Thoughts on Skis

IMG_8017In the year and a half that I’ve been in ministry (about the same amount of time that I have not posted to this blog…) I’ve developed a practice of researching my sermon in dribs and drabs throughout the week, then on Friday mornings going for a long walk. As I progress along the surface of the earth, the sermon germinates, phrases and ideas come together, and by the end of the walk, the sermon is more developed than at the beginning.

This Friday morning, however, I decided to cross-country ski. This is unusual on several counts. The first is that it has been very cold, and that morning, with a windchill forecast of somewhere around -30 degrees Celsius, was no exception. The second is that I’m not really a cross-country skier. Many people might find this a little surprising since two of my children have competed provincially and nationally in the sport of biathlon (cross-country skiing and marksmanship – see below), but that just means that I’m really good at watching people ski rather than doing it myself. My husband coaches cross-country skiing, and so if I were actually to get on this particular family bandwagon, I think my loved ones would applaud heartily.

But the truth is, I like my feet firmly planted on the ground. I find cross-country skis to be slippery devils, and in my experience, before you know it, your feet are leading the rest of your body in directions you didn’t intend – sometimes more than one. My family has taught me the basics of cross-country skiing several times, but whenever I go out, it always feels like I have to re-learn everything. I also have kind of a bad history with cross-country skiing… A few years ago, my beloved thought it would be nice to spend Valentine’s Day on skis. It was lovely – until we got to a non-flat part. Are you really supposed to just keep your skis in the tracks, maintain the athletic stance and just glide down? Really? About halfway down this incline I panicked and tried to stop. Bad idea. I ended up in the Emergency department and then on crutches for a few days with torn ligaments. In the ensuing years I have been given a gift certificate with which I am supposed to get a non-family member to teach me about hills and stopping and other important things, but I have not as yet pursued this.

And so, yesterday morning, despite the cold, despite my tenuous relationship with my skis, beckoned by the brilliant sun and dazzling snow, I set out.

And before long, I was ruminating on aspects of Mark 8:31-38, the text I’ll preach on on Sunday. This is a hard text. This is one of the places where Jesus says that those who try to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their lives for Jesus’ sake will save it. This is also the place where Jesus invites those around him to “take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) I think traditionally we think of bearing a cross as a burden, but my reading this week suggests that Jesus was challenging those who would follow him with the idea of giving up everything, especially their identity, and being willing to exchange it for that of one despised and headed for crucifixion.

As I glided along in the dazzling white of a Canadian winter, I couldn’t help but think of Martin Luther King Jr. In my congregations we did a whole service devoted to Martin Luther King Jr. a couple of weeks ago. Just last week I saw the movie Selma, and I am moved. Deeply. It occurs to me that Martin Luther King Jr., more than anyone else I’ve encountered, embodies this idea of offering up one’s life for the Gospel. Selma did such a good job of portraying the toll this took on King, and yet also the perfection and beauty of his having responded to the call before him.

For Lent, I am trying to develop a practice of speaking truth to unholy compromises (maybe easier to give up chocolate) and I wonder, would I have been one of the white clergypeople urging King to wait for reform, to have patience, whom King addressed in his letter written from the Birmingham jail? It’s a moot point, of course, as back then I probably wouldn’t be a member of the clergy, I’d be someone’s secretary, but it’s still worth thinking about. This text challenges deeply our middle-class comforts and “good enough” faith.

I learned this week too about Christ’s “passion.” That “passion” and “passive” come from the same root – to endure. It seems that this passion is about letting go, about being willing to take up the cross and let go of identity, of control, of plans. This is hard. And it occurs to me that this is probably why I am not a good cross-country skier. It’s the letting-go part…

Ironically, as I glide along in my white world, this is what I think about, thankful that my body remembers how to do this. Thankful that I don’t encounter any hills.

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“Seeking, Walking, Loving”

I have fallen off the online planet somewhat. There is a good reason for this. Within a two-week period in May, my computer died in its tracks, taking all my documents and e-mail contacts with it, my mother had a stroke, I was ordained and also began work as a supply minister in a pastoral charge an hour away from my home. It is needless to say that what has followed has been a period of adjustment.

In this new existence, I spend a lot of time in a car. I have been driving in various configurations between my new charge, my parents’ house and my home, four and a half hours, if I were to do it in a circuit. The routes are all rural, so I have come to call this my “crop tour.” I can tell you that the wheat is coming off pretty well, that the corn grew massively with all the rain, and that the soybeans seem to be doing fine.

The difficulty is, however, that as I drive along, observing the landscape through the car window, although I may observe the colours and hues of the greens and browns of hills and fields, the volume of the rivers I cross, the odd turkey vulture gliding in a leisurely circle IMG_1496over the road, I don’t feel a connection at all. It is only when I get out of the car and smell the scent of rural Ontario coming into bloom, when I feel the earth beneath my feet and the wind telling me what kind of weather is on the way, that I not only feel something, but begin to mourn the fact that my present lifestyle does not permit an ongoing sense of relationship with creation.

For me, however, I hope this is temporary. What about other folks whose lifestyle or circumstances are such that awe and wonder among the natural world are rare occurrences? Does it affect the soul?

And did I mention that I was ordained…

As part of ordination weekend, prospective ordinands were required to speak for three minutes on the theme of “seeking, walking, loving” (Micah 8) including their journey
toward ministry and their thoughts on call. I felt that poetry was the most efficient way to accomplish this. Here is what I said:

It all began with seeking.

ordination stole

ordination stole

Seeking some sort of meaningful existence.
Seeking to wed my gifts with some purpose.

And so I prayed.
And then I went to church.

And looking down at my minister,
suddenly I experienced the words,
“There you are.”

A call to ministry.
Utterly ridiculous.
Strangely perfect…

And then began the walking.

I walked over a mountain range and into Spain.
I walked through plateaus and vineyards,
in the sun and in the rain,
by myself and with others…

And one night in a pilgrim’s hostel,
alone and in pain,
I found in the book of Acts the words,
“I will make thee a minister.”
And I said,
OK, you win.

And somehow,
by hook or by crook,
God has done this.

Through mentorship and study.
Through trial and error.
Through doing things that are easy
and doing things that are hard.

And I have continued seeking
and continued walking,
and there has been the support
of so many people,
including my family,
who have never quite understood what I’m doing,
but who have loved me through it anyway…

And the other night,
somewhat anxious about what’s ahead,
I had a dream,
and the words I remember are,
“Just preach the Gospel.”

 Just preach the Gospel.

 So that is where the loving comes in.

And so it is the Gospel
to which I humbly orient myself,
with words,
and with my life.

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Earth Day Prayer

One of the intentions of the creation of my M.Div. thesis was to contribute to a movement toward re-sacralizing the natural world, i.e., moving away from humanity’s perilous attitude of seeing creation in terms of resources, and toward a perspective of seeing creation as an intricate web of life, of which we are a small and interconnected part. Passionist priest and Earth scholar, Thomas Berry, called this crucial shift in perspective the Great Work,  “the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.” As a sign at the entrance to the Ignatius Jesuit Centre near me reminds all who enter, “Every day is Earth Day.”

In honour of Earth Day, I offer this beautiful prayer-poem found in John Philip Newell’s book Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace.

golden light
fresh from the source.
creation’s colours
calling our senses.
life in its oneness
life in its manifold oneness
all from You.
You are the Sun from whom the morning shines
You are the River in whom each life-form flows
each face
each race
each cell within our ever-living soul.
This new day we greet You.


Rev. Dr. John Philip Newell, poet, peacemaker and scholar, will be speaking in Guelph on the topic of “A New Harmony: the Spirit, the Earth and the Human Soul” on May 24 at 7:00 p.m. You can find more information here.

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IMG_1221I am adrift. Like these ice floes on Lake Huron, I am in transition from one form to another. No longer a student, nor a student chaplain, but not quite anything else yet either.

In the United Church of Canada, as would-be ministers, we have the choice of being “settled” by the church in the areas of the country with the greatest need, or of applying for positions on our own. Because I have family considerations, I have chosen the latter option, and this process is proving to be more difficult than I thought.

There are, for example, forty-four pages of vacancy listings within the United Church of Canada – listed from east to west, from Englee, Newfoundland to Esquimalt, B.C. I read each description – sometimes consisting of only a few words – and see if there’s a spark. If there is, then I access or request the fuller description, called a JNA in our denomination, which outlines the geographic community, the faith community and what the faith community is looking for – often twenty pages long.

The criteria I’m trying to stick to are the following:
I want to live with my family;
I want to live and work in the same community;
I want to feel called to and excited by what I’m doing.

These criteria don’t sound too outrageous, but since there are no openings so far in my immediate area, we are having to discern where and to what we might move. Google Images are proving to be very helpful in this. If I find an interesting community that’s looking for a minister, I plug the town’s name into Google Images. The display of images that arise seem to give a pretty good feel for the community, its landscape, hallmarks and concerns. I did not know, for example, that Glenboro, Manitoba is home to Sara the Camel!

My sixteen-year-old daughter, whom I try to keep abreast ofIMG_1246 the process, has added her own creative visualization. On a white board in our kitchen, she has drawn a picture of “Tree of Life United.” There’s a big, stained-glass window, a tree outside, a river flowing by and a hiking trail to the door, as well as a neighbouring beehive, because she’s very concerned (as should we all be) about colony collapse disorder.

So we do this, as much as we can, together, but as a friend said, “In the end, it’s the still, small voice that you have to listen to.”

And I guess that is what I’m really going for.

The difficulty is, however, that ordinations in my denomination only happen once a year, in late May. We are ordained into a position, therefore the position with your name attached to it has to exist sometime in early May. Does the Holy Spirit work to such deadlines?

And so, I have had to let myself ponder the idea that this process might not happen in time. I may not be ordained this year…

In the day, I’m mainly OK with this. But it’s at night that I get to thinking…

Perhaps to assuage this sense of loss, I began to ponder a completely different scenario, which I announced to my husband last week. “Since I may have to wait a year to be ordained,” I began, “why don’t we sell the house, take the equity and go walkabout.” We could be home-schoolers (or maybe trailer-schoolers), I tried to convince him. “We could volunteer on Iona,” I continued. “I could finish walking the Camino! I could write a book!” My poor husband, however, who has patiently supported me on so many peregrinations, in his own way put his foot down. I guess it’s time to get a job.

There are two prayers which are sustaining me these days. The first is a prayer–poem by Mary Oliver entitled “Thirst”:

”Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the hour
and the bell; grant me in your mercy,
a little more time. Love for the earth
and love for you are having such a long
conversation in my heart. Who knows what
will happen or where I will be sent,
yet already I have given a great many things
away, expecting to be told to pack nothing,
except the prayers which, with this thirst,
I am slowly learning.”

Here, also, is part of the second prayer: “. . . Let all who yearn to become chalices of peace abandon themselves to light, love and life, becoming bearers of beauty, truth, blessing and goodness. . .”

Chalices of peace, I like that. . .

What occurs to me now is that maybe the ministry for me doesn’t yet exist on paper. Maybe it needs to be created. I have rarely done anything in my life on a usual trajectory, so why should I start now? My journey towards ministry has been characterized by having one foot within the church and one foot without. I thought at this point that that would change, but maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe it’s not the church building at Tree of Life United that I most need, but the river that flows beside it. Maybe becoming more adept at being adrift is an essential spiritual practice.

IMG_1230These tree buds, which I found trying to blossom amid snow pellets blowing sideways at them on the Cataract Trail last week, will do so in the fullness of time. The fullness of time is a biblical phrase, and it means in God’s time, when all things are ready and complete. When the time is right.

What little I know of chaos theory tells me that there may be a hidden pattern at work in my life right now, a pattern which is undetectable at the moment. And from my thesis work I do know that a new creation requires space and time to evolve. Space and time is what I’m in the midst of right now.

I get it.

But it’s still hard.

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It is finished.

I know, who am I to use Jesus’ last words to describe the submission of my M.Div. thesis, but it does feel pretty significant.

This is my desk Monday when I finished my thesis project. I realize that it’s quite possible that no-one will hire me to IMG_1182be their minister now that proof of the state of my desk exists on the Internet, but it seemed significant somehow. The depth of my thinking represented by the depths on my desk…

What have I been up to, exactly? I’ve been looking at evolutionary theology and wondering how we might express such an understanding in public worship – trying to represent the evolution of the universe, for example, within a Communion liturgy. This has been hard. It has hurt my brain. The last science course I took was grade 13 biology. And yet, I have felt compelled to try and grasp new understandings gleaned from evolutionary biology, quantum physics and astrophysics, and suggest that they become part of our worship life.

I spent a day not too long ago at the University of Guelph library, and when I came home, I proudly announced to my family, “I now know how the universe was formed!” (They’re getting used to such things. I think they found me hard to live with when I first started learning about the implications of quantum physics a couple of years ago.)

I had spent time in the library with Bruce Sanguin’s book Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos, and thanks to Sanguin’s plain English and eloquent prose, I felt I had a rudimentary grasp of the process of flaring forth, the battle between matter and anti-matter and the legacy of supernovae that has resulted in the existence of everything we know (and don’t know). My learning is incredibly superficial, but still, one thing was clear to me: The evolution of all things in the universe seemed to come about via an overarching tendency for deeper relationship.

The next morning, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about the ‘God’ particle that is being sought via experiments with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland – that significant progress was being made, worthy of a Nobel Prize, but no-one knew which individual to give it to. With my newfound expertise on the creation of the universe, I wrote a letter to the editor — about individualism versus relationship — which was published on Monday March 18. You can read it here.

And for good measure, here is the thanksgiving/preface section of the Eucharistic prayer I wrote as part of my thesis project:

“God of the cosmos,
Your love beckons all things into communion,
creating first in a great flaring forth, emptiness
into which matter and atoms might gather,
setting the tempo of the celestial dance
of galaxies and star clusters,
coaxing swirling stardust to become planets,
children of the sun.
From bacteria, you beckoned all life,
each thing to its unique form,
adapted to its time and place
in colours and diversity we can barely comprehend.
The tiny grape seed, the kernel of the wheat,
You invited by sun and soil and water,
to become this bread, this wine.
And in the space of Mary’s womb,
Your great love grew to become
Jesus – healer, teacher, lover of the world,
who taught us that the kingdom of God
is in a mustard seed,
growing, blooming, blossoming,
becoming a nesting place
for birds of the air.
Your love beckons
all things to fullness and fruition.

We can barely contain our praise:”

This thesis project, aside from giving birth, has been aboutIMG_0281 the hardest thing I’ve ever done. A couple of weeks ago I reached a point, similar to what I’ve also experienced during labour, where I began to demand of myself, “Whose idea was this? Why am I doing this? I am never, ever doing this again!”

But now that it’s done, I’ve softened a little, maybe I’m even experiencing a bit of post-partum depression. I can’t help thinking about what I would do differently. I’d read differently. I’d record notes differently. I would synthesize information more. I’d allow more time for revision… I just found some notes that I made to myself a week ago about changes I’d wanted to make. Oh well.

It seems as if I’ve been on a long bus trip with thinkers like John Haught, Denis Edwards, Gordon Lathrop and Bruce Sanguin, and we’ve paid visits to Margaret Wheatley and Annie Dillard, Barbara Brown Taylor and John O’Donohue. And it’s been lovely and so inspiring, but we probably need a break from each other now – for a little while, anyways.

So I’m going to really experience Holy Week, then I’m going to attend to the state of my desk, and the unopened mail that’s been accumulating, as well as the dust bunnies, in literal and metaphoric terms. Maybe I’ll resume cooking for my family again. And there’s also the small matter of discernment, of the fact that if I’m to be ordained in May that I have to find a position to be ordained into…

But I’m also going to walk.

A lot.

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A Bit of Wisdom or, How I am Celebrating International Women’s Day

IMG_0468I am spending International Women’s Day in a library. I suppose I could feel sorry for myself, but I don’t. Not in the least. How many women around the world would give anything they own to be able to pursue academic and intellectual pursuits – but for reasons of culture, poverty or prejudice cannot. Not only am I in a library, I am writing liturgies that honour Creation in all its forms. My companion for the day is Wisdom, that elusive Biblical figure – feminine in form – who binds all things together, who orders all things well, whose guidance is worth more than silver and gold. In honour of International Women’s Day, I offer Proverbs 8:22-31, the “other” creation story, the one that presents an image of the world as co-created in wonder and delight:

Wisdom’s Part in Creation (NRSV)

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

Blessed be.

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Watson Road TrailEveryone who lives anywhere near where I live (Guelph, Ontario) had to be stopped in awe this morning when they woke up. Overnight, about four inches of wet snow fell, and everything – trees, telephone wires, even the decorative wire snowflakes above the streets in downtown Guelph — was coated in snow.

For those who read this blog, I do apologize about the sporadic posts. It’s not that I’m not stopped in awe. I’m stopped in awe all the time – I even take pictures – but the act of sitting down and composing a blog post is what I don’t get around to.

I am, actually, very busy. This Lenten season sees meice on Watson Road reservoir finishing the writing of my M.Div. thesis. I am working in the area of liturgical cosmology, writing liturgies – baptism and Communion services, for example – that embrace an understanding of the evolution of the universe. Two days a week, I am at hospitals, completing the requirements for my first basic unit in hospital chaplaincy. This is often very profound work, emotionally humbling, but strangely satisfying.

Having been recommended for ordination in December, I am also engaged in the dance of discernment of next steps – after five years of study and preparation, where is it that my gifts will be of most service?

And then, of course, there’s the parenting. Last weekend saw us in Lake Placid where two of my children competed in my work space at the Lake Placid Public Librarythe Noram #6 biathlon competition. Moment to moment, the hat I’m wearing changes, so I cheered my kids on, but I also discovered how lovely it is to work in the enchanting Lake Placid Public Library. AnotherPilgrim Holiness Church, Lake Placid, N.Y. discovery in Lake Placid — the Pilgrim Holiness Church! I didn’t go in, but the name of the church delights me.

Come Easter, come spring, most of this work I’m doing now will be done. But this is Lent, still winter, time for introspection anyways, and for now, I am – happily but doggedly – trudging through the snow.

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