February 6, 2022, “Called by Holy Mystery” by Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd

Called by Holy Mystery

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.


Come with me, let’s walk

under a mourning dove sky

while snow and threads of light

spindle down on this ice path.


Forget our snow-blind houses,

furred flakes padding

on the panes, crying let me in.

See the dove-sky’s wing?

The fading sun can still spark

rainbow-fire from her feathers.


At the end of this let’s forget

the brawling river under our feet

and our flurry of worries—


smile, we walk on water.[1]


This poem of Sharmo Gazaway is one of many ice-encased poems that grace the scalloped edge of the double-helix meditation walk on the river at the foot of Hugo St. It draws us out of our worried selves into the mystery of light-drawn beauty calling us to be winter water-walkers.

There is awe-infused holiness in the pastel skies and snow-clad trees. There is sacred mystery in festive snow-play. Isaiah grasped a glimpse of the holy through a vision of fantastical creatures flying through swirling smoke chanting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

God’s holy presence is imbued in the natural world and in human expressions of warmth and kindness. The whole earth is indeed full of God’s glory if we can peer through the swirling smoke of pain and violence into the faces of beauty and love.

These jaw-dropping experiences of holy mystery give me inspiration and hope-filled energy. But our scripture readings suggest that pure and utter joy and delight can cause sadness and perhaps even guilt if we consider ourselves unworthy of being in the presence of the holy. Such was the case with the prophet Isaiah, whose reaction to his incredible vision was guilt: “Woe is me—I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Simon Peter had a similar reaction when he encountered a miraculous haul of fish. He recognized Jesus as the source of this miracle and cried out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Sometimes our sense of guilt or unworthiness is so strong that it deprives us of the joy and delight of resting in God’s beauty. It also prevents us from hearing and following God’s call for each of our lives. If only we can believe in the teachings of Jesus that assure us that no one—absolutely no one—is excluded from God’s all-encompassing forgiveness.

This forgiveness extends to those of us who feel driven by obligation that chants, “You haven’t done enough; you aren’t good enough”. Forgiveness can help us let go of the undone and respond to the chant of the driven, “I can only do my best—no more than that, even if it means I will disappoint at times; I will make mistakes, I will even fail on occasion.”

Forgiveness can lead us from being driven to being drawn. What an incredible sense of release and new-found hope forgiveness can give us. We are set free from heavy chains that bind and constrict our hearts. In this new lightness of being, we can see more clearly the paths that God calls us to. We have the energy to follow this call.

Isaiah’s response to God’s forgiveness was a spirited offer to be sent as a prophet to his people. Peter’s response to Jesus’ forgiveness was to drop everything and follow him. No longer would he catch fish. Instead, he would catch people—catch them when they fell, catch them when they needed healing and wholeness, catch them when they needed to hear the good news of Jesus.

Peter’s vocation and calling changed on a dime. Once he was sure of God’s direction, he became the solid rock for the church. Yes, he slipped from time to time and stooped low enough to deny Jesus publicly. But once again, he found forgiveness and strength to get back on track and follow his calling.

How do you know what God is calling you to do? Very seldom do people have visions like those of Isaiah. For me, it was more of an assessment of my abilities as I tried to figure out how I could best serve God. When I was on track with my calling, I had more energy. When I went through challenging times, my calling helped to hold me steady and bring me through the storm.

Rev Katie Hines-Shah recalls a conversation she had with her four-year old son about her calling. Her son asked her, “Mama, what do you want to be when you grow up?” She writes,

It was a question he was used to hearing as a preschooler, and he tempered his answers to his audience. He wanted to be a fire[fighter] when he went to the station down the block, a gardener when the maintenance crew came by, a basketball player as we passed the teens at the park. I was used to hearing this question too, although my answer didn’t change as often as his. Over the preceding years I had explained to countless relatives, committees, and bishops that I really wanted to be ordained.

Driving down the road that day a few years into my first call, I answered my son: ‘When I grow up I think I’ll still be a pastor.’ From the backseat came an exasperated sigh. ‘No Mom, I meant, What important job do you want?’ he added helpfully, ‘Something like a dog washer. Or a milkshake maker.”[2]

Our calling—our life’s vocation—may not seem like very important work to some people, but whatever God is nudging us to do is the most important thing we could ever choose. Our families, our workplaces, our community depend upon every single person offering whatever God is nudging them to do. If we resist this calling, we will cheat not only ourselves but also others.

When the prophet Jeremiah decided to no longer prophesy or speak about God, he felt a fire begin to burn in his bones like pent-up energy. He became weary of holding it in and finally realized that this calling must be followed.

Last week I mentioned to you that Millie Dietrich, one of our members who moved with her partner Kathy Jones to Ontario, has just come out of retirement at age 77 as a nurse and gone back to Nunavut. She heard that Iqaluit, the community which she had served many years ago, is overcome with COVID. Poverty has forced multi-generational families to live in overcrowded houses with high rates of diabetes, hypertension and other medical issues. There is very little emergency housing, making it almost impossible to separate the sick from the healthy. In addition, many did not trust vaccinations because of flashbacks to residential schools. While Iqualuit was able to keep COVID at bay for a long time by limiting outsiders, it hit hard in December and is spreading like wildfire.

Millie struggled mightily with this news and found a new call beginning to burn in her bones. Her partner, Kathy, said that she tried to hold her off as long as she could, but once Millie started doing laundry twice a week with her pent-up, bone-burning energy, her calling to Iqualuit was obvious and Kathy knew that Millie must follow it.

Holy mystery can call us suddenly into unexpected places and activities at any age. Or it can simply reaffirm our current path with a quiet resoluteness. We may want to pay attention to our passions and abilities. As they change, so might our calling. Listen to that internal drawing as the Spirit nudges us in a certain direction. If we ignore it, we may find our bones beginning to burn.


[1] Sharmon Gazaway, That Thing With Feathers.

[2] Katie Hines-Shah, “Faithful, Unimportant Work,” Christian Century online accessed Jan. 30, 2022.