Side by Side

Written February 13, 2017  

   He held his young son and although I could not understand what he spoke, how he uttered the words foreign to me showed such enthusiasm as to be in wonder and awe.  He pointed, jabbering awake the senses of this child: the water, the lighthouse the ferry slipped past, the sea gulls whose cries seemed to echo the father’s delight.  And then, oh what’s this he sees coming?  A sea plane hanging and whizzing overhead, the sound of buzz rushing away on ahead to descend earth bound on ocean runways!  The sound of the father’s voice rose as though he himself were flying, finding landscapes of beauty, exclamations drowning out explanations.  It was a voice of joy and love.

     Human interaction.  I claimed he was the father of the boy, but I really don’t know that for certain.  So much of what we think we see isn’t how it really is at all.  As I sit back, inside the ferry now, to my right I see a Korean couple, she sitting on his lap, he holding arms of love around her, rocking left to right, softly singing.  Delightful, I thought, and then I saw her eyes looking ahead at the cloud clothed mountains.  Her eyes seemed sad sort of, and I wondered, thoughts tumbling on top of each other like a box of stuffed animals being dumped.  Was he going a little crazy, and she accepting that things were off?  Or, was she the one coming unhinged, he attempting as best he could to comfort, to soothe, to heal?  Again, only guesses, perhaps as wild as the Pacific salmon I had just eaten.

     A few days before, I was part of a conversation that seemed human enough.  It was a family misunderstanding.  Tensions snapping and crackling and busting through in ugly sounds.  Human emotions.  Frustrations, ragged and ripped as from howling winds.  Defiling sentiments.  Impure, like soiled laundry, filthy rags, unclean, dirty.  The words came out of my mouth as though I’d been stretched too thin, and at last was splitting apart.  My limits had been exceeded.  A voice of accusation, a taunt.

     Human interactions.  Shortly after the flashed and lashed words spewed, I thought, “deceiving spirit.”  Someone else saw a snake slithering by.  Not so human I think.  Delight and degradation sailing by each other in a matter of a few days.  Deceiving spirits clothed in human emotion.

     Her voice was loud and full of opinion.  What she said was attention grabbing, ranting about climate change and water shortages and the solution that sounded familiar to me.  “It was just a trickle of water, and I thought,’What’s so little going to do to make the plants grow?’  What was startling was how the plants were flourishing, the weeds were not.  The trickle of water reached the roots of the ones they wanted water to.”

     One of the first proddings I received was just as I was below the sleep spot of arriving awake.  The words brought me swiftly to wakefulness, and they came to me in Revised Standard Version: “If you abide in me and my word abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you” (John 15:7).  Something of the weight and way the words came told me it was Jesus himself speaking.  To me!   The thought poked me fully awake.  I did not doubt it was he.  I only thought, wonderingly, “I wonder what he means by, ‘ask whatever you wish ‘?”  I did not want to ask for the typical North American wish.   I wanted to ask for something significant, something crucial, something not human created, manufactured.

     Around that time I was meeting regularly with a young seeker, a perky woman, flamboyant and fun-loving, yet serious.  Every week we read the story of Jesus as recorded by Mark.  Every so often a trickle of conversation would reveal a need, and into this I would direct my “ask whatever” to the Presence.  A child was born to her and her husband.  A song at a service which, as I recall, was not particularly well played.  She’s holding her daughter, and receives a revelation.  “How can there NOT be a God?”   Revelation followed more over time, and the curtain was slowly drawn back, the seed being watered with a slow dripping.

     It was after we had gone through Mark, and I had just assigned a reading of the little letter of Ephesians.  An answer so life-giving was received in response to another “ask whatever.”  She was alone in her living room.  “There was this Presence right there next to me, sitting beside me.  For the first time I really prayed.  I cried.  No one needed to tell me I was dead in my trespasses and sins.  I knew it, was pierced through with it.  I felt it. And I became alive again.”  (All these phrases from Ephesians 2).  

     The Presence, the Glory of the living God who met her in her living room, gave me a “ask whatever” I could not manufacture.  She told me that soon after the Encounter, when she went walking with her husband and daughter, the colours of creation seemed more vibrant, more alive than ever.  Not only was she delighted.  I was encouraged!

       A song I know swings into vivid imagery when he sang of sadness in the joy, crashing words up against the shore.  In the same way there is much joy and amazement in the Presence, rushing in after also.  But there was also sadness rotting in fear, even terror as other voices of discord started blaring out their music.  The trouble was that often they sounded sane, not off key.

     I remember early on in the journey of renewed intentionality of seeking “ask whatever,” how the beautiful lyric was interrupted, interfered with.  Someone answered the phone, gasped, then hung up and excitedly cried, “He’s got hit by a bus!” stating the man’s name. We were stunned and the first thought that pierced in was, “See what happens when you pray?”

     We quickly got into the car and swift as speed limits allowed (I ignored them), arrived at the hospital.  Entering Emerg, we inquired where he might be.  He hadn’t even been brought in yet!  We exited out and there stood the wife of the accident victim, watching them remove her husband from the ambulance.  She went to him, held hands.  We went to her as they wheeled him away.  “He has some broken bones, but he’ll be all right.”

     That blaring voice had sounded in tune.  It wasn’t until later that insight was given that that voice was singing out of harmony.  Deceiving spirits deceive because they sound horribly convincing and true.  Even though it sounded true and authentic and sincere, in reflection it sounded like a taunt, an accusation, roughly roaring, intended to dismay.  No encouragement.  There was joy and there was fear, and these tunes would join me often and consistently.

     We all need training to distinguish the Voice of Love, from the voice that moves us toward the d’s: dismay, discouragement, desolation, demolition, disappointment, distress, despair. These often come layed out side by side.

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It isn’t Magic 

Written February 10, 2017 

    I have already mentioned that where we live there’s a downward pull.  The Cowichan Valley is, because parts of the land sharply rise up into smooth shaped mountains, while others settle down, like a blanket laid low.  The Cowichan (“Warmland”) tribes are the largest indigenous group in British Columbia, Canada, and one of the mountains watching over Cowichan Bay is called Tzouhalem, named after a chief who was banished there late in his life.

     Before we moved here I used to go for long walks.  The sidewalks surfaces and paths I chose rarely inclined or descended, preferring to keep on the level.  Out on these stepping strides my breathing was relaxed, like a slow drift down a silent stream on a rubber dinghy.  If moisture popped out from my brow it was only because of the heat was so gripping that standing still would wet me down and melt me.

     Here in the valley, things are different.  Long walks are called hikes and I purchased a pair of boots to show I was all for it.  I still am fascinated by my quickening breath even when my gait is slow, as though rapidly moving water and still banks were competing to see who would flinch first.  Someone told me early on not to go to a hiking spot on my own.  It would be wise, she said, to have someone show which path to take, since even experienced hikers lose the way.  I call Mount Tzouhalem my favourite, and still step eagerly into my PT to find it back and go against it again.

     The year was 2015, the month September, near summer’s end.  My mind was lingering long on the conference I’d attended when summer began, a time when teaching was received with lumps of gratitude and, better than all, we were whisked off to practice what we’d learned.  The claim constantly clambered into us was the intriguing insinuation that the Holy Spirit might actually be able to show us the path to take, step by step.

     By that time I had hiked Tzouhalem many times.  I was quite comfortable with the routes to take, and indeed was planning to go on a course I’d recently discovered.  The flaw in this scheme came when I realized that yes, the main paths were engraved into my memory.  There were loads of side paths, however, and it was one of these I was going to take.

     I decided to try an experiment.  I would ask God to guide me,  to show me which way to go.  I know this is not a high stakes life situation, and do not say it’s a magical formula that always must be stepped into.  We’re not dealing with magic.  In fact, I remember feeling a little sheepish, even a bit of shame for trying this.  For this reason I was almost surprised, shocked when suddenly, immediately following my hesitant request, I “saw” the crossroads I needed to take.  To be clear, I had walked that way before so I vaguely remembered the place.  In times past I would have dismissed what I saw as mere memory; that’s all.  Nothing supernatural here except the the slogan cited on all British Columbia license plates.  Where I was walking was super natural.

     It is not magic.  It is a picture of being known, loved, cared for.  I was wanting to be taught, wanting to practice by using a literal path to learn how it works.  I was learning to cooperate, so that when “real” need presented itself, I would recognize that the guidance wasn’t just a thought humanly derived.  I was certain my God had shown me which path to take.  

     This was moving me out of routine and into the place where I had to rely not on my own strengths and know how.  What a wonderful thrill to see the crossroads I needed to take.  This was like the stories come alive for me to walk in!

    It seems to me sad that something so standard to the stories of Abraham, David, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul, that it is a surprise when they breath life in our day.  Yet are there not many verses in the book we call the Bible, that claim exactly this?  I want to recount a few of them.

     Enoch walked with God.

     “Go to the land I will show you.”

     Trust in the LORD with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.

     He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

     “Follow me.”

     “He will guide you into all the truth.”

     “He will teach you.”

     “My sheep know my voice.”

     “Go to that road.”

     “Come over and help us.”

     If God is really alive, then why can’t he guide us like that today?  I’ve been around long enough to get very uncomfortable with what is said of Jesus when he went to revisit the town he grew up in.  It says something, he couldn’t do many miracles there because of their unbelief.  I wonder if we expect God to break through to us still, to give us break throughs of our own?  I wonder if another question Jesus asked is one we ought to grieve over and cry out to God about?  “However, when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith in the earth?” Penetrating,searching question!

     I invite you to come walk with me, come hike through the mountains, the valleys to see what we will see.  Come and be open to the possibility that God is still very keen on getting in on what is going on, on the earth.  Amazingly he is quite eager to involve us in his activities.  It almost seems as though he won’t do anything without us!  It’s not magic.  He often uses past experience to bring things to mind, to lead the mind into.  He also uses his very word, every word that comes out of his mouth, to direct our thoughts.  He will draw our attention to what we’ve read before, showing how that word works in the now, in the instant we find ourselves in.

     It’s not magic.  It’s knowing and more, being known by the One who made us.

Anxiety, Mental illness & the Peace 

 Written February 5, 2017   

     My mother.  She’s gone from here now.  She left on January 10, 1998.  When I was in my teens, one of the marvels Mom put on display with no pretend at all, was how she prayed.  Her cries for the other often included a wonderful phrase that in itself must have brought her into the warm waters of deep comfort.  She would ask, for the other, that Father would give “the peace that passes all understanding.”  At times she would plead this with an intensity that expressed longing, yearning, a depth of desire that spoke, I am certain, from her own personal experience.  She knew that peace, was persuaded by the courage it gave her.  She knew it first hand, as though she’d been flooded with it, filled so she could say that the jar of clay she was overflowed, gushing out in a groan.

     I did not connect this in my younger, growing up years.  It was only after she went away from her warm body that I gained a view into her spirit.  She would freely admit on occasion that she took her “nerve pills” when she needed them.  It seems there were times when it just got too much for her.  Instead of the overflowing peace, she became overwhelmed — with anxiety.  My mother was an anxious woman, and she was a woman of deep faith.  She took nerve pills.  In her mind, this was no contradiction.

     When I had been a pastor with more than five years I walked down into the realization I too was overwhelmed.  I was at times frighteningly anxious.  It was about 2004 that I gave in, went to my doctor, and began to take something very similar to that nerve pill my mother ingested.  It was no cotton candy.  It was a powerful drug, prescribed for anxiety and clinical depression.  At the time it lifted me up tremendously.  It assisted, aided, helped me much.  My beloved and I often marvelled that we lived now, when so many medicines like this were ready, were available.  (Such are meant to assist, not be the final solution, but that’s another story to tell.)

     Mental illness.  Anxiety is one part of it.  So is clinical depression (which is sadness and fatigue that has little do with the circumstances surrounding your life; when clinically depressed, you can’t decide one day you’re not in that darkness any more).  I, it appears, had both.  I had a mental illness, and still struggle against it.

     I have been reading lately my journals.  These I started writing in at first to help me process my anxious thoughts.  Over the past four or five years, however, they have served as a way to recall the ways in which my God has delivered me.  I noticed again how anxious I was in the years when I completed being a pastor in the formal sense.  At the root of anxiety is fear, and when fear finds you, chasing after it often will be unbelief (a vice we are called to guard against; for it comes sneakily, cloaked, hidden).  Yet, despite the fears, anxiety and unbelief, I can tell you there often was bravery and courage and fearlessness that broke out on me, busting out in gushes of kindness and tender acts of mercy.  There was also, undergirding this courage, the peace that passes all understanding.     

     February 17, 2015.  Let the record show that two years before I made a deal with the Creator.  See, one of the joys I love falling into is deep, rest-filled sleep.  When I say being in a state of quiet rapid eye movement repose, I mean I desire this to be as long as can be stretched into the sunrise.  Sleeping to me is one of the finer, fabulous gifts we get as humans.

     Things shifted for me in the spring of 2013.  My beloved and I left on a jet plane, and flew to draught dry California, landing at Bob Hope airstrip.  For three days we joined a group of others to search for the Presence, the Face of God, in prayer.  The host of this close encounter was a Korean congregation; people known for intentionally seeking God’s Presence in prayer.  This group was gripped by the hand of Jesus a century ago. When they saw , the word dwelling in them like roots in soil, the recording that Jesus eagerly rose right early, before the coming up of the sun: well, they immediately knew how precious that was.  Before Christ approached them, their Buddhist tradition handed out the very same.  The God of the new creation realigned their hearts to move toward him instead.

     So we rose those three days before the sun did, for “early morning prayer.”  Here’s what I discovered: it was not a weight too heavy, but a joy-filled experience.  The Presence was so palpable in that place, the peace, the simple delight, the sense of receiving love, the eyes of hearts beginning to sleepily open.  It was fulfilling.  It was so full of Life, so wakeful, so restful, that sleep could not compete.

     So I made a deal with the Almighty.  “If you want me to get up early, you’re going to have to wake me.”

     For three or four years he did.

     It is written: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:4-7‬ ‭NASB‬‬).  I have known these verses for many years of my life.  Here’s what I discovered: when I get intentional about rejoicing in the Lord, simply seeking him out, I find an amazing thing springing up.  I find he also delights in me.  When I call out, “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Psalm 18:1), I am delighted to experience this, that he loves me, too.  When I take my anxiety, my fears, my despair to him, he replaces those with that peace.

     Best of all, the more I intentionally seek him, the more nudges and leanings and surprisingly soaring answers have come consistently, persistently, rapidly; have indeed been beyond anything I might have imagined.  Mostly, I have experienced the kindness of my mighty God.  The call for this is perseverance, and that is not so easy to keep up, something I also have discovered.

The Extra in the Ordinary 

Written on February 2, 2017

     “Let’s do something that’s not boring.”  That’s what I heard a student say to her group as I passed by them.  That made me smile.  Was she suggesting SHE was boring?  That her friends were?  A comment that may lead her into a boiling pot of defensive push back!

     I realize that I am drawn into seeking out wonder and mystery.  I know that much of life is routine, but lately my desire is moving toward living in earnest dependence on revelations and unseen forces that make up a good chunk of reality; too many don’t seem to see this, notice it, pay attention to it.  It is as though they have eyes, but can’t see, ears but will not hear.  

     Where I live, the landscape is such that there’s a pull downward.  While out walking you must actively hold your body back, lest you accelerate and crash into the earth.  I want to live by the Pull, in the full expectation of experiencing the extra in the ordinary.  Life is lived at such a frenetic frenzied pace, that it takes intensional action to slow down and appreciate the magnificence of what we are given.  I say it with emphasis: what we have is a gift.  Every breath, every thought, all the bird sounds, rain drops, snow drop flowers, all together they come to us as a gift.

     Writers like George MacDonald are said to have invented a genre we now call the fantasy novel.  The notion of “fantasy” appears to describe the fantastic, what soars the imagination, and after all is imaginary, unreal, not for real, pretend.  But is it?  I am drawn to such literature because there we catch a sense of things of value, something worthy of pursuit.  We’ve been created with the notion that within there is stuff that is precious, but if we’re to find this treasure we’ll need to dig deeply.  Too often we are deceived into believing the treasure is discovered in literal “things” and so we stuff our homes, run out of room and go out and rent a space to store more of the stuff.  Glutted with stuff!  Choking on it, pressing on and hoping some thing else will finally fill the hunger.  Instead of being filled, we are left with the taste of filth.

     It was back in January 2014.  I found myself out of sorts.  Indecisive, moving in one direction only to ask myself, “What am I doing?”  Trying a new task, I am left feeling empty.  I feel useless.  I feel a stranger in a place I’ve lived in for five years.  I feel overwhelmed by all the needs I see around me.  Confused, I begin to feel as though it was inevitable that I should fall back into that hole of darkness and despair, walking again into the place where there is no light.  Clinical depression, where no matter how good life may be, it all seemed hopeless.  That is a place you can’t crawl out of without great assistance.

     I walk up to my beloved, sharing my fear I’m back inside that dread I have no desire to bein.  She, wisely, asks probing invitations to express my plight.  We decide to go for a drive.  As soon as I closed the front door, it was as if I had stepped into a flood of light.  Coming from outside of my own mind, an invading thought, welcome, warm.  “It seems as if you are under attack.”

     The exact moment that thought pranced through, the destructive delusion lifted off of me.  What deceit and deception is this, to actually become convinced something is true, when in actuality it is blatantly false.  How can we explain such experience?  I am convinced that there is such a thing as mental health.  I am equally convinced it often is not just mental.  There are unseen forces actively at work.  Some of these hold us captive, others set us free, deliver us.  There are more of these than the deceptive who deal out despair, desolation, destruction.  Out of jail, just with a random thought that was, it turns out, not random at all.