Wednesday, December 17, 2014


At this time of year, most mainline Christian denominations are moving through the season of Advent and into the season of….Incarnation.  You thought I was going to say Christmas, didn’t you?  Well, ‘Christmas’ more effectively describes the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, while it is ‘Incarnation’ that is the whole point.  Children are born all the time but, for Christians, God became ‘incarnate’ only once.  As we move into this season then, I am forced to reflect upon recent events in our country and how themes of incarnation have arisen again and again.

On October 22, Cpl Nathan Cirillo was fatally shot at our National War Memorial.  A little over two weeks later, the Chaplain General to the Canadian Armed Forces, BGen Padre John Fletcher, spoke these words at that same memorial on Remembrance Day.

Faithful and gracious God, we gather, today, with our emotions still raw: from the shocking attacks so recently witnessed in St. Jean, and in our nation's capital; from the violence that transformed this national memorial to military sacrifice into a place of military sacrifice; …a place where an unknown soldier, and a soldier now-known to us all, lay side-by-side, in death, having each accepted, to bravely stand on guard for our nation, and for its values, rights, and freedoms.

On October 22, the place meant to remind us of the sacrifice of all who are called to serve, became a place of sacrifice.  This is the essence of incarnation.

In its rawest definition, ‘incarnation’ is the act of ‘in-fleshing’ or ‘fleshing out’ of an idea, a spirit, or an ideal.  Another closely related word is ‘investing’ which is derived from the ancient practice of adorning one’s clothing with symbols of one’s office, authority, or the sources of one’s wealth.  A ruler is invested with a crown, symbolizing their leadership of a nation/people.  Doctors, lawyers, and police throughout the ages have invested in uniforms as a sign of their profession and authority.  There is, in this investing, an incarnation of powers, authorities, and ideals.

Soon after the tragic events of October, members of our Canadian Armed Forces were ordered to lower their public visibility by reducing the places where we could wear our uniforms.  The purpose of this order was clear and its intent a good one – public safety.  Unfortunately, the timing could not have been more…painful.  In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day, during a year when we are commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, and after the murder of two of our own on Canadian soil, as poppies bloomed around the country in record numbers, those of us who wear “the uniform” felt a keen desire to show our ‘vestments’ more proudly than ever.

But it is not about us, it never is – it is not supposed to be.

We serve, not ourselves, but our country, by the grace of God.  Regardless of our religious stripe, we wear our uniforms as symbols of that call to serve.  We may be flawed and imperfect, but the ideals we stand for are not.  We make these ideals incarnate.  At this time of year, when Christians celebrate the perfect incarnation of God in Christ, we are also called to remember that each of us, regardless of our ‘vestments,’ is meant to flesh out the ideals which we hold most dear.

On the Mystery of the Incarnation

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.
-          Denise Levertov

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spiritual Resiliency: Nothing New Here

The ball is starting to roll on the development of a 'new' capacity in the Chaplain Branch of Canadian Forces: Spiritual Resilience Training.  We are talking about it, researching it, and trying to build a viable plan to deliver this training to our members.

What is it? Very simply put, spiritual resiliency describes how one's spiritual life (however that is defined) helps a person to rebound and grow in the face of stress, whether it be daily stress or as a result of some traumatic experience.  A person's ability to rebound and grow is a consequence of a number or different factors.  'Resiliency factors' include mental resiliency, physical resiliency, and emotional resiliency, to name a few.  As in the case of other such resiliency factors, they can be more or less effective in light of one's overall 'fitness.'  To use physical resiliency as an easy example, the more robust one's physical fitness plan, generally the more resilient one will be, not only physically, but overall.  Spiritual resiliency is one aspect of this spectrum of overall fitness.

Why is it necessary?  Regardless of how one might define their spirituality, it is a central part of the entire resiliency spectrum.  A person's spirituality answers questions about the meaning, hope and value of life.  Whether one answers these questions from a religious perspective or more secular one, these answers are vital, especially in times of crises.  If one loses hope, other resiliency factors become a moot point.

How will it help?  Encouraging people to examine the fitness of their spiritual lives leads them to an exploration of their core values and understanding of the meaning of their lives.  As a result of this self-exploration, people can more effectively intergrate and align their personal beliefs with the requirements and ethos of military service.  Most personal crises that members go through are neither 'ethical' or 'psychological' - they are crises of meaning and value - in short, spiritual crises.  Engaging people in spiritual reflection after trauma is generally too late.  Without the spiritual resilience factor as a backbone, emotional and psychological damage has likely already occured and must often be addressed before bringing in questions of spirituality.

What contributes to spiritual fitness, and resiliency?  Although descriptions of spirituality tend to be vague and hard to nail down, tools for building spiritual resilience are more concrete and specific.  Connection with a faith/vaule-based community,  prayer/meditation practices, and regular participation in rituals/actions which exemplify one's spirituality/values are just a few of these.

Nothing new here.  At the end of the day, this is old news to Chaplains.  It's been our bread and butter since the beginning of chaplaincy.  It's what we do, day in and day out.  The only difference is that in current Canadian society, and thus military society, we are shifting away from a secularization of religion to an appreciation of the great value which spirituality (religious or not) plays in the lives of individuals and our country.  Rather than slipping spirituality 'under the rug,' or downplaying its role, the CAF is taking a leadership role in acknowledging that core spiritual values are vital to our identity, resilience and well-being.