Sunday, October 23, 2016

Angels are everywhere

Have you noticed them? It's just a matter of looking, and there they are, ready to lend a hand, sometimes when you least expect it, and usually when you're most desperate.

Two Sundays ago, my best friend, Cathy, and I ran into several of them when our travel plans got all messed up. It was my fault -- I misunderstood a bus schedule when I was booking our tickets at home in Canada weeks earlier, and the bus that didn't arrive that morning when we needed it caused a cascade effect that nullified our intended travel plans for the rest of the day. It was supposed to be one simple bus ride that took my friend and I to our train to Paris, then a quick jaunt on the Paris Metro to another train station, and on to Belgium. Simple.

Except for that first bus.

When we realized that it was not going to show up until our train had already left the station, the angels began to gather. The first was a beautiful young French man named Pascal who promptly phoned every taxi within range (using better French than I speak) to see if a cab could get us to our train on time.

Even as Pascal was making futile phone calls, the second angel appeared and started flagging down cars of people arriving at Taizé to see if any of them might give us a ride to our train at Mâcon-Loché, but they weren't interested in missing the morning service. When it became apparent that no one was willing to transport us 40 minutes down the road (I don't blame them), the car flagging angel plopped himself down on the bench next to me and said, "Listen, I'll make you a deal. If you stop beating yourself up for mis-reading the bus schedule, I'll stop being angry with all these so-called Christians who wouldn't help you out." His name was Kevin; he was an Anglican priest from the UK, and he sat and amiably chatted with us until our bus arrived, calming my anxiety and missing the morning service himself. I've since tried to find him on Church of England websites without luck.

The bus finally came and took us to the Mâcon-Loché train station with just a few minutes to possibly catch another train to Paris, but when I tried to punch the information into the ticket machine, it kept apologizing that it wasn't able to complete my request. My hands were shaking, and I was feeling really panicky when the third angel appeared -- an SNCF agent who took my train ticket, punched in my information, and explained in broken English that there was no room on this train so we could catch another bus to a small town called Crêches-sur-Saône, then a train to Gare Lyon-Perrache, and another train to Paris.

That's exactly what we did. We got to wander a bit more in the gorgeous French countryside, see a bit of the pretty city known as Lyon, and spend more time together, practicing harmonies and eating our bag lunches beside the train tracks in Crêches-sur-Saône. So of course the fourth angel was my best friend, Cathy, who never complained once about my mistake even though it cost us more money. She raced with me through the Paris Metro (a train waiting for us at every platform, thank you God!) from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord, helped me at the ticket machine, and saw me onto a train to Lille with only four minutes to spare!

They're everywhere, those guardian angels, sometimes traveling right beside you!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A day in Taizé

It couldn't have been any better, I don't think. A full week in Taizé was not something I ever thought I would be able to experience, but when my best friend visited me in August and talked about her plans to visit Taizé in October, my wonderful husband said, "Why don't you go, too?" He knew how much it would mean to me, and I'm so grateful to him.

For those of you who follow my moodlings, you'll know that I've had a longstanding love for Taizé. In the summer of 1985 I attended a Lutheran-Catholic Student's conference in Ontario, where I was first introduced to the music of Taizé. It took a while before I found out about the ecumnical community of brothers connected to the music, several years after I had started participating in a music group that held prayers in a few Christian churches in my city.

It wasn't until our family travelled to Europe in 2014 that I had an opportunity to actually visit the small French village of Taizé and really understand what the community was all about. My two young adult daughters went with me, and we stayed for three wonderful days that left me wishing I could experience an entire week of life there.

Now I have, and it was definitely worth the effort and the jetlag! Here are some images from the week, with a bit of explanation to give you a bit of an idea of a typical day at Taizé:

An autumn sunrise over the hills of Burgundy, 
from the top of the hill at Taizé. 
Three hours earlier, the stars were incredible, too -- 
every night that week we had a clear view of them...

On the walk to the church for morning prayer...

Early morning, before the bells call everyone to pray. 
The Church of Reconciliation is always a peaceful place, 
with many people quietly praying at all hours.
Prayer with the entire assembly takes place three times a day,
with incredibly beautiful music, scripture and silence.
There is also a silent prayer for peace 
at the beginning of every week...

After morning prayer, a typical breakfast -- bread, butter, 
and coffee/cocoa (but I already ate the two little chocolate sticks, I think.)
Meals are ample, but very simple. Other meals include a spoon, a beverage bowl,
some pasta or lentils with rice, maybe some cheese or a sausage link
with fruit and cookies for dessert -- and seconds after everyone has had firsts...

Passing out the handouts and singing a chant 
 before the English Bible Introduction with Brother Matthew (left),
who was translated into German by Christof, the man beside him
(though Matthew often corrected Christof's translation -- with hilarious results). 
The brothers offered the best lessons on mercy that I've ever heard...

Reflecting on the questions from the Bible Introduction near the little pond in the park
known as St. Stephen's source before lunch...

The brothers leave the Church of Reconciliation
 at the end of the noon prayer...

Waiting for lunch. Why does prayer make me so hungry?
Grace is always a Taizé chant led by our "angels" (young volunteers)
Betka, from the Czech Republic, and Helena, from Germany.

The conversations during our meals out in the sunshine are multilingual -- or
sometimes in sign language if we don't share a common tongue...

 Two p.m. choir practice with Gregor,
a Hungarian with a strong sense of music...

Group sharing about the questions from the Bible Introduction
 in the afternoon, in Margo's "living room"
(she was staying in a tent for the week).
Our adult group consisted of two Dutch, two Germans, two Swiss, 
two Canadians, and one from the US, all of whom spoke English, 
and all of whom enjoyed one another's company. 
The depth of sharing in the group was incredible from the start...

Another walk to St. Stephen's source, where
two storks were having their supper...

and I walked the 18 stations of the Way of the Gospel
(the raising of Lazarus below)...

After supper, our sharing group washes pots and pans
and sings in multi languages as we work... fun! 
"We are washing in the light of God, 
we are washing in the light of God!"
Everyone knows how to sing Allouette (who knew?)...

A meeting with Brother Alois (left), who tells us about
the young brother from Bangladesh being welcomed
into the community at that evening's prayer 
and the brothers' work in Bangladesh...

The end of evening prayer.
Many young people are already 
over at Oyak, the community's concession area, 
for snacks and friendship, 
but many stay longer in the church to pray and sing...

This is the basic structure of a day in the Taizé Community, but there is so much more to it, of course. Words and pictures can't really convey the peace and joy of the place, the prayer that flows like breathing, the beauty of the countryside, or the warmth of the pilgrims who spend a week in the community. It was a perfect place for my soul to settle... the music, prayer and friendships touched me more deeply than I can say,,, and the happy tears that frequently flowed down my cheeks signaled many "God moments" that will stay with me forever.

If you ever have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Taizé, the little village on the hilltop in Burgundy, I can't recommend it enough!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Returning to winter

When I was in Taizé, my hubby texted me 
on October 2nd and told me that it was snowing. 
So I wasn't exactly surprised to return to this on Saturday morning:


All this snow so early doesn't make me very happy
because there are still things I needed to do in the garden.
But what can I do about it? Laugh and shake my head.
Especially since Suzanna did a wonderful job of keeping 
the tomatoes in the greenhouse happy.

Lee and Suzanna also did a wonderful job of digging 120 lbs of carrots
in a Friday night snowstorm, and everyone worked together to wash 
and bag them on Saturday. A million thanks to my family for all their effort!

I'm hoping that it will warm up enough for me to clean out
the raised beds this week and finish up the compost pile for winter, 
but if not, there's always next spring, sigh. 
It seems so far away, but time passes quickly
(though this might be a long winter...)
In the meantime, we'll enjoy our carrots!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Grand est ta bonté

I'm home, safe and sound, all in one piece. Tired from jetlag, but really good otherwise. It was a fantastic two weeks in Europe, all of it spent with friends, and this evening was the icing on the cake -- a lovely Taizé prayer in downtown Edmonton that raised over $100 for Hope Mission (we accept donations toward copying, and the rest of our money goes to charity).

I'll have some stories to share from my travels, but for now, I just want to post a beautiful piece of music that accompanies a video of driving to Taizé. A Hungarian fellow named Gregor led the choir practice that helped me to learn it. It's a difficult piece, but just gorgeous. I hope to sing it again someday with a group that can manage all the parts.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, October 7, 2016

The last of the leaves

Shadow and I had a wonderful walk before my trip overseas. I'm not a great photographer, but I love autumn. For your enjoyment... have a lovely day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Simple Suggestion #258... Walk away from the cell phone

It wasn't that long ago that there was no umbilical cord between us and our telephones. They sat solitary and stationary on a table or stand, available when we needed, but not running our lives. Of course, since then, the advent of relatively cheap and always available technology seems to have made us into cell phone addicts, and it doesn't look good when you really think about it. The picture to the left is from one of Edmonton's Eco Stations -- some of the many portable phones that are thrown out every year.

Planned obsolescence and our wasteful culture aside, what's even worse is that I can't tell you how many times I've seen a parent walking through our neighbourhood while holding a child by one hand and staring at their phone in the other -- as though the kid was just a bag of groceries instead of a living person. I worry that our kids are starting to believe that this is normal behaviour -- that phones are more important than people.

Too many times I've been engaged in conversation with someone whose phone suddenly pings or trills or whatever you want to call that disruption, and their side of the conversation devolves into mmms and hmms for several minutes, making me wonder if they actually hear me as they check their device, or if I'm just so much background noise.

Then there's the Pokemon Go phenomenon, though it seems to have died down from its initial insanity. People walking or running around, looking at their phones, chasing invisible, imaginary digital creatures. Dragging their little kids around as they attempt to capture Charmanders and Squirtles. Why? I still don't really know. Points? At least it gets them all outside, even if they're walking into trees.

The thing is, in the real world there's so much more to see and hear. The downy woodpecker on that tree over there. The sleepy smile on the face of the toddler in that young mom's stroller. The blue sky through the whispering golden leaves. The way laughter makes a friend's face light up. The things our kids want us to notice. The things our loved ones need to hear us say.

So my suggestion for today is this: Let's leave our cell phones behind on a regular basis, just leave them alone, solitary and stationary, for a while. And then -- go for a walk and see everything. Really listen to friends and family (especially little kids) and give them our undivided attention for a change. If boredom strikes, think of a few things that we've been meaning to do for a while, pick one of them, and do it. And remember that those texts and emails and voicemails and pokemons will still be there when we're done really living -- without our phones -- for a while.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Gone on pilgrimage

When you're practicing Voluntary Simplicity, it's hard to talk yourself into things that you know are good for you, but not so good for the planet. So I want you to know that it's with many misgivings -- and no small amount of joy -- that I am on my way to Europe one more time.

Because I know that the fossil fuels used by air travel are costing our planet dearly in terms of environmental degradation through extraction, spills, other disasters, and climate change, it was hard for me to talk myself into air travel, which, next to space vehicles and cruise ships, create more greenhouse gases per person than anything else. Took me a good two weeks. Adding to our beautiful planet's carbon debt load -- which is contributing to droughts, tropical storms (like the one that hit Taiwan this week), the melting of polar ice and rising sea levels that affect our brothers and sisters around the globe -- isn't something I want to do.

But I do want to spend a week on Pilgrimage in Taizé with Cathy, who has been my friend for a full 45 years, since our first day in Grade One, and who has led Taizé prayer with and without me many times over the years. We had always talked about seeing an opera in Milan someday, but I think Taizé is a better choice for us. And I do want to visit my Flemish friends Gaby and Yvonne, Luc and Brigitte, and Xavier and Ilse one more time, to enjoy their friendship and share their burden of grief in losing Dimitri, if only a little bit. I think from then on, I will just travel shorter distances that cost creation less in terms of environmental impacts...

So as you read this, I am overseas, possibly enjoying a day in Paris with my best friend, or perhaps already on my way to Taizé for the week of October 2-9. I'll be back to my ordinary, low carbon life in two weeks. In the meantime, I intend to make the most of these days in France and Belgium, having a full week to experience the Taizé Community's beautiful ecumenical prayer life, and several days just being with my friends in Flanders. I'm off on a spiritual pilgrimage of friendship. You can be sure that I'll pray for you as I go.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Simple Suggestion #257... Indulge your inner child

When we bought our 1950s-era home from the original owners in 2003, we marvelled at the oak tree they had planted in the front yard when they bought the house. How it must have grown in those nearly 60 years! And every autumn I bless that oak tree for the wonderful crunchy leaves that it drops over our yard and gardens. Not only are they gorgeous in spring, summer, and fall, and make wonderful compost, but they build fantastic piles for play!

There are plenty of elms and other trees in our neighbourhood, but the leaves from oak trees are special, in my opinion.
Their size and shape and the way they curl as they dry makes them the ideal material for leaf piles that prevent jumpers from hitting the ground too hard. And it doesn't take as many oak leaves as other, smaller leaves to get a really good-sized pile. 15 minutes of raking is all I need!

Three autumns ago, I was out cleaning up around our oak tree, forming a huge mound of leaves from the ones scattered across our and our neighbours' lawn, when I spied a young mom and her three little ones walking through the area park across the street. I called to them, and introduced myself, explaining to the little ones that my three little girls were all grown up and I had no one to play in and crunch down my leaf piles anymore. Every year since, Zoe, Isabel and Sara have "helped me out" by jumping in my leaves.

Autumn leaves are meant to be enjoyed, and my little neighbours definitely enjoy them! They came over on Saturday evening with their parents and had a pretty good time diving into the pile, throwing leaves around, and though I wasn't able to stay and watch very long, I'm guessing that maybe they even buried each other like my sisters and I used to, like my kids did. I wish I had been able to join them. It's fun to rise from a leafy grave, as long as no one jumps on top of you! When the kids were finished, their mom or dad raked a somewhat smaller, flatter pile back together, and I imagine every piece of the kids' clothing needed to be shaken out before they went indoors.

I've said it before, and I'll say it until I die: occasionally it's good to indulge the child that still lives within. Play is good for the soul. Wanna come jump in my leaf pile with me?

Monday, September 26, 2016

In case you might be interested...

What's below is taken directly from the Facebook Page for the upcoming Open Bethlehem Film Screening and Q&A, which I've been meaning to post for weeks already. Promises to be a very interesting event. Come join us and learn about life in Bethlehem and the work people are doing to try to encourage peace and justice...

For the Edmonton Peace Festival, Development and Peace - Caritas Canada, with sponsorship of the Palestine Solidarity Network, will be organizing the 3rd Canadian screening of OPEN BETHLEHEM, a documentary on the impact of the Israeli wall on the people and community of Bethlehem.

Following the screening, there will be a Q&A with the director, Leila Sansour, and the executive producer, Wael Kabbani, also the producer of two other critically acclaimed films on peace.

Discussion and snacks to follow.

Please come out and learn about the situation in the Palestinian territories, Development and Peace's programs in the Palestinian Territories, and take action to become a citizen of Bethlehem.

To view the trailer, click here:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

We don't have to fight

I'm sighing tonight. At church today, our new deacon's homily said several times that we need to fight for our eternal salvation. Where on earth did he get that idea? I guess Paul tells us to fight the good fight of faith, but is fight the right word? I wonder if Paul's letter was translated incorrectly, or if perhaps Paul just wanted to cheer people on like we cheer on sports teams. God and fighting seem rather incongruent in my books.

God gave the world Jesus so that we might believe in him and inherit eternal life. Jesus never said anything about fighting for it. He told us to love one another, to do good, to give away things that distract us from God, to share our abundance with those who don't have enough, and to let tomorrow take care of itself. Nary a word about fighting, because God's reign doesn't require it. God gives eternal life to us all, equally, and we don't have to do anything but accept it. So fighting for it is kinda silly.

What's more important is just letting God love us, letting God give us life, not just when we die, but right now. To appreciate God's goodness and allow it to fill us to overflowing so that we have some to share with others who need it. To let God's Spirit guide us in the way that Jesus came to show us, falling in love with God instead of fighting for what's already been freely given if we only let it happen. Eternal life starts now, if we let God's love run the show.

I'm afraid I didn't really hear the deacon's homily (but I hope he was encouraging us all to look for the poor Lazaruses who people our lives, and to care for them). Instead, his idea of fighting for eternal life lost me somewhere and led me into a prayer of gratitude for not having to fight, just living my way into it. And a long lost memory came back to me of a song that I first heard when I was just starting to fall in love with God as a teenager, around the time that contemporary Christian music took off. I share that song below. No confusion, no time of tribulation required, just slowing down and waiting on the Spirit of the Lord -- who is generous beyond our belief! Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Goodbye, Summer

I'm sorry, but I think whoever organized our seasons made a few critical mistakes. For one thing, summer should be the four months from April 15th to August 15th so as to give us the longest days of the year to enjoy. It's not fair that summer only begins on the longest day, and that by the time it ends, our days are significantly shorter and darker. But I guess the folks who decided the calendar thought that measuring time by our astronomical equinoxes was more exact, even if summer's end isn't as bright as its beginning.

While out walking the dog last week, we ran into a neighbour who admitted to a bit of melancholy now that our evenings are cooler and darker. Last night I covered my tomatoes for the third time. Yes, there's definitely a melancholy that comes with the realization that we'll have to wait another year for fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, flowers and herbs, not to mention those warm summery evenings of walking in the light.

As I think about the summer that was, I realize that I never did get around to much moodling about it -- or showing vacation pictures. Now that the dew is heavy on the grass, nights are cool, and the shadows as long as though summer is about to end (which it does at 8:21 a.m. tomorrow), I'll say my farewells to a wonderful season by looking through my photos and sharing some highlights...

A family trip to Fort Edmonton on a warm June day...

Lee and friends having their own "Rock Parade"
(taking rocks from our yard to a neighbour's new rock garden)...

An early garden shot...

Being tourists in Edmonton... a visit to 
City Hall and the Federal Building near our Legislature...

Watching our kids perform (and get rained on)
at the Muttstock Festival...

The lovely Margaret Falls near Herald Provincial Park
on the Shushwap lakes in British Columbia...

Othello Train tunnels near Hope, BC with our cousin, Rebecca...

A Guldian Finch at the Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver
with Lee's sister, Lynn, along for the walk...

A gorgeous ferry ride to Vancouver Island...

Enjoying the waves at French Beach...

The harbour of Victoria... and lunch in an Irish pub...

Playing frisbee around Goldstream Falls...

Fireworks and a moonlight walk at Butchart Gardens
(one of my favourite places!)...

Camping near Little Qualicum Falls...

The Canadian Sand Sculpture championships at Parksville, BC 
(this year's theme... Things with Wings)...

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary at Chemainus, BC. 
Lee struck this same pose on our honeymoon...

Ukulele songs at Paul Lake, BC...

My "Superheroes" on top of Whistler mountain
in Jasper National Park...

A picnic at Pyramid Lake...

Anniversary surprises when we got home...

A later garden shot...

Lee and his dad at the farm. 
They planted all the trees around the yard. 
How they've grown in 30+ years...


Buddha likes his cherries... and so do we!

Encountering many bison at Elk Island National Park
 with our Belgian friends, Xavier and Ilse...

A canoe trip for Suzanna's birthday...

That's more than enough pictures for one season. Time to get on with plum and zucchini loaves and my daily garden round... 

Farewell, Summer!