Our year with consultant Rev. Gregg Carlson has come to an end. It has been a successful year of building upgrades, staff and program changes. Gregg is the consultant from Convergence US, formerly known as the Center for Progressive Renewal; Gregg spent a weekend with us a year ago, wrote a report about our congregation and has consulted with our Development Team monthly.
The Founder, and CEO, of Convergence US, is the Rev. Cameron Trimble. I get a couple of reflections from her every week and I find many of them insightful and enlightening.
Cameron Trimble’s latest reflection relates to this Sunday’s Advent theme, peace. We lit the second candle of the Advent Wreath, the peace candle. What Trimble wrote was relevant to me and I would bet to many of us with what we’re facing in these trying and challenging times; it was a short reflection called “How do we find peace?”
Someone had asked this question of Cameron; the person went on to say, “I just feel so unmoored, so adrift but drowning in busyness. I can’t pack any more things into my day, but I feel so unsatisfied with my life.” Does that sound familiar? It resonated with me!
Cameron then went on to say, “We are experiencing change, trauma and drama at a rate faster than at any time before in human history. As philosopher Jean Houston reminds us, you and I have lived 10 to 100 times the life experience of our ancestors. This pace is creating cultural anxiety that has many of us feeling disoriented, unsettled and wondering if this is how to live our best lives.”
Cameron went on to cite an experience the Psychologist Carl Jung recorded; he was in conversation with a 1stNations elder in the US. Jung said how he found it easier to connect with this elder named Mountain Lake than to other Europeans. Jung wanted to know why and asked the elder. The elder told him that he and his people think with their hearts. Europeans think with their heads.
I sometimes wonder what someone like John the Baptizer would say to us today… maybe something like the Elder Mountain Lake, perhaps? In recording the story of John, Mark referred to two Hebrew Prophets—Isaiah and Malachi. We heard a bit of Isaiah’s prophecy a moment ago, and the prophet Malachi, whose short book comes right at the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, is also quoted.
When I think of letting my heart guide me, I often think of music. Handel wrote a number of pieces relating to Isaiah’s prophecy. Two, in particular, are relevant today: Comfort Ye and Every Valley. I find these pieces of music to be stirring and inspirational, heartening. There’s also a piece about Malachi’s prophecy in The Messiah. A soul version of selected pieces from The Messiah that I appreciate is called “A Soulful Celebration.”
The words from the Gospel that come from Malachi were also immortalized in the opening song of Godspell, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” In the musical, John begins by singing this heart-stirring piece and the play goes from there. Music and drama can lift us into a different mode of being, a different way of thinking, more heart-felt.
In this season of Advent, as we wait, and perhaps this year more than other years, the heart question “du jour” is, “What is important in life?” I think we can ask, too, “Where is God in the world?”
It’s interesting that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is marked by John the Baptist proclaiming repentance and baptism and then the coming of God’s Spirit. The end of Jesus’ ministry, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when the community of Jesus were gathered in the Upper Room again was also about repentance and the Spirit. At Pentecost, Peter proclaimed John’s message that people needed to repent and receive the Holy Spirit. Repentance and Spirit bookend Jesus’ ministry and mark the beginning of the Church.
The reference to Malachi, chapter 3, was, “Look, I will send my messenger ahead of me to clear a way for me… the One coming will be like a refiner’s fire and a fullers’ alkali.” (Malachi 3:1, 2) The One promised according to Malachi will refine the world and bring the Holy Spirit.
Part of what Mark is saying through the Baptiser John is that we need to engage in self-reflection and repentance; repentance literally means to turn our hearts. We need to examine our lives and take stock. We need to let go of judgment of others and find ways to build community. We need to look at our lives and do no harm. We are called to deep listening. And more than that, we are called to seek ways to build up the lives of others through mutual care and a consideration of the whole world. We are called to humbly serve the common good for all to prosper and know justice and peace. We are called to let go of self-centred, misguided directions and humbly follow the One who saw with the Heart of God. Repentance is all about turning one’s heart from that which destroys, tears down and inflicts pain on another. That’s the cleansing and repentance part.
And the Spirit part comes with the Promised One. Our journeys to wholeness are empowered by the Spirit. As Jesus said to Nicodemus in the wee hours of the morning, we are born of water and the Spirit. We are called to turn our hearts—maybe turn into our hearts—again and again, and by doing so, discover renewal in the Spirit. The Kin-Dom of God is both a renewal in our hearts—repentance—and new birth in the Spirit. And that’s not a one-time deal. Sometimes, it’s something that happens over and over, maybe even moment to moment.
The heart-work of Advent is summarized in John the Baptizer’s message of preparation; we do the hard work of self-reflection and internal growth. AND we engage in the outer work of doing what we can to care for the earth and one another.
Peace comes with doing this inner work and the outer work of engaging in deep compassion, love and care for each other. It isn’t one or the other! Peace is a cooperative effort with the Holy Spirit. That’s the kind of peace we need! That’s the kind of peace I need. Repentance that says—for me—that I can’t do it alone, that we can only do it together. And the Spirit that is upon us to build up the broken-hearted… together.
So, maybe we can let go of some of our busyness and turn into our hearts to see the Spirit and, resting in the Spirit’s gift, learn again to live generous and compassionate lives. Amen.
 Rev. Cameron Trimble, “Piloting Faith,” “How do we find peace?” December 3rd, reflection from Convergence US.