25 Feb 2017

Don't Ever Lose Your Skin

Selkies are mythical creatures, in legends of coastal towns in Scotland, Ireland, and the Faroe Islands. They are said to be seals while in the ocean, but able to shed their skin on land to take human form. They can transition back to seals, so long as they maintain control of their skin.

A dear friend once said to me that she wasn't entirely convinced that I'm not a selkie.  She knows I adore the water, and tend to spend as much time as possible on or in the water.  She knows that my favourite scriptures are connected to water - the waters of creation, the waters of baptism, the living waters that come from God alone.

At a particularly difficult time in my life, she reminded me of my selkie-ness with one phrase: "Don't ever lose your skin."

It was powerful. It was a moment when I realised that I had been so caught up in the whirlwind of life that I had started to lose connection with who - and whose - I am.

My 'skin' is, of course, my faith. It is what connects me to God: through the creative waters that made me, through the cleansing waters of my baptism, through the source of the living waters of Christ alone.

My faith is with me. It surrounds me. It is part of me. It influences all I do. I wear my faith like I wear a skin. And so it is important that I know where it is, at any time: it's like a selkie keeping track of her seal skin.

Having been intentional about NOT losing my skin during (and after) that tumultuous time in my life, I keep reminders around. Part of my journey is to daily reflect on what it means to wear my faith. I have a small soapstone seal (a gift from the same friend) that sits on my nightstand. I have a small tattoo of a seal, an indelible physical reminder of my skin at all times and places.  

I have my skin. I cherish my skin. I work to maintain my skin. I won't ever lose my skin.

My wish is that all of us might find some symbol of our faith that will embrace us and support us, and tie together the head and the heart of our faith; a constant reminder of who we are and whose we are; a connection between the life promised to us by our Christ and the daily earthly reality. My prayer is that we might all have our own 'seal skin' to cherish.

18 Feb 2017

book for granted

Last Sunday, after our annual vestry meeting, I went to the bookstore and bought a book.
(To those who know me: yes, ONE book. Only one.)
It's a novel, something to pass the time away with.
But it's also so much more. It's proof of my privilege, in paperback form.
Any number of things that I could take for granted happened in my acquisition of this book:
I can read - which means I have the education to not just see but comprehend the plot sufficiently to appreciate the storyline.
I have time for leisure and safe place to be, to read said book.
I have the means to go to the store and get home again.
I have disposable income to purchase this book - which means I have paid my bills and have food in the cupboard. (Hey, we all have some debt, but I was able to comfortably hand over the cash for a non-necessity).

It was a good book, a fun read, a delightful thought-provoking post-vestry treat for myself.
It inspired me to think about how much I might take for granted the reading of another book - the Bible.
I have, not surprisingly, several copies of the bible at my home; at least one in the car, several more in my office. How extraordinary a resource that I would own multiple copies in multiple languages and translations!
How truly wondrous that the Word of God is accessible to me anytime day or night; to read, to study, to pray through.
And yet: so many people take it for granted (including myself, some days!). We choose to ignore the bible, to read something else instead, to presume that because they read the scriptures once that there is nothing new to be learned form it.
Yet this vibrant book is waiting to be opened anew: every day we have the privilege of delving into the mystery of God's Holy Word to be inspired, comforted, encouraged, embraced, loved, welcomed, energised... the possibilities are endless: if we are willing to crack the cover and let God's revelation to the world wash over us.
We can read. We can understand. We can learn. We can delight in the Holy Wisdom that is more accessible to us now than ever before. 
Reading the bible, however, is a choice that we make. We have the option before us every day; I pray we prioritise it and delight in it, not take it for granted like any other book.

11 Feb 2017

Prayerful Art

One of my homework assignments this term was to visit an art exhibit called "Mystical Landscapes" at the Art Gallery of Ontario... we were to find our preferred art piece, and spend some time with it. Not as art critics, but as prayerful Christians. We then shared some of our impressions during class.
One of the comments that came up was an awareness that we were privileged enough to see these masterpieces: despite free admission hours or reduced-fees, the exhibit itself still cost.

While the $12 upcharge is (in my opinion) absolutely worth it (the exhibit was truly breathtaking!), for many that cost becomes preventative.
I began reflecting, too, that the charge is not merely monetary:
* it costs the time to attend: time that some may need to be spending in gainful employment or with other commitments.
* it costs a desire to attend: not everyone enjoys art, or has someone to discuss what is seen with
* it costs a basic knowledge: of the exhibit, of the importance of art, of some of the major artists

The homework assignment was, for me, a pleasure. To stand in the midst of works by Van Gogh, Monet, O'Keefe - I have had worse assignments! I was surprised to have been attracted not to the art I had expected to grab me, but by a piece by an artist previously unknown to me.

Photo credit: The Rev Canon Mark Kinghan.
Used with permission.
The trip also made me reflect on where else we might find art: and here the church can play a significant role. We have astonishing art within our midst, that many of us may take for granted as we see it every day/week/Christmas-and-Easter. Our architecture tells a story; our landscaping tells a story; our stained glass windows tell a story.

Imagine if we embraced our buildings as an opportunity for prayer through their art.
Imagine if we all took some time to consider what is literally right in front of us with new eyes, not rushing on to something else, but intentionally clearing our minds of the to-do lists, turning off the cell phones, and simply appreciating the beauty that is right before us.
Maybe we can be awed by the carving of a pew end; or moved by the detail in the reredos. Maybe we can be amazed by the embroidery in the paraments, or be inspired to see the world differently through the colours in the glass.
Maybe just how we look at things may open new appreciation: light shows glass differently in the evening, sitting in a different pew may reveal a hidden perspective on the rood, the height of a candle may illuminate an unexpected carving.

The art is endless; the opportunity to engage in its beauty is only as limited as our willingness to do so. And, best of all, it is free. Not just for a privileged few, but for everyone in the community: from  those who ride past on the bus and barely notice, to those who walk by and glance at the building, even to those who find themselves entering the doors to seek out their comfortable pew.

We worship inside structures that have been constructed as a means for us to give glory to God. May we not take them for granted; may we not prevent others from seeing them; may we delight by prayerfully basking in that glorious art every chance we are able.

4 Feb 2017

A Place Where Prayer Happens

One of the great things about serving a large parish is that we have lots of outside user groups that rent our space. This means we have a lot of people who are not 'parishioners' coming through our doors, and getting to know a little bit about who we are and what we do.

This week that came home - one of the members of a user group called this week to ask for prayer, and they knew that we were "a place where prayer happens."

What a great reputation to have!

In a world that can be cynical of all things religious, we are given opportunity after opportunity to demonstrate who and who's we are. We can show the world that we are a church: a joy-filled, Christ-following collection of imperfect souls, who congregate for the purpose of receiving the undeserved and unreserved grace of God and asking for inspiration from the Holy Spirit to find meaningful ways to engage in our community through service. We can break down the myths that churchy people are holier-than-thou, or have it all together, or are all living the charmed life.

But we have to be intentional about how we present ourselves to the world, if we are to have a reputation as a household of God: we must be aware of what is being overheard when we speak, what is being perceived when we act, what is being portrayed when we represent as "church" within the broader community.

A reputation will exist; we can choose what it is. So let us all, as church, be welcoming and friendly and Spirit-led and Christ-focused. Let us learn from our past, celebrate our present, and plan carefully for the future. Let us embrace everyone we encounter - whether they're in our doors for worship, or exercise, or haven't been through our doors for years (if ever!). Let us be known as a people doing their best to love and serve God, in a place where prayer happens, that is inviting to all who would come.

28 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.