It isn’t a giant corn maze, as one person thought.
It isn’t a picnic happening on the lawn of a church.
It is a time for connecting with God, oneself, and the world around us.
Our unofficial tradition is now to have something different in the lawn of the Cathedral at some point during Holy Week. Last year, it was three days of a contemporary retelling of the Stations of the Cross. This year, I wanted to do a labyrinth.
Today, from noon until just before this evenings Solemn High Mass, I sat on the lawn with four giant sheets transformed into an angular labyrinth with multiple places for walkers to stop and meditate on the words in their booklet and interact with objects placed in their path.
A good number of the people who walk through the lawn on a daily basis stopped to at least take a better look and ask what was going on.
A few people came back for a second look; some took part, others walked on.
For me, the point, and the most rewarding part, were the conversations I had with people before and after they walked. That is why I did this: to spark conversations. Some said it was the breath they needed in Holy Week. (Why do we cram our holiest times so full that those of us who work, priest or lay, in the church do not have time to stop and get as much out of the season as we might otherwise?) Others expressed joy at the reminders it gave at our connections with those around us.
One walker made particular mention of her appreciation of Noise/City. In station Noise, near the beginning of the Inward Journey of the labyrinth, the walker is encouraged to think of all the noise/messages/information that fill our lives and compete for attention… the noise around them as they walked in a space in the middle of the city… to turn off and put aside the noise, the internal thoughts that never stop, the worries… to focus on God and peace…
In station City, near the end of the Outward Journey of labyrinth, noise is flipped:
All ground is holy ground – city streets, housing estates, shantytowns, playgrounds, prisons, shopping malls… Listen again to the sounds of the city. This time, instead of seeing them as noise and distraction, see them as opportunities to tune in to the workings of our city. See the people behind these noises as individuals, as people with whom to meet and engage.
How often do we stop to consider the human behind the face we pass by?
This thought was especially poignant for me after my morning today: I spent the morning riding along with someone who works with those recovering from addictions. After this morning, I have a much more human face to put onto those suffering from addictions. “These people” are often not the wrecked old man who sits on the corner, begging for money, though they may be. They are your friend’s brother who has made a few wrong choices and just needs to have a friend to walk beside him as he recovers. They are the successful professional who works beside you in the office. They may be you.
We are [over] halfway through Lent. It is hard to believe. I did not succeed in completely giving up coffee for Lent, coffee being what I had decided to “give up”. I have, however, succeeded in being more conscious about why and how frequently I drink it. In the end, it seems that is the bigger concept I desired to achieve out of no coffee for Lent: not necessarily a giving up but a greater consciousness and awareness in daily life. A consciousness as I go about life and an awareness of the people and things around me in life. Perhaps this is a tall order, and it is certainly more than I could hope to accomplish by just giving up (reducing intake of) coffee for Lent. However, if Lent is to be more about incorporating better practices into my life, then perhaps I have done so. Coffee dates with friends are now more deliberate and those times when I can sit in a cafe and read with a coffee at hand are more special.
I was halfway through writing another post about labyrinths, trying to explain what it is that I have planned for Holy Week at the Cathedral, but words were not coming to me and the words which were coming were not doing it justice.
And then I read this article, shared by a friend, and I was wondering if what I am working on is worth it? Not entirely, because I am still going to go ahead with the plan. But the article makes a good point. Why make such a fuss over Easter services and activities? Why not have good church throughout the year rather than just Christmas and Easter? I don’t know. Because it is too much energy? Too much to do? Or do we think that people might just not be interested? I’ll ponder these thoughts and more as I sleep.
I went to see Bruce Cockburn last night, live at the McPherson Theatre in Victoria. It would not be an understatement to suggest that it was one of the better concerts I have been to… but then I probably say that after every good concert I attend. I also had a fantastic seat: front row directly infront of Bruce. This photo was shot on my phone from my lap.
Not only is Bruce a phenomenal musician and guitar player, there is something about his ability to craft lyrics that is always profound and thought-provoking. It was an incredible experience to be able to sit and hear him sing them live. He performed a mix of songs off of his new album (to which I have not yet listened) and old favourites. Some of the favourites (how does one pick a set list from a repertoire as long and as deep as his?) were ones I had hoped he would play (Pacing the Cage comes to mind) and others were songs I had forgotten I loved. One of the classics I was struck by all over again as I remembered its beauty was Strange Waters.
I’ve seen a high cairn kissed by holy wind
Seen a mirror pool cut by golden fins
Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities
The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity
I’ve stood in airports guarded glass and chrome
Walked rifled roads and landmined loam
Seen a forest in flames right down to the road
Burned in love till I’ve seen my heart explode
You’ve been leading me
Beside strange waters
Across the concrete fields of man
Sun ray like a camera pans
Some will run and some will stand
Everything is bullshit but the open hand
You’ve been leading me
Beside strange waters
Streams of beautiful lights in the night
But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?
If I loose my grip, will I take flight?
Every time I read or listen to these lyrics, something different jumps out. I think that the first thing that grabbed me last evening was the phrase “You’ve been leading me beside strange waters.” The reference to Psalm 23 is unmistakable, however instead of the “still waters” of the psalmist, we have “strange” waters. Strange seems more accurate to life, certainly to life right now.
Two other lines that jumped out to me last night, and continue to do so today, are in the first verse: [I’ve] Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities / The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity. Part of their impact is a recollection of my time in China. As we walked down a backstreet near the river in Xining, my Chinese language partner turned to me and said, “If you were here with a party member on an official visit, you would not be allowed to come here.” It was a mud-track road with tumbling down brick building on either side. The cavernous doors opened into dark, dank mud floored “houses” where chickens ran around freely and large families squeezed into a single room. Yet this is where a large number of people lived. And the government was trying to take it from them: pushing them to goodness-knows-where so that their houses could be bulldozed and tall apartment blocks put in their place.
The next place my thoughts went was to some of the ideas I am pondering as I reflect on church’s stated mission of being the “Cathedral to the City” and what this entails. It is something I am trying to incorporate into my Holy Week meditations and has therefore been on my mind a lot lately. What does it mean to be the Cathedral to the City? Part of that is being aware of those around us and working to integrate our worlds: our guest preacher last week called it being an “indigenous church.” In our part of the city, we are faced with both the beautiful but expensive houses and the people who have no other choice but to pull a tattered blanket over themselves as they lie in the doorway of a closed shop. The latter are the truths that the city would rather hide. They are the truths that we must confront if we are to live an engaged life within our community. Some of these individuals are indeed the mad whose blessing must be accepted without pity.
How then do we practice this engagement? I have no answers. It is much easier to ask questions than to actively search oneself, find answers, and make changes… or even find a path to what might eventually become an answer. I hope, through the process of reflection as I prepare for Holy Week, to begin to step onto that path and invite others to walk with me.
Wednesdays are a crazy day in my world, especially yesterday Wednesday.
The cycle downtown from work to choir practice freaked me out yesterday. Four drivers who weren’t looking for bicycles nearly hit me. It is only a 7.5km ride, and it isn’t like I’m an obnoxious rider, yet these drivers managed to nearly hit me. Yes, I go quickly, but I obey traffic rules and try to be visible when I ride: I have multiple front and rear lights, wear a turquoise reflective jacket, have white bicycle and orange backpack. It isn’t like I blend into the road. Sadly though, this wasn’t the first time cars haven’t been paying attention to me and I’ve had near-misses before (weekly?). For a city that prides itself on having one of the highest amounts of bicycle commuters per capita in the country, there are a lot of drivers who are not paying attention to us. I guess that is what made the statement of Ash Wednesday even more poignant: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return“. We’re all just one event away from that dust.
We got some new choir music in rehearsal last evening. It was new liturgical music for the season of Lent that I’m excited to sing… altos have some wonderful parts and they are all nice and low and minor sounding. One of them, from the Iona Community, asks a simple question: O brother Jesus, where have we left you, Saviour and Lover of all? Where indeed? That line reached out and grabbed me as we sang it.
Lent is probably my favourite season of the church calendar. I like the expectation and anticipation of Advent but often find myself frustrated by the gross commercialism and crazy busy-ness of Christmas that envelops and overwhelms it. Lent on the other hand, often gets overlooked. Aside from pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and the constant question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”, the beginning of this season often goes unnoticed.
Which brings me back to our Lenten liturgical music: O brother Jesus, where have we left you? Am I giving something up for Lent? I am not sure yet. I’ll allow myself until the weekend to decide. On the other hand, I would much rather that I find Jesus during Lent. Find Jesus. Find God’s heart for the lost and poor and marginalized.
In closing, another song for this Sunday (also Iona Community):
Sent by the Lord am I; my hands are ready now to make the earth the place in which the kingdom comes. The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love, of justice and of peace. The task is mine to do, to set it really free. Oh, help me to obey; help me to do your will.
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, ad they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26
Consider the things you have in life that weigh you down. Can you let go of them? Write them on a block of wood and place it into the shopping cart.
Almighty God, your Son was not too proud to accept help from a stranger when he was weakened by whipping and scourging; help me to not be too proud to accept help from others when I am weakened by disability, illness, or age; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Also remember those for whom the shopping cart is their life and the only means of storing their life.