Wednesday, April 01, 2020

In Life, In Death, In Life Beyond Death...

Lion Lamb Blog -- David Mundy: Not Alone

Image from the New Creed illustrated booklet -- artist Gary Crawford

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In life, in death, in life beyond death, 
God is with us. We are not alone. 
Thanks be to God
Nobody wants to be morbid during these unsettled times but I have to admit that funerals have been on my mind lately. More accurately, the absence of funerals and memorial services because gatherings have been prohibited in virtually all jurisdictions because of the possible transmission of COVID-19. 

This is no idle or abstract threat. More than a hundred people in Newfoundland have tested positive-- roughly three quarters of known cases in the province -- after attending two overlapping visitations at a funeral home in the St. John's area. Think about services you have attended with the intimacy of expressions of condolence, along with the proximity in places of worship and chapels, and you come up with a petri dish for transmission.

Just the same, I am saddened for all those who have been separated from loved ones as they leave this life in hospitals and nursing homes,  then cannot give thanks for those lives and affirm eternal hope in the presence of family and friends. 

Regular readers will know how strongly I feel about the importance of rituals around leave-taking at the time of death and what I'm convinced is the mistake of not acknowledging grief in the company of others. I always wanted to preside at these services in ways that combined solemnity, gratitude, and Christian hop in the face of death. There are a number of you with whom I feel a deep bond because we walked through the valley of the shadow of death together when your loved ones died. Others have sung in choirs at funerals or attended as an act of solidarity. 

A few days ago a wonderful member of a former congregation died and the public notice stated that a service will be held later because of the current circumstances. While it is the present reality it left me feeling hollow.

I saw an interview with the proprietor of  several funeral homes in Sudbury, where we lived for more than a decade. Not only did I work with him often, he was a member of the congregation and we chatted often about our respective roles. They are still providing funeral and memorial services with social distancing and gatherings of fewer than ten, which usually means a handful of family members. They also provide streaming of services in their chapels. This too may change, depending on government directives. I know that the United Church has instructed clergy not to preside at services until a later date which will be difficult when other aspects of pastoral care are prohibited as well. 

I wonder if families should be having the obviously tough conversations about what steps they will take if a loved one goes into isolation because of illness, or what they will do if a death occurs. It may not be pleasant, and we're all trying to stay positive, but talking about this openly and honestly could be the loving thing to do. 


Tuesday, March 31, 2020


The Temptation Of Jesus In The Desert by Daniel Bonnell | Bible ...
The Temptation of Jesus in the Desert -- Daniel  Bonnell

Well, it's not often I give thanks for being 65 but today I'm thanking God that I'm not 70 or older, given the government directive to septuagenarians-plus to hunker down at home. The good news? -- we're trying to save your life! The bad news? -- we're putting you in indefinite solitary confinement!

That's the way it feels for many people regardless of their age, and most of us have little practice being hermits. I admire those who are in their 70's, 80's, and beyond who are active in various ways, and aren't we constantly reminded of the value of social interaction in retirement. Isolation and loneliness are killers, we're told. Gathering for worship and "losing your life in order to find it" in intentional acts of communal kindness are vital. 

So, put those notions on hold, and ponder what it means to be alone with our thoughts. Two weeks ago The Walrus magazine published a timely article by Michael Harris with the title 
The Benefits of Solitude and the subteading "our society rewards social behaviour while ignoring the positive effects of time spent alone."

Harris quotes from Richard Byrd's diary written during a six-month stay, all by his lonesome at the South Pole in crazily cold temperatures. Byrd nearly went out of his bird, but he also affirmed the benefits of solitude

Here were imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless. Harmony, that was it! That was what came out of the silence—a gentle rhythm, the strain of a perfect chord, the music of the spheres, perhaps.It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily to be myself a part of it. In that instant I could feel no doubt of man’s oneness with the universe.

Ah yes, you're thinking, onesnes, schmunness, let me outa here! The unsavoury outcomes of physcial isolation are social isolation and loneliness. Yet I know from personal experience the value of solitude, even though it can make me uncomfortable.

In the years when I went to monasteries and convents for retreat time there was always an adjustment to the absence of regular routine and long periods of silence, often broken only by the rhythms of the worship offices of the day. In most places we were encouraged to accept the discomfort of quiet and being alone with our own thoughts. It was here that we could experience God, who has an extensive history of new beginnings with those who are willing to do engage in this way, if the bible is to be trusted. This season of Lent --remember Lent?-- commemorates Jesus' 40 day sojourn in the wilderness, which was downright devilish at times. 

So, perhaps we'll come through this involuntary Lenten retreat with a meaningful reset for our spiritual lives. Let's pray that it isn't multiples of forty, for a whole lot of reasons.

Stay sane my friends!

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Serenity in the Storm

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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

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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

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A Weary Oreo in my Backpack