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...

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.