Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Camp and other fun

Today is Christmas Camp for the L'Arche Edmonton Community, a chance for everyone to get out into nature and enjoy some winter fun. There'll be music, dance, fun in the snow, swimming, crafts, and togetherness for the day, and it will be great.

Today is also our daughter Christina's entry into adulthood in any country she cares to name. We'll celebrate with supper and cake this evening before she and her friends head off to other celebrations.

It's actually been a week of fun in my books... enjoying good books, puzzles, winter walks, and the odd afternoon nap. We've also managed to sleep past 8 a.m. every day since Christmas Eve, just what the doctor ordered. Lee and I even took in a movie last night (The Theory of Everything (Stephen and Jane Hawking's love story), which was excellent), and the evening before, we played games with my parents and sisters, and went for a walk to see the Legislature Christmas lights.


It's so good to be on holidays, resting from the usual routines. I'm taking a break from online moodlings, too, just because I don't feel like sitting at my computer with so many other activities with my family available. So if you're wondering what's going on with this blog, just know that I'm saving up the moodlings in my head for sometime after the New Year, when routines return to normal. Be back soon...

In the meantime, Happy Birthday, sweet daughter!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Christmas!

It's almost here! In two hours we'll be singing O Come All Ye Faithful with a children's choir as Christmas Eve mass begins. And a few minutes later, Christina and I will sing, "Today is born our Savior," my favourite version of Psalm 96...

I wish you and yours a beautiful, joyful Christmas made of melody and memories and all the good things associated with the celebration of Christ's birth. May the one who came to teach us about  the true nature of love fill your home and heart with a joy that is present even in the midst of sorrow, now and always. May you know yourself to be loved beyond belief!

Here's a lovely version of Mary, Did You Know? Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Still here, just busy getting Christmassy

I know, I missed my usual Sunday moodling... because we headed south to see Lee's mom and dad, and when we got home, we went out Ed's Trees to get ours (a real fir from Cranbrook, closer to carbon neutral than any pvc plastic tree could ever be), and ended up decorating for Christmas. See? I think it looks kind of nice. Here's the bulk of our decorating in one picture (excepting the advent wreath, which is just out of the picture).


It wouldn't be Christmas without all the little "Smartie stockings" that Lee hung so carefully along the curtain overhang. They were made by Josie, a dear neighbour who knitted each one, and then filled them with little pill bottles full of Smarties for each of our girls when they were little. Over the years, we ended up with over 20!


And our angel has been with me since 1990. I found her in January in the bargain aisle at the Ponoka drug store. She's got such a lovely porcelain face and hands, and her little candles and the lights under her skirt make me happy. Even though the lighting makes her look a little imperious in the picture below, she's pretty special.


It's all stuff, I know... but it's stuff we've had for ages, part of our tradition, and it will be passed down to our girls, who understand that new isn't always better. We have just two small bankers boxes of decorations, so to make things look a bit more festive, I put our Christmas cards up in the dining room, and the girls like to borrow their school years' handmade ornaments to decorate their rooms some years. It's not expensive or trendy, but it's enough to give that Christmassy feeling.

How do you decorate?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Simple Suggestion #222... Share a Christmas story

I've been thinking about this Simple Suggestion for weeks now, and remembering and reviewing Christmas stories I heard as a kid. There are so many wonderful ones -- and some that are pretty cheesy, too, but they've all been part of me, somehow, since I heard them when I was young. So I looked a few of them up, and have listed them below:
  • I had no idea who Captain Kangaroo was when I was a little kid in Saskatchewan with no cable tv, but he narrated this story and song that come to mind now and then.



  • Red Skelton's comedy made it into Canada (without cable) during my childhood -- and we had a vinyl record with him telling the story of the Little Christmas Tree, which carries interesting 1960s perspectives (propaganda?) on materialism, communism, and life behind the Iron Curtain... My sisters and I used to giggle at how the little tree's funny little voice shouted, "Mewwy Chwistmas, Sanny Claus!"



  • Here's a link to O. Henry's classic short story, Gift of the Magi, a favourite of mine since seeing a sweet but lengthy romantic flick based on the story. The Gift of Love, a 1978 TV movie starring Marie Osmond and Timothy Bottoms, plays the gist of O. Henry's plotline right at the end, but misses the author's wonderful last lines. It has some rather obvious flaws, but the turn of the century society portrayed is quite fascinating.



  • And what would Christmas be without the story of The Littlest Angel?



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRk8FJIcgnQ

I'm supposed to be baking Christmas bread for teachers today, so I'll stop here with these little "Christmas gifts" for my readers. I'd love to hear about your favourite Christmas story. Would you apply today's Simple Suggestion to me, and leave a Christmas story title for me in the comments box below? Think of it as a little present to your moodling friend, and thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oh, those O Antiphons!

When I woke up in this morning's deep darkness to the radio news, I wanted to cry. Death in Sydney's chocolate shoppe. Much more death in a school in Peshawar. Bad news everywhere. I lay there listening, feeling an ache in my chest that had nothing to do with the common cold that arrived after our beautiful and joyous L'Arche Christmas Pageant last night.

The darkness of winter is so hard on the human spirit. Whoever came up with the idea of moving the celebration of Christ's birth into the depths of December from its more likely March time frame -- the season when Jesus was likely actually born, as shepherds were in the fields assisting at the births of their lambs -- should be commended. We need something to celebrate in this yearly darkness, something to unite us and lift our spirits when darkness and violence overcome too many souls, all seems bleak, and light is dim.

And we need words of hope. Which is why I love the O Antiphons that are found in the ancient prayer of the church. You know, the ones heard when we sing, O come O come Emmanuel. Every year, the antiphons arrive just in time for the darkest days. But the version I really like is the newer, more inclusive one below, which is taken from the People's Companion to the Breviary, Volume One (1997, Carmelites of Indianapolis, ISBN 1-8886873-09-7).

Words of hope in the darkness, one set at a time, prayed from tomorrow until December 23rd... but I'll pray them all together this week. Pray with me?
O Wisdom, Holy Word of God, you reach from one end of the earth to the other with providential and tender care. Come and teach us to live in your ways.
O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush and gave him your Law on Sinai, come and free us with your outstretched arm.
O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for all people. Before you rulers keep silence; from you all nations seek help. O come to free us and do not make us wait.
O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one shuts. You close and no one opens. Come and deliver us from the prisons that hold us, for we are seated in darkness, oppressed by the shadows of death.
O Rising Sun, splendor of Eternal Light and brilliant Sun of Justice, come and light up the darkness concealing from us the path to life.
O Ruler of all nations and true desire of our hearts! You are the cornerstone binding us all into a home for God. Come and free us whom you formed from earth.
O Emmanuel, Giver of a new law to all nations, come and save us, for you are our God.
Come Lord Jesus, come!
You who are unity, love, and life, remove from our hearts and our world the division, fear and violence that splinters your beautiful creation. Make us one.

+Amen.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Praying more slowly

The Magnificat window in the Church of Reconciliation, Taizé.
See John and Jesus?
Last night we had a gorgeous, Advent-y Taizé prayer at the First Church of God, our first visit to a wonderful worship space. The Advent chants we sang included many simple canons that have multiple layers – at least eleven independent voices are required to do justice to the secondary canons in Prepare the way of the Lord, which is an amazing piece of music.

But only one voice is needed to read the Prayer by Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé community. Unfortunately, last night it was read too quickly for the meaning to really sink in.

It’s such a beautiful prayer that I’m repeating it here, for your Advent enjoyment. Prepare the way of the Lord!

You are the God
of every human being
and, too bright for us to look upon,
you let yourself be seen
as in a mirror,
on the face of your Christ.
We are eager
to glimpse a reflection of your presence
in the confusion of people and events:
open in us the gateway to transparency of heart.
In that place of solitude
which there is in each one of us, 
come and refresh the dry and thirsty ground
of our body and our spirit.
Come and inundate us with your trust
till even our inner deserts burst into flower.

+Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Taize Prayer 2015


If you’ve never experienced Taizé Prayer, I would encourage you to visit the website at www.taize.fr, and check out a playlist of music on YouTube by clicking here. Taizé is a beautiful place, with only one mission – to bring Christians together to focus on our similarities, not our differences, that all may be One in God.


If you would like to spread a little ecumenism, you can email me by clicking on The Moodler -- the email address is in my profile -- and I'll email you a file to print and share. Hang it wherever Christians gather, and spread the word!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gifts from the compost heap part II -- Christmas tomatoes

(To see Gifts from the compost heap part I, click here.)

Here's a wee gardening update about our "experimental tomatoes" that came from the compost heap back in September -- about three weeks ago, we decided that it was costing too much energy to keep our greenhouse warm for four tomato plants (one of which never did set fruit -- I think it was a Brandywine variety that needs more sunlight and heat). So I closed the greenhouse, brought our 3 cherry tomato plants into the dining room, we did battle with any number of fruit flies that came with them (organically -- cider vinegar is irresistible to fruit flies), and waited. And voila, we have some gorgeous little red tomatoes for Christmas.

Lee has been researching ways to store heat with phase-change materials so that the greenhouse won't dip below zero without a heater. It's almost managing to do that already, as we've got two big covered barrels of water which moderate the temperature fairly well (the temp this morning is +1 C (30 F) -- when the temp was -20 C (-4 F) or colder in the last weeks, the coldest it got was -8.3 C (17 F) overnight). Once we have the heating issue solved, the next trick will be to get our light figured out -- I'm suspecting our fourth tomato plant didn't fruit because the sun isn't strong enough -- and likely won't be until March, when I start seedlings all over again. As for these plants, while they're flowering like mad, and I'm finger-pollinating, the blossoms aren't turning into any sort of fruit -- again because our light is low, and the dining room window isn't a good place to set up full-spectrum grow-lights. They'll just have to do the best they can without.

Anyway, we're delighted to be eating our own tasty, organic, non-GMO cherry tomatoes this time of year. I'm so glad I decided to pot those little seedlings from the compost heap; these gorgeous little 'experimental' mouthfuls were definitely worth the effort. Maybe we'll decorate the plants with Christmas ornaments, too... though that might take the attention away from these natural, pretty red and green globes...


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Simple Suggestion #146 revisited... Enjoy a simple Christmas Pageant



I'm so excited! My favourite Christmas activity of the year is less than a week away -- our L'Arche Edmonton Christmas pageant! If you're in the neighbourhood and have a chance to join us (free admission, or a Food Bank donation) you won't regret it!

Christmas with friends at L'Arche is a true celebration. Last night we had our community Christmas dinner and anniversary evening, a time of fun and friendship. And the Pageant is full of the same spirit -- people who love each other having a good time together and welcoming all comers to join in. L'Arche is one place where 'the more the merrier' definitely holds.

Last year's pageant had its share of shiny angels, bedraggled bathrobe shepherds, and majestic wise men, and, of course, a beatific holy family, whose baby 'Jesus' fussed until his dad (out in the audience) tossed a pacifier to the 'midwife' (baby's mom) sitting at Mary's feet. She made a perfect, one-handed catch, and plopped the soother into the infant's mouth just as a wail began to build, much to the crowd's astonishment and amusement. Every year, it's something different, as less-than-predictable core members and babies are involved!

So if the Christmas spirit has yet to reach your heart and home, come join us for a joyful and uplifting celebration, followed by snacks and the L'Arche Christmas craft sale. All are welcome!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The whole truth for a Sunday

This week I paid a visit to my local library. It's been a few years since our family's weekly routine of hauling home a bag filled with children's books went by the wayside due to the onset of adolescence, but I'm still a sucker for great children's picture books! I brought one home called Old Turtle and the Broken Truth (2003, Scholastic, ISBN 0-439-32109-3), written by Douglas Wood, and illustrated with beautiful water colour images by Jon J Muth (I'm a sucker for water colour art, too!) 

Old Turtle is a beautiful story about a truth (like a meteorite) shooting through the sky and breaking up before it hits the earth. Animals find the truth, but realize that it is too sharp, with a piece missing that prevents it from "working properly." Then people find it, and declare it to be the most beautiful truth ever, enshrining it in a special place and fighting to keep it from others, causing all sorts of bloodshed, hatred, anguish and pain.

But a young girl with an open heart and mind goes to talk to grandmotherly Old Turtle, who gives the girl the missing piece of the truth. Gratefully receiving it, the girl takes it back to her people, who discover that the two pieces fit together perfectly, revealing the whole truth: "You are loved / and so are they." Discovering the whole truth, the people begin to be able to look at others... and see themselves, too.

Since reading the book, which I recommend to anyone with children, and even to adults(!), I've been reflecting on places where love of the 'other' has gone missing -- in relationships between nations and races, in our abuse of creation, in our refusal to accept difference.

I've also been thinking about places where violence is a daily occurrence, and where people are praying for change, partly because a blogger friend is presently living and working in East Jerusalem as an ecumenical accompanier who witnesses the hardships faced by people living in the midst of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I'm learning a lot about what is going on by reading Debbie's blog (click here to read it yourself, and click here to read her husband Dean's excellent reflections). If both Israelis and Palestinians understood Old Turtle's piece of truth, there would be no need for walls or wars or burned out mosques -- and the division of Jerusalem into Jewish, Muslim and Christian sectors would be unnecessary...

In these dark days of Advent, as we wait for God, I am realizing how much he and she is needed in our world in the form of justice, mercy, peace, and love. There are so many places where the darkness is calling out for light. So, we can't just sit on our hands while we wait -- as today's Gospel reading says, we need to prepare the way and make God's paths straight so that she and he can touch all people, through our hands.

Come, O God,
light our darkness,
heal our lovelessness,
make us into your justice and so, bring us peace.
Let us always remember that, as we are loved, so are all the others you have created.

+AMEN.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Too good not to share

This video arrived on my iPod yesterday morning thanks to my old friend, Dale. I was hoping that Laughing Buddha, who made the video, was an organization that promotes laughter yoga, or some such thing. Unfortunately, the video is just advertising -- for personal care products. Even so, it qualifies as a laugh too good not to share! Enjoy, and have a great day!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Simple Suggestion # 221... Befriend someone with a disability


Did you know that tomorrow is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities? Since 1992, December 3rd has been designated by the United Nations as a special day that "aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the rights, dignity and well-being of persons with disabilities -- including children. It also celebrates the benefits for the whole society when persons with disabilities are included in every aspect of life."

It's this second sentence that is really important in my books, can you tell? What a world it would be if everyone was celebrated for their presence and innate gifts! Valued just because they are who they are! And included as much as possible in everything! Imagine!

I know I'm preaching to the converted (again), but for the average able-bodied person who has never given much thought to what it might be like to be have a disability, meeting someone with a disability might seem a bit intimidating for any number of reasons. From my own experience, I suspect that the main reason is that folks with disabilities are "different" or other. But how different are they, really??

My first experience with a person with a disability was with my Uncle Louis. His gentle presence showed me that disability is not something to be feared, but a uniqueness that helps us to become more aware of our own fragility, and to see and welcome the special gifts possessed by each person we meet. Of course, when I was small, he was just a fun and funny uncle.

When I reached university age, I took a summer job at a camp for people with disabilities, thinking I'd put my teaching skills into practice helping others. That's where I learned that most people with disabilities don't necessarily want my help -- they're more interested in my friendship!

Though I had learned some basic lessons from my Uncle Louis, I remember feeling anxious and even a bit scared when Camp He Ho Ha had its week for people with severe disability. As the campers came off the bus in wheelchairs and walkers and helmets and with more different kinds of paraphernalia than I had ever imagined in my life, I felt rather intimidated by the idea that I was to look after some of them in a rather intimate way for the next five days. What if I did something wrong? Said something stupid? But they were patient, showing me what I needed to know by word or gesture, repeating things many times if necessary. Looking back through the years, I see how their compassion taught me a deeper compassion. They were the teachers; I was the student.

Unfortunately, quite often, our sisters and brothers with disabilities are treated as though they are invisible -- likely because too many of us have bought into the super-independence and self-reliance demanded by our culture, and find it hard even to acknowledge those who, by necessity, are dependent on others to help them function. It's as though we are embarrassed by just the idea of disability, and hope that if we ignore it, it will go away.

But that kind of attitude impoverishes the whole world. Every human being God created possesses an innate beauty and goodness, and that goodness truly manifests itself in mutual relationship. As we give, we also receive, and that is never more true than in relationship with persons with disabilities. They have a very special gift to offer -- a vulnerability that touches our own vulnerability and brings us to a place where our career, status, wealth or ability are not the most important thing about us. We learn from them that our value lies not in what we can do, but in our presence to others, in the way we reflect to others the spark of love God put in our souls to begin with.

I could go on and on, but I already have. Today's Simple Suggestion is a wee challenge -- a blessing in disguise, perhaps -- and an opportunity to overcome our fear of difference to discover that, deep inside, we are all the same. We only want to love and be loved. Our friends with disabilities understand that better than most. And who among us doesn't need more friends?

So, do yourself a favour -- make someone with a disability smile today... and let friendship grow.

In celebration of tomorrow's International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I'll leave you with a beautiful little gift -- click here to view to a wonderful new documentary about Jean Vanier and L'Arche. Enjoy!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Awakening to Advent

When your mental judgmental grid and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to you, because your pettiness is at last out of the way. Then Truth stands revealed! You will begin to recognize that we all carry the Divine Indwelling within us and we all carry it equally. That will change your theology, your politics, and your entire worldview. In fact, it is the very birth of the soul.
-- Richard Rohr 

Charleen's book club (of which I am a member) met this first Sunday of Advent to discuss Richard Rohr's Falling Upward (2011, Jossey Bass ISBN 9780470907757), a very inspiring book about the journey of life. Reaching the second half of mine, I find that his words are an encouragement -- and a freedom -- to ignore the judgmental voices that are always talking in my brain, comparing me to others and forgetting that I am turning into the person God made me, just as others are the people God made them. We all carry the Divine Indwelling within us equally, and that means that we are called simply to love rather than to live in fear of others or of our mistakes.

I feel an affinity for the author, Father Richard, because he's a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, who was, like Jesus, a rebel in his time. And like Francis and Jesus, Father Richard gives us permission to question and find truth outside of the rules we live by in the first half of our lives -- that period that helps us to figure out who we are and what we value. Once we reach the second half of our life, we begin to understand that life really isn't under our control, that we are never going to be perfect, and that it's okay to step outside of some of the boundaries we accepted in our youth, and to fall into the good, the true and the beautiful by facing our shadows and widening our perspectives. We can't put new wine into old wine skins, so sometimes we have to wake up, toss our old rules, structures and often misbegotten ideas away and use what we've learned (from our failures, sins and mistakes) to start fresh.

In the season of Advent, which begins again today, we awaken and await the coming of something and someone new -- someone who is always saying, "Be not afraid," and inviting us to step outside of all that we think we know to enter a new relationship with a God of surprises, who loves us beyond our understanding. May this Advent season be a time of allowing God to get through to us!

O God,
you made us, 
with all our struggles and joys,
our shadows and light,
so that we can find our way home
to you.
In these Advent days,
show us what's important
and what isn't
and let us seek your face
in those you have placed in our lives.
Knock down our walls
and widen our hearts enough
that you may dwell in them.
Let your joy and grace
overflow through us 
to touch all those you love,
especially those who feel unlovable.
In other words,
help us to stay awake
and be ready for you!

+AMEN

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The power of a river, of love

The city has vanished today, it's snowing that hard. I know it's there on the other side of a wall of whiteness, but it's not possible to see the skyscrapers across the river, never mind three blocks down the road.

Shadow and I took just a short walk this morning. I decided to let him follow his nose, and was surprised when his nose turned homeward even sooner than I expected, probably because the windchill was reaching -29 C (-20 F). By mid-afternoon, the white stuff was up to the pup's chest, and it's supposed to continue snowing until noon tomorrow. 30 cm (12 in) was predicted, and I think we've got that already.

So it may be a while before Shadow and I can return to our favourite walks along and in the river valley. I'm glad we took the valley trails last week and on the weekend. If you remember, last Thursday we found a lovely rebel bike trail and were able to walk along a mostly frozen expanse of the North Saskatchewan where it takes a fairly tight turn. I told Lee about the walk that evening, and suggested we walk it together on Saturday.


The next day was warm and sunny, and everything began to melt. Grass started showing in our back yard, and the dog got so mucky from walking in puddles that I had to throw him in the laundry sink when we got home. 

On Saturday afternoon, Lee, Suzanna, and I took Shadow down the same rebel bike trail -- and the difference in the river's edge was amazing. Friday's warmth had weakened the ice that had spanned the river on Thursday, and the water pushed it right up against the banks in a giant jumble of slabs of all thicknesses. It would have been amazing to have a time-lapse camera set up for the 48 hours between the two walks...


This picture was taken on Monday, after more snow started to fall. You can see the open water where more ice is forming on the other side of the broken ice slabs. What amazes me the most is how tonnes of them piled up against the bank after just one day of warmth. The forces of nature are often quiet, moving almost without notice, but unstoppable all the same. 

And love is unstoppable, too. I've been thinking a lot about the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri, and how much people the world over need to remember that it's up to each person to decide whether love or hate will flow with inexorable force in our lives. It brings back to mind an old David Foster tune (written around the time the Berlin wall fell, with a line or two sung by Brian Adams) that I haven't heard in ages -- upbeat and optimistic -- that insists we are moving back to a River of Love. If you've never heard it, and the key change that still gives me goosebumps, I've found it on YouTube and posted it and its lyrics below.

My prayer, for everyone in Ferguson Missouri, for ICIL and those working to counter its hatred, for our missing and murdered First Nations women and their families, and for the marginalized homeless who are certainly feeling the cold in my city today, is that we can all remember our oneness and unleash God's relentless, unstoppable love in every corner of our broken world. God, help us to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our hands in yours.

+AMEN.


Life after life
Stand before eyes of the world
Each man, woman and child must decide
We hold inside
All the keys to paradise
All nations, all people, all are one

We were born in love and innocence
That's how we came here
We were given hearts to love or hate with
Our time has come
When we can live as one
River of love
We are moving back to the river of love

Tired walls must fall
That new hearts may be set free
We stand close to the edge of the truth
Old wounds must heal in a fresh equality forever
All nations, all people, all are one

We were born in love and innocence...

Every day our lives draw together
Why don't we help each other?
This is a chance for all the word
To have what it needs
The freedom to love

We were born in love and innocence...

We are moving back to the river of love...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Simple Suggestions #145 and #188 revisited... Observe Buy Nothing Day


Here it comes again! The day after American Thanksgiving and the consumption of all that turkey has been designated an anti-consumption holiday by many people who are concerned about the health and well being of our planet and its inhabitants -- a day to be grateful for what we already have in our lives rather than to go out and buy more (a.k.a. Christmas shopping). Unfortunately, in most circles, Buy Nothing Day is called Black Friday -- because many companies leave behind the red ink in their yearly ledgers and begin to make profits through holding insane, all out consumption-oriented events that have led to huge door-crashing, people injuring sales frenzies.



(While it's not this bad in Canada, thankfully,
there's increasing emphasis on Black Friday
as Canadian stores jump on the bandwagon
in attempts to boost their sales, too.)

I'd like to think that the world's people are waking up to the understanding that our planet has only so many resources to go around, and that human beings are becoming aware that we need to use less of those resources so that our environment and its endangered species (us included if we keep going at our present rate) stand a chance in the future. I'm doing my part by living as simply as I can, generally avoiding shopping malls, giving necessary or experiential gifts instead of stuff, and encouraging others to do the same (if you're looking for more ideas when it comes to avoiding consumerism, click here, or check out the Simple Christmas Ideas tab under the Simple Moodlings heading).

Really, Buy Nothing Day (November 28th in the U.S. and November 29th everywhere else) is good practice for every other day of the year. If we all gave our purchasing habits serious consideration every day, buying only what we need and gifting people with our presence and perhaps some homemade goodies, our world would be a much healthier place for all living things. Don't you think?

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the Knave?

The Knave of Hearts,
he stole my heart
and took it clean away.

                  --English nursery rhyme, adapted.

To be completely honest, I've always had a hard time with today's Feast of Christ the King. All that "His, the scepter, His, the throne" stuff just doesn't ring true for me when it comes to Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth. I know, I know -- he's God, he can be whatever he wants! -- but he's so much more than the title "King" can ever convey to me. I have no real experience of a king of any kind.

Fortunately, this year, thanks to an experience this past summer, I'm looking at things a little differently.

I think my problem with celebrating the kingship of Christ comes partly from having studied church history in my twenties. Since those studies, it has always seemed to me that this annual celebration of Jesus' kingship was more like the hierarchy's feeble attempt to align the wealth and power it amassed with the glory and majesty of God, rather than anything Jesus would claim for himself. It seemed to me that if the princes of the Church could somehow link Jesus to the wealth and worldly power that the greatest of kings had while downplaying his actual message to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison, that might make it okay for the church to own bishops' palaces and gold-gilded altarpieces and fantastic frescoes and rule as Holy Roman Emperors or... Popes.

But actually, this feast day came about under the watch of Pope Pius XI after the First World War. It was the Pope's well-meaning effort to make Jesus a King above all others, and encourage the faithful to turn away from the nationalistic and secularist thinking that was pervasive at the time. The problem, of course, is that the very idea of "King" comes with a lot of baggage. It's a human construct, and it hardly speaks to the age we inhabit because most of the kings we know are merely unreachable figureheads or celebrities, with very little to do with ordinary people.

But our God has everything to do with ordinary people. God is not about thrones or scepters or palaces or even basilicas. God is with us as we live, breathe, and go about our ordinary lives. And Jesus, who seems to have known and understood God better than any other human being who ever lived, because, well, he's God, too, told us the most important things we need to know -- that we are to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves -- to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Everything else is distraction. Including categories like king or carpenter.

This idea was underlined during my visit to Taizé this summer (click here for a recap), where I spent a lot of time singing and praying in the Church of Reconciliation, which is basically a large but very simple worship space. There are candles and brightly coloured cloths hanging behind the altar, maybe a dozen icons, and perhaps that many small, square stained glass windows in one wall, and that's the extent of the richness and majesty in the building. And yet, I felt closer to God there than I ever did in St. Peter's at the Vatican. The simplicity of Taizé's church and its meditative ecumenical prayer brought me to God in a powerful, distraction-free way.

On my last morning in Taizé, I was walking down the road toward the church, reflecting on an idea that had struck me the evening before at prayer -- that Jesus would feel more at home in the inclusive and welcoming Communauté de Taizé than in the huge, ornate (and often rather empty) churches in Europe. That's when I found a playing card face down on the path, the very fellow you see at the top of this post. I laughed aloud. He likely fell from the deck of one of the 800 German youth who populated Taizé that week. A nine of diamonds wouldn't have meant so much! It was as though Jesus was telling me that he wasn't as interested in being a king of anything, as he was happy to be the knave of my heart, and of everyone else's, too. After all, knaves are so much more accessible than kings.

Jesus never claimed a throne or dominion. He never professed to be loftier than anyone else, either -- when Pilate tried to insinuate that Jesus was trying to usurp the authority of Herod/Rome, Jesus told him, "My kingdom is not of this world." That's because he was more interested in our hearts than any kind of wealth, power, glory, or fame. He only wanted to rightfully claim his place as a child of God, and encourage everyone else to do the same, underlining God's love over and over again.

So it's not that Jesus is King of the Universe or King of Heaven that I want to focus on today. Instead, it's the way that he knew and lived God's love, and showed it to me, and asked me to show it to my sisters and brothers in need -- that's what makes Christ the all important and most loving Knave of my Heart.