Tuesday, March 31, 2020
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." https://thewalrus.ca/the-benefits-of-solitude/
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!
Monday, March 30, 2020
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.
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
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.
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.
The global climate emergency still matters even as we address a pandemic. Today's Groundling blog
Saturday, March 28, 2020
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...
...as years grow on...
...and heads get grey...
...how fast the guests do go
Touch hands with those that stay.
Strong hands to weak...
...old hands to young...
...around the Christmas board.
The false forget......the foe forgive.
For every guest will go...
...and every fire burn low...
....and empty cabin stand.
For who may say...that Christmas Day...
...may never come...
Friday, March 27, 2020
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.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
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
A Weary Oreo in my Backpack
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
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:
Monday, March 23, 2020
In Ontario, places of worship were closed over the weekend, whether mosques or synagogues, temples or churches. Some figured out how to broadcast services, some even figured out how to offer virtual eucharist or communion. It's impressive how creative communities of faith are. At our home congregation, Trenton United, pastor/son Isaac provided an array of online spiritual resources, including materials for children.
We took to the woods, stopping by a couple of waterfalls which were raging torrents and then walking trails which were all but empty. As we walked through a beautiful stand of hemlock we offered Holy, Holy, Holy. We saw a Pileated woodpecker in flight close at hand and it was a manifestation of the Spirit of the Living God, wild and free.
I like the list above and the invitation to mindfulness which includes all the senses. We were able to do so yesterday and we certainly didn't take the opportunity for granted.
We say a blessing over our supper meal each evening and it has become a little lengthier these days with prayers for the health and safety of our family, the stamina of courageous health care workers, and the wisdom of political leaders. Even if we may have slipped away from what many of us call "grace", this may be a good time to revive the practice.
The grace and peace of Christ be with you all in this day. May you find your quiet centre amidst the turbulence.
Human air travel may be curtailed but the winged wonders of the creaturely world are on the move. Today's Groundling blog
Jones Falls Ontario
Saturday, March 21, 2020
When I was in my teens I heard about a book called Through Gates of Splendor which was written by Elisabeth Elliott the wife of one of five missionaries who were killed in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956. I was intrigued by this story of bravery and determination to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the dangerous Auca people of the region. The men were seen as Christian martyrs. Betty Elliott and the other widows were also symbols of courage having left their comfortable North American lives for this important work.
Back then, not even twenty years after the deaths, it didn't occur to me for a moment that they probably shouldn't have been there in the first place and that their zeal was a form of arrogance and religious imperialism. This may sound harsh, but may Christian denominations and organizations have done serious soul-searching in recent years, often repenting for the ways in which the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ became bad news in so many ways. Records from the past often include references to the "savages" and the senseless determination to expunge the spirituality of the peoples because it was considered satanic.
In the case of the Auca people, now known as the Waorani, the incursions of missionaries begun with these families led to collaborations with government and resource extraction companies which resulted in disease, displacement, and death. It was arguably a form of genocide which continues to this day.
A couple of months ago I read Five Wives, the recent novel by Joan Thomas which imagines this ill-fated 1956 venture from the perspective of the women, some of whom continued the missionary work after the death of their loved ones. It is not a kind perspective, yet it recognizes the conviction of those involved, as misguided as it may have seemed.
Sadly, this isn't just a disturbing note from the past. I read the other day about an American evangelical missionary organization which is determined to reach a Brazilian Indigenous group which has remained relatively isolated.even though this is prohibited.They have brought disease to other isolated groups and the introduction of COVID-19 could be catastrophic for these people. We we can only hope and pray that international prohibitions on travel with thwart their efforts.
Over time I've spoken with people from various cultures around the world who are grateful for the benefits of health and education brought to their countries by missionaries, as well as Christian faith. Some of them have been pastors and priests themselves.
So, am I opposed to sharing the gospel today? I'm not, but it must always be in the context of respect and reciprocity. We are realizing that respect for the Earth and simplicity are values which are embedded in our Judeo/Christian tradition but often ignored. We have a lot to learn.
In today's Groundling blog I share Wendell Berry's comforting poem, The Peace of Wild Things
Friday, March 20, 2020
Belleville's Docfest seems eons ago, even though it was just two weekends in the past. I'm relieved for the organizers that it could occur with record audiences before the COVID-19 shutdown of public gatherings.
One of the many documentaries I enjoyed was Gift, based on a book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde, which explores the sharing of creativity as a form of generosity and gift-giving. The film tells four disparate stories of cultural and creative gift-giving from different parts of the world. One is from British Columbia where a young First Nations man plans and offers a potlatch, the traditional gathering and feast which is marked by abundant sharing of material wealth.
I found this segment particularly intriguing because in the past colonial governments in conjunction with the various Christian denominations conspired to outlaw potlatch ceremonies in British Columbia. By 1884 it was literally illegal to participate in one and while they continued to take place surreptitiously for weddings and name-giving and other purposes, there were arrests and even incarcerations until the law was rescinded in 1951.
"3. Every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the "Potlatch" or in the Indian dance known as the "Tamanawas" is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to imprisonment ... and any Indian or other person who encourages ... an Indian or Indians to get up such a festival or dance, or to celebrate the same, ... is guilty of a like offense ..."
We have our own potlatch artwork called Salish Renewal created by Charles Elliott in 1994. I was in Victoria, BC, as part of a United Church committee for life-long learning and met Mr. Elliott by chance, or providence. Our group went to his workshop where he was pulling hundreds of prints as gifts for what I recall as a wedding potlatch -- my memory may be wonky! I was pleased to purchase this piece.
If you have an opportunity to see Gift I would encourage you to do so. I liked it more than Ruth, but there was value for both of us in the different stories.
What happens to FridaysForFuture in the midst of a pandemic? My Groundling blog
Salish Renewal -- Charles Elliott
Thursday, March 19, 2020
I have a raft of books on the biblical concept -- commandment actually -- of sabbath-keeping. It's rather simply and yet complex. Cease and desist from the activities of daily living for one of the seven days of each week. On that day, acknowledge the God who created you and who, according to the book of Genesis, observed a day of rest to enjoy the glorious work of bringing all life into being.
While this is the lengthiest and most detailed of the Ten Commandments it is the one we 21st century Christians read with our fingers crossed. Not only do we work and play almost frantically, we have our little erroneously titled "smart phones" to aid and abet in stupid choices to be relentlessly connected to...what is that we are connecting to?
Someone near and dear to our hearts is working from home during this unsettling COVID-19 time. She works for a large corporation in Toronto and regularly puts in weeks of 50 to 60 hours. A former boss would regularly contact her on weekends with work related questions and demands, even though this is supposedly against company policy.
A few days into self-isolation she wonders whether many people are assessing whether the relentless pace of work, along with the expectations of home life, are actually "abundant living" (my term, not hers.) What are we doing with this precious life we have been given?
It's strange that so many people either dismiss or mock what is viewed as an antiquated notion of sabbath. Who could live that way? Who has the right to impose taking a whole day every week for reflection, recovery, self-care, appreciation of beauty...wait a minute, what is the downside of this? Isn't it a form of hubris to act as though the world will come to an end if we aren't going full-tilt, all the time?
I applaud the measures our federal and provincial governments are taking to address COVID-19 and for businesses and other employees who are finding alternative approaches to doing their work. I pray that the threat of a pandemic passes quickly.
Perhaps we will also realize that not observing sabbath is an existential threat as well. Could this push our societal reset button? Not likely, but I live in hope!
Thanks to my faithful Lion Lamb blog readers. Do you took a look at my Groundling, Creation-honouring blog as well? It's only a click away!