Thoughts on UC Observer Sunday

Yesterday we had our monthly UC Observer Sunday, when someone takes an article they have read in the print or online edition of the United Church’s magazine and shares comments, insights and questions it has raised for them.  The following is my take on what was shared. (Hyperlinks aren’t working consistently. If they fail, go to  Huron Carol articles are on Home Page; use Search box for Uncle Elmer’s lesson of Joy.)

Uncle Elmer’s lesson of Joy (highlight the whole link, right-click and Go To…)

Uncle Elmer often had a spontaneous moment of joy which he shared with those around him.  This one, in particular, had happened on a Christmas Eve.  (Spoiler Alert: I didn’t have the tears, I just guffawed out loud!)  This reminded our speaker,  Mary Anne, about the last Christmas Eve service she went to her with her grandfather,  Grandpa Bill.  Bill lived with Huntington’s Disease and increasingly unable to interact socially.    Mary Anne remembers her family taking up multiple pews, one behind the other, and Grandpa Bill mistakenly got up and started singing.   His grandchildren in front of him started to giggle.  His wife (“Grandma Berne), a small, gentle woman was pulling on his shirt tail to get him to sit down, with the same tone of voice as Elmer’s wife did: patient but a bit embarrassed.  But as Mary Anne remembers it “He didn’t mean to [get up and sing] but once he realized he got us going, he wouldn’t quit.”   She felt that David Wilson’s experience — and the lesson about Christmas from both Elmer and Bill  had been much the same:   (Quoting David Wilson’s Editorial – Dec 2006):  “He reminded us to make room for the spontaneous in the midst of the season’s traditions and rituals — to admit and celebrate sudden bursts of light, to come and behold the Spirit and the unpredictable ways it moves among people seeking its presence. Elmer offered a gift of the Christmas truth, proclaiming, “Joy happens” — no matter how you pronounce it.”

There is truth to that.   The Child’s arrival brings joy amid the chaos and challenges that Mary & Joseph faced.  The Shepherds experience the joy of hope in the middle of an unpredictable political  climate.  God breaks in and brings joy when we least expect it.

The Complex history of the Huron Carol –  Jesous Ahatonnia  

This is probably my most favourite song of the Christmas season.  The melody is haunting, the words poetic and evoke beautiful images of Canadian winter.   And it is a link to my childhood memories of Christmas Concerts in southern Quebec – perhaps because there is a French-language version and it was written by Roman Catholic Jesuit priest Jean de Brébeuf, one of the “Canadian Martyrs”.   It is a song that demonstrated contextualized theology – actually envisioning how God-among-US might be expressed.   Mindful of Canada’s imperial history with the original people of this land, and wanting to work towards reconciliation and being a truly inter-cultural church, singing it makes space for an Indigenous perspective in an otherwise heavily English/Scottish-centric service of Lessons & Carols.  of What’s not to like?

Turns out there’s more than I thought.  I knew that it was written by a Jesuit priest and thought it was a song of celebration, contextualized into the Wendat worldview.  Turns out it was a tool of conversion,  which created factions and caused great upheaval among the people he served.  Strike One.

Turns out the English translation isn’t actually a translation at all.  According to the article by Will Pearson Middleton’s “lyrics bear almost no relation to the original Wendat text, and critics say Middleton relied on his own stereotypical understanding of Indigenous people to write them. Among the many errors that are pointed out is that Gitchi Manitou is not a Wendat term, but Algonquian.” I understand that as saying something in French but saying it’s from Portugal.    Pearson quotes Mark MacDonald, the national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada: “The translation is a romantic version done by a non-Indigenous person and leaves out some of the emphasis of the original”…. “My understanding is that Jesus in the original is placed more firmly in the cosmology and world view of Wendat people.”  Strike Two.

And the tune is a French-from-France folk song, not a Wendat tune. Strike Two and half.

So, like Bruce Cockburn, I could learn the Wendat words…but it is not my language.  Doesn’t this become cultural appropriation?   And if I sang it in its original language it still doesn’t change the rest of the difficulties inherent in it.

Does not singing it erase the Indigenous imagery, and the lessons that teaches us?

Introducing it, and its complexity, in the middle of a service may be a teachable moment. Or it may be a really awkward moment that takes the focus away from the celebration of discovering God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (what is called the Incarnation) and towards what some experience as an intrusive “political correctness”.

Do I put it in the service or leave it out?  How do I reconcile the diversity of my responses to it so that I can sing a song I love with the integrity and humility I seek?

P.S.  As I was posting the blog today I discovered another GREAT link on the UC Observer website which includes more a accurate English-language translation, sung by Mary Dale.  Check it out!



Ruminate, Recalibrate, Renew

compass wendybattino comI know I’m not the only one, but I have times when a day is so “busy” I can hardly remember what I’ve done in it, ‘which end is up’; times when I wish I slow down the pace of life so I can take a deep breath and take stock.  Sometimes I wish I had the time and the energy – at the same time – just to chew on an idea that’s been floating in and out of consciousness.  I want to step out of “regular time” with all that “has to be done” and be in a different kind of time,  in which I can just Be.

I do have those moments – when I remember to make time for them, when I am willing to let go of what I have become convinced are “have-to-dos”.  They give me a sense of connection to all that is; touch the infinite.  In these moments everything is whole and balanced, (sometimes it’s called ‘kairos’ time)*.  You probably have them too.  That quiet of the very early morning, sitting at night watching the stars, a child sleeping.  It’s that moment at the end of yoga, the ‘resting’ pose.  In kairos time, I remember, as a colleague once put it, that I am “a  human Being, not a human Doing”.

Lots of images: compasses need to be re-calibrated to True North. Wilderness time to let go of distractions that hold one captive. Leaving a field fallow to give the land a chance to renew.  Making Sabbath – a time to “do no work” – those chores that lead us into that go-go-go pace – and reorient to the vision of how the world could be if Compassion was our guiding principle for our actions.  Steeping oneself in Living Water, being nourished by Bread of Life.  A time to understand the holy message: Do not fear.

So this leave I am on is your gift to me of time away from “regular duties”.  It am offered the freedom to make space for this kairos time.  It’ll be like slowing down the merry-go-round – not because the ride isn’t enjoyable, but to see who else is on it, explore what other features there are, be fascinated by the tune of the calliope. A time to reboot, to nourish my spirit, mind and body which (like most other people) the run-of-life interferes with.

The “plan” is to ruminate on ideas I’ve only had a chance to skim; literally to chew on ideas that are trying to germinate.  To renew some disciplines in order to harness my energy differently so I can use it more effectively in my service here. To clear out some of the physical and internal detritus that makes me feel separated from the Holy, that inhibits me (or at least makes me unsure and unsteady) “shining my little light” in a good way. To recalibrate to my call of being here.

You folks of Cornerstone have given me this gift of sabbatical time; I do not take lightly.  I am profoundly grateful for this time to renew, to reboot, and be ready to come back to the work that I am called here to do.  Thank you.

~ ~ ~

*Mckinely Valentine has a great blog on “Kairos time”, which she describes as “the moment  after you’ve inhaled and are just about to exhale”; check it out


#kairos-time, #renewal, #sabbatical, #spirituality, #wilderness-time

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The water I swim in

2 fish jackdrawsanything com

I was talking with a friend of mine about my last blog on the sacred in finding balance. He said with horror: “You never named the third aspect of the equation!” Huh?  “You forgot to name that God is what gives you the ability to find the balance.”

My image of finding sacredness in ebb and flow of Life, my assertion that the balance is in the pendulum swing between light and dark, assumed that God was my dance-partner (to mix my metaphors).  But perhaps my friend was right: did I, do I, take that part of the equation- ie. take God –  for granted?

There’s this really fun video of 2 fish swimming around talking about the game on TV last night, then a 3rd fish swims by and says “Water’s beautiful today, isn’t it?”. The 2 fish look at each other and say “What’s water?”

Sometimes my sense of the Sacred working around and within me doesn’t feel unusual; it’s more like the water I swim in and I simply move through my day contentedly.  Other times  my experience of the Sacred present with me/us is so spectacular, or takes me by surprise, it seems miraculous.  Sometimes there’s words for that; often not.

Maybe my friend was right. If I only name the Holy present in the amazing, the breath-taking, then perhaps I am taking God for granted. Perhaps by not acknowledging the “water I swim in”, not naming the Holy present in the everyday, I do take It for granted.

So I’ll amend my last blog. It is God, the Sacred, that helps me to notice the process of being part of the ebb and flow of life.  It is the Holy Mystery that helps me to find and make meaning out of today.  Not spectacular.  Just today.

And maybe I need to start the day by acknowledging it as a Holy Day. Slow down from the moving through my day so that I can notice how spectacular Today is. The lines on that house sparrow look like they’re painted on.  The white strip on the top of the tail of the Red-tailed Hawk is always the same width.  My body knows when it needs to take a deep breath, or yawn.

Life may be the air I breath, or the water that I swim in. But I need to not take those moments for granted, and to name the Sacred that’s just there. And let that Awe me too.

#holy-day, #morning-devotional-time, #taking-god-for-granted

Eternal Dawn?

I’ve found myself doing a arise shine fbcpastoruss wordpresslot of reflection this Spring; I love this season.  It’s a time of transition, of liminal light – not dark, not light, just a sense of an Eternal Dawn. I feel as if the light and darkness are in coming into balance and time will stand still.  My lovely image shatters when I realize that at the balance point lasts only one day; the pendulum must pursue its swing to the other end. I wonder: is there ever a real cosmic balance?  Or do we experience the balance in our going from one side of the see-saw to the other, in the intentional pursuing of the other end? Like a graceful dance between two points.

Every major spiritual tradition that I know of (at least as I understand them) has a sense of the quest for balance. Finding our centre in a Labyrinth, or in the Stillness of Meditative Prayer, among the quadrants of the Medicine Wheel, in the “zen” moment of Now.  It seems to me that the common strain is that the balance point is our connection to The Holy Mystery of the Universe (for lack of a more creative word:God). An umbilical cord to our Source of Life.  Being in The Present. The absolute, timeless, eternal moment of Now.

But all around me I see there is an equally holy pattern of movement. Even if we are fortunate enough to touch that Eternal Moment for the briefest of time, I wonder if we aren’t supposed “to live” in that one moment of balance? What if we are to find the Holy Moment in the movement?   Cherishing the memory, looking forward to its coming again; finding the Holy as we dance together from one side to the other? Living in the ebb & flow.

The snow this week. The grass was beginning to awaken, finding its root strength to stand up.  And now its under snow again.  But only for a time: the sun will shine with warmth, the grass will come up again, become strong and then begin its descent back to hibernation.  There is the eternal cycle of ebb and flow, of life and death and rebirth. It’s mystical — when I stop bustling long enough to recognize it.  And I am part of it.

The resurrection story (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) is celebrated in the Springtime; the stories take place at Dawn. On the first day of the week. Resurrection is Life Returning.  Is the story of Jesus’ resurrection an invitation into the dance of finding Life, of touching the Sacred, aware of living in the ebb and flow?  There is a sacred-ness about the energy placed within us at birth; it moves too. Awake and Asleep and Awake again.  Life and Death and Rising to Life again. Day and Night and Dawn Returning.

Maybe that’s why we say Jesus is fully human and fully divine – he lived, knowing that the Sacred moves in us and we in the Sacred. Not one or the other.  Maybe that’s the connection to the Source of Holy Balance for all time. Living a Life without Edges, an Eternal Life where the Sacred Dance cannot be stopped by our mortal death.  Knowing that in our Time, there is a Beyond Time. An Eternal Dawn. Happy Easter.

P.S. Credit, and gratitude, to for the delightful photo of dawning.

#dawn, #easter, #resurrection, #sacred-balance, #sacred-movement, #sprintime, #stillness, #transition

Enough is enough

Bread rising in pans

When is Enough enough?

Well it’s been a while since the last post…It feels like “too much to do, too little time to do it all in”.  Does anyone else find the busy-ness of our lives takes over like mold…creeping along (“I can do this one little extra thing, sure!”) until the calendar is so full there isn’t any time left to do the things that are really life-giving and soul-nourishing?  I’ve said more than once this past month “enough’s enough” but then I go and add just that one little extra thing….What’s that about??

I found myself saying that when I was packing for the cruise that I was gifted.  I packed and repacked, determined to “get it all in a carry-on”.  Really, how much clothes and “stuff” does a person need for 7 days?  And how much food does one need to eat from the buffet? When is enough enough?

And while I know that business investors (my own meagre mutual funds included) expect profit in each quarter, when did $ 8.7million profit in a quarter become a “loss”? When is enough enough?

The irony is my asking the question is never enough. I usually want to know what’s behind the implied sense of “not enough”, and who’s deciding it’s “not enough”?  Somehow it seems easier to ask those questions when it’s an impersonal multinational and not a skewed relationship with my own date book.

I found myself realizing that no matter how many hours I work, or books I read, or dollars I have — in short the more there is —  the more I realize that there will always be more.  Like flailing at the prairie and trying to find when it ends.  Except that it doesn’t…at least not til the Rockies. 

So I asked myself: if the boundary isn’t “out there”, what if it’s “in here”?    And two images came to mind. First was the prayer Jesus prayed “give us this day our daily bread”.  The second was the manna that the People of Israel fed on during their wandering in the wilderness. They could only gather what they needed for that day; any more would get maggoty (Exodus 16).  There is enough, if you look at what there is rather than what there isn’t.

So I approached the suitcase that way; I took less and had enough.  At the buffet I told myself “I don’t need to try it all now”, which became “I don’t need that” because I was full.  I had had enough.  And that is true elsewhere. I recognize I have a warm, dry, safe place to live, and (more than) enough food, enough people with whom to laugh and pray and play, who stimulate my heart. I have enough books & occupation enough to stimulate my mind. Gratitude is the heart of spirituality.

When I look at the world from the perspective of there is enough now, I find myself feeding on the most amazing things: music, and sky, and sunsets (did you see that one Friday night??) That is enough. Godde is good.



#abundance, #enough, #gratitude, #manna, #simplicity, #spirituality

Fat Tuesday

Where would “N’Orleans” be without Mardi Gras, the great celebration of overindulgence and all things gaudy (also called “Fat Tuesday)?”  I wonder if the celebration(s) truly begin a time of introspection (“why did I do that??”), after all Mardi Gras’ roots are in the church season of Lent, (the 40 days before Easter, a time of self-restriction opening the door to self-reflection).  Shrove Tuesday was the day of preparation for this abstinence, traditionally cleaning the soul through making Confession (“being shriven”) and clearing the house of all that would be forbidden in this 40-day time of fasting: no eggs, no butter/fat, no meat.  Pancakes, sausage and sweet syrup fit that bill!

emmaus markjberry blogspot comMy experience of abstinence, when imposed by someone else, has sometimes been a negative one. But when it’s self-imposed it’s been a time of great freedom. Every spiritual tradition trains the body (outer self) as the starting point to train the soul (inner self); there’s always a twinning of “prayer and fasting”.  That’s been true for me; whether I gave something up or took something up, it’s been a time of deepening connection with the Divine, myself, and a community that shared the practice.

Forty days takes determination, living intentionally and not slipping back into old patterns (hence the prayer part) and I confess I haven’t always managed it.  But if it takes 28 days to make a habit, maybe it takes 40 days for that habit to develop a good, deep root?

Lent’s gift is 40 days to take stock – what do I really need to live?  It’s 40 days to look at my footprint on the Earth, reflect on the kind of world I want to live in and how I contribute to it. Ash Wednesday is a starting line of intentionally learning how to “be the change you want to see in the world”.  

Be the Change.  Being: the life lived in the body.  Self-limiting has been a way to reconnect with my body – being aware of what is going into it (or not).  Christianity is, for me, a religion of in-body-ment, or in-carnation: God’s spirit lived fully in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, disciples of Jesus learn how to live with Jesus’ spirit within, and to embody the way that Jesus lived. Prayer invites the strength of God to work in the soul and through my body.

I’ve found abstaining from something is easier when I let it make room for something else. And I take great solace from the reality that observing Lent is a spiritual practice. A practice is exactly that, attempting something regularly, like an athlete.

Traditional days of abstinence, the training day, are Wednesdays beginning with Ash Wednesday, and/or Fridays, anchoring in Good Friday; my commitment is to abstain from watching TV on those days making room for a physical practice of yoga or walking (realistically, not for an equal number of hours!).

So enjoy the pancakes and join me in a practice of your own.  What would you like to try releasing to let go of in order to make room for something else?  Let me know.

#abstinence, #christianity, #embodied-faith, #incarnation, #inner-growth, #lent, #mardi-gras, #spiritual-growth, #spirituality