Poking Holes In The Dark

“May God’s light maintain the vibrant color of your heart.” Jason Micheal Ratliff

Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world and we are to shine His light for all to see; “do not hide it under a bushel”, he warns (Matthew 5:16).  Hearing these words always reminds me of the author Robert Louis Stevenson who is best known for works such as Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I once read a story from his childhood that illustrates what it means to be Christ’s light in the world.

As a child Robert Louis Stevenson was in very poor health.  One night, when he was quite sick, his nurse found him with his nose pressed against the frosty pane of his bedroom window.  “Child, come away from there.  You’ll catch your death of cold,”   but young Robert would not budge.  He was mesmerized as he watched an old lamplighter slowly work his way through the black night lighting each street lamp along his route.  “See, look there,” Robert pointed, “There’s a man poking a hole in the darkness.” 

That is what we are called to do, poke holes in the darkness.  To be Christ’s light means we go into dark places and share God’s love, forgiveness and acceptance.  These dark places may be grief, poverty, illness, injustices and loneliness. 

It takes courage and faith to be Christ’s light in a darkened world.  So often the world rewards the “winner” at the risk of many “losers”.  What would TV be like today if we took out the competition to be the best and instead just celebrated everyone’s unique talents?  What if everyone received second place and praising God came in first place?  Then we would see the light everywhere! 

We need not do grand acts that bring us a lot of attention and accolades, as Neal A. Maxwell writes, “Small lights have a way of being seen in a dark world.” Simple acts as taking time to listen to each other, building each other up and speaking words of love produce a powerful light.   

Dwight L. Moody put it best when he preached, “We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to the shining—they just shine.”

Go and be a lighthouse,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski/Unsplash

Casting Kindness

“Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.” Dalai Lama

I got caught in a net this week; a net of kindness.  It all started off so unassumingly.   I had phoned the cell phone supplier with questions regarding my bill and what seemed like 12 hours of being on hold my turn finally arrived.

After explaining the reason for my call the operator politely sighed and in a soft and kind voice said, “Sometimes things happen that we have no control over.  I am sorry this has happened to you.  Let’s get this fixed today.”  She began to explain what she was doing as she clicked her computer keys. It was just a mix up on my bill and within minutes she had corrected the mistake.  As I thanked her, she again said, “As I said before, sometimes things happen that we have no control over.  It is hard but we can help each other out.”

After hanging up the phone, I paused and wondered if she was an angel or some kind of Zen Master!  Who knew that having a billing mistake would make my day?

She was right, there are times when things happen that we have no control over and it is hard, but together we help each other out.

I suspect that is what Jesus meant when he called the fishermen to be his disciples.  It is written that Simon (also called Peter), his brother Andrew, James and his brother John put down their fishing nets so to follow Jesus. (Matthew 4:18-23)

Jesus taught them how to use the nets of kindness, understanding, acceptance and healing words to catch those falling into despair and darkness.  Jesus knew the world was in need of such “catching”.

It would seem Jesus also uses cell phone operators to do the same kind of healing.  I wonder what the world be like if we all followed Jesus’ teaching, “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12) How many more could we catch?

In these darkened days of winter let us all join in the work of Jesus’ fishermen and throw wide a net of kindness, gentleness and understanding.  As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.”

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Andrew Thornebrooke/Unsplash

What Do You Want?

“Sometimes doing nothing makes way for everything.”  Hiral Nagda  

It was two years ago this month that I finally figured out exactly what I wanted.  It wasn’t an easy decision, I had traveled down some tricky roads, tossed and turned through sleepless nights and after intellectually weighing all the pros and cons I decided against logic and followed my heart.

I stepped out of all the busyness of life and took a rest. It had been over 30 years since I had such a rest.  Not just a 2 week holiday but an indefinite hiatus from the world with no plans. It reminded me of the time just after graduating University; a time of excited uncertainty.  I had no doubts that whatever lied ahead would be amazing and I was right.

In the Gospel of John we read of two disciples who began to literally follow Jesus down the road.  Turning around, Jesus saw them and asked, “What do you want?” They wanted to be closer to him and had stopped everything in their lives to do so.  He invited them to, “Come and see.”  I felt as though I was one of those disciples and excitedly followed.  

What an adventure it has been! My prayer life has improved immensely and with certainty I have heard back from God in the song of the birds, the sway of the trees and in the silence of a full moon.  Miraculously opportunities came my way and I now find myself serving God as a Hospice Chaplain and a Country Preacher, both roles bringing me deep purpose and a sustaining peace.

As author Hiral Nagda writes, “Sometimes doing nothing makes way for everything.”   

So?  How about you?  What do you really want?

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by  Eriks Cistovs/Pexels

January Whispers

“Watching the morning break, I realize again that darkness doesn’t kill the light—it defines it.”
Richard Wagamese

Have you listened lately?  There is something January whispers.  It is a soft melody left behind after the song birds have flown south and the trees have quietly gone to sleep. It is a gentle refrain leading us deeper into rest.  A song augmented by the softening of daylight and the slowing of the days.

These muted days of January are a gift meant to sooth and calm our eternal souls which are forced, for a while, to reside in a world bent on a feverish pitch of movement, noise and selfish ambition.  January is a soothing balm which can soften a quiet part of our souls that sense the gentle movement of God’s Spirit.  This Spirit is an eternal presence so ancient it is familiar to a sacred part of our being. It calls us to slow down and be at peace.

Listen as January whispers, “Be Still and know that I am.”

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Sabestian Beck/Pexels

Agreements For A Happy New Year!

“Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.”
Don Miguel Ruiz

As we now step into the first week of the New Year it is wise to do so as prepared as possible.  For me this means spending time setting up my day timer.  Yes, I am old school and still use a hard copy day timer complete with lists of things I hope to accomplish in the coming year as well as certain reminders of wisdom I hope will lead me. One such list is titled, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Dr. Don Miguel Ruiz is a trained surgeon from rural Mexico who has become known worldwide for his writings on Toltec spiritualism.  One such writing is a book titled, The Four Agreements.  These four agreements are guidelines to aid in accomplishing a life of freedom from habits that would otherwise rob us from having a contented and peaceful life.

The First Agreement is, ‘Be Impeccable With Your Speech’.  This is a reminder to use your words with integrity that wisely build up yourself and add truth and love to world.   As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” And, as written in Proverbs 21:23, “Whoever keeps their mouth and their tongue keeps themselves out of trouble.”

The Second Agreement is, ‘Don’t Take Anything Personally’.  This wisdom teaches that what others decide to say and do is a reflection of them, not of us.  We are responsible for how we respond to these people, but we are not responsible for their words, decisions or actions.   Jesus said it this way — a couple of times: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45).  May our actions and words express hearts full of wisdom, kindness and love.  

The Third Agreement is, ‘Don’t Make Assumptions’.  For me this has been the most powerful of the Four Agreements.  Having the courage to ask others clarifying questions has helped significantly in avoiding misunderstandings, drama and hurt.  I find myself often pausing meetings or a telephone conversation and saying, “I need some help in better understanding what you are saying.”  Then after a few gentle but direct questions are answered we move on in a clearer pathway.  This Third Agreement has transformed my life!

The Fourth Agreement is, ‘Always Do Your Best’.  Some days my best is at a different level than other days but because I did my best each day, under differing circumstances, I can sleep well every night! By aiming to do our best we avoid regret and shame. Instead, we are gentle with ourselves knowing that tomorrow is a new day.

These Four Agreements: ‘Be Impeccable With Your Word’, ‘Don’t Take Anything Personally’, ‘Don’t Make Assumptions’, and to ‘Always Do Your Best’ are four tools, if used daily will guarantee an amazing 2023!

Happy New Year Everyone,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

A Beautiful Mess

The joyful, unexpected, uncontrollable and messy presence of God was dancing throughout the sanctuary.

I hadn’t been the minister long, only five months when the Sunday School Superintendent approached saying, “You don’t have to lift a finger for the third Sunday of Advent, I will take care of everything.”   It was White Gift Sunday; the Sunday of Joy and she would tell the organist and choir which hymns were chosen and she would pass the order of worship to the secretary.  She assured me everything would be taken care of and all I had to do was show up.

My husband, daughter and I arrived that Sunday to utter chaos!  There were children everywhere, we usually only had five arrive on any regular Sunday, but this Sunday there were at least five times that many.   There were three Marys, two Josephs, one Wiseman, five angels, three sheep, countless shepherds (all in their bathrobes and towels), four elves, two reindeers, one Santa and a pink and white unicorn.   I was a bit confused by the pink and white unicorn but later was told that was Ashley and she wore her Halloween costume everywhere.  

I became nervous when the service began with Santa entering the sanctuary and taking the seat at the front.  Soon a few elves and reindeers followed as they entered and sat by Santa’s feet; but I relaxed when Santa picked up his Bible and began to read out loud the story of Jesus’ birth. 

And, on cue, the children came down the aisle as their character appeared in the story.  That is, until a wrestling match started somewhere by aisles five and six between one of the Marys and her brother, a shepherd!  While they were duking it out in the aisle two of the lambs began a bleating contest to see who could bleat the loudest, three of the angels discovered they could climb over the front pew, down it’s back, under it and back up over the pew again and again, two of the shepherds began sword fighting with their shepherd’s hooks and a Joseph found the piano keys and began to pluck away!

It was a mess; a beautiful mess!

Santa just kept reading, louder and louder, as the characters piled into the sanctuary stepping over the wrestling shepherd and Mary, around the dizzy angels and despite the bleating sheep.  The story continued until the Wiseman presented his gifts to Jesus.  He then turned and galloped away on his broom stick camel and Santa sat silently, the angels stopped playing, the sheep stopped bleating, and all the fighting ceased.  The sanctuary fell quiet.      

The story was complete.

Or, was it?

Two 12 year old elves quietly came down the centre aisle and as they did so one of the Senior youth went to the pulpit and carefully said, “Wise people still search for Jesus to this very day.”  As the two elves approached the manger, they knelt, and while looking down into the face of Jesus they touched a switch on their hats making the top of their elf hats swirl up and down in a comical gesture of awe!

It was the most powerful rendition of the birth of Jesus I had ever witnessed.  The joyful, unexpected, uncontrollable and messy presence of God was dancing throughout the sanctuary filling us with joy and laughter.

But, before I could make the mistake of over thinking this service, I was handed a piece of paper.  The children and the Sunday School Superintendent were now all lined up at the front of the sanctuary and pre-recorded music was playing.  I looked down to the “hymn” sheet and couldn’t believe my eyes.  I looked straight at the Sunday School Superintendent as she winked at me and with a huge smile she began to lead us all in the final song of the service, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”!

It was a Sunday I will never forget!

May God’s joyful presence dance through everyone’s Christmas celebrations and may we all be so filled with hope, peace, joy and love that they last for the entire New Year!

Merry Christmas Everyone,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Phot by Emma Leigh/Unsplash

A Pursuing Love

“You could more easily catch a hurricane in a shrimp net that you can understand the wild…pursuing love of God made present in the manger.” Brennan Manning

Photo by Emmanuel Phaeton/Unsplash “Book of Love”

Richard Francis Xavier Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013), known as Brennan Manning, was a prolific American author, defrocked Priest and public speaker who summed up the Advent journey colourfully when he wrote, “You could more easily catch a hurricane in a shrimp net that you can understand the wild, relentless, passionate, uncompromising, pursuing love of God made present in the manger.”

The last sign post before arriving to the destination of the Advent Journey is the last blue candle, the candle of love.  We pass through the doors of love as we draw ever closer to God among us, in the form of a wee baby born in a feeding trough.

This love surrounds us from birth to the life beyond this life; a love so perfect we know not life without it and yet, so often fail to recognize its presence. As it is written, “In this life we have three great lasting qualities-faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.”(1 Cor 13:13)  

This last week of Advent I offer a poem by Margaret Matthews to accompany you on the journey:    

Bringers of Joy

“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.” —Khalil Gibran

Being agreeable can sometimes be dangerous!  In an attempt to keep life simple for ourselves we may be tempted to merely agree with someone who is expressing some bitterness or mistrust towards another.  We nod our heads or say a word or two which pleases and justifies this person. 

I had this happen recently, while sitting and waiting for an appointment the person next to me struck up a conversation.  Their views on politics both locally and provincially differ from my own and their bitterness towards life was tangible but instead of trying to offer words of peace or gentleness I just nodded and went along with the conversation.

Later, as I reflected on that conversation I was disappointed in myself.  It was a lost opportunity.  Perhaps God placed this person, ever so briefly, in my path so I could offer words of peace, hope and joy; words that may have calmed his anxious mind and perhaps widened his view of gratitude. Perhaps simply by changing the conversation I could have softened his bitterness and aided him to remember that which makes him smile.  

I made myself promise to remain on guard so that I not do this again but instead seek to be a “Bringer of Joy” or as Jesus calls it a “Peacemaker”. There is no other beatitude whose blessings is more radiant that that of the peacemaker-“they shall be called children of God.”

As we light the third Advent Candle, the pink Candle of Joy , may we do so with the commitment of being those who bring God’s joy to all we meet.

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Picture by Bekka Mongeau/Pexels 

Peaceful Presence

“When you see the world through serene eyes, you generate peace wherever you go.” Jerry Dorsman

The world is full of things that boggle my mind and are beyond my understanding.  For example, I have never understood FAX machines.  How can a few words on a piece of paper travel over wires and arrive on another piece of paper 100 miles away?  Or, why can’t I hum while holding my nose (you just tried, didn’t you?) and why is Earth the only planet in our solar system not named after a God?  Who named Earth in the first place?

There are so many questions with so few answers. As my trips around the sun accumulate I have become more comfortable with the unknown, trusting in the fact there is a God who knows all the answers.  This God provides a peace that goes way beyond our understanding; a peace that holds us together when all around us is falling apart.  I don’t understand it, but I have learned to trust in it.

 The Apostle Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation with prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6)

This peace does not promise there will be no conflict, hardships or grief.  Instead this God-given peace will hold us together with the powerful knowledge we are not alone.  God is with us, despite whatever we are facing.  As Jesus tells us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (Jon 14:27)

Take Mother Mary for instance, at the young age of 12 she is visited by an angel who shares the startling news that Mary will become pregnant and bear a son.  As if it isn’t shocking enough to be visited by an angel Mary also has to adjust to the news that she, an unwed virgin girl, will soon become pregnant and give birth to not just any baby but God’s only begotten son.  Talk about mind boggling!

 One of the things that intrigues me about this story is how Mary goes from asking, “How can this be?” to declaring, “Let it be.”

How do we find our way, like Mary, to say “let it be”? I am not suggesting that getting there is easy or quick, but I think Mary shows us how to journey to “let it be”.  She doesn’t avoid the storm that lies ahead; instead she enters the eye of the storm, allowing the chaos of emotions, relationships, and circumstances, swirl all around her. She does this by depending on God to lead her through the storm.

Out of Mary’s story we see a confidence amidst crisis which is the mark of a mature faith. She has heard the deep meaning of “Be not afraid.” It is a message of assurance that through the wilderness, or the grief, or in the middle of chaos, along the journey we are not alone. It is that sense of God -with-us which is the profound message of Christmas. It is a love and peace that dwells deep in our souls.

This week as we light the Second Advent Candle, the Candle of Peace, may we all trust in the Prince of Peace to accompany us with a calm and peaceful presence.

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by James Wheeler/Pexels

Finding Hope  

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” -Raymond Williams

He drew a circle that shut me out

— Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!

(Edwin Markham)

 Round tables are my favorite!  Everyone sitting at a round table is equal and always there is room for one more chair.  I was reminded of round tables at Bible study last week; we were studying the parable of The Good Samaritan.

It is the story of a nameless man who selflessly provides all that is needed to rescue someone beaten and left to die in a ditch. It is a story about social boundaries removed so God’s love and care can be set free.  It is a story of radical response when facing the choice of indifference or active compassion. 

The Samaritans in Jesus’ day were despised and ridiculed; they were considered the lowliest of all humanity. So, of course Jesus uses these very people to teach of God’s powerful grace and transformative love. 

What makes the Samaritan good in this story is that he has every reason to respond to the hatred, cruelty and shame placed on him by others with much of the same, but doesn’t.  Instead, his response is to extend a hand of welcome, lifting the broken man onto his donkey and walking him to where healing can begin.  He doesn’t bother asking who the broken man is or whether this man is deserving of such help; he just helps.  This is the most powerful part of the story. One who has every reason to respond with hatred but instead responds with love, this is where we find hope for the world. 

Hope for the healing of humanity is found in those who refuse to be the hatred or cruelty in the world but instead respond to God’s call to be light, love and understanding.  As written in 1 Peter 3:9, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.”

True humility teaches that we all take our turn being the broken one in the ditch. The Good Samaritan reminds us “…of a merciful God who wants to bind up and heal all your hurts. Can you see this? You on the road – injured by the world and God as the one that picks you up….This God who acts as a stranger on the road will never judge you or your needs. This God pours His Mighty Mercy like oil and wine. If you will let Him do this…”. (Pastor John Bright)

When we face the cruelty of others may we see the pain they hold and understand it isn’t about us, instead may we respond with a quiet respect trusting God’s love has the power to heal us all. 

As we light the first candle of Advent, the Candle of Hope, may we remember that hope is held in our response to the hardness of life; a response rooted in God’s healing love.

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Ronak Valobobhai/Unsplash