Monday, September 26, 2011

Making Space for God

I recently read some good words about prayer by Albert Haase:

“Simply put, prayer is becoming aware and taking notice of the presence of God in which we dwell and which dwells within us. Prayer is discovering and growing in the conscious awareness of a God who, like a captivated, ever-present parent, continually contemplates, nurtures, indulges and protects.” Page 15, “Swimming in the Sun: Discovering the Lord’s Prayer with Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton”.
Another writer, Henri Nouwen, said,

“The discipline of prayer is the intentional, concentrated, and regular effort to create space for God. Everything and everyone around us wants to fill up every bit of space in our lives and so make us not only occupied people, but preoccupied people as well.” Page 18, “Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit”.
A person who visits me for Spiritual Direction has said she has weeks in which the only quiet time she experiences is the hour she spends in my office.

To quiet our own hearts, to limit our distractions, to simply be present in the moment- these things can be a challenge. There is so much that as Nouwen said, “wants to fill up every bit of space in our lives”. No wonder the earliest monastics went off to live and pray in the desert!

One “place” I have found that allows me to clear the clutter of daily living, and to open my awareness to simple things like a footstep or a breath, is in walking the labyrinth.

On Saturday, October 22, from 1:30 to 3:30 pm, there will be a Labyrinth Workshop at Trinity United Church, hosted by the Pastoral Care Team.
Walking the labyrinth is an ancient spiritual practice known to Christians for centuries. There are labyrinths in public spaces and holy places all over the world, including many cathedrals and churches.

This workshop is facilitated by Sonya Bolek, a Veriditas (the World-Wide Labyrinth Organization) Trained Labyrinth Facilitator and Spiritual Director.  She is the Youth Director and Parish Secretary at Saint John’s Anglican Church (Port Dalhousie) in St. Catharines.

There is no fee for this workshop, but those who are able are asked to consider a suggested donation of $5 per person to help cover costs.

If you would like to attend the Labyrinth Workshop, please let us know. We can comfortably accommodate about 20 people. To register, please call the church office at 905-845-3152, or email us at

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Methodist Influence

I have been a member of the United Church of Canada most of my life (Baptized at age 4), and have served as a minister for more than 20 years. Even so, I know very little about the denominations that joined together in 1925 to form this uniquely Canadian church. I can generally sort out which church buildings "look" Presbyterian or Methodist. (You can often get clues from the name!)

For the last few years I have had this intuitive "knowing" that I needed to learn more about Methodism. What a blessing it is to have some genuine United Methodist Church pastors as friends and neighbours!

Conversations with these friends have offered me glimpses of what Methodism has to offer, and have pointed me towards good things to read, and ideas to explore further. I will be flying down to Nashville in October to attend a Wesleyan Leadership Conference entitled:

"A New Vision for Wesleyan Community"with Dr. Elaine Heath
The Wesleyan Leadership Conference aims to help The United Methodist Church recover what it means to be Christian and Methodist in the 21st century. One step in this process is to ask the question: How do we develop disciple-making communities that are centered in the work of Jesus Christ in the world?

I am hoping to pick up some methods that can be used in my United Church context, in which I believe there is deep hunger and need for spiritual formation and growth as disciples.
Elaine Heath is a professor of evangelism at a United Methodist Seminary in Dallas. She wrote a fascinating book called the Mystic Way of Evangelism, and is the co-author of "Longing for Spring", which explores a radically different model for "doing church", that is deeply rooted in the heritage of early Methodism. I am planning to write mini-reviews of both of these books, as a way of preparing for my time in Nashville.

Sam Persons Parkes, who is enrolled in the Toronto School of Theology's Doctor of Theology program, has come to Trinity twice in recent months as a guest preacher. On his latest visit he brought a wonderful presentation he created, and which he has allowed me to share here. Click the link and enjoy!

Monday, September 5, 2011

“Made you look!” Viewing art can help us open to a contemplative way of seeing

In his essay “Practicing the Presence of God in Ministry” Bruce G. Epperly, a church consultant with the Alban Institute, wrote “Practicing the presence of God is about mindfulness and self-awareness. It’s about seeing the holy in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary events in life.”

When I studied Quakerism, I was intrigued to learn that members of the Society of Friends tend not to celebrate the sacraments of baptism and communion as other Christian denominations do, believing that every moment, and everything, is potentially sacramental- infused with God’s holiness.

One aim of contemplative living is to open ourselves to the possibility that God is present, everywhere, and at all times. Epperly says, “If God is truly omnipresent—and that means present everywhere and in every encounter—then each moment provides an opportunity to receive and give God’s blessing, counsel, and wisdom. Each moment invites us not only to experience divine inspiration but share to God’s wisdom with others.”

I was thinking along these lines while in a conversation with my daughter Naomi about a sculpture we viewed together, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. “Lever”, by Carl Andre’ is an arrangement of 137 fire bricks in a straight line on the floor.

Marc Mayer refers to “Lever” in his blog entry “Art is Controversy”. Mayer, who is the director of the NGC, could have been listening in to the conversation we had about the piece. He wrote “we often hear people question whether something that purports to be art can really be called art with a straight face.”

Naomi told me she “didn’t understand” the sculpture. I don’t understand it either. It may be enough that a line of bricks on the floor encouraged me to consider that exhibit space in a different way. Mayer says that Andre’ was “genuinely searching for the essence of sculpture”, and the NGC website offers a quote as part of its introduction to the piece:

"The course of development:

Sculpture as form

Sculpture as structure

Sculpture as place."  - Carl Andre, 1966

Rather than striving for intellectual mastery of the sculpture- an answer to the question “What does it mean?” perhaps I can benefit by observing my own emotional, visceral, spiritual responses to the work. Bruce Epperly said that one of his spiritual teachers, the psychologist Gerald May described the process of awakening to God’s presence through five steps:

“pausing, noticing, opening, yielding and stretching, and responding.”

Carl Andre’s line of bricks definitely made me look.