thinking theology

Archive for October, 2015

Harvest gratitude

This past week, I was chatting with someone about how, when I was a child, and for her, when she lived in England, there was a harvest festival, but not really an American style thanksgiving. I have been musing on why it is important to remember the harvest specifically. As I drive to beautiful downtown Fergus, I pass streams and rivulets, fields and grazing animals, farmers at work in the fields. It reminds me that I depend on the bounty of the earth for my life and I depend on the people who work on the earth for my sustenance. The animals must have pasture, the plants must be tended, the corn must be harvested. Everything is both labour intensive and also a living act of appreciation for the ground beneath our feet.

Most of us live in more urban settings now so it is a casual matter to lose our connection to the land and to the interconnectedness of all life. The eggs I eat used to be part of the body of a chicken. The meat I consume used to be a living creature like me. The grains and plants are bent to my need rather than the wisdom of their own being. We are one, and we are finally and inescapably, one organic whole.

Jesus said, “ I am the vine and your are the branches,” and it is not only a metaphor for the spiritual life, but a reality. We are part of one creation. We are creatures in an organic being called the earth. And what weaves us together in love is the Maker who holds all life, seen and unseen, historic and not yet born, in one pulsating, breathing whole. We are made from the dust of exploding stars and yet we inhabit a particular moment in time and space.

Harvest festivals remind us that we are not gods, but intertwined equally with all life on this planet. It also reminds us that we have been invited to dream beyond the limitations of our minds and bodies. In that dreaming, we may share the wisdom of the Holy One who calls us into a shared imagination, a hushed awe, and a shout of ecstasy.

Giving thanks seems almost mundane compared to this rich panorama into which we are invited. And so today, smell the flowers, the bread, the food that has been prepared. Touch each other with love and appreciation for the beauty of the Maker as it radiates through our lives. Let us sink to our knees with wonder that this life is so full. As much as we feel blessed, may we be a blessing to others. When thank you isn’t enough, let us open our hearts to the Holy One who waits within to love us and lift us up.

St. Francis 2015

This week, in many churches, we will be remembering St. Francis. Some churches will have a blessing of other creatures, some wild, some domestic. Some places will remember to honour the poor. Other will think about what it means to live counter-culturally. All these were aspects of the ministry of St. Francis.

I think Francis knew that the animals didn’t need a blessing, but were in themselves a blessing, harbingers of the holiness of creation. As Meister Eckhart said, “Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God.”

Jesus said, the poor are always with us. Francis knew this too and saw poverty as an opportunity to be part of the work of God in the world. For Francis, solidarity, community replaced condescension or pity. Francis defended his position with spiritual discipline and prayer: “My brothers, the Lord called me into the way of simplicity and humility…. The Lord told me he would have me poor and foolish in this world.

In intentional communities all over the world, where the poor and the privileged live and work together, a renewed idea of mission is developing. In one of those places in California, a former astrophysicist, Pancho Ramos Stierle, is practising loving kindness as a way to connect to others and heal some of the fabric of social brokenness. At St. Brigid’s in Vancouver, at Faith House, the interfaith community in Ottawa, at St. Benedict’s Table in Winnipeg, people are organizing to make social bridges, to gather in prayer and commitment, to engage in mutual compassion.

St. Francis said, “We loved to live in poor and abandoned churches, and we were ignorant and submissive to all. I worked with my hands and would continue to do so, and I will that all other friars work at some honourable trade. Let those who have none learn one, not for the purpose of receiving the price of their toil, but for their good example and to flee idleness. And when they do not give us the price of the work, let us resort to the table of the Lord, begging our bread from door to door. The Lord revealed to me the salutation which we ought to give: “God give you peace!”

Here is today’s lesson to honour St. Francis:
Appreciate and give thanks that we are part of this beautiful creation.
Honour the poor and treat others with compassion and respect.
Live a simple life.

And how will we work on the last one? We are not going home to sell off our assets or throw our computers and televisions in the dump. But there are ways we can simplify and at the same time expand our lives.
Every morning, we can open our eyes and say thank you.
We can take a moment to look at the sky and the earth, really look and be astonished.
We can simplify our relationships by thinking and imagining how it feels to be someone other than ourselves.
We can work at making our egos stand behind our hearts.
We can rethink our priorities in terms of the demands of compassion.

And this prayer of St. Francis

I beg you, gracious Saviour,
let the passionate, gentle power of your love
take possession of my soul,
and snatch it away from everything that is not you,
that I may die for love of your love
as you saw fit to die for love of mine