27 May 2017

Thy Kingdom Come

            One of the great privileges of my ministry is leading worship at a local care home. Every month, I'm invited to pray and praise with folks who are otherwise unable to attend different buildings for church - so we celebrate being the body of Christ where they are.

            This month, I was thanking one of the volunteers for her assistance in the service, and she in turn paid me the compliment of saying that prayer was my gift, a gift she wished she had. This resonated with me; I'm a firm believer in the power of prayer. I pray the divine office, I am involved with the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer, my doctoral studies are focused on prayer.

            For me, therefore, it was shocking to consider that someone might not feel comfortable praying, might feel inadequate to have an intimate discourse with the divine. We chatted a bit about that, how I believe that God hears the whispers of our hearts whether our mouths capture our intended vocabulary or not. And, as with all relationships, our communication skills increase as we practice them more.

            It was fitting that this conversation should happen the same week that the Archbishop of Canterbury's invitation to the world to enter into 11 days of intentional prayer. "Thy Kingdom Come" is an exciting initiative running from Ascension through Pentecost (right now!), with a different prayer focus each day. This is an opportunity to pray with the whole body of Christ, as prayers are posted on a virtual prayer wall. Daily emails include short videos encouraging prayer, by a number of spiritual leaders from around the world (our own ++Fred Hiltz will be featured soon!). It's a great thing, with plenty of resources - see http://www.thykingdomcome.global for more information.

            So, based on the conversation, and my personal conviction and practices, I extend the Archbishop's invitation to prayer: may we devote ourselves to prayer,  becoming the network of 'prayer warriors' delighting in the privilege of sharing our hearts, minds, souls, and strength with the Holiest of Holies. 

20 May 2017

Weed or Flower?

            This weekend, I planted my annual gardens. Normally my annual gardens are herbs and vegetables; but on a whim at the garden centre I purchased some calla lilies. And while they are beautiful, they also brought back wonderful memories.
            A few years ago, I was travelling to PWRDF partners in the Philippines, and we saw calla lilies at the side of the road. I was amazed; our hosts were not - turns out there, they are weeds.
            To my North American eyes - what very pretty weeds!
            This made me recall when I was hosting a friend from Nairobi, here in Southern Ontario. Walking along a patch of grass, he stopped to admire a gorgeous yellow flower that was blooming so abundantly in the grass. He picked one, showed his wife, even sang a song about the beauty of God's creation - revealed to him in this bright yellow flower.
            It was a dandelion.
            We showed him how to find one ready to seed, and the joy on his face when he blew those seeds to the wind was absolutely blissful.
            To his eyes, our 'weed' was a stunning delight.
            I think we are offered innumerable opportunities to look around our lives, and see and appreciate the beauty that is there. We are encouraged to see that there is always something waiting, not to be revealed but to be acknowledged.
            God provides these realities to us, inviting us to open our eyes anew. What is a pest to one person is a thing of great beauty to another; what is ordinary and overlooked by one person is extraordinary and breathtaking to someone else.
            Perhaps our great privilege is to be reminded of these variances in perspective; to take some time and intentionally go out to discover what beauty is in our immediate vicinity. Imagine if we removed the connotations and associations we place on things, and simply opened our eyes to beauty: in flowers, in sunsets, in people... I'll pray this summer my lilies inspire me to see that beauty.

13 May 2017

Dreaming a Vision into Action

"Pacific Swift & her dories on the West Coast"
Credit the Rev Gillian Hoyer. Used with permission.
            Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up your men [sic] to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

            The message given throughout many of this authors' works is that one must dream an outside the box dream, something which inspires the heart and emboldens the spirit. From this energy comes the vision to make the dream a reality.

            We know that we want to move from dream to vision to reality. However, we can sometimes get stuck, by other people: we might listen to the nay-sayers, the folks who are unwilling or unable to take the risks, the 'we've never done it that way before' quoters, the doubters.

            We also might get stuck on circumstance: a vision process is not formulaic, a process that works in one manner/time/space does not guarantee success in another, not every vision will come to fruition, energy may falter.

            It would be easy to give up there. To just maintain the status quo, keep on keeping on, don't rock the boat.

            And yet...

            "A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."[1]

"Heading out to sea - Guam"
Credit the Rev Gillian Hoyer. Used with permission.
            As people of faith, the Gospel compels us to action. It challenges us to dream new ways and methods and opportunities to love God and neighbour. It inspires us to get out of our comfortable pew and go beyond our four sturdy walls to be a faith-driven force within the mission field that is right in front of us. It does not condone complacency, spurring us into exciting ways to live and love all that God places before us.

            So imagine if we heard the words of the Gospel as a call to dream, to vision, and to act. What ministry would we plan? What mission would we fulfill? What actions would demonstrate that we are faithful disciples of our risen Lord?

            May we yearn for the vast and endless sea of possibilities to share the love of God.
            Fair seas and following winds, my friends.

[1] John A. Shedd

6 May 2017

"I love you"

"A flaming I love you"
CC BY Nicholas. Source: Flickr
I was at a family birthday this week, and my departure was typical of every time I leave: we kept talking after coat and shoes were on... everyone hugged... and everyone said "I love you."

It may seem like a simple thing, but for me it's a powerful reality.

This is my 'chosen family' - I don't share DNA with them, but we choose to journey together as though we do. And that means the world to me. We've been through good times and bad, laughter and tears, and many, many prayers. It's a combination of the ordinary and the extraordinary.

It's what a family should be. And I never take it for granted.

So today was a day of eating cupcakes and washing dishes, of joyously unwrapping gifts and piñatas refusing to break, of making plans for next time and of saying "I love you."

It's family.

And it transcends beyond our normal definitions of family: whether our biological grouping, or our chosen groupings, or our churches. To be family is to be included and wanted throughout the ordinary.

So our family of God, our church, should be just that: ordinary. Ordinary people, ordinary experiences, ordinary opportunities to love.

And in that ordinary, to find the extraordinary reality of God.

And then to appreciate it - and the ones who helped us see it - by declaring boldly that we recognise the love we're involved in.

May we all have the courage to see and say how much we love our beloved in the family of God.

29 Apr 2017

Holey socks

     I easily admit that I am not the most 'aware' person. At times, I can overlook the blatantly obvious.

     A few weeks ago, for instance...  I was attending a session in a shoe-free zone, and when I looked down at my crossed feet, noticed a hole in my sock. A reasonable size, it was unlikely to have just popped up during the morning. How had I missed that when I put my socks on?!

     I changed the crossing of my legs, not wanting to show the room my hole-y sock. Imagine my surprise, doubled, when I looked and saw that the other sock also had a hole in its heel.

     This led me to reflect on what else I could be missing in my life. What else was happening, that would have been obvious and apparent, had I been open and aware to it?

     The holes in my socks had not just happened suddenly; they must have been wearing down over time. I do not dress in the dark, so I could have seen the holes at any time. Why did it take a time when there was nothing else happening to notice that something so basic was left wanting attention?

     So too, our spiritual journey is one that wants regular reflection and care. Is our prayer life in good status? Is it wearing in places? Are we looking for places of weakness in order to be more gentle with ourselves in those places? Are we looking to strengthen and maintain other areas? Are our practices just routine enough that we assure ourselves we have done them? Are we intentionally going sufficiently deep within ourselves to seek out this awareness? Are we spending enough time to be carefully reflective, amidst the busyness of life?

     Whatever our journey, we know we can always do better. Our practices can always use attention, and maybe change. Spiritual direction, the Ignation Examen, Centering Prayer, Labyrinth walking - whatever the format (or combinations thereof), we are challenged to greater awareness of self and of God; to our own benefit and to the benefit of the broader community.

     Wherever we are on our journey, we know we are walking with God. My prayer is that my journey will be in better repair than my socks!

15 Apr 2017

The Artistry of Easter

     I am NOT an artist. At a recent workshop on art as prayer, however, I did my best to tap into any semblance of creative ability.
     In one activity, we reflected on a passage of scripture, identifying a word or phrase that spoke to us, and then drew it with pastels. I won’t say WHAT I was trying to create/represent, or what the passage was, but I ended up with this: 

     Bypassing the fine-art-critic stage, we then changed how we viewed our own work, by placing a bi-fold mirror on it. We adapted the location and bend of the mirror until we saw something we liked. So, suddenly, my work looked like this:

     How much of a difference by a changed perspective!
     Taking things one step further, and were invited to create a mandala (circle-based drawing) from what we had seen in the mirrors, this time using pencil crayons. My eye was attracted to one area of the reflections, and so my new pencil crayon artwork ended up looking like this:

     Again, a new perspective was brought into being through an intentional new process and careful effort, and even with a new medium.
     This Easter weekend, we are invited to look at the artistry of our own lives.
     Our lives are a manifestation of what we see and do and believe – it may not be exactly what we want or how we want it, but we are the creators of our own lives. We create and blend our work and worship in such a way that we understand the meaning behind, and hope that maybe that meaning will be understood by others. Sometimes it works how we want it to, other times (like my pastel drawing) it may not be what we envisioned.
     And then, an external factor (like a mirror) invites us to recognise that beauty exists in our work: whether we were aware of it or not, whether we were expecting it or not. We can be shocked by seeing how a change in viewpoint can change the focus of our lives, and how we then present and are received by others viewing us. For us as Christians, this happens through the Resurrection. What we are celebrating today (and everyday, as Easter people) is our willingness to be changed by the power of the risen Christ.
     Finally, we are then encouraged to take things one step further, and to create something anew as a result of having been changed by the experience (the mandala). We get to look for new areas of focus, new expressions of light, new ways to be the church that Christ calls us to be. We can recognise the original aspect, because we know where we started from; and we can celebrate that there has been opportunity for spiritual growth and development by the process itself. 

     May our lives ever celebrate the truth and joy of Easter as a moment of artistry! Alleluia!