Tonight was the final debate in the campaign for the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth. I accidentally watched a few minutes of it on TV as well as some CNN reporters arguing over it later. It all seemed like a media circus rather than a serious engagement of issues that could help voters make up their minds. How many billions of dollars and two years of people’s time and attention were wasted on this? It is a cause for global prayers of lament. Perhaps Canadians lament more over the loss of the Blue Jays in a baseball game to a team with a racist team name.

Today, October 19 is also the birthday of John Woolman born in 1720. After refusing as a young man to write a bill of sale for a slave, Woolman went on to play a key role in challenging Quakers to give up slavery and recognize it as unchristian. Thanks to the active faith of Woolman and others, Quakers played an important role in the abolition movement throughout the nineteenth century. John Woolman said, “The only Christian way to treat a slave is to set him free.” [from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals] After eight years of having a black president who attempted to instill hope and bring healing it seems that the USA has taken a step backward in the past few years with all the racial violence and the hateful rhetoric of a certain presidential candidate.

Lord have mercy on us.

I’m sitting in the heartland of USA a few hundred miles southeast of Chicago and I’m being forced to think about the present election campaign in this country, although locals say they see very few visible signs of the election compared to the last few campaigns. People I talk to are visibly nervous, especially after the Brexit vote in the UK and the voting down of the peace accord in Colombia. Because this country happens to be the reigning superpower in the world this election will have impact around the world. What will happen? Perhaps we should all be nervous.

However, I am not in the USA as a political observer, I am here for a spiritual formation conference hosted by our denominational seminary. We came together to discuss Christian spiritual formation in the context of this culture to be sure, but also as it uniquely relates to various age groups: children, youth, young adults, middle age, and the elderly. The seminar I contributed was on midlife spirituality. I made the comment that we hire specialized people to work with all the other age groups except this one, because this one produces most of those being hired and providing leadership. Of course, this is why the election campaign has focused on the health of both candidates—they are both well beyond midlife! People rightly wonder whether they have the stamina to lead a nation.

My concern in the workshop was not who is leading our churches or our nation; my concern was that the challenge of spiritual growth in midlife is to turn from the exterior life toward the interior life. We have been involved in getting educated, advancing careers, building families, buying houses, serving others, leading nations and churches… now is the time to go deep inside. Our world, especially our western world is primarily extraverted and so the journey inward is sometimes difficult, painful, and counter-intuitive. Going deeper can be uncomfortable, even frightening because it leaves us feeling exposed.

This journey inward often means the integration of death and loss into our spirituality. James Fowler has called midlife the conjunctive stage of faith development because the faith task in this stage of life is to combine, unite or integrate the past circumstances and experiences into our present faith. Perhaps the most difficult thing to integrate is the loss of power and control [ironic then that two 70 year olds are still seeking it]. This can happen in many ways.

It might be coming to terms with unrealized vocational hopes and dreams or the loss of a long-term job through various circumstances beyond personal control. For some it might mean mourning the loss of parents through death or a spouse through divorce or the untimely death of a friend or colleague. It might be the loss of physical strength or dexterity or the loss of health we once took for granted. For still others it might be the “empty nest” or the loss of children in the home as they move on to establish homes of their own.

The key to a growing depth of spirituality in midlife is to stop the busyness of the exterior world in order to reflect. The classic inner disciplines of the Christian life: journaling, fasting, prayer, meditation, silence, solitude, and Sabbath rest can help us.

I cycle through a graveyard on a daily basis on my commute home from work and there I am able to contemplate my mortality for a few minutes. It is not a morbid exercise—it is an appreciation for the gift of life each day. As we move into the second half of life, we become more aware of the reality of our death and the limitations of our mind and body. It can be depressing to look back and see life vigorous and exciting and then to look ahead and see a crumbling body and eventually death. Although there is always a fear of death as we contemplate its mystery there is also a contentedness in realizing that since there is nothing we can do to reverse the journey we can savour and enjoy each moment more fully. Thus, we become more alive in life even as our lives draw closer to death.



Carrie Newcomer’s new album, “The Beautiful Not Yet”, does not depart from the musical or lyrical trajectory which has marked the artist for more than a decade. Newcomer is not a trivial song-writer; she has a way of making the ordinary and every-day become sacred and precious. The “Beautiful Not Yet” seems to me to be one of her more overtly spiritual and hopeful albums with songs such as Lean in Toward the Light, Help in Hard Times, You Can Do this Hard Thing, Where the Light Comes Down, and of course the title track itself. As a professor of practical theology, I say, “this is good theology”, which cannot be said for the majority of albums out there! In many ways it is a theme album rather than a collection of disparate songs. I see that as the strength of the album: it holds together and it is going somewhere hopeful.

Her trademark theme of embracing the sacred in the ordinary on many of her albums comes through in almost every song on this album but particularly in the poignancy of “Three Feet or So” reminding us that we don’t have to look far to see God’s blessings as well as “A Shovel is a Prayer” which explores the theme of “practicing the presence of God.”

Unfortunately, the companion book does not add much to the album for me other than having song lyrics in readable sized font. The poems are, as she explains, often the raw material for her song lyrics, and the very short essays just explain in prose what she has shared in poetry and lyric. I do love her commencement address though! It nicely wraps up all of her song lyrics over the years in three points: be kind, be true, and pay attention.

Musically she also stays with the tried and true folk and roots formula which is an appropriate flesh and bone for the soul of her lyrics. My favourite musical moment is when the background singers chime in with “Lean in toward the light” on the opening song but it does not really get much more adventurous than that musically; and, perhaps it does not need to.

The shadows of this world will say,

There’s no hope—why try anyway?

But every kindness large or slight,

Shifts the balance toward the light.

Each autumn as I begin the academic year and anticipate the arrival of students I often choose a motto, a Bible verse, or a quote that will inspire and ground me for the year. In Joyce Rupp’s book, Dear Heart Come Home, she describes a number of images of midlife generativity that can be applied uniquely to my role as a college professor who teaches primarily in the area of spiritual formation.

I want to be a house at night with light shining from all the windows calling me to be a presence and vision for others.

I want to be an apple with seeds in it reminding me of the potential of growth in all students.

I want my life to be a holy shrine where students can come and feel a sense of peace, wonder, and oneness.

I want my life to be a womb where I can provide a safe place for inquiry and help generate life for those who are searching for it.

“There are days when I dream myself to be a dandelion to the last puff; a full circling miracle hanging onto a fragile stem, complex in my beauty yet simple in my standing—knowing I’ll only grow again if each intricate delicate parachute of mine is pulled off, whirled away and seeded in some strange new soil.”

“I am convinced that if I can be honest and vulnerable with my own process, others will draw courage and comfort from it because they will see some of their own life reflected in mine. This sharing is not easy for me to do. As an introvert I feel as if I am walking naked on the pages. But I also believe I am called to do this and I want to honor this call from within.”

I have completed my reading of all 150 psalms in English verse. Besides lament psalms, one of the common themes is the glory of creation. Summer is a good time to experience the great outdoors and God’s creation. For my last post in the “psalms for summer” series I give you my top 10 outdoor moments of the summer [in no particular order] and the middle verses of Psalm 148 in English verse.


  1. Soaring 600 feet in the air over a valley holding hands with my lover on a zip-line near Whistler
  2. My granddaughter running dirt through her fingers in the backyard potato patch
  3. Hearing the gurgle of a creek on the “Love Walk” north east of Mission
  4. The waving high grasses and a sudden downpour at Batoche, SK overlooking the South Saskatchewan River
  5. Cruising in a boat on Rock Lake in southern Manitoba on a quiet evening
  6. The view south from Heritage Park in Mission with the Fraser River in the foreground and Mount Baker in the distance
  7. The green of the Thompson River valley with dry barren hills rising above it east of Kamloops
  8. The first view of the Rocky Mountains on the western horizon as we approach Calgary from the east
  9. Walking in the cool of a cedar grove in Revelstoke National Park near the Trans-Canada Highway on a hot day
  10. Driving across Saskatchewan and seeing the big sky over the prairies with myriads of cloud formations


Praise him, heav’ns that heav’n upbear;

Waters, higher hung in air

Let them praise their sov’reign Lord,

For they rose beneath his word :

He hath fix’d their places fast,

With a bound that ne’er was pass’d.


Praise the Lord from earth below;

Monsters of the ocean’s flow ;

Fire and cloud, and snow and hail,

And the storm’s obedient gale ;

Mountains, and their highlands all;

Fruitful groves, and cedars tall;


Beasts that field or forest bore ;

Worms that creep, and birds that soar ;

Kings, and men of lowly birth ;

Chiefs and judges, thron’d on earth;

Youths and maids in blooming choirs ;

Smiling babes, and hoary sires :


All, your Lord’s high name proclaim,

High and bright o’er ev’ry name :


I am almost finished my reading of the Psalms in English verse this summer. I am back at work along with other educators who return to work around this time, and many others in North America who have taken summer vacations. In Canada, we also celebrate Labour Day at the beginning of September. This is an appropriate time to reflect on the value of work while lamenting the dangers of worshiping work.

Most psalms originated for use at special occasions of Sabbath and worship but there is one that is appropriate for reflecting on work: Psalm 127. It puts our work into the larger perspective of God’s work and reminds us that we do not accomplish anything on our own strength no matter how long the hours!

Psalm 127 also celebrates the joy of family, which many of us have experienced this summer at gatherings and reunions. I am greatly blessed to have a life partner, four children, a daughter-in-law, and a grandchild as well as parents, siblings, in-laws, and extended families.


Except the Lord shall build the halls,

In vain the builder’s pain ;

Except the Lord shall guard the walls,

The watchman wakes in vain.


In vain the toil ere morning break,

The midnight couch unpress’d,

The anxious care that still must wake,

While his belov’d may rest.


God gives the blooming household band,

And crowns the fruitful birth :

As arrows in a warriour’s hand,

They guard the plenteous hearth.


How bless’d the man, whose quiver bears

So bright, so dear a weight!

The clash of arms unharm’d he dares,

Though foemen throng the gate.


Saturday, August 6 is the 76th anniversary of the one of the world’s biggest tragedies in history: the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Thousands of people died that day with the death toll rising to over 100,000 after the bombing of Nagasaki a few days later. Since then millions more have died as a result of bombs and their widespread devastating effects. I pray that our remembrance of this horrific event give us strength to work for peace in our time. Today is also the opening of the Olympic games. I detest the commercialization and economic injustice of the games but I admire the spirit of equality and harmony between nations for a few weeks as they play together.

This is an appropriate day to hold the vision of an ancient psalm before us. Psalm 85 includes that wonderful picture of peace and justice embracing and love and truth kissing each other. When will that vision come to fruition? The answer is “blowin’ in the wind” but we continue to trust God’s promise and we continue to pray for mercy and long for peace. Here is the entire psalm in English verse.


Lord, thou hast bless’d our wasted land ;

Thy terrors cease to burn ;

And, led by thy deliv’ring hand,

Our captive tribes return.


Thy people’s guilt is all forgiv’n,

Their sins are cover’d o’er;

Thy wrath’s fierce storm has onward driv’n,

Thy smile has dawn’d once more.


God our Saviour, turn us still,

And let thine anger end :

Or, shall its clouds of vengeful ill

From age to age descend ?


Wilt thou not turn, that, glad in thee,

Thy people’s heart may live ?

Oh, give us, Lord, thy grace to see,

Thy full salvation give.


I hearken for the Lord’s dear voice,

And hear him gently say

Peace to the people of his choice,

Who turn no more astray.


Oh, o’er the hearts that fear his name

His bright salvation glows :

So guards the Lord, in peaceful fame,

Our smiling land’s repose.


And truth and mercy joy to meet,

And justice clings to love :

They bloom like flow’rs beneath our feet,

They shine, like stars, above.


God gives his grace, and o’er the land

The waving harvests spread :

Beneath his smile the righteous stand,

And he shall guide their tread.