29 Sep 2018

A Dusty Old Book

a 'before' view
            I did a bit of tidying up last week, including dusting my bookshelves.  Now: full disclosure - dusting does not make my soul sing with delight. However, I took the time to remove all books, dust them and the shelves, and then relocate - either on the shelf, or in the bag destined for the parish's book sale.
            In the midst of this, I found one of my favourite collections of prayers. It's a book that I have read many times, loaned out many times, lost track of more than once. I hadn't seen it for a while, and asked a few friends if they had it, when POOF! there I found it, sitting backwards, casually collecting dust on a bottom shelf.
            Needless to say, dusting and organising paused. I wanted to spend time with this book once more; to read the comforting prayers that have been part of my journey through many years. The book easily opened itself to the pages where I have turned most often; the card from the giver of this gift still marked the inscription. It was like returning to spend time with an old friend.
            More than just any friend, it was a way to reminisce with Jesus. At various times,  these prayers have touched my soul and invited a deeper connection with God. They have served as a conduit for me to articulate my earthly emotions in the context of a higher power. To take times of sorrow and know that I was not walking alone, and years later to recognise how God accompanied me through my grief. To remember times of great joy, as these prayers called to the front of my mind the celebration shared beyond an earthly happiness. To acknowledge periods of spiritual ennui when the prayers sustained a faith
as dry as the dust I had just removed from the book; and to be thankful for those times when the prayers continued to provide God's abundant nourishment flowing like streams.
            So, the dusting stopped for a time. Because I found this dusty old book.
            Yet this was so much more than just a dusty book; it was a way to reconnect with a collection of memories where God's presence has touched my life. I re-emerged into a spiritual well of connection with the divine, reminiscing on the grace of journeying with Jesus. I found a part of my history, and am diving in to see where the prayers will guide me however my journey continues.

            May we all find such sustenance in our prayers; grateful for our yesterdays, spiritually open for today, and hopeful for our tomorrows.

22 Sep 2018

The Value of Overpriced Cheesecake

            Last weekend, I had an $11 piece of cheesecake.
            With the exchange rate, I had a $14.31 piece of cheesecake. Before taxes.
            Yes, that's an absurd amount of money, even for really good cake. And the cake was... just okay. The accompanying overpriced coffee was terrible.
            And while I wouldn't pay that for a whole cake to eat at home, I have no regrets about that purchase.
            Because I ate that cheesecake with a dear friend whom I rarely see, in a place that has history for us both. It's been nearly 10 years since we last ate cake together there.
            So what we were really spending the money on was the time together, the history being remembered, and the new memories being made. The mediocre cheesecake really had nothing to do with it; it was merely the medium for the experience.
            We were investing in our relationship. Living on opposite sides of the world, we save up and plan carefully for such occasions. We make choices every day, every paycheque, to put some of that aside for our next adventure. It's a bit of sacrifice at the time, but it's a wonderful feeling when our planning becomes our reality. We value the friendship, and so we do what we need to do to ensure that such connections can happen. 
            And the pricey pastry is barely given a second thought.
            While the example from last week is an extreme, it serves to reflect on how we use our time, talent, and treasure in all aspects of our lives. How do we value our relationships with our families? How do we cherish our friendships in our neighbourhood? How do we respect our community in God's church?
            What do we give up that we might fully engage? Is it an hour of time to go visit someone at hospital? Maybe we find money in a drawer and commit to donate a portion (even a tithe) to mission work? Perhaps we use our skills to donate a cake to the bake sale or refurbish the altar hangings? The possibilities are endless; if we are willing.
            So it is up to us to decide: what do we value? And how much are we willing to give to make that a reality? With one another, with community, and with God, we make the choice to be as engaged as we are.
            The cheesecake was the medium for the experience with my friend.
            What is your medium for an experience with God and God's church? And what will you cheerfully give to ensure that happens?

15 Sep 2018

"Pray For Me!"

            It is not uncommon for me to have a conversation with someone where the words "pray for me" are used. This week, I've had such requests from friends, parishioners, someone at the care home, a stranger in the hospital. I once had a man grab my arm in the grocery store, pleading "Pastor! Pray for me!" when all I was trying to do was buy some potatoes.
            All of us, at some point, are invited to pray for someone else. It may be a stranger pleading in the produce section, it may be a litany of names in the church bulletin, it may be the unchurched neighbour who finds other things to do on Sunday morning.
            All of us, when we are invited to pray for someone else, can respond in a number of ways. We could decide the other person is unworthy of our prayers, and decline the invitation. (Egads, can you imagine?!) We could engage in a conversation witht hat person to find out what desire is stirring their hearts to ask for prayer. We could start a theological discourse on why the person feels they need to invoke others into their petitions (are they incapable of praying for themselves? Do they feel spiritually inadequate to speak with God directly?) We could get into a debate about how God answers prayers (is prayer a wish list of our desire, or an intention to align our desire with God's will?)
            The truth is, there are countless ways to interpret someone's request. There are countless ways to react to someone's request. There are countless ways to pray for someone as they make these requests.
            My truth is this: when I am asked to pray for someone, I don't get into the whats and whys and wherefores. I accept their request. I do my best to keep that person and their concern in my heart, and to raise their names intentionally before God when I dedicate time to prayer. Whether praying for unlikely medical miracles or help on an exam or understanding during bible study: when I am asked to pray, I pray.
            And my truth is also this: that God answers all of our prayers. The answer may not be what we expected, or what we wanted; but God answers our prayers in the way that is best for us - whether we understand that or not. So part of my prayer, when I am asked to pray for someone, is that they might be spiritually able to receive God's answer to their prayer.
            So I have prayed aloud, and I have prayed silently. I have prayed in a pew, and in the car. I have prayed holding a prayer book, and I have prayed holding a bag of potatoes.  I have prayed eloquently, and I have prayed fumbling over words. But I have prayed. I will continue to pray. I consider it a privilege to be invited into confidences that people wish to pray.

            So yes: I will pray for you. I will pray with you. And I hope you will pray for me too.

8 Sep 2018

Beautiful Scars

            I have several scars; from an adventurous life, from surgeries, from poor decisions - my scars are part of me and tell part of my story. That story helps me carry my past with me, and shows what I have come through.
            My dog Watson has some scars, too. Most of them cannot be seen - there's a lot of fur covering external scars, but the main scarring has happened to him internally. His one ear cannot stand up, and X-rays showed a previous broken leg. Watson came to me from the humane society, where I learned that his first home was not a good home. There was neglect and abuse, which left him scarred physically and emotionally. I was told he was confrontational and aloof.
            And he was. But that was then.
            Watson, after choosing me over 2 years ago, has learned that what happened in the past is not what happens now. And so, even though the scars remain, they do not reflect his present, his now. Instead of being fixated on the possibility of being hurt, he now starts every day with the expectation of being loved. He's safe now, and he lives that reality. And it's beautiful.
            True, his past was bad, but his present is not. He has a home, he has friends, he has love. And so he offers love in return. It took time to get where we are, but it has been a beautiful journey. He has let go of the fear and anger and bitterness, he does not focus on what *could* go wrong but on what is positive. He shows his true character (he's a big goofball who loves squeeky toys and tummy rubs and peanut butter and playing with my other dog), he's a big heart with lots of fur. He just needed a place to love and be loved.
He has forgiven, and lives fully in the present. His willingness to overcome the pain of the past makes him beautiful.
            Would that we could all move beyond our hurts to re-form how we engage with the world. Would that we all might be so willing to carry our scars - a sign of healing and health - with us in our relationships today.

1 Sep 2018

Commuting Conversations

"Commuters" CC BY 2.0 by Oatsy40 Source: Flickr.
           A while back, at the end of a very long day, I was on one of those every-seat-is-full long commutes. This suited me fine; I had a book and a water bottle, and expected to read until arriving at my destination.
            Then the person next to me started chatting.
            We've all been there: that moment or two when we can't decide if we want to smile nicely and open the book, or engage in the proffered conversation.
            A few sentences in, it was apparent that my book was not coming out. My seat companion, having asked what I do to for a living, was suddenly very keen to discuss religion. She had, it turned out, had a return to faith some ten years earlier, and now it was a big part of her life.
            We had the most exhilarating discussion! We chatted faith, church, God, grace, redemption, prayer, baptism, different traditions... It was lovely. Casual, faith-based, Spirit-led conversation. We chatted so much about religion that the lady next to us joined in - she was 92 and said she hadn't been to church in years, but after hearing our enthusiasm for it, she would try again.
            Oh wow.
            I then asked my companion when she had last spoken with a stranger about faith - she said it was not one of her common discussion topics! But the more we spoke, the more energised we both became.
            After I got home, I wondered how often people have conversations about their faith - with strangers, with friends, with colleagues. Do we share our faith, or do we hide it? Do we invite our friends to join us at church, or do we merely assume they would not want to come and worship? Are we open to letting the Spirit into our social lives, or are we hesitating behind fear?

            I am glad that God put this person in my life that day. She blessed me with our conversation, and it continues to lighten my heart. It has reminded me to seek out opportunities to speak about God - mindful of that fine line between sharing and oversharing. I pray that we all meet someone who inspires us to share our faith with all those we encounter.  It is, after all, the Good News that we're called to proclaim!