good you may well say, but what about solutions, other than developing a sense of humour. How should we communicate? Is there a way to do so in loving and honest ways, particularly when it comes to public dialogue? Well I believe that there is.

Perhaps the “Three Fold Test” for right speech might be an answer.

According to this test there are three things that we ought to ask ourselves before speaking

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

Apparently It dates back to 1835 and a poem by Beth Day, titled “Three Gates of Gold”. This is how it goes...

If you are tempted to reveal
A tale to you someone has told
About another, make it pass,
Before you speak, three gates of gold;
These narrow gates. First, “Is it true?”
Then, “Is it needful?” In your mind
Give truthful answer. And the next
Is last and narrowest, “Is it kind?”
And if to reach your lips at last
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
What the result of speech may be.

Now no doubt this poem was influenced by an old Sufi tradition which suggests that we should only speak after our words have managed to pass through four gates.

At the first gate we should ask ourselves “Are these words true?” If so then we let them pass through; if not, then back they must go. At the second gate we ask; “Are these words necessary?” At the third we ask; “Are these words beneficial?” At the fourth gate we ask, “Are they kind?” If we answer no to any of these questions, then what we are about to say ought to be left unsaid.

Luminaries from Sai Baba to Eleanor Roosevelt have offered variations on the same theme over the years “Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary”. There is also the “Triple Filter Test”, usually attributed to Socrates which asked if it is “true, good or useful.”

The ”test” in its various forms is an example of “Right Speech”

Right Speech is central to both Christian and Buddhist morality.

“Samma Vaca” is the third aspect of “The Noble Eightfold Path”, in Buddhism. It is basically abstinence from gossip, slander, lying, maliciousness and hate speech. So to speak wisely or rightly is to do so truthfully with kindness, purpose and meaning. It is usually translated as “right speech”, although scholars suggest that a more accurate translation is actually “wise speech”.

There are many passage in both the Old and New Testament that refer to “Right Speech. from Psalm 19 “Let the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God.” In the New Testament the book of James makes reference to how a person should use their mouth “With it we bless God, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” the book of Ephesians, chapter four, verse 25 states “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.”

The Sufi, Christian and Buddhist traditions as well as other ancient and contemporary ones have offered similar ways on which we ought to conduct ourselves with our brothers and sisters. They are saying how damaging wrong speech can be to both to our neighbours and ourselves, you sense the essence of the “Golden Rule of Compassion” running through it all.

How we communicate is so important. We may not have control over what goes on in the world all around us, but how we act towards others really matters. We need to be mindful in how we speak because what we say and do and what we do not say and do not do has an impact on all around us. As the old saying goes, if you haven’t got anything good to say then its best to probably keep your mouth shut.

The old saying: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but names (words) will never hurt me.' Is simply nonsense.

The words we speak and how we speak them have real power. The words we speak are an expression of our spirit, of where we are spiritually. They express whether we are part of the creation or the destruction of life. Yehuda Berg an author on the Kabbalah a mystical form of Judaism said:

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

Words are powerful, it matters what we say and how we say it, and in what spirit. We hear words and how they are spoken before we can understand them with our minds. We hear them from the moment we are born, perhaps even before we are born in our mother’s womb. Here in the powerless and utterly dependent moments the words we hear and digest have a powerful influence on the people we become. This continues throughout our lives.

Everything matters, every thought, every feeling, every action and every word spoken. What we say and how we say it is not the only power at work, of course not, but never ever let anyone tell you it does not matter. You have no idea the power that you are involved in with the words you speak. Your very next sentence maybe the beginning of something beautiful in the life of another, it may well play a part in changing or giving life to someone. Or on the other hand it may aid in their destruction.

So choose your words carefully, ensure they are spoken in the spirit of love as part of the creation.

When we are about to speak we need to ask ourselves.

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

What we do and what we say matters. Everything matters.

So may what we say be kind, true, and necessary.

"Everybody's Talkin'"

Sunday 8 March 2020

The Come Teach Me and The Go Away Tribes

I’m going to begin with a telling of a tale I came across from Mark Nepo. It is called “The Two Tribes”. It is a kind of modern creation mythos.

“In the beginning, when the first humans came across each other, it went two ways. Upon seeing someone different, the more fearful one said, "You're different. Go away." The other, upon seeing someone not like him, said, "You're different. Come, teach me what I don't know." While our reasoning has grown more complicated throughout the centuries, it's essentially the same. "Go away" or "Come, teach me."

Since the beginning, the two tribes have had their philosophies. The "Go away" tribe has always believed that human beings, by their nature, are self-serving and untrustworthy, in need of control. The "Go away" tribe believes in stringent laws and constraints, both moral and legal, to ensure that people don't run amuck. The "Come, teach me" tribe believes that human beings, by their nature, are kind and trustworthy. The "Come, teach me" tribe believes in empowering laws that cultivate freedom, to ensure that people actualize their web of gifts through relationship.

The truth is that we are born into both tribes and can move from one to the other, depending on the level of our fear. The times of genocide throughout history mark the extreme, malignant manifestation of the "Go away" tribe. Distorted by fear, it's not enough just to say, "Go away." For unbridled fear turns to anger, which normalized turns into prejudice and hate. Such deep, embedded fear dictates that we need to make sure that those who are different can't return. And so, we exile them, jail them, hurt them, and in extremely ugly cases, persecute and kill them.

However, the times of enlightenment throughout history mark the extreme manifestation of the "Come, teach me" tribe, which through learning and wonder leads to eras of compassion and cooperation. Empowered by trust, curiosity turns into interdependence and a belief that we are more together than alone. When allowed to blossom, we realize that we need each other and our diversity of gifts to make life whole.”

...It matters from which we tribe we are living our little and yet no less significant lives...

Fear in any form can be a deeply corrosive emotion. In its worse aspects it can lead to deep distrust and paranoia. If it grips our psyche it can destroy us from within and lead to destruction without. We live in fearful times. Whether that be of environmental destruction, economic turmoil, the Corona virus. It would appear that the tribe that distrust the becomes the dominant one. Now I am not in denial of the very real dangers present in life, my head is not buried in the ground. No, proper precautions re the current virus need to be followed and remedies to the environmental crises need to be found. These troubles are real. There is though an equally corrosive disease eating its way through life. This is the one of division, the one that sees the other as different, nay dangerous. This at its extreme paranoid level leads to the worst kind of destruction. Not just on a material external level either, but also within our own individual human souls. Fear can be the most dangerous, destructive infectious disease that consumes and destroys life; fear can be deeply addictive and all consuming.

Perhaps there is a better way, the open way, the courageous way, the path of love that sees the other as a part of the self and not separate and something to fear. Love, it is said, is the opposite of fear.

It is said that we humans are not as complicated as we often think that we are, that we are basically motivated by two forces, the same two forces that motivated the two tribes, fear and love. When fear takes hold we close in, we shut down, we pull away from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.

If you would like to understand the current state of your own humanity ask yourself these questions: What have I noticed this last week? Have I noticed insanity, hate and sorrow or have I noticed love, compassion and understanding? Have I accepted insanity, hate and sorrow? Or have I accepted love, compassion and understanding? Have I given out insanity, hate and sorrow? Or have I given out love and compassion and understanding?

If you are like me it has probably been a mixture. We all belong to both tribes, the one that is most dominant will control our lives.

Love of self, love of neighbors, and love of God are the foundational stones of the great religious traditions, the Golden Rule of Compassion is there at the core of them all. A classic example of this comes from the following story from the Jewish tradition:

"Standing on One Foot"

A man came to talk with Rabbi Shamai, one of the most famous of all the rabbis, nearly as famous as Rabbi Hillel.

"I would like to convert to Judaism and become a Jew," said the man. "But I don't have much time. I know I have to learn the entire book you call the Torah, but you must teach it to me while I stand on one foot."

The Torah is the most important Jewish book there is, and this crazy man wanted to learn it while standing on one foot? Why, people spent years learning the Torah; it was not something you can learn in five minutes! Rabbi Shamai grew angry with this man, and he pushed the man away using a builder's yardstick he happened to be holding in his hand.

The man hurried away, and found Rabbi Hillel. "I would like to convert to Judaism and become a Jew," said the man. "But I don't have much time. I know I have to learn the entire book you call the Torah, but you must teach it to me while I stand on one foot."

"Certainly," said Rabbi Hillel. "Stand on one foot."

The man balanced on one foot.

"Repeat after me," said Rabbi Hillel. "What is hateful to you, don't do that to someone else."

The man repeated after Rabbi Hillel, "What is hateful to me, I won't do that to someone else."

"That is the whole law," said Rabbi Hillel. "All the rest of the Torah, all the rest of the oral teaching, is there to help explain this simple law. Now, go and learn it so it is a part of you."

...The Golden rule and living by it is simple, but it is not necessarily easy...

Fear can eat away at the very foundations of our humanity. Fear can block us from the love at the core of all being, the love present in life. We can become afraid to risk ourselves in love; we can become afraid of what love can teach us and turn it away.

Love is a universal principle, in fact Universalism preaches the Gospel of Love for all, there is no partiality in such love. It offers an ever widening, deepening love, it preaches what Russell Miller has titled “the larger hope”. It is a love that embraces all life, engages in every aspect of existence, a universal love. It is born in the come teach me tribe. It holds out its loving arms and says come as you are, exactly as you are but remain open to loving transformation.

I am by instinct a universalist, I am at home in the “Come, teach me” tribe, but I have not always made camp there. Fear has at times taken over me, I am as human as any of us. I have taken residence with the “Go away” tribe. I have at times mistaken which tribe I was in too. I have thought I was in the “Come teach me” tribe, when In truth I have taken up residence in the “Go away” tribe. This has usually been when I have not wanted to spend time with the fearful and negative, that I have somehow believed I was above these things. I have rejected the call for love, because I was afraid of becoming vulnerable because of it. I have been like the priest and Levite in the classic parable of the “Good Samaritan”, I have walked by on the other side because I was afraid of getting caught up in the suffering of others. I have averted my eyes, I have been unable to see what is in front of me. This is very human. I attempt each day to begin again in love, I return to love. This begins by humbly accepting my finite humanity.

I find Nepo’s two tribes metaphor helpful, but like all mythos it needs to held lightly and not literally. There are not two types of people in this world. There is only one humanity. We all belong to both tribes. The key to living in love and not to be consumed by fear is to recognize this and not to condemn our fellows when they fall short and become consumed by fear.

To live in and by love is the solution to fear that consume our lives. Love though requires effort and it requires practise. To live by love is universalism, it is to recognise that we are all parts of one indivisible whole. Yes we all pull this apart at times, we all reject or push away the other in fear, but eventually we have to come back together in love or human society would completely destroy itself. How do we do this? Well through love, trust, courage, and the ability to listen are the agencies of heart, these are the qualities that allow us to “rejoin” as Nepo describes it. As he puts it “These are the qualities that each soul has waiting within it like golden seeds to be watered by the strength of our kindness. This is the purpose of community: to water these seeds and to join and rejoin.”

So which tribe are you going to live from today. “The come teach me tribe” or “The go away tribe”. It matter you know, it really does. How are going to live today in fear, or in love. It is up to us.

I’m going to end this "blogspot" with a recasting of the 23rd Psalm. It is titled “Psalm 23 for This Moment”

“Psalm 23 for This Moment” by Kevin Tarsa

May I remember
in this tender moment
that Love is my guide,
shepherding me toward ways of openness and compassion.

I have what I need, really,
with Love at my side,
above me, below me, in front of me, behind me,
inside every cell of me,
Love infused everywhere!

Just when the weight of the world I inhabit
threatens to drop me in place
and press my hope down into the ground beneath me
Love invites me to rest for a gentle while,
and leads the center of my soul to the quiet, still,
restoring waters nearby that,
I had not noticed.

And so, Love,
sets me once again on its tender and demanding path.

Even when the walls close around me
and the cries of death echo through untold corners,
gripping my heart with fear and sadness,
I know...
I know
that all will be well,
that I will be well,
when Love whispers
near to me,
glints at the corner of my eye,
rests with gentle and persistent invitation upon my shoulders.

Yes, Love blesses me,
Even as the sources and symbols of my pain look on.
Love blesses me from its infinite well,
And I turn
and notice...
that goodness and kindness and grace,
follow me everywhere,
everywhere I go.

I live in a house of Love,
Love that will not let me go.

I live in a house of love,
And always will.