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?

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)

Keeping watch on our moral compass in a pandemic

Our very human responses are varied and exposed in this public health crisis. Whatever the case may be, we must also be vigilant about the moral disease exposed in a pandemic.

In our normally extraverted and active society we are now becoming practiced in what it looks and what it feels like to be ‘distant’ from each other. Not just at sports stadiums and convention venues, but religious gatherings as well. 

In our social distancing exercise we are properly encouraged to inform ourselves of the risks and take the necessary precautions. Yes. We are encouraged to heed the health and official authorities. Yes. Best practices in worship and community life together are emphasized. Yes. We show thereby our responsibility to the sanctity of life, not just our own. 

But for the sake of the most vulnerable.

For the time being we will refrain from physically sharing the Peace. We will leave the offering plate on the table into which we offer our gifts. We will cough into our sleeves. We will encourage donating online if you choose to self-isolate; and, we will explore using the internet more for helping people of Faith to connect. We will encourage vigorous hand-washing practices and dis-infect surfaces and door handles in our public spaces.

But there is something more going on beneath the surface of our vigilance.

When social distancing becomes a virtue. And dread overwhelms the normal, healthy bonds of human affection. 

“In his book on the 1665 London epidemic, A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe reports, ‘This was a time when every one’s private safety lay so near them they had no room to pity the distresses of others. … The danger of immediate death to ourselves, took away all bonds of love, all concern for one another.’

“Fear drives people in these moments, but so does shame, caused by the brutal things that have to be done to slow the spread of the disease. In all pandemics people are forced to make the decisions that doctors in Italy are now forced to make — withholding care from some of those who are suffering and leaving them to their fate.

“In 17th-century Venice, health workers searched the city, identified plague victims and shipped them off to isolated ‘hospitals,’ where two-thirds of them died. In many cities over the centuries, municipal authorities locked whole families in their homes, sealed the premises and blocked any delivery of provisions or medical care.”

While some disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes can bring people together, history shows that pandemics can tear people apart.

“The Spanish flu pandemic that battered America in 1918 produced similar reactions. John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, reports that as conditions worsened, health workers in city after city pleaded for volunteers to care for the sick. Few stepped forward.

“In Philadelphia, the head of emergency aid pleaded for help in taking care of sick children. Nobody answered. The organization’s director turned scornful: ‘… There are families in which every member is ill, in which the children are actually starving because there is no one to give them food. The death rate is so high, and they still hold back.’

“This explains one of the puzzling features of the 1918 pandemic. When it was over, people didn’t talk about it. There were very few books or plays written about it. Roughly 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the flu, compared with 53,000 in battle in World War I, and yet it left almost no conscious cultural mark.

“Perhaps it’s because people didn’t like who they had become. It was a shameful memory and therefore suppressed. In her 1976 dissertation, ‘A Cruel Wind,’ Dorothy Ann Pettit argues that the 1918 flu pandemic contributed to a kind of spiritual [apathy] afterward. People emerged from it physically and spiritually fatigued. The flu, Pettit writes, had a sobering and disillusioning effect on the national spirit.

“There is one exception to this sad litany: health care workers. In every pandemic there are doctors and nurses who respond with unbelievable heroism and compassion. That’s happening today.

“[At] … EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, Washington State … the staff [is] showing the kind of effective compassion that has been evident in all pandemics down the centuries. ‘We have not had issues with staff not wanting to come in,’ an Evergreen executive said. ‘We’ve had staff calling and say, ‘If you need me, I’m available.’

“Maybe this time we’ll learn from their example. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to take steps to fight the moral disease that accompanies the physical one.

“Frank Snowden, the Yale historian who wrote Epidemics and Society, argues that pandemics hold up a mirror to society and force us to ask basic questions: … Where is God in all this? What’s our responsibility to one another?”[1]

History also shows that pandemics tend to hit the poor hardest and enflame social divisions. Today, we cannot forget those who are most vulnerable: the elderly, for one, who must stay in these days. A simple note phone call or email to ask if they need any groceries or medication pick-up. These calls will remind them they are not alone through this crisis. That there are those who care. And are willing to help.

In our efforts to maintain concrete connections, even in this time of social distancing, we continue to build the community of love that is the Body of Christ.

Even in crisis, we are not meant to be alone. In crisis, we are not meant to retreat into self-preoccupation. This pandemic cannot kill compassion, too. Even if only where two or three are gathered, virtually or face-to-face, we resist allowing our fear to overwhelm us. We trust in “God with us” and in the revelation of God in Christ who speaks often in the Gospels the words of promise: “Do not be afraid.” We are called always but especially at this time, to reassure others in the same promise.

In this time of social distancing, I pray in the love of Christ Jesus who overcame the boundaries of fear and social stigma. The Samaritan woman at the well was not so much in need of a physical healing as she was an emotional, social healing.[2]Our faith in Christ acknowledges those areas in our individual and public lives where we need emotional and moral healing as much as physical.

By temporarily limiting our gatherings, we are being responsible in not contributing to the problem – the transmission of disease. But at this time especially let’s be just as vigilant in not abdicating our moral call to be responsible for others’ care.

I pray in the love of Christ who reached out to touch and heal the blind man, the leper, the diseased, and who placed himself, even to death on a cross, all in the public sphere. I pray in the love of Christ whose life and love extends to our times and public places, into our hearts and into our very own relationships and communities. 

At the end of the pandemic which will surely come, my hope is that as human beings will have overcome the physical danger, Christians will also have stayed true to our moral compass.

The Peace of Christ be with you all.


[1]David Brooks, “Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too.” New York Times, March 12, 2020.

[2]John 4:5-30