Time stands still

I was at a conference during which we were asked to team up in pairs, and ask each other some of those Big Reflective Questions in life: when did you feel most alive? what is something in your life you are proud of? is there anyone you would want to apologize to?  We didn’t know each other and here we were, giving up some of our most vulnerable memories. After the exercise, we were asked to reflect on the experience; one of my colleagues said “This was holy time”.

Holy Time. The person who said that was a spiritual care worker; I wanted to ask others what word they would use to describe that experience. Over lunch, I asked a people in other professions and they all said, though “holy” wasn’t part of their professional (or personal) vocabulary, it was “exactly the right word to describe it”.  I agree with them; of course, I asked why.

I’m still reflecting… I can’t report word-for-word, but we shared a general sense that each of us was “right there” with the person telling the story.  We weren’t distracted, even though we were in a noisy room.  When we were Listener, it felt important, the stories “weighty” and precious; we were aware that these stories may never have been shared before.  When we were Teller, we were Heard.  We were truly present to one another; all that existed was the other person speaking and us listening.  We saw, we heard, we held their soul – and they ours.  Holy time.

It was as if time stood still; holy time becomes wholly Time.

My yoga instructor used to make our class holy time by reminding us “there is only here, only now”, and that in this time we had set apart we had “no where else to go, nothing else to do but to be here”.  Holy means “set apart”.  It is when we are fully present, focused, on where we are and what we’re doing. That what we are engaged in is important enough to set aside distraction.  Holy time.

I experience such holy time when I focus on what, or who, is before me.  goldfinch gardenofaaron com.jpgWhether it is watching the birds, or listening to the lawnmower next door, or sitting on an amusement ride, I realize that I am not individual, but am Connected.  That in this moment we breathe the same air, are occupying the same moment in time together, that the same Life-force runs in every living thing.  It’s like I am turned inside-out – I am not just me, I am Part of It All, and It is Part of Me. We are Connected at a molecular level.  In that moment of awareness, I am touched by a sense of the Divine Present with me.  Holy, Awe-filled, God-filled time.  It is a blessing beyond words.

It sometimes happens when I am intentionally meditating and mindful.  Sometimes it takes me by surprise (like yesterday, when through the fine mist of rain the neon brightness of a male goldfinch in the deep green of freshly mown ‘grass’ jumped out at me)*.  Holy Moment.  God was Present.

May you have many holy moments during your summer-time.  And may their blessing infuse you with Life in its Abundance, just like Jesus promised they would.

(*As I’m no photographer, thanks to gardenofaaron.com for a similar experience.)


Oh, Canada?

I was running errands around Brandon last week and was surprised to find many stores red maple leaf commons wikimedia orgopening Canada Day on ‘holiday hours’.  This spring I listened to people on both sides of the question of making the English words of O Canada gender-neutral. (Of note: the English words are nowhere close to the original in French, and I learned that the words “in all thy sons command” first showed up in 1914 to encourage young men to volunteer for service in World War 1. )  The original, French-language, version is purely a hymn to the country, no sons, daughters, or commands present. And nothing about hockey or “That Doughnut Chain” in either language…

So this started me thinking about what it means to be a Canadian.  Are the values that we all share? Do we see each and every person – regardless of skin tone, ethnic heritage, gender expression, sexual orientation, religious identity, place of residence – as equal?  For me that’s the place where spirituality becomes a point of challenge and gift: how do we see “the other” as part of “my family”, as my sibling or parent (or in the words I first heard from Rosanna Dearchild, host of CBC radio’s Unreserved, “hey, we’re all cousins here”). (more: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved)

I grew up with the Canadian mythology (the good kind) that we were a “mosaic of people”, that differences were part of our strength, that being homogenous meant only one group got to set the standards and if you didn’t fit then you didn’t belong and wouldn’t that be shame? Not to mention boring.)  I like that myth.  I like that we can build on one another’s perspectives and ways of doing things instead of insisting that we all be the same.

The challenge, of course, is to set aside the notion that “the way we do it” is the “way it ought to be done”.  The spiritual challenge is to keep asking “is this the way that most people will benefit?” And though someone will “lose” something in the process (as always happens), we need to ask “who” is losing out, “what” are they losing, “why” are they losing out, and does their losing out make this great country of ours more just, more compassionate, and therefore more successful?

(So I ask, as examples: Will men lose anything by allowing the word “us” to be sung? does making that word gender-neutral space for others to feel that they belong more? Does it make space for those who do not identify with one gender to feel they belong more? OR what happens to us as a community when our “national day of pride” becomes simply a short commerce day?)

And, as a Jesus-follower, I realize that sometimes I need to lose out a bit in order to make space for me to truly “love my neighbour as myself”.  And that is where I find the Holy present.

It’s summer. It’s a holy-day. It’s enough.  Enjoy the diversity that is Canada. And find its holiness.



The Grace of Wild Fire

This week has been a real gift.  I often find myself ranting at how cruel and unthinking human beings can be to one another, how we cling to and enhance the divisions between us, and how we live and work in ways that are cruel to the Earth.  Drives Me Nuts somedays.

So hearing and seeing the response to folks fleeing the Wild Fires of northern AB has certainly been a good thing for my spirit. Food and clothes, wild fire AB response kenoraonline comwater and gas, parking and homes offered freely, donations abounding; it’s a humbling reminder that the “milk of human kindness” isn’t gone after all.  The care and compassion being extended –especially the kind that cannot be returned – is watching God-in-Action.  Same for those on the receiving end: it’s hard to accept that we need help, especially the kind that cannot be returned.  It’s called Grace.

So thank you for a grace-filled week.

That it was a fire got me thinking….

Wild Fire is untameable. Wild Fire reminds us we are not in control. Wild Fire finishes owild fire AB 2016 trees 660news comn its own terms, not ours.  Wild Fire can strip us of our language away and all we can say is “oh. my.” or WOW, Incredible.  Wild Fire makes me truly feel awe-and-fear; I wonder if that’s what the poets of the bible call “fear of the Lord”?  Wild Fire reminds me how small I am and that humbles my (often oversized) Ego.  And Wild Fire will make new things come from the ground, the Land; it will renew and make new all that it touches.

Hmmmm. Is that why images of Fire are often used when people encounter the Holy Mystery? Untameable. Unnameable. Uncontrollable. It is Who it is and is, “beyond perfect description or knowledge”.  Holy Fire evokes that that awe-and-fear feeling –humbling, respect-full, awed, rendered speechless. It renews the parched land of the soul.  It makes things new.

So I can’t miss the irony that this Sunday, at Church, we’re being a season of Spirit Arriving; it’s a time of renewal and growth and being picked up by the lapels and put someplace else on the road.  And the most ‘interesting’ story of the Spirit Arriving uses wind and fire imagery. Wild Fire. Renewing Fire. En-courage-ing Fire.  And through it, God made something new happen, beyond what anyone could imagine.

I am not making light of the profound grief of those affected, or undervaluing the thousands of labour hours being put in by the variety of (often exhausted) emergency responders. I certainly don’t underestimate what it will take to rebuild the communities affected.

But I do hope to hold on to the all of the images of the Wild Fire.  I hope it will let me keep the faith that even these Wild Fires are being used by Holy Mystery to touch our hearts, to renew us, to help us build a country beyond our imagination. To welcome God-in-Action in our midst.

thanks to kenoraonline.com and 660news.com for posting the photos!

a little warmth goes a long way

A littboots in soil blog mint comle bit of heat from the sun and even I, the least ambitious of gardeners, wants to go outside and rake and dig and make a garden grow.  A little bit of heat from the sun and I notice more people are smiling, or looking up from where they’re walking.  Just a little warmth can make such a change.

It got me reflecting on how a little bit of warmth, a smile, a moment of genuine connection, can touch the heart and even change it.  You know, it’s almost time for dandelion bouquets; who can resist smiling at that bundle of flowers, so bright outside, so quick to brown once they’re picked?  Who can resist smiling at the love with which they are offered?  A little bit of warmth.

And my experience of the Sacred is that there’s more than a little bit of warmth.  A person can bask in it for hours, for days, and there is more besides.  How can a person resist smiling at that kind of warmth, that kind of love, that kind of acceptance?  (And rest assured that most of us do exactly that.  It is we who turn away into the shadowland of fear, doubting our worthiness, not the Sacred that burns out.)

There are two tasks on the spiritual journey, and one is completely dependent on the other.  First, to learn to bask in that warmth, to tend to the soul, so that, secondly, as it glows in us as we go through our daily tasks, it warms others. Service, caring for others, is nothing less than sharing the warmth. A little bit of warmth can melt the hardest heart.

I noticed that when I was doing hospital chaplaincy; the warmth of a caring ear and heart can thaw the deepest fear. This past week, I was reminded of that while reflecting on choices before us as we face our (inevitable) death. I noticed how I felt after basking in the Sacred in the warmth of friendship. A little bit of warmth can thaw the fear of thinking we are not worthy of love.

So I love the experience of the Sacred in the joy and awe as I feel the warmth of the sun return, as the days grow longer. I long to bask in it. I encourage you to find, or make, time to do that too. Whether you’re in the field, or in the ccat pedromatias co ukar, or out in the yard, notice how warmth is stronger than cold.  How you change in it.  I experience the Sacred in being reminded how Life is stronger than death. Do you notice how the Life-force that brings warmth to the sun, and birds from their eggs, also brings warmth to the soul, and coaxes us to life from the shells of fear and isolation from one another?

That’s my plan for the week: to accept the gift of warmth from the Sacred, knowing it can do amazing things. To make (more) time to bask in it. And then enjoy watching its warmth spread. And who, and what, is changed because of it.





Happy Earth Day

Every gift bears a challenge, and challenge bears a gift. The trick is to find it, and to accept it.

The United Church has a statement of faith which includes the line: “We are called to be the Church…to live with respect in Creation.”   It’s a great line – inspiring and universal – but it isn’t defined. It presents us with the challenge: what does it mean (for me) to live with respect in Creation?

Last summer a bloc of delegates to our denomination’s triennial gathering, was entrusted to fabakeapple montrealgazette comece 22 resolutions grouped around this principle. (named for a remarkably tasty orange berry in NL…but I digress…) The Bakeapple Commission made 2 particularly controversial decisions. They asked our church’s Pension Plan to divest from Goldcorp, a Canadian mining project operating mostly in Canada, Central and South America, and to divest from fossil fuels. The backlash has been substantial.

Rather than back-biting, name-calling and mud-slinging, which only erects walls to informed conversations, how about if we ask what was/were the resolution(s) trying to accomplish? what did they say? and what did they not say?

The resolutions said to divest our holdings from the companies, not vilify the people who work for them.  They said to investigate investing in other companies which are developing other technologies which would create sustainable or renewable energy resources.  They said to encourage people who are part of our Church’s community to use less fossil fuel. The resolutions remind us that our concerns about large-scale oil & gas infrastructure projects is their impact on both the environment and relationships with the First Nations communities involved.  In other words the resolutions reminded us as a Church, as people of faith (and specifically as Jesus followers), there are other criteria we need to consider just as much as making money while we are making our choices in our everyday lives. (For full text and study materials visit gc42.ca/actionstaken Background Material and Bakeapple Commission –Revision 1.)  The same could be said about our food.

That’s why marking Earth Day is a faith-filled duty.  We have inherited translationscool down dear earth we will not kick you any more CC Sunciti_sundarams Images and images of what it means to have “dominion over the Earth” (Gen 1:26f), and despite the variety of words most still beg the questions: what does that mean? Can I do what I like with it? ought I not to use more than I absolutely have to? what does it mean to be a ‘steward’ of the land? What I want is a black and white response (which is soo, much easier!); what I get is 50 shades of gray.  It means I have to take responsibility to answer and to live with those answers. And living with my anxiety of what if in a 100 years it what I/we have done – thinking it was a positive thing turns – out to be a wrong thing?

For me, the challenge – and the gift – is to sit with that ambiguity, and struggle with how I answer those questions of what it means to live with respect in Creation; it is spiritual skill and part of the journey of faith.

My faith and experience tells me that everything in Creation/universe is a reflection of God’s creative genius, and it is good. So it deserves respect and awe.  It belongs to God.  And because I/we need energy (including fossil fuels), I/we need to be aware of which and how I use Earth’s gifts in a way that it also reflects my gratitude to God (which also means where and how they are produced).  Our denomination’s line is “to live with respect in Creation”.

There are no easy answers; there is only actions based in faith and humility, a church (and wider) community which whom to struggle with the choices, and connection with the Source of Life.

Which for me means, in part, that I need to manage my time so I can drive as little as I need to and at optimal gas mileage rather than speed.   Happy, and Blessed, Earth Day to you.

(photo credits: ‘bakeapple’:  montrealgazette.com – accessed at google images; and ‘Cool Down dear Earth; we will not kick you anymore’ by sunciti_sundarams; used under license of Creative Commons/attribution)

The Water I swim in

I was talking with a friend of mine about my last blog on the sacred in finding balance. He said with horror: “You never named the third aspect of the equation!” Huh?  “You forgot to name that God is what gives you the ability to find the balance.”

My image of finding sacredness in ebb and flow of Life, my assertion that the balance is in the pendulum swing between light and dark, assumed that God was my dance-partner (to mix my metaphors).  But perhaps my friend was right: did I, do I, take that part of the equation- ie. take God –  for granted?  2 fish jackdrawsanything com

There’s this really fun video of 2 fish swimming around talking about the game on TV last night, then a 3rd fish swims by and says “Water’s beautiful today, isn’t it?”. The 2 fish look at each other and say “What’s water?”

Sometimes my sense of the Sacred working around and within me doesn’t feel unusual; it’s more like the water I swim in and I simply move through my day contentedly.  Other times  my experience of the Sacred present with me/us is so spectacular, or takes me by surprise, it seems miraculous.  Sometimes there’s words for that; often not.

Maybe my friend was right. If I only name the Holy present in the amazing, the breath-taking, then perhaps I am taking God for granted. Perhaps by not acknowledging the “water I swim in”, not naming the Holy present in the everyday, I do take It for granted.

So I’ll amend my last blog. It is God, the Sacred, that helps me to notice the process of being part of the ebb and flow of life.  It is the Holy Mystery that helps me to find and make meaning out of today.  Not spectacular.  Just today.

And maybe I need to name every day as a Holy Day, at the start of it.  Slow down from the moving through my day so that I can notice how spectacular Today is. The lines on that house sparrow look like they’re painted on.  The white strip on the top of the tail of the Red-tailed Hawk is always the same width.  My body knows when it needs to take a deep breath, or yawn.

Life may be the air I breath, or the water that I swim in. But I need to not take those moments for granted, and to name the Sacred that’s just there. And let that Awe me too.

Thanks to jackdrawsanything.com for the artwork.


Eternal Dawn?

I’ve found myself doing a arise shine fbcpastoruss wordpresslot of reflection this Spring; I love this season.  It’s a time of transition, of liminal light – not dark, not light, just a sense of an Eternal Dawn. I feel as if the light and darkness are in coming into balance and time will stand still.  My lovely image shatters when I realize that at the balance point lasts only one day; the pendulum must pursue its swing to the other end. I wonder: is there ever a real cosmic balance?  Or do we experience the balance in our going from one side of the see-saw to the other, in the intentional pursuing of the other end? Like a graceful dance between two points.

Every major spiritual tradition that I know of (at least as I understand them) has a sense of the quest for balance. Finding our centre in a Labyrinth, or in the Stillness of Meditative Prayer, among the quadrants of the Medicine Wheel, in the “zen” moment of Now.  It seems to me that the common strain is that the balance point is our connection to The Holy Mystery of the Universe (for lack of a more creative word:God). An umbilical cord to our Source of Life.  Being in The Present. The absolute, timeless, eternal moment of Now.

But all around me I see there is an equally holy pattern of movement. Even if we are fortunate enough to touch that Eternal Moment for the briefest of time, I wonder if we aren’t supposed “to live” in that one moment of balance? What if we are to find the Holy Moment in the movement?   Cherishing the memory, looking forward to its coming again; finding the Holy as we dance together from one side to the other? Living in the ebb & flow.

The snow this week. The grass was beginning to awaken, finding its root strength to stand up.  And now its under snow again.  But only for a time: the sun will shine with warmth, the grass will come up again, become strong and then begin its descent back to hibernation.  There is the eternal cycle of ebb and flow, of life and death and rebirth. It’s mystical — when I stop bustling long enough to recognize it.  And I am part of it.

The resurrection story (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) is celebrated in the Springtime; the stories take place at Dawn. On the first day of the week. Resurrection is Life Returning.  Is the story of Jesus’ resurrection an invitation into the dance of finding Life, of touching the Sacred, aware of living in the ebb and flow?  There is a sacred-ness about the energy placed within us at birth; it moves too. Awake and Asleep and Awake again.  Life and Death and Rising to Life again. Day and Night and Dawn Returning.

Maybe that’s why we say Jesus is fully human and fully divine – he lived, knowing that the Sacred moves in us and we in the Sacred. Not one or the other.  Maybe that’s the connection to the Source of Holy Balance for all time. Living a Life without Edges, an Eternal Life where the Sacred Dance cannot be stopped by our mortal death.  Knowing that in our Time, there is a Beyond Time. An Eternal Dawn. Happy Easter.

P.S. Credit, and gratitude, to fbcpastoruss.wordpress.com for the delightful photo of dawning.