Christian Meditation – A Social Discipline

Christian Meditation is not isolationist. It is not Quietism.

To meditate is ultimately a social act.

Fr. Laurence Freeman, who will be invested with his Order of Canada on May 24, 2012 in Ottawa, defined prayer as an “encounter”. Encountering means meeting another person. The social sciences theorize that we discover ourselves in context of others. We cannot be ourselves without another.

How true, in Christian Meditation.

In the last century another Canadian, Benedictine Fr. John Main, rediscovered and brought a fresh, contemporary voice to Christian Meditation. He described the process of Christian Meditation as forming a “community of love”.

This is at the heart of Christian doctrine. The Trinity, describing God, is inherently and essentially a divine relationship. God self-defines in relationship: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Outside of relationship, God is not God. In meditation we are not alone, even though we do it on our own.

What is our “true self”? It is our “inner self”. Once there, we relate to one another not out of surface compulsions and reactions of anger, fear, anxiety, or guilt. Instead, we relate to one another, true self to true self, inner self to inner self. As someone once said, “the Christ in me” relates to “the Christ in you.” The great church reformer, Martin Luther, in the 16th century wrote that each of us is a “little Christ”.

Christian Meditation is like entering the top, wide opening of an hour glass. As we continue faithfully in the silence, stillness and simplicity of prayer we arrive at the deepest, truest point of our being in the living God. At the center of the hour glass, in the deepest place in our heart, we find Christ who finds us in love and whose presence resides within always, even when we are not aware.

But this prayer then leads us out of ourselves. The direction of flow is again to the wide, openness of the world beyond our individuality.

But something has changed. We are transformed in prayer. We now see others and the world around us with compassion and the love of Christ which first found us.

Christian Meditation leads us to act. Being before acting. Contemplation and social justice then function together.

Easter 3B – Farewell along the Caravan

So much has changed over the past 10 years. When I think back to how things were at Zion in late 2001, to how things are in early 2012 – indeed a lot has changed!

Amid the continually changing realities of life, I have found comfort and hope in a prayer – popular among Lutherans – from Evening Prayer in the old, green book (yes, 10 years ago we had those LBWs in our pews!) – it goes like this:

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

It is a beloved prayer. Christ indeed goes with us.

But do we go “by paths as yet untrodden”? Yes, in the sense that each of us experiences the journey uniquely; and yes, we can’t know exactly how we will experience that journey with sadness or with joy, or any and all of the emotions in-between.

Does our reaction to change, I wonder, come from a false belief about the nature of the journey itself? Do we not assume that in moving forward we go, as Captain Kirk said at the beginning of each Star Trek TV episode decades ago – “to go where no man [or woman] has gone before”?

Admittedly, the journey of life and faith for us carries a “frontier” mentality. We live and work in North America, after all. We are pioneers – this is our history! – clearing bush for the first time, forging paths never before trodden through the wilderness. And more often than not we are blazing this new path on our own. It’s up to us.

No wonder we are afraid. No wonder we shrink in our seats and cower from any prospect of change. Because if it means we must go it alone into paths as yet untrodden like stepping into a void, into oblivion …..

Where does faith come into it? The wisdom writer said it poetically and truthfully:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven … God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds” (Eccl 3:1,11).

How can we cope with this dual reality of both/and – both the past AND future, both being present AND embracing change? Is this even possible?

It is, I believe, when we REconsider our image for the journey. Not so much a “blazing a new path by ourselves”; not so much a “pioneering / frontier” mentality where WE create the path…

 …. But rather, going where a path has already been travelled; we are on a caravan journey.

What does the caravan journey look like? It is a pathway through the wilderness, to be sure. As one plods along its winding route, we follow the tracks of the carts and wagons etched into the roadway; therefore we know others have come this way before us. We know others will follow sometime soon behind us. It is a road dotted by intermittent markers along the way, directing its travellers. Finally, it is folly to travel alone, by oneself; one always journeys the caravan route together with others for mutual support, consolation and protection along the way.

We do not create the path. We are travellers along God’s caravan route through time and place. Someone besides us has forged the path through the desert. It is therefore a route already trodden by the saints before us. Wherever it leads we can be assured that Jesus Christ has travelled the route and beckons us forward to follow.

Today, both past and future converge in the present. On the caravan every moment of the journey is both an ending and a beginning. Every moment that begins something new also means something is ending. When something comes to an end, something new begins.

In my installation service in the Fall of 2001, you presented me, ritually, with the lectern Bible, water for baptism, elements for the Sacrament of the Altar – all symbols that define the unique role of a pastor. This ritual of giving me the “supplies” for the journey enabled me to perform my duties as Co-Pastor.

Today is a marker on that journey. Today marks an ending. We have to bring a relationship to a close. We have to say goodbye. The kind of relationship I have enjoyed with you changes from this point forward.

We mark this time of ending, too, with ritual. Today I read the Gospel; Today I make the sign of the cross using baptismal water; Today I hold the blessed Sacrament.

Yet God is helping us in this moment of ending. God is helping us envision the new beginning. I find great comfort in this image of “caravan” describing the movement forward in life and faith. Even as a pastor now taking leaving of Zion congregation after ten years of service:

  • We are assured that the Gospel will continue to be read and received in this place
  • We are assured that the Holy Communion will continue to be celebrated at this altar
  • We are assured that the waters will continue to be stirred in the font of baptism right here, in this place – of this I am certain and grateful.
  • You will still sing the hymns, pray together and enjoy one another’s company

Remember, the path ahead has already been forged. We go not alone, but together, on a path already trodden by Christ Jesus and all the saints in light.

But does God care for us on this caravan route God knows all too well? Now that Jesus is alive and sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven? You might think that the resurrection Jesus would not really care about earthly, human need anymore; you’d think the resurrected Jesus would ‘get outa Dodge’ for the trouble he endured while on earth and especially during his Passion and death.

The last chapter in the Gospel of Luke helps us, I believe, to understand at least a couple of “rules of the road” in believing the truth about our journey of life and faith:

  1. Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection and asks for something to eat. The Gospel writer is specific in mentioning it is broiled fish that Jesus eats in their presence (v.41-43). Why is that? Jesus DOES care for our journey, eats with us, is concerned about our blistered, dusty feet, our tears, sweat, joys and sorrows. He cares so much for every detail of our humanity that he STILL comes back in resurrected form and engages our human, physical, metabolic state to eat and digest real food. To this day, Jesus is willing to go there, to those places on the caravan route that reflect our own human need. He’s knows this route intimately. He’s not some removed, disembodied, disconnected, disinterested deity up there somewhere. He’s right here with us, today – in the Sacrament, in our fellowship of love.
  2. Jesus sends his disciples out on the journey to all nations (v.47). It is not a caravan that goes in circles around Jerusalem; rather, the route winds itself around the whole world! The Greek word for church is “ekklesia”; literally it translates – “a people called out”. Yes, the momentum of Christianity is centrifugal – the journey is an ever-expanding mission towards the places where Jesus will be. The Story is greater than you or me; it calls us beyond ourselves to go where Jesus beckons.

When asked about his success, Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” He explains why – and you have to imagine the fast-paced ebb-and-flow of the hockey game: Gretzky says, “Skating toward where the puck IS will always guarantee your arrival at a place where the puck HAS BEEN” – and that’s no good! By following the caravan route, it is possible to discover where the risen Jesus is going in our world and not just keep going back to the empty tomb. To be able to arrive with a caravan of Christ followers at a place where he has promised to meet us is the joy of Christian discipleship. As a popular American preacher wrote, “Vision is not about looking in tombs for a risen Jesus. It is about listening to where he says he is going to meet us and striking out for it.”

Our ways part today. But no matter where on that route we find ourselves, we are all still on the way. As we strike out in the Caravan, let us be blessed for the journey.

As a child I remember at the start of a long road trip my parents led us in brief prayer in the car. So, translated from the German blessing I gave a few weeks ago at the conclusion of the Good Friday German language service here at Zion, here is a blessing for us as we continue beyond today on our separate ways:

The Lord go before you, to show you the way.

The Lord go beside you, to hold you and protect you.

The Lord go behind you, to keep you safe from all harm.

 The Lord go beneath you, to catch you when you fall,

and show you the way up.

The Lord be within you, to comfort you when you’re sad.

The Lord be around you to guard you from attack.

The Lord be above you

To give you grace.

Such is the blessing of our God.


“Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song”  EvLW#808

Easter 2B – Peter the Rock & Thomas the Questioner

… when youth are affirming their faith ….

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 20th chapter.

C: Glory to you, O Lord.

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’


 THOMAS: Whoa! Where am I?

PETER: You’re safe, Thomas. You’re just in a different time and place.

THOMAS: What??!!! Last thing I remember is standing before Jesus.

PETER: Yes, and you were doubting.

THOMAS: Yeah, but he can’t be alive. How is that even possible? We saw him die on the cross; we saw him buried in the tomb!

PETER: Our Lord had just asked you to do something ….

THOMAS: (looking at his palms and stomach) … touch the nail scars on his hands and see the wound in his side. Yeah, I remember. (looking around) But, where is he? What IS this place?

PETER: Can you believe the power of our God? He has sent us thousands of years into the future to this place called (looking down on the divine handbook): “Zi-on Lu-ther-an Church” in a city called “Pe-mbroke”.

THOMAS: Oooohhh-kay. (looking at the confirmands). The only normally-dressed people are these youngsters. I like your gowns; oh, sorry, aren’t they supposed to be called something else? So, they are being baptized! Where’s the river?

PETER: The river …. (looking at the handbook) is called the “O-tta-wa”. But I’m told these followers of Christ baptize at this thing called a “font”.

THOMAS: How can anyone get in that? Oh, I forgot … is that a magic trick, too? They get real’ tiny …. (snickers)

PETER: It’s not magic, Thomas. Like the resurrection of Jesus. God’s power to do all things is real. It’s not an illusion. It’s not pretend. I suppose we can’t ever really understand it because we’re not God.

THOMAS: Hold on a sec. Did you say these people here are followers of Christ?????!!!!!


THOMAS: So, where IS Jesus, if he’s alive?

PETER: He’s here alright.

THOMAS: You mean we are thousands of years into the future, and these people have never actually SEEN Jesus with their own eyes …

PETER: … and yet they believe. Yes, Thomas.

THOMAS: What do you mean: “He’s here alright”?

PETER: When you saw Jesus standing before you, he was already partly in heaven. After he left us, he promised the Holy Spirit.

THOMAS: The “Holy Spirit”?

PETER: The Holy Spirit is God, too. Just like God the Son, and God the Father.

THOMAS: So, the reason these folks believe in God is because the Holy Spirit is here.

PETER: Basically.

THOMAS: But, then, where is the Holy Spirit? Same problem: if I can’t see with my own eyes and touch with my own hands, it’s not true.

PETER: Yes, yes. I’ve heard that from you before. Tell me, Thomas: do you have a brain?

THOMAS: uh … yeah!

PETER: I know you have a brain. You know you have a brain. But can you see it? Can you touch it?

THOMAS: No. Wouldn’t want to do that.

PETER: So, you won’t touch it or look at it with your own eyes?

THOMAS: No way!

PETER: Therefore, you don’t have a brain!

THOMAS: Okay. Okay. I get the point. Hmmmm. (scratches his chin, folds his arms across his chest, thinking) These people have never physically seen Jesus. Thousands of years …. Still believe? How is this possible?

PETER: Someone coming after us – Saul is his name, then later Paul – will write: “All things are possible with God”

THOMAS: Wow! I can’t believe this! (to the confirmands) Do you believe EVERYTHING about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit? … Do you ever DOUBT the existence of God? If so, why are you even here??!!!

PETER: Now, now, Thomas. Let’s not discourage them! This Paul also wrote that true faith is in things NOT seen, in what is HOPED for.

THOMAS: But how can anyone’s faith be so perfect?

PETER: That’s not why these young people are here today, saying “yes” to God and to their baptism in Jesus. They’re not here because they understand everything about God PERFECTLY.

THOMAS: You mean it’s okay to doubt God sometimes?

PETER: Let’s put it this way, Thomas: if you never knew fear, if you were never afraid, how could you know courage and joy? If you never lost anything or anyone precious to you, if you never knew how it felt to be lonely and sad, how could you know what it means to love? If you never doubted, never knew what it felt like to doubt and question, how could you know faith and hope?

THOMAS: Okay, again – I get the point. What you’re saying is that to be faithful and true to Jesus, doubting and questioning is an important part of following Jesus.

PETER: If you never doubted the resurrection of Jesus, we wouldn’t be here today experiencing yet another miracle of God!

THOMAS: (sigh)

PETER: God the Father gave me an important job after Jesus left us to go to heaven. He called me the “rock”. And the church would be built on what I could do to bring people together in faith for future generations.

THOMAS: Whoa! That’s a lot of pressure. (somewhat sarcastically) I stand in the presence of greatness! (bowing)

PETER: Not so quickly! I don’t know if you heard of this, but before Jesus went before the high priests the night he was arrested, I followed him to the compound where the soldiers kept him.

THOMAS: I’ve heard rumors …. What happened?

PETER: As I was warming myself by the fire, a couple of people asked me if I knew Jesus.


PETER: I denied him. I told them all I had no idea whom they were talking about.


PETER: Not once. But three times.

THOMAS: You were trying to protect yourself. You were being smart.

PETER: Maybe. But then the rooster crowed. And Jesus could see me from the courtyard. Our eyes met. And at that moment, I realized how weak my faith actually was.

THOMAS: What did you do?

PETER: I felt so badly. I couldn’t face him. I ran home and cried all night. I really doubted myself after that. I questioned not only my faith in Jesus, but myself.

THOMAS: Hey, you’re really no different from me ….

PETER: … And everyone here in this room today!

THOMAS: I guess if your faith isn’t perfect, whose can be!?

PETER: That’s not the point, though, Thomas. I think the fact that Jesus asked me to be the head of the church shows that God doesn’t call perfect people. Rather, God equips and calls people who recognize their own weaknesses, doubts and imperfections and who are willing to confess and be honest about that. And still turn to Jesus.

THOMAS: Hmmm. Maybe Jesus has plans for me, too, then, eh? I wonder what he’d want me to do? …..

PETER: Did you just say, “eh”?


PETER: Apparently, according to this divine handbook, that’s what they say a lot here in this country called “Ca-na-da”. (looks over the top of his glasses at Thomas inquisitively) Are you sure you haven’t spent some time here before?

THOMAS: (smiles) Let’s just say the Lord and I have already been on a journey together.

PETER: That’s good. Let’s hope and pray these young people will also continue on that journey with the Lord after today. What about you, Thomas? What will you do when we go back to the upper room to meet Jesus?

THOMAS: Well, I’ll be honest. I WILL put my hands in his wounds. But I think I already know Jesus is alive and will always be with me, even if I don’t ever see him with my own eyes ever again after that.

PETER: Let’s go. Goodbye everyone! Live the faith!


28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Gospel of our Lord.

C: Praise to you, O Christ.

Easter Day – the Light of the World

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16)

This is a verse that is often read at baptisms. It is also sometimes a chosen Confirmation verse: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

These words come from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” – the foundation of his teaching to the disciples and all who would follow him; these words are as pertinent to post-resurrection Christians as they were to those first followers of Christ on the side of that mountain in Galilee in the 1st century.

YOU are the light of the world. Did you catch that? YOU! This is repeated in The Gospel of John when Jesus says we “have the light” (12:36). Curious. Earlier in the Gospel of John we read that JESUS has come as the light of the world (John 1:9).

But then the light-resposibility shifts it to us. According to Jesus, WE are now the light of the world, and we will perform even greater works than Jesus himself (John 14:12)! That is quite extraordinary, especially considering the miracles that Jesus performed.

Without going so far as to equate us with God, the scriptures come very close to doing so. Psalm 8 identifies us humans as created just a “little lower than God” (v.5).

On Easter morning, the Church affirms that BECAUSE of the resurrection of Jesus, because Jesus is alive, because Jesus lives and isn’t dead anymore – we now have the light and life of Jesus in our lives.

So what holds us back? Why do we time and time again have trouble living out of that truth, that joy, that glory, that energy, that belief so central to Christianity? Why do we have trouble believing the gift within us as a faithful expression of our belief in the risen Lord? Why do we so instinctually confine the Spirit of God?

Do we want to be free? Are we afraid of being great? Is it the fear of that light?

Some more words of wisdom we have discussed in preparing for Confirmation come from Marianne Williamson from her writings entitled, “Return to Love”.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I read about an American soldier who performed a covert operation to free hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified.

When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really Americans.

The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. The soldier, though, got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them.

He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. Will you follow us? he said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier. (as told by Donald Miller, “Blue Like Jazz”, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, p.33-34).

The process of becoming free, of taming our fear, of taking the risk to let go of the hurt and pain in the light of God – this is not easy. There is a “refining fire” that cleanses us; but it’s not a warm, soapy bath; the cleansing is often difficult, turbulent, stormy, and challenges us to the core of our personality. We are often our own worst enemies when offered God’s freedom in Christ.

Yet the blessing, grace and freedom are just beyond the prison doors of our hearts. Jesus knocks on that door of our hearts (Revelation 3). He has already rescued us! What will we do? Will we open that door? Will we accept God’s love and God’s salvation meant for us? Notice on that famous picture there is no door handle on the outside where Jesus knocks and waits.

I heard of a fire that destroyed a century-old home. Thankfully no one was physically injured. Firefighters and inspectors had a difficult time finding the cause of the fire. Until they discovered the south side of the house had beveled stained glass windows, and that on the day of the fire the sun had shone brilliantly.

By reconstructing the scene they were able to determine that the angle of the sun’s rays had shone through a part of the glass that had concentrated the light in such a way as to start a fire on some papers in the house. The sun’s rays were concentrated through the glass with increased and incredible energy and power to start a fire.

The light shines in us. The risen Lord’s light shines brightly through our lives. The effect of this light is concentrated through our faithful witness to the power of the resurrection. And this power can start “fires” so to speak – that’s how strong the Lord lives in us! To work for justice and peace; to work for God’s mission in and from Christ’s church to the world around us; to reflect the light and love of God to those near and far.

Because of Easter, we need not let fear rule our lives; rather, because of the resurrection we are baptized into Christ’s power, and we affirm our baptisms in the kind of lives we lead. Thanks be to God! Amen.