Category Archives: Reflections

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

A Sermon Preached on Nov.15th by Christopher Lind

Dr. Michael Hryniuk is a theologian from the Ukranian Catholic side of the family, the Christian family that is. He is a former Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society of Canada and a specialist in spirituality. Spirituality is a famously hard concept to define and I was present at lunch one day when a friend asked him boldly: “Can you define Spirituality in 10 words or less?” Meeting that bid and raising it, he replied: “Sure! I can define it in three words – Meaning, Healing & Belonging”. I have thought a lot about those three words in the last year, and tested them out in a variety of contexts. Every time they have passed the test in flying colours.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging.

Meaning in the context of spirituality refers to a person or a group’s “whole way of life in response to what they perceive to be of ultimate meaning, value, and power”. It is the orienting principle in their life. You find out about a person or a group’s understanding of ultimate meaning either by studying their declarations (their Creed or Mission Statement if you like), or by studying their behaviour. They don’t always add up. When they do add up we call that integrity. When they don’t add up we call that hypocrisy. The Anglican Church of Canada has been struggling with this issue over the question of equal marriage. When we say that all persons are created equal in the eyes of God and ought not to be discriminated against on the grounds of race, class, ability, gender or sexual orientation, are we speaking out of both sides of our mouths? Or are we acting with integrity?

As a congregation we are also grappling with this dilemma. We don’t include the ancient creeds in our Sunday liturgy but we are stumbling slowly toward a mission statement in our strategic planning process in spite of being surrounded by them. We have them painted on our walls, stained into our windows and after a fashion, printed on the front of our bulletins. The meaning of our lives has to do with the purpose and direction of our lives. We are moving slowly because we want to achieve congruence between our behaviour and our beliefs. If we are serious about that direction, you will be able to see it with your eyes as well as hear it with your ears.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

Healing in the context of spirituality refers to overcoming the inner split between our true selves and our false selves. It does not refer to curing a disease but to rediscovering the undivided self. We all have these memories, sometimes vivid, sometimes vague, of an innocent childhood that becomes damaged by a corrupted world. For some, this memory is the earliest memory we have. It is also the most powerful and the most damaging and we call it abuse. For others it is not fatal, and we still spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome the distance that has been created. In both cases we have a sense of the sacred being assaulted and it is our own experience of the divine we are trying to recover. In the fifth century, the North African theologian, St. Augustine, captured this idea when he wrote “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The split that needs to be healed is the split between the presence of the Divine and the absence of the Divine, between our truest, purest self and our damaged, defeated and disoriented self. Our damaged self can be a deceitful self. This self doesn’t want to know what is going on. It wants to hide from the truth. It wants to stay unconscious because the burden of consciousness is too heavy to bear. Groups can be like this – political groups, university departments, nurses unions, corporate boardrooms, even religious groups (especially religious groups). We can ALL be like that. It is a form of original sin, and we are all guilty from time to time. We are broken and we need healing.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

Belonging in the context of spirituality refers to a recognition that human beings are in their essence, social beings. We are born into and made for community. In the last three or four hundred years, western culture has made progress in affirming the rights and unique character of the individual. This has allowed us to remake society to be a more equal and more just place. One of the costs of this progress has been an obscuring of our mutual interdependence, of our communal nature. From the very beginning, we are born into relationship with others. Before there is a me, there is a we. Another way we have obscured this truth is by confusing belonging with belongings. In a society of great material wealth, we focus our energies on acquiring ever more belongings instead of asking the question, to whom do I belong? Anybody here seen the bumper sticker: “He who dies with the most toys wins”? How about a new banner hanging from the wall of the church outside that says: “We all belong to God – Church of the Holy Trinity!”

Today’s Epistle is from the letter to the Hebrews. Hidden in the middle of today’s reading we find the following snippet 10:15-16):

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

This is a quotation. In Deuteronomy (6:4-9) we find the great Hebrew Creed, the Shema which reads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

(We remember that part for reasons I will explain, but we don’t remember what follows)

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Keep these in your hearts … fix them on your forehead

You might connect this to Mark’s Gospel (12:28-34). There we read about a Scribe who asks Jesus to name the most important commandment. He replies by quoting the Shema. “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Now if you grew up in the Anglican Church you will remember this from the Book of Common Prayer. In every communion service the prayer book calls for reciting either the 10 commandments or this Summary of the Law. If the worship committee were to ask me for input into revisions of our Sunday liturgy, I would recommend a recovery of this Summary of the Law, which contains the ancient Creed. For me, this represents the core of the spirituality that I want us to be about. It is about integrity, it is about inclusion, it is about meaning, healing and belonging. If, as a congregation, we could adopt this as our mission statement, then I would say with Jesus “[We] are not very far from the kingdom of God”.

I recently attended a memorial service for a woman who died, after a full life, at the age of 92. The service was held at a funeral home and led by an Anglican priest the deceased had never met. I learned at the reception that while the 92 yr. old had identified herself as an Anglican, neither of her children (both in their late 50s) could ever remember her attending church. They speculated that she had stopped going to church after the death of her first child. Her first born, a boy, had died at the age of 9 months of pneumonia. That was over 60 years ago. At that same reception, I met this woman’s daughter-in-law who still had not picked up the ashes of her late husband who died tragically in a car accident, 16 years ago, in his late 30s. Both of these women have experienced, and shared deep tragedy. In different ways, their injuries went unhealed. These injuries are material and corporeal – two people died. But their injuries are also spiritual. The sacred has been profaned and the image of the divine has been violated. They came to experience distance where before they experienced unity. They seek reunion, yet don’t know how to achieve it. They struggled with issues of meaning, needed healing but weren’t sure how to achieve it, knew they belonged to their biological family but had an ambiguous and confused sense of belonging to the Christian family. This funeral was an opportunity for the church to say “You belong to God” and however painful your life has been, Jesus has gone there before you.

Today it is common to hear people describe themselves as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’. I get the ‘not religious’ part. It means they don’t attend church, or synagogue, or temple or mosque, but what does it mean to be spiritual? I think it means they are seekers after meaning, seekers after healing, and seekers after belonging. That means they are just like you and me.

Community is Letting Go of Fear

Mike Harris, in repealing the Employment Equity Act, said: only those viewed as
competitive deserve a job.  On the other hand, in lowering the welfare rates,
he said only those who had a job deserved an adequate income.  At the same he
changed the Tenant Protection Act so that people without a job or without
adequate income could be evicted for not paying their rent.  Mike Harris was
violent. He forced people to live and die on the street.  However Mike Harris
is not seen as violent.  He is seen as upholding the values of our survival of
the fittest economy.

Victims of violence, myself included, usually respond to violence with
violence.  Many of the victims of Mike Harris’ policies feel powerless,
helpless defeated, devalued and thrown away.  Some escape their subsistence
lives by using suicidal addiction of drugs and alcohol

I am afraid of people who are drunk.  I perceive their behaviour as being out
of control.  I fear I might be physically hurt.  I am vulnerable. But how much
of this fear is real, and how much of it is my projection, I do not know: it
depends on the individual.  I want to run away.  I want to exclude
“them”.  Yet. I know in my bones the violence of exclusion.  I know what
it is like to be a label, seen only as part of an unwanted group—a
‘them’.   I know what it is like to be treated according to another
persons idea of who I am, rather then who I actually am as an individual
person.  I know what it’s like to be left on the periphery of a community,
ignored and excluded. (Fortunately, you at Holy Trinity have gotten to know me
as a person)

Our scripture today is about inclusion.  We read about an Eunuch, someone
rejected, despised and outcast by the early Christian Community..  He wants to
be baptized:  he wants to belong.

Jean Vanier describes the needs of an alcoholic in his book “Be Not
Afraid.”  I shall name the alcoholic John
{John} “is told that he needs to stop drinking: it’s bad for his
health.  But he doesn’t need to be told that—he’s been vomiting all
day…What he wants is to find someone who will give him the force, the
motivation, the thirst for life….He needs strength, he needs to be attached to
someone who will give him life and courage, the peace and the love,. which will
help him…not to take drugs, not to drink, not to be depressed”  [95]

Sara Miles, in her book “Takes this Bread” talks about the challenge of
setting up a food pantry at St. Gregory’s, San Francisco,  Initially, the food
pantry was for people living in nearby housing project. But to her astonishment
it ended up a food pantry run by the people who used the food pantry.

“Just as St. Gregory’s encouraged laypeople to serve as deacons in its
liturgies, at the pantry, the people I thought of as “pantry deacons”—our
volunteers—weren’t a select or professional group….[More and more] were
unofficial; visitors who came to get groceries and then stuck around to help.
They were more often misfits; jobless or homeless or [psychiatric survivors} or
just really poor.  They’d stand in line for weeks, then one day they would
ask if we needed a hand..  The next week, they’d show up early, and the next,
they’d be redesigning our system, explaining to me how things could work
better.  Little by little, these new volunteers were beginning to run the
pantry.

Sara soon found that more and more her role was to listen:   When someone
steals, acts out, loses there temper, there is generally a reason.   Listening
involves being present;  Putting aside one’s own concerns and being present
to the story on another person.  It means imaging what it feels like to live
the story of another person.  Not Easy..

Sara describes her experience of listening:

So I’d sit down with people and let them talk: I’d listen and put my hands
on them at some point.

…I get people like Ed, a fiftyish white guy with long hair who’d frequently
flop down on the curb, begging for help.  One of our most insane and drug addicted visitors, he’d sob and
rant. In no particular sequence, about the secret lessons of First Corinthians,
his imaginary machine gun, his father and the immanence of the Day of
Judgment, the evils of the VA hospital, and his present need for healing
prayer.  I’d sit down on the sidewalk with him and wipe his nose. “Oh
God,’ he’d say. “I can’t go on like this. Help me, help me.:  I was
sort of fond of Ed, despite his hysteria, so I pat his stringy arm and murmur
until he calmed down a bit, then fetch a snack, make a sign of the cross on his
dirty forehead, and send him on his way with a few bags of food. (131)

As people bond together becoming community, support comes from people
unexpectedly. Sara describes;

…I was outside, trying to chat with Christa, the lady with bright pink hair.
I could hear one of our meanest drunks shouting and being nasty to people at the
end of the line.  I went over and asked if he wanted food.  “Hell yeah,”
he snarled.  I could tell he wanted really badly to hit me.
An enormous black guy started to come over, protectively.
“I’m Dave,” he said…his voice was amused and gentle. “You need
help.”  I told Dave no, it was Okay, and walked the drunk away from the line,
telling him I’d get him some food.  When I came back out with the groceries,
the drunk was sitting down on the curb and he’d yanked up a handful of pansies
from our garden and was holding them out to me roots and all.  “Here, he
slurred, ‘for you. I like you  These are for you.  [135-138]

Sara writes about the bonding of community

…Traditionally, Lent was a time of preparation for the death and rebirth of
our baptism….At St. Gregory’s, and especially at the food pantry,   Lent
was embodied in my experience with others.  I could feel it as more then a
metaphor:  Together at the pantry, we really were turning into a people…
We were dying to our individual selves and becoming a
body.  It had sore places and unhealed scars: it wasn’t perfect, but it was
beautiful.  It was Christ body or…a church..  {169-170}

Sara talks about the change in Teddy one of the food pantry users and volunteers

Teddy said he’d hit bottom two years before he walked through our doors.
“I’d been up for seven days straight on meth’ he told me…and finally
crashed under the bridge where I had a little encampment.  When I woke up,
there were rats crawling on me.  That was the moment when something inside me
said, Get out of here and start getting help…
“But,” Teddy went on. “I came here for food, and
then I thought I could volunteer, and volunteering changed me.  After all those
years of being a drug addict, living on the streets, this gave me tht sense that
there was the possibility of happiness again.  Now every time I give out food
and make contact and am able to smile at somebody, even if I can’t speak their
language, I’m just really touched—I’m being fed by it. [214-215]

Teddy still had relapses and fights and weeks of almost unmanageable anxiety,
but being one of the people in charge of the pantry had become what he called a
kind of spiritual practice.  He looked at me earnestly.  ‘It’s very easy
for me to try to control people,” he said.  “But when I’m not sarcastic
or arrogant or egotistical,  I see that the qualities in people that frustrate
me are really about me.  It’s not just about feeding people who come to the
pantry with food.  It’s about nourishing them with love.
[246]

Sara sums up the experience of the food pantry:

“This was the hunger that first drew me to the Table at St. Gregory’s.  It
was the same hunger that drew parents to the pantry to get groceries and brought
them back to blurt out
Help or thank you or some other real word.  It was the hunger of the
volunteers, with their yearning for jokes, lunch, company and work to do.  It
was the hunger of everyone who gave us dollar bills, cans of hominy, apples from
their backyard, huge checks… It was a hunger that had to do with the bodies of
strangers, with offering everything we had, giving away control and receiving
what we needed to live.  Communion.  I wanted communion

On Thursday, as I was leaving Holy Trinity, a man held the door for me.  I
recognized him as one of the people living on the square.  I’m sorry I
don’t know his name.  I asked him;’ How are you doing?”  This is the
House of the Lord, “ he replied, “I am safe here.”

Marilyn Ferrel

The organ as metaphor

I imagine each of us has a different story of how we came to love organ music. Two things did it for me as a missionary kid growing up at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro: a 7-inch extended play 45-rpm recording of Thurston Dart playing some of Handel’s Aylesford pieces*, and a one-manual, 6-stop Walcker tracker organ that arrived in crates, a gift to our local church, from the Leipzig Missionary Society. My Dad, who had a bit of an engineering background, got the job of putting it together, and I, with some guidance from my piano teacher, got to play for services.

Three decades later, as the Chair of the Liturgy and Music Commission of the diocese where I served before moving to Toronto, I watched more and more congregations moving away from organ music, and for a variety of reasons: Fewer and fewer people could play the organ (at one point I read a frightening remark that there were more organ builders than organ majors—not a sustainable situation); for others, the organ represented the past, and signified an aesthetic with severe limitations. The expense of a pipe organ was another barrier, and in more than one situation, I was called in to mediate conversations between church members who felt it was immoral to be spending so much money on an organ, money that should better be given to the poor. In every instance, I tried to help people understand that both/and had a few advantages over either/or.

There is a reason, I have come to believe, that the organ became the archetypical musical instrument of the church—quite apart from all the glorious music that has been written for it. As the all-time champion of wind instruments, the organ is the perfect metaphor for the relationship between God and the Church. You probably have heard that, in both Hebrew and Greek (the principal languages of the Bible), the words for Spirit, wind, and breath are the same: in Hebrew it’s ruah; in Greek, pneuma. The wind that makes the pipes of an organ sound, and the breath that enables us to sing, are both like the Spirit of God, that blows where it will, breathing life into us and empowering us to do the things God has given us to do.

The Valley of Dry Bones reading, which we usually hear at the Easter Eve service, suggested itself, because all summer, the pipes and parts of this great instrument lay strewn about the church like so many bones, bleached by the sun, as they waited their turn to be reassembled so that, when the wind was turned on again—naturally, it blew a fuse the first time—the breath of life would course through the organ’s winding.

In its nearly 40 years of life, this instrument has comforted mourners at funerals, brought joy to hundreds of baptisms and wedding parties, and of course, helped a congregation to raise its voice in praise to God each week. In the decades to come, it will bring joy and comfort and inspiration to thousands of listeners and worshippers, and for this we give glory to God, and gratitude to the Rathgeb family and to the congregation of Deer Park United Church for the vision to bring this fine instrument to life so that we might all enjoy its beauty and power for generations to come.

* Recorded on “one of the largest and most beautiful of the 17th
century English organs still remaining.” [1958] St. John’s Church,
Wolverhampton

“Fan into a flame the gift that God gave you”

Our affections and beliefs are wiser than we; the best that is in us is better than we can understand; for it is grounded beyond experience, and guides us, blindfold but safe, from one age on to another.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson wrote these words in the dedication of a collection of his youthful writings and his Ethical Papers. I had picked up the book at a yard sale years ago, but finally got around to reading it this week, and when I read the passage above I flashed on Paul’s words to Timothy: “fan into a flame the gift that God gave you…” (2 Tim. 1:6)

As we looked around this week and watched the financial markets reel and tumble, I’m sure I was not the only one wondering how on earth, with all the Ivy-League brain-power on Wall Street, no one saw this scenario coming. The blinding ability of greed, perhaps.

I see a more hopeful scenario as we look to the future at Holy Trinity. In the three months I’ve been in Toronto, I have seen glimpses of the goodness and gifts that reside in the members of this community, and the future they envision is not powered by self-interest, but by a deep and rich desire to live out the gospel values, engaging the brokenness of the world with compassion. May God’s Spirit continue to blow on our embers and fan us into a roaring flame.

A violent wind

Looking over the Pentecost bulletin I can only imagine the joy you will be experiencing. ¡Mucho gusto!

I’m looking forward to June 1st. Jim Love is the worship coordinator for that day, and we’ll be working on that this week, along with packing kitchen stuff, and sorting things to be taken along or left
behind.

Bishop Gene Robinson’s autobiographical, “In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God” includes an amusing anecdote about a very special Pentecost service at a large church in Florida described as having a “flair for the dramatic.”

The priest “decided to dramatize the Holy Spirit coming like wind in a particularly spectacular way. He got the engine out of one of the boats used in the Everglades– an airplane propeller attached to a big gasoline engine–and mounted it in the choir loft high in the back of the church. The wind from the propeller would blow across the congregation when the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit was read, It seemed like a great idea….

So when the great moment arrived, and the lector read, ‘And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house’, the engine coughed once and then howled into life.

But the effect was a little different than it had been in rehearsal. The sudden screaming gust of wind sent sheet music and bulletins flying out over the congregation. Coiffeurs came undone and hair streamed out from faces. The preacher’s sermon notes were gone with the wind. A hair piece flew towards the altar like a furry missile. It was like a scene from ‘Green Pastures’ when the angel Gabriel looks down and tells the Lord ‘Everything that was nailed down is comin’ loose!’

Everything was messy and noisy, and absolutely unpredictable. And that’s just the way it is with the Spirit.”

Praying that the Spirit is filling your sails at HT,

Sherman