Truth – A Relationship

A few personal challenges of late sent me reflecting on truth again. Some of our loved ones confronted us with some difficult positions on important moral and family matters. It’s all I could do to keep conversations open and respectful, while working hard to share my opposing perspectives in non-judgmental ways and in a manner that deserved equal openness and respect. Maintaining open and loving relationships in times of disagreement is so heart-wrenching.

And then a peculiar thing happened. As if the ears of my mind and heart were sharpened by my own painful experience of discord, I heard and saw the same pain in so many places and over so many issues: disagreements over assisted suicide, disputes over the need to reconcile with our First Nations sisters and brothers, deep differences over the definition of marriage and how the church ought to care and seek justice for the LGBTQ community, strong disagreements within First Nations jurisdictions over allowing mining on their territory or not, a family feud over an estate, debate over whether to sit or kneel at the consecration or the place of the tabernacle (really!), sharp divisions over the peaceful nature of Islam,  vastly opposing opinions on how to eradicate racism and violence in the US, in Canada, in the world …

Sometimes I wonder: “How can we ever sort this out?” Is it even possible to reach for higher conversation standards; are there others who are dissatisfied with entrenched polarizing positions on controversial questions? The extent of volatile conflict near and far is scary; even disputes within churches sometimes resemble more a vindictive culture war than the Gospel.

What is so hard about acknowledging our vulnerability and awkwardness while affirming goodwill and desire for wholeness in every person? What is so hard about living God’s truth, Jesus’ truth, in the quality of our relationships, challenging ourselves to deliberately choose love as our foundational orientation? I sadly acknowledge the reasons for violence, war, and discords of all shapes and sizes. But are we doomed to live with this alienating way of relating to one another? In all these examples, a battle for “the truth” rages. I find myself asking Pilate’s ancient question again: what is truth?

As if an answer to the pleading prayer in my soul, along came the words of Pope Francis:
The truth, according to Christian faith, is God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. So the truth is a relationship! Each one of us receives the truth and expresses it in his or her own way, from the history, culture and situation in which he or she lives…. This doesn’t mean that truth is variable or subjective; quite the opposite. But it means that it is given to us always and only as a way and a life. Did not Jesus himself say: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’? In other words, truth being altogether one with love, requires humility and openness to be sought, received and expressed. ~ Pope Francis in his letter to Eugenio Scalfari, Nov. 9, 2013

What if this is true? I mean, what if truth is first and foremost a relationship of love patterned on the Trinity as the ultimate communion of love (long before it is a set of intellectual dogmas and beliefs), and is given to us always and only as a way and a life? If indeed this is true, that has enormous implications for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, the incarnation of that truth. We cannot ignore today’s local, national and international conflicts, both within and between our churches and in the wider world. Nor can we retreat in ideological fortresses of our own making and say to the rest of the Body ‘I have no need of you.’

But we desperately need to adopt conversation models “in a new key” so to speak, models which can equip us to listen without fear or prejudice and seek a better understanding of ‘the other,’ whoever that may be in any given situation. At best we can only change ourselves, and only if our Christian discipleship summons us to do so. In other words, the most life-giving reason to desire change is to deepen our capacity to love as God loves. I know that I need to change daily, as I struggle with difficult people, new issues and moral dilemmas. We may not agree, but can we be committed to hold together in love, and through that commitment, see the face of Christ in one another while inching ever closer to realizing God’s Kingdom on earth?

I read echoes of this same diagnosis and a desire for fostering a higher standard of discourse through the quality of how we relate to one another and the world in Fr. Richard Rohr’s words in Breathing Under Water (pg. 62):
The longer I live the more I believe that truth is not an abstraction or an idea that can be put into formulas or mere words. Our real truth has to do with how we situate ourselves in this world. There are ways of living and relating that are honest and sustainable and fair, and there are utterly dishonest ways of living and relating . This is our real, de facto, and operative “truth,” no matter whose theories or theologies we believe. Our life situation and our style of relating to others is “the truth” that we actually take with us to the grave. It is who we are, more than our theories about this or that. 

Jesus himself holds us to this higher standard, and yet we forget as quickly as water passes through a sieve. We keep making a categorical mistake, i.e. that loving and honouring our opponent implies consent and support for something that risks violating our conscience. But far from condoning sin, pain and woundedness, Jesus’ capacity to love unconditionally and show generous mercy had a radical life-changing effect on persons. His love shed clear truth-filled light into burdened souls, spontaneously exposed the darkness of sin and healed open wounds, while restoring dignity and honour.

Simply by experiencing the honour to be worthy to host Jesus, Zaccheus confessed of his own accord. (Luke 19:1-10) Simply by being in his presence, the sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, evoking from Jesus the words: “Her sins, which were many; have been forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50). In the parable on the weeds and the wheat, Jesus cautioned about pulling the weeds before harvest (Matthew 13:24-30). Even the Syro-Phoenician woman, an outcast by all social standards, felt the power of divine love, and claimed it for her daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Simply put, the sheer power of divine love does the sifting and sorting, the healing and restoring; no need to add judgment or condemnation, no need to fear, dispute or despise. That is why St. Augustine said in his famous sermon on love:

Human actions can only be understood by their root in love. All kinds of actions might appear good without proceeding from the root of love. Remember, thorns also have flowers: some actions seem truly savage, but are done for the sake of discipline motivated by love. Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good. …

Contrary to earlier reports, it became clear this morning (July 12, 2016) that the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada did pass the motion last night that will change the definition of marriage. While many are grateful and relieved there is also much pain over this decision across the Anglican and ecumenical landscape. Are there really any winners in such a divisive outcome? The most striking comments came from Rev. Dr. Iain Luke, soon-to-be the new principal at Emmanuel St. Chad College in Saskatoon:

The irony is that before the whole synod started, people were saying it’s a “lose-lose” situation. Everybody knows what it feels like now. Both sides have understood now what it feels like to lose, if you have to use that word. One side ends up not getting their way, but the other side knows what it feels like. For a day, they felt that, and I hope that that will help us.
The most important thing going ahead is that we bring those two groups of people together, that people see the leadership of those two groups working together to find one story for our church. It would be terrible if there were two stories of this synod, because two stories lead to two churches. We need one story, one church. But to do that, people have to see that both sides are working together to tell that story.
Why did it happen this way? There must be something for us to learn from this … (Anglican Journal, July 12, 2016)

My heart hurts and my spirit weeps as one group cheers and another group breaks. Can we take seriously Pope Francis’ words that each one of us receives the truth and expresses it in his or her own way, from the history, culture and situation in which he or she lives? Are we willing to look for “Holy Ground” in another’s painful life story? Can we let God’s love purify all our hearts so that love’s divine power can truly flow through us all freely, confidently and generously? For the sake of the world, create a clean heart in me, O God, and put a new and steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

O gracious and holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate upon you,
and a life to proclaim you;
through the power of
the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.
~ St. Benedict

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Come to the Feast

Come to the feast of heaven and earth here at the table of plenty.
God will provide for all that we need, here at the table of plenty.

I see them Sunday after Sunday: women, men and children approaching the table of the Lord to eat the bread from heaven and drink the cup of salvation, the weekly parade of virtues and weaknesses, of gifts and sins (characters and descriptions are fictitious):

  • Harry, the man with the cane, lost his wife last year and is drinking away his grief.
  • Carrie, a young mom, struggles to make ends meet but in the process spends a lot of dollars on smoking cigarettes.
  • And Lorin, the teenage boy, is heavily burdened with the knowledge that a one-night date resulted in a pregnancy.
  • Gary is sick and tired of casual gay sex; he wants a permanent relationship but doesn’t know how.
  • So good to see Mavis again; I wonder if she’s over her broken marriage yet.
  • And then there is Mac, who is now flirting with several women at once – why not?
  • Once in a while I see Marissa and Peter – I can usually tell when it’s been another one of those violent outbursts the night before.
  • Cynthia is a regular, beautiful woman inside and out. Her same-sex partner does not support her Christian devotion, a cause of heartache in their relationship.
  • Poor James and Cindy: they’re only here because their parents make them come. Slouched in the pew, they clearly have no interest and claim no faith.
  • Jane and Mark’s marriage has long lost its flame; despite the death of their love, they stay together out of convenience and “for the kids.” Their lifeless faces speak volumes.
  • And see that man with the big white mustache? That’s George; he’s 75 and lives with Martha, 73, and says that at their age why bother getting married.
  • Arthur was baptized as a child, but hasn’t been to church for well over 50 years. Events in his life prompted him to give the church another chance even while he remains suspicious of any organized religion.
  • Joan has flaunted the Church’s teaching on birth control in more ways than one: not only does she use contraception, she’s had two abortions.
  • Anna, at 19, comes to church but is filled with scepticism about the meaning of it all. She receives communion without quite knowing whether it’s “real.”

And on and on and on … a motley parade of humanity. Human flaws everywhere, failure and sins galore shuffle to the front, famished for divine grace in food and drink. God’s holy meal — primary sacrament of reconciliation.

Each son and daughter of God, forgiven by Jesus in the Eucharist – Lord, have mercy.
None of us come to Christ’s table with a perfectly clean slate; but, praise God, Jesus himself wipes the slate clean. – Christ, have mercy.

Jesus had no trouble with sinners; it was the hypocrites he couldn’t stomach. – Lord, have mercy.

Jesus turned no one away … no one: “Take and eat, Take and drink, this is my body, my blood, given for you and for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” God’s own holy table with food from heaven for sinners …

In the face of daily sinful behaviour in baptized and unbaptized alike, it is a miracle that God desires us at all. God has claimed us in baptism for himself in Jesus. Baptism is the door to the sacrament of Holy Communion. In baptism God makes us worthy and righteous. In Holy Communion we receive divine medicine to heal, restore, reconcile us into right relation.

The Eucharist, although the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.  These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, par. 47)

Can we say yes to all of the above? I certainly can, especially now as part of the Anglican family of Christian disciples. As a Roman Catholic I was needled by persistent, uncomfortable questions. I would see a discrepancy between Catholic Eucharistic teaching as articulated so eloquently above by Pope Francis on the one hand and Roman Catholic regulations of practice at the communion table on the other. With humility and sincerity of heart, I would ask … why does the “sin” of ecclesial divisions, along with the “sin” of divorced and civilly remarried, seem to fall into a category altogether different than any of the horrendous things each of us can secretly bring to the Holy Table every Sunday? Christ’s blood courses through everyone’s firmament and was shed so that ALL sin may be forgiven every time we remember how he loves us even to this day.

Is it because certain sins are more “public” than others? Is it because we know who is and who isn’t “in the fold” even though the Roman fold is nowhere near the entire fold? How can the Eucharist release its healing and unifying power if it is withheld in precisely those situations and for those persons most in need of that healing and unifying power? Why do certain sins, such as the ones of ecclesial divisions and civilly remarried Catholics, get singled out? I mean let’s be honest, an X-ray of hearts in the weekly communion procession would easily reveal how unprepared, how unworthy, and how inadequate we all are to receive the heavenly food.

But most of us don’t tell. So we approach the holy table in great spiritual need and without anyone deeming us unqualified to receive the heavenly medicine of soul. Why penalize those who follow Christ in another room of his mansion, or who find happiness in a second marriage, while possibly much greater sins come to the table unnoticed?

Setting criteria and boundaries on reception of Eucharist is very risky. We can easily become gatekeepers instead of servants. We can all too easily set ourselves as judge over one another, as arbiters of grace instead of its facilitators. Does “policing” the table of the Lord not mock the unity Christ won with his own sweat and blood? Does barring God’s table not reveal a lack of trust in the reconciling power of the Eucharistic offering of Christ? Ecclesial divisions and marriage break-ups are a result of sin, not the outcome of God’s intent. Every time we use divisions to keep us from sharing God’s holy meal – the medicine for our souls – we become complicit in the very sin that caused these divisions in the first place. Human divisions of any sort cannot be resolved in human ways. That is precisely why Jesus came; Christ won the victory over human divisions, ecclesial and otherwise.

Jesus poured out his life so as to overcome all division and strife. How did we get from Jesus who scandalously ate with sinners and rif-raf to a fenced-in holy table? Is it not a violation of the highest order to the integrity of Christ’s Eucharistic sacrifice on the cross to use his holy banquet as a human ledger? Where do we find the audacity to evaluate who’s in and who’s out at the Table whose servant we are, not whose host? How is it that the sins of ecclesial divisions or of civilly remarried Catholics are treated differently than the general daily human sinful condition? And even if it is Christ’s will that we monitor the state of grace of the guests at his table, whose criteria do we apply? And who gets to decide and how if conditions are finally ready to share the Table of Mercy?

Every Sunday I, a sinner, share the Bread of Heaven and the cup of Christ’s blood with sinful, fallible, weak, flawed, devious, dishonest men, women and children. In solidarity we come forward, in repentance we seek God’s mercy through partaking in God’s sacred meal. As we eat and drink, Jesus feeds our souls, heals our spirits, and reconciles us to the Father.

I’m on the Canterbury trail now, having become part of a church family where all baptized sinners are welcome at the Holy Table of its host, Jesus Christ himself. Technically speaking my Anglican move bars me from the Roman Catholic Eucharist, even though my faith in and my hunger for the holy sacrament has not changed one bit.  I’m grateful to live in an RC diocese where a local Diocesan Policy is in effect on sacramental sharing with baptized Christians from other denominations, a policy especially generous towards inter-church families (my husband remains RC). No doubt there are glaring shortcomings in the Anglican tradition, but when it comes to the Eucharist the Anglican church family takes Pope Francis’ words literally and puts them into practice:

The Eucharist, although the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.  These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, par. 47)

Come to the feast of heaven and earth here at the table of plenty.
God does provide for all that we need, here at the table of plenty…

Lord, oh Lord, have mercy…

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Marriage Dreams

A few weeks ago Pope Francis noted that “a vast majority of marriages are null. They say ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they do not know what they are saying because they have a different culture.” Well, below is my son’s reflection on his experience of marriage in the past 7 years. It is not every day that one’s own off-spring reveal gifts inadvertently obtained through genetic transfer. So please allow me a little indulging as I take credit for having transmitted the writing gene to our oldest son David (given my husband Jim’s resistance to writing anything, I’m fairly sure Jim would agree). I was deeply moved when I opened Facebook this morning and found his musings on this July 4, his 7th wedding anniversary.  Below is David’s testimony on his experience of marriage, and I am proud to call him my guest blogger today. I consider my son’s musings a noble testimony to the notion that we live into our commitment to love one another day by day. Sharing his insights and wisdom with my readers is my gift to our son and his beautiful wife Kathryn. Dear David and Kathryn, happy anniversary, may you have many more amazing years of learning and growing and loving together:

As I enjoy this morning’s beautiful sunshine while sipping coffee, eating a quiet breakfast, and listening to the chitter chatter song of the birds, it seems to me a great time to reminisce over what’s taken place during the past 7 years.

On July 4, 2009 a couple of young and foolish kids walked into a church and said some vows to each other, thinking… for a moment… that they knew what they were doing… what they were getting into. I love them both, but what naive young people they were…

As one of those two young kids, I can say I didn’t have a clue what I was truly getting into. The strength of our character that we’d both been raised to live with was going to be truly tested over the next few years. Some unexpected detours, foggy roadways and the occasional wrong turn would challenge us to remain steadfast to what we’d committed to each other that day, regardless of our understanding of that moment, 7 years ago.

Shortly into our marriage, as we both took on new career challenges, one in policing, one helping celebrate weddings, it became increasingly clear that the very nature of our full time work endeavours couldn’t be further apart from one another. One of us helps people celebrate one of the single greatest moments of their lives (even if, like us, they too don’t fully “get” it during that moment) and the other one of us often deals with people at the opposite extreme of their life (not always, but often). This has been a challenge for us more often then I will share here.

Now sitting here today on our anniversary, looking back over the past 7 years and mentally preparing for our first transfer and move through Kathryn’s work, it becomes increasingly obvious that both of our career choices provide a mental balance to each other’s lives in a way we probably don’t fully appreciate. It is far to easy in her line of work to end up being the cynical, harsh, quick to judge type of person that doesn’t appreciate the large, small and seemingly insignificant moments in life that should really bring us a lot of joy. Conversely, living in the non-stop happy world that I enjoy as wedding entertainment director, it is far too easy to forget that where I live and work is far from many people’s reality. In fact, many of them can’t imagine anywhere close to the joy I am so blessed to be able to celebrate with week after week, month after month, year after year.

Through these two interesting worlds that we’ve dedicated our life’s work, I think we keep each other in check. We aren’t letting the environments of our work worlds completely define our views and attitudes toward things, but rather, together, we are able to maintain a healthy outlook on what we have as a couple, what the world is like around us, and what’s out there for our daughters to explore in their own time.

For this, I am thankful that we’ve made these 7 years work and that we didn’t get too bogged down in the discovery of what marriage is all about. While our work worlds have made it a challenge, I’m beginning to see how perfectly they compliment each other. Happy anniversary my dear Kathryn.  Thank you for everything. We got this.
*************
As if this isn’t enough wisdom from a young couple, this same day Sarah Bessey’s latest reflection arrived in my email — on marriage. Striking how both reflections echo one another – happy reading 🙂

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