Holy Week in Pandemic Season

Dear Friends- be you members of my local spiritual communities or anyone else reading this in cyberspace-

Last year, Holy Week took an unexpected turn for me. On Maundy Thursday , I flew to Newfoundland to take care of a family emergency. I spent Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday in Carbonear Hospital with an ailing family member. Easter Sunday we ate the turkey dinner provided to hospital patients and long term care residents, and I read aloud the Easter service and reflection I had left for my congregations to use.

That year, I reassured myself: it’s OK , next year I will have one more chance to do Holy Week with my people before I retire! Little did I know!

This week, Holy Week has taken an unexpected turn for us all. So many of the Holy Week stories take place within community: the Palm Sunday crowd, the busy temple, a dinner party where Jesus is anointed, the Last Supper [a Passover meal , according to the first 3 Gospels ] , foot washing [as told in St John}.

And then of course community breaks down. The forces of empire combine to arrest Jesus and put him through a sham of a trial- as has happened to many since, in many parts of the world, and still happens today. [Ask those who work within human rights and international law!].

One friend betrays him- though the empire could probably have caught up with Jesus, even without a friend letting him down. They had an army . Jesus did not.

Another friend denies knowing him. And we hear of other friends fleeing in fear.

In these pandemic days, we may feel as if we’ve lost our community . We can’t get together in our church buildings. We can’t have Easter dinner with family and friends, except for anyone already living with us. We can’t meet anyone for coffee. We are supposed to stay home except for essentials- and some of us are supposed to stay home all the time and have essentials safely delivered to us.

I know many of you must be finding this time a struggle. Even introverts like me can get a bit lonely with so many weeks in seclusion.

It’s tough when we have to unlearn all our usual ways of connecting and interacting. It’s tough when we don’t know how much longer this will go on for.

And yet, one way we get through this is to find the gift, the blessing in the midst of it all and beyond it all.

The generosity of local businesses and volunteers. The phone calls and emails reminding us that we are remembered. The phone calls, emails , Zooms, and even letters by which we can still connect with absent loved ones.

Last Sunday some 33 of us gathered for worship via Zoom. It’s a learning curve for us all. We especially missed our congregational singing, and the music ministry of our musicians and choir. We’ve got a few technological issues to master- but that’s OK- we are all learning . And we made the effort because we longed to see each other’s faces. That in itself did our hearts good.

And cyberspace had its blessings. A friend of ours from Toronto was able to join us. Also a friend of mine from Dartmouth, and a friend of hers, were with us- and at least one of them is for sure coming back to worship with us for the remainder of Holy Week.

I’ve been posting reflections and prayers on Facebook Live the last 3 nights- and am amazed to see how many have come by to watch them, some of you but also friends from across Canada and overseas. Our ministry is extending outward, far and wide.

This morning, a group of us shared spiritual conversation over Zoom, from St George, St Andrews and Ottawa. That was something we never would have done normally.

Tonight, Maundy Thursday, a friend from Saskatchewan is coming by and sharing some music , as well as her delightful presence- and who knows who else will come along . Tomorrow , we will see who shows up for Good Friday. And we won’t have to worry about the snow and the rain. We can all stay safe and warm.

After Good Friday, I will be pondering- how do we get from Good Friday to Easter? There’s a mystery to that always. The Gospels do not explain it. There’s a gap. A silence.

We will ponder that in-between time on Holy Saturday in my Facebook Live [7 p.m. ADT or you can come back and watch it later). Just look for the Wesley Facebook Page or my Facebook Page [Jane Doull].

And then- somehow – we will take that leap into an Easter Sunday. An Easter Sunday unlike any we have known. A difficult Easter Sunday. Perhaps an anxious and lonely Easter Sunday.

And yet, Easter invites us to ponder what is more than, what is beyond, pandemic.

Stay tuned- and come join us via Zoom on Easter Sunday. If you’re out there in cyberspace, email jvdoull@gmail and I will send you the link.

We will even have communion- just have something that looks like bread and juice handy.

After all , community is a big part of our spiritual being, even if we are physically apart. We are not alone! The Holy One is with us. And truly we are still with each other.

Stay in touch – and I hope to see you soon.

Easter blessings to all


“Being church in pandemic season” ” by Jane Doull, March 15, 2020

As I stand before you today,  I have real questions about whether I will be standing here next week.

Especially the last 12 hours I have wondered if I should even be standing here today.  But here we are..  

It’s been a roller-coaster this week,  just keeping track of developments with COV,  with the latest federal or provincial government directives, interviews with public health and epidemiology specialists, mailings from the United Church, updates from other churches, trying to sort out what to do about next week’s Lenten lunch, which Wesley was to serve, and it was clear we should not be having one.

I scrapped my sermon series,  because this took over.  And how could it not?  It’s a story that affects all our lives, Especially those who are part of the vulnerable, 60 plus demographic, or have people in our lives who are vulnerable,.  It’s raising questions for how we live our daily life- Where do we go?  How do we socialize?  Do we even socialize?  When can we safely go to the store, and when we do go, what do we really need to pick up, and who might need us to pick something up for them? Should we go to group events?Should we travel-well, at this point, clearly not-  and if we have traveled, what do we do when we come home?.

And even what are we touching,  Where are we standing in relation to other people?,

 And now it touches on how we do church.  In 26 years of pastoral ministry, I never dreamt that in my last months we would be doing the discerning we’ve been doing the last few days. Not the usual discerning-about money, bookings, projects, special services-  But instead- How do we ensure adequate social distancing? How do we avoid transmitting germs via the offering plate or the hymn books? Which events are too risky at this time and need to be cancelled. To eat together or not to eat together- St James decided to forego their much loved coffee and goodies today.  And even , now questioning, should we have services at all at the moment?  I see more and more churches suspending Sunday worship, some deciding this only yesterday. Most recently our Catholic friends , as of next Sunday.   And I saw that Trinity in Riverview was meeting today but clear that this was the last gathering time for a while-  perhaps this is where we are.  

Are we making too much of this?  Sometimes we hear that there may not be many fatalities- And then- well, those who die will mostly be older-  And I read that and say, hey, that could be me, or my mother, or lots of you who are here.   And I protest – our lives matter too!  .We are all God’s beloved,  Each one’s life is precious- 

And having wrinkles or requiring medication or walking with a cane or having an underlying condition or suppressed immunity   doesn’t mean our lives lack meaning or value.

But what about trusting God?  Yes, we trust in God as Abram did when he heard a call to go on a journey,

As the psalmist did even when the world around him was in turmoil.  But we also trust the work of those whose God-given talent is to know about public health and epidemiology.  And we don’t expect God to micromanage or get rid of viruses.  We pray- yes, of course we pray- for God’s guidance and presence, for the prompting of Spirit- to stay centred, for inner peace, for strength to get through whatever is coming.  But I remember a theology student saying he’d pray for the Holy Spirit to help him pass his exams, and his professor saying drily,  well, the Holy Spirit might need some help. 

 And so we help out Spirit by doing our part, learning all we can.  And so we can discern :What is a sensible approach to the coronavirus?   We don’t panic ,we don’t need 6 months worth of toilet paper,  but we don’t put our heads in the sand either.  So I don’t give in to panic , but I don’t fall into denial either.

It would be tempting to say  God will protect us, just as some think God will make sure they don’t get germs from a common communion cup- after all it’s blessed isn’t it- But in the end it is our job to  make things as safe as we can for one another, especially the most vulnerable.  

How do we do this?  :Dr David Fisman is an infectious disease physician and a professor of epidemiology.

I heard him on yesterday’s Quirks and Quarks.  He says all the recent precautionary measures in Canada are “highly appropriate “ . We need to get out in front of this, be proactive, to protect the vulnerable.

Not everyone agrees with him but he says this COV has 20 times the mortality rate of the flu- its 20 times as bad as a bad flu year. He says epidemiology is all about “prevention and having our actions result in non-occurrence of events .  “ Ideally, people may say down the road, look you cancelled this and that and then nothing happened ,”‘That’s the point. By doing that we make nothing happen for a little while… If we allow it to get bad, it gets bad fast.  And that’s why we have to be proactive“

In an epidemic, if you do nothing,  you have to wait till half the population are immune for the epidemic to peak and turn.    That basically means half the population have to catch it.  But it can “ peak and turn sooner if we adapt,  if we have good ideas about how the disease might spread , and we implement them. 

And the time to do that is before you have a crisis, when things are still quiet- that’s how you prevent so many people getting sick that you can’t look after them. “ Fisman highly recommends social distancing : “clustering together in large groups in small spaces is a bad idea for right now.   He sees this as a “golden moment to embrace a lot of the technology we have , to share information without sharing viruses”

Fisman’s insights spoke to me as I ask you- Should we even meet here another week? Or should we distance ourselves and stay home?

Cancelling Sunday worship  for reasons other than weather  That’s hard to get our minds around. But even if we do so, rest assured.  We are not cancelling church. Church is all of us  doing our works of love and compassion wherever we go,  Even if we all stay at home for a few weeks,  except for errands and appointments,

There are abundant ways to be church. : picking up the phone,  sending an email, doing a Facebook chat or text , 

Checking in  with someone who may be alone and even lonely, When we go shopping, picking up what someone else needs, Sending a cheque or e transfer to the Open Door or Volunteer Centre to help out when some are laid off, some are unwell, some are trying  to feed children who aren’t getting school breakfast or lunch.

Perhaps we might connect with the new Facebook  group  Charlotte County Community Helping Group which is already picking up on some of those needs, including figuring out how to get food to the children who need it. 

Or perhaps along comes a worship service and message from yours truly and you can enjoy it whenever you need to,  And even giving up face to face gatherings so that we can keep each other safer- that’s church,  giving up what we enjoy  for a season  to make life better for our friends.   Appropriate perhaps that this happens in Lent , when we sometimes do give up things we enjoy- often for the greater good.

Church is all the ways we are community  one to another- It’s all the ways we  make our faith journeys-

As Abraham and Sarah journeyed so long ago ,  not knowing when or where they’d arrive,  And it’s all the ways we trust in our Refuge and our Strength, the Ground of our Being, the Light that never fails us. And indeed , may we trust that come what may in days to come, we are not alone, we are part of each other and the Spirit prays through us and bears us up through whatever may yet be.

Thanks be to God.



“There is a time”.

What do you say when you are into your tenth and last year of ministry with a beloved community, and here you are at your last Annual Meeting [with that community anyway]? This was what came to me. Context- in case you haven’t read my previous posts- this community has recently completed a significant renovation project.

Not everything happens at the right time or the right season, not to my mind anyway. But some things do have a time and a season.

And in my tenth year with you, the season of my active ministry is nearing its end, not just because my body wants me to retire, but for your sake too.

I have offered you almost everything I have to offer you. Together we have done what I came here to do with you. Together we have stepped towards a new chapter in your life. It’s time to invite someone new to help you write that chapter.

God is doing a new thing with you and among you. That’s important. A new thing.

Even if you enjoy life here now, even if you’ve enjoyed the last 10 years, remember: we’ve been opening doors and spaces and possibilities the last 10 years, and I hope you will continue to open your doors and hearts to whatever is next.

The church -both building and community- is often pictured as a ship.

They are supposed to move.

They’re supposed to go somewhere.

The only ships that don’t move are museums.

Museums are wonderful -but that’s not the job of a working ship.

And a church that wants to stay alive can’t be a museum either.

A church has to move-

Move with the winds of God,

The Spirit.

You have made this choice- to be a working ship-

Not just to stay afloat, avoid sinking-

But to move with the Spirit.

Attending to time and tide and season.

And of course a working ship needs a good crew working together-

 you’ve got that, 

In abundance.

That was well tested last winter –

If you can take a trip like that,

Well,  who can set limits on what you may yet do and where you may yet go.

As I finish out  my season with you-  

 I will be urging you to stay open to something new.

When you think about what’s next,

There is no clone of me out there, even if you wanted one! 

And truly you don’t want one!   

As times change, your needs change.

It  won’t hurt my feelings if you seek, and if you find, someone very different from me- 

It wouldn’t even surprise me – I can think of some good stuff which  I’m not the right person to do and likely someone else would be.  

So today and in days to come,

May  Light and Love and Wisdom guide you forward

Into newness of life in the season that awaits. 

May it be so!

A Little Light for the Winter Season

I am sorry I’ve been away from this blog so long. I found myself unexpectedly moving house, on top of negotiating the regular routine of church work and then the intense Advent and Christmas preparations.

So I am back. But what to post?

It now seems too late to post All Saints and Advent and Christmas reflections!

My Epiphany Sunday reflection is more emotionally charged in retrospect than it was on the day, because it had much to say of ancient Iran and Iraq then part of the Parthian [aka Persian] Persian Empire . A tragic week followed- not the first tragic week in Iran but one particularly affecting Iranian-Canadians and other Iranians studying and living in Canada, and their neighbours and communities- indeed the whole of our country. I could no longer post my January 5 reflection – I can’t explain why- I just knew I’d have to rework it , and I didn’t have time. So it’s shelved- for now.

My January 12 Reflection has been on hold for 2 weeks , because of snowstorms- and now it will have to wait till February- Annual Meetings intervene.

So what shall I offer you? I think perhaps the Celebration of Light I have used every Epiphany Sunday since I can’t remember when. Somehow, as I wrote it way back when and as I’ve reread it year after year, it offers something for our bleak midwinter season.

Celebration of Light 

Long ago a star spoke of holy Mystery, Wisdom and Power. 

Today the world is still bright with holy mystery, wisdom and energy.

Long ago, by the light of that star, the wise ones found their way through strange and difficult landscape.  

Today, God’s light guides us beyond what we know into new landscapes of heart and soul.

Long ago, the wise ones discovered the child Jesus and saw the whole world in a new light.  

Today, new life and new birth still show us the world in a new light. 

Long ago, by the bright light of God’s presence, the wise ones travelled home by another way. 

Today, the Spirit will light our way home, home with each other, home with God. 

We find all the light we need because of that good news shining bright in Jesus and all who show and teach the way of God’s justice and compassion. 

Today, may we see your light in all persons, in all creation. 

Today may we be light and life and joy to each other.   

“ Living in the Cloud”- Reflection by Jane Doull, October 20, 2019

Preamble :  Readings were Job : 38:16-21, which confronts Job with the limits of his knowledge; Exodus 13: 21-22 ; 33:7-10; 40:34-38, which speaks of the cloud of divine presence The Cloud of Unknowing [by an anonymous British monk} 131 .   This reflection is very indebted- indeed it could not exist at all- without Catherine Keller’s amazing study Cloud of the Impossible. Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement (New York;  Columbia University Press, 2015).   I am also drawing, I’m sure, on Naomi Klein and other writers on climate crisis, and on the little bits of physics I’ve managed to absorb, as an adult, with the help of Brian Greene, Neil Turok and others who try to communicate what they can to non-scientists- Keller however makes more sense of all this than I.  My little Sunday reflection can’t begin to do justice to her book- I can only hope some of you will be tantalized enough to order it and spend time with it yourselves.] 

This Creation season , we’ve had climate change in mind-  As we draw near the end of our creation series- just one week to go- you might wonder where we are going with this.  I think we know climate change is real, and that some of it is caused by humans- And we know it’s a problem and something needs to be done, probably many things need to be done-some by us individually, some by us as community and society.

But then, we get confused, Not all the projections about the future pace and effects of climate change are the same- None of them are exact- No one can say exactly what will happen, how or when, Or just what it will take to stop it or slow it enough.. 

This is where some give up on science.  Is everything after all a matter of opinion, and then whose opinion do we believe?

Well, it’s not that simple.  Sure, science can  measure things and observe things , some things anyway- and we should pay attention to these, they aren’t just someone’s opinion.   But science can’t measure and observe  the future.  Science can make reasonable projections -we should pay attention to them too but we can’t expect them to be exact –  polar ice can melt faster than projected, fish or whale populations may fall off unexpectedly, and so on. 

Scientists, like everyone else  live within nature-they cannot  look in from outside or above  Modern physics has shown us that we are entangled with what we observe-  the observer and the observed affect each other-  What you look for and how you look affects what you see. You can look at something when it’s a particle but then you can’t observe its movement.  Or you can look at it in motion but then it’s a wave often overlapping with other waves- But you can’t see it both as a particle and a wave at the same time.  There’s even a physics principle called the Uncertainty Principle.  And- I’m oversimplifying here- much of what happens, unseen by us in the universe, is explained only by the existence of dark matter, dark energy, which no one can see. .[for much of above, see Keller, Cloud of the Impossible, chapter 4, especially 127-145]

It’s as if we live in a Cloud.  Not just where your smartphone data and memory go- 

But actually physically speaking, we are in a Cloud. Not an empty space, it’s full of all kinds of matter and energy seen and unseen,  Known and unknown. As humans, no matter how much we see and know, we live within Mystery.

Here Spirit and Science meet -within the cloud, within mystery.  We have words, images for God- perhaps we each have a way of talking or listening to God.  But God/the Divine/Spirit is or are – who knows- always beyond our seeing, our knowing,  And this has tantalized seekers forever.

 Some in the church have tried to nail it down-  this is God, , this is what you’ve got to believe-  Most churches have statements of belief- creeds and the like- some repeat them every Sunday.. But always some spiritual writers have questioned such certainties.These are just words, images- use them if you want but they don’t express all of God-  God is beyond  anything we can say or see or hear.

And so the book of Job challenges not just Job but all humans- what do you know? 

 And so an unknown mediaeval monk  spoke of the Cloud of Unknowing – as you seek to know God, you will find yourself up against, or in this cloud- you come to the limit of what eye can see or mind can imagine or mouth can speak. [ much more on this work, Keller, Cloud, p. 78-86. It’s worth also getting The Cloud of Unknowing and reading it yourself- it’s easily available in paperback translation. It’s a classic known to all students of Centering Prayer, as I discovered when I read it a few years ago.]

Nicholas of Cusa, in the 15th  century spoke of the Cloud of Impossibility- or I should say- Im/slash possibility.  For him too all the language breaks down, the words fall away, you find you don’t know a thing. The moment you try to catch God, the Divine, Spirit, he or she or they or it get/gets away from you. [Keller, Cloud, p. 87-123]

And part of the problem is, God is part and parcel of  what you are living inside -You can’t get outside and look at God- And God isn’t outside looking at you. Somehow you are bound up together , entangled together , you and God and all that is. [Keller, Cloud, 146-167]

Forgive me for wandering off into the cloud.  But I’m convinced this is as true as Faith can be-

And it helps me, at least.I spend much time journeying with people through what we don’t know and understand – I could pray all I want , however I want, and I still won’t understand it-

Which is why I am not someone who uses easy explanations- I say “ I don’t know”.Scientists will tell you – some things they know, some things they don’t know.Spiritual seekers know- there’s a lot we don’t know.

Truly we aren’t so different from the ancient Hebrews wandering in the wilderness.   They  wanted to know why they were in the wilderness, the place of chaos and doubt and confusion,  where they were going , especially when they were going to wind up somewhere they liked better.  

They didn’t get a road map or an itinerary.  Instead what did they get?  A cloud by day and a fiery pillar by night, going before them, always with them.  Not light but darkness- 

But a luminous darkness, enough to make a way where there was no way.

So we live in a cloud.  We do science in a cloud. We make choices in a cloud. We make our spiritual journey in a cloud. A cloud of Unknowing. A cloud of Luminous Darkness. A cloud of Im/possibility. 

How do we live with all this uncertainty, this unknowing?  It seems that it goes back to Love. [ much on this in Keller, p. 285 ff. and elsewhere].

The Cloud of Unknowing author says you can’t know but you can connect with the Divine by love.

Paul tells us  knowledge falls away, prophecy falls away, love never ends [1 Corinthians 13]

The  mystic Dionysius the Areopagite  tells us Moses must” fall away from what is seen and unseen,  into the mysterious darkness” – and that is where the Divine addresses him. 

In the beginning- is the relation. [a phrase taken from Carter Heyward, The Redemption of God, who took it or adapted it, I think, from Martin Buber]   We live within the Divine as the fish in the sea, the bird in the cloud. [fish in sea- echoes a metaphor in the Sufi poet Rumi] 

Even with those humans we love, those humans we trust, there is uncertainty, unknowing, a shadow we never see.  Much less do we know what will become of them, what will become of us together.

And yet amid the cloud we  love them- And yet amid the cloud we love all our neighbours, known and unknown, human and non-human,  .We are in it together with what we see and know,

And with what is beyond our seeing and knowing.

We are not alone -we are in the cloud with God and with all that is-drawn together- entangled-  in a network of caring,  enough to hold the world dear and  hold each other dear.

Even in the cloud,  there is  love enough to see us through the journeying of our days and the resting of our nights. May it be so as we persist in the work of loving this world.  


“ Communing with All”- Reflection by Jane Doull, October 6, 2019

This continues my Creation series, and owes a particular debt to Catherine Keller’s Political Theology of the Earth, 2018, to which it can scarcely begin to do justice. Other inspirations are Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, which is cited by Keller as well- plus some input and some small group conversation in a Climate Change Conversation we had at Wesley United Church several days before. The first time I thought of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner as an ecological text was in an interview by Richard Holmes on CBC radio sometime in the late 1990s- I looked for this in vain in his two-volume biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge [recommended! ] which I read recently and realized I was remembering this radio interview.

You may wonder- why did you just hear a long reading from Job, all about nature, all about creatures, especially sea monsters. [Job 38-41, selection of representative verses] 

Well, I’ll come back to that soon. 

First, this is World Communion Sunday where we get to eat a taste of bread and juice in a common space.  Common space, Commons- that’s really important.  Not like the House of Commons where you only get a regular seat if you’re elected.  More like open, common, public space where all of us , everyone can go-  Market Square or Chocolate Park or the public beach or walking trails or just the streets where we live and hang out, or  the library, even the church [since you don’t have to have money for the offering]

Now you and I can ignore common , public space- at least in our free time.We can stay cosy in our private living spaces for days on end , with food in the freezer, with running water,  every modern convenience and means of communication and entertainment.  Unlike many in our world who don’t have these luxuries.

We  – well, everyone but me- could have stayed at home today. But you chose to enter the commons-   A good choice- we need to get together to make it through our lives and for our planet to make it too.  Together we need to create a new story that’s not about you and me getting more as individuals in an ever growing economy.

 To save our world, we can’t just have more and more. It’s down to us who have the most, not to people who live without electricity or water or food security.  We’re the ones who need to live with less- to pool resources- together to find a simpler life – and that requires strong community. And together we have to help create a different public will- as we can’t do this as lone individuals- it takes a whole nation to work together, even as we make the personal changes we can. 

But here’s the rub.  The commons is not just those addressed in most election promises- which  include some of us.  There’s the Undercommons — a phrase from Black thinkers- [Keller, Political Theology of the Earth, p.30-32 ] meaning:  those who are underground, invisible, not truly heard; those of origins other than white European;  the  indigenous, waiting and waiting for the government to compensate their children;   the displaced tent city residents in Moncton; occupants of the gay village in Toronto threatened with a march by a Christian hate group,

And beyond Canada, there are  Undercommons who are starving,  displaced, or coping with the worst of climate emergency. 

Either – as Naomi Klein. reminds us- we share with them- or we hang on to what we have, forcibly hoard it, protect it, and tune out the voices of those most in need.   And as Catherine Keller reminds us , we can’t just keep speaking in our voices, speaking for them- we need to  open up space for them to speak and be heard,  including even their expressions of pain and anger. To save this earth for everyone, all stories, all of life must  be gathered up, Not just us,Not just our own story, And not even our  version of someone else’s story.  [Naomi Klein, That Changes Everything, p, 10 and many other places,   Keller, Political Theology p.28 etc.  ] 

And the Undercommons includes the non-human population.  Our world would not be our world without them.   Our wellbeing and theirs is bound up together. Any of us with pets understand this- our well-being and theirs is for sure bound up together.   But so it is with  countless other species – some we eat, some pollinate our flowers and vegetables, some live in our guts, some keep the fish and whales alive- and more- or without minerals, elements and more,  All of these vulnerable to our choices, at risk from our footprint, all depending on a natural balance which we humans often disrupt .  Go read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring– it’s all there! 

Our Christian heritage is far too centred on humans. The New Testament is for sure. Plus we misread the creation story- as if  we humans can just do whatever we like to creation.

And yes, there are images of an almighty God subduing creatures – a God who could come  fix our mess if God wanted to. – 

But then,  there’s Job.

Job is as wretched as can be, he’s lost everything, he’s afflicted with every misery there is.  But what does he learn?  It’s  not all about him.  It’s not all about human.  It’s  all about, well, every body, every creature, everything.  Humans exist, even God exists, only within a vast, deep, abundant, powerful creation, way bigger than the puny human.  Our story exists only within the earth story, the universe story. 

And so we share space   not just with ourselves but with all life- including the “humming , roaring, barking, buzzing input “ of our animal kin.  [Keller, Political Theology , p.87 ]  We cannot think just about ourselves,  we have to think of all our relations, all those hidden in the Under-commons,  the casualty of decisions we make for humans alone, or, correction, for privileged humans alone. 

The book of Job reminds us of that- so does a poem you maybe read in school:  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.   It’s  too long to read in church- I had to settle for verses from  Job instead-  But please go home and read it- google it if you don’t have a hard copy-   complete with Coleridge’s marginal notes.

I didn’t get it 55 years ago. But now it jumps out at me. 

 An albatross shows up to accompany a ship sailing through a vast ocean.  The mariner of the story  shoots the Albatross.  For no good reason, just because he can.   Humans do this, and have done this since.  But in this story such behaviour cannot be dismissed or forgotten.  This one killing upsets the whole balance of nature, at least for the crew. Nature Spirits stay the ship in becalmed water, all die but the mariner- he alone is left.

The albatross is hung around the mariner’s neck . And there it remains until one day he starts admiring the water snakes playing in the water. Earlier he would have dismissed them as slimy ugly creatures- but now he sees their beauty, his heart warms and he blesses them-  And that begins the healing, the albatross falls off his neck and eventually he does get mysteriously a safe if ghostly passage home.  But he is never off the hook, as he must wander the earth and tell the story- with the moral “he prayeth best who loveth best all creatures great and small”.   As is so today : to pray to, or with,  God we must live with respect in Creation.

We may not believe in vengeful nature spirits or a vengeful supreme being.   But let the lessons of Job and the lessons of the Ancient Mariner remind us-On this world communion Sunday:   It’s not just about the bread and juice we eat.  It’s not just about you or me.   It’s about all who need to be at the table, nourished, respected, honoured, having a voice-including all beings who keep the food chain going so that we can get to eat. It’s about all  the Undercommons who need our respect, our care, our faithful footprint, so that this whole diverse mysterious network of life can continue , all of it loved, all of it blessed,  by you, by me,  for our sake and for God’s sake and for love of this world.


Opening and Closing Words at a Climate Crisis Conversation Evening, by Jane Doull

Opening  Words 

We gather as those who love this planet-

Especially the earth, the water, the sky , the habitats we call home- 

but we know- it’s all our home.

We have heard the alarm.

Our house is on fire.

The polar icecap is melting.

Some glaciers are already gone.

The sea levels are rising.

The storms become fiercer and more frequent.

While some lands are hotter and drier and the droughts are more devastating.

Marine life is under stress,

As is all life.

The farmers know it.

The fishing people know it.

The poor of the world know it, all too well- they get the worst of it,

The creatures of land and sea know it, to their peril.

The scientists know it and have been telling us for decades.

This knowledge weighs on the hearts and minds of our young people-

And they ask:

Have you not heard?

Are you not listening?

What will you do? 

We here tonight are listening-

We come with our anxieties, our fears, our questions?

Especially, the big question:

Is it too late?

And another big question:

If we sound the alarm even louder than it’s already sounding, will those with the power and the money listen?  

And another: what can we ourselves do ?

And will it make any difference?

A wise poet said-” love the questions!”

And so we love these questions-

May they invite us into community with others who love these questions,

And together may we share not just information,

But wisdom,



And yes, anger!

As a modern mystic says-” may our anxiety turn into anger”

Not the anger which riots on the street,

But the anger which is the” work of love”

The anger which energizes us to imagine and act,

And refuse to give up,

And refuse to fall silent.

May it be so as we begin our time of conversation,

We, as those who love this place and this planet,

And long to save the world and ourselves.

May it be so. 

Closing Words

And so we have listened to each other, and  learned from each other-

We know this climate crisis is not on our individual shoulders,

But is carried by a community,

A community together with many other communities all over the world,

 A community in love with this beautiful world,

A community refusing to let it be destroyed by greed and laziness and short-term gain,

A community determined to hear and sound the alarm,

Not caring if some call us alarmists.

As a modern activist tells us, “this changes everything!”

And so to slow climate change, to stop its effects,

We change our ways

And we challenge the powers that be to change their ways too.

We will not settle for appeals to our pocketbooks.

We look for- we demand- appeals to our love of earth,

Appeals to our love of living beings,

That they may still  live even after some of us have ceased to be ,

That children may yet  be born on this earth 

With a future worth having.

No, we do not know.

Even as scientists embrace uncertainty along with knowledge,

Even as dark matter and dark energy do their thing unobserved,

We cannot get the whole picture of how things will be-

Will it be enough?

Will enough of us do enough and say enough and change enough to save our earth, to save the generations yet to come?

We do not know.

But we choose- each of us fortified by Spirit, Wisdom, Compassion, whatever it is that strengthens our nerve and steadies our steps-

We choose to bear witness.

We choose to be among those who did what they could,

Who can tell future generations- we tried, 

We did not give up,

As the poet says,  we “[ did] not approve and [we  were] not resigned .

And since even a few brave strong people can change the world,

We go out brave and strong and wise enough to speak truth to power, to walk our talk, and yes- to dare to make a difference.

Because we can, because we must. May  it be so! 

Footnote to above- these words were designed for a diverse group, not all church people , of various spiritual paths. In order, I refer to a wise poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, then to modern mystic John O’Donohue, then to activist Naomi Klein, then to poet Edna St Vincent Millay.

“The Time is Now” – Reflection by Jane Doull , Sept. 29, 2019

Preamble[if you have time !] This second of a series is particularly inspired by Catherine Keller’s Political Theology of the Earth [2018] which I think might turn out to be the most important book I’ve read this calendar year, and which led me into two other books of hers, one referenced last week, one which you’ll hear more about later. I hope some of my readers are moved to order her books, of which I can give only the faintest , most tantalizing glimpse in my little reflections. Of course I have Naomi Klein in mind, and I have the current Canadian federal election in mind, and Greta Thunberg who got a worldwide movement of young people started, and the climate strike I attended Sept. 27, and more. Sunday Reflection-writing has much in common with making stew or soup of whatever comes to hand.

More preamble [if you still have time] In case you had difficulty following my Sept. 22 , 2019 reflection, here’s a segue I provided my people on Sept. 22, before the readings: To review what we said last week- The first Genesis wasn’t about God making something of nothing, It was about the Divine, the Holy, the Spirit being present with and in the deep, the chaos, the primordial soup –  cooperating with it to make something good, very good- not coercing,  but letting be, letting light and ocean and plants and sea creatures be. And- then as now- there’s good news in this.  There have been many beginnings since, large and small.  We see beginnings large and small each spring, each time of new growth.  And even in the fall, the endings are sowing the ground for new beginnings.  Our United church creed speaks of God who has created and is creating- Creation goes on all around us always.   I would suggest our job as humans is to cooperate with this divine creativity. And these days especially our cooperation really matters- Our loving collaboration in letting life be, and thrive, on this earth. Especially now.  Life on this earth is up against some challenges, indeed crises.  And we need to listen…
And these were our readings: Jeremiah 1:4-8, 1 Corinthians 7:29, 32  (Paul on “kairos“) and the late lamented Irish mystic John O’Donohue’s poem On Citizenship which I found on Parker Palmer’s facebook page.

I come from south shore Nova Scotia where we have open seas year round.   But the North Shore of Nova Scotia was a different story, at least it was when I moved there in 2002.  The Northumberland Strait froze over in the winter – and with it Wallace Bay and Tatamagouche Bay and all the other bays along the shore.  Wallace ran  a yearly  contest to guess when the waters would thaw.  Within living memory, as the older residents told me,   the freezing was far deeper- you could safely walk or ride across the harbours -that’s how the doctors travelled to make house calls.  By 2002   you wouldn’t risk it any more.  People were told- stay off the ice.And by the time I moved away in 2007 the Northumberland Strait froze later and for a shorter time- and no longer  all the way across.  Now that Nova Scotian North Shore apparently does not freeze at all.   Great for lobster season, but not so great for the northern fish the lobsters need to eat.   [this latter piece I saw on CBC news, in an interview by Kayla Hounsell with north shore fishermen and with Boris Worm , a marine biologist ].

You don’t  have to be a scientist to read the signs of the times. You just have to pay attention.  But the scientists see what we are seeing and then some. 

We are used to the powers that be not listening to country people.  I’ve seen this again and again in my years as a small-town resident.  But why do they not listen to scientists?

The scientists have warned us for decades.  Governments and businesses and all of us   could have stopped climate change in the 80s-did not happen. They and we  could have done something in the 90s or the 2000s- did not happen.  [see a review article in Times Literary Supplement for Sept. 13, 2019 “Is it too late?”

But why?

It’s an old story- since biblical times, prophets have spoken truth to power – you’ve got to change your ways. Now. Usually they got ignored or worse.  Jeremiah for instance. They tried to muzzle him – throw him down a well- put him in jail.  Modern prophets get ignored too, Muzzled, or fired from their jobs,  Or slammed in someone’s tweet. Or, in some countries, locked up or killed. 

Meanwhile, false prophets have always told  the powers that be what they want to hear. In our day they include  climate change deniers , often funded by the money of those who did not want any talk  about climate change- in case it interfered with their bottom line.  They would like us to believe that climate change has nothing to do with human activity, that there is no  emergency ,that we can happily keep expanding our economy, business as usual and then some, even in a recent post that the ice cap isn’t really melting.  [seen on Facebook Sept. 28- I refuse, on principle, to share this, not wishing to give it more circulation]. 

Their friends in high places assure us: we don’t need a carbon tax; technological solutions will show up in time and they’ll be enough to solve everything; environmentalists are out to kill jobs.

But the prophets have not given up. The scientists keep working. The long-time environmental thinkers and activists keep writing and speaking.  And now we have new prophets- the students, Greta Thunberg,  and now millions of others , including right here.  Leading strikes and marches, 

Forming climate activism committees, Speaking out: “How dare you” [Greta’s opening phrase in a recent speech to the United Nations ]  keep ignoring this problem and making it worse?  What’s the point of sending us to school and encouraging us to train for jobs if our planet becomes uninhabitable?  Those of my age remember wondering this in the 1970s ,amid the buildup of nuclear weapons. 

And the false prophets find fault.  Greta’s too angry, too emotional, maybe not even sane.  Why aren’t these kids in school? And they are just kids- they don’t know anything. 

Jeremiah was just a kid too.  He asks God, “ How can I go out and prophesy when I’m just a child?”  God says, No problem.  You’ll know what to say. You’ll be fine.

 Jeremiah wasn’t exactly just fine- If you want  an easy life, don’t be a prophet.  People thought he was out to lunch. Surely they thought- he’s just a kid.   Some thought the same of Jesus , the country boy, the carpenter’s son, just a kid.  

Plus Jeremiah was angry – how dare you? It’s all over his writings!  As Jesus got angry by times. As , yes ,Greta and her peers are angry,    r.

But prophets do not make nice.  Anger is part of the job description. I don’t mean  violence, rioting or the like.   I mean anger at things we should be angry about, we should no longer put up with.  The ethicist Beverly Harrison calls “ the power of anger  the work of love.” [see her essay of that title in her collection Making the Connections, 1985]. If we love enough,  it bugs us if something’s wrong  and no one does anything about it. 

So yes, we should listen to our young prophets.  And we all  have reason to be angry,  to say “enough already!”   John O’Donohue [in his poem ” On Citizenship] says- to be a citizen you need to “change anxiety back into anger,”   you need to” listen to the poor”, the poor who get the worst of climate change and everything else that’s wrong.  And yes, be angry, go on the strikes and marches, speak. Ask your electoral candidates what they will do about climate change,  Ask your[New Brunswick]  premier why he left climate change out of his 6 priorities,  Say: “ We’re done with false prophets.  We want the truth even if it hurts,   Even if it “changes everything”. “  [“changes everything” refers to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything,  2014,  another book we should all read if we are concerned, or need help becoming concerned, about the climate crisis] 

The time was 30 years ago.  The time was 20 years ago. The time was 10 years ago. And the time is now.

When I say time I don’t mean clock time .It’s the time in today’s verses from Paul – Kairos time.   

The  way things have been is passing away- things are changing- It’s not the end of everything- It’s the time remaining- the right time, the time in which something can be done- [ Paul Tillich}Another way to put it , it’s a “passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved” . This is like the weaving looms shuttle- when it comes around you’ve got to be ready.  Now.   [ for all this paragraph: Catherine Keller, Political Theology of the Earth, p. 3-4] 

When we have to do something at a specific time, what do we do?  Set an alarm or a timer- but then we’ve got to listen.  

A common dream I have- there’s an alarm ,  I try to switch off the clock radio, the smartphone, the portable alarm clock- but I can’t- It won’t stop- it’s driving me up the wall- I start looking for windows I can throw things out of,  And  then I wake up- and find  I was sleeping  through my radio or phone alarm .

Catherine Keller suggests this is how we often cope with climate change – We  sleep because we don’t want to hear the alarm.  {I can’t find where she says it- in a book or in a talk-but I know I saw this somewhere] 

But the climate change alarm is more like a kitchen timer than an alarm clock.  If you sleep through your kitchen timer, your dinner burns.  If you sleep through climate crisis time, your world burns up.  And waters rise, and, well, I don’t have to go on. 

If an emergency happened in this building, flood or fire, we wouldn’t wait for me to finish this sermon- I wouldn’t even wait!   We would wake up-  we’d get out and we would get help. . 

Climate emergency is more complicated.  We can’t get out.   This is  the only home we’ve got,.We all need to get help and give help. We need to hear the alarm.  And we need to sound the alarm as we were doing with our young prophets on Friday. Until we all get angry enough to care, to do something, to save this earth and with it ourselves,   While there is still a little time. The time that is now.   May it be so!

Out of the Deep: Reflection by Jane Doull, Sept. 22, 2019

Introduction: This is the first of a series on Creation, with Climate Crisis especially in mind. They are particularly inspired not only by current events, but three excellent, complex, profound, poetic books by the process/feminist/ecological theologian Catherine Keller. This first of the series especially draws on her Face of the Deep: a Theology of Becoming [2003]. I can’t do justice to it, of course , in a Sunday segmentand I’m not sure I put across just why this reading of the first creation story mattered so much from an eco-justice perspective. It is probably better read than heard. I’ll preface my next piece with the little segue I wrote- to help offset any [quite understandable] lack of comprehension. I thought about fixing this piece before publishing it, but life is short and so I leave it as it was. The readings for the day were two translations of Genesis 1:1-2 , one mostly from the New English Bible and one from Hermann Gunkel, which I found in Keller’s book; then Job 38:8-12-  words from the “wild spirit of creation; then two short “modern” passages, from The Sound of the Sea by the Maine poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and from The Edge of the Sea by the New England biologist and biographer of the ocean Rachel Carson. As with all my Sunday liturgies, the theme was expressed in the choice of readings, the prayers and the hymns, so that people’s spiritual experience does not rest merely on a probably imperfect Reflection, which they may or may not follow. But enough prelude!

Here we love our land and our water. Especially  , there’s something very spiritual about our water- as Longfellow and Carson, further down the Atlantic coast would agree- the hidden depths, the mystery, lead us into a sense of Something More. 

So why are our waters in trouble?  Why are their populations in trouble?   And why do our waters threaten to overwhelm our land in times of stormy weather?  

It’s a long story, and scientists tell it better than I can. But part of our trouble- we  of Christian ancestry have forgotten our own Jewish-Christian creation story.   

You heard two versions of the very beginning of our first biblical creation story- written, we believe , by a priestly writer, at a turbulent time.   Israel was in ruins- many of the Hebrew people exiled or displaced, many to  Babylon, forced migrants in an alien culture,  The writer is looking for order in the chaos- God’s got this.   As might we , when we lie awake thinking about climate change and whatever else troubles us- 

We may have grown up hearing that God made the world out of nothing-a God who can do that can fix anything , right?  

But the theologian Catherine Keller says, look again, think again.  What was this old , old creation story really saying? 

Keller’s take on those first two verses: “ When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va boho, darkness was on the face of tehom, and the ruach Elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters. “ 

For starters:  Tehom doesn’t have an exact translation- it’s something like the deep,  salt waters, even chaos.  Tohu va bohu- this is a unique turn of phrase, ]. Tohu means the “uninhabitable , formed condition associated with the wilderness of desert”. Bohu seems to be related to a name for Baau, a Canaanite goddess of the primal night, the mother of the first mortals” ”[Keller, Face of the Deep,  p. 183]

Whatever you make of this, it’s not nothing.  It’s more like a primordial soup [a phrase I’ve seen in various cosmological/universe story writings ].   Picture a pureed soup- you can’t see the lentils, carrots , garlic or water- but it’s still definitely Something.  Thank goodness a pureed soup just occupies a limited amount of space- you only want so much soup. But the primordial soup, the everything, in Genesis is all you’ve got, until God invites it to start separating itself out into light and dark and sky and water and earth , and so on..  

Elohim is the name of God in these first few verses- it’s a plural name so God here really is a they or a them- that’s intriguing, isn’t it.  And in these verses, Elohim , They, created not out of nothing but out of everything, like Jeremiah’s Divine Potter- who makes pots not out of nothing but of clay.

And what about the chaos and the deep, the not-Nothing?  Underneath all this is ancient mythology: a sense of deep, primordial chaotic beginnings, the divinity in that gave birth to other divinities- who often got rid of the earlier divinities. As in Babylonian myth Marduk does away with the earth mother- goddess figure Tiamat .

This mythology was known to many of the Hebrew writers.  The priestly Hebrew writer does not outright kill the primeval , primordial divinities.  But he soon moves on from Chaos , wilderness and the deep.  

Then as now, there’s often been a fear of Chaos in our world- a fear of Darkness- a fear of the water sometimes- sometimes expressed as a fear of other races , or of the power of women, sometimes a fear of nature itself getting out of control.  

Small wonder that we have often misunderstood another part of the creation story- where God tells humans to have dominion over the rest of creation.  Humans often take this to mean  domination- doing whatever we like to creation.  

That’s our story in Canada . From the first arrival of Europeans to this day, we’ve mined the land for fish and trees and wheat and oil, and  coal- and we do this in other countries, with gold mines, with benefitting from cash crops that have depleted Amazon rainforest and Chilean rivers.  Those in charge have asked us to put up with clearcutting and glyphosate in our forests, with oil spills, with industries coming in, polluting and leaving a mess.  One story after another of dominating nature , and especially letting big industry and big money dominate it.

But our true calling is not domination but stewardship- we are entrusted with the care of something precious- as if we are looking after a beloved family home or farm.  It comes back to love.   In the beginning  of the world as we know it was the relationship  {‘In the beginning was the relationship”- I first found this in Carter Heyward, The Redemption of God]. Elohim: this is a   relational God, a We not just an I.   Elohim within the chaos, the primordial soup, vibrating over the deep.  Elohim does not force or coerce – but lets the light be  ,the land and sea be, and so on down to humans-   And at every stage the Divine voice says “ it is good”, without rejecting the earlier stages  , it’s all good- all of it counts. 

As we prepare to baptize a little one in the sacred waters,  we are reminded of this original Creation story-original blessing-  setting free rather than forcing-  pronouncing it all good.  That’s the world our young people long for  a world that is good for everyone, a world fit for babies to be born and thrive.

And so- at the beginning of our Creation series- we begin by remembering- we are born out of the deep, out of all that is, it’s all good, it’s all to be loved.    And let’s all take a walk or drive past the waterways we love- and pause -pondering those deeps and remembering again the divine mystery birthing life out of water’s womb.

May it be so!  

Jane’s Words for the Blessing of the Outdoor Labyrinth , August 18, 2019

 Gathering words

Now is the time.  Now is the place.

And so we gather in this time and place

Forming a sacred circle filled with Holy Light.

Here is the centre-

From here, the circle radiates outward,

spiralling its light in all directions

Inviting us inward to the centre and out again

Trusting ourselves to the path, the way, the journey.

May Love embrace our circle, may Love light our way,

Celebrating the gift of this Labyrinth

This labyrinth has been created as a labour of love,

in this beautiful natural setting,

this thin space,

on water’s edge,

on continent’s edge,

high on a hill so that we – like the eagle-

can look over broad vistas and wide horizons .

And now the labour of love is offered to the world.

 We are ready to invite those of all ages and stages.

Those living here and those passing through,

To walk the labyrinth,

Spiralling in and out,

Asking their questions, framing their sacred intentions,

Journeying to the heart of all that is and taking that heart-journey with them wherever they go.


Blessed be the pathway on which we go through life’s journey.

Blessed be the pathway made in this place,

A new path open to a new story,

And yet an ancient path, echoing the Eternal.

May the  Love and Light woven into its working

make a good way for all who would walk it.

May there be a dawning of light and a deepening of peace

for all who will come to walk this path,

Including you, including me,

As we walk upon this blessed earth,

Guided by Wisdom and surrounded by Mystery.

May it be so! Blessed be.