9 Dec 2017

The Rhythms of Dogs and Running and Advent

In a casual conversation this week, two unrelated questions were asked of me: how my dogs were (great), and if I was still running (yes!).
Then the unrelated were related: Do you run with your dogs?
EGADS, I answered: NO!
Why not?
"Rhythm," I said. "It's all got to do with rhythm."
When I run, I like a steady rhythm. It's why I prefer treadmill to trail: I control the speed and incline to be consistent. There are no surprises; I can watch the game or play my music or whatever.
Walking the dogs, however, has a very different rhythm. It's an ADVENTURE! Everything is a surprise: there are bushes to smell and leaves to jump in and squirrels to chase and neighbours to greet and grass to roll in, and ... Summary: my dogs do not keep a steady pace; not with each other, not with me, not from one metre to the next - and we all like it.
Rhythm. It's all about rhythm.
Advent is another example of a different rhythm. It's a season where were invited to pay attention to the rhythm in our spiritual lives. It's different, seemingly out of sync with the world around us (who consider this 'the Christmas season'), but that's okay: we don't have to be limited by society's definition.
Instead, we pace ourselves: we find the space to let the Advent rhythm take root deep within us. We create the time to sit in the moment of preparation. We envelope ourselves with the true meaning of Advent: because we can.
Our Advent journey does not mean that we have to separate ourselves from the busyness of typical Christmas preparation. What it does do is invite us to carefully and prayerfully seek out the rhythm of the Spirit in our lives, and find ways for each to be present and meaningful in our day-to-day practices.
Our lives are full of rhythms, and we are enriched by how we respond to them.
The rhythm of running? Consistent, and delightful.
The rhythm of the dog walking? Adventurous, and delightful.
The rhythm of Advent? Spirit-led, and therefore delight-filled. 

May we all be delighted in the rhythm of Advent.

2 Dec 2017

An Advent Reflection

            We're in Advent now - Happy Advent! It's my favourite liturgical season. Bring on the (Sarum) blue.
            It's fascinating to me, however, that the season of now-and-not-yet, of adventus, of time meant to be in preparation, is a season well-known for a countdown, an end-date.
            For many in secular society, Advent means little calendars with chocolates or toys inside. For many within the church, it means carefully fitting in all the special services in the 4 Sundays. For many clergy, it means the preparations are focused more on liturgical and administrative duties rather than the spiritual journey.
            So where is the expectant waiting? Where is the comfort in being still, in not rushing, in being mindful of this moment? For it is in accepting that this moment is as it should be, a mystery unto itself, that we really engage in Advent. Advent should teach us that this moment is not meant to be a precursor to something else; it simply IS.
            And so we wait. We expect. We do our best to understand that this moment will never come again. We do our best to understand that this moment flowed from what was and will inform what will be. We do our best to understand that the presence of Christ in our lives depends on this moment ... and this moment ... and this moment, too.
            So here; now; we are challenged to be. Not to anticipate what will be, not to mark down on a calendar, but to delight in the reality of hopeful expectation. To celebrate the unknown forthcoming, and to be acutely aware of the joy-filled opportunity of the immediate.

            It's Advent now. NOW it is Advent. I wish you a time of peace and calm presence as we live in the now.

25 Nov 2017

It's Like Popcorn

"It's like POPCORN!"
This was my opening sentence last time I met with my spiritual director.
I'm fortunate - he's a kind and patient man with a great sense of humour, and he tends to enjoy my analogies.
Invited to say more, I explained about popcorn.
I love popcorn.  But every now and then, one of the pieces of husk hasn't fully popped away, and it ends up in my teeth. Usually in the most awkward, annoying, unreachable place near the back. And so it stays there, and for a time I become transfixed by it. The tongue plays with it, I'm sure I make all sorts of weird faces as I try to dislodge it by any means. There are even times when fingers or toothpicks or floss won't get that silly thing out.
It doesn't hurt, not really. Sure, it's uncomfortable, but not painful. It's just an unpleasant presence.
Yet, the longer it lingers, the less attention I pay it. Other things take precedence - a phone call, walking the dogs, a good book, whatever.
Until: that moment when it dislodges. The husk is gone! And there's this deep sigh of relief. Relief, because I never really forgot it was there. Relief, because I hadn't realised how accustomed I had become to that discomfort.
And so: freedom! No more popcorn husk.
Now, the liberation from the annoyance of the husk is wonderful, but (like the lodged husk itself) it can be easily forgotten or overlooked. I certainly don't hesitate from eating popcorn again because there once was a husk. And so I know (almost expect) that there may be a stuck husk again. But the joy of the popcorn outweighs the risk.
Like the husk, there will be things that annoy us in our lives. We will encounter aspects in our ministries that cause discomfort. Very seldom is it life-threatening or severe; but it can take away an awful lot of time and energy if we let it.
So as we prepare for the coming of a new year (liturgically at least!), I invite us all to consider how we will start that year... will we bring with us any stuck discomforts from this past year?
Will we fixate on the annoying things, which will prevent us from moving forward?
Will we work to remove those things in our lives which annoy us, and thus prevent the discomfort in the first place?
Will we do our best to work out those annoyances which are at present lodged, and celebrate when they are released?

However we wish to move forward, the responsibility becomes our own to prepare for that journey. Because loving and serving God and ministering to God's world is not something we should give up on - like popcorn, the benefits of more certainly outweigh the minor challenges that may arise.

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!