The only “thin spot” I have any more is on the top of my head, but I do love “thin spots.” In Celtic spirituality a “thin spot” is a geographical place where the distance between Heaven and Earth seems thinner. These are sacred spaces where we seem to more easily enter into God’s presence. I love such spots!
I discovered one such spot in an unusual place. Wednesday evenings I make it a point to go to the Out Flow shelter. There like most nights they serve a public meal at which 80 to 100 people eat. As people finish eating a worship team begins to play. Gradually most of the crowd begin to filter out, but a remnant remain to enjoy the music and the praises which the Lord ‘inhabits’. Ironically as the crowd thins out so does the atmosphere. After about 20 minutes Phil takes the podium and opens the Word and begins to teach. He is very gifted. He does not ‘dumb’ the scriptures down for a mostly illiterate audience but makes it plain. He gladly addresses questions during his teaching times.
After the Bible Study we have communion together. At this sacred time there is no distinction between; volunteer and guest, between employed and unemployed, educated and uneducated, rich or poor. We all find ourselves equal at the foot of the cross. As we consume bread and drink juice the atmosphere is exceedingly thin. I have been a part of communion services without number but this, for me, is the holiest! I look forward to these times and on the rare occasion that I can not attend, I miss it.
This past week we had a memorable moment. A young fellow who had obviously been living ‘rough’ for some time, spotted the bread and juice which was set for later use. He interrupted to ask if he could have some. He had just eaten and so he was not asking out of physical hunger but of spiritual hunger. Perhaps he did not feel worthy of inclusion and was asking if God’s grace could be extended to him. Phil explained what we were doing and invited our friend to wait with us and that indeed we are all welcome at the table.
I was reminded of my unworthiness and of God’s grace that night as we ate and drank ‘in remembrance of him’.
In the same way that places can be ‘thin’ because of their use they can become thick with darkness and evil when ill-used. Things are made holy or unholy by their use! We have been reminded this week of the presence of darkness and evil. I commend to you the words of the children’s song I sang so long ago “In this world of darkness, so we must shine, you in your small corner and I in mine.” I want to be a portable ‘thin spot’ and not just off the top of my head.
Who knew that a couple of inches of water could so disrupt a life? The smell and the work men and the noise were driving me to absolute distraction. We had huge dehumidifiers and giant fans and at night it sounded like we were trying to sleep on the runway of a busy airport.
We were finding out the affects a backed up storm sewer could engender. The damage will total over $30,000 by the time we are close to normal again. I thank God for insurance but this mess had been consuming my life and my health! My lungs were rebelling against the growing mold and general dank stench and my exhausted mind was straining to maintain a grip on sanity.
In the midst of all this disorder we received an invitation to stay with a friend. Cathy lives in a quiet home very near the ocean. We packed up and went on a retreat to her home. In doing so I was reminded of the need sometimes for retreat. I have sometimes joked (or half joked) that “I don’t go on retreat, I go on advance!” This time, though, I couldn’t retreat fast enough.
I drank in the quiet of this lovely home. I quaffed the silence. In inhaled the peace. My body rested and my mind stilled. The hospitality was warm (and dry) and the company, when we wanted it was joy filled. I left home feeling like a man living among the tombs and I returned clothed and in my right mind.
All of this reminds me that we do need regular times to retreat into quiet to meet with God. I need to do this for shorter period daily, longer periods weekly, and even longer occasionally. Jesus after periods of busyness often spent time in solitude.
Lent is a reminder of this need for retreat. A forty day period lies before us in which we can schedule such ‘Quiet Times’. I am a contemplative introvert so this quiet is quite familiar to me, so familiar in fact that I can take it for granted. Lent reminds me of this need and calls me to special efforts to increase my scheduled solitude.
For the most part I have given up “giving things up for Lent” (does this count?), instead I choose to add things. This year I will add retreat. I am finding that the more I add this ingredient to my life the more God blesses me in other areas. Do you suppose he meant it when Jesus said “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”?
I am grateful to my friend Cathy McKay for her wonderful gift to us when we needed it so badly. I am grateful for my friend Joy who gave us the book “Celtic Daily Prayer” it is already providing blessing to our days. I am most grateful to God who is with me in the clangor though I may only hear him in the quiet.
God gives good advice! This is why I highly recommend regular reading of scriptures. One great piece of advice I have been trying to heed is to remember. Over and over in Scripture God tells people to remember. They are told to remember: times of deliverance, times of blessing, facets of God’s character, and especially the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. Why does God want us to remember? Surely he is not like a persistent bill collector reminding us of our debts! No he wants us to remember so that we can celebrate his goodness and trust his faithfulness for our present and future.
Two things reinforced this call to recall. I received a much anticipated book in the mail. These days I rarely read a real paper book. My fingers are so clumsy these days I find electronic readers much easier than turning pages, but I make a glad exception for this book, “Looking Back Looking Up”. My friend Grahme Spear wrote this book as a reminiscence of God’s goodness throughout his life and ministry. I hear his voice in every printed word and I found myself laughing out loud at some of the situations and pausing in praise at others. I was aware of some of the stories but not all and found them inspiring in there telling. I have known Grahme for over 20 years and he continues to be role model of gentle spirit lead faithfulness.
The other reminder to recall came this week on the Street Hope Saint John Facebook page. A picture of our friend Special “K” came up. Two years ago I baked him a cake for his birthday and he was delighted! He said it was his first birthday cake in over 40 years. I don’t see Keith much anymore. He has slipped into a deep depression coupled with bouts of self-medicating. We pray for him regularly at our Study & Prayer times and look forward to his return to our morning fellowship. He grew up just two doors from where Linda and I live. I am grateful for our friendship and reminded of the difference small things can mean in a person’s life.
My trip down memory lane caused me to remember “where my help comes from”. In the challenges of ministry with folks who struggle and in the day to day grind, these things remind me that he is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” It is an easier thing to trust him with the trials of the day if we remember his faithfulness through the ages and particularly to us.
Lately we have been really blessed by supplies given to Street Hope. We have no shortage of food and snacks for our Drop In. People have been very generous. At the same time we continue to see slippage in our financial support but recalling God’s faithfulness we press on undaunted. There are two things you should never worry about: things you can’t do anything about, and things that you can! (if you can don’t waste energy worrying use it to “do it”!
Let’s Continue to Talk!
The excitement of being a new dad took a horrifying turn. I picked up my little guy, Jamie, from his nap. His body was cold. There were these horrible black circles around his eyes. That image of holding the lifeless body of my son became frozen in my mind. It became frozen in time. I carried it with me like a fresh wound for over thirty years. It lurked, not in the background of my mind but in the foreground. Every thought every experience was filtered through that frozen moment! A combination of rage and worthlessness simmered just below the surface waiting to erupt. This was PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)! I ruthlessly clamped down on these thoughts most of the time and managed the disorder, hardly living the “victorious Christian life”. A few years ago a therapist helped me to ‘jar’ that frozen image loose and to appropriately file away this sad and tragic moment. I thank God for humour which was my major coping mechanism!
In my time with Street Hope I have had the honour of being friends with folks who struggle every day with mental illness. I hear stories of them being turned away at the hospital despite sharing suicidal thoughts. I have a friend who was arrested rather than hospitalised. She was taken handcuffed in an unheated van to the women’s jail in Mirimichi (several hours drive) where she spent the weekend before being similarly brought back to Saint John for a court appearance. Thank God, the judge ordered her admitted to hospital.
Many of my friends who struggle with mental illness frequent the free meals offered in the city. The disability cheques are so small that the wisest penny pincher would run out of money before running out of month! In these settings they are often cruelly taken advantage of by the street-wise. Because of their sometimes erratic behaviour, landlords often evict them, not returning damage deposits. Folks least able to manage find themselves homeless, living with the sharks on the streets.
I regularly “talk” with my friends about their struggles. I believe we can’t just talk once a year on “Let’s Talk Day” but to be aware every day of the toll mental illness is taking in our communities. The Church of God ought to be at the forefront of this as in the evangelical heyday in England.
I know we each have our private battles and too often we battle alone, but this is not the way of Christ. My struggles seem smaller among those who talk and larger in the congregation of non-talkers.