Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Marking Advent.


Happy New Year!

Yes, that’s right.  This Sunday, November 29, we begin a new Christian Year, with the season called “Advent.”   The Gospel reading for this first Sunday in Advent (Mark 13:32-37) encourages us to “stay alert” and to “keep watch” through the season (actually through our whole lives) while we wait attentively for the “coming near” of God (which is what Advent means).

Perhaps this year, we’ll actually be able to notice Advent. Usually , Advent’s quiet ‘attentive waiting’ gets lost under all the hustle, bustle, shop-til-you-drop of a normal December. But this year is so different !This pandemic has stripped pretty much everything down to the bare essentials. While that’s been hard in so many ways, with some profound, even lasting losses, there have been some surprising gifts to this laying bare;  children playing outside with neighbours; slower home-cooked meals around a kitchen table with no one rushing  off to the next scheduled sports activity or music lesson. And what about those  Zoom calls with grandparents, or long-lost now reconnected friends?  And a creation filled with such beautiful sunsets (was that a gift of  less traffic, less smog, perhaps?)

So I anticipate this Advent with a renewed curiosity, wondering what simple traditions we will recover, wondering if we’ll actually get to try out some “attentive waiting” for real this year.  Attentive waiting for the hope and promise of a vaccine (!)  enables us to practise a spiritual attentive waiting for the hope and promise of a “Way” of living that is gentler, kinder, fairer, more just, not just for “we”, but for “all”.   It is what we ALL long for, deep down, isn’t it?


A Protracted Silence: Protracted Resilience.

Where did the last 16 months go?  I can barely believe that the last blog post was in Lent…. 2019.  This has been far more than a CoVid-induced hiatus!  Many of you reading this know some of the events that contributed to this protracted silence.  From mid March through to May 2019 I was battling “something” that  drained every spare ounce of energy. I managed preaching, worship, pastoral care, but barely more and I felt like…. (fill in the blank).  A few doctors’ visits later, feeling no better, but pressing on anyway, I was driving down Hwy 401 to Toronto to an ecumenical conference at which I was to represent the United Church of Canada, when my cell phone rang in the car. It was pouring rain, so I pulled off the highway, parked by the side of a residential road in some small Ontario town, and returned the call. “Elisabeth? Are you sitting down? Your tests came back. It’s cancer.”


I never made it to that meeting. June through to early September was a blur of more tests, pre-op, surgeries, and recovery.  I did laugh at the God-wink in that the two doctors assigned to my surgery and care were Drs. Gotlieb (God-love),  and Salvador (Saviour)!  But that was almost all I could do. More than once I would come to this blogsite and open a blank post, and stare, utterly bereft of words to render sensible the senseless numbness I felt.  Some whisper of wisdom made it through the fog and said “Don’t try. Stop.”  Instead, I picked up a camera and began what turned into my “Summer in my Garden” photo journal on Facebook.  This simple daily discipline of standing, sitting, strolling  in my garden until I could see some sign of life, hope, beauty, wonder became a quotidian gift of tranquility and perception that anchored me to life and its author, and to my fellow transient creatures.  I didn’t have profound thoughts, wisdom did not wash over me in waves, I simply became an observer of life’s resilience, its fleeting yet recurrent beauty,and a recipient of its unpredictable grace.

I returned to active ministry again in late September, relishing the time to reconnect and join in the flow of the work of ministry in this place, for barely a month before the   the rains came down, the power went off, and the sump pump failed, and the Great Flood of Hallowe’en swamped our church’s basement, displacing the CPE Daycare. I have rarely been more proud than I was when staff, volunteers, Board members, neighbours, all leapt into action to save what we could of the furnishings, move the daycare up into “our space” on the main level, and reconfigure ourselves and our building in radical ways so that we could continue to live our logo, maintain our ministries and programmes, and laugh a lot while we did so.   To see such love, faith, in action will remain one of the high-holy moments of my ministry career, and I will forever be grateful to have been  Minister in a community with  heart and a will and a vision of care so strong and clear.

The mess in the basement was brutal. It took months to fix.  The end was in sight….. the daycare was preparing to move back downstairs, the room used by Healing Pathway ministry was about 75% done when…. the word got sick.

On March 11, a global pandemic was declared by the WHO.  On March 13,  I asked colleagues “what is Facebook Live?” On March 15 with a shaky hand-held smartphone, we worshipped together – sort of – for the first time.   Do you remember when we thought we’d sit it out for a couple of weeks, and be back into our Sanctuary in time for Easter?  Laughable now.  As I write this post, we are now preparing worship in an online format for the 26th week of what I’m calling “CoVid Season.”  The new normal is … not so normal is it?  Worship spaces cobbled together in kitchens and living rooms, a global hug deficit, muted choirs, and smiling “eyes only”, if we can manage to smile at all. Families hurting in more ways than we could ever have imagined by the fear and reality of sickness, death, grief.  And the world seems to be fraying and fracturing and the seeming breakdown of  civility and community.

And yet…. have you noticed it, felt it?  This protracted resilience that is like a deep basso continuo note underneath this entire post…. the resilience of life in spite of, or perhaps because of its fragility?  I’ve noticed it.  From the intimate knowledge of the re-knitting of my body after surgery, to the healing laughter of colleagues while knee deep in flood water, to the groundswell of cries for climate, racial and gender justice. Last year’s daily practise of simple observation may have been the gift and talent I needed most to learn in readiness for this CoVid time:  to watch for signs of life where cancerous distortions seem at first to have swept life and hope away.  Cancerous distortions of our civil society are ugly, and dangerous, threatening and real, and yet, so are the strategies for cure and healing. We have work to do, alongside the Giver of Life, to identify the margins of the cancer, and choose the right methods to excise it from the body of creation’s community; it will hurt, like hell. And after the hurt, we will need to give ourselves the needed time to live intentionally into the recovery. We will never be quite as we were before. Before cancer. Before CoVid. Before global upheavals of injustice.  And nor would we want to be.  We want to be better, wiser, kinder, more grateful, less addicted to the privileges that blind us to life’s pain, and to life’s gifted, fragile resilience.


Fasting and Feasting in Lent


Post will go here, Ash Wednesday.

Link to pdf here: Fasting and Feasting CPU 2019

Listen! Look! Luke!

We’re at it again! Another lively group has gathered at Cedar Park to “midrash” the Third Gospel together.  For those who can’t participate in person, or have to miss a week, you can follow along by clicking on the drop down page above this, with the title “Listen! Look! Luke!” and you’ll find links to the class preparation notes that I write each week .  Feel free to take a look, add a comment on the comment page, and join in from wherever you are.

Star Words

This year, Cedar Park United will join with an ever increasing number of Christian faith communities who use a daily spiritual practice known as “Star Words” (…Words!! not a George Lucas franchise- I see you!!) .

I first learned of this practice through an article on the Reformed Worship website quite a few years ago. It’s a tradition that has quickly caught on, and for good reason.

The concept is inspired by the story of Magi who travelled from the East, following the guidance of a star, to visit the Christ Child. (You can read the story  here at Bible Gateway). Like the Magi, we choose to be led towards the life of Jesus Christ by the guidance of a star. On the Feast of Epiphany, all who come to worship are given a star, upon which is written a word.

This Star Word becomes ours for the length of a season (from Jan 6 to the last Sunday before Lent, March 3), and we’re invited to ponder it, reflect on it, notice it. We may not like it, it may not resonate… at first. But noticing it show up in our daily experience is what makes it become a lode-star, a guiding-star, a north-star for the way we approach and respond to the world, and our life within it.  I’ve heard from two clergy colleagues who “lived with” their Star Words for a year, and noticed how much it both reflected and shaped their experience of God-with-Us, and their way of discipleship. You can read one story here.

Let me also share this wonderful, humorous story of a family who were guided by Star Words for a month.

Our family (two adults, one teenager, two toddlers and a dog) were given Star Words at church last month: Peace, Wonder, Balance, Integrity, Protect.  We wanted to swap them around, because “Peace” was given to our warrior, and “Protect” seemed more appropriate for our dog. But we did as we were told, and tried to be attentive to our words at least once a day.  It’s been frankly amazing to become aware of these words and the way they show up in our lives. My normally pragmatic/stoic partner – given Wonder- has started saying “Wow!” as she notices beauty, hears music as if for the first time, and is amazed when the toddlers stop fighting.  Our teenager, who normally lets the world go by, has joined the school anti-bullying group, and won’t use straws or plastic forks “It’s for the fish, Mom, duh…!” I’ve noticed the innate integrity (or honest emotion and action) of two year olds, and the effort it takes them to balance night and day, sleep and play, food and fighting. Yes, peace is definitely lost, often in this crazy blended household, but I’m noticing, it is more often regained.  We were asked to hand the words back on Sunday. Not happening. We’re not letting them go. Not ever. They’re ours now. Peace out.

So that’s what we’re going to do this Sunday.  You’ll all get a Star Word.  If you can’t be in worship on Sunday, and want to join in, then leave a comment on this blog, and we’ll give you your own Star Word.  Or check out our Facebook pages on Sunday 6th, leave a comment and we’ll give you your word.

And on the Feast of Transfiguration, we’ll see where these Star Words have led us….. I can’t wait!

Dismantling the Creche

We’ve heard this tale already, a few times, in the past few weeks.
It is after all the “Reason for the Season”
Luke’s telling of the birth of the Christ child.
Some of us perhaps retell the story while we put up our crèche scenes.
We find a stable – or something that looks like one-
we line it with straw, and populate it with barn animals, a donkey, a cow,
setting the backdrop to the central tableau;
a manger, (no crib for a bed),
a woman and a protective man,
and the swaddled infant,
perhaps complete with halo.

And scattered about and above,
a star (not Luke’s),
an angel (not a heavenly army as Luke would want),
some shepherds, and their sheep.
(And not for today, because Luke doesn’t tell their tale, three magi with their camels).

What our manger scenes may not display however,is the dominance of Rome.
I’ve seen no manger scenes with Roman soldiers patrolling the back alley where this tale occurred,
no Syrian Governor Quirinius doing the dirty deeds for his “Augustan” Emperor,
safe in Rome, moving Palestinian pieces
like pawns on a chess board.

But I wish we did.
Because if we did, there’d be more of this this Christmas story
we’d recognize when we open tomorrow’s news feed,
when we watch the displacement or the forced unemployment
of millions because of the fiscal, or military, or geopolitical whims of the mighty.

When, on January 7, I wrap my infant Jesus up in the same yellow tissue paper that holds his kneeling mother, Mary,
I know I will remember swaddling my now grown children.I always do. I will ponder the life given, the faith grown,
the discipleship that they have made for themselves and their children.

When I wrap up the cow with the broken horn, I will think of the ways in which
life has its knocks and bumps and imperfections;
but horn or no horn, we all still have a place close to the miracle
of Christ’s birthing in the world.

When I wrap Joseph though,
I want to remember he is one of 68 million
people who are no longer welcome in their homeland,
who are forced to eke out some semblance of protection out of the “make-do” of temporary shelters.

And when I bubble-wrap with care my one broad-winged angel,
I want it to be the awe-filled care of one who has just been bowled over again
by the sheer fearful potency of his message;
God’s declaration that despite the reach of Augustus and his kind,
despite their attempts to control borders, colour and kinship,
and who is in and who is out, who is blessed and who is cursed,
there is indeed fearsome “Good News of Great Joy for all the people!”
born each and every day wherever a swaddled life is cherished,
and most especially, when life is born in places of desperate displacement, and fear.

And when I wrap my shepherds, I want to remember that they are not in fact superfluous to Luke’s telling of the tale, but that they are crucial to it.
For it was they who ran from the stable
and heralded with the human voice of wonder and praise, giddy, hysterical laughter, and irrepressible delight
in all that they had heard and seen of God’s glory and light,
God’s infinite might and strength,
swaddled in the tiny fragile flesh of a newborn mortal.

I want to be one of those shepherds
and herald God’s fearsome Good News
in a world that’s sick and tired of fake news.

All Hallows, All Blessed


Fra Angelico: All Saints (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This coming Sunday we will hold  our annual “All Saints” worship service.  “What is that?” you may be asking? Is it for me? Is it for my family? I hope the following post helps.

Back in the mists of time when most Christians in the northern and western parts of Europe were Catholic, we all followed a calendar of Feasts and Holy days (holidays), which included the following:

  • October 31  “All Hallows Eve” (or Hallowe’en)
  • November 1  “All Hallows” day – or All Saints Day.
  • November 2  “All Souls” Day.

Feast days always began at the evening of the night before the feast (hence All Hallows Even(ing) = Halloween).  In Ireland and Britain (and perhaps other European countries too), a tradition began over 1000 years ago to gather in the church yard on the eve of All Hallows  to ask God’s blessing and protection from evil in the world.  Often people would gather wearing costumes depicting saints or evil spirits, and they would act out the battle between good and evil around bonfires……..  (Can you see in this the seeds of our modern day ghouls, goblins,  and nun/monk Hallowe’en costumes?!!)


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In Spanish speaking countries there is a similar tradition – el Día de los Muertos – the day to honour the dead. Families will gather at the graves of their dead, often decorating them with sugar sweets and flowers, and with a time for praying that the dead be “blessed” by God with the rewards of Heaven.

At Cedar Park United we are part of a Christian tradition that believes that God’s love is so eternally limitless, that the souls (or the essence) of those who have died are still held in God’s limitless love, and that these bonds of love outlast life and death.  So we gather on the Sunday closest to these festivals of remembrance and we light a candle for our loved ones who have died, but who still live on in memory and love.  As the light of these candles grows, they cast the light of God’s love, and ours into the darkness of grief.  It’s really not  easy to explain, that’s why death and love and remembrance remain a deep, holy mystery. This is the day we simply sit within the mystery, together.  And it is beautiful.  And you are welcome to come and be with us.

See you Sunday.


Midrashing Mark is Here!

Our Fall season of Midrashing the  upcoming preaching texts  has started. You can find the handouts on the blog by clicking on the page (top of the screen) called “Midrashing Mark”.  Each week following the ‘in person’ sessions at Cedar Park United, you’ll be able to find the session hand-out.


Resurrection Project Day 14: “See Me, Touch Me, I am real.”

I am deep into the biblical text for tomorrow’s sermon. It’s Luke’s third of four resurrection stories.  (Luke 24:36-48).  In this one, Jesus joins a group of fearful disciples, and they are scared witless!  They saw him die, and they saw him buried, and  yet here he is!  He speaks to their fear of the impossible by saying ” See Me. Touch Me. I am real.”  Related image

Those words, yet again, took on new flesh, as my hand reached out in greeting to Najah, Sa’ed and their eldest son Alhareth.   No longer names in my prayer journal, no longer photographic images on our church announcement screen.  I see, I am blessed to touch in  greeting, and they are real.  And so are we, to them.

Another Easter Day, another dawning of hope, another small victory for justice,  another triumph of fidelity and love. Let’s shape the world this way, yes?



Resurrection Project Day 11: Witness.

“What will you do to notice New Life, what will you do to choose to do to witness to God’s Dream for new life?”   A few days ago I posted on Facebook a short piece about the gift of time.  I had another gift of time on Wednesday afternoon to go down to Larpenteur Avenue, not far from the Luther Seminary Campus, and to put my own feet on the ground where in July 2016, a teacher’s aide was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop for a side-light violation.  Philando Castile. I don’t even begin to understand the deep racial divide that afflicts the United States, but thanks to one of my doctoral colleagues,  Laurie Pound Feille, whose thesis was about race, privilege and the long work of confession and reconciliation,   I have become more aware of the pervasive, blinding effect of “white privilege”  that I have without knowing it.  I am white= I have the privilege of thinking this story has nothing to do with me, that the grief  of his girlfriend has nothing to do with me, that as a white Canadian, shootings in the US have nothing to do with me.

Except that it’s time  I realized that it has everything to do with me.  So I took some time, and I took my body and I stood there, uncomfortable,  gripped with a feeling  somewhere between guilt, shame, sadness, and anger that this narrative is still being played out, both sides of the border, every day of the week.  I left with no peace in my soul at all.  And that is good. It was a momentary dismantling of my privilege, which needs to be followed by many more if I am to be part of the healing,  rather than the hurting. The New Life  this simple  column of wood speaks to, is not easy at all., but it is a New Life to which God is calling me/ us.Image result for Philando Castile memorial garden

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