Only Human

mary comforts eve

Every now and then around this time I’ll see a picture of Mary with a big round belly and I’ll think about how little we actually talk about her humanity. I don’t think we hear enough about Mary besides her quietness, obedience, and grace. We don’t hear about the struggles she went through emotionally, physically, mentally, dealing with carrying Jesus, birthing him, and subsequently losing him to a gruesome death right before her very eyes. We only hear about her throwing a fit during her pregnancy over some cherries in a well-known Christmas carol that is not based on anything Biblical.

I don’t think we hear enough about Eve besides her doubt, her disobedience, and her leading her husband to sin. We don’t hear enough about their joy together in the garden, we don’t hear about Adam’s overwhelming gratitude that he finally found his ‘ezer kenegdo (Hebrew for “helper for his partner”). We don’t hear enough about her shame and sorrow after causing the loss of her beautiful paradise home and The Fall of humanity. We don’t hear about her grief over the loss of Abel or her struggling to accept Cain afterwards.

We don’t hear enough about the humanity of these humans – people just like us. We don’t talk enough about their role in relation to each other as people in community with one another rather than magical saints we are supposed to look up to and model our lives after. They were people, after all. They tripped, they fell, they lived, they learned. They felt joy and they felt sadness, they felt love and they felt heartache. I can understand that it is hard to connect to a religion when nothing feels very ‘real.’

Anyway, every Advent I share this powerful illustration on social media of Mary consoling Eve. A lot of interpretations can be made here and I could spend forever talking about the feminist aspect too. My accompanying post is not always as inspired (or long), but I think this season is an important time to remember that while Christmas can have a lot of magic and glitter and sparkle in it (and I love every bit of it!) what and who we are celebrating were human beings just like us. So if you’re feeling the pinch this holiday season, if your family situation isn’t quite as enjoyable as the commercials tell you it should be, if your health isn’t great, if money is tight, or if you’re just feeling down, remember; you’re only human and so were they.

Ashley Ruby                                                                                       

Virgin Mary and Eve
Crayon & pencil drawing by Sr Grace Remington, OCSO
© 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey.



I Was Homeless and You Gave Me Shelter


This post originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Anglican Life. Posted with permission.

Early one spring morning in 1970, my mother arrived in Vancouver on a train from Toronto. She had me and my three younger brothers in tow. We had not eaten in more than a day. We had no money and no place to live. We were homeless. Thankfully, on that occasion, an uncle and his family took us in for a few weeks until my mother was able to get back on her feet. I was six years of age at the time. This is my earliest memory of being homeless, but it was not the first time and it would not be the last.

Having experienced homelessness in my childhood, it was with great interest that I read the report, Everyone Counts: St. John’s Homeless Point-in-Time Count 2016, an endeavour of End Homelessness St. John’s (EHSJ). This document reports “a count of the number of people experiencing homelessness” in the city of St. John’s on November 30, 2016. The count indicated that “there were at least 166 people experiencing homelessness in St. John’s” on that date, 38 of whom were youth between 16 and 24 years of age. That was just one day. EHSJ estimates about 800 people experience homelessness at some point each year in St. John’s. I highly recommend reading the report to get a sense of the scope and complexity of homelessness in our capital city.

The Canadian Homelessness Research Network defines homelessness as “the situation of someone who is without stable, permanent and appropriate housing.” I suspect most of us think of folks sleeping in parks, alleyways or vacant buildings when we think of the homeless. These are the “unsheltered homeless” and they are only the tip of the iceberg. The definition of homelessness includes those accommodated in emergency shelters, interim housing, motels and institutions, as well as those temporarily living with friends or family “without guarantee of continued residency or prospects of permanent housing”. These folks are the “hidden homeless” and constitute the majority of the homeless in St. John’s. According to Everyone Counts, of the 166 homeless people identified that day, only 3 were unsheltered. The rest were hidden from view in emergency shelters (81), transitional housing (5), someone else’s home (22), or in an institutional setting (55). Ignoring the plight of these our brothers and sisters falls well short of our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being. There is no dignity in homelessness. Trust me on this one.

As the Church, we are called to respond with compassion to the plight of the homeless in our midst. The question is, how? This is a question before our diocesan Society and Justice Committee. It should be a question before parish communities as well. We may find answers in the responses of other parts of the Church, such as Centre 454 and Cornerstone Housing for Women in the Diocese of Ottawa. We may find answers by engaging with community groups that serve the homeless, seeking ways in which we can partner with them. Homelessness is a complex social justice issue and there are no easy answers. Nonetheless, as the body of Christ, we can’t turn a blind eye. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36) I’m certain he didn’t intend this to be an exhaustive list of whom we are called to serve. Indeed, “I was homeless and you gave me shelter” does not seem out of place in this list.

Father Mark Nichols


An Advent Mixtape for the Beginning of the World


Our theme this year for Advent is “The Beginning is Near”. In Advent we do not simply wait for the end of the story, but the beginning. Advent is not about the end of all things, but the true beginning of all things. Advent is about the arrival of Jesus. In fact, that is literally what the word Advent means – arrival. The arrival of Jesus marks the end of the old ways of war, apathy, despair and hate, and the beginning of peace, hope, joy and love. For the early Christians this was good news or gospel. For them the season of Advent was about preparing for and participating in this arrival, this new way of being in the world.

I think one of the ways to help prepare is through music and song. We do this each year in worship. We sing familiar songs to help us get ready. Well what I present here is a non-traditional mixtape to help us get ready. Good music has a way of speaking truth much more powerfully than simply words alone. Good musicians are prophetic artists that can show a world that we can only imagine right now. So like the seven seals of the Book of Revelation, it’s my hope that these songs will open up for you your own apocalypse, your own unveiling of a world to come, a world already coming, and our place in it.

Wait! by Common Deer

Common Deer is a young, up and coming band from Toronto. They blend classical influences with synthesizers and arena rock enthusiasm to create some pretty energetic music. In this song Wait! they capture perfectly the urgency of Advent. When they sing in the chorus, “Wait! There’s no time to waste. They’ll take all there is to take” they seem a contemporary echo of the words of Jesus, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:32).

A Beginning Song by the Decemberists

The Decemberists 2015 album was appropriately titled “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”. It pretty much captures the view of the world that a lot of people hold these days. In a clever turn, the last song on the album is A Beginning Song. This ending in beginning captures well the ethos of Advent. In beginning the Advent liturgical season we look to the end, the unveiling in Mark’s little apocalypse in chapter 13. The song is accompanied by a beautiful video. The song itself also picks up on the Advent theme of waiting and hope. They ask, “I am waiting, should I be waiting?” And again, “I am hopeful, should I be hopeful?” It’s an introspective song that invites us to see the light in us and in the world around us.

A New Song by Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper has made a name for himself lately in the hip-hop and pop worlds for blending thoughtful, socially aware lyrics with classic R&B, Gospel and Soul sounds. He’s not afraid to delve into religion, politics and race in his songs. In this song, which he debuted on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he explores fatherhood, fame, sin, temptations, racial inequality, white privilege and societal apathy. Things aren’t right the way they are now, but Chance knows that social change can’t come without first dealing with our own demons. Here he is a modern day John the Baptizer calling us to make ourselves ready for a new day that’s coming, even now: “The day is on its way, couldn’t wait no more, here it comes, ready or not, here it comes.”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Hey! Rosetta is a local St. John’s band with a big sound and poetic lyrics written by frontman Tim Baker. Their Christmas EP from a few years back is a favourite of mine and any of the songs on it could be on this list. I choose this one for our list because it is an Advent standard and familiar to the religious and unreligious alike. The song itself is based on the O Antiphons, or the great Os, and are Magnificat antiphons used in Advent Vespers (evening prayers). In Hey! Rosetta’s version they strip away their powerful instrumentation and leave the raw emotion of Baker’s vocals and the aching, longing of the lyrics. It’s a beautifully stark cover of a great Christian hymn.

It’s the End of the World by REM

In this post-punk 80’s anthem REM gives voice to the apathetic anxiety of living in a post-nuclear, capitalistic society. The video has a post-apocalyptic feel to it. A young boy sifts through the chaotic trash of a world that was, but is gone. The boy holds old pictures of people, perhaps ancestors long gone. It’s as if he is looking for something, anything to make sense of the environment that he finds himself in. As the song fades and the camera pans out we see that one of the walls of the house is missing. Even if the boy doesn’t realize it, the world is not contained to the room where he finds himself. As the chorus repeats, we see that in fact it is not the end of the world – the future is wide open. The end is never the end, just another beginning. This is the story of Advent, and the heart of the Christian story.

The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan

The poet laureate, Bob Dylan, was the prophetic voice of a generation. The 60’s were a time of great social and political upheaval and Bob Dylan provided the soundtrack. But revolution, political, spiritual or otherwise, is timeless and so, therefore, Bob Dylan is timeless. Our current time feels eerily like the 60’s. Political turmoil, race relations, economic inequality and gender issues that were awoken in the 60’s have stirred again. Actually, Advent reminds us that this sense of longing for change and justice is nothing new, but part of the human condition. With echoes of the Beatitudes and the Magnificat, Dylan strums his guitar and reminds each new generation of the Kingdom hope to come:

” Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
Cause the times they are a-changing”

You by Gungor

Gungor is a husband-wife duo that came out of the contemporary Christian music scene, but as artists they have quickly outgrown that genre. Creative, genre-defying songs, great musicianship and smart lyrics make Gungor worthy of your iTunes or Spotify playlists. You is a song of spiritual journey from childish, Sunday School faith, through doubt and despair, on to openness and thoughtful faith. The song ends with a wide open faith in Jesus:

“You were there
Every broken heart and tangled care
Jesus, Teacher, Brahman Light
Son of God and Source of Life
And it’s always only you

Even in our own personal faith journeys, the end is never the end. Each chapter that ends in our life is simply a door to a new us, a new beginning. The cosmic story of Advent’s endings and beginnings is played out in me and you, every day, day after day.

So there’s my mixtape for Advent, the beginning of the world. This is not an exhaustive list and I could add many, many more. What songs would you include on your playlist? Feel free to share here so that our mixtapes becomes the soundtrack for Advent, the beginning of a new world.



Happy New Year


With the First Sunday in Advent, December 3rd 2017, we begin another liturgical year, the Church’s Year. With the Season of Advent, the rhythms of the church year begin again and Sunday by Sunday we commemorate and re-experience events upon which our salvation is grounded. Advent is the beginning of this weekly journey.

Advent is from the Latin and means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Advent emphasizes the coming of the Christ to the individual human spirit that is, firstly, the coming of Christ in judgement, the Second Coming, and, secondly, the coming of the Christ Child in great humility at the Incarnation. Advent is marked by expectation and anticipation. We look forward to the second coming of Jesus while at the same time we prepare to celebrate his first coming as a child in the manger. Since the sixth century, the Season of Advent has been set aside as a time of hope and preparation, but it is more complex than just waiting for the next December 25th as we shall see below.

As we look around the church and experience the Holy Eucharist, there are a number of indications that we are in the Season of Advent 2017.

The first is the Advent Wreath which is a visual indicator of the Advent Season. It stands near the lectern and is used at the beginning of each liturgy during the Advent and Christmas seasons. On each of the four Sundays in Advent, we light a new candle. The four outer candles, which are blue, represent a period of waiting and anticipation, and the fifth candle, the Christ Candle, is white and is in the centre of the wreath. It represents Jesus, the light of the world who has come into our world of darkness to bring light and life. This last candle we light on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The second is the use of the blue chancel hangings and the blue priests’ vestments. The earliest record of the use of blue in a colour sequence dates back to the twelfth century in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The significance of blue for the Canadian context is our preparation in hope and joy, and calls to mind the Advent Preface: “Now we watch for the day when he will come again in power and great triumph to judge this world that we, without shame or fear, may rejoice to behold his appearing.” (Book of Alternative Services, 219)

The third is that this year a St. Mark’s the Service of the Holy Eucharist on Saturdays and Sundays includes Advent materials from other National Churches such as the Church of England as well as some recent Canadian Advent liturgical materials. Hearing another version of the psalms. or the Lord’s Prayer, or reciting a more recent edition of our affirmation of faith (The Creed) nudges us in a gentle way “to stay awake”! The Great Thanksgiving comes to us from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sister church with whom we have a special relationship across Canada. As Anglicans, we are constantly seeking fresh language and idioms to help us express our faith as a living and vibrant force in our lives.

The fourth is the various themes we find in the Sunday readings from the Old Testament of the First Sunday in Advent through to the Gospel on the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The scripture readings focus on the final judgment, the Second Coming of Christ, and on the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, our redemption. From the First Sunday in Advent, we read: “The Son of Man will come in glory and gather the elect, though no one knows the day or the hour, so stay awake so that you will not be asleep when the Master returns.” (Mark 13: 24 – 37) By the time we reach the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the readings turn from judgment to the joyful news of the birth of Christ, the Incarnation. This is where the promise of God’s faithfulness to God’s people becomes a reality: “and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1: 26 – 38) Advent is more than the church’s way of counting down the shopping days to Christmas Day. Advent confronts us with death and judgment, and waiting redemption. It bids us to be ready and on the lookout.

While Advent is a season about waiting and anticipation, is it just about sitting around and twiddling our thumbs? Is there more to Advent than putting in time? Many of us know only too well what it is to wait for someone to arrive, or to put in time until the clock strikes at 5 p.m. How we use our time of waiting is paramount. We may use this time without any purpose or focus, or we may use time creatively. Here it is that we find the third focus of the Sunday readings. From Isaiah on the Third Sunday in Advent we see how to use our time creatively: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me: he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to the bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61). Waiting creatively, we take up the challenge of living the Kingdom of God as a present reality within our lives and within our communities. We may choose to think of the Kingdom of God as a place or even a state of being we   inherit after our death, but the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed is here and now. When the hungry are fed, when the oppressed are treated justly, and the downtrodden are given hope, there is where we find the Kingdom of God, the presence of God. This is the call of Advent. This is our call.

Happy New Year!

Further references: (Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, 2017 2018, Advent) (Prayers for Advent) (Resources, Worship, Liturgical Texts Online, Texts for trial use and feedback, Visit Resource)