I took my motorcycle to church on Sunday despite the cold. Father Matthew Johns, a handsome, open, pleasant young man greeted me outside the entrance to St. James Anglican Church at 303 East Cordova Street,( Vancouver, BC V6A 1LA (tel. 604 685 2532. Web: www.stjames.bc.ca ). A block long line up for the hotmeals served next door in the catholic mission to the poor was weaving its way along the street. You could see your breath in the morning chill. Enterring this anglo-catholic church late for old high mass was a heart warming experience. It's a great building of wood and tradition. The choir was richly singing the Canticle as I took my seat a few minutes late for the 11.15 opening.
I love the liturgy of the old church. It connects me to thousands of years of worship the world over. The ideas of newer schisms and splits from the church are refreshing and enriching to my spirit but there's still something in the old that speaks to my soul. St. James is that. Incense and ritual.
Yet Father Mark Greenaway-Robbins sermon was as fresh as new minted coin. Picking up on the reading of Malachi 3 he spoke to each of us individually asking what trials and testing were we experiencing in our lives. Were they 'grief, addiction, pain, mental illness, loneliness, memories we wanted healed?" he asked. He described 'testing as normal in the Christian life but "it is not to destroy or to punish but for refinement, purification and sanctification." He said it wasn't you that was being tested but "your faith". "The refiner's fire is also called the 'furnace of adversity'. Malachi said, "He will be a purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness." First Peter of the New Testament carried forward to image of the Refiner's fire." Not ironically the strength of our faith is what is always 'tested' and the 'tests' speak to our own humility and closeness and desire for God.
Following the Sermon and peace there was Eucharist, the sharing of blood and body of Jesus, that primitive barbaric ritual which reminds us of our roots, when God came to earth, we killed him, so to speak, cannibals that we are evolved from despite the highest claims of Darwin. Our past is murky with impurity. Stripped away of the dross though we each are God's children sharing in the light of creation. I remembered that on my knees and for a moment was wafted back to the trust I had for my mother and father who in their own way trusted in this day.
All my on self centered fears stand between me and God.
I was thankful I'd attended church this day to hear about the 'refiner's fire' and the 'furnace of adversity' thinking of my trials as testing. I'm more likely to think of God as the cannibal and me in the soup and him tasting the broth but when I think like that life is made unpleasant. It's also called projection. I'm the child, or creature, and God is the creator and really has brought me thus far safely.
Sam Shoemaker the Anglican minister who early influenced and was influenced by the 12step program AA, said "humility is gratitude". It's hard to feel grateful for a spicier broth but I can feel positive if the hot water I'm in is not only cleansing me but testing my faith which remains strong despite my Kelvin sensitivities.
At the Dug Out later it was good to see my friend Julie back from the wars of addiction. She and another had gone out and suffered again the ravages of abuse, experiencing the paranoia and chaos that came with the false promise of "fun". "I remembered how good I felt sober and how I'd done it once so I came back and now I want to stay. I want to have real friends and a purpose in life. I don't want to waste it in the lies of drugs and alcohol." She said.
She'd always been an inspiration, years sober and doing major service for others until one day something rocked her world and she lost her faith and ran back to the darkest corner of the cave where she found no solace and remembered she had friends now. It was good to see her strong in the spirit.
Al told me another of his jokes, "The intoxicated photographer says 'isolation ' is where he develops the negatives of his soul." After that Ed and I compared our Honda motorcycles, he has the sport version of my enduro. We sang the praises of motorcycle mobility and parking in a crowded city. "But it's a lesson in focus….you can't be thinking about fears and resentments, yesterday or tomorrow. It's a lesson in staying in the present." Right now the motorcycle is God's refiner's fire for me. If I don't keep focused it hurts.
I'm thankful for Father Greenaway-Robbin's teachings about the 'furnace of adversity' and God's love reminding me of my parents teachings which among other things contributed to my diaper training. Too bad I realize these things just this side of Depends.