The Revs. Smiths’ Message for July 5, 2020

With the arrival of some really lovely weather, and turning the calendar over to July, it really feels like summer is here.

If you’re a student, this year it doesn’t bring the usual relief of a break from school, and the holiday might not feel like much of a change.

If you’re a parent who has been balancing work and child care, it might feel like just two more months of the same old thing.

But we hope the nicer weather, and maybe some summer travel or recreational activities bring something of a change and a break for us all.

The word recreation, we might remember, offers us some help in what we might plan for and expect from a holiday season. “Re-creation” suggests being “remade”, “renewed”, even “reborn”, with all the connotations that brings to mind from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

Two seated figures of Christ and Nicodemus at a small table illuminated by a single candle, with a boy standing behind them holding a book
Jesus Christ and Nicodemus” (between 1640 and 1650) by Dutch painter Matthias Stom (c. 1600–1652), from the collection of the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

A time of recreation then means not just packing in as many activities as we can, or rushing from one special activity to the next in a frantic desire to make the most of our time off. It means making it a time of renewal, of being restored in body, mind and spirit. It will mean including times of rest and reflection, time to take stock of ourselves and our relationships with family, friends and with God. It can mean taking the time to embrace the creation itself, and the wonder and beauty of this great gift God has given us.

Regardless of what your plans are this summer, we wish for you a time of true recreation. And that the end of summer might even bring us opportunities to return from our pandemic exile and draw closer to one another once again.

We live in hope.

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

This message first appeared in the July 3, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for June 28, 2020

Summer is here!

Mary Oliver has a wonderful poem, The Summer Day, that ends with “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The Landmannalaugar area in summer, as seen from Laugavegur hiking trail, Iceland. Image: author Petr Brož/Chmee2; license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

In whatever we plan to do with this gift from God, this gift of life on this earth, while it is ours, the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 16: 13, 14 charges us to stand firm in our faith, to let all that we do be done in love.

Tasman Jude is a reggae band from, of all places, Grande Prairie, Alberta. Hear the words of their song, Every Breath: “Live each day like it’s your last — Every breath is a second chance — to fill your hearts with love — on earth as it is above.” Or listen to it on YouTube.

And let all that you do be done in love.

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

This message first appeared in the June 27, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for June 21, 2020

This week, with the gradual lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, our 4-year old granddaughter, Ellie came for a sleep-over party. We were looking forward to this as much as she was, but of course it took a lot of energy on our part to keep up with her. Her tireless ability to try new things and to explore new adventures are a delight to watch, and to try to keep up with.

Sunrise in Pieniny mountains, Poland. Image: Author – Pudelek. License – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Photo taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

First thing in the morning she was there. Ellie woke us at 6:15. She came running into our room, pulled back the blinds to let in the bright morning sun shine in, and said, “Grandma, Grandpa, you’ve got to get up! The whole day is here!”

How can you resist that? Her joy, her enthusiasm and her wonder, were infectious. In a time when racial tensions have boiled over, and when a virus now seems to define our lives in terms of where we cannot go and what we cannot do, what a wonderful moment of grace we were given — the reminder that a whole new day stretched out before us, a gift from God filled with opportunities to discover grace and blessing in our lives, and to bring to it the best of who we are.

Yes, we are going through unprecedented and challenging times that can be draining and uncertain. But thank God for the delightful reminder of the wonderful opportunities and possibilities that come to us all, renewed every day. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

With every good wish for your new days.

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

This message first appeared in the June 19, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for June 14, 2020

According to the first book of Samuel, chapter 16, when King Saul was feeling down, he would call on David to play the harp for him. Saul found that this relieved his pain and helped him feel better.

King David Playing the Harp – modello (detail); by Peter Paul Rubens, from the collection of the Barnes Foundation, courtesy the Wikimedia Commons.

The 17th century poet, William Congreve, wrote that music has charms to soothe a savage breast.

Music has great power to move us. Were we not excited when Rachelle offered the Widor piece on Easter Sunday in the worship resources (available on our YouTube channel)? And she has continued to minister to us through music posted each week on the website.

Three months plus into the pandemic, is there a particular piece of music that has helped you cope? One that lifts your spirits or gives you peace? Or makes you smile? There is Diana Ross & the Supremes with “Someday We’ll be Together”. Perhaps it is Sonny & Cher’s, “I Got You Babe”, that song that woke up Bill Murray same day after same day after same day after same day in the movie Groundhog Day. In our house as we work on the worship resources we often think of that chap in “Eleanor Rigby”, “Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear. No one comes near.”

On a more serious note, we have recently discovered Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s “My Love Colours Outside The Lines”, about doing things differently.

So can we come up with a GCPC Pandemic Playlist? Let us know what you would put on the list, and we will publish the list in a couple of weeks on Tidbits. Maybe someday we can have a Pandemic Playlist concert. Just send an email to the Tidbits editor using the email address tidbits AT to give your suggestion.

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

This message first appeared in the June 13, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for June 7, 2020

Our pandemic lock-down is about three months long at this point.

Over that time we have become accustomed to the daily press conferences by the Prime Minister and Premier, and daily counts of jobs lost, new infections recorded, and deaths due to the virus. The numbers are staggering, and even if we remain healthy, the impact on the lives of all of us is significant. It becomes a different thing altogether if it is ourselves, a family member or friend who is infected, or someone whom we know who has died. That makes it all so much more personal.

Image credit: Author Sneha ss. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Courtesy the Wikimedia Commons.

You will be aware how distressing this virus has been in long-term care institutions, and we were struck this week to learn that Extendicare Guildwood, a neighbour of ours in Guildwood — scarcely a five-minute walk from the church — has been particularly devastated by it. Over half of the residents there have been found to have contracted the virus, 40 have died, and infections amongst staff have made the delivery of care difficult. These are our neighbours, friends, and family.

The Session is sending a letter of support to Extendicare, and we invite you to join with us in a prayer that God would be with them through all that they are going through:

Gracious and loving God, we pray for the residents, their families, and the staff of Extendicare Guildwood, that you would be present to them in the ordeal that they are going through and your peace would surround them.

For the residents, we pray for your healing and support, that they would be renewed in body and spirit, and that all their needs would be met.

For their families, we pray your peace and consolation, that you would be present to answer their fear and concern, and that they would be given hope in the assurance that you will hold their loved ones in your love.

And for the staff, we give thanks for their commitment to the care of the residents, and pray for their health, renewal and continued dedication to their work in the face of the ravages of the pandemic.

God of hope, we know that you have promised to be with your people in the darkest of the valleys through which we must travel.

Hold in your love the people of Extendicare Guildwood that they may find hope and healing in this assurance, and be given strength for their trials.

It is in the name of Jesus that we ask these things. Amen.

Wishing you all of God’s richest blessings,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

This message first appeared in the June 6, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for May 31, 2020

Seven weeks after Passover, our Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate the Feast of Weeks.  They celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest and God giving the law to Moses and the Israelites at biblical Mount Sinai.

On the 50th day, (in the Greek language, the Pentecost day), they party. And in one particular year, the Holy Spirit showed up for the celebration in very dramatic fashion, with fire, and wind, and lots of different languages being spoken.

A Scarlet Macaw at the Fort Worth Zoo. Image by Travis Isaacs; license CC BY 2.0 Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic; from the WIkimedia Commons.

We like to follow Unvirtuous Abbey on Twitter. The by-line is “Digital Monks Praying Pop Culture Prayers. Holier than thou but not by much.” It can border on the sacrilegious, but often makes us think about faith and often makes us laugh. When Unvirtuous Abbey wants to illustrate the Holy Spirit, it uses birds. There is an eagle, taking off in flight, with the caption, “She’s just heard. She’s on her way.” There is a little brown sparrow, feeding her young, with the caption “Actual photo of the Holy Spirit caring for her children”. And an all-white East African Crowned Crane, with a rather stern look on her face, striding with purpose across the beach,– “Actual photo of the Holy Spirit. She’s on Her way. You know full well what you did.”

And perhaps my favourite, a bright blue, green, yellow, red parrot, “Actual photo of the Holy Spirit reminding you to let your true colours shine through…That’s why She loves you. So don’t be afraid.”

The next time you hear a bird, on your walk, or out your window, think of it as the Holy Spirit, dropping by to say hello.

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

Originally posted in the May 29, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for May 24, 2020

A friend posted the following quote on Facebook, identified only as coming from the Celtic Christian Tradition.

Choose Joy!
Don’t wait for things to get easier,
Life will always be complicated. Learn to be happy right now.
Otherwise, you’ll run out of time.

The prophet Jeremiah, writing to his people struggling with the isolation, losses and grief of exile, called them to settle in where they were, to get married, have children, and make the best of their present situation, for even in it, God has great plans for them. (Jer. 29)

In our time of isolation, and limited opportunities, I have been encouraged and given hope by the examples of people who find life, blessing and opportunity even now.

They are not just waiting for it to be over, or lamenting all the things that we are missing, but managing to make the best of what we have here and now, and even finding joy in it. They are noticing on their daily walk the spring flowering of the trees and the birds’ songs in the air, finding creative new projects and activities for the children to enjoy, sharing recipes online, delivering groceries to an elderly neighbour, exploring ways to make music together through the wonders of the internet.

Jeremiah calls us to find opportunities to serve, discover and create – to choose joy, and to find blessing in the choosing.

Wishing you grace and peace,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

Originally posted in the May 23, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for May 17, 2020

Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister who introduced generations of young children to ideas of kindness, diversity, peace, and even death and grief through his television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.

During these days of pandemic, here is an activity in which we can take part, one of the many gifts he gave to us. This gift comes not from the popular television show, but from a commencement address he gave at Dartmouth College. As we receive this gift, we think of the many students who will have to forgo graduation ceremonies this year.

Here is the gift: “I’d like to give you all …a gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today.
Some of them may be here right now.
Some may be far away.
Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in heaven.
But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. So let’s just take a minute, in honour of those that have cared about us all along the way.

One silent minute…

Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent time, you remember how important they are to you.
It’s not the honours and the prizes, and the fancy outsides which ultimately nourish our souls.
It’s the knowing that we can be trusted.
That we never have to fear the truth.
That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.”

One silent minute …

Revs. Bob and Helen

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for May 10, 2020

We are as relieved as anyone to hear news of the gradual opening up of some of the activities and businesses that were part of our pre Covid-19 everyday lives.  So long as we can do it responsibly and safely, we can’t wait to get back to “normal”.  What will we do first: go out for lunch, plan a big party, get our hair cut?

What we are going through is a huge social experiment.  Can we willingly make huge changes and sacrifices for the greater good?  And it looks like we can.  There have been costs — huge costs — but it appears the curve is being flattened and there is hope for a loosening of our restrictions.

Celtic cross on Iona (Inner Hebrides, Scotland, UK). Image courtesy the Wikimedia Commons. Attribution: PaulT (Gunther Tschuch). Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

But as we go back to “life as usual”, can we take with us that willingness to change?  Can we reflect on what has been good about this experience and imagine going back to a new and improved normal?  May we suggest some things that we might hang onto:

  • our ability to be selfless
  • the value of a good walk every day
  • being more intentional about connecting with family and friends
  • recognizing our dependency on those who serve us and remembering to thank them, to make sure they are safe and paid well
  • the awareness of the need to look out for one another, and especially people who are poor, homeless, elderly, living so vulnerably on the edge
  • more space for people, less for cars
  • making sure everyone has enough
  • gratitude for our leaders who have worked so hard, so well together, to chart for us a way
  • remembering the greater good beyond us — socially, in our health care, in our care for the environment — and being part of the cause to protect it, to improve it.

Yes, a pandemic is a terrible thing.  People have suffered, lives have been lost, the burden of our disrupted routines for many has been enormous.  But there have been beautiful parts to it as well — heroic acts of service by so many people, support for neighbours, wonderful expressions of thanks, and the reminder through the worst of it that God is good, and that we are never alone.

Wishing you a good recovery,

Revs. Helen and Bob Smith