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Dear Friends in Valhalla Parish—

From the comfort of my office, a room I've rarely left over the last week since contracting COVID, I've had a lot of time to think, to read, and to pray. Thankfully, the Rapid Tests are clear now, and I'm starting to feel human once again.

In between naps, I've finished a few books I've had on the go. I finally finished the last hundred pages of a book by a German sociologist Hartmut Rosa. It's all about the relationship between humans and the world. At the same time, I worked my way through Dr. Gabor Maté's latest, "The Myth of Normal."

Each of these books, in their own way, and from their own perspectives talk about the deep problems we are facing as a society.

Our health crises (including a crisis of mental health), Maté suggests, aren't simply unfortunate things that happen to individuals by happenstance. The thesis of his book is that there is something about the way in which our society operates that is leading to increased ill-health on a population level. Our society—hellbent on busy-ness—is a major contributor to rising anxiety, that in turn leads to a multiplicity of other illnesses.

On a grander scale, Rosa's book entitled Resonance suggests that the way in which we have structured our world, especially with its hyper-individualistic focus on consumerism and economic growth is leading us down a road where—due to the acceleration of culture—we are losing our ability to relate to one another. Partly due to culture's speeding up (including the intrusion of all of our electronic devices), we are losing our capacity to experience deep resonance.

As a society, he argues, we are losing our ability and desire to experience those inexplicable moments of transcendence. Moments of deep connection. Moments that hold us in reverie, that ground us in the beauty of the world, and open us to wonder, joy, and awe.

We are so tight-fistedly focused on controlling the future that we are unable to open our hands to the gifts being offered to us every day. But what if we learned to loosen our grip?

A few weeks ago, on the Sunday of our AGM, we explored the story of the Transfiguration: this deeply mystical and resonant experience for Peter, James, and John, as they come to see Jesus in a new way. As I think about this again a few weeks later, the Transfiguration is an archetypal experience of resonance. It is mystical, intriguing, and moving. It calls Peter, James, and John forward into the world through the deep encounter they have with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the mountain. 

Aren't these the same kinds of encounters that we seek for ourselves, and for our community, as we join together in prayer?

As we celebrate the Sunday mass. As we enter deeply into personal prayer. As we gather around tables to share in meals, it's not just about the food or the dishes or the space (although it includes these things). It's often the conversation, the connection, the encounters that we remember. It's the people, but it's also the magic that sometimes take place in between. Those je ne sais quoi moments. The moments of divine encounter we struggle to explain (but try to anyway!).

As a community centered in Christ, we are called to set our tables with our very best.

We seek to show up for each other both in the reality of our lives and in generosity of spirit. In our worship services, this is why we pay attention to the space, to its beauty, to keeping it uncluttered, to creating meaningful focal points, to facilitating opportunities for connection with God and one another.

We create space to connect with God as we read scripture and join our voices with one another in song. We leave spaciousness for prayer—personal and corporate—that we might hold ourselves and one another in God's loving embrace. We create opportunities to reflect, and opportunities to share. 

In all things, whether with our linens and flowers, or in the preparation we personally take before joining with others in worship, we seek to come to the table in ways that honour our own realities and those of our neighbours. We come as we are, offering whatever we can—however meagre, however great—to the God who meets us with arms wide open.

As a church, we ought to take resonance and encounter seriously, which is why we seek offer spaces of connection and community. This is why we seek to extend hospitality in all the ways possible. This is why we practice the presence of Jesus in our daily lives, and in our gatherings for worship, as we lay the groundwork for, and expect deep encounter with God in community.

Throughout this Lenten season, we have been challenged to enter more deeply into relationship with Jesus through prayer.

Part of this is for ourselves, of course—the opportunity to connect more deeply with Jesus, to listen and to speak with him, to share with him in our daily lives. Part of this is an act of hospitality. It's about our growth as a community into a people and a place that calls out to God, that seeks and yearns for God's presence and self-revelation, that we might align our will with God's, through the presence and movement and power of the Holy Spirit. 

Ours is a world that pushes back against transcendence. For my part, I know that I am too relient (addicted?) to the technology I carry in my pocket. And in that, I fear that I may be crowding out God's still small voice.

Throughout Lent, I am seeking to cultivate more time to listen and pray and reflect. More time to journal and to listen for God, to where I am being called, and what that might mean for us as a community too. More time in silence to listen for who and what relationships God is calling to mind, and calling me to remember in prayer. 

One of the tools I created for myself aligns with our Lenten prayers of intercession and thanksgiving.

I made a little sheet that I keep on the corner of my desk for people and relationships I feel prompted to pray for. Through the week I will add to it and pray through it. It's something I'll bring with me to church on Sunday. So that when it comes time for the prayers of the people, I will have prayers to add to others' in the silence of that moment. 

As I was thinking about doing that this week, I wondered if something like this might be of some use for others, too. And so I've attached it to this post. You can download and print it, or use the prompts at home. On Sunday I'll have copies available for those who wish to use it during the service and during the week.

Whatever practices you find yourself taking on during this season, my hope and prayer is that you will join me as we seek to open ourselves ever more to the God who has loved us from the very start, and who continues to seek after us, and care for us in this time—and forevermore.

Every Blessing, 

Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Valhalla Parish Missioner