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 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 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:


Lenten Devotion for March 20, 2023

Where does your help come from?

Not everyone imagines God the way I do. Many people use different words and concepts to form their prayers, and to “name” the God to which? to whom? to what? they pray.

Today’s devotion from Good Courage included a story about a brave and kind, committed and compassionate doctor, who set aside worries about their own well-being, to care for worried and desperate people at a huge, over-crowded, and under-resourced hospital in India.

It’s an inspiring story. When I meet people like this physician, I wonder how they do what they do. If I get to know them well enough to ask, I say something like “Where do you find the energy, or strength to keep on?”

Often the answer is they derive their sense of self, purpose, and connection to others, to the universe, from the faith in which they have been nurtured.

The doctor in today’s devotion said, “Every day I said a prayer to the ancestors to keep us safe and give me the courage to face whatever adversity. That’s how I got through.”

The doctor is of the Kodova faith. Kodovas worship ancestors and nature. Their deity is the river, Kaveri. The photo below is of that river.

According to Wikipedia, the Kaveri is a sacred river to the people of South India and is worshipped as the Goddess Kaveriamma (Mother Cauvery). It is considered to be among the seven holy rivers of India.

I had to look those things up, because I’d never heard of any of it before.

But I recognize faith, and the fruit of faith, when I see it.

Lenten Devotion for March 19, 2023

The Good Courage writer for today asks the reader to think about who they know, who is acting with courage to make a difference in the world.

Today is Sunday, so I was at Harrow United Church to lead worship. I also had opportunity to chat with some people, who are doing important things.

We have a lot of active and retired teachers in the congregation. Teachers work every day to encourage, and inspire, to care for and educate young people. To do what they do takes so much heart. (The word courage comes from the same Latin root as heart.)

There were people at church who are involved with Project Hope, a non-profit that works every day to treat people with dignity and respect, and to address food insecurity.

We heard from someone at church today who is one of the organizers of a concert that will raise money for Project Hope, for the Harrow Food Bank, and for the scholarships Harrow United Church sponsors every year for two girls to go to school in Tanzania. That’s a long term commitment, and investment the congregation is making in their future.

During coffee hour I witnessed two women recruiting other women, of all ages, to join a women’s self-defense class that will be offered free of charge by the sensei of the Karate Dojo that meets in the church.

These are all important, heart-felt efforts to make a difference in people’s lives.

Lenten Devotion for March 18, 2023

The Good Courage writer for today worked from a passage in the 3rd chapter of the letter to the Phillippians. Here is a version of part of it from The Message:

 “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us.”

I started running cross-country in high school. I was not good at it, but I liked it. It’s the only athletic team I ever “made” in high school. There were no try outs. If you came to practice, you were a runner.

I’m still not a great runner. Years ago I ran a few half-marathons, and full marathons. More recently, I do 5 km events, that others think of as races. I am happy to start, cover the course, and finish.

I cheer on the ones who are out front, and who will reach the finish line before I am halfway there. I cheer on the ones who are struggling. It’s okay to take a walk break, stop at a water station for a drink and a rest. It’s okay to go as far as you can, and be kind to yourself.

We are, all of us, on the race course and off, works in progress. We do what we can do.

The photo is from about a decade ago. My friend Mary Ann joined me for part of “Darrow’s Dash”, a fundraiser for the congregation I served then.

I remember running in the 1980’s while carrying my rather sizable and weighty “Walkman”, and listening to the soundrack from “Chariots of Fire”. That’s the movie about Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary who famously refused to run in the qualifying heats for the 100 metre sprint at the 1924 Paris Olympics, because they were on Sunday.

Because life is weird and amazing, the congregation for which I ran “Darrow’s Dash” included a lovely woman named Heather, who is one of Eric Liddell’s daughters.