I have spent the better part of my life as a professional musician. Primarily, that has meant the fun and challenging world of church music. Most recently, I have transitioned out of my role as worship and music director for Yakima Covenant Church, Yakima, Washington to global service in Edinburgh, Scotland. I'm a singer-songwriter, liturgist, poet, and writer. I love words. I love to read them. I love to write them. Most of all, I love the many intersections, like a sacramental tapestry, of life, liturgy, literature, the arts, and spiritual formation...oh, and I love haggis.
No, the above is not meant as some cheap attempt at a New Joizy accent with the word adventure. Let’s just call it the purposeful amalgamation of Advent and Fragmentia. Let it be a place where the illumination of God’s in-breaking into our world found in the Advent narratives unites with the fragments of literature and faith and life seeking to bring us to deeper understanding of it all.
Advent is upon us once more. With it comes a barrage of books and practices all aimed at helping us get the most from the experience. Last year I chose to post a daily poetic reflection on my poetry website. This year I’d like to do something similar here on innerwoven. It gives me opportunity to dive deep into some of the best words about the best time of the year; the beginning of the church’s calendar at Advent. These poems are both old and new and are found in various places.
For Advent, day 1 we begin with a gorgeous piece by Sally Thomas, which I saw first on a favourite Instagram channel, #realpoetsdaily
Here is “First Sunday” by Sally Thomas ( @sallytnnc )
I’ve been quite open about my struggle with alcoholism and subsequent recovery. Perhaps it is because, through my association with the program and community of A.A. I’ve rediscovered the loving, trustworthy God I once knew. That God somehow got lost along the way, despite my practices of faith, my role as a “professional Christian,” and a radical conversion experience at eighteen.
These days, my faith is simpler. It is not so cliché-ridden, expectation-laden, preconceived notions-driven. It is one of basics: learning humility, self-love, and the practices necessary to maintain and nourish the same. Along the way, I read everything I can get my hands on to assist in that journey. This is a short excerpt from my Seeds of Grace: A Nun’s Reflections on the Spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous by Sister Molly Monahan (pseudonym).
At 10:00am this morning, with aching throats, wet cheeks, and swollen eyes, we watched the livestream of his memorial service, held at Woking Crematorium in London. Tadhg, or “tiger without the er” as he would introduce himself, was laid to rest.
And, in those brief moments, our hearts shattered in pieces.
There are a handful of people for whom I could ascribe the following, “if I could be half the person…” Tadhg was one of those. Genuine, gentle-spirited, fun-loving, unassuming, unpretentious, kind-hearted, generous, and hospitable. There are many who are good to know. He was the one you needed to know, if only for a season. I can say honestly, and without embarrassment, that, to meet Tadhg was to meet Jesus. His life exuded grace and the easy friendship one might expect from the Friend of outcasts and sinners.
His Facebook page states his passion for walking alongside others in holy fellowship:
I am an Anamcara [gaelic for ‘soul friend’]. I consider myself to be a sociable guy, a latter-day celt, a professional and spiritual guy, who would dearly like to hear from you…I am also an independent (non-judgemental, inclusive) priest…and a ceremonialist.
We shared many similar passions including Celtic spirituality, Christian mysticism, theological conversation, a love for probing and formative liturgy, connections between Western and Eastern thought, and making sense of a world in love with itself. We wrote for each other’s blogs and spoke often (usually FB Messenger or email) about things that mattered to us. His perspective was rich, original, and refreshing. He was remarkably free of judgement or hatred of any kind toward anyone. Ever.
In the months before the summer of 2016 I was suffering from a profound emotional deprivation and spiritual ennui. My wife and I decided to take a sabbatical of sorts to the UK. The church for which I worked as Music and Worship Director kindly agreed to a five-week extended “Trip to Bountiful” as I called it.
We had the time but our budget was tight. Tadhg offered, eagerly and warmly, a stay at his tiny but comfortable flat in Fulham. Moreover, he’d be there to pick us up from the airport, having never actually met either of us in person!
Without expectation or guilt he allowed us to use “Hotel Tadhg” as our base of operations while we coddiwompled our way throughout Britain. He dealt with our embarrassingly North American-sized entitlements, returning them all with his beaming smile and dry humour. That journey so changed our lives that we now live in Edinburgh as global servants with our denomination’s mission wing.
God used Tadhg as a big piece of that cosmic puzzle.
When we returned to Britain in 2019 as part of our first encounter with the team of whom we are now a part, where did we stay in London? At Tadhg’s place, of course. For him, there was no question. He had stocked his fridge with all the various food and drink items he knew we liked from the last time we were there. Tadhg was the walking definition of holy hospitality.
In recent years, as Tadhg’s condition worsened, then stabilized, then ultimately took him from us, I felt a growing sense of panic. There were too many things left unsaid to my dear friend, too many conversations unopened, too many laughs unshared, so much more to learn from each other. To hear of his passing was to have one’s soul summarily torn from the body. A world full of ungrateful, spiteful, and unkind people and this is the one to be taken. God, I mean, really?
But, alas, such is the inexplicable nature of our existence. Tadhg, of all people, would chastise those like me who feel tempted to wallow in our pain. He would be the first to lift up our heads, and encourage us to look up to the running clouds, whose playful whimsy is ample reminder of God’s care over all created things.
Dear friend, I shall miss you. The world shall miss you, even if they don’t realize it. Perhaps you can put in a good word that God can help me to be more like you.
Our Europe Team for Serve Globally, the mission organization we serve through our denomination (Evangelical Covenant Church), recently met for our annual retreat (two and a half year COVID delay notwithstanding) at Le Lazaret in Sète, France. For my wife and I, it was only our second such experience. Our first was in October, 2019 and acted as a kind of “reconnaissance mission” as we explored God’s call.
This beloved team is a collective of singular passion, unwavering commitment to justice and reconciliation, enviable humour, rich fellowship, boundless creativity, and endless capacity for joy. We would take a bullet for any one of them.
Our speaker and guide for the retreat was none other than Al Tizon, former Executive Minister for Serve Globally, missiologist, teacher, writer, prophet, and friend. His upcoming book, Christ Among the Classes, shaped our discussions.
By way of understatement, these were not easy conversations! We engaged in matters best left alone unless one wants to face the convicting issues of wealth, the Gospel to and among the poor, our complicity, knowing or unknowing, in perpetuating systems of greed and disenfranchisement and how all of that intersects with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It can be equally stirring and unnerving to discuss one’s place in a world given to championing the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor, while not demonizing the rich. What does that even look like? Is such socio-economic righteousness even an attainable goal? When does it cross the line from kingdom equality to political radicalism? Is there a difference? If so, what?
The questions arising from such discussions are as dizzyingly complex as are the issues from which they derive. But, it is our calling as followers of Jesus, himself a friend of the poor, and sinners, and children. We, by association, are to befriend the outcast, emancipate the leper du jours; even love our enemies. This includes those we are most quick to either dismiss or demonize.
Al (he’s not one for the fineries of title!) painted a picture of the transformation of heart toward equanimity by way of downward mobility, an increasing identification with the poor. This starts first with an awakening to our own relative privilege and wealth. To be “born again” is to see anew, or perhaps for the very first time, our place in the broader world; our individual and collective sin and how it has affected us and those around us.
We journeyed through a series of steps along the way toward the ultimate goal of befriending and advocating for the poor. The rich are not of the devil. Nor are they to be eschewed, pooh-pooh’d, or railroaded out of access to grace. But, Jesus makes clear that they will have a much more difficult time when it comes to the attitude of mind and heart necessary to befriend those who, by definition, require something from them, whether that is as benign as their time or as challenging as their resources.
I like to keep things simple. I take my cue from Wendell Berry who recognized the need for every song we compose to be fully accessible to all. If not, we still have work to do…
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” once proclaimed advertising executive, Fred R. Barnard.
Like so many of you, I love picture. Metaphor. Symbol. Illustrations as it were of the lives we lead that, themselves, mirror the confluence of flesh and fire, body and spirit, life and eternity. Occasionally, I post something that is a tip of the hat to such metaphors.
Door is a favourite such metaphor. They are something we must open ourselves but which, at times, are opened for us. Often, I open doors just for me, but most doors are communal, allowing others to go through with me, before me, instead of me, or even in spite of me. Once open, we’re faced with a decision: stand and gaze, or walk through and take an existential risk of faith mixed with trust. Once through, we gain the elation of having taken that risk and our view opens to be exponentially more expansive than it was before.
Speaking about prayer, Jesus made a remarkable promise to his disciples, “Knock, and the door will be opened for you.” He also said, “I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture.”
Such a profound, but mysterious, invitation!
Whatever the circumstance, in Christ, all such doors lead inward to friendship with God and outward to the riches of a universe being restored, renewed in God’s image. All of it an act of grace.
Maundatum. Mandate. Commandment, from Jesus’ own words, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). It seems a little strange that such an ‘obvious’ thing should need a mention at all and that he calls it ‘new.’
But, there it is.
It was also the day when Jesus, through a shared meal, instituted the great theological metaphor of The Lord’s Supper, Communion, Eucharist. The sacrament. In it, the holy and profane kiss in one simple act.
Jesus, himself a living sacrament, brings a constant source of spiritual nourishment by means of something we do every day.
In celebration of this holy day, in the context of National Poetry Month, I give you this powerful sonnet by the ever-brilliant, Malcolm Guite.