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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Ordination Musings

I cannot help but share some musings on this coming Pentecost Sunday when I will be ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church (priesthood in late fall). This has been a long journey, some 25 years! But I would not have traded it for anything. Because through all the seasons of faithful and at times painful obedience, of death and newness of life, I have grown a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ – oh happy fault. It is this intimate faith relationship that has helped me say ‘YES’ to God over and over again:

[Our] ‘yes’ to life may initially be a passive ‘yes’, born of lassitude and of regrets, but it can eventually become a ‘yes’ of openness, of acceptance, a ‘yes’ of joy. This ‘yes’ to life, which springs from the deepest part of us, is not a naïve or idealistic ‘yes’’; it is not saying yes to a dream or illusion. It is a ‘yes’ to our deepest self, a ‘yes’ to our past, to our body, to our family, a ‘yes’ to our inner storms, our winters, our pain; a ‘yes’ also to the beauty of life, to sunshine, to fresh air, to running water, to children’s faces, to the song of birds. It is the ‘yes, to our destiny and our growth. It is the ‘yes’ to our own true beauty, even if, at certain times, we cannot see it.  ~ Jean Vanier

It is mightily unsettling for a faithful Roman Catholic woman to encounter a deep intimate call to preaching and to priestly ministry. For a long time I made heroic efforts to talk myself out of it, dancing circles around it in persistent and creative ways – lay ministry is a valid contribution to the church (I still believe that), I had simply been among the Lutherans (and Anglicans) too long for my own good, I was not at the seminary for political reasons (e.g. advancing the cause for women’s ordination in the RC church) but to obtain a post-graduate degree in Pastoral Counselling etc. etc. Every lame explanation concealed my heart’s cry, echoing Jeremiah: do not call me, O God, I am only a Roman Catholic woman. Believe it or not, but for too long I placed ecclesial belonging before God’s will, even though fullness of life lie waiting in the embracing of the priestly vocation.

No surprise then that none of my escape efforts, or the labels I attempted to give my inner experience,  or the feedback from the faith community, or the response I tried to give God, succeeded in fulfilling the desire inside; in spite of that I soldiered on claiming a “call within a call,” i.e. to live an ordained calling/reality in a non-ordained capacity in the RC church for prophetic reasons; it was noble and took courage grounded in prayer.

A dozen years ago I stepped back from my RC involvements to enter an intense love affair with the Anglican tradition, in the hope of finding a new church home and to fulfill my calling. However, while the call to ordained ministry enjoyed strong affirmation, the denominational transition did not. In my heart of hearts I simply could not transfer with the integrity both the Anglican tradition and myself deserved. So after a 1 ½ year discernment period I re-entered RC professional ministry, hoping against all hope that there was more that God needed me to live as a Roman Catholic woman in ministry, however challenging that would be. But God indeed is faithful. Sure enough, there was more …

Yet even in the six years of rewarding pastoral ministry in a large RC parish, ecumenical engagement remained my primary nourishing and affirming faith community. I contended myself with a wide range of ministry opportunities from preaching in Protestant churches to offering retreats at a RC retreat center. And I enjoyed some extremely respectful and supportive friendships with Catholic priests and bishops with whom I worked well and could share details of my inner priestly landscape.

Despite a wide range of ministry opportunities, which afforded much joy and satisfaction, the priestly nature of the call continued to assert itself. Consciously grounding my ministry in the priestly charism, a charism which grew stubbornly in my heart in near-desert conditions, directly increased my capacity to love all people, to serve all people, to offer wise, patient and compassionate counsel to those in need. I derived a deep and abiding joy from my ministry which, while not sacramental in the traditional sense, nevertheless provided profound sacramental moments and dynamics.

The priestly charism served as a guiding light, providing rich soil for my personal prayer life; it provided the locus of meaning and purpose as I reflected on, prayed with and interpreted my ministerial experiences; finally, the faith community always managed to recognize, call forth and affirm the priestly nature of my being. I discovered the ontological nature of this sacred calling and that I could live it creatively even in a non-ordained capacity.

While settling into this reality as permanent, God was clearly not finished with me yet. A few years ago, I gladly accepted to lead worship and preach in my local Anglican parish (to which I remained very close since that first Anglican courtship) when its priest retired. My heart leaped for joy and lo and behold, the deep desire for ordination, to preside at the Eucharist and celebrate the sacraments, once again rose to the surface like cream on fresh milk. Its perennial newness and depth, beauty and intensity caught me off guard, revealing a sweet authenticating power pressed from the many years of cross and resurrection this calling had challenged me to embrace.

Ten years had passed since that first Anglican love-affair; I was now in a different place spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, with a lot more pastoral and ecumenical experience under my belt. This time God and my own heart released me; I fell into an unreserved yes with such fullness and joy, the likes of which I had not tasted since I uttered the “yes” to my spouse some 38 years previously. The joy, peace and clarity moved in swiftly, communicating an unmistakable affirmation and blessing.

I am discovering that nothing is wasted for our God whose love and guidance is steadfast and reliable, provided we keep our hearts open and soft to God’s merciful touch. But a priestly calling is never intended for the person nor for personal holiness; it is instead intended to serve the faith community. I have been acutely aware of this constitutive aspect of my vocational experience, and thus suffered from the withholding of that ecclesial blessing despite the manifold surprising ministry opportunities I have enjoyed over those same years. So to now receive the much longed-for ecclesial recognition of this vocation is overwhelming beyond words.

Moreover, I am profoundly grateful for my new ecclesial home in the Anglican tradition while I continue to cherish deep affection and healthy relational ties with my Roman Catholic faith family, my ecclesial birth home. The Anglican tradition has ample room for my Catholic heart and for my Protestant leanings. The Anglican expression of Christian discipleship has gifts and challenges that I need in my spiritual walk at this time. At the same time, I come bearing gifts of my own along with a willingness to serve the Body of Christ in the Anglican church family as well as continue to give my best efforts to the quest for UNITY in this same Body of Christ, the church universal.

DeaconMLT4

Finally, I am immensely grateful to our local ecumenical Women-in-Ministry group. This group of valiant women are faithful servants of Christ who serve in a variety of ministry roles across a wide denominational spectrum. Their friendship and support, their joyful witness and disarming capacity for mingling both sad and happy tears have been a source of soul-food, joy and inspiration to me. I am amazed that we are in our tenth year monthly lunches! Many friendships and professional partnerings have had their genesis in that small dining room at Queen’s House. And it doesn’t look like the lunches will cease anytime soon!

 

Diaconate_1And so my soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

For God has looked upon this lowly servant
and called me blessed.

(adapted, Luke 1:46-48)

For more photos of the ordination, go to my Facebook Page

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