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All Together

Around here, Thursdays are the day where a good deal of the work of preparing the Sunday morning service begins. I am always amazed to see the sheer diversity of the people who come through our doors on any given Sunday. I am equally amazed to discover the potpourri of needs, hopes, joys, fears, longings, frustrations, and anxieties that accompany them. Of course it is impossible to craft a service with the specific intention of meeting every perceived or real individual need that might show up on a Sunday morning. Yet one of the mysteries of the church is that when we gather together somehow our individual stories can find their place within the broader story of God and the story of his church—that by simply being together to pray, to sing, to hear from Scripture, and to share our lives, our needs just might end up getting met (however oddly or unexpectedly) along the way.

I was reminded of this as I read this fantastic passage this morning. It comes from an essay by Regina writer and naturalist Trevor Herriot called “El Marahkah IV” in Northern Lights:

I am not sure what it is that keeps me returning to a prairie remnant and to church, but it feels the same. I stand within and bear witness to weeds, garbage, railway, and a few scattered wild things, all in one place, pay homage to the lives that are passing there, as my own is, as all lives are, face our trespasses with courage, ask for forgiveness, and dwell in the light as dim as it is amid the darkness…

So, here we are then, all in it together. Some looking for comfort amidst privilege and probity. Others hoping to shore up a flagging faith. Some seeking a private encounter with the Divine.  Others seeking to merge with a body of believers. Some hoping to dissolve the pain of reality in the waters of heaven’s promise. Others hoping to chasten themselves by facing the truth of our brokenness. Some nursing their piety with novenas while they cling to a mildewed dogma. Others holding fast to the prospects for religious renewal offered in new theology.

Despite all that divides us, we share in a struggle to believe the good news in a world where bad news is abundant and always easier to believe…. Hammered by the believable lies… we gather to the clanging of bells and try to see the truth in the body we form, in the Divinity who is a parent, a child, and a spirit all at once, in the standing up of the dead, and in the regaining of the lost.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    I’ll take your description of both the diversity and potentials of worship, over Mr. Harriot’s in a heartbeat. Yours doesn’t deny the hardship or loss but it’s emphasis is clearly on joy and victory.

    Mr. Harriot’s piece, reads to me like a lot of contemporary writing, it revels in the darkness, in the confusion, in the sadness. Making any understanding or experience of light as something fleeting, almost surreal. A lofty, noble, moral ambition rather than the understood and accepted promise of faith.

    I dunno Trevor, maybe just maybe, a big part of why things suck is that we so love to revel in the suckyness.

    Crap! I hope I’m not in trouble again. If I am don’t blame me. Let’s all just say another novena and hope it saves me from the delusional fumes of a well mildewed dogma.

    If this guy writes on line and he is a friend of yours, you better warn him that I will “pitbull the ankle” of his blog if I think he has issues with the RC.

    Then again if you want to keep me busy somewhere else….

    BTW, I read the first of your posted sermons, contextualizing the “Beatitudes”. That’s some sic preachin’ brother.

    November 19, 2009
    • I’m not sure Herriot “revels” in the darkness so much as acknowledges that it is part of our experience. I see virtually all of the examples he cites on a week-to-week basis (with the possible exception of the novenas!). I don’t see his words as a denial that light is part of the promise of faith but it seems to me that darkness will always colour our experience of faith this side of the new creation. We can either pretend it doesn’t exist or bring it to God and incorporate it into our expression of faith and hope.

      Herriot is not a friend of mine (at least not yet) so you’re free to pursue him online :). Whatever issues he has with the RC are intramural ones. He’s part of your tribe so there’s no blaming the Protestants for this one, I’m afraid…

      (Thanks for the kind words about the sermon.)

      November 20, 2009
    • James #

      Hi Paul
      FYI Dora is the editor of Northern Lights so . . . if you want, you could chew on her ankle for a while 🙂 I bet she’d be up to that.

      November 20, 2009
  2. You may know this already, but Trevor Herriot has a new book out: Grass, Sky, Song. It’s been nominated for a couple of awards, including the Governor’s General. Good to be reminded of his piece in NL.

    November 19, 2009
    • Thanks for the tip Dora—I’ll keep my eyes open for that one!

      November 20, 2009
  3. Ken #

    Re: “I am not sure what it is that keeps me returning to a prairie remnant and to church, but it feels the same. ”

    In Taylor’s Secular Age he explains the connection. It has something to do with the belief that nature is good and that we may find our redemption in nature and with seeing a connection between nature and God.

    Personally, I feel safer in nature than in a church. There may be churches where it is safe to be vulnerable, but so many are not safe places – not at all.

    November 20, 2009
  4. Ken #

    Re: “Some nursing their piety with novenas while they cling to a mildewed dogma. ”

    It sounds derisive. I wonder what he means, why he chose this for his list.

    Re: “Some looking for comfort amidst privilege and probity. ”

    This one may be derisive.

    Re: “Others hoping to shore up a flagging faith.”

    Whose faith is flagging? Others. The church. The writer. This may be derisive.

    Re: the other items in his list in the second paragraph.

    I cannot really tell what these items, or the ones I quoted above mean to the author. Taken together they do seem to imply the meaninglessness and hopelessness of religious faith in modernity. My impression is that he feels that the practice of church religion is somewhat pathetic.

    It is not unusual for one who finds God in nature, or just nature in nature, to have a negative view of church religion. And yet, in the third paragraph he seems to express his continuing attraction to church. This paragraph circles back to the first few words in the first paragraph, “I am not sure what it is that keeps me returning.” He does not know why.

    November 20, 2009
  5. Paul Johnston #

    Love the irony and the stealth of your lethal rebuttal. What can I say. One for the orange team. 🙂

    Maybe the word “revel” is too strong, still a contextual phrase like,…”dwell in the light as dim as it is amid the darkness”…seems to radically misunderstand the redemptive power of faith in Christ, almost to the point of ignorance.

    Any RC I know, fully engaged in the experience of God’s great gratuitousness through the sacraments, doesn’t sound as bleak as this poem does to me, particularly when things aren’t going well in their lives.

    Get angry with yourself and others, that I understand. Quiet desperation as a response to faith? Sorry that just speaks of faithlessness, to me.

    November 25, 2009
    • So are you suggesting that Mr. Herriot is not “fully engaged in the experience of God’s great gratuitousness through the sacraments?” That he “radically misunderstands the redemptive power of faith in Christ, almost to the point of ignorance?” I would be very hesitant to judge that quickly (and on such a small selection of his writing).

      Sometimes our experience in a fallen world, even as Christians, is dark. It seems foolish to pretend otherwise. Sometimes quiet desperation is all we can muster. This isn’t faithlessness, it’s honesty.

      November 25, 2009
      • Ken #

        The quoted selection from Herriot’s work reminds me, in a way, of Hardy’s poem, Funeral for God. It sounds like the voice of one who laments the death of God, the loss of faith. Maybe in each of the lines that sound derisive, or potentially derisive, to me the author is really deriding his own faith or faithlessness. It can be an expression of grief – over the loss of God, the loss of faith. I think Paul’s ear is quite good here – he hears the sound of bleakness and faithlessness. The experience of the death of God is the experience of faithlessness. Some write laments, like Thomas Hardy, and perhaps Herriot. Others like Charles Taylor write or read (like me) A Secular Age.

        November 25, 2009
      • Paul Johnston #

        At best this poem speaks to me of a faith that is confined, rather bleakly, by the limits of it’s authors imagination, acknowledging with certainty its own uncertainty, devoid of the call to “abound in hope, rooted in the faith of the church”.

        As poetry it is allowed a certain licence. The bar is set low. It only has to speak to experience, not the discernments of revealed truth, through the Holy Spirit. Nor does it have to be reflective of it’s author’s own opinion on the matters up for discussion.

        Thus the condition of Mr. Herriot’s faith, is between himself and God.

        To your point Ryan, I wholeheartedly agree that experiences in a fallen world can be and are at times, “dark”. But a life lived truly in Christ, overcomes the darkness? Or does darkness overcome the life in Christ?

        And if darkness does overcome, if sadness, fear, apathy, uncertainty and anger remain persistent is that somehow reflective of an imperfect Christ or an imperfect faith.

        November 25, 2009
      • I’m not as quick to equate the honesty of lament with faithlessness or grief over the “loss of God.” For me, it is part of an honest faith that acknowledges what the world and human life is like as well as the profound need for the hope of Christ it lays bare. Do I believe that Christ has overcome the darkness? Yes. But this overcoming (at least our experience of it) has been inaugurated or initiated, not yet completed. That’s the character of the Christian hope. The kingdom of God will one day be real and permanent, but it is not yet fully realized. In the “in-between” time we will still experience times of darkness. I refuse to believe that acknowledging this suggests an imperfect faith (much less an imperfect Christ!).

        November 26, 2009
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Doesn’t the cross triumph over lament? Doesn’t the kingdom within (the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) sustain us, while we wait in joyful hope? How does Chapter 8 in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans speak to your heart on these matters?

    How did the Apostles, Martyrs and Saints perservere? Was their suffering less than ours?

    We are the “children of God”, my brother, we are “heirs to His kingdom”. “We KNOW (emphasis mine) that all things work for the good for those who love God”…What will seperate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?”…

    …”No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us.”

    Dispair, anguish and suffering are all too real, all too prevalent. The world “groans”, we “groan.” And still, the power and promise of the cross transforms. The cross triumphs. What was of death is renewed in life.

    Spiritually speaking, can we have our “resurrection” without our “crucifiction”?

    November 26, 2009
  7. Paul Johnston #

    What does the Holy Spirit within you, intuit?

    November 26, 2009
  8. Paul Johnston #

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that our joy ought to sustain us eternally, through Christ, through the cross, even when the circumstances of our lives are lamentable. Perhaps even particularly so, unless we would say in some real sense His death was in vain; His triumph incomplete.

    November 26, 2009
  9. I’m not denying the transforming power of the cross. I’m simply saying that the ultimate transformation of our experience that we all long and hope for is a future reality. To use Paul’s language from Romans 8, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” We still wait. We still groan. Even those who “have the firstfruits.” It’s part of living between Advents.

    Of course we also have joy, victory, transformation, and all those good things. But this side of the new creation they still come with a bit of a shadow. For me, the tremendously hopeful reality of Romans 8 is that in all things—even the dark things—God can and does work for good. For our good, for His good, and for the good of all that he has made.

    November 26, 2009
  10. Paul Johnston #

    …”Of course we also have joy, victory, transformation, and all those good things”…I hope to be able to imagine this as a heading; a preface to everything I experience, am influenced by, and then disseminate. Especially with regard to the events of my life cast in “shadow”. Time will tell.

    Though I must say, living with the conscious awareness of the Spirit within me, I kinda like my chances, more often than not.

    Life is beautiful. Halleluia.

    November 26, 2009

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