Let’s not cheat ourselves. Encountering Jesus. 3/5

The gates of Jerusalem are busy places. There are so many people coming and going – whether for religious festivals, or for trade and commerce, or for administrative purposes. The flow of people is almost nonstop at these gates – through these portals into the city.

There is a pool near one particular gate of the city – and that pool near the sheep gate – is also a busy place. But this pool is busy not so much on account of the religious festivals, or on account of those traveling for trade and commerce, or on account or the administrative needs of the city or of that Roman colony more widely.

The area around that pool is busy because there is a tradition of healing associated with it. There is a tradition that when the waters are stirred – when there is some movement in the waters, as if stirred by an angel – the waters have healing or medicinal properties.

And so the area around that pool – the five porticos or porches that encircle the pool – they are filled with those looking for healing. This space is a kind of ancient hospice or hospital. By definition this is a group of those who are broken in some way; their bodies in need of healing in some respect. According to John’s gospel, those gathered around the pool are the blind and the lame and the paralyzed. And of course we know that in that culture, on top of their particular physical challenges, each of these individuals would also have faced a high degree of social isolation. So they seek healing in this pool – they seek healing in the stirred waters – they seek healing of their bodies and souls – a healing in their physical being and in their social identity. Continue reading


Christian spirituality, it doesn’t start with you – Sermon 4/5

It’s not uncommon today to hear people talking about spiritual things – or talking about spirituality. Not every uses this kind of language – and not everyone is comfortable taking about spirituality. But there are plenty of women and men in our culture who believe that spirituality, or spiritual things, are important to life – and who are interested in exploring such questions.

As with many other subjects, it’s a challenge to discuss about spirituality because there are very different ideas out there about what it means to be spiritual. But I want to begin this morning by reflecting on what I think is one of the most common approaches to spirituality in our culture. And to do this, I’d like to begin with some words I found on the website of the Wellness Centre at a Canadian University. It seems to me that these words capture a very common understanding of spirituality that is “out there” today. So here on the screen is the definition given:

Spirituality is unique to each individual. Your “spirit” usually refers to the deepest part of you, the part that lets you make meaning of your world. Your spirit provides you with the revealing sense of who you are, why you are here and what your purpose for living is. It is that innermost part of you that allows you to gain strength and hope.

As this quotation makes clear, spirituality in our culture has to do with our deepest identity. Spirituality has to do with finding meaning and purpose in your life. Spiritual questions are questions that relate to something deep inside you – the core of your being, where you find energy and hope and joy.  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

Wrestling with Jesus – on Palm Sunday

This morning we are looking at a passage from the New Testament – from the twenty-first chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Of course it’s the familiar story of the triumphal entry – it’s the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, on the way to his death.

But before we look at this text, I’d like to take us way back in the biblical narrative for a moment – all the way back to the narrative of Genesis – all the way back to a story about Jacob. In Genesis 32, Jacob is on his way back to meet his brother Esau – a brother he is convinced is murderously angry with him. And when Jacob gets nearer to the territory where his brother lives, closer to the moment of encounter, he sends his whole entourage on ahead. He sends all of his family and livestock and servants on ahead. And he spends the night alone in the main camp. We read these words in Genesis:

The same night, Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then the man said: “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So the man said to Jacob: “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.” And there he blessed him. The sun rose upon Jacob as he passed the town of Penuel, limping because of his hip. Continue reading

when Facebook dies

facebookWhat happens when Facebook dies?

Of course it isn’t a question of whether Facebook will die – only when. It might happen slowly as users gradually migrate to other social media platforms, or suddenly in the wake of some technological or financial meltdown. Either way, Zuckerberg will probably be safe with his millions (billions?!). But what will happen to the digital acres we have tended with such care.

At one level it’s a basic question of data – are my personal artifacts safe? What will happen to the megabytes that make up that picture of me and my mom at Niagara Falls in 2007, or that conversation with a friend in Vancouver back in 2010? Will it all simply vanish? Be sold off to a social media competitor – an estate sale of framed photos and vintage movie posters and so many bric-a-brac bytes?

What happens when Facebook dies?

But this is also a question of our identity. With the loss of those carefully maintained digital landscapes, do we lose a part of ourselves? And if so, what part of ourselves will disappear? Or perhaps this is a better question: Is there anything of great value on Facebook, whose loss we might or should mourn? Continue reading

Love, Caress, Difference (for valentine’s day?)

In my book Becoming Two in Love I have created brief, first-person “moments” that give expression to the account and ethics of sexual difference otherwise described somewhat abstractly. An ethics of sexual difference is one that affirms the fundamental mystery that the sexuate other is/represents. It is an ethics that entails a refusal of relations of appropriation and possession and identification between man and woman.

Here is one of those first-person “moments” that explores the caress as respecting difference and love between man and woman, also in the context of faith.


IMG_9308We are by no means strangers. Years of a shared life form a thick and complex backdrop to our everyday conversations and encounters. Between us, the invitation to a caress is a summons to a privileged and private intimacy. And even if this invitation and encounter is marked by a degree of ambiguity or uncertainty, nevertheless a shared history of trust and care mean that the caress may be given, and received, in freedom. Risk remains, certainly—but who could or would mitigate every risk. Continue reading

Walking the labyrinth, away from the centre #spirituality #Christ

Last week I spent four days at the Crieff Hills Conference Centre, near Guelph, Ontario. I was there for the Guidance Conference of The Presbyterian Church in Canada – an event held as a part of the discernment process for ministry candidates in the denomination. It was, as always, a rich and meaningful time with women and men exploring their call to ministry, and with other counsellors and staff participating in that vital work.

During my time there, I discovered that Crieff HIlls has a rough and lovely (it matches the feel of the place) labyrinth, marked out with the ancient stones that are plentiful there. At the centre of the labyrinth is a large stone that symbolizes Christ, the Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4, perhaps?). The labyrinth is lovely and rugged and rustic and an open invitation to explore the spiritual life.


This was my first experience walking a labyrinth, and in fact I did not have time to walk its full path. I was out catching a few moments of quiet before returning to yet another meeting when I happened upon it. Yet even the few small moments that I spent at the labyrinth were revealing for me.

As I walked the path I found the central rock persistent in my peripheral vision. As I curved around the centre, the rock remained there, steady and certain. Yet there were also moments when the labyrinth path turned me suddenly and momentarily away from the centre, and for just a short instance I would lose sight of that the large central rock. In fact, if I had continued further along the path there would have been some moments when it would have taken me, for a longer duration, directly away from the centre. Christ would have been out of sight.

I think of Jonah, spewed out onto the beach by the fish that carried him to Sheol for three days and three nights. I think of these moments in so many of our lives when anxiety or grief or doubt or simple worldliness keep Christ out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes they are the briefest of moments. Somethings they feel like, or are, very long seasons.

I was not walking the labyrinth in the midst of such a season in my own life – and yet I was struck by, and assured of the presence of Christ in those moments when my back is to him, whatever the reason and whatever the duration. The gift of such a spiritual discipline, perhaps, is the imprint it has made on my mind and soul. That brief walk in the labyrinth was an assurance of who I am in this moment (one embraced in Christ’s strong love) and I hope a memory imprinted for those future moments when assurance is lost and needed.

Walking the labyrinth. Perhaps I’ll make a habit of it.


listening for God’s voice…

Most of you will know Summit Park in Westmount. Westmount itself, of course, is one of the three small peaks that make up Mount Royal, such a defining feature of our city. And at the top of the third small peak of Westmount is Summit Park – a 57-acre urban woodland, a nature preserve, with towering trees and walking paths.

In the month of May each year, Summit Park is a favourite location for many of the birdwatchers in this city. May is a favoured month because at this time of year many warblers make the return to their North American breeding grounds – these tiny, brightly coloured, insect-eating birds are on their way back from Central and South America where they spend the winter. So, as the sun rises early in the morning, and as the trees and leaves are warmed in Summit Park, the warblers begin to sing and to feed – and the bird-watchers are there, trying to catch a glimpse of them.

So it was that this past Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. I found myself out on a cool spring morning, at Summit Park – binoculars hanging around my neck. Four of us had gathered there to go bird-watching… Now I have to tell you that I am an absolute novice when it comes to bird-watching. But one of that group of four was Alain Goulet – who is of course, known to many of us. I don’t know if you can ever apply the word ‘professional’ to a bird-watcher, but Alain gets pretty close to deserving that title. Like other seasoned bird watchers, Alain is able to see things and hear things and recognize things that a novice like myself barely notices. Continue reading

from ‘Weavings’…

Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

“Psalm 126 tells us that the God of Israel has a passion for new beginnings and that his promise guarantees newness. The words of the prophet remind us that God’s pledge is to work newness precisely when and where there is no evidence of newness on the horizon.” (For the whole article, visit the journal Weavings.)

sabbath and life

I’m working on a short teaching series I’ll be leading this fall – it’s on the subject of Sabbath. I was reading in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s beautiful book The Sabbath: It’s meaning for modern man and came across this quotation, which fits nicely both with what Jesus has to say and with the broad message that I would hope to convey.  Heschel highlights Aristotle’s view that “we need relaxation, because we cannot work continually. Relaxation, then is not an end.”

But Heschel turns this on its head when he replies:

To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labour. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. “Last in creation, first in intention,” the Sabbath is the “end of the creation of heaven and earth.”

The Sabbath is not for the sake of weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.

Continue reading