the table

The table: locus of our lives together. “No matter what, we must eat to live” says Joy Harjo in her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here”:

perhaps the world ends here

By Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of the earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At the table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sign with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

I adore this poem, and this weekend as I was drafting this blog entry I kept coming back to the poem. I find myself sitting at a multiplicity of tables in my life.

There is the lunch table with my work colleagues where we sit in the cafeteria of the Bay department store downtown and discuss everything from movies to politics to meditation.

There are the lunch tables at school where our busy student lives collide for hours/minutes/moments to eat and share in our common chaos.

There is the familiar dinner table I grew up at that is still in my parents home, where I know I can always go, knowing I’ll leave full.

There are the tables at church, old and new, small and large, where I sit crowded in with all sorts of people I love.

There are the dinner tables of friends: varied sizes and types, with their vinyl benches, wooden chairs, office chairs, couches and laps, formal and informal.

And there is the table in my own home, where I set down dishes that hopefully read “love” and bring out food that contains part of myself and my com/passion.

I like to believe that tables are always holy places, be they adorned with decorations at the front of a church or weathered and sitting in the middle of a park. Sitting down together to eat is a sacred act, or else we would not have had a history of so many cultures where who one ate with, what one ate, and where one ate meant so much. Is your table a holy place? How can we endeavor to make all of our tables holy places?


the rub of theology

When some of my friends and I talk theology we often find ourselves at some point rubbing our own skin or touching each other to try and show what we’re trying to get at. “It’s about this” one of us will say, stroking another’s hand or arm, skin on skin, the intimacy of touch and the basic-ness of body as demonstration of the type of truth we are trying to articulate.

Why is it that this sensual act is where “the rub” is with theology for me and for much of my community? There is something very important to me in the act of touch, in the act of closeness. I think it is in part due to one of the most basic elements of my theology: this life and these people in this place at this time deserve my love and compassion. My metaphysical world is not void of non-material substance that is of value, but I try to remember the value of the material world as well, which I think is also central to Christian theology.

Our flesh is so precious: our contemporary cosmologists, our physicists, tell us that matter is extraordinarily rare in our universe. This body that sits typing is made up of more empty space than matter, and the universe has even more empty space. How precious and wonderful and rare we all are with our tiny amounts of matter in relation to the vastness of space. Christian doctrine backs up this preciousness of the flesh as God takes to flesh and becomes incarnate, in-spiring and enlivening our skin and bones, not only in the body of Jesus but in the dry bones in the desert, in ha-adamah the first earth creature, in the water, in the wind, in the bread, in the wine, in our tongues.

And yet these spirit-imbued fleshy bodies are fragile and vulnerable. We need each other for protection, for touch, for creating new life. And we need food to eat and shelter and warmth and clean water, for we are easily hurt; we simply cannot survive alone and exposed. Perhaps it is this very vulnerability that causes us to doubt so much our own preciousness, to doubt that divinity would dare to move in this weak flesh, these frail bones.

Ludwig Feuerbach told us in the mid-1800’s that our idea of God is merely a projection of ourselves – or more specifically for Feuerbach, Man. More recently, feminist philosopher of religion, Grace Jantzen, took up this notion of projection and dared to suggest, with help from Luce Irigaray, that projection does not necessarily have to imply atheism. If our projections are ethical, ideal and life-giving, then they ought to draw us toward being more, toward becoming divine ourselves. Becoming divine, says Jantzen, ought to be the goal of all religion.

Could the frailty of our flesh be part of what has precluded some philosophers and theologians from allowing this possibility of allowing ourselves divine projections and moving toward those projections? How could something divine come from this frail flesh, they might ask. To which I would respond – how can divinity come from anywhere else but right here? *Shannon caresses her own arm*

As a friend spoke the other night of the frailty of human bodies, I was struck with a sense of awe for life, and compassion for all life. I am surrounded by fellow beings who are living with pain: watching my grandma in the hospital, watching friends and family members recover from surgeries and accidents and traumas, experiencing the unreliability of my own body – the brokenness of it all can be overwhelming. Yet we are here and we are alive and we are together and divinity breathes anew each moment, even right here where my wrist hurts, and right there where stitches close your wound, and right there where the pain is so deep we cannot touch it, and right there where new life defiantly begins. Right here, in this flesh is where we find “the rub” of theology, is where our religious lives take shape, is where all life becomes divine.

Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity.
Grace Jantzen. Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion.
Luce Irigaray. This Sex which is not One. and Sexes and Genealogies.

transformed by God

I spent the summer between my third and fourth years in University doing church camps and reunions at the Community of Christ campground at Lewis River in southwest Washington. That summer I had a transformative experience that changed the way I approached my whole life.

It was a very intense and busy summer. Included in that busy intensity were a lot of joys and wonderful experiences, but there were also a lot of struggles and challenges that went along with the fun of being at camp. One week towards the middle of the summer, I found myself in a very difficult camp where there were many stressful issues to deal with including challenging campers and staff. One morning towards the end of the week I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and asked the directors if I could have a bit of a break for about an hour. I walked beside the creek that is on the campground until I arrived at a lovely waterfall that I had heard was up the hill. There I sat down on a rock to rest a bit and collect my thoughts. I cried a little and thought a lot. I contemplated what had happened, how I was feeling, and how I would deal with the rest of the week ahead of me. As I sat there contemplatively problem-solving by listening and relaxing, I had a sudden rush of insight or revelation. Insight that, although simple, felt profound. The insight was that I did not want to simply give up on what I was doing. This was profound because I compared it to how I had felt in the preceding years when I came up against difficulties and challenges in my life. In most stark contrast was my experience in my computer classes: when I was computer programming and hit a problem that seemed un-solvable, I would feel like I wanted to give up. But this camp experience was different. Although the problems seemed just as unsolvable as a difficult computer program, I did not want to give up.

This realization had a profound effect on me because it made me look at my life choices in an entirely different light. Why should I keep doing something that I don’t want to stick with in tough times, when I’d found something else that I wanted to stick with even when it seemed to be an impossible challenge? That summer I began to seriously contemplate and discern what a career in ministry might look like for me. That fall I decided I had a lot to learn about ministry, so I decided to attend theology school. And then the following spring I was accepted at Vancouver School of Theology. Theology school has been challenging too, but there has always been an underlying commitment to the work I’m doing, which has kept and continues to keep me from giving up entirely.

If I dig even deeper into why it is that I refuse to give up, I would probably have to say that it has to do with a desire to serve God and neighbour with my whole being. And if I were to dig deeper into where that desire to serve God and neighbour comes from, I arrive at a simple but complex and profound answer: love. When I think more about my summer in Lewis River I realise that at that point in my life I was still holding very close to my heart an experience of the love of God that had transformed me. I had gone through a very dark spiritual place where I doubted God, doubted love, and doubted myself.

One night at a retreat, I walked a twisting labyrinth path that had various stations, and a cd to accompany the journey. At each station within the labyrinth the walkers were to listen to a different track on the cd that each was listening to on a personal cd player with headphones. The station I remember most clearly and vividly was one that had cushions sitting in front of a mirror, so that one could sit down on the cushions and then look at oneself in the mirror. As I sat down, the cd played soft music, and then a voice track began: “Look at yourself in the mirror” it said. “Look at the beautiful child of God that you are. You were made in God’s image and you are loved by God.” With those simple words came a rush of tears – a sign that I have learned for me often means I am experiencing a deep truth. And I realised that in my pain and searching I had lost track of that simple yet profound truth: that I am made in God’s image and loved unconditionally by God. It is this profound truth that my desire to love God and neighbour flows from.

I want to let God’s complete love for me and the whole world take over my whole self: body, mind and spirit. I want that overwhelming compassion and unconditional love of God for all life to take over and determine each and every step I take. I want to travel along paths that challenge me, that force me to be the very best version of myself, and to use all of my skills and gifts. My life has been transformed by God, mainly by God’s love, and I want everything I do to reflect that transformation.

(excerpted from my sermon this morning)

what it means to be alive

“This is life, this is what living is all about.”

I found myself saying this phrase or something close to it on multiple occasions this week. This past week has held some crazy times for me. First of all, I’m not living at my place right now, for about the past 10 days I’ve been staying at the house of some friends’ while new flooring is put into the place where I live. I feel like a bit of a refugee. Second of all, in the midst of this disruption to life, on Monday night my grandmother (my Mom’s Mom) had a bad fall and hurt herself very badly. Her skull and several vertebrae fractured. For several days we were not sure if she would make it. About seven and a half years ago my grandfather on the same side fell too, had a terrible head injury, and never recovered. You can imagine how spooky it was for the family to have this similar event with grandma. She is recovering now, but it will be a long recovery, and there is no way to know for sure what a “full recovery” will look like for her.

It has been a huge thing for me to be able to go see her in the hospital in Chilliwack (1.5 hour drive away), to hold her hand, to listen to her snore, to stroke her back as she sleeps. She is a beautiful and incredibly strong person, so it is also difficult to see her in such a weak state.

My Mom is the eldest of seven siblings, and we are a very close family, but it has been a struggle to get through this very intense and stressful time together, another thing added on top of the multiplicity of stresses and strains that seven people plus their spouses and children are already under in regular day-to-day life.

And in the midst of all of this I have realized that this sort of thing is exactly what life is about. Life isn’t about picture-perfect family gatherings and smooth sailing all the way. Life is messy, life is painful, life is maddening, life weighs heavily, life is tenuous. And then life is also beautiful: the sound of my grandmother’s snoring, the touch of her soft hand, the big bear hug from an uncle, the beautiful honesty and truthfulness that comes in a plea for help. This is what it means to be alive, beautifully, joyously, painfully alive.