Sunday, March 17, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: Becoming God's glory

This week's reflection is brought to you by
Philippians 3:20 - 4:1.

O God,
if we really believed
that we are citizens of heaven,
would we treat your earth the way we do?

If we see your Christ in all that you have made,
shouldn't we be sprucing our world up
instead of messing it up?

We are partners with you,
O God,
in your creation,
and we trust that you can set all things right.

But we also need to do our part --
to conform ourselves and our world
to your will
so that you can bring everything into your glory.

We are all your people,
called to stand firm
in you.

Help us to truly become your joy and crown,
your glory,
by the way we work
to bring your heaven to earth
for the sake of all your creation.


* * * * * * *

This week's Sunday Reflection is looking at paragraphs 43 to 47 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Homewhich can be accessed by clicking here. They're a pretty decent summary of what's wrong with human life in general, pointing out that we have a right to life and happiness -- but that through causing environmental deterioration with our flawed models of development and the throwaway culture that goes with them, we're affecting many lives in a negative way (paragraph 43).

The last time I read through paragraphs 44-47 of this week's reading, I came up with the following litany of modern woes, a sort of slam poetry summary of what Pope Francis is decrying:

Unruly growth, urban chaos, poor transportation,
noise, unhealthy neighbourhoods, visual pollution.
Gated homes, crowded slums, inefficient cities,
cement, asphalt, glass and metal, no access to beauty.
Wasted energy and water, lack of green space,
technology assuming human interaction's place.
Social breakdown, violence, new forms of aggression,
drugs and trafficking, the silent rupture of cohesion.
Digital overload, distraction, loss of identity,
lack of wisdom, deep thought, and loving community.

In an effort to make my slam poem work better, I left out quite a bit of what the Pope and friends name as contributing to society's breakdown, so I really encourage a reading of paragraphs 43-47.

Then, lest we fall into the "harmful sense of isolation" (paragraph 47) also known as 'overwhelm,' that can arise from our awareness of all this heavy stuff, we must realize that we are a big part of the solution. We can choose to stand with Christ, and listen as he asks, "Is this really the quality of life you want? How do you want your society to be? What needs to change to make it so? What are concrete steps toward changing it?"

And the slam poem changes...

God is my light and my salvation...
Careful growth by wise planning, shared public transportation,
birdsong, healthy neighbourhoods, no more pollution.
Inviting homes, empty slums, highly efficient cities,
parks, trees, flowers, and a plenitude of beauty.
Energy and water saved, open growing space,
activism and conversation in our meeting place.
Friendship and happiness, no forms of aggression;
sharing what we have is the creation of cohesion.
Wise use of media helps build true identity,
wisdom, deep thought, and loving community.

Sounds like utopia... and unfortunately, to many of us been raised to think that utopia can't possibly come true. But Jesus believed in utopia. He was always saying, "The reign of God is among you." He knew how we really want to live, and showed us how to go about it -- by loving. He was always building community.

Pope Francis is also reminding us that we need to love more than just our own lives, families, and friends -- we need to love those on the margins, and everyone and everything in creation besides.

So let's ask ourselves: How can I live and love like Christ so as to bring about a higher quality of human life and a healthier society? What is one small thing I can do today to better my own neighbourhood and build community? What is one cause I can commit to? How can we all work together to make a difference?

If you have any ideas to share, as always, I'd love to hear them. Oftentimes through discussion, change takes shape... and if we want to become God's love in the world, God's glory, we'll need to change...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Coffee with Ralph and Lidia

I happened to see my dear Italian neighbour, Ralph, on Monday morning, as he was backing his car out of the driveway. When he saw me, his face lit up, he stopped his car, and opened the door to say (as he often does), "I haven't seen you for a longa-time!"

Conscious that his car was partly blocking the street as it was, I told him that I would come for coffee the next morning, and, satisfied, he drove off to the bank as he'd planned. So yesterday, I packed up a few St. Paddy's Day lucky four-leaf clover cookies and walked a block to visit him and his lovely wife, Lidia.

Turns out it was Ralph's 94th birthday on Sunday, and one of the first things he told me (as I settled at the kitchen table for some of Lidia's wonderful espresso), was that I would have to come and help him plant his garden soon! His son, Alfonso, had stopped by for coffee and was already seated at the table. A plumber by trade, Alfonso teased his father, saying, "Don't you think you'd better get an estimate first?"

When I told Lidia how good her coffee was, she immediately got up to get me an extra little espresso pot and Ralph disappeared to find a can of Medaglia d'Oro Caffè (Gold Medal Coffee of the Arabica variety) to take home and make for myself. Lidia also gave me back two jars in which I'd previously brought over plum jelly (made from Ralph's plums in the fall) and dehydrated apple slices (made from Ralph's apples). She wastes nothing, my friend Lidia.

We sat and chatted for over an hour, mourning the loss of the Ethiopian plane crash victims, shaking our head over the latest political shenanigans, and setting some of the world's other problems straight while I ate too many Italian cookies. Lidia told me I'm like an extra daughter to her when I come visit, and I told the two of them that I love them, too. In this year of focusing on my blessings, I definitely have to count my loving Italian neighbours!

To be honest, I've been having a sad time of late, partly because of the deaths of some other special friends, one of them just a little younger than me. Though I know I will also lose these two elderly friends eventually, for now, visiting Lidia and Ralph is balm for the soul every single time. And not because of Lidia's delicious espresso and Italian Centre cookies, but because Ralph and Lidia are salt-of-the-earth people with warm and beautiful souls who would literally give you the espresso maker out of their cupboard!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: Our response to God this Lent

This week's reflection is brought to you by
Deuteronomy 26:4-10.

What response can we make to you,
O God?

We are descendants
of wandering Arameans,
always seeking to fill the God-shaped holes
in our souls.

We enslave ourselves
to possessions that we don't need,
money that we don't have,
and dreams of fame and fortune
that will only cause us grief,
forgetting that you have already made us
all that we need to be --
your children.

You have given us this world,
"a land flowing with milk and honey,"
a land with more abundance
than we can even acknowledge,
but too often,
all we see is scarcity.

Broaden our vision,
O God.
Help us to see the world as you do.

Show us how to offer to you
and to those in need
the first fruits
of all that you have made
when we already have enough!

Help us to see and respond
to the needs of all creation.


* * * * * * *

If you haven't given much thought to the importance and value of our planet's biodiversity, and even if you have, I'd suggest a quick read-through of paragraphs 32-42 of the Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Homewhich can be accessed by clicking here. I'm covering all ten paragraphs on biodiversity at once -- otherwise we hear all the problems and nothing of a solution.

Paragraph 32 begins by pointing out that the plundering of the earth's resources for the sake of the economy, commerce, and production means that we are losing species that could be important for our future on this earth.

The first line of paragraph 33 says, "It is not enough... to think of different species merely as potential "resources" to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves." Every little bit of creation reveals to us an "other" aspect of God, and in our lack of care for all creatures, we are losing what we can learn from them not only about God, but about our world and ourselves. And of course, our lives are not just about us. We often talk about human rights, but not enough of us focus on the fact that all creatures have a right to exist, even if they're living in a mosquito-infested swampy area that we'd like to drain and turn into a suburb. I often wonder if, in God's eyes, our human projects are as important as the creatures we displace...

We humans probably have been making too many adjustments and interventions when it comes to planetary ecosystems -- everything from creating synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (those agrotoxins mentioned in paragraph 34) to building highways, subdivisions and hydroelectric dams (paragraph 35) to cutting down the great rainforests (paragraph 38) to replacing highly biodiverse virgin land with monocultures (paragraph 39) to overfishing our oceans (paragraph 40) to creating the fossil fuel emissions that are raising the temperatures all over the globe and damaging our coral reefs (paragraph 41).

But I have to back up and quote the entirety of paragraph 36 just because it's so well put:
Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental degradation.
Since last spring, I've noticed that certain trees in the part of our neighbourhood that is under construction (because of a new light rail transit line) are fenced off and have little signs that list their monetary value -- for example, an elm about a block from here bears a "price tag" of $6, 432. I thought that was pretty low, actually. How often do we think about the way trees add value to our lives? To the lives of other creatures? To entire ecosystems?

Just as there's no calculating the worth of a human being, there's no real way of determining the monetary value of our forests, our oceans and all of creation, or the value of our projects vs. the value of nature. And we all know that the value of money is arbitrary at best, because of the way the global economy bounces. The things our human projects create are of value to us for a limited time, but how much of nature are we losing as we go?
"... a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves." (paragraph 34)
That summarizes the problem. The solution is found in paragraph 42, and if Laudato Si was a song, this is the first time we hear its chorus:
"Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another (paragraph 42)."
So how do we go about cherishing all creatures?

This Lent, I offer you a challenge, a start toward a practical and mystical appreciation of creation: every day, go outside and find a quiet place where nature can be observed. Let your mind become aware that, as you were created in the secret darkness of your mother, so all the living things around you had their own secret beginnings because God willed you into existence at this same time, for a sacred reason unknown to you. Rest in that awareness for a few moments, and then say a few gentle words to the life around you about how you want it to flourish. And don't forget to thank God for the creation in which we are all immersed. Gratitude is probably our best response.

I think Christ is doing some of that in the video below...

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Share the journey

Lent is here again. While we should always be caring for those among us who are in need, Lent seems to be the time when we make a more concerted effort. And here's one way...

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has chosen to focus on migrants and refugees this Lent, inviting us to Share the Journey of those who are displaced by forced migration due to war, famine, poverty and natural disasters. Climate change is the latest threat as our world warms to record temperatures, forcing many people in drought-stricken regions from their homes.

The fear of migrants overtaking our homelands and bringing terrorism -- so often raised by media reports (and the President of the United States) -- is unsubstantiated. In my involvement with L'Arche, I have met many people who are immigrants. Most of them would prefer to be in their own countries rather than Canada (especially in the cold we've been experiencing this winter!), and all of them want to be contributing citizens. They didn't choose to leave Syria or Burundi or other places that were home to them, but they had no choice if they wanted to live.

The video below is a good summary of the issue of forced migration, and offers Canadians a way to help, even if we've never met a migrant or refugee. And the Share Lent website can be accessed by clicking here. It offers more information and places to donate.

As we begin Lent, let's do what we can to help our faraway family members who are forced to flee their homes. After all, humanity is one big family.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Seeing rightly, living rightly

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Luke 6:39-45.

You challenge us,
O Christ,
to see rightly.

Our blind spots
to your will in our world
come from our own prejudices.

It is easier
to find fault with others
than to address our own inadequacies.

Known by the fruit we bear,
we must ask ourselves:
where does our treasure lie?

You tell us
that our words and actions
arise from the abundance
of our hearts.

Help us,
O Christ
to let our hearts rest
in the beauty,
goodness and truth
that is you
so that we may increase
your beauty,
goodness and truth
in our world.

Show us how to see rightly
and live rightly.


 * * * * * * *

This week's rereading of paragraphs 27-31 of Pope Francis' encyclical letter, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home (the entire encyclical can be accessed by clicking here) reminded me of all the water that I take for granted. The Pope and his encyclical writer friends preface their comments on water use by pointing out that "... the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we have still not solved the problem of poverty." (paragraph 27).

Water is one of those things we waste and discard without thinking. It isn't just important, it's essential to life of all kinds -- "terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems" need to be everyone's concern: "Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences.... Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultural production." (paragraph 28).

Of course, it's always the poor -- those who lack security, wealth, and political power -- that are most affected, as noted in paragraph 29. In the developing world, they often don't have access to safe water, or have to walk long distances to access it. But even here in a "developed" country like Canada, we still have 60 drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves, though I am happy to note that's down from 132 advisories since I last looked at the website, and 3 of 4 of the advisories in my own Alberta backyard have been resolved. Inadequate water treatment, or pollution of water sources through industrial activity are an issue faced by our marginalized brothers and sisters all over the world. Too often humans are desecrating the fresh water God gives us, which flows and flows until it reaches the oceans, polluting them as well.

To add insult to injury, the poor face inadequate fresh water supplies in some places because large corporations are privatizing and bottling water, selling it at higher prices per litre/gallon than gasoline. Paragraph 30 states that "access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights." And yet we in North America continue to use water and buy bottled water as if it is an unlimited resource. Yesterday on my walk with the dog, I picked up two empty plastic bottles, grrrr. (Plastic is one of my pet peeves these days!)

Last summer, Lee and I visited the Athabasca Glacier from which our North Saskatchewan river takes its waters, and this time, there was a good-sized stream flowing off the glacer long before we reached it. Our city depends on water from the Athabasca Icefields. What will happen when they're gone? Global climate change means that some parts of the world are already facing acute water shortages, but still we forget that we can't create glaciers, or rainstorms, or a single water molecule the way God can.

Paragraph 31 points out the possibility of water shortages within a few decades, but our brothers and sisters in Australia, California, South Africa and so many other places know what it is to live with water scarcity. They have already been forced to implement measures to conserve and protect water sources. Fresh water is anything but infinite, and we should all be doing the same.

St. Francis sang the praises of Sister Water, "so useful, humble, precious and pure" in Il Cantico del Sole (Canticle of the Sun), as if she was a person standing right beside him. We would do well to treat water with that kind of love and respect.

So today, I'd like to invite my readers to get themselves a glass, go to the kitchen faucet, and fill it, and reflect on whether we are seeing water rightly -- as an extremely valuable resource -- and using water rightly. Is our water clean and clear? Take a sip and savour. Consider: how much does it cost? How do we take it for granted? How can we use less/pollute it less? Do we use phosphate-free dish soap and laundry soap? Do we remember to carry our own water bottles so that water sources aren't comodified for our convenience? Can we cut down on less critical water use such as lawn watering, sidewalk spraying, and car washing for the sake of the environment? How can we support our brothers and sisters who are affected by water shortages and drinking water advisories?

Do we treat Sister Water with the respect she deserves? Or is there room for improvement? Lord, that we may see.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Mercy and graciousness

This Sunday's reflection is brought to you by
Psalm 103.

O God,
are mercy and graciousness itself.

I bless you,
and count myself blessed.

You forgive,
and crown me
with your love and mercy,
and especially
when I don't deserve it.

You don't wag a finger in blame
but simply remove my sins
to the ends of the universe.

Your compassion is endless.

some of my sins
are coming home to roost.

My planet's ability to cope
with the waste and overuse of her resources
means our entire population
is touched
by the effects of pollution
and climate change
whether we realize it
or not.

O God,
help me to see our planet
as you see it.

Help me to balance my needs
with the needs of all creatures,
to put less stress
on my comfort and convenience
and more emphasis
on what creation needs.

Are orcas less important than pipelines
in your grand scheme?

Help me to choose what is right.

Bring me
and all of creation
into harmony
with your mercy and grace.


* * * * * * *

This Sunday's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (paragraphs 22-26 -- you can access the entire document by clicking here) looks briefly at the way many of the world's industrial systems (that create things to satisfy our needs and wants) are linear rather than circular, going straight to the trash. For example, the Royal Statistical Society in the UK chose 90.5 percent as it's stat of the year for 2018. That 90.5 percent refers to the amount of plastic in the world that is NOT being recycled. And there are many other resources that end up in our landfills, making it clear that we still have a long way to go to counteract our throwaway culture just because we are suckers for cheapness and convenience. How many of the following have a place in your life? Consider the alternative:

paper towels -- replace with rags (raggedy towels/cotton t-shirts)
plastic straws -- skip them altogether, or use reusable
single use coffee cups -- travel mugs
disposable water bottles -- reusable water bottles
plastic bags -- cloth bags
disposable plates, cups and cutlery -- bring along the real thing from home (makes people think...)
coffee filters -- old fashioned methods of brewing coffee like percolators, or reusable filter systems, anything but Keurig!!
gift wrap -- reusable cloth, tea towels or pre-used gift bags (we always seem to have a few around), or give a gift without wrap at all!

Since I became a Master Composter/Recycler in 2007, we've managed to cut many of these things out of our lives through simple awareness. Wasteless living requires more thought and effort than buying the quick and easy solutions that marketers make available to consumers, but half the battle is just choosing options that aren't disposable! (And remembering to choose them consistently.)

And these small things are just the tip of the iceberg. Pope Francis points to the much bigger adjustments we need to make when he notes that "climate is a common good... a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life." His encyclical calls us to "recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat... the human causes" which aggravate climate change (paragraph 23).

Laudato Si may have signalled the start of Catholicism becoming more aware of what its members need to do to mitigate climate change, to circumvent the "vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading the the extinction of part of the planet's biodiversity" (paragraph 24). The Pope's concern for these things, and for migrants who must flee their homes because of environmental changes is really important -- and almost too gentle. We need more Greta Thunbergs to call us to act NOW...

She calls a spade a spade, refusing to simply give a pep talk, insisting that there is no hope without action.

So this week, let's act. Let's see how many times we can cut back on our creation of greenhouse gases by using alternate transportation (feet, bicycles, transit, carpool) and using less energy, period. Let's find ways to reuse things rather than waste them. Our sister, Mother Earth, and all her children (not just the human ones) are depending on us to change, to be signs of God's mercy and graciousness within creation.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Bohemian waxwings

It dawned on me yesterday that I haven't been very good at sharing my blessings in my year of Blessing, 2019. So this morning, when I looked out my front window, I immediately saw a blessing that I can share. I quietly opened the door and stood on the front step in my pajamas with my camera, and what you see here is the result of those few minutes -- the song of hundreds of bohemian waxwings (and a single magpie).

There's something so cheerful about a flock of waxwings. The sound they make, the way they flit from one branch to the next, and their sense of community. Nothing stops me in my tracks like their "murmuration" flights across the sky -- they seem to become a single organism that ebbs and flows as it moves like the wind. The picture at the bottom was snapped just as they took off from the trees, and where there was a lot of noisy excitement one moment, there was nothing the next.

Grey winter mornings aren't quite so grey when blessings like this appear out of nowhere!

Thursday, February 21, 2019


It seems that the older I get, the more challenging life becomes. Maybe it's because I'm increasingly aware of the suffering of those around me, and my own. Maybe it's too much coverage of bad politicians and bad news from around the globe. I know that the climate crisis gets me down now and again (especially when I find a Roll-Up-The-Rim-To-Win single use coffee cup in the snow not five feet from a garbage can -- like I did this morning).

But then I sit in my meditation corner, and images similar to what you find in the video below come to me. Life is so much bigger than we realize, and our struggles are but a tiny part of it all. I prefer to think about my problems as tiny, and about God's presence in everything going on in the universe as huge. Videos like this help me to remember that the Source of All Being is in charge... and to relax because I am enough and I do what I can to make a difference. What do you do to keep a sense of perspective?

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Slowing down, using less

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Jeremiah 17:5-8.

For too long,
O God,
we have believed
more in ourselves
than really trusted in you.

And now we see
evidence of our own foolishness
everywhere we look.

In turning away from you
and the sacredness
of all that you have made,
we are turning parts of our planet
into salt lands
where we can no longer live.

Help us,
O God,
to reverse what we have done.

Slow the desertification
of our spirits,
of our earth.

Set our hearts and minds
on your streams
of beauty, goodness, and truth
so that we see with your eyes --
that everything
and everyone
is sacred
and deserves our loving care.

Then all of your creation
will be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jer 17:8)


* * * * * * *

This week I've been looking back at paragraphs 17-21 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Chapter One: What is happening to our common home (the entire text can be accessed by clicking here). It's the beginning of a frank assessment of what's actually happening to our environment before getting into the theology and philosophy that could be helpful in determining how to prevent further damage to the only home we have.

Right off the bat in paragraph 18, Pope Francis and friends name "rapidification" as a factor contributing to the planet's problems. Basically, change is happening more rapidly than we or the earth can actually adapt, and keeping up to the pace is stressing everyone and everything. Human desire tends always toward bigger, bolder, brighter, and better... but in our obsession with our desires, we forget that small, gentle, quiet and simple ways are often much better for our souls and bodies.

For too long, we have gone along with an "irrational confidence in progress and human abilities." The good news is that some of us are starting to see the problems caused when we think we know everything we need to know, and by living in such a hurry all the time. I'll never forget hearing Canadian scientist and TV personality, David Suzuki, at a teacher's conference in 1989 where he talked about the fallacy of perpetual growth. For me, it was the beginning of critical thinking about the pace of North American life and the finite nature of our planet's resources.

Pope Francis is inviting us to "become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it (paragraph 19)." With our planet's declining health and climate change in the news more and more, we can no longer sweep our environmental problems under the carpet and go on as if nothing is wrong. We have the power to stop turning our planet into salt lands by choosing to live more simply, using what we have as well as we can, and demanding that the products we choose are recyclable, or better yet, wasteless (I'm thinking of the endless over-packaging of so many store items).

Back in October, I attended a Zero Waste Workshop led by Bea Johnson. I was well aware that it's possible to avoid many single use items like plastic straws, water bottles, grocery bags and single use coffee cups (I no longer go for groceries/coffee with friends unless I have my reusable bags/mug with me). But Bea and her family take it to a whole other level, and since her workshop, I've been refilling containers at Earth's General Store and Bulk Barn more regularly, and looking for more ways that I can reduce the packaging in our lives. Check out Bea's website and the video below to see Bea show us what's possible...

So how are you going to make less of a mess of our planet in the week ahead? How can you encourage those around you to create less garbage and trouble for our sister, Mother Earth?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Simple Suggestion #280... Do something just for joy's sake

We human beings are great at talking ourselves out of doing things, especially when we think that no one even notices what we do, so sometimes we miss out on things that simply bring us joy. But these students and teachers at the Saint James Music Academy in Vancouver know the fun of making music with friends and expressing themselves is more important than making a big splash. I love how this little two minute video celebrates their participation in something much bigger than they will be on their own. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Image result for home fires kamila shamsie
It's been a while since I've posted a book review, but given the fact that I keep mentioning this book to friends, I thought maybe I should also mention it to my readers. I really enjoy fiction that makes me wonder which aspects of a story might be true-to-life and that makes me think more deeply about my own assumptions, and this is one of those kinds of books.

Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire (Riverhead Books (Penguin Random House) 2017, ISBN 9780735217683) tells the story of three Muslim siblings who struggle to come to terms with their father's abandonment of their family, and what it could be like to be the children of a suspected jihadist in a world doing battle with ISIS. Shamsie's telling of an updated version of the classical story of Antigone is evocative, and starkly but beautifully told through the story's five main characters, each with their own unique voice and view of the unfolding tragedy.

When her younger twin siblings come of age, Isma Pasha, the eldest of three, journeys to the US to complete a PhD in sociology, and finds companionship with a less traditional Muslim named Eamonn Lone, though she hesitates to tell him about her family's past. Still in London, younger sister Aneeka puzzles over the increasing silence of her twin brother, Parvaiz, who, for a time, enjoys the attentions of a father-like mentor. As Parvaiz's dream of understanding about his father turns into a nightmare, Eamonn returns to London and delivers a parcel to Isma's aunt. He meets Aneeka, and the two fall in love in spite of Eamonn's father's unsympathetic history with the Pasha family. Home Secretary Karamat Lone, who held the position when the Pasha family sought information about their missing father, is the man who has the most to say when it comes to the fate of both families. I won't say more than this, as I don't want to be a spoiler!

I suspect that, here in the West, we shake our heads at the barbarity of ISIS without really understanding how young people could be disenfranchised to the point that they would choose to join the Islamic Brotherhood's form of Jihad. Kamila Shamsie's believable story about a breakdown in communication between sisters and brother has me thinking deeply about the importance of honesty, openness and trust in our relationships. There are so many layers to the kinds of issues she touches on in this story, and she lays them open for us to see and acknowledge.

It's only too easy to tell ourselves that we are alone, that others would never understand where we are coming from, and that we can't trust anyone but ourselves. But the fact of the matter is that we are usually too small to see the big picture without being willing to be open, to admit our mistakes, and to ask for help before things spin out of control. We need to come out of ourselves to really see others clearly.

The five characters of Home Fire learn this lesson the hard way, perhaps so that we can learn from their mistakes. And books that remind us of challenging lessons are always worth reading. This one will stay with me for a long time. If you're looking for a thought-provoking read, check it out.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Here am I; send me!

This Sunday reflection is brought to you by
Isaiah 6:5-8.

Holy Spirit,
I am like Isaiah,
feeling unworthy
or maybe,
in tackling the tasks
that you ask me to accomplish.

But it is me,
not you,
who is making excuses
and putting up barriers.

It is our humanity,
not you,
who pretend
that we can't do
what you ask of us.

So you send us fiery coals
to cleanse us of our guilt
and a multitude of messengers
to inspire us toward action,
prophets who say
"Wake up before it's too late!"

When you call our names,
"Who shall I send,
and who will go for us?"
give us all
the courage to respond,
"Here am I; send me!"

Holy Spirit,
help us to heal our home
and all its creatures.


* * * * * * *
This week, my reading of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home in concert with this Sunday's readings has me thinking about a few people I've run into lately who have a pretty fatalistic attitude when it comes to the future of our planet and its species. I've been told in so many words that there's no point in even trying to reduce our impact on our earthly home because we're doomed anyway.

But I prefer Pope Francis' way of thinking. His appeal to us is clear: "Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. (my emphasis) ... All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents." (paragraph 14)

The purpose of our lives, our true meaning, is found where our passions and abilities intersect with the needs of the world. Such meaning is rooted in selflessness rather than personal ego trips -- and shopping trips! And it is selfless action to which Pope Francis -- and God -- call usThe ecological and social challenges of our planet can seem overwhelming, but if we all stop making excuses and work together out of love for our common home and each other, there is hope. If as many of us as possible say, "Here am I; send me!" we can change the course of history, as other brave souls have in the past.

It's only too easy to tell ourselves that we are alone and that other people don't really care about our planet the way we do. But if we really look around and listen to what's going on, we can see that more and more people are jumping on various bandwagons aimed at saving our environment, serving the poor, and finding ways to live more justly, as Laudato Si calls us to do. Have you heard about Change for Climate Edmonton yet? Just one tiny example of people trying to make a difference, and a bandwagon onto which more and more people in my city are climbing. Are there similar efforts where you live?

Isaiah heard God's call and responded whole-heartedly. Can we put aside our hesitations as Isaiah did?

Question for the week: How do we face up to our part in our planet's ecological and social struggles rather than making excuses, or living in resignation or indifference? What is one small action we can take to help heal our home and all its creatures?

sidewalk chalk art

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Scott Cook

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend a Scott Cook concert in my neighbourhood. Scott is a sweet guy, a talented singer-songwriter artist/writer/photographer/comedian with a deep philosopher's soul (his most recent CD has a gorgeous 136 page booklet attached, featuring his many talents). The thought-provoking song below especially struck me -- his message really resonates every time I hear it.

If you get a chance to hear Scott Cook sometime, take advantage of it...

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

If you want to make a comment...

Lately, I've been receiving more than the usual comments on my moodlings, mostly from anonymous users. The spambots that fill in my comment box have terrible spelling and grammar, and most of their comments have nothing to do with the posts they are commenting on. Busted!!! I'm asked for advice about choosing the best blog platform, questioned whether all the features on my pages are working properly, or told, "Great post, man. I have bookmarked this and will visit every morning while I'm drinking my coffee because you are so right on!"

Phone calls, emails, or in-person "I like what you had to say about..." comments are the most common way that I get feedback, probably because typing remarks in a box and filling random letters or numbers in a captcha blank isn't as much fun as getting a real live reaction from a real live person (me), and I see a lot of my readers in ordinary daily life. And readers further afield just don't seem interested in leaving comments, so in reality, comment box communications on anything I moodle are extremely few and far between -- except for spambots, which are too prolific lately!

So rather than waste time deleting anonymous spambot comments, I'm removing the comment box at the bottom of my moodlings, period, unless I hear a cacophony of complaint, which I can't imagine. If any of my long distance readers have burning issues with things I write, I invite you to email me, as my gmail address is found on my profile page in the right sidebar.

Otherwise, have a good day, and stay warm.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Blankets for reconciliation and solidarity

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul collected
6 large bags of blanket for those in need
at the end of our exercise
On Sunday, the conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in our twin parishes sponsored a Blanket Exercise. Our work with those in need in our area brings us into contact with many Original Peoples who live in our part of Edmonton. We held the event to try to bring more education and awareness about how they have been impacted by the actions of those who "settled" North America, and the government policies that take advantage of them by frequently changing the rules of relationship.

The Blanket Exercise was facilitated by five volunteers from RISE -- Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton. About thirty people gathered to walk through Canadian history as experienced by the Original Peoples of Canada. We spread blankets on the floor to represent the land, and all of us who stood together on the blankets represented Inuit, Metis, and First Nations people who lived on the land before colonialism. One facilitator narrated the exercise, while another represented the Europeans who came to Canada beginning in the early 1600s.

Each one of us represented a 'sovereign nation' at the beginning of the exercise, and we mixed and
The beginning of the exercise
mingled, trading and exchanging with other 'sovereign nations.' When Europeans came, we shared knowledge with them, helping them to survive our harsh winters and discover the abundance of wildlife and food sources in a new land. But the newcomers brought smallpox, which killed many (I 'died' only 5 minutes into the exercise).

Soon European settlers began over-hunting and trapping some animals to near extinction, sending the land's wealth to their countries across the oceans. It wasn't long before they were calling Original peoples 'uncivilized' and changing the rules of their treaties so that all land not being used for 'civilized' purposes belonged to them. And when Inuit, Metis and First Nations children were taken from their homes and families to be 'civilized' in Residential Schools, whole generations lost their family ties, sense of culture, and self worth. Those who survive often find themselves pushed to the margins of Canadian life, though there are many strong people among them working to improve things.

I am not of First Nations descent -- I am a grandchild of European settlers, as were many of the other participants. So this journey through history according to how First Nations people experienced it was more than eye-opening for those of us who had not heard this version of history (school curricula are changing, thank heavens). The word 'civilize' took on very negative connotations in a hurry, a near equivalent of 'exploit,' and becoming more aware of some of the many injustices that have been dealt to the Original Peoples was extremely sobering for our group. We became aware of the many deep hurts from which they are still recovering. I can't help but feel that they are much stronger than I could ever be because they have been through so much.

The end of the exercise
I grew up in a small Saskatchewan town where my best friend was a girl who had been taken from her family on Thunderchild Reserve at the age of three and given to a foster family. No one had heard of the Sixties Scoop back then, and Noreen and her five-year-old sister, Eileen, were too little to understand or protest being taken away from their parents and siblings. Of course, I had no idea about the hurts of living with her foster family, either. All I knew was that Noreen was a wonderful and creative friend with a great sense of humour, and we explored our prairie home together and played many imaginative games. I loved her like an older sister and had no idea that my home was a place of refuge for her.

When my family moved to Edmonton, I was bereft because I lost my best friend, and so was she, because her safe space was gone. Unfortunately, Noreen was not a letter writer, and we lost contact. I found myself on the lookout for another best friend like her -- but there was no one like her. All the kids I met in my new school were as caucasian as I was, and it wasn't until I reached Grade Seven that the first First Nations girl appeared in my grade. She was more interested in teasing the boys than in being my friend, and I missed Noreen more than ever.

Years later, I became an elementary school teacher in the town of Ponoka, just down the road from the Sampson Cree Nation. I was delighted to have five First Nations children in my first grade four class, and others in the following years. They couldn't help but be my favourites because they so often reminded me of my first best friend -- their surprising wit and creative thinking delighted me to no end. Aware that many of them came from challenging family situations, I did all that I could to make school an enjoyable experience where their gifts and talents were celebrated. And two months ago, I was thrilled when one of those students found me on Facebook thirty years later and re-established our relationship. I've also managed to reconnect with Noreen via Facebook, and it has been really wonderful to share our lives in middle age!

Of course, these friends have underlined for me the white privilege in which I was born, raised and lived all these years. Neither Noreen nor my former student have had it easy, dealing with addictions, family violence, suicides, and many other challenges that are direct results of inter-generational trauma. Our First Nations sisters and brothers have many reasons to resent all the non-original peoples who have come to Canada over the last 400 years.

I was very grateful for our Blanket Exercise participant who was from the Beaver Cree Nation. As our only First Nations participant, he was able to speak about his experience and share some of the injustices that were and still are inflicted on his family. He mentioned that one of his hurtful memories was when someone said to him, "Don't play the Indian card with me." How many descendants of Europeans are singled out like that these days? His comment gave us all pause for thought.

Our prejudice, and our blind support of the systems that create forms of trauma our Original Peoples are still experiencing -- because of prejudice, being forced to live in substandard housing on reserves, or being mistreated at residential schools, to name only three of many issues -- are things that we need to acknowledge, change, and heal. The Blanket Exercise makes it clear that there is still much to do for true reconciliation and solidarity to happen. And it starts with each one of us. We are all called to reach out and touch those who have been treated like outcasts, and create a place of inclusion instead.

During the Blanket Exercise, as we heard the mounting evidence of mistreatment and abuse of Original Peoples at the hands of European colonizers, I felt deeply that, as a privileged European descendant, it should really be my turn to be an outcast. But my First Nations friends already know the hurt caused by injustice and marginalization, and they don't wish it on me.

No one is an outcast when reconciliation and solidarity really take hold.

* * * * * * *

It's not difficult to host a Blanket Exercise. All that's needed is at least 20 interested people, an indoor space for spreading blankets, and enough chairs for everyone involved to sit in a circle. If you want to help spread solidarity and reconciliation through education, please click here for a link to Reconciliation in Solidarity-Edmonton's blanket exercise page.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Love is patient

Today's reflection is brought to you by
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13.

O God,
you call us to the excellence
that only love can bring.

No matter how eloquent,
or faithful
we may be,
no matter how generous or self-sacrificing,
without love,
none of it matters.

And our love
must also reach
beyond our own existence
to all that you have made.

You know us completely --
help us to know and love you completely
by loving all that you have made.

Make us patient in allowing nature to take her course.

Make us kind in the way we reach out to those in need.

Remove our envy and boastfulness,
so evident when we try to outdo others by having more than enough.

Take away our irritability and resentment
when our desires conflict with the needs of your creation
and help us to put it first.

Help us to bear all things,
believe all things,
hope all things
and endure all things
as we work to ensure
the common good
of our common home
for future generations.

Come, Holy Spirit
help us to heal our home
and all its creatures.


* * * * * * *

Early in Pope Francis' letter to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home, he quotes Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox churches, who uses powerful words to call us to a deeper love of the environment. He challenges us to replace "consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which "entails learning to give and not simply to give up... a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God's world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed, and compulsion." (paragraph 9)

If we approach nature and the environment with love, openness, awe and wonder, if we speak the language of community and beauty in our relationship with the world, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then care will well up spontaneously, and we will never turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. And that's how the world becomes a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise instead of a problem to be solved.

Of course, simple positive thinking isn't enough to solve all our problems, to make humanity ecology-minded and turn us from our present course of destruction. Positive thinking has to be translated into action. The challenge is to stop acting as masters, consumers and ruthless exploiters of the earth, trying to satisfy our limitless wants through taking everything.

So today... I want to put on my ecological mind. It's time to look around my life a little. Where am I overdoing it with my consumption of the earth's resources? Where am I failing to appreciate creation? Where do I need to care more and exploit less? It could be something as simple as remembering to turn off a light, or compost an apple core. To avoid buying something I don't need. To think less of myself, whose needs are satisfied, and offer my resources to do more for those whose basic needs aren't being met.

Making it a daily habit to be aware of our consumption of resources and to pray for our earth might also help us to restore the balance it has lost on our account. And that would be worth a lot!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Fei's lions

Yong Fei Guan is a local artist, City of Edmonton Master Composter/Recycler since 2015, and a delightful person, period. My first exchange with her was on a warm October afternoon in 2017, when she was looking for some red wigglers for her vermicomposting efforts and I had a few to spare. We had met briefly once toward the end of her MCR course, but time had passed and I couldn't quite picture the person who was coming to get composting worms.

She texted to announce that she was parked outside my house, so I went out to meet her, but I wasn't sure how to pronounce her name. "Just call me Fei," (Fay) she said, and handed me a small container to fill with worms because her baby had fallen asleep in the car seat on the way.

Remembering what that was like, I took the container to my compost pile to get the worms while she stayed with her wee one. When I came back, we stood on the street and chatted for quite a while, and the little one woke up just in time to give me a heart-melting smile before they went off on their next errand. Busy lady!

I've seen Fei a couple of times since then. One cold evening about a year ago (or is it two?) she had a little well-attended gallery gathering around a children's board book about composting that she was creating. More recently, for Edmonton's 2018 The Works Art & Design Festival, she created Su Jiao Shi, a pair of plastic lions, to commemorate the stone ones that used to guard our city's Harbin Gate before it was removed from near the Chinese Seniors Centre due to LRT construction. Fei wanted to bring more awareness to environmental issues and our world's over-dependence on plastic, much of which is not recycled and which takes hundreds, if not thousands of years to biodegrade.

Su Jiao Shi are made of plastic milk jugs, PVC pipe, chicken wire, and some little toys her children no longer play with form the lions' eyes. Their luxurious manes are quite the collection of six-pack rings, many of which came from the City of Edmonton's ReUse Centre -- definitely a mixed-media artwork. It's taken a few cans of spray paint to keep them colourful, and I have to say they were pretty impressive when I saw them up close. Like the stone lions, they each have a ball in their mouth to touch for good luck.

Fei's lions are residents of City Hall at the moment as part of a celebration of Chinese culture, and last night they were in the spotlight at a reception featuring art, music, Tai Chi, and the delightful Fei herself. I stopped by to see her before the reception, we took some pictures, and I asked her about her next project.

She's thinking big for it -- an eight-foot figure related to this Lunar New Year that will be made of non-recyclable materials. I'm not going to let the cat completely out of the bag -- but I'll be sure to moodle about it in the future. I love bumping into Fei.

In the meantime, if you're in the vicinity of City Hall, be sure to visit Fei's lions, which are showing until Feb 15th. And if you'd like to learn more about Fei, click here for an excellent article from the U of A's Gateway online magazine, or check out her artist profile by clicking here.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: On being one body

Today's reflection is brought to you by
1 Corinthians 12:12-30 and paragraphs 1-6 of
Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.

Your body, O God,
is visible in your creation,
and we are part of it.

We all drink of your spirit:
the tallest trees
to the smallest insects.

Pope Francis said
this earthly home you give us
is like "a sister with whom we share our life
and a mother who opens her arms to embrace us."

We are all part of your one body,
embraced by the great web of life
from the furthest reaches of the universe
to the ground on which we stand.

Help us to see beyond ourselves,
to the places and the creatures that we hurt
by our forgetfulness to care for ALL that you have made
through our pursuit of our own desires.

Bring us to ecological conversion
"for our good and the good of all of creation."

Please remind us,
that your body does not consist of only human beings,
but of many other members too:
rain forests and coral reefs,
glaciers and wetlands,
bees and polar bears,
human beings and tiny aquatic life.

Help us to see
that when other members suffer
we also suffer.

Help us to think deeply
about the choices we make
so that we
may do the least harm
and the most good
for all
 -- and so
honour you.

Make us aware of our place
in your one body.

Come, Holy Spirit,
help us to heal our home and all its creatures.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

An unrecognized gift, finally recognized

This is the view from the chair where I do my morning meditation. I've been praying in this room for years, but it's just in the last 8 months or so, since we rearranged our furniture, that my gaze has shifted more and more from our large picture window to the small icon cross above the doorway.

I can't remember how the cross came to me. Did I find it when volunteering at the Clothing Room of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul? It seems to me that someone thrust it into my hands as they were sorting things, saying, "Why don't you give poor Jesus a home?" The cross is very plain -- a paper icon glued to a poorly cut piece of particle board with a small wire hanger attached with tape. Its arrival in my life wasn't a memorable moment, clearly, as I can't recall exactly how it ended up where it is now. All I know is that it reminds me of the icon cross that Brother Eric of Taize wrote some years ago, though his is much simpler, with only one angel above Christ's head, Christ's mother under his right arm and St. John under his left. I love that cross.

But this cross has much more detail.

Christ is surrounded by people -- Mary, his mother, and St. John the Evangelist together under his right arm (left to my readers), with Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Longinus, the Roman Centurion whose servant Jesus healed (the servant looks on over Longinus' shoulder) on the other side. The small figures below these groups are the centurion who pierced Christ's side, and the one who offered him wine and vinegar on a hyssop stick. There's also the rooster who crowed three times at Peter's betrayal of Christ, and what's suspected to be a half obliterated small cat (thanks to damage to the paint), perhaps a pet of the monk who wrote the original icon early in the 12th century. They're not clear on an image this small.

Near the hands and above the head of the Crucified One are angels who are either discussing his ordeal or welcoming the Risen One in the red medallion into heaven (see the right hand of God blessing him from the half medallion above it?) At his feet are a number of saints who are difficult to identify (because of damage to the paint): Michael, Damian, Rufino, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul. Apparently, they were patrons of the region where the Christ figure who appears on this cross first asked St. Francis to "rebuild my church."

Yes, you read that right. This icon cross that has been hanging above my doorway almost unnoticed for so many years is a copy of the Cross of San Damiano, important to disciples of Christ and St. Francis fans all over the world because it called him to his vocation. It was only when I attended the showing of a documentary about St. Francis last weekend that I began to wonder about whether my little cross was connected to San Damiano's cross, or other crosses like it. This morning, I finally did a bit of research.

Readers who follow these moodlings know how much I love St. Francis, patron saint of simplicity and ecology, not to mention animals (and merchants). So you can imagine my delight to have a small version of the cross that St. Francis discovered covered with dirt in the broken down little church of San Damiano, here in my own morning meditation space. Though my memory is fuzzy regarding how it actually came to me, I am grateful for the presence of this gift that, until today, went unrecognized. 

I love it, too!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Ecumenical Prayer (with Taize chants) for 2019

It's been a crazy busy week, so I've decided to start my Laudato Si Sunday reflections next week, and post the schedule for this year's Ecumenical Prayer evenings that will be held in different churches. If you are in the Edmonton Area, don't hesitate to join us at any of the prayer evenings noted below. Each evening is a wonderful opportunity to listen to scripture, sit together in silence, and join our voices in song to celebrate all the things Christians hold in common. All are welcome!