We Came In As Strangers

After my first unit of CPE I wrote a poem. Now as I approach the end of unit two, I have written another one. This sums up what it’s like for me as I enter the hospitals and do my best to minister as a chaplain. I am incredibly blessed for the work I get to do. I look forward to continuing on my path and in my calling!

I open the door to your room and I see the window of your soul,

You who are timid, shy, afraid,

But at the same time courageous, fearless, and strong,

You who are spirited as the result of being a warrior.

I ask if I can come in and you hesitatingly agree,

Making small talk at first,

Your eyes darting to the corners of the room and finally gazing out the window,

You are fixated on getting unstuck,

On leaving what you perceive to be a prison,

And yet your legs won’t let you.

You let out a sigh, and in that sigh I hear a thousand different things,

Pain, anguish, longing, and dread co-mingled with expectant hope.

At this moment, I notice you are truly vulnerable,

Your tiny frail body shivering despite the heat,

Your eyes looking sad and droopy,

The remains of your untouched breakfast on your tray table.

You search my face and for a moment, I also feel vulnerable.

We have met as strangers, yet now we are connecting at a deep level,

And you don’t even know my name.

I sense my own face flush and pray it’s not visible.

I feel a thousand emotions running through my own mind as my heart beats wildly in my chest,

I check myself to make sure that I stay present for you.

I will myself to be fully focused on this moment where time stands still.

I breathe a prayer under my mask that God gives me the words to say,

Yet it doesn’t take long before you jump in rattling the silence.

You tell me about your children and grandchildren,

You tell me about your garden,

You tell me about your pet dog.

From there, you take me on a journey through your childhood,

Growing up on the farm and picking vegetables,

You tell me about your first job,

About your first love,

About heartbreak and healing,

About marriage and divorce,

About the grief and traumas you have endured,

The whole time I feel privileged,

I am unsure what I have done to secure your trust.

All I did was say hello and introduce myself,

But you heard the word “chaplain” and you immediately felt drawn to me.

As we talk the seconds turn to minutes and soon an hour has passed,

You pause for a drink of water, carefully sipping so it doesn’t moisten your gown,

And involuntarily you cough.

You are caught by surprise at what has poured forth from you,

And I find myself recognizing this moment for what it is: Sacred.

In your stories you have shared the narrative of your life.

I have hardly done anything,

A few nods, a few guiding questions, a few umm-hmmms,

And yet for the first time in a while you have felt truly understood.

We came in as strangers, we are now to depart as fellow travelers.

You thank me for my time and for my listening ear,

All the while I know you have been my teacher and guide.

You ask me when I will come back to visit,

I find myself drawn to wanting to see you again.

I check myself knowing that on this journey we have met at a crossroads.

We never talked about God and yet I felt God was present the whole time.

You never even told me what you believe, and yet I sense your spirit.

You didn’t ask if I was a minister, and yet, I felt I ministered to you just as you ministered to me.

We make a plan to meet again.

The day comes, you aren’t there.

You have been taken up on wings to whatever the next realm is.

I find myself filled with sadness,

I felt you had become a friend.

I find myself wondering about some of the stories you told.

I know you suffered greatly in this world, I hope you find serenity in the next.

I didn’t expect this day to come so soon,

I know I shouldn’t be attached, but I’m only human.

I look out the window and I see a rainbow.

I see a promise.

Goodbye brave soul. We met as strangers, we will meet again one day as friends.

The Way is Made By Walking – Psalm 1 (Sermon Preached Feb. 13, 2022)

To begin today’s sermon I want to ask what at first might appear to be a strange question: Do you have any pleasant memories with trees? Are you the type of person who enjoys spending hours in the forest? Do you ever  sit under a tree and enjoy its shade while reading a book? Have you ever decided to hug a tree? Or perhaps when you were a child you hung a rope from a tree, You may have collected sap from a tree, You may even have enjoyed eating fruit right off the tree.

When I was much younger than I am now, my parents owned a little farm just down the road in Wheatley. My Dad who is a lover of cedar trees, also decided to plant several fruit trees on some of the acreage. We would haul the water over to the trees and let it sink into their roots.  This was no small feat for a child and it was rather tiring.  The problem is, that the trees never produced much fruit.  Some years there would be an apple or two, but they were scraggly and not good to eat.   The reason is because the trees were not properly tended to. They weren’t cared for throughout the week. They were not properly sprayed to keep bugs from devouring them. They were not inspected or monitored to check their growth. In fact, the only thing good about it was that they were straight because we forced them to grow straight, although they never did become big, beautiful trees that produced luscious sweet fruits.

This morning we read a passage from Psalms and from Jeremiah.  Both of these passages are very similar because they describe a Christian believer as being a tree.  They also demonstrate the difference between how a righteous and unrighteous person will bear fruit.

I think for the most part we all desire to be productive, loving, and caring people.  Yet, we live in a world that requires a lot of discernment. Even though I am only 30, I look at the world that our children and teens are growing up in and I see how it’s a very complicated society. Youth these days have so many different opinions being given to them on social media, amongst their peers at school, within their families, and at church. Just think of  how difficult it can be for a youth to discern right from wrong and truth from falsity when the news, social media, and their friends are all saying different things.  Even as adults we see our world being divided and arguing over many things including the colour of someone’s skin, their ethnicity, or their religion.  Every time we turn on the news we can see desperation, desolation, and destruction.  There’s also been a surge of what is known as “fake news” in the past decade or so.  Sometimes it’s complicated to even know who to trust and what to believe.

In Psalm 1, we see the contrast between the one who is following God and the one who is following worldly standards of greed, prejudice, hatred, and strife.  Yet, the journey all begins with a path.  And the correct path all begins with that sense of discernment.  It is a journey of choosing what to think how to behave and where to belong.   Some would simply call this “spiritual maturity.”

The Psalm is the most concerned with what a person DOES.  Let’s first draw our attention to the righteous person. Someone who is following after God is Spirit-Driven.    They are careful who they take advice from.  They delight in God.   They meditate on Scripture.

Who do you go to for advice when you are having a bad day or when you need to make a major decision?   We all thrive best when we are part of a community of faith such as this church.  It is good to take part in corporate worship because it feeds our souls.  It’s not just in the message, the Bible reading, or in the songs, but it’s because it takes an active commitment to be part of a group of people.  As we form a congregation, we hopefully become friends for the journey.  The more we get to know someone, the more we see both their strengths and their flaws.  The more invested we are into someone’s life, the more we are able to encourage them and help them grow more into who God has made them to be.  

The ungodly are not like this.  In fact, the Psalmist calls them “know-it-alls.”  These individuals don’t grow because they don’t allow themselves to grow.  Anytime someone gives them constructive feedback they either retreat or justify themselves.  Anytime someone questions a decision they are making, they move on to another friend who will fully support them.  They keep asking around until they find people who agree with their choice even when it’s self-destructive.    They don’t open themselves up to new experiences.  They don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.  They don’t want to progress to the next level.  Some might even say, they are stuck in the past.  Not so much the past of tradition (which is often sacred) but stuck in the past of who they were and what they did before rather than who they are and who God is transforming and shaping them to be today.  

But a righteous person, lives life as an adventure.  They are comfortable not having all the answers.  They search out people with more experience than them and ask questions.  They open their minds by reading books, attending educational events, or even just talking to people who are different than they are.   Their mind is a sponge, soaking up all the information rather than acting rashly.  They consider their path, they make plans and goals to accomplish their dreams, they ponder over advice they’ve been given, carefully weighing the pros and cons and deciding which path is best for them. Just like Philippians 4:8 suggests, they fill their minds not with mindless entertainment, unhelpful thoughts and images, or things which make them feel worse about themselves or about society, but with things that are: true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praise-worthy, and will build community.

The next characteristic of the Godly person is that they delight in the Law of the Lord.  We all have to obey certain laws every day even if we don’t actually stop to think about them.  There are driving laws, public health guidelines, and criminal justice laws.  There are also unwritten rules and codes that we have to follow for pretty much any social situation we find ourselves in.  Rules like common courtesy, treating others with respect, and the Golden Rule.   Sometimes laws can be cumbersome.  Psalm 1 was written in the First Testament so you can imagine how many laws were given back then, especially in books like Leviticus.  Yet, the Psalmist doesn’t just say that the righteous FOLLOW the Law of the Lord, but that they DELIGHT in it.   Why would anyone delight in laws?  The reason is because the righteous person sees that laws produce boundaries and barriers which keep us safe.  If you have children or grandchildren you may have witnessed them growing up and becoming defiant, refusing to follow the rules, and maybe even arguing with you about why they had to do certain things.  Yet, as a parent you knew that the reason these rules were in place were to help them be happy and healthy, to avoid getting in trouble at school, and ultimately to make them mature adults who would go on to lead productive lives.  Rules like doing homework before watching any TV might not seem fun or delightful for a 10 year old, but when they are 20, they may realize the discipline instilled in them from youth is why they are now excelling in their university course.

The third characteristic of a Godly person is that they meditate on the Word of God daily.  I don’t know if anyone here is into meditation.  I have tried meditation many times, and I always find it hard to empty my mind and focus just on my breath.  I began to grow frustrated with my lack of ability to be calm and relaxed as my mind would rush to an endless to-do list.  It wasn’t until I heard someone say that meditation and worry were basically the same thing, so if I knew how to worry, I knew how to meditate.   Worry means focusing on all the negatives, whereas meditation is focusing on all the positives.  Meditation is more than just counting our breaths, it’s also about counting our blessings.  

Meditating on God’s Word can look different for each person.  Some people enjoy reading a short devotional book such as “Our Daily Bread,” some people enjoy reading or listening to a Bible passage, others simply might reflect on a particular verse from a motivational calendar, and still others might just reflect on general Biblical themes like love, acceptance, grace, and mercy.   There is no right or wrong way to meditate on God’s Word, but by having a daily practice, we are able to develop what is known as a “Spiritual Discipline.”   And Spiritual Disciplines are again what help us to grow and bear the Fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  

Going back to my original analogy of all those fruit trees in Wheatley which had the potential to bear fruit, but ultimately never did, I pray that we will see the ways our own growth has been stunted and the ways in which we are thriving.  God has given us a blueprint for how to become solid trees where others can rest in our shade.  It can be hard to grow when we are fully isolated, but with community it becomes much easier.  In community where we have love, joy, and peace modeled to us, we also learn how to model it to others.   I pray that this coming week we will find pockets of that same community everywhere we go.   May our hearts be receptive to the seed which has been planted in us, may our minds be watered with the goodness of God, and may our feet dance through the orchard rejoicing in the God who brings in the harvest.

Ash Wednesday Poem

This year Ash Wednesday feels different,

To say we are dust is not to say we are insignificant,

Rather it is to say we are mortals,

Guests of this Holy Habitation,

Yet, rather than sanctifying this Sacred Space,

Humanity consumes creation ravaging this realm,

To say we are dust is not to say we are worthless,

To be swept out on the grass or shaken out with the rug,

But to say we are mortal.

As society screams for youth offering serums, lotions, and magic solutions,

We become consciously aware that we cannot cheat death,

Yet our world is cheating children out of their life,

The rubble, the destruction, and the mass graves,

Snuffing out a flickering candle whose life would have brought joy to many.

Ashes fall from buildings, dust settles over corpses,

Remains of buildings, humans, and animals comingled

While I sit comfortable seated, safe at church wondering what’s for lunch.

To say we are dust is not an unimportant careless ritual,

Rather it is a reminder of the many Christians in the world for whom death is a daily possibility.

While in the West, we have deconstructed the Gospel to little more than a moral fairy tale, church being optional – why not just watch TV,

There are millions martyred whose ashes cry out

“Wake up” the King is coming!

To wear the visible Christ sign on our forehead is not trite or glib,

It’s a bold declaration, a tangible imprint of the mind of Christ,

To think about the lovely, admirable, trustworthy and true.

To wear the ashes is to know our identity and not to hide the truth that we are all God’s beloved.

To commemorate Ash Wednesday is not a one day only event.

Our nation and world has privately and corporately lived in Lent for the past two years,

Longing for normality, giving up what we value in sacrificial service to another, suffering in isolation,

The frailty and uncertainty rising with each case count, mandate and lockdown,

We have all lived in the fear that Easter may never come,

And yet, it has.

These days have been long and dark and filled with tears and pain,

But like the Son it has risen again.

That’s why this Ash Wednesday feels different,

It feels different because we are not insignificant, worthless, unimportant, trite or glib,

It feels different because this is our courageous act of defiance,

Our refusal to surrender,

Our prophetic witness,

That we are here to break oppression, stop hatred, end discrimination and restore our world once again.