29 Jul 2017

Pie Mule

            A few years back, a friend in one province offered (on social media) a homemade cherry pie. One of her friends in a different province indicated interest. If only, they had lamented, the distance weren't so great!
            Coincidentally, as the following week I was flying between their two respective cities, I offered to mule said pie. My friend made the pie, as promised. I received the package (literally tied with string) and ferried it to the other city. My friends' friend (whom I'd never before met) drove by the airport and retrieved the package. Drive-by pie delivery!
            This pie started numerous conversations: from a barista noticing the packaging, to airport security questioning how thoroughly they could screen the pie (jokingly requesting a taste-test!), to the "you can't park here" security at the destination airport curious if a stranger really had just delivered a muled cherry pie.
            It was fun to watch on social media in the time that followed as pictures of the pie being appreciated and enjoyed appeared. It was such a little thing, cost nothing, and it brought such joy.
            It was a privilege for me to be a small part of a larger connection, where there was history of community and joy.
            This is the community of Christian living. It is deciding to take an action for someone simply because we can - not because we expect anything in return. It is choosing to show grace and positivity to the people that we know and the ones that we don't; the people that we share many things with and the people with whom there is no commonality. Our ministry in the name of Christ is not limited to the less fortunate, the less able, the less...
            That which you did for the least of these, Jesus tells us, we did for him. Amen!
            Yet we ought often recognise the invitation to do for Jesus in what we do for the most of these - and the middle of these - and the somewhere-in-between of these. Our role as Christians is not simply about finding the extremes and making something better, in the name of our faith. (This is important, and we can remind ourselves that this ministry is for our spiritual improvement). We are also called to reach out to everyone we meet, in every walk of life, and do what we can to make life a little bit better, a little sweeter, a little more joy-filled.  

            Whether it be carrying a pie on a short trip, or calling a friend we've not seen in some time, or whatever else we do - may we carry that in our hearts as part of our Christian ministry. May we show that to our communities as part of our Christian ministry. May we shock the world by living out our Christian ministry - one pie at a time.

22 Jul 2017

Spirituality of Cherries

This weekend, I canned cherries, I made some jam, and have some peaches that will need attention very soon.
It's a fun experience, to process food for the future. There are times when I start to wonder why I'm even bothering - if I can just buy a tin of whatever fruit or veg in the store anytime, why would I want to stand for hours, hulling berries or pitting cherries or peeling peaches? Why boil fruit and canning jars on a hot day when I could be in the hammock with a novel?
Because, come November (or February, or...) the flavour will be fantastic, better than anything I can buy from the store.
I also know that there will be no artificial preservatives in the food; there are no hidden ingredients to trigger allergies or fill up space.
The food I am preserving is local, it's not been subject to days (or more) of travel across however many time zones and geopolitical borders. I will have supported my local economy, chatting with the people who have grown, picked, and sold the produce, in timely season.

I find spirituality is a lot like canning food.  It's best when it's not provided from elsewhere, like a book or podcast, but as an expression of faith development from within a faith community.
I know it best when I do the hard work of the journey myself, even when I want to give up. I know my spiritual growth needs time and effort to be as fruitful as possible; while others are companions on the journey, others cannot tell me how the experience *should* be.
I know what my spiritual journey will have been like this far, and be encouraged to continue on the best pathway, without platitudes or one-fits-all easy answers masquerading as nourishment in my faith nurture.
I know that my journey is best done when at home, and from home. I do my theology from within my own context, and so need to reflect with others from the context on the immediate influences and impacts.
I know too that everything has a season, and it would be unnatural to attempt spiritual growth outside of its natural succession. I can appreciate the gifts of the past as they nourish for the future (like canned cherries mid-winter); but I cannot force growth (like strawberries in March - even those imported don't have the same flavour or nutrition!)

So I canned cherries.
And while I canned, I prayed. I offered thanksgiving for the opportunity to develop my faith nurture as fully (and patiently) as I am filling my pantry.
So when I eat those cherries in a few months' time, I'll be grateful for the experience: they will be a reminder to celebrate what has been, acknowledging I'm in a different spiritual place.

May we all delight in the abundance given us, in spiritual and physical nourishment.

15 Jul 2017

Biblical Soap Opera

"My Life is a Soap Opera"
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Donna Pool on Flickr
            Last week in my sermon, addressing the passage from Genesis (24.35-38, 42-49, 58-67), I made reference to the fact that this was a biblical soap opera. It has all the drama, a lot of poetic license, some plot twists (and holes!), and the reader needs to overlook some fairly significant events that would raise eyebrows in any culture.
Here's my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) synopsis:
            We're just getting the highlights: Isaac needs a wife, sends a servant to find the best one, just go to the well where all the single girls hang out. Hmm. Awkward! Rebekeh’s brother conspires with the servant, and sends her to the well. There she sees the servant, offers to water him AND his camels. Sidenote: each of these 10 camels will drink some 20-30 gallons at a time. That's a lot of drawing and carrying water by herself.  Yet she does it, and the servant finds her beautiful, freakishly strong, and to sweeten the deal makes sure she's wearing some snazzy jewelry. She agrees to leave her family and homeland to go be with some dude she's never met. Then, - I did mention soap opera drama, yes? - she sees Isaac, and is so smitten by this biblical dreamboat that she falls off her camel.
            Needless to say, this approach certainly caught people's attention. I did bring it back to the main point of the sermon (the reality of God's grace is bigger than anything we can ever expect), but had some fun along the way.
"Camel E"
CC BY-NC 2.0 by Joni Kage on Flickr
            And there have been some fun conversations this week as a result. Why didn't Rebekeh just bring the camels into the well area to drink directly from the bucket? (She might have done, but nobody wants camel poop near the water source.) Why does she have to have a ring through her nose? (That culture's way of saying "spoken for!" - her dance card was full.) Did she really fall off her camel? (Well, she slid off quickly and started all manner of flirting, so...) Did God tell Laban to do this? (Not directly, in the scriptures - in fact in this passage we don't get any mention of God speaking or directly willing action.) Did you really call Isaac a dreamboat? (Yes, I did. Thanks for listening so intently.)
            I admit to having fun with it, and maybe going to the extreme. But I expect that at some point, as this history was being shared within the community of the faithful, people had a bit of a laugh or an eye roll at the drama in it. It's a very human passage, full of some almost unbelievable statements that make one believe there's been some editorialising going on.
            And, as with so many other passages of a similar nature, it conveys the message that God will be where God will be, and God will act how God will act, no matter how unlikely or unexpected we may think. And the pattern of human history is sometimes more dramatic: Isaac and Rebekah had great love, but they also had their problems (look at the twins!) Part of what makes the story so memorable is its very humanness, its drama, its soap opera qualities.

            So if God can work wonders through that drama, we can rest assured that God is equally present in our own lives - on the boring days, and on the days when we think we may have stepped onto a scripted set for TV. Drama happens: God happens through it.

8 Jul 2017

My Soul in Silence Waits

Silence is a powerful thing.
            Perhaps its power is connected to its rarity: we do not live in a world that is often silent. There seems to be always a background noise: a radio playing, the washer running, the hum of traffic. Silence is not just the absence of human-made noises, either: there's a rustling of leaves in the breeze, the morning birdsong, the lapping of water against a shore, &c.
            As humans, we tend to fill up the near-silence with our own noises. We hum and sing. We tap fingers against tables. We speak - to one another, to ourselves, to the dogs (maybe that's just me). And we tend to return, without fail, to words. "Words, words, words!" as Hamlet said.           
            Anyone who knows me knows that I like words. I enjoy linguistics. I take pleasure in finding (and using!) fun and at times obscure words.  (Quoting the verbose Joe in Sunset Boulevard: "Well, I'm a writer!")
            And recently, my spiritual director has been inviting me to simply be still in God's presence - to pray without words. He's encouraging not merely a silence from my lips, but also in my mind and heart. (Apparently thinking in prayerful words defeats the purpose of the exercise.)
            So we sit, at the open and close of our shared journey. And daily, now, I sit in silent prayer.  
            At first, it was awkward, to merely sit while someone else was present, and try to connect wordlessly to God. And, this has taken me some practice, and some days I'm still not very good at it. But I make the effort to be still, and silent, and immerse myself in the presence of God. Some days it's a longer journey, some days but a few moments (by the clock); the time spent is less important than the sojourn itself.
            The background noises are still there, but in that holy space they remain just background, secondary, unintrusive. I do not allow them to infringe on my immersion into the sacred space. Just as I would not let them interrupt a spoken prayer, nor do I give them heed in the silent prayer.
            To be fair, I still read the words aloud to the psalms, and offer my divine office with words - this new practice has merely extended my repertoire of means through which I intend to dance with the divine.
            It's a skill and a practice, and one I have found to be both enjoyable and spiritually edifying. Silence: who knew! A movement of the soul that transcends the barriers of language.

So, if you are too tired to speak, sit next to me, because I, too, am fluent in silence. 
~R. Arnold

1 Jul 2017

What Do You Recommend?


          In my experience, we live in a world full of variety, of choices, and - as a result - of recommendations. We ask wait staff for menu recommendations, we read reviews for film recommendations, we check out user review websites for activity and tourism recommendations.
            One of the conversations I have most often with friends is about books. What we like, what we don't like, what we would recommend to one another.
            In fairness, recommendations can come with hesitation... I once suggested a book I absolutely *love* to a friend, and while she was keen to read it, she was worried she might not like it (and thereby offend me). (Note - she liked it, didn't love it, we have had many conversations about the topic, and there was never any offence).
            In the courses I've been taking, there are often suggestions and recommendations being made. Some are for academic resources (I'm part-way through Wiggs-Stevenson's "Ethnographic Theology," recommended by a respected colleague after an engaging seminar discussion).  Some are based on context (I've just finished Martel's "Wolf Hall" after being told it helped someone better understand the Reformation in England, and as an Anglican he was sure I'd enjoy it [he as right]). Some are just for fun (my sister and I are regularly comparing notes on our latest reads, lately mysteries and psychological thrillers). 
            I receive and give recommendations for all sorts of prayer resources, theological commentaries, scholarly articles, &c.
            One thing that's missing there is the recommendation for the favourite book of the Bible.
            I wonder if perhaps that is because we presume that as Christians, we will have already read the sacred scriptures? And yet, with other sources, we recommend re-reads (Fran├žois Mauriac wrote ' «Dis-moi ce que tu lis, je te dirai qui tu es», il est vrai, mais je te conna├«trai mieux si tu me dis ce que tu relis.')
            The Bible, as we know is full of wonderful books, that tell of exciting and inspiring truths for all of God's people. It holds within it more than mere stories, but the Word of God. It's a better page-turner than anything any novelist could hope for. (I've often said that anyone who thinks the Bible is boring obviously hasn't read it!)

            So I invite us all to consider what our favourite Bible book is... what might we recommend to friends and family to read? And next time our opinion is sought, perhaps that will be what we suggest. Let's recommend that the book be brought off the shelf and enjoyed for the wonderful gift that it is.