Forty Stories


Attending a conference on Spirituality and Aging where the average age was pretty high I was pleased when the keynote speaker said, “You know how they are saying 60 is the new 40? I don’t want to be 40 again; I want to be my age and loving it.” With age comes wisdom. Or at least the promise of it.
Shahina Siddiqui is a spiritual counsellor, educator and social activist working in the fields of social work and counselling. A pioneer in the field of Islamic spiritual counselling she was a wonderful choice as keynoter. She told this story about her work. A Muslim gentleman in a coma was dying and his wife, a Roman Catholic, wanted him to receive spiritual solace according to his tradition. Shahina visited the bedside, spoke two Muslim affirmations in his ear in Arabic so that he could prepare his soul for death. Surprisingly to some, he raised his first index finger affirming his beliefs. The presence of this wisdom story affirms the work we do in nursing homes and hospitals as a deep truth about the dignity of the human person.


Sending folks back to their units in the nursing home with black smudges on their foreheads might prompt some questions about what went on in the Anglican service in the basement. I did not think that the traditional Ash Wednesday sentence, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” was going to be a comfort. Instead, as I marked each head, I said, “Remember that you are from God, and to God you will return.” Was that why the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer was so strong? Was that why the singing was from the heart? Who was the guy who fought to get on the elevator to go to the service when the nursing staff said that flu on his floor meant he had to miss church? When was the last time there was a fight in favor of going to church? When was the last time anybody had a good time in the dirt?


Making art with the kids at church; look at these pictures of Jesus….what about the angry one? What about the abstract one? The one made out of wood, straw, photos? And the opportunity to use a new book, Praying in Color for Kids. Each art work is not like the others; one is hung from the old choir loft, one hung at the height of a child. The whole parish is invited to make choices of images and decide where to place them in and out of the worship space. I am learning a lot….what does it mean to encounter Jesus as you leave the church? Why is it so wonderful for two images of Jesus made of ‘outdoors’ materials to be hung on the clear glass windows? The hand of a child raised in blessing as seen from the side of a statue and not head on? How much we miss of the faith of others unless we see their testimony….


From a podcast on Lent and Scripture by Richard Rohr….Wondrous Encounters…
Your image of God creates you….the Bible is an honest conversation between God and the soul about where power really is….human beings come to consciousness through struggle…the purpose of Lent is to allow conversion to overhaul ego…we look in a mirror and not through a window to see the fragmentation of the texts, the world and ourselves….we are met with love and forgiveness and patience so that our conversion can continue and we can learn to share that with others….


From Gordon Lathrop, liturgical theologian…”the gospel books seem to have been intended to be means for an actual communal encounter with Jesus, tools for ‘seeing the Lord.’ They are texts that in differing ways carried the presence of the crucified and risen one into the assemblies where they were recited or read, by means of this presence inviting the peoples of these assemblies to rethink who it was they were encountering.”
Can we relinquish our egos enough for this encounter? I have to begin again, thanks be to God.


Lauren Winner’s book Still is a hopeful honest book about her midfaith crisis; she tells how she is finding that God is not in the same place as when she first found her faith. Now she practices what is called ‘dislocated exegesis’ in the expectation that she will find the Bible refreshed by reading it in new places. I remember a neighbourhood stations of the cross, pausing at the local library, the bank, and the funeral home and reading texts that suddenly came to new life. The practice of reading scripture in unexpected places is unsettling and upending…like reading about worry before you are writing your checks, or reading about healing rivers when the thaw reveals all the garbage folks left behind as if the canal were a trash can. What would happen if I read about the five thousand being fed before I stopped in the grocery store for a specialty item; does anyone need green peppercorns? Should I be buying a mustard seed instead?


We had an altar call Adventist corporal sermon this past Sunday with images of sacrifice and honor and offering ourselves secretly with hands raised and no one watching but we pretty much refused to stand up for Jesus; our restrained selves uncoiled when it came to greeting the preacher, loving and telling him our own bottomed out, end of the road reachings. The hospitality told him we were standing; the welcome said we know who Jesus is here.


This week in church I saw a man with a vacuum cleaner, enjoyed a beautifully set table with a meal cooked by two men, and some good strong hugs; why have I not yet adjusted to the partnership of equals; maybe it is because I live in a house of women. Or maybe I just need to notice and say thank you for sharing the tasks of a full life, one that requires that we seek and serve each other in as many ways as we can. But life is busy. Someone has said being busy is s one of the new seven deadly sins replacing sloth; who has time to rest? But isn’t that part of this challenge, to rest in God and in each other, to give ourselves time to breathe, to inspire, to be inspirited?


What fun to surprise a surpriser who is always thinking up new ways to delight…why not add surprise as one of the Lenten disciplines? Surprise, here is a compliment. Surprise, I did a chore when it wasn’t my turn. Surprise, I am thinking this migraine is an invitation to rejoice in the health I take for granted. Surprise, I said my prayers today. Surprise, the peace of the Lord be always with you. Surprise, lift up your hearts. Surprise, eat this meal and go back into the world and BE the bread the world needs. Surprise.


Books with the Baptists. My friend, RC, reads some good books with the folks at the Baptist church down the road. He surprised me when he talked about the men and the words and the ways we all need to get around ourselves some more. He didn’t look as if he had been stretched into a new shape by this but maybe I didn’t know where to look.


Shoulder to shoulder, breath to breath. I loved the centering prayer workshop, loved that the leaders brought their own nametags and markers, and sheets of notes to hang up. I loved the two twenty-minute blocks of silence shared with nothing to interrupt except the noisy refrigerator with its own breathing difficulty. There is something mystical about the depths of a shared silence; boredom can be a restless state but stillness is holy.


“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promised when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.” (Still, Lauren f. Winner) Substitute baptized, ordained, married….signed on to any ministry, new role, denominational or parish affiliation….wrestling with timing, meaning, relationships, roles, identity is a holy endeavor. Someone said to me this week, “the whole ground is going to shift.” He had tears. I had only prayers.


“Honor the inadequate and the imperfect in others and in yourself. And keep pressing on.” I watched someone say with all sincerity that the time was near; he could feel it. “I am going to get myself straight pretty soon.” It seemed unlikely but came true. Not perfect and more than adequate – is hope enough to postpone judgment?


“I have an antsy and improvisational personality,” said the author. I recognize myself in her. I have too much to say, leaping into silences with comments that might gain a response or make a connection. Now I feel shut down by someone’s innuendo – a teasing remark that left a mark on my self-esteem. Is lively conversation a lost art or must it be as cubicled as the government boxes to keep it from having too much energy or movement from the agenda on the page?


Tell the truth that seldom gets a hearing….even if speaking it will be opposed. How does opposition become oppression? There’s a deep river running through the Bible that speaks clearly about the disparities of rich and poor, insider and outsider, those who are full and those who are empty. Some days the Bible has been hijacked and taken on a drive in very foreign territory. Some days I don’t recognize Christianity; some days I am not sure there is a truth that will not be opposed.


“The point is this – people who courageously accept themselves, who accept their own life with all its quirks, and beauty and agony accept the holy mystery who lives in them as self-offering love….nearness to God and genuine human autonomy increase in direct and not inverse proportion.” Quest for the Living God, Elizabeth A. Johnson


Holy Week will follow seven days after a blockbuster of a day of guests, folks who have courage and truths to share – a senator with names we don’t know, heroes and sheroes from Nova Scotia. Young people whose trips to Uganda and subsequent videos have gathered conversation partners and opposition. Standing up, standing for or against, still standing costs all of us something.


The deer hide was placed in the back of my car – a gift for making moccasins, a gift with a promise of honoring the source. It felt heavy and precious as I placed it where holy things are kept and cleaned and the early morning phone call was received with a blessing. I am the one who was blessed by the chance to carry what had been full of life and mystery. Two funerals this week and a baptism – living and dying and honoring the source in everything borne.