Lent is For Friends

I wrote this post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent, as a reflection on a wonderful few days I have just spent celebrating my friend Cheryl’s 60th birthday.

Celebrating with Friends

Celebrating with Friends

To be honest when I first arrived at the celebration I felt a little for taking off time like this in the middle of Lent. Then it struck me – Lent is a season to renew, refocus and restore ourselves. This celebration accomplished all three. I hardly opened my Bible, but have rarely spent a more spiritual time together with a community of friends.

Four of our party share memories that date back to the early days on board the first Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis which we all helped pioneer. Some of you may have seen the recent 60 minute program on the Africa Mercy which highlighted this ministry and the amazing fruit that has flown from our challenging efforts and sometimes heartbreaking time together. 

One of Cheryl’s friends who had not been through those pioneering commented “I have never seen a group of friends with such a special bond.” And its true, those days of struggle when we sometimes did not even know where the money for our next day’s food would come from formed a depth for friendship we could never have created in any other way.

We reminisced about the trip Ruth and I took in the mid 80s’ on which we recruited Dr Gary Parker who was featured on the program and has now lived on board for 26 years. I shared stories of my adventures in the hospital chipping, scraping and painting wondering why God had called a doctor to do such work. (You can read more about this in my book Tales of a Seasick Doctor). We talked too about the challenging times when some of lived in tents on the Hawaiian island of Oahu while the ship had a sprinkler system fitted – no sacrifice you might think until you realized this lasted for twelve months. The rest of us lived on the ship surrounded by welding smoke and with the not so gentle sounds of unloading cement and cars.  Not an easy time to be in charge of the ship’s medical ministry and without these friends I am sure that I would never have had the faith or the sticking power to see it become a fully functional hospital on which I oversaw the first years of Mercy Ships medical ministry. Most important of all we talked about the faithfulness of God in midst, the regular rhythms of prayer, fellowship and fun which molded us together into this very special friendship.

Friendship is so important to our lives and our faith. I would not be the person I am today without these very special friends who cried with me, prayed with me and shared my joys. They helped me confront the demons in my past and brought me healing. What better way to spend a part of Lent than with such friends.

It reminded me of a friend Tom and I share who always contacts us during Lent. His Lenten discipline is to contact friends he has not been together with in the last twelve months. He too recognized the importance of such relationships in molding us into the people God intends us to be.

So think about it. Are there friends you have been out of touch with for a while that you could contact during this Lenten season? Are there ones that were once friends that you are now estranged from? Or are there friends that you fear to contact because they are in challenging circumstances you can’t cope with hearing about? Or sit for a while and think about relationships that have renewed, restored and transformed you. Give your friends a call just to say thank you for their input into your life.


Dead Sea: A Novel by Lynne Baab.

dead sea: A Novel by Lynne Baab

dead sea: A Novel by Lynne Baab

I don’t often post reviews of fiction books, in spite of the fact that I read 3-4 of them a week. However last week my friend Lynne Baab sent me a copy of Dead Sea: A Novelwhich is now available as an e-book on Amazon. I loved it. It not only brought back memories of my own time in Israel twenty years ago but also satisfied my desire for some good detective work. Her descriptions of a trip into Petra Jordan where I have not been, made me want to pack my bags and get on the plane.

This is not a complex novel of intrigue and thrill, but it is a delightful read for a quiet afternoon of relaxation and refreshment. I highly recommend it both to those who love the Middle East, and to those who enjoy a good detective story. 

What Makes You Feel Close to God?

This morning I came across the website Picturing God: Faces and Traces of the Divine developed by Ignatian spirituality. This is a place to share photos of where we experience the presence of God that I thought some of you may be interested in.

Where do you find God in the world around you? Do you encounter God in nature, in the people around you, in a church, in the beauty of the arts, the disciplines of science, or the mundane moments of daily life? All of these are places where we can experience God’s presence and grace. This photo blog seeks to use the visual to help us find God in all things.

Thinking about this made me pull out some of my favourite photos that made me feel close to God. The interesting thing is the diversity of experiences that make me feel close to God.

I feel close to God in the midst of creation, especially in the garden

With God in the garden

With God in the garden

I feel close to God when together with friends and family, while doing hospitality and celebrations.

tea with friends

tea with friends

I also feel close to God when I sit in my office gazing out at the beauty of the mountains.

Seattle sunset

Seattle sunset

I also feel close to God when I meditate, walk the labyrinth, pray, when we go on pilgrimage and spiritual retreats.

Iona Abbey Window

Iona Abbey Window

I often start seminars on spirituality by asking the question: Where do you feel closest to God? The answers over the years have surprised me as participants have shared their encounters in the garden, while playing with kids, sharing a meal with friends and even taking a shower. Even though people often mention spiritual practices , they rarely mention church.

So where do you feel closest to God?



Unexpected Blessings

Beautiful Butterfly on blackberries

Beautiful Butterfly on blackberries – The unexpected blessing of God

Yesterday we went up to Camano Island to the site of the Mustard Seed Village. We staked out the site for the first building, met with contractors and cleared prayer trails from the upcoming Celtic retreat. It was in many ways a momentous visit. But in the midst I started to feel discouraged. The dirt bike riders have been back again, dumping rubbish, destroying our altar and ramming into and damaging the porta potty.


Mustard Seed Village - broken altar

Mustard Seed Village – broken altar

As I watched the beautiful butterfly above drinking from the blackberry flowers I realized how easily I look at the down side of life and miss the unexpected blessings of God. Our theme for this year’s retreat is thankfulness and gratitude and I realize that this is the place in which I need to be living. As I looked around me I saw how much we have to be grateful for. The beauty of this land always takes my breath away and I love to walk the trails just drinking in the wonder of God’s love poured out in creation. Our team of work party volunteers, headed by Doug Woods who has helped set up retreats over the last 10 years is another amazing blessing. Even the dirt bikers have helped. Because they have been driving up the trails we had a lot less clearing to do.


Checking Out Plans for the Mustard Seed Village

Checking Out Plans for the Mustard Seed Village with Dennis Todd

Watching as Dennis Todd, our architect David Vandervort and other potential workers discussed the plans for the building and then staked out its exact positioning was probably the greatest blessing of all. Tom and I have waited 20 years to see this happen, and to think I could have missed the wonder of the moment if I had kept my eyes on the rubbish and not on the blessings.

Reporting on Wild Goose East 2012

Tom & I at the Mustard Seed/Overflow booth at Wild Goose

Tom & I at the Mustard Seed/Overflow booth at Wild Goose

Tom and I are back home after several wonderful days at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. It was hot, humid and dusty but in spite of that we had a wonderful time. Tom was in fine form talking about intentional community and moving beyond the Western dream and I had fun speaking on reimagining how we pray.

Tom was in fine form

Tom was in fine form

More than anything we enjoyed meeting old friends and making new ones. Had lots of good discussions, shared lots about the Mustard Seed Village and Cascadia and just thoroughly enjoyed a relaxed but provokative festival.

Together with fellow Australian Dave Andrews

Together with fellow Australian Dave Andrews

I also loved the grievance wall and the opportunity for people to share their frustrations with life & faith

Grievance wall Wild Goose festival

Grievance wall Wild Goose festival

What I didn’t enjoy – having to check for ticks every day and came home covered in itchy bites.

Uninvited guests

Uninvited guests

You can check out my complete festival album on facebook. enjoy

Still to come for the summer – Creative World Festival in Mission B.C. and Wild Goose West 

Twitturgies by Gerard Kelly

This is the second post in the series Lord Teach Us To PrayIt was originally posted in 2009 as part of a series on What is a Spiritual Practice, but is is so good that I wanted to reblog it as part of this series on prayer.

Gerard Kelly and his wife Chrissie founded and co-lead The Bless Network, a growing family of talented and passionate young leaders working for the transformation of Europe. Bless uses short-term mission placements on mainland Europe as a learning tools, empower young adults to grow through ‘missional formation’: encountering the God of mission and finding purpose in the mission of God. The Kelly’s live in France, where bless are developing an intentional community and missional base on a former cider farm in Normandy.

Gerard prays on twitter at twitter.com/twitturgies. Gerard and Chrissie have co-authored ‘Intimate with the Ultimate’, a popular guide to the life of prayer published by Authentic in 2009. Gerard has published around 10 other titles, including ‘Twitturgies’ which is a collection of some of his Twitter prayers.


Gerard and Chrissie Kelly

Gerard and Chrissie Kelly

As reported in London’s Independent and around the world, Ireland’s top Catholic Cardinal Sean Bray has urged his flock to use Twitter as a means of prayer. In a speech in honour of the late Father Patrick Peyton, the Priest famous for coining the phrase “the family that prays together stays together,” Cardinal Bray insists that a new movement of prayer can arise using new technology and social networks.

Publicity-seeking hype, or a genuine call to prayer? Can social networks genuinely become part of spiritual discipline in the 21st Century?

My own experiment with prayer on Twitter would suggest that they well might. At the end of February this year, I was reflecting on what value Twitter might have in my own life. It was just days after the Amsterdam air incident, when a Turkish jet crash-landed in a field a few kilometers from my home. Many people from our church community were involved in the rescue efforts and in treating the victims as they were rushed to local hospitals. And many others were astounded by the speed at which Twitter users were able to inform others of the crash. This was a week in which Twitter, in more ways than one, got everybody talking. And it got me thinking. Two things happened to me as a result. The first was a prayer that rose in my heart: “This day, Lord, be born in me. This day teach. This day heal. This day win, in death, surprising prizes. This day rise, this day rise in me.”

The second was a word: Twitturgies. Why not use Twitter as a means of prayer, all the time accepting the constraints of communication in less than 140 characters? In essence I simply took the Twitter question “What are you doing?” and translated it as “What are you praying?” taking the prayers I was praying in any case and crafting them into personal liturgies.

Two hundred and twenty-four Twitturgies later, the result has been an unexpected change in my own life of prayer. Others have expressed appreciation for the prayers they have received on Twitter, but the real benefits have been in my own spirituality. By allowing my commitment to Twitturgies to force upon me the regular question, “What are you praying?” the practice of writing Twitturgies has blown a fresh breeze through my prayers.

There are three key ways in which this has really helped me: Firstly, it has empowered me to pray frequent, short prayers, peppering my day with snatched moments of prayer, rather than waiting for the rare occasions when I can spend focused hours praying. I still seek out those times when I can, but I am praying more overall by adding these shorter prayers. I don’t update Twitturgies at fixed times, but they are often early-morning or late-evening “tweets,” with whatever opportunities I can find in between to use my computer or phone to pray.

Secondly, the forced constraint of 140 characters brings incredible focus to my prayers. On many occasions I have been surprised by the clarity that emerges. Twitturgies are shared with others, so they have to be interesting, accessible, and easy to understand—criteria that should be perhaps applied to prayer more often. Twitter posts are the new Haiku, and as the Japanese have known for centuries, the constraints of form do not stifle creativity: they give it depth. The challenge of expressing heartfelt prayers in such short sentences has been a new discipline in itself.

Lastly, the practice has made me newly conscious of my own prayers and longings. My aim is that Twitturgies be authentic—that is, that they genuinely reflect something I am praying about. They are prayers, not poems as such. I have to ask myself, “What do I want to say to God right at this moment?” “What is on my heart today?” The questions become part of the discipline. The result of this is that I am both a reader and a writer of Twitturgies; the construction of these prayers speaks to my heart also. And because they are short and sharp, they capture very succinctly what is going on in my soul at a given moment. I archive all the prayers so they are also a kind of spiritual journal. I can look back over a day, or a series of days, and see a pattern in the prayers that have emerged. “Reading” this pattern against the events of that day or days helps me to reflect on my own spiritual journey more deeply.

Twitter has become, for me, a vital part of my prayer life. Because it is intended to be a mobile medium (I write as often from my phone as from my laptop), it is a go-anywhere prayerbook. I have prayed “twitturgically” in between appointments, walking home from the office, during a coffee break, in a worship service, and in the last moments before sleep. Perhaps Twitter can become a kind of technological breath-prayer, a “pray without ceasing” application for any of us.

Discernment at the Mustard Seed Village

Gathering at Romana Lee Cafe in Stanwood

Gathering at Romana Lee Cafe in Stanwood

Yesterday our Celtic Visioning Team met on Camano Island to discern together the way forward for the Cascadia program and the Mustard Seed Village development. This is the first time that we have gathered as a team that includes not only our long term commitment community: Tom and myself, David Vandervort, Doug Woods, Cindy Todd and Forrest Inslee, but also our new members Jessica and Ryan Weemhoff who will be aour programme directors for the Cascadia/CCSP programme. We started with a check in time that allowed all of us to express our joys and our struggles especially as they relate to the development of this project. Some of this I expressed in my previous post MSA Imaginings.

Then we drove out to the land. We drove through the narrow tunnel of trees to the existing clearing. Its beauty was breathtaking. It welcomed us with a sense of belonging, a feeling that this is home for us. Being on the land was so important for us and being together with this core community which longs to bring God’s vision into being was very special.

Gathering at the Mustard Seed Village site

Gathering at the Mustard Seed Village site

Taking time to listen to God in the place where we are planting, and with the people we are planting with is essential whatever our vision might be.

Some of what we felt God saying was unexpected. The dirt bike riders have been back driving round the clearing and through the trails. Others have dumped rubbish in the clearing again. One of our team commented – We have always seen this negatively but maybe we need to welcome them. Their presence has helped keep the trails open, and maybe in the process they can somehow meet with God. Some of what we heard was a reassurance of God’s presence with us. The sense of hospitality we felt as we arrived. The welcome of this beautiful part of God’s creation where all of us feel alive and renewed. Some is still just glimmers of vision on the horizon. How to finance not just the building but the development of the programmes as well is an ever present challenge.

Interestingly the scripture for the day was Mark 4:30-32, which includes the parable of the mustard seed

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

It was a wonderful reminder that God is the one who does the growing for us. The trouble is that we are tired of planting seeds and we want to see that growth take place. We appreciate your prayers and supportiveness as we move forward… and if you have any words of wisdom for us we want to hear from you.

Our next gathering on Camano will be for the Celtic prayer retreat August 17 – 19th. We hope that some of you can join us.

You Can Help George Win A Van – by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

George needs a new van

George needs a new van

One year ago this week, as the birds were hatching on our porch and the rose bush was in full bloom, our friend George was shot, just four blocks up the street. The bullet that hit his neck lodged in his C-7 and paralyzed him from the chest down. For eight months, George lay on his back in a hospital bed. Most of the medical and social work professionals who worked with him said George would never live outside of an institution again.

But George said, “I’m gonna drive.”

After working hard in rehab, George came home to stay with us at Rutba House in early February of this year. With good medical care, determination, and the patient love of lots of friends, he’s made steady progress–getting out of bed, learning to use a wheel chair, even hoisting himself in and out of our family van. But all along, George has maintained, “I’m gonna drive.”

I believe he will. But here’s the exciting news: you can help make it happen. For National Mobility Awareness Month, there’s a contest. Three people will win a fully equipped, handicap accessible van. And the winners will be determined by the number of votes that each nominee gets by May 13th.

So here’s what we need you to do.

1) Click here to Vote for George. (Use the promo code “963″ to multiply your initial vote times five.)

2) Share this. Email it. Tweet it. Post it to Facebook. Holler at everyone in your office and ask them to help.

3) Vote Early, Vote Often. We’re getting a late start, but you can vote once every 24 hours until May 13th.

George thinks I’m a little crazy for thinking we can win this. And maybe I am. But if I’ve learned anything in our life here at Rutba House, it’s that the unimaginable is possible when people come together in the power of love.

As a matter of fact, that’s the only thing that makes our life here possible.

I’m glad for this chance to invite you to join us.

Snapshot Inhabit 2012 – Andrew Wade

Inhabit is over. Great fun, great fellowship with friends old and new and much to think about. Here is a snapshot from MSA team member Andrew Wade. A great event to be a part of. Will let you know as soon as we have the dates for next year.

Why are We Making Soap?

Snohomish Soap Company soap

Soap at the Snohomish Soap company comes in many forms

Yesterday I posted that Cindy Todd MSA team member and founder of Snohomish Soap Company will hold a workshop on Spirituality and Soap  at the Mustard Seed House and I know that some of you are asking – Why make soap and what does that have to do with following Jesus or with Mustard Seed Associates? 

This morning I read this post on the Do Lectures 2011 – 5 Lessons on How to Love Life and Improve the World Around You.  It makes inspiring reading.  The first lesson from speaker Steve Edge  was: Things are not the way they are.  We don’t have to settle for the status quo.  We all have the power to decide to be different, to go against the grain, to stand out, to stand up.  Hmm now that could easily be something that Jesus told his disciples.  We are indeed called to be different and to make a difference in this world.

In another article on the Do Lectures entitled What Can You Uniquely Do ,graphic designer Frank Chimero in his talk about the gift of giving is reported as saying:

… use your gifts to “build a machine that turns into a gift giving machine.” Frank’s Big Do is this: “How can we uncover the auspicious wonder that lies at the heart of making?”

We can make a living and make a difference in this world if we are willing to step out and take a risk and that is at the core of who we are and what MSA is all about.  We increasingly want to inspire and equip people to step out into the ways of God.  To see that God has uniquely gifted each of us to be co-creators with the living God in our unique ways that can make a difference in God’s world.

And that is part of what Cindy is showing with her soap business.  What began as a way to help her and her family survive in difficult financial times has become a thriving business that highlights the importance of local sustainability while providing jobs for single parent mums.  It has networked her into the local community.  It has exposed her to the stuggles and dreams of others who make their livings through small businesses.  And underlying it are her Christian values and a desire to make a difference in God’s world.  One of her dreams is to help women with disabled kinds in the Ukraine learn to make soap as a cottage industry.  I love to hear what Cindy has learned about God and faith through her business creation and I know that there are many in God’s world who are blessed because she has stepped out in this way.

How have you used the unique gifts God has placed within you to make a difference in this world?