Beyond Talk

Have you seen all the “Let’s Talk” ads. They have come every year for the last several turns around the sun. They may provoke an “Oh yes, it is that time of year again.” response. But awareness of mental health has never been more important than now. Isolation from true human contact and burrowing deeper into virtual ‘relationships’ with only those who share our opinions, biases, and point of view, leads to ill health. It features an exaggerated sense of grievance. We feed off the gripes of the like minded and our temperatures rise beyond what is healthy or helpful.

A deceptive type of paranoia is loose in the land! Of course, the difficulty is that one of the first signs of such deception is that we are not aware of it! Such deception can hardly be battled with argument. This ‘crossing of swords’ exacerbates and heightens the temperature. It too often entrenches each ‘side’ all the further.

I dare suggest a different tack. I suggest that St. Francis  might have been right and that it is better to “understand than be understood”. Such understanding requires less reaction and more listening.

I think a mirror might be a helpful image and that as we carefully listen and gently reflect back what we hear that we all might make progress. Too often people driven by grievance slip into extremism. If we sought to gently reflect how these actions or words look and land, asking if this is what they really intend, then we invite human interaction rather than de-personalized grievance.

This necessitates me refusing to join in either sharing or refuting and places me in the steps of Francis and of Jesus. Good sandals to stand in!

Each day we are confronted with the difficulty people with mental health issues face during the fear and isolation of covid. Our friend J. has had to be institutionalized because of her adverse reactions during this time. Because of isolation her communication has been reduced to texting friends. Texting is a poor means of communicating at the best and this mentally ill woman has managed to hurt and alienate many furthering her isolation. Every day she is contact with me sharing her hurts and always asking me what she can pray for.

V. lives in terrible anxiety and in isolation too often listens to these voices of worry and despair. She finds hope in reading her precious book of Psalms. She may go weeks without human contact.

B. lives in a care home which is rightfully extremely strict about its covid protocols. She is often locked down with other mentally ill residents and they “drive each other nuts!”

The healthiest of us battle with this isolation seeking healthy ways to connect. Let us not just talk but let us act justly. Let us not air grievance raising the temperature but be cooling agents. This is the 2021 way to be preserving salt in the world.


Change and Changelessness

The World longs for change.

The World turned the calendar… but like a beggar’s pocket… No Change!

The World pins its highest hope on vaccines… still no sign of change.

Thousands die… no change.

In three short weeks devout resolutions fall to dust.

Humanities best efforts to reform bring …

Wait for it…

No change!

Vanity of vanities. There is nothing new beneath the Sun.

Change like quicksilver eludes our grasp.

Hope arises only to fail, as hopes before too often have.

The outlook for reformation is gloomy.

The forecast for human evolution is dismal.

Until something changes, nothing will.

The onus falls on me and you!

Change begins with contrite hearts.

With humble spirits.

Change relies not on the dint of our labours.

It lies in repentance!

A true turning away from selfish ways

An honest turning toward the Light

An honest turning toward the Right

An honest turning to the Good

Knowing, “There is none good but God.”

From our knees  we may see the cracking of a new Dawn

Light aroused from an empty tomb

A Light that makes the darkness tremble

A Right that lifts the broken and the fallen

A Good poured out like water on a dry and weary World.

Bright Hope can be known

There may be change

Hope has a Name

Newness has a Way

The Name, the Way, is Jesus.

That’s the Truth!

Genuine Delight

I think in these dark days of ‘covid winter’ we have to take care to savour joy when it finds us. In the past I was a bit more cavalier about the good things that came my way. I thought “That was nice, there will be plenty more moments like that!” I now repent of this attitude that takes grace and mercy for granted. Like taking a small bite of dark chocolate and letting it slowly melt on my tongue, I want to deeply relish the grace-filled moments of beauty and joy. I want to genuinely enjoy them and take time to thank the giver of all good gifts. Such savouring, I think, will give us insight and perspective enabling us to live well.

Yesterday we had a wonderful visit from our grandchildren. While Linda played floor hockey with Declan in the basement, I walked the floor with little Ronan. He is just shy of two months old. He would not settle for me if I were seated, so I held him tight and paced all the time gently bouncing him up and down. I enjoyed the down like fuzz of his little head beneath my chin. I shooshed and hummed and rocked until that wonderous moment when he dropped off in a peaceful sleep in my arms. There is no feeling like this!

I carefully laid him down in the middle of our big bed and lay down beside him. There we spent the next hour together. I did nothing but enjoy those moments. I watched his little rib cage go up and down as he breathed. I admired the complex beauty of his wee hands as they twitched this way and that. I listened intently to the little inarticulate baby sounds. I inhaled that lovely ‘new baby’ smell. Mostly though I smiled and delighted in this miraculous little life. Ronan did not have to do anything or perform to bring such delight. I wondered if God does not delight in us in a similar fashion.

What if his affections are not earned by our behaviour?

What if there was nothing we need do to earn his delight?

What if there were no conditions to His love?

The answer to all these questions is that they all are true. “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph. 3:17

Just as I was enraptured with quiet joy for that hour, so I am captured by the notion that my Heavenly Father is eternally delighted in ways that I can only haltingly reflect. This is a thought to take us through the darkest that ‘covid winter’ has to offer!

The Challenge of Epiphany

It is a bit ironic that many call January 6th a dark day when Christians around celebrate the Epiphany, when “the Light to lighten the Gentiles” is celebrated.  In January, as the days slowly lengthen, we recall the dawning of the Light of the World, long foretold, the hope for both Jew and Gentile. This Epiphany was long expected from the time of God’s covenant with Abraham that “all the world would be blessed.”

Back in the Centennial Year, in a ‘Coronation Church’ (founded in the year Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne) on the Day of Epiphany, I was first commissioned for ministry. It was my Confirmation, which is an Anglican rite wherein the candidate takes the promises of infant baptism as their own. Afterward the minister asked the presiding Bishop to pray a ‘special’ blessing on me and the call to ministry the entire congregation affirmed. The Bishop lay hands on me a second time and prayed as requested. I mark that day as having particular influence and one that ‘launched’ me into the place I find myself so many years later.

My heart has consistently been moved to encourage people to experience their own Epiphany. Though the Light has shone in the darkness He has not been universally received. The promise to those who receive him is the “power to become children of God.” This epiphany is vital!

It is a shame and a stain to see people purporting to be Christian acting out in violence and lawlessness. Darkness and Light cannot co-exist. We, as children of Epiphany, are called to “walk in the light even as He is in the light.” When we do not, we must repent! We can all make mistakes, but we ought not to persist in them.

Epiphany calls us to live in the light, to walk in the light, to spread the light of Christ.  Epiphany calls me, calls us, to tell of his light and to (imperfectly to be sure) live in His light that the world may see us and “Glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Epiphany remains a challenge and a reminder to me. I no longer belong to the church of my childhood, but I am who I am because of her and for that I remain eternally grateful.

It is also a joy to see the ‘light’ coming on for friends who are taking Alpha with us. It is a wonderful thing to see people come in pain and confusion and find answers and find Jesus. It is a simple thing to pray for our friends and invite them to join in a inquiry into the faith and it is a glorious thing to see God at work in lives!

Occupying in a Fallow Time

I have been wondering what the ancient farmer did while the land lay fallow during a sabbatical year. God had ordained that the land was to ‘rest’. The benefits of this are obvious for the land. It had a year to replenish nutrients used up in the six previous years of crop production. It took preparation during those years for the farmer to be able to continue to eat during this time, but what, I wonder, did the farmer do during that year?

The land may have been at rest as far as crop growing was concerned but it was engaged in replenishing itself in order to be at its best in the years to follow.

Surely this was the work of the farmer during those years. He was not idle! (I have never met an idle farmer) He must have been engaged in equipment repair and infrastructure replacement. He was engaged in home repair and personal study in how to grow better crops next year. He thought more and deeper than when his every moment was consumed in the business of agriculture.

The land was better after the sabbatical and so was the farmer!

Few farmers ever actually practised this in the biblical way, though land is sometimes left fallow and crops are rotated. In recent times fertilizers have seemingly replaced the need for sabbatical.

I believe the same is true for us. As a culture we fail to observe sabbaths. In our busyness we miss the benefits of replenishment that are intended for us in God’s design. We continue to “work harder not smarter” no matter what we think.

2020 has been a time of forced fallowness. It is not as if we should laze during this time, though the therapeutic benefits of naps have become clearer. We are still called to “occupy” until he comes. But this is a time for tending our ‘supporting infrastructure’ to repair our lives and relationships in preparation for a fruitful time ahead.

I wonder if many of us are not squandering a crisis. We have busied ourselves in finding creative ways to continue in our old paths when we have a glorious opportunity to walk an entirely different path for this time, so that we can be all the more prepared for the seasons to come.

Now when we are making resolutions can I suggest that we resolve to find the fullness of God’s blessing during these strange days. Let us not let a good crisis go to waste!