TGIF: Tolstoy and the Arrival Fallacy

June 14, 2019

 

As many of you know one of my favourite podcasts is released every two weeks by Mockingbird Ministries (https://www.mbird.com/) called The Mockingcast.  It is a few young church nerds like me talking about why they love Jesus and what is wrong with and beautiful about the church.

This week’s episode is called, “Pelagian Privilege” and if you are intrigued by what I write here, definitely have a listen.

 

What I am Thinking About

 On the podcast this week,  the hosts were discussing the Arrival Fallacy – that “illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.”[1]  The discussion came out of an article in the New York Times this week entitled “You Accomplished Something Great.  So Now What?” where the one who coined the phrase explains why so many accomplished folks struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues.  “These individuals start out unhappy, but they say to themselves, ‘It’s O.K. because when I make it, then I’ll be happy,’” he said. But then they make it, and while they may feel briefly fulfilled, the feeling doesn’t last. “This time, they’re unhappy, but more than that they’re unhappy without hope,” he explained. “Because before they lived under the illusion — well, the false hope — that once they make it, then they’ll be happy.”

It is an interesting time we live in – where we are told that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to and work hard enough for while also being told to stop and enjoy each moment.  Set goals!  Strive for them!  Work hard!  Stop!  Smell the roses!  But be efficient!  Don’t waste your time!  Why are you so busy all the time?  Don’t you care about yourself?  Slow down!  But get lots done!

It doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t work.  And it is completely counter to our Christian narrative (not to mention the realities of life).  We actually can’t accomplish whatever we set out minds to, and accomplishment is neither the goal of life (or ought not be) nor the root cause of happiness.

 It brings me back to grace – that beautiful love of God that we can’t earn or ruin.  There is no amount of wonderful or terrible things I can do to interfere with the love that God has for me.  *phew*

 

What I am Grateful For

I don’t always love technology and our ability to be connected all the time – sometimes, if left unchecked, it becomes an escape hatch, a gateway to a place of disconnect for me, and I have to watch myself with it.  But this week, I am feeling grateful for the opportunities it affords me.  Podcasts are a great example of this – I love music, and I love the news, but this week neither one has been helpful for my wellness.  Enter the podcast – a tool for listening in on the brainwaves of others reflecting on things that I care about, in careful, thoughtful, and engaging ways.  Understanding the privilege I hold in having a phone to download them to and places to get to where they have my attention along the way (via car, bike, or foot), I have gratitude for those who I can allow to speak into my life that, without technology, would not form and shape me in unexpected ways.

 

What Inspires Me

In the podcast, one of the hosts shares about Leo Tolstoy from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and his journey past success and into faith:

“[Leo Tolstoy] was 52 years old, and his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), were behind him. He had found himself in a crisis—he was famous, had a family and land and money, but it all seemed empty. He was unable to write, had trouble sleeping, contemplated suicide. He read the great philosophers, but found holes in all of their arguments. He was amazed that the majority of ordinary Russians managed to keep themselves going every day, and he finally decided that it must be their faith. From there, it was a short time until Tolstoy took a walk in the woods and found God. He wrote: “At the thought of God, happy waves of life welled up inside me. Everything came alive, took on meaning. The moment I thought I knew God, I lived. But the moment I forgot him, the moment I stopped believing, I also stopped living.”

I love stories like this, where our self-centered illusions are broken down, making space for the Divine. I could read or listen to them all day.

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

Ultimately in the podcast the hosts reveal what the best indicator of happiness is (after a long while discussing that it is not success): connection.  The happiest people are those who spend the most time with people they care about.  Maybe that is why I love church so much – the connection, the community, the love.  So tonight we will gather for our second Friday Feast and I will practice my faith by showing up, building community, and eating delicious food.   Not because it is another accomplishment, not because it will further my career, not because it will earn lots of $, but precisely because it won’t do those things.  It is just about relating to others, sharing, and not being productive except in the way that matters the most.


[1] Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard-trained positive psychology expert credited with coining the term Arrival Fallacy.

TGIF: Dance Shows, Kitchen Renos, and Sabbatical

Hello friends!

 

If anyone (like me) has school-aged children, you can understand that this time of year can get a little…chaotic.  Dance shows, lacrosse tournaments, piano recitals, school performances, wrap-up parties; all good things, and all stuffed into a few short weeks.  June also brings the Sabbatical of my colleague at St. George’s (a mandated 3 month leave every 5 years of service in the UCCan) and my stepping into the Lead Pastor role there.  Did I mention St. George’s is also renovating the kitchen?  That kitchen is very well used by hundreds of community members each week – serving meals each day 11:30-12:30, hosting events, welcoming family and friends.  Don’t worry, Weird Church is still going strong – our next Friday Feast is June 14th on the topic of the Blue (register here!).

 

What I am Thinking About

It is easy for me to get caught in the tasks associated with all those affairs mentioned above and get…well…stressed out.  When I think about each of the little things, I miss the big beautiful picture (not to mention all the hands at work beyond my own).  Perspective – when I change the way I see the world, the world I see changes.  I can think about my to-do list (which I will!) but I have to keep it in the perspective of the abundance I am steeped in.

 

What I am Grateful For

So I suppose then, I am grateful for a life that is filled with blessing – so filled it is overwhelming some days, but filled up to the very brim.  I am grateful that our children have opportunities and places to engage in the arts and sports that challenge and grow and teach them.  I am grateful for two incredible communities of faith that I get to offer leadership in: St. George’s and Weird Church – both jam-packed with people whose faith and questions lead me to greater depths of love and generosity.

 

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What Inspires Me

Is it weird to get inspired by a kitchen renovation?  Because so many hands serve and receive in that place, the community that surrounds St. George’s has come out in support of this renovation in generous and beautiful ways.  From the hands-on work of our rag-tag group of faithful volunteers to the community money helping us fund (we are still short though, please feel free to donate!) I am inspired by those who put their love where their hands are and let it flow.

 

How I am Practicing my Faith

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I love to preach – the research, study, wrestling, listening, writing (re-writing), sitting, wondering, and proclaiming.  It is a practice of faith that grounds and invigorates me and I am so grateful that God has given me this task in the work of my ministry. 

 This week at St. George’s I’ll be preaching on the Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit that lives in each one of us, opening our eyes to God’s work in and around us, enlivening us to live lives of love, care, and service.  If you haven’t been to church in a while (or ever), come and see – there’s lunch after too!

 

Check out some of these great photos from the start of the renovation and see you soon – at Sunday Worship, Friday Feast…and perhaps in the audience of one of these shows or the sidelines of a game or the sidewalk outside one of the churches.

 

Blessings on your week. 

-         Ingrid

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TGIF: a Trip to Seattle and a Community Feast

May 10, 2019

A quick trip to the market for lunch!

A quick trip to the market for lunch!

 Hello Friends,

I admit I have been both delinquent and tardy in my postings.  This week my offering is a mash-up of two weeks (or 3?!) worth of thoughts and experiences and reflections.  Thank you for reading – I hope it spurs your own thoughts, experiences, and reflections on all the ways God is present to you, and all the ways you can live in gratitude.

When we are rooted in faithful community we are spared spiritual death and welcomed into the Abundant Life.

When we are rooted in faithful community we are spared spiritual death and welcomed into the Abundant Life.

 

At the end of April I traveled to Seattle (in a car!  By myself!) to attend the Inhabit Conference at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, put on by Parish Collective.  This two-day gathering brings together “hundreds of practitioners, pastors, social entrepreneurs, church planters, community leaders, environmentalists, denominational executives, publishers, professors, urban planners, and artists from all over the globe…to connect, collaborate, and celebrate the good work being done in thousands of neighborhoods and parishes (and) share a common vision for seeing the transformation of the church through participation in the neighborhood.”  The conference is “intentionally designed to engage, encourage, and empower innovative, missional practitioners as they go about practicing the way of Jesus in place.”[1]

 

Pastor Jay preaching on Acts and the early church

Pastor Jay preaching on Acts and the early church

I attended last year and was totally inspired but completely overwhelmed – like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose.  This year, thanks to the LeaderShift Initiative of the Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church of Canada, I was able to meet ahead of time with other folks who are trying out new ways of being/doing church in the neighbourhood (like we are at Weird Church) to build relationships and make plans for our time together in Seattle.  With focus and friends, I was able to experience the conference in a different way – with loads more side conversations about what is working and what isn’t, better note taking and debriefing after workshops, and a sense of curiosity and intentionality.

 

Worship together

Worship together

One of the best parts of this conference is that it is a middle meeting point for folks who love Jesus from so many different denominations and expressions of church who may not share exact theology or music or even language, but who are excited about what the Spirit is up to in the neighbourhood.  One of the highlights for me was worship.  A small town farmer on an acoustic guitar alongside a DJ on turn-tables, accompanied by keyboard, drums, more guitars and basses.  Beautiful singers collaborating with a rapping Pastor from inner-city Chicago.  It felt like John of Patmos’ Revelation come to life where people from all nations in many languages were celebrating the presence of God together (Rev. 7:9).

 

Sandy sharing the ways God showed up in her life on the topic “I Wasn’t Buried, I Was Planted.”

Sandy sharing the ways God showed up in her life on the topic “I Wasn’t Buried, I Was Planted.”

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Just a few short days after my return from Inhabit, Weird Church hosted it’s first Friday Feast: a place of community gathering and mutual nourishment.  The theme of the evening was “I Wasn’t Buried, I was Planted: Stories of Letting Go and Beginning Again.”  We were gifted with the music leadership of Linda and Gayle, humbled by the beautiful and vulnerable sharing of my friend Sandy, and filled up in our bellies with delicious eats from Biblio Taco.  Folks who gathered shared stories over food with their neighbours, drew pictures on the paper covered tables, listened to reflections and poetry, and got to venture through a Friday night unlike most other Friday nights, together.  It really was a spiritually grounded community meal in such a wonderful and messy way.  The next Friday Feast is on the schedule for June 14 and the topic will be “The Blues.”  Music will be offered by Chad and Larry: Acoustic Blues Duo and we will explore the topic of “The Blues” as it pertains to our physical, emotion, and spiritual well-being. I would invite you to come, and bring a friend – just please register ahead of time!  Friday Feast is by donation, but we want to make sure we have enough food to go around.  https://www.weirdchurchcumberland.com/events

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I suppose my TGIF for this week is all about community.  I am Thinking so much about what it means to be community in a time and place of rapid change and movement.  Cumberland is now officially the fastest growing neighbourhood in BC and I believe that in order to keep the integrity of a small community we need to be intentional about the way we engage and use our spaces and how we interact with those around us.  (want to talk more about this?  Join us for Coffee and Conversations that Matter at Cumberland United Church Tuesday May 21 at 10am or 6:30pm).

Heading into the Victoria Day long weekend, I am Grateful for the opportunity to gather in community and celebrate life.  Check out all that is going on in the Village here: https://cumberland.ca/events/

My Inspiration this week also comes from community: all the folks who care so much about togetherness, wellness, hope, love…who give of their volunteer time and their resources to ensure we have a sense of belonging and connectedness.  This is the real stuff of life.

I had the pleasure of researching her work and spending some time with Lilian Daniel when she was speaking in Vancouver - she is a real treat, and author of the book “Why Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church”

I had the pleasure of researching her work and spending some time with Lilian Daniel when she was speaking in Vancouver - she is a real treat, and author of the book “Why Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church”

Community is also how I practice my Faith.  It might be simple to be spiritual on my own – but that is not where I grow, that is not where I experience the fullness of the Love of God.  I can only do that when I am with others: those who challenge me, teach me, lift me, argue with me (!), and tenderly hold my vulnerability.  Community is where I learned how to follow Jesus, where I learned how to be a woman of integrity, how to be a wife, a friend, a mother, a pastor, and a mean pie maker.  Community is where I learned how to live and love alongside others with very divergent ideas of life than mine. 

 

Let’s give thanks for real-life, messy, wild, often uncomfortable, rewarding, uplifting community.

Check out some video from the Inhabit Conference here: https://www.facebook.com/inhabitconference/videos/544287852763352/

And here:

https://www.facebook.com/rev.bobf/videos/10156746680123248/

And here (this is a revised version of Everlasting Arms):

https://www.facebook.com/rev.bobf/videos/10156746718533248/

 

[1] From the website https://www.inhabitconference.com/about/

Thank God for...Snowshoe Pilgrimage

Hello friends,

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Instead of my reflections for this week, I want to share the way I led Saturday’s Snowshoe Pilgrimage at Strathcona Park (Mount Washington). This can be a guide (if you so choose) for a self-guided pilgrimage of your own, or just something to contemplate in the week ahead as you move through your tasks.

In the days before we began, I invited participants into some preparatory work:

Take some quiet time in prayer or reflection (I recommend trying to use a journal to help stay focused) to consider a few things:

  1. What is drawing you to this experience?

  2. What are you hoping to learn or hear?

  3. What kind of posture or attitude would you like to bring to the journey?

  4. As you live through the coming hours, can you attune your ears and eyes more carefully to that which surrounds you in the busy-ness of your day to day living?  Can you re-notice something that has become everyday or mundane for it’s awe-someness?

  5. Consider what it means to you to enter into liminal space – the space that is between what you know and what you are seeking.  This place of wide mystery is one that is often uncomfortable – but it is in our discomfort that we can become open to a voice from a power greater than ourselves.

Once we arrived, got all of our gear, and made our way across the snow at the start of the trail, we stopped - as we did at various points through the journey - to listen and consider. Much of our time crunching across the snow was in quiet, personal reflection.

Here are the words from each of our stops, please use them as you please.

Land Acknowledgement: the land on which we stand, the land that we work and play on, is the traditional and unceded territory of the K’omoks First Nation - we thank them for their generosity and wish them well in their ongoing treaty negotiations.

Prayer Poem by Julia Cameron: “I Am in the Centre of God’s Love”

The heart of God knows no distance.  I am held and cherished in the heart of God.  I am safe, protected, and companioned at all times.  There is no place or circumstance in which I am alone, without divine company and counsel.  In times of loneliness I remind myself that God infuses all things: the chair, the table, the rug, the flower.  Divinity flowers through all life and is all life.  My fingertips contain God.  God is at my fingertips at all times. When I feel loneliness, fatigue, or despair, I comfort myself by knowing I am contained within the heart of God and if I will only look for God within my own heart, I will find both of us there.

 

First Phase of our Journey is “Here I Am”

In the ancient Hebrew story of Moses and the burning bush, Moses is up Mount Horeb and God calls out to him, and his response is “Here I am”.  I believe that God – that pulse of love that radiates in and through all things – is always yearning to be with us, is always calling our name, drawing us in.  In the silence along the path that follows, I invite you to listen for the ways the Divine is calling you – YOU – and how you can say, “Here I Am” in this journey, but also beyond this time.

 

Second phase of our Journey is “You are standing on Holy Ground”

In the story up on Mount Horeb (or translated, the Mountain of God), once Moses says, “Here I Am” God reminds him that he is standing on Holy Ground.  And we encounter mystics and prophets who seek God on the Mountaintop, not only in Judaism but also in Christianity, Islam, and so many expressions of religious and spiritual belief over centuries and across geography.  The mountain has been a thin place for humans for centuries: a place of stripping away daily tasks and entering into a place of intentional seeking.  In the silence that follows as we continue along this path, I will invite you to allow yourself to slip into a place of awe for the beauty that surrounds us.  See how many of your senses you can allow to awaken you to that place of gratitude for this truly holy ground.

Third Phase of our Journey is “Go”

Continuing the story, God has a job for Moses, some important work to do.  Like most ancients who receive messages from God, Moses is like, no way Jose.  Truthfully, this is typically my first response too – great idea God, but I think you’ve got the wrong person over here. 

But God persists, reminding him (reminding me, reminding you) that nothing we is called to do we will have to do alone.

As we move through the next phase of our pilgrimage, consider the message that God is calling on you to do next.  Listen.  Expect to hear. You may be surprised by what you hear.  What is your response?  If what you are hearing is not what you want to be hearing, can you adjust it?  Can you respond with openness?  Can you be afraid and accept it anyway?

 

The Final phase is “Action”

Moses (finally) puts his calling into action and fights against the oppressive leaders of his time.  In my tradition, the Christian tradition, there are ancient stories of regular (mostly quite un-remarkable) people encountering God in some way – today we call these “White light” or “Mountaintop experiences”.  What my tradition emphasizes is that these God-encounters are for anyone and available to everyone (not just mystics and saints) and that the importance of them lies not in the experience itself, but in what they do to us, what they prepare for us, what they call or commission us to do. This is not about wallowing self-indulgently in joyful feelings of the presence of God (though God knows we could likely all use more times of assurance of that presence) or simply trying to recreate those moments of connection, but it is a calling forward in love.  These experiences will open up a new way forward that will likely challenge us.  That is to say, these are not given simply so that we may enjoy them for their own sake (or our own sake), celebrated or clung to – these experiences are not for the “I” - they will always have an element of “so now…”

In these last steps we take together, it is time to reflect on the “what next” – not to let this day of beauty remain here on the mountain, but rather how you can bring it down into the valley and allow it to shape the days and weeks to come.  What Pharoahs do you need to stand up to in your life?  What injustice needs your voice?  Who could benefit from your time here?

 

Before we complete the journey, I want to share one short piece of a poem with you.

Poet, Mary Oliver, who died recently, is a favourite of mine - one of her most quoted quotes is a piece of advice is taken from her poem, “Sometimes.”

             Instructions for living a life.

            Pay attention.

            Be astonished.

            Tell about it.

 

As you go from this place know that you are held in love, filled with love, and send into the world to share that love. Trust in it. Amen.

 

The view during one leg of our trip

The view during one leg of our trip

TGIW: Ash Wednesday

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March 6, 2019

What I am Thinking About

It is Ash Wednesday – you may or may not know what that is, but likely at some point in your life you have seen someone walking around with a sooty mark on their foreheads.  It is the day when Christians around the world begin their journey through the Lenten season of the church year.  Lent is the 40 days (plus 6 Sundays) that lead up to Easter and is a time of humility, of remembering our humanity (and fallibility and mortality), and learning. 

A couple of years ago I was at a public meeting after I had received ashes, and someone across the room from me kept trying to get my attention, then mouthing the words, you’ve got dirt on your face!  Dirt!  There!  I smiled, and nodded, I know I mouthed back.  I found myself looking at the face of a very perplexed man – head tilted, brow furrowed, huh? look.  After the meeting was over, I explained the what and why of receiving ashes to him…I am not sure if he understood better, but I did…I better understood why I would carry on all day with the smear of soot on my forehead.

Sometimes being a Christian in public is a less than favourable thing.  I have been afraid in my past to be associated with those other kinds of Christians.  But this is actually the beauty of Ash Wednesday – it is a reminder that I am one of those Christians.  Because I too am deeply flawed.  When the priest or pastor takes the burnt ashes of last year’s leaves from Palm Sunday and marks the sign of the cross on my forehead, they say something like, “Remember that you come from dust, and to dust you shall return.  Turn away from sin and embrace the good news of Jesus Christ.” 

There are so many layers of humility in this for me: 

I am mortal. 

I am not God (so I can let go of control of things).

I am made of dust (this keeps my ego in check, but also reminds me that I am part of the interconnectedness of all things and made of the same beauty as the stars).

I screw up.

I am broken.

God never gives up on me.

God is in the process of returning me to wholeness.

I am loved.

 

What I am Grateful For

My work.  I am so very blessed to do what I do: I get invite into the very best and the very worst of people’s lives.  The best and worst days they experience, and they want me there.  I also get to do the most mundane things, like organize Children’s Church supplies and cut up Communion bread – but I get to do them alongside some of the most amazing and beautiful people. 

Today Rev. Ryan and I were able to offer “Ashes-To-Go” on the front steps of St. George’s in downtown Courtenay.  We marked folks with ashes, reminding them of their mortality and urging them to turn away from that which is destructive and broken and turn towards the wholeness, beauty, and love that is God, known to us in Jesus.  Some folks didn’t want or weren’t familiar with ashes, so we prayed with and blessed many people, reminding them of how loved they are. 

I am filled with So. Much. Gratitude.

 

What Inspires Me

I love to read and write – I am in awe of the literary gymnasts that exist all around us, finding ways to help us understand life, God, ourselves, the world, in tremendous, new, and creative ways. I write to get better – inspired by these wonderful communicators to grow and learn as I go. 

This morning I read a piece, a letter to a woman from God about Lent and I hope you will have a read and be inspired too.  Not necessarily to write about your faith (though please do that!) but to reconsider old ideas you may have about this day and this season. 

You can find that letter HERE and I would encourage you to read it, and then take some quiet time to consider what it means for you.

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

This Lent, I am ready to go deeper in my relationship with God.

Lent is often considered a pilgrimage back to God…a return to the source of love and light and life, and a turning away from that which harms us (including the harm we cause ourselves) and the ways in which we cause harm to others.  Which sounds lovely and great – ideal really, but there is a process involved in that can be very difficult and challenging.

So, I will be doing two things: 1: to turn towards God, and 2: to face harms (sins if you will) that I have perpetuated.

1.      Reading, researching, and hosting discussions on spiritual pilgrimage as well as leading a day of snowshoe pilgrimage at Strathcona Provincial Park.

Thursday March 21st 10 am & 7 pm Coffee and Conversations that Matter in Cumberland

 An exploration of what pilgrimage is and has been through the centuries and in different

Cultures; a sharing of experiences of pilgrimage; and a preparatory session for how to do

a pilgrimage.

Friday March 22nd 7 – 9:30 pm Red Tent Gathering

In the yurt at 1957 Arden Road (uphill, back of the property, pls carpool if possible)

I have been invited to open the discussion on spiritual pilgrimage through the sharing of

my own personal experiences with pilgrimage as well as the fruits of some of my

academic study into the interplay between ancient understandings of pilgrimage in the

Judeo-Christian and Indigenous traditions. 

Red Tent evenings offer a space strictly for women, girls and those who identify as

women. This is an open group, with a slightly different mix of participants each event. 

More details can be found here: https://comoxvalleyredtent.weebly.com/

Saturday March 30th 1:30 – 4 pm Snowshoe Pilgrimage

A chance to put all of this discussion into practice!  We will meet at the Raven Lodge at

Mount Washington at 1:30 pm to get rentals (if needed) and begin our journey about

2pm.  We will be travelling together and pausing regularly for reflection, but this is

primarily an individual journey of the soul across the land.  Once we have returned to the

Lodge (about 4 pm), participants are welcome to head in their own directions, or join

together for discussion and reflection at Ted’s Bar & Grill. 

To register please visit https://www.weirdchurchcumberland.com/news

 

2.      In order to examine my own privilege, I am participating in an online book study via Facebook through The United Church of Canada using the book “White Privilege” by Robin Diangelo.  I am ready to unearth some of the ways I am blind to my own story and the stories of others and allow God to change me for the better through humbling self-exploration and discussion with others. 

Please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/600558217062304/ if you want to participate (it’s not too late to join in).

If you have already read this book but are looking for something similar to read, check out Paulette Regan’s book “Unsettling the Settler Within”

 

TGIF: Soul Friends…and right action vs right thinking

Friday January 25, 2019

What I am Thinking About

Most of us could say we have friends.  I don’t mean friends as Facebook defines it – I have over 1,000 of those people I am connected to for one reason or another.  But friends, folks who we hang out with every now and again.  The ones we laugh with, celebrate with, struggle with, grieve with…drop kids off at school with or ride bokes along the seashore with.

Friends are good, important, necessary for life.

And from those friends, we might have a couple of really good friends – the ones who know all of our baggage, have seen us at our best and worst and just keep on loving us. 

 

But there is this other category of friend.  The ones who really see us.  These are the friends that hear words and know the depth behind them.  They have wandered into dark places with us, not to bring us out but to sit alongside.  These friends know our heart’s longing, our spiritual centre, and can name when we are wandering too far from the place we need to be internally.  I call these soul friends.

 

What I am Grateful For

My soul friends.  I am extremely blessed to have forged several soul friends.  Some seem to be life-ers: we have been spiritual friends for most of my adult life and continue to walk closely together.  I have had seasonal soul friends – those without whom I would never have survived a particular phase or season of my life, but don’t share that closeness with any longer. 

 

I have weathered many storms with my soul friends, both as captain and passenger.  My soul friends have challenged me to do better, to live more faithfully, to press beyond what I think I am capable of…and they have reminded me to be gentle with myself. 

 

Spiritual friendships like these involve risk because of the level of vulnerability we bring and the trust we share.  I have been terribly hurt by my soul friends before, and I know I have caused harm.  But I will always choose to risk it – the reward of walking alongside brothers and sisters, siblings in this thing called life is just too great not to.

 

What Inspires Me

 

I have this one soul friend; I have referred to her as my “Nun” before – someone who is a friend, a guide, a companion, and so incredibly wise and deeply spiritual.  This week she shared some reflections with me, thoughts, wonderings, frustrations.  She pontificated along the lines of, What does it mean to live a spiritual life?  To walk faith as opposed to recite words on a Sunday morning.  The church through history has often slid too far into words: reciting creeds, memorizing doctrine, knowing the right things to say.  What about Jesus’ call to be disciples, that is, doers of love, or people of the word, more than just believers. 

 

Diana Butler Bass writes that Christianity is a deliberate choice with serious consequences (!).  It is a process of spiritual formation and discipline that is learned in community and takes time…a spiritual pathway of life built on transformative practices of love rather than doctrinal belief.[1]

 

I appreciate their press into right action, which is likely why I am a part of the United Church of Canada, a church with a long history of social action and community service (we didn’t earn the nickname “the NDP at prayer” for no reason).  However, I think that action compelled by the love of all people as precious children of God cannot exist without its rootedness in the word, in the traditions from which theology, doctrine, and creed is produced.

 

Knowing this friend well and having read much of Bass, I will assume that neither of them mean doing without thinking, that is, love without understanding, but I think too often we may consider one above the other (humans love to do that don’t they!?). 

 

My friend also wondered about how many religious institutions/churches became places that taught people what to believe as Christians, rather than empowering them to be Christians, following Jesus’ lead in the world.  We have both been thinking about this in terms of children especially.  There may be ample space in the congregational spaces we romp around in for adult folks to be led by their faith into good and loving works in the world, but how do we teach this to children?  Sometimes our children’s programs are only about the stories, the lessons and not about real spiritual development.  In teaching, do we place greater emphasis on right belief over right action?  I hope not in the programs I work/serve in.  If my own children have taught me nothing else (don’t worry, they have) it is that they have an immense capacity for holding mystery, awe, and depth alongside practical learning that translates into the way they encounter the world.

 

How I am Practicing my Faith

 

Life is busy: I have my vocational work, volunteer work, two children each with many activities, a husband that I really like to hang out with, extended family (some closer than others), community work, political involvement…not to mention I love to read, hike, ski, and I do yoga every day.  Sometimes (too often) connecting with friends falls too far down the list.  But what if we considered time with friends a spiritual practice? 

 

I practice my faith when I invest in these beautiful souls who choose to walk deeply with me.  I am better when I do.  My connection with the Divine is magnified, my feet are more firmly grounded, and my heart is happy.

 

If you are reading this, wondering if you are one of my soul friends, you likely are.  Thank you.

 

If you are reading this, dreaming of having a soul friend, pray about it.  Ask God for a spiritual companion, and then pay attention…they are likely closer than you think.


[1] Diana Butler Bass is an American commentator on religion, spirituality, and culture – check out more at https://dianabutlerbass.com/

TGIF: Forgiveness

What I am Thinking About

 

Forgiveness.

What a loaded word.

 

The dictionary gives us synonyms such as pardon, absolution, exoneration, defining it as the action of stopping being angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw or mistake.[1]

 

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.[2]

 

The very word can bring up painful images and memories – it can cause us to think about horrible evils such as the Holocaust, child abuse, rape, and domestic violence.  It can bring forward incomprehensible depths of pain and suffering.  It can also bring to mind those (comparably) teeny seeds of day-to-day annoyance that come with living alongside other humans at home or work, church or school.  Seeds that sprout and grow and blossom into massive thorny bushes that take over the garden of our minds, choking out compassion and grace.

 

But what is involved in the practice of forgiving someone – or indeed, being forgiven ourselves?  Almost all of us sense the importance of forgiveness as a conceptual ideal, a spiritual discipline, a deep yearning for resolution and reconciliation.  There is a great big SHOULD that comes along with the word – as in “I should forgive him/her.”  But most of us would have to admit that sometimes we just don’t want to forgive someone or ask their forgiveness. How do we translate this nice, on the paper idea of forgiveness into the raw, gritty, and often painful process of actually living it out in our relationships?

 

What I am Grateful For

 

A mentor of mine taught me about a saying on forgiveness: refusing to forgive someone is akin to drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

I am grateful today for the teachers of forgiveness I have learned and continue to learn from.  Some of these have been people I have wronged who have given me forgiveness I did not earn.  These are my children who are the most regular recipients of my apologies and dolers-out of forgiveness. These are the deep thinkers and writers whose work challenges me to move outside of what I think I know about forgiveness and enter a new understanding.

 

What Inspires Me

 

All over this community and around the world, people are forgiving one another.  People are forgiving one another for unthinkable, unimaginable harms and setting themselves and others free.

Need some inspiration?  Head over to The Forgiveness Project and read some of the stories of individuals and communities who have rebuilt their lives following hurt and trauma.  The Forgiveness Project is a non-profit that works to offer alternatives to hate, cycles of violence and injustice by building a climate of tolerance, resilience, hope and empathy.

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

 

I am a part of a faith tradition that understands that we are able to love because we are loved first by God.  A faith tradition that believes that we are able to forgive because we are first forgiven by God.  As a Christian, I am a follower of Jesus, the one who taught us to pray everyday for the capacity to both give and receive forgiveness (think of the Lord’s prayer…“forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”), and so in order to practice my faith, I must practice forgiveness. 

 

I begin by recognizing that forgiveness is not a one-time action or isolated feeling or thought.  The practice of forgiveness is rather a way of life that is shaped by an ever-deepening friendship with God and other people.  Therefore, this discipline is not only…or even primarily…a way of dealing with guilt, but rather to restore communion, or reconcile, with God…each other…all of creation. 

 

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.  By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up.  Love transforms with redemptive power.”[3]  And so a life of forgiveness, is a life of love.  And it is love that allows us to give up certain claims against one another, to be truthful about our own behaviours, and live into a future that is not bound by the past.  And for me, that is a level of love that I cannot muster on my own.  I need God to summon that love, I need God to assure me of that love, I need to soak deep into that love of God that is mercy, is grace, is absolution.  Not just for the sake of myself, but for the sake of all that I meet in my life, that I too can meet them with mercy, justice, compassion, and love.

 

If forgiveness is on your mind, I would encourage you to join in the discussion at Coffee and Conversations that Matter January 29th at 10 am.  This month we will focus on the topic of forgiveness – what it is, what it isn’t, and why we need it (do we?). 

https://www.weirdchurchcumberland.com/news/

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[1] Google Dictionary.

[2] “Forgiveness Defined,” The Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, 2019. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

[3] King Jr., Martin Luther, Strength to Love (Cleveland: Collins + World, 1977).

TGIF: Come and See

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January 4th, 2019

“Come and See”

At the Christmas Eve candlelight evening service at St. George’s, more than 250 folks packed the house for a worship service of song, laughter, reflection and blessing.  It was amazing.  And it was also about 75 more people than we typically have on a Sunday morning.  I wonder what drew them to this place that night?

 

What I am Thinking About

“Come and See” John 1:39

Going to church on a Sunday morning isn’t a usual thing anymore – it has become a bit of an oddity. There are a zillion other places to go or things to do and for most folks, it doesn’t include waking up early, getting dressed, and heading into an old building with strangers to sing and pray and learn.  And yet new people come into the church all the time, not just at Christmas.  20 years ago, I was a new person walking into a room full of folks doing just that.

 

I am reading through (or rather, listening through) the book of John.  And John says to his buddies, hey you gotta check out this Jesus guy – he is the one we have been waiting for.  So, his friends go to meet him and ask about what he is up to.  And his answer is come and see.

 

And really, this is the invitation that always exists with this weirdo Jesus and his church of misfits: want to know what we are up to?  Come and see…Come and see this path over here that you never explored before.  Come and see this path that is different from the way you remember walking it as a child.  Come and see a different way, a new way.  Come and see what you have not seen before.  Come and see what you have been waiting for.  Come and see.

 

What I am Grateful For

Each year, St. George’s donates it’s entire Christmas Eve offering (the donations that are received during the service) to their partner charity for the year.  This year, we collected over $2400 for Habitat for Humanity North Island – an amount that will be matched by local business owners!  Wow, that is almost $5000 to support families in our community.  Thank you!

 

What Inspires Me

The courage it takes to try something new.  It is risky to walk into a new place with new people doing unfamiliar things.  It is risky to step outside of what is familiar.  Risky, and requiring tremendous faith.  While I understand this is my call for the year (and likely beyond), I am in awe of the folks who show up and do this work all the time.  Those who showed up for the Blue Christmas service in Cumberland, bravely facing their sorrow.  Those who came through the doors of the church Dec. 24th, entering a church for the first time (or the first time in a long time).  Those who stepped onto the jobsite to help build the new duplexes for Habitat for Humanity, enabling two families to get their homes months ahead of schedule and in time for Christmas.  For those who make eye contact and say hello when even that small act is so difficult. 

I have found that when we risk, even when we “fail”, there is no failure, because there is always learning and growth and opportunity.

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

Often as a calendar year closes, or as one begins, in my prayers I am struck with a word or phrase that resonates, either as a summary of the year that has passed or as an intention (or warning!) for the year ahead.

In my new years prayers, I prayed for God to reveal to me the theme for 2019…and I received the word risk.  Yikes.  Well God, I said, if that’s what it’s going to be, that’s what it’s going to be!  I continued to pray that I would be guided by the ancients revealed in Scripture, that their wisdom and God’s closeness would lead me along unknown ways so that I may make the path by walking, as so many who have gone before me have done.  So, I will keep my Bible close this year.  I will need the comfort of all those God-lovers, God-arguers, God-avoiders, God-friends who have risked much more than I ever will to shout about how loved we all are.

 

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TGIS: Love

Dec 23

TGIS: Love

December 23, 2018

 

You may have heard it said already – the opposite of fear is not faith, but rather it is love.  Love and fear cannot exist in the same moment.  Love and nerves?  Of course! – ask anyone who has experienced a first kiss, a walk down the aisle, or been reunited with a sweetheart from long ago. 

 

What I am Thinking About

Love.  Surprise!  I have had several love awakenings through my life: that first young love, the love of church community and God I discovered as a teenager, the long-term and deeply rooted love of marriage.  After my daughter was born (10 years ago!) I experienced one of those awakenings.  In the days after her birth, as the shock and adrenaline began to wear off and I learned to adapt to so much less sleep, I became aware of a new kind of love that came with this wee babe.  It was a love I had never experienced, a love I didn’t even know existed.  WOW!  What a love!  I began to see with new eyes: if I love this baby this much, then my mom must love ME this much!  And my neighbour must love his kids this much!  And that stranger, and that stranger, all those people are SO LOVED!  I was suddenly aware of this other dimension of love that existed all around us to a degree that I could never have understood before. Previous to that, raised by a good feminist, I had struggled with the notion of a Father God.  But this awareness of the love that parent holds for their child shed new light on the way I could understand God’s love for each of us on earth.  Now I can relate to a Mother-Father God, parent of us all.

 

What I am Grateful For

Almost three years after that experience with my daughter, I sat on the beach in Vancouver, very pregnant with my second child, wondering how I could possibly love another small human as much as I loved that first one.  It felt like my heart was already filled to the brim – how could I muster more?  Maybe number two and I would just never have the bond that number one and I had.  How would I be able to ensure they both felt loved even if I thought it was impossible for me to love that much again? 

A few short long, hot July days later, our son came flying into our family (in our living room…but that’s another story) and I was hit with another love awakening: these babies come with their own supply of love!  I was, once again, blown away by the capacity we have as humans for love.

 

What I am Inspired By

Perhaps it is the season of pregnant anticipation that has me reflecting on my own birthing experiences, but I cannot think of a more appropriate way to celebrate the coming of Jesus.  If my little ones came with so much love, and enlivened in me a love beyond my previous understanding, then surely this Jesus, in his humanity and divinity, can bring that on a cosmological scale.  Sometimes in the rushing of the season, the cleaning, preparing, forgetting and hurrying to do what was forgotten, our fears of not being good enough, not making Christmas perfect, not having enough distracts us from the truth of this season.  That we are enough – not because of what we have accomplished or remembered or finished – but because we are loved.  We are loved beyond our own understanding of what that means.  We are surrounded by love, held in love, drowning in love.  And we can allow ourselves to be steeped in love if we are willing to open our eyes to all that is already around us and what is on the way.

 

How I am Practicing my Faith

Today I want to surrender once again to that love.  That love that doesn’t come from me but comes from beyond me.  It is a practice, a weekly, daily, even minute to minute practice. Because we can so easily slide into fear, into expectations, resentment, and busy-ness.  And when we do that, it is as if we become colour blind to the hues of love we are already immersed in.  In a culture that is always railing at us that we need this or that to be a good mom/wife/parent/spouse/etc. it takes conscious and deliberate refutation of that message to say no – no, I refuse to live in a monochrome world of fear.  I will be bold and live in the technicolour world of God where I am loveable and a lover of others, even when that love comes with great risk.

Jesus, inner light, let me welcome your love.

TGIS: Joy!

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If you are following along, I am releasing my blog on Sundays during the four weeks leading up to Christmas that we call Advent in the church.  Instead of a reflection on the week, as my TGIFs have been, these are more thoughts for the week ahead, on the topics pertaining to each week in Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

 

Today marks the start of our week of Joy, and I was posed with an interesting question after church at St. George’s today: what about those of us who don’t feel particularly joyful right now?

 

What I am Thinking About

 

This morning in my readings, I was given a passage from Philippians (4:4-7) and the translation that was used had Paul urging his listeners to Rejoice in all things.  This reminded me of a similar instruction in 1 Thessalonians (5:16-18) to Rejoice always…and give thanks in all circumstances.  Paul was writing to churches who, by all accounts, had little to celebrate and rejoice about.  Their leaders were being martyred all over, often in very gruesome ways.  They were not behaving in especially generous or charitable ways to one another.  They were mostly poor and ostracized. Perhaps they too asked Paul about how they were to embrace joy – to rejoice! – in the midst of their less than happy existence.

This takes me to the meaning of joy.  What is joy?  What isn’t joy? The dictionary defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” offering synonyms of delight, gladness, and ecstasy. 

 This is not what we mean in church.

 Joy is what is translated in the Bible and other ancient documents from the Greek word χαρά (chara) - this is a variant of the word χάρις (charis) or as we know it, grace. 

Joy, then, is not circumstantial, it is not based on events or surroundings, as happiness is.  Joy is a gift from God that comes as a deep sense of rootedness and well-being, of assurance and confidence of love.  Joy is a part of God’s very essence and resides within each one of us, especially as we walk deeper and more intimately with God.  It is deep and profound and something that affects the whole and entire personality.

C.S. Lewis wrote about it as an “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.  I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from both Happiness and Pleasure.  Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who as experienced it will want it again…I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.  But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” (from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life)

 Joy will often surprise us at times when we least expect and most need it.  We find ourselves joyful in spite of ourselves and our circumstances, knocked off balance by a jolt of love. 

If joy is a gift from God can we choose it?  Yes.  I believe we can.  By giving thanks and choosing to connect with the Divine whether we “feel” it or not.  By gathering in community and receiving support or giving support, depending on where we find ourselves.  By suiting up and showing up for someone else.  But you see, I believe that God is available to us all the time, in any way or shape we find ourselves in.  I believe in a God of second, third, and 589th chances.  I believe that as soon as we start even considering God, our eyes are opened to the reality that God has always been there waiting for us to notice, trying to get our attention, loving us regardless.  And that when we say yes to joy we are, in fact, saying yes to God.  Not to some flimsy and waning quick fix of happiness, but of a joy that we can barely begin to understand.

 

What I am Grateful For and Inspired By

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Well, this might be an easy one, but…JOY!  On Friday I was honoured to offer the blessing to two families as they received their new homes through Habitat for Humanity North Island.  As is the custom, the families each received a Bible; salt – that their lives would always have flavour; bread – that they would never know hunger; and a toolkit – that they would always have what they need.  You could feel the love and gratitude flow – just as you could feel the rain that poured down on us!  Those families knew they were loved: the thousands of hours that they and so many volunteers had put into those homes filled the spaces to the brim with joy.  Joy flowed from their eyes as their trembling hands carefully slid the keys in to unlock the door, and joy radiated from all of us as we were welcome in as the first guests to peek in and see what can be accomplished when love and justice (God!) are the driving force in a huge project like this.

 

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How I am Practicing My Faith

 By choosing Joy, even when I don’t want to. 

These last days before Christmas can turn into a harried, frantic, cranky, mess of a time.  My children are over-sugared and under-slept (and truth be told, so am I).  There are things to bake, wrap, deliver, and exchange.  The days are short and stormy and the dog needs to be walked (and truth be told, so do I).  There are services to prepare for and musicians to consult with, candles to find and matches to lose. 

And in all of the chaos, it is easy to forget about joy.  Easy to forget about what we are really doing.  So in these last days of Advent, I choose Joy.  I choose to run around with my children instead of bark at them for misbehaving (say a prayer for me!).  I choose to eat simply and not over do it (prayers here too please).  I choose to be gentle with myself and those around me, because we all need tenderness.  And I choose to laugh about the things that get forgotten, or misplaced, or stay unfinished as a result of more playing. And I will keep on praying, because God knows I need God to do it!

 

How will you choose Joy?

TGIS: Peace

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December 9th, 2018

This morning in worship at St. George’s, when I explained that the second week of Advent is the week of peace, I asked the children what peace means.  There were some less than expected answers: death, church, love.  There were some very typical answers: being kind, listening to others, being still & quiet.  Though the most common was some variation of not fighting with your brother/sister/mom/dad/grandma/teacher…

 

I explained to them that Jesus, and the Jewish people he learned from, and the people who follow him, think of peace a little differently than not something.  Peace is actually a verb, an action word, something you do.  I shared the Todd Parr story, “The Peace Book,” with them, where the author describes peace in terms of reading all kinds of books, helping a neighbour, planting a garden.  He also says that peace is everyone having a home, wearing different clothes, sharing a meal…and, of course, there being enough pizza for everyone.

 

What I am Thinking About

Peace isn’t just resisting fighting (or perhaps resisting the urge to fight)…sometimes peace is fighting for what is right.  In Hebrew, the word for peace is shalom שׁלום, and shares the same root as the words for wholeness or completeness.  In Jewish literature, it is also bound up with the notion of shelemut or perfection and is most commonly referring to a state of affairs – a state of well-being, tranquility, prosperity, security, and justice. 

Peace is perhaps, as we understand it socially, the absence of war.  I was wondering about this on Remembrance Day this year – the 100th anniversary of the armistice of WWI.  As the youth I was on retreat with, along with churches all around the world, rang bells 100 times, I could not help but feel the irony of ringing bells of peace on a day when surely mortars were falling on youth in Yemen at that very moment. 

Peace in ancient times, the time when Jesus walked around, was secured by the Roman authorities – the Pax Romana.  This was a peace that came through terror and authoritarian control.  This is not the shalom of God’s dream for humanity where peace is a by-product of justice for all.

 

What I am Grateful For

Yes, of course I am grateful that I live in a country where I am not in danger of incoming enemy fire at all times of the day.  But there is bitterness in that gratitude as I cannot un-know the death and destruction happening on other pieces of this planet.  I am grateful for a God that dreams of peace, a God that calls us, pulls on our hearts to work together for this dream of peace.  I am grateful for the others who feel this uprising within themselves and take action for peace for the sake of the world and all of her children.

 

What Inspires Me

This week in my morning meditation, (I am currently listening to the daily Pray As You Go app), we reflected on the verses spoken by the prophet Isaiah several thousand years ago, reiterated by Jesus, and spoken by Jews, Christians, and Muslims since then.  It is God’s dream, God’s promise of peace to come:

 

The wolf will live alongside the lamb,

    the leopard will lie down with the young goat,

the calf and the lion will eat together from the same trough,

    and a little child will tend to them.

The cow and the bear will graze the same pasture,

    their calves and cubs grow up together;

    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child will play over rattlesnake dens,

    and the toddler will stick its hand down the hole of the serpent.

Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on the holy earth.

 

This is peace not only for some.  This is the peace that comes from safety and security, not fear and terror. 

It is a state of blessing on emotional, physical, and spiritual levels, for all.

 

How I am Practicing my Faith

Today I choose to live in the hope of this peace.  Not the peace that humans promise – not peace at any cost.  Not peace under authority, without freedom, only for some at the expense of others.  I want a peace that is born from the end of homelessness.  The end of hunger.  The end of oppression, poverty, tyranny, control, subversion, inferiority, suffering…I want the peace that comes when there is enough pizza in the world for everyone.

This is not the peace that we can bring about on our own.  We have made it very clear through history and in the present that our own efforts are not enough.  We need a power greater than ourselves to have a hand in this.  This is a peace that is born in the form of a vulnerable newborn to unwed, homeless, teenage parents in a land not their own for a purpose greater than they would ever know.

I am practicing my faith by living in action towards a peace that comes when humanity partners with God to work for justice for everyone. Everyday.  In a thousand small ways. 

 

Join me, won’t you?  Pray for peace.  Work, tirelessly, for peace.  Trust that your work will not be in vain…that it will be multiplied in unseen ways for generations to come.

TGI...S?

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After a *brief* (?) hiatus, I am back with TGI…S.  For the four weeks leading up to the mystery that is Christmas, I will be reflecting on the weekly church themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  Sunday being the first day of the week, it is my intent that these thoughts coming out on a Sunday give a little bit to chew on for the week in each of these themes.  These weeks are called Advent, a season of waiting, of anticipation, of preparation.  Advent is about listening for the promises God makes and waiting for those promises to be realised. While everything and everyone around us is in a hurry: shopping, baking, lighting, mailing…we take time to slow down.  This is internal preparation, not external preparation.  This is a time to actively work against the whirlwind around us and go slow. 

 

What I am Thinking About

At this time of year, slowing down a little actually feels like slowing down a lot.  It can feel excruciatingly slow even to just move at a normal pace.  This has got me thinking about the speed at which I tear through life.  I have bumped into this lesson multiple times throughout my adult life: moving faster than is reasonable and then crashing and burning for a few days to catch up.  The odd thing about this is that it flies in the face all that I believe in: listening, noticing, studying, reflecting, visiting.  I value long simmered meals, slow coffee visits, watching the world.  And sometimes I forget and get caught up in the speed around me and focus on productivity over process.  And it doesn’t work.  Not for me anyway.  I seem to be wired for slowness, for pause, for thoughtfulness.  Perhaps we all are.

 

What I am Grateful For

Second chances.  Third chances.  897th chances.  I am grateful for a faith that teaches and reaffirms that God is audaciously forgiving, recklessly loving, and relentless in pursuing a relationship with us. 

I am a slow learner and I have bumped into this same burnout to varying degrees so many times.  And here I am again – yes, I tend to catch it sooner than I used to but, like I said, I am a slow learner.  Thankfully, I have and endless number of chances to learn to do this better.

And what this really means is that I am perfectly poised for Advent.  Advent, the time of preparation.  This week we listen for God’s promise of Hope.  So, this week I will slow down and look for seeds of hope all around.  They are there, if I have eyes to see and a pace that encourages noticing.

 

What Inspires Me

This morning at church was so much fun; I am so filled with love and gratitude!  The church in December is such an amazing place.  Folks whose schedules lured them to soccer fields and hockey rinks over the last few months often return to worship.  Those who are there every week happily welcome the return of friends and make plans for the holidays.  There are usually extra treats after church and the children are often buzzing with excitement.  Today we welcomed Santa and Mrs. Claus for photos in between worship and the parade to raise money for the Toy Library, and as we watched the parade, I got to visit with so many friends along the way from church. 

I am feeling so incredibly blessed and enriched to be a part of this community.  I am also inspired by the level of service the goes on quietly in that place…

 

How I am Practicing my Faith

This week I plan to slow down and work to let go of my attachment to productivity.  Yes, I need to do things – I am a minister in December after all!  But I want to slow down enough to recognize the hope that is all around me.  To consider the hope that is held in the body of a woman, swollen with a life inside her almost ready to change the world.

TGIF with Ingrid: Making Space for Death

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What I am Thinking About

 

I read an article years ago that stuck with me entitled, “The Pornography of Death.” (if you want to read it, email me at info@weirdchurchcumberland.com and I’ll send you a copy).  Set in the foundational understanding that every culture has it’s taboo subjects, it’s rules of seemliness, the (mostly unspoken) parameters of what are acceptable matters for discussion, the author writes of sex as one such subject from our recent past.  And anyone over the age of about 30 can attest to this: human sexuality was (and often still is) a subject that, when broached, breaks the invisible barrier and provokes a particular kind of laughter, shock, or embarrassment.  Gorer suggests that there are two sides to this: prudery and pornography, and that pornography was a response to prudery, sending a certain distortion of sexuality underground. 

 

Now, for us walking around in 2018, we can hardly say that sex is any longer an underground affair – human sexuality, in Western culture, is very often provocative and public.  So what then is the equivalent of our prudery around sexuality in this time and place?  Gorer argues that it is death.  That we are experiencing the pornographication of death; that is, death has become more and more the “unmentionable” in conversation. 

 

This is evident in the way we speak about these topics.  My parents generation was raised with code words for body parts, if they were to be spoken about at all, and death was a regular and natural part of life.  I, in contrast, grew up knowing scientific anatomic names and processes from an early age, but, death was spoken of in euphemisms and equivalent code words.  We went from describing female anatomy as a garden to explaining that our beloved family pets were now on a farm in the country. 

 

In the same way that we pressed sex to the edges and underground of society in the past, we are now pressing death to the margins.  Most deaths happen in institutions, away from children, the ugly facts and realities relentlessly hidden.  Gorer writes, “the natural processes of corruption and decay have become disgusting, as disgusting as the natural processes of birth and copulation were a century ago.”  He goes on to say that evidence of this can be seen in the violent deaths and zombie infiltration of popular culture produced for mass audiences.

 

All of this to say, I have been thinking of death and how little room there is for the realities of death, dying, and grieving in our culture.

 

What I am Grateful For

 

This week was Halloween, plus the ancient Christian days of All Saints and All Souls – days where we hold wide space for those who have died: figures through the ages known to millions, as well as our Nanas.  People whose lives were lost in unspeakable tragedy and those who left gently and tenderly.

 

Church is one of the last places where we talk about death all the time.  Death is present in our ancient stories, in the realities of inter-generational community life, honoured and recognized for the realities of it.  We know when one of us is suffering, we enter homes and hospitals and hospices to sit at messy, awkward, painful bedsides.

 

I am so grateful that death is not taboo in communities of faith.  It is not something we recoil from, not something we avoid with replacement words or empty platitudes.  Perhaps we feel safe to do that because of the confidence that death is not the final place, but rather love is. 

 

What Inspires Me

 

As I write this, I am sitting surrounded by Christian artists, musicians, pastors, activists – mostly folks on the margins of their denominations or who have stepped outside of institutions altogether to more faithfully follow this Jew from Nazareth named Jesus.  We are sharing in a conference in Victoria about new ways to be church in the world.  There are so many stories of love and generosity and community and healing and ingenuity.  But let me tell you, the music.  Ohhhhh the music.  It is an immersion in the incredible creativity and vulnerability of original music created in love and prayer, in sorrow and lament, in jubilation and celebration.  Music stirs the soul and makes space for stillness and reflection in a way that I cannot get to on my own.  I feel so very privileged to be sitting here amongst this incredible talent - live!  In person! 

 

How I am Practicing my Faith

 

This Sunday, November 4th at 4 pm I will be hosting an All Souls service – a place where we can hold wide space for death, grief, remembering, and whatever else comes.  This is a piece of my tradition that I want to open up for the community to participate in.  A safe space for anyone – anyone – to come and be still, holding loved ones in their hearts and minds.

The rituals, the safety, the space holding associated with my faith is borne out of this time of year – as living things die and we pause to mark the lives that have gone before us.  These are relevant regardless of the faith tradition you walk in, or don’t. 

 

Come and be my guest.  Enter into the sacred community of broken, hurting, healing people and let yourself be loved.

 

Details here.

TGIF with Ingrid: Sabbath and Sloth

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October 12, 2018

 

What I am Thinking About

Sabbath and Sloth are two very old and rather churchy words; today these words sometimes get rebranded as rest/self-care and laziness.  Though, that wouldn’t be quite right. 

 

Sabbath is a spiritual discipline – a time to shed our earthly work and immerse ourselves in what is holy – whatever that means for us.  It is deliberative resting in God.  It is conscious reflection on the grace which God extends, and I am in definite need of.  Sabbath is a reorientation towards gratitude.

Sabbath is hard.

Because I want to fall into the rest/self-care idea of Sabbath: get back into bed after the kids are at school with a cup of coffee and relish in a few episodes of whatever on Netflix.  Then maybe a bath…then a lovely lunch somewhere and a pedicure.  And these are good and important things, but they aren’t Sabbath. 

 

Fridays are the days I try to carve out for my Sabbath practice, but I have to be careful.  I can slide sideways into sloth without even knowing it, and what is disguised as rest and self-care becomes laziness, and very quickly begins to affect my mental health.  Today, I wanted to do what I expressed above: get the kids off to school and get back into bed.  And some days that is necessary, but not today.  Somehow today I knew (thanks God!) that bed would not be the best place for me.  So I got on my bike…then I went into the woods.  (though honestly, I am getting a manicure this afternoon with my mom!)

 

What I am Grateful For

Spiritual friendships.  Yes, I know that this is the same as last week, but I am still feeling the gratitude!

This week my friend Rob came up from Victoria to share his experience with social activism and reflections at Coffee and Conversations that Matter in Cumberland (read more about that here and stay tuned for the next one Nov. 20).  We had some beautiful conversations with folks at Whole Glow Café, and also spent the better part of the day reflecting together about wonderful churchy things and practices.

 

In the evening session, Rob brought up a Thomas Merton quote that landed hard after a busy couple of weeks.

 

Almost 50 years ago, Thomas Merton, a wild young man turned hermetic Catholic monk, wrote these astonishing words:

 

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

Merton describes violence against the self: to not rest and take gentle care, reflect, listen to our own inner wisdom. The pressure to perform, to live up to too high a standard, or some generalized societal pressure, the judgment that we are not enough if we don’t do something, are violent because they take us away from being our true self.

 

While Merton was referring specifically to social activism, which was the topic of our discussion group, it resonates so deeply in every facet of our (my!) lives. 

 

I am grateful for friends who point out the places where I am inflicting violence on myself and do so in a gentle yet provocative way.  It got me thinking about that narrow road between over-action and apathy, between flurry and sloth.  And reminded me that the work is not mine to do alone, I am partnered with God in it all.

 

What Inspires Me

Yesterday, the staff from St. George’s and many of the volunteers who work in the drop-in, food pantry and lunch club (soup kitchen) met at St. John the Divine Anglican church along with other church leaders and volunteers to learn about how to safely care for someone in an overdose situation and how to administer the drug Naloxone. 

The drive behind the folks there seemed to me not to be primarily about technical medical procedures for emergencies.  The impetus seemed to be love.  There is a reciprocity of relationship that occurs between the volunteers and the clients that flow through our church building everyday.  It is not a work of charity, but rather a work of love, of connection, and of service.  The folks gathered know who they are dealing with and want to be able to meet them as they are, not attempting to change or judge.  To just be.  I am grateful for and inspired by these on-the-ground Christians who take Jesus’ call to love our neighbours as seriously as they do.

 

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How I am Practicing my Faith

As I mentioned, all I wanted to do this morning was get back into bed.  Instead, I took my dog into the forest.  As always, about 30 seconds into the woods I was grateful to have made that choice.  Something mystical and healing happens when I enter the forest, when I cannot see buildings or hear trucks but see and hear only the beautiful creation around me.  And I start to pray without even noticing.  There I am chattering away with God in my head in a natural and uncomplicated way. 

For me, the woods is a thin place: a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.  (interested?  Read more about thin places here)  It is why I am so drawn to spiritual practices in the woods and why I am so excited about Forest Church: a chance for us to gather and experience intentional spiritual exploration surrounded by the beauty of nature.  Check out https://www.weirdchurchcumberland.com/news/ for more details, or click here for the Facebook event listing.

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The Forest was a part of my Sabbath practice today, as is this reflection on the past week. 

 

How could you include a Sabbath practice in your spiritual routine?  What would get in your way?  How could you overcome that barrier?

TGIF with Ingrid: Flesh and Feminism

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Yup, I was one fish in the sea of 40,000, flapping my fins, eager to be entertained by the legendary Beyoncé and Jay-Z at BC Place on Tuesday.  I couldn’t escape the schools-of-fish metaphor (or perhaps fish in a barrel?) as the hoards moved through gates and around corridors, and eventually spilling out into the night.

I love powerful female celebrities and, while I cannot always get behind Beyoncé’s lyrics, I have a huge amount of respect for the way she uses her celebrity for good (for instance, try reading this https://www.essence.com/lifestyle/do-good-brothers/10-not-so-publicized-times-jay-z-and-beyonce-gave-back/#144754 or watching this http://www.thefader.com/2018/03/18/beyonce-accept-award-humanitarianism )

The concert was a tapestry of these artists’ work through the last (almost) two decades, woven together with story, video, and play.  I was surprised by the tenderness felt between the two (which I had always assumed was publicity but am now questioning my assumption) and the vulnerability they portrayed in sharing some footage and phots of their children.

Nothing surprised me more, though, than the crosses that were everywhere.

 

What I am Trusting Thinking About

This intersection of pop culture and Jesus is nothing new: the big JC has been thanked from football stadiums and awards shows for years.  And yet the prevalence of Christian imagery and Biblical themes throughout the concert really threw me. 

Now, if you weren’t a Christian or had no exposure to religion, you would likely miss it.  At first passing thought, these things seem contradictory: the opulence of celebrity alongside the message of self-emptying for the sake of love.

This was not unlike juxtaposition in the show of strong feminist messaging with g-string clad booty shaking dancers.

Are these things in opposition to each other?

No – I don’t believe so.  Some women are empowered by, express their feminism, through covering up (hijab and bourka included) and others by stripping down (dancers of all varieties included). 

 

What I am Grateful For

Friends.  I had the pleasure of taking this trip with a fabulous woman, a spiritual companion, who gifts me with the honour of seeing her vulnerabilities and making safe space for me to express my own vulnerability.  She and I gathered for a small dinner alongside others of this caliber who have spoken into my life in profound and powerful ways through the years.

These spiritual friendships are, I think, the key to my sanity in the overall picture of my wholistic health (body, mind, soul).  These are the people that tell me the truth when I am veering off course, and help get me back on track.  The folks who point out my less-than-favourable qualities so that I can get to work on them, but also celebrate my more helpful bits. 

 

What Inspires Me

The ones who don’t give up.  You see them…if you have eyes to see.  They are the people who work in jobs in service to others who get knocked down over and over again.  And they get back up, and keep serving, keep showing up, keep loving people – most of whom are unable to love themselves – without very much reward or recognition.

They are the volunteers who show up in the rain.  In the cold.  In the good and bad times.  The ones who get name called, bullied, harassed, spat at, cut down, threatened and worse, and they keep on suiting up and showing up, doing their best to live a life of love and service to others.

On the hardest of my days, the days when I am privileged to walk with others so deep into their darkness that I can almost forget the ubiquitous, permeating, relentlessness of the light and love of God, on those days, I look with eyes to see the others who don’t give up.

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

I suppose along the same lines as above, it has to do with noticing.  Wearing my God goggles to see, in the rain soaked folks who have spent the night on the street, lined up for morning coffee at the church and in the perfect, polished, sparkling diva with a voice that elicits tears and goosebumps, children of God.

TGIF with Ingrid: Stop!

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Today I am sitting at a retreat centre in Squamish (well, about 17km outside of Squamish and about 12km outside of cell range), doing some consultation work for the wider church.

 

This week what I am Thinking about, what I am Grateful for, what Inspires me, and how I am living out my Faith, are all jumbled together, not separated out tidily.  I hope you are able to glean these four TGIF markers from what I have written, but if not, that is ok too.  Enjoy…

 

The Christian Bible is not one book, as some of you know, it is 66 books smooshed together and bound as one.  There are four we call the Gospels, which tell of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  They are not perfect – they overlap and conflict and compliment one another.  And they are written with four distinctly different voices.  Right now, I am studying the Gospel according to Mark.

 

Mark does not ease us in with the lovely genealogy of Matthew or the “orderly account” of the good news offered in Luke.  It does not woo us in with a poetic whisper and build us up to the proclamation of the Word as John does.  Mark just blasts right in, gets down to business, gives us a Gospel smack-in-the face, right off the bat: BAM.  Mark’s pace is relentless, a breathless sprint through the story – “and,” “and then,” “immediately,” “as soon as.” BAM BAM BAM.

And we know this pace, right?

Hockey, yoga, funeral, ballet, devotional, capoeira, walk the dog, get the groceries, liturgy, worship, social media…bam, bam, bam.

Reading Mark, it is easy to do what I sometimes do in life – blur it together as I go through the rapid pace.

 

The other day began like most others: up early, nice gentle prayer and meditation, study…20 minutes of yoga…then wake the kids, breakfasts ready, pack lunches, grab a shower, crap its piano day, where are your books? Runners on, lets go out the door.  I dropped the kids off at school and followed my daily path from elementary school to church, the same route I take every day and fell into that zone out mode on the familiar path.  I was rather snapped back to reality by flashing lights in my rear-view mirror.  After attempting to move out of the constable’s way it occurred to me that I was being pulled over.  As he approached my window, the officer asked if I was in a hurry, no, not particularly – was I speeding? I sounded more surprised and confused than I meant to.  No not speeding, but you sure didn’t stop at that stop sign. 

Huh.  Yes, I am sure you are quite right. 

He asked me when the last time I was pulled over for a traffic violation – I admitted that I was 17 years old the last time, he laughed and headed back to his cruiser to write up my ticket.  He did let me off with a lesser fine (with fewer points deducted) because I had such a clean record, but he said, next time, just come to a complete stop.  Fair enough.

 

And let me tell you – this past week, I have come to a complete stop at stop signs – every one.  And you know what?  It sucks.  It is painful and awkward and I hate it.  Apparently I hadn’t really been stopping at any stop sign, more yielding than anything.  And yes, Comox is a small town and completely stopping at a stop sign at 9pm when the whole town has been in bed for 2 hours already seems stupid and unnecessary and, honestly, a total pain in the ass, but I have done it. 

 

And damn it if Jesus didn’t show up right in the middle of my grumbling.  *Tap, tap tap* um, excuse me Ingrid, but, well, exactly.

 

I can read the Gospel of Mark fairly quickly – read through its hurried pace at my own hurried pace and get to the end of it.  I can pop from task to task, accomplishing all the items I need to accomplish each day and get to the end of it.  But when I do that, I overlook how each task, place, and person, each verse and pericope and chapter, contributes to the whole of my life, to God’s whole story that is taking shape within me – within us – all around and beyond.  Studying and preaching and teaching through Mark has forced me to come to a complete stop at each stop sign and notice the detail, the nuance, the character, the challenge, the familiarity in Mark that I can otherwise just breeze past.  Mark intends for us to notice everything by tucking in a surprise detail here and there – Jesus sighing – to remind us that faith is made up of the real stuff of life.  Coming to a complete stop at all the stop signs in my life – not just the literal ones, though those too – has helped me to refocus my priorities rightly.  To pay attention to things great and small as I both receive and give myself to the transcendent yet incarnate God-with-us.

 

So a lesson in theology from Mark and that RCMP officer and Jesus just as I was rushing off to our ministry team meeting at church.  Ha.

 

Perhaps as a spiritual exercise this week, you could come to a complete stop at every stop sign.  And if you are like me you may find your self calling on the name of the Lord: Oh Jesus!  but perhaps he will show up in sincerity and help you to notice all of the juicy tidbits of life. 

 

TGIF with Ingrid: Basic Maintenance

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Pumpkin spice latte (with almond milk) in hand, fireplace glowing in front of me…surrounded by strangers and cars.  I am waiting for the oil change at the dealership to be completed and it has got me thinking about basic maintenance for us humans.  What would be the equivalent of an oil change for us?  Tire rotation?  Winter maintenance package?  Tune up? Major engine service?

My spouse is diligent about making sure his truck gets in at every scheduled maintenance time, following the manufacturers guidelines for optimal truck health.  What about our scheduled maintenance?   

 

What I am Trusting

Some days it seems like this human condition of ours doesn’t come with an owner’s manual.  There are times when the right answer or the next step seems so unclear we are trapped in inaction.  (of course, there are other days when the next step is lit up like a runway and hallelujah for those!)

Some might suggest that the Bible is that owner’s manual.  Maybe.  I know that it is a collected works of thousands of years worth of wisdom of our human wrestling with God and one another.  And I think that what is written about Jesus reveals to us God’s highest ideal for humanity, and that the more we learn about the person and work of Jesus and the more we strive to be like he was, the better things are going to be. So, what do we know about Jesus?  We know that he prayed.  A lot.  That he ate meals with spiritual friends and broken strangers.  We know that he took time by himself.  We know that he went to church (synagogue), laughed at parties, and lived a life of service to others, even to his own detriment.  This actually does seem like an owner’s manual in human version.

Perhaps today I trust that the path Jesus laid out for us to follow leads us to the fullness of life, both in rest and in service, in prayer and action.

 

What I am Grateful For

The people in my life that remind me about my need for maintenance when I can’t see it for myself.  The friends and family who are willing to risk telling me that my radiator is leaking, or a rust spot is developing.  Because it shows; our spiritual dents are evident to those closest to us often far before we notice them.  It is risky to tell someone that they are in need of a repair or at least a service of some kind.  And I know that I do not always take it well in the moment, but I am so very grateful for it afterwards.

I am a slow learner, and slowly I am learning the amount of rest and prayer time that my body/soul requires.  Learning that it is not selfish but rather honours the God that created me this way.

 

What Inspires Me

Despite existing in a culture that demands productivity, I am inspired by all the little rebellions that press against that dominant voice in the form of dining with friends.  Sharing a meal – whether it is an hours-long, slow-cooked, meticulous work of culinary craftsmanship or a mish-mash of leftovers – around a table is deliciously revolutionary.  There is no measurable outcome, no goal attained, no step achieved.  And yet so much is accomplished.  These mini uprisings happen all over the country, forks raised in slow and meaningful transformation.  We know that this is vital to our humanity, even if we cannot speak those words.  And we have known it for millennia.  Something, something – mystical, mysterious, magical…holy – happens when we come together, laugh, and share over food.  Fluid top up and tire rotation?

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

Perhaps this is evident given the rest of this post, but I am taking my-self to the proverbial shop today.  A walk in the storm, hot tea and a show on Netflix, a yoga class, and finishing off that plum jam on the stovetop.  The morning began with prayer and Scripture study (as it does each morning), and the conversation with God will continue throughout the day.  I will get my tune-up and will therefore run more smoothly as a result. 

TGIF with Ingrid: Body Flesh Figure Form Physique Corpus

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This morning my Dear Daughter (DD) had an appointment to have a cavity filled at the dentist.  What began as nervous reluctance last week at the check up grew into a sharp-toothed, rabid, enormous, ferocious dragon of fear this morning.  The anger, tears, and locked doors were ways my poor DD tried to cope with this dragon of hers, but what I couldn’t help but notice was her body.  The tired slowness of the morning blossomed into the happy chatter that often accompanies breakfast.  And that flower which had turned towards the day and began to open crumpled with the news of this morning’s task. 

 

What I am Trusting

The body.

This week I ventured into a place I haven’t been in eight years: the Bikram Yoga studio.  Bikram is a style of hatha yoga with a set routine of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises performed in a 90-minute class where the room is set at 40C and 40% humidity.  It is difficult and sweaty and wonderful: one cannot do the class unless fully present – as soon as the mind starts to wander, the postures fall. 

I was nervous going in because it had been so long since I had practiced regularly.  I attended a couple of classes between pregnancies but haven’t really been committed to it for 10+ years.  I surprised myself with the strength and endurance of my body (mind you that class lingered for a few days in the stiff, sore muscles I carried around) and the discipline of my mind not to judge but to try.

 

Too often the church has falsely separated the body from the spirit – placing the soul in a place of greater ranking than the body.  I say falsely because everything we know or believe about God has come first in the flesh.  It is the flesh that keeps us honest, the body which upholds our spirits greatest intentions by giving us the ability to actually do something.  And it is not our souls that make connections, not even our minds, but rather our body that connects to the body of our neighbour.  It is the place of flesh we are wired for empathy.  It is the place from which we commune with God.

Years ago, I saw Barbara Brown Taylor give a talk in England and she said something that I haven’t yet forgotten, “Here we sit with our soul tucked away in all this marvellous luggage.”  And truly, it is marvellous – it does not lie.  It may not always look or function in the way we might want or hope, but our bodies reveal much to us.

 

What I am Grateful For

MY body. 

I have had a tumultuous relationship with my body, to put it lightly.  It has been a source of pride when conformed to social expectations of how a female should look and a source of shame when it didn’t.  I have experienced tremendous gratitude for my body – I felt like a warrior after each childbirth – as well as anger at the pain I have experienced in my body due to chronic disease.  I have laughed warmly at the raspberries my children have blown into my soft belly, wept at this part or that part that wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and been tenderly held in loving embrace.

 

It has been in this body of mine that I have experienced life and experienced God.  It was in this body that I cracked in the pain that led me into a church for solace at 15 years old.  It was in this body that was baptised into the body of Christ, the church.  It is this body that has been transformed from the inside out through love and sacraments.

I remember the first time I took Communion once I knew I was pregnant with my DD.  I received the bread and juice and I was overwhelmed with the understanding that this teeny person somewhere in there was already held in the love of God AND already had a relationship with God that I could support and nurture but was distinct and different from me.

 

What Inspires Me

The pushback coming from within the church against this false dichotomy of flesh and spirit.  Jesus trusted in the physical reality to change people in ways that their ideas about reality never could.  He didn’t point out God at the right section of the library – he directed folks to God in the world.  Jesus believed that people had everything they needed to know about God right in front of them and used physical language all the time.  YOU are the salt of the earth, YOU are the light of the world, I am sending YOU.  He spoke of vines and branches and wheat and shepherds and goats and fish: the physical reality of the world.  He spoke of the way we treat one another in the flesh, condemning exclusion and breaking down barriers that kept people physically separate.

 

Jesus teaches us to hallow the everyday stuff of life, inviting us into this marriage of heaven and earth in our physical bodies.

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

By staying in my body. 

My faith is based on word made flesh: the love of God embodied in human form.  And when I get into my head too much, I lose touch with God because I am not in my body.  I am somewhere in the past or in the future, but definitely not the present.  And the present is where God is.  Where peace is.  Where love is. 

Though I also recognize that honouring the body is not a solitary pursuit.  Jesus honoured the bodies around him – leper bodies, prostitute bodies – the bodies that were the most undervalued by those in his culture.  He and his ministry were moved and shaped by the flesh and bones he encountered in his lifetime.  This leads me to the understanding that Christianity is not a faith of doctrines but rather a faith of flesh.  A faith of allowing the body to be transformed by the habits and actions of a first century Palestinian Jew who washed the feet of his friends.

 

 

DD eventually did, with much coaxing, make her way into the dentist’s chair, dragon muzzled.  And, like most of our dragons, turned out to be louder in imagination than in practice.  And the crumpled, withered flower rose up once more and turned toward the light of the day.

TGIF with Ingrid: Doubt, Fear, Faith

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TGIF with Ingrid

September 7, 2018

 

It is still dark.  The candle beside me is glowing, struggling to stay lit.  Slowly it grows, steadies. 

 

I love this time of day – just before dawn.  It is so filled with hope, teeming with possibility; there is something precious, something holy in the stillness.  It is as though the earth is pausing to praise God before the flurry, the activity, begins.  A Creation prayer pause.

 

It is quiet, it is cool…a dog barks, the light begins to shift…it begins.

 

What I am Trusting

I am trusting in God’s direction.  During my morning prayer/meditation practice, I heard the words of Jesus in Luke 5, speaking to the fishermen who had been out all night with nothing to show for their work.  He tells them to put out into deep water and let their nets out for a catch.  Simon answers – ‘we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything!’  Right!?  This is often my first reaction when I get that wave of intuition, that still small voice deep within (honestly, sometimes it is a deep, loud, booming voice!), that God voice coaxing me in one direction or another.  I want to say nope – no way – already tried that, thank you very much. 

But then Simon’s next words are the crux of faith, I think.  ‘Yet.’  It is that moment of pause, that moment of, perhaps, humility when Simon becomes aware that maybe this Jesus guy just might be something special.  ‘Yet,’ Simon replies, ‘yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.’  And what happens?  He catches so many fish he must call over the guys from the next boat to help him with the haul.

And isn’t that so true for me as well.  When I trust that God voice, and I follow that guidance, nine times out of ten I am astounded at the results.

 

What I am Grateful For

I connect so well with what happens next for Simon in this passage: he crumples in front of Jesus, crying into the dust for Jesus to get away from him – that he is a sinful man.  In other words, who am I to receive from you?  I am not worthy.  My life has had some significant challenges – I have had good times and bad, struggled, like we all have.  And yet in and through and beyond it all, I have been so richly blessed.  My Dad has teased me for years, ‘horseshoes fall out of your butt.’  And I cannot hardly argue.  I have such a good life.  So good, I often find myself crumpled before Jesus in a tearful heap of unworthiness, who am I?  Who am I to receive so much from You?  This is, of course, grace.  God’s love poured out not because I am worthy, but simply because I am.

My gratitude in this comes from the identification I have with this 2,000-year-old fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. There I am, in this old book that so many have cast aside as irrelevant.  There I am, in my initial doubts, my astonishment at the fullness of my nets, and the reverence to the holy right in front of me.

 

What Inspires Me

And what does Jesus do?  He crouches down, lays a hand on Simon and says, ‘do not be afraid.’  A phrase repeated over, and over, and over.  A phrase I could use tattooed backwards on my forehead so that every time I looked in the mirror I would be able to read it.  The crazy thing is that so often our fear is masked: anger, anxiety, arrogance, apathy…and those are just the ‘a’s!  We don’t always recognize fear for what it is, but God does.  God sees our fears and says, ‘hey, its ok.  Everything is ok.  Don’t be afraid.’

And we are reminded, day after day, story after story not to be afraid.  And then, the most beautiful thing happens.  We can begin to hear ourselves saying it to others.  Because we begin to believe it.

 

How I am Practicing My Faith

I will keep on reading the Bible, wrestling around with the sticky bits, and finding myself in it.  The realities of the human experience that are captured in this book are timeless.  When I am angry at God at all the injustice in the world, I can shake my fist along with Amos or question God like Job.  When I am filled with joy I can sing praises with the psalmists, when I am filled with love the words of the Song of Songs resonates in my chest.  When I am hopeless at the hatred in the world I am comforted by the dream of a new heaven given to John of Patmos and written down in Revelation, I am reminded that one day we will all be united in love.

I will keep reading, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.  Because life can be so very hard.  But life can also be so very, very good.  And I can find myself in both of those extremes and everywhere in between in the pages of the Bible.