Thursday 30 April 2020

The Call of the Wild Geese: Keep on honking on and on and on...

This is the sixth piece of devotional worship that I have put together for sharing, 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 3rd May. All you need is an open heart, mind, spirit and soul. A small candle will be helpful. All are most welcome. come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.

You can also enjoy a Zoom version of this service at 11am on Sunday 3rd May. If you wish to access the serivce the code is as follows: Meeting ID: 841 9082 8195

This is a recurring meeting so it will be the same code each week and for all future

"Service 3rd May 2020 "The Call of the Wild Geese: Keep on honking on and on and on"

It explores the many and varied sources of inspiration and encouragement that available to us if we have our eyes and ears open to them. How we too can be those sources. It will look closely at one of my favourites the Canada Geese and their wild honking. We need to honk together and honk and on and on. sorces of inspiration Wendell Berry, Parker J Palmer, Mary Oliver, The Gospel of Mark, a Story from the native american tradition, Angeles Arrian, Wild Geese and ordinary folk.



I invite us to join together in a time of silence…Let us invite a loving presence to be amongst us and to awaken from deep within us…


“Let Us Sing a Song to the Eternal” by Eric Williams

I call us to sing joyfully to fulfill our role as part of creation
Let us sing a song to the Eternal.
Let the earth and her children break forth in song.
Let the sky and its creatures in chorus reply.
Let the sea and all that is within it sound out praise.
Let the storms raise their voices, the river clap their hands, and the mountains echo a verse from their rocky peaks.
May we who are joined together in heart, mind, spirit and soul, despite our physical seperation sing with great rejoicing so that we can fulfill our part in the great choir of all Creation.

Source: Based on Psalm 98


Hymn number 3 (Green Hymn book) words Deane Starr Music St Theodulph 76 76 D

We sing the joy of living,
We sing the mystery,
Of knowledge, lore and science,
Of truth that is to be;
Of searching, doubting, testing,
Of deeper insights gained,
Of freedom claimed and honoured,
Of minds that are unchained.

We sing the joy of living,
We sing of harmony,
Of textures, sounds and colours,
To touch, to hear, to see;
Of order, rhythm, meaning,
Of chaos and of strife,
Of richness of sensation,
Of the creating life.

We sing the joy of living,
We sing of ecstasy,
Of warmth, of love, of passion,
Of flights of fantasy.
We sing of joy of living,
The dear, the known, the strange,
The moving, pulsing, throbbing —
A universe of change. (Deane Starr, 1923 —)

Prayer followed by Lord’s Prayer

“We Dwell Between” by Burton Carley

I invite us to join together in a time of prayer...Let us pray...
O god of our yearning, trembling, and vulnerable hearts, there is so much precious to us:
The beauty of this earth always awakening;
The dark and bitter coffee of the slow morning dawn;
The strains of music that express what is beyond the reach of words;
The realization that the same terrible tide that swept us away will bring us back again;
The sweetness of the kiss that says yes
The child born of love and grown in the blink of an eye making a vow at the altar;
The friend who knows all our faults and still cherishes us;
The courage that says no to loveless power;
The glory of the alert red fox, who gives us wonder;
The full moon that beckons us to leave ourselves;
The great privilege of tears and laughter shared in the bond of covenant.

O God, there is in this precious world so much that bewilders and challenges us:
The shifting ground during the dark night of the soul;
The numbing loss of a loved one that deadens the drift of days;
The shadow side of this greening season that will not keep it so;

The sudden mistake, accident, or illness that changes everything;
The aching pain in the beloved that we cannot soothe;
The rending of the earth and the rising of waves, wrecking lives;
The taste of ashes where delicate flowers once delighted;
The driving compulsion that overwhelms a healthy impulse;
The dreams forsaken and hopes denied;
The inhumanity justified by service to the Holy;
The good intentions that produce unintended consequences.

Between the light and the darkness we dwell, knowing both joy beyond measure and trouble beyond imagining. Keep us as we would keep each other, knowing that we belong together and that when we walk through the valley of the shadows we need not do so alone. Help us to be that good companion.

Lord’s Prayer


Here is a story taken from “The Woman Who Lived with Wolves & Other Stories from the Tipi” by Paul Goble

Paul Goble retelling the Mandan story of nature, or The Old Woman Who Never Dies.

The Old Woman Who Never Dies

"In the late summer, when the crops were ripening in the Mandan gardens, the women would build log platforms in the shade of trees beside their gardens. From there they overlooked their crops, to guard them from the flocks of blackbirds seeking to enjoy the harvest. There was corn, beans, gourds, and melons, and also generous patches of squash, which they cut into thin slices and dried to eat in the winter. The women would take it in turns to stay out by the gardens all day long. Sometimes whole families gathered at the platforms, but usually women were alone. They sang to the ripening corn, and they would not feel lonely.

"Once a young woman, who was guarding her garden, was captured by enemy warriors. They took her to their village, far away.

"Months passed, and then one springtime she escaped. She walked for many days, always hurrying, fearful her captors would overtake her. Just when she felt she would never see her home again, long lines of geese, and flocks of ducks and swans, flew low overhead, singing cheerful songs encouraging her to go on.

"They sang to her about the Old Woman Who Never Dies, who every spring sends out the multitudes of water birds. They tell people it is time to plant their gardens: rows of corn like lines of flying geese, beans as many as the flocks of ducks, squash and gourds like beautiful swans. The cheerful geese sang honoring the Old Woman Who Never Dies, telling that it is she who blesses the gardens and makes them grow.

"When the young woman reached home again, she taught her people the songs which she had learned from the geese. Ever since that time, each springtime, when the water birds returned, women would gather together to sing the songs, to feast, and pray to the Old Woman Who Never Dies, that she would bless their gardens."

1st Reflection

Now anyone who knows me will be well aware of my love for Geese, especially Canada Geese, the grey longer necked ones that have been native to this country since Tudor times, perhaps 500 years now. There songs are not beautiful like the blackbird’s, they are quite harsh actually, but they are powerfully encouraging both to one another and to me. Like “The Old Woman Who Never Dies” the geese have taught me songs, theirs are songs of encouragement for, they inspire and encourage me to keep on, especially when I am feeling a little dispirited. I first fell in love with geese when I was a student minister and was struggling to find myself as well as struggling to learn to drive. The geese of Platt Fields park somehow kept me going that as I watched them arrive, from Scotland, mate and produce their young, nurture them and then watch them fly off again. When they fly off they do so in that flying V formation. This is beautifully explained in the following meditation on “Lessons from Geese” by Angeles Arrian


“Lessons from Geese” by Angeles Arrian

It is adapted from a speech given by Angeles Arrien at the organisations Development network in 1991 and is based on the work of Milton Olsen

When flying in V formation each goose creates uplift for the birds flying behind it, by flapping its wings. The whole flock together creates 71 % greater range than if each bird flew alone.

People who share a common sense of direction and community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to lead position.

It pays to take turns doing the hard work and sharing leadership, as with geese, people are interdependent on each others skills, talents, understanding and capabilities.

The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those at the front to keep going.

We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. Groups where the honking is encouraging work much better. The power of 'encouragement (to stand by one's core values and beliefs and encourage the core values and beliefs of others in the group) is the quality of honking we seek.

When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay until it dies or can fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock. .

If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

May we have at least as much sense as geese.

from a speech given by Angeles Arrien, based on the work of Milton Olson

2nd Reflection

May we have as much sense as geese. These words came to me as I sat in silence the other morning. Each day as part of my daily spiritual disciplines I share a Zoom meditation, with many other people on line. During the silence that morning I heard that familiar sound of geese honking through my open window. It brought a smile to my face and lifted me up when I felt a little dispirited, it re-connected me in so many beautiful ways. It felt like they were honking for me, when in fact they were encouraging one another. I have been honking along and encouraging others to honk on ever sense.

We humans can and do have the same sense as the geese, certainly the folk in my meditation group do as they do in fact take it in turns to encourage each other, when they need it, each takes their turn in leading and when one gets tired and even falls they help one another. This is the basis of any spiritual community, actually any community even one that does not physically meet.

Hymn Number 76 (Green hymn book) “Immortal Invisible” words Walter Charles Smith music St Denio 11. 11. 11. 11 Welsh Hymn Melody

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee.

Great Spirit of Glory, pure source of all Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
'Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.


“The Abundance Within Us and Between Us” by Parker J. Palmer

I’m struck by how often we act as if what we need is in scarce supply, making life a grim contest to get our share, or more, of scarce resources.

I’m not talking about folks who live with real scarcity when it comes to basic needs like food, shelter, and a living wage. I’m talking about those of us who have enough or more than enough — and still cling to the “scarcity assumption” as if we needed more.

Even more striking is how the scarcity assumption can reach beyond our material needs. We sometimes act as if non-material goods — like attention, care, or love — were in scarce supply. If you get more than your “fair share” then I get less than I “deserve.” Things like these are available in abundance within us and between us, but how easily we forget!

Sadly, the scarcity assumption leads to all kinds of things that kill the spirit: anxiety, resentment, hoarding, overwork, competition, and an inability to enjoy life.

When I find myself drifting in that direction, I return to this poem. If I read it slowly enough — savoring what Wendell Berry celebrates about nature and human nature — I am better able to open my eyes and see the truth in its last line.

The “scarcity assumption” is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more I live as if it were true, the truer it becomes for me. Abundance comes as I break free of scarcity thinking and remind myself again and again that “What we need is here.”

“The Wild Geese”

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

From “Selected Poems of Wendell Berry”, by Wendell Berry.

Third Reflection

What we need is here, we just have to notice it, pay attention and share in this beautiful abundance, not hoard it and or keep it for ourselves. It is not for us alone, nothing is, it is for all to share. Last Sunday, late afternoon I felt this need to get out of the house. I had not done so since Saturday lunchtime. I didn’t go for a run as I said I wouldn’t at the weekend. I had about an hour or so to kill. There was a little tension in the house that day and we were all going through a low mood. Sue was under a lot of stress, there were many demands from the families she is trying to help. So I decided I needed to walk and to connect with nature and the world around. So, I decided to walk the route I usually run. It did it’s magic as I connected to the sight and sounds of the wild things that do not trouble themselves with the worries that we humans become dispirited by.

I noticed so many things that lifted me up, but it was something at the very end of the walk that lifted me beyond anything I could have imagined. Outside a house was a collection of children’s books and a note that read please take any that you would like. There were loads of book, mainly Little Miss and Mr Men stories by Roger Hargreaves, but several others too. I spoke through the window of the house offering money for the books, but the family would not take any. I told them that I was recording children’s stories each night and would include their daughter in a shout out. The name of their daughter is Seren, which I later discovered is Welsh for Star and what a star she is. Was this serendipity I wondered, who knows. I do know that it lifted my spirit, it encouraged me continue on, doing what I can. It felt like more of those honking geese, honking on and on and on.

I am oh so grateful for all the letter, emails, phonecalls and social media messages I have received these last few weeks as I offered material offering a balm for the heart, mind, spirit and soul. I am surrounded by geese who keep on honking, on and on and on. Let’s keep on honking on together.


I invite us to join together in a time of prayer, meditation and contemplation. Following words of settlement let is share a time in silence together. Following the silence please play some music of your own choice.

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

5 minutes of silence

Music for reflection of our own choice

Hymn  Number 233 “Others Call it God” words William Herbert Carruth Tune Aurelia 76. 76, D. Samuel Sebastian Wesley

A fire mist and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A jellyfish and a saurian,
And caves where the cave men dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty,
And a face turned from the clod —
Some call it Evolution,
And others call it God.

A haze on the far horizon,
The infinite, tender sky,
The ripe, rich tint of the cornfields,
And the wild geese sailing high;
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the goldenrod —
Some of us call it Autumn,
And others call it God.

Like tides on a crescent sea beach,
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our hearts high yearnings
Come welling and surging in;
Come from the mystic ocean,
Whose rim no foot has trod —
Some of us call it Longing,
And others call it God.

A picket frozen on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight, hard pathway plod —
Some call it Consecration,
And others call it God.


Mark Ch 4 vv 21-33

21 He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ 24And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’

26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

30 He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

4th and final reflection

I have been thinking a lot about those honking geese and all the other signs and songs of encouragement I have experienced and witnessed in these weeks of lockdown, there has been much that has both inspired and encouraged me. How do we keep on honking on together, sing those songs of encouragement to one another? How do we encourage one another how do we inspire one another in these challenging times? How do we fill our children’s hearts with love and their spirits with faith in love and life? Well I believe it begins by allowing them to witness what it is that makes us come alive. Howard Thurman said “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it. For what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

That is so true. This is what the world needs more than anything, people who come alive, this is how we inspire and thus encourage, by our simple example. This is what I love about the conversations that I have with people. Yes they often tell me about their pain, but also their joy. I am constantly amazed by the conversations I have with people, they tell me beautiful love filled things about their passions and joys. It has been happening all over the place these last few weeks. Ok the setting has been different as the conversation have not been face to face, but people keep on sharing amazing things to me from their hearts, encouraged by what I myself have shared. It continues to blow my heart open as I feel that spirit in me coming alive. I see it all around me in those wonderful examples of people dedicating themselves to helping others to find what is already within them, I find it beautifully inspiring. They honk on in their own beautiful ways.

It brought to mind a rather beautiful mantra I once heard. It goes by the title “It’s time somebody told you”:

“It’s time somebody told you that you are lovely, good and real; that your beauty can make hearts stand still. It’s time somebody told you how much they love and need you, how much your spirit helped set them free, how your eyes shine full of light. It’s time somebody told you.”

When was the last time someone told you? We all need this kind of love and encouragement.

Who are the people who have inspired you? Those who did not hide their light, they let is shine so bright so that others could see. Who planted the seeds of love or who nurtured those seeds and enabled them to grow and flower? Who have been your inspirations in your lives? Who are the people who have encouraged you to come alive?

The truth is that we all inspire or dispirit one another, we all encourage or discourage one another. No one lives a neutral life.

It is an interesting word inspiration. Like so many others it has been reduced in meaning over the years. Today it means someone or something that gives you an idea for doing something, but originally it meant “immediate influence of God or a god”. It comes from the old French word “inspiriacion” meaning “inhaling in or breathing in from the Latin “inspirare” meaning to blow into or breath upon so as to excite or inflame. This is the meaning in the following verse from Genesis Chapter 2 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It really meant to infuse or animate to affect to rouse to guide to put life into the human soul. It meant something much more profoundly powerful in the past that it does today.

That said I believe that we can and do inspire in this way and in so doing we can bring the kingdom to life in our own hearts and lives. We can ignite that divine spark.

I believe that this is what Albert Schweitzer meant when he said:

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”

Those who rekindle the light are the inspirers amongst us.

I strongly believe that it is our task, our religious imperative to enliven the spirit within us, to truly come alive, our world needs it. And as we do to breath out that loving spirit and encourage love within one another.

It is our religious task to both breath in and breath out inspiration, to bring to life that seed of love at the core of our being. To shine as we are meant to shine and to not be afraid to be all that you are meant to be. For as Howard Thurman said, “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

And how do we do this? Well by simply living the life we love, by simply doing so we inspire those we meet to do the same and all life benefits and in so doing we might just bring the kingdom alive, right here right now. Actually there is no might about it we do bring the kin-dom of love alive within us and in so doing we shine a little bit of light on all those we share our lives with. In so doing we inspire and we encourage others to bring love and life alive.


Final thoughts and poem

Now before we sing our final hymn for today I thought I would offer a final poem on Geese, Wild Geese as a matter of fact, from the wonderful and now sadly deceased Mary Oliver

It sings a beautiful if at times harsh song, just like the Wild Geese within it. The beauty of the poem is in its reminder that even when we feel out of sorts, or we feel like we don’t belong here, when we feel dispirited or discouraged, that we do infact belong here, that we are indeed wanted, needed and loved. The beautiful gift of this poem, that has lifted so many, is that it reminds us that whoever we are and however we are, each of us has a place of welcome and honour in the family of things. Those honking geese remind me of this every day.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Let’s keep on honking folks, honk, honk, honk.

Hymn 70 (Purple hymn book) “I wish I knew how” Words and music Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas tune Mandella

"I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free"

I wish I knew how

It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should say
Say 'em loud say 'em clear
For the whole round world to hear

I wish I could share
All the love that's in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you'd see and agree
That every man should be free

I wish I could give
All I'm longin' to give
I wish I could live
Like I'm longin' to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
Though I'm way overdue
I'd be starting anew.

Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly
I'd soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
And I sing 'cause I know
How it feels to be free


“Worship need not cease” by Gordon B McKeeman

Worship need not cease.
It can echo in our lives,
in our words,
in our deeds,
in our moods,
in our dreams.
Carry worship with you wherever you may go.
Be a blessing in your going out and your coming in.

May you all that you meet…In all that you feel, all that you think, all that you say and all that you do…


Thursday 23 April 2020

“The Final Freedom: Choose Life, Choose One’s Attitude”

This is the fifth piece of devotional worship that I have put together for sharing, 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 26th of April. all you need is an open heart, mind, spirit and soul. A small candle will be helpful. All are most welcome. come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.

You can also enjoy a Zoom version of this service at 11am on Sunday 26th April. If you wish to access the serivce the code is as follows: Meeting ID: 841 9082 8195

This is a recurring meeting so it will be the same code each week and for all future groups. 

“The Final Freedom: Choose Life, Choose One’s Attitude”
A service led by Rev Danny Crosby and Susan Crosby. Sources of inspiration include Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning”, Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man”, Moses, Nietzsche, Parker J Palmer, and personal reflections on our lives, professions and the current situation we all find ourselves in.
I invite us to still ourselves together in silence, united in heart, mind, spirit and soul, despite our physical separation. Let us invite a loving presence to be here amongst us and to awaken from deep within us.
Chalice Lighting
We join together in our physical separation, but united in our devotion to life and love.
Help us to sing for joy, like the birds each morning sing their faith in being alive and being here.
May we know the deep connections that sustain us, the roots that hold and nurture beneath the surface of our lives.
May we not be afraid to explore the depths of being, the many layers of life.
May we remember that we are deeply connected in heart, mind, spirit and soul.
May we be open to all that this day brings
To all that life offers and may we offer our all to life.
May our being become a vessel this day and all days

Hymn  210 “When the song of life is ringing”
Words David Charles Doel Tune Converse 87. 87. D Charles Crozat Converse

When the song of life is ringing
through the green fields and the wood
and the love of God is singing
in your mind and in your blood,
holy angels come to give you
wondrous gifts of joy and peace;
and the soul will leap with rapture
in a dance of glad release.

But when life’s harsh road has brought us
only hurt and grief and pain
and the darkness hides the promise
We feel now was made in vain,
sad the song we sing amidst tears
from the well of human woe,
for no angels’ song the soul hears,
where the heart is stricken low.

Yet in life, if we stay faithful
to the trust we cannot shake,
if we honour our creator
with this life we did not make,
we shall find how God supports us –
God who’s true in everything –
brings us through the dark and lean times
to that place where angels sing.


I invite us now to join together in a time of prayer. These words of prayer will followed by the prayer that Jesus taught, the Lord’s Prayer which I invite us to share together.

Let us pray

At this quiet time and in the spirit of worship we would seek to know more deeply what it means to love one another.
We know so well our own needs. We know that we, ourselves need understanding, affection and recognition. Why is it then that so often we hesitate to extend these precious gifts to others? The cost of a kind word is small. The moment that it takes to listen could hardly be better used. A gesture of forgiveness can mark a new beginning. An embrace or a note of appreciation can convey crucial encouragement and comfort. And yet, so often we fail even within our own families to live by the sacred command that we should love one another.
O Power that is Greater than all and yet present in each, strengthen our faith, increase our resolve to give more generously of ourselves. We pray for the courage to take the risks of love. We pray for the insight to see ourselves and others in perspective. We pray for humility and understanding that we may always stand ready to forgive and begin anew.

Lord’s Prayer (spoken)


There is a story told of a rabbi in ancient times who gathered his students together very early one morning, while it was still dark. He put this question to them: "How can you tell when night has ended and the day has begun?" 

One student made a suggestion: "Could it be when you can see an animal and you can tell whether it is a sheep or a goat?" 

"No, that's not it," answered the rabbi. 

Another student said: "Could it be when you look at a tree in the distance and you can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?" 

Again the rabbi answered: "No." 

After a few more guesses the students said: "Well, how do you tell when night has ended?" 

The rabbi answered: "It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and you see them as your brother or sister. If you cannot do this, then, no matter what time it is, it is still night."

“Looking for Coins”

One day a little boy was walking along the pavement when he spotted a shiny new coin on the ground. He picked it up and put it in his pocket. “I’ll save this,” he thought, and when he arrived home he put the coin in a jar. So excited was he by his find, that he would look for coins whenever he went out, and there was rarely a day that he didn’t find something.
“This is easy money,” he said to himself, “all I have to do is to keep my head down, scan the ground carefully with my eyes, and pocket my reward! People are so careless! Can’t they hear the coins falling from their hands?”
He continued his daily search into adult life, and over the years he accumulated quite a sum of money, well over a thousand pounds. He was able to fill ten jars with coins.
Unfortunately, because his eyes were cast down most of the time and money dominated his thoughts, he missed a thousand spectacular sunsets, ten thousand smiles of greeting, the annual blossoming of the cherry tree, and three hundred and ninety seven rainbows.
He sold all these wonders for less than a penny each.

Hymn 151 “Be Thou My Vision”
Be thou my vision, O God of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me God;
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower,
raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor world’s empty praise,
thou my inheritance, now and always;
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
Sov’reign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

Sov’reign of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun.
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.


“Your Life Is a Shrine to Meaning” by Parker J Palmer

I love this poem, “So” by Leonard Nathan and it needs little commentary from me. Behind it lies a question many of us ask ourselves from time to time: Given my small, ordinary, un-famous, and fleeting life, what can I do that’s of true worth and value? Then it offers an answer that I find simple, real, moving, and doable.
I re-read this poem occasionally and ask myself, “Using everything I have — including my own ‘costly gifts of hunger, choice, and pain’ — what can I do today to keep raising the ‘modest shrine to meaning’ I’d like to create with my life?”
Maybe it’s planting a tree, maybe it’s a random act of kindness to a stranger, maybe it’s offering comfort to someone who’s hurting, maybe it’s writing a thank-you letter to a mentor who saw your potential and drew it out…
There’s always something meaningful I can do to honor the gift of life in myself, others, and the world around us. Just do it!


So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
or even a well-known singer
of popular songs and will never read Greek
or speak French fluently,
will never see something no one else
has seen before through a lens
or with the naked eye.
You’ve been given just the one life
in this world that matters
and upon which every other life
somehow depends as long as you live,
and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
choice, and pain with which to raise
a modest shrine to meaning.
By Leonard Nathan

Sue’s Reflection

In our newly changed household there have been many really meaty discussions. Lockdown has enforced our company on each other more than we would probably have chosen. At least I’m pretty sure that Lucy, aged 16, would really rather be going to college, hanging out with her friends and able to see her boyfriend rather than sharing a house ALL DAY EVERY DAY with her mum and new stepdad! But we are adapting.

I am not one of those who have been furloughed, I am self employed and busier than ever with work. However my ‘spare’ time cannot be spent in my preferred way of going out to the cinema, theatre, listening to music and other entertainments.

So I’m doing more in the way of connecting and chatting to friends and family and that pile of books by the bedside is being dusted off...

In truth I had not heard of Victor Frankel before meeting Danny but there is a book so important to him that I have been intending to read it for some time “Man’s Search for Meaning” written about his experiences of life and suffering in more than one concentration camp.

Reading it has bowled me over. I was particularly touched by this statement:

“... everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.

I have experienced a change in my own attitude this week as regards my work.
As a funeral Celebrant attempting to help families and conduct ceremonies within the restrictions of this time it is challenging. But is it helpful to apologise to the family for only being able to offer a sub-normal service? To emphasise the reduction in size of the congregations or the time restrictions? I don’t think that has been helpful at all.
Families are then left with a feeling of not being enough, not giving enough to their dear one.

A month ago Danny and I were supposed to be married with a very big hurrah. 250 hurrahs actually. It took me about 3 weeks to change my attitude from utter disappointment to something more constructive. I realised I was living with the feeling that we would ‘do it properly’ further down the line...
The reality of that was that I didn’t really feel like we had “done the do”.

I compared this feeling to those of my bereaved families. Many of them wanted ‘to do it properly’ with big celebrations of their loved ones lives. Without them, with only 10 or 15 people present, were they therefore not ‘properly’ laid to rest? If this is the feeling they were left with then I was not serving them well and they would not have completed a very important leg of the bereavement journey.

We are working within confines that are real and are necessary but is it still possible to feel satisfaction and comfort. Can we adapt?
My motivation had to be to help these families (as I have been trained to do) to move from one state to another. To find peace with the reality of the time.

Victor Frankel was fond of quoting Nietzche “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how

So at the moment ... the how to live is ‘Stay home’ and the why is to ‘Save Lives’

This works if it feels relevant to our survival, the survival of those we love but it is harder to convince a population to follow this ‘for the greater good’.
We have to battle the personal apathy and self-centred attitude that can be human nature.

There have been many wonderful and varied acts of kindness and warmth in the last month. There have been reports of courage, resilience and generosity. In fact the news as I experience it does seem to give more stories of hope and humanity than usual, presumably to balance the frightening figures and reality of a global pandemic. We make can make some sense of the suffering and the restriction of these times through searching for meaning.

The writer Mary Shelley made some sense of her own deep grief on the loss of 3 of her children and her husband through her books. 2 of those children had died of widespread infectious diseases that science has since contained.
She lost her mother before she knew her. The trailblazing Mary Wollstonecroft died through complications in childbirth bringing Mary Shelley into the world. Childbirth was a ‘common’ killer of so many women, another medical situation that has improved through scientific advances.

What was common has become uncommon.

Mary Shelly, in her grief, wrote the novel ‘The Last Man’ in which the human species is gradually erased (by a pandemic) leaving this sole survivor. What is the question left for him? “Why live?” Shelley’s answer:

“There is but one solution to the intricate riddle of life; to improve ourselves and contribute to the happiness of others”

 That seems like a most excellent rule of thumb, but is that spirituality?
Well, whatever the label it works for me. What has felt very clear to me is that the way to go is through acceptance of all of this, everything that is going on.
All that is lost, all that is found and that this life and what we do now, how we are, is enough.

Back to Victor Frankel .. “we who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread”
This is both astounding and beautiful.
They were exercising that last freedom left to them - their attitude, they could still choose their “own way”.
Where one may hide their tiny rations and even try to steal others, another man is there giving away his. What makes the difference?
Faith? Hope? Love? I have heard these words before. They are from another book.

So we come back to the how and the why of it.

We live like this now, with restrictions and with social distancing, with safe numbers of people kept apart by 2 metres, that is how ... and why we live like this is to protect those we love, whether we ‘know’ them or not.
Because if we love each other as if we are all family, all kin, then our hearts can stretch to capacity, we can find ourselves adapting and coping with things we thought we could not bear to be without (or live with).
All are equally worthy of protection, we hold and support each other and by doing so we protect ourselves from the real danger to humankind - apathy.


Let us now join together in time of prayer, meditation and contemplation. Please time to settle into quietness, to still your mind, to connect to your body, to breathing…to the breath that connects all life. Let us be still and silent together…



Music (Of your own choosing)

Hymn 21 “Come and find a quiet centre”
Words Shirley Erena Murray, Music Lewis Folk Melody 87. 87. D

Come and find the quiet center
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed:
clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us,
knows our being, touches base,
making space within our thinking,
lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we're shrinking,
finding scope for faith begun.

In the Spirit let us travel,
open to each other's pain,
let our loves and fears unravel,
celebrate the space we gain:
there's a place for deepest dreaming,
there's a time for heart to care,
in the Spirit's lively scheming
there is always room to spare!


“Open Eyes” by Victoria Safford

To see, simply to look and see, is an ethical act and intentional choice; to see, with open eyes, as a spiritual practice and thus risk, for it can open you to ways of knowing the world and loving it that will lead to inevitable consequences. The awakened eye, is a conscious eye, a willful eye, and brave, because to see things as they are, each in its own truth, will make you very vulnerable.

Think of yourself as a prism made of glass, reflecting everything exactly as it is, unable to exist dishonestly -- reflecting beauty where there is beauty, violence where there is violence, loveliness and unexpected joy but there is joy, violation where there is violation.

Here's the front page of the paper; here's that seedy, gossipy conflict at your job; here's a memory, unblurred by wishful thinking; here's a perfect afternoon in spring, and buds now on the trees, and blackbirds in the marsh. Here's the world, just as it is -- now look!

That kind of seeing is a choice, and it is sacred practice.

And then there is refraction -- taking into yourself, as a prism takes in light, the truths of what you see and hear and transforming it somehow, changing its direction, acting on it, rendering it somehow, anew. That again is holy work. The spring day, received, comes out again as gratitude (dispersed into a spectrum); a sorrow, yours or someone else's, fully realized and received, not denied, not covered up, not justified or explained away, ignored -- some sorrow clearly, previously seen is taken in, absorbed and felt, and reemerges, bent now into compassion. To see clearly is an act of will and conscience. It will make you very vulnerable. It is persistent, holy, world transforming work.

Danny’s Reflection

It is not easy to look at the world as it actually is, in all its beauty and its violence, all its joy and suffering, to truly accept the blessings and curses that come with choosing life. I am sure we all feel tempted to turn away from time to time, to close our eyes, to try and not look on the suffering, to avoid. You may be able to insulate your heart from the pain for a time, but you also cut yourself off from the love and joy, the blessings in life and in so doing you experience the worst of all sufferings, the suffering within the suffering, this sense of being utterly disconnected from the love present in life.

On Monday morning I conducted the funeral of a woman Joan who is loosely connected to the Urmston congregation, her daughter Beverley is married to Julian who is one of Stella’s sons. It was a deeply upsetting occasion as only Joan’s other daughter Alison and her husband Dave were able to be there. It was the hardest service I have ever conducted, in many ways. Deeply distressing holding them both through this process while other family members and loved ones could not be there. I did the best I could, but it did not feel enough. The family though I know appreciated what I did. They were glad to have someone there, a human face to hold them through this deeply distressing time. I also witnessed just how visibly distressed and how tough it is for all who work in the funeral industry at this time. I have been holding all who work in this vital area of service, one that is not recognised publicly, deep in my heart these last few days. They are offering a vital service in heartbreaking times.

I looked into the eyes of many people that day, all of whom were deeply distressed. My eyes were certainly open and awake. I have noticed all my senses are wide awake too, maybe not touch as we cannot be in physical proximity, but my eyes and my ears have never been more awake, perhaps they are compensating. This is allowing me to experience the natural beauty of this Spring, it feels like the most beautiful I have ever known, like no Spring I have ever witnessed before. My eyes are feasting on colours, I have never seen more Robins, hopping around observing physical isolation naturally. I am also hearing the blackbirds singing more sweetly than they have ever done before. There were a couple of beautiful blackbirds singing their hearts out at Altrincham Crematorium, singing the sweetest songs I have ever heard. Perhaps these songs of life were their blessings for the grieving.

My eyes, my ears, my senses are open and exposed I am not turning away from the suffering. I am choosing life in all it’s challenges and life is responding as I notice things in ways I have perhaps never done before.

Good old Moses has been on my mind. I and many others are experiencing both the blessings and curses of “Choosing Life”. He led his people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 30 vv 11-19 Moses speaks to the people on his 120th birthday. God had just informed him that he would not enter the Promised Land, after fourty years of journeying through the wilderness.

As they reach the Promised Land the people gathered to receive Moses’ final blessing. And what does he say? He tells them that they must “choose life.” They are told that in order to keep the freedom that they have been given they must make thoughtful choices about their lives. I am sure that this must have been scary for them, for after all they were frightened of their freedom. Throughout their time in exile whenever they were given freedom they did not want it, they hoped that someone would make their decisions for them. Again this is such a universal predicament, it echoes through the ages. How often do we wish that someone would make our decisions for us? Wouldn’t that make life easier? But we must make the decisions, we must live our lives. We will make mistakes. I have made many and will make many more.

Now "Choose Life" is a phrase that has seeped into public consciousness on at least two occasion over the last 30 years. Two places that would at first glance seem highly unlikely.One was in a "Wham" pop video to the song "Wake me up before you go-go". I feel fairly confident in claiming that George Michael, Andrew Ridgley and Pepsi & Shirley didn't know they were quoting Moses when they were dancing along to this song. It is also the inspiration for a poem by John Hodge that was spoken by Ewan McGregor to the tune for "Lust For Life" by Iggy Pop for the trailer to the film "Trainspotting". A film that is definitely not about "choosing Life", as it’s a film about heroin addiction. Addiction is the ultimate rejection of life.

In “Choosing Life” we choose all of life, blessings and curses. We do not get one without the other, but we do get life, the ultimate free gift. The biggest mistake we ever make in living is that we wish so much of our lives away, we dream of some other place, a heaven, a nirvana, an Oz, an Ithaka. Life though is not some other place it is here now, The Promised Land, the Kingdom of Love, Nirvana is here now, in our mortal lives.

Choosing life is not always easy, it takes courage. Past experiences can often stop us dead in our tracks. Fear can block our attempts to step out into the world and back into the adventure of life with all its many challenges. Fear is always present to stop us to block us along the way, but so is faith and courage also.
So what’s the choice? Well the choice is to keep on turning to life, with all our senses open, doing whatever we can, with whatever we have. It will not be easy, it never has been, no doubt it never will be. There will be suffering, for suffering is a part of life. You cannot transcend it, nor do you have to be consumed by it. You can though be transformed by it and if you stay open and keep on turning towards, instead of away from life, you will also experience the joys and the blessings too and live a life deep and rich in meaning.

We have before us life, blessing and curses, suffering and joy, the beautiful journey, for life itself is the Promised Land, the ultimate free gift, the ultimate Grace. Let’s choose life.
Let’s keep on journeying on and on and on.

I invite us to listen to this prayer poem “Each new Morning” by Penny Quest prayerfully…
Let us pray

“Each New Morning” by Penny Quest

Each new morning two choices are open to every one of us:
The choice to live that day in the joyfulness of Love,
Or in the darkness of Fear.

Each new day, as the sun rises,
We have another opportunity to make that choice.
The symbolism of the sunrise is the removal of shadow
And the return of Light.

Each new morning we have another chance
To rid ourselves of the burdens, sorrows and fears of the past,
To rejoice in the joy of the present,
And to look forward to a future of fulfilment
On every level of our being.

Each sunrise is a fresh opportunity to release fear,
To choose a different life-path,
To commit ourselves to joyful, light living,
To trust in ourselves and in the Universe,
To trust in the forces of Nature and in Mother Earth,
To trust God, the Creator, the all-That-Is.


Final Hymn 201 “What shall we say to them”

Words Peter Sampson Music Diademata S.M.D.

What shall we say to them
When we all want to know
that God is in the world and feels
their inmost secrets glow?
We all must say to them
What we all know for sure
That there’s a goodness in the world
Which ever shall endure.

What shall we do for them
When they are in distress
And anguish burns within their hearts
For which they seek redress?
We all must help them live
With confidence and trust
That if we hold fast to the truth
Love lights up even dust.

What is our vision bright
which we must show the world;
how perfect love can cast out fear
and life’s flag be unfurled?
We may not give up hope;
we will not give up love.
Our lives are grounded in the faith,
in one God we all move.


Go now in love. 
A love for life
A love for one another
A love for self
A love for God
And may we carry this love with us in all that we feel and all that we think and all that we say and all that we do.