Confirmation: 1st Sunday in Advent

We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, for which the traditional theme is Hope, with the confirmation of Keira, Lilia, Ben, and Lauren as adult members of our Harrow congregation, and the United Church of Canada. We also shared in the sacrament of communion for the first time since mid-March. We also introduced the congregation to our newest online effort, Gift Bag Sunday School.

Here is a link to the video of the service.

Here is the text of the Learning Time:

This spring, while we were all learning how to live under lockdown, a highlight of my week, for almost two months, was the Thursday afternoon confirmation class. Ben and Lauren, Lilia and Keira and I got together via ZOOM. We worked through the chapters of a book called Jesus 24/7, which raised questions to talk about.

Is God real? What does God have to do with me? What do we know about Jesus? What does it mean to say that he died, and was resurrected from death? How do we follow the way of Jesus?

It will be of great comfort to you that we sorted out all those questions, and have all the answers. I am of course, kidding.

When I was confirmed, the process involved learning a catechism, made up of those kind of questions, with formal answers, using a lot of big words, that we were required to agree with, in order to become a confirmed adult member of the church.

The historic statements of faith are interesting, and worth knowing about. I shy away from the idea that people who wrote them actually knew more about the mysteries of God, and Jesus, and life and death than you or I.

Reading the creeds, like the United Church Creed, allows to see what has seemed to make sense over the centuries, but when it comes right down to it- Christian faith is not just about getting the words right. It is about doing the best we can, to follow the way of Jesus, and placing our trust in God, and having hope. It’s about loving God, and loving others as we love ourselves.

I said at a church board meeting a few weeks ago that I think there are 2 kinds of people- or at least two basic world views- maybe they are opposite ends of a spectrum, and we find ourselves at different places on the continuum, at different times.

At one end are the nihilists, who believe there is no meaning, nothing good, no point, no God, and if we are smart, we will be selfish, and live and scheme and do only for ourselves, and those close to us. Take care of yourself, load your weapons, and to hell with everybody else. We can see that way of thinking at work in politics, and in business, and in some people’s daily lives.

At the other end are those who place absolute faith and trust in God as they understand God, believe that life is about giving all we can to help others, and trust that God will take care of us in life, and in death. They believe that everything broken can be fixed, all injustices will be corrected, and all illness and pain can be relieved. We love people like this for their ideals, but also worry that they are not realistic, and will end up getting hurt.

Whatever statements of faith make the most sense to you, and whatever you have been taught about God and Jesus and all the rest of it, most of us live somewhere between these extremes. We try to navigate in the world- to take care of those close to us, and also do some good for others. We pray things can get better, and try to live as if they will. We can’t fix all the problems in the world, but we look for ways we can help, and we do what we can, nearby, and farther away.

A community of faith, like ours, is important, not only because together we can do more good in the world than we could on our own, but because we encourage each other, we inspire hope in each other. When Jesus sent out his disciples to share his teachings, he never sent them alone. He sent them out in pairs.

We need each other. When Keira and Lilia and Lauren and Ben were baptized, a community of faith promised their families they would support them, and encourage them.

Today we welcome Keira and Lilia and Lauren and Ben as full members of the church. We need them, and are delighted to have them. They are with us in the holy work of helping others, encouraging others, inspiring hope, and making a difference in the world.

Thanks be to God. Amen

Gift Bag Sunday School Week 1: Hope

We miss having the kids and young families at church for in-person worship and Sunday School. We are also glad that families are being safe, and taking care of themselves.

We are offering “Gift Bag Sunday School” for the kids. Their parents can register to receive the gift bag of supplies for each week’s lesson, and we will post the link to the YouTube video for each week’s lesson, which features some very talented people from the congregation, offering action prayers, craft lessons, scripture readings, and story time.

Special Memorial Service

Here is the link to our November 22, 2020 worship service. On the Christian calendar, the Sunday before Advent is the last Sunday of the year, and is often called “Reign of Christ”. It is a day to remember that even when life seems messy, and chaotic, that ultimately, God is in charge. We took our theme for the service from the last line of the Lord’s Prayer as we say it in many Protestant churches, the “doxology”: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

This was also the Sunday we at Harrow United Church chose to remember the members of our congregation and community, and those close to us, who have died since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we have not been able to do funerals, and offer support to grieving families, in the way we wish we could.

We believe

that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God

in Christ Jesus our Lord.     

(Romans 8:38, 39)

We lit candles in memory of those in our lives, our community, who have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Wanda Delight Cracknell

Sarah Roberta Jane McLean

Mary Fay Defour

Annegret “Annie” Metcalfe

Nelda Virginia Vollans

William Arthur Gorick

Nancy Jean Whyte

Ronald William Reese

Edna Elizabeth “Betty” Reese

William Richard Herniman

Keith Chamberlain

David Bailey

Our service included readings by Nancy Colenutt, and very appropriate music from Barry Mannell, and Larry Anderson.

Here is the text for my learning time, as well as a teaching about the spiritual practice of Silence.

Learning Time: “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever…”

Ever wonder why some Christians say the longer version of the Lord’s Prayer? The version we repeat most often in church, that many of us learned as children, includes a sentence that is not in the prayer as Jesus taught it to his disciples.

The extra line, which is sometimes called a “doxology”, was added sometime in the first 100 years or so after the earthly life of Jesus.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

Scholars think that wording is based on words found in the Bible, either in the Book of Psalms, or from the part of Second Chronicles we heard read today.

A doxology is a formal word of praise to God, often part of a worship service.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with Jesus encouraging his followers to think of God as loving father, and to ask God for very personal things, like food to live for the day, and forgiveness, and the strength to forgive others. 

The doxology traditionally added to the Lord’s Prayer conveys ideas about who God is. It’s God’s Kingdom, God is the one with power, and we give glory, or praise to God. 

Unlike an earthly parent, who has human limits, and gets distracted by small human concerns, and is subject to illness, and pain, and death, God is God. God is the one who creates the universe, and gives us life, and who gives us the love we need for this life.

The early Christians, who lived in the first 100 years or so after the earthly life of Jesus, were mostly poor folks, on the fringes of society. If they were Jewish Christians, they experienced persecution from the Jewish authorities, for following their new faith outside the temple and synagogues. If they were Gentiles, non-Jewish citizens of the Roman Empire, they faced persecution for not worshipping the official gods of the Empire.

Many of the early followers were day labourers who did not own their land. They depended on finding work each morning, to earn their daily bread. Many others were slaves, who lived at the mercy of their masters.

Many of the early followers faced life and death issues on a daily basis. Life was hard.

Some of the early followers also remembered that even before Jesus was killed on the cross, he had promised his first followers that he would return to them, to save them from evil, and pain, and their daily struggles.

In the first centuries after Jesus’ earthly life, it was widely expected that Jesus would be coming back any day, and that life as his followers knew it would end, and history would be interrupted. A cosmic do-over, or re-set would happen, and an earthly kingdom of God would be established. In this new Kingdom of God, there would be no more pain, no more oppression, no more suffering, no more death, and no more grief.

Everything would be turned upside down. It’s the vision of the world we will hear about in the Magnificat, Mary’s Song, in a couple of weeks, as we move closer to Christmas.

For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant,

and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.

For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,

and holy is your Name. 

Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.

You have shown strength with your arm;

you have scattered the proud in their conceit;

you have deposed the mighty from their thrones

and raised the lowly to high places.

You have filled the hungry with good things,

while you have sent the rich away empty.

If life is good, and you and your family are healthy and thriving, and have all you need, and all you desire, then the cosmic re-set is not all that appealing. But if life is hard, and your and your family have endured illness, and death, and grief, an interruption to history that restores all the good, and takes away all the causes of suffering may sound pretty good.

The hoped for cosmic do-over has not happened, so illness, and pain, and death and grief continue as part of our daily existence. Those of us who have have experienced grief and loss carry on, but we also may have questions.

Is my loved one who has died safe with God?

When will my sorrow, the pain of my grief be over?

When and how will things get better for our pandemic burdened world, where there continues to be oppression, and poverty, and war, and racism, and all the other ways people are cruel to each other?

We have questions, and the answers are beyond us, and we lean into God for hope, for comfort, and for compassion.

The answer, the reassurance we crave, is pointed to in our doxology, the words we add to the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

God is in charge. God who loved us before we were born, who is with us, and loves each of us, each of our earthly days, who holds us close, and is with us as we die, and who welcomes us home. God is in charge of the past, the present, and the future. God loves us now, and always, forever and ever.  Amen Thanks be to God

Spiritual Practice: Silence

Each Sunday morning since September, when we returned to in-person worship, along with the learning time we’ve had a teaching about a spiritual practice. This morning, during a service in which we are remembering family members and friends who have died, it seems appropriate to consider the spiritual practice of silence.

Silence is under-rated.

Anyone who has suffered a loss can tell you sometimes, rather than a lot of words, the best way to offer comfort is to just be there, even in silence.

When words fail us, it’s okay to be silent. We needn’t fill every moment with the sound of our voice.

One of my all time favourite hymns expresses it very well:

Silence is a friend who claims us,

                     cools the heat and slows the pace,

           God it is who speaks and names us,

                     knows our being, face to face,

           making space within our thinking,

                     lifting shades to show the sun,

           raising courage when we’re shrinking,

                     finding scope for faith begun.

We are deliberate about taking a moment of silent reflection near the beginning of each Sunday morning worship service, to help us grow in our comfort with silence, and to train ourselves to listen, into the silence, for the presence of God.

Is God a Cosmic Puppet Master?

This week’s learning time was another in the series on lines from the Lord’s Prayer: “lead us not into temptation…”

Here is the link to the YouTube video of the service:

Here is the script of the learning time, and a teaching time about the spiritual practice of Examen.

Opening Prayer:

As we travel through the bad and good,

           keep us travelling the way we should;

                     where we see no way to go

           you’ll be telling us the way, we know:

And it’s from the old we travel to the new;

                     keep us travelling along with you.

(adapted from Verse 3,  Voices United  639 One More Step Along the World I Go)

Learning Time: “Lead us not into temptation”

Last spring, Pope Francis made headlines when he approved a change to the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, as it appears in the Catholic church’s official liturgy books. “lead us not into tempation,” became “do not let us fall into temptation.” The United Church has not adapted that change, but we do occasionally use different versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Whether or not we change the words, temptation is something worth praying about.

According to Wikipedia, temptation “is a desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment that threatens long-term goals. In the context of some religions, temptation is the inclination to sin. Temptation also describes the coaxing or inducing a person into committing such an act… “

The old version of the Lord’s Prayer asked God to not lead us towards these bad decisions, that may result in short-term satisfaction, but have long term negative consequences. I may be tempted to eat the second piece of pie, but I will carry the burden of that choice. I may be tempted to cheat on my spouse, but any short-term excitement or pleasure won’t be worth the pain and damage it would cause, to the people I love.

The Pope’s concern was that the words in the prayer suggest that this is something God does to humans- leads us off the good path, and into trouble. I have wondered about that myself. What do you think? Is God a Trickster? Does God deliberately set up situations to tempt us, make us choose?

Critics of the Pope’s changes to the prayer point to parts of  the Bible that suggest that God either does tempt us, or allows such tests to happen. They talk about Job.

Ever read the Book of Job? I would have Eleanor read it for us this morning, but COVID might be over before she finished. It’s 42 chapters. This long story gets rolling, when Satan, or the Devil, actually tempts God, saying something like, “Yeah, so your guy Job seems to be faithful, but look at his life! He’s got it all. Wife, kids, servants, riches, land, livestock. He’s living the good life. How hard is it for him to be faithful while he’s living in heaven on earth, happy as a pig in whatever makes pigs happy?”

God and Satan enter into a wager. Will Job still be faithful, if all hell breaks loose in his life?

In short order, Job learns all his livestock have been killed or stolen. His family dies, his crops fail, his servants abandon him. When none of this seems to make him turn from his faith in God, Satan afflicts him with sores, all over his body. Job spends his days sitting under a tree, scraping at his sores with the broken shards of a clay pot.

Job is further afflicted, by three friends who come to offer comfort him, but actually spend their time debating with him. They are baffled that even though Job suffers, and cries out, he never loses faith. In the words of the story, he never curses God. That seems to be Ancient World talk for saying, God, if this is what you have for me, I am done with you. Job never does that.

We aren’t exactly like Job, sitting under a tree, scraping at our sores, but we are waiting for the pandemic to be over. We are experiencing hardship, and loss, and grief, and lot of inconvenience. We also know a lot of folks have it worse than us. Businesses have closed, and failed, because of the pandemic. Travel is restricted, and we can’t visit people the way we would like. Mental health is suffering. People are tempted to do desperate, self-destructive things.

All these setbacks could be seen as temptations- thrown in our path to test us, test our faith, to see if as Satan expected to be true about Job, our faith is conditional on things going our way.

The Pope said that when he succumbs to temptation, it is because of his human tendency to fall. It’s not because God pushed him over the edge.

Biblical scholars, at least the ones I favour, look at the Book of Job as a sacred story, that encourages deep thought about our human situation, but not as an historical record about the adventures of an actual person named Job.

Job’s story can be read in the way some folks watch horror movies- to have the vicarious experience, to go through the feelings and thoughts we would have if the actual crap hit the actual fan, but with the comfort of knowing it’s not really happening to us. We can engage in the story as a way of asking ourselves- would I still be faithful, would I still trust God, and place my life and future in God’s hands, if what happened to Job happened to me?

The alternative, that I read Job as literal history, would require me to believe God would rip someone’s life to shreds, just for fun. Just to win a bet. Just to see what would happen.

If we believe the picture of God in the Book of Job is credible, then we can’t help but wonder- if God would do that to Job, just to see how he’d handle it- does that explain the crap flying around in my life?

A few weeks ago I spoke about the image of God as a cosmic clockmaker- who made everything , wound up the clock, set it to running, but leaves it alone. That’s a picture of a distant, totally removed Creator.

The image of God in the Book of Job is more like the Cosmic Puppet-Master, who pulls all the strings. This God could make us do things, make others do things that hurt or help us. This God might change the script in the puppet play at anytime, without warning, just because they can.

But in the puppet theatre of that sort of God, none of the little figures hanging from strings- like you and me, could really make our own choices. There would be no free will. Being tempted, and doing the wrong thing, or being faithful, and staying on the right path, neither would mean much, because it wouldn’t be us choosing, it would be the puppetmaster, pulling our strings.

God has better things in mind for us. God is busy encouraging us to be good to the people in our lives, good to ourselves, and to care for creation, to take care of our earthly home.

God sent us Jesus, and God sends others into our lives, to guide us, inspire us, point us towards the better choices. I don’t think God actually makes us do good things, or bad things. I don’t think God sets up to be tested, to see whether we will pass or fail.

Life can be hard. Life is full of tests, and challenges, and decision moments, but God is always rooting for us to make the best choice we can.

With the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught that we could look at God not as a distant clock-maker or a heartless puppet-master, but as a loving parent. Those of us who are parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, mentors, or adopted older person in someone’s life, we know that even though we may want only good things for our kids, grand-kids, the younger folks in our lives, we can’t make them want the right things. We can’t make them choose the right things.

What can we do? We do our best to offer our wisdom, our guidance. We do our best to equip those we love to make the best of their freedom to choose. We stand ready to help when they ask, but also learn to hold back, and not interfere, even when it pains us to not dive in and fix things.

We don’t set up evil tests like Satan did in the Job story, causing pain to see how our loved ones will handle it. We don’t lead the people we love into temptation.  Neither does God. Amen

Spiritual Practice: The Examen

This may be a good day to think about a spiritual exercise that originated with Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order. The most famous Jesuit these days is Pope Francis, who I spoke of earlier.

Ignatius was a military man before he became a priest. When he started the Jesuit order, he developed a discipline for training the young monks and priests, that included an exercise called the Examen.

Essentially, it asks us to take time to examine the events of each day, and our responses to those events.

When my daughter Naomi was doing the Shoe Box Sunday School videos, she used a version of Examen with the kids, in which they were asked to name the roses, thorns, and buds in their lives.

The roses are the fragrant, beautiful things for which we are thankful.

The thorns are the stinging, hurtful, or difficult things.

The buds are the things where there is hope, of something good to come.

As we mature in faith, we can learn to see all of these as occasions to pray, to turn to God.

We can see a beautiful rose moment in our day, and thank God.

We can experience the pain of a thorn in our lives, and see it as a reminder to lean into God, and ask God for the strength and courage we need, to carry on.

We can notice the buds of new life and growth, and thank God for the reasons we have to be hopeful.

The exercise of Examen invites to see God in the midst of it all.

Remembrance Sunday: Forgiving Others

(Link to the You Tube video of the service)

Harrow United Church, like many other congregations, honours those of the local community who died while serving in the military during war-time. Worship on the Sunday closest to November 11 has a Remembrance Theme.

We’ve had to adjust the service because of COVID-19. We missed having the cubs, scouts and beavers bring the flags forward in a colour party, lead in by our piper, John Woodbridge.

We had to forego the time in the service when Bill Shea, the only member of the local Legion to serve in World War Two, stands near our memorial display as members of the congregation come forward to place their poppies on a small cenotaph.

Our video producer Dennis Graham worked with our church musicians to put the “Last Post-Silence-Lament-Reveille” sequence on-screen, because of course we could not have a live piper or trumpeter perform.

Our congregation “rolled” with the creative adaptations.

The learning time, entitled “As we forgive those…”? was another in the ongoing series on The Lord’s Prayer, and included a teaching called “Just Like Me,” based on work I have been doing in Cultivating Compassion Training.

For the first time since we have been back to in-person worship, we included hymns in the service, during which we sat and listened while our musician, Larry Anderson, play the melody on the organ, and we silently read, and pondered the lyrics.

Worship Service for Remembrance Sunday, Nov 8, 2020


O Canada   VU 524

Lighting the Christ Candle

Jesus came into the world, amongst people like us.

Jesus shone a light of hope, a light of love.

That light still has the power to draw us closer to God.

We light this candle to now, as a sign that God is with us.

Time of Silent Reflection (ringing the prayer bowl marks the beginning, and end of a time of silence)

Opening Prayer

God is with us in our proud and noble moments.

God is with us in our sad and desperate times.

God knows both the good and the evil of which we are capable.

God hears our prayers of thanks, and our cries for help.

God loves us, when we are at our best, and when we are at our worst.

God will always be with us.

We give our thanks and praise to God.

Video: In Flanders Fields, by John McRae, recited in 2015 by veteran Fred Stevenson (he was 104 at the time, he died a few months later in June 2016, at the Veteran’s wing of Sunnybrook Hospital )      

Offertory Prayer

Hymn: 527 VU   “God As With Silent Hearts

1            God! As with silent hearts we bring to mind

              how hate and war diminish humankind,

              we pause, and seek in worship to increase

              our knowledge of the things that make for peace.

2            Hallow our will as humbly we recall

              the lives of those who gave and give their all.

              We thank you, God, for women, children, men

              who seek to serve in love, today as then.

3            Give us deep faith to comfort those who mourn,

              high hope to share with all the newly born,

              strong love in our pursuit of human worth:

              ‘lest we forget’ the future of this earth.

4            So, Prince of Peace, disarm our trust in power,

              teach us to coax the plant of peace to flower.

              May we, impassioned by your living Word,

              remember forward to a world restored.

Matthew 5:38-48 from The Message (read by Bob Lounsbury)

 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Matthew 6:5-14 (New International Version) (read by Bob Lounsbury)

 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Learning Time: “As we forgive those…”?

Take a moment, and join me for a short experiment.  It may help, for you to close your eyes, or just keep them slightly open. You can also relax your face, your neck, your shoulders. Unclench any part of you that is tight.

Take a deep belly breath, hold it a second, then let it go. Do that again. Big belly breath, then let it go. Let go of tensions, and worries.

Now, with your eyes closed, or just slightly open, picture the face of someone you feel close to- a friend, relative, loved one.

Remember a time when this person was struggling, or suffering, having difficulty. How do you feel when you think about that?  Do wish you could help them, do or say something to ease their suffering?

Think about the person, and say to yourself:

This person has a body, and a mind just like me.

This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts just like me.

This person has at times been hurt, or sad, or disappointed, or lonely, or confused, just like me.

This person has known moments of joy, peace, happiness, just like me.

This person wishes to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.

This person wants to be free from suffering, just like me.

This person wants to be healthy, and loved, just like me.

Take a moment to check in how you are feeling about this person.

Take a moment to wish the person well. Perhaps say to yourself, May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.

Now think of a person from whom you feel very distant. It might be someone you do not know well. It might be a person with whom you have had conflict. It might even be a person you find it hard to like.

Think about the person, and say to yourself:

This person has a body, and a mind just like me.

This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts just like me.

This person has at times been hurt, or sad, or disappointed, or lonely, or confused, just like me.

This person has known moments of joy, peace, happiness, just like me.

This person wishes to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.

This person wants to be free from suffering, just like me.

This person wants to be healthy, and loved, just like me.

Take a moment to check in how you are feeling about this person.

Take a moment to wish the person well. Perhaps say to yourself, May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.

Focus again for a moment on your own breath. Take in a deep belly breath. Hold it a moment, then feel it release.

Think of a moment in your own life, when you have struggled, or suffered, had difficulty. We all have these times, because we are human.

Take a moment to wish yourself well. Perhaps say to yourself, May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.

Take another cleansing breath, in and out, and then, if you have had your eyes closed, blink them open.  Thanks for taking that time with me.

On Wednesday there will be a Remembrance Day Serivce at Veteran’s Park here in Harrow starting at 11 am. We also take time this morning, to remember those who served, those who died, and those who were left behind.

With all that is happening in this world, it is important we pause, and remember the terrible costs incurred, when relations between people and nations, go off the rails.

We can’t help but think, and worry, and pray, about things happening in the nation to the south of us, in the aftermath of an election whose results point to monumental divisions between people.

Since September I have been meeting online once a week with people from Wyoming, Texas, Minnesota, Alabama, Louisiana and Ohio, for meditation, and conversation, and learning in a course called Cultivating Compassion Training. The experiment we just did is based on that work.

This past Wednesday evening, one day after the election, my classmates looked weary, and worried, but several also spoke of their determination to continue the work of compassion. We need to work at knowing, loving, living with each other. I am grateful to these living reminders that there are so many faithful people in the world.

On February 28, 1954 at Second Baptist Church, on Monroe Street, in Detroit, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., just 25 years old, preached a sermon entitled “Rediscovering Lost Values”. You can listen to it on YouTube. He was such a brilliant thinker, and a powerful preacher. He said,

“The great problem facing modern man is that, the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man’s soul. We haven’t learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem.” 

It was 1954, so King said man, but we know he’s talking about the basic human problem- what is in our soul, and what we allow to rule our lives.

King went on to say,

“We, we never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we just don’t jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it—we don’t do that. Because we, we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation, and if you disobey it you’ll suffer the consequences…  so we just don’t jump off the highest building in Detroit for the fun of it…

But I’m not so sure if we know that there are, are moral laws, just as abiding as the physical law. I’m not so sure about that. I’m not so sure we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you’ll suffer the consequences.”

He was right. We can’t sustain our relationships, our families, our communities, our country, or the relations between countries, unless we abide by the moral laws. When asked about the most important law, the ultimate commandment, Jesus said, in Matthew 28:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Anyone who tries to love another person knows it is not always easy. We are not always good to each other. We have differences of opinion. We make mistakes. We hurt each other. We put ourselves ahead of others. We break the moral laws of the universe, and the consequences are as real as if we jumped off the highest building in Detroit, or Harrow, for that matter.

It can be hard, hard as the ground we’d land on, if we jumped. Relationships can be hard. Families can be hard. Relations between groups of people can be even more difficult. We get polarized, separated because of our beliefs, our political views, our ethnic backgrounds, our sexual orientation, our gender identity.

Differences of opinion or belief, or attitude can become entrenched. We can become convinced of the correctness of our position, the wrongness of those on the “other side”. Strongly held viewpoints can make it near impossible for people to get past barriers they themselves have erected.

People end up hating each other. When that happens, the most horrible things result. We are gathered here to mourn what happens when humans act on the worst of their impulses, and situations arise when peaceable solutions no longer seem an option.

Jesus offered us a teaching that would help us in these times when we become so hurt, so stuck, so polarized. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgiving a person does not always mean we forget. We often have good reasons to remember, and to be cautious. When Jesus sent out his followers to do mission work, he warned them there would be trouble, and they would encounter bad behaviours. He told them to “be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”

If we go into a situation and get hurt, it serves us to remember that, and pay attention. It is a survival skill, to learn to avoid places where we might get hurt, and those who might not have our best interests at heart.

At the same time, living with that kind of vigilance can wear us down. Many a preacher and counselor has made the point that forgiveness is as much for ourselves as it is for the other person. It is important for the health of hearts and souls to not become all crusted inside with bitterness and resentment.

It seems to me that what Jesus was getting at, with the teaching imbedded in the Lord’s Prayer, is the connection between being forgiven, and offering forgiveness to others. Recognizing our own brokenness, our own tendency to fly off course, or miss the mark, we can recognize that in others. If we can accept and forgive ourselves, we are more likely to do the same for others. I think it may also be true, that as we learn to forgive others, to accept their limits and brokenness, we may be less hard on ourselves. These things are steps on the road to peace. Amen

Ministry of Music:

Remembering Harrow’s honoured dead: (read by Brian Ciphery)


Robert Bailey

Carmen Hauser

John Baxter

Robert Martin

Frederick Cookse

A. Murray

Charles Cornwall

W. Mickle

Eli Gerard


Leonard Andrew

Stewart Elford

Ross Baltzer

Francis Hicks

Albert Burling

Ray McCarthy

Ernest Ciphery

Eugene McClellan

Charles Darby

James Monk

Henry Craig

Clifford Robertson

Albert Day

Arthur Stepharnoff

Anthony Deverecker

Max Wright

Prayer for Peace

God of all of us, help us to remember who you are, and who we are meant to be.

Help us to love others, and to see the good in others.

Help us to resist the temptation to label other people and nations,

And to see them only as problems to be overcome, and enemies to be vanquished.

May we remember the costs incurred when we rely only on human solutions.

Help us to work for peace in the world. Amen

Please stand for the Last Post, Silence and Reveille           (video)

Words of Remembrance:

They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

we will remember them.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.


Eternal rest grant unto them, O God,

and may perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls, through your mercy, rest in peace.

Hymn  VU 679 Let there be Light

1         Let there be light,

           let there be understanding,

           let all the nations gather,

           let them be face to face;

2         open our lips,

           open our minds to ponder,

           open the door of concord

           opening into grace;

3         perish the sword,

           perish the angry judgement,

           perish the bombs and hunger,

           perish the fight for gain;

4         hallow our love,

           hallow the deaths of martyrs,

           hallow their holy freedom,

           hallowed be your name;

5         your kingdom come,

           your spirit turn to language,

           your people speak together,

           your spirit never fade;

6         let there be light;

           open our hearts to wonder,

           perish the way of terror,

           hallow the world God made.

Commissioning and Blessing

Jesus challenges us to love, not just our friends, but also our enemies.

Jesus calls us to live beyond our own ego, our own biases, and our fears.

This is a holy calling, to be peacemakers.

We cannot do it on our own. We need God’s help.

We pray together seeking the strength, the peace, the blessing of God.

We give thanks for all the ways we are blessed by God. Amen

Liturgy (Worship) is the Work of the People

I missed our in-person Sunday morning worship on November 1.

A larger church body of which Harrow United Church is a part, the Antler River Watershed Region of the United Church of Canada, was having its fall meeting (by Zoom), and I was obliged to attend the final event of the weekend meeting, an online “celebration of ministries” worship service, at which 2 diaconal ministers were commissioned, and another minister, formerly of another denomination, was welcomed.

The members of the congregation’s worship committee, including Gillian Lamoure, Nancy Colenutt, and Janet Woodbridge stepped up to lead the service and did a great job.

Larry Anderson, Sue Timpson-Mannell, and Lari Sabbe led a modified form of Harrow’s “traditional” music ministry, offered (sanitized) percussion instruments to the congregation, with the invitation “if you’re happy and you know it make some noise!”

Here is a link to the YouTube video of this week’s service:

One word for what we do together at a worship service is “liturgy”. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that word, as used in a Christian context:

The term “liturgy” literally in Greek means “work for the people”, but a better translation is “public service” or “public work”… The early Christians adopted the word to describe their principal act of worship, the Sunday service ….(re a duty for Christians as a priestly people by their baptism into Christ and participation in His high priestly ministry. It is also God’s ministry or service to the worshippers. It is a reciprocal service. As such, many Christian churches designate one person who participates in the worship service as the liturgist. The liturgist may read announcements, scriptures, and calls to worship, while the minister preaches the sermon, offers prayers, and blesses sacraments. The liturgist may be either an ordained minister or a layman. The entire congregation participates in and offers the liturgy to God.

Gillian read a reflection about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century. The article featured several different voices from across the United Church, each expressing their own ideas about how to live faithfully.

As Gillian mentioned during the service, it worked out that the week we knew I’d be “away” for the Regional meeting, was also a week in which I went to Walsingham and Simcoe, Ontario, to be present with my wife and her family while her father was dying. It was easier to do this knowing that the liturgy, the work of God’s people, carried on.

Here is a link to the Celebration of Ministries service, which was held at Grace United Church in Sarnia.

My friend, Christina Crawford, was one of two diaconal ministers commissioned at the service. She is serving as the minister of Forest United Church. We met at the Five Oaks retreat centre near Brantford, while I was part of the staff of the Ontario Jubilee Program, that trains people for the ministry of spiritual direction. It was a joy to share, even “virtually” in the formal recognition of her ministry.

Daily Bread- learning time for World Food Sunday

The learning time (formerly known as a sermon, but that’s another story) for Sunday, October 18, 2020 is also part of my ongoing series on the Lord’s Prayer. This week’s line was “give us this day…”.

Here is the transcript for the readings, learning time, teaching about spiritual practice, and pastoral prayer:

Introduction to the First Reading: Exodus 16:1-30: Beth Graham

Our first reading is from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, called The Message. We will hear a story from the journey of the freed Hebrew slaves, as they make their way from captivity in Egypt, to life in their new land. The travel was hard, and they complained they were hungry, and missed the meals provided by their Egyptian slave-masters.

In the story, God provides manna, which the travelers must rise early with the dawn to gather. There is no stock-piling of food, except on the day before the sabbath, when they are to take a holy rest. On all other days, they work for their sustenance.

Exodus 16:1-30 (The Message)

On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”

God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”

Moses and Aaron told the People of Israel, “This evening you will know that it is God who brought you out of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the Glory of God. Yes, he’s listened to your complaints against him. You haven’t been complaining against us, you know, but against God.”

 Moses said, “Since it will be God who gives you meat for your meal in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, it’s God who will have listened to your complaints against him. Who are we in all this? You haven’t been complaining to us—you’ve been complaining to God!”

Moses instructed Aaron: “Tell the whole company of Israel: ‘Come near to God. He’s heard your complaints.’”

When Aaron gave out the instructions to the whole company of Israel, they turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the Cloud.

God spoke to Moses, “I’ve listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: ‘At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you’ll eat your fill of bread; and you’ll realize that I am God, your God.’”

That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was.

So Moses told them, “It’s the bread God has given you to eat. And these are God’s instructions: ‘Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person; gather enough for everyone in your tent.’”

The People of Israel went to work and started gathering, some more, some less, but when they measured out what they had gathered, those who gathered more had no extra and those who gathered less weren’t short—each person had gathered as much as was needed.

Moses said to them, “Don’t leave any of it until morning.”

But they didn’t listen to Moses. A few of the men kept back some of it until morning. It got wormy and smelled bad. And Moses lost his temper with them.

They gathered it every morning, each person according to need. Then the sun heated up and it melted. On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, about four quarts per person.

Then the leaders of the company came to Moses and reported.

Moses said, “This is what God was talking about: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to God. Whatever you plan to bake, bake today; and whatever you plan to boil, boil today. Then set aside the leftovers until morning.” They set aside what was left until morning, as Moses had commanded. It didn’t smell bad and there were no worms in it.

Moses said, “Now eat it; this is the day, a Sabbath for God. You won’t find any of it on the ground today. Gather it every day for six days, but the seventh day is Sabbath; there won’t be any of it on the ground.”

On the seventh day, some of the people went out to gather anyway but they didn’t find anything.

God said to Moses, “How long are you going to disobey my commands and not follow my instructions? Don’t you see that God has given you the Sabbath? So on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. So, each of you, stay home. Don’t leave home on the seventh day.”

So the people quit working on the seventh day.

Introduction to the Second Scripture Reading: Beth Graham

Our second reading is from Matthew’s Gospel, in the 6th chapter. This morning we are hearing it from a new translation. David Bentley Hart is a philosopher and theologian who was raised Anglican, and converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In his translation, published in 2017, he attempts to present the early Greek texts in English that is as unfiltered and unadorned as possible, while also acknowledging that personal bias is inevitable.

Matthew 6:5-14

And when you pray do not be like those who are playacting; for they love to pray while standing in the synagogues and on the corners of streets, so that they may be visible to men; I tell you truly, they have their recompense in full. But, when you pray, enter into your private room and, having closed your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father, who watches what is secret, will reward you. And when praying do not babble repetitious phrases as the gentiles do; for they imagine that they will be listened to by virtue of their prolixity. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Therefore, pray in this way:

‘Our Father, who are in the heavens, let your name be held holy;

Let your Kingdom come; let your will come to pass, as in heaven so also upon earth;

Give to us today bread for the day ahead;

And excuse us our debts, just as we have excused our debtors;

And do not bring us to trial, but rescue us from him who is wicked.

[For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory unto the ages.]’

For, if you forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;

But if you should not forgive men, neither shall your Father forgive your offenses.

Ministry of Music

  Learning Time: “give us each day our daily bread”

That long story Beth read for us from the Book of Exodus came from the adventures of the ancient Hebrew people. With Moses as their leader, they escaped captivity in Egypt, where they had laboured as slaves.   Even though life in Egypt had been brutal and demeaning, there came a point early in their journey through the wilderness when the Hebrews began grumbling: “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”  

Perhaps the thrill of their escape had worn off, and it had sunk in that their problems were far from over. They’d eaten all the food they’d carried away from Egypt, and there wasn’t much in the desert for them to forage or hunt.  

Maybe the Hebrews were getting “hangry”. The combination of hungry and angry is self-explanatory. When I hear it used to describe a crabby spouse, or a child who is acting out, it can sound judgemental, and a bit demeaning.  

“Don’t mind Dad, he’s just hangry. Get him a snack and he’ll be better.”  

On the other hand, I hear a useful truth in it. It is humbling, and also a little liberating, to be reminded that our mood, our capacity to cope with life, and interact with others, is greatly dependent on our physical well-being. If we remember the very real mind-body connection, we may be more compassionate of ourselves, and of others.  

But back to the Hebrews. It’s a commonly held idea that Pharaoh put the Hebrew slaves to work building pyramids, but it’s not true. The age of pyramid building was over long before the Hebrews were in Egypt. The pyramids were built by other, earlier slaves. It’s too bad, because it would have been great to make a connection to the Egyptian pyramids, and the image of a pyramid used to explain the ideas of Abraham Maslow that we saw in the video earlier.  

Maslow was a psychologist who studied human motivation. In 1943 he published his theory of a hierarchy of human needs.  

From the bottom up, each level of a pyramid can represent human needs. We might think of each level as questions that need to be answered, if the person is to thrive.  

The base of the pyramid represents needs of our bodies. Questions such as: Where will we get water to drink, our next meal, exercise, a place and time to rest?  

The next level is about our need to feel safe. Do we have shelter? What is that growling and clawing we hear outside?  Is there law and order where we live? Are there reasons to be afraid?  

The level above that is about connection. Does someone care what happens to us?  Do we have friends? Do we feel accepted? Are we part of a family, a community?  

Above that come questions of esteem and identity. Do we know ourselves? Do we like who we are? Do we have the respect of others?  

Even higher on the pyramid come the needs of our mind. Does our life make sense to us? Does our life have meaning? Is there beauty in our lives?  

At the very top of the pyramid, Maslow placed our need to grow into the best possible version of ourselves. (I would say this is being the person God dreams we can be.) Some call this highest level transcendence, awareness of, and connection to something beyond ourselves.  

Maslow’s theory is that unless the “lower” needs are addressed, it is difficult for a human to thrive, and deal successfully with the questions higher on the pyramid.   It may be hard for me to make a new friend, when I am worried about where the next meal will come from. It can be hard to imagine what I could do to make a better future for my community, if I am not sure about a roof over my own head.  

Think of those poor Hebrews, out there in the desert. Moses wanted them to get up each morning and keep on marching toward a Promised Land they had never seen, but they were hungry, and didn’t know where to find food for their children. 

This is a bit of the scripture we heard earlier: God spoke to Moses, “I’ve listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: ‘At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you’ll eat your fill of bread; and you’ll realize that I am God, your God.’” That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was. So Moses told them, “It’s the bread God has given you to eat. And these are God’s instructions: ‘Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person; gather enough for everyone in your tent.’”

This is the story that echoes in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, in which Jesus taught his followers to look to God for their basic needs. The translation we heard today phrases it, “Give to us today bread for the day ahead”. 

Our faith teaches us to depend on God for our very lives, and all we need to thrive, but it may be hard to remember that, if our bellies are empty, or the kids are crying and there is no food in the house. If our physical needs are not met, it can be hard to be “spiritually-minded”.  

You may have heard that Donald Trump was really hoping to be awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. Since the world has not gone completely nuts, that did not happen. I am happy to say that on October 9, the prize was awarded to the United Nations World Food Program, or WFP, which is active in more than 80 countries helping people achieve food security.  

Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the WFP was awarded the prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”  

Peace is more possible, when people do not have to worry about feeding their families. That’s true in developing countries that are still working their way out of the mess of their colonial past. It’s equally where we live.

This congregation, along with other faith and community groups, has a good history of supporting the Harrow Food Bank, which supplements the food needs of many local households. I hope we will continue that important work.  

We have also held several very successful drive thru food drives to gather donations for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. We are doing another one on Friday, October 30, between 11 am and 1 pm. We will also collect blankets and winter clothing.  

These are important ways to help people we may not know, but whose basic needs are real.  This month has also seen a brand new initiative come on the scene, and it’s already making a difference.  

I asked Taylor Gorick, one of the founders of Project Hope: Windsor Essex  to tell us about the Harrow Community Pantry. She made a video for us, that takes us right inside.  Let’s watch!

Video: Taylor Gorick tells us about Project Hope: Windsor Essex and the Harrow Community Pantry  

Spiritual Practice: Charity
The community pantry is an exciting experiment. From what Teri and Taylor have told me, the initial build, and stocking of the shelves has been well supported, and the pantry is being visited, and people are getting things they need.

As Taylor explained in the video, their model is not complicated. Those who have items to spare, or who can afford to buy extra when they go to the grocery store, or make a cash donation, can do that, and those who are in need, can visit the pantry. It’s very biblical.

The 2nd Chapter of Acts describes the early Christian community operating with a similar model. When they met once a week for a common meal, it was also a time to share worldly goods. Listen to these verses, and you will hear again the connection between faith, and daily bread, and physical needs, and spiritual maturity.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This building we meet in had its start as a Methodist Church. John Wesley, the Anglican priest who started the Methodist movement had a simple motto when it came to worldly goods. In one of his most famous sermons, “The Use of Money” his three preaching points were “Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

Wesley’s message was not meant to fill the church’s bank account. It was a plea for generosity and a plea for compassion for the poor and needy. He said, “money is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of God’s children it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked.” During the coming week, in your quiet times, your prayerful times, I invite you to consider your own spiritual practice of charity.  

Pastoral Prayer

Providing God, source of all life,

We often pray “give us this day our daily bread”,

and most of us, most of the time

have no worries in this regard.

You have given us so very, very much.

We have bread, and meat enough,

and vegetables and fruit,

to fill our plates, and our bellies.

We don’t really have to worry, all that much, about our daily bread.

Loving God, forgive us for living as if this were true for all people-

As if in all places there is the abundance,

and often over-indulgence

that is part of our daily reality.

Help us to open our hearts, and minds.

Help us to live with gratitude.

Transform our gratitude into deeper generosity,

so that our prayers, our hopes, our dreams and our actions,

can be focussed less on ourselves, and more on your vision for this world.

We pray that our will can be more like your will.

We pray that we can overcome, or abandon the temptation,

to trespass against others, in our pursuit of riches and status and power we don’t actually need.

We pray also that we can use the good gifts,

and abilities,

and resources you have placed in our hands,

to address the needs of your people.

There are many ways that people need to be fed.

Help us feed our need for meaning and purpose,

as we work for the good of others.

We pray for all those who are hungry.

We pray for all those who are in pain.

We pray for those who feel hopeless.

We pray for those who are lonely, and those who grieve.

We pray for those who thirst for kindness,

for friendship,

for a compassionate listener.

We pray also for our congregation,

that our community of faith can be a place to learn about your love.

We give thanks for all those who have found their way here,

and for the difference they make in the world when they go out from this place.

We give thanks also for the life and work and witness of Jesus,

the One who gave us the Lord’s Prayer, which we now say out loud together:

The Lord’s Prayer (together)

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory

forever and ever. Amen

Commissioning and Blessing:

Jesus responded to God’s call, to live a life of witness and service.

We are invited to follow his path.

We are called to offer love, and hope, caring and light.

We know there are many who need God’s love.

May you be blessed and strengthened

by Almighty God to move gently upon the earth,

to stop when you have done enough,

to rest when you are weary,

and to rejoice in all creation. Amen

Column for The Kingsville Observer


Here in Kingsville we no longer have a print newspaper, but a crew of seasoned journalists has started an online paper. They focus on stories with a local focus. One of the writers, Rob Hornberger, did a piece about me making the short-list last year for a Crime Writers of Canada award for unpublished authors. My mystery novel, The Book of Answers is still a work in progress. I plan to use this year’s NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) in November to re-work it.

In the mean time, The Kingsville Observer has invited me to contribute a regular column, which I am thinking of calling “LifeCycle”. It may, sometimes, be about being on a bike.

Here is a link to the first column:

I have added the text of my column to this post, to archive it. My “precious” words disappear from the Kingsville Observer site when I submit a newer piece.

I rode my bicycle more in the month of August than in all my previous 58 years. My shiny new bike had only been used a dozen times. It took the “new normal” to get me beyond good intentions.

Disconnected, disappointed over cancelled travel plans, and caught in the low level distress of the pandemic, I felt it was time. I signed on for a month-long challenge, cycling to raise money for children’s cancer research at SickKids Hospital. I dedicated my effort to my cousin Scott, who died young, after a hard struggle with cancer. I’d have pedaled around the world, if it could have saved him that ordeal.

I cycled daily, except for a day to recover from saddle sores, and learn how to avoid them!

My initial goals were 300 kilometres and $100 in donations. As I became more fit, more enthused, I upped the numbers. Two thirds into August, I declared on Facebook that I’d aim to match kilometres to dollars donated. Friends posted encouraging words, and some made strategic donations to inspire me to pedal on. These kindnesses stayed with me.

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher said, “In difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart.”

Pascal didn’t live through a pandemic, but understood hardship. He suffered frail health his whole life, before dying at age 39, of untreatable cancer that started in his stomach, and reached his brain.

On August 19, the 338th anniversary of Pascal’s death, I cycled from Kingsville to Point Pelee. The 60 kilometre round trip was the furthest I’d ever gone. It was a gift to realize I was up for it.  

Cycling the backroads of our county, I encountered frogs and toads, garter snakes, hundreds of rabbits, a family of wild turkeys, soaring hawks, an imperious American Bald Eagle, and two varieties of turtles (box, and snapping). I marveled at bright, cloudless skies, and at other times, raced to get out of the rain. I learned to take water and snack stops under trees, for the shade.  I met friends on the bike trails, and paused one afternoon to help search for a stray kitten.

No luck with the kitten. Over the weeks I found coins, the key to a Harley, and a working cellphone. I gave the money to SickKids, and returned the key and phone to relieved owners.

I marked the last day with a “century ride” (cyclist talk for 100 km) from Kingsville to Cottam, then to Essex, on to Amherstburg, through Harrow, (with a pit stop at my church office) and back home for a celebratory, slow cruise around Kingsville.

By the end, I’d traded a bit of belly for stronger legs, raised $1215, and covered 950 kilometres. I’d also learned a little about the power of holding something beautiful in my heart.