Candles that won’t light are the bane of any worship leader, even when the worship is solitary, at home, for online services or private prayer. I’ve written about my necessary careful tending of the Peace candle. Then this morning, my fire would not start. I kept adding paper, kindling, but only achieved smouldering and smoke. Finally, sitting with the stove door open, I managed for it to catch. Only later did I realize the damper had been closed for the night. I’d forgotten to check.
Not enough air. Not enough breath. Not enough Spirit sometimes in our lives, to light the flame of hope or peace or love. Persistence, writes Allison. Staying with it. Let’s not give up on our world. Thanks, Allison!
Today’s sermon is about Love, not the usual kind of love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. Today you will hear about Elijah and Elisha, the strength of Elisha’s love for his mentor, and Elisha’s courageous determination not to look away from Elijah even at the moment of his death.
I was not at the side of either of my parents when they died. Daddy’s death was sudden, and I was away. Mom died more slowly, in hospital, and I had to be home. I had to be a mom, and I had to work. Self-employment does not give time off for hospital vigils. So I wasn’t there. I wish I was. I was there in spirit. I was there in dreams. But I was not at my mother’s side. In these Covid times, people around the world have not been there with their dying loved ones. My heart aches for them. My heart aches for those of YOU who have had to wait outside of hospitals in these last 11 months.
Elijah told Elisha that he would go on, to his death, alone, but Elisha refused. He went every step of the way at Elijah’s side. He did not take his eyes off his master, and witnessed the moment when his spirit left his body, like a burning chariot and fiery horses. He tore his clothes in his grief, but he did not turn away.
Our attention capacity is short. We are always blinking, looking away, getting distracted, in normal every day circumstances. In the tough times, keeping our gaze turned toward the pain is hard, almost impossible. At other times, we feel like we can’t pull our attention away at all, from the news of what is happening in the world around us. But being “glued to the screen” is itself a way of NOT seeing what is happening beside us. That pain beside us begs for our attention.
We are learning to be a 21st century church, I’ve said. We are learning to become something different than we have been. In fact, we are being forced to be different, against our wills. We don’t like change, not at all. As I say in today’s sermon, we prefer to look back at the past, than to look squarely into the changes that are coming.
Just like the “Sons of the Prophets” in Elijah’s time were facing a change of era, so are we. Do we watch from a distance like most of them? Or do we walk into it, courageously, like Elisha? I do hope that we get back into our churches for in-person services soon, but what is “soon”? And how long will it take for our services to be “normal”? Will they EVER be “normal”?
I’ve come to realize that we have three congregations in Prince William Pastoral Charge – Living Waters, the Kirk, AND our online congregation. The online folks, some of them never come to church. Some live elsewhere. Some would love to be with us in person, but health concerns or disabilities keep them away. These people tell me how grateful they are for the recorded services. No matter when we get back to seeing each other face to face, we must not abandon these people. This Covid Journey is making us rethink what church is, what church membership is.
For a long time, we have been saying that Church is not a building. The question becomes, can church be ONLY online? Can we do without buildings completely? No, we cannot do without buildings. We need to be able to gather in person. Real change happens in person. Real love happens in person. But the buildings do not have to be church buildings. The buildings may be our homes.That is where Church started, after all, in the homes of believers in communities everywhere, supported by ministers like Paul and Silas, who travelled and wrote letters.
We CANNOT be Church ONLY online, because online it is too easy to look away. I get an email, for example, about the children starving in Yemen. I can delete that, and forget it. I see post after post on Facebook or elsewhere, of people in pain, and I can scroll right past. Or click the “care” button to send a hug, or the “sad” button to express my concern, but this leaves that individual alone, while the Facebook post disappears into the depths of the feed, and my attention is caught by the next meme, or the next funny video.
Real change, real concern, does not happen online. We need to be face to face, loving, caring, helping, supporting. We need to be face to face looking each other in the eye, not turning away from the pain. That is what Church is. No matter what happens with Covid, no matter what happens with our ability to sustain our buildings, we need to keep on loving, keep on being devoted to each other, just like Elisha was devoted to Elijah.
I’m writing this early on Saturday morning. It’s not quite 6 am. I did not expect to write paragraphs; my sermon was already a longish one. Thank you for reading all this. Thank you for not looking away.
I like things to be in order. I like cupboard doors closed, books arranged so they are easy to find when needed, my grocery list arranged in the same order as the aisles in the store. I’m not obsessive about these things, but order, having things and activities in order, my order, keeps my stress level low.
At the same time, whenever life gets more haphazard, so does my space. I have said that the number of papers and assorted odds and ends on my kitchen table act as a useful gauge of my stress level. The same goes for the number of emails sitting in my inbox, or the number of open pages in my browser. The other day I counted 208 emails and 13 windows. Not bad, really, but this feels like having 221 things on my to do list. Two hundred and twenty-one loose ends.
Loose ends take up precious room in my mind. Loose ends gobble up time too, as I spin in thought, trying to decide what is most urgent to get done, or all the smaller steps that are linked to the bigger task.
Do I really want to fix the leaky faucet? Is it better to be annoyed by a leak? Or to brave a trip to the hardware store in Covid? (And with my history, leaky faucets tend to mean more than one visit to the hardware store.)
So here’s what I’ve decided to do: I am going to catch as many loose ends as I can catch, by listing them on slips of paper, dropping them into a pretty box, and then making a Lenten practice out of randomly drawing tasks to complete.
I woke this morning at 3:30 am. I am an early to bed, early rise, sort of person, but 3:30 is ridiculous. My first thought was that sleep time is boring; I’d rather be up and reading with coffee. Sleep is much more fun if there are dreams, and my dreams have been sparse.
I pulled my nite hood back down over my eyes, and watched the blur on the back of my eyelids for a moment. Soon it was 5 am, and I had a dream! A tiny dream that was not very exciting, but here I am, about to tell you about it.
I dreamed about a wooden box. In the dream, I had seen an ad about this box. It was a cube, maybe 14 inches square. But in my living dream experience, it was much taller, maybe twice as tall or more. I kept checking the ad, and looking at the “real” box. I was confused in the dream, by the difference. It was a box that I had to construct myself, one of those self-assembly jobs, but an easy one. The cover would sit snuggly into place, but I stood with it in my hand, as I weighed the difference between experience and expectation.
Sometimes the most powerful dreams are tiny like this. The fact that I remembered it at all made it important, when I’ve not recorded many dreams for ages. My first thought was that maybe I don’t need dreams, that I live in a larger waking dream than anything I might catch in the night. I reminded myself to continue to pay attention to the symbols and metaphors all around me, all the time. If we carefully watch our waking life, we don’t need to process it so much in the night.
But I did not want to dismiss the dream without thinking about it further. Boxes, boxed in, limitations. I was not boxed in, in this dream. I was outside of the box. I was the one MAKING the box, and feeling the surprise that the box was bigger than expected. If boxes are limitations, then my limitations, limitations of my own making, are less restrictive than I was led to believe by “advertising.”
I was encouraged by the notion of being outside the box. That’s me, in many ways. I am not boxed in at all, and I think outside the box. The boxes I construct are more roomy than people expect. But I still make boxes. We all do. It’s scary to be without limits. What if we all lived outside the box? How would we contain ourselves? Lol! Would our imaginations run wild? Would our emotions be out of control?
I think about how often I try to box up my difficult emotions, and how I tend to jam the lid on them. I do this less now. I used to do it with food, and I no longer use the lid of overeating to squash and bury emotions like I used to. But I still have other lids – a game of solitaire, a tv show, facebook… The list goes on, all the ways I can box up what I do not want to look at.
I have been practising meditation more lately. If I catch myself trying to box stuff up, I sit with it, look at it, release it. I don’t hang onto it, whatever “it” is. (Remember, I am not always successful at this, but I’m getting better at it.)
Maybe by putting fewer things in my “box”, and by keeping the lid off, I am making more space inside of myself. My interior world is more spacious because I am not hoarding so many hurts, worries, or negative belief systems.
Early morning prayers and a candle lit for peace … but it keeps going out! Last time I used this candle, I pressed the soft wax back toward the wick, too tightly, perhaps. The candle sat on my shelf, beautiful, for almost a year, unlit, and now when I want to pray for peace, I find the flame needs close attention, as I relight it again and again.
Is that not the way with peace? We have an extended period of calm, and then let it sit on a shelf too long, trimmed up and beautiful, but unattended and fragile. We don’t see how fragile is that light until we want it, need it, long for it, only to find it isn’t there, nor easily regained.
The flame of peace goes out when we don’t watch over it. The flame of peace needs attention, coaxing, care. Turn away too long, expecting it to burn on its own, and the light goes out.
In the darkness, we need to huddle close to this light, and to each other. We need tenders of the flame, fire keepers, peace keepers. And if your candle of peace goes out, relight, and relight again! Relight that flame of peace again and again, and sit close with your loved ones. Pay attention to this fragile peace. Do not give up.
Happy 2021! A few weeks ago, I was asked to prepare a video lecture for students in the Human Services program at the New Brunswick Community College. They, like everyone else, are doing virtual classes in our COVID circumstances.
Now that the students have had their turn, I’m making the video public. Most of it can be instructive to anyone, student or not. I trust you can be patient with those parts that don’t apply. 😊
The beautiful words of Pslam 23 have at times prettified me and given me hope on some of my darkest days.
I wrote this poem just to reflect on the pslam and how important it is to me.
As I wander through the green uncut grass
the stories of the garden unfold.
Imprinted into the soil, deep dark tunnels of despair,
My burdens glistened into the dewy footprints of life
I know that I am the gardener, listening to the creator.
With every seed thats sown, I learn more of him.
When I doubt, he lifts me up, reminds me that I can grow.
He leads me through valleys that I never knew existed,
waters my soul with life giving streams, which hydrate me.
Growing in a new place, Where its safe to sit and stay.
With him I am at peace to say no words, as he knows my…
“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” ~ Richard Rohr
This morning, with my coffee, I read, as usual, in no particular order, my email, Facebook notifications, and news. Some of my email is summarized news, which is where I started today.
I’ve come to believe that coffee energizes or unnerves me, depending on where I am emotionally to start with. Yesterday I was energized. The day before, I was shaking with anxiety. Same amount of coffee. Hmm. What’s that about?
What it is about is my responsibility to myself, to appropriate self-care, looking after my own emotional state, first and foremost. I need to clean the inside of my own “cup”, as Jesus advised.
He said this, according to the Gospel of Matthew (23:26), as part of an extended exchange with the religious leaders of the time, who were also in many ways the political leaders as well.
The exchange comes shortly after his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, riding a donkey, an event we celebrate even today on Palm Sunday. That day, Jesus rode into town to the fanfare of the crowds, going directly to the temple, where he drew the ire of the religious leaders by tossing over the money changing tables.
Money changing was part of the onerous level of religious expectation. You couldn’t use Roman coins for your temple gifts and shopping. Yes, shopping. The temple grounds were filled with animals for sale at exorbitant prices. If you wanted to make a sacrifice, of the required type and quality, you paid through the nose. Jesus called the temple a den of thieves, rather than a House of Worship.
This exchange was the beginning of the end for Jesus. The political system and religious system worked together in earnest to precipitate his arrest and death. It’s like Jesus decided that under the circumstances he could be pointed in his comments about that system.
He told them a story about two sons whose father asked them to do certain tasks on the farm. One son said, “Sure, Dad!” and then as some sons do, went on to completely ignore the father’s request. But the other who at first said “Nope! Can’t help you, Dad,” went on to do exactly what he had been assigned to do. Which son, Jesus asked, was obedient?
The answer was an easy one; the second son was obedient. “Well,” replied Jesus, “be aware that people you look down upon from your critical high horse are likely much closer to God than you.” (My paraphrase.) Jesus went on to tell more stories critical of leaders who were disrespectful of others whom they regarded as being below them. The God who had always asked them to be fair in their care of widows and orphans, foreigners, and the poor (Jer. 7:5-6), was saying they obeyed in word only, focussing on outward behaviour instead of the intent of the heart.
And so, Jesus concluded, they should look to the motivations of their own hearts first. They should clean their own cups, the insides where the tea stains accumulate, rather than pointing accusing fingers all around.
Today, my body reacted to stories like that, as evidenced by how shaky my handwriting appears in today’s first journal entry, after only one cup of coffee. I turned to my daily email from Richard Rohr, whose gentle words would soothe my soul, and found the quote, above, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
Rohr, in an expansion of that statement in another document, reminds us that “when you don’t transform your pain you will always transmit it…, that we cannot afford to hate because we become a mirror, a disguised image of the same.” In the face of all that, we usually either fight or hide away in denial. Rohr suggests a third way, of fighting AND fleeing at once into the heart, where we clean our own “cup”, as Jesus said.
That is indeed a fight, as we struggle against our natural tendency to point fingers. What Jesus did, in the midst of trouble, even minutes before his unjust death, was to forgive. Cleaning my own cup means looking inside myself, centring into the Presence of Spirit, trusting and letting go.
This post is part of my process. May it bring you readers some peace as it has for me. May this become our better practice.
I want to brag. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I will anyway. I’ll start by saying I have two gorgeous delightful smart-as-a-whip grandgirlies. That is a typical grandmotherly thing to say.
I am married to a science teacher. He found a video called The Infinite Pattern That Never Repeats. He watched it, told me about it, and we watched it the next evening together. So interesting! Mind blowing science that I really don’t understand, but it is beautiful. I sent a link to my daughter, saying she and the girls would like it. I was thinking particularly about 5 year old Anna, the artist.
Of course, as things go, when watching YouTube, we ended up watching more, including this one: Parallel Worlds Probably Exist. Here’s Why. It has a hilarious explanation of Schrödinger’s cat, a thought experiment regarding quantum physics. If you put a cat in a box, and set up circumstances that may or may not release poison, is the cat dead or alive? Both! Watch and see.
Pixie was watching intently. She did not like that experiment! I don’t blame her! Good thing it was a thought experiment, all in the mind of Schrödinger and in the pages of physics textbooks everywhere.
So Daughter Dear and the girlies watched the first video, and like us, kept on keeping on with more. Anna chose this second one. And wanted to DO the cat experiment! Wise daughter suggested a different experiment: Slinky Drop. This is a safe experiment that anyone can do, with a slinky and the slow motion setting on your phone. No cats are harmed. 😂
In our COVID world, there are so many ways to learn, to share, to love, and to be present. I got to see the result of my girlies’ slinky experiment, even though they live a thousand miles away. They learned things about science that may inspire their future careers and creativity.
We can put too much focus on the scary things in the world, but if we look instead with wonder, we can experience joy and gratitude instead of fear.
It’s dawn, on the beach at Pocologan. I am the first to come down the stairs and walk on the sands this morning. Last night I sat here until my toes got wet, on a rock that earlier in the day had been far from the edge of the water. Last night, the beach was marked with footprints big and small, bare and sneakered, human and canine, around sandcastles and names inscribed with sticks or clamshells. This morning, below the line of seaweed marking last night’s high tide, the sand is pristine. They talk about the tides of time and the sands of time. Perhaps that means something about Mother Earth’s ability to remove all evidence of what was, and to start again.
My room here at the Clipper Shipp Motel is a small one, too small for doing any of my usual stretching exercises. Instead I have walked the beach at various times of the day, marvelling at the height of the Fundy high tide, and sneaking around points of rock that had been under water a few hours before, to walk on the bottom of the sea.
The other night at home, as sometimes happens, my stretching released the emotion I carried in my muscles. When that happens, I let the tears flow. I’ve learned to ask, whose tears are these? My tears are not always my own. The other night as I stretched, the tears that flowed were the tears of the people on the West Coast, watching their forests and homes burn.
Where will they go? What will they do? So many thousands homeless and broken. I noticed how my tears flow more easily for these sudden refugees in California, Oregon, or Washington, than they do for refugees fleeing fire in Greece, or terror in Myanmar. I can more easily relate to the traumas of our North American neighbours. And yet, I know that refugees around the world are also mothers and fathers, children, losing everything they love, feeling the same grief, shedding the same wrenching tears. I pray that these difficult times will help us see each of us everywhere as a sister or brother.
And so as the sun rises this morning, I reach for the sky, bend to the earth, and pray for our planet. On this new day, the skies above me are clear of smoke. The crescent moon waves goodbye through wispy clouds. I am grateful for these blessings, aware that I no more deserve clear skies than my brothers and sisters near or far deserve pain and loss.