The Highway to Heaven is in Richmond, BC

Today we visited Richmond’s famous ‘Highway to Heaven.’ Developing along Highway No. 5, there are some  26 religious centers, temples, synagogues, churches and gurdwaras. These centers have been eager to cooperate and recently put on an art exhibit at the Richmond Museum. We didn’t get to visit all of them, and the Shia Mosque was closed. A wonderful Chinese woman gave us a tour of the Pure Land temple and we were offered a lovely vegetarian dinner with the nuns and lay people preparing floats for Canada Day. We sat in for the last few minutes of the Tibetan Buddhist Temple’s daily chant and marvelled at the massive Shakyamuni statuary. It got me thinking; I focus on spiritual ecology, mostly on forests; so is spiritual ecology just something that occurs outside? Or is it anywhere we create a spiritual oikos, a spiritual home. Sacred spaces like temples can sometimes be used to delineate sacred from profane, inside from outside; but they can also point us toward the holy in everything. Sacred spaces are microcosms of the macrocosm (the hole is in the parts). They orient us, instruct us, allow us to practice being human for when we step outside into the messy complex world. If we learn to see the holy in the particular, it can more easily be seen/felt in the universal. Thoughts?

 

Queen of Peace Monastery

After three black bear sightings in one camping trip, we could use a little peace. After a wonderful camping, hiking trip to Levette and Hut Lakes outside of Squamish, we stopped by the 82 acres of mountain forest where the Dominican Sisters of Our Queen of Peace Monastery live. When we arrived a caretaker was staring fixed through his binoculars at a Western Tanager, and hardly looked up to greet us. We ascended a steep path to the monastery and sat quietly in the simple chapel. The monastery overlooks amazing mountains, forests and glaciers and the crucifix hung in mid air. A young woman in discernment introduced herself and we talked about monasticism and the land, comparing stories. Queen of Peace was only completed in 2012, and work continues on the driveway. The nuns sell arts and crafts to support themselves. We didn’t stay long, but the place left a deep impression on me. I will be back!

 

Grafting New Branches onto my Tree of Life

This Sunday I will be confirmed as a member of the Anglican Communion through Vancouver’s oldest congregation–Christ’s Church Cathedral. In the vast sea of Christian denominations, Anglicans would consider themselves Reformed Catholics, but represent a wide diversity of belief from Catholic to Evangelical. In the US they are most well represented by the Episcopal Church. There are some 80 million Anglicans worldwide making them the third largest sect of Christianity in the world. For friends and family who may have questions about what this means, let me say a few things about my decision. First, I am not converting to a new religion; in fact, I would not describe my decision as a conversion at all. I was baptized into the Body of Christ as a Mormon at the age of eight. I remember it well–the smell of the chlorinated water in the small font, my father’s voice as he spoke the Trinitarian formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, the momentary immersion, the cold wet clothes, and the family dinner at the Spaghetti Factory. This was my entry point into Christianity, and I am not abandoning it. In fact, the Anglican Communion fully recognizes this baptism; confirmation being a formal welcoming into the community, an initiation, and for some a renewal of baptismal vows.

I have been attending Catholic and Anglican congregations for several years now, and as many of you know I recently spent a wonderful month at a Trappist monastery in Oregon. I have also been practicing Zen Buddhist meditation, which I will continue to do. For me, the decision to be confirmed in the Anglican Communion is not a conversion to or profession of a wholly new set of beliefs or dogmas about the nature of God, scripture, salvation, revelation, resurrection or life after death. My beliefs continue to evolve and nuance. How I experience God continues to evolve and nuance. As I have said elsewhere, I now claim to know less, not more about God than I did as a Mormon.This decision rather, marks my commitment to the practices of Eucharist, contemplative prayer, and liturgy.

The Eucharist, or partaking of the bread and wine during Communion, has become a deeply spiritual experience for me. Unlike the Protestant experience where the bread and wine are viewed as symbols of Christ’s action which we then reflect on; the Eucharist participates in not only Christ’s death and resurrection, but also in the archetypal nature of God-in-the-world. Celebrating God’s body in the world, is a deeply spiritual, even cosmic, experience. Believing in Transubstantiation is not believing in magic; but believing in the Real Presence of God in the world, and celebrating that Presence as often as possible.

I learned to pray by first thanking God and then asking Him for things. This way of praying can be useful, but contemplative prayer has taught me that God (the Absolute, the Ground of Being) is also found in stillness, solitude and silence. This wordless way of prayer has become a daily habit, as I continue to practice both Zen meditation and Centering Prayer.

During Holy Week, Christians throughout the world participate in reenacting the final week of Christ’s life. This congregational participation and form of public prayer is what we call Liturgy. Placing myself within the Liturgical calendar which brings natural and sacred narratives together throughout the year has really enriched my life and helped me to be more present within it. Learning to chant the Psalms and marking the hours of the day with sacred readings has also been an amazing (if not challenging) addition to my spiritual life.

In addition to these spiritual practices, I have also been impressed by the Anglican Communion’s commitment ordain women, include LGBTQ persons in all aspects of church life, their sincere move toward full marriage equality, and a deep commitment to ecological and social justice. I do not think the Anglican Communion is the the One True Church over Mormonism’s similar claim; it is simply a truer (small ‘t’) church for me because of the points just discussed. And while I still have my doubts about some of Joseph Smith’s teachings, I am certainly no defender of King Henry VIII as the founder of the Church of England that eventually became the wider Anglican Communion. The tradition that he officially founded in 1534 through an act of Parliament had been bubbling up from the bottom, seeking reform and distance from Rome for over 100 years; and continued to struggle with how far to take Protestant reforms long after he had gone. Curiously, there is no one personality associated with these reforms; no Luther, Calvin, Smith. Anglican reformers–priests, poets and lay people alike–loved the imagery, sacraments, liturgy and tradition of the Catholic Church, but wanted to be free from the Pope and the corruption of the Church at that time. The Anglican Communion has thus become what I see as a thoughtful middle path between Protestant and Catholic, and I like that.

There are still many things that I love about the Mormon tradition and our people. I am not discarding 30 years of my life and my identity as a person of Mormon heritage. I am proud of my ancestry, my family, my time as an LDS missionary, as a BYU student. I am grateful for my upbringing in a loving family and LDS Ward and could not have asked for more loving, supporting and wise parents and mentors. To take this into a familiar motif, Mormonism is the rootstock out of which my spiritual Tree of Life has grown; that tree has borne much fruit. I am not pulling out my roots and planting a new tree. Yes, I am pruning back the branches of Mormon ordinances, beliefs and practices; but I am also grafting more branches onto my beloved Tree and working so that they will continue to bear fruit that will bless my life and the lives of others.

Westminster Benedictine Abbey, Mission, BC

Here are some photos from a visit we made to Westminster Benedictine Abbey in Mission, BC. The monastery was established in 1939 by monks from Mount Angel, Oregon (near Guadalupe Abbey). The monastery covers appropriately 200 acres of farmland, seminary campus and forest. We had a chance to hike around and the forest is beautiful with gorgeous views of the Fraser River. When we arrived, a kind monk showed us around and with good sense of humor warned us that hanging around there we might turn into Catholics. He explained the confusing array of trails with hand made signs and talked about the history of the former Japanese farmers who owned the land and were removed from it during WWII. I was not expecting to like the stark modernist architecture, but the stained glass and vaulted ceilings were gorgeous and inspiring, almost mysteriously so. The abstract designs and large cement sculptures mixed tradition and modern forms and themes. It was still, quiet and beautiful.