Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Here's a Koan for You...

I find myself with a little time this afternoon (a very unusual circumstance), so I can finally do a little blogging. Mostly just some updates and reflections at the end.

Betsy, Henry, and I have had a nice summer. We went down to New Jersey for a little family reunion with my mom, sisters, and their families. Some of my cousins also came around. It was wonderful to spend so much time with them, particularly with my two brothers-in-law. We spent many a late night sipping bourbon on my mother's porch and talking about mutual interests. I even introduced them both to Cuban Cigars (contraband in America, I know, but living in Canada does have it's perks). Henry has four cousins, and it was rewarding to put them all together and let them play. We even organized a "Pirate" day complete with treasure hunt. My birthday included lobster (a family tradition) and we celebrated the 4th of July with BBQ and fireworks!

After New Jersey we headed over to Pennsylvania to see Betsy's parents, sister, and her family. More eating (I was taking a sabbath from my diet) and talking.

Back in Toronto Betsy and I have managed to go for canoe picnics on Toronto Island twice. A friend has a canoe at QCYC (the sailing club where I race on Wednesday nights). It's a beautiful wood-and-canvas vessel made in the 1950's. She tracks gracefully through the water and turns heads. Betsy and I have found that Henry does well in the middle position, and he has taken naps in the canoe on both trips. We put a picnic blanket down for him and rigged a sun screen across the gunnels.

The first time he fell asleep in a canoe we decided to take his cue. We pulled up to the bank of the channel and tied off to a shady branch. Betsy and I got comfortable and drifted off into family-nap time. Bliss.

Another time we ended our picnic-day by meeting up some friends with a boat for BBQ. After we ate we motored over to the Wards Island Beach, anchored, and went swimming off the back. Henry was a bit freaked out by the depth of the water, but I think we'll cure him of that fear with practice.

Canoeing is a real art form. I much prefer to kayaking, to tell the truth. A old joke goes like this:
Canadian: How can tell an American from a Canadian?
American: A Canadian knows how to have sex in a canoe.
Canadian: Nah, any fool can do that--a Canadian knows to take the thwart out first!

Ha. Drifting along with Henry gazing at the wild life, towing a bottle of wine deep enough to get the cold lake water, glancing at Betsy's blonde hair in the breeze... that's summer in Ontario for me.

In truth, these two canoe trips where a test to see how reasonable it would be to take Henry on longer-trek in September. Things went so well that we're planning a three-day (two-night) paddle in Massasauga Park. This is backcountry camping--a seriously ambitious undertaking with a 20-month old! But I'm thrilled. There is something incredibly liberating about getting back into the woods.

I'll have to post separately about the goings on church land. I start to get really intense when I talk about it. The complexity of parish ministry in mind-boggling. I think all pastors probably experience this. The longer you are in a place, the more complex the problems and the joys seem to be. The questions that occupy me now are both the same and different from when I first started. I feel like I've aged a decade in ministry.

Some days I'll have great experiences that make me feel like I am doing exactly what I was put on this earth to accomplish. These are wonderful, joy filled times. Then there are days when I feel like I am an awful person who is wasting everyone's time. Yes, there is some real dark places I can go when I think about all the problems my community faces. We are making progress, and I do believe the church is far better off now than when I first came. Slowly, so slowly.

For example, today I held my monthly "Traditional Communion Service." Usually I get about eight folks attending. We celebrate the Eucharist using the old language from the Book of Common Prayer. I even use the collect that prays for the Queen! It's sweet and unapologetically old-fashioned. After mass we have lunch and chat. But today only one person showed up. The others, unfortunately, had made a commitment to something else before they realized the scheduling conflict. Oops.

So I spent about 30-45 minutes getting the church all ready. Candles on the altar, chairs put out and arranged, lessons marked, etc. I was vested in my number two cassock (number one needs a bath), surplice, and stole. And one sweet, sweet lady arrives. She is hard of hearing, so I gave her one of the wireless headphone sets and put on a wireless mic to help her out.

In my homily I said that such a liturgy was a chance to recall that worship is about an offering made, not a service received. Saints and angels attended, no doubt. But the feelings that this kind of thing stir up are pretty intense and pretty varied. You can feel good about the "craft" of your ministry, the way you smoothly go through the liturgy and make prayers with your hands and even the way you hold your shoulders. And then you feel disappointed that on one wants to see that. Not even free lunch is enough to lure them in! But then you find yourself giving over to the prayer... letting it flow.

A priest I knew once told me that when I prayed the Sursum Corda (the call-and-responses that begin the Eucharistic Prayers), he could sense the energy coming out of the palms of my hands. He said it was like love. That's a nice compliment, but it is also a pretty scary reality to contemplate. What he didn't know is that many years ago, when I was college, I spent many nights praying in a chapel on campus. Usually I would end my prayers by asking God to bless my hands for healing, and I would put them on the smooth, varnished top of the altar. It was an electric and exciting way to pray, and suspect it effected the way I preside at the Lord's table to this day.

Interesting that I would write about that now, I've never told anyone that story.

One time a few weeks ago, when I was feeling particularly discouraged about some crisis or other. Might have been about money or it might have been about the music ministry or it might have been about some programme I was trying to launch without success. Anyway, I was keenly feeling my lack of ability and the thought occurred to me, "They don't pay you for what you do; they pay you for who you are." That's not entirely true, of course, but it's a useful koan for meditation. It's an antidote to the flawed thinking that ministry, or "church", even, is about accomplishing something. It's not about accomplishing anything--it's about the relationships that we are creating and sustaining horizontally and vertically.

"The church rolls on," they say. Indeed she does. And yet the struggles remain essentially the same. For me, the hardest part of this vocation is balancing my own spirituality with the practical stuff that just needs to get done. Floating down a stream in an old cedar canoe is a luxurious indulgence in world of broken, flooding pipes, reports and committee meetings! How to balance? Something about noticing when we go out of balance, I suppose.

'Nough rambling for now. Just wanted to share a bit of what's going in my world this summer!