Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Leaving an air of sacredness wherever we go?

Sunday's sermon about the visit of the magi suggested that in the gift of frankincense to Jesus we see a reference to his and our calling, like priests censing a chapel to sanctify it and all within it for holy worship, to "help to cleanse the world of evil and bring an air of sacredness to everything and everyone we touch."  

It sounded good when I preached it.  Still sounds true when I read it now three days later.  

But as I navigate rain-wet, slush-bordered streets, careful of neither splashing nor alarming pedestrians tip-toeing tricky sidewalks, and wary of Hamilton drivers seemingly feeling increasingly entitled at delayed-green left turns and now-simply-roll-through right-hand-turns-on-red, I find myself doing something uncommon enough to me to be noticeable.

Another vehicle and mine approach a four-way stop almost simultaneously driving at right angles.  I think I stop a second or so before the other driver.  It's close enough to be open to debate, but because I am on his right and he on my left, I think I am pretty sure I probably have the right-of-way.  I think.

But without hesitating I gently wave him through.  The other driver takes the hint.  Drives through.  And as he crosses the intersection ahead of me, he flashed me two fingers.

Two fingers.  Not one.  Two fingers in a Peace Sign.

I feel gratified.  I also feel as respected and honoured by him as I hope he felt by me.

I'm not a particularly virtuous or charitable driver by habit.  This was a whim more than either a habit or an intention.

But I wonder, are whims at least sometimes simply the stirrings of the fetal Spirit within us, longing and labouring always towards new and newer birth within and through us?

The frankincense used by priests to sanctify space and life is the resin -- the oozed-out sap, in effect, of the frankincense tree -- gathered and burned in little bits.

I wonder ... if it is true that we are sons and daughters of God, created in God's image, part of God's family tree ... then does it make sense to see that something as simple as common (or maybe uncommon) courtesy at an intersection on a dreary Wednesday afternoon is really no less than one more little offering of an oozing of the life-juice of God through the rough bark of life, cleansing at least that little space of evil at least for that moment and for the two of us involved (and does the effect ever stop at just two?), and bringing a sweet air of sacred compassion into the simplest of interactions and intersections?

Can it really be that simple ... to be a priest? 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Still Messiah after all these years?

Jesus Christus -- Gestern und Heute, Derselbe auch de Ewigkeit
 Jesus Christ -- yesterday and today, the same also to eternity

This framed work of scherenschnitte (a centuries-old German and Swiss art of paper-cutting design) recently came back to me.  My sisters, when they saw it, immediately thought it must have belonged to our grand-parents on our dad's side.  It is the kind of thing they would have had on the walls of their house.  And it has that air of unchanged and unchanging family inheritance.

But it's something my first wife and I gave to my parents years ago, after she found it in an antique store.  We thought they -- my dad especially, would like it.  It went back to her after his passing.  And now it's come to me.

Funny how Jesus gets around.  

And stays always the same?  

I wonder, is that your experience of him?

In my childhood, I knew two sides of Jesus: from Sunday school stories, a person long ago able to help people with miracles of healing and feeding -- someone to love as a friend; and from the much-larger-than-life Garden-of-Gethsemane portrait that hung at the front of the sanctuary, a solitary, gentle man of lonely, abandoned prayer -- someone to admire and feel sorry for, but who you couldn't really get close to.

At age 12, though, I began to cling to him as someone sent from God to save me after I died, from falling into hell and the hands of the devil -- both of which God had made.  From there it was a short step to know Jesus as a prophet of apocalyptic judgement on all the world, come both to announce judgement and to offer escape at the same time -- someone I needed to tell others about, for their own ultimate well-being.

Then things changed.  More and more Jesus became an on-going revelation, embodiment and enabler of God's good will for life in this world in the here and now -- someone to look up to happily, and learn from if you could.

And now?  I think Jesus for me right now is a window or door through which I am beckoned to enter into, and be opened to the mystery of God-in-us and of Spirit-ual life myself -- someone whose way of reconciled and divine life I am called to grow into myself after a lifetime of fragmentation and duality.

Jesus does get around.   

Or is it maybe that over the course of a lifetime, we get around.  As we circle around him, coming to see the one known as "God-with-us" from different perspectives and a variety of angles?  He is, after all, much bigger than any teaching, tradition or vision of him.

And one of the more intriguing, oddly enlightening, deeply encouraging visions of Jesus that I've been touched by recently is an image that's emerged in the group of young people currently in the confirmation program at our church.  It's Jesus as "the perfect pancake."

It makes sense to us.  And who's to say it isn't as perfect an image of the eternal Jesus as any?


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Christmas Resolutions?

Yesterday I posted something on Facebook about my Christmas resolution.  

Such an unexpected thing, now that I think about it.  Usually, resolutions are made at New Year's.

But the phrase -- and the reality of it in my heart, was out there before I had time to stop and re-think it.  It seemed deeply natural to be making a Christmas resolution.

Maybe it's from all those repeated annual viewings of "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" -- two stories about Christmas Eve as a time of life-changing reflection and life-saving resolve.  Maybe it's from reading and hearing about the new film, "The Man Who Invented Christmas," and the suggestion the Dickens, in the story of Scrooge, created for us the image of Christmas as a time for self-examination, repentance and conversion of life.

And why shouldn't Christmas Eve -- as much as New Year' Eve, be a time for life-changing reflection and resolution?

As far as New Year's Eve is concerned, of course we measure and mark our lives by calendar years, and January 1 is a nicely identifiable time of beginning and then tracking a new resolve.  There's a sense of beginning afresh that seems to invite a moment of intentional self-improvement or correction.  The calendar has a nice, clean look to it -- beckoning like a field of new-fallen snow graciously covering up the old ways, giving us the freedom to start carving new paths in their place. 

But is not the day we celebrate the birth of the Christ not also a good time to take stock of our own life journey, and of where at this moment we feel called to a truer way of life?  For he is the one we regard as the true human, God's Word of life and for life made flesh among us.  And each time we come to celebrate and see his birth, and see him so weak and vulnerable in the manger and in our care, is there not some change, some different path, some new commitment or re-commitment to true living ourselves that we feel called to?  

For me, I woke up Christmas Day knowing a desire to read daily something I have so far read only randomly -- Fr. Richard Rohr's daily online meditation.  It seems a little thing.  But Rohr in particular writes so lovingly and gently about the eternal Gospel invitation to grow up into our truest Self, that at this stage in my life-journey I know that daily reading of his experience, strength and hope in this direction cannot help but have good and growing effect on my own life and spirit.

And isn't that what resolutions -- at either New Years' or Christmas Eve, are about?  

Maybe the difference for me right now and at this stage of my journey, is that a clean, blank field covered in fresh, fallen snow doesn't quite give me the direction I think I need to necessarily begin carving out the new paths I really need.  

But coming to the stable, seeing what life is given to all of us there, and feeling what new directions it evokes and what next steps it inspires within me, does.


Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Do giving and receiving equal exchanging?

Recently I was chatting with a friend.  About what, I don't remember.

At one point in the conversation, though, I changed whatever the subject was, and asked, "About gifts," referring to Christmas gifts, since Christmas Day is less than a week away, "did we decide not to exchange any?" 

To me the question made sense when I asked it.  I have a few relationships in which over the past few years we have decided not to exchange gifts.  I thought maybe this may have been one of them, but I wasn't sure.  I just wanted to clarify the expectations.

My friend, though, seemed taken aback by the question.  "Well ...," she began, and I don't remember exactly how she phrased it, but it was instantly clear she had prepared a gift for me and for Japhia.  Separate gifts, in fact.  Simple, not expensive, thought-out, and hand-made.  She explained that whatever I did or didn't do was fine, but she just likes to give gifts. 

I wonder when I started to think of gifts as something we exchange.  Instead of simply give.

It's not like I haven't received gifts from people to whom I did not give one.  

Nor that I haven't also over my life simply and freely given something to others just for the pleasure of giving.  With the question of receiving something in return being irrelevant.

So I wonder about this concept of "gift exchange."  

And I marvel at the ability and willingness of the human heart just to give.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

15 Seconds to Change Your Life

Fifteen seconds can be a long time.  Especially to be doing something counter-intuitive.

I was told recently that the human brain is naturally like teflon and like velcro.  Like teflon in the way it handles positive, complimentary, affirming things we receive; and like velcro in the way it handles negative, critical, judgemental things that come our way.

And it's not just our psycho-social history that predisposes us in this way.  This predisposition to remember and hang on deeply to the negative -- the things that threaten our sense of self, is hard-wired into our brain chemistry through evolutionary eons.  It's how we survive.

But it's not how we thrive.   

We thrive when we grow into a settled, grateful awareness of ourselves as good and blessed children of a good and loving God -- lovable, loved, and able to love.

But how do we undo or fight our way through the natural chemistry of our brain?

The other thing I was told is that it is possible to rewire our brain, and that this is what spiritual -- rather than natural, evolution is about. 

One simple way of rewiring our naturally defensive brain, of growing beyond natural evolution to matured spiritual humanity, is a practice of 15 seconds of gratitude.  At different times of the day -- when something happens, when someone crosses your path, when you see something that catches your attention, when you do something as simple as lift a cup of coffee to your lips ... instead of just noticing and moving on in good teflon fashion (or even not noticing at all!), take 15 seconds to become aware of the ways you feel gratitude for whatever it is.  

A cup of coffee?   Take 15 seconds to be aware of the gratitude you feel for its smell, its taste, its warmth -- including the warmth of the cup in your hand, the comfort it brings you, perhaps the kindness of the person who poured it for you, the memory maybe of a special time you shared a coffee with a friend, and who knows what else.

I've practiced a full 15 seconds only two or three times since I was told about it two days ago.  And already I notice a new awareness of even momentary (2 or 3-second) gratitude for things that I would normally just slide by.  

Like the mist I saw from the Skyway Bridge this morning on the lake in the winter cold, and my gratitude for its gentle and haunting beauty, for being able to be there at that moment, for the wonder of the world all around me, for the memory of mist just like it on Lake Superior that I saw years ago on a mid-winter train trip from Winnipeg to Toronto, for the family I had visited there and still am part of, for different relationships I have been blessed with in my life, for the fact that no part of my life is lost, that in spite of everything my whole life is still one blessed and graced journey.

In less than 5 or 6 seconds, I felt my self so graciously held and supported in such a deep matrix of love and beauty far greater than myself, that I continued my journey into the rest of my day with more faith, hope and love within me than is often the case.  I felt alive and free.

And ... it's not just "the good stuff" that this practice can be used with.  I notice in the past two days a new willingness in my mind to seek out reasons for gratitude in things that disturb, interrupt or annoy me as well.  That I will leave for another time, though.

For now, enough for me to know that 15 seconds can be a long time to be doing something counter-intuitive, but that 15 seconds can change my life.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The headline caught my attention: "Sikh Temple donates $10,000: Money for stem cell transplants follows religion's philosophy of helping those in need."  

It was a page 3 story in The Hamilton Spectator about a local Sikh temple giving $10,000 to the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre Foundation's campaign to expand and purchase equipment for a dedicated and specialized clinical unit for stem cell transplant recipients.

One line in the story has stayed with me, and made me happy I read past the headline.  It's the line that describes Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji as being known for urging three things -- prayer, honesty and charity.

Good religion and real saints make it sound so simple.  Maybe because when you find the meaning of life, it really is quite simple.




A living daily relationship with, and openness to God.  Living each day with integrity in all you do and all your relations.  Practicing an active concern for the well-being and dignity of others, especially those in need and the disadvantaged.

Prayer, honesty and charity are attitudes.  They are also actions.  They are commitments and disciplines.  

Three attitudes and actions, three commitments and disciplines that when faithfully attended to, probably make being a truly human being a surprisingly simple joy.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Nearing the end of the day.  

In maybe half an hour we'll be into that wonderful late November twilight that makes the drive home so deep and rich.

And for the first time today I am aware of being at rest.

Woke up feeling already squeezed into a shape of anxiety I didn't like by the pressure of Christmas deadlines and obligations.  In my case, mostly having to do with liturgies, special services, and end-of-year loose-ends-to-be-tied-up at church.

But the pressures come in all kinds of guises, and maybe you are feeling some of your own.

The temptation (and my usual way of "coping") was to simply forge on all the harder.  To take a moment to prioritize and organize, and then to launch into doing and doing and doing some more to whittle the list down bit by bit.

And there is some value, and sometimes necessity as well, in handling life that way.

But today I chose a different path.  I chose to honour one commitment I had -- a mid-morning visit with a couple of our church members who struggle these days with a variety of health concerns.  And after that I cancelled two other appointments (sorry Brynna and Bill!) around and in between which I was planning to do as much of my prioritized work as I could ... 

... and instead drove down to a lakeshore park, left my briefcase and laptop and daytimer in the back seat of the car, zipped up my jacket, and went and sat by the lake -- to take in the day, to breathe, and to practice as much of the mindful contemplation as I remember from my days in treatment and from a little book by Pema Chodron, called The Wisdom of No Escape, that I've been reading and trying to practice in fits and starts.

And it made all the difference in the world ... or at least in me and in the world of my own heart and soul.  By mid-afternoon I was settled, grounded and open enough to come to my favourite coffee shop, get the liturgies for the season completed far more easily than I imagined would be the case, and now to write these thoughts.

But the productivity is not the point nor the reason.  The simple experience of resting in the moment and breathing the goodness of life is what it's all about -- what all our life (work included) is at its best all about.