Everyday miracles and practical mysticism
“God invites you to the Home of Peace.” Quran; Jonah 10:25
Welcome to Mill Hill Chapel. Our purpose here is to sustain the space in which individuals may participate in direct experience of the holy and the sacred. We are grateful inheritors of the rational dissenting tradition and the idealist spirtitual tradition – these are traditions are blended today in a congregation which gathers in hope, in faith and in love.
We are glad that you are with us this morning – for all, who come in good spirit, are welcome here.
This is the penultimate Sunday of September and the first Sunday of Autumn – the calendar season begins today. The Islamic and Jewish New Years have just begun, the academic year is gearing up. This Sunday we continue our monthly theme and look at Home, perhaps we are observing home from a distance or perhaps we are in our home at this moment, we may be missing home or making home anew
Lets sing our first hymn this morning
67 I am that great and Fiery force words Hildegard of Bingen
Let’s join together as we settle our selves in community here; each of us has undertaken a journey to come here, and each of these journeys has concluded at this centre point;
we are come in faith, in hope and in love.
However we have journeyed let us give thanks that our journey has delivered us here, we are safe, all is well.
Perhaps some are still struggling to get here; still journeying to join us and so may we bless the latecomer as well as those who may yet arrive; may we resolve to hold a space which is hospitable to the weary, to the harrassed and troubled, to the anxious and the grieving, may we resolve to share such welcome here as we have discovered ourselves.
We are here despite the other commitments that call to us still; lets take a moment to consider them, our loved ones and friends, our families. May they be happy and well. But may we also recognise our allowance that this time is not theirs. May we gratefully unhook ourselves from the webs and networks of commitment that make up our daily round while we enter into sacred time. This sacred time is set aside. We come to refresh our spirit and replenish our soul, here we are come to re connect with the source of connection. and so let us pray:
Holy one of us, holy one – in your peace is echo of eternity and the reverberation of the infinite. In you are contained the vastness of space and the brightest stars of creation. In awe and wonder we recognise how small are our lives compared to that magnitude, in awe and wonder we come today. May we learn to develop our sense of connection, may we learn that we are not alone, may we realise that we participate in your great life, and that we breathe your spirit, your breath, your life is breathing ours. Amen
Candles – this flame lights a way clear to the heart, in this light may we pause to wonder, to reflect to heal and grow towards a greater light.
We speak together the words of the great prayer of Jesus:
Reading Luke 1:39-56
“And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.
Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.
All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
So let us pray
Interlude: Praeludium XI 48 Toccattas & Fugues JS Bach
87.3 percent of statistics are made up on the spot, according to world renowned statistician Vic Reeves. His gag has always made me wary of quoting statistics but one we will all have heard is the high proportion of accidents that occur in the home.
We are accustomed to believing that world travel is risky but the surprising fact is that you are more likely to suffer all the consequenses of danger within 5 miles of your own home than anywhere else. We might imagine that some occupations are disaster prone: tree felling or coal mining spring to mind, but a recent NHS report informs us that it is in fact in the home that any and all nature of catastophes which may occur do occur.
This doesn’t do to dwell on but of course one of the reason for these appalling figures is that we simply spend more time at home than anywhere else.
And another is that our guard is down.
We cease from being attentive to danger and in that state we are perhaps more prone to it…
We are more open to all manner of realisations too and I wonder what the figures for religious experience at home are like?
In the beautiful gospel reading this morning are contained one of the loveliest of all hymns in the bible; we call it the magnificat and in it Mary magnifies the glory of God and gives thanks for her state and also recognises what we call the preferential option for the poor – that God
“hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
But one of the reasons I most love the passage (it’s from the first chapter of the Gospel book of Luke) is that it describes a homely domestic scene in which one woman visits another. The moment when the mother first feels her baby stir within her is called the quickening, and the the quickening of Elizabeth’s baby, in this case occuring at the sound of Mary’s voice, is described in terms of a miracle. And of course it is a miracle. Every quickening is. There are countless other passages of domestic miracles in the gospels and throughout the Bible in which angels visit, wonders occur, sight, health and even lives are restored. I think this is a statistic which is too often overlooked:
The majority of miracles occur in the home.
Perhaps its ignored because its not very masculine, patriarchy has preferred to dwell on battle-field phenomena.
But we ‘ve discussed in the Spiritual conversations group that the roots of the free and independent church traditions have sprung from the unmediated experience of the holy; the direct experience of the holy spirit, God visiting with people directly not through the normal channels. And because this is so the experience is available to all people, not a class of priests which has usually tended to be men. But just as Mary informs us God has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree…
I like the thought that we are receptive to the divine in informality, that one of the risks we take in the home is openess to the visitiation of wonder and miracle and that miracle can perhaps must be domestic, real, visionary.
The wonderful mystic Eveline Underhill, who was a friend to Unitarianism in the 1920-30’s wrote:
“We are the agents of the Creative Spirit in this world. Real advance in the spiritual life, then, means accepting this vocation with all it involves. The real spiritual life must be horizontal as well as vertical; it must spread more and more as well as aspire to more and more. It must be larger, fuller, richer, more generous in its interests than the natural life alone can ever be; must invade and transform all homely activities and practical things. For it means an offering of life to the Spirit of life, to whom it belongs; a willingness — an eager willingness — to take our small place in the vast operations of that Spirit, instead of trying to run a poky little business on our own.
Imma close with these lines from Great things have happened by the Canadian poet Alden Nolan
We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, “Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time.” But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn’t mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.
“Is that all?” I hear somebody ask.
Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited
before, except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.
Blessing: May we make space in our hearts for the new creation to be; may this light we have kindled give us courage to grow towards that greater light.