Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wedding Sermon for Jacqueline Kalina and Markus Noach

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Darrow Woods. I serve as the minister at Trinity United Church, where Jacquie and Markus are both active members. When they asked me to be involved in today’s celebration, I was quite pleased, and honoured. I know this chapel, and Appleby College mean a lot to Jacquie and her family. I am grateful to Canon Lennox for his gracious hospitality, in inviting me to speak the sermon on this occasion.

Markus and Jacquie told me that this service is being live-streamed, by way of the internet, to viewers in many different places, who are not able to be with us in person, but who desire to share in the joy of this day. So I take a moment now to greet the people in the Czech Republic, and France, and Germany, and Greece, as well as California, Kentucky and Saskatchewan, who are with us in spirit.

Maybe we can get the people here to say hello. Can I ask the congregation to say, “Hello Live-streamers!”

Do you think they are answering back, with their own shouts out? I would like to think so. We can’t hear them, but we can perhaps feel their love, in the silence.

It actually seems very appropriate that these unseen, and un-heard friends are connected to us in this way, on this day. Last evening, Jacquie’s mother, Diane told me that there were many evenings during their long distance courtship, when Jacquie would be in her room in the family home here in Oakville, and Markus was in his room in Germany, and they would both be quietly studying, but they could see each other, and hear each other flipping pages, and scratching notes on paper, because they were connected by Skype. Through the wonders of technology, they could use their laptops, their wireless routers, the internet bandwidth, the phone lines, and probably more than one satellite or transatlantic cable, to be together, even though they were thousands of kilometres apart. (Just as we are connected to all those live-streamers out there!)

I love the idea of Jacquie and Markus being with each other that way. I wish this had been possible when my wife and I were dating 20 years ago. At that time, we lived in the same province, but about 6 highway hours apart. She was in a little town called Belmont, near Brandon, while I was in the Swan River Valley, on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Those references will make sense to folks from the prairies.

What touched me most deeply about Diane’s description of Jacquie and Markus was that for most of the time, they would just be together in silence. There is something beautiful about this. It’s a good sign for their future that they can be content sitting together in silence. Think of the older couples you know, who have been married for decades, and do not always even need to speak. They already know- they know their beloved so deeply that the words are superfluous. The silence speaks for them. The silence is laden with love.

I am reading a book called, “In pursuit of silence: listening for meaning in a world of noise”, by a psychologist named George Prochnik. Prochnik believes, as many artists, and mystics, poets and lovers have proclaimed for centuries, that silence is necessary, and sustaining, nurturing and healing. Silence gives us space to be, to think, to grow, to love. Neuro-scientists have determined that our brains use moments of silence to prepare to receive and process new information. An implications of this is that as our lives are increasingly noisy, it becomes more and more difficult for us to actually think.

I have a friend who is both an Anglican priest and a jazz musician, and he says that without silence, there is no music. Silence makes rhythm possible. He also says this is evident in the story of the creation of the world. There was nothing, then God spoke, and there was something. A cosmologist might say there was total stillness, then there was a Big Bang. Nothing, then something. Silence then a word. In music, it is the spaces between the notes that make it possible for us to hear a song, rather than just endure a cacophonous noise.

The scriptures of many religious traditions describe the presence of God as breath, or spirit. Breath is life. We inhale. We pause. We exhale. Between the thousands and thousands of inhalations and exhalations of each day, there is a silent, resting pause. When I teach people to pray, I often begin by asking them to pay attention to the rhythm of their own breath.

The same rhythm governs the beating of our hearts, and the pulse of blood moving through our veins. The pause, the silence in between, makes the rhythm possible, just as breath makes life possible.

When I walked in this beautiful chapel yesterday for the rehearsal, I remembered how much it reminds me of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies. It was fun to think of walking in today wearing my robe, like one of the old wizards. The design of this chapel resembles the chapel at Mepkin Abbey where I like to go on silent retreat. It is a Trappist monastery in South Carolina, where most of the monks, most of the time, live in contemplative silence, except when they come to chapel, and sing and speak their prayers. They sit in choir stalls facing each other, the same set up as here. The monks believe God is always with them, but it is in the silence we quiet ourselves enough to listen beneath the clutter of our own lives, to hear God’s voice, and to know God’s love.

This makes me think of the words of one my favourite United Church hymns, called “Come and find the quiet centre”. The second verse says,

Silence is a friend who claims us,

                        cools the heat and slows the pace,

            God it is who speaks and names us,

                        knows our being, face to face,

            making space within our thinking,

                        lifting shades to show the sun,

            raising courage when we're shrinking,

                        finding scope for faith begun.

In just a few moments, a few heartbeats from now, Canon Lennox will lead Jacquie and Markus through their wedding vows. Beneath the ancient words of promising, and joining, and blessing, there will be, for them, and for us, a sacred silence, that God will fill with presence. God is with us, and just as our hearts beat to move blood through our bodies, God’s spirit breathes life, and love into this moment, and all the moments of our lives.

There is a language deeper than words. We heard about it in the scripture from First Corinthians, that Janet read in English, and Andrea offered in German. Beneath the tongues of angels and of humans that Saint Paul was talking about, is the language of love. The love that underlies all things, and is perhaps easiest for us to know in silence, comes from God. We might even say that love does not just come from God, it is God. The love that flows like a quiet breath from the maker of all things, that gives us life, and fills our hearts, is God at work.

We can see God at work, here and now, in the lives of Jacquie and Markus, who have already learned to sit together in silence. Thanks be to God. Amen

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spiritual Well-Being

I think that when people make the effort to come to worship in the summer time, it is good to match that effort, by trying to offer something special. Here is the announcement that appeared in our congregation's bulletins and newsletter, leading up to the month of July:

There will be a 5 part Teaching Series in July called “Spiritual Well-Being”. Each Sunday, Rev. Darrow, who is a certified spiritual director and experienced retreat leader, will offer a teaching time about a spiritual practice that can enrich our lives, and deepen our awareness of God’s presence.

July 1: Opening ourselves to the Holy through sacrament and silence.

July 8: Breath and the movement of our bodies can be prayer.

July 15: The practice of Centering Prayer.

July 22: Growing in awareness of God present and at work within us, through Lectio Divina.

July 29: Walking the labyrinth as spiritual exercise.

Each of these teaching times can stand alone, so don’t worry if you cannot be at church every Sunday in July.

These special services might be the perfect occasion to invite someone who thinks of themselves as “spiritual, but not really religious”.