Category Archives: modern faith

Good Friday thoughts: Church attendance prevents depression

If you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious” you might not be doing yourself any favours.

According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, people who attend a religious service at least one a month have a lower risk of depression. People who simply identified as spiritual but didn’t participate in the life of a faith community didn’t enjoy the same benefits.

The study suggests, and I agree, that regular deep connection with people in a way that goes beyond the surface social interactions of, say, a book club or a spin class keeps our spirits up. Many people say they can just as easily feed their spirit during a a walk in the woods, or while painting, or while singing or dancing, and this is true. What you don’t find during those same activities is challenge and growth, and without challenge and growth the spirit connection quickly grows tenuous, and a tenuous spirit connection leaves plenty of room for the dark stuff to creep in.

The Easter story is a challenging one for lots of people. I get that. Many people struggle with the concept of resurrection, so it’s a difficult time to suggest to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd that participation in a faith community might be a good idea. But faith communities need people like that to challenge them and to help them grow. They need people who seek spirit but who choke on the many things that religious groups do wrong to walk in the door and say, “You know what? I like this, this and this, but this, no that’s just not acceptable.”

That way the relationship becomes reciprocal. Faith communities take on the challenge and grow, and the spiritual find the community they need to maintain and grow a strong spiritual connection. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will treat women as equals. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will honour all love-based marriages. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will value questions and doubts as seeds of growth.

Maybe someday.

In fact, maybe the best time to start might be Easter weekend, in memory of a man who was an outstanding example of a religious doubter and questioner.

Jesus dramatically turned the tables on the unacceptable religious practices of his day. Maybe we can, too.

 __________________

Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=1499

 

Eating the Sun Meditation

I am on a March Break vacation, “eating the sun” as much as I can. I thought I would share this beautiful meditation from the Cauldrons and Cupcakes blog. If you live in the northern hemisphere, as I do, you will be craving the sunshine after a long winter. Click on the link below to visit her page:

Eating the Sun Meditation.

enjoying-life

Religious? Who me? Reclaiming the word

el-cristoTwo years ago I spent time in Bolivia volunteering for Habitat for Humanity helping a family in need to build their home.

I’m not one to talk about religion or my spiritual life on your average day, but our project took place in Cochabamba, home of the world’s largest statue of Jesus. With Jesus looming over our work every day, it was hard not to talk about him. In the course of those conversations, I revealed to the members of my team that I had been invited to speak at my church about my Bolivian experiences upon my return to Canada.

A few days later, as we worked, we joked back and forth. One girl turned to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind us joking around. I know you’re really religious.”

I was so stunned I couldn’t speak.

I was horrified at the idea of being considered religious. The word conjured images of dusty old pious ladies with pursed lips reciting Bible passages unquestioningly. I imagined judgmental battle-axes and humourless fire-and-brimstone preachers. One this is certain: She obviously believed that anyone who goes to church has zero sense of humour. Is that how she saw me? Horrors. 

For someone who spent decades as an atheist and who still finds many aspects of some organized religions really worrisome, her perception shocked me. Me, religious? Ha! Religious was a label I did not want.

Okay, so I go to church almost every week. I am a Sunday school teacher. I was co-chair of our church council for three years. I’m on the Christian Development committee. But that doesn’t make me religious, does it?

Hhmmmm. . . I guess it does. So, if I’m going to be labelled “religious,” I’ll have to re-claim the word. I’ll have to change the connotations.

What does my church, my religion, my Spirit-seeking home, mean to me? It means: connection to the something more, critical thinking, compassion, kindness, caring work with people in need, acceptance of all people, questioning, evolving, progressive outlook, challenge, lifelong learning, meditating and justice seeking.

What does it NOT mean? It does not mean: judgmental, limited, blind, unquestioning, self-righteous, inflexible, exclusive, money-grubbing. That is not what my church is about at all.

I hereby reclaim the word religious. The compassionate, accepting, critical-thinking, justice-seeking, caring people who meditate on their questions to seek a connection with the something more (however that should appear to them) really need that to happen.

___________________________

Our Mission Statement

We are a compassionate and progressive community that nurtures and celebrates each others’ spiritual growth. We are rooted in our Christian tradition and open to the truths of other faiths.

We strive to follow Jesus’ example by applying his teachings to today’s challenges. We share our personal experiences of the Divine to help each other recognize God in all creation.

We believe a more just and sustainable world is possible through increased love, awareness and action. We invest in our children, our community and our world to help make this so.

Read the rest of this entry

The sacrament of waiting: . . .

winter-waitingThe sun shines in my window this morning in a February kind of way.  Winter wanes.

I celebrate the sacrament of waiting for a new kind of spring beauty.

As our calendars turn from January to February, I share with you this beautiful poem by Macrina Wiederkehr. Macrina is a Benedictine sister, author, and lover of the spiritual who blogs at Under the Sycamore Tree. Her poem celebrates the sacrament of letting go as a natural part of life. When we’re stripped down, vulnerable, and “wearing the colors of emptiness” we live the sacrament of waiting, ready for a new, surprising kind of beauty.

The Sacrament of Letting Go

© Macrina Wiederkehr

Slowly
she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red.
finally she let go of her own brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky,
she began her vigil of trust.

Shedding her last leaf,
she watched it journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the colors of emptiness,
her branches wondering,
How do you give shade with so much gone?

And then,
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and the sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
that kept her hope alive.

They helped her to understand that
her vulnerability,
her dependence and need,
her emptiness, her readiness to receive,
were giving her a new kind of Beauty.
Every morning and every evening they stood in silence,
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.

© Macrina Wiederkehr

How things happen: The stained glass story

tree-of-life-ottawaOur church, Trinity United, received some media attention in the Ottawa area recently. We created two stained glass windows.

So, what’s so newsworthy about that, you might wonder?

The part of the story that drew the media interest was the artist, Beth Jenkin, who created the original pictures for the finished pieces; she’s in her twenties, and she’s quickly losing her vision. When she began the project, she could still see, but as the work progressed, her vision failed more and more.

Now that the work is complete, she can’t see it clearly, and it is the last work of this type she will be able to do.

That heartbreaking and compelling part of the story was unforeseen at outset of this project. People who were involved from the beginning know there are many other meaningful sides to this story.

The biggest meaningful piece is a man called Chris Humphrey. (Sometimes when I’m typing his name, I inadvertently add a “t” to the end so it comes out “Christ.” That’s not so far off the mark.) I admire Chris so much that even a writer like me can’t find the words to wrap up what an exceptional human being he is. He’s much more comfortable behind the scenes, but when he’s there you can bet that he’s the one building the scenes, holding up the scenes, beautifying the scenes, making sure the scenes work properly and have good sound, and that every other person with him is taken care of back there.

At a meeting last week, Chris presented his interpretation of how this stained glass project became a reality.

how-things-happen

  1. A longing, a need. Our church building, designed by renowned architect James Strutt, is among Canada’s top 500 buildings of architectural significance. Some members of our church made their first visit it to us out of architectural curiosity. But architectural significance and beauty don’t always go together, and our building is also noted for its less than attractive exterior. The sanctuary within this architecturally significant building does not have windows. For many years the warm people who love this church have longed for, felt the need for, some stained glass to brighten our worship space.

    Trinity-United-Church

    The Trinity exterior was created to evoke the spirit of an Ark.

  2. Vision. Our church has a memorial fund to which people donate in memory of someone they love. This money is then used to beautify the building or the worship experience of the church in some way. We accept proposals from congregation members, and one of our members had a vision of light shining through stained glass.
  3. Motivation. Many visions flit into and out of our heads without taking shape in reality. For thought to transform into something physical, one or more people need motivation to take the first step. This is where Chris’s work on this project began.
  4. Inspiration. In our church, we turn to the archaic use of this word: to breathe on, or to breathe into. In this case, Beth received the breath of inspiration during one of our meditation sessions. The guided meditation led her to a vision of the tree of life, infused with light, fed by a flowing river.
  5. Creativity. Beth began her artwork—still able to see her work at that time. She began with the tree of life, and the vision she received. From there she drew on the creativity of others to make the two pieces of art true to the spirit of Trinity. Each piece has a dove to represent the active justice and outreach work of our church. Incorporated into the body of the tree of life is our Trinity Cross, designed by Rev. Dr. Glen Stoudt. trinity-logoOur cross has three flags in three corners of the cross to represent Higher Power, Body, and Soul. One corner remains open to represent our minds open to new ideas and ongoing progressive evolution. The rainbow above the Trinity Ark represents our inclusivity. One of my favourite things about these two pieces is that they aren’t generic representations of Christian ideas; they truly represent the spirit of what our church is all about. trinity-ark-ottawa
  6. Action. With the vision in place, the work began. Chris got the glass, set up the work spaces and sought volunteers to help him. He trained people to cut and solder the glass.
  7. Enthusiasm. The more people thought about this, the more enthusiastic they became. The project became a labour of love for many. Their enthusiasm drew in others to help.
  8. Community Involvement. As Beth’s vision faded shockingly quickly, she had to reach out for help. Another church member, Alex Dunn, worked with Beth to support her emotionally through her dramatic loss of sight and to help her complete the artwork. More than 30 people helped to cut and solder stained glass. We didn’t farm out this work to other people. The people of our congregation created  and completed the windows from start to finish.
  9. The cycle. Chris drew his graphic with the community involvement flowing back into inspiration, creativity, action. He believes that when a group of people see the successful fulfillment of one dream, it allows them to believe in the possibility of other miracles: the impossible becomes possible. They ask, “What next?”

I can see Chris’s ideas in other projects I’m involved in, too. A need leads to a vision and a motivation to seek inspiration. The inspiration leads to creativity, enthusiasm, action and community involvement.

And the cycle carries on in a spiral of miraculous outcomes.

__________________

Read more about the battery charger that is Trinity here:

Good Work

10 reasons to go to church

http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/

See more about our stained glass here:

CTV Ottawa, Regional Contact: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=283883&binId=1.1443144

Ottawa Sun http://www.ottawasun.com/2014/01/15/her-vision-fading-ottawa-stained-glass-artist-still-sees-the-light

Ottawa Citizen http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/window+through+darkness/9399990/story.html

CBC Ottawa http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Ottawa/ID/2430554003/?page=4

Joy for all: Sheila money

Happy New Year

The kids came to the bake tables at the church bazaar. They clutched brown envelopes in their hands, and they walked slowly up and down the length of the tables, surveying the goods and weighing their options. They wanted to choose carefully. They wanted to spend their “Sheila money” wisely.

Other kids explored the toy section. They surveyed the goods and weighed their options. They wanted to spend their “Sheila money” wisely.

Some kids wanted to buy Christmas gifts for family or friends. They surveyed the goods on the craft table and weighed their options. They wanted to spend their “Sheila money” wisely.

The week before the bazaar, a member of our church congregation visited the kids in the Sunday school classrooms. She gave each child a brown envelope with a $10 bill folded inside. Sheila needed to travel on the weekend of the bazaar, so she wouldn’t be able to attend. She wanted to contribute though, and what better way than through the children? She prepared the envelopes and gave them to the kids, so they would have their own money to spend.

She didn’t tell anyone she did this, so on the weekend of the bazaar it took us a while to figure it out. Why did all these kids have brown envelopes? Why did all the envelopes contain exactly $10?

When the kids’ parents told the story though, word spread. One by one people heard about it and turned their heads to appreciate the kids in action with their Sheila money. We watched them cherish the gift that had fallen from the sky to land on them. We saw them learn to be good stewards of their money by choosing how to spend it wisely. We bloomed with joy and smiled broadly watching the kids make their Sheila money purchases.

When I asked Sheila if I could write about this, we talked about it for a while. I told her how touched I was watching those kids doing their shopping. She told me that she received the most beautiful thank you card from one of the kids, and another child had chosen to spend the money buying a gift to give back to her. We both teared up during our brief conversation.

“That’s Christmas right there,” I told her.

I’ve thought so much about Sheila money since then that I’ve broadened the definition in my mind. I’ve come to think of it as any selfless contribution a person makes to brighten someone else’s day. A few days before Christmas one of my friends encountered a tearful woman in dire straits. The $50 bill she gave to that woman was Sheila money. Another friend helped the Red Cross during the ice storm. That was Sheila money.

A gift, selflessly given, that gives joy to all. That’s Christmas right there.

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