Monday, March 30, 2020

Serenity in the Storm

Pin on Sunday School Art ideas

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, 
“Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” 
So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. 
A windstorm swept down on the lake, 
and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 
They went to him and woke him up, shouting, 
“Master, Master, we are perishing!” 
And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; 
they ceased, and there was a calm. 
 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” 
They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another,
 “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water,
 and they obey him?”

Luke 8: 22-25

Years ago I wrote a blog entry about imagining Jesus as our "Courage Coach", the one who reassures us when the storm picks up around us and it seems that our boat will capsize. I'm not sure why that that blog has come to mind now!

One of the respondents back then was a parishioner who is now in our circle of friends in retirement. She wrote about developing a fear of flying and was faced with the daunting prospect of a flight to New Zealand. She recited the Reinhold Niebuhr prayer, often called the Serenity Prayer, which the theologian wrote in the 1930's. Niebuhr used it in sermons and publications during the Second World War but it wasn't given a title until it became commonly used by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1950's. 

Seinfeld on Twitter: ""Serenity Now! Serenity Now!" #Seinfeld http ...

Do you recall George's nutty father on Seinfeld who would angrily bellow "serenity now, serenity now!" ? I'm thinking we're seeking something at our core which is more authentic. 

Despite the daily grim news I choose to trust that our boat will not capsize, and that Christ is with us for both solace and strength. Although the Serenity Prayer has been lengthened and messed about by others, here is the original,  brief but powerful:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Why would we bother observing Earth Hour during the dark days of COVID-19? My Groundling blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

It Will be Well With Our Souls

The Truth about Horatio Spafford – James Attebury

Horatio Spafford was a wealthy lawyer and businessman in Chicago during the 19th century. His security was shattered by the death of his four-yeas-old son and the fire of 1871 which destroyed many of the buildings he owned. A planned family trip to Europe was altered by business concerns but wife and four daughters set sail without him. During the voyage a collision with another ship resulted in the drowning deaths of the four girls, although his wife survived. As Spafford sailed to meet his grieving wife he passed the area where the tragedy had taken place and it inspired him to write the words for the hymn It Is Well With My Soul, Henry Bliss wrote the music and named the tune after the ship 

This past week a group of studio musicians in Nashville, Tennessee, came together virtually rather than physically to sing this hymn as comfort and encouragement to all who are struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are many ill with this virus, and tens of thousands dying, there is a sense of deep uncertainty and even dread about what is to come in every sphere of life. 

Nashville Studio Singer Community Presents “It Is Well With My ...

When I heard the opening of this version I wasn't sure if I really liked it. But the faces of the musicians touched me, and then so did the music. I've listened to it a number of times now, and shared it with others as a prayer. .

Some of the verses of the original are just not where I am, theologically, but that opening stanza and chorus are a prayer of assurance we all need to hear right now. God comes to us in our bewilderment and fear and loss, We are not alone, thanks be to God.

Story of Hymn: It Is Well With My Soul ~ Phamox Music

The global climate emergency still matters even as we address a pandemic. Today's Groundling blog

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Please, Don't Touch Hands!

Through the decades I used a reading on Christmas Eve called Touch Hands. My father used it when I was young and it was one of the rare times when he was sentimental. Now our son Isaac uses the same reading in his Christmas Eve services. It was Isaac who discovered the name of the piece in which the reading is found and the author.

I would invite people to actually touch the hands of those on either side of them, even if they were strangers and most were willing participants -- it was Christmas Eve, after all. 

There were lots of requests for Touch Hands and some used it in their own homes. I ran into a young woman from one of my congregations recently and discovered that she uses it with her family. I got a kick out of a recent text message from the mother of a teen I've know since she was a wee sprout. It turns out that Touch Hands is on their fridge, so she added her COVID-19, physical distancing commentary with a post-it recently. 

I was delighted to get the message and to find out someone can see the funny side of a not-so-humorous moment we're living in. As Olivia reminds us we should touch nothing and thoroughly wash our digits!

TOUCH  HANDS –John Norton’s Vagabond 
– W.H.H. Murray (short story)

Ah friends,...dear friends... years grow on...
...and heads get grey... fast the guests do go
Touch hands.
Touch hands with those that stay.
Strong hands to weak...
...old hands to young...
...around the Christmas board.
Touch hands.
The false forget......the foe forgive.
For every guest will go...
...and every fire burn low...
....and empty cabin stand.
Forget!   Forgive.
For who may say...that Christmas Day...
...may never come... host...
...or guest...
                            Touch hands.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Meal Ministries and COVID-19

Our Benedictine Values

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).
 2 Proper honor must be shown to all...

Chapter 53 on Hospitality -- Rule of St. Benedict 516 AD

Both the last congregation I served before retirement which is here in Belleville and the congregation in which we're involved now in Trenton have meal ministries. At Bridge St. UC and Trenton UC the goal is to respond to meal guests in the challenge of their food insecurity and to do so with respect for their personhood. These are unique individuals, loved by God, who want to live with dignity and hope.

In the midsts of the COVID-19 pandemic, our version of the plague, many meal ministries are struggling to figure out how to continue their important work. How can people self-isolate and prepare meals? How can guests come together for meals when gatherings are prohibilted. At Bridge St. the End of the Month hot meal program had to be put on hold because of the coronavirus threat. But yesterday there was a news release about what appears to be an addition to the meal ministries out of Bridge St. 

Starting Friday, March 27, 2020, a free ‘take away’ lunch will be served every day from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bridge Street United Church, 60 Bridge Street East, compliments of Bridge Street United Church, the Enrichment Centre for Mental Health, and the Community Development Council of Quinte. Lunch includes soup, sandwich, fresh fruit, and a snack.

I know that Trenton United has been given permission by the Health Unit to continue distributing meals, even though the congregation can no longer serve a sit-down meal. They have already served one, and want to continue. 

The logistics of providing these meal services is considerable and there is no replacement for the interaction of guests and hosts, as well as the conversations between guests, many of whom already deal with social isolation. Meal ministries address body, mind, and spirit, and aspects of this will be lost. 

Please pray for those in leadership in faith community meal ministries who are making decisions about what they can provide and for those who will prepare and distribute meals.

Pray for the guests who are "food insecure" and also crave social contact. In these anxious times they need our support and a sense of Christ's embracing love.  

Bridge Street Church |

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Joy Comes With the Dawn

Image preview

Oreo on the Prowl

Joy comes with the dawn;
joy comes with the morning sun;
joy springs from the tomb
and scatters the night with her song,
joy comes with the dawn.

1 Weeping may come;
weeping may come in the night,
when dark shadows cloud our sight.  R

Voices United 166

This morning we decided to get out early for a stir-crazy antidote walk. In many jurisdictions parks and paths have been closed because people are too stunned to maintain physical distance from friends and strangers alike. We're taking advantage of the freedom to amble and ramble for as long as possible.

This is a butt-ugly, "Lenten self-denial" time of year in Southern Ontario. It's seems that the palette of our world is all subdued and sombre colours. We await the return of most songbirds and leaves to the trees.

We arrived at the conservation area by 7:45, so we were alone for our entire walk, even though we were on the trails for an hour and a half. At the boardwalk into the marsh there was a great chorus of red-winged blackbirds, the first cohort of returnees. We saw a purposeful muskrat, swans, various ducks and, yes, geese, geese and more geese. 

In the woods on another trail we stopped for a momentary ritual of gratitude for the trees we've adopted after reading about an elder Ethiopian woman who does so each time she enters the church forest she attends. It makes us mindful of both our setting and the Creator.

We laughed a lot as we staged Oreo, a favourite plush toy of our 2 1/2 year old granddaughter, throughout the woods. A tale of feline adventure for her will ensue.

We also walked in reverent silence, taking in the plainness which has its own anticipatory beauty. The carpet of decaying leaves muffled our footsteps. We reached the Moira River and were startled by a sharp report which was the slap of a beaver tail. We stayed still and it re-emerged. In fact, it hung around, swimming back and forth in an attempt to figure out what we were. A Pileated woodpecker pounded away nearby. 

Often when I'm outside hymns come to mind in a way they rarely do when I'm indoors. On the boardwalk it was Joy Comes With the Dawn, a hymn which we've often sung during communion on Easter morning.  

In what is a truly pensive season of Lent for the planet there is still laughter and joy, and an Resurrection promise, even though there will be no physical Easter morning gatherings in a couple of weeks.That promise was in the air today, and I'm grateful to God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. 

2 Sorrow will turn,
sorrow will turn into song,
and God's laughter make us strong.  R

3 We will rejoice,
we will rejoice, and give praise,
to the One who brings us grace.  R

Image preview

A Weary Oreo in my Backpack

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Taking a Deep Breath With God at our Side

Image result for psalm 23 contemporary art

The 23rd Psalm is a favourite of so many people, often requested at funerals and memorials by those who aren't sure what to include in a service but who appreciate these words of comfort. It was the lectionary psalm for this past Sunday, so was not heard in churches across this country because they were closed. It may have been part of broadcast services.

I searched out the translation in Robert Alter's magisterial The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. For verse three he offers "although 'he restoreth my soul" is time-honored, the Hebrew nefesh does not mean 'soul' but 'life-breath' or 'life' The image is of someone who has almost stopped breathing and is revived, brought back to life."

This explanation touched me deeply because of the moment in which we live.We hear that those who are most affected by COVID-19 experience shortness of breath, sometimes with searing pain. They end up on ventilators and respirators, which are in short supply even in prosperous nations such as ours. They are physically robbed of breath, even as so many of us wait and wonder where all of this will go. Anxiety and fear also take our breath away, even to panic attacks. 

I pray that Yawheh, the God who for Christians is revealed in Jesus, the One who came into this world as a crying infant and took his last breath on the cross will sustain us, even as we make our way through the vale of death's shadow. Take a deep breath and savour these words of comfort and courage. 

Psalm 23 Robert Alter

A David psalm.

    The LORD is my shepherd,
                              I shall not want.
    In grass meadows He makes me lie down,
                              by quiet waters guides me.
    My life He brings back.
                              He leads me on pathways of justice
                                             for His name's sake.
    Though I walk in the vale of death's shadow,
                              I fear no harm,
                                             for You are with me.
    Your rod and Your staff—
                              it is they that console me.
    You set out a table before me
                              in the face of my foes.
    You moisten my head with oil,
                              my cup overflows.
    Let but goodness and kindness pursue me
                              all the days of my life.
    And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
                              for many long days.

Have you heard about the One-Vulture Distancing Rule? Didn't think so! 
Today's Groundling blog 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Holy One Who Strengthens Us


Someone posted this photo, shared with her by a front-line COVID-19  healthcare worker in the United States. This is not a reference to her friend Phil, but a self-reminder of a verse in the apostle Paul's letter to the small "church plant" community of faith in Philippi. Paul was likely under house arrest at the time he wrote this, which could be described as state imposed quarantine. 

I affirmed this tweet, online, and suggested we could expand the reference to begin with verse four. This has been one of my favourite passages through the decades. I've read it to those in distress, including those in mental institutions. I've recited verses to myself in the bleak wee hours of the morning when I've struggled to find hope. 

Here is Paul's hopeful message under personal duress:

Rejoice[c] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved,[e] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
 if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, 
think about[ these things. 
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoice[g] in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.[

11 Not that I am referring to being in need; 

for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 

12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. 

In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret 

of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Sunday was World Water Day and I reflect on the importance of water in these challenging, "wash your hands" times. My Groundling blog