The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

April 10, 2010

New Blog

I am now posting at:

April 5, 2010

Easter Monday

Today is the day I can choose to live in the flashing dawn of light that has arisen out of death.

Today is the day I can follow the power of love. Today is the day I can begin to trust the triumphant cry of life, “Do not be afraid.”
Today is the day I walk in the new creation that has unwound itself from the wrappings of death. Today is the day I can trust the life-giving rhythm of the universe. Everything holds. The gravity of the earth is love. The fragments have been healed. Today is the day I can live in the fullness of each moment.

Today is the day I no longer need to wrestle against the forces I so often resist. Today is the day I can surrender to the heartbeat of the universe. Today is the day I no longer need to look to myself for strength; I no longer need to avoid facing the realities of my life. Today my habitual stance of bracing against my circumstances unwinds into the willing embrace of life as it arises.

Today I can live without guilt or remorse.

Today is the day I can rest in the victory of truth, purity, and invincible innocence. There is nothing left to prove, no badge of honour left to earn. Today I can live in the deep reality of my heritage as a child of the transforming God.

Today is the day I can share in the force of love that permeates the universe. Today there are no longer any prisoners. The doors and barriers have crumbled. Today is the day I can live in the freedom and spaciousness of my nature. Today is the day I discover my true identity. I am not the bad things I have done, or that have been done to me. I am the light that breaks forth from the divine with the dawn of each new day.

Today is the day of that strength and peace no power on earth can undo. Today is the day that decides the direction of every day that follows. Today is the day I choose to walk in life.

April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday

Today is the day when words sound utterly trite.

Today is the day when the explosion of mystery unravels every category of thought. It is impossible to begin even to think about this day. Today is the day that pries open our hearts to something deeper than the mind can conceive. Today is the day that asks of us only the glad surrender of faith.
Today is the day when the axis of the earth shifts back to its original design. Today is the day that sets human history spinning in the direction of life. Today is the day when the cracks that have fractured the human condition, soften toward healing.

Today is the day, against all expectation, when innumerable particles of light pierce the horizon in the distance. Today is the day when, without even the support of our hopes, the light grows brighter, pushing back the darkness that has wrapped the earth.

Today is the day when a woman carries precious impossible news. Today is the day when dead hearts are revived through no conceivable power of their own. Today is the day we see that the heartbeat of the universe is the power of love.

Today is the day when life breaks through stone tombs and wooden doors. Barriers are no longer necessary. Fear fades as the light of this new day begins to dawn. Today is the day we meet without any need for self-constructed safety.

Today is the day that dawns in every newborn infant's cry. Today is the day that surprises the air with the sweet fragrance of spring. Creation breathes again. Life stirs into action.

Today is the day if we stay awake we see that the deep purity at the heart of life is not extinguished. Violent voices do not have the final word. The failure we feared has turned to victory. Shame has shed its filthy mantle. We are newborn from this day. Everything begins afresh.

Today is the day surprising shoots of light escape through the cracks in our hearts. Today is the day we awaken in the dawn that restores the fullness of life to all of creation.

April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

Today is the day of despair. Rumours of light fade into doubt.

Today is the day that the earth stands still. The cosmos holds its breath, not even waiting because there is nothing left for which to wait.
Today is the day when all our uncertainties and confusions come grinding to the surface. Everything is irredeemably broken.

Today is the day of hopelessness. We cannot move backward; the past only reminds us of our shame, punishing us with the guilt we cannot escape.

Today is the day the present has become unbearable. Each breath twists painfully in our chest. It is impossible to imagine putting one foot after another on this broken earth.

We cannot move forward; there is no forward to move toward. It is no longer possible to picture a future better than this barren present.

Today is the day we have no comfort to offer. We share only loss. Space opens around us. But this is not the space of freedom and hope; it is a dark vortex, sucking life into its emptiness.

Today we are paralysed. Our goals are gone; our dreams crumble like cracked earth at our blistered feet.

Today is the day we do not know what to do with ourselves. We do not know which way to turn. All we can see are our failures. All we know are the defeats with which we are too familiar. Today there is no faith, no trust, no confidence that there could be any help.

We cannot believe the sun came up this morning. It is impossible to imagine how our hearts keep beating. Death has had the final word.

Today everything is lost. We do not know how to begin to find our way out of this desperate place.

Today there are no road maps, no instruction manuals.

Today is the day we grope to find our way in the chaos, no longer believing there is any way to be found.

April 2, 2010

"Good" Friday

Today is the day of death.

Today is the day of denial, the day of violence, injustice, and shame. Today is the day of darkness and defeat.

Today is the day when everything goes wrong; nothing turns out the way we had hoped. Today is the day when all our expectations, aspirations, and dreams are shattered.
Today is the day when the carefully constructed scaffolding of our lives comes crumbling down. We are left alone, stripped, naked, nothing but our tears for consolation.

Today is the day when everything comes to a dead-end, no escape, no way out. Today is the day of despair. Today is the day we never want to face. Today is the day we spend our lives scheming to avoid.

There is nothing “good” about this Friday. It is the day when all the accumulated bad that has ever afflicted the human condition is heaped upon the shoulders of one man. All the worst of which humans are capable is poured out upon one sad and lonely individual.

And he carries it. He carries it all. He carries all that is broken, all that is tragic, all that is twisted; he carries it to the end of the day. He carries it into the dark abyss of forsakenness where it crushes him. It takes his life and destroys him. The defeat is total. This is the end of the story.

Yet even here, some hidden force unfolds. Life stirs. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

Some mysterious power has been unleashed. An enclave of life has been breached in the forces of death. Defeat has begun to turn. Like a chink in the armour of despair, the lifeless body of this one man has created a crack in the hard shell of death. The “good” could not be contained. The deeper nature of the universe has begun to arise.

But today is the day hope remains a mere rumour; there are rivers of sorrow still to endure.

April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday

Today is the day of betrayal.

Today is the day the bonds of love and loyalty let loose. Today is the day that twists away from truth.

Today is the day that our choices lead inexorably to tragic consequences. Today is the day that the axis of the earth shifts towards violence and anger. Today is the day we betray all that we know to be most beautiful, most holy and most pure.

He shared a meal with his friends, served with love and compassion. But it wasn’t enough. They wanted more, so much more.

He asked them to sit and watch with him through the dark and lonely hours of night.

Today is the day his friends fell asleep.

We all sleep, lapse into unconsciousness, betray the truth and love we know. We cannot watch just one hour. We want what we want and are restless in the waiting.

Today is the day they are scattered. They cannot bear what they see. Today is the day they flee in fear. They erect a wall to protect themselves, to hide from the horror beginning to dawn.

The more we seek to escape the pain, the more pain we create.

Today is the day we refuse to face our own deep loneliness. Today is the day we fail to acknowledge the scars of our lives that wound those we touch.

Today is the day we fail to follow Jesus to the place of surrender. Today is the day we will not bend to love but will be cracked by hatred. Today is the day darkness creeps across the earth and fear stirs like an enemy of the light.

We kneel to pray this day, hoping that this time, we will choose a different path. But too often the choice we make only deepens the cracks in the cosmos. We etch the crooked lines of our suffering into the hard cracked earth upon which our tears will fall.

Today the crack in the world begins to widen.

March 30, 2010

Palm Sunday

The chaos, the joy, and the tragedy of Palm Sunday. See link here

March 25, 2010

Who Am I?

This post continues a conversation that began on Facebook. The conversation became too complex for the limitations of that medium when Jaqueline posted the following comment:

I notice talk of the ego a lot in these sort of writings, and for many, reliance on the ego is something that needs to be challenged, but for very many others, especially those brought up in long term trauma or experiencing long term trauma, war torn or otherwise, a very important concern is the lack of ego stability and development. Managed solitude is vital in these cases in order to strengthen a sense of self and boundary because full- on undefined interaction with others can overwhelm and dissipate what fragile sense of self trauma survivors have. Yet for the same reason, the last thing they need is isolation, mainly because their experience has left them terrified of being alone with an inability to anchor/ locate a sense of themselves. Their need is to build up the ego structure in order to be whole, in order to love, to connect with themselves and the world and develop trusting relationships . I sometimes think it is important to be aware that breaking/weakening/crumbling of the ego can also be a result of damage. Mindfulness/ meditation/contemplation in this case does the opposite of crumbling, it helps put our egos back together- it provides an anchor, a second skin in which a sense of who a person is might be restored.

My Response

The use of the term “ego” in spiritual tradition, particularly Christian spiritual tradition, is complex. It is commonly said that you have to have an ego, before you can let go of your ego. This seems to suggest that the human task is to develop a secure, stable sense of self in order that one may then choose to surrender that sense of self.
However, Jesus said to his followers, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) The evidence of the fearful failure of Jesus’ first followers makes it unlikely that Jesus felt he was giving this instruction to people who were possessed of a strong robust sense ego. Jesus’ first followers were just as insecure, vulnerable, fearful, and wounded as any of us. And yet, Jesus did not qualify his instruction to these broken disciples. He did not say, first go and develop a strong sense of self so you can then choose to deny yourself and follow me. Was this an oversight on Jesus’ part? Was he being insensitive? Or, did Jesus perhaps know something that we tend to forget?

According to the Genesis account of creation, all human beings are created “in the image of God.” This means that something of the nature of God is inherently part of our created being. We are all born with an indomitable reality at the core of our being. We come into this world with a self that shares in the nature of God. This self is radiant, strong, secure, and indestructible.

Tragically and mysteriously, from almost the moment we are born, we begin to doubt the existence of this durable self with which we were all created. We begin to experience ourselves as vulnerable, weak, and insecure. In response, we start to seek ways to protect ourselves and to create an identity we hope will not be at risk. We start to believe that the human task is to manufacture and preserve our own fragile identities. We embark upon an ego-building project, determined to create something within ourselves that will feel secure and strong. We look around for others who will support us in this project and try to avoid people or situations that might threaten our tentatively constructed little ego building.

It is as if we were born with a million dollars in our bank account but we do not know the wealth we possess. Because we are unaware of the incredible resource created within our being, we spend our lives rushing around gathering bottles and cans out of our neighbours’ recycle boxes and cashing them in for the few cents we believe are essential to our survival.

It is true that I cannot give away something I do not know I have. But the important thing is to realize that it is a matter of “knowing” not a matter of reality. I do not have to create my identity or build my ego. I am a child of God, created in the likeness of the God who brought the universe into existence. Nothing can undo this transcendent truth of my being. Nothing that has ever happened to me, no matter how tragic or painful, can ever undo the reality of who I am as a person created in God’s image. Nothing I have ever done can destroy the truth that I am a radiant spark of light that has come from God and is destined to return to God. I do not need to protect this reality or keep this reality safe or secure; I need only to recognize it and live from this truth of my nature.

This is the reality in which Jesus lived and died. On the cross Jesus surrendered everything we normally look to in an attempt to give ourselves a sense of security and safety. Jesus lost his dignity, his power, even his sense of God – “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Yet it was through his acceptance of the experience of complete abandonment that resurrection occurred.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). This is not primarily about money. A rich person is anyone unfortunate enough to have become convinced that his or her ego-building project has succeeded. A rich person is one who, by sheer “luck of the draw,” has been gifted with enough talent, or beauty, strength, financial resources, or skills to never feel the need to look more deeply within to find the true source of their real identity as children of God. But, not matter how “rich” we may be, whether we admit it our not, we know that our sense of need is never fully satisfied by our riches. So we create stories to try to hide the need we feel.

We create “success” stories to try to convince ourselves we are “good” because of our great achievements. But our achievements do not make us good. God alone has created goodness within every human being. We build big kingdoms and stand back to admire them, pleased with how well we have done. But then our kingdom begins to shake and suddenly we have to scramble to build a bigger, better, more impressive kingdom to keep the story of our goodness alive.

Our failure stories tell us we are bad, that life is threatening and that we must fight to defend our rights. When we listen to this voice, we create a hungry monster who is never satisfied with any scraps of achievement, or with any warm feelings, or affirmation. It does not matter how many people embrace us and tell us how truly fine we are, the story is never enough; we keep yearning for more. A dark corner of doubt always remains lurking at the edge of our consciousness. As soon as someone comes along who tells us that we are not so fine after all, the story of our failure reemerges with a vengeance.

We have been taught all our lives to listen to the “success” stories and to pay attention to the “failure” stories. But neither story has the power to give us a true, deep, and lasting sense of self. The self that arises in response to these stories always depends upon more stories, more “success,” more affirmation, more strokes, more gold medals, more empathy, more attention, more understanding. And these stories can always be undermined by the arrival of some, even minor, failure or set b back.

The only hope of developing a durable sense of self is born when all our external identity supports let us down. We only begin on the journey towards a true sense of self when we let go of the stories we have looked to in a futile attempt to shore up our identity. We are not the good things we have done; we are not the bad things we have done, nor even the bad things that have been done to us.

When we go into solitude, pray and worship, we allow these stories of “success” and “failure” to fall silent. We no longer look at ourselves in terms of “success” or “failure. We discover a “place” deep within us where we know that God made nothing “bad,” where we know that our security lies in something larger than any ego building we might ever construct. We begin to be able to live beyond “good” and “bad.” We uncover within ourselves a true source of abundance. We no longer live from the abyss of lack or the pit of need.

When we go into our room and “shut the door and pray to our Father who is in secret,” the “Father who sees in secret” will reward us with the strength of our true identity. (Matthew 6:6) We find an inner depth that speaks of God’s presence in our lives; this is all we need. Jesus said, “strive first for the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) We find our true self, not by seeking a sense of self, but by seeking God. We need to seek out those practices that help us to open to the deep reality of God speaking in our hearts and allow the chattering voices that torment the surface of our lives to fall silent.

It is only when we come to the end of all our little ego projects that we reconnect with our true nature. It is only when we give up trying to create ourselves that we discover that we have indeed already been created. It is only when we stop trying to be secure and feel safe that we find out that we are in fact secure; we are in fact safe and strong. There is nothing that can “separate us from the love of Christ” not “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” (Romans 8:35)

The human journey is to come to that place in life where I discover that in fact I am intact. My ego has ceased being my master holding me hostage to the roller coaster of other peoples’ response to me. My ego now serves the truer deeper self that is my true identity as a being created in the image of God. I discover that I am free of all those external masters that have dominated my life. I am free to live from that true inner strength that is my birthright as a child of God.

My true self is strong and deep because it is a gift given by God. This discovery only comes through grace and grace only becomes active in my life when I stop working for it. My true strength emerges when I stop trying to be strong. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3) My true beauty arises when I stop trying to be beautiful. Peter says, “let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” (I Peter 3:4) I discover my true security when I no longer struggle to be secure. The prophet Nahum declares, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him, even in a rushing flood” (Nahum 1:7)

Life may seem like an endless series of “rushing floods.” There may be pain, doubt, fear, and uncertainty. But these things do not have the power to define us unless we let them. We are bigger, richer, deeper, more real than all the sad or broken things that have ever entered our lives. There is a security and strength within us that does not depend upon success any more than it is threatened by failure. No person can bring us to this place of true security and strength. We get there only by letting go of all false securities and trusting in God alone to give us a true deep and abiding sense of who we are. When we get there we discover that no one and nothing can shake the indomitable reality of who we know ourselves to be.

March 20, 2010

"When is it the right thing to do to stop going to church?" (A response to David T. Brown)

Dear David T. Brown,

Thank you for your comment on my post “Church – A Response to Jaqueline.” Your words touched a deep chord in my heart, hence this rather lengthy response.

I am the last person in the world who should lecture anyone on “When is it the right thing to do to stop going to church.”

I often say that I became a priest because God knew that the only way I would ever keep going to church is if I was ordained. My favourite verse in the Gospels is Luke 5:16, where Luke tells us that Jesus, “would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”

However, it would be less than honest for me not to acknowledge the context in which Luke 5:16 occurs. Jesus has just healed a leper. After the leper is healed Jesus instructs him to “Go and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” I believe this instruction was given in order that the leper might be fully incorporated back into that community that had once shunned him due to his disease. It must have cost this healed leper dearly to return to the very people who had excluded him and seek reentry into their flawed community. But Jesus valued the communal expression of faith even when it involved pain.

So, I cannot walk easily away from the embodiment of faith as it is presented to me in an imperfect vessel.

I believe that some form of Christian community is a necessary part of Christian spiritual practice. We grow by finding our way in difficult, uncomfortable, awkward situations. The writer of Colossians did not say “Bear with one another,” (Cols. 3:13) because he thought community was going to be easy, but because he understood exactly how challenging it is.

We must ask ourselves what it is we are looking for when we go to church. Are we looking for a comfortable, warm feeling? Or are we consciously choosing to enter into spiritual boot-camp where we know there will be friction, frustration, pain, and disillusionment but where we also know we will grow in our ability to embody the humble self-giving sacrificial love of Christ?

You say that “the church that I love should not be a chore.” But surely it is through doing our “chores” that we experience growth and depth in our lives. Surely, the world only functions when we human inhabitants of this world choose to do our “chores,” in faithfulness to God’s call.

What is it that makes it so difficult to be around people who “don’t want to move into the reality of the today as I see it”? Do we need people to see the world as we see the world in order to remain in community with them? If those who profess a common faith in Christ cannot remain together in spite of differences, what hope is there that we might fulfill the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called by Christ?

Again, please do not hear me saying, we must stay in a church community at all costs. Clearly, there are times when a church community has become so abusive and dysfunctional that the only healthy response is to depart. But, I believe this is less often the case than justifies the number of church departures we have experienced in the past few decades.

What might churches look like if they became places where we truly practiced, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? (Gals. 5:25)

Staying in any human community is always difficult. There are many things I find painful about church. But, I wonder if I better serve Christ by leaving or by staying and bearing witness to the reconciling healing power of God that enables me to walk alongside people I often find difficult?

Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Perhaps the church is my cross. Perhaps the community of Christ is exactly the place God has given me to learn what it means to “deny” myself and to practice dying. Perhaps it is only along this painful road, that we will together experience the true resurrection of Christ in our lives.

Brian McLaren, in his book A New Kind of Christianitybeautifully articulates the purpose of church when he writes,
The church, then, in Paul's mind, must be above all a school of love. If it's not that, it's nothing. Its goal is not simply to pump knowledge into people, but to train them in the "way of love," so they may do the "work of the Lord," empowered by the Holy Spirit, as the embodiment of Christ.

Learning in the school of love is always going to be painful. The school of love will always require tools that are never going to be popular. The practice of church requires patience, forbearance, enormous charity, faithfulness, gentleness, generosity, humility and then more patience. I am not sure where else we are going to learn these skills, if we refuse to stay in the messy, perplexing community, we call "church."

In the end no one can tell anyone else when "is it the right thing to stop going to church." As with any Christian discipline, each of us must listen deeply and personally to God's voice. Any practice can become a form of bondage if it is carried out from a sense of duty and obligation. But, equally, any discipline followed in response to God's call will be a source of new life and freedom.

March 18, 2010

Church - A Response to Jaqueline #2

Dear Jaqueline,

Here is the second part of my response to your response to my post “Maybe Churches Do Work.”

You wrote:

what if we are being asked to stay with no reward other than the continuation of an institution? Are we expected to stay with an institution that has forgotten who WE are?

And it is circular; what if because of sticking with an institution we people have forgotten who we are? What if we couldn't be bothered struggling with each other because we have lost vision of WHO the Body is?

This raises the difficult question of what we are talking about when we use the word “church.” I know I get truly confused and confusing in my own use of this word.

When we use the word “church” do we mean “an institution” or do we mean “the Body”? Are they different? Can we separate “institution” and “body”?

Can there be any “Body” without “an institution”? I worry when I want to dismiss the “institution” that I am being self-serving and dishonest. The problem is that the only way I know the “Body” manifest in the world is as some form of “institution”.

You cannot know me without my body. There is no Christopher without the body that conveys the presence of “Christopher”. My body may let me down; it may cause me pain; but without my body I cease to be in meaningful communion with the physical world. Church as “institution” and church as “body,” cannot be tidily separated labeling “institution” the parts I find distasteful and “body” the parts I find to my liking.

Institutions may indeed forget “who WE are,” but does that matter? Surely, if we know who we are, it doesn’t really matter what the institution knows. We must not give institutions more power in our lives than they actually have.

Obviously there are certain parameters to this. We need to be sensible. There may be times when an institution has become so dehumanized, abusive and dangerous that any sensible human being would know that they must remove themselves from that institution. But my sense is that this is far less often the case with churches than people might like to believe. I am pretty sure lots of people leave churches before those churches have become truly dangerous to the spiritual well-being of their members.

I think people leave churches too often and too easily because they don’t like pain. And when we run from pain, we condemn ourselves to spiritual infancy; we never mature. We make it impossible for the church to become the instrument of reconciliation it is called to be (II Corinthians 5:18)

A ministry of reconciliation always involves pain. Without pain there is no need for reconciliation and no ability to be a reconciler. This is why pain is an essential part of the journey.

I think you say this beautifully when you say,

Perhaps a commitment to relationship-the pain and fruit of it- is a recognition of the fact that each of us is part of Christ? That sticking with each other is an opportunity to show our love for Christ? What if we ourselves become the personification of the Joy set before Christ?