Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

No words…..

This is Lent’s Journal, week one.

Ash Wednesday.  Parkland, Florida. Mass shooting #18 in the US this year alone…. No words.

Thursday.  No words from Congress, or the President.  Oh, to be sure , there were promises of prayer, sympathy, thoughts…. but not the words we long to hear… “Every child deserves to grow up.”  or “Every child deserves to go to school without fear of automatic rifles, so we are going to do something.”  Not those words.

Friday .   I take time to read some background material on the Colten Boushie case in Saskatchewan. What a failure of justice! For this I have no words worth speaking. “Sorry” seems too little, and far too late.
No words. Just silence.  The silence of a sullen, lowering wilderness.  Stunned silence….

   “Listen in the silence…. listen in the noise…Listen for the sound of the Spirit’s voice…”

I hear the Spirit’s voice in that of  Justice Sinclair. https://ipolitics.ca/2018/02/12/words-senator-murray-sinclair-colton-boushie-case/

I hear the Spirit’s voice in that of school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez. https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/02/17/parkland-florida-student-message-to-politicians-anti-gun-rally-sot-nr.cnn

But me,  I have no words.

Ashes or Chocolate?

For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, which is provocation for some interesting spiritual reflection. One commentator opined, “If the choice is between love or guilt,I choose guilt every time!” (Score one for Ashes) I note in the news feeds this week that according to some rather stern RC bishops in Europe and N. America, the admonition is to  “celebrate your loved ones, but not with chocolate, steak or other food indulgences” (pun!)… Take your date to a fish fry, but not before getting your yearly dose of ashes.” (Score one for Guilt). For many Protestant churches that have a less rigorous Ash Wednesday observance,some have not offered ashes this year, saying, “No one will show up,” or, “We shouldn’t even ‘guilt’ people by offering a service, and making them choose.” (Score one for Chocolate).

Does it have to either or? Guilt or Love? Ashes or Chocolate?  Is there something about this calendrical confluence that can point beyond the polarity? Or take us deeper, beneath the apparent conflict, to enrich both days, when they separate again in years to come?

Every year on Valentine’s Day,  the curmudgeon in me wants to run a mile, away from what has, at its worst, become a superficial or guilt ridden homage to an unattainable romantic ideal barely recognizable as love.

For those who aren’t romantically attached, it’s a day of being excluded.
For those whose loves have died or moved on, it’s hard, sad, aching.
For those whose love is toughened by hardship, chocolates and roses seem insultingly vacuous.

All of a sudden, the option to choose to be marked with ashes – the sign of endings, mortality, –  suddenly seems a more fitting way to mark love than with a chocolate kiss.

The legend of S. Valentine is worth sharing dusting off (oh the puns keep coming) on this confluence of his day with the Ash Day. He was killed, so the story goes, executed for his love of God, his love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his commitment to love and serve the poor. His love, for which he died wasn’t erotic love at all, but a wholehearted, pure-hearted, clean-hearted love for others, and especially  those least likely to be able to reciprocate with steak, roses, or chocolate,

“Create in me a clean heart” sang the psalmist.  (Ps 51). “Wash the ash from me, put my feet onto a path, that though hard, is paved with love. God’s love, our love for God, ourselves and others, especially those whose lives are marked more with ashes than our own.

As for me, today?  I’ll mark my forehead with ashes,  and I’ll take  with gratitude the chocolate heart that is offered,  and offer some myself. And I’ll remember that today – Valentine’s Day  or Ash Wednesday – is not about guilt, but about the sort of love we want to spend our lives living for, and the sort of love I want to die still living.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of noticing (a prayer for Isaiah 40:21-31)

Prayer for Gathering  

Through your prophet-poet,
you ask us if we’ve not seen,
not heard,
not known
that everything in creation
is your love-child.

 
 
 
We have known,
but we forget,
We have seen sun on snow,
waves on a beach;
we have witnessed
the plume of a volcano,
the rush of an avalanche,
but we ignore.
We stopped noticing.
We unlearned the wisdom of awe.
We are too busy finding ourselves
to take notice of you in the language of creation.
We are sorry.
Teach us again, Holy One,
to see, to hear, to listen, to notice,
and in so doing, to find our place again,
wise and humble, open to mystery,
within the vast community of your creation.

In Memoriam

On Saturday September 30, as my Sabbatical Journal records,  my father and I sat together for the last time.  For the past two years he had suffered from multiple mini-strokes, which robbed him, week by week, of more and more mental and physical capacity. For all of my life my father has been a fount of knowledge, with a vise -like grip on the intricacies of the English language, an encyclopaedic knowledge of British industrial history, Icelandic and Norse mythology,  ornithology, botany, astronomy, classical music… and more. He walked faster than most( a memory all of my children share – trying to keep up with Grandpa!),  and  he loved to be out on the moors, or in the limestone and grit-stone valleys of the White and Dark Peak on a perennial hunt for an orchid, a rare bird,  or traces of a long-forgotten cottage industry.

On September 30, most of that was all gone.  His body could barely transfer from chair to bed, one side no longer responding to any mental intention, and  his speech, once erudite and prolix, reduced to “Yes” and “You see.” Thanks to a wonderful book I’d found, filled with photographs of British fauna and flora, I was still able to connect with  the man within  that day.  Recognition of various animals and plants provoked memories for both of us, and for a while we could go, in memory, to places now beyond his reach.  I wasn’t sure how much of this reminiscing was my wishful thinking, and how much he was still “with me”, so  with a couple of bird photos, I deliberately mis-named them. Immediately his one good hand tapped the page, and the “yes” became a clear “no.”  Ever the professor, he was still teaching his daughter to correctly identify a rose-breasted grosbeak, not a pine grosbeak, words or no words.  That day was more gift than I could have known at the time.  On December 28, a chest infection allowed his body to release his intelligent spirit back into the universe he had studied all his life with such intimate precision.

The death of my sister nearly fifty years ago robbed him of any trust in a benevolent deity, much less in an institutional religion that dared to tell him that she was better off in heaven than with her family (something you will never hear from my lips, ever!)   When I was ordained nearly twenty years ago he declared himself to be a ‘religion-free zone,’  but remained  interested in the academic side of my vocation, and we both honoured the border restrictions he imposed.  That said, I believe that for my father,  his restless soul found its sanctuary in the cosmic wonder of the night sky, and in the furled intricacy of a budding harebell, in the deep resonance of a bittern’s call.  In keeping with his wishes, there will be no church funeral, nor will a coffin or grave confine his body. Instead, at some point in the Spring I will return his mortal remains to the moors that so shaped his life, and mine.

He will not begrudge me the need to be surrounded by those who share my religious faith in the coming days, and I am more grateful for your prayers  than you can know.  As I walk now into a valley shadowed by his death, and deepened by his absence,  I am grateful to keep company with others who have walked this road before, or walk it still, and trust that even here, there will be new mysteries of life to discover, new ash-born newness to burst forth in due season.

I pray for him: a peace of soul, a rest of body, an an eternal adventure of discovery of the reaches of the universe that has beckoned his inquisitive spirit all his life.  Rest in Peace, Daddy.

 

Beyond the Sabbatical: Refugees

Please take a few moments to read this poem by Brian Bilston.  (Keep reading to the end). It has served to provoke and inspire my preparatory reflections for our worship on Christmas Eve, particularly at the 10 PM service.

“Flight to Egypt.” Nicholas Mynheer. (Mynheer-art.co.uk)

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top) 

 

Beyond the Sabbatical – the journal will continue

I’ve given this some thought in the last weeks of the Sabbatical, and into this first week back.  Do I put down the journal?  After all, the Sabbatical is over, and  won’t I be too busy being with the people of Cedar Park to be writing to/with/for them?

What I realize is that 97 days is long enough to form a habit, and this habit has been good for my soul.  As an introvert who needs to write to figure out sometimes what I’m really thinking or feeling, this journal has helped me to see myself in the world in more attentive ways.  It has helped me to create a reflective/communicative space where I can connect with you,  the people with whom I serve God in the world. Those are gifts and graces from this sabbatical time that would be too good to give up now.

So the answer, is yes… the journal will continue (not daily, most likely bi-weekly), and for the coming weeks, be something like a  “Beyond the Sabbatical: Journal/Musings on the Return.” I’ll be taking some time in the coming two weeks to reconfigure this blog space so that the periodic musings will be the first thing you see when you come to this site.  I hope in this way to continue a community conversation around this life of faith, pondering, wonder and wholehearted connection to one another, God and this world.

 

Sabbatical Update: It’s Over?!

Well, it’s over! 97 days,  each one filled with its own unique gifts, challenges, surprises, and expectations. Three months, each with a different purpose and feel.  A season of thinking deeply, and the discipline of writing.

And now for the return. What a brilliant idea to come back just in time  to participate in worship with all who came to the the Participatory Pageant!  The winter sun wouldn’t quit shining on us, making tinsel halos sparkle, and eyes glisten.  (see right).

 

Mark your calendars for a grand catch up together on January 14th after worship.  A “Lunch and Learn” event where not only I, but all of us, share our experiences of this Sabbatical season.  I shall be reviewing my journal, sharing more photos, the highlights, the hilarious and the holy, as well as some of the tougher aspects of being intentionally separated for a season from the community.  I am sure that you, dear readers, also have stories to tell too, and I want to hear them.

And to all of you who read the journal, and who shared it with some of our folk who are not into finding such things on computers,  please accept my heartfelt thanks. To know that you were following the journey proved to be one of those bonds of caring community which make Cedar Park such a grace-filled, holy place.  And yes, I am glad to be back.

Sabbatical Update: writing status report


Sabbatical Update: Is that a train, or daylight?

It was good to come up for air last night to hear the Philomela Choir perform their Christmas concert (the bass section is awesome, Norman and Peter!), but here I am, back at the desk again this afternoon!  This is my world for the next week, completing the last chapter of writing the thesis.  Most chapters have already been submitted to the first reader, so the edits are also in process.    If you want to join Paul Clarke in a caption contest for this photo, you can find it on Facebook too!

More seriously, I have a request for you readers of this blog; prayers, thoughts…maybe a comment on here, a word of encouragement.  The comparison of long-length writing and long-distance running is apt; both are at times, lonely.   As the end of the tunnel (light) is in sight, it’s even harder to keep focus on the track itself….. Thanks!

Sabbatical Update: Kids Are Unstoppable!

I’m having a wonderful time today reviewing  the midrashic work we did as a community last Advent (it’s a key piece of the fifth chapter of the thesis). There were the Texts and Textures groups and their amazing courage and insight shared, with a salty mixture of seriousness and humour, the wonderful worship, as well as the  sermons I preached, and this: “Kids are Unstoppable!”  The wonderful song that the children of KidZone composed with our much-loved (and missed) Pat Mayberry.  (Whom you can hear this weekend at Coffee House. Go!)

I can plant a flower, I can plant a tree,
‘Cuz I know by doing this I’m helping people breathe.
Keep it simple, we can do it!
When we share, you know it’s true,
I can plant a flower for the love of me and you.
‘Cuz kids are unstoppable –
We can make a difference too!

 

I can share a smile, put away my frown.
I can help you to get up when you have fallen down.
Keep it simple ,we can do it!
When we share, you know it’s true,
I can share a smile for the love of me and you.
‘Cuz kids are unstoppable –
We can make a difference too!

Oh, how my heart aches, and my toes itch to be back in the midst of  this amazing creative community again!

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