25 Nov 2017

It's Like Popcorn

"It's like POPCORN!"
This was my opening sentence last time I met with my spiritual director.
I'm fortunate - he's a kind and patient man with a great sense of humour, and he tends to enjoy my analogies.
Invited to say more, I explained about popcorn.
I love popcorn.  But every now and then, one of the pieces of husk hasn't fully popped away, and it ends up in my teeth. Usually in the most awkward, annoying, unreachable place near the back. And so it stays there, and for a time I become transfixed by it. The tongue plays with it, I'm sure I make all sorts of weird faces as I try to dislodge it by any means. There are even times when fingers or toothpicks or floss won't get that silly thing out.
It doesn't hurt, not really. Sure, it's uncomfortable, but not painful. It's just an unpleasant presence.
Yet, the longer it lingers, the less attention I pay it. Other things take precedence - a phone call, walking the dogs, a good book, whatever.
Until: that moment when it dislodges. The husk is gone! And there's this deep sigh of relief. Relief, because I never really forgot it was there. Relief, because I hadn't realised how accustomed I had become to that discomfort.
And so: freedom! No more popcorn husk.
Now, the liberation from the annoyance of the husk is wonderful, but (like the lodged husk itself) it can be easily forgotten or overlooked. I certainly don't hesitate from eating popcorn again because there once was a husk. And so I know (almost expect) that there may be a stuck husk again. But the joy of the popcorn outweighs the risk.
Like the husk, there will be things that annoy us in our lives. We will encounter aspects in our ministries that cause discomfort. Very seldom is it life-threatening or severe; but it can take away an awful lot of time and energy if we let it.
So as we prepare for the coming of a new year (liturgically at least!), I invite us all to consider how we will start that year... will we bring with us any stuck discomforts from this past year?
Will we fixate on the annoying things, which will prevent us from moving forward?
Will we work to remove those things in our lives which annoy us, and thus prevent the discomfort in the first place?
Will we do our best to work out those annoyances which are at present lodged, and celebrate when they are released?

However we wish to move forward, the responsibility becomes our own to prepare for that journey. Because loving and serving God and ministering to God's world is not something we should give up on - like popcorn, the benefits of more certainly outweigh the minor challenges that may arise.

18 Nov 2017

Sweet Faith

            I am blessed to regularly engage in conversations about faith and faith development. This past week, one such conversation grew during our book study group.
"Sugarcandy Front End"
CC BY-NC by pics4allfriends - Sourced from Flickr
            We were using, for our analogy, a sugar stick. Those fun, often colourful, crystalised sugar sticks that are often considered novelty items. These can also be the product of science projects; one starts with a blank stick and inserts it in (for some time) in sugar water. The longer the stick sits in the water, crystals grow both in size and number. If the water is coloured, so are the crystals.
            Additional colours can be added, simply by moving the stick from one coloured sugar-water to another. It can go for as long as the sugar lasts, and the more concentrated the sugar-water, the faster the crystals can grow.
            Faith is like this, we discussed. Our faith journey is like a sugar crystal stick.
            Our faith grows. Abundantly. In order for this to happen, it needs to be immersed in a faith-filled environment. The longer we exist within the environment of faith, the stronger and more abundant our faith will become. It grows. (Conversely, should we remove ourselves from that environment, our growth will cease, and eventually dry out and be unpleasant.)
            Likewise, our faith is influenced by our environment - we absorb and reflect the 'colour' of the world around us. If we change our immersion, our colour will also change (so we want to keep things positive and complimentary!) As such when we immerse ourselves in positive, faithful experiences, our faith will grow in that and this will be obvious to all who see us.
"Tea at Madonna Inn"
CC BY-NC by Cassie. Sourced from Flickr
            Further in the analogy, we are not meant to leave our faith unused, wrapped up on a shelf, like a novelty. We are meant to use what we have been given, to the best of our ability, to influence (and sweeten) the world around us.
            We can also appreciate that these sticks do not have to be finite; just as the sticks can be re-immersed in water to encourage new and renewed growth, we can do the same in our faith journey when we are feeling depleted.
            Won't it be grand when we can all see our faith as ever-growing, and ever-sweet!

11 Nov 2017

Writer's Block

            This week, there were several times where I sat at my computer, preparing to write this blog.
            I watched the cursor blink, and no words formed.
            I did the typical, tried-and-true tips for getting past writer's block. I removed distractions, I read, I walked, I played with the dogs, I wrote nonsense just for the sake of getting something on the page.
            Still: no blog. Blinking cursor, blank screen.
            I reflected how prayer can be like this at times. We set time and energy for it, and sometimes: nothing. No words, no stirrings in our hearts, no conversation.
            Like writing, our prayer life has its ebbs and flows, its ups and downs.
            Unlike writing, however, prayer has a few extra things going for it... we have the prayer book(s) to keep us at least in the rhythm of our tradition. We know that we're called to pray, without fear of being judged for their length or quality. We are invited to pray with other folks, knowing that they are supporting us in our 'dry spells'.
            And we trust that we will get through them. We know, deep down, that we will very soon be in deep spiritual connection with the source of love and life, sharing our hopes and fears and thanksgivings.
            To be a writer is to have an expectation of producing words: so sitting in the silence of the blinking cursor isn't ideal.
            To be a pray-er, however, is to delight in sitting in the stillness of God's presence, with or without the structure of words. How blissfully freeing to be one who prays!

4 Nov 2017

Church As A Verb

       I got to church this week.
       (I'm not missing a verb; I'm using 'church' as a verb. I churched this week. With others. Together, we churched.)
       One of the privileges of my vocation and profession is the opportunity to share in the Eucharist, the Great Glory-giving, at retirement and care homes. At one such service of worship, I met a gentleman for the first time. A devout man of faith who has not experienced a Eucharist in a long, long time.
       He churched with us.
       And he smiled - he smiled so broadly. Grace beamed from his face as he joined in the prayers; his face was pure delight at the reception of the elements.
       I'll be honest: I love this part of my ministry. For reasons such as this.
       A number of friends commented how good it was to take church to people who could no longer make it to church.
       I think their sentiments are correct, but I would change their words a bit.
       It was lovely to church with these people who no longer church in our buildings.
       (Yes, I'm perpetuating my own 'verbified' noun. But I hope I'm also inciting a different way of understanding what church really is.)
       Because these people are not excluded from church, from the ekklesia, just because their bodies are in a different place. They are just as much the body of the faithful, living the mission and ministry of God, as those of us who show up to our comfortable pew on a Sunday morning. When we say that people can't make it to church, we only mean one gathering in one spot; but I feel we must be careful not to believe or perpetuate that this is the only way to be the church. We must be careful that the folks who don't understand the truth of church don't misunderstand our comments, and think that the lesser mobile have been excluded, invalidated, deemed unworthy or unwanted.
       I wonder how our entire ministries might adapt if we lived out this subtle but significant change in mindset and vocabulary: Church is a verb. An action, a state of mind, an exercise of ministry. Church is who we are, not where we are. And so, with these folks in different places and different times, we churched. We church. And we'll church again. After all, bricks and mortar are temporary, and all buildings will disappear someday. But the reality of church is eternal, because the truth of this action is the love of God.

       I wonder what might be possible if we all decided to church this week...