Reset

audio for ‘Reset’ by Martin Malina
Towards Bank Street from the Canal in Ottawa, Martin Malina March 2022

Philippians 3:8-14

8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Earlier this year I was sick with COVID. Thankful for being vaccinated, I did not suffer greatly nor did I need to go to the hospital. Yet the symptoms I experienced were potent enough to push me off my game for a few weeks. It was truly something I had never before experienced.

One of the consequences of feeling ill is that all my disciplines went out the window. And I mean all.

Since I still had an appetite, oddly enough, I indulged in unhealthy eating habits and foods. And, because of the body aches and severe muscle cramping, I did not engage in my favourite Canadian winter outdoor activities of cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, skating nor even walking along snow-covered pathways. These were all physical disciplines my wife and I started doing from the beginning of the winter season in Canada around Christmas. So all that stopped.

What bothered me was even my meditation discipline suffered. It was difficult, when I felt ill, to approach and settle into periods of physical and mental stillness.

I yearned and lamented with Saint Paul … “11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” With Saint Paul, my usual knee-jerk reaction when facing adversity is to “press on”. 

Some years ago, I walked part of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain (del Norte). On the way I met a couple of men from Lyons France. They were pretty intense about how to reach the goal still over 700 kilometres away. I resonated with their advice for the long journey ahead: In order to achieve this goal they told me to “Attaquer le chemin!”

But alas, I only achieved 110 kilometres because unbeknownst to me I had ‘walking pneumonia’—literally. Eventually my energy levels were so low I couldn’t go on. After one week on the trail I had only made it to Bilbao before returning home.

When Paul writes that he considers everything a loss, I stop at this universal expression: everything! Even good things. Even things that I had presumed were beneficial for my soul. 

Last month I experienced with COVID what it feels like to lose control over all the healthy routines and disciplines which bring stability and joy to life. It’s like when one thread was pulled, the whole garment unravelled.

The practice of meditation teaches me what it truly means to run the race, as Paul says. Because it’s not “having a righteousness of my own”. It isn’t about untiring effort to achieve and be successful at some project, whatever it is. It isn’t “attaquer le chemin”. In running the race I’m not in competition with anyone, even myself. Winning doesn’t mean someone else or something else—even the chemin beneath my feet—has to lose.

In facing the abyss where nothing was productive and my ego compulsions to control were disrupted, disentangled and deconstructed, perhaps I was given a gift. A gift of loving awareness that in meditation running the race is more about ‘leaning into’. In meditation it is a yielding to a love that is beyond my pain and my joy. It is leaning into the hope of life out of death.

Purging, letting go, resetting. Entering the apophatic way of prayer is not about our capacities to do anything. Is this a death, itself?

There are seasons of our lives, ritually observed in the church year, now in Lent, when we can embrace a letting go, experience a purging, and engage a reset on life. It is, as the word Lent literally means, a springtime.

The Lenten journey soon comes to an end. We are nearing the destination which has always been the promise of new life. The Lenten journey affirms that dying to self and experiencing death—in whatever form it takes—are integral to our growth and the emergence of life that now comes to us as a gift and as grace.

Where have you experienced a purging, a necessary letting-go, an invitation to press ‘reset’ on your way of life? Is there yet a new thing emerging from the ashes?

Engaging in hybrid worship

In the upcoming April-May 2022 issue of the Canada Lutheran: The Magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the following article will be published. Here follows a pre-edit version ‘answering’ a question from someone who during the pandemic first engaged the church online. Now they consider getting involved onsite and in person …

Q:  During the pandemic, I began to take an interest in faith and started participating regularly in an online church. And they have been helpful. Some sites talk about the need for in-person worship. Why should I consider getting involved that way?

A: The preachers, worship-leaders, lectors, musicans and pastoral counselors you engage on the screen are part of a community. These leaders you listen to and visualize in mediated ministry are key influencers of the culture of a faith community, somewhere.

At some point, I believe, if you have started building relationships with them online you will want to explore at least the possibility of meeting them in person. And if you decide trying this, before you go, articulate for yourself: What is it about their presentation online that first attracted you – their authenticity, or humility, spirituality, courage, intelligence, skill, or vulnerability, etc.? Identifying what you value about the relationship is an important starting point for growing it—online and in person

Going deeper

Before COVID I married a young couple who first met via a relationship site online. They told me the goal of the site they both used was to create an appropriate in-person activity, tailored to their personalities and interests. For them, it was a games room. And this activity, then, would provide the context for their first in person meeting. 

In a faith community emerging from the pandemic, people will participate because they share something they value with others. An outdated social strategy for the church that is based on the building (i.e. ‘build it and they will come’ or ‘open the doors and they will come’) is as ineffective a way of building relationships as is the passive, social bias with which we lived pre-COVID (socialize simply for the sake of socializing). What is now required more than ever is being intentional and clear about what purpose any gathering serves. 

Back to your reflections about what attracted you, specifically, to the online church? What qualities of this social engagement kept you coming back? Very likely what attracted you to the online experience will present for you an opportunity to enjoy those same qualities in another, possibly deeper, way—in person. 

Behaviour matters

The manner in which we relate to one another will matter, more than ever. The post-pandemic church will need to be intentional about how we behave with one another in the space we share.

Many, in the months and mabye even years to come, will hesitate going into a public building apart from obtaining groceries and attending medical appointments. So, what about going to places where the church gathers in person, indoor or outdoor? 

If whatever setting will serve an important purpose for Christians living out their calling in Jesus Christ, notice what the hosts of the gathering do when you arrive to ensure that you will encounter an emotionally and physically safe environment. Does what they do, in the physical space, communicate an openess to your needs?

The church’s behaviour, especially by those who lead, will intentionally address accessibility issues and different risk tolerances of those who gather in-person. 

Will those welcoming newcomers continue to wear masks even if not required by law? Will they improve air circulation and climate control systems in place you gather? Will they be intentional to make holy space for everyone, especially those they don’t know? Will they reconstruct entry ways to ensure physical accessibility for all? By these actions, and the loving heart behind them, you will know that someone else pays attention to you, respects your boundaries and gives you freedom to be you in the shared space.

Christians do not gather in person to prove a social point from pre-COVID days, but to be mindful and heartful towards those who come in-person for the first time, or re-enter the gathered community after a long hiatus. 

It is not our beliefs that make us better people. It is our behaviour in relationships that makes us better people. It is our commitment to act intentionally with love.

Martin Malina

Wilderness journey

Usborne St/Sandy Hook cemetery in Arnprior, Martin Malina 2021

At the beginning of his work, Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days (Luke 4:1-13). There, in the desert, he met the devil, or, his demons—so to speak. There, he had to confront the most formidable challenges to his faith, his vocation, and his relationship with God.

Through that experience, however, Jesus affirmed his true calling. That is why, I suspect, the church has always valued connecting with the wilderness as an important aspect of the faith journey.

We are called into the wilderness—into nature—to listen, to prepare, to be tested and to be encouraged. In the end, as Jesus was, it is in these wilderness experiences where we are strengthened by grace.[1]


[1] Victoria Loorz, Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021), p. ix.

Devotion for Ash Wednesday and Lent

Read Psalm 51

Why do we wear ashes on Ash Wednesday?

We wear ashes to affirm the faith that God’s love and grace go with us despite, and especially because of, our broken humanity. God does not love you because you are without sin; God does not love you because you are without blemish or because you can somehow prove your righteousness by your efforts alone. God doesn’t love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good.[1] The ashes in the sign of the cross symbolize that in spite of our mortality God still loves us and gives us new life in Christ Jesus. God still gives us new beginnings, new opportunities to start over, in the grace and strength of God in and with us.

What do the words spoken on Ash Wednesday mean?

They focus our attention to life on earth. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We commend this body to its place, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. On this day more than on any other, we acknowledge that we are earth creatures, coming from earth and returning to its soil. We mark that earthiness on ourselves with a cross, the sign of the earthiness also of our God in Jesus.

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating _______ to serve you and our neighbours. Call forth _____’s prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen ____ to face their mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.[2]

Gospel Acclamation

Return to the Lord, your God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13)

An activity for home during the 40 days of Lent

Plant a packet of seeds in a pot full of soil. Care for the seedlings by watering and providing light. And watch them grow into new life and beauty. Take a photo, if possible, when the flowers are blooming and email to prmartinmalina@gmail.com


[1] Thank you Richard Rohr

[2] Adapted from the Prayer of the Day for Ash Wednesday, 2 March 2022 (Sundays and Seasons online, Augsburg Fortress)