Thursday February 9, 2023
My congregation starts Sunday morning worship services with something we call “God-moments.”
A former minister, Jim Hannah, started God-moments. Although he has gone, the concept has carried on.
Our current minister introduces God-moments as “moments when you have felt the presence of God especially close to you. It might have been this week, or perhaps some rime earlier in your life…”
They are, for me, the most worshipful times of the whole service.
What’s a God moment?
Here’s one. I had taken my friend Bob Little, when we were both much younger, up Pitt Lake to see a waterfall. We struggled upwards through tangled conifer branches. Dense foliage blocked the sun. Suddenly we emerged into a sun-bright glade, dancing with \wildflowers.
Bob stopped, transfixed. “Oh my God, Jim,” he breathed.
That’s a God-moment. When you want to say, “Oh my God….”
Sometimes it’s about nature. Sometimes it isn’t.
Thomas Merton, spiritual guru for millions, had a God-moment in Louisville, Missouri: “In the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers . . . “This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . “
That’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment. But I can have a God-moment when my cat curls up in my lap, purring like a Harley-Davidson in heat.
And it was a God moment, three years ago, when my daughter Sharon and I took shifts, sitting by my wife’s bedside in the hospice, on her last night of life.
I was dozing. Sharon woke me around 11:00 p.m.
“It’s over,” she said softly.
I haven’t told that story before. I tell it now because it was a God-moment, even though it was a sad one. We certainly “felt the presence of God close to us…”
Stories provide context
In God-moments, we tell stories. Because the experience needs context.
In my tradition, much of a church service is a lecture. We’re told what we believe, should believe, or shouldn’t believe. We’re told how other people thought about their faith. We sing other Christians’ words.
But when we tell stories, we reveal our own faith. It’s not necessarily perfect; it’s not necessarily even coherent. But it’s our story.
In a sense, we’re reviving what an earlier church called “testimonies.” Traditionally, they tended to follow a formula. “I was a sinner… until Jesus came into my life…”
Our God-moments rarely reflect that language. But they’re just as valid a testimony of the ways in which we have encountered a holy presence that we have trouble putting into words. So we tell stories, instead.
Stories make up most of what most of what we call the Old Testament. And almost all of the gospels.
Stories are the foundation of the AA movement: “Hi, I’m Bill, and I’m an alcoholic…”
Telling stories has a spin-off benefit. Instead of going through life with our heads down, we’re more likely to look up, to look around, to watch for possible God-moments.
Copyright © 2023 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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The letters about last week’s column on Groundhog Day fell into two groups: comments on groundhogs, and comments on unwanted phone calls, especially at unpleasant hours.
Robert Caughell wrote, “After getting similar phone calls from Amazon, Wall Mart, etc. I logged into my accounts and deleted my credit card information; the phone calls stopped. When you order something from Amazon you are automatically signed up for Amazon Prime unless you specifically cancel it on Amazon's system. This is how Bezos makes his money.”
Dick Best: “I don't know if you're using a landline or a cell phone. I have both. Both offer me ways to block calls from specific numbers. And each is doing more to identify and block spam calls. Plus, I can block my phones from ringing between certain hours. I suggest you seek out what works for you in your situation.”
And Don Gunning: “Let me be one of the doubtless scores of readers who will tell you how to disable Daniel -- totally! For years we had been deluged with more and more Robo-Calls -- more than upsetting, infuriating! At all hours. A month or so ago we acquired ‘Call Control’ from Telus -- on line -- free of charge! Not one Robo-Call since! Magical!”
Mirza Yawar Baig: “I usually put my phone on aeroplane mode and so the Daniels of the world can't get to me.”
Now for the groundhog letters.
Isabel Gibson combined the two issues: “I hate early-morning calls. I always leap to, ‘What's wrong?’ Somehow, it's never something good. Good can wait, I guess.
“I'm with you on the illogic of groundhog shadows (Why a shadow? Why theirs?), but it's a ritual now so we're stuck with it. As are they.
Kerry Mewhort “concluded that the outcome of whether or not a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day in Canada is pretty much the same. In my books, six more weeks of winter would be an early spring.”
Jim Henderschedt enjoys being slightly irreverent: “In Seminary our take was that if the groundhog saw its shadow we would have six more weeks of Lent. And the other one was on Easter -- if Jesus came out of his tomb and saw his shadow, the same result.
“The miracle was we all were ordained anyway.”
Wiarton Willie made the editorial cartoons this year. Mary Collins sent this cartoon, although I don’t know how it will transmit.
Q: Did he see his shadow?
A: Hard to tell. He’s frozen solid.
The first eight verses of Psalm 119 are odd – they’re not beseeching God for anything.
1 How fortunate are those who have not fouled up their lives!
They can hold their heads high in God's presence.
2 They are single-minded in pursuing God's way;
They are not tempted to turn aside.
3 They try not to harm anyone;
They follow the Lord's footsteps.
4 For God has gone this way before us;
5 God, help me to follow you faithfully.
6 As long as I can keep my eyes on your example,
I will not disgrace myself;
7 My feet will not stumble, and my stride will not slacken.
I can come before you with a clean conscience.
8 I want to walk humbly with you, God;
To seek justice and live kindness.
Come, walk with me.
Apparently the printed book of my paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary is now out of print. But you can still order an e-book version of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 1-800-663-2775
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)