Lenten Devotion for March 14, 2023

The Good Courage writer for today, Amy Panton, has once again offered a frank, confessional description of an aspect of her personal journey. The heart of her reflection, it seems to me, is her coming to terms with thinking of herself as a person who requires yet another psychiatric medication.

I have several people in my life who have been greatly helped by the medications Amy Panton writes about. I am grateful they are available, and often wonder how things might have been different, if there’d been medical intervention and counselling earlier.

Amy Panton prays, at the end of her devotion, asking God to help her “survive another day with all of this anxiety”.

It’s a heart-wrenching prayer, especially when I recall the title of her devotion for today: “I am so ashamed”.

This suggests that not only does she struggle daily with anxieties, but also has shame as part of the burden. Shame about having anxieties, and shame about requiring medication. Perhaps even shame that her prayers for relief, or help, may not always seem to be answered.

I pray that as a society we can let go of the stigma that has been attached to what we often call “mental illness”, and the prejudice and shame that has too often been directed at those brave enough to seek help, or have dared to write or speak openly about their struggles.

I’ve been trying with my responses to reach back in my memory bank for songs that seem to speak, at least to me, to the concerns raised in the devotion. Here is a link to a Paul Simon song from 1983 that I always thought was about something more than he seemed to be saying.

Lenten Devotion for March 13, 2023

In the practice section of today’s devotion from Good Courage, the writer suggests doing an “Examen” of the past week, to reflect on the times in the past week you felt, or did not feel the presence of God with you. That’s something I’ve often recommended, in my spiritual direction work.

The Examen was developed by Ignatius, a former soldier who became a priest in the 16th Century. He founded the order of monks and priests called the Jesuits- they’re the ones with S.J. at the end of their names, for Society of Jesus.

There are many places online to learn about the Examen. Here’s a link I found on the Baylor University Spirituality page:


Children’s Story/Learning Time for Sunday, March 12, 2023 at Harrow United Church

Once upon a time not so long ago, like maybe yesterday, or tomorrow, there was a family. There were three kids, and two parents. 

April, the oldest was 12. She had curly blonde hair, and green eyes, and her favorite jeans had so many holes in them, you’d wonder how they stayed together. She also liked acting and dancing, and videos about dogs.

Juan Carlos, the middle kid, was 8 and ¾ . He had a light layer of fuzz on his head, where other kids would have hair. He’d been very sick, and the medicine to get better made his hair fall out, and it was just starting to grow back. Juan Carlos liked singing and Minecraft, and dinosaurs.

Ralph was 7. He was the youngest. He had dark black hair, and brown eyes, and his skin was the same colour as a chocolate bar. Ralph wanted to be a chef when he grew up. He had a new recipe he was trying out, for cream cheese and olive pancakes, but so far no one in his family would eat them.

Their parents were Mom and Mama. Some families have a mom and a dad. Some have two dads. Lots of kids have two houses, one with their mom, and one with Dad, and they have step-parents. 

Families come in different shapes and sizes. Life is interesting, and often complicated.

As April said, when people asked, “Yes, I have a Dad, but he’s more like an uncle. Juan Carlos and Ralph didn’t have moms or dads, until we adopted them. We’re a family.”

The family was getting ready to move to a new town because Mom had a new job. She was a social worker, and had been asked to move to this town that needed someone like her, who was friendly, and good at talking with kids. There had been problems with bullies, and people doing mean things at both schools, and the town was looking for ways to make things better. 

Mom’s new job was to be the school liaison. She would get to know the kids at both schools, and help the teaching staff make the schools happier, safer, and more inviting for everyone.

Mom was pretty excited about moving to a new place where she could use her abilities to help the kids and their parents, and the teachers.

Mama was okay with moving, because she had the kind of job she could do on her computer at the kitchen table- she made content for Youtube about video gaming and tattoo art, and people from all over the world watched her videos.

Their kids, April, Juan Carlos and Ralph were not so sure they wanted to move. They liked their old town. They liked their old house. They liked their school. April liked the reading club at the library. Juan Carlos liked the painting classes at the museum, and Ralph liked being part of the litter patrol that kept their town clean. 

These kids were not athletes. They did not play soccer or hockey or baseball. And they worried about moving to a town where the bullying was so bad the school needed their mom to help make it better. 

Mom and Mama and April, Juan Carlos and Ralph went on a weekend road trip to the new town, to check things out, to try to find a house, and to see what the town had to offer. It was especially important to the family to find a church. They knew it was a good way to meet people.

April was part of the puppets and popcorn team at her old church. They made puppets, and put on shows for the younger kids, and always made sure there was lots of snacks. She didn’t know if the little kids came to see the puppets, or for the koolaid and popcorn. It was probably both.

Juan Carlos liked singing in the junior choir. His favourite Sundays were when the junior choir invited the old people from the Senior choir to sing with them.

Ralph’s favourite thing about church was helping with the refreshment stand at the back of the sanctuary. People could grab a coffee or juice, and a cookie before the service started, and get more to eat and drink when they had visiting time after the church service. 

Mom and Mama and April and Juan Carlos and Ralph spent most of Saturday driving around the new town, looking at places to live. 

They’d found two different houses they might want to buy. One had a big garden in the backyard. The other had a swimming pool. Guess which one the kids wanted.

They went out for supper at a restaurant with a sign out front that said, “Family-size tables, and free ice cream with every meal.” 

They liked that place. April had the vegetarian lasagna. Juan Carlos had chicken nuggets and french fries. Ralph had the french onion soup, which he said was the fourth best he’d ever had. They all had chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Now they were out looking for a church. It was Saturday night, and they thought it would be good to pick a church to visit the next morning.

The first church they drove by was a big scary looking old building. Juan Carlos thought it looked like a haunted castle. 

There were no lights on. There was litter and old leaves in the corners of the front steps, and the heavy wooden door looked like it would take three people and a horse to pull open. 

They couldn’t get close to the building because there was a tall iron fence all around it, with pointy spikes on top, to make it hard to climb over. 

Inside the fence, beside the church building was a great big parking lot, but no cars. It was empty. Ralph said, “That parking lot would be a great place to practice riding my bike. I wonder how you get in.”

April said, “I wonder when this church is open, and what people do here.”

Juan Carlos pointed to the sign on the fence and said, “ What kind of name is that for a church? It says “No Trespassing. No Skateboarding. No Loitering.”  On the sign there was a picture of a video camera that gave them the uncomfortable idea they were being watched.

Mama said, “We should keep looking.”

The family got back in the van and drove a few blocks, and found another church. The first thing April noticed was the big rainbow flag flapping over the front door. She liked rainbows. They made her feel happy, and welcome. 

Juan Carlos said, “ We should look at the sign, and see what goes on here.” 

Mama drove the van into the parking lot. The whole family got out. Before they walked over to read the big sign, Ralph pointed to a small shed next to the church and said, “Look, they have a food pantry. It says take what you need, share if you can. I like that.”

When they got to the sign out front, they realized it was actually a collection of signs. It looked like lots of different groups used the building.

Juan Carlos said, “Mama, what’s Alanon? What’s AA?”

Mama said, “Those are groups for people who need to come and talk about some hard problems.”

Juan Carlos looked all serious for a second, then said, “That’s good.”

April said, “Look, they have cubs, and scouts, and Karate. They have a dance studio! They have cooking classes.”

Ralph said, “That one says “after school arts and crafts. That’s cool.”

Mom said, “I like that sign.”

April said, “Which one, Mom?”

Mom pointed and said, “Where it says, God wants us to love each other. We’re working on it. Want to help?” 

The family piled back in the van, and Mama drove them back to the motel where they were staying that night. As they drove, they talked about which of the two churches they might go to the next morning. 

I know which one I would pick.

Lenten Devotion for March 8, 2023

The Good Courage devotion for today works with the story of the disciple who often gets called “Doubting Thomas”. It asks what Thomas might have been up to, during the week between the first time Jesus appears to his inner circle, and the next time he appears to them- the time Thomas is there.

The writer suggests Thomas was out in the world beyond the room where his friends were cowering, for fear of suffering the same fate as their leader, Jesus. Was Thomas like a spiritual detective, out searching for signs and clues of what had happened to their leader?

I think that question, and any possible answer go beyond, and place too great an expectation on the story as presented in John’s Gospel. But it can still be a meaningful question for us.

Where do we look for signs that God is at work in our lives, in the world. Another way to ask it is, “Where do we see the Risen Christ?”

When I get worn down, or distracted, or doubtful about God’s presence or activity, it helps to go visit someone, or phone someone who I’ve not talked with for a while. I can’t claim to always be wise enough to know that this is what I need to do. My spouse is very good at nudging me along.

When I actually do it, I’m usually refreshed and reminded that we see the Risen Christ in each other.

Lenten Devotion for March 7, 2023

We like to watch some competitive reality shows. Our current favourites include The Great Canadian Baking Show, and The Great Pottery Throwdown.

On the pottery show, amateurs are challenged to push their creativity and pottery skills to new heights. We grow attached to them, and it’s always a bit sad to see one of these kind souls eliminated at the end of an episode. We know they have a full existence beyond tv, but still.

There is another moment on the show that has some of the life, death, and new life vibe of the scripture that was part of today’s devotional reading from Good Courage. The quote was from 1 Corinthians, and it’s a fairly well known one about “treasure in clay pots”.

On the pottery show, competitors are often asked to complete a technical challenge- to throw as many pots of a certain style in a brief allotment of time. They are judged on how well they match the example they were given, the consistency in size and shape and stylistic features, and the sheer number of successful pots.

As they approach each competitor’s work area, one of the judges carries a metal bucket. When he sees a below standard pot, he mashes it with a quick slap of his palm and scoops the flattened clay into the bucket. Presumably the clay will be used again, fashioned into something wonderful.

We know it’s just clay. We know that each potter on the show has likely done the same to their failed pots, in their own workshop, many times.

Still, to see anyone’s creative efforts summarily reduced to be recycled is a little heart-breaking. (I feel that way about some of the sentences I cut from pieces that I write- it’s called “killing your darlings”.)

There is comfort in the assurance that beyond affliction and despair we have the promise of a life beyond this one. But I still flinch when I see some one, or something I care about being flattened.

Lenten Devotion Day 15 March 10, 2023

I had mixed feelings about today’s devotional reading from Good Courage.

On the one hand, I am feeling a bit weary of the invitations to remember the hard times.

On the other hand, the writer offered an excellent invitation, to create a “memory bank” of times when we have recovered from despair.

For me, the memory bank would contain the names and faces of those who have been there, to encourage, guide, feed and comfort me. There have been so many, and I am so gratefu;

I can’t remember getting through any hard time without help from people in my life.

Lenten Devotion for Day 15 March 9, 2023

(Malcolm Gladwell meets Cinderella)

What do you wish for? What do you hope for? The Good Courage writer for today suggests wishes are aspirations you might like to see happen, but cannot or will not put in the work needed to achieve them. They offered the personal example of wishing to be able to play jazz saxaphone, but also admitted they can’t read music. (Which may indicate they haven’t the education and training they’d need to reach that goal.)

Hopes are things that may be difficult, but for which you may actually have the drive and needed capacities to make happen.

It’s a useful distinction, that reminds me of what journalist Malcolm Gladwell called the 10,000 hour rule. He referenced a researcher who’d concluded that most of us need that much time to practice, to become good at something.

That notion, which has been debated, and refuted by other researchers and writers, still kind of rings true for me. It’s hard to be good at anything, or make anything happen, unless I work at it.

It’s very hard for a “wish” to move into the realm of “hope” unless I am willing to put myself into it.

Most congregations I’ve served have people in them, who “wish” we were doing something different, or better, or more. Often the “wish” they describe is something lovely, and compelling, and pretty hard to argue with.

Yes, it would be wonderful to have 100 kids in Sunday School. Cool idea. Would you like to recruit some teachers, train them, refurbish the classrooms, find a good curriculum, and also, find those kids?

I am deeply grateful for those who move beyond the wishing to the doing, and who give of their time and creativity to help good things happen.

I’ve noticed over the years that they are usually not the people who have been the most vocal about the things they wish “someone” would do.

Lenten Devotion for Day 14 March 8, 2023

The Good Courage writer for today was pretty candid about her reluctance to write about despair. She comes around to the realization that in spite of herself, she can look back, and track a path from despair to renewed life.

I’m glad she got there. I think having lived through terrible things, and come out the other side, strengthens us for whatever may lay ahead. This is not an original thought (are there any?) on the topic.

One person who I think has said it very well is Sr. Joan Chittister, who is a Benedictine Sister in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a well known author, speaker, and leader. Here is an excerpt from a post she wrote on Hope:

“Hope is not insane optimism in the face of palpable evil or dire circumstances. It is not the shallow attempt of well-meaning but facile friends to “cheer us up” in bad times. It’s not the irritating effort of ill-at-ease counselors who work to make us “reframe” our difficulties so that everyone around us will not have to deal with them, too. No, hope is not made of denial. Hope is made of memories.

Hope reminds us that there is nothing in life we have not faced that we did not, through God’s gifts and graces—however unrecognized at the time—survive. Hope is the recall of good in the past, on which we base our expectation of good in the future, however bad the present. It digs in the rubble of the heart for memory of God’s promise to bring good out of evil and joy out of sadness and, on the basis of those memories of the past, takes new hope for the future. “

Chittister’s view of hope, which I would sum up as, “God brought us through in the past, so we can trust God will be there for us this time,” is helpful. It’s also the kind of counsel I hesitate to offer. I”d be more inclined to ask the person what they’d been through in the past, with the “hope” that they’d reach a similiar conclusion after digging through the rubble of their own memories.

I also totally understand when people don’t want to talk about it!

Lenten Devotion for Day 13 March 7, 2023

When do you notice God working through you? That question is central to today’s Good Courage devotion.

When I thought of the kind of moments when I have the sense that God is at work, through my actions, I realized they are closely tied to what I also recognize as things I feel “called” to do.

As a person in ordained minstry, there are three particular things to which I am “called”: Word (preaching, teaching, writing, speaking); Sacrament (presiding at Communion and Baptism, and other informal but also holy moments); Pastoral Care (being present with people and talking, and trying to listen deeply).

I feel very lucky that these are all things that I:

1) really like doing.

2) seem to have gifts to apply to the tasks.

This led me to thinking about a definition for “call” or vocation that I used recently in a learning time, and which has long been a touchstone for me. It’s by Frederick Buechner, who was an American Presbtyerian pastor and celebrated author of fiction and theology. I have room here to expand the quote to include some preamble from his book “Wishful Thinking”:

“IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a (person) is called to by God.  

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.  

By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. 

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

A few folks have mentioned they like it when I tie a song to the day’s theme. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, this is the song that touched that part of me that was trying to discern that to which I was “called”. I identified with the sense of being called or drawn somewhere that comes through, if not the particular destination:

Lenten Devotion for Day 12, March 6, 2023

Amy Panton, the author of today’s reading from Good Courage, offered a view into her personal journey with anxiety and depression. I have the sense that even a decade ago, this would have been a very risky choice. There would be stigma attached to admitting that you were receiving psychiatric care, or even seeing a therapist. This made me a little curious about her, so I looked her up.


You can learn more about her by following the above link. Her work addresses important questions about how people of faith can respond to people, especially young people, who self-injure.

Does our faith help us, when we suffer emotional/psychological distress?

Does it help us remain present with those in our lives, who struggle with depression, anxiety, or self-injury?

Do we have a tendency to shy away from folks who have these struggles?

The devotion for today closed with an invitation/encouragement to reach out to people in your life who is on anti-depressants or other psychiatric medications.

What a good idea!

I did not have to think long to come up with names, and see the faces in my mind, of those to whom I could reach out.