Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A cure for January blues

January is a strange month. It's the start of something new... and a time when many are blue.
Christmas has passed, the decorations are down, and our spirits sometimes go that direction too.

It didn't help that this work week began with news from five of my colleagues who had lost a friend or relative over the weekend. I've heard it said many times that people often hold on through the Christmas season for one last celebration with loved ones, and then succumb to illness or old age once all the feasting and festival is over. I'm not sure that's really the case with all the deaths I've been hearing about this week, but I know that it's made for a more sombre atmosphere at work. We are saddened by our friends' sorrow.

So this morning, our L'Arche Day Program decided to do something to lighten the burden a bit. We were all invited to join our core members to pray for those who had died and for those who are grieving. And it's safe to say that the little impromptu prayer service lifted all our spirits a little. I was especially touched when Mariette began her prayer: "I'd like to pray for my wonderful friend, Thomas, and my wonderful friend, Lucy, and my wonderful friend, Sandy, and my wonderful friend, Darren..." and on it went, as she looked around the circle and prayed for all present -- a simple, heartfelt naming of each of us to God.

I wonder, in this strange month of January, how much our spirits might lift if we would simply remember all the people who bless us, day in and day out, by their presence in our lives. Maybe Mariette is on to something -- the real cure for January blues.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Welcoming migrants and refugees -- in laetitia!

Today is World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a day that should be declared publicly and celebrated more than it is. I know and love many migrants, some of whom started out as refugees, and they are all wonderful, hardworking, loving individuals who have enriched our society in more ways than we will ever realize.

Why can't everyone see that welcoming those who choose to come to our countries to find a better life is a good idea? They widen our hearts and bring so many beautiful gifts to share. Many of them, coming as they do from places where life is harder and more dangerous than we can possibly imagine, have a greater sense of hospitality than we do. I often think it must be difficult to come to North America, where really, unless we are Indigenous, we are all descended from migrants or refugees from years gone by. Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten that deep sense of hospitality that came with our ancestors from the "Old Country" by sheer necessity. I think it is a sing when we fail to extend hospitality to newcomers and conveniently forget that our people were newcomers, too.

Even so, they come, they surmount the obstacles that face them, and they become valued and valuable members of our communities. Their generosity has put me to shame on occasion -- I think of the people I work with at L'Arche who add so much joy and enthusiasm to my days with their cheerful greetings and unexpected kindnesses.

If we let them, most of our migrants and refugees want only to become our friends and colleagues, and their ability to open our minds and hearts is something we ought to value more than we do. They are not coming to take our jobs or make our lives worse -- they are often fleeing situations that are untenable. We are called to let go of our paranoia and fear of the other, to be welcoming, to join hands with those who come from afar, and to raise a song of gladness. Why not learn a song of theirs, and teach them one of ours?

This evening, we had a beautiful ecumenical prayer, and our last chant was the one posted below. "Rejoice in God, people of the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!" is the direct translation of the Latin words. As the song lifted our hearts and reverberated through the worship space, I found myself thinking of the many refugees and migrants who have come to Canada in the past year, and how they have added to the mosaic of our life here with their many languages, cultures and traditions. It's definitely something to celebrate, with gladness, in laetitia!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Loving, working

These days I'm back to work pretty full-time with the L'Arche Edmonton community, helping with our tri-annual accreditation process. I'm happy to be working -- I can't think of a better place to work. The policy-related typing and organizing I'm doing isn't exactly exciting and gives me eyestrain by the end of the day, but my colleagues are a lot of fun, and laughter drifts down the hallway from every direction. I love the place, and the people.

Plus, I have Thomas to keep me company -- my friend who makes it his business to know the location of everyone in the building, or alternately, where the people who are missing might be. If Thomas doesn't know where someone is, he sometimes makes something up that seems plausible to him, and sticks with his story until that someone shows up.

Thomas' dedication to his friends within and often beyond our Community Centre is one of the things about him that I really love. He's happiest, of course, when everyone he loves is present, and he gets a bit worried when people are sick or away for too long. Sometimes we have to phone people who are missing but in action elsewhere just to keep Thomas from getting too agitated. But these days, with his friends mostly present and accounted for, he's happy to just sit and drink his coffee at the table near my desk, and tell everyone when people are coming in or going out for the day.

Thomas can't quite figure out why I keep showing up every morning because he's used to me being very part-time. Today he asked, "You here tomorrow?"

"Yes, Thomas," I replied with a smile. It's also nice to hang out with someone who loves everyone so much that he wants to know the timing of where they'll be morning, afternoon... and even tomorrow.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A year for tenderness

My best friend and I have had a tradition of picking a word at the beginning of each New Year, a word that we want to focus on for the 12 months to come. Usually the words are tied to our hopes and dreams, or to personal attributes that we want to work on.

2016's word was Trust, and it turned out to be a year in which I had to do lot of work on my trust in God. There were a lot of times when it was hard to see Her and Him working in the details of my life and the lives of those around me. It required a real effort on my part to let go of my own ego (a never-ending battle) and really listen to the people in my life so that I could love them better.

And though it was a very difficult year in many regards, I reaped many benefits, including the commitment to more regular centering prayer and a greater openness to possibilities even in situations that seem negative. God is in charge, and I think my trust in His and Her goodness and mercy increased in 2016. Even so, it was a tough year that broke me and some of the people around me in unexpected ways. Being brought to our knees by circumstances beyond our control is humbling and, to be frank, exhausting. I don't think I've ever cried as much as I did in 2016, angry, sad, and happy tears, but perhaps that just means I'm getting softer as I age!

When I was in Taizé in October, I brought home a postcard of the Madonna of Tenderness, above, written by Frère Eric, and she is posted near my desk. See how tender the Mother and Child are to each other? His little hand wrapped around her neck, caressing her cheek behind the veil, her cheek against his? If we could all feel the tenderness of mother for child and child for mother more often in our lives, this world would be a much different, more hopeful place.

And so, my word for 2017 is tenderness. I need a little more tenderness in my life. I need to be more tender toward the people around me, and I also need them to be tender toward me. I want to see the world become a place where tenderness and forgiveness and acceptance is chosen ahead of blaming and anger and apathy, where we can all find the peaceful places in our hearts and open them wider instead of becoming overprotective of what we think is ours. I want to remember that all the abundance of goodness, beauty and truth that we have has been given to us by our Tender God, our God who tends us and is attentive to us, our God who is more generous and loving than we can imagine.

That's my word, and I'm sticking to it.

If you were to pick a word for the year, what would you choose?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A morning walk in Canmore

I'm in Canmore with my sisters, celebrating a significant birthday (not mine). We're hanging out together, marveling at mountain beauty, going for walks on frozen lakes and river edges, doing puzzles, reading books, watching the first season of Eli Stone, and just being sisters for a change under Canmore's "Three Sisters."  Faith, Hope and Charity, as they're known, looked beautiful in the early morning light from our big window:

Canmore, Alberta, is a lovely town just up the road from Banff, Alberta, with all the amenities, including a gorgeous new recreational centre known as Elevation Place (which has a library, beautiful swimming pool and climbing wall among other things) and a world class Nordic Centre. But as someone who is not a skiier, what I appreciate most are the walking trails around the town and its creeks. Here are a few pictures from the walk I took this chilly morning while my sisters watched a bit of curling. I often wish on my walks that I could take my readers with me but this is as close as I can come. You'll just have to imagine the crunch of snow underfoot, the sound of Bow River, and the fresh mountain air...

Above, Canmore Creek, would be a nice jigsaw puzzle picture...

This path seems to run right through town...

The Pond, a place for skaters in the winter...

Raven lives here, too...

I love the shape of these peaks, with the little valleys between them...
That's Mount Rundle at the far end of the row, 
and Cascade standing by herself at the far end of the valley...

The Three Sisters seen from the Engine Bridge...

Looking the opposite direction...

I met a lot of pedestrians on the trails...

In the shadow of the mountain it was a bit cooler -- -16 C while I was walking...

Ice in the water, but it's flowing pretty fast...

I think being here is a pretty awesome way to celebrate a significant birthday, surrounded by beauty and people who love you. I love being one of three sisters!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ecumenical Prayer in 2017

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it will be a year of hope and prayer, a year of communion, mercy and peace. I'm starting the year by sharing our annual prayer schedule, and inviting my readers to join us if possible.

When I visited Taizé last fall, I was struck by the humility of the brothers, and the way they live their lives without drawing any attention to themselves or their work. And it dawned on me that they would probably prefer that our prayer simply be called prayer rather than "Taizé Prayer." So our posters look a little different this year. And our prayer will be a little different this year, too, as the brothers don't limit the silence in the prayer to five minutes, but allow for a longer period of quiet so that God has more time to speak to the soul.

We will still pray with the beautiful meditative music of Taizé, incorporate a piece of scripture read in different languages, and offer a time for intercessory prayer, but we have made these small changes to be more in line with the spirit of the Taizé community. I hope that if you live in the Edmonton area, you will have the opportunity to join us for prayer. And if you are a FaceBook user, I would invite you to click here to find our FaceBook page. If you "like" it, you will get updates about our prayer schedule and hopefully a few interesting stories now and then about what's happening in the Taizé community.

A blessed 2017 to all!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A bridge to a New Year

Our family took a quick trip to Lethbridge this week to see Lee's parents. One afternoon, we drove to Indian Battle Park at the bottom of the coulees and walked the dog to the train trestle bridge, also known as the High Level Bridge. It's the longest (1.62 km or 5,327 ft 7 1/2 inches -- just over a mile) and highest (95.7 m or 314 ft) trestle bridge in the world. It was a perfect blue sky winter day, and I must admit, it's a pretty impressive structure.

It was a wonderful sunny walk in the calm of the coulees on a rather blustery day, and it got me thinking about how much I appreciate bridges in my life. Not just the ones that get me over a river or traffic, but that help me to reach beyond myself to others.

And here we sit, at the end of an old year, ready to cross into a new one. Will we build bridges of justice and truth, or allow the fears and anxieties of 2016 to keep us unbalanced into the future?

I vote for building bridges of honesty and peace, with strong foundations of tenderness toward those who feel misunderstood and marginalized. If the Canadian Pacific Railway could build a bridge like this one in 1909, I'm sure we can create the kinds of bridges we need for a better world. 

 Going beyond ourselves to reach out to others and working together is the best and only way. So let's do what little we can to bridge the gaps between ourselves, our communities, our countries and our environment for the sake of the world to come in 2017.

I'm a little early, but have a Happy New Year, everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

2016 has been the kind of year that makes it a bit harder to really celebrate, to really feel those carols that sing of hope and joy and the One who is with us through all our troubles. But God really is with us, closer than our next breath, and that's always worth celebrating.

So I can't help myself... I have to recycle this video from last year's moodlings on this Christmas Eve, this celebration of God-with-Us. Have a beautiful Christmas, and may 2017 be a time for love above all else.

The glory of the Lord shines around us, and we hear good news of great joy. Don't be afraid! It's a glorious night! Let the Earth receive her King!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Have a Merry (and Waste-Less) Christmas

We've almost reached Christmas, a time to celebrate the birth of a tiny child who came to teach us how to really love one another, the turning of the days from darkness to light, and, unfortunately, the heaviest waste weeks of the year for our garbage collectors.

I've gone on at length in my moodlings about the way consumer culture has taken over a season that was initially a time to come together with family and friends to pray and feast and visit and create memories rather than give stuff to one another. In that spirit, at the top of this page, you can click on the Simple Christmas Ideas tab and find a 31-day series of sensible homemade activities and ideas for any family to enjoy, or check out the BuyNothingChristmas link on the sidebar.

I'm delighted to see that the City of Edmonton Waste Management Branch has recruited Andrew Ference, former captain of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and well-known eco-warrior, to remind us to make memories, not garbage. It's a funny animation, but it makes a point that the world needs to hear.

Have a Merry and Waste-Less Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent Love

At the Heart of the Universe by Mary Southard, csj
from the 2017 Ministry of the Arts Calendar,
which can be found by clicking here
The unconditional love
of a young woman for her baby
is the sign
God chooses to give us.
That the child is called
only underlines God's intention:
we are never alone.
We are called to belong.

Every single one of us,
and every part of creation.

But Mary comes to Joseph
with a crazy story
that throws everything into question...
until the angel says,
"Do not be afraid."
Joseph's loving acceptance makes possible
the love of the young woman for her child,
and we are also drawn in.
No judgment.
Only love.

Every single one of us
and every part of creation.

No exceptions.

Our brothers and sisters come to us
with stories that seem crazy
because we lack their experience.
Our certainties are thrown into question...
But the angel says,
"Do not be afraid."

Black, brown, yellow, red, or white,
Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion,
female, male or trans,
rich or poor,
gay or straight,
it doesn't matter to God.
We are the ones who separate
ourselves into groups.
Even so, we are loved.

Every single one of us
and every part of creation.

God's love makes no distinctions,
sets no limitations.
No judgment.
Only love.
And that's how we are called to love.

Loving acceptance,
by every single one of us,
for every part of creation.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Monica's Epiphany

I post this story every year, because I think its protagonist makes some important realizations about better ways to celebrate Christmas. Getting the latest kitchen gadget or techie gizmo isn't what it's all about. With the crisis in Syria in its worst days, I'm finding it hard to feel like shopping at all. I'd rather give my money for it all to stop.

Until I determine the best way to do that, I share this story yet again, in the hopes that it may inspire readers to see this Christmas season a bit differently... and to look for opportunities to reach out to those who are struggling for whatever reason during this coming Christmas season. Only ten days until Christmas!

Monica’s Epiphany

Christmas was a week away, and Monica was in miserable martyr mode. Hurrying along the mall concourse, she chanted a litany of the things she still needed to find: new Christmas candles, some slivered almonds, two new pillows, and—oh dear, she had forgotten something. What was it? What was it?
Sighing deeply, Monica paused at the food court, racking her brain for the missing item. Seeing an empty table for two, she found her way through a crowd of shoppers having late afternoon snacks. She sat down and slid her bags and parcels onto the table top. There was already more than an armload; how was she going to lug all this and two pillows home on the bus? Frowning, she picked up her purse, and rifled through it for her shopping list.
The search was fruitless, and her mood worsened -- she would never get everything done without that list! Looking at her Christmas purchases, she thought hard about each store she had visited and where the list might be, but there was no way of knowing whether she’d find it if she back-tracked. Besides, she didn’t have time. Her bus home was less than an hour away.
This business of Christmas was highly overrated as far as Monica was concerned. Holding a commercial festival that had nothing to do with anything was ridiculous, really. Not being religious in any sense of the word, Monica couldn’t for the life of her understand why thinking adults would put themselves through the yearly chaos surrounding the birth of a mythological biblical character who was supposed to be God, but she grudgingly went along with it. Her husband and kids seemed to sort of believe in something about it all, and she couldn’t refuse them anything. For her own part, Monica was ready to call it quits entirely.
Furious with herself and the missing Christmas list, Monica scanned the noisy crowd around her until her eyes halted on a group of three elderly men sitting in the midst of the hubbub, grinning at her. Unnerved, she turned and looked behind her, thinking they might be amused by something going on at the Chinese food counter. When she turned back, their eyes were on the playing cards they each held in their hands. The old Asian fellow was laughing at something the white-haired man of African descent was saying. The small, grey-goateed Middle Eastern-looking gent threw his cards on the table with glee, and Monica actually heard a roar of mock disapproval from the other two over the noise of the crowd. They were clearly having a good time, while she was having everything but.
Monica shook her head. It wouldn’t surprise her if the old roosters’ wives were running themselves ragged doing Christmas errands while the men didn’t lift a finger. Husbands were all the same. Wasn’t Al home reading the paper or watching TV? He complained that he hated mall mayhem this time of year. Well, so did she, but someone had to prepare for Christmas.
An hour later, Monica sat on the bus, her parcels taking up the seat beside her, causing frowns among the passengers who were stuck standing in the aisle during rush hour. Avoiding their eyes, she checked her bags one more time. A sweater for Al, gift cards for the grandkids, pine potpourri and the new pillows (suggested in that Debbie Travis article), chocolates (for the boy who shoveled her sidewalk and any extra friends who might show up with a gift that had to be reciprocated), new Christmas towels for the bathroom, slivered almonds for cookies, three extra Christmas cards (for the friends she had crossed off her mailing list because they didn’t send cards last year), and earrings for her friend Teresa.
 Not bad a bad haul, though she hadn’t come up with a gift for her daughter Janie. As Monica closed the last bag, she spotted her Christmas shopping list slipping to its bottom, crossly snatched it out, and didn’t have to read further than the first item. Silver polish! She had forgotten the silver polish! Her head dropped as angry tears filled her eyes, but she blinked them back and looked up, right into the face of one of the men she had seen playing cards at the food court.
His dark brown eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at her, and he removed his hat to reveal thin, curly white hair that contrasted with his dark skin. “If I held the biggest bag on my lap,” he said in a deep voice with a faint but unmistakeable accent, “would you mind if I sat beside you?”
Surprised, Monica shuffled the smaller bags aside as the man lifted her bag of pillows and slid his lanky legs beneath them. His hands were black against the downy whiteness of the pillows peeking out, and the tender pinkness of his palms and fingernails embarrassed Monica somehow.
“I forgot the silver polish,” she confessed quickly, then wondered why she had said it.
“Silver polish?” the stranger repeated. “Is it important?”
“Well, yes,” Monica replied. “I polish the silver every year for Christmas.”
The man considered that for a moment, then said, “Why?”
“Well, it gets tarnished. It’s a wedding gift, and we’ve always used it for Christmas dinner.”
“What would happen if you didn’t use it?” her seatmate asked, looking her in the eye.
“I don’t know. I suppose that as long as everyone has knives and forks, that’s all that really matters.”
“So who are you polishing the silver for?” he asked, smiling.
Monica’s mouth dropped open. She was about to protest, but surprised herself by saying, “I’ve always hated polishing the silver.”
“So why not make a change?” the stranger said gently. “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine,” he grinned, wiggling his white bushy eyebrows.
Monica almost rolled her eyes like a teenager faced with Mom’s advice, but smiled instead. “I guess you’re right,” she said.
“Here’s my stop,” said her seatmate. “Thanks for the seat.” Leaving her pillows beside her, he shuffled past others to the front of the bus and disembarked. As the bus pulled away, Monica watched his figure recede in the darkness.
Someone touched her shoulder. “I sit?” said the small Asian man she had also seen at the food court.
“Of—of course,” Monica said, and looked past him to see the third card player, the one with the goatee, holding onto a handrail. The Asian man took her pillows and held them on his lap as he settled beside her. He beamed, nodded, and pulled a folded newspaper from under his arm. “I going to Christmas concert tonight,” he said, pointing to a notice in the paper. Handel’s Messiah. “You go to Christmas concerts?” he asked.
“I used to, when my family was younger,” Monica replied. “But now that they’ve left home I have too much to do to get everything ready for Christmas. Tomorrow, I need to put up the tree and get going on my Christmas cleaning, and after that I have to decorate. Oh, and bake almond cookies.”
“Ah. Why you do so much things? Husband, children no help, or you not like help?” he asked. “Why they don’t help so you can enjoy Christmas, go to concerts?”
Monica was speechless. She had never really asked for help. But now that she thought about it, Al probably wouldn’t mind setting up the tree, and Janie would likely be willing to come over and wash some walls and clean the china cabinet for her. Monica's daughter had always loved that cabinet and its porcelain statues. Come to think of it, Janie should choose one or two of those dust-collecting treasures as her Christmas gift this year. And her twelve-year-old daughter, Sara, would probably love to make Almond snow drops for her Girl Guide badge, since she swore they were her favourite cookie.
“I suppose I could ask for help,” Monica murmured.
“Confucius say, “They must often change who would be constant in happiness and wisdom.” Yes, ask for help. Go to concerts,” her seatmate said, pointing again to his newspaper as he tucked it in with her pillows and stood up. “My stop, good bye.”
“Oh. Goodbye,” Monica murmured, too late, as the little man hustled forward and stepped gingerly off the bus. He waved at her as the bus pulled away. When she turned back from the window, the third card player was sitting beside her.
“What is it with you guys?” she said.
The grey-goateed man smiled and shrugged, saying with a thick accent, “We have been friends for many years. But we noticed you didn’t seem to be enjoying yourself this afternoon.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Monica admitted. “I misplaced my Christmas shopping list, and couldn’t remember the things I intended to buy. So I forgot the silver polish… and -- oh no! Spicehill Farms gift boxes for my neighbours.” She cursed internally.
The man shrugged again. “Do you like your neighbours?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t buy them presents if I didn’t.”
His eyes twinkled. “So who needs sausages and cheeses? Do something different instead. Our only true security is our ability to change. Why not invite your neighbours over for some Christmas cheer?”
Monica laughed. Years ago, when Christmas was simpler, didn’t she and Al host a neighbourhood Christmas party? And invite the Magnussens, Wongs, Chomiks and Leighs? How had that tradition been forgotten when it was such a good one? Oh yes, Al had pneumonia that one year, she had the flu the next…
“Good idea,” Monica said, smiling. “Why are you and your friends so wise?”
The man smiled, shrugged, and put his finger to his lips. “You’ll have to excuse me. This is my stop.” He stood and handed Monica her pillows. “Have a Merry Christmas,” he said.
“Thank you,” Monica smiled. “And thank your friends, too. You each gave me a good idea.”
When Monica reached home, she was surprised to find Al in the process of putting up a Christmas tree. “TV got boring,” he said, as she gave him a kiss. “I thought you might like some help. And I’m warming last night’s casserole leftovers in the oven. I hope that meets your approval.”
Monica felt like applauding, but settled for giving him an extra kiss. “How would you feel about taking in Handel’s Messiah tonight?” she asked.

After an incredible evening of letting Handel’s glorious music wash over her, Monica had the most vivid dream of her life.
She dreamed she was walking a rugged path in a cool, dark valley, the sky above her sparkling with more stars than she had ever seen, though the edge of the horizon held the palest glow of coming dawn. There was just enough light that Monica could see the path ahead of her for a short distance. Somewhere behind her, there was a gentle jangling of bells.
Suddenly, the bells became louder, and Monica turned to see a large beast come over a rise in the path. A tall man in a turban was silhouetted against the sky where it had begun to lighten. He limped along, leading another man on a camel. A second camel and rider came behind them. Instinctively, Monica stepped off the path into some shrubs to let them pass, but the procession came to a halt.
The elderly black man in the lead looked familiar to Monica, but she couldn’t place him. He began to speak to her, but she didn’t understand a word. He paused, and tried again, a different sounding language, and again, another language she couldn’t begin to recognize. He turned to his friends on the camels, and they each tried to speak with her, but nothing they said resembled English in any way. So the leader reverted to sign language, pointing toward a small village ahead, and to the camel, indicating that he wanted Monica to ride.
“Oh, no, no,” she replied, and then remembered that he probably didn’t understand her. “You’re limping, she said, pointing to his foot and doing an imitation, then gesturing from him to the camel. “You should ride.”
But the goateed man on the camel the dark one was leading had already dismounted, and the two of them pushed Monica toward it, making clucking noises against her protests, helping her into the saddle. The two men linked arms and hobbled slowly down the path toward a sleeping village, the beast below Monica tossing from side to side in an ancient rhythm unfamiliar to her. She turned to the Asian man mounted on the camel behind her, and he shrugged and smiled encouragement. Why did they all look so familiar?
The tiny caravan stopped as it reached the outskirts of the little town, and the men in the lead walked back to the one still seated on his camel so all three could confer in a soft-sounding language. The goateed man drew some instruments out of a sack that was fastened to his belt, and seemed to take a reading from the fading stars. After a short discussion, a point in the direction of the far end of town, and quiet murmurs of assent, the three men resumed their positions.
Somewhere a rooster crowed as the light increased, and a few more joined in chorus. The camel procession passed through the shadows of the dusty town, only the sounds of harness bells and the camels’ footfalls echoing from stone walls. The group was almost at the last home in the village when they stopped. The man behind Monica dismounted, and the other two came to help her down before all three went to the first camel and unpacked some beautifully ornate jars and boxes.
Monica stood alone, not knowing what to do next, but the three men beckoned that she should come with them to the door of a tiny house with a dim light in one of the windows. Curious, she followed them, standing to the side as the goateed man rapped on the door. The light in the window increased, and a moment later, a tousled-haired girl bearing a lamp peeked through the door. Surprise registered on her face as her eyes travelled from face to face. Nodding to Monica, she murmured a moment in the soft-sounding language Monica had heard the men speaking, and disappeared for a few moments. The goateed man made a comment, and all three chuckled as the girl returned to the door, pulling a robe around her slim body.
The girl opened the door and held the lamp aloft, gesturing that the visitors should enter. Monica found herself swept into the tiny home with the rustle of the three strangers’ robes. She was standing in the middle of a single room. A man on a mat in the corner raised himself onto an elbow, and a tiny child peeked out from under the blanket that covered the two. The girl set the lamp on the room’s only table, turned to a shelf on the wall and brought down a pitcher and bowl. She was reaching for a towel when the man with the goatee said something that made her stop mid-reach. He gestured toward the two on the bed. The child had sat up, his dark curly hair standing on end, his eyes reflecting the lamplight, and the man put an arm around him and spoke what seemed a soft challenge to the visitors.
The child looked intently at Monica as the man with the goatee took a step back, waving one hand in dismay, speaking softly. Monica scrunched her eyes at the little one the way she had with her own grandbabies, and he grinned, put a finger in his mouth, and scrunched his whole face as his father and the stranger spoke to one another. The girl put one hand to her mouth and sank to the table’s bench, following the conversation with her eyes. Monica wondered what was being said, but continued to exchange blinks and winks with the little tyke.
Suddenly, he wiggled out from under his protector’s arm and stood up, taking three steps toward the girl. Almost as suddenly, the three men standing in the doorway dropped to their knees, smiling, reaching toward the little one. The child toddled to the girl’s knee, and she lifted him to her lap, smoothing his hair, but he wiggled and slid to the ground again. Then he went to Monica, who had crouched to his level.
Silence filled the room, and the lamplight seemed a little brighter, Monica thought. The child looked into her eyes questioningly, and smiled. “Ah, you’re a charmer,” she murmured, reaching out to tousle his curly hair. She let herself down onto the floor, and he plunked down in front of her, legs akimbo.
“I don’t suppose you know Patty-cake, do you?” she said, and he wrinkled his nose in a quizzical fashion. “Here,” she said, taking his hands and smacking his palms in gentle rhythm, “Patty-cake, patty cake, baker’s man…”
The next thing she knew, the girl was sitting behind the little one, pulling him into her lap, listening intently to the rhyme. Once the cake had been put “in the oven for baby and me,” the child clapped as if to say, “again,” and Monica repeated it. When she finished, the girl smiled shyly, and began to clap her son’s hands in a different rhythm and sing a little melody, pausing for the child to fill in syllables now and then. Monica looked over at the other visitors, and they too were sitting on the floor, eyes shining, watching the clapping game, smiling and nodding at Monica.
The child’s eyes moved to the three strange men, and he clambered off his mother’s lap toward the one who was closest to him. He touched the Asian man’s wrinkled cheek, and the old man touched the child’s cheek and murmured what only could have been appreciation. The little one then moved to the one with the goatee and touched the tip of his rather bulbous nose with one finger. He laughed, and the goateed one laughed, and flattened his nose with his own fingertip, crossing his eyes, making the toddler giggle. Finally, the boy reached the darkest one. The old man closed his eyes, smiling as little fingers traced his bushy white eyebrows. Then he opened his eyes, took the child’s hand, and kissed it gently.
The young man on the mat had tied his thin blanket around his waist and moved to the table. He unwrapped a few crusts of bread in a towel, offering them to the three visitors. They shook their heads, the goateed one responded at length, and then turned to the others in conferral. The three then removed from the folds of their robes the ornate boxes and jars that Monica saw earlier, and held them out to the young couple. The girl shook her head, but the old one with the goatee slowly got to his feet and went to her, pressing his boxes set with stones into her hands before returning to help his fellow travelers to their feet so they could do the same with their jars. The goateed one spoke with some urgency to the young man, and a look of alarm crossed his smooth face. He swallowed hard, making eye contact with the girl. The two nodded almost imperceptibly, and the girl scooped up the child and gave him to Monica.
Confused, Monica and the child watched from their place on the floor as the young couple moved uncertainly about the room, seemingly in a panic. The black stranger grasped the blanket the young man was wearing, and Monica averted her eyes and began playing Pattycake with the little boy while the young man dressed and the old one folded up the bedding. The Asian man picked up the bread that had just been offered him and handed it to the girl as the goateed man took a rough cloth sack from a hook on the wall and gave it to her. The young man brought a hammer and chisel, and a small shirt that he passed to Monica so she could dress the child while the rest hurriedly but carefully packed the few things from the room into the sack, including the gifts the strangers had brought. When the child’s head and arms emerged from his little shirt, he clapped his hands and made grunting noises to the Pattycake rhythm, and Monica repeated it again, smiling in spite of the anxiety she was feeling.
The girl interrupted the game by wrapping a blanket around her son’s shoulders. She spoke softly to him for a few moments, and he raised his arms to her. She picked him up, and he snuggled into her neck as she rummaged in the top of the sack for the bread. She broke off a crust and gave it to him, and he offered it to Monica.
“Ah, no, little one,” she smiled. “It’s your breakfast.” The young woman smiled an anxious smile, and before Monica knew what she was doing, she held both mother and child in a wordless embrace.
The young man appeared at the girl’s elbow, speaking rapidly as he hefted the bag and gestured toward the door. But the tall black man held up a hand for a moment, opened the door a crack, and looked out. Cautiously pushing the door open, he led the young couple and child out into the slanting early morning light. Monica and the others followed.
The young man made a deep bow toward the three, put his arm around his wife and child, and was about to walk along a path that led into the hills when the Asian man became quite agitated, pointing toward the horizon, where a cloud of dust could be seen advancing toward the village. Waving his hands, he spoke quickly to his companions and grabbed the young man’s sack of belongings. The other two men had hurried to the nearest camel, unloading bedrolls and satchels before tying the young man’s sack and their own canteens to the camel’s saddle and handing the young man the beast’s lead.
The Asian man took the child from his mother and gave him to Monica as the other two visitors helped the girl mount the saddle. Monica kissed the child's curly crown and lifted the little one up to the girl, whose eyes were misty as she spoke words of what seemed to be gratitude to the three visitors and Monica. The men smiled and bowed, and Monica followed their lead, then crinkled her eyes at the child, who responded in kind. The goateed man spoke seriously with the young man for a moment, pointing first one direction, then another. The young man nodded, gripped the older man’s arm, and hugged him tightly for a moment. Then he nodded to the other two, who coaxed the camel to its feet and began shouting and slapping its backside. The young man led the lumbering beast up the path without looking back. The girl and her child, their eyes dark, their smiles bright, turned and waved to the strangers who had come to visit. Then the girl wrapped herself and her child in her cloak, and the two turned to face their seemingly uncertain future.
Monica stood watching until the little family disappeared over a rise. When she turned around, the three old men were standing with their only camel and the things they had unloaded from the beast they had given away. The goateed man threw up his hands in disgust and spoke to the Asian fellow in a rather irritated tone. The black one laughed aloud, said something himself, and a moment later, all three were laughing. Their laughter rang like bells, peal after peal, and Monica suddenly found that she was laughing too, even though the joke was beyond her. As she turned toward the horizon, her laughter caught in her throat and her smile faded. Her companions’ eyes followed hers, and Monica became aware of the sound of marching echoing through the streets.
“You—you saved them, didn’t you?” she said, pointing toward the hill where the young couple had vanished. “You knew they were in danger, and you warned them. Your camel was probably the most important gift you gave them. How will you travel now?”
The goateed one reached for Monica’s arm, lowered it to her side, shrugged, and put his finger to his lips. Then he whispered, in a thick accent, “God grant me the serenity to accept the situations I cannot change, the courage to change the ones I can, and the wisdom to do what must be done.” 
Monica woke, and wondered.

Though she never saw her three wise men again, Monica took their words to heart. Her silver was donated to a charity sale, she now involves her family in pre-Christmas preparation (and has discovered that they actually enjoy helping out), and she has stopped worrying about buying her neighbours gifts and has started inviting them over more often.
Since then, every year during the Christmas season, Monica approaches an inner city charity and asks for the name of a needy young refugee couple with a small child. She buys blankets, food, and a Pattycake book, and takes them to the family on Christmas Eve.

Monica is a changed woman.

© 2010 Maria K.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent Joy

The third Sunday of Advent's readings
lay it out clearly:

The wilderness and dry land are glad.
The desert rejoices and blossoms.
There is singing, and glory!
The weak are made strong.
The fearful receive courage.
The blind see beauty, life and goodness.
The deaf hear symphonies, laughter, and their loved ones.
The lame walk-- no, even better -- they leap like deer.
The mute speak -- and sing.
There is life-giving water where there was none.
Healing comes to all who are burdened with shame.
No one falls into the gutters.
Joy and gladness replace sadness and anger.
The dead are raised, and everyone dances.
The poor have good news brought to them.
And what we receive, we give to others.
If, as Anne Lamott says,
"Peace is joy at rest.
Joy is peace on its feet,"
then how can we help to make it so?
And go forth!

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Christmas memory

When I was nine, my family moved from a small town in Saskatchewan to a big city in Alberta. It was pretty overwhelming for a country bumpkin who was used to wandering all over a tiny village by herself to arrive in a new neighbourhood with more people in four blocks than the entire population of the place where she grew up. And it was more than a challenge for her parents, too, who took on a big risk and a huge debt to buy their own business and a home.

The first Christmas in the big city must have been a tricky one for my dad and mom to navigate, as it may have been the first one we would have realized that Christmas presents came from shopping malls, and they didn't have very much money for putting gifts under the tree. When the Sears Christmas Wish Book came, it must have been hard for our parents to listen to excited little voices talking about all the toys we wanted for Christmas. So they asked us to pick only one thing. Which was fine by me, because I only wanted one.

Holly Hobbie. I'm not sure what it was about the little pioneer-girl rag doll with the blue sun bonnet that made me choose her above everything else in the world that Christmas. I hadn't yet heard of Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls-Wilder. Maybe it was Holly's soulful, painted eyes and the little smile that seemed to say, "I'll keep all your secrets." Maybe she reminded me of the one-eyed Raggedy Ann I once played with in my longed-for old brick school in Saskatchewan. Maybe Holly's patchwork calico dress spoke of solidarity to the country kid whose homemade clothes were made fun of by the city girls in her new Grade Four class. Or maybe I had just come to that place in life where I realized that I'd soon be too old for dolls, and I didn't want to grow up.

Whatever it was, my heart was set on Holly Hobbie. And when I told my mom, she sighed and said that $19.99 was a lot of money for a little rag doll (and for a couple starting a new business venture, it really was!) But Mom's words didn't make me want Holly any less. Anytime we went Christmas shopping, I somehow managed to find my way to the Holly Hobbie display. The Knickerbocker company that made them had already developed Amy and Carrie dolls much like Holly, and they all came in several different sizes. But it was the original fourteen inch Holly that held my attention. My parents had to pull me away from that display more than once.

I'll never forget that Christmas eve, and how strong was the hope in my heart that Holly would be under the tree. After early Mass, we lit the advent wreath and sang a few Christmas carols with Dad accompanying us on his guitar. Then Mom put Christmas music on the stereo, and it was time to open the gifts. I can't honestly say that I actually recall anything I received. But I do remember opening my last present, a box that could have been the right size to hold a Holly Hobbie doll, and discovering a pair of skates instead. My heart sank, and my eyes filled with tears of disappointment, but I blinked them back where they belonged, thanked Mom and Dad for the skates, and sat back to watch my sisters opening their last presents.

No Holly. I was prepared to put myself to bed with my disappointment and cry myself to sleep. How I longed for that doll. I would have gladly given my new nightgown, skates and all my Nancy Drew books for Holly Hobbie.

And then Mom said, "Oh, look, there's one more present we missed." My heart leapt, but she pulled out an odd-shaped flat package, not at all the size of the box that I knew Holly came in, probably a pair of slippers for dad. "It's got your name on it, Maria."

I prepared myself to be disappointed a second time, but there was a wee bit of hope in my heart, too. I took it from her and tore off the paper. What the heck? It was a rolled up copy of the Edmonton Journal. And inside it, wonder of wonders, was Holly Hobbie, of course! In my mind's eye, there's a picture of me in the Christmas dress that my mom spent hours making, and I'm hugging that doll, huge smile, eyes closed, thrilled beyond words. Now, so many years later my eyes well with happiness for that little girl, whose parents managed to give her her heart's desire -- far more often than once in her lifetime.

Holly Hobby still lives in my top dresser drawer, though she's a lot worse for wear, having been loved and played with by a much younger me. Somehow I can't give her away -- she's a sign of the love of my parents.

Thank you, Dad and Mom. You were and are still the best!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

In the presence of a wise man

image borrowed from www.lepoint.fr 
It's been a long while since I've moodled about L'Arche or its founder, Jean Vanier. But on Friday, he was named as a Commander of the Legion of Honour in France, a high award for civil merit in that country. According to Wikipedia,
the "eminent merits" required to be awarded the order require the flawless performance of one's trade as well as doing more than ordinarily expected, such as being creative, zealous and contributing to the growth and well-being of others.
Jean is not someone who makes a big deal about something like this. In the fancy surroundings of the Hotel Matignon, residence of Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, there stood Jean as we in L'Arche are used to seeing him, in his every day clothes, as if to say, "What's all the fuss about?" He's always been one for simplicity. With him came a large contingent of his L'Arche family, many of whom were very happy to meet the Prime Minister, give him hugs, take selfies. and give him the present of a mosaic sign that proclaims "Bureau (Office) M. Valls." At the end of the celebration, Prime Minister Valls commented to a reporter, "I cannot tell you why, but this Friday night will remain for me an unforgettable day." See the story by clicking here.

I suspect it's because of the presence of Jean Vanier, a wise man who has spent his life trying to help the world understand the value of the vulnerable when it comes to softening the heart of every community. And because of the presence of Jean's beloved community, who welcome everyone, even Prime Ministers, and make them feel like part of one family.

As Jean says,
It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt. We learn to accept humbly those who point out our errors and mistakes and who challenge us to grow in truth and love. We support and encourage each other on the journey to inner freedom. We learn how to be close to those who are weaker and more vulnerable, those who may be sick or going through crises or are grieving. As we accept our personal limits and weaknesses, we discover that we need others and we learn to appreciate others and to thank them.
--Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 59. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Re-Moodling: Simple Christmas Idea #9... Attend an Advent prayer

For the past five years, a group of churches in my neighbourhood has welcomed Christians of all denominations to pray in their worship spaces one Sunday evening each month (except June to August) in the style of prayer that originated in Taizé (pronounced Tay-ZAY) Community in the Burgundy region of France. The beautiful music and the spirit of the place draws people from all over the globe to go on pilgrimage to the tiny village every year (see www.taize.fr).

I would like to invite you to come and join us for a musical, meditative, internationally flavoured way to pray this Advent.
We will gather at 7 p.m. next Sunday, December 11, at Ascension Lutheran Church, 8405 83 Street.

Music is the foundation of the prayer that flows for an hour, interspersed with psalms, a gospel reading, silence and intercessory prayer. At the evening's conclusion, we sometimes gather as neighbours and friends for conversation and refreshments. Honestly, it's one of my favourite ways to pray, because I've always been strongly drawn to music as a form of worship... and because there is no preaching. We sing and listen to the scriptures and let them speak to us of God in the silence of our hearts.

Please consider joining us, and bring friends!

Holy is the name of God, sing out my soul, praising God evermore!
Holy is the name of God, sing out my soul, giving praise to God!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

As I Am #7 -- Beyond the Wall

Just in time for today's International Day of Persons with Disabilities comes a new episode in the #AsIAm film series developed by L'Arche International. Today's video tells a story from Foyer Nazareth in Bouake, Côté d’Ivoire, during the recent civil war that ended in 2011, a story about the incredible bravery of its residents and assistants. The Colonel's big smile when he hugs his friends upon his return reminds me so much of one of my friends in L'Arche Edmonton who gave me an unexpected hug. One of the beautiful things about L'Arche friends is how much they appreciate their friends.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are you waste wise?

Image result for waste wise edmontonWhat do you do with empty pizza boxes? Shredded paper? Old VHS video tapes? Left over school supplies? The ugly, non-working lamp that Aunt Calliope left you in her will in the futile hope that you would love and repair it?

As a proud City of Edmonton Master Composter/Recycler, I'm pleased to tell you that there's an app for that... Waste Wise is the City's new phone and computer application that allows you to easily look up an item that you're not sure how to properly dispose of.  Click on the link above and scroll down to the search box. It will tell you that the pizza box can go in your blue bag for recycling, shredded paper goes into a garbage bag so it can be composted in the Waste Management Branch's huge composting facility, and VHS tapes are best taken to an Ecostation so that black magnetic tape from their sure-to-be-broken-in-the-garbage-compactor cassettes don't tie up recycling or composting equipment and cause system shut downs. And it's amazing the number of ordinary things like leftover school supplies that can be recycled or reused through Edmonton's Reuse Centre.

The app will even tell you when your garbage collection day is and send reminders to your phone (I hate it when I forget, but I don't have a phone, so I live with it). And the Waste Wise page also has an interesting garbage sorting game for kids (or adults -- I'll admit to enjoying building my very own vitual playground).

Unfortunately, the app still doesn't know what to do with ex-boyfriends or Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton... I keep hoping the Waste Wise webmaster will come up with some smart comebacks for those "items," like SIRI does when you say, "I love you."  I won't hold my breath on that one, as I'm sure the Waste Wise folks already have their hands full.

As for Aunt Calliope's ugly lamp... well, if it's fixable, it might be worth something at the Antiques Road Show. Or not. And don't forget that one person's trash is another's treasure. Sometimes if you set it out where your trash is collected, someone can anonymously claim it for their own. Or not. You just never know about these things!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Simple Suggestion #260... Have a chat with nature

Walking with Shadow-pup is always an adventure. These days, when it's chilly in the mornings, it usually takes a bit of wildlife to get him to stop dragging his feet (I guess he'd rather be curled up on the foot of someone's bed than hiking around the river valley with me). So yesterday, he didn't really get moving until he spotted the mother of all ravens. I swear, the bird was bigger than he was, sitting five feet up on a fence, and the silly dog ran at it as though he could take the bird down.

He can usually scare off crows, magpies, jack rabbits and squirrels. They fly or run away, and Shadow feels like he's the big dog on the block. But the raven just looked down its beak at the Shadow, as if to say, "That all you got? Really?"

It was a magnificent bird, and I told it so -- shiny black feathers, intelligent eyes, long, strong beak. I also told it how much I appreciate its presence in the neighbourhood, especially its sense of humour and play. I love to watch it ride the air currents way above the trees, and it left me lots of presents in the birdbath over the summer -- a few shiny trinkets, candy wrappers, and the odd half mouse, yuck. Anyway, I spoke to it, and it listened intently for a few moments, unafraid, and then Shadow and I moved on, the dog frustrated that he couldn't budge the bird, the bird looking like it wondered what that was all about.

Having wildlife around is always a good thing because it reminds us human beings that we aren't the only pebbles on the beach -- that this planet isn't just for our use, but to be shared with all the other creatures around us. If we could all see the intrinsic beauty and value in a raven, a rabbit, or a rosebush, you can bet we'd be more likely to treat everyone and everything with deeper respect.

So I dare you. Go outside. Find a tree, or a chickadee, or some other living thing and tell it that it's a valuable part of your existence. Perhaps the best way to change the world is to increase our own appreciation and gratitude for its myriad forms of life.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Hope

There's something about the little clip below that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. The music, the colours, the joy of the people, the beauty of creation all around them, and the hope in their eyes... it all adds up to an incredible celebration of life. I don't generally promote movies in my moodlings, but I just have to share this joyful piece.

Yesterday our family went to see Moana, the latest animated Disney movie, a gorgeous story of a young woman with a special connection to the ocean who reaches beyond her limits for the sake of her people. It's a perfect story for our time, because if there's anything our world needs now, it's people who look past our world's present difficulties to imagine and create better conditions for all living beings on Mother Earth. Pope Francis would agree, I'm sure!

Unfortunately, over the last several weeks, as our part of the world has been moving into winter darkness, it seems our news cycles have, too. There hasn't been much positivity anywhere, and I know that all the negative news and our sunless days have been dragging me and many others down. Sometimes it seems we forget that our human race has the power to flip things around.

Thank heavens for Advent! As it begins this weekend, let's put on a mantle of hope, a more positive outlook, and recall that about 2000 years ago, the people of Israel were living in the darkness of Roman occupation when a poor young refugee family found room in a stable to birth hope, love, joy and peace for the world. And let's look for every opportunity to bring those same gifts to our lives and the lives of those around us. Let's reach beyond our limits and follow The Way that God showed us through a wondrous child.

Happy Advent! We know The Way!

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Black Friday prayer

How much did we pay
to see a new day?
It's a gift.

A breath of air? Free.
But we often don't see
that it's a gift.

A life lived in peace,
the warmth of our beds,
the food on our table.
the roof over our heads.
all gift.

But through no fault of their own
many children have grown
to adulthood with
less than they need...
Still, we can go out in haste
to add to the waste
of our earth
through excessive greed.

Too often we are told
that with the first one sold
the second is half price.
O God, help us to see
that your best gifts are free
and to settle for our given slice.

Remind us, O God,
that it's not for sale,
your beautiful creation.
It's already ours,
to be protected and loved
and kept the next generation.

Our sense of possession
was not your intention
because Everything is gift!

Teach us how
to remember that now...


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Celebrate "Buy Nothing Day" with a little ditty

Most people know by now that the Friday after American Thanksgiving (November 25th this year) is the consumer craze known as Black Friday, the day when stores are supposed to make so much money that their ledgers go from red to black ink. But the craziness that goes with those sales turns me off -- I've always much preferred to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, a day to remember that the season we call Christmas was never intended to be an all-out shopping frenzy.

In the spirit of simple living and saving the planet for future generations, I offer you a little jingle to encourage wiser consumption over the next several weeks (well, really, forever). There's absolutely no shame in buying useful items as Christmas gifts. Or in giving an experience, like a concert ticket. Or a favourite food item. Or something homemade. In fact, the world would be a much healthier place if we purchased fewer resource-gobbling big ticket items and used less stuff every Christmas. Instead of presents, why not give your presence to those you love? If you're looking for gift possibilities and other suggestions that don't ask so much of our earth's resources, that's what this Simple Christmas Ideas page is all about.

Below is the promised jingle, also known as "Do I Need It?". A remix with a marvelous Master Composter/Recycler chorus and new images is on its way, being created by  my daughter Christina and her boyfriend, Landon, as part of a Christmas gift they promised me last year (see, they came up with a very creative gift idea that cost them some time and effort rather than money or earthly resources -- good kids!). The new Do I Need It? video will be coming soon to a moodling near you... that's a promise. In the meantime, sing along with the old one (which has reached 24,500 YouTube views) -- I dare you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Simple Suggestion #259... Stick with soap bars

There's good old-fashioned bar soap, made from coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, shea butter, lye, water, and maybe a bit of essential oil (aroma compounds from plants).

Then there's aqua, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, lauramide DEA, glycol stearate, sodium chloride, cocamidopropyl betaine, citric acid, parfum, DMDM hydantoin, polyquaternium-7, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, tetrasodium EDTA, glycerine and hydrolized silk.

Seems almost like another language, doesn't it? But it's actually the ingredients that make up the liquid "soft" soap in my bathroom. I know that Aloe Barbadensis is an aloe plant, and who hasn't heard of glycerine? Aqua is water in Italian, right? And citric acid can be found in any citrus fruit. Sodium chloride is NaCl if I remember chem class -- salt? But the rest? How can something with that many chemically-unintelligible names be good for me? If I'm living simply, can't my soap be simpler?

Actually, our soap has been simpler for a few years already. Back in 2009, my youngest child had very dry hands and brown rings around her wrists. I mentioned it to my mom, who happened to mention it to my aunt, who said, "tell Maria to get rid of liquid hand soap. It's full of chemicals that have given my grandchildren the same symptoms, but when they started using bar soap, they improved dramatically."

So I brought out the old soap dish and got Julia to use bar soap. As my aunt said, the brown wrist rings and dry hands improved dramatically. But the rest of my family liked the convenience of soft soap, especially in the shower, so I left it there, and kept using it myself.

What's interesting is that this fall we also installed a soap dish in the shower, and since I've started using bar soap instead of the soft soap there, the winter eczema I've always had on my lower legs hasn't appeared as it usually does when the weather gets cold. It's the first time in years that the skin on on my calves hasn't erupted into itchy welts that last until spring. So even just washing my upper body with that liquid soap and having the suds rinse down my legs was having an impact I didn't realize.

What can I think except that all those fancy soft-soap chemicals listed above are a poor substitute for solid soap with fewer ingredients, the kind that comes in many colours and essential oil fragrances at a farmer's market, or in a little box at your grocery store. And a little box or ribbon around a soap bar is much less packaging for the earth to reabsorb than what you get from plastic soft soap dispensers and bottles. (I've noticed that kids' toothpastes are also using pump bottles now, even though our landfills already groan with all the plastic they hold.)

So, today's suggestion: Let's do the earth and our bodies a favour. Use bar soap, preferrably locally made. It costs the earth a lot less in packaging and transportation, and it's probably a lot better for our skin.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The wisdom of non-discrimination on a Sunday

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk and religious leader who ranks right up there with truly good and holy people like Pope Francis and Jean Vanier, in my books. Fondly known as Thay, which means teacher, he tells the beautiful story below in his new book, At Home in the World:

Lately I've been thinking a lot about human beings and our left-or-right, black-and-white ways of thinking. We like to divide things into opposing categories rather than try to see everything as one part of a much greater whole. Unfortunately this is where so much of our world's suffering arises.

But if the human race is to survive the challenges it is facing on so many different fronts -- ecological, social, financial, intellectual, spiritual, political, etc., we need to look beyond our own prejudices and our tendency to exclude those whose outlooks and opinions are different than ours. When we have the wisdom of non-discrimination, according to Thay, we don't suffer. Whether we tend towards the right or the left, we need to remember that the suffering or happiness we feel or cause isn't ours alone. Both sides are affected, and both sides can help the other to heal.

With this in mind in the week ahead, let's practice inclusiveness rather than discrimination. Talk to a stranger and learn about his or her challenges. Look at opinions different than our own. Smile at someone who needs a smile of their own. Hold open a door. Offer a helping hand. Show genuine concern for someone different than us by trying to understand their point of view. There are so many ways to reach across the chasms that divide people.

It's just a matter of reaching.