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I remember the feeling of awe that took my breath away when I was pregnant, realising that a new life was growing within me.

The realisation that we began in our mother’s womb – each of us a small miracle of creation, grown from a single, microscopic cell into a human being … beings with hearts to feel, and minds to think and hands to act.

And before the miracle of our own creation, our mothers began in their mother’s wombs, and our grandmothers and great grandmothers – generation after generation.

Each mother witnessed a miracle of creation, a miracle of giving birth to new life – connecting us directly to the very beginning of time.

And so also has each living thing – each tree, each plant, fish, bird, animal – grown from its parent, and its grandparents, generation after generation, each a miracle of creation, back to the very beginning of time.

Each of us live, every day, in this miraculous world, anchored to our past by countless, countless miracles of creation.

And we are entrusted with a formidable, sacred task –  to perpetuate the miracle of creation.  To care for our earth so that every living thing can continue to bring about new life, connecting us all – together – to the very beginning of time.

Seeker

Moon at night

The moon at night.

Sometimes,  this could be me.

A modern folktale.

Once upon a time there was a woman who woke up at 3 am, every night, for no good reason. 

She wasn’t worrying.  She wasn’t sick.  She wasn’t depressed.  She just woke up – wide awake – at 3 am.  Every night.

 She tried cutting down on coffee, squeezed in some exercise during the day, but she still woke up every night.  Night after night after night. 

Now, this woman was busy.  She had a family, job, friends, volunteer work, parents.  She prided herself on getting things done.    Driving the kids to activities, making meals, cleaning house, shopping, paying the bills, working, volunteering – she was always on the go.  And she thrived on the activity, thrived on being in control and being needed.  

Sometimes she felt lost in her busy-ness, as if something elusive was missing in her life. But she brushed off that nagging thought and went back to proudly crossing things off her long list.   She didn’t have time to worry about it.

But she was used to being in control of her life, and so the night waking drove her crazy.  In the mornings she was tired and frustrated.

She began to get angry.  Finally, one night, waking up yet again, she sat up in bed, wide awake.  She was really, really pissed off.  “God!” she shouted to the air “Why am I waking up every night at 3 am?”

And to her utter astonishment, God answered:  “Because it’s the only time I can get your attention.”

Sometimes,  this could be me.

Seeker

(I’ve been told this story, with different details, several times by several people.  This is just my re-telling of this tale.)

clutterDe-cluttering – is it grieving and letting go of lost friends, unfinished projects, unfulfilled dreams and failed relationships? Or is it just … cleaning up?

I recently cleared out a pile of boxes that had been hidden – literally covered up by a large cloth – in my house.

A lot of wisdom was stored in those boxes. And some home truths.

My ‘personality profile’ from 1996. I still have the same strengths and weaknesses, only now that I have kids and a ‘bigger’ job, the stakes are higher.

Articles, stories, poetry, essays written in the 1970s and 1980s – I was a fine writer then, but I am a better writer now. The words on those yellowed pages have languished for decades in an old box. But they are a part of me.

Letters, cards, address books, diaries, yearbooks from different seasons of my life. Crumbled corsages that still have the faint scent of gardenia. People who have come and gone, leaving me with fond memories, and regrets.

Junk. Broken trinkets. I don’t even know what some of this stuff is. Ugly ornaments that I kept because they were gifts, but I don’t remember who gave them to me any more. So much useless stuff in our lives.

Art from my childhood. I had forgotten how much I liked to draw and paint. And sing! As an adult, how hard it is to just enjoy doing something when we have been told we are “not good at it”.

Phone lists, agendas, meeting notes. People whose lives I have touched – as a youth leader, as a mentor, as a boss. Did I make an impact? Did I make a difference? It’s like dropping a pebble in a lake – the ripples are out of sight by the time they reach the shore.

My high school prom dress. Skinny jeans. Teeny t-shirts. Did these clothes really fit me?

In the end, I reduced the stuff by half. The rest is carefully stored for the next time I want to revisit the memories – and lessons – of the past.

The cleaning up was easy. But maybe letting go takes a lifetime.

Seeker

Inconvenient angels

Joseph and an angel

Joseph depicted in a stained glass window in Nazareth.

Here’s my Boxing Day homily…

In this day after Christmas, some of us are feeling that after-holiday let down that comes from spending too much and eating too much, drinking too much and socializing too much. Especially those who didn’t even make it here today!

But here we are, challenged to listen to a difficult gospel passage about angels and death, right on the heels of the miracle of Christmas.

Like the real world, harsh reality comes pressing in much too soon on the holy family.

In today’s gospel passage we’re in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. The magi – the wise men – have gone. There is a pause in the story – like our own pause today, after the busy-ness of Christmas.

Then, into this quiet time, the holy family’s life is turned upside down. First, an angel tells Joseph in a dream to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt before Herod kills all the young children in the area.

Then, while they are in Egypt, an angel tells Joseph in a dream that Herod is dead and it is safe to return to Israel. And when the family arrives in the land of Israel, Joseph’s third dream sends them to live in the safety of the district of Galilee, in a village called Nazareth.

Each time Joseph listened and obeyed, just as he did the first time an angel visited to tell him Mary was to have a child of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a closer look at Joseph.

In the translation we use we read that Joseph was a ‘carpenter’. The Greek word is Tekton (Mat 13:15, John 6:3) – and it means builder, in the sense today of general contractor. It doesn’t differentiate between a builder with wood or stone. To this day the building material of choice in the Holy Land has been stone – from temples to simple one room houses.

So perhaps we could reconsider our image of Joseph as a simple carpenter. One might think of him as a stone mason, a skilled tradesperson, a builder.

So think of someone you know who is a builder or an engineer.. or a computer expert … perhaps yourself – someone practical and used to dealing with mechanical problems – how would they – or you – respond to the voice of God or an angel in their sleep?

I am guessing Joseph was not too happy – perhaps he argued with the angel, how inconvenient it was, perhaps they could go later, why couldn’t they go home? why me? not again!

Judean desert

Looking west towards Egypt in the Judean desert.


As he packed up the tools of his trade and the family possessions on their donkey and set out on foot under the hot sun, did he feel that he was being tested? Was he angry? discouraged? excited?

He was probably used to travelling. In a time when most people lived and died in the same village, a skilled builder would move from town to town to work.

So, back to Bethlehem and the beginning of our story.

Even the rumour of a new king would have enraged Herod, and he was ruthless – he executed his wife and three of his sons. But the sad truth is that the killing of all the babies around Bethlehem would have been too insignificant to merit a report among Herod’s atrocities.

No surprise that Joseph acted promptly on the angels command to flee to prosperous Egypt.

But in Egypt Joseph and his family would have been outsiders, devout Jews far away from the Temple. No surprise, then, that Joseph readily picked up his family at the angels command to return.

Now why the angel directed him to Nazareth is a story for another day, lets just say for today it was safer under the new ruler of Galilee, and Matthew tells us it was to fulfill the prophets.

So did the angel send Joseph from place to place so he could support his family in safety? to expose the young Jesus to different people and customs in preparation for his ministry? to fulfill the prophets? or to echo Moses’s journey from Egypt and back? I wonder if it was for all of these good reasons.

But what is important is that Joseph listened the voice of the angel – the voice of God – and obeyed.

What does it mean for us to listen and be obedient?

Scrooge

Scrooge encountering a spirit in Soulpepper's production of a Christmas Carol. (photo: Toronto Star)


Now, most of us will never hear an angel speak in our dreams. And if we hear a spirit we’d be likely to doubt our senses — like old Scrooge in a Christmas Carol, who suggests that Marley’s ghost may be

“an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”

And discerning, differentiating the voice of God from false messages – and from indigestion – can be a life’s work.

But sometimes … sometimes we make a change in our life and it just seems right, and a weight is lifted off our shoulders. Sometimes we change jobs, give up a harmful practice, change the way we live – or where we live. And if the change is right, we can look back and see the hand of God, just as Matthew did.

How often do we have the choice to obey God, or not?

Think about that police officer – the one who identified the constable now charged with the assault of Adam Nobody during the G20 summit. In a police culture that closes ranks on those who snitch, his life may be changed forever by his action of conscience. But perhaps he listened to God and obeyed.

Or take the man who wrote in the Star last week “I hate my job but can’t afford to leave it. I know I’m becoming miserable at home – what little time I am there – and hate that I’m often short-tempered and tense with my wife and kids.”

This man doesn’t need the voice of an angel to tell him that his life is out of balance. Some hard listening for God’s message might help him decide what God is calling him to do to change this downward spiral. Perhaps he needs to listen to God and obey.

Again and again we reach crossroads in our lives where we are asked to stop, …listen to God and be obedient.

Such radical obedience to God can be frightening – we may be ‘out there’ doing something on faith that others just do not understand.

But Isaiah reminds us that we act within the “abundance of God’s steadfast love” . He reminds us that we don’t need a messenger or an angel, but that it is God’s presence – just his presence – that will save us.

And here, on the day after Christmas, we remember that Jesus is among us, incarnate in human form, Jesus a baby and then a child travelling with Joseph and Mary across the Holy Land, and through his resurrection present to us at every moment of our lives, if we just have the courage to open our hearts to his abundant love.

All that we are asked to do is trust God. That’s all.

And the first thing to do is listen – for the voices of angels, for the voice of God. In our lives, in our community, in our loved ones, in our heart.

Perhaps – just perhaps – there is an angel speaking to us.

And all we have to do is listen … and obey.

I have been reflecting about love.  Not romantic love, but the kind of love that expresses itself as compassion, understanding and care for our fellow humans.

At work, as part of our diversity training, we’re taught about the “platinum rule:” do unto others as they would have you do unto themWe’re told this new rule is much better that the “golden rule” of most major religions.   This makes my blood boil because I am pretty sure humanity hasn’t discovered a new “great truth” in the past couple of years.

One day I told the instructor that my faith tells me to “love my neighbour as myself” — and wasn’t that the same as her platinum rule?  The instructor couldn’t back out of the conversation fast enough.  She wanted to talk about people’s differences, about respecting our co-workers, and making the office a safe place where people can “bring their whole self to work.”  Not about faith.

My values and my faith are all entwined together.  The way I treat people at work, on the street, at the store, is all tied up in my faith and how I cherish and value the life of every human being.  Of course I often don’t get it right.  I get short-tempered and frustrated like everyone.   I struggle with how I am supposed to love people who hate others, people who drive gay teens to suicide, or who hurt children.  To be honest, I would prefer not to have those people as neighbours.  This is not an easy commandment to live by!

I believe that I am called to love my neighbour, to love all people, as myself.  To love radically and unconditionally because I know God loves us all radically and unconditionally. 

And so I was heartened – delighted – to see Bishop Gene Robinson’s video telling gay youth about God’s unconditional love on the “It Gets Better” YouTube channel. 

 Seeker

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”    Mark 12:31

The other day I found an old “to do” list. 

It includes a myriad of tasks: pay bills, vacuum, tidy living room, groceries, return DVDs, buy present, tidy bedroom (not crossed off), dance 11:45, piano 1:30, birthday party 3 pm, dinner guests 6:30.  A Saturday list. Only one of the items was for just for me, or rather, just for me and God: Pray.

The list is from last winter, when I was taking a prayer course.  I had signed a covenant to pray for an hour a day.  It was a struggle.  Some days I prayed myself to sleep.  I said “no” to invitations and requests for help to find that extra seven hours a week for three months.

Finding God in the everyday: urban sunset

Finding God in the everyday: urban sunset

But it was a blessed three months.  I was calmer, more centered.  I saw God in my friends and children, and in the every day moments of my life.

Leaving work one evening I walked past a homeless woman huddled with a cardboard sign that read: “I pray that tomorrow will be better.”  In the midst of rushing home, I was catapulted into prayer. 

One morning, running late for work, I parked my car as “Let It Be” by the Beatles played on the radio.  As I pulled into the parking space the sun fell on a flock of sparrows chirping and preening in a bush.  I caught my breath as I felt:  “Let it be… all will be well … I am here.”

So, after the course was over, I resolved to continue my prayer practice.  But one thing led to another (did I mention sleep? work? kids?) and my prayer time slipped off my “to do” list and back to a few stolen minutes before bed. 

Now I realize that the fruit of that intense prayer period was long lasting.  In the following few months I changed jobs, refocused my volunteer commitments, stepped more deeply into worship and began more reading for pure pleasure.  I played more with my children, spoke more often to my parents.

So perhaps tomorrow’s “to do” list should begin with one word: Pray.

Seeker

One special moment of many in the Holy Land.

Camel at dawn

Dawn on Mount Sinai

My camel plods steadily up Mount Sinai in the dark. Her cushioned feet make a soft crunch on the ground as she steps deliberately up the path, one large foot at a time.

I am bundled in a warm fleece jacket against the crisp cold, sitting high up in my comfortable saddle. Holding securely to the worn, wooden pummel, I am accompanied by my moon shadow, riding up the mountain with me. My shadow and I are both sitting tall and easy in the saddle, breathing deeply the cold, fresh air. A slight odour of musty camel and camel dung drifts past on the light breeze. Overhead, the stars shine like brilliant jewels in the clear, dry night sky.

I hear the guttural grunts and grumbles of the camels, and the calls of the camel drivers behind me. A radio blares for a while, then is silenced. I feel alone with my camel on this dark, rocky mountain.

The camel takes a small mis-step and slips a little on the loose stones. I peer down a dark, steep precipice, but I am calm and trust my camel completely. I continue to feel the rhythm of her steady steps up, up, up the mountain. Imperceptively the black sky lightens and I can see into the dark crevasses. Somewhere a bird sings a pure, simple two-note song.

The grace that has brought me here, to this place, to open my heart to God, brings me to tears. And my heart overflows as God pours in all that I need to sustain me on my journey: life and beauty, joy and love, awe and wonder, gratitude and peace, courage and strength.

An hour later, we arrive at the summit at dawn. Suddenly the camel pitches back and forth, settling down onto her calloused joints to allow me to dismount. A little unsteady on the solid ground, I take a moment to find my land legs. Soon I am back to solid reality, two feet on the rocks, my heart singing as I watch the sun rise, knowing that I will carry home the strength of this mountain of God.

Seeker

You shall have a song as in the night when a holy festival is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of God, to the Rock of Israel.      Isaiah 30:29

View from Elijah's Plateau, The Sinai

I get so busy that sometimes I just need to stop everything and listen in silence. 

This is nothing new.

The Old Testament recounts how the prophet Elijah went to Horeb, the mount of God (which we call Mount Sinai) to find God. Elijah was old, tired, persecuted, discouraged.   “I alone am left,” he says, “and they are seeking my life.” 

And he did not find God in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the “sound of sheer silence.”  In that silence God gave him renewed hope, and new tasks. 

This is the view from Elijah’s Plateau on Mount Sinai where I had a chance to sit in silence for an hour and listen.  Luckily I don’t have Elijah’s problems.

Seeker

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

1 Kings 19:11-13

Facebook afterlife

One of the first of my generation of university friends passed away a few months ago. It caused a shock wave of unreality in our circle as we came face to face with our mortality.

Our deceased friend’s Facebook profile lives on, popping up in my Facebook sidebar with prompts like “Reach out. Say hello.” And “Suggest friends for” every few days. 

At first it was sad, to see her picture and be reminded that she is no longer with us, released from the ravages of cancer by death.  Then it became a little disconcerting, like seeing a ghost popping up on my screen from time to time.  Eventually I clicked “ignore” and she stopped appearing, Banquo-like, when I viewed family vacation photos. 

sunset

When should the sun set on online profiles?

But the other day she appeared again in my newsfeed.  It was her birthday, and Facebook remembered.  And her daughter and friends sent her birthday messages for us all to read on her wall.

If we live forever in the hearts and memories of our loved ones, do we also live forever online?   

I wonder if it is healthy for us to continue to commune with these internet avatars?  Or is it better to kill them off, quickly, like pulling off a bandage, so that we can let their spirit go free? 

Is it fair to their memory to remember them this way – their unflattering Facebook photos, their ill-advised and mundane status updates, living on forever for their children to find years later during a Google search.

Seeker

 

One moment during my trip to the Holy Land.

St. Catharines Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. 

Our guide shows us Moses’ burning bush – the actual bush, transplanted but grown from the same roots for thousands of years.  I approach it with a modern, rational skepticism. 

“This can’t be the actual bush,” I think to myself.  I scoff silently as other pilgrims reach prayerfully to touch the branches, as if this bush is some sort of holy relic.  “Ridiculous!” my definite inner voice repeats.

Burning bush

The burning bush at St. Catharine's Monastery.

I begin to turn away and something stops me in my tracks.  “I’m here – I may as well touch it.”  So, feeling fairly foolish, I reach up to casually brush the tip of my fingers on a branch over my head. 

Ouch!  A large thorn pricks me, and as I draw my hand away a large, dark red drop of blood forms on my finger.  I stop in my tracks and chuckle as I stare at the perfectly round drop. 

“OK God,” I think, “I get it!’  And I wonder what else he/she will do to get my attention.

Moses’ encounter with the burning bush was much more dramatic:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’    Exodus 3:1-4.

 

OK God, here I am, what do you want from me?

Seeker