29 Jan 2017

Of purple cloth and typewriters

"Typewriter for flowery prose"
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Bob Leckridge
            This week, preparing for our annual vestry, our world's rapid advancements in technology really struck home: some reports came in handwritten, one a mimeograph from a typewriter (purple ink with penciled-in updates), many came in electronically. With the push of a button our copier printed, collated, and stapled our vestry books (no Gestetner here, TBTG, but we still all get a paper copy).

            Reflecting on the intermingling of "current" and "outdated" technologies surfaced during the daily office, as scripture focused on Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16). While early readers would have recognised the significance (and expense, and limitations, &c.) of this woman as "a dealer in purple cloth," our modern any-colour-you-want world may not appreciate the implication. Yet if we overlook the status and stature of Lydia, we miss the powerful message of her baptism by Paul, the faithful response to her calling, and her lifelong engagement in God's mission.

            I reflected on how in a short period of time, what is offered may become so common that over time it may be unintentionally overlooked, dismissed, even rejected:
            For the writers of Acts, Lydia's "purple cloth" speaks volumes.
            For vestry notes that are hand-written, the missional ministry articulated is what's important; likewise the mimeograph emphasizes stewardship (why create new paper when something already exists?) whilst highlighting an energising ministry.
            For the divine office that comes through a phone's app, or a website, or a book; the act of committed daily prayer is what matters.
            For our own spiritual practices, may we find ways that are meaningful to our own unique journey, and may we not be discouraged from practicing them so long as they are helping us more deeply connect with our God.
            For myself, being invited to blog weekly on The Community (thecommunity.anglican.ca)was a beautiful invitation into a new and challenging spiritual practice; for that I am thankful. While I have been asked to stop contributing there, I intend to continue the practice and discipline of intentionally seeking God's presence in the normalcy of everyday life.*

"Untitled" CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Hafsa M.
My hope then, is that whatever and however we are making our offering to the church, may the church as Christ-followers find ways to continue rejoicing in these ministries and spiritual practices: handwriting can be transcribed, mimeographs can be scanned, blogs can be relocated.

            So whether we understand the gifts or not, may we be grateful and thankful: Thank God for Lydia's purple. Thank God for the mimeograph's purple. Thank God for the purple ink in the colour-copies for the vestry report.

            Thank God for the wonderful opportunities for us all to share what we have been given; by the grace of God and to God's greater glory.

*My weekly blogs will continue on this site

22 Jan 2017

Family Meals

My favourite part about family meals is the chaos and confusion. The imperfect-ness of it: overcooked carrots, a disproportionate quantity of gravy, a hair in the soup. The people bring their own flavour to it; the baby throwing crackers, a spilt drink, a banged elbow. Start to finish, family meals are seldom ascetically perfect.
It happens. To everyone. It's a cacophany for the senses.
Ultimately, it is in those imperfections where the truth about family comes in: we come together, for better or worse, to intentionally share a meal, as family, as companions.
This is exactly the experience of the Holy Eucharist. It is God's holy meal for God's holy people. And all are welcome at that meal, regularly, to be fed. We remember and follow Jesus' example of breaking bread with his companions (from Latin com and panis; literally "with bread", a companion is one who breaks bread with another).
In the Communion, we are companions, we are community, we are family; we are eating and drinking together, in remembrance of Jesus, as he instructed us to continue.
And, as with any family meal, it's sometimes chaotic, and full of earthly imperfections.
And I love that. I love what it represents, when we come to the table aware of our imperfections and aware that we are loved despite them. At the communion, all manner of people come: wearing designer clothes and ripped jeans; introverts and extroverts, young and not-so-young; with confidence or trepidation or awe. I've seen the 'oops' moments of dropped wafers and spilled wine and banged elbows. I've watched people focus on the reredos or the bread or on my eyes. I've shared the meal in cathedrals and homes and hospitals and on campsites; with 2 people and 4000 people.
(I'd say I've seen it all, but when it comes to the family meal, there's always room to be surprised!)
By earthly standards, I've seen chaos and confusion at the Lord's table, and I've seen everything go according to plan. And I know that it's all okay, as the spiritual nourishment matters more than anything our earthly bodies might do. Because in this family meal we meet Jesus; and it is perfect.
I love that we are all invited to participate in this meal, this foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where everyone belongs. Rachel Held Evans puts it this way: "The church is God saying 'I'm throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.'"[1]
I pray that we all hear God's invitation to come to the banquet: on days when we feel exuberant or exhausted, faithfully convicted or questioning, grieving or celebrating, inspired or apathetic. The table of grace is waiting for you: you who are made in God's image and have been adopted into God's family, you are welcome and wanted and part of the family. Come to the table: the family meal is ready.

[1] Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, p. 153

15 Jan 2017

A Loving Heart

Last week, I was at a hockey game with my family. It was a good game, good fun, an exciting NHL experience.

At one point my godson became visibly upset. When we asked, he explained that he was worried that the feelings of the losing team would be hurt, and that bothered him.

A 'proud Auntie' moment, to be sure!! His mom and I both melted.

That heart. That pure, compassionate, loving heart.
I thought: The world needs more of that.

As I continue to reflect, the more I am becoming convinced of this. The world DOES need more compassion; more people caring about the feelings of loved ones AND strangers; more people to ignore whatever the crowd suggests is appropriate, and instead focus on the opportunity to demonstrate love.

It's not always easy or popular, but it is always the right thing to do: to be kind and caring, and to genuinely wish the best for those around us.

What a wonderful reminder from this beautiful 7-year-old that love is not just a nicety to speak of, but a Christian duty to live. Because if we agree that the world needs more of this big-hearted behaviour, then we also accept that we are called to live out this big-hearted behaviour. It's not up to the nebulous "someone else" to provide; it's up to us to produce.

Whether 7 or 97, we are called to make the world a more loving place; Jesus's mandate doesn't have age restrictions. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13.34-35)

And so I pray this week that I may carry the compassion that my godson carries in his heart, that I may show that compassion as a sign of my love for Jesus.
I pray we may all have the courage to embrace our shared duty and fulfill it to the very best of our ability - with everyone and everything God puts in our path.

8 Jan 2017

Random Gifts

My favourite shoe brand initiated a random $20 gift exchange this Christmas, encouraging community and generosity. It's a neat idea, to sign up and mail a stranger a gift that will hopefully have meaning for them.  It took some thought and creativity, having been emailed an address and 10 words about a person, to find something that would be appreciated, useful, wanted.

(For the curious - I received a gorgeous handmade beret in my favourite colours! I hope the recipient of my gift was as pleased!)

This process as fun, and careful, and took some thought.

It made me wonder if the magi, when they set off on their journey, pondered about their gifts. Those treasures carried from far away places, loaded with meaning, to be given to people they'd never met.
Although the star gave general direction, with their entourages they asked directions to search for the child. So, Herod (and others!) were aware of their presence, and by the nature of their expensive gifts, their role and the role of the child.

How difficult for them, then, to convince the townsfolk that they were of good intention, to find and convince the protective new parents to let them near the child. How difficult to give to young unknown parents those gifts that foreshadowed the prophesied joys and pains that their child would endure.

How trusting of Mary and Joseph to receive the gifts, aware of their meaning, and of their need to put them to good use.

Yet how import those gifts were to the earthly family of our Saviour Jesus, practically and symbolically. How important the ministry was of the magi, in their willingness to serve God in that strange and unusual way.

And how beautifully important for all of us to celebrate the gift we are given in the opportunity to give, delighting that God will use us to deliver gifts (even in the most random of circumstances).

My prayer this week is that we will find a way to bring a gift to someone who needs it; and that we will receive a gift of God when one is offered.

2 Jan 2017

Unexpected Gifts

Have you opened your Christmas gifts yet? Did you get what you wanted? Did you get something unexpected?
I hope that you did (or will, depending on when you read this). I truly hope that you will be surprised by joy in some gift this Christmas.
Here’s the proviso: it doesn’t have to be something from under a tree.
The gifts that we receive at Christmas are expressions of affection; of people with one another.
Our relationships, where love is present, remind us of relationship that we have with God. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes that this relationship is a gift, and that “what we need from God is more than just information.” Relationship surprises us by making us live in the emotional, not the logical, centres. It’s unexpected.
So this week I’m thinking of the unexpected gifts that come from relationship in my life.
Sometimes they’re obvious. For example, my godson hugs me every time he sees me – and every hug surprises me with joy.
Some are less obvious – but can be found when we are willing to see them. An example came in a note from one of the members of the AA group that meets at the church, after their family Christmas party. Part of the note read: I was moved by the children running around the gym upstairs during the adult meeting. Children who will have sober and present parents this Christmas in part because moms and dads have a place to go when they want to get well.”
This note is most definitely a gift to the church; the community, not the building. It speaks to the relationship that we have; while all that we can offer is a hall rental and prayers, what we receive is this affirmation of such ministry occuring in our midst.
It was an unexpected note. An unexpected gift. A celebration of relationship.
This Christmas, I pray that we all delight in some unexpected gift that comes from our own relationships: with God, with our families, with our communities. May we be inspired by these gifts to be an unexpected gift to someone else.

Prayer: Fun and Fruitful

This week I sat a final exam for the first time in years. As our professor had begun every class with prayer, we asked the same for the exam. Pleased to oblige, he began:
“Dear God. HELP!!!!!!!!”
After our collective giggle, the prayer continued more traditionally by asking for clarity of mind, expression of thought, and knowledge of God’s calming presence, all to the glory of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The prayer was both fun and fruitful; that giggle helped break the tension, allowing us to breathe deeply, refocus, and enter into the prayer’s petitions and intercessions.
The prayer served to remind that it’s okay to ask for help (in one word or many), that any one moment is part of a bigger picture, and that all that we do is an offering to God. It was appropriate for the exam, and for this week’s pre-Christmas stress of presents and parties and decorations and worship and budgets and…
Prayer invites us to ask God for help, for ourselves and others, this week and always. We need not articulate every detail; God already knows. Even a simple “help!” and “thank you” maintains our conversation with the divine—in an exam or in a checkout line.
Prayer helps us regain perspective of this one week, these 7 days are arbitrary boxes on a calendar which do not define the entirety of our relationships. We can’t force personal connections with late nights and packages, any more than an all-nighter could cram knowledge of course material.
Prayer encourages us to offer all we have and do; using what God has gifted to us to share God’s greater glory. By shifting our thinking, even our “to-do” lists can be a means of glorifying God (ie. plan healthy meals to feed our bodies that we might best love and serve God).
I pray:
May this final week of Advent be a time of fun and fruitful prayer. May we be gentle to ourselves, kind to one another, and ever glorifying to our Lord.

Journeying Through Advent

Bumper Sticker
Whilst driving, my friend and I got a little snarkastic (snarky & sarcastic) about people’s (lack of) use of car indicators. The car changed lanes by itself, I had no idea!” and “Even I didn’t know I was going to turn here!” This made me ponder about Advent (though hopefully with less snarkasm!). In this third week of Advent, about half-way through our journey, do we know where we’re going?
December can seem like a race course. Yet we’re called to slow down, to be prayerful, to prepare God’s way. We know that the way of the Lord should not resemble a month-long over-caffeinated all-nighter. And when we got caught on the spiritual equivalent of the autobahn, we might find ourselves wanting to get off and slow down, but don’t know how to do.
So I suggest that our Advent journey should be more intentional. That we are prepared for this season just as we prepare for Christmas: identifying what we want to accomplish, setting a spiritual to-do list, mapping our course through the season. We don’t want to come into Christmas screeching to a halt, so overwhelmed by the pace of the preparation that we entirely miss the beauty of Advent. Our Advent journey is more than twice the duration as Christmas; imagine if our spiritual preparation and energy reflected that.
And on this preparatory journey, I wonder: are we signalling our path?
Our driving experiences are safer when we use those indicator lights (blinkers, hazards, reverse lights, all of them!). They show others (in advance) what our intentions are, and invite them to respond accordingly, help to promote safety for the journey.
So too, with our spiritual Advent journey, our actions can show others that we know where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there. We can reveal a different way of journeying through the month: with intentional prayer, collective worship, and revelling in the joy of the present moment.
The 25th will still come, but the condition we’re in when we get there will reflect how carefully and prayerfully we made the journey.
May our Advent continue as a slow and deliberate journey; knowing our course, signalling the way of preparation.

Welcoming Christmas Guests

Advent at St. George's, Birtle MB. Some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by LMP+Christmas is coming! Are you ready?
Really, who is?! We’re still just getting used to being in Advent. Let’s not rush things!
And yet—let’s be prepared. Preparation is, after all, what this blue season is about.
So as we prepare to welcome the Christ child into our hearts, let us also be aware that we will (likely) be welcoming guests and newcomers to our worship services.
And that’s where it can be wonderful, If we choose to make it so. While we all think that we’re friendly and welcoming, the experience of an outsider may reveal a different perception. So what can we do?
  • Someone at the door to greet a newcomer, offer a bulletin, and even help find a pew can show guests that we are interested in their feeling at home.
  • Someone sitting with a visitor, and helping to navigate through the service (with the hymnals, prayer books, bulletins, and any local customs) indicates a desire to make that person feel a part of the church—the body of Christ.
  • Someone inviting a newcomer to coffee hour or lunch (and engaging with them in conversation) rather than sitting where we always do, with the friends we always do.
  • Someone sharing the positive expressions of church will demonstrate to a guest that the community gathers in worship and prayer, and wants to convey only the best image of that community.
Yes, it does mean that we may need to go outside of our own comfort zone. It may mean sitting in a different pew, or changing up the people we have our coffee with, or not complaining about whatever one might complain about. It may mean finding ways to be more intentional about welcoming Christ’s beloved into our midst.
But it’s worth it. It’s worth it as this is our opportunity to welcome the stranger and offer hospitality. It’s not often anymore that people just happen to wander through the doors of the church; in this season where they may do just that—let us welcome them! Let us embrace the reality that God has guided them to our building, to our worship service, to our church family. Let us celebrate that they have responded to a spiritual longing within themselves and have been bold enough to come to us.
Let us welcome all of those whom God will put in our path. And let us give thanks for the opportunity to offer hospitality—welcoming others in Jesus’ name.

An Advent Snail

L'escargot. Some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by LMP+A few years back, while on a rather adventurous and excitement-filled vacation, I spent some time watching a snail.
No, really. That’s him/her/it in the picture.
I had come to realise that in the midst of all of the busy-ness of my schedule, I was becoming so overwhelmed that I was missing out on some of the content of the sights that I had travelled (and paid handsomely) to see. I was seeing so much that I was normalising the wonder by skimming it over, presuming it had nothing new to offer.
So I watched a snail cross a footpath. Slowly, seemingly with purpose (perhaps just to get to where the grass was cool and soil moist).
And it was a great way for me to spend my time. It helped me regain perspective of the trip, and as a result, I began paying more attention to what was in front of me—whether it was the eighth wonderful thing of the day or the first, I gave it my proper attention.
I was reminded of this snail experience as I began preparing for Advent. This Sunday’s lectionary reminds us that time is not something we can control; it has never been. And in the scriptural times, without the modern benefit (benefit?) of watches and carefully scheduled and synced calendars, time was even less structured. And that was okay—time simply was. Today—time simply is.
We cannot go back, we cannot rush forward, we cannot slow down the clock (despite our long Advent lists of things to do and special services to attend and baking to be done and… well. That’s just it. We can get ourselves so busy in the rush to Christmas that we miss the beauty of Advent: understated, calm, anticipatory Advent. We can become so overwhelmed by the quest for the ‘perfect’ Christmas that we deny ourselves the joy of the journey. We can so normalise the frantic—like my sightseeing tour—that we don’t appreciate the ordinary—like the snail.
Yet we can choose to do it differently. We can choose to delight in the calmness of the kairos—the God time. We can choose to accept that we cannot control time, and that it is okay. We can delight in the reality of the journey, and intentionally appreciate the time that we have in this blessed Advent.

Canada Prays: #prayersof #adoration

PrayerOfThePeople.org Canada PraysCANADA PRAYS: An initiative of Anglican Fellowship of Prayer and Society of St John the Evangelist to help us all enter more deeply into the richness of prayer. For more information, please visit anglicanprayer.org

This week: ADORATION
Q. What is adoration?
A. Adoration is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence. [1]
Brother Eldridge Pendleton, of SSJE, says that “The simplest form of prayer we can offer God is adoration. All we have to do is remember what God has done for us and for the world and express our gratitude by loving in return.”[2]
Adoration goes beyond words, beyond logic, beyond the liturgy. It is simply resting in the presence of God and finding the delight that comes from that. This s not to say that words are not useful; the liturgy and our daily prayers include components of adoration!
In adoring God, we are connecting to the divine in ways that change us and the world around us. In adoration we are entering into the mystery of love and truth, that pure and perfect love which comes from our God. We are not asking intercession or petition, we are not offering oblation or praise, we are simply adoring – lifting up our hearts and delighting in the intentional time we are spending in God’s presence.
Canada Prays #prayersof #adoration: God of love, I adore you…
Some thoughts on adoration, from Dan:
[1] “An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism” in The Book of Common Prayer, According to the use of The Episcopal Church, 2007. p.857. Available at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/downloads/book_of_common_prayer.pdf
[2] http://ssje.org/ssje/2009/10/29/adoration-br-eldridge-pendleton/

Canada Prays: #prayersof #praise

PrayerOfThePeople.org Canada PraysCANADA PRAYS: An initiative of Anglican Fellowship of Prayer and Society of St John the Evangelist to help us all enter more deeply into the richness of prayer. For more information, please visit anglicanprayer.org

This week: PRAISE
Q. Why do we praise God?
A. We praise God, not to obtain anything, but because God’s Being draws praise from us.[1]
Brother David Vryhof, of SSJE, says that praise is how we begin to pray, because praise “orients our whole being towards God, in whose image and for whose purposes we are made.”[2]
The act of praise is seen when we worship, and also permeates our entire lives. Our praise of God is acknowledging God’s role in our lives, putting God first in all we say and do in God’s world. Our love for God, our praise for God, is to become a daily reality, so normal in our lives that it becomes evident to all around us.
Thomas Berry writes that “the nobility of our lives depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.”[3] Br David reminds us that our role is to celebrate that “[w]e have been created by God and for God, and we will find our deepest joy and satisfaction when we live in union with God.”[4]
Canada Prays #prayersof #praise: God of glory, I praise you…
Some thoughts on praise, from Karina:
[1] “An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism” in The Book of Common Prayer, According to the use of The Episcopal Church, 2007. p.857. Available at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/downloads/book_of_common_prayer.pdf
[2] http://ssje.org/ssje/2009/10/06/praising-god-our-true-vocation-br-david-vryhof/
[3] Thomas Berry, “The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future”
[4] http://ssje.org/ssje/2009/10/06/praising-god-our-true-vocation-br-david-vryhof/

Canada Prays: #prayersof #intercession

PrayerOfThePeople.org Canada PraysCANADA PRAYS: An initiative of Anglican Fellowship of Prayer and Society of St John the Evangelist to help us all enter more deeply into the richness of prayer. For more information, please visit anglicanprayer.org

Q. What is intercession?
A. Intercession brings before God the needs of others[1]
Brother Geoffrey Tristram, of SSJE, says that intercession is “a profoundly loving and closely holding up of others before God. It is becoming close ourselves to the heart of God in our prayers of loving adoration, and then bringing those we love and long to be healed with us.”[2]
Intercession is relational, coming from the greek word entunchanein which means ‘to be with someone on behalf of another.” It is not meant to be a simple read-through of random names with expected outcome, but a way of sharing our care with God and with that person, in community.
Many parish bulletins will include a list of the sick, and invite folks to pray for these people throughout the week. This is done as an opportunity to hold them up before God; whether they are known to us or not is inconsequential; they are known and loved by someone who is known and loved by us.
That connection is enough. It is enough to create the relationship in which we ask for God’s presence and spiritual well-being to be felt by those who are sick in body or mind or spirit. We pray for others, knowing that we too will be prayed for.
Canada Prays #prayersof #intercession: God of compassion, I pray for…
Some thoughts on intercession, from Renée:
[1] “An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism” in The Book of Common Prayer, According to the use of The Episcopal Church, 2007. p.857. Available at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/downloads/book_of_common_prayer.pdf
[2] http://ssje.org/ssje/2009/10/20/intercession-br-geoffrey-tristram/