Thursday 21 May 2020

"The Real Lord of the Flies: Survival of the Friendliest"

This is the ninth 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 24th 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 24th 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.

“The Real Lord of the Flies: Survival of the Friendliest

Light Chalice

I invite us to still ourselves together now in silence…Let us invite a loving presence to be here amongst us and to awaken within us

Opening words

From beyond the playful late spring clouds,
beyond the earth's thin blue line,
from beyond the bright moon and meteor showers,
we hear the call to look and listen carefully,
to turn away from a world that buys and sells happiness,
to fully experience the luring whisper of our heart's truth.
Why not today, why not now?

We are here and together and yet physically separate at home in this evolving place,
home in this ever changing breath and body,
home in this morning even as it reaches toward the fullness of the day.

We hear the call from far beyond and deep within and we do not hear it alone.

Come, let us worship together.

Hymn Green 249 “Life’s Great Gifts” words adapted by Waldemar Hills from William E Oliver Tune Brother James’s Air 86. 86. 86.

Life is the greatest gift of all the riches on this earth;
life and its creatures, great and small, of high and lowly birth:
so treasure it and measure it with deeds of shining worth.

We are of life, its shining gift, the measure of all things;
up from the dust our temples lift, our vision soars on wings;
for seed and root, for flower and fruit, our grateful spirit sings.

Mind is the brightest gift of all, its thought no barrier mars;
it seeks creation’s hidden plan, its quest surmounts all bars;
it reins the wind, it chains the storm, it weighs the outmost stars.

Love is the highest gift of life, our glory and our good;
Kindred and friend, husband and wife, it flows in golden flood;
So, hand in hand, from land to land, Spread sister-brotherhood.


I invite you now to join me in a time of prayer.

Let us pray

Spirit of light, Spirit of Love, Spirit of life hear our prayer…help us to see that we are children of this earth, children of God, children of the universe. Help us to see that we are precious and that our world is a precious blessing…still us, help us to be still and to know that we are loved.

If we come here feeling alone, help us to know we are not alone…we are here among friends, some we have known for many years, some we have known for only a short time and some we may never have met before...

If we come here with guilt for what we have done, or failed to do, help us to see we are not alone that we are in the healthy company of others with the same guilt over the same shortcomings…

If we come here wishing our lives were more whole, more satisfying, perhaps even more perfect, help us to see that the honesty of these wishes marks us out as someone who belongs here…here we come to face the truth unafraid, even when we are afraid. Because we know, even when we do not want to know, that the truth can set us free. Perhaps not painlessly, but the truth can set us free…

After all we do know…we just need to remember that we are children of the earth, children of God, children of the universe. We know that we are precious and the world needs our blessing.

Be still, be still and know that you are loved.


I invite you all now to join together in the prayer that Jesus taught. Our father…

Lord’s Prayer


“The Real Lord of the Flies” by Rebecca McPhee from “”

Western culture tends to present people as innately selfish. This widely accepted view even has a name: It’s known as the Veneer Theory, and it states that human kindness and morality are just a thin veneer over an otherwise selfish and nasty human nature.

Dutch historian Rutger Bregman takes a more optimistic view of humanity: He says that our species dominance has depended on human kindness and communication. He explores this idea in his latest book, “Humankind: A Hopeful History”

One of the starting points for his book was the true story of a group of boys who were stranded on a desert island for over a year. So far, it sounds like Lord of the Flies, but unlike William Golding’s literary classic, this group of real-life boys did not descend into savagery. Bregman tracked down their rescuer, Peter Warner, and one of the members of the shipwrecked group, Mano Totau. Their story is nothing short of amazing.

In June 1965, six students aged 13 to 16 from a strict Catholic boarding school in Tonga, in the South Pacific, decided that they were so bored, they would run away. Their vague idea was to escape to an exciting new life in Fiji or New Zealand. As none of them owned a boat, they “borrowed” one from a local fisherman they disliked and set off.

They didn’t exactly think their adventure through. No one thought to take a compass or map, they packed very little food and had no real plan. They also made a terrible mistake –- they all fell asleep. When they woke, they were in the middle of a storm. The wind shredded their sail, the rudder broke and they drifted for eight days. They survived by collecting rain water in hollowed-out coconut shells. They shared it equally; each allowed a mouthful in the morning, and another in the evening.

On day eight of drifting aimlessly, they spotted an island. ‘Ata was more of a big rock sticking out of the ocean than a tropical paradise, but it was their only option. Today, it is considered uninhabitable, but Warner noted that by the time he had rescued the boys, they had “set up a small commune with a food garden, hollowed out tree trunks to store rain water, [and had] a gymnasium, badminton courts, a chicken pen and a permanent fire”. So far, their experience could not be more different from Lord of the Flies.

The six boys agreed to work in teams of two. They started and ended each day with song and prayer, imposed time-outs when quarrels arose and made a guitar out of driftwood and parts of their boat to lift their spirits. They initially survived on fish, coconuts, tame birds and seabird eggs. But when they reached the top of the island, they discovered a volcanic crater where inhabitants had lived a century before. Within it, chickens had been reproducing for last 100 years.

During their year on the island, one boy broke his leg in a fall. They set it using sticks and leaves, and when they were rescued, a physician was amazed to see it has healed perfectly.

Peter Warner was a well-off kid who worked for his father’s company, but he yearned for a life at sea and kept a fishing fleet in Tasmania, where he went as often as he could. It was on one of these trips in winter 1966 that he noticed through his binoculars burned patches on the cliffs of ‘Ata.

For an uninhabited island, this was puzzling. He kept looking and to his amazement, he saw a naked boy, hair down to his shoulders, leaping from the cliffs into the water. More boys appeared and followed him into the sea, screaming and frantically swimming for his boat. When the first boy reached him, he cried out, “My name is Stephen, there are six of us and we think we’ve been here for 15 months.”

When Warner took them back home, almost the entire population of their island turned up to greet them. The boys had been gone for over a year and were presumed dead. Their funerals had been held. Everyone was overwhelmed with emotion. When he returned to Sydney, Warner resigned from his father’s company and bought a new ship –- he had found his new crew on ‘Ata. He offered them all the chance to see the world beyond Tonga — what they had been aiming for when they stole the fishing boat a few years earlier. Despite their experience at sea, they all accepted.

While this is a story of loyalty, survival and friendship, showing the best side of human nature, one of the survivors, Mano Totau, now 73, admits that his memories of the island are far more harrowing. The six teenagers were stranded; they were not happy, they were terrified. He cautions everyone against thinking their experience was an enjoyable one.


I’m sure that it was horrific, but it certainly paints a very different picture of what would happen to group of boys stranded on a desert island than that pictured in William Goulding’s work of fiction “The Lord of the Flies”. This also took place on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. A plane has just gone down. The only survivors are some British schoolboys, who can’t believe their good fortune. Nothing but beach, shells and water for miles. And better yet: no grownups.

On the very first day, the boys institute a democracy of sorts. One boy, Ralph, is elected to be the group’s leader. Athletic, charismatic and handsome, his game plan is simple: 1) Have fun. 2) Survive. 3) Make smoke signals for passing ships. Number one is a success. The others? Not so much. The boys are more interested in feasting and frolicking than in tending the fire. Before long, they have begun painting their faces. Casting off their clothes. And they develop overpowering urges – to pinch, to kick, to bite.

By the time a British naval officer comes ashore, the island is a smouldering wasteland. Three of the children are dead. “I should have thought,” the officer says, “that a pack of British boys would have been able to put up a better show than that.” At this, Ralph bursts into tears. “Ralph wept for the end of innocence,” we read, and for “the darkness of man’s heart”.

Goulding’s “Lord of the Flies” is a work of fiction and perhaps its success was in its ability to portray the darker aspects of human nature and the fear that if allowed to run riot would descend into darkness. That civilisation is thin veneer that is easily torn apart, but is this true? It is interesting that the fictional account is the one that is often held up as the true picture and yet the true story has almost been lost to history. Thank God that good investigative journalism has brought it back into focus.

Which one do you believe is the accurate portrayal of humanity? Do we live behind a thin veneer of civilisation that constrains our savage urges and innate selfishness or are we cooperative by nature that actually it is about the survival of the friendliest?


From “Practice Random Acts of Kindness: Bring More Peace, Love, and Compassion into the World”

Rabbi Harold Kushner on the value of performing acts of kindness.

"Performing an act of kindness is a tonic for the one who performs it. It is a cornerstone of my faith that, just as our bodies are made so that certain foods and certain habits are healthy and others are unhealthy, so are our souls made so that certain kinds of behavior nourish the soul and other kinds are toxic. Human beings were fashioned to be friendly, honest, and helpful to each other. When we act that way, when we resist temptation, when we go out of our way to do a favor for someone, we feel right. Something inside us says, 'Yes, this is the way a person is meant to feel.' When we are deceitful or jealous, we are acting against our nature, and we have to work hard to resist the message our bodies and souls try to send us. . .

"Why did God create the world and fill it with such erratic, unpredictable creatures as we human beings are? One Jewish tradition would have it that God made the world the way it is so that we would have the possibility of being nice to each other. The Talmud teaches that when a person does a good deed when he or she didn't have to, God looks down and smiles and says, 'For this moment alone, it was worth creating the world.'

"When we go out of our way to be kind to someone, in large ways or small, our reward is the knowledge that we have redeemed the world.”

Hymn Green 14 “Beauty of the earth”

“The Beauty of the Earth” words Falliott Sandford Pierpoint Tune “Englands Lane 77. 77. 77

For the beauty of the earth, for the splendor of the skies,
for the love which from our birth over and around us lies:
Source of all, to thee we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind’s delight,
for the mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight:
Source of all, to thee we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light:
Source of all, to thee we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human care, sister, brother, parent, child,
for the kinship we all share, for all gentle thoughts and mild:
Source of all, to thee we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


“The Secret of Happiness”

The spiritual teacher was getting old and began to look for someone to replace him. There were two candidates; a young man who had excelled at meditation, at fasting and at singing. He was very popular among his peers, polite and well mannered. The second was a young man from a remote village who had always seemed shy and a bit backward in his exercises.

The master called them both and said, “I have decided to give you both a test, to see who is best suited to lead our cause in the future. I am going to tell you the secret of all happiness. But if you tell anyone else, happiness in this world will always be denied to you.” He whispered in their ears, one at a time.

In the days that followed, the first young man went about smiling to himself. He said nothing to anyone. The second young man went directly to the market place and loudly told everyone there the secret of happiness.

The master called them both back and asked what they had learned. The first young man said, “I have learned that I can keep a secret. “The second young man said, “I have learned that it is not right to keep such a secret, when so many people are unhappy.”

Which one was chosen to lead the monastery?


“A Baptism” by Robert R Walsh

She called to ask if I would baptize her infant son.

I said, "What we do is like a baptism, but not exactly. And we normally do it only for people who are part of the church family. The next one we have scheduled is in May."

She said, "Could we come to talk with you about it anyway?"

They came to see me, the very young woman and her child and the child's very young father. She explained that the child had been born with a heart defect. He had to have a risky heart operation soon. She had asked the clergyman of her own church if he would baptize her son, and he had refused because she was not married to the baby’s father.

I told them that their not being married would not be an impediment to anything we might do, but that our child dedication ceremony still might not be what they were looking for.

I explained that our ceremony does not wash away any sin, it does not guarantee the child a place in heaven, it doesn't even make the child a member of the church.

In fact, I said, it doesn't change the child at all. What we expect is that it will change the rest of us in our relationship with the child, and with all children.

She listened patiently. When I was through she said, "All I want is to know that God blesses my baby."

In my mind I gasped at the sudden clarity in the room. I said, with a catch in my throat, "I think I can do that." And I did.


Genesis 1 vv 26-31

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,* and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
27 So God created humankind* in his image,
in the image of God he created them;*
male and female he created them.
28God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.


Let us now enter a time of quiet reflection and meditation together.

I invite us to still our thoughts, quieten our minds, connect to our bodies to our breathing…Let us be still and silent together

5 minutes of silence

Followed by music of your own choice



Music for meditation

Hymn Green 204 “We shall overcome” words Pete Seeger Tune “We shall overcome” 557.97

1 We shall overcome,
we shall overcome,
we shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe,
we shall overcome someday.

2 We’ll walk hand in hand,
we’ll walk hand in hand,
we’ll walk hand in hand someday;
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe,
we shall overcome someday.

3 We shall live in peace,
we shall live in peace,
we shall live in peace someday;
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe,
we shall overcome someday.

4 Truth shall make us free,
Truth shall make us free,
Truth shall make us free someday;
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe,
Truth shall make us free someday.

5 We shall overcome,
we shall overcome,
we shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe,
we shall overcome someday.


“Monkey Hill” by Stan Rice

We will sit all day on a bench in the sun watching the spider monkeys.
It will at moments resemble an internal Eden.
But we will not know this.
We will think that we are just taking pictures with our minds.
The male will stand upright and scratch his silvery-gold chest.
It will sound rough and shameless.
Over and over the egg of tenderness will break in our hearts
at the sight of the baby spider monkeys.
For nothing could be more guileless or curious.
The mother will stand on all fours and stare into space
and we will see by her eyes that all of this is beyond her,
though she is intelligent she is unable to fathom
this sweet injustice nature has made cling to her back.
And we will wait for those moments
when out of the concrete slabs piled to resemble a hill
a splendidly squealing chaos of monkeys
rushes, some trespass or crime in monkeydom,
causing us to cry aloud, Look at that one!
And then also there will be those moments we are embarrassed
and only through a deliberate effort
will we not look away as the monkey
reaches backwards to pull at the indescribable
pink something that dangles from its bottom,
and we will feel our humanity is endangered
and that our intimate moments might lap over into the animal world
and our privacies be beheld with such ghastly frankness.
But no monkey does any one thing for very long.
So soon the candor will pass.
And gradually the shadows of the trees will touch our bench
and it will get cool, then uncomfortably cool, and there will be fewer
and fewer monkeys, and no one will be on the opposite bench
with detached and absorbed expression, and even the thief gulls
will have left the moat, and we will say these words as we stand; no;
think them: Oh God, whatever else be true, though nothing is permanent,
may the myth of our lives be like this memory of monkeys; that real.

Stan Rice, Singing Yet: New and Selected Poems


The phrase Pollyanna is often used as term of ridicule for the kind of person who lives with a child-like enthusiasm for life. Such people are told that they need to grow up and see the world for what it really is. That they need to have a realistic view of life and human nature.

Is this true? Do such people need to see the world for what it is?

In Book of Genesis, the first chapter, the creation is seen as good. God looked at his creation and saw that it was good. Is life with all its ups and downs good? What about violence, war and senseless tragedies? What about germs, disease and famine? What about the Corona Virus and the devastation that this has brought to life? What about the pain of our families, our friends, our loved ones?

Some people seem to live with unending tragedy; they seem to experience it far more than the average person. What always blows me away is that it is often the very same people who find the most joy in life, even in extreme pain and suffering. These are the kind of people that stand out as beacons to us all. They are often the most joy and hoped filled. They are angels in our midst. From this joy they give of themselves for others.

Isn’t it so often the case that the people who have been through the greatest hardships become our guiding lights. Such people have learnt to balance the good with the bad, the joy with the suffering. They are able to see the goodness in their lives as a generous, if at times mysterious gift. Now outsiders looking in at their lives may not see it this way, they may only see suffering and trouble, but it so often is not the case. These are folk of genuine faith, people who have not lost faith in life, but who see life as a gift as a blessing and not a curse as some who would look in on their lives may well do. Such people see life’s difficult moments as a challenge to rise up to, rather than burden to be endured. They affirm life as “very good indeed” despite the sadness that they know only too well, despite the real or imagined threats of violence from natural and manmade sources that are all around everyone of us. They see life as being “very good indeed” because of the gifts that it bestows upon us, the gifts that it gives us that can sustain us through the losses that we all experience in life. It is wrong to mock them as “Pollyanna’s” they are people of genuine faith, who know and experience “Love’s Way”

Such people see life as “very good indeed” not because they do not see the darkness present in life and no doubt within themselves, but because they are able to rise above such challenges and even shine some light upon them. Such light can guide us out of own troubles if we only took the time to pay attention to how these people live their lives and stopped mocking them as “Pollyanna’s”

It is so easy to see life as a curse as a vale of tears. I remember when I was at university reading “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes, written just after the English civil war. I was struck and disturbed by the bleakness of his view. I did not like it, but it has stuck with me ever since and in my darkest moments, a few years later, I began to agree with him.

Hobbes said:

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

I will repeat the last few words “And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”

For Hobbe’s what is required is an ultimate authority to bring order to wayward humanity and subjugate our anarchic and brutish nature. I see similarities here to the traditional Christian view, at least in the west, of humanities nature; that we are fallen and broken, “rotten to our timbers”, selfish to the core; due to Adam’s original disobedience in the “Garden of Eden”, which led to humanity being cast out of paradise and being forced to suffer.

But are we fallen, broken and sinful by nature, rotten to core?

Well a strand of biology, speaking from a purely secular perspective tends to agree. This has been named “Veneer Theory”. This was mentioned in the “Real Lord of the Flies” story I shared earlier. It was named by the Dutch Primatologist Frans de Weal as a way of labelling this Hobbesian view of morality, that he is himself is highly critical of. The thought is that civilization is merely a veneer “a cultural overlay, a thin veneer hiding our otherwise selfish and brutish nature, exemplified in the novel “The Lord of the Flies”. One of the leading proponents of the view was Thomas Henry Huxley who believed that morality was not a part of our nature, that our ancestors did not become moral by evolution but by choice. It is a dualistic view of humanity and the animals suggesting that such instincts are not related to the social instincts of animals. It is a view shared by Richard Dawkins, who in “The selfish Gene” wrote “we alone on Earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”

Many have criticised this view from a secular biological perspective. Stephen Gould being one of them, along with De Waal himself, liking our better qualities with that of the other animals, especially the apes. Stephen Jay Gould said himself: “Why should our nastiness be the baggage of an apish past and our kindness uniquely human? Why should we not seek continuity with other animals for our 'noble' traits as well?”

Peter Godfrey former minister at both Queens road and Dunham Road posted a rather lovely quote from Gould last week. He said:

“Soon after the Twin Towers disaster in 2001 Stephen Jay Gould wrote: The patterns of human history mix decency and depravity in equal measure. We often assume, therefore, that such a fine balance of results must emerge from societies made of decent and depraved people in equal numbers. But we need to expose and celebrate the fallacy of this conclusion so that, in this moment of crisis, we may affirm an essential truth too easily forgotten, and regain some crucial comfort too readily foregone. Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by ten thousand acts of kindness, too often unnoticed and invisible as the "ordinary" efforts of a vast majority.”

Powerful and isn’t it true. How come the darkness always seems to get all the publicity; how come we say that a work of fiction speaks the truth about nature, when it is allowed to run wild and yet we doubt the story of the “True Lord of the Flies” the beautiful tale of the six Tongan school boys. Rutger Bregman who has once again brough the real story to our consciousness claims that human society has always been based on the survival of the friendliest and that the mistake we are making is that we fail to have a realistic view of humanity in that we focus too much on what is wrong. He, echoing views held by Viktor Frankl and Goethe, suggests that to take a truly realistic view of humanity is to see them as better than we truly are, what we are capable of being and then if we fall short, we will at least achieve a realistic level.

There is great tragedy in life, but that is not all that there is. There is a great deal of quiet goodness, which we rarely celebrate, it certainly gets little publicity. As they say they rarely print the good news. Why are only negative things called radical, what about radical decency, radical goodness, even radical ok-ness. You know I once heard a wonderful speech on “radical ok-ness” It was given by the father of the bride at my nephew Joe’s wedding. I remember when I heard it how it caught me in that place deep in the soul of me. I remember him talking about the joys and sorrows of life and the pains and struggles we all go through and then he talking about an abiding love that is present in life that can hold us and sustain us in all of this. He named it “Radical Ok-ness”. This phrase really caught the heart of me and awakened the soul of me. I thought yes that’s it and in my mind I began to sing a song I once heard based on words by Julian of Norwich, the words were “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things, they will be well.”

It is easy to look at the world through eyes of despair and say that it is not ok, there is something rotten in life. There is much that is not ok. I am sure we could all make a long list of all that is wrong with life and particularly humanity. So yes it is easy to say that nothing is ok; it is easy to fall into the Hobbesian nightmare and believe has he said “And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” or in the words of the confession in the Book of common Prayer that “there is no health in us”. Human beings do some terrible things to one another and yet on the whole what I see is goodness and in the end goodness seems to prevail. I do see an ok-ness in life, when we choose it. When we bring it to life. This begins I believe by first of all seeing this, by baring witness to this ok-ness. I suspect that radical ok-ness is about bringing this goodness to life, in our very lives. When we do we bring “Kin-dom” of Love to life. I would say what those young boys did on that island together is a beautiful example of this. It was tough and at times terrifying, but they stuck together through it all. Perhaps survival of the friendliest is what the “Kin-dom of love truly looks like.

A couple of weeks ago Peter and Sheila Godfrey joined us for the Zoom service. During the service Alison Jackson reminded Peter that she was the first child that he had ever Baptised, Sheila said that no child that he ever baptised cried and I thought to myself how beautiful. I love to conduct such services myself although I prefer to call them child blessings. It interesting what different Unitarians call such ceremonies and perhaps it reveals something of their personal beliefs. Some call them naming ceremonies, others Christenings and Baptism, I prefer blessings. For that is what I believe I am doing. Yes I use water in the ceremony but not to wash away sin, our tradition rejected this concept long ago. No child is born into this world carrying any baggage; I cannot and will not accept that. Instead what I do is celebrate and bless the life of the child. I touch their brow, their lips and their hands to bless their thoughts, words and deeds. I bless the child and ask they become a blessing to life. We all need to bless more. I then ask those present to make promises to child and their family to offer guidance and to help her become a blessing to life. That they live their life as a part of the kin-dom of love that they become advocates of the “survival of the friendliest.”

Life is the greatest gift of them all. It is not a veil of tears; it is not “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.". Yes it has its troubles and challenges and we all experience suffering from time to time. Even so it is a gift, a blessing.

As Rabbi Herschell said “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy”

So let us bless life in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we feel and all that we say.

Let us make life very good indeed.

Let’s create the “kin-dom of love, right here right now, let’s engage in the survival of the friendliest.

Hymn 191 Green “To Worship Rightly words John Greenleaf Whittier Tune Londonderry Air 11. 10. 11. 10. D.

Now let us sing in loving celebration;
The holier worship, which our God may bless,
Restores the lost, binds up the spirit broken,
And feeds the widowed and the parentless.
Fold to thy heart thy sister and thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other;
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

Follow with reverent steps the great example
Of those whose holy work was doing good;
So shall the wide earth seem our daily temple,
Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.
Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangour
Of wild war-music o’er the earth shall cease;
Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger,
And in its ashes plant the tree of peace.


Many days may we share life together
And flower and flow
With all that is,
and was,
And ever shall be.
Let us bless life in our hearts and through our thoughts, words and deeds 

It will bless us in return 

In all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do.


Extinguish chalice

Thursday 14 May 2020

Respair: A Fresh Hope

This is the eigth 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 17th 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 17th 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.

Respair: A Fresh Hope

I ask that we still ourselves in invite a loving presence to be here amongst us and to awaken within us...

Chalice Lighting

Opening Words
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Arrtibuted to Kalidasa

First Hymn 201 (Purple) “What shall we say to them” words Peter Sampson Music Diademata S.M.D. by George J Elvey

What shall we say to them
when they 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 kindness 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 we seek redress?
We all must help them live
with confidence and trust
that if we hold fast to the truth
love lights sup even dust.

What is our vision bright
which we must show the world;
how perfect love can cast our 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.


I invite you to join together in a time of prayer…These words of prayer will be followed by the prayer that Jesus taught, the Lord’s Prayer.

Loving God whose temple is the whole universe and whose dwelling-place is in the hearts of all humankind, we know that you are everywhere and that your presences never leaves us to know that here and now...
We give thanks for times and places where we can join in fellowship with one another and join our spirits together with your eternal spirit. We ask that you draw near to us in this place and during this hour...
Help us to pay homage to times gone by, to remember those who came here before us , those who brought their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears, their victories and we do this day...
In this hour bring to us the true meaning of church, a living fellowship of love...
So that those who journey here today and in the days to come can rest safe in the knowledge that as they open their hearts here to one another and to your loving presence they can find, comfort and hope even in their despair...and that here too they can find a place for joy and celebration...
Loving God in this living fellowship of the spirit, made sacred by the prayers of all that went before us, help us to know our own hearts yearnings and in our time of need find the love of those here and the spirit of your eternal love.

Lord’s Prayer


Sissa was a wise and elderly advisor to the king Balahait, he was the one to whom the king always turned. As a result many other advisors in the Royal Court were jealous of Sissa. One day they challenged him, they said to the King “This Sissa never does any important work for you our King. He only ever pays attention to the small and trivial things, like the complaints of a poor woman or a lost child.”

The King listened to his other advisors and he went away to ponder what they had said. After a while he called Sissa to him. He said

“Sissa I want you to come up with a way of fighting a war that will kill no one.”

Well this really threw Sissa, as you would imagine it would. So he decided to go off into the mountains for a whole month to think it through...Sissa was a deep thinker.

After a month he returned to the King with a game, the game that today we call chess...a battle of wits in which no one dies.

Sissa explained to the King how the game worked, the King was fascinated.
The king decided to play the game with his neighbour the King of the land to the south of him who he had heard was about to declare war.

The two kings began the game and after several days of intense battle no one could defeat the other, so a draw was declared.  As a result The King of the south was so impressed by King Balahait’s tactical prowess that he decided not to declare war after all.

King Balahait sat on his throne content and deeply impressed by Sissa’s genius. He called for him to be brought into his presence and when he arrived he said:

“Sissa you are a genius and my most trusted of servants. For this I wish to reward you, but I can think of nothing appropriate...please name your reward”

All that Sissa asked for was some rice.

So the King sent for some rice. Sissa then asked for a grain of rice be placed on the first square of the chess board and that this was to be doubled one square after the other.

One grain on the first square, two on the second square, four on the third square, eight on the fourth square, sixteen on the fifth square etc...

The King thought a lunacy commission should be formed and mocked Sissa, as did his other advisors...Sissa is a fool etc...

That said as he saw the rice pile up as he went from square to square and as he kept having to call for more sacks of rice he began to change his tune and began to see Sissa’s wisdom.

The King asked Sissa “what amount would be on the 64th square.” To which Sissa replied “No such number exists, but I will write the amount on the wall of the marble throne room.”

Finally the King began to laugh to himself, for he could see Sissa’s wisdom. He said “Now I see the wisdom in taking care of the small things before they get out of hand...Sissa I want to reward you but you had better make it a big one as there is not enough wealth in all the land to afford another small one.”

All that Sissa asked for was that the rice be given to the poor.

The King did as he was asked and then said to Sissa.

“From this day forward Sissa you will be in charge of taking care of all the small things in this land and all the small needs of my people...then hopefully the big things will take care of themselves.”


“Here,” by Karen Hering

where already
you have left behind
by choice or by force
what you knew
what you might have cherished
what you maybe took
for granted.
where not yet
do you know
where you’re headed
what it will take
what it will give
how it will change you.
on the threshold
you balance
on a comma
between the no longer
and the not yet.
may you pause,
breathing in,
breathing out,
on the cusp
in between.
where fullness gives way
to emptying
as the full moon
each month
in its waning
and makes way
for new waxing.
letting go
of attachments
and assumptions,
may you release
what you’ve clutched
in your fear,
making room
for the stranger
who is always you.
may you discover
what you’ve carried within
all along
but not known, named or needed—
ancestors’ whisperings,
newborn powers,
the hope of the young,
the resilience of Earth and her beings.
Now, these are crucial.
Clear a path
to their wellspring.
Walk it often.
Keep it open.
may you listen,
one ear turned inward
to your heart
and the body’s knowing.
One ear turned outward
to the suffering—
and the joy—
that will teach us.
look around you
at the others
waiting with you
on the curl of this comma.
You will need them.
They will need you.
we will round this bend,
cross over
into the not yet,
having let go,
we might finally learn—
is possible

Second Hymn 264 “Spring Buds of Hope” words William Wolff tune Lucerna Laudoniae 77. 77. 77. By David Evans

In the springtime of our year
Silver buds of hope appear.
Will the blossom? Will they grow?
We who plant the seed must know.
Will they blossom? Will they grow?
We who plant the seed must know.

Tender shoots thirst for the sun,
Surging with each day begun,
Banish darkness, hate and fear;
Golden fruit will soon appear.
Banish darkness, hate and fear;
Golden fruit will soon appear.

Welcome, children, welcome here,
Silver buds of our late year.
May our harvest still increase
Joys of fellowship and peace.
May our harvest still increase
Joys of fellowship and peace.


Matthew 5

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.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Sue’s Address

Forgive me if you’ve heard this before but we were supposed to have a big fat wedding in March and the echoes around here are everywhere ... a shed full of drinks, plates, cups, decorations ready to go up, strings of fairy lights gathered ... waiting, waiting ...

Are we waiting for life to resume as normal? We will have a long wait.
I heard a trailer for something this week, some kind of apocalyptic movie, it announced “there is no going back, just Before and After”

Will we be able to recreate the times that we left before the arrival of Covid-19? Return to the same land and lifestyle? Part of me has certainly spent these last weeks treading water and waiting for things to go ‘back to normal’.

I exist on Facebook but rarely go on. It was a wonderful help in my first months of practice as a celebrant. The organisation I trained with encouraged a closed support group for us to speak and share early experiences and to ask for help if needed, that group continues and I occasionally go on to listen in to the conversation. I have never physically met all but the few on my training course.

Currently there are many celebrants sharing about life ‘out there’ at the crematoria and the graveyards, how strangely overwhelming it can be to make these arrangements with families without physically meeting and within the current restrictions. My friend was mooting that emotional work done via screen and phone is twice as exhausting and I would go with that.

We miss the nuance of face to face conversation. The pauses, the body language, the glance from one member of the family to another when something significant is said. By being present and drinking tea and listening in a family home there is, without doubt, a richer process and a more satisfying encounter both ways. I am working hard to simulate this but longing to get ‘back to normal’.

It’s happening in closer relationships too. But there it has another dimension; intimacy is in transformation.

There are people I know who might not have spoken in person for years but now find themselves in a family WhatsApp group and find that they are learning and sharing all sorts about each other.
Daily check ins can become a sort of semi-public journal which when a family has been estranged or at best distant can gently build bridges that might span all sorts of ancient mistrusts and grudges. Those not used to communicating are finding a new way.

I have been observing my teenage daughter keep in touch with her friends at this time. ‘Before’ she would have used face time and Instagram in the gaps between meeting up in person. I remember my own teenage years and my dad going nuts about how long I could spend on the phone to a friend of an evening despite having seen her at school that day and being due to see her the following day .. my friend’s dad even had a payphone installed in their house!

Connection through conversation, but the phone was just an interim measure between meetings.

I know this is not exclusively the case for Lucy, she certainly has friends she only ever meets in this virtual space and those relationships are not being tested by lockdown. The Facebook friends or distant family we connect with this way. The people we only see once or twice a year, they are currently not under the same strain.

But what about those we are used to seeing in person, regularly?

My usual way of staying close to both my best friend and my son is with a regular face to face catch up.

To keep the contact with my son, which was strained almost to breaking by the divorce from his dad and various other life issues, managing his struggles with his own mental health we have been finding a way to be close and yet careful with each other.
Sitting in the car outside the house he shares with his dad was the solution for a while. We would spend an hour or so talking about the family dogs, my work, good series on Netflix, nothing too deep but a chance to hug and finish any meet with ‘I love you’ and for me to give him vast quantities of my cheese sauce for the freezer. First steps in the rebuilding of something broken.

We then graduated to my dropping in most weeks during a busy working day, we called them my ‘pit stops’, a comfort break and a chance for him to make me one of his delicious coffees at his home but without his dad there. We were both feeling more comfortable, he didn’t have to keep messaging me that he was alright and I had the chance to spontaneously check in and talk and hug (the hugs were important).

In another of my most important relationships with my best friend we don’t feel the need to message all the time or see what each other is doing on Facebook. What we do is meet up about every 3 weeks in a lunch break. We have 35 minutes to eat egg and chips and talk non-stop about our lives and families before she rushes back to school to teach and I head off back to my working day. The staff at the pub we go to know us and smile as they say “the usual” and whichever of us is there first pays for lunch. It is familiar, regular and comforting and just the right amount to keep us close and in touch with each other’s lives.
We hug (hugs are important) and tell each other we are doing our best with whatever life and motherhood is bringing on. It suits us.

This best friend also happens to be my son’s godmother and we know that we can call on each other in between meetings, but we rarely do.

Now take away the face to face, the being with each other physically and we are in uncharted territories.
I am as resistant as they are to picking up the phone, we certainly spent the first weeks just waiting to resume normal contact. However as the conditions continue and we all start to accept that this is not going away any time soon, what to do? Never mind how things will be ‘After’ how do we do ‘Now’?


The most successful social interaction of this housebound chapter has been hippy dancing with a group of women via zoom! This is a practice I enjoy once a month( I call it my ‘hippy’ dancing because any talk of the shamanic or energetic medicine tends to scare the horses, so I stick to ‘hippy’).

The music is already playing as we arrive at the church hall in Chorlton on a Friday night and we dance for 2 hours, taking pleasure in welcoming spiritual nourishment through movement, I like twirling and a good skip around the room. It is bonkers and it is beautiful. So last week on Friday night my wonderful friend and mentor who lays on this treat did it via zoom. There we all were in our different bedrooms and lounges sharing a playlist and so much more. Of course there were technical glitches but that almost made the experience more precious. Against the odds, we made it ...!!

No words, no catch up, no “how are you doing?”. But smiles and connection and a freedom from the constraints of the 4 walls. We are going to be sitting in a virtual Moon Lodge next month for the Solstice, how exciting!
This is a circle of women I feel ultimately safe with. Words are not often needed. Yes there is a talking stick but we often eat lunch in silence and there is emphasis on meditation, chanting and ritual which uses very few words.

So often words get in the way and I say that as someone who writes and delivers hundreds of words a week.

Whether it be the loss of the regular catch up and hug or the perhaps self-inflicted pressure to share more about my daily life than I am used to, I don’t like it. I grieve for the interactions that are lost, temporarily but will there ever be a ‘back to normal’. How can there be when all of us who survive will be changed by the very experience. The river of life has flowed on and we have new toes to be dipping in to the shallows. My most delicate relationships will need time in transformation and it will be fascinating and rather scary to rebuild ‘after’.

The Karen Hering poem is very significant to me. It came along last year at the end of a transformative spiritual journey taken in circle with other women, it came just after Danny had proposed and life was set to change in so many ways. It brings me a lot of comfort now.
The closing lines again:

look around you
at the others
waiting with you
on the curl of this comma.
You will need them.
They will need you.
we will round this bend,
cross over
into the not yet,
having let go,
we might finally learn—
is possible



Let us now share some time together in quiet meditation. Let us quieten our minds…quieten our thoughts…Let us just still ourselves…Let us connect to our bodies…to our breath…to our heart beats…let us listen to the spirit in the silence…Let us be still and let us be silent…

Long Silence approximately 5 minutes


Music for meditation (Choose something that speaks to you personally)

Third Hymn “This Little Light of Mine”

This little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine

This little light of mine
I'm going to let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine

All around the neighborhood
I'm going to let it shine
All around the neighborhood
I'm going to let it shine
All around the neighborhood
I'm going to let it shine
Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel? No!
I'm going to let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I'm going to let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I'm going to let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine.


"Lost" by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

-- David Wagoner

Danny’s Address

As many of you know one of my favourite places on earth is Crosby Beach and those 100 identical sculpture’s that go by the title “Another place”. There they stand staring out to sea, perhaps looking for another place, any place but here. These naked, lonely scarecrows staring out into the great big nothing, dreaming of another place. I am sure that we have felt at times these last few weeks that we could be in some other place. The truth is that in regards to our current predicament there really is no other place that any of us can go to escape this virus. It is here with us. There truly is no other place for any of us.

Often in life when trouble strikes we all ask the question why me? Why is this happening to me? It is a question born from taking life personally, it is a self-centred question and one that is probably the curse of our age. The truth is that when bad things happen they are not just happening to us personally, they are happening to others too. In this case it is happening to all of us.
The question “Why me?” always brings that 1960’s classic film to mind “Zulu” just before the camp is about be attacked the soldiers are waiting and the Dutch missionary is being sent away crying out “you are all going to die, can’t you see that, you are all going to die.” The camera then focuses on one private who has fear written all over his face he asks the question out loud “Why, why us” to which colour Sergeant Bourne answers “Because we’re here lad and nobody else, just us.”
Because we are here, we have been given the most precious gift that is life. We have been given the opportunity to live life. Yes sometimes that is hard and painful, but it is life, a privilege I have not always appreciated.
I was reminded the other day of a conversation I had with my grandad on his ninetieth birthday. I recalled him telling me how grateful he was to have lived his life. He died just eighteen months later. My grandad was grateful, every day, for the life he had been given, a life denied to so many of his generation who lost their lives, including his best friend from childhood Percy Hepworth. At 18 both young men joined the Royal Navy and went to sea during the war. My grandad came home, Percy was lost at sea. My grandad prayed every night in gratitude and promised he would live as long as he could for both his life and Percy’s. He rarely wished for another place, he lived the life he had and was grateful for it. He had his share of pain and suffering made many mistakes, but he lived his life and not only for himself. Every night he offered a prayer of gratitude and made his pledged to his friend Percy.
I cannot make that claim about my life. How often have I wanted my life to be different. I think we are all experiencing these feelings at the moment. Many folk are grieving a loss of much of their usual life, I know I am as are many around me. I am a person who likes solitude, time and space alone, but I am also an active person I love to be in an amongst people. I miss this, my heart and soul craves it. I hear so many others yearning for the life that was just a couple of months ago. We are grieving the loss of the lives we had not so long ago.
Now while it is true that we miss the life we had, but it is also true that was not without its troubles back then. I know from talking to folk that many were not happy about the state of their own lives, their families, their communities, their countries and this our shared world. And yet there is this desperate desire to get back to what we once had. As the song goes “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone.” We have nostalgia for the recent past but is it exactly as we remember it.
Now nostalgia is an interesting word. Like so much of the English language it doesn’t necessarily mean what it once did. Originally it meant “severe homesickness considered as a disease” from the German heimweh (home+woe) homesickness. It is rooted in the ancient Greek words “algos” meaning pain, Grief, distress and “nostos” meaning homecoming. Nostalgia is a painful homecoming. It is a yearning for some other place, or a yearning for how this place used to be. Nostalgia is neither accurate nor healthy, things are never what we remember them to be. I always remember something my other granddad used to say, there was no such thing as the good old days, things were not better then. Those who grew up in the first half of the twentieth century were always in danger of all kinds of diseases, and other health issues that thankfully we no longer have to worry about. My other grandad lost his younger brother Harry from a burst appendix as a child. I am told he was so fond of me, because I reminded him of his beloved brother.
No I am not going to look back, with the ache of nostalgia, I prefer to look forward, towards a new hope, to create something better, a new hope that can grow from the ashes of our current despair.
A friend of mine recently sent me a tweet published by Suzie Dent of Countdown fame, it read “I’ve just discovered the beautiful word “respair” (15th century), and it feels like we need it today: fresh hope,; a recovery from despair.”

It was originally published in 2017 but it seems to me something we need today, perhaps more than ever. I feel that things will not return to what we call normality, certainly not in the short term and actually they will never return to exactly as they were before. Nothing in life repeats, in exactly the same way. To quote Heraclitus “no one steps in the same river twice, because the river is not the same and neither is the person” We will change and society and life will change in some way. This ought to breed despair, although no doubt we have all experienced this at times, I have. So how do we turn back and live in Hope, born from that same despair. Well perhaps the solution is a fresh hope, a new hope a recovery from despair, perhaps what we actually need is respair.
But where to begin, you may well ask. Well it begins in this moment now as we are trying to get by day by day. This is where “respair grows. This is where we begin, where new hope is born right here right now. We need to begin to give birth to it, to live in and by respair.
It begins close at hand; it begins with the first step right here right now. This brings to mind a favourite poem by David Whyte “Start Close In”

start close in ~david whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.
Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.
Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
To find
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.
Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.
Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

Respair begins here now and it begins close in with the first step.” It begins with our own question. It begins by giving up on others questions. It begins by trusting what is within us, with trusting that there is a goodness within us.

Respair begins close at hand. We need to seek not only the answers but the right questions and begin to live them. I’m not sure that there is a clear road map, we have to begin to trust ourselves, trust what we are formed from, what we are made of, but we will only do that if we can trust what is within us. We have to believe that we are the light of the world, that the light is within us if we are to begin to build the kin-dom of love right here now, to build a new future for all, to not merely repair society but to truly bring respair to life, to create a new hope, a fresh hope to bring about a recovery from the current despair.

So let’s begin to respair, to give birth to a fresh hope, a new hope and let’s begin close with the first step, the step we don’t want to take.


Fourth Hymn 133 (Green) How Can I Keep from Singing” words (Early Quaker Song) Music Singing 87. 87. D Iambic American Gospel Tune

My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing!
What though the tempest ’round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness ’round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love prevails in heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing!
When tyrants tremble as they hear the bells of freedom ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing!
To prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging;
when friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing!
Closing Words

May the Eternal Bless you and protect you!
May the Eternal smile on you and favour you!
May the Eternal befriend you and prosper you!
May we carry the song of the eternal with us in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do.