what do you wish for?

As I rose up on the escalator out of the basement of Sears department store downtown tonight my eyes zeroed in on a big sign atop a pillar dripping with Christmas decorations. “What do you wish for?” it asked.

Hmmm…

I wish for world peace.

I wish for all cancer to go away and stop hurting people.

I wish for common kindness to be commonplace.

Think I could pick those things up at Sears on my way through this evening? Probably Sears wishes that I’d wish for something like a new pair of slippers, some perfume, or a toaster oven.

We are getting the first tastes right now of a season that will play wildly with a powerful human feeling – desire. Desire is an interesting thing, it can just as easily stir us into action as freeze us in place. Desire can spur us to great things, if we follow our desire.

Now you might be thinking “yes, but desire can lead us into bad behavior too”, and this idea of desire may be the one you’re most familiar with, but desire doesn’t have to take us that way. In the Christian tradition we could say that “sin” is in fact misplaced desire. A desire for deep relationship could lead a person through a series of perceived intimate relationships that are not in fact quality deep relations. A desire for belonging can prevent a person from being their true self when they fear their community may reject that true self.

Also, when what we desire seems too big and too difficult to strive for, we can sometimes be paralyzed into non-action. “Why do I not do the thing I want to do?” says the Apostle Paul in a letter to his followers. It’s a question we all face in our lives. We most often know what it is we could do to follow our desires for the flourishing of people and planet, what we could do to make a difference, so why don’t we do those things?

Does desire maybe strike again here? Our desire for safety or comfort or any one of a number of conflicting desires. These are noble desires, but when they get in the way of what we could be doing, they become less noble.

And so as the season of material desire comes upon us, let’s also remember our less tangible desires, the ones that, if we followed them, might lead us into unknown territory, but the ones which, in the end, are the only ones that truly give us a feeling of desire being fulfilled when we pursue them with our whole heart.

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2008, epic year

So as I was browsing friends’ facebook statuses the other day I noticed a few who were musing about how 2008 has treated them. This got me thinking about my own life and how 2008 has treated me. My main conclusion: 2008 has been an epic year for me.

The hugeness of 2008 started when I decided to take a leave of absence from school, and then began filling that time with other things: becoming pastor, starting a new job, leaving a job I’d had for nearly 5 years, and taking on several other new challenges. I also ended up moving into my own apartment, and except for a taking a sort of summer hiatus from dating, all year I was questing for a meaningful romantic relationship.

September 2008 was the first time in 24 years that I didn’t go back to school. It was a little weird but good. It is good because I have realized that I do want to go back to school and keep working on my goal of being a theology professor. I’ve been saying that I want to do that in the fastest, easiest way possible, and am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may just have to take my time with it, I think I can be patient.

This fall was also epic in other ways. In September my parents were in a terrible car accident where they rolled their car off the freeway, very scary, I am still feeling so grateful that they are still here. In October I lost my maternal grandmother, Jean, who was an amazing woman and I miss her dearly.

And to end the year off nicely, after several failed attempts at trying to find a romantic relationship, I finally have found someone I can be completely myself around, who seems to understand me so well, who I am shockingly perfectly compatible with, and who I can trust – not to mention the bonus that for the first time in awhile I actually know that he likes me back, how awesome is that?!

So as 2009 brings in more new adventures – I’ll be teaching a grad school course for the first time for the first three full weeks of January – I find myself trying to catch my breath from a whirlwind year of change and risk. I look forward to more opportunities to learn to trust the chaos of life and the possibility for salvation in every moment.

darkness

This evening I am really noticing how dark it is. It is only 5:30 in the evening and it is already pitch black outside. It is hard to think that we will get darker earlier and earlier for another month yet, that is a lot of darkness. At this time of year I seek out warm, bright places and people to keep my spirit alight through the crisp winter night. I seek warm embraces and lighthearted or enlightening conversations as well as cups and bowls of liquid warmth, sweet or savoury.

“Even the darkness is luminous” I preached earlier this fall. I can’t even recall what precipitated or preceded this declaration, I am not usually inclined to make such promises from the pulpit, but it seemed right at that time, and, to be honest, it is something I truly believe, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to say it.

I have found that even (or possibly especially) when there are dark times those times can harbour incredible possibility and depth. So I will pledge again to savour the winter, allowing the dark and the cold to teach and enlighten.

time

I read the poem/prayer below at my Gradma’s memorial service yesterday (yes, the picture is of her). It wasn’t an easy task, but I managed to get through it ok. It was only the last sentence about savouring each moment that got me choked up – it still chokes me up as I write this now.

The reading is by Community of Christ author/poet/mystic Danny Belrose from his 2004 book Let the Spirit Breathe. I took some poetic license and changed all of the “I”s at the end to “we” for the group that was gathered. I’ll print it here as it was written, try reading it to yourself with “we” instead of “I” to see how it goes.

Time

I’m thinking about time, God.
Past and future – dying and birthing within a constant now.
Time, a precious gift constantly slipping away – enfolding our fleeting edges
of mortality, pressing us to make the most of that which is.
Sweep-second hands whisper,
“Tomorrow holds no promise, drink deeply now;
the grains of sand slip quickly!”

Time – a gift you never need, God.
Unfettered by its ticking walls
– you have not been nor will be but ARE.

What is time? A measurement of events?
A sequence of happenings?
A continuum of space, light, gravity?
Is it linear? Can it be bent, folded, revisited?
How difficult to devine, how demanding, how unforgiving!
A split second and lives are irrevocably changed.
A heartbeat and seeming unimportant acts
converge, steering fate – shaping lives,
living rooms, and nations.

How much time do we have to discover
who we are, where we are,
and where we should be?
For time is too priceless to spill and squander,
too fleeting, too precious,
too pregnant to leave childless!

Dear God, may I make all seasons springtime.
May I birth its pains and passions slowly,
squeezing out its childhood, taking time to dance and sing,
to give and take, to share one’s love, one’s life.
Time to heal and harvest, time to remember and rejoice.
Time to forgive, to forget, to move on,
to promise once again
-to dream and live the dream.

May I fill each year, each day,
each minute with abundant living.
May I walk in the present – not in the past.
May I plan for tomorrow and live for today!
May I stretch each waking moment
-wring each sweeping second dry
drop by precious drop and drink deeply
while it is yet day.

connections

Recently I made a perhaps rather indulgent purchase that I find myself justifying to others and myself. I bought an iPhone. Now, considering that part of my job is teaching people how to use the iPhone it makes sense that I would have one, however I do find that I have inadvertently put myself into some people’s categories of what constitutes excessive personal technology and unnecessary expense. Besides the fact that my old phone and old palm pilot were both ready to die, I was in need of something that would give me access to my pastoring communication tools on-the-go. (And ideally, now that I have the wordpress application installed, I will even be blogging more.)

But does technology like this promote excessive individualism and discourage the creation of community and connection? I don’t really know for sure but so far I have found that I connect more with people, through email, messaging, phone calls and social networking.

Last night I was on the skytrain heading home late and encountered two different groups of teens who were clustered around little speaker docks with iPods, listening to music or watching videos together. The one group was even encouraging strangers on the train to put their iPods on the dock to listen to their preferred music and they took note of feedback from people who didn’t like the selection that was playing and changed the song.. Perhaps these were instances of community that, though fleeting, was created on the journey.

And really, how else is community created except for in fleeting ways? Community that is overly rigid, overly exclusive and set in it’s ways, runs the risk of being restrictive or unhelpful rather than life-giving and sustaining. On the other hand, I also find great value in community that is rooted in tradition because of the wisdom of many years that seems to breathe within that communal life.

Perhaps part of what makes us human is having a mix of both in our lives, rooting ourselves in traditions of community that are imbued with the wisdom of many generations and then also a playful creation of life-affirming communities that we pass through more or less quickly in our life journeys. Communities of festive enjoyment, like on the train last night; communities of shared meaningful work in our workplaces; communities of worship rooted in ancient liturgical patterns; communities of resistance and solidarity in the face of injustice. Communities of joy, hope, love and peace.

learning from a snail

a snail

Tonight I was tired and decided to treat myself to some takeout Indian food from the place down the street that I really like. I had a rather busy day and needed to just eat without having to think about it or work at it too much.

As I was walking I tried to take some time to breathe deeply and enjoy the buzz of the neighbourhood; it’s funny how neighbourhoods are the most lively in the mid-evening, with people sitting on their balconies or stoops, listening to music or chatting with friends. It was a warmish evening and the sun was beginning to throw its day-ending golden light across the sky. The local crows seemed to be having some sort of noisy meeting atop one of the tall apartment towers, and the air smelled moist, it smelled like the possibility of rain.

And in taking this all in I somehow managed to spot, sitting on an ivy leaf, next to a morning-glory flower, a little snail. It was almost as if the whole world was reminding me to slow down and appareciate the world a bit more, enjoy the ordinary relaxed wonderfulness of the world around me. It was lovely and reminded me of a poem I encountered last fall and wrote about called “earth teach me”. You’ll find it here.

an afternoon in the sun

the beachThis evening my skin is tight and hot and dry from the sun and the salt water I immersed myself in this afternoon, and it feels so good. I spent my afternoon at the beach with some friends and my adventures included retrieving a log for myself and my four-year-old friends to float on, eating watermelon and junk food, having seaweed fights, and sitting silently in the sun. It was a perfect afternoon and like my one friend always says, the tight hot skin burnt by wind and sun actually feels good, it makes you feel alive.

Being really alive, truly lively, very present, has been something I’ve been working on for awhile now. As our world rushes by at a more and more frenetic pace, as the news reports about sun exposure and all the other things we are supposed to worry about use more and more scare tactics, as the apparently serious business of being an adult gets more intense, it is more and more important to let go of those pressures and instead be present to the fullness of life available in each and every moment we live.

Too often I worry that I am not doing enough or being enough in the world, when, as a friend reminded us in her sermon this morning, all I am really obliged to do is to be me, to be Shannon, in the beautiful and unique form that God has called into being for this place and time. What else can I do really? To be fully alive and fully Shannon is not always easy, but it is rewarding in ways beyond imagining.

And today, to be Shannon, was to frolic in the ocean, laze on the beach, and be joyously and abundantly alive.