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 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 Day 14 March 8, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Devotion for Day 11 March 5, 2023

Hope in times of despair or hard times is an over-arching theme for the next few days of readings in Good Courage. What sustains us, inspires hope in us, in tough times?

The writer worked with Psalm 23, and went on to suggest as a practice for today that we write our own Psalm. The original biblical psalms were prayers, that expressed a wide range of emotions, and spiritual conditions. Some inspired hope during hard times. Some gave voice to lament, or to praise.

Some psalms were acrostics, with a line each for every letter of the ancient Hebrew Alphabet. We could adapt this model for our use, and write a line for all the ABC’s, to create what is apparently called an “abecedarian” poem. Focus on the subjects, rather than the form of the poem.

A is for apples. When I bite into a fresh crisp apple I feel like I am being offered energy and wellbeing.

B is for bread. The smell of fresh bread makes me feel like life is worthwhile.

You get the idea. While you’re thinking about your poem, here’s a video for you. The Dixie Chicks singing one of my favourite poems about Hope:

Lenten Devotion Day 8 Mar 2, 2023

Today’s devotion in Good Courage invited readers to consider times we have been given a gift of hope.

I was in my last year of university, living in an “apartment” in the attic of a tiny house. The kitchen, actually the landing between 2 small upstairs rooms, was home to a bar fridge that doubled as the food prep surface, and the place I put the hot plate, when I needed it. Accomodations were simple, but adequate, and pretty much all I could afford.

I worked the night shift on the front desk of a downtown hotel, and did my homework after the bar closed and the place got quiet. I was careful to only take afternoon or evening classes, so I could go home after each 11-7 shift, and catch some sleep before school. I was grateful to have a job, and be able to study. I needed to complete an undergraduate degree as the pre-requisite to study theology.

I also needed to apply to seminary, by a certain date. There was an application fee. I didn’t have it. There were scholarships and bursaries I later accessed, as a candidate for ministry enrolled in a program, but none for those about to apply.

The women’s group at my home church, which included several of my former Sunday School teachers had said they’d help, but it was going to take a week or so to pass a motion, and issue a cheque.

A person I’d met at church function, who was on a teacher exchange from another province offered to help. We’d known each other only a few days- but he handed me the cash. I told him I’d return it when the church ladies came through. He told me not to worry.

It was good, to not have to worry.

Lenten Devotion Day 7 March 1, 2023

What does it mean to you, to “have faith”? Is faith something you feel, like courage, or fear, or joy, or despair?

Today’s devotional writer reveals that her faith includes a healthy dose of doubt.

When I think about it, most of what I recognize as thoughts, feelings, moods, emotions within me, are all complex. Do I ever feel just one thing at a time? Do you?

I can be very excited about a new project, or idea, and also feel hesitant, and unsure.

When I feel happy to have a day off, that feeling can be shadowed, or perhaps seasoned by the sense of obligation I feel about things I’ve left undone.

I can feel trust that there is a loving God, at work in the universe, and still have questions about how that God goes about their work, and what actually catches that God’s attention.

I have mixed emotions.

“Zechariah hits a home run” The first Sunday of Advent at Harrow United Church

(This monologue in the voice of Zechariah was a joint effort of my partner, the Rev. Lexie Chamberlain and I. It is based on the story in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Her version is a bit different from mine.)

Have you ever seen or heard something, had an experience that was too incredible for words? Ironically, there are lots of words that get used to talk about how it feels.

Gobsmacked!  Tongue tied!   Speechless! 

It was all of those, and more, or less for me, I am still trying to come to terms with what happened to me, to my wife Elizabeth, well… to our family!

Here’s my story. My name is Zechariah.  I am a priest at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  Some of you may have heard the term Rabbi before, but I am not a rabbi.  I’m a priest. 

The people of Israel are descended from the sons of a man named Jacob, whose name was actually changed to, well, Israel, after his encounter with a messenger from God. Our scriptures tell us that he wrestled with an angel. That kind of thing can make you see things differently, believe me.

One of Jacob’s sons was named Levi. Tradition says the priests of our nation come from the tribe of Levi. A priest does not study the laws of our religion like the rabbis do. We are not teachers, or preachers, thank goodness. The priests, and there are a lot of us, a whole tribe, make sure all the rituals of the temple are done properly.

We take care of the daily prayers, the sacrifice of animals, holy offerings, the ritual of purification after a woman gives birth, and circumcision. (That’s cutting edge technology, let me tell you.)

We priests of the tribe of Levi only serve at the Temple in Jerusalem. The rabbis, who teach our stories to the people, are based in our branch offices, the local synagogues.

Here’s the thing. Over the centuries, all the tribes of Israel have grown in number. There are a lot of us priests. So many, there is a roster, a schedule for when we each get a turn to serve. When it’s a high holy day like the Passover there is lots of work to do, but for most of the year, it’s much quieter.

We are divided up into clans or teams, that take turns to go to Jerusalem and stay at the temple when it is our week. It’s like when a rookie gets called up to big leagues. It’s very exciting. We all look forward to our turn at bat, to actually go in the holy of holies, and burn the incense. It’s a real honour, and with so many of us wanting a turn, it could be a once in a life time opportunity.

Actually, so many priests wanted to do it, we had to start drawing lots, like pulling a name out of a hat. This drawing of lots is something we do to leave the choice up to God.

I never expected my name to be drawn.  I wondered if I’d done or said something to upset God, because things never seem to go my way. Some people might say that was just my lot in life.

My wife, Elizabeth and I, had been married a long time and we wanted children, but it didn’t happen. Some suggested God was punishing us for some sin we had committed. People can be cruel, and small-minded.

Some questioned if I should be a priest, or wondered what kind of a priest I could be, because there must be something wrong with me.  On nights when Elizabeth and I would sit in our sorrow, and shame, I tried to remind her we are human, and God is God, and we don’t know the mind of God. God may not answer our prayers in the way, or on the schedule we prefer.

Speaking of schedules, as I was saying, I didn’t expect my name to ever come up on the Temple roster. But there it was! I was going to have my shot at the big leagues, my trip into the holy of holies, the heart of the Temple, to offer incense at the altar.

My fellow priests, some close cousins and some almost strangers, we are a pretty big tribe, had heard of me, and knew the rumours. When my name appeared on the batting order, some were amazed, and some were envious. Why would I be chosen? I admit, I also wondered.

We all grew up hearing about the holy of holies. The grandeur of this room, at the centre of the holiest part of the Temple, at the centre of our faith! In our tradition, there’s that word again, it’s the place on earth closest to the throne of God. A room that shone with gold, and where the only sounds were murmured prayers, and the sizzle of oils ladled on the fire.

Our fathers, and uncles, and their fathers and uncles told us about the smoke, the holy fumes, the sweet smell of the incense that rose up from the flames, taking the prayers of our tribe, of our people, up to God.

It’s a scent that stays with you. I can still smell it today. Do you have scents in your life that  evoke a particular time or place?  Maybe it is the smell of homemade bread, or gingerbread cookies, or a freshly cut pine tree, or the perfume or cologne a loved one used to wear. 

The smell of the incense wafting up to God, and the knowledge I’d fulfilled my duty, this life-time longing to serve, these things would have been enough. But wait, there was more.

I did not just get my turn at bat. In words you might understand from your time, I also hit the ball, and it was out of there! A home run, with the bases loaded!

No, I didn’t actually hit anything. I don’t even play baseball. The robes would get in the way. I didn’t do anything, except stand there, in awe of the moment, and of what happened next.

There was an angel. I did not do as our ancestor Jacob did, and wrestle with God’s messenger, although I am wrestling with trying to understand, to grasp what the angel told me. Gabriel said my dear wife, Elizabeth, after many years of sadness and disappointment, of hope stretched thin to the point of almost breaking, would bear a child.

As if just being in the holy of holies was not enough to have me shaking and shivering in my sandals, and speechless, Gabriel said, “You and Elizabeth will have a baby, and you are to name him John. As a sign that what I say is true, you will not be able to utter a word, until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”

After that incredible moment in the batter’s box, running the bases, and facing the scrum of reporters after the game would be a letdown, at least for me.

One of the reporters, named Luke, said that because I’d been in holy of holies room for so long, and hadn’t come out, the congregation was getting restless. When I came out and couldn’t speak, they knew something had happened, that I’d had a vision. At least that’s what Luke said. I didn’t say anything.

When a priest leaves the holy of holies their next stop is the steps of the temple, to offer a blessing to the people gathered there.  I had practiced the blessing, over and over, making sure I could say it without stumbling. 

I went to the top step, raised my arms, and nothing, absolutely nothing came out.  I could not speak.  I was overcome by emotions.  I raised my hands and I looked at the people, people whose prayers I had helped send to God, and I uttered not one word. 

Some people realized something special had happened to me.  Some said the silent benediction was more profound than the traditional old words. 

The words I wanted to say that day, are these:

May life bless you with moments of wonder and awe that leave you speechless.

May hope sing deep in your soul.

May God bless you and keep you.

When my scheduled time in Jerusalem was finished, I went home to Elizabeth. A few months later, she confirmed that she was pregnant. I didn’t know what to say then, either. Amen

The First Epistle to the Harrovians

I’d almost forgotten this piece I wrote over a year ago, near the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It appeared in The Harrow News in May, 2020. I also made this video back then, in my make-shift basement office. (Which has undergone a lot of renovation, and become far more comfortable!)

Pastoral Message from Rev. Darrow Woods of Harrow United Church: “First Epistle to the Harrovians”

Early Christian missionaries wrote to faith communities they’d helped to establish. Some letters are preserved in the New Testament. Imagine if one of those early Jesus followers wrote to us, in our current situation.

To the people of Harrow, and surrounding communities, and all others created, loved, and blessed by God: Grace and peace to you. It seems such a long time since we have seen each other face to face!

I give thanks for the multitude of ways you are blessed, and in turn, offer numerous blessings to others, especially those in need.

We face many challenges. Much we take for granted has been disrupted. Your sadness over your losses is real, but do not allow your grief, your frustration to justify abandoning the efforts to keep the most vulnerable among us safe.

As Paul, our brother in faith once wrote, “I have the right to do anything,” you say- but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”- but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

I appeal to you to live out of a spirit of hope, and generosity, even in these trying times. Resist the temptation to follow the counsel of the loudest, the most extreme, those who care ultimately only for themselves. Resist also the temptation to grasp on to quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Avoid the trap of the “blame game”.

Place your real faith, your confidence in God, the Creator of the Universe, as revealed to us in love. Let “Jesus-like” love, that places the well-being of others before our own, guide and inspire us. This love is it’s own reward, and is most pleasing to God.

I continue to pray for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, and were denied, by current circumstances, the consolation of the community gathered around them for a funeral. Our hearts are with them.

Pray for your elected officials, and those appointed to preserve the common good. We may not all be called to serve in positions of power and authority, but each of us, each day, can be kind. We can be unselfish. Let us not squander these opportunities, but instead, actively seek ways to be of help, and to show support to those who place themselves at risk on our behalf.

Some of you have asked, “How do we continue in the life of faith, when we no longer gather on the Lord’s Day? Are we not instructed to worship and pray together? Are we not to be devoted to  breaking the bread and sharing the cup?”

The way of faith, revealed to us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, is often difficult, but only becomes impossible when we attempt it without God.  God is always prepared to help us. God is always with us, even, and especially in these times when we cannot be with each other.

The people of the Way, followers of Jesus, grew as a movement long before we had the resources to build meeting places, which became our places of worship. In the earliest days, the homes of believers were the places in which faith was shared, taught, and lived.

You are not alone in your struggles, your questions, your anxieties for the present, and the future. We are all joined, united by God’s Spirit, who prays with and for us, often in sighs too deep for words, and with the wisdom of the One who truly knows us, for they were present as all things were created.

Do not abandon the ways of God, for God has surely not abandoned us. We share in the promise of God’s love, which is deeper, wider, higher, more encompassing than any of the things which frighten or threaten us. There is more to us than our fear, and there is more to our existence than the present situation.

You are God’s beloved. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Amen

Celebrating Epiphany and Home Communion Jan 3, 2021

Our first worship service for the New Year is an opportunity to ponder the story of God offering the Magi “another way” to get home after their visit to Jesus, which allows them to avoid having to report back to King Herod.

“Another Way” is a theme of this worship service. In the grip of a pandemic, and under lockdown rules, we are all finding ways to adapt to circumstances. We can celebrate communion in a new way.

Back during the first lockdown, in March and April, I adhered carefully to the guidance offered by the General Council Executive of the United Church of Canada, that “virtual communion” could happen, if the video of the worship service was livestreamed to those watching on their own devices. We were discouraged from having a recorded service. The idea was to retain the sense that we are all “together”, while still being safely apart.

I still agree with that idea, and also think that it is impossible to limit God. God existed before time started, and some theologians say that God is present in all moments of time, simultaneously. So who is to say that God can’t be with each person, at each moment, while they watch the communion video, and ask God to bless their bread and cup?

We do the best we can, and find “another way”.

Our service includes some beautiful music, old and newly recorded, as well as a lyric video of the James Taylor song “Home by Another Way”, and a clip of Naomi Woods reading “Refuge” by Anne Booth and Sam Usher.

Here is the text of the Learning Time: “Going by another way”

I remember going to a hardware store in Windsor with our landlord, a wise, practical, chain-smoking, hard-working, big-hearted wiry little old Ukrainian man.

John and I were looking for a kit to install an air conditioner in an attic window. The store clerk had trouble understanding what John wanted, and maybe couldn’t get it all through his accent. It was a frustrating conversation, and we ended up leaving the store, to look elsewhere. As we walked away, we heard the clerk mutter “stupid bohunk”.

John was such a good man. He must have read my face, because I really wanted to go back and have words with the clerk. John shook his head, and gave a look that seemed to express both gratitude for my indignation, and resignation to the cruelty and ignorance of some people.

John said, “Whaddaya gonna do?”

We went on with our mission, picked up what we needed at another store, and installed the air conditioner. It was one of those times when an elder’s wisdom won out.

John was right, I think, to have us walk away from the guy in the hardware store. Who knows why the clerk spat out his racial hatred in that moment.  As the Scottish theologian Ian McLaren wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

People are facing all kinds of hard battles these days. We have all the usual things like racism, and misogyny, and homophobia. We have poverty and its related diseases and issues. People struggle with mental health, and addictions. People live with the cruel legacies of childhood neglect and abuse.

People get sick from things in the air, the water, the soil. Sometimes there is help for them.

People live with grief, and regret, and loneliness, and fear. Some people are so weighed down by debt and obligation they never want to answer the phone. Some people have made big mistakes, or little ones, in relationships, and feel like life is spinning apart, leaving them in pieces.

Parents worry about children. Children worry about their parents, while at the same time trying to find a way to be themselves.

Hospitals and care facilities are filled with folks who struggle with illness, and aging. Families face tough decisions about the care of loved ones. Ailments, accidents, diseases, and illnesses come upon people, and cause devastation with little warning.

We get old. We get sick. We think about death, or try not to think about death.  All of this just comes with being human, being alive, making our way in the world.

Then a pandemic comes along, and adds whole new layers of complication, crisis, limitation and sometimes desperation. Businesses, and jobs, and our basic patterns of life are all threatened. Things we have taken for granted have been taken away, or drastically limited, changed, under lockdown.

There is so much that seems beyond our control, that just happens to us.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

One of the problems we face is that even though we may feel like we are fighting a hard battle, there may not actually be anyone to fight.

Who should we get mad at, because the pandemic has led to a lockdown? Does it help to call our leaders names, or pass on weird conspiracy stories that claim to explain the secret reasons we are all wearing masks, and waiting for vaccine shots?

When the guy in the hardware store was so stupidly rude and cruel to my friend John, a part of me wanted pick up something sharp or heavy- it was a hardware store after all, and explain things to him. As if that would change anything, make anything better. John’s “Whaddya gonnna do?” reminded me that there has to be another way.

The wise men, or magi, or as James Taylor calls them, those guys, had an encounter with King Herod, who personifies evil in this story. He wants the magi to pay him a call on the way back from meeting the newborn, to tell him how to find the baby. Herod does not want this little one to grow up to be a rival to his power. His invitation to the magi to come back and see him was an offer they were not supposed to refuse.

After having successfully followed the Bethlehem Star, the wisemen are warned in a dream to go home by another way- to avoid a confrontation with Herod. I love this story about God using stars and dreams to guide them, and offer them another way.

Jesus was born into a world in which rich and powerful people make decisions that cause poor people to leave their homes, and seek shelter against the cold night. It is a world in which an evil ruler can hatch plots against real or imagined enemies. It is a world in which violence is perpetrated against innocent and defenseless children. It is a world in which it is possible to feel insignificant, helpless to make things better. In other words, it is our world.

The gospels bring the Good News about God’s love for all people, and were written for people like us, living in a world in which there are many hard battles, often against faceless, nameless enemies.

Epiphany is the English word that comes from ancient Greek words “Epi-phanos”, which translate roughly as “manifestation” or “appearance” or “making known”. It means that something previously hidden has been revealed. A sunrise is a kind of epiphany, a moment when darkness is sliced open by light, and everything changes.

The word epiphany gets used in non-religious ways to point to the moment in which something suddenly becomes clear.  A good example is when the apple fell on Isaac Newton, and he had a sudden insight into the existence of gravity. There is a similar story about Albert Einstein struck as a young child by being given a compass, and realizing some unseen force was making it move.

In the Gospel according to Thomas, an interesting, and strange, and mystical text that did not make it into the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I’m the light that’s over everything. I am everything; it’s come from me and unfolds toward me. “Split a log; I’m there. Lift the stone, and you’ll find me there.”

That is a way of expressing the startling news of the Incarnation, the claim the Christian church has made almost from the beginning, that one of the things we learn from Jesus is that God is not distant, and uninvolved, looking down on us from some lofty height. God is with us in the midst of this reality.

We don’t wait until we die and depart this existence to meet God. God is in the apples, and compass needles, and in the light, and in the split logs, and in the vulnerable child of Bethlehem, and in you and I. This is not to say that you are God, or that I am. The poetry of the Incarnation says to us that God is here, with us. God is with us, and there is hope of another way. Amen

Worship service for Dec 13, 2020

The Advent theme for today was Joy. Today was also the day before our region moves into the “grey” zone, the lockdown level of Ontario’s COVID-19 response protocol.

The mood at church was poignant. People were happy to see each other, and were well aware this could be the last in-person worship service for the foreseeable future.

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


Learning Time: Joy

We’re 12 days away from Christmas. In a normal year, whatever that is, that might cause a jolt of panic. We might mentally re-visit our “to-do” list, and worry we’ve not found all the gifts, stocked up on all the goodies, or done all the cleaning, to get the house ready.

This is anything but a normal year. It’s a year that continues to surprise, and disappoint us, on so many levels. We, who are used to getting much of what we want, may be a little cranky.

This morning we lit the Advent Candle for Joy. We are grieving the deaths of those taken by COVID-19, and coming to terms with losing many of our usual holiday traditions, at least for this year. Is this a good time to talk about Joy?

Many of you know my father-in-law died this fall. Ten years ago, his wife, my mother-in-law Doris died.  I remember talking with Keith about how it was for him, to face each day without her.

Keith said he’d often have a good cry, and then tell himself he’d had such a good life with her, with so much for which to be grateful. He’d give thanks, and go on with his day.

For my father-in-law, grief and gratitude were two sides of a coin. He grieved because he’d had so much good in his life, for which he gave thanks.  When he took his quiet moment to remember, and practice gratitude, he found something deep within, that sustained him.

Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher has said, “Authentic joy is not a euphoric state or a feeling of being high. Rather, it is a state of appreciation that allows us to participate fully in our lives.”

I think that was true for my father-in-law, and I have seen the same kind of sustaining strength in others who live with loss and hardship.

The philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote, “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self.”

The difference between happiness and joy might be like the difference between junk food and a nourishing meal.

When I give in to my belly’s gnawing insistence that I put something in it, now, a bag of taco chips might do the trick, until it doesn’t. The spicy pleasures and crunchy distractions don’t last, and I tend to feel worse later.

I might have to wait until meal-time for healthy food, but the nourishment iwill build up my body, and help me have the endurance I need to live, and do things that help others.

The 14th century mystic, poet, and hermit, Julian of Norwich lived through three rounds of the plague, and lost many members of her family, and her community to illness and death. Even so, her most famous saying is “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.”

These words were rooted in her sense that God was with her, that God is reliable, and that with God, ultimately, things would work out. This is was not a “head” knowing, but a “soul” knowing.

Rumi, the 13th-century poet, and Sufi mystic wrote: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

The soul, that deepest part of us, is the most connected to God, and most aware of what God has in store. Our soul can trust in God, even when our mind gives us every reason not to, and even though our feelings can change with every wind that blows.

Today we heard the story of Mary, a young woman who was promised to Joseph, but not yet married. She was therefore baffled and dismayed at the angel’s news, that she was pregnant. By the custom of her time, and by ordinary common sense, this was anything but good news. But something in her responded with joy, and trust and confidence in God.

Mary somehow let go of some of her own expectations, and fears, and embraced the enormous truth that she had a role in a story that was much bigger than her own. And Mary knew great joy.

I dropped by the community pantry this week, and saw the four board members of Project Hope hard at work, unloading crates of fresh vegetables, and boxes of non-perishable food, from their vehicle, and sorting it so they could re-fill the shelves, and the fridge. They were working hard, and their eyes were smiling. I could not see their mouths, because of the masks, but I could hear the sense of purpose, meaning, joy, in their voices.

These four are all related, and are members of a wider family that has known a lot of sadness during this pandemic time. That one family has suffered so much loss, and so much grief, and still there is joy. I drove away from my brief visit with them feeling better about our world.

True joy, true gladness, true meaning in life is found not so much in our own ambitions, plans, desires, but in the larger story of God’s hopes and dreams. When we live out of gratitude, and generosity, and when we reach out beyond ourselves, and recognize we are part of a bigger story, we get a glimpse of the world as God would have it be.  And there is joy. Amen