28 Oct 2017

A Controlled Environment

"Health-Tips" CC0 1.0 by Elaine Smith. Source: Flickr
            I recently underwent a medical test, which allowed an assessment of symptoms "in a controlled environment." The facilities are sanitized, the staff highly trained, the equipment top-notch, the medicines carefully monitored. Every effort was made to make me feel as comfortable as possible.
            However, I knew that as symptoms were forced/enhanced, the test would make me uncomfortable. I wasn't at a spa, after all. As the discomfort inevitably happened, I knew that I was being cared for, and that as valuable information was being collected during the test, it would help in future.
            Afterwards, I re-entered the real world - the uncontrolled and uncontrollable environment. Doing so, I reflected that our experience of worship can be like this: a controlled environment, providing support and information for the uncontrolled world.
            We gather in a time and space dedicated to worship: we enjoy a tried-and-true liturgical structure (from collect to dismissal), we absorb the theological intentionality of the physical layout, we hear the word of God and its homiletic interpretation to calm our tortured souls, we are comforted by the comfortable words as invitation to foretaste the feast.
            We receive this spiritual care in a controlled environment. All the while, we know that this is but a microcosm of the real world that exists both within and without our four walls. This received and controlled care supports our continued mission and ministry every day. 
            Just as good liturgy will comfort the afflicted, it will also afflict the comfortable. So for those coming to worship in distress, our controlled environment should bring an increase in spiritual health. For those who come to sit in a comfortable pew, a certain level of discomfort should be expected: we do pray that God will stir up in us a desire to bring justice to the world, after all.

            Thus, our time in worship is a type of diagnostic for our spiritual health.  We are all in need of healing; and as we are cared for, we are being inspired to invite others to the source of that care. May we appreciate the controlled environment, understand it as a time to reflect and assess, and journey in spiritual health in the uncontrollable spiritual realm where we live our lives.

22 Oct 2017

No Special Effects

I seldom go to the cinema, but this week had a lovely night out with a friend. We enjoyed the film: the story was poignant, the casting great, the score was subtle, the cinematography was impressive.
What was missing was special effects.
Please note: they were missing, but they were not lacking.
The story was so beautifully crafted that all the emotions and nuances were conveyed: there was death, but no gore; conflict, but no rage; love, but no dramatic PDAs. A close-up of a raised eyebrow expressed expectation; an unquestioned absurd exercise demonstrated loyalty; a subtle colour change (from black to navy) indicated a lightened mood.
And there was nothing lacking. In fact, I perceived the story to have been better presented as a result: we were not distracted by special effects, the film's quality was higher as we were not dazzled by explosions or car chases or aliens or...

I find worship to be like this.
In worship, we come to the source of all love and light and grace and mercy. We come for an authentic experience of our dance with the divine. We neither need to artificially enhance this, nor could we! The presence of Christ in our lives is a gift beyond our understanding, any attempt to make this gift 'better' or 'fancier' or 'shinier' would detract from its truth.
We don't need artificially created special effects added after the fact: we have the opportunity to worship the truly Divine.
Our buildings do not need spotlights to draw people in: the light of Christ should do that.
Our sanctuaries do not need neon signs pointing to attractions: the symbols and structures reflect the beautiful nuances of our history and tradition.
The Gospel does not need any enhancements, as it is both the greatest story ever told and an invitation for all the world to journey with the Lord.
Our liturgy is celebrated in whatever manner we are comfortable, as the words are merely serve as an invitation to the banquet table of eternity.

As St Paul assures us that absolutely nothing in this world will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8.38), I pray that nothing in this world will be able to separate us from the beauty of worship. May we worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness (Ps 96.9), not be dazzled and distracted by whatever the world may offer.

14 Oct 2017

Prayer Connects

This past March, I had the great privilege and pleasure to attend a gender rights conference with other representatives of the Anglican communion. As a result, I now have more friends all over the globe. Through the wonders of social media, we can share aspects of our lives with one another in very simple ways.

One of the aspects of my life, that I share easily and regularly, is that I am a pray-er. I pray a lot. I speak about prayer. It's a big deal for me.
So when the "Thy Kingdom Come" prayer initiative happened this spring, a 10-day global prayer wave from Ascension through Pentecost, I shared it: I spoke about it, I tweeted about it, it was on my Facebook - I was a supporter, needless to say.
One of my friends from the March conference asked what it was - and so I told her, and she also signed up for it. Obviously - Anglicans pray! Why not pray together!

This week she sent me a picture through Facebook. She had been at her church's office and found  "Thy Kingdom Come" mug. So, a quick picture, a quick message, and a quick note - that the mug made her think of me.

What a gift to be thought of, and remembered, from so far away! What a beautiful gift that comes from prayer. We receive the gift of prayer for ourselves, for one another, and for the community. Whether we live next door, or halfway around the world, prayer unites us. What a tremendous and unexpected gift that God grants us through prayer: that our dance with the divine also invites us into relationship that connects us all, regardless of location and temporality.

Thy Kingdom Come, indeed.

8 Oct 2017

A Thanksgiving Letter

As the world around us seems dark and fearful, it’s easy for us to get wound up in the culture of scarcity – where the primary emotion becomes anxiety or fear, restriction and even jealousy. Even in the midst of what we have, our world seems to tell us that we need to have more, and newer, and bigger, and better. This way of thinking prevents us from truly engaging with one another from a place of peace and community

How wonderfully refreshing, then, that the church intentionally focuses our attention into a culture and theology of abundance. Our faith encourages us to re-focus our perspective to one of gratitude. This gratitude is not meant to come from comparison with others (“I have more ___ than that person”); rather faith inspires us to have thankful hearts which celebrate what is before us. This heart rejects the cultural norm of ‘never enough’ and finds delight in simply BEing – being exactly who our loving Creator made us to be.

Our scriptures echo this shift, and invite us to celebrate the abundance which we have in our society. God gives us the gifts and resources that we have, and God gives us the opportunity to demonstrate a similar practice of abundant sharing. We are blessed with the ability to connect with one another, with God, and with God’s gifts through creation. God assures us that we are perfectly and wonderfully made (Ps 139.14), God brings us together in community (Heb 10.24), and God provides wonders to remind us of the blessings of this world (Ps 65.8).

I invite us, then, to hear the call from God to live in the reality of God’s abundant blessings to all of us. May we interact with one another, demonstrating the love of God. May our hearts rejoice as we recognise our abundance, and with that the privilege to share. May we, with joyful hearts, give true and unending thanks to the Lord our God.