The Rance Trance

In the past few months our city of Humboldt on the Canadian prairies has been rocked by raw and strong emotions. First came the Broncos bus crash, unleashing unspeakable grief and loss, both individually and as a community, a grief that rapidly spread across the globe. All of us got lost in emotional fields littered with shocking trauma, broken hearts and torrents of tears. Would we ever come out of this, would this trance of pain ever end? Then, seven weeks later, the “Rance-Trance” hit us with similar emotional force.

For those who have not been in the loop (that’s most of you regular blog readers), Rance Cardinal is a young Indigenous man who walked 1250 km from Sioux Lookout, ON, to Humboldt, SK, for the healing of hearts, his own and all those affected by the Broncos bus crash. More than 13,000 people “walked” with him through Facebook where daily videos and written updates were posted. Over the course of his 48-day walk, Rance became a living witness of reconciliation and healing, in the power of the Holy Spirit, turning his own life around for the greater good of all humanity — to me it has all the features of a powerful contemporary Pentecost. 

Besides Rance’s personal witness, there is so much other fruit arising from his daring and courageous walk. I became hooked on his daily Facebook posts, not only for Rance’s personal witness but for the outpouring of community, of personal sharing, of healing and reconciliation that this social medium facilitated. I consider it a shining example of the very best social media can be.

The posts and images below are selected from the Facebook page entitled Humboldt Strong WALK. Now I know well the importance of giving proper credit to other people’s words. In this case, I had collected the quotes (and photos) without the names before deciding to incorporate them in a blog of my own. I tried in vain to find the names again on the FB page, but the postings were simply too numerous. Nevertheless I share the words with some images as a witness to the power of healing and reconciliation even in a virtual community of strangers united by the common bond of grief that transcended every border and boundary. The quotes are distinguished by alternating the italics. Should anyone recognize their words and would appreciate being identified or prefer to have their words omitted altogether, please contact me and I will gladly oblige. So now I let the words of others speak for themselves about this Rance Trance:

This tragedy needed a “hero.” Someone to help this nation heal. Rance did that through his journey of walking over 1200 kms. What started out as a journey to heal himself of his own pain became something much bigger and helped many heal from this tragedy. Every step he took, every video he posted, every person he met and the pictures and stories they shared of meeting him has helped us as a nation not only to heal but to come together on this Facebook page to rally behind him and cheer him on. Thank you again Rance for being the “hero” this tragedy needed.

The Humboldt Strong sign and the need for healing is what started this young man on the journey. He started off in the snow not knowing what was ahead but in his heart he knew he had to get to Humboldt. May 27 Rance and his team arrived in Humboldt. What an emotional day for everyone. Along the way he made many new friends , but the person that touched my heart is the man Rance calls his Agent, Charles. Charles met Rance in Regina and instantly knew this young man was someone special and they became inseparable. From Regina to Humboldt Charles walked with him. Charles wept with Rance, laughed with him and walked every step with him. If only we could all be so lucky as to have a friend like that.

Rance Cardinal walks down 18th Street North on Sunday with a hockey stick in hand and his iconic Humboldt Strong sign on his back. (Michael Lee/The Brandon Sun)

One more person who has impacted my life is a woman named Alice. I private messaged her one day after she left our page. From almost day one she has been posting beautiful prayers, asking for strength for Rance, his team and for all those affected by the tragedy in Humboldt. She lead many of us in a morning and an evening prayer. I asked Alice if she was a friend or family to Rance; she told me no she didn’t know them personally and she has no idea who added her to this page in the first place. Now I call that AMAZING. God knew what He was doing. Through her prayers she had hundreds of people saying the same prayer. What a blessing she is.

Rance-Ronnelle Cardinal, thinking of you as the miles grow shorter between you and your destination in Humboldt. We know how healing a journey like this can be. In 2011 a group of us walked over 800 kms from Pinehouse in northern Saskatchewan, to Regina, to protect our lands and water for future generations. It changed our lives forever, as we know it has yours. When we started, we only had enough gas money for our support vehicle to make it to the next community down the road, but all we knew, this was something we had to do, so we did it.

It takes courage and trust to do these things, and in true hockey fashion, you stepped onto the ice when you were called. When you turn your trust over to the Creator, every step with Mother Earth along the way is a prayer of healing and strength. We had a walking staff that carried us, and it’s amazing to see how your hockey stick is that staff for you and does the same thing 😄

The video of you meeting and embracing the people from Humboldt never fails to bring tears to my eyes, because it lays there before us the recognition and bond that is possible between people if we just open ourselves to it. It brings back such cherished memories of our own walk, where we were gifted every day with reminders of how powerful Love is. “Let the tears flow and the love grow.” Love is the most powerful energy in the universe, and is truly what makes miracles happen, as you’ve now experienced yourself.

From the moment you took your first step, you started sending out waves of healing which will continue to radiate forever, in ways that you won’t even be aware of, not only for the victims of the tragic bus crash on April 6 and their families & friends, but for all who were touched along your journey and beyond. They say the root of all addiction is grieving, and by following the call of your heart to do this walk, you began the journey of healing the grief you were holding inside. So many thousands of us are stuck in our grief, and by sharing your story along the way, you’ve helped us to also take that first step in moving on.

Rance writing PEACE in Cree and Ojibway. Photo Credit: Marie Saretsky

Rance, keep on sharing your story of healing for those who may not have heard it yet. We so badly need your message in a world where there are so many forces pulling us away from the red road. There will still be those times when grief for loved ones lost will well up inside you, anger, doubt, frustration, self-pity and all the other emotions that come along with it. But you’re so much stronger now than when you started. When those times happen, just remember how you felt with feet on the ground on your journey, connected with the healing earth and with your loved ones.

Your day arriving to Humboldt is going to be so amazing, so full of all kinds of emotions. It takes courage to walk into that, putting your heart in a very vulnerable place. Embrace the moment; together we are stronger. I wish we could be there, but know you will always be in our prayers for continued peace and strength in the years to come. Thank you to Rosanna and Archie for the amazing job you’ve done supporting and documenting this journey! And Tiniki, Marci Cho, thank you Rance, for listening to the call of your heart and showing us the way.

It’s been so exciting watching you on this journey. YOU MADE IT! It’s also bittersweet because we won’t be seeing your happy, smiling face every day and your awesome updates but you set out to do something so selfless and amazing and you completed it. You should be so proud. You’re such a positive role model and genuine person. So caring and selfless. You’ve made our entire nation and the world extremely proud. I hope you continue to keep us updated with a video here and there, because I’m sure going to miss seeing you daily, as I’m sure everyone else will. God bless you, Rance.

The boys and Dayna must be looking down from the heavens and celebrating Rançe’s journey as he finished the 1200 kilometre walk in their honour. The reconciliation and healing journey sure made us realize we are all the same and we share the hurt for all those affected by this tragedy. It only takes one person to unite us and together we appreciate what he has done. Rance Cardinal will forever the honourary captain for those the hockey community has lost and for those who follow their dreams of one day making it to the N.H.L.

Dayna Brons family welcoming Rance.

Wow…….such an emotional day…well done young man! I’ve been following you from North Carolina and you’re an inspiration to many. Don’t ever lose that kind and thoughtful heart and soul and don’t allow life to harden you. You’re destined to do great and wonderful things, this is just the beginning. My Canadian heart has grown a size or two with pride. Congratulations on a tremendous healing journey for you and many others!

My tears rolled as I seen pics of you walking to Humboldt. Once again I am in Lloydminster doing my job. I had a Smoke for you and prayed. You are our lighting power for reconciliation . You may have started without this connection but you became our idol. You will be forever. I knew the Creator would send help; I burnt my fire till midnight and prayed. When I saw your face in Humboldt with your mom I knew that was going to happen. I knew you were supported 💯 percent! May you stay humble and yes we will meet. Count on it forever; I will for sure meet you buddy 👍👍👍💜💙💜

I am finding it hard to put into words (which is rare for me) about how I am feeling right now. Rance, you have rallied the troops, and inspired not only those in Canada, but around the world. This tragedy affected a lot of people. You have brought not only healing, but hope to those who have been following your journey. Well done.

I’ve seen some suggestions on how people should do this or that for what Rance had accomplished. I’m of the opinion that we need to all learn from Rance. Instead of suggesting what people should do, or who to send this or that to, etc….take it upon yourself. As Rance had recently proven, one person can make a difference. I had a welcoming reception in Regina when he arrived, I never suggested that “someone” should do this for him. I took it upon myself to help him, the same way I offered to help him with the rest of his journey to his destination of Humboldt. I realize that one person has helped us all come together, helped us all feel better about ourselves, began bridging the gap, showed us that we all care, and showed us that we all matter, that person is Rance Cardinal.
Yes, bigger acknowledgements in the media would be nice, Ellen, MacLeans Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Inspire Awards, The Globe and Mail, The Order of Saskatchewan, People Magazine, The Order of Canada, ESPN, Nobel Peace Prize, New York Times, etc. All of these ventures take considerable amounts of time and it really helps to have a connection. Be like Rance, don’t just talk about it, lead it. As he has shown, if you believe, anything is possible. 

So many beautiful words have been expressed about this man who has felt much mental anguish for his own losses and those losses that the community and families of the Humboldt Broncos have suffered. It makes me cry when I read every post. You are one very special, very blessed man! Thank you for coming into my life with your healing powers of love and humbleness. You are so so special.  God bless you and all of your future endeavours because I have no doubt you will succeed in anything you touch!!

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t stop thinking about you. You are a hero and inspiration to many including myself. The Humboldt tragedy took a toll on the hockey family but you stepped up and it was a way for you to grieve and get rid of the pain you were experiencing. Walking over 1200km to Humboldt takes a lot of guts and prayer but look Buddy. Our Good Lord and his now 16 angels were with you every step you took and every mile you made. You made it to Humboldt and enjoy every minute of it.

I live in Melbourne, Australia. Here, no one cares about hockey, & hardly no one even heard aout the crash. I care deeply about hockey and I cried every day for a forthnight over lives cut short far too soon. Maybe no one will read this, but I just wanted to say that Rance Cardinal is my personal hero. I am so proud of you, Rance, not just for making it to Humboldt, but for everything the walk symbolizes, all the bravery and vulnerability you’ve shown, all the people you’ve touched, all the good you’ve put into the world after so much was torn away so early. Thank you, Rance Cardinal, you mean a lot to me.

Thanks to the Saskatoon Blades 🏒 for the cap and t-shirt! THIS guy has transformed before us all!!! You, my friend, allowed yourself to be vulnerable, you are transparent… and through that you have truly gained back YOU!
You are an authentic individual 💞 and we all got to see you transform from the shy guy with your head always down to this now truly proud, strong, confident individual! You knew your passion from the start and you trusted… and look 👀 what happened!!! YOU, Mr. Rance-Ronnelle Cardinal brought nations together. I am blessed 🙏🏼 to have been in your space, my friend. I am a better person for it. You have something special, You have greatness within you!

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Trinity-style Loving

Every year the Church gives us Trinity Sunday right after Pentecost, and we’re supposed to say something intelligible about this serious theological construct we call God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We have made things complicated over the centuries. The Trinity has filled countless books, all theological and theoretical explanations – well, most anyways. We generally think of the Trinity as a “name” for God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Now that’s certainly correct, but there’s more than merely a name here. Maybe the Trinity is also about how these three aspects of God relate to one another in unconditional and ever-flowing LOVE. Taken together, the Trinity is about relationship. Our God is a relational God. Relating in love, the three-in-one, reveals what God does. God is love, we hear that so many times in Scripture. And for Love to love there needs to be another to love: God so loved the world …

We’re very good at defining God and giving intellectual assent to a God of love. We’re less good, though, at loving like God. And yet, Jesus showed us that we have the capacity to love like God. What would happen if we took seriously the relational character of the Trinity? If Trinity Sunday is merely an intellectual yes to a theological construct defined long ago, a construct that we mindlessly recite in the Creed every Sunday, then it’s not worth the ink in the volumes of books.

But what if Trinity-style loving guides how we live? What if Trinity-style loving makes demands on us that are uncomfortable and challenging at times? What if the Trinity is the primary pattern for being church? And who is the church – we are, together! The church is fundamentally about relationship. Long before the church is an organization, a structure o pr a building the church is about a way of relating, a way of being in the world, patterned on God’s Trinitarian dynamic of loving in and through Father-Son-Holy Spirit.

A Trinitarian way of living and loving embraces the world wholeheartedly. We cannot be church in isolation from the world.
We cannot be church without relating in love to others.
Autonomy and individualism are good goals of development,
except when taken to the extreme, leading to cutting others off and out. Trinity-style loving excludes autonomy, isolation and self-sufficiency. Instead, Trinity-style living and loving always takes into account the effects of decisions on others, and those effects could mean life or death.

Trinity-style living and loving is at the heart of a life of discipleship in Christ. Trinity-style loving means not using Jesus’ words “I am the Way-Truth-Life” to exclude, but instead apply these words to include in our circle of love. Trinity-style living makes our faith very personal, yes, but never private, as if confined to some lofty ideas about heaven. When Jesus claimed to BE the Way-Truth-Life, he referred to a way of BEING in the world that is driven and guided by LOVE – God’s love. However, these words Way-Truth-Life have fueled suspicion and prejudice towards those embracing other paths. But I don’t think Jesus ever meant these words to shut others out, but to bring others in through loving.

So this coming week here in our own community, we have an opportunity to practice this Trinity-style loving, to bring others into our heart and into our orbit of love, to put our faith, our discipleship in Christ, in action. Many of us harbour suspicion and misunderstanding about our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Why can’t they seem to get their lives straightened out? Why can’t they get over it? I hear this often. Yeah, why can’t they? If that question lives in your heart, if you’ve ever spoken that question to another person, then the Blanket Exercise is for you. Because if Trinity-style loving is what God asks of us, if Trinity-style loving is what Jesus showed us how to do, then that type of all-inclusive loving becomes the litmus test for what faith looks like in the world. No textbook in the world has the same effect as real people committing to real God-like loving. And that loving involves being open to learning and understanding how and why others suffer and why they can’t seem to get their life together.

I have personally participated in the Blanket exercise several times. It is a unique and powerful experience of discovery, after which one can never go back to the old preconceived ideas. We cannot successfully address the current challenges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada without understanding how those challenges arose. Truth comes before reconciliation is possible. If Indigenous peoples need to face up to their part in making farms and rural living unsafe, us offspring of the original settlers must own up to the fact that we have not held up our side of the Treaties our ancestors signed.

It seems to be the week for connecting with our Indigenous siblings. Today, in a few hours to be exact, Rance Cardinal is arriving in Humboldt. An Indigenous young man from northern Ontario whose life was falling apart – yes, he struggled to keep his life together – has found the light of healing and reconciliation, arising from, of all things, the Broncos tragedy. In a few hours he will have completed a walk of 1200 km to heal and unite and reconcile and renew the face of this hurting world through his little, simple contribution of … walking. Rance’s meagre offering of three loaves and two fish have multiplied a thousand-fold. Countless people across the globe have been following him (13,000+ on FB alone), and now feel inspired, encouraged and healed by his  witness.  Reconciliation-in-Motion, they dubbed him. A young aboriginal man, an unlikely person, showing the world, showing us all, what Trinity-style living and loving can do for the healing of all – no exception.

As Rance arrives in Humboldt in a few hours, I am convinced that his heart is dressed in God’s own finest Trinity-style wear. His is a true contemporary Pentecost story. What’s more, Rance has been helping countless others to don the same holy attire. His own broken heart and the broken Broncos hearts are being healed and restored and renewed for the sake of this world so loved by God, a God of LOVE we proclaim as Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Rance set the bar high; can we follow suit? AMEN

Homily preached on Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

* Update June 1, 2018. Upon his arrival in Humboldt Rance received an emotional and unforgettable welcome. He spent three days in our community, speaking at schools, playing ball hockey in the arena with the kids, visiting the players still in a Saskatoon hospital, visiting the crash site and paying his respects, being featured on our local radio station. He showed humility and determination, generosity of heart, courage and simplicity. His healing journey touched many not only in Humboldt, but around the world. Rance and his support team returned to Sioux Lookout, ON, by car. We will never forget him. More on Rance in my next blog posting.

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God’s Heart Goes On

Who remembers the movie Titanic? The Gospel for this Pentecost Sunday brought to mind a scene from that movie. It is the one where Jack and Rose, our heroes in love, find themselves hanging on to life in the ice cold water,  surrounded by drowned and drowning bodies; a gripping sight, showing the ugliness and ruthlessness of death. Jack is talking to Rose, his whole body shivering from the cold. He pushes her into a promise: “Promise me, Rose, that you’ll never give up in life. I’ll be with you always, Rose. Promise, promise…” Rose panics, fearing Jack will die. She says she wants to die too. Jack says no, and makes her promise that she will not give up.

Like Jack drowning in the ice cold water, Jesus sees in his mind’s eye the shadow of the cross, death waiting to swallow him up. Jesus knows the time with his friends is up. Jesus knows that soon pain and loss will rip them apart. Soon the disciples will experience a fear and anxiety, the likes of which will make all their insides shiver like Jack in the water. Jesus tries to prepare them and to strengthen them, before the blow of his death hits…

… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything… When the Advocate comes, the Spirit of truth will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning…  Words of encouragement in the face of an ugly death. Words of love and guidance in the face of the greatest loss the world has ever experienced.These words are for us too, each one of  us;  words of love and encouragement in the face of our loss, in the face of our death.

For if there is anything sure for those who love generously, it is the reality of the losses we suffer. Jesus’ words immediately brought to mind all the horrible recent losses too many of us suffered: the horrible Broncos bus crash and all that has come with it (and still does); the loss of whales and wildlife due to environmental mismanagement; church bombings in Indonesia; a family losing their Habitat for Humanity home to fire; more than 700 bee species declining due to habitat loss and pesticide use; mass floodings in New Brunswick and BC; a friend receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, communities in our own province evacuated due to wildfires; etc. etc.

And then there are all the other losses, the subtle and invisible ones, the blunt and the slow ones: like losing a job, or not being able to find one; or losing a driver’s license because of ill health or old age, or losing our innocence, or our culture, losing our hope, or our self-confidence. At those times we too can feel the deadening chill of the ice cold water, like our two heroes in Titanic. At those times we too can be swallowed up by fear and despair, like the disciples felt after Jesus died.

Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come; but if I go, I will send him to you and the Holy Spirit will teach you many things. In the face of losses that occur way too frequently, what do these words mean? In the face of Jesus’ crucifixion and death,  who is this Holy Spirit that will “teach us everything”?  Often, the answers are not clear until a crisis hits, facing us with the urgent choice between life and death, in whatever form this presents itself in our lives.

In Titanic, Rose was asked that question only seconds after Jack died. She is heartbroken, shivering in the cold, cold water. The question comes to her in the form of the rescue boat floating by at some distance. The men in the boat call out in the eerie quiet of this floating cemetery. They throw a bright light across the water, looking for survivors. At first Rose does not want to be found, and the tension mounts. Then she remembers Jack’s last words, his last wish. She remembers the promise she made to him, and the Spirit of peace and understanding floods her heart. She rips a whistle off a dead body, and blows it with every inch of strength she can muster … Rose is found, and does end up starting a new life, with Jack’s spirit living on in her heart, as Celine Dion sings in the Titanic theme song.

Like Rose in Titanic, the disciples did not really understand Jesus’ words immediately. Insight grew only after Jesus had died, and when they encountered him as the risen Lord. The disciples did not fully take to heart Jesus’ farewell speech, until they were faced with the shocking resurrection light. Then they were seized by a new hope, a hope they anxiously waited for in the Upper Room. That hope filled them with the Holy Spirit, and they boldly began to proclaim the risen Lord, as reported so vividly in today’s account in Acts (2:1–21). With that bold and courageous preaching the Church was born.

For in hope we were saved, writes Paul to the Romans (8:22-27). Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience – how very true. And so for us too, the Spirit of Jesus is ready to help us in our weakness, in our loss, in our fear. The Spirit of Jesus intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. Once we too are filled with that same Spirit, we become bearers of God’s love even in the ugliest and strangest places of life, even in an ocean cemetery such as in Titanic.

Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime And never let go till we’re gone, sings Celine Dion in the Titanic’s theme song. Jack’s spirit went on living in Rose’s heart. Jesus’ spirit too has gone on living after his death, through the Holy Spirit which makes its home in us, imparting a peace, a vision and a joy the world indeed cannot give but desperately needs. Once Jesus’ love touches us one time it too lasts for a lifetime.

As the apostles experienced on that first Pentecost, God’s Spirit is a bright search light that surprises, leaps over barriers, melts away divisions, calms fears, bringing courage, vision and joy. When the bright light of the Holy Spirit seizes us, joy meets us in the midst of struggle, like an oasis in the desert, or the quiet at the bottom of the ocean, while the storm rages on the surface. This bright light of Christ’s Spirit gives hope in despair, fuels the desire to rebuild in time of destruction, provides the calm haven in time of turmoil. The Spirit of Pentecost is unleashed in joyful witness to Good News, the Good News of God’s love in Christ. That bold and universal Spirit breaks through every time we are seized by Love, healed by Love, united in Love, every time when loves moves us to  tears,  when love hurts until we die…

How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Could it be because God’s native tongue is Love, a tongue everyone can hear and receive each in their own language and culture, each in their own context and situation?  Jesus’ voluntary death out of love for us unleashed the greatest Spirit of all: the Holy Spirit…

Our God is a God of surprises, a God on the move, a God of newness. God’s on the move because God is alive and creating and sustaining. For us as the church, Christ’s body on earth, that same Spirit pushes us out the door, out of our comfort zone, and into new waters and uncharted terrain, just as on that first Pentecost. Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime … Jesus’ spirit lives on in each of us. Let us trust, believe and rejoice, living our life soaked in the peace and joy of God’s own Holy Spirit. AMEN

Homily preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018.
Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26—27, 16:4—15

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The Ordaining Church

I looked out at the crowd that had filled the Anglican Cathedral on an ordinary Thursday evening. I was amazed, surprised, overwhelmed. They had come, from everywhere, in droves: friends and family, colleagues and ecumenical co-workers. The church catholic was present in its fullest sense: Pentecostal, Baptist, Mennonite, United, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic. Especially Roman Catholic: a sea of them along with religious sisters, several priests and one higher ranking official. The happy grins spoke volumes: I was not the only one who had looked forward to this moment.

In the midst of this ecumenical community of faith I claimed my call before the bishop, made vows and promises, and knelt for the “holy huddle” – Anglican, Lutheran, United and Presbyterian clergy colleagues as well as two RC priests joining the bishop in the solemn laying on of hands.

Ordained a priest. I still struggle to find the words. The impact of the experience was profound. It was profound in my own heart-mind-spirit, in my experience of church, and in the effects upon my current ministry. Given the ecumenical make-up of the assembly that night, I felt truly ordained by and into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in the fullest sense of that term. I have not recovered from the experience – and I hope I never will.

I have always been mindful of the faith community’s role when one claims a call to ministry; one is called by and for the community, never for oneself. Now this crucial role was expressed in the most tangible way possible – the community’s presence and participation was their fiat. A deepening and affirmation, blessing and mandate all rolled into one holy Spirit-filled act of ordination. No wonder I still struggle to find words.

The next morning I presided over the (Anglican) Holy Eucharist for the first time in a Catholic retreat center, which included a renewal of marriage vows for Jim and I – it was our wedding anniversary. Like the night before, the people of God in all denominational diversity packed the worship space, hungering for a taste of heaven where divisions and barriers melt away: take and eat, take and drink, all of you.

Maybe a number of firsts occurred: RC clergy joining in the laying on of hands, one of whom bowing his head for my first priestly blessing; a religious sister leading music at the Anglican Eucharist the next morning while persons from various traditions served as acolyte, readers, communion assistants; communion bread baked by an Anglican-RC couple; those with different beliefs finding a space of respect and hospitality while getting caught up in the joy and gratitude of the occasion.

That I may at last taste the joy of fulfilling this vocation still feels like a miracle. What seemed elusive for several decades has come to pass. At the same time it was always there, for the priestly call lived in my heart as an animating light, a wellspring of grace and love. For this was the peculiar thing: despite the church’s prohibition, the call persisted. Moreover, despite the fear and self-doubt, the call grew me on the inside in ways that bore all the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)

A priestly vocation originates at the deepest level of one’s being, which is one’s essence. Roman Catholic sacramental theology calls it an ontological reality, an indelible mark on the soul. Years ago I spoke with a Roman Catholic friend who had left the priesthood because, as he said, he had all the external affirmation but none of the internal reality. To which I replied with new insight, “Yes, and I have all the internal reality but none of the external blessing/affirmation.” “I know,” he replied. Surprised, we looked intently at one another with waves of recognition, understanding and respect.

And so when the final report on the validity of my priestly call was issued by the national Anglican Church’s assessment body, a year ago now, opening the path to ordination, the tears refused to stop:
We find Marie-Louise to have a clear sense of call to the priesthood, a call which has developed in extraordinary circumstances over the past 27 years … This growing sense of call took place in the context of a lifelong faithful involvement in the Roman Catholic Church.
Marie-Louise has an impressive history of lay ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, demonstrating visionary leadership in the development of numerous ministries, which responded to particular needs in the church. Her involvement in ecumenical initiatives is most remarkable, beginning many years ago with studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon.
We were impressed with her deep Christian faith and her struggle over many years to be faithful both to the ecclesial tradition she has grown up in and her growing sense of call to priestly ministry. We affirm Marie-Louise’s call to the priesthood. She is a passionate servant of Christ and has a sincere desire to serve God in an Anglican context. (ACPO Report, May 2017)

No matter which denomination does the ordaining, the ontological truth, the imprint on the soul, presses deep; it feels like coming home to one’s true self. Even my friend Carmen, just ordained last month in the Pentecostal tradition, speaks of this reality in her recent blog reflection.

What’s more, nothing is wasted in God’s economy. I am now pastoring two rural parishes, Anglican and Lutheran. All the pieces of my life’s puzzle have come together: formation and ministry experiences of the past 27+ years are all bearing fruit in these two small parishes on the Canadian prairies – who would have thought.

Living Christian discipleship in the Anglican household of God now is opening new spiritual vistas and blessings. My heart is growing larger, unfolding like an expanding universe. My capacity to live from contradictions into paradox and relational truth is stretched, deepened and refined. How do I know all this is from God? Because my joy has never been deeper, my love has never been more costly and intently, my spirit has never been more generous, my peace has never been more solid, even in the midst of chaos and turmoil.

Meanwhile my Roman Catholic family of origin continues to occupy a cherished place in my heart; in her bosom my faith was nourished and my vocation was born against all odds. I truly live a double belonging. The increasing opportunities for joint ministry with my local Catholic priest and his parishioners are therefore sources of deep joy and immense gratitude, weaving unity in my spirit and among our people.

We don’t make journeys like this in isolation. I extend therefore a heartfelt thanks for the company and friendship, prayers and support of so many on this road towards priestly ministry. It truly takes a community to call a priest/pastor. Pray that I will continue to fulfill this sacred trust faithfully, placing my priesthood at the service of the full visible unity of God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

  • This is an expanded version of the last column (May 9, 2018) in a twelve month series entitled Double Belonging, co-published by the Prairie Messenger (ceasing publication) and the Saskatchewan Anglican from May 2017 to May 2018.

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Transformed Lives

In the past few weeks I have been following the discussions between the Vatican and the German Bishops’ Conference on Eucharistic hospitality towards interchurch couples. This question concerns me quite directly as I am Anglican and my husband is Roman Catholic.  Bishops, cardinals and theologians spend endless hours, months and years debating whether or not to open the table of the Lord to Christians not in communion with Rome, but whose baptism is nevertheless recognized by Rome. Jim and I are united in two sacraments: baptism and marriage. But the Church separates us at the table of the Eucharist. This cuts deep, undermining the integrity and ecclesial value of our marital union.

I have profound respect and affection for the Eucharist. Participating in the Eucharist, consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus has been pivotal in my own faith formation. The centrality of the Eucharist has continued in my new Anglican discipleship. But from this Anglican perch, I am becoming more and more puzzled and saddened at the sacramental antics in Rome. It seems that for Rome institutional communion trumps unity in faith and in Christ Jesus. It also seems that the table of the Lord is being treated as the table of the Church. Finally, it seems that a medieval philosophical category (transubstantiation) trumps transformed hearts and minds.

I don’t in any way intend to be disrespectful, but my deep love for the Eucharist and for the church prompt some serious questions. Is Jesus more fully present in a Catholic Mass than in an Anglican Eucharist or Lutheran service of Holy Communion? When I moved into the Anglican tradition, one faithful Catholic lamented that I was leaving the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” This betrays not only a lack of ecumenical knowledge, particularly about the Eucharist, but also a limited understanding of Christ’s Real Presence. I moved so as to grow more fully into Christ’s Real Presence in the world and in the church by living out the priestly vocation God had placed in my heart (despite my objections, I may add).

If the Roman Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist is truly superior to anyone else’s celebration of the same, then why does this not show in a multitude of changed lives on fire with Jesus? Does the transubstantiation of hearts not take priority over the philosophical minutiae over how the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus? *

I know the theological and ecclesial arguments well: it has to do with validity of Holy Orders, Apostolic Succession and visible ecclesial unity. But each of these terms suffers from a constraining definition, as Avery Cardinal Dulles pointed out so succinctly in his seminal work Models of the Church.

In a 1993 letter to a Lutheran bishop, Joseph Ratzinger wrote: If the actions of Lutheran pastors can be described by Catholics as “sacred actions” that “can truly engender a life of grace,” if communities served by such ministers give “access to that communion in which is salvation,” and if at a Eucharist at which a Lutheran pastor presides is to be found “the salvation-granting presence of the Lord,” then Lutheran churches cannot be said simply to lack the ministry given to the church by Christ and the Spirit.

Holy Communion is meant to change us, Pope Francis said recently. Echoing St. Augustine he stated: Christ gives himself to us both in the Word and in the Sacrament of the altar, to conform us to him. This means to allow oneself to be changed as we receive. Just as the bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist. You become the Body of Christ. This is beautiful, very beautiful. … We become what we receive!

How beautiful indeed and how powerful if this was really happening! In fact, we invoke the Holy Spirit upon us God’s people to effect this transubstantiation in our own lives as part of every Eucharistic Prayer. Instead, a Catholic Mass can be as mediocre as any celebration of the Lord’s Supper in another church. Worse even, studies have been done on why Catholics arrive in church late and leave early.

I have been at many a Eucharistic celebration in Anglican and Lutheran churches, and now preside at the same in both. Never have I seen people leave before the end of the service. Moreover, every hymn gets its full verses sung as an expression of praise rather than only a couple of verses serving as “traveling music” for the priest. There is a gusto and an engagement in these services that I wish more of in a Catholic Eucharist. If the Catholic Eucharistic sacrament is somehow more whole, more authentic, then why does this not find expression in all who receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in radical lives of service to others, simplicity of lifestyle, outreach to the poor, and advocates of justice for the oppressed?

It would behoove us all to sprinkle our private and institutional judgments of one another with a good dose of humility and self-examination, especially when it comes to the Eucharist. The Gospels are embarrassingly candid about how little the disciples actually understood Jesus during his ministry. None of us, not even a Pope, should place higher demands on one another than Jesus ever did for those who broke bread with him.

Clearly, none of us fully grasp the meaning of Christ`s sacrifice any more than the first disciples did. And none of us can add anything to our worthiness in receiving Christ’s sacred Body and Blood in the Eucharist than what Christ has accomplished in his suffering and death for us. In fact, the seventh century mystic St. Isaac of Nineveh is quoted as saying, ‘Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots? So then — do not distinguish between the worthy and unworthy. All must be equal in your eyes to love and to serve.

What would happen if the validity of the Eucharist was determined by “discerning the Body” (1 Cor. 11:27-29) and measured by transformed lives instead of institutional membership?

  • I highly recommend Gabriel Daly’s paper Eucharist: Doing the Truth with Christian Faith
  • Excerpts from a summary of the RC position on Eucharistic sharing:
    The norms published by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, in 1999 stated, “Episcopalians and Lutherans can be presumed to believe in the real presence. For members of other communions there may be need for some further discussion concerning their belief in the Eucharist.”
    At the same time, the 2008 guidelines of the Diocese of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said, “the Church does not require other Christians to have more knowledge of the sacrament or more faith and holiness than the Catholic faithful have. This principle is particularly pertinent in applying terms of the law that speak of the other Christian ‘manifesting Catholic faith’ in the sacrament, having the ‘proper disposition’ and being in ‘spiritual need.’”
  • The final reporting on the meeting between the German bishops and the Vatican can be found here. Interesting to note that Pope Francis did not give the bishops a final answer, but sent them home with — work it out, boys.
  • Update May 12, 2018. Cardinal Willem Eijk from the Netherlands (my country of origin) has unleashed a sharp critique on Pope Francis about the matter. Dutch friends have been sending me responses appearing in Dutch publications, fiercely criticizing the cardinal, summed up in: dear Cardinal, close the book and open your heart.
  • Update May 28, 2018: This interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput is well worth reading and pondering for both Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants alike. Again it raises the question: what is non-negotiable in ecclesial unity and what is acceptable diversity? Rome approved the Eucharistic Prayer of the Armenian Church which does not have an Institution narrative or consecration of elements. What will it take for Rome to accept the Eucharistic prayer of other Christian traditions?
  • Update June 4, 2018: Pope Francis seems to claw back his command to the German Bishops Conference’s to “work it out.”
  • Update June 12, 2018: RC German Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg responds to Pope Francis’ most recent decree.

And the beat goes on …

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April in Labour

Needless to say, I have not had much fuel in my tank this past week. When you’ve never been to a hockey game, but find yourself at an arena-turned-worship space; when you gather there daily, packed to the rafters, not with cheering fans but with a grieving community; when the clapping and chanting happens not because your team won, but because a player leaves the ice in a coffin,  something cracks in your spirit … and a painful thick layer of hoarfrost settles on your eyelids.

Fifteen, no sixteen, people dead in a senseless accident, just hours from our doorsteps. Add to that: more than 100 people killed in air strikes and a chemical attack (and now more air strikes).  Suicides and addictions in First Nations communities continuing to cause tragedy and trauma. A dead whale full of plastics. A friend’s relatives in a serious car accident with one dead and the other suffering life-threatening injuries. 23 children perished in India in a school bus crash. 257 dead in a plane crash in Algeria.

The valley of darkness, Pastor Sean called it last Sunday in the Vigil. The valley of darkness for too many, way too many …  Senseless death invades us like a famished monster. The sun rises; the light and warmth melts the ice. And then here comes another Alberta clipper! April is labouring hard toward spring,  just as the Church is labouring hard to nudge us along into Easter joy.

But death keeps blurring our vision. Answer us when we call, O God, defender of our cause! (Psalm 4)

I get it… I get why the disciples were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. I saw the risen Jesus this past week, and I was just as startled as the disciples were when Jesus appeared. I was involved in 19-year old Jacob Leicht’s funeral on Friday. Jacob’s parents Kurt and Celeste are grief-stricken along with all the others in Humboldt, in our province, in our country and the world. But Celeste and Kurt are people of deep faith; they LOVE their son (& 3 other children) and they LOVE God. * Less than two days following the crash, they already sensed that this tragedy will direct them to a higher purpose. Two days after the crash, Celeste was crying at her kitchen table, pleading with God, “God, you’d better give me a purpose here because I fear the darkness that lies ahead.” And she added, ‘Jacob, help me out.’ At that moment Celeste felt Jacob’s presence more strongly than she had ever felt while he was alive.

The Hockey News reported their story publicly already. These parents are filled with grief yes, but also with incredible peace, a peace the world cannot give. “I want to be part of something bigger,” Celeste says. “There is so much hurt in this province in so many ways, particularly with the First Nations community. There is so much tragedy and affliction in this world and they don’t get the attention they deserve sometimes. I have no idea what this is going to look like, but I want to start a movement of some sort. People are hurting in this province with the whole Colten Boushie trial and it’s time that people reach out. From hurt can come good…” These are the words from a mother whose son just died a horrible death …

Kurt and Celeste talk about signs telling them that their son is in a better place. The first came when an old friend of Kurt’s dropped by to offer condolences. Kurt grew up in a small town along with Scott Thomas, whose son Evan also died in the crash.  This friend of Kurt’s and Scott’s was on the road after the crash and noticed two bald eagles. “And he said, ‘That’s Evan and Jacob,’  ‘They’re just soaring.’ ”

Another came when Jacob’s girlfriend was called home from a trip abroad. Her father picked her up at the airport and drove her to Jacob’s home town. Jacob wore No. 11 with the Broncos.  About halfway, it was exactly 12:11 and the temperature gauge said -11. At that moment, they saw the most vibrant Northern Lights they had ever seen. It was solid green and looked like a bridge connecting Saskatoon to Humboldt. “He said that Jacob was carrying them to Humboldt,” Celeste said. “The First Nations are tied to the Northern Lights and I thought, ‘Our movement could be something like the Northern Lights Movement for Kids.’ It’s not going to be about Jacob, but Jacob is going to be instrumental in it. He will be our guide. We have to shelve this for now, but we’ll get to it at some point…”

Yes, I encountered the risen Jesus this week. Yes, like the disciples, I was startled by his appearance in grieving parents who hadn’t even buried their son yet. What the disciples didn’t realize, and what we often don’t realize, is that there’s a force in the loving that has the power to break the force of evil, the cold darkness of death and the barrier between earth and heaven. Why does loving have such power? Because God IS LOVE, and Jesus was God in the flesh. Peace be with you, he says, again and again.

Lorna Dueck wrote in the Globe & Mail this past week: The strong arms of Saskatchewan are tenacious. Take any agricultural metaphor for tenacity you’d like. I think you can find it in the people who have their roots in making life come out of dead, cold ground. There is a grittiness and practicality to making a living off the land, which is where all of Saskatchewan began. Grief is in the landscape, cycles of life and death in every harvest season.

We prairie people are resilient. We instinctively ban together in tragedy, much like the disciples did when their beloved Lord was taken from them. And many of us have forced our breath onto the frosted windows of life and written our names on life’s iced  window panes with frozen fingers. We dig deep into our spirits
to receive Jesus’ breath of peace …

Jesus speaks peace, the peace that comes from a God who is so near to the broken-hearted that he breathed his own final, tortured breath on the cross … and then … rolled away the stone, startling us all by the radiant sunrise following the darkness. When winter cold and hoar-frost obscure our vision, God is like the sun continuing to labour in April, stubbornly melting the ice, stubbornly breathing peace into grief until that peace reaches deep into the recesses of our spirits. In time, our vision becomes clear again and we can see the steps into life and beauty on the other side of the loss.

And so we hold the grieving space as holy ground. In a few minutes we will be offering our prayers. Some of these prayers were offered in the funeral service for Jacob on Friday. We will pray for the courage of countless families everywhere around the globe who are whispering goodbye this week with grief-stricken hearts. We will pray for the grieving to be wrapped in the light and warmth of the stubborn coming of spring and the care of surrounding  communities. We draw on our God who is grieving with us, the God who is with us on both sides of the losses. May we be filled with courage to whisper goodbye to what has been. And may the tears slowly clear our vision to see and receive the life that follows loss.

Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. (Luke 24:38-39)
There’s a force in the loving that has the power to break … the force of evil, the cold darkness of death and the barrier between earth and heaven. Why does loving have such power? Because God IS LOVE, and Jesus was God in the flesh. Peace be with you, he says, again and again.

The miracle of God is that, even in the face of that devouring monster called death, we can pray the words of the psalm and mean them:
You have put gladness in my heart,
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep;
for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Ah yes, I get it now … even in grief and despair Easter joy can indeed break through. Thanks be to God. AMEN

Homily preached on the Third Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36B-48

  • Special thanks to Leah Perrault’s column Breathing Goodbye
  • Kurt and Celeste shared this story with me personally, and The Hockey News published it two days later.
  • The community grief and the funerals this past week were a heavy load. As stated above, I didn’t have much fuel in my tank, and was at a loss as to what to say in this Sunday’s homily. Then God provided simply in the events we are living here and now … joy and gratitude amidst pain and grief …

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Grieving in Community

In light of the tragedy that hit my prairie community on Friday evening, I rewrote the sermon I had prepared for this Second Sunday of Easter. Because hockey is such a bonding sport for both players and fans, our entire city – no, our entire province is affected. Because hockey is Canada’s national sport, our entire country is affected. Because the hockey players on that bus came from various parts of the prairie provinces loved ones near and far are drowning in grief.

As Heather Persson wrote in yesterday’s Star Phoenix, so many Saskatchewan kids spend countless hours on a bus headed to hockey games. So many moms and dads put their kids on the road and say a quiet prayer that they will stay safe while out of their care. So many know the pleasure and sense of community found at a Junior A hockey game.

It’s been a harrowing day and a half. The Easter joy we felt last Sunday has made way for shock, grief and disbelief once again, not unlike what the disciples felt when their hero, Jesus, was murdered in the most horrible way possible. And from every wailing heart spring that agonizing question: where is God in all this??

I feel a new bond with Thomas in today’s Gospel. Thomas loved his Lord. I’m realizing now more than before that it was most likely grief, heart-wrenching grief, that caused Thomas’ doubt. Don’t you find that in times like this, we want to scream: God where are you?! Why?!

Besides this painful doubt that springs from hurting hearts, there is no shortage of doubt on other levels of life: institutional doubt, personal doubt, political doubt, spiritual doubt. The world is afflicted with serious doubt and insecurity. Old certainties are melting away like snow in spring except here in SK – waiting for the spring thaw in April is trying, creating doubt about the reliability of the seasons!). Something new may be waiting in the wings, but that new thing can be real hard to spot at times.  Especially when losing so many young and promising lives through a freak accident, doubt can become a tsunami flooding our hearts and minds. And so as a culture and as a church, and now as a grieving hockey-nation, we truly live in doubt-filled, in-between times.

Now doubt in and of itself is not bad. And God does not consider doubting a serious offense. In fact, growing in faith often passes through doubt. And that is what Thomas illustrates well in today’s Gospel account from John. Each of us lives a delicate dance between faith and doubt. That is a normal part of maturing as people of God. Our Confirmation candidates have critical questions sometimes (right?) And that is a good thing, because without a curiosity to find answers  there can be no understanding, no insight, no wisdom.

As much as today’s Gospel features beloved Thomas, it also features, in concert with the other Scripture lessons, the role of the faith community. Answers to critical questions and doubts are powerfully shaped by our encounters, conversations and experiences with others, both inside and outside the church.
Sometimes we move away from faith communities because of the ways our questions and doubts are handled. Sometimes we are drawn into faith communities because of the ways our questions and doubts are handled. Our modern western culture regards religion as a highly individualized and private experience.

But Jesus’s culture was communal. Jesus addressed God as “our” father, our heavenly parent, when he prayed his favourite prayer. Jesus formed a community of disciples who shared all things in common with him. We are not saved in isolation, i.e. outside of a community; we are saved together. Today we are so shaped by western individualism that it can be really hard to fully understand the communal call of discipleship Jesus calls us to.

But rallying around the families who’ve lost loved ones in this horrible bus crash from last Friday is a powerful illustration of being “saved” as a community. This national and international rallying in compassion and love reminds me of how the disciples huddled together as a community to share their grief and fear. People flooded to the arena set up as a crisis centre just to “be together,” just to share the tension of waiting for news, just to hug and cry. There is powerful bonding in love that happens when we gather to share grief, fear and pain. There is powerful healing that can happen when we touch and kiss each other’s wounds with compassion and care: “Put your finger here and see my hands,” said Jesus to Thomas. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”

On both occasions that Jesus appeared (without and with Thomas)the first thing he did was to breathe … peace—he exuded peace. Jesus’ breathing of peace upon fearful hearts calmed the disciples. The grief and fear of the gathered disciples was transformed – the Easter effect. New life came in the encounter with the risen Christ.

Except for one – Thomas missed the whole experience. He stayed drowning in his grief, fear and doubt. Thomas clearly missed something very important! I think it rather odd, in fact, that Jesus waited a whole week to appear again. I mean, he knew Thomas was grieving and doubting. So why didn’t Jesus just appear to him privately to convince Thomas that his beloved Lord had risen? But he didn’t; Jesus waited until the community was gathered again.

From its very beginnings, Christian faith and discipleship was lived in community—like the church described in Acts today, a faith family sharing their possessions in common. There’s a standing joke that says living a Christian life would be easier were it not for other people! But the notion of a “solo Christian” is decidedly unbiblical. While a relationship with God is a personal decision, it is not private. God calls us into community with other believers in order to remain healthy, accountable and fruitful. This communal dimension is evident in the passage from Acts, but also in the First Letter from John which begins as follows:

WE declare what was from the beginning, what WE have heard, 
what WE have seen with OUR eyes,
what WE have looked at and touched with OUR hands,
concerning the word of life — this life was revealed,
and WE have seen it and testify to it.
WE declare to you what WE have seen and heard
so that you also may have fellowship with us;
We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

It is in relationship with others that the proverbial rubber hits the road. God works in us through the way we live together. And God often uses others, those charming and irritating others, to prune us and inspire us, to teach us and comfort us. Times of tragedy reveal crystal clear how much we need each other in both good times and in bad.

And when we are not present on Sunday, our primary gathering time in and around Jesus and with each other, we miss something very important. When we are not present at Sunday worship, there is a painful absence.  We need all of us present in body and spirit. We feel one another’s absence acutely especially in times like this, but we need each other all the time as we grow to share our lives in Christ.

Living in relationship with other Christians, greatly helps our own understandings and experiences of God in Jesus. Living with each other in Christian community also holds us together when life makes us fall apart. We are saved in Christ Jesus, yes, but we are saved as one Body. Together we hold each other accountable, and together we hold each other in grief.

For the sake of the integrity of the Gospel, for the sake of providing a safe place to ask questions and to share grief, doubts and fears, we have to reclaim our communal existence. Together therefore we are one body, brothers and sisters in Christ. As Christians, we belong to each other in a spiritual family. In Baptism we are given to one another, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. Let us create space for doubt and for faith. Let us together shoulder burdens and share joys. Let us wrestle honestly with questions and seek answers. It is in community that Christian living can come into full bloom. And when that happens, especially in the midst of tragedies, such as the one we are living through right now, our Easter joy can truly be complete.

We pray, O risen Jesus, keep showing up in our lives through the compassion, love and support we give one another. We promise, O risen Jesus, that we will keep showing up in each other’s lives as your Body on earth, the Church. Amen

Homily preached for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018
Acts 4:32—35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1—2:2; John 20:19—31

News stories about the tragedy can be found on the CBC website.

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