The Way to Emmaus and Back Again: Reflections on 41 Days After Easter:

I am wondering how you are as we move into the third month of self-isolating. Sylvia and I look out the windows of our sun room and say to each other, “It doesn’t look dangerous out there.”  And then we remember the news and tell each other that we feel safe on our own property and in our own home.  And we continue to self-isolate.  With the nice weather, we are out in our garden daily and so are our neighbors.  So that gives us an opportunity to meet with people over the fence.  Our family dropped by with flowers for Mother’s Day, respecting the 6-foot distancing, and we enjoyed face to face conversations.

I spend a lot of time reading, attending Zoom seminars, and reflecting on my place in a changing world. I have begun to live into the Easter and post-Easter Christian scriptures.  In my imagination I think this must be similar to the disciples in the upper room after they experienced a world-shattering event (the death of Jesus and then rumours he was not dead).  Confusing information and personal experiences led them to believe that waiting together was the right thing to do. This would lead to the fulfillment of the promise that the Spirit would come to them and lead them out of their current situation.  I am sure they did not have a clue what that would look like, as they wondered, waited questioned and encouraged one another.

Coincidentally (are there really any coincidences?) I was reminded of Mark Nepo’s book, The Exquisite Risk, and read a few pages from the chapter by the same title.   A portion from the first paragraph says, “At any moment, if quiet enough and open enough, we can drop into the fabric or existence in which everything, even pain, has its vivid signature of energy that we call, at different times, truth or beauty or peace.  It is from this ground of being that we know and feel the unseeable web of connection between all life…. The exquisite risk that St. John speaks of is twofold: the risk to still our own house so that Spirit can come through, so that we might drop into the vital nature of things, and the risk to then let that beautiful knowing inform our days.”

The pandemic is the backdrop of our life right now, wherever we are in the world.  I find more people writing about this time with hope that this just might be the way our life is re-shaped and renewed.  If we can still our lives long enough to be in the moment, if we spend time contemplating what our lives are about and what is wrong with us as a society, and the ways we can be different, it might just be the catalyst for the emerging of a more just society.  I read an article (but I didn’t keep it unfortunately) about how the plagues of the 13th and 16th centuries changed the social and political order of the day.  The question now on the lips of many people is “How do we make our world more equitable and how do we make the changes that seem so needed yet so impossible?”  And then, all of a sudden, our world is torn apart.  And there is an opportunity to create a new normal.  There is more awareness of us being in this together, and about caring for each other rather than fighting with each other.  I hear more people saying they appreciate the slowing down.

I am part of a group in Calgary called The Calgary Alliance for the Common Good.  We have become an influential alliance of 39 agencies, spiritual communities and unions who are working for solutions to community concerns in the areas of social isolation, seniors staying in their homes, indigenous relations, mental health and addictions.  And now we have a task force working toward encouraging the federal government to establish a basic income in our country.  There is a growing movement of political, social and business groups that understand how a basic income would save governments a lot of money and improve the lives of many vulnerable people.  The end of this pandemic may be a long way away, which gives us time to embrace changes in the way we show up in this world.

Waiting for the Spirit is waiting for the energy for a new life that will send us out the door in a new way with a new message of love and understanding.  It is not something that we can invent, it is not cobbling together the hopes and dreams of yesterday.  Rather, it is a light coming from the future showing us who we can be, along with an energy to be a part of what is to come.

The disciples waited for 50 days and I am sure on day 37 and 49 some of the disciples were complaining and getting restless, “How long are we going to wait for something to happen?  This is boring and we are tired of waiting.”  I’m sure the disciples got on each other’s nerves living together in a small area, yet I am also sure they took time to pray, reflect, and talk about important things, preparing for the time when they would be moving on.

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A Template of a Spiritual Journey

Using Lent as a time of contemplation has been a long tradition for me, in which I commit to a daily time of reflection and prayer. My current question is, “What does this season mean to me this year?” Usually my discipline wanes over time. But this year the universe conspired to see that I had plenty of free time for contemplation, prayer and meditation.  The pandemic has my wife and me self-isolating for the past month. Zoom allowed me to visit with friends and attend seminars at our church, which all helped me in my time of reflection.

My first significant awareness came after a Spiritual Nurture evening three weeks ago. The theme was reflecting on being and doing. The presenter used Cynthia Bourgeault’s 20-minute video Being is Not Something You Are.  Cynthia teaches that, “Being is life experience beyond words, it is visiting the energetic centre of presence, the heart space” —the place in us where we experience the unity of all things.

After the presentation I talked with two other participants about missing physical touch which Is so important to all of us. As we do many things on-line these days, including church, we are missing physically being with people. I commented that I missed the passing of the peace at our Sunday on-line church service. The touch, the experience of connection was absent. Another woman in the conversation suggested that we use chakra balance, a type of energy balance, to bring us into unity.

The place of touch in this time of physical distancing raises the question, “How do individuals experience touch when we are at a distance? I suggest that passing the peace on-line could include putting your hand over your heart, closing your eyes, visiting the energetic heart centre, where all are connected. Maybe you heard a prayer request that moved you; remember that person, bring them close to you in your heart centre where all is one. Allow yourself to be with them. Perhaps you then think of someone you are missing, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague. Bring them close for a moment, touch them with the invisible hand of love. Do this by remembering your experience with them and the gift that they are in your life. We often share the passing of the peace with people we do not know; we welcome the stranger. Let your heart be open to the unknown person who comes to you (perhaps it is a first responder, a medical person, a refugee). Finally, as you feel the touch of your hand on your heart, hear the words “Lay your hands gently upon me, may their touch render your peace.”  Take it in.

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What’s Going On?

A question that has come up consistently throughout my ministry is: “Do we always have to go through trouble to learn and grow”. My answer has always been: “Yes, it seems to be the only way we really learn what we need to learn”.

The belief that if we really were faithful enough we would not get into trouble is not biblical.  Trouble is not a punishment, but it may be a consequence of a bad decision.  Richard Rohr recently posted: “We are not punished for our sins, we are punished by our sins”.  Life has its ups and downs but we are constantly told that if we are good life can be just a movement from one good thing to another.  And if life is complicated and difficult it’s our fault and someone has a product or a course that can fix it.

The place of good religion is to keep us centered and hopeful when life gets hard and the challenges threaten to overwhelm us. The place of good religion is to help us keep moving to deeper levels of consciousness and understanding of our place in the universe.  I want to share with you Richard Rohr’s blog that came two days ago. He talks about the patterns of life that lead us through the valleys and show us the path to new life.
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What Was I Thinking! Mostly About COVID-19

It seems I have become obsessed with numbers, movement, self-isolation, symptoms, etc. etc. Watching the pandemic spread around the world and now to Alberta with 70 cases in Calgary.  We have done well here in preparing for the arrival of the virus, but it is here now.  I am 76 and my wife and I have decided to nearly self-isolate.  Our church, Hillhurst United Church, has cancelled all in-house services, meetings and activities and we had our first on-line worship service Sunday, March 15.  I have attended two zoom church groups: one on spiritual nurture and the other a 7am group meditation.  It’s a good way to stay connected and still stay at home.

I went from thinking “This is still far away and I am a healthy person; it won’t happen to me” to “It is now around town and maybe around me and I am still a healthy person and I want to stay that way”.  It has finally sunk in that my immune system can not protect me from catching COVID 19 because it is completely unfamiliar to the human body. None of us has built up any immunity to it.  Depending on our health we can, of course, recover from it easily or not so easily.  I am not panicky, haven’t bought toilet paper yet; nor am I fearful.  But I want to be careful, take this threat seriously and do my part to flatten the curve and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Continue reading

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A New Time and Place: Transformation

Lent has always been a special time for me because I use it to reflect on my time and place in this world and prepare for the experience of Easter.  When I was putting together a two-minute talk to advertise a Lenten program at Hillhurst United, I read the first chapter of Terry  O’Reilly’s book, This I know, a delightful book about interesting stories of successes and failures of various marketing plans by this CBC host of Under the Influence.  For instance, what is Molson Brewing’s product?  It’s not beer; it’s partying.  Michelin Tires doesn’t sell tires; they sell safety: “Someone special is riding on your tires.”  So, I asked myself, What am I selling?  Is it a program for lent?  What business is the church in?  Some would say salvation but, being an evolutionary thinker, I would say transformation.  So, I began my two-minute announcement like this:

Wow, what a week: Alberta budget, rail blockades, stock market correction and the threat of the Coronavirus.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you missed the other big event that happened in our lives this past Wednesday when we slipped into another time and place in the rhythm of the Christian year. We are in the season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter.  It is a time to reflect on our values of spirituality and social justice.  It is a time when we Christians choose some particular discipline that will help us grow in our relationships of love – with God, with each other, with ourselves and with the Earth.   Give It Up for The Earth is a discipline that can help us focus on what it means to live in a world where a climate emergency is real, and our response is difficult. There is a brochure in front of you that is an invitation to be a part of Give It Up for The Earth.

After connecting lent and this program I needed to connect the program to the listener. Continue reading

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A Crisis Made In Canada: Here’s What I Was Thinking

We are experiencing an Indigenous blockade of our rail lines.  The Conservatives want to use force to open up the line and the Liberals are taking another path – negotiation.  What do the indigenous groups want?  Do they want Canada to starve?  Do they want to destroy the country?  What is the solution here?

I think Trudeau should tell this story to help us understand.

The Indigenous people came to this land a long, long time ago and they built a house and lived on this land, in this house for a long time until white visitors came.  It took a while, but these visitors were eventually invited to stay in the house and share the land.  But the visitors brought more family and friends –more people until there were too many for the size of the house –not enough room for everyone.  So the white visitors threw out the indigenous people and gave them a shed in the back yard to live in.  No running water and few amenities and not enough land to make a good life.  As many years went by the distance between them grew, and the white people tried to get them out of the shed as well.  But that didn’t work.  And here we are.  So, if you are mad about the blockades then you understand how indigenous people feel about someone else restricting their lives and threatening their livelihoods.  And here we are.

The issue is not just about a piece of land to build a pipeline on, it is about building a bigger house so indigenous people can have a place In Canada.  It is about respecting the land and the people. Even bigger than that, it is about respecting the whole Earth as a sacred place that will support us if we use it properly.  It is about an understanding and a respect for other each other.  We have to elevate the conversation and we white people must be willing to share the abundance if we hope to have a future here.

We don’t just need the permission of the indigenous Chiefs; we need to include them in making decisions that effect all Canadians, and open a door that allows them back into the house.  Show them, not just tell them, we respect their right to manage the land.  That is hard for us because we think in terms of contracts, not relationships.  “When will we ever learn?” (Pete Seeger)

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Awe and Wonder

I was preparing to write my first blog for the new year on “2020, the Year of Perfect Vision”. I have been saying this as we approached 2020 because it seems to me that faith gives us a different perspective – a new vision to guide our life. Humanity needs a new vision to save us from chaos and destruction. Jesus often talked about blindness being a problem for human beings.

However, two days after we got back from two weeks in Mexico my wife and I went to church to begin to re-connect with our life back in Calgary. One of our ministers, Don McLeod, chose Awe and Wonder as the theme for the service. I could feel myself wondering and anticipating as the service began. It felt different. There was no pulpit. The usual pattern was altered slightly. It was even more informal than usual, yet connected. Mary Oliver’s poem “Instructions for Living a Life: Be Aware, Be Astonished, Tell Someone” was read. And the choir anthem was “Everyday Miracles”.  The scripture was from the Gospel of Thomas, second teaching: 2) “Jesus said, If you are seeking, continue seeking until you find it. But when you find it you will become troubled. And your troubling will give rise to astonishment. Being astonished, you will have power over all.”

Don began his sermon with a conversation with a young boy with whom he has been having conversations about God for over a year. The conversations began when the boy asked Don, ”Is it illegal for someone to come to church who doesn’t believe in God?” The conversation continued about the boy’s belief in science and there being no proof of God’s existence. It was about a seven-minute conversation that ended with the thought: Science is a new tradition that is introducing us to the universe we live in and are a part of. In this new way of looking we discover the everyday miracles of the sacredness of life. The universe really is a part of us, in and around us, and the more we pay attention to it the more we understand that it is a sacred body where we live and breathe and find our being (my summary).

Then Don told us the purpose of the sermon: “I want you to leave today with an inkling of awe and wonder; to be on the edge of your seat enough for you to be able to re-connect with the sacred in all things. Is that too much to ask?” My first response was “Yes it is”. This reaction surprised me and when I explored it, I realized that I felt that this focus on only the positive was too easy. Awe has both a negative and a positive side. Continue reading

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