30 Dec 2017

New Year's Resolutions

"Happy New Year" ... CC BY 2.0 Retna Karunia ... Source: Flickr
            I've heard many conversations this week about New Year's resolutions. I think they offer good potential for self-improvement, so long as we are careful with them.
            Before making my own, I consider challenging questions: why do I want to do this? How will I make it a reality? What resources do I need for that to happen?
            I find these help me to ensure I'm keeping the focus where it will reflect my interests, lifestyle, and values; and that I have a strong chance of success. I make attainable resolutions for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  These require intentionality, introspection, and commitment; are based on a solid knowledge of myself. I'm aiming for smaller goals (for a better chance of success) rather than setting myself up for failure.
            For example: knowing that I'm a short-distance and intermittent runner, rather than resolve to run a marathon (which I have no interest in doing), I'm establishing a more regular and regulated running programme. I have a wall calendar to mark my runs, the equipment I need, and I will investigate some fun-run events. This is, for me, do-able; and even if/when I slip for a bit I can get right back on track. I also resolve to be gentle with myself!
            This process of basing feasible future goals on honest self-reflection is not neither new, nor limited to the secular, nor restricted to one arbitrary day of the year. The Ignatian Examen, for example, applies a spiritual lens to life; inviting people to consider "Where do I see God active in my past? How do I witness God's influence today? Who is God calling me to be tomorrow?" This journey, ideally with the resource of spiritual direction, assists one to live into the fullness of who God has made us to be.
            I am hopeful that folks will be considering resolutions to include a spiritual component, and include practical plans to support the journey. Want to read more scripture? Plan daily goals or join a bible study; start with 5 minutes a day. Want to pray more? There are several apps of daily office available, even for commuters. Want to do more outreach? Speak to your local church about the social justice ministries they engage in and try a few. Want to worship with others? Try a Sunday morning with a faith community, we'll welcome you wherever you are on your faith journey.
            I hope that as we all start January 1 with high expectations, that we are kind to ourselves as we experience the bumps or hiccups along the way. As with any resolution, it takes time and practice and ongoing reflection to find out what works for us - whether it's running or a spiritual journey.  The important part is that we return, and recommit, and live that resolve.
            Whatever your resolutions, I wish you every success. I hope 2018 will be for you a year that includes a will to be closer to God, a practical way to live that relationship, and a supportive community for the journey.

23 Dec 2017

Taking The Show On The Road

Photo by Ceinturion. In the Public Domain
Twice last week, the parish choir was invited to 'take the show on the road!'
            The first was by participating in a local 'lantern walk' where different groups sing a few carols as folks gradually journey throughout the community.
            The second time was singing carols at a local grocery store, at the invitation of the manager; for an hour, as people entered the shop, they were serenaded with Christmas songs and carols as a staff person handed out candy canes.
            Now, our choir is small, with big hearts and a love of church and music, but the record deals have not been forthcoming (yet!).
            The important thing, however, was the delightful fun of participating in the broader community.
            The lantern walk is now an annual tradition, and brings together a large number of people from the area, with the intentional of being community.
            The grocery store had never before had a choir sing, but based on the smiles, "Merry Christmas!"es, and additional singing, they have already asked us to return next year.
            The choir is just a small group of volunteers from the church. But they are also, as demonstrated this week, folks who are actively interested in taking the joy of our Christian community outside of our own four walls.

            What a great ministry they offer on Sundays and Holy Days; what a great ministry they offer to the broader community. I'm imagining what further ministries might be done beyond our four walls - the sky's the limit!

16 Dec 2017

My Favourite Christmas Gift

Every year, a Christmas delight appears in my mailbox. It's my favourite present: it's always the same thing, the perfect size and colour and style.

It's a letter.

My friend sends a letter, addressed in her gorgeous hand-writing, and as soon as I see it, I smile.

The letter is always a variation on a theme, but the message is the same: she has made a cash donation to the local food distribution & training centre.

This year's letter starts with "You and I are blessed because we have everything we need. That's why I'm giving someone else your gift."

It's perfect. Sure, we could send each other some little trinket, or find some other way to acknowledge the holiday. Instead, by directing funds to the agencies that assist the most vulnerable in our society, the buying power of those dollars increases, and a hungry person will have a meal, or a lonely person won't be alone, or a cold person will find warmth.

For whatever the cause of the need, the need is there; and Christmas is a great time for alleviating discomfort and need.

So if you're realising, a week before Christmas, that you've forgotten to buy some gifts this year, I humbly suggest you consider some stress-free gifting. And in the words of my friend:
"Have a very merry Christmas, knowing that you have helped to make it better for someone else."

9 Dec 2017

The Rhythms of Dogs and Running and Advent

In a casual conversation this week, two unrelated questions were asked of me: how my dogs were (great), and if I was still running (yes!).
Then the unrelated were related: Do you run with your dogs?
EGADS, I answered: NO!
Why not?
"Rhythm," I said. "It's all got to do with rhythm."
When I run, I like a steady rhythm. It's why I prefer treadmill to trail: I control the speed and incline to be consistent. There are no surprises; I can watch the game or play my music or whatever.
Walking the dogs, however, has a very different rhythm. It's an ADVENTURE! Everything is a surprise: there are bushes to smell and leaves to jump in and squirrels to chase and neighbours to greet and grass to roll in, and ... Summary: my dogs do not keep a steady pace; not with each other, not with me, not from one metre to the next - and we all like it.
Rhythm. It's all about rhythm.
Advent is another example of a different rhythm. It's a season where were invited to pay attention to the rhythm in our spiritual lives. It's different, seemingly out of sync with the world around us (who consider this 'the Christmas season'), but that's okay: we don't have to be limited by society's definition.
Instead, we pace ourselves: we find the space to let the Advent rhythm take root deep within us. We create the time to sit in the moment of preparation. We envelope ourselves with the true meaning of Advent: because we can.
Our Advent journey does not mean that we have to separate ourselves from the busyness of typical Christmas preparation. What it does do is invite us to carefully and prayerfully seek out the rhythm of the Spirit in our lives, and find ways for each to be present and meaningful in our day-to-day practices.
Our lives are full of rhythms, and we are enriched by how we respond to them.
The rhythm of running? Consistent, and delightful.
The rhythm of the dog walking? Adventurous, and delightful.
The rhythm of Advent? Spirit-led, and therefore delight-filled. 

May we all be delighted in the rhythm of Advent.

2 Dec 2017

An Advent Reflection

            We're in Advent now - Happy Advent! It's my favourite liturgical season. Bring on the (Sarum) blue.
            It's fascinating to me, however, that the season of now-and-not-yet, of adventus, of time meant to be in preparation, is a season well-known for a countdown, an end-date.
            For many in secular society, Advent means little calendars with chocolates or toys inside. For many within the church, it means carefully fitting in all the special services in the 4 Sundays. For many clergy, it means the preparations are focused more on liturgical and administrative duties rather than the spiritual journey.
            So where is the expectant waiting? Where is the comfort in being still, in not rushing, in being mindful of this moment? For it is in accepting that this moment is as it should be, a mystery unto itself, that we really engage in Advent. Advent should teach us that this moment is not meant to be a precursor to something else; it simply IS.
            And so we wait. We expect. We do our best to understand that this moment will never come again. We do our best to understand that this moment flowed from what was and will inform what will be. We do our best to understand that the presence of Christ in our lives depends on this moment ... and this moment ... and this moment, too.
            So here; now; we are challenged to be. Not to anticipate what will be, not to mark down on a calendar, but to delight in the reality of hopeful expectation. To celebrate the unknown forthcoming, and to be acutely aware of the joy-filled opportunity of the immediate.

            It's Advent now. NOW it is Advent. I wish you a time of peace and calm presence as we live in the now.