Growing into Christ

By Rev. Canon Stewart Murray (published in the May 2017 Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa)

One of the challenges of writing a regular article for Crosstalk is the deadline for articles. This article for the May edition began to take shape at the beginning of March, in the depths of winter and at the beginning of Lent. It provided an opportunity to get out of my usual winter doldrums and think about Easter and spring. Like many Canadians, I am rather obsessed by the weather, not that I am a Weather Channel junkie, but I realize that interest in, talking about, and fretting about the weather – especially the winter weather – is a constant in my life. This ‘obsession’ has no doubt been strengthened by the circumstances of my life. I grew up with gardens and extended family working in agriculture, and I have been fortunate to have served the majority of my priesthood in rural parishes where farming has been the mainstay of the community. I quickly became aware of the power of the weather to bring prosperity or disaster. I have watched the lack of rain turn clay soil to the consistency of concrete, and too much rain result in mud and washouts. Weather, farming and nature play an important role in the Sacred Scriptures and in shaping our understanding of God’s relationship with humanity and creation. The stories of the Garden of Eden, of Noah and the Flood, and of the Exodus journey for 40 years in the desert are but a few examples from the Old Testament of the intimate relationship between the natural world and the story of salvation. Jesus’ teaching frequently used examples drawn from nature and the everyday activities of rural life. The image of the Sower, the winnowing fork, the vineyard, the unfruitful fig tree and the lowly mustard seed, as well as the theme of harvest, all play a role in opening up our understanding of the message of the Gospel. The truth is that just as a beautiful garden or a productive farm needs hard work and attention, so does our life of faith; our relationship with Jesus needs to be given care, nurture and attention. In May we are in the midst of the 50 days of the Easter season as we continue to celebrate the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the new life and hope that are at the very heart of our faith. The challenge is to live our faith outside of the safe confines of our churches and faith communities, in the harsh reality of our world and the routine of our daily lives. One of the key elements in nurturing and living our faith is following a simple Rule of Life which gives structure and a focus to our desire to live our faith. I want to stress the need for simplicity in a rule of life so that, unlike a novice gardener who, instead of starting with a small garden, attempts to landscaper half an acre and then soon becomes overwhelmed and discouraged and gives up the pleasure that gardening can provide. Establishing a regular pattern of prayer, study of Scripture and worship that is an honest expression of time and lifestyle will bear more fruit than one that is too ambitious. Prayer is at the core of our life in Christ and finding one or two times in your day for a conversation with God can be a simple but important rule to follow. Everyone’s schedule is different, but it is possible to find times that work for you. If the mornings are already overfilled, maybe on your lunch hour, or during the morning coffee break at your desk would work. It is not the length of time but the quality of time that we give that matters. I have found that I often can take a few minutes before a pastoral visit, to sit in my car and offer prayer for the visit and at times for the people or situations reported on the recent news reports that I heard while driving. You could take advantage of opportunities for worship during the week in your Parish. As much as I love the Sunday Masses and seeing the ‘family’ gathered, mid-week services are a wonderful quiet offering of prayer and thanksgiving. Another simple discipline is to develop the habit of reading Sacred Scripture using one of the wide range of daily readings guides such as the Upper Room to make it manageable. I invite you to take a few moments to write down a simple Rule of Life that is manageable in your life and to begin today to follow it and to grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.