Love, Listen, Create – Part 2

The second main thing I “do” now I’m retired is “listen, so those I’m listening to have a healing experience of God’s love.”  I put that in italics because that sentence has become the latest bookswritten expression of my vocational statement I’ve developed over the years. Parker Palmer has been a great guide in this process…especially his book, Let Your Life Speak – Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

“Am I listening or lecturing?” is question that guides me whenever I speak. The anxiety of what to say is often as real as ever, however it is much reduced when I simply follow my vocation rather than expectations, real or imagined of others or myself. Being retired from permanent employment helps a lot.

Before I say more about listening I want to briefly talk about simple living. One of the blessings / graces I received from God was Linda agreeing to be my life partner, over 30 years ago. Her love has guided many of our decisions over the years. Her question / encouragement about what I was going to do with my life helped me stick to a job longer than 2 years. As I wrestled with why that was so hard I came to the awareness that spiritual care was what I really wanted to do. That led me to training in CPE and Spiritual Direction. Which turned into employment at Concordia and Health Science hospitals and eventually Grace Bible Church.

Part of the process of focussing on one occupation helped me come up with that vocation statement – or my deepest calling, helping me grow into my authentic self-hood and “path of authentic service”, p.16 in Palmer’s book. My vocation statement expresses who I believe I am, with God’s help. What I “do” is easiest, most loving and fulfilling when it’s an expression of my authentic self, as my last blog talks about. Now I’m retired my vocation of listening is still being best expressed in spiritual direction sessions, or to use a more 21st century expression – spiritual companioning or spiritual counselling. My webpage, describes this form of listening. If this kind of conversation interests you please contact me.

The spiritual care I presently give at HSC is an ongoing expression of that vocation. In my everyday living I try and listen to everyone I meet and to creation as well. That part of
“expressing my vocation” gets me out of the house and this introverted, shy self. Of course listening to God and myself is crucial as well. Interesting how being oneself – doing one’s vocation -becomes love.

stiggySounds like what St. Ignatius was trying to encourage – “The glory of God is a human being ‘fully alive’.” Some call this translation disingenuous, causing Christianity to become a cult of self-fulfillment and self-expressionists and “churches merely self-improvement societies.” -(from an online article in TOUCHSTONE) IMHO, Jesus was the best expression of a “human being ‘fully alive’” modelling for us what it mean to fully human, which is why I follow his way despite the voices of those trying to control what I am to believe about him. But I digress. 

To recap – being retired is allowing me to pay more attention to how I listen – to God and to self, to others, to creation. It’s interesting that those are all ways that God communicates with me so what comes around really does goes around. Next blog is about creating which is gift / grace from God that I really didn’t ask for…I guess that’s what grace is. Good topic for this time of year. I have to include my latest favourite band The Brilliance and latest favourite Christmas song I mentioned on Twitter @smurphy512. –

– next time – Love, Listen, Create – Part 3 will reveal the grace and exciting world of stained glass and Windows of Grace– click if you what a jump start on that blog.WofG

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Loving, Listening, Creating – Part One

It’s almost been a year since I retired from permanent employment which I announced in my February 2018 blog. In that blog I mentioned looking forward to more time to love, listen and “creating beauty through stained glass”. Over the past months I feel I’ve been called / graced to simplify my life in 3 ways of being and doing. Loving Linda, listening, creating stained glass pieces – mainly windows of grace. My reflecting on these ways of being / doing turned out to be over 1600 words so I am breaking it into 3 parts / blogs heart in sandover the next few weeks, beginning with some thoughts about loving. 


I could write more than 1600 words on love but let me begin with a spiritual experience from my Bible college days in Edmonton, Alberta in the late 1970s. While studying at Northwest Bible College, now called Vanguard College, I attended the youth meetings at Central Pentecostal Tabernacle. A speaker taught us the reason humans were created / made was to let God love us. I forget his name, I think it was one of the Argues…an old time Pentecostal family. He said that angels worship better than humans and anyone can do good works. Argue reminded us that John wrote “God is love”, from those verses he concluded that God initial response to anything is to love. Because loving is such a good thing God created something to love – all living things including the “very good” humanity, you and me. We were created in God’s image and hence we have the privilege to act out our divine nature by loving. However he insisted our response to God loving us must first be accepting that love – which I hadn’t heard before. The truth that first and foremost I was created to be loved by God seemed to free my soul from the weight of having to do everything right and guilt and the shame of never doing everything right. Yes, yes – we are to love God and each other – do something…I cover that in the next paragraph.

Over the years while I’ve allowed that truth to penetrate my soul and mind, slowly replacing all the angst I had about religion and church with God’s true purpose for my Caminobeachexistence – to be loved by God. It’s amazing how hard it is to change my automatic inner response to the question “Why did God create me? … from … “worshipping Him” or “serving Him”. It took over 10 years before I could respond – “to let myself be loved”. I’m not sure where I got the idea of understanding love as a circle, beginning with God but is sort of incomplete without me returning that love, some how. The prime way I’ve learned to return that love, completing the circle begun by God, is to is to love what God loves. Steve Bell says this well in his song “Think about That” in his 2014 album Pilgrimage. “Whoever loves God, loves all that God loves” 

I still need reminders to let God love me and then love God – which nowadays is simply loving myself (which is amazingly hard) and loving my partner  / wife of 30 years, Linda. Then loving then extends to our family – the boys and their partners, Mom, my sibs and their families, friends old and newer, and all creation. Easier said than done but I’m a work in progress. So that’s the first thing I do now I’m retired – in case you were wondering.

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Fathering & Flying (a kite)

Last Father’s Day I went for a walk along the Red River, a few blocks from our home, to meditate on being a father. As I left the house I felt the wind on my face, saw the leaves moving and was reminded of the pocket kite Thomas (our youngest son) had given me. Father’s Day seemed like an appropriate time to fly a gift from a son, so I  brought it along. When I got to an open space, along the river path with a strong enough wind, it went up to the full length of the string quite quickly. It’s satisfying and exhilarating getting a kite into the air, feeling that tug on the line and watching it dance in the sky…doing what it was made to be.

I began thinking about how fathering can be like kite flying. The most obvious similarity was how necessary something outside myself is crucial for the kite to fly – to be / do what it was created for. This kite is beautifully designed and flies easily. I got this picture off  – webpage. pocket kiteHowever when it’s not flying it isn’t much more that a pile of colorful fabric. In the wind it becomes something more. The wind doesn’t depend on me and I have no control over the wind but when I cooperate with it … get the kite at the right angle, keeping tension on the string … the wind does most of the work and the kite soars, joyfully majestic. When the wind stops, there is nothing I can do and the kite falls – it’s still a kite just not as much. When the wind picks up again, I need to get into action – do my part. Sometimes I actually ran to keep it up … almost too much work for retired guy. I guess seeing it fly was important and worth the effort.

It’s challenging and encouraging to realize that, while the wind is crucial to a kite flying, it’s pretty obvious I am too. I need to maintain a firm grip on the string, always staying connected to the kite. Proper tension needs to be maintained by running or rhythmic pulling movements. If I don’t pay attention and let the string out too quick, or heaven forbid, let go of the string, the kite eventually crashes and becomes a pile of beautiful fabric – often damaged or stuck in a tree, still a kite, but not really. Even after a crash I have an important role. Recovering it from where it lands, untangling the lines, getting it ready for the next soar. When the kite is in the air again, I need to pay attention to how close it’s getting to trees, how much open space is left, how strong the wind is. All those factors affect how much string I let out or where I run – walk mostly – or where I sit to enjoy a created thing flying – which I’m kind of responsible for.  Then the wind weakens, nothing I can do will keep the kite in the air and I’m reminded how little control I have. It’s also interesting that the more string that’s out, the farther away from me the kite is, the less control I have…it’s amazing and humbling. Humility is good for fathering. Life is full of ups and downs.

Kite flying and fathering, like all analogies has it’s limits. While a kite crashes if not tethered – children need healthy separation from parents to truly be themselves. I suppose we’re always connected to our children. Our connections becomes less obvious as they mature and often get stretched by geography, communication, and choices they make for themselves. Fathering and flying a kite both need outside help for one to be up to the task…Lord in Your Mercy.

Changing the subject…sort of.

Human being or doer or both?…a haiku by gsm

when is doing what 

you are meant to be, become 

being who you are

— 20sep18 – inspired by this blog and a conversation over breakfast with WW 

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“Know thyself”

Recently our eldest son asked if I had “The Sacred Enneagram” by Christopher L. Heuertz. I didn’t and thought that Joel wanted it so I researched it and discovered a wonderful enneagram jewel; so I bought it for him, Thomas and our house. I sense God’s grace when our boys recommend…books, music, good Irish whiskey…children are indeed our greatest teachers.

This little exchange got me thinking again of the wisdom of the Enneagram and reminded me of Jerome Wagner’s little book “The Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Styles”. I often say that it’s the most positive book on the Enneagram I’ve read over the 30 some years I’ve been aware of this interesting way of understanding personalities. I found a wonderful article by Wagner online that I hight recommend. 

As I listened with the ear of my heart – the phrase “know thyself” came to mind. Self-awareness / mindfulness are similar but they may be more modern ways of framing it. In Phaedrus, Socrates says, that “people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.” Aristotle once said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” In her Interior Castle – Teresa of Avila (1515-82) holds the paradox of the incomprehensibility of knowing one’s soul and the loss of not trying.

Teresa of Avila “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very crystal in which there are many rooms just as in Heaven there are many mansions[…]Now if this is so —and it is— there is no point in our fatiguing ourselves in attempting to comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it is His creature, and there is therefore as much difference between it and God as between creature and Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty. It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or form what he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us, that we possess souls. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them , or how precious they are —those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty.” page 41-42

Bence Nanay is a professor of philosophy at the University of Antwerp and Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge and the author of “Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception “(2016). He writes “ ‘know thyself’ is not just silly advice: it’s actively dangerous. Knowing thyself is an obstacle to acknowledging and making peace with constantly changing values.”  Maybe, but IMHO knowing that we are constantly changing can be helpful personal knowledge.

Let me close these random thoughts with some from Meister Ekhardt (1260-1328), one of the greatest of Christian mystics. He writes (forgive the sexist pronouns) “To get at the core of God at his greatest, one must first get into the core of himself at his least, for no one can know God who has not first known himself. Go to the depths of the soul, the secret place of the Most High, to the roots, to the heights; for all that God can do is focused there.” Is this what Jesus meant by saying “the Kingdom of God is among / within us”?  

I’m not sure I can yet fully accept Ekhardt’s statements or understand what Jesus was teaching, but something about their words sounds right and brings hope to my soul and heart. Maybe that’s why St. Benedict said “listen with the ear of your heart”.


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Giving up God for Lent

What are you giving up for Lent? 

As we approach the festival of Easter, we aim to experience something of what Jesus felt on the Cross. In his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God confesses the absence of God.

…let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” G.K. Chesterton

During Lent, we will expose ourselves to some of the great atheist critics of religion, in order to purge ourselves of a faith in which doubt is bad and God is used as a crutch to cope with the uncertainties and hardships of life.

In the process, we hope to discover a richer faith in which our experiences of the absence of the presence of God are recognised and remembered.

atheism for Lent graphic

a 6-week Course exploring what it might mean to 

give up God for Lent

The above lines were taken from Peter’s course intro – apologies if I’m infringing on any copyright laws.

The point is that I’m giving up God for Lent. Or for those without my slightly twisted sense of humor … I’m giving up my limited understanding of God for Lent OR I’m letting go of the idols of God I’ve created over the years for Lent because I need to. Idols weigh the soul, mind and body down, so I’m trying to lay whatever I can aside, with God’s help, so I can walk more freely the pilgrimage that lays ahead.

Lord I find you in the seeking

Lord I find you in the doubt



Last time I posted I was giving up God for Lent, publically announcing doing the course “Atheism for Lent” with Peter Rollins and company, I took it down after 2 days, because Linda, my partner through marriage, said that it was too provocative for the season we were in. Last week she freed (retired) me from some of my self imposed limits by re-piercing my ear … a symbol of my concession to Christians who may not understand body piercing – like my dad who, in his honest appraisal of his eldest son’s jewelry said, “Why would you take the mark of the homo, son?” Apologies to any who might be offended by his statement. He died almost 18 years ago and I’d like to think he now has a broader understanding about many things, probably chatting it up with all the LGBTQ+ folk enjoying God’s presence – however that works. I’m looking forward to reuniting with him, but I digress. But hey, it’s my blog so I can go where I want…thank you very much, but I digress.

Some other good words from the facilitators’ booklet, pg. 5 – “Since ‘religion can hide from us as nothing else can the face of God,’ (Ikon, “The God Delusion: Where does your faith lie?,” Greenbelt Arts Festival, Aug 26 2007.) we attempt through this “Atheism for Lent” Course a careful self-examination, to perhaps discover a richer faith beyond an instrumental religion of immediate self-interest.” “By exploring the theological dimension of atheism, we will discover how it can offer a type of exorcism powerful enough to cast out any festering fundamentalism lurking within our souls.” 

AMEN – I say, in my most Pentecostal voice. Who wouldn’t want any festering cast out … especially a spirit of fear. I’d much rather live with a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I’m still asking for grace to live out of that power, love and sound mindedness – hope springs eternal. This stuff does get pretty heady and soulful in a wonderful Spirit-led way.

After this short walk with friends like Peter Rollins and company, l’m also looking forward to learning things that will help me experience / know the Holy One more deeply – soul, body, mind (in that order) Or as Richard of Chichester prayed in the 13th century and the 5th Dimension sang in 1973:

Day by day

Day by day

Oh Dear Lord

Three things I pray

To see thee more clearly

Love thee more dearly

Follow thee more nearly

Day by day


May all our Lenten journey’s be fulfilling and challenging as mine is shaping up to be.

Buen Camino – the pilgrimage continues.

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Lent 2018 – Heart Healing

Lent 2018 – Heart Healing

During Lent this year Linda and I are reading the meditations of Edward Hays in his The Lenten Pharmacy; Daily Healing Therapies (Ava Maria Press, 2006). Hays reminds us that lent18a
saviour comes from the Greek word soter,  meaning “healer.” “The gospels relate how Jesus as a saviour-healer tended sicknesses of body and soul. To say that Jesus is my saviour primarily means that he is my healer, physician and pharmacist.” (LP, 5)  On Ash Wednesday he reminds us that the “ashes are also an ageless remedy for sickly prayer. Praying from such a position of humility (lying in the dust of ones death-rest) heals the soul – just as it did for the tax collector. God, be merciful to me, a sinner! Luke 18:13” (LP, 8)

Until recently it’s been quite difficult for me to say “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I hope that most of that resistance was because of my soul knowing that God loves me just the way I am; “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” I also believe that God wants me to be whole, saved, healed. God has began a good work in me before birth (created in image of God…divine spark…original blessing and all that). Through God’s grace I experience that healing love on nearly a daily basis. I also experience how deep my need for ongoing healing is, nearly on a daily basis. Maybe saying that I’m a sinner felt almost like a denial of the healing that God’s unconditional love is doing in my soul and body. Maybe when I said those words I returned to those feelings of believing I was alent18c dirty rotten failure, or to the “killjoy, finger-wagging, holier-that-thou moralism, with afussy, nit-picking concentration on small personal misdemeanours (DRB, 97)” idea of sin I grew up with.


It’s interesting that my awareness of God’s acceptance and healing makes it much easier to believe that God’s rule of love has come and change my mind; to say “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I’ve always known I’m a sinner but now it seems easier to say sorry for missing the purpose for what I was created,as N. T. Wright so wisely puts it. “Humans were made to be  “image-bearers,” to reflect the praises of creation back to the Creator and to reflect the Creator’s wise and loving stewardship into the world. Humans are made to worship the God who created them in his own image and so to be sustained and renewed in that image-bearing capacity. Those who do this are formed by this activity to become the generous, humble stewards though whom God’s creative and sustaining love is let loose into the world. Humans and Israel alike have turned aside from that purpose, distorted the vision and abused their vocation.” (DRB, 99)

Wright’s understanding of where I miss the mark and why I need to stay true to the image I was created in – sounds different than “turn or burn”. We need to hear his wisdom about “what the early Christians meant when they said that the Messiah had died “for our sins in accordance with the Bible. (DRB, 99)” His understanding of sin, gives me something to work towards, not only stuff to avoid or feel shamed about. It gives me hope which I never heard from those early condemning religious voices in my life. I’m sure they thought they were doing God and me a favour by pointing out my mistakes and how big a disappointment I was to God as I rejected all that Jesus did for me by smoking or listening to rock and roll. There must have been some mention of forgiveness, mercy, grace and love in there somewhere, but all I remember is those loud voices which crushed my sensitive heart and soul. The saddest thing is that those voices quickly became my own. No wonder I got depressed. What could I do??!! You get told you’re a failure enough times you believe it and feel shitty. No wonder you avoid those voices and decide to screw it all. I remember thinking “If I’m a total failure at being good enough to serve God then what’s left – serving the devil, I guess.” That didn’t work out very well, believe me.

The Good News of Jesus the Christ is that God loves me no matter how much I miss the mark of being who God created me to be; whether intentionally back then or less intentionally now.  I am very grateful and humbled by the love that gentle but firmly invites me to be a “generous, humble steward through who God’s creative and sustaining love is let loose into the world.” (DRB, 100) I actually believe that’s a possibility. Thanks be to God.

I sense a wry grin

When I sin, no lighting crash

Come let us reason

Now I’m “…swimming in an ocean of love…”

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Retirement announcement

Greetings to those reading this blog after my years of silence. You may have seen most of this announcement if you follow me on Tweet or Facebook but I’ve edited it for here. It is sort of a follow up to the Camino ones – it’s where my pilgrimage has taken me to, so far.  I announced that I retired on December 1/17 and leaving permanent employment at Grace Bible Church on January 31/18.

GBC kids poster

Other than not working at GBC and changing my Facebook status – not a whole lot will actually change in my life … still married to my best friend, living in the same place with the same phone number and email address. I’ll still be meeting with folk for one-to-one spiritual companioning (spiritual direction – and continue to be an on-call spiritual care provider at Health Science Centre (one of Winnipeg’s largest hospitals) for the forseeable future.

The main thing I’m looking forward to in my retirement is having more time to contemplate the love and grace of the Creator of the universe through silence, meditation and however Spirit comes. I have come to understand that listening is my vocation so having more time to listen and reflect on what I hear will be me being me more. I’m also looking forward to having more time to continue creating beauty through stained glass. One of my stained glass artist friends encouraged me, “the world needs more beauty; so just make stuff, Stephen.” I will joyfully live into her retirement advice. I’ll also have more time to share what I hear from Spirit here @listenwiththeearofyourheart – eventually. There will be an adjustment period but God is gracious and I will be calling on my retired friends for more advice.

I began considering retiring a few months ago after a conversation with Linda. We were talking, and she said “I’m planning on retiring when I’m 62 – you’re 62 now, why don’t you retire. We’re OK for money, so retire.” I don’t think I’d really considered retiring before – I’m only 62. However now I’m convinced that Linda’s invitation – was God’s way to get me thinking, praying, talking to counsellors and friends (including a deeply meaningful clearing committee – thanks Parker Palmer) about retiring. After letting the board at GBC know my intention to resign, they did me the favor of suggesting January 31 as the date to end employment with them. My life story now includes the lessons Spirit taught me through the joy and the challenges  I experienced at Grace Bible Church. You may read some of those lessons here as I listen to my heart and there may even be some pics. It was part of my spiritual pilgrimage after all.


The process of retiring has been an interesting process and I won’t get into any more detail other than sharing one experience which delights my heart and soul whenever I recall it. It was a gift I was given when talking to my EAP counsellor about retiring. I can’t remember his question but as I thought about my answer – I looked out his office window at Polo Park Mall, one of the larger shopping malls in Winnipeg. I envisioned it – full of stores, offices and food outlets – being a metaphor of my life, full of options and opportunities. I sensed the Creator of everything excitedly inviting me to explore those opportunities, together. It was an invitation – not a command I needed to respond to out of duty or to accomplish something or buy anything. Rather it was a personal, enthusiastic invitation to discover who Stephen could be as a retired guy. How exciting is that going to be. O YEAH. Part of me wonders if that invitation and opportunities have always been there but I was able to hear it in a new way and it energized my mind, body, soul and spirit.  The pilgrimage continues. Thanks be to God.



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