We gather today in this place.
A home for many who fought for freedom.
A home for those who continue in their footsteps today.
May the struggle for freedom continue,
Bringing the world ever closer to the day when all may live into their potential.
And when none will be prevented from pursuing their dreams.
Reading: Morning Poem by Mary Oliver
the world is created.
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
the heaped ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches—
and the ponds appear like black cloth
on which are painted islands of summer lilies.
If it is your nature to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit carries within it the thorn
that is heavier than lead—
if it's all you can do to keep on trudging -
there is still somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted—
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered lavishly,
whether or not you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not you have ever dared to pray.
Message (part 1) by Rev Andy Pakula
Yesterday was the last day of Passover - the Jewish celebration of freedom. Passover remembers the biblical story of the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. As far as anyone can tell, it’s not a true story. There is no archaeological evidence that any of this actually happened. Nonetheless, whether there is any truth to the story, the captivity and liberation of the Israelites is a story that has been deeply important to the Jewish people.
Freedom has been one of the most powerful themes in all human longing. As long as there has been warfare and slavery and occupation and oppression, there has been a yearning to be free. Wherever words could be written or remembered, the songs and stories of freedom were carried shared and often carried from generation to generation. This has been particularly true in the Jewish tradition where repeated occupations, oppressions and exiles are remembered and retold. And these stories have had universal resonance: The same story inspired African slaves in America, who sang “Go Down Moses”, linking their struggle to that of the Jews enslaved in Egypt and finding hope of freedom.
We are not enslaved or occupied. Although our world is surely not entirely as we would want it to be, we and most residents of the United Kingdom live with great liberty. We are free to believe or not believe as we wish. We are free to elect our own leaders and we are free to criticise those leaders when they disappoint us. We are free to live where we want, to love who we want, and to work where we want.
And, even as I just described our freedom, a number of responses probably came to mind. There are also many ways in which we are not free. We have to have or earn money which can lock us into work that is crushing and leaves us with little time or energy for what we want to do. We have social norms that can oppress us and force us to conform in ways that limit our potential. There remains prejudice and discrimination of many kinds. Many of us have our own demons that also imprison us - fear, addiction, anxiety, depression and more.
So, although we are free in many ways, in others we remain constrained. Over centuries of progress, freedom has come in large and life-changing ways to this land. And yet, many still feel a lack of freedom in other ways. Whether by prejudice, by our economic system, by crime, by fear, by mental or physical illness, by lack of education and many more, we remain confined.
I invite you now to think about what constrains you. What most restricts your freedom to do the things you would like to do and live the way you would like to live. When you’ve thought of the most significant, write it on the small square piece of paper that was in your handout. And then, when you’re ready, come forward where you can set that paper alight - symbolically removing whatever limits your freedom. You may do this silently or, if you wish, speak what you wrote on the paper.
May that which confines you be as easily destroyed as paper is with fire. May you be free.
Reading: Happiness by Jane Kenyon
There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not FORGIVE ?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitch-hikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep mid-afternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
Message (part 2) by Rev Andy Pakula
If the constraint you wrote and destroyed a few minutes ago were truly to vanish, what then? How would your life be different? Would you be happy?
In the biblical story, after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, they had to wander in the desert for forty years before they could settle down. Although they had dreamed of and longed for freedom - although it had likely become their great wish throughout their enslavement, the story makes it clear that freedom alone did not make them happy. There was a lot of whinging and moaning - some of the people complained that slavery was better than their new freedom and longed to go back to Egypt.
For us too, the happiness we imagine our freedom will bring is not so easily secured. The question of what we want freedom from is actually the easy one. We can identify many way in which we are constrained and many changes that could make us more free. The harder question to answer is what we want freedom for - what we will do with that hard-won freedom. If you had freedom from financial constraints so you didn’t have to spend your time with earning money, what would your freedom be for? What would you do with your time? Would it make your life satisfying? Would it bring you happiness?
Over the next two and a half weeks, we will be talking much more about what brings happiness. But now, I’d like to ask you to contemplate this question for a moment. If you had the freedom you wished for earlier, how would you use that freedom in a way that makes your life happier and more satisfying? Take a minute in silence and then - after the chime - I’ll invite anyone who is willing to rise one by one and say what they would do with their freedom.
------------- Reflection ---------
If you have thought of an answer to the question of what you would do with your freedom and are willing to share that aloud, please rise one-by-one to speak.
If I could be free of my fear, I would have more adventures and take more risks.
May you have as much freedom as you need to be happy.
As much as you need to find satisfaction.
As much as you need to pursue the life of which you dream.
Yet freedom is not enough.
May you find your way to happiness.