Just on the other side

Maybe it is just me but I often get the sense that there is something just beyond my understanding or comprehension going on, not in a negative way, just a sense that there is more meaning to be grasped in a given moment or relationship than what I glean. It’s like sometimes I read a book and I can tell the author is saying something REALLY BIG and yet I cannot quite lay my hands on it. 

I know this happens to my cats, at least in a sense. I see them often looking out our doors and windows, they were born in an outdoor cat colony but picked up at a very young age and since then have only gotten outside when someone holds a door open too long and the cats are feeling rambunctious. Despite this near total lack of familiarity when they spot a squirrel or bird, or any animal outside they get shaky, they get low, sometimes they offer a ridiculous sort of a growl, mostly they twitch uncontrollably. It seems pretty obvious to me that they would have little chance of catching any of these wild creatures, yet something deep within them stirs for more out of life and as much as they love their warm cozy sleep spots and their regular meals, treats, access to water and cuddles, their guts tell them there is more than meets the eye going on, they are made for something different. Evolution, of course, has built my cats into killers of birds and mice, powerful survivors, just as much as for cuddles.

Panda ponders the squirrel and her very being and meaning of the cat life???

I wonder if my sense of there being something just beyond me is like that—the result of some deeper truth I cannot fathom and yet respond to. I hope it is. I hope it is caused by biblical truths like I am fearfully and wonderful made, and meant for relationship with the Divine. As C.S. Lewis pointed out the fact that I get hungry means there is some way to be full that a full belly can only hint at, that I am meant for relationship with God, that we are meant to be in the presence of the Divine as well as one another and to dance together in love. 

Of course, there is much to be said about the relationship of the imminent and the transcendent and if I am blessed then this “other element” I notice need not cause anxiety or stress as I strain to extract more where I sense it is to be found. My cats are held back by the humans in their lives who will not permit them to explore properly. I benefit from occasionally asking myself what or who holds me back, maybe that is a good question for you as well (hint: it is often me getting in my own way). Maybe it is something like my cats and you are well and truly restrained, but then again maybe not. 

For me, I know that meditation, the humble acceptance of stillness, the quieting of the mind regardless of what is going on in my house, work, and relationships, permits me to get closer to the transcendent reality, even if I have yet to fully grasp at it. Maybe I never will. A part of courage is the willingness to set oneself towards a goal with the risk that one will never achieve the hoped for end. On the one hand meditation might be a bit like that for me, I may never quite get what I am looking for. On the other hand I am a christian and so my hope is neither in myself, my ability sit quietly, nor in meditation itself, but in Jesus of Nazareth. And so I plod along faithfully with a sense of hope and a small bit of courage as I await the breaking of the veil. 

Onwards my friends, the journey isn’t over. 

The Sacred is all around us

I have been rereading a book about running as meditation and prayer (running the spiritual path by Roger Joslin) because it teaches me something new every time I read it and because as long as I continue running I want to continue handing over the effort to God. 

One element that really struck me this time around is the need for gentleness with ourselves as we try new practices. I am a bit of a bull at times, I don’t—as they say—let grass grow under my feet. I get an idea or hear of something to try and if it appeals to me away I go. But not everyone can approach life like this, many simply can’t, others don’t want to, and I need to be good about recognizing that not everyone is into stopping things cold turkey. Joslin writes, “Rather than forcing yet another activity into a busy existence allow the practice too slowly become a part of the rhythm of your life.” That sounds like a helpful approach for many people regarding spiritual disciplines (and running for that matter). Using force is really only for opening pickle jars not for jarring rhythms that are unsustainable.

If a discipline appeals to us that likely means it is worth our giving it a try but that does not mean jumping to the advanced level. For example, two 5 minute meditations that get done every day are light years better than one 30 minute meditation a day that is often missed. Fasting one day a month is better than never fasting at all. Inviting one person or household over for a meal is way better than being so intimidated by the prospect of inviting 20 people over for a perfect meal that we never invite anyone over.

What I have found is that pursuing these sorts of disciplines helps me notice my days more, notice the Divine at work in them, to be more present. Alistair McIntire wrote, “the task of religion is to enable us to see the secular as sacred” which is an idea I agree with and the way forward in this—again in my experience—is to notice which spiritual practices call out to us and to practice them.

Practice is a good word. One practices bowling a long time before they can ever aspire to rolling 300. On practices knitting before one attempts the big sweater, one practices writing before writing the great novel. Practice involves many smaller steps, focusing on one element or another and then eventually trying to put them all together for a magical moment. If we can learn to live lives of intentionality, and especially intentionality towards God, then we will come to see that sister Joan Chittister is correct when she writes, “Daily life is the stuff of which high sanctity can be made.”

The sharing of a muffin or Halloween candy can be a sort of communion. The walking with someone who just needs a friend can become a pilgrimage. The shower or rain can be a sort of baptism. I can’t speak for you, but for me I can say that I want to live a life imbued with the holy, the divine image in me calls for this, and I think the Creator calls us to themselves and rewards us with awareness when we heed the call. 

If you don’t know yet which path might be helpful to you I would suggest you pray about it and whatever percolates into your mind is an answer worthy of attention. If already know and just don’t do it remember the marathon starts with a step, so go ahead and take that step (or sit down on the meditation pillow, or invite that friend over…)

What gets your time?

Annie Dillard once noted that how you spend your days is how you spend your life, or something like that. I am a father of three energetic lads who do things like go to school, make videos for homework, practice football, jiujitsu, and swimming (to say nothing of cycling around the neighbourhood, playing man-tracker and whatnot); I am married to a wonderful woman with a job she loves and who fights for time to run, swim, do yoga, and cycle; I am a pastor of a church with all the demands that entails; I try to take care of my body, find time for a friend or two, and see my extended family from time to time; which is a rather long-winded way of saying, I get it, we are all busy. Still, in the busy-ness of it all I try to remain aware that how I spend my days will be how I have spent my life. 

Many of us devote time in our lives to unimportant matters as well as vital matters like our marriages, parenting, RSPs and mortgages, and tiktok Facebook the NHL or whatever floats your entertainment boat. This is all good, all normal. 

What I need to be sure to ask is how I am doing. Where am I going. Who am I becoming. 

To answer big questions like that takes time. It may also take answering questions like is there a god? Why am I here? What happens when I die? What legacy am I creating? 

For me, it seems that the world is more interested in selling me items that will gobble up my time even before I purchase them like NFL jerseys (which team logo? Which player name? Maybe I should spend time on this). Or selling me new cars (which brand, model, colour, features…again I could spend a lot of time here). I am also told I ought to like beer more than I do and that the type of beer I drink can tell others a lot about me so I must be careful in this decision as well…one particular sales pitch that I think threatens to gobble my time if I pursue it is investing “by myself to save fees.” The point is it often feels like the world wants me to spend my time on anything but the important-urgent questions in life. That makes sense, since there is little money in my thinking, unlike in my re-painting my house of changing all my furniture and clothing. 

I suppose in this sense it is counter-cultural to just sit still and reflect. The reflective, contemplative, mediative life, or however you would describe it, is appealing in part because it is in opposition to so much noise and movement and pressure. If, like me, you sometimes lose track of time, or find yourself floating along in a haze of getting through the day-week-month, then may I suggest fall is a great time to take a breather. I know vacations are for summer (or maybe for winter ski trips or sunny vacations) but autumn is magic. 

These are precious days we are in, autumn is such a special time. It is a fabulous time to sit and reflect. There are, in my neck of the woods anyways, countless beautiful scenes to sit and look at and ponder. Birds are on the move, trees are changing colours and turning into larger than life flowers, the temperature is comfortable for sitting still for long periods. All of this makes it a wonderful time of year to begin the process of sitting still and reflecting on what matters to you, not to anyone else. 

If you feel you need permission then here it is: Go ahead and sit still, even if it won’t make anyone like you more, and certainly regardless if it means no one is making money off you.

Simple guided meditation for Thanksgiving

This weekend is Thanksgiving and while Covid is still with us and some rules are still on place I am going to go ahead and guess that this will still be a busy weekend for many of us. It would be a shame to get to the end of a long weekend and not have found a bit of time for quiet reflection. It would be an even greater shame to get to the end of Thanksgiving weekend without having truly said thanks. This is not something I have offered in this space before. It is a simply guided meditation. To do it well one only has to read it as slowly as you feel comfortable. Embrace the silence.

We are going to practice something I like to call the “thank you” meditation. There will be long silences in this and it will end with a brief prayer. If you are uncomfortable with prayer, just stop reading when you get there;) 

Wherever you are sit comfortably.

Notice any discomfort in your body, scratch the itches, adjust the limbs, get comfortable.

You may place your hands on your lap or on your belly so you can feel the air flowing through your body. 

Notice the air enters a bit cold through the nostrils and leaves a bit warm through the mouth. 

Take 3 or four deep breathes, in the noise, out the mouth. 

Direct your breath towards stillness. 

Release your body and its health to God. We are grateful to be alive, we are grateful for the air flowing in and out. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

As thoughts come, we let them pass, and notice our breath.

When we breath in we say thank you

When we breath out we say lord

Thank you


Thank you 


Lord, may our minds be transformed by your work in us, may we notice you at work in our hearts and in our world. Guide us evermore towards you. We pray in Jesus’s name. 

Sustainable Generosity

I recently heard on a podcast a premise for a company that I wish was Christian because it sounded to me like they were behaving in ways I would love to claim as “ours.” The company, like all companies, seeks to make a profit, create jobs, and offer useful goods to the world. What stuck out to me was one of its founding principles which is to be maximally sustainably generous in all circumstances. 

How does this get played out?

In their company it means that if someone flies out to meet with them, and stays in a hotel but ultimately they are not going to work together, the company covers the costs of the person involved so that they aren’t at a loss for having brainstormed with them. This is healthy, if expensive. It means that others learn to trust and appreciate the company and it also means the company takes great care not to waste (including others’ and their own) time. It means paying people reasonably high wages, and hiring less people if that’s what it takes to do so. It means giving people as much time off as they need to recharge and live vibrant lives, volunteering in the community or pursuing passion projects of various sorts. It sounds great from the worker perspective and it seems to work for the company. 

How can this play out in our organizations?

One might guess that leaders would be wary of this, what if people take advantage? How do we know something is sustainable? And other such questions must surely arise. I cannot help, as a church worker, but wonder how we do at this sort of living as the people of God. Holy Spirit filled people who follow a generative and creative God, a God of abundance and promise, might be expected to be particularly generous in their ways. The church itself relies on generosity of time and finances of the people who call the church home. Will God honour our stepping out in faith this way?

The principle includes the word sustainable because no one wants to go broke. Sustainability changes from circumstance to circumstance and I would hope that we followers of Jesus might be able to take a large and generous view of this. Can we pay people fair or liveable wages? Can we employ less people but empower them to do more? Can our organizations help others better by being more generous with our time and our assets? Like at the church I serve we attempt to use our building as a gift to the community by renting out lots of spaces for all sorts of uses at very affordable rates, not because our building is cheap or easy to run but because we want to be generous with what God has given us to steward and we believe this is an obvious way for us to serve the neighbourhood. We can also advocate for others and remind folks of their inherent dignity and remind employers of their responsibilities, this is an old prophetic role of the community of faith, it is one we can embrace again. There are many options here and our failures in the past must not hold us back from trying to be who we are called to be in the present.

What about in our lives? 

Do we live generously? This might make finances jump to mind, and certainly that is part of it. Do we shop where people are paid well or where we would be upset if our loved ones worked there? Do we spend a little more and purchase goods made sustainably and/or created and transported by people receiving fair wages through the production line? 

Our time is something we can be generous with. It is said over and over again that our most precious resources are our time and attention. Can we give attention to someone most people ignore? Can we volunteer our time to causes we care deeply about or that somehow make our community better places to live? Please understand this is not a call to give more money and time to congregations (though you can if that is your thing) but a call to pay attention to how we are spending our resources and ask ourselves if we are being maximally-sustainably generous. Communities need kids sports, art fairs, food banks and any number of other volunteer based projects on an ongoing basis, we can help. 

How do we make it happen?

This is the critical question. I have found that when it comes to time the more I pray, sit with a bible in my hands, journal, and meditate the more time I feel I have. It is strange because these activities take time, precious hard to find time for a pastor and parent of three little kids, and yet when I bother with the fight, when I set aside time to sit quietly, it (almost magically) creates more time in my day. Morning rituals and practices, as counter-intuitive as this is, create more space in my day. 

Individuals with time will make better more intentional decisions. They will carry this into group settings like churches and boards. Elder groups, boards etc, can work this in as well, spending quiet time together, spending time reflecting on the questions before them, thinking over topic before the meetings. Inviting God into the conversation and asking the Divine for guidance. Simple stuff that just takes a bit of time. 

So, if being maximally-sustainably generous sounds good to you, like it might be a goal or something you would be happy to have written on a tombstone, then I suggest it starts by sitting and connecting with God, however that works for you.  

Are we all to blame for the rock-throwing?

Sometime we use images of rocks as calming elements, like the rocks in the photo above this post, reminiscent of the Japanese rock garden. Images that convey peace and calm. Other times rocks are thown. If you live in Canada then you have likely heard about the incident of someone throwing literal rocks at Justin Trudeau, unless, ahem, you live under a rock. I will not get into politics in this post, I have my opinions but this is not the place. I want to talk about the spiritual reality of our day that includes rock-throwing, and, most importantly, my conviction that we are communally to blame for where we are and there is hope in that idea because there are actions we can take.

I have had a whole bunch of conversations about this lately. The people in my circle, conservative, liberal, and greenies alike, are aghast that we have come to this; that in Canada someone would throw a rock at someone else, be they Prime Minister or unhoused. It leaves us dismayed and trying to understand. 

When did we become this place? I hear that and similar questions regularly. People stand amazed and disgusted as protests take place in front of hospitals, we stand back and shake our heads and wonder what is going on, as violence, division, anger, and the darkest forms of certainty raise their ugly heads. 

Here is the thing. 

It is all of our fault. 

There is no they VS us. 

There is just us.

There used to be a bumper sticker that said “we all live downstream” I have always loved that because it applies in so many ways. Literally when it comes to water pollution we all lose and also when it comes to other concrete forms of pollution. It also matters spiritually, we all live downstream from each other. A person gets yelled at at work and—after a long chain of degrading actions—a cat gets kicked at home…the negativity reverberates and the ground cries out.  

So, we all live down stream and Justin Trudeau is having rocks thrown at him.

If we want to live in a compassionate society, the society of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, we cannot sit back and wait in expectation of this happening by miracle, no, the gospel is clear that this only happens with intentionality, with the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men (and yes I will stick to men because I am old school enough to assume our rock-throwers are men). 

The actions we see playing out are nothing more or less than the outcome of our communal actions or lack thereof. 

It is incumbent upon each of us to do as the Teacher says, love one another. 

One of my absolutely favourite meditations is, I think it is actually buddhist but I see nothing that should stop a Christian from praying it, “I breathe in love, I breathe out peace.” Feeling the love of God, being empowered by love instead of fear, or anxiety or hatred or any other emotion I become free to be an agent of peace, to offer healing, wholeness and compassion, empathy and understanding. First I try to literally breath this into existence, it sounds weird but there is more to this than meets the eye, as bizarre studies have shown. For me the concrete actions involved in helping or serving others starts with the meditative act, “I breathe in love, I breathe out peace.”

When we ignore our spiritual disciplines we rob the entire world of our prayers and of the ways they reverberate in our souls and our actions and the ripple-effect of wide and wider circles of love. 

Maybe you don’t believe any of this. Well, I don’t know why you would still be reading:) Still, maybe consider giving this a try. 5 minutes a day “I breathe in love, I breathe out peace.” And see what happens. It can’t hurt. 

A simple, free, guided daily devotional that can help

Count me among those who struggle to use devotional aids. For the most part I have found that the best help for me is a simple list of readings that help me strategically cover parts or all of the bible within a certain timeframe. I have learned to be gentle with myself in these, to not try to make up days but just let it happen when it happens, to find versions that are 5 or 6 days a week, I tend to journal after reading using the SOAP method. Anyways, I have never been one for prayer guides or those little devotionals with a bit of scripture and a long illustration or story. I have nothing against these (anything that helps anyone get closer to and fall more in love with Jesus is great) they just don’t do it for me.

One tool I have found extremely useful is an website and app loaded with features and—what I particularly have found useful—audios. The app is called Pray as you Go it is free (you may choose to offer support if you like but it isn’t mandatory and there are no frustrating adds to, ahem, motivate you to pay). The app has many features but the daily audio devotional is really what I have spent my time in the app using. 

You can stream it daily or you can download a week at a time. The daily devotion includes a song—many different groups and choirs, and styles—a reading, some reflective questions, re-reading with more reflection, then prayerful prompts. It is gentle, and easy to use and, in my experience very satisfying. What I like about it is the ease, that these elements are all packaged together to I can just sit and not have to organize all this myself. I also appreciate that they are short (10-14 min) and thus can be fit in somewhere in the day. Finally, I take a weird sort of satisfaction in knowing that I am joining in reflection and prayer with many others today. I sometime find it feels lonely being Christian and I am bizarrely comforted but he idea that any number of folks might be using this tool at the same time or at least on the same day, asking similar questions, praying similar prayers, and enjoying the presence of the divine in the world. I don’t rely on this for my main devotional life, but it is a helpful addition and on my worst and busiest days it does function as my entire devotional time. 

If you are looking for an approachable way to get into daily devotions, or an introduction into subtle and historic devotional practices without doing all the homework of learning about them, their histories, and why’s and whatfors, with this app you can simply settle in and enjoy the work of others, come closer to Jesus as you practice (regardless of how aware you are of it) historic disciplines that have helped Christians all over the globe and in every era along the path of faith. 

Please know, this is not a sponsored post (like anyone would sponsor this little blog:) but rather I share this because I use it and like it and I think if you are the type of person to read this then you just might like it too. 

January isn’t Sacred

Many people pick up new habits, or intend to, in January. New Years resolutions and all that. For me, this sometimes works. Even so, as the calendar rolls over to September and the autumn is upon us it seems as good a time as any to re-commit to a practice we may have dropped. Maybe it is because after years (and years) of schooling my mind still associates the fall with picking things up and learning new things, but I still find the urge to get going strong when the season shifts and the sweaters come back out. 

Autumn is a time of cool mornings, darker evenings, coffees, sweaters, and comfy clothes. It is a great time to pick up the bible and read any book in it. Maybe pick up a commentary about a book to read alongside it, something like The New Testament for Everyone by NT Wright which you can buy a single book from and enjoy stories and explanations as you read the bible. 

Many will buy journals and write in the calm mornings, no sweating, just mist over the cup of coffee or tea as the Spirit flows through you and the pen onto the paper. Write about life, about questions, thoughts about God, prayers that burden you or hopes and dreams that come alive in the fall. When you are simply writing for yourself and for God there is no wrong way to do it nor wrong topic, so long as it is authentic, so long as it is what needs to get out. 

Maybe you started 2021 with goals that you aren’t going to achieve, that’s ok. September is time to reevaluate, figure out what is still manageable, and get to it. You can start going for walks, saving money, checking off books of the bible, praying for neighbours, volunteering somewhere (with covid more and more on the ropes opportunities to get out and help are growing:), sign up for a class (pottery, meditation, swimming lessons???). 

Lean in to the autumn, if in no other way then by appreciating the beauty of the the natural world is about to do, God’s artistry on display. 

Forget Perfect. Embrace Your Path.

I recently read of an academic study where people were offered one pair of socks from among seven pairs. Once they made their selection they were asked to explain/defend their choice. People spoke of colours, designs, textures, and other elements of sockness that drove their selection. The interesting component is that the 7 pairs were all the same and most people didn’t even know it; and in their minds they concocted stories to justify making a selection.

We all must make up stories, or reasons/justifications, for the actions we take (and those we don’t take but feel guilty about). There is something deep in us that resents the very concept of doing something “just because.” 

I wonder what your reason for investigating spiritual practices might be? 

What story are you telling yourself and how does it impact your walk of faith?

Do you have spiritual goals? What happens if you accomplish them? What happens if you don’t?

My congregation recently studied walking as a spiritual practice and someone shared a copy of the movie called The Way, it’sabout some folks walking the Compostela pilgrimage. They are all walking, ostensibly for one reason (though their reasons vary), by the end they are comfortable admitting the new or real reason (to them themselves and to others), or reason that was revealed along the way, for their walks is something different than they thought. They were explaining the walk to themselves in order to justify it, but at root they were walking for other reasons that needed working out, and the working out required walking, they knew this intuitively.

As you walk your spiritual journey, reading blogs, and hopefully trying out practices and paying attention for God being at work in the world, I hope and pray that God will surprise you with unforeseen outcomes as you walk your path. No matter why you think you have set out, I pray God meets you along the way and surprises you with wonderful insights and truths about Himself and about you, the sorts of revelations that we know intuitively are divine in nature. Often when the reason changes it isn’t as arbitrary as how those folks chose socks but rather is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in you moving you mind to where it needs to focus. 

Don’t feel pressured by your goals, intentions, holy desires, or by others who want to see you grow and flourish spiritually. One ingredient of the path that we can all be sure of is imperfection. Most of us grew up with parents, teachers, siblings, and friends who expected us to try hard and lean towards accomplishment and perfection. We have been trained to seek out the “right” way to do a thing and then to “do it properly.” One of the hardest parts of the spiritual practices is that there is no such thing as a universal perfect. Just as there is no one correct reason to walk the Compostela trail there is no one spiritual discipline nor one way to do even the ones we do agree on. There is no one way to pray, meditate, read the bible, journal, share a table, make love, or anything else. No one wins at these; we all just walk along the path before us. Some go further or faster, some paths are narrow others seem more wide. 

My point is we must drop the habit of seeking perfection, Jesus was perfect, we are not. Jesus prayed perfectly connected to God, we are more like the disciples who kept falling asleep.  

I invite you to ponder who you are trying to impress or please with your spiritual journey and why. We remain humble and open, we learn and we reflect. It is neither good nor bad but it is calling us to our path. Wobbly and imperfect with unpredictable stops along the way. 

So, forget perfect and embrace your path. 

Take a moment to consider your why, be honest, open, and courageous as you do. 

When You Want to Quit, Don’t

Sometimes when I sit in meditation, or when I am out for a run, I want to stop early, maybe my legs are tired or my heart isn’t into the workout. Sometimes my mind continues to wander, I write sermons, and emails, and blog posts, and pay bills in my mind and I get frustrated and think to myself, “what’s the point of all this sitting?”

In either case I must recall the intentions I set when in a better mental place. The intention to be healthy in mind and body. On the whole this intention leads to a better life (for me and in my opinion). My body is able to do whatever weird challenge I ask of it (like doing groceries by bicycle with a trailer for my family of 5, or doing one of those zany high ropes courses with my boys) and my mind is able to process the moment I am in (like being able to appreciate having my arms around my wife as we watch a sunset, or being able to give thanks to God for particularly sweet moments in life that I am committed to not missing). 

So when I want to quit, I try to remember the longer term goals. I also try to remember what my experience has taught me, namely, that there is value in continuing, in the quotidian drudgery of it all. Some of my best runs have come after working through the desire to stop. Some of my most glittering meditative moments have arisen shortly after a renewed commitment to sit still—at least until the timer goes off. Such stubborn commitment doesn’t pay such immediate dividends every time, but it does often enough to motivate me to stay the course. 

Even when the meditation ends up feeling like a waste, or the run was slow and not far and felt hard despite that, even then, knowing I have done what I set out to do can be compensation enough. I am still on track, still headed in the direction I want to be going, that is win enough for today. 

If you have tips or tricks to share regarding this challenge, please let me know!