Debra Charnuski presided over the morning worship service on January 9, 2022. The Seed of Meditation chosen by Deb was a quote from David Simon: "Transitions are a part of life, allowing for perpetual renewal. When you experience the end of one chapter, allow yourself to feel the emotions of loss and rebirth. A bud gives way to a new flower, which surrenders to the fruits, which gives rise to a seed, which yields a new sprout. Even as you ride the roller coaster, embrace the centered internal reference of your faith."
Enjoy reading the text:
Good morning and welcome to week 2 of the New Year – 2022!
I have always embraced the beginning of a “new” year with much anticipation. My favourite new year’s quote is by Brad Paisley and it states "Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one." This quote neatly sums up my philosophy about beginning a new year.
Each new year marks a fresh start and provides me with an opportunity to renew not only myself, but my faith as well.
I have developed some rituals which assist me in setting up a framework for myself to begin a new year. As an avid journaller, I start a new journal at the beginning of each year. Writing things down is a way that I, as an extrovert, process my thoughts and feelings. Words provide spiritual nourishment for my soul. The mindful selection of my journal sets the “tone” for the upcoming year. This year the words on my journal say “Nevertheless….She Persisted”. In challenging and uncertain times, such as those we are facing presently with the pandemic, these words remind me to stay the course, take deep breaths and to take one day at a time.
Change often goes hand in hand with renewal. Each year I pick one word which is representative of a meaningful change I wish to make in my life. My word for this year is “manifest”, which means to take a thought or idea and do something concrete with it. I desire to manifest more of my ideas and thoughts into action. I find that I am good at “talking the talk” but when it comes to “walking the walk” I am often lazy and don’t follow through.
Change is an interesting concept. Suppose you could change anything about yourself, where would you start? Lots of us would start on the outside. Would you be . . .
Skinnier? Taller? Shorter?
Would you change . . . Your eyes?Your hair?Your teeth?Your legs?Your love handles?
I would wholeheartedly embrace being taller. My family is all taller than I am, so it would be wonderful to no longer feel like “Jack” amongst the giant beanstalks.
But as hard as it is to change on the outside, it seems infinitely harder to change on the inside. If there is anything we know about human nature, it is that people change slowly, if they change at all. Think about the struggles of your own life. What would you change about yourself on the inside if you could?
We all want to change something, but we don’t know how to do it and we don’t know where to begin. We all dream of being something different and better than the person we are today. Advertisers know this. That’s why your email inbox is crammed with ads promising that you can lose weight now, make money overnight, learn a new language and so on. I received one the other day that said, “Watch unwanted pounds melt away.” I like that metaphor. It sounds like fun. Take this pill or eat this supplement or drink this super-duper energy drink, and voila! Those unwanted pounds will just melt away. What could be easier?
Change is hard, isn’t it? Go to any bookstore and you will see an entire wall of self-help books. Helping people change is a big business. But when we get up in the morning and look in the mirror, all we see is the same old person looking back at us. That’s why we move, change jobs, buy a new car, start a new career, find a new boyfriend, start working out, buy a new outfit, and on and on it goes. It’s not as if those things are wrong in themselves. Sometimes we need to make outward changes. But it’s not the outward stuff that needs to be refreshed and renewed. It’s the stuff on the inside.
Which brings me the first reading today, Romans 12:2 one of the better- known verses in the New Testament:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Sound great….but how does that transformation happen?
You may have heard the phrase “Change begins from inside out”. So first, we must be transformed on the inside.
Christians often use the word “transfigured.” It means to be changed or transformed from one thing to another. The Greek word for “transformed” in Romans 12:2 is related to the English word metamorphosis. You will recall from science class that metamorphosis is the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, and a tadpole becomes a frog. It’s a gradual change on the inside that produces a total transformation on the outside.
Consider what happens when a caterpillar enters the cocoon, only to emerge later as a butterfly. The caterpillar doesn’t change its basic nature. Metamorphosis reveals what was always there in the genes of the caterpillar.
When the caterpillar has been changed into a butterfly, it becomes what God always intended it to be.
It is often difficult to see what God intends. In the year 1464 a sculptor named Agostino di Duccio began working on a huge piece of flawed marble. Intending to produce a magnificent sculpture of an Old Testament prophet for a cathedral in Florence, Italy, he labored for two years and then stopped. In 1476 Antonio Rossellino started to work on the same piece of marble and in time abandoned it also.
In 1501, an upstart, but well-known 26-year-old sculptor named Michelangelo was offered a considerable sum of money to produce something worthwhile from that enormous block of marble now called “the giant.” As he began his work, he saw a major flaw near the bottom that had stymied other sculptors, including (it is said) Leonardo da Vinci. He decided to turn that part of the stone into a broken tree stump that would support the right leg. The rest he worked on for four years until he had produced the incomparable “David.” Today the seventeen-foot-tall statue stands on display at the Accademia Gallery in Florence where people come from around the world to view it. More than a masterpiece, it is one of the greatest works of art ever produced. It has been said that there is no statue more perfect.
How did he do it? Here is the answer in his own words:
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
Now apply this to the spiritual life. All of us are works-in-progress. We’re not finished, not glorified, not perfected, not completed. We’re all “under construction.” If you’ve ever visited a construction zone, you know that it is noisy and messy. While the hammering and sawing continues, it’s hard to imagine what the final result will be. But God sees the true vision amidst all the rough, imperfect stone.
So how do we as individuals contribute to the work-in-progress? One of the key components of renewal is spiritual growth. Thus, we need to seek out ways grow our faith.
Where do you start? I stumbled across a person who framed one process for spiritual growth into an equation. This immediately captured my attention, as I both love and relate to equations.
T + HH + E = SG
Time + Habits of Holiness + Encouragement = Spiritual Growth
The transformation of the mind takes time, and it takes a determination to develop those Habits of Holiness. Spiritual growth is a result of surrounding yourself by people who are good for your spirit, like fellow members of St. David’s, who may offer advice and support while encouraging you to make wise choices on a daily basis.
Habits of Holiness are behaviours that the Bible and our personal sense of faith and beliefs provide for us. To be kind to both ourselves and others. To love ourselves, God and one another. To be stewards of our environment. To care for the weak and vulnerable. To stand up for justice. To undertake actions that foster peace. I ask you this week to reflect on what you define as your own “Habits for Holiness” and to brainstorm ways you may grow your practice of them in the upcoming year.
And never forget, no matter what happens – the transformation process is about what you’re going through, not who you are.
Romans 12:2 teaches us about spiritual metamorphosis. God intends that we will slowly but surely be transformed into the best we can be.
It will not happen by accident. It does not happen overnight. It happens when we make a personal commitment.
It happens with the godly encouragement of each other. It happens as we become what God made us to be.
This new year all of us here at St. David’s United Church are embarking on a great adventure. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always be fun. It can be nerve-wracking, especially since the future is unknown and the speed of change around us is often more than we feel able to handle.
Take heart, as the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, I fully believe St. David’s will also emerge from this upcoming transformative year as a better version of ourselves with a renewed purpose. Like the caterpillar, we already have great genes working in our favour. We simply need to remain committed to - and focused on - what God intended us to be.
On an individual level work on renewing your inner self by choosing (or creating your own) “Habits of Holiness”. Practice them.
Remember, we are all “works-in-progress”. I came across a story about how a faithful parishioner had the following words engraved on her tombstone: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”
Shhhh. Quiet. Do you hear the faint sound of hammering and sawing on the inside? Put your inner hard hat on, grab your shovel and dig in. The task is often not an easy one, however, when you and God are finally finished working together on the inner renovations, the results will invariably transform you into a better version of yourself.
So… Happy Re-New-al everyone!