Breath and Breathless

My latest in the Christian Courier…


It is good to celebrate our embodied life in God’s creation.

The men (they are mostly men) arrive at the clinic and take their seats in the waiting room. It’s a nondescript medical office with a busy receptionist, examination rooms and various types of medical equipment. This clinic is unique, however, because the patients all arrive with a black nylon bag over their shoulders. Some of them look like lunch boxes while others could easily be laptop bags. It reminds me of something out of a Mysterious Benedict Society novel. Are these the nefarious Ten Men bringing their disguised, deadly devices for retooling, all the better to threaten adventurous children!? Alas, the reality isn’t so interesting. These patients are being treated for sleep apnea and are bringing their CPAP machines to their consults with a respiratory therapist. They are fantastic gizmos, no doubt, but wouldn’t make an appearance in children’s literature.

Maybe it’s only my perception or projection, but I sense an eye-averting awkwardness among patients. Would that be unusual? We humans are awkward about our bodies at the best of times. More so, perhaps, when the apparatus carried, surreptitiously, is all tubes and headgear and mask. It’s not the kind of thing you’d be keen to acknowledge in just anyone’s presence.

A medical device you wear on your face, and to bed, gets very close to the most private dimensions of our lives. It’s also about your breath, and what is more intimate? And contrary to the impulses of contemporary culture, public sharing of the private isn’t always meaningfully therapeutic. Sometimes it’s worth keeping private things, well, private.

Continue reading

A Christmas Prayer

My latest column in the Christian Courier is a prayer for Christmas.

Praise to you, O living Word, for you give the gift of our world. You are the creating one through whom ancient Laurentian mountains have their craggy existence. By your imaginative power, forests of black spruce, larch, and balsam grow along ridges of granite and gneiss. By your gracious creativity, lynx and porcupine make their fleet-footed or lumbering way through habitats long called home. “All, at a Word, has become this almost overwhelming loveliness” (Margaret Avison).

Praise to you, O living Word, who has been born, like us, in a rush of blood and water—vulnerable, with your mother, in your passage into this world. The love displayed in your birth is an accompanying love that risks pain and loss and cold and homelessness, even as you are warmly received into the arms of Mary. This young woman who has borne God, leads you into a beautiful and fearful world, teaching you the prayers of your people along the way. You have learned from her; you are yourself with her and the people to whom she belongs. You find yourself, and are yourself, in relation to the God who makes covenant with this people.

Praise to you, O living Word, for you are the showing forth of God’s glory. In your speaking, the magnificence of God is heard. In your face, the beauty of God is seen. In your living, the grandeur of God is made apparent. We had always expected God’s glory to be otherworldly, almost unimaginable, yet here you are in time and space. God’s grandeur in a bawling baby. Glory to God in the highest; Glory to God in an unremarkable Lord alongside us. Continue reading

Kierkegaard – God – Movement

The second of two reflections I offered on the prayers of Kierkegaard at the retreat of The Presbyterian College this year. Like everything, Kierkegaard looks “slant” at the idea of God’s immutability.

If there is anything that gives the impression of unchangeableness, it is perhaps the towering and intimidating mountains that populate the face of the earth. Whether it is the Rocky Mountains here in Canada, the Himalayas of South Asia, or the Alps of central Europe, mountains represent the notion of the unchangeable. They have been and they will be. img_9315This summer I had the chance to see the Alps for the first time, and the ideas of durability and unchangeableness strike me as more than apt.

When we transfer these notions of the unchangeable into the realm of theology, it is the term “immutable” that might come to mind – we speak of the immutability of God. And there are theologically and spiritually adjacent terms that might also come to mind; ideas around the omnipotence and steadfastness and infinity and power of God.

In one of his prayers, Kierkegaard picks up on this longstanding emphasis of the Christian tradition concerning the immutability or unchangeableness of God. He affirms this idea about God, among other places, in the prayer that is included at the bottom of this blog post. He speaks to God in this way: “O thou who are unchangeable, whom nothing changes.”

And transferring this theological idea into the realm of human need and wellbeing, Kierkegaard also speaks to God with these words: “For our welfare, not submitting to any change.” After all, who would seek God if there was no assurance it was the same God who could be sought each new day – and not a God who had decided to change character and identity while you slept?

In his prayer Kierkegaard also speaks curiously of our need to “submit ourselves to the discipline of thy unchangeableness.” As if this characteristic of God is a reality we need to keep in heart and mind, intentionally, if we are to find rest and peace in our life and faith.

But again, as with so many things he turns his thoughts toward, Kierkegaard swings the whole prayerful conversation about immutability in an unexpected direction. Continue reading

the Spirit in Creation – nature and spirituality (1/5)

carlise-beavertail-canoe-paddle-lWhen we think about our spiritual lives – when we think about our relationship with God – each one of us will have special moments that stand out for us. Each of us will be able to think back to particular moments when we felt a special closeness to God. Moments when we were particularly aware of God’s love; moments when we were particularly aware of Jesus’ voice calling us; moments when we were particularly aware of the Spirit’s gracious moving in our hearts and lives.

I’d like to begin this morning by describing one of these moments that I have experienced.

I was on a retreat with a group of students from Regent College, more than 15 years ago. This retreat was taking place on Galiano Island, which is one of the Gulf Islands just off of Vancouver Island. And as a part of this retreat, a small group of us rowed from Galiano Island over to uninhabited Wallace Island. The rowboat we used was actually a replica of an 18th century Spanish boat. As you may know, the first European explorers around Vancouver Island were Spanish, and so this replica rowboat was a reflection of that European heritage.

In any case, about twelve of us rowed over to uninhabited Wallace Island. And when we got out of the boat, our professor sen each of us to find our own place on the island to sit and to pray and be silent and reflect. So I walked some ways through the thin forest and found a little spot looking westward out over the water. About 8 feet down below my feet there was the shifting and wavy salt water. I could see blue starfish clinging to the rocks under the waves. Up above me it was a sunny, near cloudless day. There was a breeze blowing in from the open channel that I was looking out over. Continue reading

Creating a world with our words #sermon #proverbs

God spoke – and the dome of the sky was there in all its glorious blue.

God spoke – and moving, shifting, heaving waters came together in the sea.

God spoke – and the Baobab tree, wild grasses, flowering bushes were planted.

God spoke – and in the night’s sky there was the Orion nebula, Haley’s comet, red giants.

God spoke – massive blue whale in water, glorious flamingo on shoreline.

God spoke – cheetah speed on land, lumbering elephant in grassland, wild boar foraging in forest.

God spoke – a man, a woman – encounter, love, and mutuality.

We also speak. We speak a great many words each day. One study of found that college students in the U.S. speak on average around 15,000 words per day. Of course we aren’t college students and many of us don’t live in that kind of highly social context. Our world isn’t their world. But it is astonishing to recognize that many of us speak thousands of words a day. Continue reading

Down by the Riverside – the rivers of creation

Within the second creation narrative of Genesis there is a moment of pause – a kind of aside. Within the second creation narrative we have first of all the formation of the earth creature, the man, from dust of the earth. Then we have the garden established by God with trees and fruit that provide nourishment; and there are the trees of knowledge of good and evil.

And after all of that is described there is a moment of pause – a kind of aside.

Before the narrative goes on to discuss the human vocation of stewardship, and before the warning not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and before the creation woman in completion of the human – there is a moment of pause – a kind of aside.

In that aside there is the sound of running water.

In that aside there is a large watershed where rainfall and melting snow run together to become a creek and then stream and then river.

In that aside there is a source of irrigation for fields and forests, animals and humans.

Here are the words of that aside in the second creation narrative: “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”

Continue reading

creation, prayer, thanksgiving

Our God, we remember before you the astonishing gifts of creation – this morning we think especially of the variety of sea creatures. There is the bulky and wizened walrus, immediately recognizable with its tusks and whiskers – an ancient creature that looks its age. We think of whales, from the massive, deep-diving Blue Whale, to the starkly white Beluga. We think of schools of sardines, clouds of sardines, morphing and shifting in an amazing dance. We consider the translucent jelly fish, pulsing its way through the deep. For all the gifts of creation, and of the sea, we thank you O God of covenant and creation.

In this season of Autumn, our God, how can we fail to thank you for the beauty of the trees. As the days and nights grow colder, and chlorophyll production slows – yellows and oranges and reds are unmasked. Leaves show forth a new glory as trees respond to their environment, as we make our way from summer warmth to winter cold. For the gifts of creation, and the gift of trees, we thank you O God of covenant and creation.

celebrating difference…

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.  That’s the title of a book, of course, by American author and relationship counselor John Gray. He argues that women and men represent distinct worlds – it’s like they’re from different planets. And he tries to describe these different worlds or planets. In this well-known book, many of the things he says may seem to be common sense. He says that in the face of stress men tend naturally to withdraw (he calls this retreating to the cave), while women naturally want to talk about things. Men he says, like to do things on their own, while women like to work collaboratively. Men tend to look after themselves while women tend to look after others.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus has sold more than seven million copies. And of course there are other books not unlike John Gray’s – books that promise to give us insight into the differences between women and men – books that promise to help men and women in their marriages and intimate relationships because they will begin to understand one another better.

It’s remarkable that in our culture there are, on the one hand, strong voices that tell us that women and men are fundamentally different from each other. For many of course, this is just common sense – that women and men are quite different. John Gray and others tap into this common sense. Continue reading

Soundboards and Spinach

spinachsounding board








I offered the following reflection at our Jazz Vespers this past weekend. I have borrowed heavily for this from Jeremy Begbie’s book Resounding Truth.


In his wonderful book Resounding Truth, Christian theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie reminds us that within the Christian tradition the world is not the product of chance or random forces. The world is not self-created, but comes forth at the personal initiative of God. There are, he says, two important things we must see about God’s act of creation as it is understood within Christianty.  

First God’s act of creation is an act of freedom. There is nothing which forces or compels God to create the world. There is nothing that requires God to call into being that which is other than God. God speaks a creative word in the narratives of Genesis – let there be. And God speaks that creative word out of his own freedom and initiative. At his freely spoken word, the world is formed. At his freely spoken word – mountains, rivers, moons, chickadees, constellations, humans, forests.

Continue reading