Sunday, May 24, 2020: Things Worthy of Remembrance

Ancient stone tomb called Trethevy Quoit, near Tremar Coombe, Cornwall

And lest things worthy of remembrance should perish with time, and fall away from the memory of those who are to come after us, I, seeing these many evils, and the whole world lying as it were in the wicked one, among the dead, waiting for death til it come, as I have truly heard and examined, so have I reduced these things to writing. — Friar John Clyn, 17th June, 1349

In uncertain times, preparing for an uncertain future, are we also leaving a record of what is important in the present?

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert and I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.

Thank you for joining us.

Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.


Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.

Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.

Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here.

Prelude Dust in the Wind – Kansas

Welcome Surrender To This Life – Gretchen Haley

Give up the fight
For some other moment
Some other life
Than here, and now

Give up the longing
for some other world
The wishing
for other choices to make
other songs to sing
other bodies, other ages,
other countries, other stakes

Purge the past; forgive the future —
for each come too soon.

Surrender only to this life,
this day, this hour,
not because it does not
constantly break your heart
but because it also beckons
with beauty
startles with delight
if only we keep
waking up

This is the gift
we have been given:
these “body-clothes,”
this heart-break, this pulse
this breath,
this light,
these friends,
this hope.

Here we re-member ourselves
All a part of it all —

Giving thanks, Together.
Come, let us worship

Chalice lighting In this time of uncertainty – Amy Williams Clark

We gather in this time of uncertainty, full of unknowns, as angst closes in upon us.

We light this chalice with a flame that draws us together.
With this flame, we cut through the dankness of isolation and are warmed by the fires of our interconnection.

For this moment, this radical moment, we find a certainty within the knowable bonds of love and community.

Song Spirit of Life

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

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Offering and Response

Say to thyself, ‘If there is any good thing that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now; let me not defer it nor neglect it, for I may not pass this way again.’
– Anonymous

Remember that our being here, together, all of us, in this electronic space, is part of our offering, our sharing and building of this community. Let us use the time during the offertory to contemplate how we can use out time and talents during the next week for this community and for our larger society.

Since we cannot take up a collection, let us use the time during the offertory to contemplate how we can use out time and talents during the next week for this community and our larger society.


Épitaphe of Seikilos – Petros Tabouris Ensemble

While you live, shine,
Have no grief at all;
Life exists only for a short while,
And Time demands its toll.

Response (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

Song: Wake Now My Senses
Let us all rise in body or spirit and join in singing Wake Now My Senses

Reading: Living in “The Except” – Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford

As I’ve written about already, the music that is being produced and shared during this pandemic touches me on a deep level. And I am an easy touch. It doesn’t even have to be good music, just the fact that people turn to their art, and then offer it up as a gift, makes me misty.

With the assembled creation of the Royal Choral Society’s Messiah, I went far beyond misty into boohoos. It was so beautiful, and such a great example of the human spirit, and our ingenuity.

Watching it the …oh, 18th or 19th time … I was struck by their opening slide:

“The Royal Choral Society has sung Handel’s Messiah on Good Friday at the Royal Albert Hall every year since 1876, except during the Blitz”

What caught my attention was “except during the Blitz.”

Well, of course. The Royal Albert Hall is located in London. The Blitz was a German bombing campaign that destroyed 1/3 of London. From September 1940 until May 1941, Britain was under attack.

There are long timelines of history, punctuated by significant interruptions. The “except.”

We are living in The Except.

There will come a time when we divide time into “Before Coronavirus” and “After Coronavirus.” But we are living in the in-between. The life that we’re living right now will later be considered an interruption.

I’m an American and have no family stories linked to the Blitz, the way I do know many family stories about the 1918 Pandemic and the Great Depression. Reading about it, I wonder what we can learn from it. The Blitz was a significant interruption, and many things were never the same again. Almost 40,000 British civilians died in the Blitz. They didn’t know when it would end, they were separated from loved ones, they had to hunker down in shelters.

And, the people were resilient. Forced to shelter in the London Tube stations, they organized themselves and their spaces, setting up areas for children, for smoking. They figured out how to keep their areas clean and govern themselves. In fact, it was worrisome to some government leaders. Officials reported that “people sleeping in shelters are more and more tending to form committees among themselves, often communist in character, to look after their own interests and to arrange dances and entertainments.”

One detail I found very interesting: psychiatrists, at the start of the Blitz, worried that the psychological trauma was going to be profound, that it would “break” citizens and there would be three times the mental casualties as the physical ones.  And yet … it didn’t happen. There were, of course, psychological effects from the Blitz, but people turned to each other and discovered a depth of resilience in themselves.

And the Blitz was an “except.” Life returned. The Royal Choral Society returned, and sang again a chorus of Hallelujahs.

We are living in The Except. Some things will be different, but life, as we knew it, will return. The Except, ultimately, will be an interruption in the timeline. People will talk about how their family has always gathered for Easter, or goes to the beach every June.

“Except…” they will say.

Reading: “The last entry of Friar John Clyn”, William Carrigan

The last entry of Friar John Clyn, from the The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Volume 3, published by William Carrigan.

During the latter part of 1348 and the beginning of the next, the great and universal pestilence, known as the Black Death, raged through Ireland. John Clyn, the Annalist, a Friar of St. Francis’ Abbey, Kilkenny, who was an eye-witness of the ravages of this plague and most probably one of its victims, has left us, in his Annals, the following eloquent description of the havoc it wrought:

That pestilence deprived of human inhabitant villages and cities, and castles and towns, so that there was scarcely found a man to dwell therein; the pestilence was so contagious that whosoever touched the sick or the dead was immediately infected and died; and the penitent and the confessor were carried together to the grave; through fear and dread men scarcely dared to perform the offices of piety and pity in visiting the sick and burying the dead; many died of boils and abscesses, and pustules on their shins or under the armpits; others died frantic with the pain in their head, and others spitting up blood. That year was beyond measure abundant and fruitful, however sickly and deadly. Up to Christmas twenty-five friars had died in the Franciscan Convent of Drogheda, and twenty-three in the Convent of the same Order in Dublin. The pestilence was rife in Kilkenny, in Lent, for from Christmas Day to the 6th day in March, eight Friars Preachers died of it. Scarcely one alone ever died in a house. Commonly husband, wife, children, and servants went the one way, the way of death.

And I, Brother John Clyn, of the Order of Friars Minors, and of the Convent of Kilkenny, wrote in this book those notable things, which happened in my time, which I saw with my own eyes, or which I leaned from persons worthy of credit. And lest things worthy of remembrance should perish with time, and fall away from the memory of those who are to come after us, I, seeing these many evils, and the whole world lying as it were in the wicked one, among the dead, waiting for death til it come, as I have truly heard and examined, so have I reduced these things to writing. And lest the writing should perish with the writer, and the work fail together with the workman, I leave parchment for continuing the work, if haply any man survive, and any race of Adam escape this pestilence and continue the work which I have commenced.

Friar John Clyn ends his Annals abruptly at the 17th June, 1349, when probably, the plague, as he expected, struck the pen from his fingers.

Carrigan, William. The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory. Vol. 3, Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1905.

Lesson Things Worthy of Remembrance

Robert Helfer

This weekend is a time of remembrance, officially designated so by the President of the United States. It is a time to remember those who marched to war in defense of this country and never returned, although over the years it has expanded to include all deceased military whether they managed to return home or not. In my childhood in my home town members of the local veterans associations would visit the cemeteries in the early morning and place a small United States flag at each veteran’s grave. About mid-morning there would be a parade from the middle of downtown and ending at one of the two cemeteries, followed by a formal ritual that included reading the names of all the military deceased of the town and playing “echo taps”. It was a big event there, and I marched as a member of the high school band all four years that I was in high school – winter-weight wool uniforms and heavy plumed shakos and all in the usually humid heat of a normal northern Illinois May midday. This is also the traditional time for people to visit, clean up, and decorate the graves of all their dead, whether military or not. Such remembrance is important. We need it to maintain our sense of community and family.

But that’s not the remembrance I was going to talk about. I wanted to talk about the time we now live in, “The Except”, as Joanna Fontaine Crawford called it.

We are truly in a special time. Most of us have been out of our houses only rarely in the past couple of months, and when we have been out we have avoided coming into contact with other people wherever possible. This is difficult for social animals like us, difficult even for the least social among us. A week ago my son in Chicago commented that he hadn’t seen anyone that he knows for sixty-nine days – and it’s now seven days later. He’s fortunate in being able to work from home, and thus remains employed while also avoiding the potential danger of crowds. My daughter is similarly fortunate. Both she and her husband are able to work from home, although they have to deal with the complications that come with sharing their space with a five-year-old and a seven-month-old.

But if while we all are able to limit our contacts with other people, limit our exposure to the disease, not all are so fortunate. Many people have to go out into the world to perform basic, necessary tasks that allow the rest of us to stay put. And many of these workers have paid a price. As of Saturday afternoon more than 98,000 people in the United States have died from the virus, and nearly 350,000 world-wide.

Many others have lost their incomes while businesses have closed, some forever, leaving it likely that many will not have jobs after the crisis ends.

And I suppose it’s not too surprising that the virus has brought with it political and social stresses, most of them probably preexisting but now exacerbated by “social distancing”, masks, places of business closed, food chain disrupted, and finances in disarray.

I realize that none of you need to be reminded – none of this is new information. I’m saying this simply to point out the special character of this time.

But how can we respond to all this? How do we survive, keep ourselves whole, keep, if possible, the world whole? What should we do to name this time when we have come out of it?

In 1348 the Irish Friar John Clyn found it necessary to write things down, to chronicle his time of plague, “lest things worthy of remembrance should perish with time, and fall away from the memory of those who are to come after us.” And through him and through other chroniclers we know about life during the plague.

The other day I read an essay that called upon us who are living in this time to do the same. “How are you expressing yourself right now? How will you remember what this time was like, or share with others your memories?” the author asked, then encouraged journaling and writing letters or emails as a way to express and to understand how we’re all feeling, what we’re going through, and to leave a record for ourselves and others in the future. “No need for poetry – just the minutiae of everyday life.”

I see many people using Facebook or Twitter, or some other communications medium, to deal with their emotions and the world. People post their own comments, far too often laced with profanity and apparent fury, but perhaps that’s a reflection of their honesty, their frustration. Others post articles, explanations of what’s going on written by people whose job it is to analyze and explain. Some of these articles describe previous plagues, previous existential crises, perhaps to show us that what we are experiencing isn’t totally unprecedented or unique. These are attempts to communicate, attempts to keep some sense in the world, attempts to help ourselves and others deal with what we are experiencing.

Of course, it doesn’t really need to be writing. I’ve seen Edvard Munch’s amazing drawings and paintings of his life in crisis – his sister, dying of tuberculosis; himself during and after his own sickness during the influenza pandemic of 1918. I see a number of people posting cartoons and other drawings, some of them initiated by “prompts”, from what source I do not know, but many clearly reflect deep emotions and the stress of the current world situation no matter the source of the “subject”.

And I’ve tried to do this writing as well. For some years I’ve had a blog. I started it when we moved to Clarksburg, as a way to tell our children and friends about the changes in our lives and the work we were doing to restore the old house we bought. And perhaps as a way for me to organize my own thoughts about the move and our new life, or just to comment about the world in general. For the first few years I was pretty good about posting in it. But after a while it became a task, a constant challenge of putting things into words despite the critical stares of the imaginary reader looking over my shoulder. (Sometimes I think these “lessons”, as I have chosen to call them, are less pulpit than confessional.) Nevertheless, as this covid-19 thing started to apply pressure on my life I have gone back to the blog, to the idea that writing down my thoughts might help me understand them, and possibly communicate that understanding to someone else. But instead I find myself staring at a blank screen, my mind racing from point to point in a disorganized flow, and I end up writing nothing.

But on the other hand, maybe it does help to try, even though there’s no “product”. By reflecting on the way things are now I think I am slowly gaining a better understanding of what is important to me, and what I should be doing with my life, how my life should be when we come to the end of this time of “The Except”. Maybe I’m learning something.

I think I’ve carried this as far as I can for now, so I’ll close with these words from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

“Always after a defeat and a respite,” says Gandalf, “the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

May we all decide well.

Music: Lean on Me – Bill Withers

Joys and Sorrows

If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;

or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.


For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.

These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community

Silent Meditation
Let us join our hearts and minds in silent meditation

Song Go Now In Peace (3 times)

Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go

Closing We All Emerge – Eric Williams

We all emerge from
Dwell within
Are transformed by
And called back to Love.

May your mind be humbled before this Mystery.
May your heart grow hopeful by it.
May you be sustained by this Love always.

The chalice has been extinguished.
Go now in peace.