Quebec House of Prayer – Even the Sparrow finds a Place by Your Altar

Tanya Allatt, with her husband Brian, runs the Quebec House of Prayer.  She posted this picture on Facebook yesterday.

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A robin had built a nest on the wreath on the front door of her home.

“She stays with her eggs all night. Then, in the morning, I knock gently to let her know that I need to let my chicks out the door for school.” wrote Tanya, “She is very obliging.”

The prayer room at QHOP has another nest, for another birdie.

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A local missionary contracted a very painful chronic virus while overseas, and is now convalescing at QHOP.  She is staying at their motel.  They care for her.  When her pain abates enough to leave her bed, they wheel her over to the prayer room where she can lie down and rest in the presence of the Lord.  The sparrow with the broken wing has a place by the altar.

Waitaminit, did you say motel?  A House of Prayer has a motel?

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Yes, last year QHOP purchased the motel on the adjoining property.  They run it as a standard motel, and suites are available for pilgrims to the House of Prayer.  As they took it over and learned how to run it, they have learned a lot about extending hospitality.

“At QHOP we host the Presence of the Lord.  Asking ourselves, what makes the Holy Spirit comfortable here?  What welcomes His presence here among us?” muses Tanya, “And we also host the people of the Lord.  What makes the House of Prayer a welcoming, safe place for pilgrims?”

Robins, sparrows, pilgrims, all finding a place by the altar of the Lord in Sherbrooke Quebec.

In the Belly of the Whale – Reflections on Surgery and Kenosis

Part of the reason for this fall’s silence was that I had bariatric (weight loss) surgery on November 26 (My birthday – happy birthday to me!)  I had three days in the hospital, about three weeks mostly in bed , and two months off work, which afforded me lots of opportunity to practice solitude and silence.

My journalling before the surgery was full of naive excitement around my goals for the time.  I wanted to read many books.  I had needle felting projects I wanted to accomplish.  Have an extended spiritual retreat.  Get back to my regular blogging.  I thought that even though it would be time off work, that it would be a creative and productive time.

Interestingly enough, what I sensed from the Lord about my surgery recovery time was that it was going to be a time of dormancy, not unlike winter hibernation.  I would be like a seed going into the ground, confident that fruitfulness and growth would follow.  I thought I understood what that meant, but it turns out I did not.

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What I did not anticipate was that going into the ground like a seed would feel like death.  Upon my return from the hospital, I was not functional at all.  The pain was easily managed, but I had no energy, mental focus or concentration.  I slept constantly.  My waking hours were pre-occupied with learning new regimes of drinking, eating, and vitamins, and managing secondary infections.  I don’t have cable or netflicks, so instead of mindlessly watching hours of television, I mindlessly scrolled for hours through Facebook and online communities that focused on bariatric surgery.  Prayer seemed to take mental and emotional energy that I was unable to muster.  In silence I would stare blankly at the walls or window for hours on end, or just sleep.  I felt vacant.  Emptied out.  Not what I expected at all.

Once the fog began to lift, I wrote a poem about the experience.

Kenosis

I didn’t think it would feel like dying.

The leaf falling to the ground

Crumpled and spent

Brittle

Veins popping.

The seed falling in the ground

Cold and dark

Split

The new life emerging

Tears me apart.

Resurrection plunges upward,

Leaving me in it’s wake.

A torn husk,

Forgotten and still.

I didn’t think it would feel like dying.

The season of dormancy ended up being just that.  Dormancy.  Being completely shut down, with no apparent evidence of any kind of spiritual or intellectual activity, either initiated by God or myself.

I found that the book Poustinia shed some light on this dormant season.  In it, Katherine Doherty says, “The only way I can describe it is to say that they are cleansed as we pass through some experience of nothingness.  When we detach ourselves from our intellect and will seem for a while as if we’re totally bereft of our personality, we are as if dead.”  That really is what I experienced.  Nothingness.  Detachment from intellect.  Bereft of personality.  She goes on to say, “Every Christian  should be living this kenotic way of life.  One cannot enter into the mystery of the Incarnation without first doing a hidden stripping of self.  Then follows a lifetime of continued stripping, of emptying oneself and becoming a nonentity.  You remain free, easy, direct, but especially simple.”

I am not sure how I feel about this theology of Kenosis.  I know that in Philippians 2 we are exhorted to have the same mindset of Christ, who embraced humility and self emptying.  However it seems to me the Russian Orthodox perspective on Kenosis is somewhat extreme.  I think that God has given me my intellect, my personality, my gifts, and He wants me to steward them in obedience to His leadership.  Buuuuuut, what if His leadership requires I lay them down and embrace emptiness?  What if He then fills me with something far greater than my own inherit capacities?  I haven’t sorted it out and still feel conflicted about it

In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr also provides a framework for my experience.  He talks of the “Paschal mystery”, and going inside the belly of the whale.

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Christians call it the paschal mystery, but we are all pointing to the same necessity of both descent and ascent  The paschal mystery is the pattern of transformation.  We are transformed through death and rising, probably many times.  There seems to be no other cauldron of growth and transformation.  We seldom go freely into the belly of the beast.”   He goes on to say, “We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning.  That is the path, the periods dark path of true prayer…we avoid God, who works in the darkness – where we are not in control.”   My surgery was elective, though it felt necessary due to the health challenges associated with my obesity.  So in a sense I did go freely into the belly of the beast, but I really had no idea what I was signing up for.

I am now almost three months past my surgery, and I feel like only in the last couple weeks that my faculties are returning to me.  My preoccupation with post surgery food and life management is diminishing as my skills are improving and new behaviours are solidifying.  It just doesn’t take up the same amount of brain space to manage day to day self care.  Whereas before I could read online message boards devoted to bariatric recovery for hours, I now find I’m bored with them quickly, and move on.  I have resumed my regular routines of spiritual reading, prayer, and meditation.

Again, I’m not sure what transformation (other than physical – I’ve already lost 45 pounds since surgery) was effected through this dormant season.  It’s the kind of thing that I probably will have a better perspective on several years down the road.

Resources for Communities – Bed Bug Prevention

We’ve been initiated.

And are now true blue Hamiltonians.

We spent a good chunk of the summer battling bedbugs in our community house. After 4 visits from the exterminators, likely 20 hours of vacuuming and a gazillion loads of laundry, we have now been free from bug sightings or bitings for about a month. I’m feelingly increasingly optimistic that we have overcome. A week or so ago, I baked a cake which I decorated as a bedbug, and we ATE IT, as a declaration of our vanquishing our creepy little foes (I know, kinda gross, but very satisfying).

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At our latest house meeting, we put together a bedbug prevention plan, which we hope will, y’now, prevent further infestations. So here is the list from our brainstorming session!

– wash bedding weekly
– keep bedrooms uncluttered
– have bedbug covers on every mattress
– dust with diatimaceous earth, which is a very fine algae that dehydrates and kills bedbugs within about 48 hours. We use food grade DE, so as not to cause any harm to our parrot Bert. We dust around the baseboards, all the nooks and crannies of our bed frames, in between our mattresses. We also dust under the cushions of the main floor couches and easy chairs.
– put a this goopy circle of petroleum jelly on each couch or soft chair leg, and bed legs.
– metal bed frames are better than wood.
– make sure your blankets don’t touch the floors of your bedroom, and that your bed doesn’t touch the walls.
– don’t leave clothes lying around on the floor of your bedrooms.
– vacuum the couches after big social events, or after a friend who comes over who you know has bedbugs. Inspect couch cushions regularly.
– when you visit someone or somewhere that might be infested (which includes movie theatres and buses!), throw your clothes in the dryer for 30 minutes upon your return. It might feel like a hassle, but it is nothing compared to the hassle of trying to get your house free of bugs.
– when travelling, don’t put your suitcase on the floor in the hotel room. Instead place it on a table. Upon returning, unpack suitcase outside the house, take clothes directly to the laundry, and then vacuum out your suitcase, and optionally dust it with diatimaceous earth.
– regularly run your purse/backpack through the dryer for 30 minutes.
– if you buy anything used (ie Value Village, garage sales), launder it immediately, or if it’s not launderable, closely inspect, wipe down or vacuum it.

I expect there are those among you who have great prevention strategies as well, and we would love to hear them! Send them to us in the comment section.

Bedbugs are pandemic in Hamilton. We wrestle with the tension of being hospitable to our friends, many of whom are struggling with bedbugs as well, and keeping our home uninfected. The reality is that hospitality can be hazardous and costly. We feel like it’s worth the risk, and with a little pro activity at our end we can diminish the risk and enjoy our friends with more peace of mind.

Attending to His Groaning

Monday night I felt off. Just…off.

Not quite myself.

Something was rattling around inside, like, hmm, how to describe it? Indigestion of the spirit maybe?

“I’ll go to bed early. I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.”

Come morning however, it had only intensified. A groaning and rumbling deep inside, like a bear in a cave waking up from hibernation.

Finally, I clued in. I was burden bearing. I’ve written about this before in my blog, here and here.

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I was in the kitchen alone, making pancakes for the house. Mindless work. So I went on pancake autopilot and attended to the groaning.

To His groaning.

I didn’t try to figure it out. I just tuned in to the rumble and sat with the feelings. Grief, pain, sadness. I prayed in the Spirit a bit. The closest I could get to articulating anything was ‘come, Lord Jesus’.

By the time we sat down to eat pancakes, it had passed. Whatever it was, it had been prayed through.

After pancakes, our housemates check in and pray with each other. I told them about my morning groaning, and in our intercession time, they prayed that I would have insight into what it had been about.

I realized though, that I don’t need to know what it is about. My modern, Western mind would like to be able to articulate and categorize things. But sometimes there are groans too deep for words, and sometimes it is enough to attend to the murmerings of the Holy Spirit, deep within.

Catholics classify prayer as kataphatic or apophatic. Simply put, kataphatic prayer is the prayer of words or images. Apophatic prayer is inarticulate, wordlessly attending to the Presence of Jesus within. We as Western Evangelicals are much more familiar and comfortable with the former. I am discovering in my journey in prayer, though, that with greater frequency I’m being drawn to a place beyond words, into the place simply of His Presence.

And sometimes His groanings. As He grieves over all the calamity in this world, is it not surprising that He would invite us to groan with Him? To accompany Him in His grief?

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A Day in the Life

What do urban monks, House of Prayer people do anyways? People have a hard time wrapping their heads around our vocation (most Catholics get it right away), so from time to time I find it helpful to post what a day looks like for me.

6 am. I’m in The Nook, a prayer space I created in Kirks and my room. We live in an intentional community with a bunch of other adults, so private space and time is precious and hard to come by. Kirk sleeps later than I, so early mornings are the best time for me to be alone with Jesus. I read, journal and pray.

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8 am. Heartwatch is our weekly Benedictine prayer time at the Vine, our prayer space. Brother David Peter leads us in singing the psalms, interspersed with times of silence and intercession for the city. Two young ladies from Sister Care join us after an early morning working with prostituted women on Barton and we pray together for the sisters they have grown to know and love. My heart is heavy. Today I’m feeling the weight of the loss of a friends grandchild, and the loss of one of our youth at the Living Rock. Too many deaths in our community these days. We cry it out, and trust that the ground is being watered by our prayers and tears, and that life will spring up.

9:30. On reconnaissance, prayer walking and checking out potential new office space for GOHOP. For the last several years, Hughson St Baptist has graciously donated us space, but renovations are coming, so I’m on the prowl for new digs.

10:30. Planning our Internship for the fall, with Peter Giokas, our Internship Director. Dreaming up wild plans for the future, expansion of our training arm. Over the last couple of years, The Lord has brought quite a few academics on our staff of urban/prayer missionaries. We have five folks with M.Divs, and one Doctor of Theology! I find that perplexing and amusing, cause all I have is half a degree of nothing. Jesus, how do you want us to share our gifts to serve the city and the large prayer movement? We are starting to get an inkling of what He is up to but shhhh, it’s a secret!

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12:00. Over to the Living Rock, a ministry to street involved youth in Hamilton. We’ve been partnering with them for years. Tough day today. One of the kids died last week. “I hate this part of our job,” one Rock volunteer shared, “we loose too damn many of them!” The room is full of candles and grieving staff and youth. We sit, pray, listen. Such a privilege to be a gentle witness in these times of loss, to be the loving presence of a people of prayer in their midst. Lots of good connections and conversations with youth happen.

2:00. Still at the Rock. The kids are gone, and we pull out our guitars and spend an hour in worship and intercession for marginalized youth and next generation leaders in our city. Throughout the day I had been checking Facebook for updates on a pastor in our city who was in ICU at a local hospital, and we pray for him as well.

3:30. Yes we do house calls! A friend is struggling with chronic health issues, so our team goes over to her house, anoints her with oil, and prays for her. She explains that she’s been sick on and off since her family moved into this house, and her kids too. “Why don’t we come back and bless and pray through the house?” One of our team member suggest. “Maybe there are some historical and residual spiritual issues at play here that we can deal with.” We make a plan to come back next week to do the house blessing/house cleaning.

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4:15. I’m feeling like a wrung out dishcloth. Such an emotionally and spiritually intense day! Time for baby therapy. We are trying to share life together more as a community, and among other things, that looks like sharing child care. So while our friends Andy and Gwen spring clean their newly purchased Community House, Hannah and I toddle off to the park with their baby and toddler, and introduce them to the wonderful world of slides. “Again! Again!” I can feel the stress slide away and my spirit quietens.

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6:00. One thing I love about intentional community is that I only have to cook one night a week! We come home to a lovely dinner on the table (thanks Mary!) and some wonderful dinner guests. A lovely evening chatting about life and ministry. We take time after dinner, around the table, to thank God for the day and to pray for the needs we are aware of.

“We live very simply,” I explain to our guests. “But it’s a good life, and very very rich!”

Yes it is.

Crossing the Law

I haven’t broken the law lately.

And apart from occasional speeding on the highway and a couple of shoplifted candy bars in my teens, I’ve been a pretty law abiding citizen. As a child I was that kid. You know, the one who cozied up to the teachers, put her hand up to answer the questions in class, and not only obeyed all the rules, but made sure that you all obeyed them as well. I loved the law, and I loved being on the right side of it.

However, I find Jesus the law breaker, a compelling figure.

The laws of the ruling religious elite of his day created inequity of power and the exclusion and marginalization of the vulnerable.

Jesus broke the law when he touched the leper.

When he fraternized with sinners and tax collectors.

When he permitted women of ill repute to anoint and to kiss him.

When he healed on the Sabbath.

When he confronted the big business of organized religion and literally turned the tables on it in the temple.

These infractions of the law were so grievous to the ruling class that they engineered his arrest, trial, and execution.

What does it look like for us to follow in His steps? To adopt His preferential treatment of those on the margins? To address the systems of the elite that rob the vulnerable of their voice and their power? To stand in the face of consumerism, productivity, classism and insularism? How can we live in resistance to the empire? How can we embrace Jesus’ path of nonviolent suffering love?

I love the irony at the end of the story.

Jesus is executed for breaking the law.

And, breathtakingly, in one final act of lawlessness, He breaks the law of the universe and rises from the grave in resurrection power.

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I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

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“Where can she go?” More Notes from David Janzen, and Thoughts About the Wounds that Have Drawn me Into Community

Luke 7:36 – 8:3

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

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Here is the key question.

Where can she go?

She is marked as a sinful woman. An outcast from society. Even if she were to step away from her lifestyle, there is no way she would be enfolded back into the community around her.

The next section of scripture intimates an answer.

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases:Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Here we see a glimpse into Jesus’ community.

It’s likely she went with Jesus.  On the move, bearing witness of the kingdom of God.

He gathered people who because of their wounds were longing for community.

We had our monthly Community House meeting yesterday. I shared this story and then we talked with one a other about the wounds that have drawn us into community. It felt a bit risky, but I really wanted to draw us into deeper and more vulnerable sharing with each other.

Of course I’m not going to tell you their responses, but I can tell you a bit of mine.

What are my wounds? The ones that have drawn me into community life (living in an intentional community house)?

One of them is what I consider an almost pathological need to be competent. I need to be the strong one, the one who holds it all together. The one who can figure things out and find the way forward.

I had a revealing and difficult conversation with a friend the other day whose observation of my life was that I’ve created a neat little world around me where I can be in control.

Ouch.

I don’t know that I agree with their perspective fully, but I can see seeds of truth in it.

Maybe I got stuck at an early phase of development. I can hear the inner toddler in me cry “I can do it all by myself!”

And I can’t, of course. Life is too hard, too complex. With demands beyond my capacities.

So I need to be in community.

In one sense, it’s a very practical need. With six of us sharing responsibilities in the house, I only have to cook once a week and do 1/6 of home maintenance. That frees me up big time, for other responsibilities.

It also goes deeper. I need truth tellers, people who look beyond the public persona and see me, real and unvarnished. Who gently show me my blind spots. Who love me in my weakness. Where I can be safe and reveal my vulnerabilities.

To be the weak one.

I’m still absolutely terrible at it, but I know this is a good place for me to learn and grow.

My wounds brought me here, and I trust the presence of Jesus amongst us will heal us all, bit by bit.