Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day provide opportunity to heal broken hearts

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Valentine’s Day evokes a myriad of feelings for people. For some it is a chance to send chocolates, flowers, or a card to a beloved or prospective love. It is a day of joy and love. It is a day of the happy hearts.

For others, it is a painful day evoking sadness or grief because their hearts have been broken and love or joy seem elusive. It is a day of broken hearts. Thus, Feb. 14 holds both joy and sorrow.

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This year the festival of Valentine’s Day also lands on the deeply symbolic Christian day of Ash Wednesday. On this day people gather to have ashes placed on their foreheads to be reminded of mortality, as we hear the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

This day marks the beginning of the 40-day Lenten journey to Good Friday and Easter. It is a time of deeper reflection on purpose and life’s journey.

The fact Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day occurs together will be reflected in some synchronicity occurring on this day — a day of sorrow and joy — that sees both an ending and a beginning for a new faith centre in southwest Calgary.

On Feb. 14 at 6 p.m., a second campus of Hillhurst United Church Kensington will begin at the former Living Spirit United Church in Elboya. The two churches have come together to create a new venture as a centre of action and contemplation.

At this inaugural gathering, called Broken Hearts, we will invite our hearts to be broken open. I believe one of God’s various jobs (in Her long list of jobs!) is to break human hearts open to the world and to hatch our hearts open, so that something new emerges.

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In the Bible, the heart is the centre of both knowledge and wisdom. It isn’t just about romance. Our hearts are often hard or cold to the world, but the Spirit can break them wide open to birth love. Ash Wednesday embodies this reality. It is a wake-up call — a reminder of our mortality and the call to a purposeful life journey.

The new community being born at the Living Spirit Center will be a centre of action and contemplation. Each Wednesday gathering at 6 p.m., people are invited to gather for song, silence, ritual and reflection followed by a simple supper. We hope religious stuffiness and dogma can be replaced with a relaxed and relevant heart-centred gathering.

Dr. William Brook, a student at Vancouver School of Theology, will take the lead, saying: “Our vision is to bring a fresh expression of Hillhurst United to a different part of the Calgary. We want to focus on spiritual renewal, community connection, and meaningful spiritual practices that deepen our soul life. We plan to offer mindfulness classes, yoga, expressive arts, public dialogue and engaging worship in the round. We hope it brings people together to celebrate diversity and seek hopeful unity.”

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This new venture also includes work beyond the walls of the church, in eco-spirituality and Indigenous spirituality on the land. The plan proposes a community garden and outdoor space for raising awareness of sustainable gardening practises. The Living Spirit Center is located in a vibrant intersection of the city in the heart of seven diverse neighbourhoods. It is also close to the Elbow River, providing space for sacred walks and reconnection to nature.

All of this is a “work in progress,” as people risk to step in and listen to the needs of the neighbourhood and the possibilities yet to be.

I believe we are living in exciting and opportune times to birth hope, joy, compassion and justice in the world in new and refreshing ways. This site is a great opportunity to try new things to open our hearts to life in a new way. I hope it is a place for religious and non-religious folk to gather with intention.

The launch on Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is intentional due to the heart-centred focus of both days.

So many in our world have had their hearts broken or hardened through suffering, loneliness and polarization. The hope of the centre is to provide a place where hearts are broken open to transform the world. This sacred space offers time to listen deeply and have our hearts moved to beat as one with the Creator.

Rev. Andria Irwin and I will work with keen volunteers to offer leadership on the site. The three-year pilot welcomes anyone who seeks to deepen their soul life and anyone who yearns for meaningful life practices. The launch occurs Feb. 14 at  Living Spirit; 629 – 49 Ave. S.W.

Rev. John Pentland is the lead minister at Hillhurst United.

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