Just be

Just be

January 10, 2016  |  Second Sunday after Christmas, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Just be
“I am not afraid of storms,
for I am learning to sail my ship.”
~ Louisa May Alcott

 

Grace and peace to you,

Central Methodist Mission is a beautiful place. I remember sitting in this sanctuary just before taking my first appointment as a solo pastor. I sat listening to Dana Cunningham’s piano music playing softly through the speakers and I felt so held by God in this space. The prayer I was praying all the way back in 2010 was that God might deliver a Scripture that would guide my leadership in the years ahead. The Scripture that was delivered was the text of Jesus walking out on the water. Churches like Central Methodist Mission that were built in the gothic tradition hold secrets in the ceiling. In all of them captured above is the hull of a boat, which is the symbol of the Church in mission to the world.

So many times the Church gets things wrong as we stretch beyond the boundaries of our front doors, but there is not a perfect science in the ways we are called to be alive and living in love in the world. We are just to be. It is what I call a bumble into beauty when we get it right. So often, in our passion, we seek to charge out on our own and lead and I would share that things that have real life, that offer real love, have a beautiful way of sustaining themselves if and when we should ever leave. This is why I always encourage beautiful ones with dreams to gather together in twos and threes, so that the dreams they dream have wings to fly like the symbol of the resurrection – the butterfly.

There is a sense I feel that this congregation like many others around the world is called to lead out in the waters of change that we are walking upon. There is strong leadership for the year ahead, Alan’s preaching is beyond what many can see and imagine, but leads to a place of truth that the foundations of what we know in this generation are shaking. I can’t imagine what Peter must have been thinking when he took that first step out upon the sea, but I can imagine it was a combination of fear and excitement. There before him was Jesus beckoning him, “Come.”

I always wonder whether Peter was a little hasty. Maybe he was never supposed to leave the boat that Jesus put him in. Maybe he was to learn how to live with courage, faith, and hope with those he was charged to serve with. The boat is always charged to leave the shores to the other side. Without stepping foot on the shores that are not ours, we don’t have a picture of the world we need to see clearly. Without hearing the cries of the people who are around the corner, but out of sight, we lose understanding of the way we are called to live.

Sailing is no easy thing. It takes skill, practice, and an ability to gauge the clip of the wind. Winds and waves have always threatened, but when two or three gather together in prayer, the Holy Spirit delivers the dream, guides the boat, and opens the sails in order that the Church might be a vessel of change in the world – guiding others towards the way that leads to life, love, peace, and transformation.

With you on the journey, Michelle

New things bring change

New things bring change

January 3, 2016  |  First Sunday after Christmas, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on New things bring change

Grace and peace to you,

As we make the turn towards a New Year, I encourage us to make the turn with courage, with faith, and with hope. Thomas Merton did not share these words in vain. His journey through life was one of deep contemplation and intentional engagement. His writings help to center great leaders all around the world because they come from a place of truth that meets you on the ground and lifts you to new heights. New years are times for new thinking, new decisions, and the chance for us to begin again. New things always bring with them change.

The birth of Jesus did not happen in a time that was peaceful. It was a time of great uncertainty. There was a King on the throne who had murdered members of his own family. Joseph and Mary were on the run and chaos seemed to loom all about. The way of Jesus today rises in the midst of that same sort of chaos. The powers that rule today are not aligned with the needs of the people. The young are rising to name no more. The oppressed are raising their fists. It is into this day and this time that Jesus is beckoning to be born in us.

Jesus brings a new reign that promises to level the playing ground between the powerful and the meek. It is a reign that promises there will be food on the table when we all find our way home. It is a reign that is made real when people like you and I claim what we believe and live it. Releasing our lives to the promise of new life also means releasing our lives to the change that comes with it.

Change can be unsettling, confusing, incredibly challenging, but resisting change means resisting God. Embracing change means embracing the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about the something new that is unfolding.

When Mary submitted to the will of God, her words were, “Let it Be!” She teaches us with that one decision, the way forward in a New Year. Mary is never the same after those three words are uttered from her lips. Yet, through Mary we witness the birth of hope into the world.

May you embrace the way of new life and change in this New Year ahead.

Questions for Reflection:

1) Name the areas of your life where you have experienced something new needing to be born.
2) In what ways are you resisting change?
3) How can you take steps to embrace the new?

With you on the journey, Michelle

The Invitation

The Invitation

December 27, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Invitation

The Invitation

By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Alan

Thin places

Thin places

December 20, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Thin places

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices
in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour
on the lowliness of his servant.”
Luke 1:46-48


Thin places…

“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of ‘thin places’ in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good — and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favoured as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery.” ~ Peter Gomes


This picture by one of our members, Lulu Fitzpatrick captures the essence of what Peter Gomes is naming as a thin place. Right in the centre of the painting there is light and puffs of clouds breaking in like a new day unfolding. The season of advent is just this, a new day slowly unfolding. It is the time when we enter into a season of waiting.The wait is not for the magical, but the majestic.

The thin places on the earth and in our lives provide for us moments of awe and wonder that inspire us to lean into the something new that is always struggling to be born in us and in the world around us.

They make real for us what can sometimes feel elusive — the majesty of God. We are almost to Christmas and the magical will appear all around us. There will be bright paper, ribbons, decorations, tables full of food, and most likely strands and strands of twinkle lights.

Yet, what is truly unimaginable is that light like the light breaking through in Lulu’s picture can break in through each of us as we turn towards the majestic. There is such beauty in Cape Town. The sea roars to life here. The mountain stands powerful against the sky. The whales hide beneath the surface of an ink blue sea, waiting for just the right moment to teach lessons of wisdom and truth to you and me. The flowers are like nowhere else in the world and they remind us of the beauty of love and life. Nature here honors the majesty of God.

Mary sings of her soul magnifying the Lord. From the deepest place in her being, she would shout to the God who would do great things in and through her. She sings of a great levelling where God works to rise up the lowly and lower the proud and powerful. People who are hungry have food and those who are rich go away feeling empty. She is singing of a new day for the people who have walked in darkness, for in the darkness they will be able to see light. In the darkness, they will know how to gather. The gathering will be around the things that are right and true.

There is nothing magical about Mary’s song, it is wholly majestic. A new day indeed is being born through the one who we call Emmanuel, God with us. There is a sense that in the life blood of Jesus, the world is about to turn. The question is will we turn more and more towards the majesty of God? I encourage you this holiday season to pray that God might reveal to you a thin place where Heaven and Earth collapse for but a moment within yourself in order that you might experience the majestic and allow it to be born again in you.

With you on the journey, Michelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprised by joy

Surprised by joy

December 13, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Surprised by joy

Grace and peace to you

I spent time the other day with an old friend. She was telling me how at the beginning of 2014 she felt the need for a guru. Which I guess means that she was looking for a teacher. An “enlightened” teacher who could bring light to her living.

She wrote to a friend who she thought had guru connections. But no guru was found.

In December 2014 she received the devastating news that she had cancer.

Chemotherapy was prescribed – followed by cutting surgery. Time off. Time in bed. Time staring at the ocean. Time talking to the dog and time with the cat on her lap. Her hair has grown back – grey replacing the blonde. That was not the only thing that grew back a different colour. Her relationships with those closest to her have also grown back richer in colour.

Cancer was her guru. Sure, it was not the guru she was looking for. It was not the guru she wanted. And it certainly wasn’t the guru God sent her. But it was the guru that she could be enlightened by if she were open. And she was open.

Any guru worth their guru-salt basically does just one thing with their disciples. A guru en-courages disciples to become present to their life – their living – knowing that their life is good as it was proclaimed good in the beginning. If the disciple becomes truly present to their life – they may be surprised by the joy of knowing that they are enough. In fact, that they are more than enough and have more than enough and may even feel their heart strangely warmed. The great “guru gift” is courage. Without courage we will continue to avoid the truth of our living. In fear we will run. We will hide. We will close our eyes. We will go to sleep. We will do anything but face who we are in the very present moment of now. We will prefer to pitch our life in the past or project it into the future, but in so doing the disquiet within us deepens. The courage needed is courage to face the truth that life is as vulnerable as it is valuable. That life is beyond our control and therefore to live authentically in this life is to live vulnerably giving up the illusion of control. To accept this disquiet of reality is to cause the disquiet of our illusions to evaporate.

No surprise then that Guru Jesus instructs us repeatedly: “Do not fear… Do not be afraid… I have not come to condemn… I have come to save…” Guru Jesus hopes that we will wake up and become fully present to the beauty and goodness and vulnerability of our life.

In courage, Alan


Prepare

Strange how one word will so hollow you out.

But this word has been in the wilderness for months,
years.

This word has been what remained
after everything else was worn away
by sand and stone.

It is what withstood the glaring of sun by day,
the weeping  loneliness of the moon at night.

Now it comes to you racing out of the wild,
eyes blazing and waving its arms,
voice ragged with desert but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself again and again:

Prepare,  prepare…

It may feel like the word is levelling you,
Emptying you as it asks you to give up
what you have known.

It is impolite and hardly tame,
but when it falls upon your lips
you will wonder at the sweetness,
like honey that finds its way
into the hunger you had not known was there.

By Jan Richardson in Circles of Grace

Step towards the light

Step towards the light

December 6, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Step towards the light

Grace and peace to you

On this page you will see two Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. I came across both of them this past week. It doesn’t take long to realise that they are at odds with each other. The top cartoon is delightful – as Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend rejoice in the treasure of life. Everything – even rocks, roots and grubs are treasures. Indeed there is treasure everywhere. Life itself is a treasure. Life is the miracle. All of life!

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century said: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Rabbi Heschel spoke of “wonder or radical amazement as refusing to take anything for granted”. Within this worldview we pray less for miracles and more for our eyes to be opened to the miracles all around us. The spiritual discipline we most need to cultivate in order to honour this worldview is attentiveness and gratitude. So let’s pray: “Fill us Lord with radical amazement for the treasure of life.”

The second cartoon is actually quite devastating and we can only hope it was before Calvin discovered that all of life is a treasure, but I fear it is more likely that Calvin moves between the two worldviews – back and forth like most of us do. The world of wonder and praise and the world of money and possession. There are times we are given insight into the priceless gift of life, but then we tend to forget and we fearfully clutch onto money while childishly thinking that our wellbeing rests in owning and possessing stuff. That the god of money rather than the God of mercy is the answer to our prayers. We mistakenly think having anything we want is more important than having what we need most. And what we need most is to surrender to the truth that our humanity fully flourishes in providing rather than possessing, in sharing rather than owning. So let’s pray: “Free us to accept that we own nothing. That all is a gift from you for us to share.”

I remind you again of Al Zolynas’ poem that ends with the words: “All I know is that place/where the light appears and disappears/that’s the place where we live.” Yes we live between these two cartoons – in the first the light appears and in the second the light disappears. May we step towards the light.

Grace, Alan

Prepare for Jesus

Prepare for Jesus

November 29, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Prepare for Jesus

In 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership convened the first
Women’s Global Leadership Institute (WGLI).
The 23 participants came from different countries.

They established the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign as
one strategy to build awareness about gender-based violence and facilitate networking among women leaders working in this area, choosing to symbolically link
November 25th (International Day Against Violence Against Women) and
December 10th (International Human Rights Day).


Grace and Peace to you …

Today is the first Sunday of Advent – the season of patient, prayerful and persistent preparation for the coming of Jesus. We prepare for Jesus by living life in the way Jesus lived life: gently and generously; truthfully and justly; mercifully and joyfully.

To help us live life the Jesus way we need to pray. And so to prayerfully prepare I invite you to journey with Paul’s prayer for the people of Thessalonica which is one of the set readings for us today:

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Grace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

 

Under Ideal Conditions
say in the flattest part of North Dakota
on a starless moonless night
no breath of wind

a man could light a candle
then walk away
every now and then
he could turn and see
the candle burning

seventeen miles later
provided conditions remained ideal
he could still see the flame

somewhere between the seventeenth and eighteenth mile
he would lose the light

if he were walking backwards
he would know the exact moment
when he lost the flame

he could step forward and find it again
back and forth
dark to light light to dark

what’s the place where the light disappears?
where the light reappears?
don’t tell me about photons
and eyeballs
reflection and refraction
don’t tell me about one hundred and eighty-six thousand
miles per second and the theory of relativity

all I know is that place
where the light appears and disappears
that’s the place where we live

~ Al Zolynas

 

Interconnectedness

Interconnectedness

November 22, 2015  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Interconnectedness

Grace and Peace to you

In the light of last week’s reflection if we are going to be a people who choose life rather than death we are going to need to change our spirituality (meaning: world view) from one of separation to one of interconnectedness.

To help us shape this life-saving spirituality I share with you the following principles from the Metta Center for Non-Violence:

  1. Life is an interconnected whole of inestimable worth.
  2. We cannot be fulfilled by an indefinite consumption of things, but by an expansion of our relationships.
  3. We can never injure others without injuring ourselves, therefore:
  4. Security does not come from locking up “criminals” or defeating “enemies”; it can only come from rehabilitating offenders and turning enemies into friends. As Jesus taught: “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

Grace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

Psalm 132

Enter into the Silence
Into the Heart of Truth
For herein lies the Great Mystery
Where life is ever unfolding
Herein the Divine Plan is made known
The Plan all are invited to serve
Listen for the music of the Holy Word
In the resounding Silence of the universe
May balance and harmony be your aim
As you are drawn into the
Heart of Love.

Those who follow the way of Love
With calm and faith-filled intent
Know that all is working toward
Healing and wholeness
And may the healing power of love
Lift you from the limitations
Of fear and ignorance
Into the arms of freedom
May the peace of the Spirit bless you
And lead you on life’s journey
Be not afraid of the Silence
For Wisdom’s Voice is heard there!

As you follow the Light
You become gentle and kind
You come to live in the Light
Children enter into the world
Radiating the Spirit
Learn from them of innocence and simplicity
Learn to co-operate with the unseen realms
To see beyond the veil.

Wise are those who learn through silence
Learn then to listen well
For beyond the silence and stillness within
You will come to know a profound
And dazzling Silence
Herein lies the music of the spheres
The harmony of creation
Enter into the Holy Temple of your soul
Converse with the Beloved
In sweet communion
Blessings of the Great Silence be with you
As you help to rebuild the heart of the world with love!

~ Nan C. Merrill

Plant a Sequoia Tree

Plant a Sequoia Tree

November 15, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Plant a Sequoia Tree

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay.
Want more of everything ready-made.
Be afraid to know your neighbours and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit
they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

Expect the end of the world.
Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.


Grace and Peace to you …

This poem by Wendell Berry is quite powerful in its entirety, but there is one line that I have been sitting with…

Plant a Sequoia Tree

It is no small thing to plant a Sequoia tree as Wendell Berry proposes. Sequoias are literal giants among trees! One of the oldest Sequoia trees is thought to be 3,500 years old. Many grow to be 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter and more than 250 feet (76 meters) tall. When I think of Sequoia trees, I think these are the type of trees that the Psalmist describes “they are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper” Psalm 1:3.

So, what does it mean to plant a Sequoia tree? What might it look like to invest part of our energy in things that might not make a drastic difference in our present reality, but will make a marked difference in a future that we may or may not see? I invite you to reflect this week about things that invoke in you a sense of holy discontent. What do you wrestle with deeply about the world around you? Change does not come through simply wrestling. Lasting change comes through prophetically imaginative acts like planting Sequoia trees.

I invite you to find two to three people within your life to have a conversation with this week. Ask them about where their holy discontent resides. Share with them yours and begin to wonder about ways you can make a difference. March is water conservation month and I am wondering if there are two or three among you that would like to dream with me about ways we as a community might Plant a Sequoia tree in our water reality. We can know the children of the future will thirst and talk about it or we can work to change this reality a little bit at a time through educating, making changes in our lives, and being a parable community who demonstrates for the world the ways we can come together to make a difference. Let’s do it.

Let’s Plant Sequoia Trees!

With you on the journey, Michelle

Breaking free

Breaking free

November 8, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Breaking free

Grace and peace to you …

There is a group of Catholic workers in Cape Town that run an organization called Prison Care Ministry. They support the care of prisoners in various different ways, one of which is engaging in restorative justice work. The program is seven weeks long, leading the inmates through Biblical narratives relating to forgiveness and restoration. At the end of the journey their families are invited to join so that the prisoners can apologize to them, and if the families are ready they can extend forgiveness.

Last week I traveled with the team to witness the work that they do. When we arrived at the prison, we were shuttled from the parking lot inside to the prison entrance. There were 29 inmates gathered and rows and rows of family members. Sister Mary Brady, of the Prison Care and Support Network spoke to the group about the importance of forgiveness and shared that it was a process and not one that should be rushed. I appreciated the importance she placed on the prisoners also working to forgive themselves.

The work of restorative justice is to restore the prisoner in relationship with those they have wronged. The Prison Care and Support Network were focusing on restoration with family, community and self the day I was with them. I wondered if the crowd would have the patience to sit through all the stories, but many would shake their heads in understanding as each person shared. Family members were crying with other families. It was simply amazing the connection that was made between these 29 inmates and their families. After each family had shared, they would light a candle at the front.

One man stood and shared that he had not seen his family in sixteen years. His parents had died while he was in prison, but his sister was there. It is unlikely this man will ever be released from prison for he murdered several people and committed multiple crimes. Yet, when he stood before his sister there was something within him I could sense breaking free. He was sharing with her that he believed that he could still make a good life for himself even inside the prison walls. I couldn’t help but weep as he was talking to her. His sister shared with him that she accepted his apology and forgave him. The joy on his face was such a beautiful thing to witness.

As we were leaving, there were too many people to fit on the first bus, and I was one of the ones left behind. I found myself feeling stress as I was waiting for the bus to return. I can’t imagine living behind prison walls for an entire life, but so many of us actually do. There are ways of living out in the world where we can breathe the air of the free, but still live within a prison in our minds or the patterns we have set in our life.

Jesus’ words, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” from John 10:10 are a call to break free from the prisons in our minds and our patterns of living. To witness a man so free who will live behind bars for the rest of his life was quite convicting. A question I feel we must all ask ourselves is, “What does it look like to truly be free?

With you on the journey, Michelle