The Old Made New

A while back a friend posted the following on her FB page:
For those of us raised in rural subsistence communities, this pandemic/social isolation feels like a return to a former life. A life we thought was gone forever, a life that we didn’t know we grieved as we drove to work every day. It is a return to life as it was meant to be.

All those years of scratching out gardens in the back yards of rental houses, and making bread at every possible occasion, never having a bought cake in the house, and cutting up tights because you don’t have an elastic, hoarding jars, saving garden seeds — everyone thought we were a bit crazy. But it was important to do that, not because we needed to at the time, but NOW, we actually know HOW to do this. I won’t need to learn this summer how to grow my first garden and watch it fail. I already did that 20 years ago.

I’m sad for all the loss of life, for all the financial losses people are experiencing, for all the turmoil, and the lonely people in their houses. I know this is hard. I’m terrified someone I love will get sick and die. But my inner voice is very clear “Your grandparents prepared you for this day.” I’m ready for what comes next...

My friend’s words echo true. For most of our married life, Jim and I lived a semi-self-sufficient lifestyle on the farm, in ways very similar to what my friend describes above. We developed habits in those years that now serve us well. We still have a big garden (teamwork: Jim grows and weeds, I harvest and preserve), a freezer filled with our own veggies, a steady supply of our own home-made bread (now with milled flour from wheat Jim grew), and a can-opener that hardly leaves the drawer. We learnt to be content with less when circumstances did not force us to, and our modest income was always enough. In this regard, life in the Covid-season did not change these aspects.

But other aspects have changed, dramatically. Not so much for Jim the gardener (gardening and self-isolation for an introvert go well together), but more so for me the extrovert parish priest. The fact that I have not written a blog for nearly a month is telling. Even my preaching voice has been rendered mute — embarrassing admissions for a priest, a preacher and a writer. It’s been hard. It’s still hard, and painful. I’m doing my best to be open to the technological learning and experimenting via Zoom and YouTube. I’m trying real hard to find creative ways to make pastoral visits on decks and backyards, thanking the warm sunny days for making such visits much easier. But some days I truly feel like an old tattered cloak covered by new pieces of unshrunken cloth that don’t quite fit (Mark 2:21–22). The forced ministry changes simply feel too much all at once.

My people-oriented hard-wiring remains a liability in this season of social restrictions. I’ve had the odd melt-down because of missing in-the-flesh time with family, friends and parishioners. I can be found talking to myself for lack of face-to-face social interaction. My mind goes numb on days with too much Zoom time, when active engagement gives way to the urge to throw a rock at the screen. Research just validated this: Zoom-fatigue is real and inadequate for sustaining relational trust and growth. I’m positive the neuro-pathways in my brain are retracing themselves to compensate for today’s solitary daily existence.

Even with our cautious re-opening of in-church presence of parishioners combined with the weekly Zoom-worship service, I see how this can be fraught with painful challenges. People are so happy to see one another in a space that fosters bonding and community, that they easily ignore the physical distancing. But while one parishioner feels safe because we implement strict rules of conduct, another suffers caution-fatigue and feels insulted that she cannot approach others for a visit. And I feel the tension of needing to be more of a technician than a priest who leads God’s people in prayer and presides over the Holy Eucharist — offering Holy Communion is still months away. Where have those days gone? The daily swim between gratitude for simple blessings of health, safety and love and grief over the calamities in the world continues, while trying to tap a strength and resilience not needed before.

We do grow new spiritual muscle and discover our resilience in times of crises. And life does surprise us, even in the church. My local Anglican colleague and I just finished a 5-week discussion on the meaning and purpose of the Eucharist/Holy Communion/Lord’s Supper/Mass. A virtual community grew among this small group (12–16 people) of Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics who gathered on Zoom each week to learn from each other and from the assigned articles what the Holy Eucharist means to us. When it came to distinguishing between Real Presence, virtual presence, physical presence, all of sudden we realized that our online community became “real” in ways none of us expected — we became the Body of Christ together in our remote walk of faith and in our desire to grow and understand. Was this transformative process not unlike the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord?

We finally hosted our 12-year old granddaughter for three days, her first visit since Christmas. It was glorious to just hang out, go for bike rides, play at the spray park, watch a movie, giggle and shiver before diving into the cool lake water, drool over an ice cream treat at DQ, and more of such mindless fun things. When we have been deprived of one another’s company, we experience each other’s presence more deeply, with more grace, longing and gratitude. Absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder.

And now indeed the garden is showing off its lushness, pregnant with the promise of abundance. The earth feeds us in more ways than we realize when we forget to pause our hectic pace of living. My friend is right: our grandparents still have much to teach us, especially now. They lived through many a hardship, no doubt. But looking back now, there was virtue in their self-sufficiency, wisdom in their reliance on Mother Earth, and freedom in their modest dwellings and lifestyles. While we continue to struggle with the uncertainty of this present moment, swimming among the reeds of grief and frustration, impatience and hardship, lost in a sea of unpredictability, Covid-19 is holding out a daring promise: the old can become new again, setting us free to live simply so that all can simply live.

Our farm house, back where it all began …

The Fires of Justice

Come Holy Spirit,  fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

This is Pentecost Sunday 2020. While the Christian community remains living and active, deployed in the world to tend to those in need, Covid-19 forced us to live the entire Easter season in a liturgical lock-down, bereft of all the usual ways of gathering, praying and worshiping. That has been surreal and painful. For those who have had the courage to be open to newness and discovery, and who enjoy the privilege of online access, there have been gems of new ways to connect and pray across time and space. It will be a long time before we settle into a new normal, whatever that will be. And the Holy Spirit can and will guide us into a new and fresh witness in the world.

The traditional Pentecost prayer cited above leads me to reflect on the power of fire as God’s agent of communication and transformation.

There are at least two types of fire operating in the world. The one we implore today — kindle in us the fire of your love — is God’s own purifying and transforming fire of love and compassion, the fire of prophetic vision and zeal, the fire of justice and peace. And God knows how much we need this divine fire in the hearts of all people of good will.

But there’s another fire ablaze in the world today. I’m sure that fire has always burnt somewhere, but our modern media bring it into our living rooms at dazzling speed and upsets our little comfy worlds. This is the destructive fire of fury and outrage over the suffering of God’s people, the fire of oppression and violence, the fire of injustice and exploitation, and yes, the fire of racism and discrimination. This Pentecost weekend, these fires of outrage are ablaze in US cities all over the country, burst into flame by the police killing of yet another innocent, unarmed black man, a killing captured on camera in chilling detail.

The uprisings of black people against the structural injustice and racism has reached yet another tipping point. This is real fire, physical fire in setting ablaze police cruisers and buildings, physical/emotional fire in sobbing hearts filled with lifetimes of humiliation and oppression. This fire is a desperate attempt, a last resort, of needing to be heard. Our God of justice and love lives in the hearts of those who are disadvantaged and even killed for no reason. When their lives are crushed by power and white privilege, and their voices silenced, their spirits lower themselves into violence because there is no other way left to cry out for justice and peace. Not acceptable, but stop and think — it is understandable.

Just think of a time when you reached a boiling point of despair and frustration, a time when your heart was broken and weighed down with grief just too many times. At such times, what did you do? We either turn our anger and grief inward, destroying ourselves through depression, addiction or even suicide, or we turn it outward and lash out at others in destructive ways. Now multiply this by a entire people. Do you get it? The Holy Book tells us that God hears the cry of His people (Exodus 3:7) But do we?

When our economic and social structures fail to uphold and foster the divine image in people of colour, resorting to violence becomes the lowest expression of the need to have collective pain of racism and oppression heard and recognized. Back in 1953, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said the following: I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. In the final analysis, the riot is the language of the unheard. What is it that America has failed to hear? In a sense, our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our winter’s delay to bring justice.

The fires of justice must burn in the hearts of all who implore the Holy Spirit today, or else we are not worth being called Christian. With the boldness of Peter on that first Pentecost Day, we are to preach God’s fire of justice with our lives — remember, only use words if you must. Do we recognize the white privilege we enjoy at the expense of sisters and brothers who will never know opportunity and ambition, peace and joy, simply because of the colour of their skin? Do we use the privilege we take for granted to debunk prejudice and racist comments in our neighbours and relatives, friends and co-workers? Begin to connect the dots: our own racist attitudes and treatment of people of colour give rise to the violence and uprising of hearts and lives that have been crushed for far too long. So stop the destructive fires of hatred and spite. In the US it’s black people who bear the burden of dehumanizing policies and structures. In our own great country of Canada it’s primarily, but not exclusively, our Indigenous peoples who bear these burdens. Think about that, and repent. That’s what Peter preached on that fiery Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples — repent (Acts 2:36–41).

This pandemic is bad for way too many people, no doubt. But we are also recognizing that the pandemic brings some key lessons which could guide us into a better future if we choose to heed them. One which we hear a lot is that we are all in this together, and that everything is connected. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make this truth crystal clear once again, because it has always been thus even if we ignore it. We are all in the same global health storm, but we are each in different boats struggling with the tidal waves of change. But the fear and heartache, uncertainty and grief of this season are evident in each one’s precarious existence. It is said that Covid-19, while spread across the globe by those who can afford to cross international borders, has made no distinctions, leveling the playing field between rich and poor, white and black, young and old. Yet those who were already suffering from poverty and racism, structural oppression and displacement, have been given a double blow of fear and despair, pain and loss.

If we take seriously that we are truly in this together as one human family, then what one of us suffer, we all suffer: If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12:26-27)

While hunkering safely in our homes, we might be truly inconvenienced by the current restrictions in our freedom of movement. While still connected online, we might truly suffer from the lock-down, the isolation and the social deprivation. But if we are part of the privileged few, we know that our current restrictions will end, that we will manage to pick up and create a new normal. Even in this global health crisis, we can hope and we can plan, we can keep loving and creating. This is not a luxury the majority of the world population will be able to access. And as long as we keep supporting economic systems that favour the few at the expense of the many, destructive fires of rage and frustration will continue to erupt, obstructing God’s Holy Spirit to bring the fire of divine transformation and wholeness to all creation.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us, no set ablaze in us the hot transforming fire of your love. Let us sing with heartfelt conviction the very words Mary sang while pregnant with our Lord, exclaiming in prophetic wonder what the coming of Jesus, the child in her womb, would mean for the world:

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the one who waits.
You fixed your sight on the servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.

Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.

Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forbears heard
is the promise that holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.

Song based on Luke 1:46-58 (Magnificat) by Rory Cooney

Two Invisible Enemies

The societal uncertainty and the volatile nature of the virus transmission is enough to drive anyone off the cliff. It’s easy to pout and feel sorry for ourselves, even if all we are asked to do is stay home. Even when we have a spacious home to dwell in, even when we love being at home, and when home happens to be a safe and loving place for us, we can begin to resent the enforced nature of our collective confinement. We feel robbed of freedom and robbed of safety. We are told that self-isolation is the primary preventative measure to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Okay, I get it. I’m healthy, in a good physical space and still have my job. I practice tons of self-talk to convince myself it’s good and important to stay home and not see anyone in the flesh, let alone hug them. It’s good and important to exercise parish ministry with a laptop and the phone. It’s good to try new things, isn’t it, such as an online worship service through Zoom. No matter the volumes of self-talk, however, my pastor’s heart remains reluctant and unconvinced. You’re just getting too old and set in your ways, the upbeat voice inside begins to snicker.

And then our quiet prairie town got hit with its first known casualty of Covid-19. And I don’t mean the illness itself, but its preventative “cure” — the self-isolation. A well-known and loved member of the community snapped under the weight of having to close down his business on orders of the government to limit social interaction. In the end the lock-down and isolation, resulting in a loss of livelihood, purpose and income, pulled the trigger, and he was gone forever. In this lonely moment of despair, he ended it all; that tragic act is now hurting the very people he loved and cared for in his family and his community. Beyond comprehension, beyond consolation, beyond tragic.

Slowly, in one pastoral conversation after another, all on the phone, the puzzle pieces of this lost life revealed a multi-layered and complicated picture of someone who spent a lifetime struggling to rise above the destructive forces pulling on his sanity. Even a completely unrelated phone visit with friends in another part of the province revealed connections to the suicide in our prairie town — how interwoven is the web of connections.

My pastoral heart broke with every puzzle piece the next phone chat handed me — an addiction here, a conflicted relationship there, a tragedy to boot. My pastoral heart broke every time I had to dial a phone number instead of ringing a doorbell. My pastoral heart broke with the sound of choking tears through a receiver instead of in the comforting embrace of physical togetherness in prayer. I couldn’t help it. Every fiber in my being knew that this is not how ministry in the name of the One who touched and embraced the untouchables was meant to happen.

Like the people in Nova Scotia a few weeks ago, an entire community was reeling and we couldn’t even be in the same space together, let alone hold each other in a consoling embrace. Relational connections are vital for emotional, mental and social survival. A web of relationships is stitched together over a lifetime; that web is our lifeline in more ways than we realize. These relational webs are being severely tested right now by the social restrictions. It is hard enough for the relatively sane ones among us, let alone for those who already had their private share of demons to fight before the virus arrived.

When one entire web of life and love in a small, relatively stable and peaceful community grieves the tragic death of one of its own, however flawed his efforts in healing may have been, what hope is there for entire communities in the north? Our Indigenous sisters and brothers have had to stick together as the primary means of cultural, material and social survival. Living in close physical quarters, with few means to self-isolate and disinfect, Covid-19 has now reached the edges of these tight-knit inter-generational families. Already plagued by the social and economic demons of discrimination and poverty, collective mental breakdown as a result of the social restrictions may prove to be a more invasive and long-lasting virus than the one we are fighting off right now.

If the current social restrictions are stretching the inner resources of relatively healthy folks, what is the emotional and mental toll on individuals and families who were already suffering abuse, depression and other life-destructive factors, now and in the years to come? Each of us has our share of internal demons to fight; some of us hide those battles better than others. Some are simply more public than others, and still others are the result of blatant systemic injustice and exploitation.

It is too soon to know what collective mental health price we are paying to keep the virus contained. Both threats are invisible, both are detrimental to the human community. I sincerely hope that the preventive measures are not worse than the illness. There is good reason for my heart’s refusal to accept this season of social isolation as a new normal. It points to the fact that it is not good at all for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Prisoners in solitary confinement have long known this basic truth.

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic, lived in voluntary self-isolation most of her life while her world suffered the Black Death. While making space in my heart for the pain of isolation suffered by so many at this time, some resulting in terribly tragic deaths, I draw solace from her spiritual witness and her writings. Julian reassures me that in our falling and rising again we are always kept in God’s love: “If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”Julian of Norwich

In this season of disorienting social dislocation, let us keep a tender heart towards one another, knowing that each of us is fighting this battle in unique and often invisible ways. Let us extend the grace and care we each need to get through this, holding one another in our falling so that we can rise again together, secure in God’s and one another’s embrace of love and mercy. Finally, let us pray fervently that tragedies like the ones in Nova Scotia and in our prairie town will remain the exception rather than the rule.

My Facebook Tug-o-War

I’ll be honest — re-imagining ministry in the Covid-19 era has been kind of daunting. On bad days it’s simply one struggle too much. On good days it fuels creative juices I didn’t know I had. The features that define priestly and pastoral identity and ministry, the means which nourish our faith, the joys that grow my love for God’s people, are all being challenged, forcing a rethinking and re-imagining. Right now it feels like everything is being reduced to a two-dimensional replica of the real thing, with likely the most painful one being the inability to gather for worship and to celebrate Holy Eucharist with God’s people (I wrote about this here).

Take the dive into the online deep. Without question, technology has been a huge saving grace in this time of physical distancing and self-isolation. So much communication is now possible because of FaceTime, Zoom, and all forms of social media. Even church can be beamed into our living rooms and kitchens. Beyond doubt, it is a gift no generation before us enjoyed in their collective times of crisis.

But I have to confess that my experience with social media, Facebook in particular, has been mixed; the risks of misinterpretation, superficiality and rash moralistic judgments are real. I’ve been in a tug-o-war with Facebook for some time, well before this global health crisis hit. I resent and resist FB’s pressure to decide who my friends should be and how I should interact with them. The subtle and not-so-subtle corporate ads on my newsfeed betray a blatant disregard for my privacy and ad settings.

I’ve stopped posting photos and anecdotes from my life, likes and dislikes, interests and ambitions, out of concern about having my personal information so publicly displayed. Watching The Great Hack (2019) reassured me that I wasn’t paranoid after all: multinationals and other outfits with questionable motives drool over FB’s storehouse of consumers’ personal data. Mutual beneficial contracts allow these corporate giants to harvest our personal data to their greedy hearts’ content, turning us ordinary Joe Blows into minions that help to line their bottomless pockets. Ever wondered how the ads on our newsfeeds seem so tailor-made to our interests?

Yet I still have my FB account, because I do discover worthwhile articles through it, and it links me to my churches’ group FB which is a worthwhile communication tool. I guess this is called a mixed blessing, offering both positive connections while requiring vigilance and prudence.

When preparing for our Covid-19 lockdown I decided to stock up on reading material. It so happened that I picked up a most inconspicuous second-hand book, published in 2009 by Jesse Rice’s with the title The Church of Facebook. Church and Facebook in one title — that grabbed my attention.

Already eleven years ago, Rice noted the startling rise of Facebook as the most extensive global social media platform. He also identified FB’s rather unholy alliances with the corporate world almost from the beginning. Rice even speculates how a FB generation, growing up on a diet of likes and dislikes with little depth, will develop the interpersonal skills essential for meaningful and lifelong bonds of love.

At the same time, Rice correctly showed how FB has been growing our sense of connectedness across the globe, greatly facilitating communications across distance, language and cultures. In the process, however, FB is also redefining community and communication in ways that could have far-reaching and potentially questionable consequences: Facebook is a well where thirsty people come to drink. We are thirsty for the kind of community where we can feel at home and like ourselves. … We experience enough of an emotional buzz to keep us coming back, even though we grow increasingly thirsty with every visit. (p. 187, 2009) The reason why we grow increasingly thirsty with every FB visit, according to Rice, is because online interactions can be callously void of all aspects that make for authentic friendships and community: intentionality and consideration, respect and humility, honesty and responsibility/accountability.

Question: What is your relationship with Facebook? How does FB fit into your daily routine? How does it define you?What needs do you meet through FB?

And yet, in this virus-stricken world Facebook has become a lifeline for countless souls feeling adrift in this season of self-isolation and physical distancing, for families staying connected across time and space. For pastors and churches Facebook has become a vital way to keep in touch with parishioners. Despite the very real online temptations to reduce friendships and community to trivial likes and dislikes, today’s expressions of faith and caring, virtual hugs and consoling words online all succeed in throwing a spiritual anchor to the lost and isolated multitudes. I admit this is a genuine life-giving development of online community. In my estimation, Facebook has redeemed itself somewhat. But it behooves us all to safeguard our right to remain the agent of our online interactions, and to remain vigilant that online trust in social media does not get betrayed or exploited — we can each do our part in keeping its virtual feet to the fire of scrutiny.

Question: How will you foster online personal vigilance and maintain online agency without letting yourself be controlled and manipulated by social media?

The tug-o-war with Facebook will remain with me for a good while yet, and that’s okay. FB is like everything else; its life-giving or destructive power rests in the hands of its users. While FB ministry has been growing in meaningful ways, doing my part to keep it that way, I remain acutely aware of a significant portion of the flock without any access to the digital world. Pastors are hard-wired to ensure that all feel included. Phone calls and paper copies, hand-delivered to doorsteps, have replaced face-to-face visits.

For my pastoral instincts, this distance-connecting amounts to yet another flattening of the 3-dimensional Body-of-Christ encounter. I find myself hanging on every word at the other end, to make sure s/he feels cared for, prayed for and included. Nothing can replace the holding of a frail hand. Nothing can replace the electric current of love, consolation and healing in a body-to-body hug. No amount of virtual communication can duplicate the energy exchange that occurs in looking into real-live eyes and beholding facial expressions, revealing wisdom and depth, sorrow and pain, humour and love.

Our physical distancing for the sake of our collective health is revealing in stark ways our bodily connectedness — not only across continents, but also in the intricate web of relationships close to home. We are embodied spirits; we need one another’s physical presence to grow and thrive. On the other hand, when one of us catches Covid-19, we are all at risk. No wonder God came to us in a human body — a body that laughed and cried, a body that reached out and loved, a body that hugged and healed through touch, a body that struggled and sweated, a body that suffered and died.

Facebook is here to stay; so far FB group pages seem less polluted by intrusive ads (who knows what lurks behind the screen). It’s important to realize that all online interactions are stored and harvested, and thus require prudence and vigilance. While Facebook definitely provides valuable connections, it can never become the real thing. We are embodied spirit, and it will always be thus, because the divine Word/Spirit has become flesh … in each of us.

  • For a very recent article on Facebook’s challenges with national privacy laws, click here.

A Real Easter

It was the most chaotic and uncertain, disorienting and bewildering, stressful and scary Lent-HolyWeek-Easter that’s ever been, unless we’ve been at the brink of our own death. In that first week of our national lockdown I went numb and underwent a visceral experience of the term discombobulated. I’m a parish priest; all the Lenten and Easter plans, including Sunday worship, went out the window in one fell swoop. The pastoral visits to shut-ins and elderly — stop. It was brutal and heart-breaking. Now what? Covid-19 has brought a shocking halt to the world and the church as we knew them. Normal and habitual is out the door; unsettledness and threat have invaded every country without exception. The power of this invisible, destructive virus is almost unparalleled in its capacity to destroy our illusions of control and comfort.

Maybe this resembles in no small measure the threat and turmoil of that first Holy Week over 2000 years ago, when the world stopped, the sky darkened and the curtain of the Temple tore in two. That very first Easter did not take place in a decorated worship space with exuberant Alleluias. On the contrary, a bewildered band of disciples were shaking behind locked doors, fearing for their lives — not unlike people in some parts of the world today. Not only the Roman occupiers were out for blood, so were their own religious leaders after killing the blasphemer Jesus. It was dangerous out there. Fear devoured any confidence and courage the disciples might have had previously.

Yes, women had brought them outrageous news, that Messiah, the Anointed One, that promising prophet Jesus of Nazareth whom they had followed for three years, somehow had risen from the dead and was alive. But you know women, can’t believe every word they say. Besides, believing their message seemed too good to be true. They were nobody’s fool. If they left the place, their lives and the lives of loved ones could be at risk. Could a miracle really have happened? Could life really have won out over death? Could this time of terror and fear really come to an end?

The news of Christ’s victorious resurrection has not changed.  But the world around us has.  Or has it? The pain that always lurks just below the surface has been freshly uncovered.  This year, we did not gather in community to mark the holy days. Churches were empty. Confined to home, we prayed and created rituals as best we could on our own with help from online worship services and inspiring reflections (thank God we have safe homes to retreat into). But the numbness and shock over the Covid-19 pandemic is making every heart shake like a leaf, playing havoc with every attempt to keep the faith and to trust God; the insidious, invisible virus maybe even mocked the prayers from our lips.  After all, what does resurrection mean when people near and far are dying by the thousands? What good is it to proclaim that the tomb is empty when ventilators and body bags are in short supply, when loved ones can’t even be present at the deathbed of a relative, let alone bury them?  

Alone with their fears, the disciples wondered if hope was possible, if the long night might someday be over and if morning would ever break — refugees know these questions all too well. Could it be that God’s love was the most powerful of all, even though it didn’t seem quite real yet? Jesus came to them right through the locked doors of their hiding place and their hearts: “Peace be with you … do not be afraid.”

What is it like to meet God in our hiding places, in our places of quarantine and deepest despair? Infused with new hope and mercy and love, which drove fear and cowardice from their spirits, the disciples eventually left their hiding place, and went about with new boldness celebrating and spreading the good news that Jesus was risen and love was the most powerful force on the earth.

This year, we are getting a vivid taste of what that first Easter was like, fearing an invisible enemy. Do we dare to believe that hope is on the horizon, that new life is possible after Covid-19? The disciples were freed from their fear once they had a personal visceral experience of the risen Jesus, not because they hammered some doctrine into their heads. The Christian faith is incarnational for every believer, meaning that the human heart needs to meet Christ on the rocky ground of our lives, in the crucible of our worst fears, in the messiness of our most serious sinfulness.

Someday, when it is safe for all, we will come out of our homes and gather together again. My prayer is that each of us will have had a personal encounter with the risen Christ in the depths of our own despair, and that this encounter will fill us with light and life and love and mercy anew. Then our singing and shouting the good news that God brings life even out of death, that love always has the final say, will resound across the globe and it will sound very real. Anything not borne from an intimate visceral encounter with the light of Christ risks sounding hollow and archaic, an ancient watered down memory that the world does not need.

For once, this crisis is pulsating with the promise of a real, visceral Easter. We are still locked in our houses, the economy crippled, the social fabric of our culture in a holding cell. Yes, good and creative things are happening in the midst of the lockdown; God’s light is striving to break through. But most us remain frightened by the uncertainty of the future, hungering and thirsting for resurrection. It will happen. If God raised Jesus from the dead, trampling down death by death, then surely a virus will be trampled down and usher in a new dawn of hope for all people. Christ is risen — Alleluia.

Flattening the Worship Curve?

Announcing the suspension of all worship services until further notice was heart-breaking. The last in-person meeting with our Vestry and Council members (and two joining via Zoom) was emotional and bewildering. Strong preference was expressed to find ways to keep the members of our two congregations connected. Online worship service, several suggested. And without much thinking we all thought we could do that.

Until one member cried from her heart: “That is not the same. Our faith is a relational faith, we need to gather in person in order to receive the fullness of the encounter with God and with one another.” But we all knew that “gathering as usual” was not an option. We are now asked to live the painful paradox of solidarity and communion by keeping apart from one another, all to fight this invisible enemy called Covid-19. We are asked to live a painful social separation just when we need one another the most. It’s not the kind of Lenten fast any of us had anticipated.

Within days of that last in-person Council/Vestry meeting, online worship services popped up like mushrooms growing overnight. Just like that, countless priests, pastors and ministers of all denominations became like televangelists, praying the daily office in front of a camera, celebrating the Eucharist/Holy Communion at the altar in an empty church or chapel. Some parishes began to live-stream Mass every day with the lone priest in a church with a seating capacity of 500+.

Now televised worship has been with us for a long time. It is definitely a worthwhile alternative for the home-bound and infirm. While they cannot partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus, they can in good faith be united through spiritual communion. And I guess, in a way, we are now all forced into this category.

And truth be told, we were truly caught off guard by this little nasty bug happily galloping around the globe. And everyone was scrambling to find alternatives to the current restrictions on gathering and the need for social distance. Certainly a spirit of grace and mercy, coupled with permission to fumble and slip up, is the least we can afford one another.

There are indeed surprising aspects to the online worship development. The medium connects us with one another beyond time and place, providing an acute sense of the universal nature of our Christian faith. Physical and denominational boundaries collapse as we encounter the face of Christ in one another’s virtual devotions and inspirational messages. One of my colleagues wrote: Now that so many different churches are doing online prayer offices, I can dip into a Catholic morning prayer, a United mid-day prayer, a Lutheran evening prayer, and an Anglican Compline. And then I can mix it all up differently again the next day. (FB posting, March 19, 2020, by Rev. Scott Sharman)

But in the frenzy of live-streaming versions of the real thing, and while I’m all for the ecumenical gift exchange in prayer, I still hope that online worship doesn’t become the new normal. I hope we will not forget to ask ourselves what makes worship worship. What distinguishes worship from private prayer or watching someone else pray? As Christopher Smith wrote in a recent article: “Worship was never intended to be a religious product that is passively consumed.”* And what about the faithful parishioners without internet and social media? How do we include them in online worship?

Holy Communion, the Holy Eucharist, is an incarnational worship experience. The distinct features that nourish the soul and grow our faith lie in joining our voices in song and prayer, in our corporate confession and the words of absolution, in the sharing of insights from Scripture, each person hearing what s/he needs at that time, and the partaking in God’s holy meal of Christ’s body and blood. Or in the words of Paul to the church in Corinth: “What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Cor. 14:26)

In other words worship, liturgy, is a corporate act, authenticated by the active engagement of the congregation, identified as the full, conscious and active participation of God’s holy people. The Greek word leitourgia originally means the public work of the people. If we lose sight of this, we risk cultivating a passive audience watching a spectator sport (with all due respect for the sincere efforts of clergy to sustain the spirit of the faithful as best they can). Recall Jesus’s words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20) God is present with us as we are present to one another in prayer and conversation, in joint confession and forgiveness, in song and praise, in sharing Christ’s Body and Blood.

It remains to be seen how our churches will fare in this prolonged Lenten season of corporate fasting from public worship services. Once the worst of this health crisis is over and we will be allowed out of our places of self-isolation, just think how amazingly festive that first Holy Eucharist in the church will be. Like Christ rising from the grave, we will rise from our homes, shining like the sun, and singing for joy. Easter might come later than planned this year, but come it will: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)

* http://c-christopher-smith.com/churches-should-think-twice-before-webcasting-their-worship-service

  • This blog post was first published on the PrayTell Blog on March 28, 2020
  • For another reflection on the same subject, see this article in the AJ April 9, 2020

Global Retreat Time

There’s a peculiar sense of humour developing on social media in this time of global crisis. Most good humour not only causes belly laughs but can also carry important messages. That’s what I thought when I read the one where we sputter and complain to Mother Nature (or God) by saying that we cannot possibly stop the economy and share our wealth, reduce our carbon footprint and scale back our rampant consuming and exploiting of the world’s resources. To which Mother Nature (or God) responds: Here is a virus — practice.

Covid-19 has halted the entire world in its tracks. If we are among those who feel legislated to home-confinement, the first thing to realize is that we are among the fortunate few. For millions around the world, this is far from a home-based retreat with solitary walks in the park and surfing the net on the couch. As a doctor from India said recently: If you have a home to retreat to, you are privileged. If you have running water to wash your hands frequently, you are privileged. If you can work from home and be paid, you are privileged. If you can buy hand sanitizer, you are privileged. (FB post, date unknown).

The numbers of the sick and the dead are staggering and continue to rise. Families can’t even be with their loved ones as they suffer and die. Funerals are suspended. Millions are laid off due to the economic collapse caused by Covid-19. Health care workers are stressed beyond their emotional and professional capacity. Essential services personnel is panicking — they have to keep working, exposing themselves to transmission of Covid-19. People in refugee camps and homeless shelters can’t even consider the recommended social distancing or self-isolation. A mass-choir of weeping and wailing is circling the globe — cries of pain and loss, of anxiety and despair, cries of losing hope and courage.

So if we feel inconvenienced because Covid-19 has grounded our lives to a brutal halt, we need a serious reality check. If we are house-bound with or without kids, and if we still have a job, complaining would really sound like the whining of spoiled brats. House-bound and on retreat from the rat race, we can decide to make this a constructive time to learn important lessons about right living and loving.

There are those among us, often unnoticed in a frenzied, materialistic-driven culture, who have lots of experience with social distancing and self-isolation. Every religious tradition has monastic communities who practice silence and meditation on a daily basis; their guidance and advice is invaluable now and it is there for the taking. We all count persons in our circle of love who have undergone cancer treatments or other medical procedures which necessitated self-isolation for certain lengths of time. I think of a friend with cerebral palsy who spends most days in social isolation, because she has physical difficulty communicating even while her mental capacity is as sharp as any politician (well, a professor maybe). Part of the current upside down turmoil is that those who are not usually noticed and valued by society now have the most to teach us.

An elementary school teacher, Jenna has already seen way more health challenges in her young life than most of us will undergo in a lifetime. Social distancing and self-isolation became a way of life for her long before it was enforced by law. Jenna lives and breathes social isolation simply in order to keep herself safe and less sick than she needs to be. Jenna gave permission to share her story and her tips as a way to help others to live well in self-isolation, provided her identity remained concealed. So I changed her name. Jenna inspires me to living this legislated retreat in the best way I can so that it will bear fruit for the rest of my life. I hope you will join me in following in her footsteps:

A few years ago, because of some health issues, I was at home for the better part of a year. I saw people occasionally, but for the most part, I was social distancing like we are now with the exception of grocery shopping, church and a couple events with small groups of people. I was reacting to most people’s shampoo, deodorant, hairspray and other products, and would often have skin reactions if people touched me and were wearing a product or if they walked by too close and the scents came near me or my skin. Whenever my body had several severe reactions in a row I would need to self-isolate to be able to help my body’s reactions subside. Sometimes this would take a couple of weeks, or longer.

As someone who has spent a significant amount of time social distancing for various periods of time, I thought it might be helpful in this global health crisis to share some things that I have learned. This time around, I feel less anxious about social distancing. I am at home with myself, and I hope that you are too.

* VARY YOUR SCHEDULE – Do many different things to keep life full.

* LEARN SOMETHING NEW – I started watching gardening videos on YouTube and reading gardening books. I currently have 9 trays of seeds started in my basement. From a time of isolation came beauty, life, gift and a new found hobby. Five years ago, I knew nothing about gardening and now my yard is a beautiful oasis. It would not be this way without the gift of this time spent alone.

* LIMIT SCREEN TIME – Looking at a screen most of the day will make you feel tired and affect your mood. By all means, watch things but also take breaks. There can be too much of a good thing.

* GET SOME FRESH AIR – Get outside if you can. If you can’t, open a window and sit beside it for a while.

* TRY NEW RECIPES – Now is the time to find some new recipes that you love. 🙂 Yum.

* MAKE SOMETHING – If you have markers, draw. If you have paints, paint. If you have toothpicks, build. If you have a pen, write. If you have an instrument, play music. If you have seeds, plant. If you have clay, sculpt. Enjoy this time for creativity.

* DEAL WITH YOUR STUFF – Silence can bring up difficult things we didn’t know were within ourselves. Take the time to sit with things that come up. Reflect on them. Acknowledge your struggles, fears and joys. This isn’t being negative. It is being honest. Don’t dig for more things to work through, but as something comes up, give it your time and attention. Be gentle with yourself because this is a difficult time. You are going through a lot and a lot of things are coming up. Be gentle with others too.

* DO THINGS YOU NEVER HAVE TIME TO DO – Clean “that” cupboard. Catch up on chores. Read a book. Deep clean things. Organize. Declutter. Do some yard work. Clean out the shed. Have a nap. Journal. Pray. Listen to podcasts. Trim a tree (in your yard). Call a friend. Wash your hands 534 times a day. 🙂

* STAY IN TOUCH – Call a friend or two. FaceTime or Zoom if you can.
Check in with others, especially those who live alone.

* RATION YOUR SNACKS – A little treat everyday can be so uplifting.
Spread it out over time.

* PRAY – Bring things to God. He sees everything.

* WHEN YOU FEEL LOW OR DEPRESSED – Call a friend and talk to them.
Listen to music that calms you or makes you happy.

* JOURNAL – If you feel anxious or worried, write out your thoughts. If you are angry, type your thoughts. It helps to get things out faster and the motion of typing can be helpful if you feel angry. I like to write down three things a day that I am thankful for. It can be as small as … being able to walk, or popcorn.

* SPEND TIME IN NATURE – Nature helps us to feel calm. Open a window and listen to the birds. (I am right now ! 🙂 ) Put your hands in some dirt. Repot a plant or two. Spend time sitting and looking at plants or flowers or gently touch a couple leaves. (Only if the plant likes to be touched. Some plants prefer social distancing. 🙂 )

* EAT HEALTHY – You will feel better if you eat more whole foods.
Avoid eating tons of prepackaged food with preservatives.

* MAINTAIN PROPER HYGIENE – Take a relaxing bath or shower and take your time. Put on candles and soft music. Enjoy the experience.

* STICK TO DAILY ROUTINES – Yes. Even if you are not leaving the house. Wash your face. Do basic makeup. Wash your face and brush your teeth before bed. It will feel more like a regular day if you treat it like a regular day. Set a bed time and wake-up time and stick to it to the best of your ability.

* GET EXERCISE – Do something active — help your body to feel well.
Move, walk, stretch.

* WATCH or DO SOMETHING FUNNY – Get yourself in a good mood.

* HANG OUT WITH YOUR PET – What’s that, you say? You don’t have a pet? Me neither. I hang out with my plants. All 76 of them. (Yes, I actually have that many plants.) What is your pet?

* LIGHT CANDLES AND RELAX – Turn on those twinkle lights or that candle and just chill.

* OLD TUNES AND MOVIES – Listen to all your old CDs. Watch all your old favourite VHS or DVDs. Introduce your kids to classic Disney movies. If you don’t have kids… watch them anyway.

* CLEAN THE HOUSE THOROUGHLY – Goodbye germs.

* POST UPLIFTING THINGS ON SOCIAL MEDIA – Help fill those feeds with other things than the crisis at hand.

Here is a virus — practice.

Making and Writing History

We are creatures of habit, social creatures, creatures who crave love and belonging, connection and trust. We thrive in circles of love, we thrive when we find meaning, purpose and a mission in life. We can even endure suffering if it is lived with meaning and in love with others. Knowing our lives as part of a bigger whole grows our hearts and spirits, secure in knowing ourselves to be connected in meaningful ways with the past, the present and the future.

The current Covid-19 crisis is affecting each of these deep human needs, disrupting us at our very core. We are mandated to act together by keeping apart in every way we normally take for granted. It is a painful paradox of communal solidarity that spans the globe. The words of God as recorded in Deuteronomy resound in whispers through families and governments, through nations and the corporate world, in many tongues and in many versions: I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. … I call heaven and earth (…) that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. (Deut. 30:15—20)

How indeed, do we choose life in the midst of this unprecedented global health crisis? Indeed we have a choice of life or death: to cower in fear and panic, or to reach deep into ourselves to find solid inner feet under our spirit in order to grow the splendour and beauty of the human community. Now is our moment.

What do we need in order to reach deep into our own spirits to steady the inner anchor? One way is by learning to become more self-reflective. There’s nothing like a crisis to thrust us into the deep waters of our soul and begin new habits!

If you don’t already do so, begin writing a Journal. Our future off-spring (biological, adoptive and spiritual) will be forever grateful to get to know us through the written word and to learn how we lived through this time of global upheaval. They will most certainly live through crises of their own; we can leave behind a legacy of important lessons in courage, resilience and creative community connections. We are each making history and we can do it in creative and life-giving ways for generations to come.

Here is a simple guide to begin your Covid-19 Journal. Give yourself permission to spend time alone – on a walk or in a quiet corner of your house (can’t suggest a coffee shop anymore as they’re all closed). Sit with the questions one by one, or choose only a few for each day. Don’t force your writing; choose the days that work best. Find your own rhythm, listen to the heartbeat of your own desires, fears and longings, and carve out your own story. This is you – today.

2020 Journal

Name: ………………………………………………………..

Title for your Journal: …………………………………………………………………………

Heading for each page: ……………………………………….

Date: ……………………

What is happening in my world today?

What do I need the most today?

What and who am I grateful for today?

Who needs my love and care the most today?

Who/what helps me to remain steadfast, to resist fear, and keep a generous spirit?

How is God present to me in this time of uncertainty and social isolation?

Is there a word from Holy Scripture that speaks into my fragile heart right now?

Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?

What part/expectations of “normal life” can I let go of today?

How am I getting outside today? How do I ensure adequate physical activity today?

What beauty and joy am I creating, cultivating or entering into today?

What am I learning about myself, others and about God?

A Second Death

The spiritual earthquake caused by the revelations about Jean Vanier has shaken Jim and I. Being among those who knew both Jean Vanier and Père Thomas personally (we lived at l’Arche back in the 1970’s), we are suffering a serious spiritual concussion of the heart. The 154 l’Arche communities in 38 countries broke the news to their members as follows: our founder has died — a second time* … Jim and I are shell-shocked with them, we weep with them and with all who feel shaken, betrayed and horrified. Because once part of l’Arche, always part of the l’Arche family, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.

Biological death is a natural part of life. It is expected, even though we are never ready to embrace it. Biological death at a ripe old age after a rich life, as Jean Vanier’s appears to have been last May 2019, can even be a true celebration of thanksgiving. Now, nearly 10 months later, both the church and the world are in shock. This second death, caused by grave sin, is unexpected, shocking, and worse, way worse, especially in the wake of the radiant, global, life-giving movement that l’Arche has become since it began in 1964. Already universities are revoking past awards, schools are considering name changes, publishing companies are ceasing publication of his books. The effects of the news are devastating, far-reaching and far from over. There will be more … oh my God, there will surely be more.

I too feel the effects. Not even a recent harrowing drive home through a snow storm affected me the way this news has. My writing and my ministry are being sucked bone-dry. Grief is exhausting. I’m guessing there won’t be many blog posts for a while. I’m grateful for guest preachers in my parish over the next couple of Sundays. From here on I will let the words of others speak their own painful truth (see the links below), while aching for healing and understanding, for mercy and reconciliation in and with all in the l’Arche family. And we cry out to God in prayer:
If you, oh Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand?
(Psalm 130)
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80)

l’Arche International Letter
Scroll down past the letter to find more important links

L’Arche International Coordinator Stephan Posner on French TV (English subtitles available in Settings)

Michael Higgins in the Globe & Mail

Ian Brown’s article in the Globe & Mail

The Sinner and the Sin in Convivium

When Saints Fall by Thomas Reese

Krista Tippet reflecting on the revelations

CBC Radio Interview on The Current

Ron Rolheiser’s column

* From Irene Tuffrey-Wijne’s account of a shell-shocked l’Arche community

A deeply thoughtful reflection by Rhonda Miska on Living Lent

Former Irish President of Ireland Mary McAleese wrote to Pope Francis

Winter in Church

My move from the Roman Catholic fold to the Anglican branch of the Christian family has been surprisingly smooth sailing. I’d like to think that several factors played a role in this ecclesial transition. While my reflection on these factors is articulated in previous blog entries, let me simply summarize them here.

One, the move was motivated, not by negative reasons away from Rome, but by clear positive reasons of sensing a deep call into the Anglican tradition. While I was drawn because of the possibility of fulfilling my priestly vocation, this was by no means the only motivation. It had better not be, for there was no guarantee that the Anglican bishop and the Anglican vocational discernment processes would recognize my calling as valid and suited for Anglican priestly ministry. I vividly remember realizing that my spirit was ready for the stretching and growing that the Anglican expression of Christian discipleship would afford me. The past nearly five Anglican years have only confirmed this.

Two, because of the above, I made sure that any negative ecclesial baggage was left behind or at least dealt with. The last thing Anglicans need is an angry, frustrated and resentful RC woman joining their ranks. What we do not allow God to transform, we transmit in unhealthy ways. It is one thing to experience righteous anger and frustration, but it is quite another to keep tapping that negative energy as a habitual way of life. I know other women who took their unresolved pain and anger with them into another denomination. While some may have good reason to do so, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do for me.

Three, I was very intentional about sharing my denominational transition as an internal move within the Christian family of God instead of treating it as a family rupture. It is for this reason that a public liturgical ritual was celebrated to mark the denominational move, with an affirmation of our common baptism, and a ritual of “handing me over” to the Anglican family. I remember preaching at that liturgy, saying that, referring to Jesus’ words in John 14:2, I was only changing rooms in the Christian household, I was not leaving the house.

Finally, I have discovered that, while the institution no longer considers me a card-carrying Roman Catholic, my Catholic heart is alive and well. All the best and the finest of the Catholic tradition has gone with me in my spirituality, my theology and even in my ministry. I would be remiss to leave out the gifts and lessons learnt from intimate engagement, to this day, with our Lutheran siblings as well. In fact, the profound sense of ecclesial union/communion in my heart and mind tells me in unmistakable ways that I have not “left” anything or anyone. On the contrary, the Anglican move has expanded and deepened my Christian discipleship while I continue to drink deeply from the spiritual wells of my ecclesial family of origin.

So now, here I am, fully ordained and ministering happily in a rural community on the Canadian prairies. And the news broke a few months ago that this Anglican room in the Christian family home is rapidly emptying out, with its parishes in a major numerical free fall. What is it like to be a spiritual leader in a church that could see the lights go out in about 20+ years?

Well, I can honestly say that it is fascinating to be a part of a spiritual family that is told from all sides that its days are numbered. As for the causes of this numerical free fall, there are plenty of speculations out there, all vying for first rate attention. I feel no need to add my two-cents worth to this chorus, so I will simply limit this reflection to my own personal musings and spiritual experience.

First of all, church and ministry is about real people, real lives with all the joys and sorrows. Yes, my two parishes are small, unable to afford full-time ministry services even between the two churches. But in those small church families life happens, folks. And where there’s life, there’s love and hate, there’s joy and grief, there’s hardship and accomplishment, there’s hope and despair. Recently I celebrated with a 94-year old parishioner who still drives her own car. I delight in our 4-year old parishioner who, at every hymn we sing, steps un-self-consciously into the centre aisle and loses herself in a spontaneous and unique liturgical dance, much to the awe of all present. I attend to the sick and visit the lonely, bringing Christ’s holy food of communion and God’s mercy. I lend a listening ear to those overburdened and struggling with challenges too big to bear. I preach and preside at the Holy Eucharist, an act that fills me with reverence and awe every time. To feed God’s people with holy food and merciful words, to bring Christ’s gaze of love into hurting hearts, to pray the Holy Spirit into lost souls and lives — that holy work continues even in seasons of decline.

Second, there is a strange refreshing wind that begins to blow in seasons of diminishment and loss of influence. The wind of decline is pushing us on our knees, forcing a spirit of humility and self-examination. This honest knee-bending scrutiny is quite easy to avoid when we can take comfort, however false, in numbers and importance, whether that’s our parish, our theology or our tradition. In fact, humility retracts into the shadows when self-righteousness, superiority and pointing fingers assert themselves. We are reminded quite starkly that this is God’s church, and not our project for self-glorification. Given that we follow One who suffered death on a cross, we should not be surprised to suffer a similar lot. It is in fact quite biblical to become the counter-culture instead of being part of the culture that calls the worldly shots.

Three, there is a sense of moving closer to the early church, when Christians met in homes to break bread and share the Word of Life. The Christian community originated with very small beginnings; I wonder if becoming small again might allow us to recover what we lost when we grew too big. There is a sense of being pushed into one another’s ecclesial arms for sheer necessity. I think here of the many Catholic religious orders who are living their own diminishment, a diminishment that for some looks to become the end of their witness in church and world. The Anglican Church is not alone — we’re in this together. The sooner we admit this sober fact the sooner we can allow God to show us the way into the future.

The other thing to remember is that this numerical decline in institutional Christianity is not uniform across the globe. In fact, all mainline churches are experiencing significant growth in developing countries, which we refer to as the Global South. The Anglican Church is no exception. It is primarily in western cultures that Christian witness is waning. Guess what — we are not the center of the universe, far from it. Keeping the global view in mind helps to put our own diminishment in perspective; it might even raise different questions for self-examination than might otherwise appear.

In this sobering moment of organized religion’s decline in the western world maybe Christian unity might now get a fair chance, provided we are willing to carry burdens together (Gal. 6:2), to learn from one another, to confess our sins together before the cross of Christ, seeking mercy together. The most recent Anglican—Roman Catholic Document Walking Together on the Way considers us fellow pilgrims journeying at the summons of God’s Word. … Walking together means that, as traveling companions, we tend each other’s wounds, and that we love one another in our woundedness (Par. 21).

Asked how we should pray for the church, Canadian Anglican Primate Archbishop Linda Nicholls replied, “Pray for the Spirit to blow through the hearts and minds of everyone, and open our eyes to see where Jesus is calling us to be at work. It’s not that God isn’t there in the community already. And it isn’t that God isn’t calling us—sometimes we’re just expecting God to be in a different place, and so we don’t see God where God actually is. Pray for us to be flexible and open in how we express the gospel. And pray for that deepening of discipleship in us that will lead us there.

So, on our knees, let us pray, together, for one another, and for the world. Pray that we will be open to new wine in new wineskins, and in the process be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~ Ephesians 4:32