Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A Different Way of Praying to a Different God

The Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail carried and most interesting article which had the headline “St. Paul’s rises from the ashes with a more conservative approach to prayer”.  The article looked at the “success” St. Paul’s Leaksdale, a Presbyterian church north of Toronto. 
Twenty years ago St. Paul’s was facing a future familiar to many mainline protestant and Anglican churches with a future of slow decline and inevitable closure.  A new minister proposed a new approach to worship which took, “a more conservative approach to Bible.”  The article identified a conservative approach as, “taking a more literal interpretation of scripture and a great openness to the idea that God intervenes in the world”. 

In the 20 years since that transformation St. Paul’s has a weekly attendance at worship of 400 to 500 people.  It has expanded its facility to include a massive gym cater to young families in their 20’s and 30’s.  Worship has done away with all the old trappings; no more organs or vestments.  Rather there are drums and guitars and casual clothes. 

This article made me wonder once more about what the future of religion generally and the Anglican church specifically. Is the future of religion to be one in which provides easy answers in black and white to its flock?  Is it going to be more fundamentalist in line with many other religions and in line with how the world seems to be moving?  In this postmodern world or post-postmodern world people are losing their faith in the traditional institutions as we have seen in the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump.  People seem to want black and white answers to complex questions as the world becomes more complex.   They want to know without a doubt that this is right and that is wrong.  They want to be able to give easy answers to problems and identify the problems as being out there and not within us.  The search for scapegoats is becoming more frenzied every day. 
I believe that there is much that mainline Protestant churches can learn from churches such as St. Paul’s.  Fundamental/Evangelical Christians do put their money and their talents where their collective mouths are.  They know what they believe in and are generally not shy in sharing that with others.  The make a concerted effort to evangelize and spread their understanding of the Gospel.  This is not something that Anglican churches and Anglicans generally do well.  We Anglicans often do not know clearly what we believe in and do not have the language to be able to share that with others.  That it something that we need to be better equipped to do.  It is certainly something that I was reluctant to do for much of my life growing up in the United Church and now being an Anglican for the last thirty years. 

The Anglican and mainline Protestant churches need to become better at evangelism.  However, to do this we need to develop a new understanding evangelism which is right for this time and place.  The article considered St. Paul’s to be a “success”.  I put that in quotes because we need to redefine what it means to be successful.  We need above all to continue to explore what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture and in the world.  That does not mean that there are black and white, easy answers to the complex reality of God’s world.  It does not mean that we look for scapegoats to drive into the wilderness carrying all our sins. 

Last Sunday we celebrated the Reign of Christ.  I had the opportunity to preside at my former congregation of St. James Parkhill.  I proclaimed in my sermon that as we start Advent next week we have the perfect opportunity for a “Do Over”.  We have the opportunity to prepare for the again for the coming of the incarnation of God in this world and in each of us.  It is a God given opportunity to learn and to explore and to prepare ourselves to share the love of Jesus Christ and to love one another as Christ loves us.  Thanks be to God.  

Monday, 14 November 2016

An Ode to Leonard

Today I am remembering and mourning the loss of Leonard Cohan.  His songs have spoken to my heart and soul all my adult life.  Below is an Ode to Leonard which is my attempt to say a little of what he meant to me and so many others.  As Leonard he "got us singing even though the news was bad.  Blessings on your journey.

Ode to Leonard
Now, so long, Leonard, and
 It truly is time that we begin
To laugh and cry
and cry and laugh
about it all again

You were my man
You were my muse
In a famous blue raincoat
You slyly revealed
 Glimpses of your wisdom
and the mysteries you
gave your voice to.

The gift of your golden voice
Which we were blessed to hear
So loud and so clear. 
Will now longer ring
The voice of the midnight choir
Will no longer sing.

You have danced to the end
Of Life but not love.
You have danced to the end
Of life but not of your song.

You music will go on
From beyond the grave
From beyond the great beyond
For us here to sing along.

May the Sisters of Mercy
Escort you to a heaven  
Which will not be dead
 On the Saturday nights that lie ahead.
The Gates of Love have opened wide
To dance you to the end of love inside.

You sang that democracy
Was coming to the U.S.A.
It has revealed foremost and first
to be  the home of the best
and the home the worst.

You were the little Jew
Who wrote the bible of songs
Of love and faith.
Of life both right and wrong.

You showed us Jesus there on Calvary’s hill
Who told us all to love, not hate.
He knew that we could still be true
But there was lots left, it is not too late. 

You told us of the Jesus
In the lonely wooden tower
Who was a sailor bold and true
Water walking on that sea of blue.

You sang the song of Isaac brave
Sacrificed to the vision holy.
And Bethlehem who inflamed us there
Like the shy one at an orgy

The crack in everything
That let the light come in
Like the temple veil is now torn
And our hearts are rent in two

That light has returned from whence it came
To leave us bereft and shorn.
That golden voice so pure and true
Has left us here sad and forlorn. 

The Tower of Song where you reigned
Is empty now inside
That other tower is waiting on high
With its gates flung open wide

Waiting arranged in sweet array  
Are Hank and all the lords of song
To sing you on your way
To your new Tower of Song.

You no longer ache in the places
Where you used to play
The voodoo dolls have all been
Safely stored and locked away.

We will not be hearing from you now
That you are so far away. 
 There will be no new songs to sing
No more music to love and play.

So toll the bells that still can ring
The gates of heaven are now opening.
We will not forget that you gave
to each of us a perfect offering.

It is now truly closing time
So let us sing out loud and strong
 One last and glorious Hallelujah
To our patron saint of song. 

May the Sisters bend to comfort you
In your heavenly new home
And sing one more Hallelujah
To the patron saint of song. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Learning the Language of God

Back at the beginning of the millennium I was trying to discern if I had a call to the ordained priesthood.   I thought that it would be great to have a “Road to Damascus” experience i.e., hearing a voice from heaven perhaps with even a heavenly light show to make sure I was paying attention.  However, I can say that I did not receive a message in any way that was like that.  In the end I decided that the only way to test out a calling was to make a commitment to the journey to ordination.  Talking to fellow students during my years at Huron College, I discovered that no one had that kind of a message either.  Looking back I think that I am grateful not to have gone through what Paul experience on that road including being knocked off my mode of transportation and having scales cover my eyes for three days. 

I did receive affirmation of my decision in many ways but not specifically in a Road to Damascus way.  God does speak to us in many different ways which are not necessarily as dramatic or as clear as what Paul experienced.  One experience I had which I believe affirmed my decision occurred just after I had an interview with the Dean of Theology, John Chapman (now Bishop of Ottawa) as part of the process to enter the M. Div. program.  The interview went well and when it was finished I got into my car to drive home.  The car radio was tuned to CBC as usual and the program involved an interview with three clergy who had been ordained later in life.  This certainly fit my experience as I was in my early fifties at the time. 

This experiences was for me synchronistica term coined by Carl Jung.  Synchronicity is, simply put, a significant coincidence.   They can be easily dismissed by skeptics as mere coincidence and of no significance other than pure chance.  However, I understood it as a pointer from the divine that I was on the right course.  By itself it would not be enough to make a serious life-changing decision in life.  However, it was one indication that I should continue on this new path and see other signs God might send me.

I believe and have faith that God is speaking to us in many different ways today as God always has.  However, we have not been taught to recognize them.  Our culture does not generally recognize many of these ways.  We need to relearn as a culture and individuals how God does speak to us and how to interpret what might be called the language of God.  One way which I particularly favour is the language of dreams.  Dreams have been called “God’s forgotten language”a phrase of John Sanford’s, an Episcopal priest and Jungian Analyst and also a title of his very good introduction to dream work. 

There are many other ways such as Contemplative Prayer, Lectio Divina (Holy Listening), and walking the Labyrinth.  My approach to Spiritual Direction is to help directees to identify how God is speaking to them and to help them more fully experience and understand how God is working in their lives. We are each unique children of God and so we are each more receptive to different way in which God is speaking to us.  For instance, my wife Lorna, whose primary way of receiving information is through the five senses, uses that outer input in her inner world.  She is an ISTJ on the Myers Briggs Type Scale i.e. Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging. 

I, on the other hand, am not as in tune with the outer world as many who know me will attestespecially Lorna.  My primary way of receiving information is by intuition, being an INFJ on the Myers Briggs Type Scale i.e. Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging.  This difference means that we are naturally oriented differently to how God is speaking to us.  For instance, Lorna finds walking the Labyrinth to be very meaningful as a form of walking prayer.  The experience of walking the labyrinth does not resonate with me to the same extent.  Rather I find Centering Prayer to be a very meaningful way.

This does not mean that we do not use both forms as a part of our spiritual practices.  I do walk the Labyrinth and Lorna does Centering Prayer.  However, it is not the preferred method in each case.  We both pay attention to our dreams as a way of see if our lives on the course God intends for us.  We both keep dream journals and try to understand the meaning of our dreams or as Lorna says, “don’t you mean the message”? 

The most important thing in all this is to be open to how God is speaking to you and pay attention to the things that you believe God is saying.  This is not always clear and it can be helpful to have someone to help you in that journey such as a clergy person, spiritual director or counsellor.  Blessings,