Lenten Devotion for March 30, 2023

Because of your grace, we are.

Because of your love, we act.

Because of your spirit, we pray.

Because of your gospel, we live.

Because of your presence, we worship.

Because of your welcome, we are transformed.

If it had not been for you, Lord,    

We would not be.

So it was, so it is, so it will be,

For now and forever. Amen

This prayer was part of the Good Courage devotion for today. I love its simplicity and its poetry. I take comfort in the impression it offers of God, who is present as the source of all we truly need, to become who we are truly meant to be.

What is less comfortable, and comforting, is the soft-voiced reminder that because of that constant Divine Presence, transformation is not only possible, it is more than likely inevitable, if I am to continue to grow into the something, that until its season, in the words of a favourite hymn is an unrevealed mystery that God alone can see.

As the hymn reminds us, transformation is a matter of life and death. The new life is born out of change and loss.

Lenten Devotion for March 29, 2023

There is a special place in northeast Japan, in Iwate Prefecture, where a man named Sasaki Itaru created something called the “wind phone”. It’s a telephone box, and inside there is an old black telephone, which is not connected to anything.

Thousands of people travel there to use the phone to speak to those they have lost.

The Wind Phone was set up not far from one of the cities in Japan devastated by a terrible tsunami in 2011.

It’s set in a garden, in a remote area. It is not easy to get there. Once you find the location, there are no signs to guide you to the phone box.

“It’s in the very act of wandering—losing yourself in the landscape, uncertain of where you are and when you’ll arrive—that people end up thinking about many things, reformulating their memories of the person they have lost. And it’s in this mood, a sort of meditation, that they encounter the Wind Phone. They get here in a fuller and more aware state. They are ready.”

“You need to get your own feelings in order before you can talk to someone else. You need to emerge from the tragedy, from the shell of pain you’ve been encased in. Those who come to the Wind Phone are already halfway there. They are ready to create a new relationship with the dead.”

I wonder if that’s one way to think about the work of grief- that we are creating a new relationship with the person who has died.

The quoted paragraphs are from this article:

Lenten Devotion for March 28, 2023

The Good Courage devotions for this Lent, particularly the ones written by Amy Panton remind us that life can be hard.

Not all faith communities have learned how to give support, love and acceptance to folks whose lives don’t quite fit within the “norms” of middle-class life.

I’m pretty sure that those “norms”- that we are all heterosexual, gainfully employed, in stable committed relationships with a long term partner, raising kids who will take up careers, then closely duplicate the lives of their parents, perhaps with a little more prosperity- the norms were always part of the big illusion.

The big illusion being that life is do-able, manageable, and “winnable” for almost all of us. Those who can’t seem to make it work, well, they are the exception. For the most of us, life is great, near perfect in fact!

This has too often made it even harder, for folks who struggle, to admit to themselves, and to others, that they needed help.

It just a few years ago that someone close to me shared her difficulties with anxiety and depression with a faith leader in their community, and was told she needed to pray more. Then they “laid hands on”, and tried to pray the problems away!

That’s not something we’d say (hopefully!) if a person had a broken arm. We would see that the person received appropriate medical care- perhaps even take them to the hospital.

Which is what Amy Panton did for her friend, when she needed help.

Lenten Devotion for March 27, 2023

A few years ago I travelled with my son to Iceland. One of our excursions was a trip down into, and through cave-like underground lava tubes, formed when a conduit of still-flowing lava moved under the surface layer, which had cooled enough to crust and harden.

We were advised to wear clothing that would survive rough treatment, and issued helmets and lights before we descended.

There were places at which the tunnel was like a massive high-ceilinged underground cathedral.

There were also progressively narrow and low sections, that required us first to duck, then crawl, then slide our bellies on wet stone to get through.

Several times I had to remind myself we were being guided on by trained and experienced folks, who knew the way.

Alexa Gilmour, today’s “Good Courage” contributor shared a heart-rending story of the loss of her unborn child, and a significant conversation with her mother.

Alexa said to her mother, “I have a child to take care of. I need to get up, but I just don’t know how.”

It seems to me her mother’s response gave Alexa the permission she needed.

“Yes, you do,” she said, “You’re doing it now. The only way back is by way of grief.”

Then her mother sat with her and they cried together.

In your own life, has there been a person who offered you a gift like Alexa’s mother did for her?

Have you experienced grief as a healing process?

I worried it would feel disrespectful to Alexa’s story to include the Youtube video, but her very personal disclosure reminded me of this old nursery rhyme. Especially the verse about the deep, dark cave.

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!
Oh look! It’s some long, wavy grass!
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go around it,
Got to go through it!

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!
Oh look! It’s a mushroom patch.
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go around it,
Got to go through it!

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!
Oh look! It’s a wide river.
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go through it,
Got to swim across it.

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!
Oh look! A deep, dark cave.
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go through it,
Got to go in it.

Uh, oh! It’s dark in here.
I feel something,
It has lots of hair!
It has sharp teeth!
It’s a bear!

Hurry back through the river,
Back through the mushroom patch,
Back through the long grass
Run in the house and lock the door.
Phew! That was close!

I’m not afraid!

Lenten Devotion for March 26, 2023

Lent is the church’s annual journey towards the moment on Good Friday when we remember the death of Jesus. Does this season prepare us?

Are we ever actually ready to face death? The death of Jesus? The death of a loved one? Our own?

Today’s Good Courage author digs into their own experience of grief over the death of a relationship, as a way to remind us of a pattern we recognize.

There is a movement from loss and grief towards new possibility, and new life. We see that cycle repeated daily with rise of the sun, and its setting in the evening. We’ve learned to trust it will rise again tomorrow.

We see it in the cycle of the seasons. (Although here in Essex County, lately it’s felt like we can have all the seasons in one week.) Generally, at this time of year, we watch for the retreat of winter, and the signs that spring is emerging. New growth, the greening of the fields and trees, the return of birds we said goodbye to the past fall.

The writer also reminds that the smaller deaths, the changes and losses we experience, have the benefit, not always apparent or appreciated at the time, of making space in our lives for the “new”.

As long as we live, this can be true. Relationships, occupations, interests, activities, busy-ness which claimed much of our time, fascination, resources and energy may wind down, or fade away, die.

Can we remember that, in those times of pain and loss? Can we tell ourselves, ” I grieve what is now missing, but I trust that there will be something new.”?

Lenten Devotion for March 25, 2023

Can we have direct experience of God?

In the Good Courage devotion for today, writer Amy Panton confessed when her psychiatrist asked if she ever heard Jesus talking to her, she panicked, and out of fear she’d end up on even more medications, said “No.”

Amy’s hesitation and fear are understandable. As much as we may crave clear messages from God, and follow a religion that claims such revelations are possible, we don’t really know what to make of it, when someone says they hear the voice of God.

In 1986 I was a student intern at Koinonia Farm, a Christian intentional community in Sumter County, Georgia. Koinonia is about 10 miles from Plains, home to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.


Fran, the farm’s volunteer librarian, invited the interns to join her early on Sunday mornings for silent worship, under a big tree. This was my first experience with Quakers.

We would gather shortly after sunrise. Early enough to not be sitting out in the heat of the day, and before the mosquitoes were up.

Worship was simple. We sat. Fran would welcome us, invite us to get comfortable. She might read a short passage from the New Testament, or from a Quaker author. Then we would relax into the quiet.

Quakers talk about a “gathered meeting”, at which the presence of God is experienced. Philosopher and author Thomas Kelly described it this way:

“In the Quaker practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when an electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshippers. A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, and a quickening Presence pervades us, breaking down some part of the special privacy and isolation of our individual lives and bonding our spirits within a super-individual Life and Power—an objective, dynamic Presence which enfolds us all, nourishes our souls, speaks glad, unutterable comfort within us, and quickens in us depths that had before been slumbering. The Burning Bush has been kindled in our midst, and we stand together on holy ground.”

I remember moments under the tree that seemed something like what Kelly was trying to describe. A sense there is “more” than what we normally see and hear.

The founder of the Quaker movement, George Fox, rejected the need for educated priests and an organized religion to mediate between the individual and God. This got him in a lot of trouble in 17th England, which was already rife with rebellion against established authorities of all kinds.

Organized religion, and civil authorities are often quick to write off people who claim to hear God’s voice.

What do you think?

Lenten Devotion for March 23, 2023

This past fall I was out to Halifax for a weekend, and decided to worship at the historic “round” church, St. Paul’s Anglican. I was warmly welcomed, and since I was a guest in someone else’s house, I behaved myself.

But, I was sorely tempted! At the front of the sanctuary, on the right side, there is a “Royal Pew”.

This is a church that was built originally with money granted by royalty. When most of it burned down, members of the British monarchy supported the rebuilding efforts, and made significant contributions.

Trip Advisor’s piece about the church notes that many “royals” have used this pew, and it had even seated Elizabeth the Second.

I noticed there were no “royals” using the pew the Sunday I was there.

No one used it. It looked like a great place to sit. I wondered if it always sits empty, just in case. I also wondered what would happen if I sat there.

The Good Courage devotion for today includes the story of two of Jesus’ closest friends and followers, James and John. The writer notes that even after having seen and heard Jesus bringing his message of God’s love for all people, no matter their circumstances, these two seem to seek special status.

“And they [James and John] said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)

The writer suggests that not all implications of Jesus’ message of self-giving, serving, love has sunk in. Even so, these were members of Jesus’ inner circle, amongst those he would trust, and commission, to go forth and continue his work after he was gone.

The Jesus movement is made up, for the most part, of ordinary people, like you and me.

In 30 plus years working in churches, I’ve met some very saintly people, who shone with God’s love and compassion, and had deep and profound prayer lives. I’ve also met a lot of people who are more like me- mostly interested, most of the time, in doing the right thing, and being kind.

We don’t always want to do the right thing, and we don’t always know what the right things are. We muddle, and fumble along. We have unreasonable, or poorly considered expectations, like James and John. Our feelings can get hurt, when we don’t get the recognition we thought we were due.

We can circle back, again and again, to two of the lessons in the story about James and John seeking special status.

The first is that even though they didn’t “get” Jesus and his message, all the time, he loved them, and accepted them, and did not give up on them.

The second is that knowing that they (James and John) did not always get it right, reminds us that we don’t either. That’s a reminder to stay humble, even, and maybe especially about the things about which we feel the most certain.

Lenten Devotion for March 22, 2023

Today’s Good Courage reading is a meditation on courage rooted in hope. It describes a family’s long and arduous journey from Eritrea, via a refugee camp in Sudan, to Northern Saskatchewan.

A little over 25 years ago my wife and I were a freshly married couple. We we wanted to start our married life, and hopefully, a family, in a place as close to her folks as we could manage. She was called to a full-time position at a church in Windsor, and I found a part-time job at another. We packed up and moved from the prairies to Southwestern Ontario. (A lovely place, but still two hours from my wife’s parents.)

This was the late 1990’s. The nightly news was all about the conflict in the aftermath of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Many people fled their homes, and sought new places to live, and raise their families.

The Windsor Multi-Cultural Association connected us with a family who’d made their way from Bosnia to Canada, via Germany. A husband and wife, and two young boys. He’d been raised Muslim, and she Catholic. They wanted a life for their children safe from the ethnic and religious and political tensions, violence and war into which they had been born.

They became our friends, and our extended family. They helped us move into, and renovate our first home, including the nursery for our first child.

Their courage, and undefeatable hope that life could be better, and that their sons could have opportunities not available to them, still inspires me.

Lenten Devotion for March 21, 2023

The writers in Good Courage, the 2023 United Church daily devotion book for Lent have taken their readers on journeys to places that for many of us, are outside our experience. I think that’s good. Lent is a season for self-examination and growth.

To visit, even briefly, the hard places where people dwell, and struggle, and look for meaning and hope, is a good thing.

A few years ago I was on the writing team for one of these Lenten books. It was an honour to be asked. It’s humbling now, to see how much deeper into places of vulnerability and pain this year’s writers have gone, than I went with my writing. They have shown such, well, Good Courage.

Amy Panton’s pieces have been particularly challenging. Today she asked how we might respond if someone in our life revealed they practised self-harm. The character she creates for us to meet wants to be accepted for who they are.

I could not tell, from the brief sketch, if this person wants to be accepted as someone who has found in self-harm a necessary coping mechanism that they have no desire to stop, or if the person wants to be accepted as someone who is struggling to find healthier ways to cope.

I’m not sure my question would matter all that much, in the moment the person revealed the scars on their arms from cutting. I think they might just want to know that the person they chose to hear their story, would listen.

Amy Panton, the writer of today’s devotion is doing important work. Check out her website, podcast, and The Canadian Journal of Thelology, Mental Health and Disability.

The website:


The Podcast:


The Podcast in Video Form, with captions, on Youtube:


The Journal: