Tag Archives: focused moment

Can we ever really understand?

This past Sunday was what is known in the Christian church as “Christ the King” Sunday. It’s the final Sunday in the Christian liturgical year and the culmination of all our readings and understanding.

As I read the words of the scripture passages, I was flooded with the realization that we can barely understand each other when looking into one another’s eyes and working diligently to share who we are and what it is we need and want. How much more challenging it is to believe that we have any idea what was meant by those who first wrote down the words that led to our twenty-first century translations. It is ludicrous for us to make any assertions about scripture at all.

And so the theme for the week turned to the challenges of being understood. I enjoyed the article by Shaham Farooq, On the Inadequacies of Language on the Medium platform. If you take a read, you may see my comments below. I was honoured that the took the time to respond. I believe Shaham has a believer’s perspective but that doesn’t get in the way of exploring timeless issues that are as important today as they have been for millennia, with or without religious beliefs.

The very first line in Shaham’s article captivated me: “Maybe one of the most tragic love stories is between language and the need for meaningful communication.” How incredibly and painfully true. Language is a crude encryption for our longings, dreams, devastations, and hopes. Even wrapped in the most appropriate garments of transmission – voice, facial cues, body language – we so often fall short. How deluded we are if we assume another perfectly able to decrypt our messages. How enormously deluded we are if we think we can decrypt what those who wrote the prose and poetry of the Bible and other religious texts were striving to communicate. We are novices, all, when it comes to understanding.

Below the picture of Revelation 17:4 from the 4th century document, Codex Vaticanus, is my focused moment for the week.*

 

These are wise and powerful words.
They’ve stirred the hearts of generations,
filled them with courage, fortitude, resolve.
Inscribed on ancient tablets, scrolls,
they yet find their way
to kitchen and bedside tables,
the podiums of scholars,
the shrines of faith.

How shall we read them?
Do we pluck and parse them
one by one?
Or pour them out,
fastened one to the other,
and seek for understanding
through the in-betweens,
the silent spaces never filled?

We own this legacy of words,
handed to us
generation after generation
and still,
though we may say we know them,
we cannot say we understand
for locked in any fine construal,
is the heart that dreamt
a world unseen
and only these mere words
to make it known.

If  you look closely, you’ll see that this photograph of the Codex Vaticanus is “owned” by the Vatican and that I am infringing copyright by posting it here. It concerns me that such texts are not available for public use so I guess you could call this civil disobedience of a sort. 

Blame

Coffee by Unsplash, Pixabay

For the last several months, I have barely been able to get a Focused Moment written in time for the service at West Hill on Sunday. Sometimes, it’s been written late on Friday or early Saturday. But some days, I’ve penned it Sunday morning; once even on my phone on my way to the church (Scott driving!)! Seriously have to get my mojo back here!

This week, though, I triumphed and sent the Focused Moment to annie, our admin person, on Friday with enough time for her to get it printed and ready to hand out. But guess what? On Sunday, I skipped right over it, completely forgoting to read it during the service!

Which may be a good thing. I’d read the lectionary passages for the fourth Sunday of Lent, 2018, as part of my weekly preparation. Each week, I read the passages for the same week of the year in the next year’s lections so that I can create resources in advance for clergy and leaders hoping to include non-theistic elements in their services.  Reading the passages, I decided to focus on the concept of blame, a pretty straightforward Lenten message.

As I did my preparation, though, I realized I had bitten off way more than I could chew in a single Sunday. So I’m extending the “Blame” program over the next week or two, focusing this week solely on the distinction between dispute and conflict. So I can use the blame Focused Moment for next week.

Which means, for the first time E.V.E.R., you’ve got the Focused Moment a week in advance!!

So who is it?
Me?
Am I to blame?
Some oversight, neglect, turning away of my head?
Or perhaps the turning away
was of my heart?
Was it some slight I do not remember perpetrating,
its details lost in the long-forgotten debris
of distasteful memory,
sealed far away from daily discourse or rumination?

Is it them?
The expectations and demands laid upon me as a child,
sewn into the garment of “Who I would become”
even as I was first becoming?
Did they slough off their own personal demons,
transferring the weight to my fragile frame,
watching the shadows work their way
into my being,
their strengths,
their weaknesses,
their hungers?

Is it us?
Are we complicit in the weaving of today
as we were yesterday?
Can our hands move away from the shuttles
that will weave all the tomorrows yet to come?
Is there any way to step aside,
refuse to play,
leave our sorrows and, yes, too, our joys
out of what will be
so it might emerge
free,
unencumbered by who we are?
Or are we only and ever inextricably bound
to the blame
tomorrow will lay upon us
never freed from what will be?

This devastation was my home

In the last of our Inspired by Hollywood series, we’re looking this week at Spotlight, a riveting film about the unwrapping of the tightly protected scandal involving dozens of Roman Catholic priests in Boston and eventually reaching to involve priests in hundreds of cities across North America. I couldn’t move from the theatre for many minutes after the final credits scrolled, so deeply did I feel the culpability of power, the devastation that unfettered religious power can bring about.

My history knows sexual violence. Like too many women, rape is a memory I, too, endure. But, challenging and horrific as it was at the time, it was not perpetrated by someone I identified with God. It didn’t tear down my whole universe; it was only me I held to blame as victim’s often do. It wasn’t God. Multiplying the impact to the exponential value of eternity is almost more than I can even hold in my head. The understated manner in which the film unfolds, focused on the investigation of the story, casts the fullness of its reality into the fore – no faces to tie it to, no children, no priests, just the ragged truth of power and authority destroying the vulnerable as they have countless, countless times before. It was excruciating.

Here is the Focused Moment written to accompany the Perspective(s) on Spotlight. Beyond devastation, we have one another, frail and fragile though that hold might be. May we find ways to build it into something strong and beautiful. Master bedroom carpet crop

There is a place of healing
where my heart knows its strength,
firm, unending as the earth;
where hope returns to me,
constant as the circling sun;
where respite soothes my burdened shoulders,
unknotting them as softly as a breeze;
and where the scent of burning sorrows,
wafts up and wraps me,
sweet and welcome
as crackling logs on winter nights.

This,
this devastation was my home.
Its walls built for protection,
its roof, to be a shelter from the storm.
The windows clear,
were meant to be thrown open
that passing beauty might be watched beyond
or haloed here,
played out within the filtered beams of light.
The floor was built to last a thousand stories,
walking, kneeling, pacing, dancing;
the doors to frame each new arrival
with warmth and welcome,
a portal built of trust and open wide.
This,
this devastation was my home.

But now my home
stands strong and square
within the vast embrace of knowledge;
and hope resides within the faith I have in each of you –
to hold, to heal,
to witness to the pain we share,
to call each other back to love
and what our hearts know to be true.
Lonely burdens, carried far,
no longer break me;
they lie benign
in memories shared and stories told.
The scent of sorrows burning,
freed and saved me.
And we,
together we will keep this home.

Detail of a carpet from my childhood home.

Detail of a carpet from my childhood home.

The world was big

We are in the middle of our Inspired by Hollywood series. I sat down in the theatre to watch Room, alone for the first few minutes until others joined me, laughing and joking with each other and bantering with me, spilling popcorn from the overflowing bags as they found their comfortable seats and best views. An early evening showing after most theatres had finished the movie’s run, there weren’t many people in the theatre when the feature began (after twenty minutes of trailers: note to self….).

But we were a silent crowd when we left. Profoundly moved by the narrative and captivated by the acting, we quietly edged our way out, eager to readjust to the private worlds in which such terrors don’t normally surface.

Atlanta Hotel looking downI wrote my Focused Moment for the week when I got home. But I didn’t prepare for that Sunday’s Perspective(s)* until the next morning. I don’t read anything about the movies I speak about until after I have seen them so I hadn’t known that the book Room upon which the movie is based, was inspired (if you could call it that) by the true horror story of Elizabeth Fritzl who had been imprisoned by her father for twenty-four years or of the seven children she had borne while locked in the basement of the family home. Nor did I know of a Swedish man who, two weeks before I sat down to watch Room, had turned himself in after kidnapping a woman he believed would not be missed for the same purpose of keeping her imprisoned as his own sex slave when he heard that police were looking for him.

My Perspective(s) ended up being about moral relativism and how important the work of creating communities that wrestle with serious questions about ethics, limits, and morality is as we edge our way distant from the supernatural deities that have guided our decisions in the past. Then, when all we needed to think about was what the god called God wanted, the value that most guided us was obedience. Now, in a world wrestling between religious fundamentalism and post-religious moral relativism, the value most urgent is courage. May we find ways to walk with it and make the choices future generations demand.

Here is the Focused Moment I wrote after watching Room.

It was a big world
and we consumed it with open-eyed innocence.
Laughing at wiggly worms,
playful new puppies,
and water rippling over our fingers,
we built relationships
with everything.
All we explored added up to everything
and everything fit neatly inside
all we explored.
It was reality, perfectly balanced by necessity.

Except that it wasn’t/never is/never will be real.
Once truth
– the truth, a truth, any truth –
seizes us,
delusion implodes like so many shattered mirrors
and we stumble,
disoriented by the ever bigger-ness
of what we find exposed,
what lay beyond the doors we could not see.
Everything no longer squeezes into
all we ever knew.
It, we, are come too big for perfect balances.

It is a big world.
Too big for me.
Too big for you.
Too big for even two of us.
Let’s find the others, and be free.

* Perspective(s) are what most churches call sermons. At West Hill, however, we note that all the speaker is sharing is his or her perspective. When those who hear that perspective, in turn, add their own understanding to it and share it with others – the (s) part of it – it becomes our Perspective(s). In other words, it’s never really complete without all of us.

The never-ending moment of commitment

It’s been so long since I posted something here, I almost forgot my password! When I started this blog, my commitment was to keep writing and to do it as regularly as you might possibly be interested. Over the past year, I’ve dipped way below that level of commitment. But I just read a blog article (on learning a new language, for heaven’s sake!) that reminded me of something I SAY often, but almost as often, don’t apply in my own life. Done is better than perfect. So here is this week’s focused moment. Ironically, today’s theme for my Perspective(s) at West Hill is “The Never-ending Moment of Commitment.” Maybe I’ll learn something from it!

If you were to make a commitment today that you knew would last forever, what would it be? Or could you even do it?

Detail from baptismal font, St. Luke's, Auckland

Detail from baptismal font, St. Luke’s, Auckland, NZ

I was a child
when the commitment was made
tethering me
to an ancient worldview
crafted to make sense of the life
into which I had been born.
I was only a baby, in fact.
Too young to know the difference
between this way or that
let alone right and wrong.
Too little to understand
the concept of belief,
or any kind of commitment.
Totally unaware
of the space between
myself and the world around me,
I was pledged
to an idea of love
wrapped up in a long-told tale.

But now I know
that worldviews
are vulnerable to ideas;
they can be torched in an instant
or sent spiralling out of control,
their wreckage an ideological shrapnel
that can wound as well as heal.

Now I know
that making sense of life
is a series of commitments,
to things that will forever change,
their contexts and realities
a fluid emergence
that must coalesce anew in every moment.

Now I know
that there is space between you and I
and that it can be filled
with anything we choose to place there
or not,
becoming the never-ending commitment
or the void of unknowing;
tethering us –
beyond time worn ideologies –
to one another –
or leaving us
alone.

Always a Way Out

Rooster Conch

Rooster Conch

Ever feel like you’re completely boxed into a situation and can’t find your way out? Life can seem like that sometimes. But the reality is that there is always a way out; it’s just that we often don’t like it. It’s messy, or ugly, or somebody, somewhere is going to get hurt and usually it’s someone you care about. Luckily, you’ve got at least three options: don’t do it; do it slowly; or do it with gusto.

As I pondered the many supposed dead ends we eventually manage our way through, my eye caught this magnificent rooster conch from my husband’s collection. As it turns out, the slug that created this jewel of a shell can only survive by dealing with the tight squeeze of its reality. If it doesn’t get out there, it dies. While it might not be literally true for us, it sure makes a good metaphor.

This week’s Focused Moment, prepared for West Hill’s weekly gathering, picks up on the theme of being ready for those tight squeeze times, no matter when they arrive, no matter what state we’re in when they do.

Imagine only one way out
and that way cramped and dimly lit,
the place beyond
a story not yet written,
its ending scraped across
as many dreams as nightmares.

Would you try to stay inside forever,
avoid the unknown,
talk yourself into believing
that here now
and everything that is
will hold you ‘til forever?

Would you draw out the inevitable,
take each moment slowly, slower yet,
suck in your breath
as much to squeeze you through the narrow portal
as in anticipation
of the que sera sera
that lies beyond?

Or would you string the way with twinkling lights,
tape crepe paper bows along the portal
their bright colours melting into everything and over all,
revel in the surfaces worn smooth
through whorls of evolution,
and turn your every effort into wonder
as you press yourself beyond what is …
to your own amazement?

Struggling in the space between good and evil.

wavy yellow lineDescriptors so often pull us in two directions, the tantalizing absolutes on either end of a continuum ever the easiest ones to capture. Whether we are describing something that exists separate and distinct from us or those more nuanced experiences we carry within ourselves and, from time to time, try to explain to others, it seems our minds more easily grasp difference than all the “nearly the sames” we live with, among, within.

On Sunday, I spoke about the creation of good and evil, how it flows from our own language, our own faulty attempts to name what we experience, see, know. In today’s world, the realities of relativism are so acute they carve us apart from one another as we watch nations, communities, families, and individuals decide that what’s good for them is what needs to happen regardless of who else it affects. We let the reality of good and evil be defined, as we must, by so many others who also have skin in the game that it sometimes seems impossible to protect ourselves. It is easy to convince ourselves that everyone out there, devoid of any supreme being keeping score, will be so involved in their own pursuit of well-being that they will stomp on ours.

It is too true that the world outside can be indifferent to our personal needs, that our neighbours might not be the kind of neighbours who will look out for you but rather those who, when you ask them to take care of the place while you’re away, will slip a few pieces of silver up their sleeves thinking you’ll never notice. It’s the kind of world portrayed in the hit series Scandal, a newer, tougher West Wing stripped of its moral fibre, a world of manipulation, power, and isolation.

Still, we try to move toward one another, regardless of the cost. It’s what we have evolved to do. And it is my fervent hope that it will take more generations than we could possibly have left to breed compassion out of us, to allow our lexicon to steer itself toward indifference, to convince us that we are better off alone than together.

May we find ways to explore what lies in the in between. After all, that’s where most of us live – in a place where good and evil aren’t so clear and we haven’t the privilege of taking the moral high ground.

Thick or thin?
Front or back?
Slow or fast?
Beginning or end?
Solid or fluid?
Dark or light?
Perspective circumscribes,
limits,
defines,
and makes its choice.
All we bring to the decision
is the prejudice
of our neural pathways.

Good or bad?
Forgive or forget?
Hurt or heal?
Build or destroy?
Shelter or expose?
Invite or ignore
Perspective circumscribes,
limits,
defines,
would make its choice.
All we bring to the decision
is the prejudice
of our neural pathways,
and our determination
to live with love.

We are not cold

a poem about tomorrow today….

photo by morguefile.com user shannontanski

photo by morguefile.com user shannontanski

This past Sunday, we explored the vantage point from which we can have an effect upon the future.

Really, there is only one vantage point.

It’s now. Not tomorrow.

Not when the future has already arrived.

Now.

With that in mind, the Focused Moment for the week began with the image of a much-beloved statue overlooking Washington, DC.

 

 

Lincoln’s statue,
oversees but a sliver of the world.
Sitting stiffly,
feet straight out,
back stiff as a board,
arms extended, resting just so.
Unblinking,
its cold and marble eyes
remain unmoved.
They make no assessment,
breed no response,
staring at a world
they were not carved to see.

We are not cold.
Our hearts still beat within
and days and days have yet to pass
before our eyes close fast upon this changing world
leaving it to all its morrows.

May we refuse the safe repose
and open wide our hearts
to feel the day as it is felt
by one in need,
another lost in sorrow,
or one grown hard for want of love.
And as we live into that space,
into that ache,
may we see the world
before us,
the world we can see.
The world we can change.

we the only authors

Royal Botanical Garden sunflower

Royal Botanical Garden sunflower

Too often, as I begin the process of creating for a Sunday service, my mind and heart slip off the disciplined road defined by the theme chosen for that week and into the areas in which I am most comfortable – the consideration of time, of words, of meaning, of our relationships. It seems there simply aren’t enough words or images to exhaust the breadth and depth of these favoured concepts. So I invite you, once again, to allow these simple words,  strung together in this likely not very unique way, to settle upon your hearts that these concepts might, once again, invade your seeing.

The binding of our hearts to one another,
in the moment of the binding,
feels as beautiful
as fields of sunflowers
following the glory of their golden god,
enormous waves pledging themselves
to the hard and rocky coast,
and the twilit earth,
quiet, peaceful,
awaiting the night’s unfolding
of its billion billion stars.
We love to love one another
and we build our lives
upon the tethers
that stretch and pull between us,
their resilience a constant reminder
of the nascent beauty
through which they came into being,
the whole, a limitless web
mapping our way to one another,
challenging us to live
as though bound for better or for worse
and remembering
we are the only authors
of our fates.

there isn’t a moment goes by

This coming Sunday falls on International Woman’s Day. The week has been filled with stories on the challenging realities women face – the New York Times front page article, “A Thin Line of Defense Against Honor Killing,” on the work of Women for Afghan Women, an organization that rescues girls and women from the horrific and ongoing tragedy of honor killings; the announcement that Tennessee will become the first State (how’s that for prophesying an increasingly troubling future for women?) to criminalize women for their pregnancy outcomes if they consume substances that harm their babies (see this Salon article); the documentary film The Hunting Ground has young women on campuses reeling at the sight of frat boys chanting, “‘No’ means ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ means ‘anal'”; and twelve of the thirteen men suspended from Dalhousie University’s Dentistry School were reinstated a mere three months after posting violent threats against female classmates on Facebook (the thirteenth student refused to acknowledge his unprofessionalism and was not reinstated).

We’re holding a Women Rock service as we have in previous years but this year, we’re actually going to be listening to women rock stars and the messages they have shared and struggled with in their careers. I’m hoping it will be an opportunity for complexity and complicity to be recognized and addressed. So here is my Focused Moment for International Women’s Day. I’m thinking at this point that it might actually become a longer, more dramatic piece and I’ll post that if it does. Hear in it what you will, take from it what you need, hold of it what you can and honour those whose lives bear witness to realities you may never know.

Photo by morguefile.com user Comeilmare.

Photo by morguefile.com user Comeilmare.

There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t get born
into a world of privilege and luxury,
wrapped in cashmere and lace,
rocked in a satin cradle.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t get born
into poverty,
spilled from a starving womb barely adequate to its task.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t hold her offspring
wondering how such beauty could come to be.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t mourn her absent child
taken by a system convinced it could care better than she.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t worry how she’s going to make it through the day.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t give up something for somebody else,
convinced her need can wait,
her hunger go unfed.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t begin the long, hard walk for water,
swinging her two or three year old
along on her hip as she goes.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t hide her children away in the forest
praying their safety for just one night more.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t rise in the night
and gaze down upon her sleeping child,
convinced she’s the luckiest woman in the world.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
who lies rigid in the night,
literally steeling herself against the intrustion,
her body taken because somebody can.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t scream loud and long, but only inside,
her silence her complicity,
her acceptance her guilt.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t rise in the morning
and do what needs to be done,
bruises and all.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t fight for her life after rape,
brutalized by her attacker
and the system that protects him.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t walk the floor of her home,
back and forth, back and forth,
anxious for the lives of her children, her family.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t hold a tiny still body
and weep.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
hides who she loves
to save who she loves.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t risk it all for love.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t pay for the crimes of a man she loved.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t lose a little piece of her heart
as she watches her children grow hard against the world,
raised in dust and poverty,
on dreams that fade with every morn.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
isn’t bustin’ proud of her grown child’s grace,
success, choices, refusals.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
is lured into an infatuation
with skin-deep beauty
sold by industries of lies.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t stand in front of a mirror
and feel the criticisms
of a thousand passing glances.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
that doesn’t feel she’s not enough.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
that wouldn’t give her eye teeth
for a little bit comfortable –
one, pants that fit without lycra,
another, a winter coat that might keep her warm.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t spend a kid’s college tuition
on handbags and high heels.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t smash into a glass ceiling,
never break it
but bleed anyway.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t lie and tell someone
she fell down the stairs.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t hand another woman
the address of a place that’s safe,
where she can go if she needs help.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t scream herself hoarse
at a system that keeps her down, down, down.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t close her eyes
on a life filled with joy and sorrow,
weakness and strength,
leaving only her legacy to rise in the morning.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t take a long, hard look at her life
and begin to think,
to think for herself.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t sort through her thoughts
and begin to put two and two together.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t rub those two plus two thoughts together
and come up with a view of the world
that she’d never even considered before.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t realize she has a choice
and that whether she takes it or not,
she’ll have made her choice.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t get up
and walk out of her life,
out of what has been –
out of the stories she’s told herself,
out of the truths she thought were hers,
out of the lies we’ve lined up for generations.
There isn’t a moment goes by
that some woman somewhere
doesn’t step into a new moment,
a new reality come wrapped in fear,
and know the exhilaration of her own self.
And there isn’t a moment goes by
that some man somewhere
doesn’t see himself reflected
in that woman’s eye
and wonder.

mystery lies between us

concrete heart

Inspired by the movie The Theory of Everything and the contemplation of how language – verbal and non-verbal – shares who we are with one another.

I am so very grateful
for every single moment,
both those mundane –
lost in
obligatory salutations,
endless meetings,
idle chatter  –
and those sacred –
found in
the laughter of cherished friends,
the lake’s reflection of twilight’s single star,
truths reclaimed as our bodies intertwine –
I am grateful for every single moment
when my thoughts are only mine,
when no other can hear
what I think,
how I feel,
the insubstantial things I name as real.
Still,
the words you speak,
that share your thoughts with me
and set mine upon whole new journeys –
oh! how I treasure each of them!
And those you use –
expressways deep into your feelings –
how could I have wrapped my heart
around you without them?

We share this world,
you and I,
and know that mystery lies between us.
Only what passes between us,
shared with beauty, goodness, truth,
can lead us forward
clasp our hands together,
and build our fragmentary worlds
into one.

accompanied eyes

panorama Oshawa beach 900px

Oshawa Beach with friends. Photo creditss: Deb Ellis

 

“Know thyself” didn’t seem
as though it would be that hard.
After all, I am who I am
and surely, if anyone knows who I am,
I know who I am.
But accompanied on this journey,
I came to realize
that I know little of who I am.
Looking within,
all I see
is distorted by the same imperfect lenses
with which I view the world,
the same neurological synapses
filling in the blanks,
jumping to conclusions
based on interpretations
stored long ago,
fooling me into believing
that what I see is what is true.
Accompanied,
I saw more than I thought I needed to,
more than I believed was within
and so, too,
more than I believed was out there
influencing,
forming
who I am.
May we ever see through accompanied eyes
and add to our circumscribed view
the imperfect perceptions of those around us
that, together,
we might walk the path toward truth,
flawed and fragmented
as it may ever be.

Inspired by the movie Birdman, 2015.

you beyond you

The Focused Moment at West Hill United takes responsibility for tuning those gathered into the more inspirational elements of the service, formerly what would have been called the Word in this now doctrinally-free congregation. It has evolved loosely and over time from the collection of the Call to Worship, Prayers of Approach, Confession and Assurance, and the small prayer often shared before the reading of the Word, the hearing for which all had gathered. Not all are included on any given Sunday as the themes explored vary widely and challenge us to lean in toward any one or more of these modes of speaking in church as it would be explored in a manner more relevant to our contemporary worldview.

This Focused Moment was inspired by and prepared for the service in which we were engaging the concepts and ideas in the Academy Award nominee, Boyhood.

hand

The sum total
of everything you have ever seen,
everything you’ve ever touched,
considered,
understood or misinterpreted,
everything you’ve loved
or lost, or found again,
the stuff you wish had never been,
every word you heard –
remembered or forgotten –
every compromise made,
opportunity ignored,
trust warranted or ground to dust,
every possibility unfurled,
door closed or window opened,
every anxious moment,
every consequence endured,
every everything you’ve ever been,
lies written
on the underside of here and now.

Can you, who reaches out to own it,
break with what has been
and chart your course?
Or is it fore-ordained
by what has been?

Let the moment seize you.
Follow where it leads;
for we can only write the future
on lives embedded in our past,
tied to truths we must outgrow
Let the moment seize you
and trace its way
to wonder,
beyond yesterday,
beyond you.

if we cannot say what’s real … ?

Orange Tulip vertical 3The world lies before us,
brilliant-hued and vibrant.
Mass weighted to rest;
liquid swirling, moving, changing;
vapour rising, lost:
We see it as it is.

Yet an aura of interpretation
weighs in,
filters the light,
shifts the perspective
and we no longer know
what it is we see
or whose right it is to claim to know it.
Colour defines the artist’s reality,
unifies and separates the whole.
Energy interprets the elements
within the physicist’s landscape,
forces together and presses apart,
effects both powerful and subtle.
All is synapses and interpretation
to the neurologist,
magnetic images make clear
what is indecipherable to most.

If we cannot say what’s real
or who can name it,
can we ever say what’s right
or who can claim it?

 

no matter

Toronto 2010

Toronto 2010, photo cpcml.ca

No matter the absence of stars
that leaves the night in darkness;
no matter the empty bowls
when the children are not fed;
no matter criminal words
are spoken without recrimination;
no matter the constant cold
that burns as hard as fire;
no matter the mocking rejection
of everything held most dear;
no matter the never-ending road,
once thought to lead to freedom;
no matter the face that turns away
from the whispered, desperate plea;
no matter the sorrows
never exhausted,
the burdens never lifted,
the dreams never realized,
and the moments never lived;
it comes.
The rod that strikes the unbowed back
is forged of futility.
Change comes.

not heel to toe but truth to truth

credit morguefile.com user maggiekuo

credit morguefile.com user maggiekuo

Would that all our footsteps could be aligned along the path we set for ourselves. Whether heading for the cookie jar or out to change the world, we rarely anticipate the many ways in which life cajoles us from our course or tosses us by the wayside, leaving us to find our way back onto the original track we pursued or to realize that our best course is to give up and set off in another direction entirely. On this first Sunday in the new year, a time when we so often chase a point upon the distant horizon, setting resolutions and harnessing our convictions for the future, I reflect on those things that make our course divergent and how we bear the burden of such a meandering reality. As I age, I become more wary of resolutions, perhaps more honest with myself. Still, I am as disoriented as ever when the path veers off in a direction I did not choose and could not anticipate. May all the chaos we encounter this year, allow us the grace to walk with dignity.

As a child,
I practiced walking the perfect line –
heel to toe,
heel to toe,
heel to toe –
the straightest, shortest course
between here and wherever.
Achieved with an imagined precision
and the triumph of success,
I believed the course to anywhere
could be charted
swift and sure.

It is not so.
Life ruins our every perfect path
and draws its lacelike route
among the truths we realize along the way.
Regrets pool like molten lava.
Complications rise like mountains.
The needs and wants of others touch our hearts
and skew our course.
Trouble casts the path before us
into lightless chasms we cannot plumb.
We are not swift.
We are not sure.

There is no straight, unburdened way.
There never ever was.
And so we chart our rambling path –
not heel to toe,
but truth to truth –
carrying whatever tools we think we need,
and sharing our stories
to light the way.

two lists

It has been a difficult month. The death of my mother after a rapid and confusing decline (confusion mine, not hers) left a void in our family which is, as is too often the case, being filled with things not conducive to a positive grief process. Challenged and grieving for far more than my mom, I took a couple of weeks off from leading services. Thank you to Cynthia Breadner for filling in on the day following mom’s funeral and for Scott who picked up two Longest Night Services and a Sunday morning. I am so grateful.

This past Sunday returned me to routine and I was embraced by a congregation that affords me infinite grace. I am so privileged to be held in that community and grateful for their love.

jdurham, morguefile.com

jdurham, morguefile.com

The service reflected on the changing of the year and what it is we have learned. Here is my focused moment, its inspiration the annual “year in review” and “prediction” lists.

Two lists,
and we live in the space between them
neither fully clear of the one
nor fully convinced of the other.
The year in review
displays our greatest moments
alongside our deepest shame,
rekindles the delight of our common joys
and tempers them
with stories of communal loss.
Predictions for the year ahead
steel us for the effects
of last year’s bad decisions
and tantalize with ideas
yet come to be.
We wallow in our possibilities,
frantic for optimism
to take root
in these dark months
that happiness might blossom
in the year to be.

Still,
it is here in the in-between
that we must make our choices.
What is known is only shadow –
reality stretched so thin
that none might know
or understand it all.
What will be is insubstantial as light –
ever before us, impossible to grasp.
Yesterday’s broken landscape
lies beneath our feet
and all we have to brave the journey to tomorrow
is the strength of our commitment
to what is good, and right, and just.
In this,
the only moment we really have,
may we strengthen our hold
on who we call ourselves to be
and walk with the conviction that,
if nothing else,
our future will be known
as one in which
we chose to love.

again

candle bannerEach year, on the first Sunday in December, we celebrate the anniversary of becoming an Affirming congregation. This year, we’re welcoming Deb Pearce, a vibrant voice in the LGBTQ community.

I wrote this Focused Moment to reflect on the challenge of coming to know oneself and being brave enough to stare at oneself long enough to do that. It’s hard work. Often too hard.

I push a button
and the doors slide symmetrically shut
wrapping me in my own reflection,
nothing but me
extending to infinity in a four by six box.
We …
(how many of me
changes “”me”” into “”we””?)
… we begin to rise
heading for all the possibilities
a numbered circle can offer.
I hadn’t counted on this, though.
Hadn’t thought
of the exploded version of me
stretching through fractal curves
to meet its final …. what?
Hadn’t expected
an existential challenge between floors,
the question I run from
staring back at me
when I,
though moving,
have nowhere to go.
I lose track of floors
intent on exploring
what all the we’s of me demand.
But my cage slows;
stops;
the doors slide symmetrically open
and I leave that work behind.
Again.

we’d watched it come …

Brooding storm over the gulf.

Brooding storm over the gulf.

I almost didn’t recognize it.
The description was of something strange,
yesterday’s materials,
old clichés, and my little sister’s sorrows.
Like a movie of your favourite book,
all the characters transformed
their faces not at all
the ones you’d held so close.
Or all the talking animals
of your childhood books
walking upright,
disneyfied across a silver screen.

We’d watched it come.
We’d seen the writing on the wall,
read detailed stories
about what would be.
We’d heard of possibilities –
remote, beyond imagination –
unleashed from speculation
and transforming days in other lives
and still,
we did not see.

Walk with me.
Help me find a solid truth
that I can bear.
Within this maelstrom of unknown,
this place were all seems changed,
guide me to a place of calm
where my world still holds
if only briefly,
that I might look upon the truth
of who we are and what we’ve made
and face our new reality.

pursuit

Knotted rainbow streamers fly out of the foot of West Hill's cross.

Knotted rainbow streamers fly out of the foot of West Hill’s cross.

VisionWorks, the document that guides everything we do at West Hill, is up for review. Embraced by the congregation in 2004, we are determined to review and, if necessary, revise it every five years.  We did it in 2009 and we’re doing it again this year.
Each Sunday over the next six weeks, we’ll look at a specific section of it and then, during the week, get together to have a conversation about it. Once all the input has been collected, a writing team will grapple with the content and in the conversations and draft a new version to be reviewed by the congregation at its next general meeting. It’s as egalitarian as it gets, I think, and I am immensely proud of the intentional work undertaken by West Hill that critiques its own work in order to live out the values it has declared as crucial to its identity.

This is my first Focused Moment prepared for the series and inspired by the VisionWorks preamble.

Pursuing justice,
seeking truth,
living fully,
caring deeply.
We set our mark upon this earth,
upon our communities,
our friends and family,
upon ourselves.
Deep, clear, indelible,
that mark calls us to life
in all its beauty and shame,
all its wonder and drudgery,
all its courage and desolation.
Folded, unseen,
within the potential
life offers each morn,
lie both our most difficult challenges
and our most brilliant opportunities.
Within the tensions of these two,
we seek and hold fast to one another,
riveted to truth’s devastations and splendours
and the possibility that,
even at this late, late hour,
we might find a way
to make a difference
and turn the world
toward compassion.