Monday, 25 September 2017

Congregational worship

I've started attending early morning Sunday service at the local Anglican church--which follows the traditional Book of Common Prayer liturgy--including many of the hymns I learned by memory when I was a child.

Perhaps it is a sign of getting older that I am nostalgic about things from way back in the day. But at the same time, there is great musical beauty in many of the classic hymns, as well as deep theology which is sometimes lacking in "choruses" which tend to repeat the same few lines over and over rather than digging deeper and exploring the thoughts being presented.

It's also quite appealing to have music that is designed to be sung as a group rather than meant to be sung by "entertainers" (dare I say that?)--and which is often difficult for the average person to sing along with chorally. In fact, in this church no one "leads" the music, other than the pianist playing the tune. It allows the congregation to focus on the words and to listen to each other, really "joining together" in praise and worship. There certainly isn't any "distraction" of watching the worship band or just letting the band do the singing.

In the 60 plus years I've attended services in a wide variety of churches, I've enjoyed nearly every kind of worship music I've encountered (except, I have to admit, when lyrics have been twisted awkwardly to fit modern sensibilities of gender and other issues. I understand the need to update lyrics in some cases, but does it really have to be done so awkwardly? Surely there are writers among the congregation who could rewrite lyrics--or write entirely new stanzas--that have better wording. Yes, end of rant). I understand the need to reach out to different age groups, too. But why can't we have a mixture of music styles so that people of all ages have an opportunity to worship together?

Even in these very traditional services I've been attending (and in which I'm decidedly "junior" in age!), with 3 hymns each service, while 2 are pretty traditional there is always at least 1 more modern piece. And the church offers two services, with the second offering more "youthful" music--not to mention regular jazz vespers services and other similar worship options. Some people attend all the services, which is pretty awesome I think.

I know that worship music can be a hot-button issue, and I'm not trying to start any arguments here. Each to his choice--but why oh why can't we find more ways to be in unity? Music is such a great opportunity to share and be generous. And anyway, worship music isn't meant to be about "getting my fix" or "making me feel good" after all. It's supposed to be about worshipping God, isn't it? Together?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Prayer habits

I have been using The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime (Phyllis Tickle ed) for a couple weeks now. Four sets of prayers a day: morning, midday, vespers (suppertime-ish), compline (bedtime). I thought at first it would be easy because each set only takes a few minutes (and before that I was reading 6 chapters a day plus a long list of prayers, so on average about an hour and 15 minutes at one go per day--I'm still doing that sometimes, too, but not stressing about it).

What I found is that four times a day, even with short times, is a hard habit to build. I have a busy home-based business to run (tutoring, editing and writing), family to take care of, and all the other day to day responsibilities of life.  While I try to be a scheduled person, it never ceases to amaze me how many "unexpected moments" in life pop up. Unexpectedly, of course. It is so easy to be distracted from small things. It is easier to remember to do things that take more time--but when it's just 5 or 10 minutes, it is easy to miss.

I am gradually getting into the swing of the divine hours though, and each time find them more helpful, and enjoyable, than previously. I have decided the advice to read them aloud is a really good idea ... it does make me feel that I am part of the church, knowing that others are also taking part. Though sometimes I wish they were here with me and I could literally hear them.

I have also heard that creating a bit of a "ritual" helps. I was brought up in an evangelical denomination in which "ritual" seemed to be kind of a "dirty word" because it was connected with "those liturgical churches." Later I realized that our order of service laid out each Sunday in the bulletin was kind of liturgical itself. But at least we didn't do things like burn candles, and have "images" hanging on the wall, or cross ourselves, or kneel on kneeling benches facing the altar (come to think of it, back in the day we knelt on the floor, with our hands folded on the pew, facing the back of the church...). And we certainly didn't have little altar corners in our homes. I guess some of that (pride or fear or a little of both) is still hanging onto the edges of my mind, for I'm nervous about taking that advice to light a candle, or have a special quiet place with a picture, or maybe a cross or whatever, to help me focus. But it seems to me that it really might help me remember, and focus... Yes, time to give it a try. I'll set it up, now.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Which church?

Yesterday (Sunday), I went to the early morning service at our local Anglican church. I have a friend who attends there, so I had someone to sit beside in the service, as well as at the coffee/fellowship time afterwards (I'm not very good at going places where I don't know anyone). And I chose the early morning service as they use the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) rather than the updated more ecumenical 11 a.m. service. I also appreciate the more traditional hymnal. And I could still attend the Sunday morning gathering of the small house church I've been a part of for a number of years.

The thing is, much as I love our little home gathering, somehow I really miss the depth of the traditional Anglican liturgy with its many scripture readings, prayers, and hymns, as well as the liturgy of the Eucharist. There is such a sense of unity through time and place--the whole "body of believers" who comprise the universal church. On the other time, at our home gathering, I appreciate the opportunity for everyone to share their thoughts and experiences related to their spiritual journey (and the potluck breakfast is pretty awesome, too, right?).

It seems pretty wonderful to me that Christ-followers really are a vast throng of believers from many places and traditions and cultures and even doctrinal "fine points," but centered on Jesus.

For a number of years, I swung from the "evangelical Protestant" church style and doctrinal statements of my upbringing to a "free, organic, home-based church" style based (to some degree) on what we can glean about the early church from New Testament scriptures. I had reacted strongly to a couple church break-ups I had recently experienced and was searching for a more "perfect church." I have come to the conclusion that only our Lord is perfect ... and that the church as a body of believers is bound to reflect (as it should), like a kaleidoscope, the vast variety and creativity beauty of its members, who are so different and unique--created as amazing individuals by their Creator, but brought together into a complex, but simply centered, unity with Him. Along my life long journey, I've attended and participated in a wide variety of "denominations" as well as exploring and building close friendships with people from still other traditions. While I see the value of, in some senses, "committing to" a local group of the church, I am more and more convinced that we also need to know and love our brothers and sisters from many traditions, and learn from and support each other in our journey together.

In reflection, I feel as though my personal journey itself has been a beautiful kaleidoscope. The further along I go, the less I am certain of all the "details" (doctrinal fine points some people are so concerned about and convinced are the only truth) but the more convinced I become that our unity in Christ, who is Truth, is what holds us together and creates the sunlight that makes the journey worthwhile and real, even with all its unexpected moments, twists and turns, and yes, wonderings and doubts and wilderness time.

I am grateful to my times spent in Anglican, Alliance, Free Methodist, Faith Gospel, Nazarene, Anglican, Pentecostal, non-denominational evangelical with a Pentecostal flavour, Anglican, Mennonite Brethren, Baptist, home church... and again, Anglican (there seems to be a pattern, a feeling "at home" to the latter!) Christian churches that have opened their doors and hearts to me--not to mention dear friends from many other traditions who have also shared their hearts with me, and from whom I've learned so much--Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Judaism, etc. And I also appreciate my deep friendships with those who are also seeking truth through alternative paths such as traditional indigenous beliefs, Mormonism, the Watchtower society, universalism, Baha'i, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhs, Islam, new age, and so on. We may "agree to disagree" about some things, but in all these paths I see reflections of our Creator's love and goodness, His reaching out to us.

I know that last paragraph may be distressing to some of my friends who are so sure of the exact rightness of their particular doctrines and creeds, in contrast to all others. I am sure that God knows their hearts just as He knows mine, and I trust his Spirit to, in the end, draw each of us into His Truth, which in our humanness here on this little planet, is far larger and more amazing (and Truthful) that we can imagine. And perfect. His perfection, not ours.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

From the gut, not from above the eyebrows

My last post "caught me up" on writing from my journals... and now I'll be writing from where I am right now. I'm not sure how that will go, but it will be from my heart.

I've been reading so many books about writing ... and they almost all focus on writing from the heart. From things that are really important to you. This seems to be a somewhat different approach--and perhaps even better--than the advice to "write from what you know." In her book, Writing From Personal Experience, Nancy D. Kelton calls it "writing from your gut" rather than "from above your eyebrows." I like that picture! I have been so frustrated over the years as I've tried to write "intellectually/from above my eyebrows" (in the case of this blog, "theologically"), always feeling that there are lots of other people out there who are so much more knowledgeable and wise than I am. But Kelton points out that "Everyone has something special to say and a unique way of seeing and saying it. This individuality bubbles up when we allow it to happen and when we get out of our own way." Yes! Writing from the gut--from the heart. I would add, to that suggestion to allow it to happen as we get out of our own way, the additional thought of allowing it to happen as "we get the demands and expectations of others out of our way," since that has always been a problem for me.

In the case of a blog like this, writing from the heart has a sincerity and honesty that purely intellectual writing lacks--and it, of course, involves the unity of my spirit and heart with that of my Creator's Holy Spirit.

Reading the Psalms is a good way to experience that kind of writing, as they are so real, so human. They reflect all the aspects of the writer's heart, and share the reality that we don't have all the answers, that there is mystery--and also emotion and frustration and questioning, along with joy and peace and a bit of knowledge. I do believe we still "see darkly" as I Corinthians 13 puts it--"now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror" (NLT)--but gradually, bit by bit, our Father is opening our eyes.

And guess what? He doesn't mind if our knowledge isn't precisely laid out creed-like; He understands our journey; indeed, HE lays out our pathway, and sometimes it's pretty rough and winding and wilderness-like. "Straight and narrow" it may be, but as Christian discovers in The Pilgrim's Progress, there are some very dark patches, some steep and rocky slopes, some very lonely stretches. Indeed, sometimes it doesn't even seem like He's there with us. He does know what we need--including a lot of growing pains. Especially growing pains, I suspect.

Speaking of growing pains and questionings and mystery, have you watched the movie Silence (2016, director Martin Scorsese)? If you haven't, I do recommend it.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Do Christians pray and pray and pray and pray...

(originally journaled Aug 14, 2017--yes, I'm almost caught up :-) )

Well! I had a wonderful "mini-retreat" kind of weekend, all my myself...and feel much more assured that You love me, are with me, approve of me...and are guiding me even when I don't "see" it in any emotional or concrete way--but on the other hand, this whole weekend has been pretty concrete that You are in me, in my life.

Yes, I'd like to somehow be more "clearly Christian" and "reach out to people more clearly" and be surer that I'm including You in all my daily activities...but I'm glad to know You are with and in me, even without the "for sure, clearly."

The Flee, Be Silent, Pray book by Ed Cyzewski has been a great help and assurance. And I really do feel relieved at the thought of being able to have short devotional times a few times a day versus intensive many chapters of scripture reading and long prayers once a day.

The only thing I wonder about is all those people with their needs that I've been praying for day after day. I always remember hearing about that girl in India who would pray for over 500 people every night ... and great men of the church who'd pray for 4 or more hours a day on their knees in the closet or at their bedside, wearing dips into the floor. And Susannah Wesley's prayer times with her apron over her head while her dozen children ran around (although she did have a cook, gardener, and maids to help with the kids!).

We were so taught that real/great Christians prayed and prayed and prayed--until they "broke through" (every day), though they seemed to be mostly men (reverends) with wives to take care of life, or single people without too many other responsibilities!

Oh well, I've always been attracted by Brother Lawrence's approach (as in The Practice of the Presence of God) which is much more of being aware of and listening to You in all the little moments of the day. And now this book I just read about "The Divine Hours" and "Contemplative Prayers" and "The Examen."

Maybe I could do my "list everyone" prayers once or twice a week--or divide up the list into 7 days--so I don't sometimes have the feeling of it "hanging over my head" all the time. (Terrible of me to have that attitude, eh?)

Okay, so I'm going to order The Divine Hours books by Phyllis Tickle. And I also have the Anglican Prayer Book that belonged to my grandfather, and the Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne et al. Those should keep me going in a way that I can really handle, in a way that I can focus on You throughout the day.

Friday, 1 September 2017

He Loves Us!

Do you ever feel, as I sometimes do, that your spiritual life is going nowhere, that it's stuck in a rut? Or do you wonder if you've ever written anything that might be of help to anyone?

I started this blog in 2009 (yes, 8 years ago) ... and I also transferred some blog posts from other blogs I'd written as far back as 2000 (17 years ago!) after the platforms (like Geo Cities--which I started blogging on in the mid-1990s) were closing down. I am amazed to see I've written 884 posts on this site (and that's not counting all my other blog sites and posts over the years).

Sometimes it's a good idea to go back and re-read some of the things you've written in the past (in blogs, in old journals, on old computer disks...). It's reassuring to see the journey as it has rolled out. It's reassuring to see how God has been directing you, loving you, holding your hand even when things have seemed to be at their darkest and most hopeless.

He loves us!