Life for the Withering Soul (Sermon on Psalm 14)

It goes without saying that the pandemic has affected all of us in many ways: Physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, and even spiritually.  These past 17 months have been filled with mounting anxiety and dread and even as restrictions have lessened and some normality has resumed, it is still difficult to function as we did before when we know that the threat has not totally been eradicated.  We may feel a mixture of both excitement and apprehension, elation and uncertainty, as what was once normal begins to feel more foreign to some of us.

 One day, I met up with some friends and one of them asked this profound question:  “What would it be like to live our lives with no restrictions?”  Just think about that for a minute.  All of us are restricted in various ways.  We might be restricted because of our age, gender, ethnicity, skin colour,citizenship, financial position or our disability, but what would it truly be like to live without having to worry about anything?  To live a life free of economic hardship, racism, stress, worry, anxiety or depression?  Put another way: What would it be like if the world were truly perfect?

In today’s reading of Psalm 14, we see the exact opposite of that ideal world.  Instead of a Utopian paradise the Psalmist writes of a dystopian reality similar to the books I loved growing up: 1984, Brave New World, and the Giver.  

Instead of writing about a world where no one goes hungry, all are treated fairly, and all have equal opportunities, the Psalmist asks the same questions many of us might have posed at some point in our own lives.  Questions like: Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous go unnoticed? Why do some live in luxury while others live in poverty?  Why are some human beings cruel and exploit others instead of empowering them in love?  And why do some people seem to only care about themselves as they trample those they consider “less than” them?  Put simply, these sentiments can all be summed up in one age old question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Over the last 3 months I have been living in Saskatchewan and working at an inner-city hospital doing my first chaplaincy training course also called a “Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Unit.”  Working in such a poverty stricken environment has truly made me more aware of the evils of systemic oppression, racism, and colonization.  The Psalmist uses the word “sin” which is not really an in vogue phrase these days, but the word literally means to “miss the mark.”  When unmarked graves have been discovered, we as a Canadian society missed the mark.  When children go to bed hungry, we as a society are missing the mark.  When Indigenous children were placed in white environments with the sole objective to eradicate their culture, language, and ethnic heritage our society missed the mark.  And when elementary and high schools failed to teach the truth about the residential schools sheltering students from the actual horrors of Canadian history, and didn’t even bother to mention the term “60s Scoop” white Canada missed the mark once again.  

Throughout these last 3 months, I have interacted with many Indigenous patients and this has been humbling especially because it was over this summer that the mass graves were discovered.  These discoveries were nauseating and made many of us feel physically sick, and as a chaplaincy student and ministry student on the path to ordination, I felt like my gut had been punched recognizing that these atrocities were done in the name of the church and in the name of Christianity.  A religion whose primary values were founded on peace, love, and social justice had ironically been responsible for death, destruction, and demolition.  

The Scriptures tell us that when one member suffers we all suffer.  To use an analogy, it’s like when you break a bone.  I broke part of my lower back a few years ago, and despite the fact that I was still in my mid-to-late 20s, I have much more empathy now for anyone living with back pain.  I simply missed a step on the stairs and slid the rest of the way down.  I was fine the day it happened, but the next day I could barely stand let alone walk.  In reality, it was only one section of my body that was affected, but it made me feel dizzy, my ears started ringing, and I thought I might throw up because I was in so much pain.  I went to the doctor who told me that there was nothing she could do and that it must heal on its own.  She also told me that I would suffer from back pain the rest of my life as a result.  I was only in my 20s, but I had to limp off the bus.  I had to sit in the front section, got dirty looks from some elderly people who thought I was just some inconsiderate kid, but later looks of pity when they noticed the searing pain as I hobbled off the bus.  When one member suffers we all suffer.  When one member experiences brokenness, we all feel the pain.  And when one member will continue to live with the effects long after the fact, we all surround that person and take responsibility.

The effects of the residential schools and the discovery of the graves were very damaging to the patients I did see, and yet, many of them had quite an unexpected response.  Some of them were angry, to be sure, but many of them still had an unshakable faith.  Several of them still identified as Christian.  One of the best moments was in speaking to an Indigenous man who said “I want you to know that I am not against Christ.  Believing in Christ is a good thing.  Being a Christian is a good thing.  It was not the church that did this to us, it was bad people who were part of the church.”  I have heard similar sentiments voiced from my Indigenous siblings as they offer direct and indirect forgiveness.  That truly has been the most humbling experience of all.

Perhaps we have never experienced an atrocity to the same scope as the residential schools, but all of us have experienced a tragedy or a trauma in our lives and perhaps when we faced such a difficulty we might have asked “is there a God and if there is why is he allowing this to happen to me?” or looking back on the experience we might ask “where was God when….”

I have had these moments myself and part of my faith journey has been learning that doubt does not have to be a negative thing and in fact can actually prove to be a very healthy aspect of growing up spiritually.  So, I found the beginning of the Psalm to be quite harsh.  The Psalmist writes “the fool says in his heart ‘there is no God’ they are all corrupt, their deeds are vile, and there is no one who does good.’”  I thought this was harsh because as a student chaplain I encountered many atheists and agnostics at the hospital who were kind, loving, and generous people.  They might not have had a religious label, but I soon discovered they were spiritual nonetheless.  I found this statement quite judgmental, until I did a bit more digging.  I then learned that the term fool in Hebrew literally means “withering soul.”  That helped to put it into more perspective for me.  

This pandemic and all the news headlines that have come with it have caused many of our souls to wither.  Living in this broken world and the things we and our loved ones have gone through likely have caused our souls to wither at times.  Having to live through grief, loss, pain, and disappointment can often lead to what St. John of the Cross terms a “dark night of the soul” similar to how the trees and plants wilt and wither when winter arrives.  This is so much a part of life in fact that the Psalmist doesn’t just share these sentiments once but writes the same Psalm again almost word for word just a few chapters later in Psalm 53.

 When it’s hot and sunny outside we can often forget that this weather won’t last forever and soon there will be ice and snow on the ground once again.  In our lives we experience all the seasons – the anticipation of spring, the joy of summer, the beauty of fall, and the stillness of winter.  And yet, even in the winter, there is still hope and promise of the spring because we live our lives in cycles rather than in a linear progression.  Even in the most painful moments of our lives, we can see growth and peace if we open our hearts to the possibility.  Borrowing a line from  Dr. Maurice “life can emanate and feel like a seedling and plant buried deep within the pavement and cement.  Do no despair – like the plant, there is a life source, light, energy, and growth that can and will break through the impossible and burst into light, beauty, gentleness, and strength.” (Out of the Shadows – Volume 2)

What are the signs of life you see springing up around you today?  What are the ways that you see God moving and working even in the midst of trials, uncertainties, doubts and fears?

I see signs of life even in the inner city of Saskatoon through a local church that has opened an ice cream stand employing street youth to have a summer job.  I see life in my friend Dr. Maurice who empowers Indigenous and Metis sibling through her advocacy and education work and through the power of a story that is rarely told.  I believe there is life when churches practice an enduring and inclusive love opening their doors to others whom society has rejected and those who cannot find a place anywhere else.  I believe that life is strongest when those who have faced immense difficulties in their lives transform their experiences by showing others who suffer that there is a way out.  I find Christ’s love in the creative, in the writers, the poets, the artists, and the musicians, and I find radical hospitality in anyone who finds a withered soul and pours water and sunshine on them to help them grow even more beautiful and radiant.

Yes, on this earth we will face many moments when our soul feels withered, but we will also experience God looking down on us with love.  We will experience vibrant dreams and spiritual insights, and we will discover God seeking after us just as we seek after Him.  May it be so.  Amen.

The Meaning of Love

In my application for my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) I wrote “I am interested in CPE because I, too, want to explore the depths of despair and the heights of love.”

Here are my reflections (in poetry form) as I write from the airport on my way home:

Love is patient, love is kind,

Love understands that people need time.

Love is holding the hand of a person in palliative care,

Love is present when no one else is there.

Love is kind, but it still challenges,

Calls out life-limiting theology and indifference while acknowledging the way it damages,

Love is patient, it does not judge,

It understands that people need unconditional acceptance.

It does not have an agenda to convert,

It’s sole objective is to be near a soul in hurt.

Love doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast,

Love believes the best not the worst.

It doesn’t brag out of pride,

Rather it is humble, teachable, real and alive.

True love is vulnerable, soul searching and transformative,

It takes a withered soul and provides vibrancy and insight.

Love isn’t self-seeking, but it is self-caring.

Love understands that the wounded healer first needs healing.

Love recognizes its limits and shortcomings,

It gracefully requests and accepts help as needed.

Love has mentors and friends on its journey,

Love recognizes the places its own soul is weary.

Love is not easily angered, keeps no records of wrongs,

Yet love forgives and also calls for accountability,

Love jumps the hurdle of trauma,

While also calling for justice and action.

Love doesn’t deny what’s right in the name of peacekeeping,

Rather love works towards peace by restoration.

Love doesn’t rejoice in evil, but in the truth.

Love looks for the good in humanity and creation.

Love understands that wounds bleed.

Love knows when to do First Aid and when to walk away.

Love is always available for a second chance.

But love also has boundaries and knows how to protect its own heart.

Love always protects,

It seeks to empower the weakest.

It seeks to strengthen the timid.

It walks between when there is danger.

It will give its own life for another.

Love always trusts,

It believes in hope,

Even when days are gloomy, it speaks comfort.

It delights in simple things,

It is grateful.

It perseveres even when life is challenging.

Love perseveres because it sees the bigger picture and it values the part it plays.

Love never fails, it is dependable, reliable, and committed.

Love is always present and around us.

Love stands the test of time.

Sermon: The Places Where Jesus Shows Up Luke 24:36-48

This sermon was first preached on April 18th, 2021 at Harrow United Church. I apologize for not uploading it directly afterwards, but this is around the time when life was very busy because I moved out west. Hope you still enjoy it:

I’d like to start today by asking a personal question: “When was the last time you saw Jesus?”

When I was in university, I used to lead a weekly women’s prayer group and every week I would start off with the same two questions: “How have you seen God this week?” and “How have you seen God today?”

At first, this question might come across as perplexing.  After all, I am fairly sure that none of us have actually physically seen or interacted with God, yet, many of us have experienced God through people, life circumstances, and events.  

The story that we read today illustrates this very concept and is particularly applicable in our current reality of living in the midst of a global pandemic and yet another lockdown since the news was first released in March 2020.

Many of us might have experienced the same emotions the disciples felt in this passage when the news was released two weeks ago.  In particular, I found myself reflecting on the very nuances of how this lockdown was released at Easter time. It reminded me how just like the disciples had hoped that Jesus would be the one to save them from oppression and liberate them from Roman opposition, many of us placed hope in the vaccine as a way to curb the spread of the virus.  Most of us likely hoped for a family Easter dinner, visiting loved ones, and possibly a summer holiday.  Then Good Friday came and we felt all our hopes disappear, realizing that those things are not in our immediate future.

In our passage today, we meet the disciples in a locked room.  This sense of being locked in is something we all can relate to now having lived through quarantines and stay at home orders.  The Bible says the disciples stayed indoors due to fear or the Jewish authorities.  All of us have likely known this type of fear at some point in our lives.  For some of us, the raging virus causes us fear both for our own physical heath and safety and for the well-being of others in our midst.  Others of us may have faced this fear awaiting a medical diagnosis, being required to complete a task which caused us massive amount of anxiety, having to sit an important university entrance exam, or facing an important job interview.

It is natural to feel afraid when we are placed outside our comfort zone, but how we react to that fear is of far greater importance.  When confronted with fear we have a few options: we can ignore the fear altogether and not take the healthy risks we need to move forward in life, we can forget everything and run away from it perhaps to new towns, new jobs, or new relationships, or we can face it and move on with our lives.  In this passage, the disciples chose the first option.  They were locked in their homes and that fear kept them from interacting with the population.  Instead of reaching out and connecting, they chose to isolate themselves.  With the restrictions in place today, it can be very difficult not to completely isolate, and yet there are safe ways to still maintain contact with those we love even if only through Zoom.  Studies have shown that complete isolation and cut off have negative effects on physical and mental health because humans are social creatures, and yet, there is a way to still let others know we love and care about them while adhering to safe measures.  

Please don’t misunderstand me.  There is a place for healthy fear.  Healthy fear is what causes us to look both ways when crossing a street, to fasten our seat belt when driving a car, and to ensure we eat healthy and exercise.  But there is an unhealthy fear that can drive us to become anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed by prohibiting us from doing things necessary for our development.  I am not speaking about medical anxiety here, I am talking about the all consuming fear of failure and approval that sometimes plague us all.

While the disciples were hiding away in their homes because of this fear, Jesus came into their midst offering a word of peace.  This is the second encounter in a short time span when Jesus shows up unexpectedly.  Just a few verses before, Jesus met the disciples as they were walking on the Road to Emmaus (a town whose literal name translates “Warm Spring.”)  As the disciples were walking, Jesus practiced good pastoral care through active listening and asking clarifying questions.  The disciples were perplexed at his calm approach and asked him “are you the only one in Israel who doesn’t know these things?”

Jesus’s death had made front page news.  The whole town knew about this hot topic.  It would sort of be like if someone approached us today and asked “hey why is everyone wearing masks?”  We would likely be tempted to look at them as if they had three eyes and ask “are you the only one who hasn’t heard of COVID?”  Yet instead of revealing himself, Jesus asked a further question “What things?” and this question gave the disciples permission to share their doubts, fears, and disappointments that he one they thought would save them from Roman rule was not really who he said he was.  It wasn’t until the disciples invited Jesus to share a meal with them that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.  I have always loved their response as Jesus miraculously disappears “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Now Jesus has appeared again but this time to a different group of disciples.  Standing in their midst, Jesus takes a more streamlined approach and doesn’t waste any time introducing himself.  The disciples are absolutely terrified thinking they have seen a ghost.  After all, they know Jesus just died and they didn’t think he had risen again.  For those of us who grew up Christian, it can be easy to jump past these passages.  After all, we know that in the end of the day good triumphs over evil and the hero wins.  But the disciples didn’t have that information readily at their disposal.  So, looking at this story through the disciple’s eyes, we can understand why they were terrified.  Dead things are supposed to stay dead.  Unless you’re Christ.

Rather than condemning the disciples’ lack of faith, Jesus acknowledges their doubts and invites them to touch his hands and side where the wound marks from the crucifixion would have been.  In our lives, sometimes Christ shows up the best when we enter into his suffering and he enters into ours.  It is very common that when we or a loved one hit rock bottom we genuinely call out to be saved.  It often happens that in a moment of great fear, we acknowledge the need to depend on someone stronger than ourselves.  It is often in intense moments of pain that we can feel overwhelmed by Christ’s love.

The Bible is clear that the Christian life is filled with both moments of intense joy and times of consuming sorrow and despair.  A quick glance at any Bible commentary or a quick Google search will point to suffering through opposition, persecution, testing, and temptations.  Yet, even despite these hard truths, we are given many other verses of encouragement pointing to God’s faithfulness and helping us stand firm even when evil threatens to engulf us.  The Bible says that God comforts us, and most importantly, that although in this world we will face various trials, we can take heart because God has overcome and is stronger than anything we encounter this side of eternity.

After Jesus fully reveals who he is leaving no further doubt in the disciples’ minds, he does something else peculiar.  He asks for something to eat.  Just like in the Emmaus story, Jesus dispels doubt through sharing a meal.  Table fellowship seems to have been  one of the methods Jesus often used for informal teaching and transformative encounters.  Many of us can relate.  How many of us have shared a meal with a complete stranger and after a few hours considered them a new friend?  How many of us have moved to a new town or a new church and been invited over after a service and made to feel welcomed?  Perhaps some of us might even have shared a meal with someone who didn’t speak our language, but even despite a relatively silent dinner we left with our bellies and our hearts full.  There is just something so inspiring about sharing a basic necessity of life with one another.  Yet, it isn’t just in the mere fact that food is placed on the table, bur rather the hospitality and care the host usually extends: menu planning, using the best china, tastefully decorating the table, making the food visually appealing, buying flowers, cleaning the house, clearing away the dishes and so on.

For the last 7 years when I was part of an international Christian community called L’Arche I saw firsthand how important sharing in a fellowship meal is.  It was around the dinner table that I built relationships with adults who have disabilities.  In the careful feeding of someone who could not lift a spoon for themselves a real trust and bond was formed.  Being an international community, we shared plates from around the world which helped us make a cultural connection.  In L’Arche it wasn’t so much about whether someone was the best cook or not, but rather it was about the effort it took, and the extended time of talking, laughing and praying together.  Table fellowship is something that is slowly being lost in our consumeristic culture especially with late working hours.  Takeouts have become more common than before, and watching Netflix or texting at the dinner table has become the norm. And yet, there is something incredibly special about giving each other undivided attention when we are breaking the bread together.

Jesus does something else special.  After he has eaten in front of the disciples and shown that he has a physical body which requires nourishment, he launches into a basic Bible study outlining who he is, why he had to die, and why he has been raised back to life.

I used to teach Sunday school and I loved hearing how the children had seen God.  As we get older, it becomes easier to give expected answers like “through Scripture” or “through going to church.”  These answers are correct and there is nothing wrong with them.  But I love the way children answer.  For them Jesus’s love is not just found in Sunday school, but also in hugs and kisses, bunny rabbits, and sharing snacks.

Today Christ is revealing his love to us every day if only we open our eyes and become aware of it.  It is true that sometimes we feel those “aha” moments when we open the Bible up and our eyes alight on a passage that seems to be just for us, or when we hear a hymn that has special meaning.  Sometimes we may hear a sermon that leaves us convicted as if the sermon was addressed just to us.  But we also see Christ in more daily occurrences.

In preparing for my sermon, I asked some friends on my Facebook about ways they have seen Christ and ways they have been Christ to others.  I received some pretty interesting and helpful responses and I wanted to share a few with you today.  We see Christ when we have a hard day at work and we jump into our car and our favourite song is playing on the radio.  We see Christ when we receive a text or phone call from a friend we haven’t spoken to in ages.  We see Christ when someone says thank you, sends us a bouquet of flowers, or lets us go ahead of them in line.  I personally see Christ a lot in the United Church groups I am a part of where I feel loved and accepted for who I am, and free to be my most vulnerable and authentic self as I share both my joy and my pain.

In answer to this question, I received two special stories from United Church friends I wanted to share today.  The first one is a pastor in the Prairies who created a “kindness garden.”  Instead of planting flowers, she delicately painted and arranged rocks in a beautiful formation with the instructions to “take one, share one, make one, or leave one.”  Each rock had an encouraging word on it such as “beautiful” “beloved” “shine” “wonder” “life” “joy” and “breathe”.  Just a few days after the garden was created, my friend received a knock at the door.  A young man in his twenties had come to thank her for the garden and said he had thought about just walking by but he felt in his spirit he needed to express his gratitude.  After introducing themselves, this pastor learned that this young man was from Iraq and had only been in Canada for four years.  Her simple idea had infused the man with gratitude.  

The second is from one of my friends still in her twenties who was suddenly diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease a few years ago.  Her friends and family asked her what they could do to help cheer her up and she suggested that they all send her socks – her goal was 365 pairs (one for every day of the year).  The project grew and blossomed and today has become a social enterprise called The Sock Project where socks are shipped out to a number of individuals facing severe health challenges, mental health struggles, or even just having a bad hair day.  I love this story because it illustrates how from our own moments of pain and weakness, God’s love can shine forth and we can be “Jesus with skin on” to others.

Before I end my sermon today, I would like to set out two challenges for the week ahead.  The first one is to recognize when Jesus is present with you this week.  This could be through the kind words or actions of another, or even though an internal sense of peace, serenity and acceptance.  My friend calls these God moments “sparks.”  Perhaps note them down in your journal or your phone.  By being mindful of these divine experiences, we may find ourselves finding mundane and muddled moments to be meaningful and profound.

The second challenge is to think about how we can be Jesus to another person this week.  Think about who you know in your own network who might be struggling.  Perhaps consider someone who is stuck at home alone or an elderly person who does not have access to a computer.  It might take some practice, but if we treat every person we meet this week as “Jesus in disguise” we might find our attitudes and approaches drastically change.  Again, it might help to make a mental or physical note of how these experiences made us feel and review them at the end of the week.

No matter what you choose to do, I believe that these two exercises will be a blessing to us.  Jesus came at a time of uncertainty and fear, he came into our midst and brought us peace.  He revealed himself and showed us who he really was, and he didn’t leave us wanting, but left us filled with hope.  Today may we experience his presence right here and right now and thank him for fully showing up. Amen.

My Life As A Bee

This summer, I joined the writing group at St. Paul’s Hospital. The group is made up of a number of staff who enjoy various forms of writing styles. Since I usually tend to write non-fiction and nerdy theological tomes, I decided to do “lighter” writing and came up with this fun story about my life as a bee. I hope you enjoy it and see the humour and playfulness in it:

Hello, excuse me.  I don’t think we’ve ever formally met.  My name is Bertha Bee and I was born in Wisconsin but have since made my way into Saskatoon.  I know this sounds ambitious, but we bees are actually very strong when it comes to flying.  I took the journey in chunks.  A little bit every day as the wind blew me closer and closer to my destination.  I eventually landed here after 61 days of gruelling flight, and made myself a little home near a treehouse I found in a little boy’s backyard.  At first the boy’s father was very upset.  He was trying to hit my little hive with a huge stick so that I would leave.  Eventually, though, he realized I was not there to hurt anyone.  I am not like my first cousin the wasp who is just there to be a nuisance.  The boy’s mother urged her husband to stop striking me because she said I would be there to tend and care for the flowers.  The boy’s family actually does have quite the nice garden.  They have petunias, orchids, lilies, and lilacs, but my favourite is the rose.  They also have some peonies, but the ants always seem to be drawn to those, and I am not really friends with ants especially after a bad experience I had just a few years back.  Ever since then, the family has left me alone, and I am happy with that because I am rather introverted.  

When I first arrived in Saskatoon, I took some time to get my bearings.  I discovered all the best paths and walkways, and I learned the places to avoid because the people and animals weren’t very friendly.  Like I said, I’m an introvert, happy in my own company, but it didn’t take long before the boy bees in the town started trying to get my attention.  I had only been here about  a week when I met a bee I hope will be my life mate.  His name is Bernie.  He’s a bit older than me, but age is just a number, right?  Bernie sadly became a widower not too long ago when his wife hit a car’s windshield as it sped down the highway.  Poor Bernie never got a chance to say goodbye.  He still misses his wife a lot and they had some larvae so Bernie has always been sad that his little ones will grow up without a mom.  Despite all that, he is truly a gentleman.  He opens and closes the hive door when I come in and when I leave, and after a long day of work, he always let me put my feet up and relax, and so after just a few minutes of knowing each other we moved in together.  I know this all might sound rather fast, but we bees don’t like to waste much time.  Our lives are short enough as they are, and so when the opportunity comes up, we always take it.  It has been difficult becoming a mother right away without any preparation but I do love it.  I love looking after my step children: Bonnie, Brenda, Beatrice, and Benjamin and I treat them like my own.  Bernie calls me his little Queen because he says I am a natural at mothering.  Bernie keeps pestering me about having some children of our own, but I have no interest in that.  I have never wanted to lay eggs, I’m just not maternal in that way, but I am happy to care for the little ones that are already here.  I find they grow up so fast and soon they will be flying out of the hive in no time.

When I left Wisconsin, I left behind my family.  Sadly both my parents had already passed away.  Like I said, we bees don’t get to live very long.  I have a sister, Brianna, who is still alive and raising a family with her husband Bob, and I have a brother Bert who passed away just last summer in a tragic accident.  What happened was that Bert was minding his own business flying through a couple’s backyard one hot summer in July.  Bert didn’t mean any harm, but he was hungry, and sometimes Bert thinks with his stomach.  When he noticed there was a BBQ happening he decided to have a taste.  Unfortunately, the family was not very happy with that and started trying to swat Bert.  Bert would never harm anyone and he got very scared so he landed on the little boy’s lawn chair, but the boy began screaming and that made Bert very angry.  Bert was MAD because he thought “I know I am unwanted here, but there’s no reason people can’t just see me out politely.”  Bert has always had trouble being accepted.  He was born orange instead of the usual yellow and that meant kids made fun of him growing up.  He was called all sorts of names that he didn’t like and he hardly had any friends. It was truly sad because Bert actually has lots of good characteristics.  He is witty and has a good sense of humour.  He is also very kind hearted.  Unfortunately, the scars we develop as children rarely leave us and stay with us on into adulthood.  So when Bert saw this scene playing out he overreacted.  His emotions got the better of him and because he was angry, he decided to sting the little boy and then he fell over dead.

I remember getting the call from my sister, Brianna.  I could hardly believe it when I picked up the phone.  “Bert dead?  Are you sure?”  I asked in disbelief.  “Sure” Brianna said sullen.  I demanded to go over right away to see where the scene had happened, but by that point the family had packed up their Barbeque and had gone inside.  I saw my brother lying there in the grass.  I thought for a moment that I saw his wings twitching, but they were lying still.  I cried and sobbed.  Suddenly my world had lost its colour and turned an awful shade of grey.  I made Bert a coffin out of leaves and buried him in the ground.  I shed a few tears and then flew off.  After that, I vowed that no matter what happened I would never sting even if my life depended on it.

I did feel badly leaving Brianna to come to Saskatoon, but I needed a change of scenery after that happened because Bert was my best friend.  Throughout my life he was always the one I knew would be there for me.  With Bert’s death, life ceased making sense.  I still call Brianna almost every day and I know she also has her husband, Bob, looking after her so I feel a little less guilty about it now.  Sometimes I feel a bit torn doing my own thing when my family needs me, but I have a new family now and I need to blaze my own path.  I wish I could say more, but I hear Bernie calling me to go back supper.  I’m going to make some Bannock dipped in honey.  I hope you’ll stay, we’d welcome the company.

Guided Meditation

Below is the very first guided meditation I ever wrote and led which I presented to my Clinical Pastoral Education class.  I hope it will provide nourishment for your soul:

Please take a moment to feel comfortable in your chair.  Feel the ground beneath your feet, feel supported by the back of your chair, notice what is happening within your body.  What emotions are arising?  What thoughts are coming to the front?  What distractions are present?  Thank them and send them on their way.  

What are the noises on the outside?  Cars going by?  Birds chirping?  People talking?  The hubbub of life?  What are the noises on the inside?  Incessant chattering?  Persistent thoughts that just won’t go away?  Cares, concerns, anxiety?  A raging to-do list?  Mental notes of things you don’t want to forget?  This is a safe space.  Rest comfortably knowing that for the next few minutes you can put these worries to the side, and return to them later if you need to.  

It is natural for the mind to wander, but please try to stay present and in the moment.  Ask yourself: what do I need today?  What do I need to let go of?  What do I need to keep?  What do I need to leave behind?  What do I need to pick up?  And if you are ready, please take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth visualizing a colour you associate with happiness as you breathe in and a colour you associate with negativity as you breathe out.  Your whole body being filled with gold dust.

Before us, we see a pile of stones.  These represent the things which are currently weighing us down.  If we just pick up one rock, it feels heavy.  If we continue to pick up rocks it soon becomes impossible for us to move.  What is weighing you down today?  Guilt?  Secrets?  Shame?  Anger? Grief?  Greed? Depression?  Addiction?  Rage? Pride? Doubt? Illness? Anxiety? Insecurity? Fear? Envy? The past? Something else? Take a moment to acknowledge your emotions.  How do you feel physically?  How do you feel mentally? Spiritually? Take a deep breath out releasing the negative emotion as if it is a balloon.  Thank it for the lesson it has come to teach you and send it on its way.

Now turn your attention to the feathers.  The feathers represent what we need for today to help lighten our backpack.  What do you need in this moment?  Love? Support? Encouragement? Honesty? Vulnerability? Self-belief? Self-Compassion?  Courage? Tenacity? Passion? Sometime else? Take a moment to acknowledge this presence.  How does it make you feel? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Take a deep breath in, welcoming and consuming the positive energy and cuddling it as if it were a young child or your favourite teddy bear.  Invite it to stay with you as you begin this day, knowing you can return to it at any  time.

I now invite you into this prayer: God of lightness and wonder, God of belief, and God who welcomes doubt, thank you for your presence in this place.  Source of hope and life, comforting presence in distress and pain, thank you for walking with us on this jagged path and journeying with us when the rocks avalanche and we lose our footing.  We pray that we might be attentive to ourselves and to one another today and we offer you our whole selves and all our being – body, mind intellect, emotions, spirits, voices, and the unexplored crevasses of our souls.  We thank you for giving us the courage and strength to be in this place today.  In the Name of the Trinity. Amen.

A Collection of CPE Reflections

This summer I had the incredible privilege of being part of the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Unit out of St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. For those who are unfamiliar with CPE, this is the training required to become a certified spiritual care provider (chaplain) within Canada and the United States.

Throughout the course, my peers and I have had opportunities to share daily reflections with our class. Today, I led my final reflection and my supervisor suggested I share my writing more widely. It was then that I discovered that I had not blogged for a very long time, and so, thought I would share some of these writings with you. Whether or not you ever find yourself in a CPE placement, I believe that this body of work can give some insight into the personal formative growth which takes place during this process. I also hope that if you are a ministering person, you may be able to adapt or resonate with these writings in different ways which will edify your church or ministry. Please enjoy what I have written below:

Seeing Past the Brokenness 

We are all broken people.  We have all faced trauma, misunderstanding, and hurt.  There are people whom we cannot forgive, there are people who cannot forgive us.  CPE has been a time of self-reflection and growing self-awareness.  Perhaps this has been distressing at times.  It is not easy to name our brokenness.  It is not always easy to put words to and articulate feelings we’d rather not have.  It takes immense strength to allow others into our story.  It takes courage to be vulnerable and it takes courage to minister to others despite our own doubts, fears of inadequacy, and triggering moments.  My spiritual director referred to this process as the darkness a caterpillar goes through to transform into a butterfly.  

In CPE we listen to the stories of others, even as we are becoming more aware of our own stories.  There may be parts of our story we have never shared, parts we rarely share, parts we’d rather not share, and parts too painful to share.  Of course, there are also the parts we love to share, the parts we want to share, and the parts we hope others will remember when we share.  We are all complex people, living in diverse tensions with the desire to be fully known, fully loved, and fully respected. 

When we feel insecure it can be tempting to compare our brokenness to another’s.  Either considering ourselves above or beneath them.  It can be hard to welcome our woundedness instead of to dismiss it.  To sit with and acknowledge discomfort rather than to rush in and attempt to fix it.  Jeremiah 6:14 says “you can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there.” 

The Catholic writer Henri Nouwen wrote about being a Wounded Healer.  In his words he stated, “Nobody escapes being wounded.  We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.  The main question is not ‘how can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘how can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’  When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” 

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous also speaks about how the worst moments of our lives can transform the lives of others.  It reads “showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing that makes life so worthwhile for us now.  Cling to the thought that in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have – the key to life and happiness for others.  With it you can avert death and misery for them.”  However there is one caveat “obviously you can’t transmit something you haven’t got.  See to it that your own house is in order and that great events will come to pass for you and countless others.”  The suggestions the authors give for ensuring our “own house is in order” include: prayer and asking God to direct us to those we can help, meditation, surrender, admitting our shortcomings, lessening past baggage, and being willing to give freely of our time with no strings attached.  In the context of our work, I would sum it up in the words “self care” which can look different for every person.  We cannot be at our best for another when we ourselves are running on empty and have nothing left to give.  Thus it becomes important to find time to refuel and recharge through silence, solitude, debriefing, nature, journalling, or whatever else is life-giving for us.  

May God gift us with grace and compassion as we become wounded healers one to another. Amen. (The actual class reflection ended in a prayer however I did not include it here due to Copyright laws since I took it from another source).


The Garden of Our Souls

During the last several weeks, we have all been on a unique journey.  Sometimes the journey has been long and weary and at other times unexpected bursts of colour flash across our eyes.  All of us have been like young tender shoots growing in fertile soil.  Sometimes there has been a lot of churning and pruning, but we have never lain dormant.

We have all been planted here in this season and at this time.  God has brought us together from different cities, provinces, and even countries for a purpose and while it could have been any group doing CPE this summer, it has been our group.  And while we could be working anywhere, God has specifically planted us at our unique placements because of a specific reason perhaps known to us or perhaps known only to God.

Yet this location is conducive to our growth, and a place where we are being tended, nourished and protected.  Oftentimes this has been a painful process which requires patience.  Yet, as our petals unfurl (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) we can take joy in the wonder of delight rather than interfering with the process.

We are all different types of flowers.  Perhaps we are a tiger lily or an orchid, a rose or a daisy.  Each one requires something different to grow, but each one is beautiful, fragrant, and brings satisfaction.  Each unique flower adds to the mystery of our special garden and has its own unique function.  We give thanks to our Good Gardener for planting us and helping us to grow and bring light and love to all.  

The Ocean of CPE

By: Deborah-Ruth Ferber

The following is a reflection I wrote for my class 2 weeks before the unit ended which my supervisor-educator encouraged me to share widely:

It’s hard to believe that 10 weeks ago we all arrived at St. Paul’s (an inner-city hospital in the heart of Saskatoon).  Some of us took a car and arrived in 15 minutes, some of us drove for a few hours, and some of us flew in from different provinces.  Many of us left behind familiar surroundings (physically, mentally, and spiritually) and embraced the unknown and the terrifying.  When we first got to class we eagerly greeted one another, making small talk and getting acquainted.  The extroverts eager to make new friends, and perhaps the more shy and quiet gently treading to see if the water was safe enough to leave the shore for.  At some point all of us decided to jump in.

At times, we did a magnificent butterfly stroke, sometimes we did a doggy paddle, and occasionally we relied on someone else throwing us the life ring because we felt like we were drowning.  We always resurfaced, taking a breath of air (and sometimes a gulp of water along with it), and we headed back into the ocean.  At times we strapped on an oxygen tank as we plumbed the depths of the ocean’s bottom seeing fish and plant life we have never seen before.  At times we simply had to use a snorkel to stay on the surface, and sometimes a shark or jellyfish would come and we would feel frightened, and other times we laughed as we pointed to the clown fish.  Sometimes the sea was smooth and calm, other times it was stormy and we wondered if we should bail and head to shore.  But we all stayed, we all saw the magnificent whales, dolphins, and seahorses, and we all became stronger and more confident swimmers.  

The patients we supported also put a great deal of trust in us.  They trusted us to swim beside them when we could barely float.  They trusted us to throw a life jacket to them when they felt like they were drowning. At times they mistook us for a life guard, all the while we ourselves were barely able to do a front crawl.  And so, the patients became our teachers, their voice that of a swimming instructor, not so much because they taught us how to swim, but rather because they told us what they needed to stay afloat.

Now after 10 weeks we are not certified lifeguards, but we know enough not to drown and we have learned how to call out if we feel like we are drowning.  And this has been growth for us all.  We might not all aspire to be fish or dolphins, but we can all aspire to swim alongside another as they question whether they are a starfish, a lantern fish, or a seahorse.  The ocean is certainly vast and big enough for us all and we add to the biodiversity and colour of the deep.  

Prayer: Eternal One,
You meet us on the shore and walk with us on the sand until we are brave enough to enter the water.
You join us while we play with sand castles on the beach,
All the while showing us that there is something more.
You give us strength to swim when our being feels depleted.
You help us surface when the ocean depths engulf us.
You bring us to safety when we are drowning.
You don’t abandon us on a solo life raft,

But rather you invite us into your boat as you row alongside us.
The sea and this world are filled with predators,
There are sharks who threaten to devour us and rays which threaten to sting us,
And yet, you are our protector.
When the storm rises and we fear shipwreck,
You walk towards us on the waves,
Graciously bringing us to a new day.
And as we see dawn appearing on the horizon,
We thank you for your faithfulness through our dark night.
Everlasting hope, in the same way as you have been our captain, may you grace us to be lifeguards for one another.
Lighthouses on the rocky shore,
Guiding your pilgrims home.