Darkness in advent

Dear Companions and friends,

It happened yet again
really far too often for my liking
strong winds, over-saturating rains, fallen limbs, broken trunks
or perhaps something totally unrelated
but in a blink, never a warning
just one click and it’s dark
all light taken
uninvited stillness
instantly my world feels shuttered and vulnerable
lonely
my mind sputters
now what? why now? how long? what if this persists? prevails?
my heart shudders
gasping for light and promise and flow
anything but dark
moving cautiously
looking with memory and careful touch
I feel them, candle and match,
welcomed companions in this life-denying dark
I draw them close or better yet
let myself be drawn by them
and with an eager, single strike things shift
darkness shreds
light swallows lonely
my heart breathes deeply
and smiles
and hums
one small child in a land of a thousand
one small dream of a savior tonight
one small hand reaching out to the starlight
one small savior of life*

 

In Selah, we deliberately use the word “companion,” and in this Advent waiting I am reminded of the gift and penetrating grace companionship offers: One who stands with me, alongside; One who holds the candle, strikes the match, helps me remember hope and promise and flow and life.  There are lots of ways darkness invades and drains and denies and distances, but thanks be to Immanuel, reaching out and reaching with…and for all Immanuel’s light-bearing companions on this road that we share.

 

Selah Companions…you know who you are…thank you for brightening and lightening my world.

 

So be it.

 

Peace and love and light to you in this good day,

John

 

(*One Small Child, David Meece © Word/Warner/Chappell music)

 

 

Entering into their ways, Donna

 

Dear Companions and friends,

Donna Dinsmore is a Partner of our kindred/sister ministry called SoulStream (Abbotsford, BC) and a personal friend of Selah.  Donna recently discerned and responded to a vocational call to be solo pastor of a church on an indigenous First Nations Reserve in Bella Coola, British Columbia, Canada.  With Donna’s permission, I’d like to share what she wrote last week about her heart-wrenching introduction to her new community and ministry in northern BC.  I deeply appreciate Donna’s vulnerability and share this in hopes to encourage and challenge and inspire us as a Selah community to live our contemplative lives wherever we find our feet, and to do so with greater awareness and intention.

Remember Selah’s purpose: To invite all people to paus and to nurture contemplative experiences with Jesus, leading to inner freedom and loving service.

“Thank you Donna for your heart and your companionship with us!”

If you would like to respond to Donna, you may contact her at the email she lists.

So be it.

Peace and love to you in this good day,

John

Donna’s Story

“I didn’t want to tell you your first night here, so I waited until this morning. There’s been a suicide on the reserve and they need your help.”

One phone call sets the wheels of ministry in motion: a visit to Pearl Snow’s home, two Comfort Services for the grieving family and community who have lost a 15 year old girl by hanging, the funeral, the burial, and the feast. 

I enter into their ways. I speak when they tell me to, at each Comfort Service, the funeral and the feast.  I lead the casket out of the hall after the funeral.  My car, directly in front of the casket now resting in a red pick up truck, leads it to the gravesite.  I throw the first three handfuls of dirt on the grave.  Thud.  Thud.  Thud.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, Amen. It won’t be my last funeral, my last suicide.  The Nuxalk Nation lives with suicide like my last church lives with a bad sound system.

This is not what I had in mind, a call to Bella Coola, in the back of beyond, as my first solo pastoral charge. This is not what I had in mind, a very public role straight away before meeting people and listening to stories.  There’s no training for this.  There’s simply incarnation—showing up and being fully present to the Nuxalk Nation who, over 100 years ago, were nearly annihilated by small pox; a white woman, representing God to people in their deepest distress. 

The Nuxalk are recovering the language that was beaten out of them, not only by residential schoolteachers and staff, but public school teachers here in Bella Coola.  They are recovering their stories and music and dance and carving.  Leaders speak with one voice of the need to learn the old ways and stop drinking.  Alcohol addiction is epidemic in my new neighborhood.

They’re trying to recover their story. I wonder if they’ve ever heard the Christian story? The real one, I mean.  I wonder why they would listen to me, if I could figure out what the story is (!) and then translate it so they could hear it.  I wonder why they would trust me?

Many of [my friends] were affirming and supportive as I was discerning the call to Bella Coola at the annual SoulStream Partner’s Retreat.  Jesus had been whistling, for months, the song from the Iona Community, “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name.” In the contemplative SoulStream space the whistling got louder, and I heard it in full phrases, not just snatches.  The next week I heard it strongly enough to say, “yes.” [My friends] were part of Jesus’ whistling as they attended so respectfully to me, and didn’t even know it!

If you feel drawn to join me as I wander and wonder in a backwater of British Columbia, I welcome your company. donnadins@gmail.com

Of three boats

Dear Companions and friends,

From my home office, I can see the Sound.  This morning during my quiet pause with Jesus, I glanced toward the water where I saw three boats: a tug, a speed and a sail.  The tug was towing two over-filled freight barges, lumbering along in what felt to my eyes as slow and heavy hauling.  It was making steady progress but it looked like hard, hard work.  The speed boat zipped right past in full flurry and wide wake.  Efficiently applied power pushed past the persistent, weighted tug.  I quietly hoped the speed at least waved as it passed the tug; alas, it likely was fixated on its destination or just the thrill of its capacity for speed.  And then there was the sailboat, floating off in the distance, sail poised, inviting the breeze.  All three heading in the same direction, and yet beyond the tug and the speed, the sail appeared expectant, willingly reliant upon the rhythms of water, wind and sail.  It looked and felt…whole.

Hmmmm….

The speed and the tug have passed…the sail lingers.

Watching the sail receive the wind, and the wind fill the sail, I take a deep breath myself and feel most grateful that this day ahead does not depend upon my energies alone.

I also rehearse two of our Selah values:

“We welcome God’s love as the true Source of our being and our becoming,” and

“We relate to God with receptive hearts and minds, nurtured in the way of Christ Jesus.”

Aaahh…deep breaths…full sails.

So be it.

Peace and love to you in this good day,

John

It is dry, then there’s God’s love

Dear Companions and friends,

It’s dry.  Brittle, crunching, flammable dry.

It’s serious dry.  It’s dangerous dry.

A few months ago we scratched our heads as those desperate for rainfall watched neighbors a few states over try to navigate and survive torrential flooding.  Dark, promising clouds gather and yet drift on their drop-less way at the sun’s persistence.  From sea level to mountain top, from coast to coast, it’s dry.

And then there is God’s love.  No matter the season, God’s love is.  Ever-present.  Constant. Thorough.  Incarnational.  Torrential.  And truth be told…Dangerous.  It’s God’s love.

One of our expressed values as the Selah community is that “We affirm God’s initiating love, expressed profoundly in Christ Jesus.”

We recognize that God does not and cannot turn off or cease loving.  Each breath comes from Love and bursts with Love.  All that is is because of God’s Love.  The beloved apostle writes that without Love nothing was made that has been made.

Aaaahh…God’s Love…always initiating, always flowing, always drenching my life with expression and invitation.

Recalling an image from a poem I heard long ago, my prayer today is that I come into this day, stepping into the constant flow of God’s Love, carrying not a thimble but buckets!!

So be it.

Peace and love to you in this good day.

John

“all-y’all”

Dear Companions,

“We haven’t been this way before!”

This past week I noticed that expression emerge in several conversations:

  • A friend describing a camel ride during a once-in-a-lifetime trip
  • Someone mourning the loss of a life partner and all their once-clad dreams (actually this past week there were three separate conversations like this!)
  • A parent whose oldest child has started driving

I also found this phrase on my own lips as I recalled the compelling vision of God for us to create space and nurture a dispersed community of contemplative companions that eventually became known as Selah.  That’s us…or as my sister from Georgia says, “all y’all”…and who of us truly has been this way before?  Local and present communities are difficult enough…now add the distance factor?  Thankfully there are some helpful and supportive models but this journey is uniquely ours to make, a journey requiring our pausing energies, our listening discernment, our loving responses…with God, with each other and with our surrounding relationships.

That’s why I am particularly delighted to share with you dispersed companions these articulated Selah Values.  Over the past months one way the Selah Board has paused and listened and responded was by writing seven core values describing the essence of our dispersed community.  This huge effort of love sharpens our focus and shines clearer light on our way.

Remember the scene from the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her three new friends (and Toto too!) face the formidable forest?  Remember how they link arms and find their walking rhythm, and how their individual angst melds into a more confident pace forward?

In a way, that’s what these Selah Values provide for us – shared expressions around which we can link our hearts and arms and confidently walk forward into this unfolding, unknown way.

Here’s an idea:

Print these Selah Values and mount them in a visible spot for at least two weeks.

Review them slowly, prayerfully, reflectively, regularly.

Notice where these Values draw you in and where they don’t.

Spend some time with these.

Envision what kind of dispersed community we might be as we live into these Values.

And of course, let the rest of us know how you think these statements impact you and us.  We are always eager to hear!

So while it’s true that we might not have been this way before, what an amazing opportunity we have to experience something of God’s presence and of God’s intention and of God’s provision that we also haven’t experienced before!

How grateful I am for your companionship.

How grateful I am for Jesus’ companionship.

May I take your arm?

Would you take mine?

So be it.

Peace and love to you in this good day,

John

Mindless living

Dear Companions and friends,

Between teaching engagements and various travels, somehow for me May – full and active May – swept right into June…and I hear myself saying, “Now I can slow down.”  Really?  Will I?  Do I even want to?  Isn’t living fast and overfull more interesting?  Isn’t being busy and a bit blurry the preferred, and certainly the affirmed, way to do life these days?  Slowing down – reclaiming regular and ample pauses – can actually be terrifying.  What happens if I have nothing to do?  What happens if I have nothing to acquire or accomplish or prove?  What happens if I cannot outrun my internal voices far too eager to step right in to remind me I’m not good enough, loving enough, safe enough, successful enough, connected enough, extraordinary enough…or…or…or?   Whoa!  As long as I’m busy I don’t need to attend to any of this.  Let’s just get on to the next thing!

Hmmm…I guess mindless living on auto-pilot might sound easier…if that’s actually living.  Sounds instead like it might be more about hiding, dodging, avoiding, fearing, numbing which sounds like and actually is a whole lot more work in the end.  And what about getting to the end yet missing all the textures and details of authentic living along the way, not to mention all the intricate delicacies of oft messy relationships?  And what about missing that still small Voice that speaks healing and grace and mercy and unconditional love I deeply need and ultimately desire?

So here I am.  It’s June and I’m trying to pause and listen more deeply again.  I am trying to reclaim a more spacious pace.  I know it’s not only important…it’s life.  Hmmmm…slowing down certainly involves more than simply turning the calendar.

So be it.

Grace and love to you in this good day,

John

Spring’s insistence

Dear Companions and friends,

My spiritual director used the phrase, “Spring’s insistence.”

That caught my attention.

That invited me to pause.

Despite Winter’s futile forays, change is urgently budding here in every direction, in every color.  Heralded by robin’s morning song, Spring’s advance is resolute.  Persistent.  Steady.  Relentless.  Zestful.

Hmmm…seems appropriate in this Resurrection season…echoes of Divine Love.

Divine Love insists on new life, pushes through resistant ploys, trickles down grappling hearts, seeps through songs and minds and hands, alters landscapes inside and out.

“In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,

thinking that he would never wake again,

laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;

Love is come again like wheat arising green.”

Now the Green Blade Rises

John MacLeod Campbell Crum, 1872-1958

So be it.

Grace and love to you in this good day,

John

Smiling at llamas

Dear Companions and friends,

I had an appointment at a downtown office, parked the car and was crossing the street when something caught my attention:  a woman was leading a llama down the street.  This is not a regular occurrence where I live so of course I paused to look…ok…to stare. A llama…shimmering, well-groomed coat, shiny halter with ornamental lead, tall and stately with a rather regal gait as it clip-clopped along.  Strangely enough, it seemed like everything in this particular moment belonged…and there I stood, smiling at serendipity.  When I entered my intended appointment, I asked if they had noticed the lady leading the llama right outside their office window.  They had not noticed…and with the tilting folders and army of sticky notes and the humming machinery, I understood.  How easy to miss such scenes when regular life piles in around me.  How often I too miss these unsuspected slivers tucked into simple street crossings.  And yet, seeing that llama that day, I realized that every moment holds a potential surprise.  Every moment echoes from Love and begs my heart to wonder about something more…to move with attentive openness to unfolding life…to be alert to slivers of mystery that make me smile.

Hmmm…smiling at llamas…

So be it.

Grace and love to you in this good day,

John

A companionship of interest

Dear Companions and friends,

I am reminded the companionship of Jesus springs, not from obligation or requirement, but from interest.

Jesus is interested in being with me.

That creates a wide pause for me.

Somehow that feels important for me to recognize and ponder.

Offering presence and interaction from obligation and requirement sheds duty-light on relationship.  It’s a turning toward because of must or have to.  Consequently, I feel my heart turning to take ten paces away from relationship.

Interest sheds new light.  Interest says I want to.  I choose.  Interest speaks of initiative, of response.  Interest accents authenticity.  A companionship of interest softens my edges and widens my heart.  I watch my guard drop a bit more.  I find my own heart’s curiosity warmly stirred.  I even feel a lightness in my step.

“Jesus, my ever-interested Companion, your love seeps gently.  Here is my heart and hand, let us walk together today…with interest.”

So be it.

Grace and love to you in this good day,

John

Breaking bread

As a dispersed community named Selah, we intentionally use the word companion.  A companion is one with whom (“com”) I share or break bread (“pan”) with the implication being for the sake of relationship.  I really like that; I connect to that.  As the son of a baker, I find deep and extensive meaning in the association between bread and relationships.  I feel a deeper sense of meaning with breaking bread and relationships as a follower of Jesus, “who on the night he was betrayed, took bread….”  Hmmm…there is much to ponder: love, life, bread, other, welcome, provision, nourishment, sustenance, vocation…a Eucharistic life.

Recently I heard of situations and conversations that remind me how easy it is to jumble these words.  “Breaking bread for the sake of relationship” becomes the troubling “Breaking relationship for the sake of bread.”  A complete 180-degree difference in meaning to me.  How does that happen?  It’s shocking… exasperating… wounding…disheartening.  “Bread of Heaven have mercy…draw us back to Your table, Your hands, Your life, Your heart, Your love.”

I cherish the gift of companions.  I am deeply grateful for those God weaves into this whacky journey…for those who firmly and unconditionally take my hands…for those who remind me relationship matters.  In the end it likely is the only thing that does.

So be it.

Grace and love to you in this good day,

John

Reflections January 28, 2015

Dear Companions and friends,

If you have attended an event I facilitated, you likely have been invited to share one of my favorite closing blessings:

“Let’s stand together in a circle and join hands, left palm up and right palm down.”  The concentration and adjustment of the respective palms following these intentional instructions always makes my heart smile.  Why such specific instructions?  (OK Selah folks…do you recall??)  To me this is one simple way that we can express the intention of companionship, namely standing side-by-side offering support and encouragement to another (“left palm up”) while graciously receiving the support and encouragement of another (“right palm down”).  Because Selah is a dispersed community, I find it powerful to rehearse this posture whenever we can, together as friends – companions – mutually holding each other in hope-filled care and support and promise…like the anonymous friends recorded in Mark 2 who joined hands to prepare and carry their friend to Jesus only to be turned away at the crowded door.  Undeterred, they continued to the roof, tore away its materials and lowered their beloved friend hand-over-hand, holding him there before Jesus (how’s that for embodying intercessory prayer??)  Or how about the hands of our Great Companion that lifted the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it away…and likewise the cup…so that we might partake of divine Love and life, flowing across the ages from Friend to friend to friend…hmmm…giving and receiving with particularly positioned hands.  As a dispersed community of contemplative companions, we mindfully and care-fully hold you with great respect, love and support, and we gratefully receive your respect, love and support in return.  Remember that.  Savor that.

Left palm up.

Right palm down.

What a remarkable difference for this journey.

So be it.

Grace and love to you in this good day,

John

Reflections January 8, 2015

Dear Companions and friends,

The early days of 2015 found me lying low…quite low as I battled a nasty microscopic virus (i.e., flu).  Here I was flat on my back with diminished capacities to say the least, remembering never to underestimate the power of a virus.

Amazing the profound impact such a miniscule organism can have on a grown person and all the systems, rhythms, relationships and schedules that constitute life.   Hmmm….yet equally amazing to me is how little I attribute that same level of impact to an equivalent amount of grace and goodness.  If something harmful can create dis-ease as thoroughly as it does with its small measure, then why do I doubt grace and goodness (which I believe have far more eternal roots and prospects in Love)?  Might they actually carry at least an equal or an even greater punch?  Why do I think it requires loads and loads more grace and goodness to cause the same effect?  Wouldn’t even micro-doses of grace and goodness have at least the same potential to alter conditions, relationships, rhythms and schedules?  Hmmm…so why then do I question the vigor of grace and goodness…in any dose?  In this season of vigilant hand washing, cough covering, etc. may we be alert and care-filled to spread grace and goodness into any and every situation.  In other contexts, we know full well the language of “going viral.”  May this be said of our intentional responses of grace and goodness…in whatever measure we can muster.

So be it.

Be well.

Grace and love to you in this good day,

John