All posts by johncarr

Remembering our heritage (Lydia Calder)

The first Monday in August is Heritage Day in Alberta, a day to reflect on our family history as well as celebrate the cultural mosaic of Canada.  Although I didn’t go this year, I always enjoy attending Heritage Days at Hawrelak Park.  The colourful costumes, the lively dancing, the delicious food!

It is interesting to hear the different languages and see how the terrain and the weather of a region affects the people – the way they dress, the food they eat and how it is prepared, the crafts they produce from the gifts of the land.

My father was from the Netherlands so I must go to the Netherlands Pavilion, to listen to the music, admire the wooden shoes and Delft pottery, and most importantly, eat poffertjes! (Tiny, thin pancakes served piping hot with butter and icing sugar.)

When my dad came to Canada in 1950 he left The Netherlands behind – completely.  It was a battle-scarred land filled with painful memories. He married a Canadian woman, so the Dutch language was not spoken in our home. Dutch food was never served and although he told us stories of Dutch traditions, they were never observed. “Waltzing Matilda” and “My Bonnie Lassie” were his songs of choice when he was whistling in the garden.

As for me, once I had children, I chose to embrace my Dutch heritage.  Our branch of the family celebrates St. Nicholas Day, with a special dinner, homemade Dutch cookies, secret gifts, and a sudden knock at the door which announces that St Nicholas has come and gone…

When I told my dad I was starting such traditions is his only comment was, “Why would you want to do that?”

Why?  Because there is value in connecting with past, of being part of a larger picture, of recognizing the culture that has shaped me.

We also have a heritage as Christians, a legacy that transcends familial connections.  In Hebrews 11 we read of those who exhibited great faith: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David. The New Testament also shares stories of such people: Peter and John, Mary Magdalene, Stephen, Paul. History reminds us of others: Augustine, John Newton, Fanny Crosby, Charles Spurgeon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Each of them links us to previous generations of believers who remind us that we are part of a much larger picture.

These people were at the same time both ordinary and exceptional.  They were ordinary in that most came from average, if not humble beginnings.  None were born in palaces or in families of great wealth or stature.  Amongst them are those who were blatantly sinful and others who felt miserably inadequate.  Some struggled with physical disabilities and others with mental health problems. They were imperfect people – just like us. They had families and jobs, household responsibilities and community commitments – just like us.

What makes them exceptional is that they each saw a need and answered God’s call to serve.

Hebrews 12 speaks of that great cloud of witnesses, most of whom lived and died in supposed anonymity but who nonetheless are recognized by God and made an impact for the kingdom of God.

Heritage Day is a good opportunity to consider the heritage that our earthly families have given us.  But let’s also remember our Christian heritage and the sacrifices that were made by others that we too might believe and follow.

And let’s never forget that the heritage we have when we come into this world is far less important than the one we leave behind.

Submitted by Lydia Calder
On behalf of Mill Woods Presbyterian Church

The Gift of Vaccination (Amanda Currie)

On Friday, April 16, 2021, I became eligible, based on my age, to receive a vaccination to protect against COVID-19. Like many Gen-X Canadians, I had been cheering for several months as I watched the older generations of my friends and congregation members getting immunized. I “loved” every social media post about someone getting vaccinated, and I shared all the latest news about clinics and eligibility in my province. I was overjoyed when my sister (a front-line health worker) got the jab, and relieved when my parents and then finally my husband “Stuck it to COVID,” just a week before my turn came up.

On the day of my eligibility, I sat impatiently through several online church meetings, and then hopped in my car and went straight to the drive-through clinic not far from my home in Regina. It was a bit of a wait. I drove into a lane as directed, and then sat there for about an hour and a half. It felt just like the line-up of cars waiting to get onto a ferry. I rolled down the windows, enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze, and worked on a sermon until my lane began to move. Then followed about an hour of inching along towards the big garage doors of the clinic.

The nurse who vaccinated me was very friendly and professional. She asked me lots of questions, explained the possible side effects, and made sure I knew where I should wait my 15 minutes afterwards in my car and put on my hazard lights if I didn’t feel well and needed help. The jab itself felt just like my annual flu shot, but it meant so much more.

The next day I was exhausted, had a bit of a headache, and my arm was sore. I knew to expect a few minor side effects, but I was surprised by the flood of emotions that I experienced. A deep sense of relief, like I’d been holding my breath for a year and, finally, I could breathe freely. An amazing feeling of gratitude, having received a long-awaited and much-desired gift. And I wouldn’t say that the third emotion was guilt, but it was a real awareness of privilege.

I thought about younger people who were still waiting, people without vehicles who could not go to the drive-though clinic and would wait longer to access a vaccine, and essential workers whose turn still hadn’t come up. I also thought about people around the world—those in countries without the financial resources to buy vaccines, those in places where outbreaks are totally out of control and medical services are severely limited.

I felt like one of those ten people with leprosy who was healed by Jesus—the one who turned back, praising God with a loud voice, the one who lay down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him profusely. I’ve often wondered about that story, about what that thankful person did after Jesus sent him on his way. I can picture him telling the story of his healing again and again with excitement and joy. I can imagine him encountering other sick people and pointing them towards Jesus for help and hope.

But the more important question is what I will do in response to the free gift of my COVID-19 vaccination. Certainly, I will continue to give thanks to God for the amazing gift that I have received. I will continue to encourage others to get vaccinated as soon as their turn comes up—protecting their own health, protecting vulnerable people around them, and protecting our society as a whole from all the devastating effects of the ongoing pandemic.

In deep gratitude for the gift of being vaccinated, my husband and I have each given $250 to the Love My Neighbour project  to help UNICEF provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.

Love My Neighbour is a national movement for global vaccine equity, inspired by Millennium Kids and Canadian faith communities, to raise funds to help increase equitable access and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. Each gift of $25 provides funding to fully vaccinate a person who would not otherwise have access to this life-saving immunization. This includes vaccines, per-person cost for transport, cold chain protection, health worker training, and disposal of needles and waste.

If you also feel thankful and privileged to have access to vaccinations and the hope of a COVID-free community, I invite you also to turn back like the healed man did. Give thanks and praise to God, tell the story, encourage others, and consider gifting a vaccine to someone else who needs it too.

—The Rev. Amanda Currie, Moderator of the 2019 General Assembly

Posting Season (Kenneth MacRae)

During the spring and summer many military families can begin to experience a high degree of anxiety. It is called “posting season”. Now many of us have experienced a move or two in our life time. However, have you ever been forced to go to a place you have no desire to go? With the price of homes skyrocketing across many places in Canada, people are worried when they are being told that they have to go to Ottawa, or Trenton, or Comox, BC, or many other communities. Finding an affordable home can be difficult. If you have children securing daycare can sometimes be hard. Learning a new job can be challenging. Finding new friends might not be easy. Finding a new church might also be difficult. A move is never easy.

If we have ever experienced a difficult move we can relate to the various stories in the Bible when God told people to “Go”. In Genesis 12 the Lord told Abram to go to Canaan. The Bible makes things seem easy but I assume the conversation that Abram had with God was more like this.

  • God, “Time for you to go to Canaan. There I will make you into a great nation”
  • Abram, “Can’t I become a great nation here?”
  • God, “No. Now pack up.”
  • Abram, “Is there a forwarding address? Where in Canaan am I supposed to live?”
  • God, “You will figure this out when you get there. Now get packing.”
  • Abram, “What about a moving company?”
  • God, “They don’t exist yet. Come on. Pack up.”
  • Abram, “What if my wife doesn’t want to leave? She likes it here.”
  • God, “Did I ask for your opinion? Or her opinion? Get moving.”
  • Abram, “What am I supposed to do there? How do I become a great nation?”
  • God, “Oy Vey. So many questions? I should have picked dogs as the superior race! Listen Abram. Trust me. Just leave will you! I’ve looked after you in the past I will look after you now”
  • Abram, “Ok, Ok. Just one more question. Do I have enough donkeys for the move?”
  • God does a face palm!

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. If you have ever had to write a biography or obituary you know that a few short words does not convey the full story. Mr X was a doctor. (It does not elaborate on the many years of studying and tests that Mr X had to endure to become a doctor. Ms X was a mechanic. (Nothing is told of the years of study, and scraped hands and knees trying to fix something). Mr and Mrs Y were proud parent of 3 children. (Nothing was said about the many sleepless nights, or rebelliousness of the children during their teen years).

Let us think about your church. “X” Presbyterian Church got established in 1912 (or whenever). Nothing was mentioned of the people having to go around sharing their faith and building up the church family. Nothing was said of the financial sacrifices many people made to build the church. Nothing was said of the decades of work that followed to keep the church going.

Nothing that we do as individuals or a church is ever “easy”. Yet, as God guided Abram, God continues to guide us. We may not always know where we are going but we have committed to God to keep going. We will have our ups and our downs. The journey is part of the adventure. May God’s blessing be upon all of us.

Written by Maj Kenneth MacRae, Chaplain for Canadian Armed Forces currently posted in Yellowknife, NWT

Caution, but not fear (Janet Taylor)

Many of us have become so used to the restrictions that to live without them seems risqué and foolhardy. Who could have imagined 16 months ago that we’d feel odd going into a store without a face mask on? I think that quite possibly the most challenging thing facing people of faith as we navigate Stage 3 reopening in the province is determining where caution ends and where fear begins. Fortunately, the Bible has some helping words.

I appreciate Proverbs 14:16, which tells us, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.” So there’s definitely a place for caution in how we live our lives. Perhaps some will continue to wear masks for a few weeks more. We might want to see numbers of new cases continue to fall before we bare our smile in public again. Perhaps we choose to wait a month or two before giving a handshake during the Passing of the Peace on Sunday mornings.

Paul tells the early church at Corinth that “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33) He reminds us to allow space for both those who are fully vaccinated and ready to live without restrictions, as well as space for those who remain cautious. This might look like having half our sanctuary marked for social distancing and set aside for those who wish to remain masked, and half available without restrictions. This might look like allowing people to choose not to shake hands or hug and refraining from any judgement of those choices. It might look like congregants continuing to bring their own elements for communion or using prepackaged communion indefinitely. These are not fear-based decisions, but choices made out of an abundance of caution for ourselves and our beloved church families.

To those still struggling with decisions about worship attendance in person and going about in public, I invite you to ponder the words of James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” I pray that each of us finds our way in the “new normal” we’ve been pining for with wisdom and discernment, choosing caution but not fear, recalling that we come to worship the One who is the Prince of Peace and Healer of the nations.

The Rev. Janet Taylor
Braeside Church, St. Alberta, AB

THE MEANING OF THE MORNING (Stephen Haughland)

The other day I met up with a friend whom I often see during my morning walks. It was quite early, but the sun was rising, the day was warm, and there was time enough for a good visit before continuing on.

It was a perfect Morning, and a perfect day to be a Morning Person, just as this article is the perfect opportunity to do a shout-out to all the Morning People living in our midst!

So, are you a morning person? Perhaps you live with one, or know of one! I’m sure God created as many Morning People as he did members of that other illustrious demographic commonly known as South-Paws!  (Yes, I’m a South-Paw, and I admit it freely!)

So, dear Morning Person, tell us what it is about the Morning that beckons you from slumber? What is it about the morning that keeps your head from staying too long on your pillow?

To begin. Morning People are those who usually function best IN the morning. Once awakened they immediately get moving, and they are most creative and productive during that time of day when the sun has risen and the world is starting to stir. Morning People love clear skies and sunlight, and if you happen to be a morning person, you are blessed!

Then, there’s folks, like me, who (once) belonged to that opposite demographic – called “Night People.” We’re the folks whose alertness increases the closer it gets to midnight, and whose preferred hour of awakening is somewhere nearer the “Crack of Noon”. No doubt this is why Night People are often mistaken for “Afternoon People.” But that is a grievous error and not at all true!!! (LOL) But, it really doesn’t matter, of course, because God’s world always has enough space for all kinds of persons, regardless of the hour for which our internal clocks are set!

That being said, today I hope to offer you a very good reason to become a Morning Person, and it’s a reason that has nothing to do with when we awaken, but everything to do with pleasing God.

And that’s because a Morning Person, in God’s eyes, is any person whose kindness and caring brings a new and brighter Morning to the person whose life is filled with darkness, or grief, or gloom. A  Morning Person is anyone who is willing to offer even just a little light to someone in need.

A Morning Person trusts God, and listens when God says: “Fear not that your light is too little! Go and help another to be a little more at peace, to have a little more courage, a little more hope, or find a little more grace.

That’s how you can best share that Light which always Shines! That’s how you best give to others that Dawn which breaks the deepest darkness!”

“Anytime you help another find even just a little joy, that’s the same as bringing them a brighter morning! Anytime you help someone to sing, or to laugh, or to pray, or to find truth, that’s the same as bringing them a brighter dawn! That’s how you become a Morning Person in the best sense!”

God knows and so do we, just how desperately our world needs Morning People. God knows, and so do we, it’s not enough to have a morning only when the sun rises in the sky, or only when another day on the Calendar begins. God knows, and so do we, there will always be someone who needs a New Morning in the middle of the day, or the middle of a dark night. God knows, and so do we, there will always be folks who need a New Morning, a New Dawning, in their heart. In their soul. In their life.

Today, let’s let God help us to be The People of the Morning. He Can. He will.

And we can, too, if we keep remembering the words of His Son.

He said: ”You are the light of the world!  He also said: “Let your light shine!”

Rev. Steve.
Westminster Church, Chauvin

First year of ministry during a pandemic: a reflection (Elias Mendes-Gomes)

Very early in my faith journey I had an inkling that I would serve overseas. In college, though my major was theology, I took several classes on philology, language learning, ethnography, contextualization/indigenization, cultural anthropology, etc. The aim was to acquire tools that would facilitate future adaptation to a new culture.

A popular concept at the time was that of bonding proposed by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster. Their research on imprinting in certain species (which happens when an animal is abandoned immediately after birth prompting them to attach to a surrogate mother, including other animal species or even a human being). The well-known picture of psychologist Konrad Lorenz being followed by goslings is a good example of the phenomenon.

Studies of human infants follow along the same reasoning. When mothers and new-borns are separated at birth, babies can become attached to a surrogate mother, including a doll or a particular nurse.

Critiquing the “compound mentality” of the traditional mission movements (in which the recruits are welcomed into a bubble by the expat community), the Brewsters proposed that – for those working in different cultures – the first few months in a new setting are crucial, as their senses are bombarded by a multitude of new sensations, sights, and sounds; an experience akin to that of a birth. Emotionally and physiologically they are ready to bond to the new environment and language, like a newborn.

Although this was written having mission personnel in mind, I believe the same principle applies to the first year of ministry in any community. It is during this time that we are in a state of unique readiness to develop a sense of belonging to the new environment.

Having been introduced to congregational ministry just a couple of months before the CoVid-19 lockdown, I feel cheated out of the opportunity, which sounds rather selfish. I am aware that the global pandemic has killed more than two-and-a-half million people across the globe, countless people have lost their livelihood, and many more have been touched by strained relationships and mental health challenges, but I still grieve my situation.

You may be surprised to learn that grief can be a reaction to events other than death. But, as a friend recently pointed out, we don’t just grieve when someone dies; we grieve whenever we lose something.

I grieve the loss of the dynamics that should have occurred in a first-year of ministry. It is in this period that bonding happens with both the pastoral charge and the surrounding community, which should bring about a sense of belonging. Sadly, we cannot recreate what ought to have happened.

Though we are all affected by the reality of grief brought about by CoVid-19’s dramatic changes, as followers of Christ, we do not journey through grief alone. Scriptures assure us that ours is a God who cares, who even stores our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). We can count on God’s comfort. In the midst of your personal grief, I hope you will, like myself, find solace in this promise.

The Rev. Elias Mendes-Gomes
Faith Presbyterian Church, Fort McMurray (AB)

From Bondage to Freedom in Christ Jesus (Charlie McNeill)

I was asked a rather novel question about a year ago, and the question popped up again in the last few weeks.  One of the saints within the congregation asked me if I thought the Covid19 virus was a plague?!

I answered the question with a question.  Did she use the word plague in the Old Testament Biblical sense of God visiting plagues on the Egyptians to free the people of Israel from bondage?  She indicated that was exactly what she was asking!

A year ago we talked about it. I thought we concluded the conversation when I honestly said I didn’t know!  In saying I didn’t know I suggested that I wouldn’t presume to be able to plumb the depths of the divine mysteries!  Such weighty questions calls us to seek God out in prayer and be asking God to unpack rather involved and complex questions!

In fact I don’t think upon reflection that sort of question can be answered in 50 words or less!  I am not sure that God would give a simplistic and partial answer to such a weighty question!  To be fair to my friend who asked the question I doubt she would expect to sit down with God for 5 or 10 minutes and get the Coles Notes answer to that question!

My friend is the sort of person with an inquiring mind and heart!  She adheres to the gospel admonition to seek, ask, and knock.  If she doesn’t get an answer right away or if she doesn’t receive an answer that satisfies she keeps looking!

So the year rolled by and again the question was on her mind and heart!  Was the Covid19 virus a plague?!  At the end of a Bible study, which had nothing to do with plagues, she raised her question again!

Again I asked if she meant Old Testament liberating plagues?  She indicated that was exactly what she meant!  We unpacked it a bit more, and I am thinking that before too long we will talk about it again!

There is a pastoral, theological and Biblical need within this sister in Christ, and so we will continue to wrestle with the weighty question!  If nothing else she has made me wrestle with the question, and carry the question around with me as I go about God’s business through the work done!

In being called to journey with her a thought crossed my mind the other day!  The act of liberation which God enacted for the people of Israel in freeing them from Egyptian oppression was revolutionary!  It took a people, who had long forgotten how to be a people, and forged them through the fires of bondage, the plagues, and finally the journey to recreation into God’s people!

The recreation was not instant.  It took time and in fact for God’s people, then or now, we are a work in progress!

In the Old Testament context God was freeing the people both physically and spiritually!  God was also speaking truth to power – most notably the powerful and power of the then Egyptian empire!

With that in mind if Covid19 can be likened to a plague are the powerful these days being called to critique their use of power and to transition to a Godly template of power for service?! By the same token are those people who have the ways and means to more readily weather the storm of the pandemic being taught anything?  We aren’t the powerful in society but we are the more fortunate who benefit from our society’s largess.

Is God critiquing us?  If so what is the critique?  More to the point are we willing to embrace God’s critique and run with it?  Or do we need more severe plagues to get our attention?!

The Old Testament Exodus plagues spoke to everyone, critiqued everyone, and called everyone to listen and respond to God in kind!  If this is what we mean by the Covid19 virus being a theological plague – then maybe it is!

Whether it is or not isn’t so much the point!  In doing theology its not so much about other people and their behaviour but our own!  Theology at its best has nothing to do with finger pointing!  Rather it has to do with wrestling with God and God’s truth for our own lives, contexts, realities, and then taking and living God’s remedies!

Those remedies lead from bondage to freedom in Christ Jesus!

The Rev Charlie McNeill
Knox Presbyterian Church, Lloydminster

Motherhood and God (Janet Taylor)

There are wonderful images of God as a mother in the Bible: in Hosea 11:3-4 God describes himself as a mother helping a child to grow. Other Scriptures describe God as a mother bear, a mother eagle, a nursing mother, a woman in labour, and a mother hen.

One of my favourite passages comes from Isaiah 66:13. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” And at no time was this passage more important to me than ten years ago.

My husband and I made frantic arrangements to get from Victoria to Winnipeg on a bright April day in 2011, after receiving a call from our son telling us that our eldest child, a daughter, had been hit by a car. “It’s bad,” he said bluntly. “You’d better get out here now.” By the time we touched down in Winnipeg at 9 pm that night, our son’s silent, tearstained face looking up to us as we descended the escalator told us we were too late. She had been removed from life support while we were in the air, at about 6 pm local time.

I would not wish the depth of grief and pain which followed upon my worst enemy, even were I in the habit of making such wishes. Christian grief counseling helped us heal, and I identified that one coil of my grief was wrapped around the idea that I had failed as a mother. Like most parents, I had committed to protecting my children at all costs. Yet it seemed when my daughter needed me most I believed I had failed. I was not there.

But God was. A woman bystander, who later said that an unexplainable compulsion came over her, ran out to my daughter and gently smoothed her cheek as she lay on the asphalt, surrounded by onlookers under the bright spring sun. Leaning in close, she whispered over and over, “It’s OK…I’m here…I won’t leave you,” the exact words I would have chanted had I been there. God, in his infinite compassion, provided a mother for my daughter, and, “as a mother comforts her child,” continued to hold me in his loving embrace while I healed and went through the difficult process of forgiving myself, accepting that my best-held intentions were still bound by human limitations, and eventually thanking God that his compassion and love know no boundaries of time or space.

Faith in God is not a shield which protects us from the pains and losses of human existence. But faith in the God who is not only the Father of creation but also the compassionate, loving Mother of his wounded children can hold us close when we stumble, when we are deeply wounded, or when we judge ourselves unworthy. The mothering images of God give us a special comfort and courage to face anew whatever comes into our lives. Whether our earthly mothers are saints or sinners, or like the rest of us are a complicated mix of both, our heavenly Father is also our creating Mother who protects, nurtures, guides and upholds us. For this, thanks be to God, and I pray you have a blessed Mother’s Day.

The Rev. Janet Taylor
Braeside Presbyterian Church, St. Albert, AB

Controlling the Things We Say (Rodger McEachern)

There is a lot of hostile and caustic speech in political discourse, on social media, and private conversations between individuals and groups. One does expect this amongst those who hold no Christian affiliation, but amongst Christians, this should not be! As James in his New Testament letter writes,

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (3.9-12, NIVUK, 2011)

James is saying that for a Christian to praise God one moment, and than to use his words to curse another person is not natural – it is not consistent with who they purport to be as followers of Jesus Christ. He likens such persons to be like a fig tree producing olives or a grape vine producing figs! There is to be a consistency between one’s faith in Christ and one’s works (in this case words). James echoes what Jesus had taught,

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6.43-45, NIVUK, 2011)

In other words, our words reveal our true self: our beliefs, our values, our attitudes – what is “stored up in his heart.” – whether it is of God or demonic (James 3.7).

It matters what we do, as well what we say and how we say it! For example, we are to work for justice, James calls this “(r)eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1.27, NIVUK, 2011). We are also to be holy, “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1.27). To be holy is to be like God, it is to imitate Jesus Christ, it is to have a pure heart, cleansed by the Holy Spirit, and our holiness will be reflected in what we say, as well, as in what we do. It gives God no honour or glory if we pursue a just cause yet curse those whom we are not in agreement with.

In the months ahead, within our congregations and denomination, issues will arise that we are passionate about: issues of justice; issues of Biblical truth and doctrinal orthodoxy; issues pertaining to policy and practice. We will use our words to defend our positions, and hopefully to convince our opponents concerning the rightness of our positions. Sadly, whether intentional or not, the temptation will be also to say things that will cause hurt, to discredit those whom we disagree with, even to ‘demonise’ them and to force them into a position in which they concede defeat and submit to our ‘wisdom’. To use James’ words, “this should not be”; instead, our words and works will be submitted to the wisdom of heaven,

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3.17-18, NIVUK, 2011)

Written by Rodger McEachern
Callingwood Road Church
16 February 2021

The Ides of Winter (Lydia Calder, MillWoods PC)

In early January I sat in a dentist’s chair, my mouth filled with all the paraphernalia that comes with preparing a tooth for a crown.  While leaning over top of me the dentist and her assistant were lamenting the end of the Christmas season and dreading the dreariness to come.  “I hate January and February,” the one said, and the other agreed.  “There’s nothing to look forward to.” 

These early months of each year can be depressing. From a physiological point of view winter’s “shorter” days and less sunlight disrupts our internal body clock and that impacts our moods.  Plus, all the Christmas festivities are a memory, but the holiday bills have yet to be to be paid.   As some wit once said, “Tis the season to be melancholy.”

 I happen to look forward to February since my birthday falls a week after Valentine’s Day, but I also admit I’m glad it is only 28 days long.  February is truly a dreary month.   It is literally the middle of winter – the ides of winter, as it were. 

The soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name prophesied his betrayal and death: “Beware the Ides of March.” Shakespeare’s words have stayed with us, branding the phrase with a dismal connotation. 

 For us, in 2021, the ides of winter comes with particularly heavy baggage.  2020 will go down in history as being an especially challenging year, but as Covid 19 continues its stealthy path through our world the relief we hoped for has not arrived. We have an ongoing sense of darkness and gloom.  Spring may be on its way, but in the meantime we must beware the Ides of Winter. 

The devotional book I am using this year is called Prevail, a word which encapsulates what I need to do to survive in these unusual days.  For several days the Scripture readings were from Exodus and Numbers.  It struck me that the barrenness of a winter landscape can be likened to that of a desert.  Although one is cold and the other hot, both can be unfriendly, unforgiving places where any wrong turn can have fatal consequences.

Like the Israelites of old, I have a very real sense of aimless daily wanderings while waiting for the promised land.  And like them, I am prone to negativity and grumbling.  I have so much time on my hands, but little motivation. I have so many blessings, but my mind dwells on the things I cannot do.  I cannot hug my granddaughter, go out to a restaurant, have a friend over for coffee, walk through the stacks at the library, go to church in person. I cannot hop on a plane to visit my son in Ontario. I am earthbound.

 I am also earth focused. The debris at my feet prevents me from seeing the magnificence of creation. If I could just lift my eyes from the dead leaves on the dingy snow and instead look up at the stars that dot the heavens I would see anew the power of the God of the universe.

 David found inspiration for his psalms as he looked up…

Ps 19:1   The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 Ps 121:1,2   I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

 Looking up reminded David of God’s ultimate power and unending love.

 Stephen Hawking wrote, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do… It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Lydia Calder,
Mill Woods Presbyterian Church

Click here to listen to “Look Up, Child”  by Lauren Daigle