Candle-lighting faith

photo by Martin Malina
audio sermon for “Candle-lighting faith” by Martin Malina

Why do we light candles in the church? When there is enough natural and electrically generated light to help us read and hear the scriptures, the music and each other—why do we need candles? Why act in this rather impractical, ritualistic way? It may seem odd to us who abide so often by the common-sense rule of life. Why do we bother?

One reason is to honour a historically based tradition: From centuries ago and before, when Christians didn’t have electricity and they depended on candlelight to be able to read the scripture during worship.

Moreover, early Christians often met underground. They met in hiding. They burrowed in secret places. Persecuted and outlawed, they gathered in the catacombs, away from the sunlight. They needed light even during the daytime. So, they lighted candles. 

Candle lighting honours the history of Christianity born out of division and beset by war through the centuries — Christian fighting Christian, Christians fighting everyone else, for that matter. Most of the letters in the New Testament—the Epistles—were written to fledgling churches held in the grip of division, in-fighting and conflict.

We light candles every time we worship to recall this turbulent history and honour the memory of our forbearers who needed light in a world full of hostility, war, death and evil.

So not only did they light candles for practical reasons to help them worship. Their act of lighting candles declared their faith, their common faith, in God. Lighting a candle meant that God’s light shines even in the face of death, “where the shadows lengthen and when the evening comes.”[1]

There isn’t a Halloween that goes by that I don’t get asked at least once what Christians should do or not do about Halloween. Many Christians are ambivalent towards this annual, cultural festival of dressing up in costume, playing spooky music, going trick-or-treat-ing, and otherwise celebrate being frightened. Why, where so much of the imagery surrounding Halloween focuses on devils and demons would Christians even go there? There’s enough evil in the world, we say. Why participate in a cultural event that only appears to fuel what’s wrong in the world? And so, many Christians have boycotted dressing up and being spooky and all.

Now, if death does have the last word, then we are indeed all lost and it doesn’t matter whether we participate in Halloween or not. If there is no one we can trust, no words of hope we can believe in, no story of redemption, promise and resurrection, then it is indeed a despairing world we live in. And there is no good news to speak of.

Maybe we forget that Halloween is a “hallowed-eve”, the eve before All Saints Day. Just like Christmas Eve precedes Christmas Day, just like Good Friday precedes Easter. The eve of All Saints—hallowed eve—is not the end of the story. Halloween does not have the last word.

Our Christian ancestors would therefore recognize Hallowe’en as the night when you stared at, and stared down, death. “Just as we know the answer to Good Friday is not despair but Easter, so the answer to Hallowe’en is not fear but All Saints.”[2] The answer to Hallowe’en is the joy and promise and unity of All the Saints in light!

We can face our fear of death and trust in the promise of the next day. Halloween can simply function as an exercise of our faith! We don’t need to succumb to the shadows. We don’t need to give in to despair. But we must face our fears honestly and courageously. This is what we do when we light a small candle of faith.

We light candles today and every Sunday as an act of faith. Because while we don’t need extra lumens to help us follow the music, read the text, and watch the screen, we confess that the word of God is given to a world shrouded in fear, hatred and anxiety. The word, as the assigned scripture for All Saints announces, is given precisely to those who are “thirsty”[3] and who come to the water to drink. 

We are the needy and vulnerable. We live with our own shadow and perceive the evil in the world around us. We are burdened by our own sin and weighed down, even lost, in this divided world. We grieve our losses and feel deeply the pain of death. 

And we are not alone.

We light candles to remember those in the past who have made it to the finish line faithfully, despite the warring factions and struggles in their lives. We light candles to celebrate the gift of life and love given to them in this divided world. We light candles to affirm our faith that the smallest flame can ignite our imaginations and our hope in the vision of God — “the new heaven and the new earth,” where God shall be and where God isat home with us, where all divisions will cease, and no one will be alone. Ever.

Indeed, a small flame we light. And faith is born. This is a vision that is trustworthy and true.

So, we light candles out in the open. Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. So let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”[4] We will not hide it under a bushel, oh no. We will shine brightly, share God’s love and light to the world. And we will live into our baptismal call to love others and give of ourselves to the vision of God.

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.”[5]

[1] Prayer at the time of death, “Funeral” Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), p.284

[2] Br. James Koester, “Halloween”,, 31 October 2017

[3] Revelation 21:1-6, reading for All Saints Sunday, Year B, Revised Common Lectionary.

[4] Matthew 5:15-16

[5] “This Little Light of Mine” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, ibid. #677


audio version of sermon, “Reformation-Murmuration” by Martin Malina

“…you will know the truth …”[1]

I stopped there. How will we know the truth? Is ‘truth’ even possible? When we don’t believe someone – a family member, a politician, the media, a friend – when we don’t believe what they say is true, how can we believe what was written down thousands of years ago to be true? How can we believe anything?

When Jesus says these promising, affirming words to his disciples two thousand years ago – “…you will know the truth …” – I’m not sure we do.

Maybe because our post-Enlightment mind regards truth exclusively as doctrinal, contractive, individualistic and competitive rather than something more intuitive, collective and freeing in our nature.

In the post-Reformation era, we have become like chickens, scrapping and scraping only for ourselves, ruffling another person’s feathers, or another church’s, so we feel better or superior. That truth is what I have, but you don’t.

And it’s not even what Martin Luther wanted—a separate, autonomous denomination. He wanted to reform the church, not split it into what is today some 30,000 Protestant denominations worldwide.

Maybe we need to look upward. Rather than be like the chickens, maybe the birds can show us the truth. Have you heard what the birds do when they fly together?

It rhymes with Reformation … Murmuration. So, whenever you hear the word ‘reformation’ from now on, I hope you think of ‘murmuration.’. What is ‘murmuration’?

Murmuration happens when the flock of birds—specifically starlings—move like synchronized swimmers or a well-choreographed dance troupe. Like bird ballet, they fly dark flowing against the white clouds. 

And when they fly together and swirl in a repeating, coordinated ever-changing pattern they seem to be connected somehow. They twist and turn and change direction at a moment’s notice.

Wired Magazine described murmuration like this:

“Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. 

When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.

 When a neighbor moves, so do you.

At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple.

 Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. 

What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticality it is created and maintained.” 

How does the murmuration begin? Often the starlings gather as night approaches. In the twilight, the dance begins with a few birds, but gradually other starlings arrive, then more and more, until they all join together in one massive flock. Their movements create patterns, streams, circles, and trails. Suddenly they plunge downward then swoop and sail skyward. As they twist and turn in tight formation, amazingly they swirl but never collide.

“What music do they hear? Who leads them? Who taught them such grace? …Maybe God is dancing with them and that is unknown, there, and unseen.”[2]

“I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.”[3]

So, to God, each starling is important to creating the murmuration. The result, however, is a whole that is greater than the sum of individual parts. It’s the story of the bible.

Recall, then:

God was saving Israel, not just Abraham.

God was saving Israel, the nation, not just Joseph, Isaac, or Jacob.

God was always saving people, not just individuals. And, in the last two thousand years,

God was saving the church, not just Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, or Henry the VIII’s marriage.

God was saving the church for all time—the people as a whole—and not just individuals of the 16th century. Nor just individuals today.

Reformation is “historical and social, and not just individual.”[4]

Martin Luther, the individual, was important in God’s story. Martin Luther inaugurated the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517—exactly 504 years ago today—by pinning up a sheet of paper on the large, wooden doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. That piece of paper contained some 95 arguments against what Martin Luther believed were abuses in the religious practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church at the time.

Fuelled by geo-political forces and social unrest in Europe. Power struggles between Pope and Princes, Emperor and economies — all these helped shape the course of what happened with the church, far beyond what Martin Luther was essentially all about. Because Reformation, in the end, is a movement in history and a movement of Spirit in the hearts of people continually changing and transforming, and going somewhere. Reformation was and is a gift—reforms in the 16th century were needed and good. But Reformation is also given to us as a calling—something we continue to work at and move towards. Never perfect, yet aspiring towards the vision of God.

Not negative. Not stuck, static. Not fixated, nor constricted. Not divided, autonomous nor conflicted out of some sentimental view of the past. But dynamic, transformative, unitive and flowing towards God’s vision, God’s future.

What is truth, then? Christ is the truth.[5] And Reformation, like murmuration, is participation in Christ. Each of us is a character inside of a story that is being written in cooperation with God and the rest of humanity. Christ in, and through us.

God is not ‘out there’. We don’t look at reality, we look from reality. We’re in the middle of it now; we’re a part of it. The murmuration. We are being chosen. We are being led. We are an instance in both the agony and ecstasy of God that is already happening inside you and inside of me.[6]

“You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” This is the language of the bible. It describes what already is happening in us and around us. We already know it. And maybe now, only intuitively. But God is there. God is here.

And all you can do is say yes to it. And join in the never-ending dance.

[1] The Gospel for Reformation Day, from John 8:31-36.

[2] Jean Wise, “Mystical Murmuration” (, 6 February 2014),

[3] Psalm 50:11

[4] Richard Rohr, “Participation is the only way” Life as Participation (Daily Meditations,, 10 Sept 2021

[5] “I am the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus said. (John 14:6)

[6] Richard Rohr, “Being Instruments of God”, ibid., 5 Sept 2021

Where two or three are gathered

audio for “Where two or three are gathered” by Martin Malina
Where we gather to worship & serve, photo by Martin Malina

When sitting in a living room with family, playing a game or in a sports team or when joining a club online or in person, we instinctively want everyone to participate. The church is no different. We want everyone to participate!

But participation is not domination. This is one of the main rules for healthy group dynamics: ‘Participation is not domination’. 

When I work with small group leaders, I usually start with this theme, because while we want everyone to feel free to participate, any one person cannot dominate the conversation. Domination will undermine the group process by only one individual’s opinion, concern, worldview and blow-by-blow telling of the book they read over the weekend, or the menu planned for Thanksgiving.

There is an exception to this rule. When someone who participates regularly in the group suffers a person crisis, a crisis that in some form is common to all of us. Then everyone, almost by intuition, wants to give that person the floor for as much time and as many words as they need to tell their story. Telling your story is integral to the healing process.

Bartimaeus has been suffering a personal crisis most of his life, it seems. He is visually impaired. He has carried and lived through the challenges facing a person who cannot see. How does he process his suffering?

What strikes me in this reading is that he does not hide. He does not squirrel away his pain by staying on the outskirts of Jericho in the desert under a proverbial rock. The Gospel text opens by locating him “on the roadside.”[1] Because “large crowds” travelled along this road from Jericho, we can say this was the main road from Jericho leading up to Jerusalem.

In other words, Bartimaeus shows us how to lament. In times of suffering that may feel like a lifetime, a suffering that doesn’t end – we all know this feeling when it comes to the pandemic – he does not take his spirituality and hide it under a rock. His faith journey, his relationship with God, is not privately dealt. He takes it out into the open— into the public— and sits himself by the main road where large crowds will pass him by.

Psalm 126 is entitled “A Harvest of Joy” and is a song of ascent – one of those Psalms sung by the ancient Israelites to lift their sights upward. 

Blind Bartimaeus, when Jesus heals him, is on the road up to Jerusalem. There is quite an elevation gain, topographically, between Jericho and Jerusalem. Like the ancient Israelites returning from exile, Bartimaeus, now freed from his suffering was heading in an upward direction, literally. Like the ancient Israelites, freed from exile, Bartimaeus was one of “those who go out [leaving Jericho] weeping” and “will come again [into Jerusalem] with joy.”[2]

But in a Psalm that is supposed to lift our spirits and be about restoration, there’s enough weeping and tears here to make me want to skip over those words. We need, though, to come to terms with the parts that do not feel like they belong — the weeping and tears part.

When circumstances bring cause for weeping – all the disruption, isolation, social restrictions, mental anguish and loss of jobs, health and stability—what do we do? How do we live into the post-pandemic reality? Do we ignore the difficult realities, the realities that instinctively make us want to turn away? The Gospel suggests we embrace both states of our heart. Both are important:

Both weeping and lamenting, dreaming and rejoicing. We tend to want to go either/or, don’t we? Either we are sad, or we are happy. Problem is, doing only one or the other all the time leads to despair on the one hand, delusion and denial on the other.

We may be tempted to think we need to be either/or in the church. COVID times have tempted us to entrench in this dualistic thinking, either/or: Either we sing or we don’t sing; either we meet in person or watch on YouTube; either it’s ‘perfect’ the way it used to be, or it’s not worth going to at all.

It’s an extraordinary challenge in life to balance all these tensions:

Because at one moment we are like those who dream, our mouths full of laughter and tongues with shouts of joy when things go well; and then, we are also those who sow in tears, those who go out weeping when things don’t. 

God has something to say to a people torn in two, a people who go out weeping and crying but who also dream of restoration, a people who are tempted to fall into despair but are also presented with a promising vision of God.

God has something to say to a people who are tempted to believe in cut and dry answers, who are tempted to believe that truth only comes in certain and sure ways, either/or.

Today, more than ever, I believe what we need in the church is less “either/or” and more “both/and.”

“Both/And” thinking means that when it is tough going, and we don’t deny that, people of faith don’t just give up meeting together. Like Bartimaeus we don’t hide our faith under a rock, o no! We may go out weeping but we still bear the seed for sowing. We still keep on, keeping on. We still do our work faithfully, whatever it may be, however small. Bit by bit, we still go out. Even though it’s not perfect. Even though it’s not like it used to be.

God says, where two or three are gathered, there is Christ with them (Matthew 18:20). Where two or three are gathered, our voice is heard, others hear us and pay attention. 

Where two or three are gathered, other people are not either/or. Where two or three are gathered, there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are … heirs according to the promise.”[3] Where two or three gathered, we are are not either/or people, we are all children of God.

Where two or three are gathered, Jesus hears our calls for help. And with an unconditional love, mercy and grace, Christ comes to us and opens the eyes of our heart. Christ hears us and gives us vision, purpose and courage for the long road ahead.

The big challenge now in the church, I believe, as we do both/and – both online and onsite meetings— is particularly to restore confidence in meeting together, in person, again. That doing so is safe, a public act of faith, and an act that will lead us on the road to our healing and restoration.

[1] Mark 10:46-52

[2] Psalm 126:6

[3] Galatians 3:27-29

We are about life, not the other way around

“By the River”, painting and frame by Lois O’Brien
sermon audio “We are about life, not the other way around” by Martin Malina

The NHL season began this past week. And the Ottawa Senators hope not to repeat last year’s start, which saw them losing all but two of their first fifteen games. Even though they ended the regular season last Spring one of the hottest teams in the league—winning ten of their last fifteen games—they still didn’t have enough points to make it into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

They say teams can lose the Stanley Cup in the first month of the season, meaning those first few games are crucial to the team’s prospect of making the playoffs. So, there’s a lot riding on each game, especially early on.

Yet the opposite is also very true: You can’t win the Stanley Cup in the first few games of the season either. Many teams have to build resiliency and overcome adversity on the road to ultimate success. And that means losing some games and surviving those slumps which inevitably come to all successful teams at some point in the season.

In other words, accepting our limits and checking our ambitions is very much integral to the overall arc of one’s life. Not just for professional sports teams.

In the Gospel text for today,[1] James and John go for it. To run this race, they are out of the starting blocks at full gallop. Believing they need to compete on the ladder of success with the other disciples, believing they need to vy for a privileged seat in some hierarchy of God’s reign, believing they’ll get ahead only by denying the other disciples this privilege—they demand from Jesus “to do for us whatever we ask of you …grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

No wonder the other disciples were angry with James and John.

I was being opportunistic. I knew the market was hot for used canoes. So I went for it. I sold my favourite canoe for a good price. With the money from the sale I decided to buy a new kayak. They would have to build one because – you guessed it – there were none in stock. That was July 1st.

Originally they said it would take two months until I could pick it up. Ok. In September I could still get out on the water several times. In retrospect, I could have been out on the water every day this past week with the warm, summer-like temperatures we have enjoyed to date.

But in mid-August I received a letter from the owner of the canoe company apologizing and advising that my kayak’s production was running behind schedule about six-weeks. There was now very little if any chance I would be in the water in my new kayak before winter. I would likely have to wait until Spring to enjoy my new toy.

My ambition ran into a brick wall. What started out as a great plan to maximize my enjoyment of paddling, and take advantage of the resources at my disposal, ended in disappointment, you could say. I’d have to gain some perspective to keep from slipping into regret and ingratitude.

Gus, the main character in David James Duncan’s bestselling novel, The River Why, reflects on his passion and calling to be on the river and to be the best fly-fisher he could be. As you get to know this character, you very quickly realize how much his life is defined and motivated by fishing and spending time on the river.

But he soon also realizes that immersing himself fully into his passion without boundaries and without limits, and pursuing his ambition unchecked, was actually driving him mad. He had to find balance in his life. He had to find other activities and build relationships with neighbours. He had to take care of himself.

Gus muses, “The once-monthly fisherman adores his rare day on the river, imagining that ten times the trips would yield ten times the pleasure. But … I learned that not fishing is crucial to the enjoyment of fishing: fishing is a good thing, but too much of a good thing is a bad thing.”[2]

Jesus turns the tables on James and John. They expected that their ambition would be rewarded. Well, it often is in the world of purusing self-gratification, what’s-in-it-for-me lifestyles and me-first relationships. Indeed we are often rewarded by a world that values going-for-it, and looking-out-for-oneself and one’s-own, a world motivated by uninhibited, individual ambitions.

Jesus suggests another strategy, one that realizes peace and contentment through acknowledging one’s limits, a lifestyle that finds meaning and purpose by respecting one’s place in the larger scheme of things.

When Jesus talks about giving his life, what he means is that we are part of a much bigger whole. Jesus asserts not just by his words but by what he does that “life is not about us, but we are about life.” 

We are not our own. We are an instance of something much bigger than us. Life is living itself in us. This thinking is revolutionary to our brains which have been trained to believe otherwise. As Richard Rohr confesses, Jesus’ message is “an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart.”[3]

As it was, and as I waited, I still got out on the water a handful of times this summer in our other, older fifteen-footer canoe and by borrowing demo models at lakeside outfitters in Algonquin Park.  Paddling on the water a couple of times was pure joy. And enough. 

I learned that regardless of how many times I’m on the water doesn’t gaurantee a ‘perfect’ experience every time: bad weather, faulty gear, unexpected high winds. So, I discovered that not paddling is crucial to the enjoyment of paddling: paddling is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can also be a bad thing.

In the want, in the suffering, in embracing the lack of things, we learn to live in the moment, a moment still infused by God’s grace. We learn to pay attention, even in the want, to what God is bringing to you this very day, and at this very moment. Even amidst the pain, we more readily bind our hearts with others and look beyond our present circumstances.

One of the main turning points in The River Why happens when Gus, a miserable and unhealthy man, begins to emerge from his self-consumed life. He decides to meet his neighbours living along the river. 

And that is when his life changes for the better.

[1] Mark 10:35-45

[2] David James Duncan, The River Why (New York: Back Bay Books, 2016), p.75-76

[3] “Your Life Is Not About You” Reality Initiating Us: Part One  (Daily Meditations,, 1 April 2020)

True thanksgiving

Oxtongue Lake, Algonquin Highlands, 24 Sept 2021, photo by Martin Malina
“True Thanksgiving” audio sermon by Martin Malina

“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? … Look at the birds of the air …

Are you not of more value than they?” 

(Jesus, Matthew 6:25-26) 

This text is the Gospel assigned for Thanksgiving Day.[1] What I find curious is that on Thanksgiving we give thanks, normally, for the material things we have – shelter, food, and the abundance of physical blessings …

And I don’t hear Jesus saying that food and clothing are unimportant to people of faith. Jesus isn’t downplaying our material world. Jesus isn’t saying we should not pay attention to the ‘stuff’ of this world. 

Yet, Jesus seems to be saying more, here. That true thanksgiving goes beyond being grateful for what we have; that true thanksgiving is celebrating who we are: Look at the birds of the air … Are you not of more value than they?” 

In this text, Jesus draws attention to our hearts and seeks to build us up as beloved children of God, created in God’s very own image. We have, if anything, value in who we are and the faith we express “genuinely”; who we are is “more precious than gold.”[2]

I was reading about one of the quietest rooms on earth at Orfield Labs in Minneapolis. Originally these ‘dead rooms’ were built in the Second World War to test communications systems. Basically, you step into one of these rooms and it’s much more, or less literally, than getting a bit of peace and quiet away from a hectic, noisy day in the city.

A typical room you sleep in at night that is quiet measures about 30 decibels. Even when we perceive it to be quiet, there is still sound bouncing off walls and surfaces around us. But the ‘dead room’ in Minneapolis measures at negative (-) 9 decibels. In this room there is absolutely no echo as the walls of the chamber absorb any and all sound. The effect on a human being is startling, to say the least.

The longest anyone has ever lasted in this room is 45 minutes. All you will hear inside this room are your organs—your heart beating, air and blood rushing through your system. After about 30 minutes of only hearing your body normally functioning and nothing else, you will begin to hallucinate. The negative silence can drive you, literally, crazy.

When you remove any external source of sound, and only hear what’s coming from within you, it’s too much for us to handle. It’s like we cannot bear for long facing, confronting and dealing with what comes from inside of us when there is nothing coming at us from without.

It’s like at best we feel uncomfortable facing ourselves; at worst, we only see bad things inside of us—our sin. At worst, we would do harm by the negative and judgemental words we tell ourselves, and the habits we fall into that are often unhealthy. If it’s only about what’s inside of us would God take delight in us?

Living in a world where so much of who we are is defined and determined by our external circumstances presents a real challenge to our faith. Jesus knows this. If there is anything in the New Testament about which Jesus speaks harshly, or dualistically (either-or), it’s about money. “You cannot serve both God and wealth; you cannot serve two masters,” Jesus says in the verse immediately preceding the Gospel text for today. 

Jesus speaks absolutely about money because he knows what we are going to do. He already knows our natural inclination to place most of our worth and value on those external things. He already knows that we are primarily motivated by counting, weighing, measuring and deserving – these are activities whose motivation comes from outside of us. And he already knows that as long as we ally ourselves with this world of earning and losing, we’ll always be comparing, competing, envying, or climbing.[3] We will continue to be driven from without. And be continually restless and discontented. 

So, he says: 

“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? … Look at the birds of the air …Are you not of more value than they?”

Our value, our worth, is based not on what we have, but who we are. Not on bank accounts, investments, clothes and financial portfolios. And Jesus says this not only that we would love ourselves first, but so that we would confer the same value on others. So, our love and care for others is not based on what they have earned but on who they are in God’s eyes.

So, Jesus is about re-calibrating the engine of our hearts. Contrary to the lure of material wealth, success and meritocracy, the generating motor that keeps us going in this life is inside of us, where God’s Spirit indwells. The primary engine is neither a lure or a threat from outside us. Rather, we are drawn from within, where the Spirit nudges us and strengthens us.

We are of more value than the birds of the air. God does take delight in us, as we are. We are of more value without needing to store up riches on earth. Because we know we have an inherent dignity within, a dignity shared with all human beings.

“Deep calls to deep”, the Psalmist sings.[4] Our inner source is not to be feared nor tolerated nor ignored in our externally over-stimulated lives. And if ever you find yourself twisting in the winds of material concerns and worries, just stop to listen to your heart beat. Do you hear it now? Stop to listen to the involuntary rush of air, breathing into your lungs and breathing out. Do you feel it?

Our hearts continue to beat and pump blood, faithfully, even when we don’t notice. Our lungs continue to draw air, faithfully. We don’t need quiet rooms to appreciate that. Our inner source is beloved. And it is a gift. It is at this deeper level where we find our place and our true connection with others in this world.

A cause for humble and true thanksgiving.

[1] Matthew 6:24,25-34

[2] 1 Peter 1:7

[3] Richard Rohr, “We Cannot Serve Two Masters” in What Do We Do With Money? (Daily Meditations,, 20 September 2021)

[4] Psalm 42:7

Warming hearts

Cape Disappointment, Washington State, 2018, by Martin Malina
audio of “Warming Hearts” sermon, Martin Malina

The ice was coating the sidewalk, and even the packed, dirt path leading to the graveside.

The rare, January rain had turned back to sleet and snow. The temperature was falling to its customary levels for that time of year, freezing again the mounds of earth piled on the side of the deep hole in the ground.

The winds out of the north were picking up, gusting across the open farm fields surrounding the cemetery. It was not a day to be out doing anything, let alone carrying a casket with numbing cold hands and wearing dress shoes.

The conditions couldn’t have been worse. It was the last place on earth I’d go to experience God: a frozen cemetery feeling the sorrow of losing Dad to a horrible disease.

And yet, when we buried my Dad in those conditions almost two years ago, the bad weather is not the only thing I remember. 

As Bishop Michael began leading us over the frozen ground towards the planks of wood lining the grave, we realized we would need some extra help. Because it was dangerous going. A slip and a fall was only a snowflake away. 

I remember the bishop looking over at the little group of mourners gathered with my Mom, my brother and I that frightful January day and finding the eyes of a young man – the son of one of my mother’s friends. Thanks be to God he was there. The bishop didn’t need to say anything. We were all thinking the same thing. With a nod, the young person jumped in with us and added his strength to guide the casket down onto the grave-hoist ropes without incident.

And as we shivered in the wind to hear the familiar, comforting words, the warmth expanded in my heart.

I think back to that time now, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because since then the pandemic has brought the reality of death to the forefront of our collective lives. Maybe because so many have indeed suffered and lost everything. Some have braved and weathered the adversity they faced. Some have barely survived through times of unprecedented change. 

Going into public places – even going into a church building – may be the last place you’d feel like going on a Sunday morning these days.

And maybe because we also realize now that the threat of COVID won’t just disappear anytime soon. Grief is like that. We’re in the business of endurance for the long haul. It is indeed a marathon we are running, emotionally and spiritually.

On top of that and in all the debate and division about vaccines, lockdowns and restrictions, have our hearts hardened?

In the Gospel for today[1], Jesus encounters the keepers of the law – the Pharisees. The keepers of the law wanted to question Jesus about the law and specifically the commandments about marriage from the time of Moses. If they could trip Jesus up on the icy surface of their logic, perhaps they could find reason to condemn him.

Mount Sinai was in the middle of the desert. The desert, the wilderness, was also a dangerous place. Freezing temperatures at night. Sweltering heat under the noonday sun. Deadly animals and lack of food, constant threats. 

Yet, this was the place – the last place on earth – where the law was given to Moses. The law wasn’t delivered in a vacuum, after all, but in the middle of the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Inbetween the place where God’s deliverance of the Israelites began, and where it was hoped God’s deliverance would end. They had a long road to travel to get there.

When the Israelites had crossed the sea out of Egypt, escaping the clutches of their pursuers, God was not done freeing them. The God of the bible is not a God who liberates, then leaves. But a God who continues to save, even in the last place on earth.

“This is a God who walks with people through the desert in a cloud of smoke and fire and who literally sets up camp with them in the form of a traveling tabernacle. This is a God who cares about every detail of their new life together …”[2] who gives to the hungry manna, just enough to keep going. 

With God, deliverance is not a one-time deal. Freedom, healing and salvation in Christ is not a one-off, run-and-done. Learning and growth in faith is a process that continues throughout our lives.

“It was because of the hardness of your hearts that Moses gave the law,” Jesus says. But Jesus is not finished speaking. Hardness of heart is not the end of this story. Jesus is not finished showing them. He has much more to show the scrutinizing keepers of the law about life and marriage and loss and divorce. 

Because they forget one thing, one very important thing about God when they only want to keep the law. That God is not done with them and us. And especially in those times and those places that test us.

The Gospel text for today ends with this odd, almost disconnected scene of Jesus welcoming the children, taking them up in his arms and blessing them. “Let the children come to me, do not stop them,” Jesus says. What do the children have to do with laws about divorce and marriage? 

Perhaps, then, the discordant, jarring form of the text itself is suggestive. Perhaps, then, it is precisely how it comes to us—in those jarring, dangerous times of life, where the connections are not easy to make—like when confronting suffering, death, God, or love. These realities confound us. These are testing times. 

Maybe, then, it is precisely in those long-haul, grinding-it-out times when we feel we are walking a slippery plank on the edge of an abyss, where we are one breath away from falling, when we can only see the grey skies stretching into the horizon and brace against the cold winds of fear ….

Those are the times, those are the places, those are the moments we really need to pay attention. Because God is not absent in those suffering times. The problem is not that God isn’t there with us in the desert, at the graveside when the weather is frightful. The hardness of our hearts is the problem.

But that is when God finds us. The last place on earth is where grace happens, where the love of God erupts as a small flame in our hearts. The love of God erupts in a small moment of giving, and of receiving the unconditional help of a friend. 

Our hearts warm. The ice melts. God takes us in arms of love, and blesses us. This is God. Compassion is the way through the desert, through the long-haul sufferings of life. Compassion is the way.

And it’s just beginning.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Mark 10:2-16

[2] Rachel Held Evans. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. Tennesee: Nelson Books, 2018. p.53.

God’s freedom

Algonquin Trail underneath Hwy 417 at Arnprior, Ontario – photo by Martin Malina
audio version of sermon, “God’s Freedom”, by Martin Malina

Jesus’ disciples think they are doing a good thing. They try to stop someone who is doing a good thing. But, there’s a problem. For the disciples that problem outweighs the good thing that person is doing. John, the disciple who speaks, says, “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”[1]

The problem is, this person is not a card-carrying member. They’re “not following us”; they weren’t part of the club. And no matter the good they do, it doesn’t count in the religious mind-set of the disciples.

Are we much different? The debates continue today about whether it counts if non-believers do good, whether it counts if those who do not belong in a formal way to the church or to our congregation do good – things that we are called to do. Does that count?

You could say that, at least, they were casting out the demon “in Jesus’ name”. And that may be why Jesus said, “Do not stop him.” 

I’ve found at least a couple very good commentaries on what “In Jesus’ name” means: One approach suggests the name of Jesus itself is powerful. Here, the exorcist seems to be using Jesus’ name explicitly as a powerful tool for casting out demons. 

Therefore, according to this interpretation, the story in the end may be less about the power of demons and more about the power of language itself, to change the speaker and to shape the identity of the community.[2] “No one who does a deed of power in my name,” says Jesus, “will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”[3] Using the name of Jesus is a powerful act that cannot leave the performer unaffected. 

Another good approach suggests that to act in Jesus’ name is simply “to act in a manner consistent with his character”.[4] By this interpretation, some people may behave in a Christlike manner without realizing it, consciously. Such is the case in Matthew 25:31-46, where the action itself is the focus – visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry. The action itself determines the Christian way regardless of who is doing it. Some have called this ‘anonymous Christianity.’

Nevertheless, I still wonder: If this person was doing good in Jesus’ name, why weren’t they already following Jesus? Why was this person apart from the community that surrounded and followed Jesus throughout Galilee? The action in the text pivots from excluding someone who does not belong, to Jesus authorizing their inclusion. “Do not stop him.” The action in the text hinges on what Jesus says here.

So, in the end, for me this passage points to the freedom of God. When we begin with God’s freedom, we also affirm that we are not in control nor do we judge who’s in and who’s out when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit, the work of God, in the world. 

Richard Rohr asserts that it is a very hard task indeed to keep God free for people, “because what religion tends to do is tell God whom God can love and whom God is not allowed to love …”[5]

Gus, the main character in the novel, The River Why,[6] is on a journey to find God. And Gus believes the only way to do that is to find God in a certain place that Gus determines. In the novel, this place is the source of the river on whose banks Gus lives, farther downstream. It’s a long and arduous journey. When he finally arrives at his destination, Gus fails to experience what he intended by all his hard work and labour to find God and truth. 

Slumping at the source of the river he confesses: “It’s a damn tough business sitting around trying to force youself to force God to forcefeed you …”

By the end of the novel, Gus does find God. But it’s in the least expected turn of events and experiences of his life. He concludes, “Thank God I failed. It would have been a hell of a note to have to hike fifty miles up[river]… every time I wanted a word with … [God].” 

Gus discovers that God and God’s truth are not experienced according to his anticipated and sought-after outcomes. Gus discovers that God’s ways are not his ways, that he can’t force God’s hand, or be driven spiritually by his own notions of where it must happen, when it must happen, or with whom it must happen.

The example of Jesus in the Gospel today pushes us to consider God’s prerogative, to consider others as God’s hands and feet in the world. Consequently I believe the Word calls us to examine the barriers we may be tempted to put up in order to exclude those who are not like us, or who differ from us in ways that make us uncomfortable, or those who do not follow us.[7]

Someone we know who prays. But is not Lutheran.

Someone who cares for the earth. But you doubt whether they go to church.

Someone who volunteers in drop-in centres for women, someone else who volunteers at the local food bank, someone else who gives their time writing letters to members of parliament to ensure safe drinking water for northern, indigenous communities. But they aren’t professing Christians.

A family member or friend who is honest about their doubts yet still practices compassion and listens well to people who come to them with their problems offering their gift of healing. But doesn’t use the right, familiar God-language.

While we will not control their behaviour nor their beliefs, we can trust that God has this in hand. We don’t need to put up any roadblocks when the Holy Spirit works in the lives of those who nonetheless are doing good, in Jesus’ name. Because our task is not to be gatekeepers or guardians of God’s truth, but rather faithful followers and trusting servants of God, who is love.


[1] Mark 9:38-41

[2] Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Mark 9:38-50 Theological Perspective” in David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year B Volume 4 (Kentucky: WJK Press, 2009), p.118

[3] Mark 9:39

[4] Martha L. Moore-Keish, ibid.

[5] Richard Rohr, “A Journey Towards Greater Love” Living Inside God’s Great Story (Daily Meditations,, 29 August 2021)

[6] David James Duncan, The River Why (New York: Back Bay Books, 2016), p.340-341

[7] Br. David Vryhof, “Inclusion” Brother, Give Us A Word (, 10 September 2021)

Behind the words

Martin Malina_sermon audio version_behind the words

“We will bury you!” 

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said those words in 1956. He was speaking to American diplomats at a reception in Moscow. In 1956, those words caused quite the stir.

In fact, those words—“We will bury you!”—helped spur the rapid arms build-up which during the Cold War in the last century pushed the world’s two superpowers to the brink of World War Three and nuclear annihilation.

What did Khrushchev actually mean by saying to the Americans, “We will bury you!”? It’s impossible to tell exactly. Because history suggests he was a man prone to brashness and exaggeration. Some say those words were based on a failed Marxist philosophy that the masses (proliterate) would be the undertakers of the monied bourgeois. Khrushchev may very well have been speaking out of a specific worldview and his belief in how history will unfold. 

Yet, these words were widely misinterpreted to suggest burial, literally, under mountains of radioactive rubble. Because Khrushchev was in 1956 one of two men in the world who had the power to launch a nuclear catastrophe.[1]

Words matter. The words we say or write have power, for good or bad.

In the current Canadian federal election campaign, there are lots of words coming at us from the candidates. I don’t believe I’m alone in sometimes noticing a difference between words I read on a page or screen, and those same words I watch and hear spoken.

On paper, the words alone suggest one thing for me—good, bad, indifference. But when I see and hear the person speaking those very same words, I can have a completely different impression altogether and derive a completely different meaning. As is often the case, the way in which those words are spoken—the medium, you might say—is the message.

There’s more to the words alone.

I’d like to do a simple exercise with you. Listen to this short sentence, six words long. I will repeat this sentence six times, the same words in the same order. How does the emphasis on different words change the meaning of the whole sentence? 

I didn’t say you were wrong.

didn’t say you were wrong.

I didn’t say you were wrong.

I didn’t say you were wrong.

I didn’t say you were wrong.

I didn’t say you were wrong.

When I was first introduced to doing this exercise as the listener, I presumed the same six words would convey the same meaning no matter how often repeated or regardless of which word in that sentence was emphasied? Was I wrong![2]

The book of James is popular for Christians for its practical advise. In the text assigned for today, James first lashes out against the tongue and how evil it can be.[3] “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” In truth, Khrushchev’s tongue and words in 1956 almost did set the world aflame.

The opposite is true, too. Even good words, warns James, can be a hypocrisy if spoken without authenticity. It’s hard to believe even good words if not conveyed by a credibility and trust in the person giving them. “From the same mouth can come blessing and cursing.” Words have that duality to them, if treated alone, on the surface.

To know Jesus, then, is to know more than merely the words recorded about him. These are nonetheless beautiful and important words to help us on our journey of faith. Yet, to know Jesus, and to be an authentic follwer of Jesus, is to experience the presence of the living Christ in your own life today.

And that involves more than words on a page.

What we don’t say has just as much to ‘say’ as any words might. The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote, “A person does not speak only with words.” You could call this non-verbal communication—our tone, body language, posture, eye contact, maintaining physical distance, smiles or frowns, inviting facial expressions or with engaging, open, curious energy.[4]

In a word-infested world where we are bombarded and assaulted by so many words—many good, some bad—the Gospel points us to a deeper way, a more authentic starting place behind any words we might say, write or read.

The prophet Isaiah gives us direction on this path of a deepening experience of God. How does Isaiah do good with his words – a prophet who is known for his words, who had a lot of words to say? How does Isaiah “sustain the weary with a word?”

Isaiah listens first. “The Lord God … wakens my ear, every day, to listen as those who are taught.”[5] Listening to another opens the pathway to authentic relationships, as we respond out of a heart that receives the other first.

What is behind the words for a Christian?

Love. In the end, words are not enough. Words—like technology—are very good, capable tools for life. But words are means; words are not ends in themselves. 

Love is the true end and starting point. Without love, our words are lifeless. Truth cannot be communicated apart from a heart of love in relationship. In the service of love, out of a heart of love, our words find place and purpose.[6] As Jesus did for those he met, healed and to whom he spoke. As Jesus does for us, out of God’s heart of love.

Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, The Emotion Thesaurus. 2012, p.106

[1] Giles Whittell, Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War (New York: Random House, 2010), p.44

[2] Adapted from “Creative Listening” in Frontline, Earl A. Grollman (Summer 2021).

[3] James 3:1-13,17

[4] Ibid., Grollman

[5] Isaiah 50:4

[6] adapted from Br. Keith Nelson, “Knowledge”, Brother, Give Us A Word (, 2 September 2021)

They are love

“They” are love – Martin Malina

I live in Arnprior, whose logo reads — “Where the Rivers meet”, because the town is situated at the confluence of the Madawaska and Ottawa rivers. The flow of rivers around me, around the place I live, communicates to me important spiritual truths.

Under the evening moon at the confluence of the Madawaska and Ottawa rivers in Arnprior

As a Christian, I take spiritual truth to be the way of Jesus. So, everything from my practice of prayer to how I aspire to relate with others flows from the waters of my baptism in Christ.

The flow of water can move one’s heart and mind in directions not anticipated nor expected. Just try running white-water rapids or going down a water slide. When you enter the water, your body will be subject to forces beyond your control and often make your body go in directions not intended.

When I read the bible sometimes familiar stories will come at me sideways and I’ll notice something that I’ve never before noticed. And it will open up new and unbidden horizons that will both challenge and inspire me on my journey of faith.

This is true with the Gospel reading for today[1] — about the healing of the deaf and mute person. And what jumped out at me was the first word in verse 32: “They”. The unidentified and unnamed people who brought the deaf man to Jesus. What is more, “they” begged Jesus—begged him— to “lay his hand” on him. And that’s where I stopped. I know the end of the story: he was cured of his ailments so there was no cliff-hanger for me there. But more about the ending in a moment.

First, who are “they”?[2] Who would take the time, the energy, the strength to bring someone who was probably on the margins of the socio-economic engines of 1st century Palestine? Who are “they” to place such value and worth on someone who couldn’t hear and who had a speech impediment? Who was this deaf and mute man to them? 

A family member? The text doesn’t suggest family relations. There are other healing stories in the Gospel of Mark where daughters and fathers and sons are explicitly mentioned and involved.[3]

What is more in our Gospel text is it’s not a passive, obligation kind of service — a do-gooder “I-have-time-today” kind of action. They begged Jesus to heal. This is passionate language. No time for self-preoccupation. And all for the sake of someone who might normally be dismissed, disregarded and even despised in society.

Such a reading leaves me wondering about the quality of my own Christian service and love. Is healing in Christ only for me? Or, for my own? “They” were more than one person. And each of those individuals that comprised the “they” in our text had their own problems, suffering, pains, losses, griefs that likely needed Jesus’ healing touch. Why weren’t they self-advocating? And yet, “they” as a group were so passionate in finding healing for this one man they brought to Jesus.

This summer I canoed the Barron River in Algonquin Park relatively close to where I live. There is a spectacular red flower found almost exclusively along this river: It’s called the cardinal plant, Lobelia cardinalis. What is special about this plant is that it requires not one, but two visits by a hummingbird in order to procreate. The bird arrives when the flower is in early bloom and uses its long bill to sip the nectar, which lies just deep enough that the brow of the bird brushes against the flower and picks up pollen.

Later, when the stamens of the cardinal flower no longer produce pollen, the pistil—the female part of the plant, protrudes through the spent stamens to a point where, when the flower is visited the second time by a hummingbird whose head has been dusted with pollen from another plant, fertilization takes place.[4]

In other words, healing and new life require at least more than one visit by the grace of God. More than one dose of love. More than a mere self-preoccupation about the healing gifts of God. The more-than-for-me is necessary to complete the picture.

The witness of “they” in the Gospel reading today gives me a wonderful picture of what true love—complete love—in Christ is about. Individual healing is maybe one part, but alone it is not the gospel. If it’s just about ‘my healing’, or ‘what I want’, it is not the gospel. The gospel is going to the second part, which is loving others. We are they. When we consider the needs of those unlike us, and act on them, then we are being true to the gospel. We are driving it home.

“Look not to your own needs first, but to the needs of others,” writes Saint Paul.[5] This doesn’t mean we dismiss and disregard our own needs. It means our healing and salvation is found in striving to meet the needs of others.

When the crowd witnesses the miracle of healing, what do they say about Jesus? They conclude that he has done well. Maybe Jesus passed some test they had for him— he can cure disease. It’s only as an afterthought do they add: He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. It’s as if the healing of the individual is not the main point. It isn’t for Jesus, who orders everyone “to tell no one” about the healing. So, the individual healing takes a back seat to what is really the miracle, that others cared enough about someone who was of little consequence— the marginalized, the weak, the homeless, the needy — to take the risk of bringing them to Jesus. That is the miracle.

Of course the gospel of Jesus is essentially about love. How do we love, then? That is the question. And how do we be like “they”; that is, how do we do this work of loving others together as a congregation? How do we love others who are different from us, who have different needs than we do? This is not easy. But that’s where the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads us.

In David James Duncan’s best-selling book ‘The River Why’, he describes what love is by using an analogy.

He writes that love is “like a trout stream: try to capture a trout stream with a dam and you get a lake; try to catch it in a bucket and you get a bucket of water; try to stick some under a microscope and you get a close-up look at some writhing amorphous microcooties. A trout stream is only a trout stream when it’s flowing between its own banks, at its own pace, in its own sweet way”.[6]

In the end, this text provides us with a picture of who God is. While we may stumble in our efforts and aspiration to be like “they”, in the end, God is they. Because God is love. We witness here how far God will go, by our side, to bring us to healing and wholeness. No matter how down-and-out we may be, no matter how much we have lost, grieved and suffered, no matter what place we occupy in our social and economic world, even for the most destitute, God is the passionate Friend who will take us there. 

Love opens the floodgates. Love doesn’t confine, constrict, or try too hard to change us into something we are not, out of judgement or fear. Rather, grace, mercy, and forgiveness flow alongside us, following us all the way downriver until we meet the vast, unbounded ocean of God’s eternal love.

Not just once. Not even twice. But many, many more times than that.

[1] Mark 7:31-37

[2] We encounter a similar rendering when Jesus cures a blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26

[3] See Mark 5:21-43 & Mark 9:14-29.

[4] Roy MacGregor, Canoe Country: The Making of Canada, Toronto: Penguin Books, 2015, p.131

[5] Philippians 2:4

[6] David James Duncan, The River Why, Back Ray Books, 2016, p.396

Window’s open – a funeral sermon

Pastor Martin Malina

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations … And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:2,5)

When Spring comes to Canada in late March, the windows in our homes still stay closed most of the time. Even though the promise of warmer days ahead beckons, there is still snow on the ground, freezing temperatures greet us each morning, and the occasional blizzard still assails us. It’s cold outside and the windows remain closed.

James died at that pivotal time of year. Not just when the seasons change in Canada. But at a time when the church is in the depths of the annual Lenten journey—a time of acknowledging our mortality, confessing our sin and turning our hearts, minds and will towards the promises of God. 

Staying with the metaphor of the closed window, Lent is the time when we stand by the window looking out at the signs of springtime emerging; we can even gaze far into the distance towards the hopeful horizon of new life—Easter is coming. But from our Lenten vantage point, we still remain on the inside of the closed window.

In grief, we can’t always bring ourselves to be by the window let alone look out it. In the depths of mourning the loss of James—a dear son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend—we will need, for a time even, to turn our backs on the window.

Many of us gathered in a Zoom room on Easter weekend to observe the mournful passage of the weeks following his death. We acknowledged that James had lived under the near threat of death his whole life long—that breathing was something he needed help with since the time of his birth. Fresh, abundant air was not easy for James to bring into his body. His lungs and his heart always had to work so hard to absorb life-giving oxygen. In other words, the window more often than not throughout his life and against his will and deepest desire remained more or less closed.

Nevertheless throughout his life, James would proverbially stand close to that window, his face pressed against the pane, engaging all the goodness in his life. You have highlighted these wonderful aspects of his personality – “witty, charming, sarcastic as well as fiercely independent and occasionally stubborn … He was deeply loyal and always had a friend’s back.” Despite the challenges facing him, James lived fully and fiercely. He brought it all to the table.

When we gathered in that Zoom room over Easter weekend in the midst of grief’s shadows, the seasons were turning.

Even though in Canada it was still rather cool and the windows in my house for the most part were closed, some of you were joining the Zoom call from southern climes, sitting outside or at least in a room with the windows wide open. How did I know this? Well, not only could I see with my eyes, I could hear signs of the outdoors. When you turned off your mute button to join the conversation, you weren’t the only one talking. 

The wind blowing through the trees and birds in the background caught me by surprise. I hadn’t heard birdsong and the wind through leaves for a long time through the winter season. And it was such a refreshing sound, a sign of renewing hope for me that life was again emerging in the springtime of creation.

Visions of nature tantalize all our senses in the Book of Revelation—rivers and trees, fruit and leaves and sunshine. The purpose of the trees alongside the river in Revelation 22 is “for the healing of the nations.” For healing, for wholeness, and for all people. This expansive vision can seem incredible, as would be the prospect of James using the full capacity of his lungs in this life. And yet, God’s promise, God’s vision, lures us, pulls us beyond the closed windows of our lives.

We gather at the verdant climax of earth’s growth. Nature’s fullness is peaked at this time of year in the middle of summer— we notice signs all around us of this fullness. 

Of course today is also James’ birthday—a day we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of his life. Over the past forty years, God’s love for him was conveyed through you—through your friendship, in the faithfulness of your attention, the care of medical staff and the support of therapies and medicine. 

Today we come full circle and affirm that what was true on the day James died has always been true: God’s eternal care of James’, who on the day he died, unlocked James’ window for him and held it wide open. We gather to give thanks for a life that today is animated by the expansive breath of God. In full communion with his creator, James stands today with arms wide open at a window with no frame, no pane, no boundaries separting him from the ever so sweet, sweet air.