Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The #Unitarian demand for personal responsibility in matters of spirit requires maturity - the Ringwood gathering in March 2018 looked at Letting Go

Familiar faces were gathered there together on 11th March when we met to focus on the topic of “When I was a Child” – Letting Go.

We are vulnerable when young, when inexperienced, and in many other circumstances when we are reliant on the guidance and words from others, rather than on what we have found for ourselves.

We each have a ragged journey towards maturity.  We progress slower in some aspects than in others, and it is common for us to go to our graves immature in some way or other, with friends posthumously describing us as having had an incurable blind spot (or two) that were part of our unique charm.

For the most part we aim to become adult across the broad sweep of human activity, and to keep growing up throughout our life, but we forget that some ideas or rules that we take for granted are those we inherited as a child.  Unexamined, these can cause problems instead.

It is particularly important that we mature in our spiritual life, which is to say in those values and beliefs that, though hidden, drive our deepest and most instinctive behaviour. 

Instructions meant to help us in our early years need to be let go when we have moved on from the help they can give.  The choice and challenge are our own.  We have to take responsibility for our own becoming, our own knowing, our own doing, and our own relating to the world.
If we don’t let leftover, irrelevant knowings diffuse away, or transform into something more appropriate, we are the authors of our own continued knottedness.  It’s not always easy to do, especially since – inevitably – those instructions were given to us when young by people whose authority we trusted, often within the family or placeholders for family.

The readings we heard were by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13), William Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet, Act 2 Scene 2) and Dennis Lee/Jim Henson/Terry Jones (Sarah’s closing speech from the film Labyrinth).  We also enjoyed learning some new chants, some trickier than others.

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered,
I have fought my way here
To the castle beyond the Goblin City,
To take back the child that you have stolen,
For my will is as strong as yours,
And my kingdom is as great.
You have no power over me.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Ringwood #Unitarians use a motto discarded by the United States of America - what we did at our February gathering for reverence

Our theme on 11th February 2018 used the first motto taken by the United States of America – e pluribus unum, meaning “out of the many, one.”

We lit the chalice with the words of the ICUU Global Chalice Lighting for February 2018 and then spent time in silence, each remembering their personal creed.  Despite what you may sometimes hear said of the Unitarian church, it is not a creedless church.  Rather, it is a church where every person is invited, and indeed challenged, to find their own creed, the creed demanded of them by their own experience, study, and insight regarding the divine.  Many people, many creeds.  Yet, one church.

We prayed some prayers written by people known to us, including a former Unitarian Minister from Edmund Kell Unitarian Church in Southampton, and then we sang a couple of hymns and carried out our usual ritual of building our circle.  We do this by passing between us a flame, bread, water and a musical device representing air, then placing them in the centre of our circle next to our chalice.  It’s a simple ritual and no spoken interpretation is given.  In silence we each seek and find our own purpose and meaning in it.  The conversations we have later about our ritual are often surprising!

We had three readings today, rather than two.  The first by John Andrew Storey included the words, “We cannot all think the same way.  No words can be found which adequately express the true depth and range of what each one of us believes.”

The second, by Rowan Williams, reminded us that whereas we may imagine we can deal with our spiritual life as if it were a separate compartment, in fact it is bound up completely with our relations with the people around us.

And the third reading, from Christopher Jamison, included these words: “Community is sacramental – that is to say, the material realities of community are the means by which hidden grace is given to the members.  There are qualities that we experience through faithfully persevering in community life.  That is what a community is for: to foster the experience of these qualities through its very structures.”

After a rousing but profound song from The Fisherman’s Friends – The Union of Different Kinds
we spent some quiet time pondering some questions about our community and our place within it.

How should persons behave in a community?
What do our responses to otherness tell us about ourselves?
What is different about us, as a result of our coming here and sitting with others?
Would another person recognise a difference in us because we come?
What does it mean to be a community of diverse persons?
What does it demand of us, when we commit to meeting and engaging with people whose views and paths we already know are different from our own?
What does it mean to make a safe space for each other?

Is a community more than the sum of its parts?
What is the relationship between the community and the members who comprise it?
How are the needs of the community and the persons within it balanced?
When we sit together, do we look at each other or do we look at something that lies beyond us all?  Or both?  How do we do that?
Is there a centre of gravity, a pulling force at the heart of our group, which energises and refreshes us?

 After a period of silent meditation we carried out our muster, our annual roll call, in which those who wished were able to declare themselves as members of the group for the coming year, our fifth year together.

We finished with some more prayers, including a Buddhist litany invoking wellness in ourselves, in the person next to us, and in all humanity.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Helping Ringwood to remember - Ringwood Unitarians and Ringwood Meeting House Association hosting a vigil for International Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January 2018 #hmd2018 #unitarians @RingwoodMH

Tomorrow, Saturday 27 January 2018, Ringwood Unitarians and the Meeting House Association welcome all who wish to spend some time quietly remembering International Holocaust Memorial Day.  The Meeting House doors will be open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. for people to come in and sit silently, light a candle, read some literature, learn about genocide events and how genocides slide into happening, and if desired, sign a visitors' book.

International Holocaust Memorial Day aims to keep alive in memory the shocking truth of the Holocaust during the Second World War, as well as more recent genocides across the world.  What we do not learn from our history we are destined to repeat.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The unique persons we are, as we gather for reverence - January 2018 Ringwood #Unitarians

January 2018 marks the end of our fourth year and in February we will be four years old.  So this service was one of a couplet, and dealt with what we as unique persons bring with us when we come to the gathering.  The service in February will consider how we weave our personal, individual spiritual lives, like threads, together into one overall fabric of our spiritual community, as we start out on our fifth year together.  So January was about the personal and February will be about the corporate.

We started with a participative prayer, heavily adapted from a prayer from the Iona Community, reminding us of some of the many names and faces of the divine, and ending with the words:
 “Overarching power of bestowing, healing, uniting:
in these and all your many other names, in all your many faces,
in your many-ness which yet vibrates as one,
may these your characteristics be a pattern to us of community;
           hence may we bestow, heal and unite in our many-ness,
           while operating as one.”

We carried out our usual ritual of making the circle with flame, bread, water and a fourth element to represent air or spirit or nature (dependent on one’s point of view).  We lit candles of joy and concern.  We sang two hymns from the green hymn book and we also had a recorded song by Hayley Westenra “The Heart Worships”.

Our first reading was from the Hindu faith via Mohandas K. Gandhi, and the second from the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  They both declared a firm trust that each person has direct access without mediation to spirit, inner voice, dictates of reason.  And both were clear that we each have a responsibility to do the work to listen carefully within, so as to discern truth and light.

Gandhi in particular suggested that there is no danger at all to the world if very many people find and give voice to what they find within, so we should be prepared to put up with doubtful claimants, for the sake of hearing from as many insightful people as possible.

The Quaker reading gave some practical advice for how one can go about laying oneself open to the leadings of spirit.

Our president for the day reiterated the Quaker instruction by referring to the founder of the Quakers, whose biography can be found here:  http://bcw-project.org/biography/george-fox

The president brought forward the famous George Fox challenge from the 1690s: You will say, ‘Christ said this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say?” and then asserted that we must, first and foremost, understand our own being.

The following questions and assertions were thrown out to the gathering:
·         What is the pattern of your life?
·         What qualities sing out from your life to any spectator who cared to watch?
·         What are the things that you didn’t seemingly choose but were just natural to you; repeated actions that you found yourself doing wherever you were?
·         What are the things you had to set in place when you arrived somewhere, in order for you to feel at home?

·         For these are the things of your personhood, your own unique, individuated way of living; your personal way of living and loving and believing and trusting.
·         These are the things that “thou canst say”.
·         We are prompted by wise teachings to make fewer decisions, to take less time in selecting one path over another, to make less fuss over being human.  We are prompted to observe “me”, rather than to create “me”.

We were reminded that the Unitarian cause includes a challenge:  the challenge to find – and live up to – what we are capable of believing, rather than what someone else says we should believe.

And having found what must be true for us, we are challenged to live up to it.  We are challenged as Unitarians to witness to what we believe and trust, challenged to not remain silent in the face of an unappreciative and unwelcoming world.  

We are challenged to be brave, and self-consistent, and focused on what really matters to us.

We are challenged, in short, to integrity; to a kind of one-through-ness; in which there are no compartments in our lives; in which our thoughts and words and actions all marry up with the beliefs that lie at the heart of our lives.
The Unitarian challenge involves both candles and debate!