Our August 18 adventure in Oak Hill including a labyrinth trip

I didn’t write a regular reflection last Sunday because it was not a regular spiritual gathering. It was the third annual summer gathering of our Cooperative Ministry, on an Oak Hill member’s century farm.

Happily , we were able to be outdoors on the front lawn, as the morning rain had stopped and the fog lifted. The late summer crickets kept us company as we sang creation-centred and church camp favourites, heard some beautiful Mary Oliver poems, and shared some spiritual practices. We had one word prayers, comments on what grows in our gardens, what nature teaches us, what we’ve observed from waterways we know . {We live in an area of many rivers, and near the world’s highest tides on the Bay of Fundy, and there are many rivers and shores and landscapes in our collective memory]. Four young children were there with parents and/or grandparents and enjoyed running about, very peacefully.

After we’d sung and read and reflected and prayed and sung some more, several heroic souls stayed behind to fire up the barbecue. Most of the others walked or biked or drove down the road a little, to Lorie’s new outdoor labyrinth. Lorie and Jim are newcomers to the area. Lorie with the help of Jim and some friends and neighbours has created this labyrinth with a profusion of many variety of flowers, and has an explanation of it in place, so that any passer-by or visitor is free to come up and enjoy a labyrinth walk whenever she/he/they might wish.

I will post the labyrinth blessing separately. Lorie told a bit of the story of the labyrinth before we started, and a friend read a powerful testimonial from someone who had walked it.

Here’s what amazed and delighted me! After we’d done the blessing, I’d thought we’d all be hungry and scurry back to enjoy burgers and potluck picnic food, with the understanding that anyone interested could come back and walk after lunch.

But not so ! The four children led the way! They scampered in, and gradually most of those present strolled in after them , parents or grandparents keeping company with the children, others following more sedately. Of course, we don’t know exactly what was happening within each person, but I sensed Spirit was at work within each.

Sometimes one prefers a quiet solitary walk – and the opportunity for this remains, both at Lorie’s labyrinth and at our indoor Wesley labyrinth. But this day it was about community: the leadership of children, adults , who may or may not have met before, walking around together, and those remaining outside holding the space. More community developed as people who didn’t necessarily know each other walked or biked back and forth, and I suspect went deeper in their conversation than they might have at a purely social occasion.

If I get permission I’ll try to add a wonderful photo of everyone walking. Meanwhile , I glimpsed the power of community released into a fresh new-to-them spiritual practice , going with the flow, trusting the path.

A very leisurely and companionable lunch followed. it was indeed a morning and afternoon to remember !

Sometimes we need to free ourselves from the accustomed order , the accustomed pews or chairs, the accustomed plans – and walk, literally walk, where the Spirit invites us!

Reflection by Jane Doull, “Sitting loose to your worry”, August 11, 2019

Luke 12:22-34 . A companion piece to August 4 blog.

Do not worry?  Do not be anxious.  

Does anyone here not worry? We all worry. Of course!  

I sometimes wonder if Jesus inhabits the same kind of world as we do. He doesn’t seem to have young family or older family to look after. He doesn’t have rent or mortgage or car payments. He and his friends don’t have to worry what they will eat- someone always seems to feed them.  He’s not concerned about providing for his old age- he seems to know he’s not going to have one.  And in his time, no one worries about climate change. 

And yet Jesus knows stuff can happen at any moment. Life is precarious. His world is one of small farmers one harvest failure, one rent payment away from losing their land- fisher folk one storm or shipwreck away from catastrophe- day labourers who could easily become beggars tomorrow if they  could no longer work or if there were no jobs. In that world, life was short for most, and sudden illnesses could make it even shorter.  Women could become widows, children could become orphans, many babies and children wouldn’t live till adulthood.  And they’re living  in a violent regime, where saying or doing the wrong thing could prove fatalAs Jesus knows full well, even if his friends do not want to know.  

He’s teaching ancient, indeed timeless wisdom. Wisdom perhaps best understood by those in like circumstances today. 

There’s reason to worry. Of course. But worry won’t make any of this one bit better.   

What does help? Well, somehow trusting in Divine Presence, starting with pondering the marvels of creation: the lilies, or it could be any wildflower, that grows along the path we walk; the ravens, or it could be bluebirds or cardinals or hummingbirds- all partaking in the abundance of the earth, all wonders, all mysteries , no matter how much we understand the science. And we could add , animals of all kinds, including our cats and dogs and horses and cattle beasts.

One common feature in all living beings other than ourselves. Birds and animals  react to  what they see and hear and smell in real time. They don’t ask about tomorrow. And they don’t lose sleep wondering about their life expectancy. They are attuned and present to the here and now. 

It is not always so with us. Sometimes, even often, we live in the past or the future more than the present.   We  could learn a thing or two from other living beings, about blooming now where we are planted, about receiving the nourishment available today, about looking and listening and being in these very moments we now live.

I am not saying don’t think ahead, and don’t plan- of course we have to.  It’s about lightening unnecessary burdens and anxieties. It’s about clearing away what distracts and confuses us. so that we can live our best selves with heart and soul, responding to what calls us now.  

You can see this if you watch sports. Tennis players or ball players  have to play point by point. They can absorb learning from the point or the pitch they just missed. But then they have to let it go,  and they can’t get thinking about the rest of the match or the rest of the season. They  have to be totally present to the next point or pitch or they’ll miss it too.

And if you are a singer or musician you can’t worry about the note you just got wrong or what you might get wrong in another few minutes. You need all your breath and all your body and all your mind to sing and play right now.

If anyone is trying to figure out their future,  I’d say to them. We don’t  know the future. We make plans based on what we know now but we have to sit loose to all our plans-they might have to change  any moment. 

Our best wisdom is to show up for today, as it is and as it may become. We may need to be open to it being a very different day from what we expect. 

Our world gives us  a very different narrative: Try your hardest to get today and tomorrow under your control, go for as much security as you can, and above all make sure you can look after yourself. You can – at least you should – make it on your own. Or at least as a family you can make it on their own.   

But Jesus reminds us. We are not self-sufficient. We don’t have everything under control. We never will. And we don’t know about tomorrow- we don’t always even know about today.  And we can’t figure it all out.   

We are vulnerable beings, mortal beings. And we are dependent on the whole web of life itself, as  scientists tell us today, down to the plankton, to   the submicroscopic species, the elements themselves.

And we are here only because of what we have received from other human beings, ones we know and ones we don’t know – some of whom we remember as we sit in this sanctuary.

If you doubt how much you depend on others, next time you sit down to your daily bread, your food, think about where everything on your table comes from, including the table itself, and the house in which the table sits.  How very gifted we are!

The fear of getting old can be- what if we have to depend on others, other people have to look after us. But the gift may be whoever does look after us, be it family or caregivers or our health system. It’s a learning curve, but I’ve watched people receive such gifts with grace and gratitude, and I hope to do that myself if and when I need to.

And as we get that we are receiving gifts, all the time, we get that we are not alone, Divine Presence is working through all that helps us make it through today, and tomorrow.   

Life is not  easy- there’s struggle and heartache in plenty. But through all of it,  we are held in love,

And we are citizens, along with the birds and flowers, of something bigger than us, stronger than us, more enduring than us- the realm of the Divine, the Creator, the Mystery use what words you will.  

And once we get that, we can relax our anxiety, we can release our hold on what we cannot control, what we cannot keep , much less hoard. We can sit loose both to possessions and to plans,

And we can freely give our time, our talent, our treasure, because we know not everyone in this world gets what they need, without some help. The Holy One must reach them through human deeds of kindness and works of justice. And we know that many do suffer great affliction and adversity. Divine Consolation must embrace them through our Love and Light.

If we taste and see the goodness of today, then we are called not just to keep blessing for ourselves, but to give of ourselves, that others may also taste and see goodness today, even if today is hard- so that tomorrow may be as good as possible for as many as possible, even if we don’t know if we’ll even be here tomorrow.  

That’s how we cultivate treasures of the heart, treasures which will outlast our brief time.   That’s how we seek the divine realm of love and compassion and abundance. Indeed , we scarcely need to seek it. It’s our home. It always has been.  It always will be.

It’s a “different country” as the poet Anne Porter says. It may seem strange to us at times. But for us it holds the word, the wisdom we need.

Yes, you will worry again, and so will I. But remember who you are, remember your true home, and treasure the beauty of each day as citizens of the divine realm, as you share this beauty in your giving, and your living. Amen.

Reflection by Jane Doull, “Sitting loose to our stuff” , August 4, 2019

[Text: Luke 12:13-21 ]. This and August 11 somehow go together- there’s a little repetition , partly because not everyone gets to church every week or remembers perfectly, and partly because I think this is really important for North Americans like us.

You can guess- it’s not going to end well for that rich farmer.  In  Luke’s gospel rich people are headed for trouble, from the get-go.  Mary’s Song promises “ the rich will be sent empty away”.  In  Luke’s  blessings and woes- blessing number 1 is for the poor- not just the poor in spirit,  no, the poor-  theirs is the realm of God. Woe no. 1 is for the rich:  “ you have received your consolation .  “  

And Jesus as told by Luke is not the first to attack the rich. Prophet after prophet in the Hebrew Bible, the First Testament , do the same.

And yet, over and over again the church has soft-pedalled what Jesus says about the rich. Why?   Well- probably because they don’t want to upset the rich people who help keep the churches going or those who are running the country.   And – more often than not-  it suits the interests of the more powerful for the rich to be praised and the poor to continue being downtrodden.    

And what does this story say to us?  We are not that rich, are we?    I’m sure many of us have to be careful with our spending.  Jesus is talking about someone else- right?

But parables, typically , are not  designed to make us comfortable.   They aren’t always about someone else, even when we’d like them to be. 

First, look at the introduction to this parable:  “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”. That seems a bit unfair to the individual who would like a more equitable share of the family inheritance. 

 But we know all too well the conflicts that can break out over estates, or even over who gets the family heirlooms.  And we know that it’s not just about estates and heirlooms. 

Here and now , we are encouraged to be greedy.  Our daily bread isn’t good enough.  We should want lots of money in the bank, plus savings, plus interest. We should want to order stuff on line- so easy, just a click of the mouse-  Or not miss the latest sale.   And, though it’s not a United Church kind of thing,  we should want to win  the lottery – so we can have everything we want and more!   And of course , if we’re running businesses, we do want people to want stuff- can anyone blame us?

Plus – possessions!   And bigger spaces to keep those possessions, and insurance to protect them. That’s our world too- not just that of the rich farmer.  I love watching the TV show Escape to the Country- it’s about city or town people in Britain seeking a country home, for a few hundred thousand pounds.   But it’s not just escape viewing for me- it makes me think.    Often they are upsizing- wanting more room for their stuff, outbuildings, huge kitchens , huge bedrooms and the like, more driveway or garage space for all their vehicles.   Plus,  far from thinking about mortality , they aren’t even thinking about aging and becoming unable to do stairs or property maintenance. 

And take the Antique Road Show – many of us enjoy that show too!  People get valuations of personal treasures or family heirlooms.   It’s great fun to watch – but then one gets thinking. Often, when they find the value of these possessions, they don’t sell them and do something with the money- I’m not sure they even enjoy them that much.   They  guard them even more carefully- for all I know that’s when they get burglar alarms or locked cupboards- and for sure they pay more insurance !   If one’s got valuable stuff,  it costs both space and money to hang on to it. 

Plus, how about storage units- seen in every town nowadays. Why do they do so well?  They are not just used between moves.In part – and I know this from my own family- because many  North Americans have more stuff than they can fit into their homes.   One of my friends  has set up a downsizing business- and I’m sure she’s not the only one to offer this valuable service.  

I’m not saying we should live without money or stuff, or that antiques and family heirlooms and nice houses are bad.  But  where are we in this parable?   We aren’t among the world’s poor.   They don’t need more room to keep all their stuff- nor do they have to worry about what to do with it- or  much less get advice about how to downsize.  

 So let’s suppose we are rich, compared to many.  What then?

The rich farmer was not at fault because his land produced abundantly.  There is nothing wrong with how he got rich. No hint that he defrauded anyone. he worked hard – he was good at farming- the weather was on his side too. 

It’s about what he did with it.  It’s all about him.  It’s all about keeping everything , you might say, even hoarding it all.  No thought of sharing any of the abundance with the hungry or helping anyone in need.  It’s all  about himself indulging himself as much as he wants, lots of good food and wine, partying to beat the band.   

Now we know Jesus liked a party, a good time, dinner with friends.  He’s asking is that all there is?

Is that all the farmer’s soul needs?   Is that all his life is about?  

That’s the issue, I’d say.   Another rich person asks Jesus- how do I get eternal life? He says – no problem, just sell  our possessions and give the money  to the poor- in effect become poor yourself.  The man walks away, deeply distressed.  He can’t do that.  

We likely won’t do that either.  We do need some money, to eat and keep a roof over our head and even help pay for our medications.

But we do have choices, just as the rich farmer did.  If he didn’t have to work any more, he could have looked for a way to be of service.  He could have given at least some of his extra crop to the hungry,

Indeed hoarding it all probably made the hungry hungrier- as he was waiting perhaps for food shortages which would put up its price.  Or he could have found other ways to help the less fortunate in perpetuity.  And then the  memory of his generosity would have lived on, inspiring others too to be generous.  

A deeper question – does the farmer really own his possessions ?  From a biblical perspective-  truly we don’t own a thing.  It’s all gift- even if we worked for it- our very ability to work for it is a gift.

Much less should our possessions and our wealth own us.  What we have is not who we are.

And all too true, when we die, we will be letting go of all of it.  Even before that, many of us will be letting go sooner – if we live long enough- if we downsize into a smaller house, or an apartment , or one room of a care facility .  It’s good practice to start letting go now- bit by bit- while we can physically and mentally make choices.  

And when we find we can release what we have, when we find it is not who we are,  that’s when we can also be generous – way more than that farmer. If we have got a bit of time, we can consider how to be of service.   If we’ve got more money and stuff than we need to survive, we can ask what can we give away, what causes can we support, how can we make life better for at least some who don’t have as much as we do.   We can even apply this thinking at tax time- I don’t love paying tax but I feel better about it when I think – OK, I can spare something to help there be health care, libraries, education, social assistance and more for everyone.  

I’ll reflect a bit further next week on how we live as we sit loose to our stuff.

But for now consider this.   The rich farmer sells himself short-He sees himself as nothing but a consumer.   Today we too are encouraged to see ourselves as consumers.  And that sells us short too.

Instead the farmer and we can be citizens- citizens not only of our nation or community, but  citizens of a divine realm- a realm of justice and love and generosity and compassion, a  realm of abundant harvest not just for a few but for all, a realm of blessing for all whose hearts and hands and minds are open. 

May you and I live as citizens of this realm.  And may we indeed be blessed, and a blessing, with what we have and what we are. 

Amen. 

Jane Doull’s Reflection “ Spiritual M and Ms” July 28, 2019

(Luke 10:38-42 ;Luke 11:1-13 ; “Praying” by Mary Oliver)

Long ago, my church in England was planning an event – I’ve long since forgotten what it was.   All I remember:  the priest said, well, someone could bring lunch, just  a few chicken sandwiches , that would be easy wouldn’t it?  This priest knew more about theology than about food preparation: he didn’t realize to get proper chicken sandwiches, someone first had to cook and dismember  a chicken – not exactly a 5 minute project on the way out the door  !

Jesus and his travelling troupe didn’t  get it either.  Poor Martha, toiling away- and remember, no freezer, no microwave, no running water– she had to do it all herself, for people who may have known about as much as my priest about what went into preparing a meal.  It’s always bugged me that Jesus criticizes Martha and praises Mary,  . Being a Mary type,  I’m happy Mary’s allowed to sit on on a conversation without having to feel guilty about everything else she should be doing.  But does Jesus  think people can survive on conversation alone?   Where do meals come from?

Happily Luke writes this story up with respect for both Mary and Martha.   Martha is, as per one translation, cumbered with too much serving. The word  serving translates the Greek diakonein.    In Christian parlance, that’s an essential  part of ministry, that’s part of the work of the church , that matters too.   Jesus’  followers didn’t just preach and pray,  They fed the hungry and tended to the sick and helped those in need. So Martha’s culinary efforts matter- they are ministry! 

And right after this story,  Luke gives us  Jesus’ prayer clinic.  Notice it’s designed for people who either want to or have to do Martha stuff.   Jesus  gives them  a prayer anyone can memorize,   If you can’t read or write- as many couldn’t in his world – you can still  learn that prayer.  And if you’re busy , it takes only minutes to say. 

Some religions have prayers only the priests say- as in the Hindu temples, you’ll hear priests reciting prayers in Sanskrit, an ancient  language most Hindus don’t know – in Zoroastrian religions the priests perform liturgies and read scripture in the ancient Avestan language, known only through Zoroastrian sacred texts.

But the Jesus prayer was for the common people.   The prayer adapts many Jewish phrases- a reminder that Jesus is Jewish- and the Jewish faith we read in the Torah was also a practical faith-  deeds of kindness mattered.  Those living lives of service, those busy with family, could still be people of great faith.

So Martha is free to be a Jesus follower as much as Mary- she can say this prayer among the pots and pans. 

 Brother  Lawrence [in Practising the Presence of God] puts it this way: 

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God as in great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Whether Martha wants to be in the kitchen or has to be there,  she can say a prayer as she works or she can make her work into a prayer of self-giving, self-offering. bbThis is what the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh gets at , with his concept of “ present moment, wonderful moment”.  Even if you have to do chores you can still do them   contemplatively, with grace and gratitude.  

For some of us that’s harder than others. If you love cooking and even cleaning, if you love doing practical things,  you may do quite well at prayerful working. If you  find these things rather tedious- if you’d rather read a book or sit and think-  it’s hard to give thanks amid the clatter of pots and the din of demands.

Myself , I keep trying to do this – I am getting practice as  I find my chores multiplying and with them the needs of aging relatives.  Sometimes starting with a reflective cup of coffee, or taking a moment outdoors, or even doing dishes contemplatively helps- as does the practice of giving thanks , even for small things. 

It’s what Mary Oliver ‘s getting at- we don’t always get tons of beauty and heaps of inspiration , but we cobble together what we can, all in aid of letting go of our anxieties and our agendas,  and hearing another voice within.

So whether you’re a Mary or Martha, you can still pray, in the way that works for you.   But why?   

What’s with  “Ask and you’ll be given” ? Often we don’t get what we ask for, and we get a pile of stuff no one would ask for. 

Luke, writing up this prayer clinic, knew this.   Even Jesus’ prayers didn’t get him everything he wanted or get him out of what he didn’t want.  Nor is the Lord’s Prayer enough to give everyone their daily bread and assurance of bread tomorrow.   Nor is everyone saved from the time of trial.  I’d go further – nor is anyone saved from the time of trial.

You can pray all you want – and bad things still happen .  What on earth is Jesus- or Luke-  getting at?   The example doesn’t even work- the friend disturbed at midnight has a loaf of bread, and can help.   It’s not so simple when we direct our requests to God, Spirit, Universe, wherever you direct them,    it’s not like asking for bread and getting it.  Often it seems  we do get snakes when we asked for fish, and scorpions when we asked for an egg, 

Luke  doesn’t dive into this perplexing issue- the point is not to figure out things we can’t probably ever figure out, but to believe that there is a loving Presence- use what words you want – who wishes the best for us, as we would for those we love.   Even in the middle of the night- when the difficult stuff can feel especially difficult- there is a connection for us with Love, Compassion, a Being or a Presence or -if you prefer-  a loving parent-  we are cared for – we aren’t alone. We are supported as we discern what we most deeply need for the life we find ourselves living.   How this works– we have to live it for ourselves, even amid all our unanswered and probably unanswerable questions. 

So how to pray?   As we can , where we can, whatever time and space we have or don’t have, whatever words we have or don’t have.  And why pray?  For the sake of relationship- knowing we’re not just stumbling around in the midnight of our struggles  – knowing a presence beyond our own is with us- giving us what we need to get through- be it bread or courage or peace , or just one small ray of light for the next step. 

And prayer is for all of us,  whether we are Mary or Martha or a bit of both. We can all choose the better part- hearing a voice beyond our own- connecting with Something More- connecting with the Love and Light we need for each challenge, for each grief,   And, yes, for each joy.

May it be so. Amen. 

Jane Doull’s Reflection for June 9, 2019- “We are launched”!

[This reflection was offered on Pentecost Sunday in Wesley United, St Andrews. That day we also dedicated and blessed our new renovations, as well as celebrating communion. That afternoon, we had a huge Open House, attended by many well beyond our congregation, who wanted to take a look around and hear/see the story of our renovations. We had the chairs moved to the side so that the floor labyrinth was displayed. April 16 was our soft reopening- today was the Grand Reopening.]

Pentecost did not just happen out of the blue, you know. Here’s some backstory. 

  Easter happened first- and you know what happened before Easter- Holy Saturday- the day of watching and waiting, with not the foggiest idea what was next.  And then, Easter-  the day, not just the day,  40 days-40 days of Mystery breaking into the Jesus- followers’ world . One way or another, they experienced Jesus among them – amazingly.  What should have been the end was a new beginning. But what kind of beginning- and where was it going- what was coming next?

Then- it seemed- another ending.  Pictured as Jesus ascending into heaven.  You don’t have to picture it this way. That ‘s just one metaphor, one image , to describe what Jesus’ friends experienced .  Their hearts felt – Jesus is really gone – he’s absent – this is all over.  But was it?   

Not knowing what was next, they waited.  and they waited some more,    Waiting  feels  like forever.  Especially when you are clueless- what are you waiting for?

Suddenly the waiting is over- it’s Pentecost.   Jesus’ friends find  they can speak what’s in them and more that they did not even know was in them.  They can speak to anyone- no more barriers.   They pull in the  crowd- or perhaps the crowd pulls them out of the house    And then, anything can happen.  Even  a world-wide movement.

Now they are launched!  

No more looking wistfully up at the sky, wondering  where Jesus has gone.  They are so busy doing and being the Jesus-movement 24/7/360.  They’ve got a lot of living to do. They’ve shaken off fear and worry and anxiety.  What’s to stop them now?

This Pentecost story is your story too.  Our story.

Goodness knows, we at Wesley have waited a long time for a day like today.  I’ve been with you the last 9 years.- within months of my arrival, it became clear.    To do things as we’d always done them would be the end of us.  We might love the old ways but the life was going out of them.

But what to do?  Sometimes you’ve got to wait it out-

Not that we did nothing.  We did all the stuff churches usually do.   But alongside, we’ve done a lot of visioning – when I first came, and then the last few years-  exploring,  discerning, questioning.   Who were we now?  What were we still doing here?  What next?   

As we discerned, as we explored, as we questioned,  Spirit nudged us . There was a longing for contemplative spiritual gatherings,  And so they began and continue.  We wanted a more open, more relaxed, more eclectic Sunday morning- and we’re still evolving that.   There were the cutbacks to the Biological Station- many of us wrote letters and spoke up and/or showed up at that big photo-op with some 600  people who cared.  We started hosting the December 6 observance here, along with the Charlotte County Abuse Prevention Network- yes, it started here, though it’s migrated to the college, and we are still involved.  There were hungry children- our UCW (United Church Women)  got Coins for Kids going and that’s been huge (not always just coins , either! )

And the Spirit drew us out of ourselves- as the Spirit often does – to build relationships:  with the Open Door (St Andrews equivalent of food bank, doing gift cards instead of food) , when they needed a space; with St James, when cooperative ministry was the way to go; with  others engaged in refugee sponsorship; and  increasingly, even more so, with the Arts Council and other community arts endeavours;   other churches on ecumenical endeavours,  more and more;  with our Quaker friends who’ve helped us deepen our contemplative ways.

With all these Spirit nudgings, by the time we got to our building’s 150th anniversary in 2017,  we were not so much wanting to go back over our history,   We were wanting to know- what’s next?

Next came the unexpected gift- a generous  bequest- we  never saw that coming.  What was Spirit saying to us now?

That took more visioning expressing values, and  discerning- do we just leave all the money in the bank or do we do what we could not otherwise do?  And well -you know where this went.  You can see it. You are in the middle of it.

To me, this has Pentecost written all over it.   Spirit inviting us to break free, to see visions, to dream dreams, to  let go of fears.  And- those first Pentecost people could tell you- once you see the visions, and dream the dreams., you’ve got to act on them.  And act on them we did.   Making visions and dreams happen takes work, patience, trust, cooperation, community building. One person can’t just walk in and make it happen- it has to be owned, it has to be practised. We have to commit to a common purpose, and   we have to do it out of love. Otherwise we’ll never stay the course.

And now, we’re here, this amazing space is here- you should see the effect on those who walk in and have not seen it before.  They are  blown away.  And it’s like Spirit to blow us away with a mighty wind!

Is this the end of a story?  A story of watching and praying and visioning and working?

No, it’s not the end.  Now begins a new chapter.  Now we  see what Spirit is up to among us.  What persons, what community partners is the Spirit going to blow into our sanctuary?  What Spirit-energy is going to catch them up and catch us up?

  It’s a little scary- we can’t put a lid on it- it’s like when you start a new job or get married or have a new baby or move across the country.  Who knows what we are in for?

But, I’d say, cast  fear to the winds,  Open the doors,  Open our hearts.  And let’s see together.  What’s going to be born here?  Who are our people going to be?  Where’s all this going next?

What’s the next chapter? I can hardly wait.  Can you? 

Reflection by Jane Doull,” A fresh look at a familiar story” July 14, 2019

[]Readings – .Amos 7:7-15  ; Luke 10:25-37 ]  

We think we know today’s gospel story.  But do we?

I’ve been reading  a Jewish commentary on Luke- by Amy Jill Levine- part of a whole New Testament commentary written entirely by Jewish scholars. Jewish people don’t grow up with this story the way we do. And they often know the First Testament, their Bible , much better than we do. So they may notice things we’ve missed.

So – I’ll start today’s reflection in light of my dialogue with this Jewish commentary.  

That lawyer- well, he’s not what we may think- he’s a learned scholar of the Torah , the Jewish law.  He’s a pedantic fellow, as some scholars are. He wants to get the better of Jesus- testing him with a trick question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus doesn’t bite. Instead he throws the scholar another question.- what does the law say? 

The scholar bites- happily- he loves this kind of question. He can show off his knowledge of the Bible. Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. That’s straight  out of Deuteronomy and Leviticus- 

Jesus answers- well then, you know – just do it!  But the lawyer has to chew away some more.    Who is my neighbour?  Who’s this one I’m supposed to love? Is he hoping to be let off the hook: you’ve got to love these ones but don’t bother with those ones?

Jesus doesn’t let him off. Instead he tells a parable- a story with a twist, or two or three.

This man gets beaten up and wounded and left for dead.  Now remember in this type of story , things come in 3s. You expect the first two people to come along will get this wrong and the third will get it right. ..

No 1, The priest passes him by-    now you might say the priest is off to do priestly stuff – maybe he’s in a hurry or  doesn’t want to get contaminated by contact with someone who might actually be dead-our commentaries often try to let him off. But Jesus’ has put a hook in – one we easily miss: the man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and the priest is going down too, that is away from Jerusalem. What’s to stop him from doing the right thing?   But he doesn’t.

No. 2, the Levite , a temple functionary , does not either.   Jesus doesn’t explain that either.

So much for the super-religious folks, the top brass. But no. 3’s the charm , right? No. 3 should be a Jewish layperson- who ,like many lay people, will be the salt of the earth and do the right thing, when the hierarchy mess up.

But- whoops- no. 3 is – to the Jewish scholar’s mind- a bad guy, the enemy, a Samaritan.  Samaritans had started off Jewish, but they’d gone in another direction- different worship practices, different beliefs- though the differences might not seem that much to you and me, it was enough to bother  a strictly observant Jew or strictly observant Samaritan .

Surely the Samaritan couldn’t do anything right.  But no, he’s the one who gets it, and he really gets it. 

It you look up what Leviticus says about love of neighbour, it’s clear, it’s not a warm fuzzy feeling,  it’s about doing good deeds, helping, especially if anyone’s vulnerable- and you’d kind of think a wounded person is a little vulnerable. And if you keep reading, you’ll find it’s not enough just to help your own kind- you’re supposed to help the stranger, the alien, whoever is in need. You don’t ask- are they Jewish? Are they Samaritan?    References, please!  [Leviticus 19]

 Jesus just tells the story. No explanations. No excuses. Then, like the good teacher he is, he hooks the scholar with another question. Who proved himself to be a neighbour to the wounded man?

Now, I never noticed this till Amy-Jill Levine pointed it out- but the legal scholar is uncomfortable. The word Samaritan sticks in his craw- he can’t say it, just the one who showed mercy to him.   

But Jesus has changed the whole conversation- as Jesus often does. 

Neighbour love in the Torah- it’s not about splitting hairs- who’s my neighbour and who isn’t, whom do I have to help and whom can I ignore?  It’s about rolling up your sleeves and acting as if you are a good neighbour. If you’re wounded by the side of the road, who cares who helps you as long as someone does?    The Jewish teachers of Jesus’ day took this being a good neighbour commandment as the lens through which to interpret the whole Law, all the commandments and instructions in their Bible.

There’s a story in 2 Chronicles [28:12-15] – a book we don’t ever read on Sunday morning- probably  few of us have  read it at all-  where the Samaritans had some folks from Jerusalem in captivity- but chose to tend to their wounds, put them on their own horses and get them safely home- much the same way as the Samaritan acts in today’s story from Luke. [note- there are some complexities in the Chronicles passage I didn’t go into. I picked up on it as a comparative reference cited by Amy-Jill Levine, who noted the parallels].

Not the first time the Samaritans have got the message.  You don’t necessarily have to believe the right stuff,whatever the right stuff is . It matters more whether you roll up your sleeves when you see a need. 

We don’t know if the clever scholar got the message- go and do likewise. It matters more – do we go and do likewise? 

Maybe we get it, living in a small town. We do respond if we see someone in need or distress.   And not just people we know personally. If someone was lying on the street when we went by, we’d probably stop or at least call 911. We give to Open Door or the Volunteer Centre or coins for kids.  And we answer local requests : would we give a little to help someone pay an unexpected college fee, or to do a baby shower for a low-income mother, or help a family who’ve had problems getting their well fixed and are behind with their bills? And we don’t just help locally.  We sponsor refugees.  And, even further away, we answer appeals for famine and disaster relief.

All of which is heartwarming.  As for example, the driver in Halifax who picked up a woman who’d missed her bus and found she was the mother of those poor children who died in the fire and her husband was in hospital .

But there’s another step  We read the Hebrew prophets like Amos to take a larger and longer view.   There’s a plumb-line for our whole community-Amos is a social justice prophet through and through- it’s great to help people individually but we can’t stop there.   As modern prophets also note, we should ask what’s beating up the wounded people, not just treat their wounds. 

God wants  justice for all, Amos insists- real change in the lot of the poor. Amos spoke out loud and clear  about what was wrong and needed to be put right in his time. Today I’m sure he would speak out about human rights abuses, climate change and more. 

Governments don’t like faith-based groups to talk this way- they’d rather we just respond to the symptoms. They didn’t like it in Amos’ day. They wanted him to shut up and go home.

But that would be against his religion.  Justice wasn’t political for him- though it needed political engagement and action to happen-  it was biblical. It was part and parcel of the love commandment.

Silence about justice, human rights, environment – that should be  against our religion too.   Love of neighbour requires us to speak and act for  the welfare of the whole human  community. Why so many poor people in our rich country , or indeed anywhere? Homeless people? Refugees? How do we address the root causes, not just the symptoms? And it’s not just our human neighbours – we now know we must love all our relations . The whole community of creation- right whales, and oceans, and old growth forests and more.

So, a simple story that we all know . And yet a challenge that remains , for each and all. As long as life and breath remain, may we keep learning how to be good neighbours. May we keep being those who show mercy.May we keep working for a world where mercy and kindness and justice are plain to see for each and for all.  

May it be so! 

Jane Doull’s Reflection : journeying and receiving, guests and hosts. July 7, 2019

Today’s sacred texts : Luke 10:1-11, 17-20: “The Messenger” by Mary Oliver,https://www.poeticous.com/mary-oliver/messenger and as it turns out, Rumi’s “The Guest House”

Imagine  2 out of those 70 travellers, showing up on your doorstep. Barefoot, dusty, carrying nothing, looking as if they didn’t have a shekel to their name.

Remember, back then, your house was probably have been very small and humble.  No guest room. Everyone doubling up if house guests came , some sleeping on the floor in whatever corner you could find.   Your pair might have been male or female or one of each- or, who knows?  You wouldn’t have a fridge or freezer with extra soups or casseroles for last-minute meals.   You’d be cooking from scratch and you’d  be stretching out a pretty modest food supply, and making sure the guests got the best of it.   You likely had to haul water from the town well and you’d need a lot more of it. 

And here’s the twist- if you let them in, you wouldn’t just have to do this for a day and a night. Apparently,  wherever they landed in a town, that’s where they’d stay, till they were ready to move on. After day 3 – well you know what they say about visitors and fish after day 3.

The visitors had at least been trained – don’t be picky, eat what’s put in front of you, be content with your accommodation.  Probably too, even if they were worn out from all the teaching and healing, still be polite and friendly to their hosts .  Just as you and I would be if we were billeted somewhere, even if we’d been out all day at a meeting or conference and were exhausted. 

But it’s hard to imagine ourselves into this story.   Our guests don’t always arrive planned or at times of our choosing but at least we usually know who they are.

 And when we travel, most of us travel with some degree of comfort, as much luggage as we can get away with, probably, unless we’re really smart, way more than we need.  We  wouldn’t get far without our wallets and perhaps our travel documents and passports.  And we probably know exactly where we are staying and when.  Either we let our friends know, or we booked online. 

 We once had a few young people show up at Wesley who were going from place to place on a working journey, somewhat based on this story, I’d say.   We offered them our basement if I recall but one of you I think was generously welcomed them into her home.   But that’s an unusual event in modern hospitality- which is usually reserved for people we’ve met at least once before .

But planned or not,  journeys and hostings hold  unknowns and unexpected challenges.  That well-planned trip is thrown off if a flight is delayed or cancelled and we have to change our bookings- perhaps we are even stuck in an airport overnight.  Or  the accommodation we’ve booked may turn out to be a dive .Or , you’re driving, and there are road works, or weather events, or your car breaks down. 

And  with house guests, you may find out the hard way:  how long can they go without taking out their electronic devices, how much entertaining do they require,  will they like the places we take them or will they be bored,  will they be Ok with our food, will they offer to help with the dishes or will they give us a break from cooking and pick up supper or take us out for a meal?   

There’s a wisdom underneath this story – for our journeys and our hostings.  There are lessons always to be had- and it comes back to travelling light.  not carrying the baggage of many expectations, not expecting perfection.  being  grateful, where we can, for the efforts of others , always being open even to what this specific day may offer us- and a sense of humour helps.  Some of you remember when I was flying home from Florence, our plane got cancelled, we got bussed to Bologna and had a long and memorable scenic drive around Bologna airport- and later got our exercise in a Paris airport… 

Travelling  works for physical journeys and for spiritual journeys- releasing expectations , releasing attachment to outcomes, receiving what the present moment gives us even if it is not what we would choose. We are surrounded by  a culture of entitlement, a consumer culture, where it’s about getting what we want as soon and conveniently as possible.     Those who’ve travelled in developing countries become very conscious of this- when they meet people who have to spend almost all day just taking care of getting food and water and preparing meals, who can’t afford to waste anything, and who find ways to celebrate even in the midst of lives we would find very difficult.  

And if we live our faith throughout our physical and spiritual journeys, then the question arises-not just what’s in this for me, what suits me?   But how can I serve?   We’ve got work to do – the work , as Mary Oliver puts it, of loving the world  .How can we communicate this love, each day,  offering the gifts of compassion, kindness, listening, caring, creativity- whatever spreads Love and Light around our community and beyond.

But loving is not always easy.  So we need to sit loose to how we are received. Yes- enjoy it if you are welcomed, if someone pays you a compliment- say thank you, receive it as a gift.   But I’m sure you’ve learned as I have-  We can become addicted to praise and approval, we can be addicted to popularity and being liked- and then we’re heading for great disappointment.

Jesus was instructing, I’m guessing, young adults- the old ones would be too old for the arduous journey.   He warns them- don’t put too much store on your successes.  Things won’t always work out. .The ancient belief was- you would still be “written in heaven” or in the Rosh Hashanah greeting “inscribed for a good day”. And young adults above all have to work this out- if they get rejected, if they don’t get a job, if a relationship fails. Still, travel the best way you can, be, or become, your best self, try  to bring something good to each place,   And, yes, when you have to , let go of what you hoped for, shake the dust from your feet, and be open to a different scenario than you’d planned.

This journey is a faith journey, faith that you are not alone, faith that you are held in Divine Love, faith that you can continue the journey, whatever path it takes,   faith that you might glimpse unexpected beauty and grace around the next corner, as on a long and winding road.  

And truly we are all hosts – receiving the guests at our door, receiving those who would like a few minutes of our time- and receiving experiences.  The Sufi Mystic and Whirling Dervish Rumi puts it this way as he reflects on the sum total of life- and he had- by the way- some most  unwelcome experiences: 

The Guest House. https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/guest-house/

As travellers- as guests- as hosts-living in faith and hope, may we receive the guidance we can, with  open hands and open hearts, “Keeping our minds on what matters which is [our] work, Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished “ [from “The Messenger”}. astonished by each new delight, each reason to give thanks. Amen.