25 May 2019

Expanding Horizons

            A few years ago, I entered a 'reader's challenge' with some friends. We were going to try to read a variety of book genres and styles, ideally to expand our reading horizons. They included things like graphic novel, unread classic, poetry, historical fiction, Canadian non-fiction, that sort of thing.
            It was fun! I learned a lot about my reading style and preferences (I don't like graphic novels, La Princesse de Clèves was over-rated, I enjoy poetry, etc.) And it led to some amazing discussions with friends about our shared enjoyment of reading. These discussions have continued; it was like the fun 'challenge' opened the door to any type of literary chat.
            While I am a voracious reader, before this challenge I was not one to expand my horizons very much. I knew what I liked, and why, and I didn't stray very much. This helped me to realise that I benefitted from being encouraged to expand my horizons: to try something new, to go outside my comfort zone, and to be OK with not liking everything. My willingness to go beyond my existing boundaries led to an increased experience of reading.
            The same is true with prayer. In my early days of spiritual formation, I was invited to find a format of prayer that 'worked' for me, and to stick with it. Which I've done! And it's lovely: my prayer practice informs and supports my ministry, it grounds me, it enriches everything I do through my connection with God.
            Part of my spiritual journey has also been going beyond the norm: trying something new, being open to new practices, a willingness to change, a commitment to respond to the Spirit's call through a variety of new styles of prayer. Not all of them are a good fit for me, and there are times I need to re-visit prayer styles as I engage in different stages of my life and ministry. But I continue to try; and I continue to be amazed at God's voice speaking to me in delightful and unexpected ways.
            This week, we are all being invited to make a journey in prayer, through the "Thy Kingdom Come" initiative - a global and ecumenical wave of prayer begun by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. For 10 days (from the Ascension through Pentecost) Christians are embracing prayer with a particular intentionality; and it's a party that everyone is invited to.
            Whether you are joining a large group in an outdoor venue, or a small group in your church, or sitting with your family around a table, I hope that you pray: maybe you'll embrace a new practice, or share with your church how God is speaking in your heart when your prayers follow the same format they have for years. The world can only benefit from more prayer; let's be the ones to pray it.
   For more information about "Thy Kingdom Come" please visit www.thykingdomcome.global
   For more information about how to pray, please visit www.anglicanprayer.org

18 May 2019

Ministry as Triage

            Last month I had opportunity to visit a hospital ER as a patient (with a deep cut and broken bone in my finger. Not even a good story how it happened.). As I and several other non-urgent (i.e. breathing) patients were sitting in the waiting room, in various stages of discomfort, I was amazed at the various stages of (im)patience around me. Despite a distressing doctor shortage in my local area, I trust the system works the best it can: the most urgent cases will be given priority over the cases that arrived first. I would want a heart attack to be seen by the doctor before my boo-boo finger - and that's exactly what happened.
            Sadly, not everyone in the waiting room was so forgiving of the system, and they took out their frustrations on the triage nurse. The nurse whose job is to assess - and re-assess on a minute-by-minute basis - the urgency and priority of ever-changing situations is the person most likely to receive complaints about that very necessary reality.
            Triage, I realized, is exactly what happens in ministry. More than just compiling a daily or weekly to-do list, what we do for the love of God requires a constant re-consideration of the facts before us. Whatever our ministry is, there might always be a circumstance that demands an immediate re-calculation of the order of things.
            In parish ministry, this is a regular reality: a funeral over-rules a day off, a call to a deathbed takes precedence over a bible study, a pastoral emergency trumps intended sermon preparation time. Things get re-scheduled, balls get dropped, sometimes sermons get left to Saturday night to prepare.
            This does not mean that those things are not important - they are - but it does mean that in the constant ebb and flow of parish life, the clergy are making regular re-assessments of how to best meet the spiritual needs of the congregation. One of the challenges of this is that often times, due to the confidential nature of our work, our only explanation can be "Something came up."
            It is in these times that I am grateful for the grace of the people to whom I minister. People trust me to make those spiritual triage assessments to the best of my ability, and while it can be frustrating to feel less-important, they know that it is not that they are UNimportant - just that their circumstance is not as critical as another. One gorgeously gracious parishioner put it this way (as I canceled a second meeting last minute): "I know that if I ever need you in a hurry, you'll be there. And I know that someone else needs both you AND prayer right now, so I'm off to chat with God."
            Ministry involves triage. As in the medical system, it may be good not to be so desperate as to be at the front of the line. As in the medical system, we can pray for the people who need help more than us, the people who are helping them, and the ones discerning the priorities... and for ourselves, that we might exercise patience as spiritual patients.

4 May 2019

Calling God: A Thee/You Discussion

            A few weeks ago, my friend and I were having a delightful conversation at the pub. We were chatting about addressing God. (Oh yes, friends, I'm super fun to chat theology with on a Friday night!)
            At any rate - my friend (and colleague) indicated a hesitancy to maintaining some of the previously used language when we are educating and pastoring a younger congregation. Specifically, we were debating the "Thee" and "Thou" and "Thy" formalities of a bygone era, within the context of the Lord's Prayer.
            My friend makes a good point: in no other place do we use such language; even to address royalty one uses "Your" majesty/highness/excellency. The world has changed; the language has changed. Trying to teach a younger generation (including baby boomers, by the way) to use the highest formalities necessitates an awareness of archaic linguistics. (It was written before Shakespeare, and we all know how delightfully clear that language is to understand!)
            And yet, for so many in our midst, the Lord's Prayer just isn't the Lord's Prayer unless it does use those words.
            Our pub decision was that this was a conundrum that would not be easily solved; yet we acknowledged two truths... first, as polyglots (having at least rudimentary knowledge of more than one language), we identify that English provides linguistic limitation in it's absence of formal address provision (which other languages automatically include: for example, Vous vs Tu in French).
            Secondly, we agreed that come judgment, when we stand before the Throne of Grace, we hope that we will be wise enough to bow before God's majesty and acknowledge the source of love and life with the utmost respect and authority. If God wants to hear a "Thee" from me, I will not refuse!
            Fast forward to this week, when we briefly revisited the topic, this time within the context of Imago Dei, a theology based on every human bearing the image and likeness of God. The conundrum deepens... if we, looking at the presence of Christ in one another, are comfortable using the informal "you", then to differentiate with God in heaven as "Thou" seems to deny that Imago Dei in language, and possibly beyond.
            A very valid concern with broad-reaching implications!
            Yet I countered with my friend by turning the question: However we address God, have we ever considered how God addresses us? Does God use the language of the King James Bible with us? Or one of the ancient Biblical languages? Or modern English to prevent confusion? Does it matter, so long as we are continuing conversations with our Creator?
            It is my belief that God's language speaks into our hearts in such an intimate and loving way that it celebrates the Imago within, delights in the whispers of our hearts, and communicates perfect grace to every aspect of our soul. And when that happens, it transcends all human language - in all its versions.