Sent in, then out

We normally talk about the work of the Holy Spirit as a ‘sending out’. When the Holy Spirit works, it’s like a centrifugal force pushing us ever outward. When he first appears to his disciples following his resurrection, Jesus tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you …”[1]

We have devised images to help us imagine this outward-destined power: The missional energy is likened to a rocket ship blasting from the earth into the limitless universe. We are quick to remind ourselves that our very identity based on the original Greek word for church – ecclesia– means “a people called out.” You have heard me and others preach about going beyond the walls of the church in the programs we offer and the services we provide.

Nonetheless, in all our missional enthusiasm around this truth the Holy Spirit is first given to us. Before we go out, we must go in. We must first traverse and discover the Spirit in the regions of our hearts. In order for the Holy Spirit to send us out into the world anew, the Holy Spirit must first come into us, as Jesus came to his disciples cowering behind locked doors.

The Gospel text assigned for this Pentecost Sunday focuses our attention on the image of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit into his disciples. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”[2]Before the disciples were sent out into the world, speaking in their native tongues, doing even greater deeds, and empowered by the Spirit of God, Jesus came to them. They had to receive and claim this gift within the containers of their own gifts, talents, abilities and personalities.

And Jesus enters into the locked rooms of our hearts. Locked by fear of the unknown future. Locked by anger for all our losses and hurts. Into the spaces of our most intimate lives. Into the homes and rooms of our daily work, play and rest. Where we are sheltered-in-place, where we are quarantined and secluded and physically distant. Into our inner beings – this is where the Spirit of the living God enters us – before anything else can happen.

It’s difficult to accept and receive the Holy Spirit, the peace and forgiveness of God at the best of times let alone when we are anxious, afraid and angry. While spending more time at home, more time by ourselves. It’s almost as if we will react against the possibility, the notion, that Jesus can come into the messiness and disorderliness of our inner sanctums, homes, rooms and hearts. We knee-jerk in reaction, saying that the sooner we can get back to ‘normal’, the sooner we can get ‘out there’ and be allowed together again, the better. 

Do we refuse to consider that the work of the Spirit can happen ‘in isolation’ or in minimalist ways – when we are by ourselves, or locked-down, or physically distant from each other?  Do we shackle God in constraints of our own imagination and belief?

One of the main upshots of Martin Luther’s Christian education was the primacy of the home. His popular ‘table talks’ were formed around the intention of making the home the primary place for spiritual formation. In fact the Small Catechismwas originally devised to be read and discussed among members of the household – not in the classroom, not in the church building, not in some large group gathering or Christian Education forum. But in the home. 

Perhaps this time of quarantine is inviting us to reconsider and reacquaint ourselves with what Martin Luther had really intended from the start. Here is an opportunity to rediscover and practice our faith – in good Lutheran tradition!

In a recent video conference call with other clergy, we talked about a scenario that someone had heard of. Whether it actually happened, or was being considered I am not sure. But a baby was born to first-time parents during the pandemic lockdown. And the parents wanted to have their newborn baptized. What to do when no one knows when the church can gather together physically again? It could be months.

So, they talked about it with their pastor. And they came up with this plan. The parents would hold their newborn in the foyer entrance inside their house, bowl of water at hand. The pastor would stand outside on the front step of the closed door. They could see each other and hear each other speak through the glass of the door. And while the pastor introduced a brief liturgy for baptism, the parents would then pour water over the tiny head of their newborn child, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In their own home. Where two or three were gathered in God’s name and presence.

Life is not put on hold because of this pandemic. During this time of self-isolation, quarantine, sheltering-in-place, seclusion – whatever you want to call it – couples are still getting married, babies are still being born. Life is still happening.

The Spirit of God still blows in us and through us to be the imperfect yet beloved vessels, carriers, of God’s love, forgiveness in our homes. And, therefore, for the world. There is joy in that.


[1]John 19:21

[2]19:22

Answering Jesus’ prayer

The next time we will see each other face-to-face I’ll likely be wearing one of these. I have different colours and types for different occasions …. (you can see them by viewing the video sermon at http://www.faithottawa.ca on Sunday, May 24, 2020).

I know the mask may present a barrier. It covers half of our face. It’s uncomfortable. It may inhibit us from feeling normal in our interaction. It’s a telling symbol of the times we find ourselves in. That a physical barrier needs to be in place to protect us all.

Paradoxically, the mask underscores how inter-connected we are. In forming this new habit – wearing a mask every time we leave the home – we are becoming aware of how each of us is connected to others. 

The unity we experience is not just visible. It’s not just about those who are evidently symptomatic – who are coughing, riding high fevers, and are very sick. We now know that over 40% of COVID-19 is transmitted by people who don’t have any symptoms at all.[1]

Of course, we didn’t need COVID-19 to introduce us to the idea of our common humanity. Especially as Christians we have always affirmed our inherent connection, our ‘unity in Christ’. Whether we say we participate in the invisible, spiritual unity, or hopefully sometimes even participate in some wonderful visibleexpressions of unity, we are united nonetheless.

In this last Gospel selection in the Easter season, the lectionary invites us to reflect on some of Jesus’ last words to his followers when he was physically with them on earth. John 17 represents what is known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus for his disciples, his benediction, his blessing to them as a human being. This is his message to them – human to human. 

And he prays for our unity. His prayer affirms our connection in the Body of Christ which is the church. And on earth, we are interconnected, interdependent in Christ.

How do we live that interdependence, as Christians, as followers of Christ?

Jesus prayed, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world … Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”[2]

“I am no longer in the world,” Jesus says, “but they are…” Jesus is no longer in the world. But weare. We are the hands, the feet the heart of Christ in the world for each other. We participate in the answer to Jesus’ prayer. You could say, in a sense, we are the answer to Jesus’ prayer.

“We cannot jump over this world, or its woundedness, and still try to love God. We must love God through, in, with, and even because of this world.”[3]This is the message Christianity initiated, proclaimed, and encouraged, and what Jesus modeled. We were made to love and trust this world, “to cultivate it and take care of it”[4]. The answer to Jesus’ prayer is not in some far-off heavenly realm. The crux of it all lies here, right now, and in this place and time. 

The church has left the building these last few months.  But the church has not disappeared. We are in the world. And we need each other. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. There is no avoiding it, especially now. 

People wear masks not to protect themselves. We wear them to protect others from possibly catching the virus from us. That is why care-givers wear masks and all sorts of other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

May this mask-wearing season of our lives be a sign and symbol of our care for one another. We don’t just say, “Stay safe”. We practice it when we are together in whatever way. Our togetherness then becomes a Christ-sign of caring for the other. When we return to the building – the day will soon come – our main focus – as it always has been implied but now fully apparent – is the care for each other.

For now, every time you pick up the phone and call someone, we are the church.

Every time you send a short email to check in on someone else, we are the church. Every time you pray, read scripture, say words of compassion and nurture thoughts and feeling of love for another, we are the church.

Every time you don a mask – even though it is awkward and not very comfortable, but you do it anyway for the sake of others, we are the church.

Every time you do this for the wellbeing and care for another, we are the church. United in Christ Jesus. For all time. And in every place.


[1]Rachel Gilmore, “It’s now recommended that Canadians wear face masks”, CTV News (20 May 2020) http://www.ctvnews.ca

[2]John 17:11

[3]Richard Rohr, “Cultivation Not Domination”, Daily Meditations (Tuesday, May 19, 2020; http://www.cac.org).

[4]Genesis 2:15

God’s heart in us

I wonder many times these days how does a post-covid-19 world look like? A post-covid-19 church look like? And are we ready to tackle whatever the new normal looks like?

The honest answer – I don’t know. Does anyone? A church in Toronto has a sign in front of its building, and it now says: “Closed until God knows when.” True – only God knows when.

I’m video-recording this sermon in our home office.[1]And in my background are three doors. Not just one, nor two, but three. If you’ve never been here, you might not know which door you would use to leave, or enter into, the room.

Here’s a silly riddle … often humor is helpful in times of anxiety and fear: So, when is a door not a door? When it is a-jar. !

We may prefer the doors to remain shut always. We may prefer not only not to know what’s on the other side, but also prefer not to go there. We would rather avoid thinking about and avoid going through. We shut the doors of our imagination and willingness to wonder about what’s beyond. We would rather remain in the comfortable memories of the past – instructive and significant though they may be. But if we just stay there, scared of the unknown, uncertain future, we will refuse to take the steps of change forward.

How can we begin even to consider taking that first, tentative step – into the unknown, into a future without the certainties of the past to guide us?

I heard a podcast this week about Frank who lived out of a deep love for his son, Justin.[2]Even though his job was a fulltime professor, Frank made parenting his primary vocation for fifteen years. Frank described it this way: that during that time Justin became a person who had a part of his own, father’s heart. Frank’s heart did not belong completely to Frank alone anymore. 

No matter what happened in their relationship, Frank speculated, if Frank and his son had a falling out and they didn’t speak for twenty years, Justin was in Frank’s heart and Frank was in Justin’s heart. Justin’s joys gave Frank delight. Justin’s pain touched Frank like nothing else could. Literally, his experience was so deeply connected. Even though Justin had an identity apart from his father’s – he was his own person; he was not his father – there was nothing Justin could do that would make Frank not love him. Frank’s heart was completely embracing of him.

This is like the love between God and each of us. Like Frank with Justin, we can first experience a small taste, small glimmer of God’s all-embracing, unconditional, steadfast love in a human relationship – in marriage, in partnership with another, in parenting children, in families, among friends. In some relationship, may we come to know this feeling. And this understanding of God’s love.

Julian of Norwich wrote we are not just made by God we are made of God.[3]It’s like when God makes us, God gives a part of God’s heart into us. And God knows that feeling of no matter where we are or whatever situation we are in, no matter the highs or lows, or whether or not we’ve talked to God in months or years, God is achingly connected to us – deeply, intimately. And would have it no other way.

Rooted in being known, being met, being embraced in that blanket of love – despite and amidst all the suffering we encounter – that’s life.

In the scriptures assigned for Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, there is a positive, affirmative and encouraging word. When Jesus prepares his disciples for when he will leave them, he tells them about the truth of our very existence: That he is in us as we are in him – or, to use Saint Paul’s oft-repeated phrase: “in Christ.”

On the surface, at first glance, it doesn’t look good for the disciples. Jesus is leaving them. When does it ever feel good to leave a friend, say goodbye, lose them or be forevermore separated from them? And then go on living, without them?

But the leave-taking of Jesus means that the power of God’s love and the energy of Jesus’ life-giving presence is now given to them. And to us. The truth is, because of Jesus’ bodily departure or absence, we will convey the power of God like never before witnessed.[4]What we leave behind turns into something wonderful we could never have imagined. Because the Spirit of God flows in and through us all. And we embody, the presence of Christ in whom we “live, move, and have our being”[5]for all time.

The Gospel message, in the light of the Easter promise, is fundamentally empowering to us. We are the bearers of Christ. Whether we see it in this moment or not. Whether we feel it or not. Whether we are able to muster our own meagre resources to realize it or not. 

But we don’t have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We don’t have to manufacture this love, this reality, on our own. We just need to step into the flow. We just need to embrace what already is! 

Because God comes through the closed doors of our hearts – opens those doors – not to scare us, not to frighten us nor shame us nor guilt us. But simply, wonderfully, to love us.


[1]Visit www.faithottawa.ca, Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020

[2]“Conversation with Frank Rogers”, Academy Podcast, May 6, 2020 (an international ministry of The Upper Room).

[3]Cited in Richard Rohr, “Julian of Norwich” in Daily Meditation (www.cac.org, 13 May 2020).

[4]John 14:12

[5]Acts 17:28

Divine tears, divine love

Spending more time outside these days, I’m reminded of standing in the grove, in Arnprior, with my arm outstretched, with birdseed in my open hand. I stand still, and wait.

The chickadees know that visitors to their part of the grove will sometimes bring them treats. And if they happen to be perched in the trees around you when you go with seed for them, you might have dozens of birds feeding two at a time from your hand.

This is like the posture of prayer. Which is our connection with God. Our part, is to be intentional about going into that place of prayer first of all. We have to choose to enter into it. It also a posture of being still, and being open. As with feeding the birds from your hand, prayer is about putting yourself in a position where grace can catch you. You know the saying: Faith is not so taught as it is caught.

In our relationship with God, we cannot control the outcome. We don’t know if and when what we may want will happen. The only thing we can do is return regularly to nurture that inner stance of openness to God.

Because God is free. And in our relating with God, in our prayer with God, we become free. It is in the savoring, the waiting, the creating space and time for God that over time and with practice we become free.

In a recent poll, half of respondents said their mental health has worsened over the last month, including 10 per cent who said it has worsened “a lot.” “Worried” and “anxious” were the top two answers, emotional states that experts don’t expect to dissipate any time soon.[1]

Physical distancing, for example, has taken its toll. Perhaps the most emotionally difficult aspect of this whole experience has been losing our freedom to touch, to hold, to comfort and be physically present with those we love – whether in the ICU units, gravesides or around dining room tables.

Physical distancing and self-imposed seclusion have exposed our attachments. “What do you mean I can’t visit my loved one?” we object. Our attachments correspond to what we control in our lives. Or, believe we have some control over.

Losing control over our attachments has understandably caused us increased anxiety, fear and anger. We have experienced a collective loss – a way of being community, of gathering in public places shoulder to shoulder. I wonder how long it will be, if ever, before we experience some of those things again. That is why it is so important not to delay or postpone our grief. We cannot wait until after the crisis is over to grieve.[2]

We must lament now all the things we have lost and are losing during this time – travelling, weddings, celebrations, holidays and holy days, jobs, business, dreams, friends and family members – all of it. While we can delay certain services, there is no postponing grief. Now is the time for each of us to feel it – the guilt, shame, rage, fear, frustration, denial. All of it.

I remember learning in seminary of the importance of being present to someone in ministry. We called it the ‘ministry of presence’. At the same time, we were encouraged to reflect on its counterpoint: the importance of embracing a ‘ministry of absence’.[3]That is, the healing, grace and growth that happen in times of being absent from one another. Then, I wasn’t exactly sure I understood that concept fully. But now, I am coming into a greater appreciation of its meaning.

Because during the COVID-19 crisis, we are realizing that our physical distancing – our ‘absence’ – actually saves lives. We are practising a new way of being with others. Who would have thought that creating physical distance would be an authentic and effective way to care for our loved ones and neighbours, especially the most vulnerable?

It’s hard to move in this direction, however, when we haven’t come to terms yet with our losses. The irony is that we come to affirm our healthy, life-giving connections during this crisis only by grieving what we have lost throughout all of this. Losing something or someone is letting go. Letting go is about acceptance. Acceptance is freedom.

There was a period of time shortly after I was ordained that it seemed in every funeral I did the family chose the scripture that is the Gospel for today.[4]Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places …” It appears that at times of loss, Christians express their hope with a vision of coming home. A spiritual home. A place of union in the eternal love of God.

God shows this incredible, free, love to us now. God is a God who chooses to show that love in tears shed for us in our losses. In Christ, we can see those tears when Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus[5], when Jesus lamented over Jerusalem for murdering its prophets[6], on the cross begging for the forgiveness of those who tormented him[7].

What the present crisis is offering us is an opportunity to approach ourselves with the love and forgiveness of Jesus. So desperately needed, now. What this crisis invites us to do is become open to the love and care that is offered to one another, imperfect though it may be. What this crisis invites us to do is practice being vulnerable – with ourselves, with others and with God.

When we give ourselves to prayer – however we do it – we practice the awareness of God’s presence. One of my favourite outdoor lawn care activities is aerating the lawn. It’s when that machine goes over the lawn leaving clumps of dirt lying all over the pocketed yard. This allows much need oxygen to enter and stimulate growth in the earth. Prayer time, meditation, contemplation, biblical reading, mindful walking – this work aerates the lawn of our minds and hearts. So the breath and the life of God can enter in.

To begin with, just notice your breathing. And not just breathing in, but especially the outbreath. We can’t hold our breath forever. We can’t control it. We’ll die if we don’t let go. So, exhaling is necessary for life. It is also an act of great trust. At that moment when you finish exhaling, there is a space, the moment of ‘death’. That’s when grace happens. Trust the outbreath, and God will breathe life into you. Again.


[1]Jonathan Forani, “Half of Canadians report worsening mental health, experts say woes just beginning” (www.CTVNews.caApril 27, 2020) 

[2]Nathan Kirkpatrick, “How to think about what’s next when the future is unclear” in Faith and Leadership (Durham N.C.: Duke Divinity, www.faithandleadership.com, 2020)

[3]I believe the writings of Henri Nouwen introduced me to the idea of ‘absence’ being just as an important part of ministry as ‘presence’.

[4]John 14:1-14

[5]John 11:35

[6]Luke 19:41; Matthew 23:37

[7]Luke 23:34

Three handles for the path – How the COVID-19 crisis reveals contemplation’s greatest gifts

We find ourselves in an extraordinary time in world history. Millions around the world have fallen ill and so many are grieving the death of a loved one or neighbour. In Canada alone millions have lost jobs, some are vulnerable and feeling unsafe because of financial or compromised health concerns, other still risk their lives daily in the essential service sector. We all experience this crisis from different perspectives and circumstances.

We are also meditators, or at least are curious about this path of prayer that practises silence and stillness and that moves us towards being present in ourselves, in this world and in Christ.

What has this crisis revealed to you? How do you respond? How does meditation and prayer increase your resiliency in times of stress?

Contemplation offers many gifts, many fruits of following the path. I want to talk about three handles that describe the landscape of the contemplative life, especially in light of the global crisis we have all experienced in various ways over the past month and a half. 

Three Handles for the Contemplative Path – How the COVID-19 crisis reveals contemplation’s greatest gifts

Handles are what we hold on to as we make our way along the path: Connection; Embracing Loss; Renewing Life. Here are three handles that reveal contemplation’s greatest gifts to us. These handles open doors of awareness on the path of contemplation.

1.   Connection

As the national coordinator for the Canadian Christian Meditation Community, I look for the connections. I try to see the network of relationships that comprise the landscape of meditation groups, events and organization across the country. How Christian Meditators connect is a question that energizes my work for the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis, as a shared human experience, first reveals to me how intrinsically connected we all are for better or for worse. The virus itself could not have travelled so quickly and so far without the advances of technology. Our contemporary fascination and obsession with travel can get us around the globe at speeds never before in history possible. Our hyper-active culture was the efficient delivery system for this virus.

There’s a socio-economic aspect that cannot be overlooked. The viral transmission was facilitated by those of us – predominantly the privileged, monied and ‘successful’ – who for either business or pleasure make it an important part of our lifestyle to jet-set. The economy of privilege and wealth made this virus so potent in its rapid spread across the globe. 

You might recall the segment of the population first targeted were those who had travelled and were returning home. They were the first to self-quarantine for 14 days beforelocal, community transmission became a concern. 

Our identity in the World Community for Christian Meditation has been for decades now animated by our ability to meet anywhere in the world. The pandemic has exposed our vulnerability in maintaining and growing those beloved connections, in person. The global crisis raises questions about our capacity for bringing people from around the world together under one roof in one place and time, for retreats and seminars.

How do we see ourselves as a community? Where do you locate yourself within the Christian Meditation community (group, region, national, world)? How will we sustain and build those relationships, moving forward?

These are some of the questions that first emerge for me during this time of seclusion, physical distancing and suffering for many. But there are deeper questions to ask.

I currently work in the large, urban setting of Ottawa. The city lies on the banks of the Ottawa river, which flows south and east towards Montreal, the St Lawrence River and finally spills into the Atlantic Ocean. From Ottawa, if you follow upriver north and west, you move into smaller, rural towns in the Upper Ottawa Valley.

Earlier in my life I served a parish in Pembroke about 150 kilometres northwest of Ottawa. When speaking to an old friend from Pembroke last week, I was again reminded of how this virus knows no boundaries. There have been, to date, more recorded infections of COVID-19 in the Upper Valley than in the small town in which I live, closer to the city limits. 

Normally, rural-living people don’t associate much with the ‘problems’ of the larger urban centres. They see themselves apart from, and take pride in, being disconnected, unburdened and somewhat free from the concerns of the large city ‘far away’. But my friend in Pembroke talked to me of how people in her parish were practising social distancing, disciplining themselves by limiting their worship recording session to five people standing at least two metres apart. 

Regardless of where you live, rural or urban, you cannot isolate yourself from the danger. Deep in this crisis now we cannot deny the truth that it is our collective problem, and not just someone else’s living on the other side of the globe or only in the big cities. 

All of us participate both in the transmission of the problem and in its resolution. We are asymptomatic transmitters of the disease, or symptomatic sufferers, or symptomatic transmitters, or one of the growing number of recovered and hopefully immune, or as the fortunately unaffected and un-infected. Each of us is a participant in the crisis.

Of course, we didn’t need COVID-19 to introduce us to the idea of our common humanity. Especially as Christians we have always affirmed our inherent connection, our ‘unity in Christ’. Whether we say we participate in the invisible, spiritual unity, or hopefully sometimes even participate in some wonderful visibleexpressions of unity, we are united.

Christian Meditation brings together people from various religious or non-religious backgrounds. We are united in the silence, the stillness in the presence of Christ regardless of creed or doctrinal affiliation. We don’t speak words out loud in our prayer. Language, after all, tends to divide and differentiate, which is not a bad thing. As Father Laurence Freeman expressed in his Holy Saturday talk from Bonnevaux this year, we need language.[1]

But underneath the language is the silent breath of God that flows through and holds us all in love. In Christian Meditation we affirm our ‘boundary-less’ solidarity in the love of Christ. We affirm our common humanity. We can be present to and share in the living consciousness of Jesus, whoever we are and wherever we live, all the time, in the prayer of the heart.

How we ‘see’ this is vital. If it is raining outside, we have a choice. We can see the rain and conclude that our lives are a waste and a wreck, and wallow in self-despair. Another way of seeing has us simply accept the rain. “Yup, it’s raining.” 

Here we may want to recall the apophatic roots of the mystical prayer tradition: Seeing is not thinking. The sight, here, is not physical. It is neither tied to our thinking process nor our capacities for doing, imagining, or saying anything. In truth, as 19thcentury American essayist Henry David Thoreau noted, “I begin to see an object when I cease to understand it.”[2]

Here is an inner vision that sees the self and the world within the web of human inter-connectedness. It is a web that is given not constructed. It is an inter-connectedness that we affirm despite all that separates us. We experience loving union, despite ourselves. We simply step into it, are present to it, whenever we meditate.

God dwells in all our hearts. God chooses to make home within us all. This is the promise of scripture. This is the reality of God with us.

Given the traditional ways we have self-identified (language, urban/rural, elderly/youth, binary/non-binary, financially independent/poor, upper class/middle class/lower class, Catholic/Protestant/a-religionist, etc.) how has the COVID-19 crisis affected your vision of our unity—our connection as human beings? Do you ‘see’ a change within you, if any? How so?

2.   Embracing loss

As many people enter a seventh week of self-isolation, the COVID-19 pandemic is unifying us in our anxiety.

In a recent poll, half of respondents said their mental health has worsened, including 10 per cent who said it has worsened “a lot.” “Worried” and “anxious” were the top two answers, emotional states that experts don’t expect to dissipate any time soon.[3]

The global pandemic placed unprecedented restrictions on us. Not only has time slowed down. But in that slowing-down we have noticed the smaller things around us and in us, the ‘smaller’ things that normally have gone unnoticed, unrecognized: underlying beliefs, attitudes, dispositions. If ever we had been borderline depressive, or borderline obsessive compulsive, or borderline anything, the COVID crisis may have just tipped us over the edge.

Physical distancing, for example, has exposed our attachments and severed the links. “What do you mean I can’t visit my loved one?” Anxiety, understandably, follows. The irony is that we come to affirm our healthy, life-giving connections during this crisis only by coming to terms with our losses. Losing something or someone is letting go. Letting go is about acceptance.

Perhaps the most emotionally difficult aspect of this whole experience has been losing our freedom to touch, to hold, to comfort and be physically present with those we love – whether in the ICU units, gravesides or around dining room tables. We have experienced a collective loss – a way of being community, of gathering in public places shoulder to shoulder. I wonder how long it will be, if ever, before we experience some of those things again.

As is natural for us human beings under stress and anxiety, we have formulated coping strategies in the grief process: denial and anger to begin with. Anger comes probably in the guise of blame – blaming the government or some nation; blaming local authorities for mis-managing, mis-communicating, mis-analyzing. 

Of course we know that blame is a poisonous, destructive way of processing our grief because we do so by hurting others when really anger is the invitation to do some much-needed inner work. The blame game, we know, says more about the person playing it, than it does about the object of the blame.

Along with our social attachments, we have lost a sense of safety, security, certainty and control. This has been a season of loss, if anything. And we’ve devised many ways of managing and coping with these losses. Addictive behaviour keeps us from fully feeling, embracing and accepting the limits of our very humanity in this present moment.

For me, it is thinking compulsively about ‘what’s next’ that keeps me locked in my head – everything from the next item on the agenda or schedule of my work day to how I approach my hobbies and past times, to pondering what I need to get done tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I fixate on those things. Thinking, again, keeps me from my heart, and from experiencing, accepting and being loved in the present moment.

If you do have time and willingness to read some books during this stay-at-home time, let me recommend four: First, Jim Green’s “Giving Up Without Giving Up: Meditation and Depressions”; Beldon C. Lane’s “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes; Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality”; Gregory Mayers’ “Listen to the Desert; Secrets of Spiritual Maturity from the Desert Fathers and Mothers”; and Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham’s “The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning.”

When we have the courage to look into our hearts, perhaps more than anything we are afraid at what we may find there. So, we avoid this more courageous path of going there by getting trapped in our heads. We will more easily find blame or worry about some abstract future scenario. We will more easily distract ourselves into addictive, compulsive behaviour. 

Yet, what the present crisis is offering us is an opportunity to confront the fearful side of ourselves with love and forgiveness. So desperately needed, now.

The practice of Christian meditation allows us to traverse the inner terrain, this landscape of desert, aridity and loss. The unproductive and detached manner of Christian Meditation leads us there, and probes into that silence underneath the cacophony of emotions, compulsions and images that collide and broil to the surface of our consciousness. 

“The only way we can contemplate is recognizing and relativizing our own compulsive mental grids—our practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and computing everything.”[4]

It is to let it be. When we return to the mantra during our meditation we don’t do violence against the woundedness of our soul. We don’t avoid, deny and repress the thoughts, the turmoil of emotions and darkness of our depths. In truth, we do the opposite. We let them rise to the surface of our awareness. We let them be. And when they pique, we look elsewhere. We shift our gaze, our attention, to the word. 

In praying, then, we participate in the widening of spaciousness both in time and consciousness. It is aerating the lawn of our minds and hearts. We venture into an expanding divine space, the in between space where God’s grace and love exist. It is by probing this awareness within us that eventually those thoughts, emotions and images let go of us. 

Meditation is the ability to tolerate and then to be in relationship with what is.[5]The mantra, then, is the word in whose interior rhythm we experience a deeper listening, in love, to our true self in God.

Richard Rohr writes, “Contemplative prayer always requires hospitality to your deep self, to the deep parts of yourself. It demands the openness to receive whatever might arise in you and then gently release it into God’s hands … You do so in a relationship that provides a safety and support in holding whatever emerges. Whatever emerges in silence and stillness before God emerges in the place within you in which you are held within God.”[6]

What do we learn in this space?

First, in the practice of prayer we discover that our discipline does not constrict the time of our day. It’s not that we don’t have time to meditate. Paradoxically those who meditate twice daily experience a broadening of time so that they, in fact, have more time to do what they need to do. More time than they ever had, COVID notwithstanding.

Second, when we remain in the space of our limitations, even for a short time, we begin to learn what it feels like to ‘die before you die’: when the bottom falls out of all our spent resources. Dying before dying is embracing the consequences of our resistance to being un-attached, un-productive, and un-successful. The effect of our ego-impulse to be attached, to be busy and find self-worth in comparing and competing can harm others and ourselves. Recognizing and confessing this in brutal honesty, hurts.

So, we must “trust the down”, in Richard Rohr’s words. Trust the down and God will take care of the “up”. Trust the falling, the letting go, the releasing of control. Trust that our limits, our failure, our suffering, our imperfection is integral to the journey, the pilgrimage towards transformation. Trust the down, the out-breath. Because the “unloading of the unconscious … [contemplation] is the visible face of the invisible process of reworking your unconscious, a process that is going on as you sit in stillness before God and yourself.” 

Trust the down, the outbreath. We can’t hold our breath forever. We’ll die if we don’t let go. So, exhaling is an act of great trust. At that moment in breathing when you finish exhaling, there is a space, the moment of ‘death’. That’s when grace happens. Trust the down, and God will breathe life into you. Again.

During this time of expanded time that feels both slow and goes by so quickly, the discipline of prayer allows “the deep hidden work of healing and transformation that God is doing in your soul” in the midst of all our losses.

What within you resists the present moment which this crisis has open for you? What keeps you stuck in the cycles of denial or blame?

How will you allow the fear, the self-incriminations, the anger and guilt to co-exist in your life and within your practice of prayer?

3. Renewing Life

Spring is in the air! In more ways than one, we are beginning again. In our collective consciousness, our hearts and minds are turning towards a new beginning: With hope and anticipation we look forward to the time we can meet in person together, and when we can experience the freedom to eat-out and meet in public spaces again. 

The posture in our hearts of ‘starting over’ is an Easter hope. New beginnings. New life. Like the proverbial phoenix rising again out of dust. Jesus’ resurrection announces this truth. And if it’s true with Christ, it is true everywhere and for all.

We are all beginners, rookies on the field of life. We say this about our prayer practice. In a sense, no matter how experienced we are. Whether we have been meditating all our lives or just a few days, each time we sit down in silence and stillness, we begin again. When we see ourselves perpetually as beginners on the journey, we become ready for anything, and are open to all possibilities.

How do we start over? Remember the basic pattern of liturgy: Someone must start it all. Someone initiates the conversation and says, for example, “The Lord be with you”. Those of us practiced in this way of worship will know that the conversation may start there but doesn’t end there. We need to respond, “And also with you.”

There is this back-and-forth flow dynamic between God’s word, God speaking and how we hear that and what we do with that. There is this back-and-forth flow between what God says to us and our response to God’s life and love in all and for all.

How do we begin again? How do we begin each time to strengthen this relationship? We can consider Jesus’ words: “I have come to give you life and life abundantly”; that is, we nurture our own lives as a responsiveness to God’s own life. Our lives thus share in the abundant vitality of God.

If anything, we may have been shocked by the COVID-19 crisis to consider how to live well. What we’ve had to stop, what we’ve had to pause, what we’ve had to close – and not just for a week or two as I suspect many of us initially expected, but for months. All these restrictions are causing us to reflect on the meaning of our lives and what might emerge from it.

I also suspect more and more of us are coming around to accepting that what does emerge will not be “back to normal” to the way it was right before we had to lock things down. What does emerge will likely, over time, be some kind of integration, blending, hybrid of what we have been doing in the last several weeks in physical distancing with social gathering.

The words of Jesus about abundant life come to us in this season of Easter – the season of resurrection and new life. These new words are a language of recovery, where we tell stories about the way we were and what it used to be like living; and how we are living now. I said earlier when reflecting on the handle of loss, that we have a choice: Self-love, forgiveness, embracing the imperfection within us. This was the first choice. But not the last one.

The liturgy calls forth our response. The Lord be with you. And also with you. The second choice is to live out from that pivot, that handle, of loss. To truly live, to be awake and alive to this gift of the present moment, we live out of the forgiveness and self-love, confident in our connection with all of creation. We live out of this awareness towards the transformation of the world. Meditation leads us from the center point within, to embrace a divine vision for all. 

Being in liminal space leads us to the new thing. Remember the visions we have seen over the past month: the foxes trapesing across the Golden Gate bridge, the clear, smog-free blue skies over Los Angeles and Himalayan peaks never before seen!, the new species being discovered because of human economic restraint, the clearer waters in Venice. 

We’ve also witnessed a dramatic and unified political will – a clear choice we have – to give financial aid to the most vulnerable in the economic crisis and recently increase the hourly wage by $4/hour to essential health care providers.[7]

If we can do it now, why can’t we do it again, in some way? When the devastating effects of the pandemic continue to wreak havoc in vulnerable places of the world. Famines will expose unjust systems of wealth and food distribution. When the effects of the economic slow-down continue to devastate families in poverty, the homeless, the poor, Indigenous peoples, vulnerable communities. In the aftermath, why can’t we continue to enact the vision and exercise willingness to make things better for all people?

Eco-theologian Thomas Berry expresses this notion in writing that we need, in our age, is to dream the new world into existence. We must dream the way forward. “We must summon, from the unconscious, ways of seeing that we know nothing of yet, visions that emerge from deeper within us than our conscious rational minds.”[8]

The new life post-COVID is not “now all my problems are solved”. This new life is not “going back to the way things were.” The new life is not problem free nor tripping into some sentimental, perfect past. 

It is a new thing. It is a new way of seeing the world as it is, whatever it is. The Prophet Isaiah captured this divine work in Hebrew poetry: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”[9]

Christian Meditation anchors us in a daily practice that expands our consciousness to transcend who we are and include what we have seen. Christian Meditation anchors us in a daily practice of connecting ourselves to the source of love and life in all and with all. 

God has chosen to dwell among us. God has made us the temple of God’s presence. Christ lives in us as we live in Christ. And so, we are confident in who we are, beloved of God in whom we live, breathe and have our being.

What new practice, discipline, routine, habit, project have you tried during seclusion that has given you hope? What will you continue to do and what new thing will you bring to your life post-COVID? Who has accompanied you on this journey of discovery and growth?


[1]www.acontemplativepath-wccm.org

[2]Cited in Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (New York: Bantam Books, 2002), p.69

[3]Jonathan Forani, “Half of Canadians report worsening mental health, experts say woes just beginning” (www.CTVNews.ca April 27, 2020) 

[4]Richard Rohr, “Liminality” (Daily Meditation, 16 February 2020, www.cac.org

[5]Jim Green, “Giving Up Without Giving Up” (New York: Bloomsbury, 2019), p.100

[6]Rohr, ibid.

[7] in Ontario

[8]Richard Rohr, “Liminal Space” (Daily Meditation, 30 April 2020, www.cac.org

[9]Isaiah 43:18-19

Going through

Spring is in the air! In more ways than one we are beginning soon again. In our hearts and minds we are turning towards a new start.

With hope and anticipation we look forward to the time we can meet in person together again. We look forward to the time when we can experience the freedom to eat out, and meet in public spaces again. 

The posture in our hearts of ‘starting over’ is an Easter theme. New beginnings. New life. Like the proverbial phoenix rising again out of dust. Jesus’ resurrection announces this truth. And if it’s true with Christ, it is true everywhere and for all.

We are all beginners, rookies on the field of life. In a sense, no matter how experienced we are. Whether we have been Christian all our lives or just a few days, each time we do anything in the awareness of God-with-us, we begin again. With this attitude of always a beginner, we are then ready for anything, and open to all possibilities.

How do we start over? Remember the basic pattern of liturgy: Someone must start it all. Someone initiates the conversation and says, for example, “the Lord be with you”. Those of us practiced in this way of worship will know that the conversation may start there but doesn’t end there. We respond, “And also with you.”

There is this back-and-forth flow dynamic between God’s word, God speaking and how we hear that and what we do with that. There is this back-and-forth flow between what God says to us and our response to God’s life and love in all and for all.

How do we begin again? How do we begin each time to strengthen this relationship? We can consider Jesus’ words in the Gospel for today: “I have come to give you life and life abundantly”[1]; that is, we nurture our own lives as a responsiveness to God’s own life. Our lives share in the abundant vitality of God.

If anything, we may have been shocked by this crisis to consider how to live well. What we’ve had to stop, what we’ve had to pause, what we’ve had to close – and not just for a week or two as I suspect many of us initially expected but for months – all these restrictions are causing us to reflect on the meaning of it all and what might emerge from it.

I also suspect more and more of us are coming around to accepting that what does emerge will not be “back to normal” to the way it was right before we had to lock things down. What does emerge will likely, over time, be some kind of integration, blending, hybrid of what we have been doing in the last several weeks in physical distancing with social gathering.

During the Easter season we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. Images of Jesus tending flocks of sheep and holding the lost sheep over his shoulders populate our imaginations. Yet in the Gospel text today, specifically, Jesus self-identifies as the gate. This is one of many “I am” statements Jesus says in John’s gospel. He’ll go on later in the chapter to say “I am the good shepherd.” But here we dwell momentarily on the image of Jesus as the gate. The care, the love, the compassion of Jesus come to us through the gate.

A gate is a way through. A gate is a place of transition. A gate marks a boundary between what is and was to what can be, beyond. Jesus is that gate that beckons us forward.

We have found ourselves these days in seclusion and isolation. It is an in-between space in time, of being in that ‘already but not yet’ place. It is not a comfortable place to be in. It can be very disruptive to those especially who have lost jobs or have become sick, who have lost loved ones and who suffer fear and anxiety as a result. 

And yet, rejecting, repressing and avoiding that in-between and uncertain place keeps us from entering and going through the gate. The gateway threshold, in Christ, is in truth a graced time, but often does not feel ‘graced’ in any way. Because moving through the gate, as slow and as long as this feels like, keeps us struggling with uncertainty, and calling so-called normalcy into creative question.

In such space, we are not in control. That is why Jesus must be the gate. 

The gift of being in this place in the love of Christ is that Jesus guides and leads. Moving through this space, we do not do so on our own terms or strength. It is the love and faith of Christ that is the engine, the propulsion and momentum to new life beyond the gate.

The gate leads us to a new way of seeing and being in the world. It is the place, too, where we can begin to think and act in new ways. While we are betwixt and between now, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next, the very vulnerability and openness of this space allows room for something genuinely new to happen.[2]

It’s hard now to know for sure what that ‘new thing’ exactly will be. At the same time, we can foster within us an approach to abundant life in Christ in such a way that gives life and energy to possibilities. Theologian Charles Eisenstein wrote about leaning into “a more beautiful world our hearts imagine can be possible.”[3]

The new life post-COVID, even new life in Christ, is not “now all my problems are solved”. This new life is not “going back to the way things were.” The new life is not problem free nor tripping into some sentimental, perfect past. 

It is a new thing. It is a new way of seeing the world as it is, whatever it is. The Prophet Isaiah captured this divine work in Hebrew poetry: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”[4]

An opportunity lies before us all. We may witness a global reset of priorities. Individually, too. What are those priorities? And let’s live into them, in the weeks and months to come. Remember the life-giving visions we have seen in the last month: the foxes trapesing across the Golden Gate bridge, the clear, smog-free blue skies over Los Angeles and Himalayan peaks never before seen, the new species being discovered because of human economic restraint, the clearer waters in Venice, the political will to give financial aid to the most vulnerable in the economic crisis and recently increase the hourly wage by $4/hour to essential health care providers.[5]

Let these visions inspire us to enter the gate. Let these visions empower us to become what Jesus is calling us to be. Let new and abundant life fill you as you follow Jesus through.


[1]John 10:10

[2]Richard Rohr, ‘Liminal Space’, Daily Meditation, 26 April 2020, www.cac.org

[3]www.charleseisenstein.org

[4]Isaiah 43:18-19

[5]In Ontario

Love finds us

This past week across Canada we’ve seen more and more indication that we are starting to ‘flatten the curve’. That is to say, new cases of coronavirus infection today do not greatly exceed the new cases recorded yesterday. Day over day, we aren’t seeing anymore spikes in new cases.

This is good news. But people are still getting sick, and dying. And our officials are telling us not to waver in our disciplines around physical distancing. We are not out of the woods yet. We can’t relax isolation practice. We must still stay at home and go out only when absolutely necessary.

A glimmer of hope that our hard work is starting to pay off. But we’ve been at this over a month already, and just now we are starting to get some good news. This process is taking a long time. As someone told me, we are in a marathon.

I’m not a marathon runner. But I did walk part of the Camino in Spain a few years ago. And I remember those days when I accomplished thirty to thirty-five kilometres were days that I bided my time and pace. I had to conserve energy, especially at the beginning of the day when I had energy and drive. I held back from going ‘all out’ early because I knew I would be walking late into the afternoon and still have hills to climb and descend at the end of the day.

Despite my good efforts and intentions, however, it didn’t always work out. I didn’t walk thirty kilometreseveryday. Occasionally unexpected obstacles prevented from moving on – Half way through what was turning out to be a good day on the trail, my knee locked. Sometimes finding food or bad weather delayed or cut days short. Sometimes it felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all. I wondered if I’d ever make it to my destination.

Two disciples are on half a day’s walk to Emmaus, and away from the holy city and the dramatic events surrounding the death of Jesus, their friend and their Lord. This resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke[1]reflects all that is good on a pilgrimage: the vulnerable sharing in intimate, trusting conversation; the encounter with strangers who become friends; the sitting at table and sharing in breaking of bread. And, in all of these very human experiences we recognize, sometimes in a moment of surprise, the risen, living and loving God in Christ Jesus who accompanies us in all these ventures.

The disciples are surprised with joy when they finally recognize Jesus. The full realization doesn’t happen until after the fact: “Weren’t our hearts burning when we talked on the road?” This surprise factor – a blessed goodness – is given, not earned. Indeed we are not in control of the love and grace that comes our way. Love finds us in the journey. Even if we don’t see it right away.

On Easter Sunday I spoke of the life that finds us. The life of God in Christ is animated, is conveyed and energized by love. In Easter, life and love come together as one. The life of Jesus comes about through death and resurrection. And it is all made possible by love. On our pilgrimage in life, love finds us. God seeks our good. Even when we can’t recognize and fully appreciate it right away.

My driven self feels sorry for those disciples for having to make that long walk back to Jerusalem. They went all that way to Emmaus only to head back to Jerusalem – the place of their fear and anxiety. What a wasted journey! How unproductive and inefficient a process! Why couldn’t Jesus just appear to them where they were to begin with, without having had to walk all that distance?

And yet, God’s love comes to us. God’s love comes to us even when we are not necessarily fully aware of God’s presence. God’s love comes to us despite our inefficiencies, mistakes and heroic interventions. God’s love finds us in doing things imperfectly, within our human limitations, when things don’t quite work out in the way we had envisioned. 

“There is no direct path to goodness,” Theologian David Ford so describes the paradox of being found by love amidst the confusion and messiness of life. We don’t construct a good life. Rather, he talks about an “active passivity”.[2]Especially when we don’t know exactly how things will work out in the end – this is when we experience Christ sustaining us, being present to us. And it’s while we are on this uncertain journey when we are surprised by grace and love.

I learned an expression walking part of the Camino de Santiago a few years ago: “Attaquer le chemin!”. Perhaps because for a few early days I walked with a couple of French speakers, the attitude expressed in that phrase (to attack the road) revealed a rather compulsive driven-ness to succeed and accomplish something.

My negative reactions when things didn’t work out for me on the Camino exposed my pretense and delusion of being in control of the outcome of my good efforts and intentions. My rather masculine and heroic attempts to attaquer le chemin kept me from being receptive to God. My anxious determination to take control, to be in charge of my destiny obstructed my view of God where God was.

My egoic need to possess ‘my own’ Camino experience blinded me to the good and the grace that was, in truth, coming my way and offered to me over and over again, each day: Despite the exhaustion, frustration and discomfort of the pilgrimage, I was given safe and comfortable shelter each night. I did find enough nourishing food and companions along the way to share with. I was only able to fully appreciate these gifts in hindsight.

This grace – the love of God – is born again in your heart this Eastertide. Christ is risen! Not once the marathon of physical distancing, seclusion and what may feel like imprisonment is over. But Christ is risen right in the midst of the efforts, the fits, the starts, the backtracks, the failures and the mundane. Right now. Right here. Can we therefore not step into the love, hope and grace of God that is always there? And live out of that love?

I pray you know this love and hope. Amen.


[1]Luke 24:13-35, for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A (Revised Common Lectionary).

[2]Australian Anglican priest, theologian and writer, Sarah Bachelard, cites David Ford in her webinar on ‘A Living Hope: The Shape of Christian Virtue’, 21 April 2020, www.wccm.org