Open-Minded & Open-Bags

It is strange what you find when you aren’t looking for something.  One occasion was spotting a small handbag under a shopping cart which held 400Euro’s in cash.  There was no identification.  A single shopping cart was left near the bike parking at a local grocery store and underneath the cart on the ground was a palm-sized handbag.

Maybe it is from reading, and watching Sherlock Holmes that one starts to piece together the owner in ones mind.  The thought was that it was an elderly woman that had most of her entire weeks worth of money in one bag.  It turns out we were right, as the son called us to thank us, and wanted to know if we would like a reward.  Knowing that the item had been returned was reward enough.

There are times when distraction makes us forget the things that are essential. I know one reader will recognize that it is easy to leave, bags, books, wallets, and keys when a crisis strikes.  I do it all the time.

The other find was not actually much of my doing, as I walked the dog in the early morning before it gets really hot.  Wandering our way through the corn fields the dog has a pastime of jumping into the long grass at the side of the dirt roads.  He jumps around as if he were on springs; all in the hopes to catch a field mouse.  (He’s already encountered a Hedgehog and found them a bit prickly).  It was in one of these hunts that the dog strayed into the corn and was intent on sniffing something.  By the time I caught on that this was not a mouse I found a green shoulder bag.  There was a train stop, and paved road nearby, but again the deductive reasoning kicked in and started me thinking how a bag that is the same colour as the corn stalks got here.

This time around there was no money, but lots of ID cards, bankcards, and a very new looking iPhone that was dead.  The police have yet to find the owner, so I wonder,  “what will the owner think?”, or “What they are like?”  What happened to make the bag fall so far into the corn field? Who is this person, besides a young black man who has a student ticket for the train?

Everyday we meet people, but rarely do we ever see inside their purses, wallets, or bags.  Everyday we meet people and yet do we really get to open up and truly meet them.  Part of the mystery in finding the lost articles makes me wonder about keeping an open mind about who the people are behind the possessions.  In the same way we could think of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by a cover”.

The church, when it works well, provides a place where people can open up as they find it a safe place…a sanctuary.  Open-mindedness is a practice when we meet people.  Naturally we find ways to place, judge, and identify people. However, some of this is surface material and only when we are lost and vulnerable do we find that we are spread open.  We see the fragility of an elderly woman with a wad of 50Euro bills.  We see the important items, the treasures, in bank cards, and student ID.  There are always surprises when we become vulnerable.

Some people shock us in their behaviours, their attitudes and their appearance.  Yet I know that when we look a little deeper, as uncomfortable as that may sound, we often find a lot of the same issues.  Loneliness, hurt, pain; as well as, joy, ambition, and longing.

Jesus meets his friends on the road as they are confused and filled with the anxiety of crisis.  In the venerable moment of sharing a meal with ‘a stranger’ they find the risen Lord.  “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Luke 24. 45

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4 Countries & 1/2 a Tank of Fuel

A friend posted a brief response to a remark I had made online to the subject of my title: B-L-F-G (Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Germany).  He guessed correctly, and the time away has given me some food for thought as well as some amazing food for the stomach.

The smallness of Europe hit home as we sped down motorways and side roads leaving Brussels and 4 hours later arriving home in Freiburg, having crossed, or at least entered 4 countries in the process.  The mini-holiday is n0w over, but it has given me some time to reflect on some larger issues.

I took my camera with me on the trip and fortunately the Automatic features were acting up for some reason.  I say, fortunately because I was then forced to do everything manually like I use to do by default with my old Mamiya 35mm.  Having to relearn the ƒ-stops, and shutter speed settings was good medicine.  A parishioner regularly posts “today’s moment calm” which I enjoy seeing, both for the creativity and for the much needed pause in the day.  Equally important for my trip was to slow down and set the scene, wait for the right light, and adjust the settings on the camera for the perfect picture.  Of course not all the photos worked out well, and I am certainly glad that I was not limited to the 24 or so exposures that film would have offered.  Nonetheless, I have a few random photos that are from France that I want to speak about.

Boundaries: The first is the gate of the manor house in which we were able to stay amongst extended family members.  This old house has rooms for the servants, as well as stately rooms for the former residents, yet on the grounds, which were expansive indeed, is an old iron foundry which is unoccupied.  The manor is gated and on the outskirts of the small French village surrounded only by fields of wheat, or pastures of cows.  In this area, like many other areas in Europe, the harvest happens all day and night.  The heavy machinery needed to harvest the grain is too expensive for each farmer to own, so only one or two large combines and tractors work round the clock.  The grain in the picture at the front gate of the manor was gone overnight leaving stubble behind.  I took the photo as it symbolized boundaries.  The boundaries of farm and manor, industry and agriculture.  The stone pillars and the far horizon set the tone for entry into rest and work.

Something that is important to hold onto is the boundaries between rest and work.

Rest:  Another photo is a close up of a large snail shell in amongst the green Hosta plants.  The snail is right outside the large wooden doors at the front of the house.  The snails are much larger than what I would have experienced on the West Coast of Canada, and so are the Hostas as those would often be eaten by the deer moments after planting, or emerging from the ground.  The snail was tucked up quietly in its own shell waiting for some cooler temperatures, but it did make me ponder the houses we live in – the largess of a manor house now used for foreign visitors during the summer months, and the smallness of the snails home which travels with and is its source of protection.  It is important to curl away in a sleep mood and take time to rest no matter how large or small your house.

Growth and Harvest:  In and around the area are several hiking trails, one of which is symbolized with a yellow and green stripe painted onto poles and fence posts.  I thought the one captured on camera had all the tones of the surrounding area.  One side of the road was green with grass and weeds; the other was newly harvested grain that has dried for weeks in the field. On all our journeys there are times of green growth often right next to golden harvest.  The landscape reflected these colours and this mood.  In all of life there is time to plant, and time to harvest and sometimes we are fortunate to see it happen before our eyes.

Risk:  One of the final photos of the day was at a small stream.  The track took me though hot fields and dry roadways.  A small bench was situated next to the stream that was full of trout and looked like an ideal place to swim for all the children staying at the manor house.  The green trees brought shade and the water was rippled in some places only by small water insects gliding over the surface.  The growl of an engine steadily grew as I soon saw a car approaching.  Even on some of the smaller roads the speed limit can be significant (90-100 km/hr) and I watched in astonishment as a small car barely slowed to drive through the water.  I was filled with envy when I saw this happen as I’ve always wanted to drive through water like that, having only done it once after convincing my Dad to drive his truck through a flooded roadway.

This picture made me think about risk.  We would have risked swimming here, and I could have risked taking our own car through the water.  The element of risk is sometimes important to shock our systems into life.  Just like risking our vulnerability in opening up to people about our feelings, or risking scathing comments for some mediocre photographs.

Vacations, no matter how small, can teach us something.  A reminder to risk.  To look for signs of growth, and places to harvest. To take the time to be small and rest.  To be aware of the boundaries of work and play, heaven and earth.

 

This Child of Ours, this Miracle

This is a sad story.  It is a sad story because it is true, and the truth is often hard to understand at the best of times.  It is a sad story because it challenges our hopes, dreams and expectations.  Some of you may already have heard via social media that two year old Emiliya died yesterday.

I think I can address the community by saying that we are all shocked and deeply saddened.  In what seemed a tiny life full of health struggles, the community was encouraged by how God provided the necessary money for the specialized operation.  God seemed to have cleared a path as donors opened more than just their wallets – they opened their hearts to assist a family.  When so much was seeming to go right – when we felt God was listening to our prayers – we had so much hope.

Now we are left with a huge hole as Emiliya quietly passed away surrounded and held by her parents and close friends.

Questions certainly arise.  Pain and suffering are perennial issues in the life of a Christian. Anger and grief are also valid forms of expressing our surprise, and the Bible is full of personal struggles in the Psalms, Lamentations and the book of Job.

But why? Why, O Lord does it have to happen this way?  In our intercessions and personal prayers I have found it useful to reflect on what Bishop John Pritchard has written knowing that we live out our lives in faith.

“One person lived; the other died.  Why?  The short answer is of course that we do not know.  And that is not unreasonable.  After all, we are Macbeth, not Shakespeare, the creature, not the Creator, and it is not surprising that the characters in the play cannot understand the mind of the author except by ‘best guesses’….

…When a couple experience the massive privilege and responsibility of producing a child they find they have created another human being which has its own radical independence. They can care for the child, love, encourage, persuade, and eventually reason, discuss, even argue with the child, but they can never start again and  make this into a different child.  She has her own way of being herself, and the parents have to recognize that they have limited their absolute power in the very act of creating her.  Now we the have this child and not that child.

We can pray to [God] with confidence, knowing that he will use our prayer in ways which are good, just and kind.  We may not know precisely what will happen, but if God is unequivocally with us, then in some significant respect the situation we pray for will be changed.”  pg 14 The Intercessions Handbook, Pritchard.

Emiliya was a very strong and courageous child having struggled with her health.  Her parents are equally strong and courageous as they cared, advocated and persisted in hope.  Emiliya brought together a lot of people.  Friendships have formed because of this little girl.  As well the church gathered together for prayer and support.  We have, in faith, recognized that Emiliya is in God’s care and comfort.  That all of us, despite our strong desire to be independent, are ultimately God’s.  At the moment it is difficult to make some conclusions of how our prayers are to be worked out.  Looking deeply and knowing assuredly that God has heard our prayers and that we have all been changed by this action.

Do we fall into guilt? We need to tread carefully here as prayer that doesn’t seem to go the way we had prayed it to often ends up with a dreadful feeling of guilt.  We should take care not to pass blame upon ourselves.

The entire Sunday morning worshiping community surrounded Emiliya and her parents with prayers for healing.  I believe that we have been gifted by God with having Emiliya in our community, and God has gifted her parents with Emiliya in their lives.  She has helped us to draw closer to each other in prayer, and closer to God in faith.  In Baptism, where we symbolically die and are raised anew in Jesus Christ through the waters of baptism I have often used a song called, “This Child of Ours, this Miracle” by David Haas. Notice the way the parents, the community, and God are woven through the lyrics singing ‘this child of ours, this child of Yours’.

1. This child of ours, this miracle –
You have a dream and plan for it. You wash it clean.
You cradle it. You bless it and You call it Yours:
this child of ours, this child of Yours.

2. This child of Yours, this miracle –
reborn of Water and the Word.
The Book of Life records its name. You smile and angels celebrate:
this child of Yours, this child of ours.

3. This child of ours, this miracle –
whom Christ would die for, we may love and train and raise,
and teach and praise, and watch the Spirit mold a life: this child or ours,
this child of Yours.

In the coming days, weeks and months, we keep Ilgar and Nigar in our prayers.  Some of us who are close to the family are able to offer support.  And for those who have put so much effort and worked so closely with the family in raising awareness we will also pray for during these difficult days.

God, this child of Yours, we commend into Your care, and her family into the arms of Your gracious comfort.  May she rest in peace, and rise in glory.