Holy Ghost Tones

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Today’s message at First Baptist focused on Luke 5:1-11.  A beautiful message of encouragement to the church about being the net.  Each of us and our gifts are woven into the net that is cast out for others.  As if the Spirit intertwines us all together to create a unified safety net for Jesus’ use in reaching out to others.  Maybe that is fanciful…?

Anyway, the passage starts with Jesus on the shore of Lake Gennesaret with people starting to surround him and ask him for the word of God.  Eventually he gets in a boat and asks to be pushed a little bit out from shore.  Today we learned that he did that because the hills around the inlet where he was created an amphitheater.  So, he must have sought out the spot where his voice would be projected to the hundreds of people that were already there that morning.  I would say that amphitheater is a natural phenomenon created by God, the Creator of all.  Conditions have to be “just so” to create an amphitheater in the outdoors, and God wanted the Good News to be heard.

Natural phenomena are amazing.  But so are some man-made phenomena.

I don’t know if you have ever taken the free lunch tour of the Winspear – if you haven’t you should.  If they are still telling the story of the building of the Winspear as they used to, you would hear all the planning that went into the building.  It is fascinating, for instance, that the Winspear is actually three distinct buildings.  As well, it is fascinating to hear about how they chose the fabric on the seats, the texture of the walls, and other details to achieve the effect of a hall full of people even when it is empty, so that when they rehearse, it sounds the same as when they perform.  (There are plenty more interesting facts to learn, so go take the tour!)

Now, there was only one other hall in North America at the time (if I remember correctly) that had a similar design to the Winspear.  But the Winspear for the most part was a state-of-the-art endeavour.  And the interesting thing is that they could not and would not know the results of their planning and efforts until it was all built.  In other words, it doesn’t always turn out great. Varying results were possible.  However, if you have been to a concert at the Winspear, you know that it turned out phenomenally well.  Honestly, it is the best acoustic experience of symphony that I have ever known.  Carnegie may have history, but the Winspear has the acoustics!  At least in my view.

But the notion that they had to plan and build the entire building(s) (even such a high-profile and expensive building) before they could know if it “worked” because it is state-of-the-art and there are no exact prototypes is very interesting, isn’t it?

That came to mind today.  It seemed like everything came together in just such a way today at First Baptist.  I thoroughly enjoy the services there, but it seemed like today’s transcended the norm.  The prayers, the hymns, the children’s send-off, the musicians, the hymns, and the choir and their version of Fairest Lord Jesus created such a beautiful sanctuary in which my heart – my inner eye – could crack open and tune in to what  God would say to me through his Word today.

Back to Luke.  You’ll have to read the story for yourself, but the upshot is that though the fishermen had not been able to catch any fish all night, when Jesus had them lower the nets, they were filled to overflowing with fish, to the point where Simon, John and James fell to their knees in fear.  And Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  It is a strong call and they follow Jesus.

“Don’t be afraid…”  I needed to hear that today.

The choir and congregation sang the last hymn together – wish I could remember which hymn it was – and the soprano voices created an ethereal tone above the rest that made it seem as if angels were singing with us.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but that is what it seemed like!

And that reminded me of another musical phenomenon often referred to as “ghost tones”.  A ghost tone is heard when two instruments, such as flutes, play two particular notes at the same time, and a third note is created seemingly out of nowhere.  Two notes are played, but three are heard.

Today, we heard Holy Ghost tones at First Baptist – what a great beginning to the week.

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Lavender Mornings and Periwinkle Nights

Mom

“So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?”
Matthew 6:25 (New Living Translation)

Lavender Mornings and Periwinkle Nights

I hate the snow. I really hate the snow. Let me qualify that a little. I hate driving in the snow. When I get up on a workday and look out the window and there is snow for me to contend with, tears come to my eyes as I anticipate the stress of getting to work that day. Stress caused by the multitude of drivers on the roads that don’t appear to recognize that snow creates a condition requiring a slower and more cautious pace of travel. Stress caused by knowledge that I am going to be honked at for quite some miles as I make my way to work. Stress caused by the feeling that it just doesn’t seem right to risk my life to get to work, but that is the reality and the way of life today. Everything may be sacrificed for work. Work is top priority in this 24/7 world.

I was lucky this past Thursday. It had snowed enough Wednesday that school was closed the following day. Since it had taken me an hour and a half to get home from my job at the school district the night before (and generally, it would take 25 – 30 minutes), I breathed a great sigh of relief when the call came that school was cancelled on Thursday. Then I proceeded to catch up on e-mails, read, clean and make some calls. I met a friend for lunch, and as I drove out of my complex, realized 8 Mile Road was still not cleared. It was treacherous, in fact, and I was thankful again that I did not have to face it in all the traffic earlier that morning. All in all, Thursday was a great day – a snow day.

To make up for missing work Thursday, my department had to work Saturday. Saturday morning, I got up early, showered, dressed for work, packed a lunch, and with some trepidation, exited my apartment. It was a lavender morning. You know, where you walk outside in the twilight just before dawn and with the snow and the cloud cover and perhaps just a hint of light from an early sunrise behind the clouds, everything was twinkling and lavender. Flashbacks to childhood moments when we lived in a small town in rural Vermont came into my head. A moment when I was alone in the backyard building a snowman; alone until my mom came out to help with a big smile on her face. A moment when I had walked home from school between huge walls of snow and the tears rolled down my face because I was so cold. And when I reached our house, I knocked on the door. Mom opened it and I cried “I think I have frostbite!” I remember she laughed and pulled me in and fed me some warm soup or hot cocoa to get me warmed up. But I remember most being warmed by the warmth in her eyes and in her laugh. Those were lavender moments.

It snowed all day Saturday while we were at work and I felt some stress build up through the day – what would the drive home be like? Another hour and a half obstacle course filled with loud horns and obscene gestures?

I left just as the sun was setting. The roads were not bad at all and there was very little traffic out there that evening. As I got closer to home, the scenery changed from industrial to suburban, the sun disappeared, and nighttime descended. It was a periwinkle night. You know, the kind of night where it seems almost as light as day because the moon illuminates the clouds and the snow with its ethereal bluish light. Another flashback to Vermont. Mom asking me if I would like to do something very special one night – go ice-skating on a pond with a few other girls and their mothers. And I remember being so very excited as we left, bundled up in snowsuits, hats, mittens and scarves. In my young mind, I was sure it was midnight at least, but it was very light out. And here I was getting to ice-skate at midnight with “the girls”. That was a periwinkle moment.

Thank you, Lord, for a mom that provided lavender mornings and periwinkle nights to those around her throughout her entire lifetime. Thank you for her beautiful smile, her lilting laugh, her unfailing grace that allowed her to be joyful in all circumstances. I marvel at the beauty you create in this world, which my mom captured both in her spirit and in her artwork. Beauty that inspires treasured moments like these with my mom that I can call to mind when I begin to feel stressed during everyday life today.

In loving memory of:

Ann Marie Brown (pictured above)
1937 – 2007

Peace

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Joseph. Around this time of year, Joseph is often the focus of conversation in churches as he married Mary, though she had become pregnant without his participation. There are many amazing things to ponder in that story, but that wasn’t what struck me recently on reading scripture about Joseph.

What struck me was in Luke 2. Caesar Augustus, leader of the Roman Empire, had called for a census, and everyone in the Roman Empire went to their own town to be counted. Luke 2:4 says, So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” He took Mary, who was pregnant, with him. It has to be a pretty serious business because the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 111 kilometers. And there were no taxis in those days. I’m not thinking the trip would have been very appealing to Mary for sure.

Anyway, I started thinking about Joseph belonging to the house of David and that driving him to go to Bethlehem. What would it be like if we had a worldwide census today and were required to go to our own town – where we belonged? I would have to go to the U.S., Ireland, England, Scotland, and Germany….just for starters. Modern technology and transportation has afforded many of the world’s citizens to relocate much more easily that in the time of Mary and Joseph. And so, the world now looks very different than it did then. Joseph’s heritage was directly linked or related to his belonging.

I’ve been intrigued for many years by the belonging that Jewish people experience in their communities. In fact, there seems to be a very strong sense of identity woven into the fabric of their lives in community. My father was very intrigued as well, and he somehow managed to convince the local Jewish Community Centre in West Bloomfield, Michigan, that there could possibly be a little bit of Jewish blood in his line, so that he and his family could join the centre and benefit from its many affordable activities. He also attended (and had us attend) talks given by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founding rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and I remember dad approach Rabbi Wine and asking if it would be possible for him to become a humanistic Jew. The Rabbi delivered the unfortunate news to my dad that there was no way for dad to become a Jew.

I took a class in seminary where we watched a film about how the Jewish people celebrate Sabbath – the rituals, the words spoken, the symbolism, etc. And I found myself experiencing a little bit of envy. These practices and celebrations go back thousands of years and are common to a whole people group. What practices do I have that go back thousands of years in my family? I had this sense of wistfully desiring to belong in such a way that I would make a trek to my homeland to be counted, even at a very inconvenient time, just as Joseph did.

I think of how much displacement there is in the world. Refugees far away from their homeland, children stolen from their homes, people moving far from home for work, children of divorce being shared by multiple homes, peoples’ lands being taken from them, people being lured and then trafficked in faraway lands, along with those like me who simply choose to move to another country. Broken homes, broken families, broken cultures, broken hearts.  I wonder if many of us, especially here in the more developed Western world, have struggled with losing a sense of belonging? Along with transience being easily achieved, are our lifestyles – which have become much more in tune with social media as opposed to in-person social interaction, and which are far more geared towards independence rather than interdependence – contributing to disconnection from others instead of connection with others?

Jesus offers us belonging. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians at a time when there was a deep divide between Jews and Gentiles, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross…” (Eph 2:15-16). And then in Eph 2:19, “ Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…” There are many edicts of how we are to treat each other in the family of God, the most common being “Love one another,” as written in John and 1 John.

It seems to me that we are in another time of polarizations. We see this in the form of the election in the U.S., the standoff in North Dakota, shootings of policemen and policewomen, and various other indications of deep divides. Perhaps today we can say that Jesus’ purpose is to create in himself one new humanity out of the many, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile all of them to God through the cross… Oneness, peace, reconciliation.

The theme of Advent’s second week is Peace. Let there be peace on earth… Jesus set the stage, offering the way of peace and reconciliation. Those of us who would have a hard time knowing where to go or who’s house we belong to in a time of census, can know that we belong in God’s house and in his family. Will we believe?

Hope

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Ahhhh…quiet time. Just me, my Bible, and a scripture guide, in a chapel with some candles and a couple of other people quietly sitting and pondering as well. Just one objective: to let the scripture speak to me and guide me at this beginning of the Advent season. A season in which followers of The Way expect and prepare for the coming of Christ. What would God, the Creator of all, say to me or show me today?

The first reading we were guided to was Luke 1:28-38. In this beautiful section of the Book of Luke, an angel has come to Mary to tell her she will bear the Son of God. Verse 30 struck an immediate chord with me. “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” I found myself thinking about this past year and how tough it has been, with opportunities to be afraid many times throughout the year. A year of challenges, disillusionment and departures. I felt more challenged by God that favored – by a long shot! I wondered what it must have been like to actually hear the words, “you have found favor with God.” I felt a longing to physically hear those words as well. Yet in my heart, I knew that I also have found favor with God. After all, it seems like any of the people written about in the Bible who were favored by God . . . well, they did not have simple-dimple, easy-peasy lives. They often had tough challenges. I think of the prophets, the apostles, the kings, etc., etc. Suck it up, Princess Kathy! God’s favor might look a lot different that the favor of mankind.

Mary asked the angel how she could possibly conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High since she was a virgin, and the angel replies . . . “…the Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” All I could think was that seems like a technically deficient answer. In my head, I would probably be thinking, “Okey dokey, so, you say the Holy Spirit will come on me and God will overshadow me, and I will be pregnant. Hmmmm. . . this was not covered in any discussions I’ve had with mom, aunties, or my sex ed teacher.” I think I might have had just a few more questions; but Mary simply obeys.

I read that part over and over again, and began to realize that just as God and the Holy Spirit preceded Christ in Mary, so they precede Christ in us. And though Christ physically grew inside Mary, he grows inside us in a different way, as we get to know him, and tend our relationship with him, and allow ourselves to be discipled by him. How I long, in a sense, to be pregnant with Jesus – bursting at the seams with his love. I could only imagine how difficult, yet rewarding, that would be, and I longed for that. I thought of many times when it was clear that Christ was hidden deep inside; the very opposite of bursting at the seams.

The first week of Advent is the week of “Hope”. My hope is that my love and desire for Jesus grows and that he becomes so evident in me that I appear “pregnant” with him and that to identify me as anything other than his disciple would be impossible.

The Plunge

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“We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”
Romans 3:22     (New Living Translation)

 

Okay, so yesterday I took the plunge. Literally. That’s right. With courage in my heart, I climbed into my “big girls” bathing suit to go swimming at the pool. Thank goodness I could at least get it on. I walked out of the stall and inspected myself in the overly large mirror. Oh no. How did this happen again? Expansion instead of consolidation. I did not examine myself for very long, but instead decided it was pretty urgent to actually jump in the pool and do something about it.

So, I grabbed two towels and exited the locker room to the pool. As I walked through the little area that suddenly seemed to me to be designed for supermodels to make their spectacular entrance to the pool area, I dreaded what the lifeguards were going to see as I entered the scene. Jiggling jelly thighs for sure. I heard a whisper: “I love you no matter what.”

I parked my stuff in the most obscure place I could find, and climbed down the ladder into the pool. Ahhhhh…..it had been toooooo long. It felt so good to be in the pool again. Time to swim some lengths. One (“this feels great”)…..two (“this is awesome”)…..three (“not so bad now, is it?”)…..four (“uh oh., what’s this?”)…..five (“my arms are hurting”)…..six (“my arms are killing me!”). Six lengths and I had to take a break. Two years ago, I could swim 40, 60, maybe more, lengths without taking a break – and it wasn’t my arms that hurt, but my lungs. Good grief, how quickly things change. Again, the whisper: “I love you no matter what. It is going to take some time to get back into it again.”

What a beautiful evening it was – the temp was in the low 70’s so not many people were in the pool. I floated in the shallow end to catch my breath and let my arms calm down a little bit before attempting a few more lengths. Beautiful, quiet evening. Just a few little girls’ laughter and chatter floating in the breeze, and the sound of the water lapping against the side of the pool, were all very soothing sounds and encouraged me to let my mind rest and just enjoy His gift of this moment. Enjoy it I did. How kind God is to encourage me like this.

Back to it…..one (“let’s not do the crawl anymore”)…..two (“the sidestroke is working a bit better”)…..three (“hurting again already?!?!”)…..four (“time to get out of the pool for the day”).   As I swam over to the ladder to climb out, I started identifying the body parts that hurt. Swimming is a great workout as it works more muscles that any other sport. My feet hurt (couple of cramps in the toes), my legs hurt, my lungs hurt, my arms hurt – it seemed like everything hurt.

I climbed out and decided I’d sunbathe just a little bit despite my lack of supermodel status. I lugged myself over to the sunbathing area, laid back in one of the reclining chairs, and basked in the glow of the sun. Ahhhhh……that felt goooooood. As the sun warmed me up, the hurts began to melt away. In a moment, I let go of any remaining negative self-thoughts I had, and any concerns over how others might see me. As the sun sent its caressing rays to warm every inch of me, I thought instead “Who cares what the others see? The sun loves me no matter what.”

Just as the Son, Jesus Christ, loves us no matter what.

Benedicta

Yesterday, I attended the requiem Mass for Benedicta, only a few short months after she was conceived.  In a very moving ceremony at St. Theresa’s Parish, I felt prompted to reflect.

Benedicta reminded me that everyone needs a good word
     a blessing
             and to be blessed.

Benedicta reminded me that all life is precious
      and sacred
              and worthy of celebration.

Benedicta reminded me that the shortest of lives here on earth
      often have the greatest of impacts eternally.

Benedicta reminded me that holy rituals
      carry comfort and solace
              when chaotic life events
                       tempt us to despair.

Benedicta reminded me that rejoicing and mourning
      joy and suffering
              laughter and tears
              may all happen at the same time.

Benedicta reminded me that grief expressed communally
      is healthy and healing.

Benedicta reminded me that God makes no mistakes.

Miracle Eggs

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This is what I would call a miracle.  Honestly, an unexpected miracle.  You wait and see, by golly.  Let me explain.

I was having coffee with a friend a couple of evenings ago and we got talking about the Pokemon Go phenomenon.  She and a couple of other friends had gone out to the Legislature Grounds in downtown Edmonton at midnight the previous night and what do you think they saw there?  Hundreds of people playing Pokemon Go at midnight on a weeknight.

On the good perspective side of the house:
(1) People who have been couch potatoes are now walking.
(2) So, people who are overweight are losing weight and getting healthier.
(3) People are socializing more than they ever have.  “Did you catch this pokemon?”

Some of the more negative aspects:
(1) Children as young as 5 years old were out with their parents at midnight.
(2) People have been lured into bad situations.
(3) People are wandering around inappropriately at all times of the night even.

My friend explained to me one aspect of the game that I find fascinating.  Apparently, and pardon me if I get this description wrong, you capture virtual eggs in this game, and then you have to walk a certain distance to hatch these virtual eggs.  There are eggs that can be hatched by walking 2 km, or 5 km, or 10 km or 20 km.  She had heard from a friend the day before that he had walked 10 km to hatch an egg.

Okay, does anyone else see how we are very easily manipulated?  Seriously, there is an obesity crisis in North America currently.  People are told all the time to get walking for their health….to no avail.  But give them a virtual egg and they are off and running to make it hatch.  Hilarious!!

Please tell me the medical community is kicking themselves for not thinking this one up! From what I can tell, these virtual (i.e., unreal) eggs stand a chance of making a serious impact in the fight against Type 2 Diabetes and obesity.

Miracle eggs, that is what they are.