Of Western-ness and Burning Bushes

I recently stumbled upon something – a letter about a part of the Creed – I wrote in January 2007. I liked it and thought to share it:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy, catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen

I believe in the Holy Spirit…
Why does Jesus get so many lines in the creed and the Holy Spirit just one?
The Holy Spirit always seems to get the short end of the stick in discussions involving the Trinity. The academic part of me knows this may be because Jesus was the “hot topic” of the day when the creed was written; with all the heresies abounding to claim him as one thing or another there was a need for a unifying statement of faith. But the other part of me thinks that surely the Holy Spirit deserves more than just an “I believe in the Holy Spirit”. Is not the Holy Spirit one of the more real aspects of the Trinity for us today? We can’t see God the Father or Jesus directly (although I suppose we don’t actually see the Holy Spirit either), but in terms of the Holy Spirit, we often speak of experiencing him in a real way in our daily lives. Jesus told his disciples when he left that he would send his Holy Spirit to them, and, by extension, to us. So if the Holy Spirit is with us on a daily basis, it should merit much more in the way of discussion than just a single line!
Frequently the Holy Spirit misses out in discussions and the like because we don’t really understand him. However, do we understand God either? Or Jesus? I suppose if faith depended on understanding, I would be out of luck. I do know, however, that we would be lost but for the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The holy, catholic church
One of the things I have loved when travelling is visiting other churches. I love the catholic-ness, the worldwide-ness of the church and family of God; I love how the same God may be encountered worldwide by people of different nationalities and traditions. It was this catholic-ness of the church that really opened my Chinese language partner’s eyes this summer when she realised that Christianity was not exclusively a Western religion, but was and is worldwide. It is this catholic-ness that I experienced this year when I was communing in a multinational missionary church service in Xining, China; a Danish service in Copenhagen; a German service in Wolfsburg; a Dutch service in Amsterdam; an English-German service in Freiburg; an English service in London; a French service in Montreal; and the fellowship of my own part of the body in Victoria. Wow! We were all reading from the same Bible and speaking of the same God – sometimes even singing the same songs tho in different languages. This is truly The Communion of saints in a world-wide manner. The ideal, which, sadly, is often not realised, is a worldwide church; not divided or segregated from itself but set apart for God as holy.

The forgiveness of sins
Where would I be if this was not so?!? I do not want to contemplate.

The resurrection of the body, And the life everlasting.
I look forward to it.
I have been rereading one of my favourite trilogies this week and it has been like sitting down with an old friend. It is one that belonged to my mum and that is probably part of the value of it to me – her notes are on many of the pages and reading it is a glimpse into her thoughts which I don’t otherwise get anymore. In it, the author talks of our oneness, not as a group of people, but as a self. The oneness of ourself and our being. What she speaks of is what I look forward to at the resurrection of the
body.

The burning bush: somehow I visualize it as much like one of these blueberry bushes. The bush burned, was alive with flame and was not consumed. Why? Isn’t it because, as a bush, it was perfect? It was exactly as a bush is meant to be. A bush doesn’t have the opportunity for prideful and selfish choices, for self-destruction, that we human beings do. It is. It is a pure example of ontolgy. Ecology — ontology — the words fascinate me. Ontology is one of my son-in-law’s favourite words, and I’m apt to get drunk on words, to go on jags; ontology is my jag for this summer, and I’m grateful to Alan for it — as for so much else. Ontology: the word about the essence of things; the word about being.
I go into the brook because I get out of being, out of the essential. So I’m not like the bush, then. I put all my prickliness, selfishness, in-turnness, onto my isness; we all tend to, and when we burn, this part of us is consumed. When I go past the tallest blueberry bush, where my twine is tied to one of the branches, I think that the part of us that has to be burned away is something like the deadwood on the bush; it has to go, to be burned in the terrible fire of reality, until there is nothing left but our ontological selves; what we are meant to be. (A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle)

Nothing left but our ontological selves. What we are meant to be.

Amen. So be it.

Grace and peace,
Gillian

Conspiracy Confusion & Consternation

It is the Saturday before Christmas. Today, I was walking around outside in just my jeans and a hoodie. My bare feet were quite happy inside my sandal-shoes and my bare fingers were not cold in the slightest. It does not feel like Christmas.

Last year this time, we had more snow than we knew what to do with. This year, it is mild and might rain. Oh, how things change.

For a few days there, I was getting into the “Christmas Spirit,” whatever that means; I had a little more excitement and anticipation than I remember having last year. Now that has been replaced by the chaos of the last week as I hurry to write/submit my final paper, scurry around to finish last minute preparations to head over Vancouver for Christmas, wrap up some church commitments, and maintain my usual level of work/church/other activity.

Last night, we went to see the Messiah. It was a beautiful performance of some of my favourite music. It brought back memories of performing the Young Messiah with my elementary school choir and of making Christmas gifts aboard ship in Papua New Guinea. It helped to get me in the frame of mind of Christmas. But then this morning I passed one of the malls and all the parking spots looked full. At 9:40 in the morning. How discouraging.

I’ve been a part of a group encouraging people within church to participate in Advent Conspiracy but at the same time, I’ve been caught up in the quest to find the perfect gift for the one person on my list for whom I haven’t yet found something. How easy it is to loose perspective. I am reminded of something a friend wrote the other day. It was a good reminder then and is a great reminder now; In the hubbub of crass commercialism and my resultant desire to withdraw from Christmas altogether I cannot forget to hold on to why we have Christmas in the first place.

Midway Atoll

Midway atoll is a beautiful patch of sand thousands of miles away from anything in the Pacific Ocean. After its life as a US military base was finished, it came under the protection of a Marine Sanctuary, one which encompasses most of the islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, making it one of the largest such protected areas in the world. It is home to around two million albatross, or it was in the spring of 2008 when the crew and trainees of the Pacific Grace stopped there on our north Pacific crossing.

That protection, however, does not and cannot extend past the shores of the islands and once the albatross have left the island where they reign supreme, they are in danger. It seems that albatross are feeding in what has come to be known The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the Pacific about twice the size of Texas completely covered in plastic trash. Some of it has been dumped off of ships, some is probably cargo that has come loose in storms, still more is blown out to sea from coastal areas on both sides of the Pacific.

We saw hints of this on Midway last year. The photo above shows the beach and a pile of garbage. When individuals walk the beaches on Midway, they collect some of the larger pieces and add them too these piles all along the beach. Some of it is probably washed up on shore. The rest of it comes from the albatross who, thinking it is food, have unwittingly swallowed it and brought it back to land.

There they feed it  to their young and, as Chris Jordan’s photos show (also, see the NY Times Book Review, h/t to Jen who sent me this article and started me off on this rant), it has devastating effects.

The following videos are [first] a short doc on the plastic and albatross on Midway (I recognize the opening scenes from our visit there, they are the old military houses) and [second] Chris’ photos set to music.

Damning? Yes. Enough to make us all reconsider our plastic consumption? I sure hope so.

Ethics and Jesus

As I go through my philosophy notes in preparation for my final on Thursday, I reread a comment I wrote in the margin of my paper during one class. It caused me to stop and think once again, as I did a few weeks ago when I wrote it.

We were talking about euthanasia and whether there is a moral/ethical difference between active euthanasia (think lethal injection) or passive euthanasia (withdrawing a feeding tube). Physically, one is an act of commission while the other is omission.

An example was brought up: Bob decides to kill his young cousin because by doing so he will gain a large inheritance. In situation (1) Bob walks into the bathroom where young cousin is in the bath and holds the cousin’s head underwater until he is dead then makes it look like an accident. In situation (2) Bob walks into the bathroom intending to hold his cousin’s head underwater but finds his cousin has already slipped and is drowning on his own. Bob stands by and watches it happen.

Is there really a difference between these two? The intent was the same, the result was the same, the only difference is the way in which it happened. The guilt of Bob seems to hinge on his intent.

It reminded me of when Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and talked about how being angry with a brother was equivalent to murder. Or how by looking at a woman lustfully is committing adultery with her in the heart.

Thoughts

The Old Testament reading this past week in the lectionary was from Isaiah 40. This article is a very thoughtful take on it, one which resonates with what I’ve been thinking about/trying to do over the last little while. It it the reason why, even (and especially) when things are crazy, I need to go for a long walk every now and again. It is the reason I’ve been listening to my iPod less and less while going on these walks. There is something powerful in waiting on God.

Pilgrimage

I’ve been thinking a fair bit (off and on) about the idea of pilgrimage over the last few months. It was brought to the forefront of my attention once again on Sunday with the story on CBC Radio One’s Tapestry program. Then today this article from The Economist popped up in my RSS feed. It is discussing German pilgrimage sites (one of which I visited on my 2006 trip around Europe.)

The thing about pilgrimage, as expressed by Arthur Paul Boers on Tapestry (and if you haven’t listened to it yet, take a break and do it. It is very interesting), is that it allows us to more fully engage. Think about it: we live in a culture where we are not fully engaged in much of anything around us. We do things with our mind or our body (go through the motions… how often do you have the radio or TV on in the background while doing something else and only half pay attention to anything? I know I do it all the time) or our emotions are engaged but it is rare that you get all three working together at once. There is far too much distraction for that (iPod plugged in while reading/walking…). Pilgrimage engages all: mind/intellect, body, spirit, emotions.

Another way to say it: our culture is disconnected/fragmented and pilgrimage reunites and connects us both with ourselves and with others.
How does it do this? Again, referring back to the interview on Tapestry, by creating situations where the boundaries are different and you are able to get to know yourself and others on a whole new level.
There are lots of classic examples of pilgrimage. In medieval times, people would go to Cologne, Jerusalem, Rome, Canterbury (Chaucer anyone?), or Santiago de Compostela to name a few. Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands to millions of people make the annual hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.
So what is the deal? The American philosopher Albert Borgmann in his book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (one of the books I’m currently plugging through) speaks of Focal Places, Things, and Practices when discussing the fragmentation of our lives (specifically in relation to technology). These focals have three qualities:
  1. Commanding presence, that is they demand discipline, take exercise, and tire us out.
  2. Meaningfully connect us to others, to our history, to the environment, and, I would add, to ourselves.
  3. Have centering/orienting power by helping to remind us of what is most important.
Unfortunately, these are becoming rapidly pushed out of the centre of our lives into the background, leading to our disoriented lives.
I then got to thinking on pilgrimages in my own life and realized that Offshore was a pilgrimage of sorts. There was not the idea of the body being used to express something of the soul that you would get in a walking pilgrimage like the Camino del Santiago, however other aspects were certainly there. The previously mentioned idea of pilgrimage creating situations where the boundaries are different and you enabling people to know the self and others on a whole new level was and is key to the Offshore experience. There is little room for an alternative when you are on a 138 ft boat with 35 other people for a month to a year without the option of getting off.
To go through the characteristics of focal points/things/places:
  • Demanding discipline, taking exercise and tiring us out? Most certainly. I was tired at the end of each day and chronically exhausted by the 9 month point. This was not just and, I would venture to say, not always a physical exhaustion. There were times when I just felt like I did not have anything more to give; an emotional and mental exhaustion that really had me questioning my ability to provide for the trainees in the manner I felt I needed/wanted to.
  • Meaningfully connecting? Again, definitely. If I had a dollar for every time someone talked about feeling understood by others on the boat better than they’d ever been before or about being able to know themselves and the people around them more meaningfully then I wouldn’t need to worry about finding part-time work this semester. After all, our ongoing theme throughout Offshore was from Jean Vanier’s book Becoming Human (another one you should read if you haven’t). In it, Vanier talks about being known and that in allowing others to know us by opening our lives, we can achieve real freedom.
  • Reminding us of what is most important in life? Once again, a resounding yes. Many of us came away from Offshore feeling that we had far too many possessions and realizing that these are not the things which are most important. Going back to the previous point, it is the meaningful relationships and other non-tangible things which are important.
I would say that the majority of people who joined us for a part of the Offshore left the boat deeply impacted and, in some way or another, changed. If not than I think they missed a large portion of what it was about. I just wish that I had thought more about Offshore in this fashion before I went so that I could glean even more from it than I did.

Tapestry

I was home long enough this afternoon to catch part of CBC Radio One’s Tapestry and decided I needed to listen to the whole thing. So I downloaded the podcast this evening and listened.  It was an interview with a Mennonite pastor/prof who wrote a book on his experiences doing the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage.  It was very interesting and he had a lot to say that is quite applicable to our everyday lives and the way in which we choose to live them.  If you have a few minutes (well, 50), I’d recommend downloading it and listening.  I jotted down two pages of notes which I am in the process of digesting.

The End of the Year is Here

The end of the year is here. We are at a new beginning.
A birth has come, and we reenact
At its remembrance the extraordinary fact
Of our unique, incomprehensible being.

The new year has started, for moving and growing.
The child’s laugh within and through the adult’s tears
In joy and incomprehension at the singing years
Pushes us into fresh life, new knowing.

Here at the end of the year comes the year’s springing.
The falling and melting snow meet in the stream
That flows with living waters and cleanses the dream.
The reed bends and endures and sees the dove’s winging.

Move into the year and the new times’ turning
Open and vulnerable and loving and steady.
The stars are aflame; creation is ready.
The day is at hand: the bright sun burns.

– Madeleine L’Engle