Inspired by Nature

This morning, we have a choice

Every morning we have a choice

Throughout our lives we can choose how we will engage the world

We can mourn what we lack

Or rejoice at what is

We can wail with the hardship life brings

Or pour out gratitude for every bit of joy and beauty we find

Gratitude is more than a response. It is a guide.

Great gratitude can shine like a bright blaze for us and one another

Leading us to more beauty, more joy, and an ever truer guide  

We kindle this flame in thanks for all that is and all that may be

May it bring us the wisdom of gratitude



Prayer for the Great Family, By Gary Snyder

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—

and to her soil: rich, rare and sweet

in our minds so be it.


Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing leaf

and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind

and rain; their dance is in the flowering spiral grain

in our minds so be it.


Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and silent

Owl at dawn. Breath of our song

clear spirit breeze

in our minds so be it.


Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,

freedoms, and ways; who share with us their milk;

self-complete, brave and aware

in our minds so be it.


Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;

holding or releasing; streaming through all

our bodies salty seas

in our minds so be it.


Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through

trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where

bears and snakes sleep— he who wakes us—

in our minds so be it.


Gratitude to the Great Sky

who holds billions of stars— and goes yet beyond that—

beyond all powers, and thoughts

and yet is within us—

Grandfather Space.

The Mind is his Wife.

so be it.


Gratitude, by Mary Oliver

What did you notice?


The dew snail;

the low-flying sparrow;

the bat, on the wind, in the dark;

big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;

the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;

the sweet-hungry ants;

the uproar of mice in the empty house;

the tin music of the cricket’s body;

the blouse of the goldenrod.


What did you hear?


The thrush greeting the morning;

the little bluebirds in their hot box;

the salty talk of the wren,

then the deep cup of the hour of silence.


What did you admire?


The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;

the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;

the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the

pale green wand;

at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid

beauty of the flowers;

then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.


What astonished you?


The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.


What would you like to see again?


My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,

her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue, her

recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness, her

sturdy legs, her curled black lip, her snap.


What was most tender?


Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;

the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;

the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;

the tall, blank banks of sand;

the clam, clamped down.


What was most wonderful?


The sea, and its wide shoulders;

the sea and its triangles;

the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.


What did you think was happening?


The green breast of the hummingbird;

the eye of the pond;

the wet face of the lily;

the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;

the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;

the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve

of the first snow—


so the gods shake us from our sleep.


Message by Andy Pakula

Today is the fourth day of the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot.

This is also our second Sunday in the new three-month long theme of ‘sources of inspiration.’

In traditional religion, the approved sources of inspiration tend to be spelled out pretty clearly. Usually, there is a set of sacred writings. There may be commentaries on those scriptures, tales of the lives of special people from the history of the tradition, and perhaps the instruction of specially elevated individuals within the tradition.

Here, we look more broadly. Here, inspiration can and should come from a very wide range of sources. Among us, we find inspiration from religions, from philosophy, literature, music, art, science, relationship, psychology, mythology, story,  the lives of a wide range of people, and more.

Today, at the time of Sukkot, we will explore the ways in which we are inspired by and learn from the natural world.

Sukkot is very much a harvest festival - one of the sort that just about every culture developed at some point.

When I first came to London and the congregation that eventually became New Unity, we had an annual harvest festival. I was a bit surprised when it first happened… People brought fruit and vegetables and, after the service, a man in the congregation began to pick them up one by one and - to the 15 people who attended - would auction them off.

‘How much do I hear for this courgette?’ 10p… do I hear 15p? Needless to say, this went on for a while…  Do I hear 5p for this apple? 5p?

As strange as that may have seemed to me, the impulse was not strange at all. The natural world around us is abundant and generous and can be positively awe-inspiring. And so, people have long celebrated it in many ways.

Sukkot is celebrated for a full week and it involves building a special hut each year called a sukkah. This is ours. It should be outside and you should be able to see the sky through the top, but we’re New Unity. We adapt…

During the week of Sukkot, Jewish families are meant to decorate the Sukkah, dine in it, and even sleep in it. Rituals are usually created for very powerful purposes. I imagine that all of them are deeply meaningful to the people who first practice them. After a while those, all of them can very easily become stale. Any one of them can turn from powerful symbolic action that touches the heart to being more like rote performance. Against the backdrop of stale ritual, Sukkot seems to have it right - putting people outdoors in direct contact with nature and its bounty.

And that’s what I would like us to do today - bring to mind and to heart the the inspiration of the natural world.

I want to talk about three important lessons from the natural world:

Life is wonderful.

Life is terrible.

Life changes.


First, Life is wonderful.

Remember in primary school when they had you plant a tiny seed in in humus in a paper cup? How amazing it seemed when, from that tiny seed, water, and light, a plant grew taller and taller each day?

How much more amazing if flowers bloomed, fell away, and fruit or vegetables appeared? We know it is not something from nothing, but it is a transformation of the most basic things into complex, beautiful, and sustaining life.

Nature is a generous giver. Gratitude is our natural response to such wonder. Nature’s wonders gives us faith that it is worth trying because from small improbable starts great things can grow.


Second, life is terrible

It can be easy to romanticise nature - to imagine the natural world to be all generosity and flowers. We know the falsehood of this image.

Nature shows us the hard realities of life. It includes pain and death. Creatures eat one another to survive. They suffer. Viruses and bacteria infect plants and animals and - for their own benefit - sicken or kill them.

And yet, there is inspiration there too. Nature does not cause pain or suffering for its own sake. Even the most horrible viruses and most vicious animals harm others in order to live.

In our own lives, there is no more to what we call evil than this. Human beings are cruel because of what they understand to be their own good. This means there is possibility for change in all of us.


Third, life changes

Nature shows us too that everything changes. It never stays summer, or spring, or autumn, or winter forever. The light diminishes, darkness comes, and then the light returns. The plants retreat, they die off, and there is new life again.

In our own lives, we long for the good times to stay and for hard times never to come. Nature reminds us that all of this is interlinked. Winter passes into spring and spring brings the summer of abundance. Summer brings the waning light of autumn and autumn ushers in the dying away of winter. And then winter passes again… We must remember to celebrate when we can for it will pass. And when we suffer, we must know that spring will come again.

Nature is a powerful teacher. A great source of inspiration. It will mean and say different things to each of us at different times.

I’d like to invite you into a time of reflection now and I’d ask you to think about what lesson from nature you need to listen to in your life right now. After the time of reflection, I’ll invite you to come up, write that lesson on a card and hang it in our sukkah.


Closing Words

We are not separate from the natural world
We are very much a part of it
Giver and recipient of its generosity
Participant in its hardness
And subject to the reality of inevitable change
May we have the faith to plant seeds today
To grow a world of love and justice for tomorro