Reflection by Jane Doull,”Not a new commandment” , May 19, 2019

This was communion Sunday, and I found the texts very helpful in interpreting why we still have this sacrament in Christians churches.   Acts 11:1-18; Rev. 21:1-6; John 13:31-3

It’s not a new commandment.  You’ll find it in  the ancient Jewish teaching- the Torah. Love your neighbour as yourself- and the Torah and prophets make clear this includes whoever is  vulnerable , the ones in need, the ones to whom Jesus and Jean Vanier  reached out.  The mark of a faithful Jew, not just the mark of a faithful Jesus-follower, was to show forth love in deeds of kindness and compassion.

It was  not a new commandment then- and it’s not a new commandment now .But we are called to apply it in new ways,  as we meet new situations. 

In the book of  Acts  Jesus’ followers keep having to apply this not very new commandment  in new ways in new situations.    Love one another – but who is one another, whom are we supposed to love? 

Take Peter and  Cornelius.  Cornelius attends synagogue and  he’s an all-round  good guy. In a dream he hears a message-  send for Peter, a leader of the Jesus movement .

Great-  a new recruit to the Jesus’ movement!

But wait-  this early on,  the Jesus movement is still a  Jewish movement.   And Cornelius is not Jewish.   He’s not circumcised.  He does not keep Jewish dietary laws. Plus he works for the enemy- he’s a  Roman military leader- and he lives in Caesarea Maritima- a bastion of  the Roman Empire. 

If Peter visited Cornelius, the norm would be to sit at table – And then where would Peter be with those Jesus followers who cared about dietary laws? And what would they think of him dining with the enemy?  

But before Cornelius’ messengers reached Peter, Spirit got to Peter through  an extraordinary dream.  He was invited to kill and eat all kinds of animals, presumably including rabbits, pigs and others not allowed under the dietary laws he’d observed all his life. 

 This was very difficult for Peter  in ways we as non-Jews probably can’t understand.   Except perhaps – when your religious and cultural group is trying to survive under an unfriendly regime- as Jews often have done through history- you have to try extra hard to remember who you are, not to give up too much of yourself, and what you stand for. 

  Plus if you’d gone your whole life not eating certain foods, your body might even resist it- religion aside, there are dishes other cultures find palatable , even delicious, which we might find repulsive- because we just don’t think those foods are fit to eat.

Plus Peter was a leader – all eyes were on him- even if he gave up worrying about dietary laws, what religious and cultural practices would be next to go?  Would the present Jesus- followers decide this was just too risky?

Nonetheless, Peter believed God was speaking to him through this dream, and so he had to listen . So when Cornelius’ messengers arrived, he asked them in- which meant, in the ancient world, they’d be eating together. 

And then he visited Cornelius- did not just hover at the door- went right in. He preached his new understanding of the love commandment:  “God has no favourites- anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God”. [Acts 10:34-35] Plain and simple.  The gift of the Spirit given at Pentecost was for anybody.  Anybody who wanted to could be baptized.  

And so Peter baptized Cornelius and his family and friends.   And then he stayed with Cornelius for days- which meant of course eating with him.

This shocked the  Jerusalem community of Jewish Jesus-followers.   Here they now were at a crossroad- Spirit was inviting them to live the love commandment in a new way, a  way that required them to let go of what they’d always been, what they ‘d always done, in order to take a new direction,  who knows where?

Over and over again, we their successors have had to relive and reinterpret the love commandment.

Who’s in?  Can women speak in church?  Are only people who can attend every Sunday welcome? 

Do you have to be baptized to take communion?  Can children take communion?  Will we make our community welcoming to you if you have mobility problems or hearing problems or dietary issues? 

If you have mental health issues?   Can gay and lesbian and trans people be welcomed as who they are?   Does everyone have to believe the same?   Are you welcome if you can’t afford to put anything in the offering plate?  The love commandment often questions us:  whom will you love?  

And  who is welcome to use our space?   We’ve been invited to make room for  a complex wider community of Open Door volunteers  clients, of parents and toddlers, of arts Council students and faculty, community choir practices, theatre auditions.    And now there’s Country Music  bridge players, classical chamber orchestras,  there are retreat groups, there are whoever might want to walk the labyrinth?    The love commandment often questions us:  Whom will you welcome in ?   How will you be hospitable? 

The central act of Christian worship is communion.  It has many meanings. But the most radical meaning of all is welcome table, open to all.  Everyone, no exception, can dine here.

 You cannot make a meal of  a meagre scrap of bread dipped in grape juice . Early on, it was probably always part of a proper meal.  But even by itself it symbolizes that table where Cornelius and his family and friends could sit down  with the Jewish Jesus-community -widening the scope of Jesus community to include anyone who wanted to be there.  

So that today in a church like Wesley , communion is an open table for everyone here, never mind your age, your status, your life circumstances,  even your beliefs.  And  to share at table is to say;  – we belong to an open community where bread and love and belonging are for all to share- and we express a longing for a new heaven and earth- a new human condition – where everyone gets to drink from the well of life.

Often church-people have tried to limit who gets the bread,  who gets the welcome, who gets the love. And they’ve tried to make God over in their image- one who would leave some out, or worse still consign them to the burning lake of sulphur.  This creeps even into the Gospels , even into some other verses of Revelation.  And we see this small-mindedness, mean-spiritedness and worse in our world today,    And some think this is Christian- but we say no, not so!  

As we share bread and cup, we do so to open our hearts wider,  to expand our vision, and to show forth to the world what it is to love one another, not just the few in this room,  but all beloved beings , as  we all drink deep at the well of life.

May it be so! 

Jane’s Reflection: Extraordinary Love-, May 12, 2019

I offered this reflection on Mother’s Day/Christian Family Sunday at Wesley [St Andrews] and St James. Of late, I’ve usually been away that weekend visiting my mother , but because of family emergencies this year involving other senior relatives, I had, this year, my last chance to reflect on this particular Sunday. I often hope my Sunday reflections will invite people to take another look at biblical and other texts: this week’s were Psalm 23; Acts 9:36-43 and 1 John 3:16-24.

What jumps out in today’s story from Acts, about Dorcas aka Tabitha?  

So often in our Bible the women are behind the scenes, we have to ask ourselves – who made all those meals?  Who did the dishes?  Who looked after all the children?    

But here we see a woman surrounded by her friends, a woman remembered by all the sewing or knitting she did, as my old aunt did- at her funeral, my cousin wore the last socks she ever made him, before she had to lay down her knitting needles. 

We think of so many women whose work is mostly unpaid, or, if paid, still a labour of love- knitting , sewing, rug hooking, quilting. And don’t forget the culinary arts!

This story reminds us- ministry has many forms- feeding and clothing and quiet acts of caring matter just as much as standing up and speaking. Often the former actions were considered women’s work- the latter were considered men’s work. That’s not always true today,  But still today, such work, such caring is easily overlooked. 

This story holds up the less visible, humbler, more practical acts of caring . And today is a good day to remember  those acts. 

We  need these acts of caring more than anything else. People need feeding and clothing- children need raising- those who are ill or aging need all kinds of help.  Everything else is – you might say- icing on the cake. 

Consider  the first letter attributed to John. Laying down your life for the other: it’s not always the big heroic gesture; It’s often the small day to day sacrifices, ones rarely noticed, much less rewarded. 

If you are a mother- and these days perhaps a father too- you give up personal time, you give up a good nights’ sleep, you give up peace and quiet. You are tired -perhaps you’ve been out at work all day or  night – but there’s still mealtime,  laundry and cleaning,  and making sure the children are ready for school, they’ve got their lunch, they’ve done their homework, they’ve got up in time. Or you get even less sleep or you   use up your allotted days off because a child is sick. Or you do crisis intervention- who knows what might come up ? 

Sacrificial love of this kind isn’t just parental. The time may come when   those  who took care of us  now need  care. And often again it’s the small things: picking up the phone even if we are busy; giving them our weekends or holidays; doing cleaning , sorting and shopping they can’t do; being with them at medical appointments if possible; staying within reach of their hospital bed or lazy boy chair; Bringing them meals; maybe even helping them eat the meals; encouraging and supporting them in accessing more care , even in facing difficult changes; if they are confined to bed,  making sure their phone, their glasses, their call button are all within easy reach.  

Sometimes love means setting  our own agenda, our preference aside- at least some of the time- doing things we would never choose to do,  having conversations we’d rather not have,  even missing time at our workplace when emergencies come up.

We lay down our lives in big ways and small ways.  In so doing, we express love.    `how does God`s love abide in anyone who has the world`s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help.?“[1 John 3:17]. To stay connected with the Compassionate One, the Source of Compassion ,use what words you will,  we must be compassionate.

Compassion costs us. Compassion costs us everything we have- at times- whether we are tending to the sick, or helping those in poverty, or supporting a refugee family, or  donating to a cause, or trying to make a better world, or being compassionate to our planet, or tending to our own families.

This is what it means to  love not in word and in speech, but in truth and actions. Our words still matter- but let them be in service to the  wellbeing of others. And we speak the most eloquently  when we  treat others with kindness and respect, doing even small things to help them feel cared for and supported, working for a  world where all feel safe and loved. We speak the most eloquently when we listen well,  inviting honest open conversation- people don’t have to be fine when they aren’t,  we don’t have to be fine when we aren’t.

The best gift we can give is to open a safe space for vulnerable people, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable – like those widows in our Acts story. It was OK for them to weep and mourn together-  I’m not sure Peter quite got that. Perhaps,  if you carry sadness in your hearts today because of absent loved ones, you too need those safe times and places.

Finally,   loving is difficult at times, with families, with friends,  even within our church family. We all get weary- and run down- at times nerves and tempers fray. And loving is particularly difficult when we grieve those  things we can’t fix: chronic or terminal illnesses, the privations which can come with aging, loneliness for those no longer with us.

We are all fragile, mortal creatures- there are sadnesses. There are losses, there is letting go. 

Jean Vanier, who died this week,  understood all this.He chose to live with the most vulnerable of people,  special-needs adults- some would require help with feeding, personal care and more- some might be verbal in our language, some not. He chose the most humble way of connecting , of presence . His university degrees, his past achievements meant nothing-just his common humanity with all of God’s beloved.   

And Vanier embraced his own aging,  his own frailty , his own giving up of abilities and possibilities.   Love in action meant loving acceptance of all, even himself.

Vanier reminds us – “we are not called to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”

Like Dorcas and her widow friends, like so many of the mothering , or parenting, or caregiving people who’ve touched our lives, like spiritual communities at their best, when we open arms and hearts with tenderness and humility, you may be called to do  humdrum, even tedious things for those you love, or your community, this community or any other.   You may be called to offer  the simple gift of time, presence, listening to family, friends, spiritual community, even strangers.

It may seem small, unspectacular, a distraction. But what you do and where you show up matters. – 

And each small offering can be wrapped up in extraordinary love. the love which lives in each of our hearts, the love that brings about life itself- not just our life, all life-the love which upholds us in green pastures and dark valleys, the love shown forth in Jesus’ actions, not just his words, and the love which makes family and friendship and community possible .

Continue in prayer, seek connection each day with the compassion and love all around you, and know that you are works of extraordinary love, and extraordinary love shows forth in your works- and extraordinary love beyond your own gives you the strength to continue .

May it be so !

Walking into the future

Reflection by Jane Doull, , April 14, 2019 Introduction- Our 152-year old church sanctuary in St Andrews, NB had been closed for major renovations all winter – including removal of carpet and pews, rebuilding stage to make it multi-purpose, creation of accessible washroom and galley, repairing stained glass windows, painting everything , building a floor labyrinth and more. We had our “soft re-opening” Palm Sunday 2019.

What does our procession back into this sanctuary have to do with Palm Sunday?

More than you might think!

It’s about sacred space- sacred space reimagined.

That long ago Passover week, Jewish pilgrims were walking or riding to the sacred space of the Jerusalem temple- But that sacred space was imprisoned , occupied, by the force of the Roman Empire-

And so that week there would also be processions for Roman governors and Roman military- Just to remind everyone who was in charge.

On one side of Jerusalem, such a procession would be prancing in with fine horses and with military presence,

On another side, this humble, motley procession,

Forming behind Jesus, riding a colt, his feet dragging on the ground.

This procession was actually a carnival, a wild spoof – the ultimate reversal where the poor, the meek, the peacemakers claimed centre stage.

This procession was anti-establishment, anti-institution.,

Those at the margins, the poor, the peacemakers, those not allowed in religious sacred space, the great unwashed, claim centre stage.

Those thrown out of religious sacred space or never welcome there got to claim their own sacred space.

Jesus was breaking open the old wineskins, giving up the attempt to mend the old cloth, turning the tables, preparing for the day when the veil of the religious edifice was torn in two and all space became sacred.

Jesus on his colt was stepping, step by step away from the way things used to be, the familiar way,

Into a new uncharted ground,

An in between place of letting go, dying and rising again, rising again into a life not yet seen, not yet known.

The Palm Sunday path does not take us to church as we know it. It never did. The Palm Sunday path leads to where the maps don’t work, much less the GPS,

The road may even disappear.

As we find ourselves in an in-between land.

As our whole faith community sheds its skin to become a new body that fits who we we are meant to be,

That moves freely where Spirit would take us.

Such is the Wesley story that brought us here today.

For the last 8 or 9 years, we’ve seen -something had to give. We were moving faster and faster away from the glory days of full pews and full Sunday school classes-

And that wasn’t just us, that was churches like ours all over the place.

Spiritual community was there – spiritual yearnings were there- spiritual passions were there- but somehow we were going to have to break open,

Shedding our skin, freed into a new future.

Many the conversations, many the visioning times, many the promptings of spirit,

Leading us to open the door to midweek spiritual expressions, Small groups,

Contemplation,

Poetry reading,

Drumming circles.

A story still unfolding in the making of our labyrinth!

We’ve been led into community collaborations, standing up for ocean science , helping sponsor a refugee family, opening our door to the St Andrews Open Door,

Or making room for the Family Resource playgroup.

And even our way of doing Sunday has relaxed into something new, still evolving.

What new story were we part of ?

How could we tell that story better, live that story better?

And how could this Wesley sanctuary open space for this story to keep unfolding, as Spirit invites?

In this building’s 150th birthday , we felt called not so much to look back but forward.

And so it has continued.

And so our people have taken a step forward ,

Not totally knowing where we are heading,

But knowing we need a sacred space open to new ways, new stories,

A sacred space welcoming to seekers, sceptics, dreamers,

A sacred space that supports love of all sacred spaces, including this precious planet.

This is what Jesus was getting at long ago.

It’s not about the way things have been- or even the way things are now-

It’s about a hopeful, expansive future,

In which there is space and safety and sanctuary for all beings, In which hearts and communities and even planet can find healing and consolation and hope.

To walk into that future is not easy.

We take not just steps but leaps of faith , more often than we know, when we learn new things, do new things,

When we enter new relationships,

When we enter new chapters in our lives.

And today we enter not only a renewed space,

A new-to-us space-

We enter a new chapter in the story of Wesley,

A chapter yet to be written.

Today is just the beginning-

The day when we write the first sentence of this chapter.

And it won’t be easy.

There was a learning curve in setting up the worship space today.

Far more learning curves await.

As we live into what this new space invites, beyond our comfort zone.

As we open the door- to what, to whom?

Speaking of doors, do you see- anyone can come by and look in, And we hope they will walk through the doors,

And take a closer look,

Perhaps even find a small part of their heart’s desire.

And so when we’re here we can look out,

Open to welcoming who comes in, and open to going out and making sacred space wherever we are.

Real stories, true stories bear the weight of all our experiences, all our emotions-

Just as the Holy Week story did so long ago.

Just as our Wesley story does,

And so it is with this new chapter.

Joy not without sorrow,

Adventure not without struggle,

Opportunity not without anxiety.

And yet we trust the journey and we trust the Light and Love that leads us on, as who we are and who we will become, Always embraced by a Wisdom, a Mystery beyond our going.

Let us begin to write a new chapter in this new space, A space full of hope, full of adventure, full of possibility beyond what we can yet see. May it be so.

Welcome to an Exploration

Welcome to my new blog!  I’m truly a spiritual wanderer/wonderer.   I’m committed to exploring and expressing, as best I can, an inclusive, expansive spirituality , in response to changing times, including my own changing times.

I am into the 26th year and  last phase of my full-time work as a minister in the United Church of Canada.  I’ve lived, studied and done paid or volunteer work in Nova Scotia, England, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.   I take spiritual inspiration from many sources beyond Bible and church tradition: poetry,  nature, music, social justice movements including feminism and spirituality from a variety of traditions and lineages.

You will get to know me better as I post reflections on this blog, some used on Sunday morning, others just my random thoughts.   Stay tuned, and do subscribe if you’d like to know when I update my postings.  Happy – creative-  thought-provoking exploring !