In her book Tramp for the Lord Corrie Ten Boom says that “Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.” I like that! Being from the Holy Land of Newfoundland I can relate to fog imagery very well. Some days the fog can be so thick and so dense that navigating a path or a way seems almost impossible. For mariners, fog was sometimes deadly and indeed the advent of radar make life for those who live on the sea a little easier. It makes a big difference when you know where you are going even if you cannot see it!
Yesterday we attended the funeral of twenty-three year old Kyle Beyer. He is a cousin to Catherinanne and his father and mother, Dan and Chris have always been close with Catherinanne’s parents. Just about three months ago we attended Dan’s funeral. To say that Chris and her surviving children Chad and Amanda have had a hard time recently would be a gross understatement. Having said that, it was privilege to be present at the funeral yesterday, to hear of Chris’ faith and to have her witness to what he faith gives to her. Pastor Jerry Yarnell gave a great homily that clearly spoke to his long knowledge of the family and his love for God and God’s community. I was particularly moved by a story that he shared from over 23 years ago. Chris was miscarrying and called on her pastor. Jerry attended and prayed with her. A few months later she had Kyle. Chris reminded Jerry of that day when he called to offer is care and support upon hearing of Kyle’s death. She said, “I had him for nearly 24 years.” I was moved by such gratitude in the midst of great pain. “Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.” Surely Chris and her family might be forgiven for feeling angry or bitter. But there is none of that. I am so thankful for that witness of faith. In the midst of the dense fog that has surrounded that family, their faith has been the instrument employed to help them navigate to safe harbours.
I watch that great TV series M*A*S*H in reruns all the time. It is probably my favourite TV series of all time. In an episode I watched recently Father Mulcahy turns the Mess tent into a sanctuary to protect an AWOL solider. In the midst of the dialogue Father Mulcahy says, “A faith of convenience is a hollow faith.” This proves to be true. Take a look at the faith of convenience that we see around us all and that we participate in. Nowadays there are a host of evangelist out there telling any willing to listen that faith is about return. In their prosperity preaching they assert that God ‘looks after’ those who have faith. The word is that if you live faith properly, you will be rewarded with plenty. That to me is a faith of convenience. Then there is the everyday practice that we all seem to participate in. We call on God with a shopping list, “God please grant, X,Y,Z, and oh by the way my wife really needs some D.” Or we get into crises and find ourselves crying to God bargaining that, if we only get out of the mess we have ourselves into, we will go to church forever. That is a faith of convenience. How about when we are in social company and people make light of God, poke fun at believers, disparage others who are weak and we are silent or worse we participate. But then when we are in other circles and there are faith conversations taking place we espouse to be the faithful. At that moment we too are living a faith of convenience. The Private in that episode of M*A*S*H has the good Padre sympathizing for him. He takes on faith as a tool to get what he needs. Father Mulcahy admonishes him when his true colours shine through with the great line, “A faith of convenience is a hollow faith.”
We need to hear those words of conversion. We all sometimes exercise a hollow faith, a faith of convenience. Yet, we all know the love of a God who has adopted us as children of light. Knowing that we need to look to people like Chris in her grief to see what faith in action can look like. We need to be reminded that faith is what can see us through all manner of being, the good, the bad and the mystical…and yes even the foggy. Thanks’ for the witness Chris.
Hope – Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead. – Barack Obama
Tonight I watched Barak Obama’s acceptance speech. It was very impressive indeed. I am impressed by Mr. Obama’s ability to stir up the hopes of people, youth especially. Tonight before nearly 80 000 people he captured the hearts of all who were listening. It was moving really to hear him give that speech 45 years after the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech of Dr. Martin Luther King. To think that the choice that American’s will make on November 4 will include a Black presidential candidate is a testament to the work of people like Dr. King who was martyred for his prayer in action.
Obama is such a stark contrast to President Bush. I am humoured at the charge that Barak Obama is weak in foreign policy. This in the face of the great diplomat, George Bush, who at the most recent G-8 was heard to call out to the Italian prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with these words, “Amigo! Amigo!” When he spoke to Pope Benedict XVI he did not speak Spanish (perhaps he knows that he is German) he simply said, “Your eminence, you’re looking good" when he met with the Holy Father in June. Who needs all that Your Holiness stuff anyways? It was a slight improvement over Bush’s remarks after the Pope spoke in America. “Thank you, your Holiness. Awesome speech." He had the title right! In Slovenia in June Bush said, "We’ve got a lot of relations with countries in our neighborhood." Well you know the list goes on and on. I just think it is ironic that a nation which is now lead by a president who had little to no foreign policy when he was elected, can look at an educated, articulate, and hope filled man and suggest that he is weak on the world stage. Look at what happened on Obama’s recent trip to Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people came out to hear a man who has at this moment only the potential to be President of the USA. Why? I would say because the rest of the world is hopeful for change in the US. The world lies in wait that someone will bring that ‘hope in the face of difficulty.’ The world watches as it is tiring of the politics of confrontation.
Tonight was impressive. It will be interesting to watch over the next 12 weeks what happens in America. Will they seize the potential that is placed before the electorate and make the next big step? Or will the politics of fear and the quiet prejudice of the few push hope and potential aside for the comfort of what has been, even if what has been is not so pretty, not so fair and not so just? For now this Canadian is happy to watch with great interest and to be inspired by great words of hope. In the words above Barak Obama insists that he has hope and that hope is ‘a belief that there are better days ahead.’ Martin Luther King shared that hope. I also share the belief that there are better days ahead. Dr. King had a dream…oh if he were alive tonight to see and hear so many people moved by Barak Obama. Do dreams come true? I think they do! I will watch to see just how many of Dr. King’s dreams come true.
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
Many of you were here last October to meet Ed and Marion Smith. Ed spoke to the congregation about his book From The Ashes of My Dreams, which chronicled his difficult but courageous seventeen month journey through rehab following an automobile accident that changed his and Marion’s life forever. It was a great night and we all fell in love with Ed and with Marion (OH).
I recently had the good fortune of spending more time with Ed and Marion Smith. I find that Ed and Marion have a special quality that is very hard to define and even more difficult to articulate. Schweitzer’s quote above comes very close. Ed has been writing a column in The Telegram for what seems like forever. In his words I often find myself rekindled because he touches the place inside of me where the fun lives, the creativity lives, and the joy for life lives. Getting to know Ed and being in his presence that ability is even more present. I came away from our visit with the Smith’s with the fire rekindled. It was sparked by two people who live generosity and good humour. Their ability for colourful and intelligent debate is an added bonus. All of it together meant that our friends Ed and Marion gave me just what I needed the most…themselves! I thank God for having met Ed and Marion and for the ability they have to bring so much joy to our lives.
My Father and Mother also had opportunity to meet Ed and Marion over a wonderful supper (thank you Marion). The rapport between my Dad and Ed was great. Mom got her licks in too. It was so entertaining that Ed mused about it in his column ‘The View from Here’ in The Telegram. You can read it by clicking here. Prepare to laugh!
Schweitzer discovered in 1915 something he called ‘Reverence for Life.’ It is a philosophy that was born out of his observing too much suffering in the world around him. He came to believe that all life was so important. That living things should be respected. He believed that the only thing we are sure of is life itself. Because of that he felt that we should honour all life and realize that in so doing we are reverencing and honouring a divine plan. Nothing is more important than life itself – it connects us with all of God’s creatures. I think that Ed Smith has captured ‘The Reverence for Life.’ He captures it weekly in his column. He and his family capture it is the hospitality and love for others. He captures it with his ability to rise above many challenges to honour that which is life, and light and hope.
Each day brings a new challenge. Many of you have emailed me about yesterdays post. Thank you for your reflections. I wrote that post as a response to the many things that are happening around me. I hope that I can each day seek to ‘reverence life’ in the midst of darkness. It is not always easy to do. My prayer is that I might continue to work toward that ‘Reverence for Life’ that Dr. Schweitzer wrote about. On the journey to there I will keep offering thanks for that sense if reverence for life and the rekindled flames that I experience from good folks like Ed and Marion Smith. In the meantime I’d better go stoke the flames a little…stay tuned!
Love and the Pain of Leaving
It is no secret to those of you who read this blog that one of my favourite writers is Henri Nouwen. In fact, there is a great webpage for those who like to read his work and want to be inspired by it. You can visit HenriNouwen.org and you will find out more about this great priest and prophet who was a great witness to the world. I get a daily email from HenriNouwen.org. A different quote each day brings me food for thought. Yesterday I received a email with these words of the great Henri Nouwen;
“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”
I found it to be a timely reflection for two reasons.
Firstly because I know that saying good bye, farewell, or so long are usually nice words to help us cope with the pain that accompanies separation. I have shared with many people that my Nan Whyatt used to say “Pleasure the meeting and parting is the pain.” She was right. We would make what seemed in those days to be the long journey to Pilley’s Island in scenic Green Bay Newfoundland. Being with her an Pop for a couple of weeks before driving back to Trinity Bay was a golden part of our youth. Nan and Pop loved to see us coming and hated to see us go. The time in between that meeting and parting was so important in shaping us. Today the journeys that we make to be with family are so much longer. I think those words about being torn apart are an accurate reflection of what I was feeling again last week. Having said all that, I know that Nouwen is right. While I have often suffered the pain of leaving, that is a small cost for the joy that is offered me in the relationships I have in my life which I count as a gift from my Creator.
The second reason that I was moved by these words yesterday is because of sad news that Catherinanne and I received yesterday. Three months ago Catherinanne’s cousin Dan Beyer died. He was a relatively young man who had lived a long life. Dan was ‘not supposed’ to live late into life. At least that is what he was told as a youth. But Dan defied the odds and he married Chris and raised a family. I found Dan a wonderful person and very pleasant company and I was moved at his funeral to hear those who loved him best speak of his life, his loves and his joys. Equally moving for me was hearing that family share ‘the pain of leaving.’ Yesterday we learned that Dan and Chris’s youngest son Kyle died tragically in an ATV accident. My heart goes out to Chris whose heart has to be so heavy. Within three months she has be forced to watch her husband and he youngest son leave knowing there will be no more opportunities to live in the joy of being together. So when I read the words, “And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair,” I think of Chris. I pray that Chris and her family will focus on the life and joy that they have enjoyed in Kyle and the new life that is promised to him in his baptism. No words will remove the pain of this terrible loss. Yet we as a people hold firm to the God’s promise to be faithful to us, even in death. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.” May God be with all those today who are saying goodbye. Loving is sweet…but leaving is never easy.
Thomas Aquinas said that “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.” I have had opportunity over the past couple of weeks to engage in rest, playful deeds and in jokes and all of it I believe has provided relaxation. I have lots to share with folks but I thought I might start with a video of a car that provided great playfulness for me. Doug Miller was kind enough to allow me to give the children a ride in his 1958 Vespa 400. Words alone will not describe it so, tale a look at this YouTube video. Take note of how good Dad and Mom look!
If the video is jumpy, click here to view it from YouTube’s webpage.
That is a lot of man in one very small car. This car was discovered in Italy in a trash heap and brought over here to canada and restored masterfully. Well done Doug! Thanks for the great opportunity to have time to be playful. I enjoyed it as much as the kids!
Shabbat is known to us as Sabbath. In the Hebrew context it comes from the creation account in Genesis and it speaks to God’s ordination of taking a day of rest each week, in the creation account it is the seventh day. In our more modern context it is a concept that is almost lost. We all go hard, all the time and sometimes forget that God has ordained for us the need for rest, and for regeneration. Leonardo da Vinci once opined, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”
For the next couple of weeks I will not post to this blog as I will be taking some Shabbat. My hope is to take that time to relax, refresh, reconnect, and to pray. “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” – Soren Kierkegaard. I hope that I will indeed change the nature of the one doing the praying.
Expect a post again later in August.
For now I am taking the Kit Kat Approach.
"Give yourself a Kit Kat…Give yourself a break!"
I think this Kit Kat advertisment is a good reminder of how everyone needs a break
And then there is this really good ad from overseas that shows how much can be accomplished when you give yourself a break.
Tonight we held prayers at the Marcotte Funeral Home for Stewart Weber. His funeral will be here at St. Mark’s tomorrow Morning at 10:30 AM. A few years ago I started doing a modified vespers for prayers at the close of visitation. The service concludes with all present placing taper candles in a box of sand at the end of the evening. The family are left to have some time alone the night concludes in stillness. It seems to work well and again tonight it seemed a very fitting way to honour Stewart and to pray for rest for the day ahead of Pam and Michael and Jane tomorrow.
One of the readings that I like to use at this ‘Service if Light’ is a quote of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Tonight Stewart’s niece Cheryl read it.
“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute;
we must simply hold out and see it through.
That sounds very hard at first,
but at the same time it is a great consolation,
for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled,
preserves the bonds between us.
It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap;
God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary,
keeps it empty and so helps us to
keep alive our former communion with each other,
even at the cost of pain.”
I think this is very sensible advice. It is not easy advice and it is not sweet with sentiment, but it is very sensible. People often try to fill the void that is left when a friend, child, parent, colleague, husband, wife, partner dies with words that sometimes do anything but console. We need to be prepared at times of death to be present with those who grieve knowing full well that there are no easy answers and that the void that is left is often large and seldom if ever explained away with trite clichés and religious pabulum. Henri Nouwen sums it up well when he writes about being prepared to be present with our friends when they are grieving.
“You might remember moments in which you were called to be with a friend who had lost a wife or husband, child or parent. What can you say, do, or propose at such a moment? There is a strong inclination to say: “Don’t cry; the one you loved is in the hands of God.” “Don’t be sad because there are so many good things left worth living for.” But are we ready to really experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say: “I do not understand. I do not know what to do but I am here with you.” Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do and instead stand rather in the face of death together with those who grieve? . . .”
Stewart battled cancer for 18 months. He and Pam and the family enjoyed good times in those months. These past few days have not been easy. It seems most unfair that Stewart was afflicted with cancer. Many of us can identify with that sense of injustice in facing such disease. To be honest, I do not understand why Stewart. I have faced plenty in these past few years that I do not understand. I do know that in the midst of even the darkest pain, I see the face of God in those who are willing to share the grief and share the pain. I know that there is no gift greater than for someone to choose to take on another’s pain and sorrow. Tonight I could see people surround Pam and her family. They are shouldering the grief with them. It warms my heart to see that love, that compassion and that desire to take on another’s pain.
Stewart’s death has left a gap. That gap is real and palpable. God will give the strength for his family who loves him to get through this pain. God will be present in the form of those who care. And Bonhoeffer is correct. God will not just ‘fill the gap.’
God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary,
keeps it empty and so helps us to
keep alive our former communion with each other,
even at the cost of pain.”
I pray we all find those who are hurting and work to be present to them, even at the cost of pain.
I spend a lot of mornings on my front porch, browsing the paper, checking some email, reading my book and watching the squirrels. That’s right watching squirrels. When I moved to Ontario in 1994I was shocked at the sheer size and number of these beasts. Being from Newfoundland where squirrels were introduced in the 1980’s, I had not seen a lot of these furry rodents. The ones that are in Newfoundland are small and sort of red or brown I guess and they are not fat. They are so small in fact that when Catherinanne first saw one in Newfoundland she was convinced that it was a chipmunk. But these less than bashful behemoths from south-western Ontario are huge. I still remember my sister-in-law Clara being totally amazed at the sheer size and number of these scurrying scavengers. They are really a force to be reckoned with.
Over the years I have noted that they seem to have a penchant for play if not performance when there is someone watching. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A squirrel leaping from bough to bough, and making the wood but one wide tree for his pleasure, fills the eye not less than a lion,—is beautiful, self-sufficing, and stands then and there for nature.” These mornings spent out here have been confirmation of that for me. Whatever it is about watching two squirrels using an Oak tree as a rollercoaster, it is really quite fascinating. I have enjoyed every minute of it indeed. They are a marvellous display of nature and a wonderful show of energy. As I watched one chase another a few minutes ago, I was almost exhausted. Up, down, around, upside down they went. It was fascinating really. God’s creation – nature in its fullness. And truthfully, those little “rats in fur coats” (from sex in the city I think) were as majestic to watch as any creature of the world.
What can I learn from these squirrels? Play is good? Exercise is good? Eat a lot of nuts? Never run in front of a car? All those are good tidbits I guess. But the one thought that I pull out from this morning is also from Ralph Waldo Emerson; “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.” In this moment of today I have found a place of worship. In this moment I can pay homage and respect to my creator for the gifts of these creatures, for the gift of this day and for the gift of the people in my life. I hope today to find the energy to get on my own rollercoaster and run, up and down, around, inside and outside, with the enthusiasm that one should have to be part of a world so full of wonder. Oddly each day brings so much; some of it really exciting and some of it downright depressing. The squirrels will be back tomorrow morning running and going, weather they had a great day today or not. I pray that we all might be able to take that lesson to heart. Tomorrow is another day and we have to jump on and go. I’m off…..