Sunday, November 29, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #19... How would Jesus live?

There was no environmental crisis to speak of in Jesus' day. World population was steady at maybe 300 million, and most people lived very simply, growing their own food, bartering and trading for other things they required, building or crafting the necessities of life and mostly using just what they needed. Consumer culture existed for the rich, but even they didn't control everything back then, though Jesus' conversations with some wealthy people of his time made it into the Gospels. He spoke of the dangers of wealth and excess, and his words still resonate today, but often go unheard because the message of commercialism is so much louder and brighter. Maybe we need bumper stickers like the one below...


It's an interesting exercise to consider Jesus' life in comparison with our own, but it seems to me that too often the church gets hung up on his divinity and all the head stuff that goes with it rather than his human experience of the heart and guts of life. This week's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, focuses on Chapter 2, section 7, The Gaze of Jesus (you can access the entire document by clicking here). Paragraphs 96-100 have me thinking about what it would be like to see our present world through Jesus' eyes.

I like this section of the encyclical, because it reminds me that if Jesus and I were to go for a walk, he'd be as happy as I am to walk down to the river and just watch the ducks for a while (not that there are very many ducks now that winter has finally hit Edmonton). He might like spreading soil amendment from my compost pile, and eating garden vegetable soup at our dinner table. But what would he think of all our computer gadgets? The noise of traffic? How my husband has been working ten hours a day of late?

Paragraph 96 says that Jesus was always reminding his disciples of the intimate relationship between God and God's creatures. In the scriptures he often reminds us about how God clothes the lilies in splendor, notices every sparrow -- and counts every hair on our heads.

Jesus also "often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things," says paragraph 97, to the point of using creation in his teachings and parables and thus indicating that he was a nature-lover who was deeply aware of and in love with the great Lover who had created everything around him.

In paragraph 98, Pope Francis and his letter-writing team note that "Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed" -- the others, of course, being those who witnessed him walking on water, calming the storms, and enjoying the fruits of the earth. Jesus wasn't someone who "despised the body, matter and all the things of the world" -- he noticed and appreciated life in a holistic way. And yet, there are long periods in Christianity where so-called spiritual ideals were elevated so far above ordinary moments of daily life -- like birth, death, sleep, sex, food, drink and work -- that "unhealthy dualisms... disfigured the Gospel."

I blame this on the fact that celibate clergy who believed they had to live in the Spirit instead of their bodies were put in charge of religion for so long. Had they been allowed to continue serving God and their families, wives and children would have prevented the men from retreating so far into their ivory towers. Married priests were actually only outlawed in the twelfth century when the princes of the church grew tired of supporting families, preferring to keep their wealth to build monumental cathedrals to the glory of God. But what do cathedrals add to the beauty of God's creation, really? And it's family life that keeps most of humanity grounded in reality!

The end of paragraph 98 notes that Jesus was a carpenter who spent a lot of his life as a labourer, endowing work with a holiness of its own. He didn't let big theological ideas unbalance his love for life as a whole even though he was God. He was able to see the big picture.

I like the idea of Jesus
being part of the Green movement
No idea where this photo-shopped pic
originated...
The fact that Jesus came to live in the middle of creation gives everything a sacredness: "One person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing his lot with it, even to the cross... Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy" (paragraph 99). The fact that God entered creation as a human being is a sign of how loved and valued we and the rest of creation are. God didn't create the universe and leave us on our own, but joins in the life we live and knows firsthand what creation is all about. Jesus saw -- and continues to see -- the world through eyes like ours.

The section concludes with paragraph 100, which says "the risen One is mysteriously holding [the creatures of this world] to himself and directing them toward fullness as their end." But what does an earth living out of this kind of fullness look like? How does Jesus see it? The old question, "What Would Jesus Do?" applies not only to our relationships with each other, but also to how we treat our earth and live our lives.

So here's an exercise for the week ahead. Let's imagine that Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and son of God, moves in next door. What kind of house does he build for himself? How big is his moving van? What are his yard and garden like? Who are his friends? How does he entertain them? What does he buy at the grocery store? How does he travel around? What does he wear? How does he spend the bulk of his time? How does he care for our earth?

And then we can imagine our lives changing to match his...

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #20... WANTED: Wisdom

Friday, November 27, 2015

Back to snowy walks with a small dog

Winter arrived this week. I'm happy to see snow, and don't generally mind the cold, as long as it's a bit warmer than -30 C (the coldest thus far this week was an early morning -20 with windchill to -26). Shadow and I have been waiting until after lunch to go out this week, though I prefer to get the day's walk out of the way earlier.

Here are a few images and a video from this week's walks:


Mountain ash berries are pretty with snow...


The river is slowly freezing (when it isn't thawing -- 
our cold snaps keep getting interrupted with temperatures
in the pluses... 


It's hard to see, but Shadow has a white beard
from licking snowbanks as he romps along...


Gallagher Park -- arguably the city's best tobogganing hill...


We love living so close to the river valley...


No ducks left here...


and long shadows at two p.m....



If you've never walked a small dog in the snow, this is what it's like, minus the cold fresh air... Have a good weekend, friends!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Simple Suggestion #243... Give gifts of the heart

Every year when Black Friday sales roll around, I try to remind people that we need to appreciate what we have without cramming more stuff into our lives. If you follow these moodlings you'll know all about "Buy Nothing Day", which is anti-consumerism's response to the big sales frenzies developed by marketers to kick off the Christmas shopping season the day after American Thanksgiving.

By all means, boycott shopping on Buy Nothing Day. But I'd also invite us to be mindful of our shopping habits the other 364 days per year, and consider where all our stuff will end up when we're gone. I'd also like to share 10 somewhat-tongue-in-cheek rules of Christmas gift giving that we all need to grow out of here on our limited planet:



And there are probably more...

The thing is, it's just too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have to buy something for everyone on our Christmas list -- and even for others who are not. But not all gifts need to be store bought. Here's a list of alternative gifts, what I would call gifts of the heart:

1. The gift of presence -- just being with someone.
2. The gift of a shared experience -- like going for a walk, a game of cards, star gazing, maybe a book we've enjoyed.
3. The gift of a random act of kindness -- clearing a neighbour's walk, some fresh baking, sweeping the snow off a car...
4. The gift of a heartfelt letter.
5. The gift of a funny story.
6. The gift of a long forgotten memory or photograph.
7. The gift of music.
8. The gift of something treasured being handed on to someone else to love.
9. The gift of an actual voice-to voice phone call.
10. The gift of a coffee/tea/wine/other beverage date, or maybe lunch.
11. The gift of a home cooked meal...

And perhaps you've thought of a dozen others as I've been naming these.The thing is, most of the big ticket gifts sold at Black Friday sales require space, maintenance, cleaning, and eventually, disposal. But the gifts I've named above leave a warm place in our hearts and memories without cluttering our lives. Every thing we give as a gift or own ourselves will have to go somewhere when we are gone, but the gifts of the heart always go with us...

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.
Or click here for more simple Christmas ideas.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #18... Time to tone it down

It strikes me, as I work through reading this encyclical and writing about it, that in discussing 5 or more paragraphs each week, I'm writing a lot more than that! So if you read Pope Francis' letter to the world for yourself, you'll be reading a lot less...! I guess the only difference is that I'm trying to somehow connect every paragraph I read with how we live our lives daily... and I keep hoping for a bit of discussion in the comments below. How are you making these readings relevant in your day-to-day existence?

This week's paragraphs (91-95) in Pope Francis' latest encyclical letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home carry some pretty sharp words. (see for yourself by clicking here). We finish the section on A Universal Communion and begin the one on The Common Destination of Goods, and guess what? Our North American lifestyle is a clear sign that things aren't shared very well around the globe. More on that later.

If human beings really believed that care for each other and care for creation are inextricably linked, would our world be in its present state of pollution and climate-related issues? Paragraph 91 notes that "It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted." Once again we hear the chorus [for the third time], "Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society."

Our sense of community and universal communion can exclude "nothing and no one" says Paragraph 92, because "our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings.... We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality.... Everything is related" [that chorus again, fourth time].

And yet, we are always disregarding aspects of our reality. For example, and this is just one of many, how often do we think about how or where our clothing is made? Are the people who make them being treated fairly? Are the processes involved compatible with a healthy environment? It takes research to find out those kinds of details, and most of us simply don't have the ability to interrogate the CEOs in charge, or the time to look into the business practices related to everything we wear. But here's a thought -- buying our wardrobe second hand, or wearing hand-me-downs is actually recycling and opting out of the consumerism that insists upon the latest style and the most recent market-created trend...

Am I repeating something I said a few weeks ago in that last paragraph? I'm starting to feel as if I'm always singing the same song from this encyclical, and not just because the everything-is-connected chorus is playing over and over again. Awareness of where we can improve the planet's health by using fewer resources eventually makes all these suggestions I'm offering rather obvious. At least, they're obvious to me. Are they obvious to you?

Unfortunately, awareness can be a dangerous thing. It means we have to change!

On Thursday I sat outside a coffee shop and became aware of how many disposable cups were carried out the door by its patrons. In my mind I was trying to multiply that by how many coffee shops there are in my city, and eventually I was tempted to stand up and scream, "Why don't you all bring your own cups and save the trees, the landfill, our planet?! You don't deserve coffee if you don't bring your own cup!" Of course, awareness of these kinds of things is part of the road toward being fully loving toward all that God made (provided I change my own life and make gentle suggestions rather than yelling at anybody! After all, I've used styrofoam and paper coffee cups hundreds, if not thousands of times. But now that I am aware -- it's really hard to go back to that old pattern. I've gotten pretty good at remembering to take my travel mug with me -- I'd say, 9 out of 10 times. But there's still that one time...)

Paragraph 93 says that "every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged." Here I would carry our social perspective even further than that yet again -- because it's not only human beings who are poor and underprivileged in this world -- we regularly impoverish other species as well by our lack of consideration. Saint John Paul II said that "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone." But I think God went even further than that -- the earth isn't just for the human race! It's for all living beings. I can't disagree, though, when he says that "it is not in accord with God's plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few."

Unfortunately, it's too true that 1% of the world's population possesses more than half of its wealth, and that many of us in the cities of the western world have more than our share of the planet's goods. Paragraph 94 reminds us that "The rich and the poor have equal dignity," and quotes the Bishops of Paraguay regarding the rights of every campesino to "a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life... [with equal access to] education, credit, insurance and markets."

Do any of us really have need for more than these kinds of basics: food, water, shelter, clothing, right livelihood, education and community? Paragraph 95 tells us that nature is a collective good which belongs to and is the responsibility of everyone. If we are honest, we don't actually 'own' anything. So really, those things we consider to be possessions are things we just administer "for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others." The last sentence of the paragraph is the real zinger: "the Bishops of New Zealand asked what the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" means when "twenty percent of the world's population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive."

I'm guessing that you and I are in that twenty percent. I know that if everyone lived as I do, we would probably need another four planets like earth to support our lifestyles! Which tells me that I need to tone it down! But how is the way we live killing people in the developing world -- or in the future?

It's not like we're doing it directly. It's the little things that we often aren't aware of that are the problem. Wasting or being careless with what we have. Buying more than we need. Thoughtlessly adding to global climate change by unnecessary use of fossil fuels. Eating too high on the food chain. Taking what we have for granted. Feeling entitled to more than our share because we've worked hard for our money. Going overboard to keep up with the Joneses.

The better way? Appreciating everything. Owning less. Travelling less. Eating simply. Sharing. Living in sufficiency instead of excess.

And participating in events that make us and the world more aware of how we can become more responsible for our planet, reducing climate change and other negative impacts created by over-consumption and unequal distribution of the world's common goods. The fact is that a lot of us have gotten used to living pretty "high on the hog." I'm suspecting that Laudato Si is Pope Francis' gentle way of telling us that we're going to have to tone it down several notches when it comes to our lifestyles in order to save the lives of those in the developing world and the generations to come, never mind our own lives!

That's all I want to say about Laudato Si for this week. But on a related note...


Displaying Collages.jpg


The Paris Climate Talks (COP21) are beginning on November 30th, and next weekend, around the world, there are many rallies and marches being planned to let world leaders know that we need serious action to reduce climate change. Here in Edmonton, people are gathering at the Alberta Legislature next Sunday, November 29th at 2 p.m. as a sign that we need and want action -- even if it means our lives have to change. All are welcome to rally together and show support for the global movement to reduce greenhouse gases and improve our planet's overall health. If you're not from Edmonton, hopefully you can find information about rallies and marches in your neck of the woods by clicking here.

And if you are from Edmonton, I'll be pouring the hot chocolate... hopefully mostly into travel mugs!

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #19... How would Jesus live?

Friday, November 20, 2015

God's love letter(s)

I was supposed to post this last week (after Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #16... God's love letter), but somehow posted something else first... so here is an account of God's love letters to me in the last two weeks or so... God is in all these things, in everything, really...

The warmth of my blankets
The first sip of a good cup of coffee
The good morning shouts of a blue jay at the sunflower I attached to the fence
A breath of cold fresh air as I step outside
The kiss of a pale Novermber sun when I sat against a south facing wall
A rare hug from Darren
The excitement of the dog as he welcomes me home
The satisfaction I feel when the kitchen is tidy
A kiss from my husband as he goes out the door for the day
A snuggle with my daughter (who climbed into bed with me one or two mornings)
The smell of clean sheets hung out to dry
The frost on the edge of a leaf, marking its intricacies
The wind blowing across the long grass in the park
The pinks and oranges in a spectacular sunset
Snowflakes
Our veterans
Laughter
The joy of making music, or just listening to it
Sadness
A smile from a stranger
Starlight
A handshake when meeting someone new
Prayer (communication with God)
The long light and shadows of a November afternoon
My daughter's rosy cheeks as she comes home from university
A phone call from the one who has left home
My husband's hand holding mine as we go for our evening walk

This is only a partial list. Where does God say "I love you" to you?




Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Singing on the bus Part II -- The Preacher and the Bear

(Click here to see the original 'Singing on the bus')

The bus driver who offered me a free ride for a song was driving the 94 again yesterday.

"We've missed you, been waiting for you," he said. "There's room right here on the wheel well for your guitar case."

The boy with the earbuds grinned and shoved over to make room for a woman with guitar, and a few of the passengers further back smiled at me, clearly aware of what was coming -- a song from a stranger.

I unpacked my guitar, telling the busdriver, "You weren't driving the last time I rode this bus, but I had such a bad cold that you wouldn't have wanted me to croak anything out."

"You seem fine today," he observed.

So I sat down and sang my favourite joke song (don't you think there should be a music category like that?), 'The Preacher and the Bear.' This time, no one applauded, but they laughed at the punchline. Then I packed up my guitar again, and chatted with the driver about this and that until we arrived at the university where I got off.

The driver said, "You made the day of some of my riders. If you can do that, why not?" And I agreed. But next time, I think I'll sing an audience participation song. Hey Jude, maybe?

Last night I searched the internet for 'The Preacher and the Bear,' a song that my Uncle Richard recorded in the early '70s with the Macklin Alouettes on the only record they ever made. It's a song that has stayed with me for reasons unknown -- I guess because it's a cute, clean joke with a catchy tune. I've sung it on several occasions, sometimes to pull the leg of clergy friends (substituting "Fr. Jim, he went a walking," for the opening line). It usually gets a chuckle or two.

There are some interesting versions of the song on YouTube, but they all leave the poor preacher stuck in a tree, including my favourite find by the Jubalaires, which is almost more like slam poetry than the song I sing.


I love how the story of the preacher and his grizzly nemesis are the verses between "That a-old-time-a-relid-gion-brother..."

Of course, I much prefer Uncle Richard's version of the story in which the two opponents go their separate ways, one somewhat triumphant and other unscathed. Not finding anything like it on YouTube, I've recorded my own version in an effort to keep the song alive -- I don't imagine too many people are listening to the Macklin Alouettes these days, and I'm not sure where the Alouettes found the song to begin with. Maybe they invented their own version? Complete with the sound of a boxing ring bell ('Ding! One round for the bear!').

So here's 'The Preacher and the Bear,' especially for Uncle Richard, for my friends and readers, and, as I said, as a record of a song that I can't find anywhere else. I'm glad for these electronic ways we have of preserving the stories and songs of the past (those Jubalaires have some pretty great old tunes if you have time to listen)... and I'm also grateful that I have a voice to sing one or two of them for my own enjoyment. It's not a great voice, but it's a good story. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #17... It's not just about us

If there's anything that drives me crazy about Pope Francis' recent letter to the world, it's that it had to be written from the angle where we human beings with our theologically-approved ability to relate to God seem more important than the rest of God's creation, even though creation would probably manage better without us! I think it's really hard for human beings -- with our big intellects and sense of our own souls -- to get our heads around the fact that maybe, just maybe, God loves -- and lives in -- every other creature in the web of life too. It's not just human beings who are special. We are just special in a different way than the others (and as I've said before -- how can we be so sure they don't have souls too?)

Halfway through section IV, which is called The Message of Each Creature in the Harmony of Creation, paragraph 86 notes that "God's goodness "could not be fittingly represented by any one creature. Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships." Actually, the writers of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, are quoting different pieces of Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, which were written in the 13th century! (You can read this week's paragraphs, 86-90, including the footnotes about where to find Aquinas' ideas, by clicking here.) The Bible says that God created humans in His and Her image, yes, but Saint Thomas tells us definitively that God's image also exists in the rest of creation and we need to understand the importance of everything. How did we miss this?

What I love about this encyclical, besides the fact that the Pope and friends are addressing our planet's ecological crises, is that it is constantly pointing out that creation is all "of a piece." We can't understand anything if we don't even attempt to look at the entire picture -- because everything depends upon the interdependence of all aspects of creation. Humans have gotten into the habit of thinking we must be independent (that's what marketers want so they can sell us each our very own fill-in-the-blank) but clearly, we need to change such thinking because it's creating quite a mess.

Our insistence on our independence means that there too many single occupant vehicles driving around the cities of North America. But what if we decided to try some interdependence -- carpooling, carsharing, public transit and other modes of getting around? We might have to depend on one another, build stronger community supports, create fewer emissions that lead to climate change, and maybe live a healthier life, but would that be so bad? Not according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which points out at the end of paragraph 86 that "Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other."

Sound like Utopia? Or maybe heaven on earth? But what if I don't want to carpool with a neighbour who irritates me? What if I lend my car to a friend who scrapes the bumper? What if it's too much of a hassle to share because I don't have time to organize a car pool?

The thing is, what is worse? An uninhabitable planet, or making time to connect, share and get along with others? This Anthropocene era in which human activity has had a major impact on our earth's ecosphere since the Industrial Revolution has seen an incredible increase in population and pollution, partly because we've gotten out of the habit of working together. The increasing suffering worldwide due to climate change-related weather events seems to be a catalyst for the beginning of a conversion in us, where we see the necessity of living more simply, co-operating with our neighbours, and respecting the sacredness of creation.

Paragraph 87 seems to be designed simply to allow for the reappearance of Saint Francis' Canticle of the Creatures to aid us in praising God. I just wish they had printed it in its entirety, including the part about Sister Death. I can't help but think that if we were all better friends with our mortality, we wouldn't spend so much of our lives accumulating the earthly treasure Jesus warned against, "that moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal" (Matt 6.19). If we are constantly aware that Sister Death allows us to take no possessions with us, maybe we'd leave fewer behind!

In paragraph 88, we are reminded that "The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship" by cultivating the "ecological virtues" that are part of the social doctrine of the Church. In my brief skim of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, creation is seen as important to the well-being of humans. I hope the Compendium also sees it as important in and of itself, or both Saint Francis and Saint Thomas Aquinas will be frowning... Every creature in creation has its role to fulfill, and human beings in particular need to acknowledge our "right and proper place" instead of thinking ourselves the pinnacle of creation or of creation as merely the fulfillment of our wants. Not the left, but the right, below.


I'd love to know where this graphic originated so I could give the artist credit, because it pretty much sums up my feelings about our relationship with the earth. Who says human beings are the highest level of creation? Human beings! But the true picture is on the right. We are not the top of the pyramid, though that's the image that consumer culture (and the beginning of the book of Genesis) may have imprinted upon us.

God (not us) owns everything, says paragraph 89, and
all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate respect... God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.
No kidding. This summer I kept finding dying bumblebees. My heart broke every time. Can't we stop with the pesticides already?

Paragraph 90 underlines the importance of the role of people in the care of creation, stating that
we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, where we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.
Enormous inequalities breed enormous anger and terrible division. I'm afraid my church pretends to be blind to the greater rights it gives to men over women, and how that only feeds the inequality of women around the globe, many of whom are left to feed families and care for the elderly without much support from the males who are seen as having greater value in many cultures. The inequality of people based on gender is just another example of living beings being treated irresponsibly, though Pope Francis and friends are ignoring that here (they don't want to think about things like women priests, for example) -- for them, the division is not so much between male and female, but between rich and poor.

But again, it's all of a piece, and we'll never get to equality and heaven on earth if we ignore sexism... or any of the other "isms" that divide us from other beings in creation. All that God made must be valued and considered worthy of care... and it would be good if all living things were accorded similar rights, though it would require more effort on our part to care for them all. At the moment, we only care for the things we value, and heaven knows we haven't always valued the right things!

For the week ahead, let's give some thought to the things we value and how they fit into the web of life that God created. If a fire was to come and swallow everything we own, what would we miss the most? What could we easily live without? How much do our "needs" impact our planet and its ecosystems? How much impact do our "wants" have on the earth?

Let's give some thought to the idea that the needs of creation are important too.

This life, this planet, is not just about us.

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #18... Time to tone it down

A prayer for Paris (and other places)

O God,
it's so hard to understand this.

The kind of hatred that would
motivate young people
to blow themselves up outside soccer games
or shoot fans at a rock concert or restaurant
is not something we experience
on a daily basis.
Yet it seems there are many who do.

How do we reach them?
How can their angry hearts
be transformed into loving hearts?
How must we be different
so that the anger and violence in them melts away?

Bless all those who mourn,
and those impacted
by the trauma of shootings and bombings
and violent events the world over.

We grieve with them,
and we pray that you will show us all
how steadfast love and faithfulness can meet
and where righteousness and peace
can kiss each other in justice and truth
in all the situations like these.

Even more basically, show us how
it is not
them vs. us
or
us vs. them,
but that we are all one family,
your children.

Free us from our fears,
keep us open to those in need,
and help us to do your will.

+AMEN.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Two hugs

Art by Mimi Noland, from The Hug Therapy Book
(Compcare 1983, ISBN 0-89638-065-3)
I like to think of myself as a giver of hugs, but this week, I was definitely the recipient.

On Sunday evening, our Taizé prayer group led our annual Prayer for Peace at a downtown church, a place we'd never prayed before. We arrived an hour early to set up and were met by the minister and a young man who helped us get organized. Richard was most anxious to be of assistance, and went out of his way to be hospitable in every possible way.

Toward the end of the evening, I thanked him for all he had done. "How about the snacks? Were they okay?" "Excellent," I said, and gave him a thumbs up.

When the time came for us to go home, I went to thank the minister with a hug, and Richard stepped across to hug me, too. It was totally unexpected, but much appreciated, and on the way home, I found myself moodling about how we can meet strangers for a short time and never really know how much we'll impact one another. Clearly, something I had done or said touched Richard, and his hug touched me, too. I won't forget that moment.

Then, this morning, Suzanna and I returned to L'Arche for the first time since she left the Community Centre to start university. Usually, Thomas is there to pepper us with questions as we walk in the door, but today, Darren spotted us coming first and hustled over to give us both hugs in his most unusual way.

Hugging Darren is a bit like hugging a porcupine -- it's very careful, and you can't get too close. He sort of stretches his hands out and puts them gently around a person's neck. Today, when his hands were around my neck, he sort of snuggled in just a tiny bit, and I found myself kissing him on the forehead, my eyes filling with tears, as it was only the second time I've ever received a hug from him. He did the same to Suzanna, whom he had never hugged before.

Darren is a non-verbal man with autism, and Suzanna and I have come and gone from the Community Centre many times without him paying any notice. But today he was clearly very happy to see us!

It's been a Novemberish week, grey and cloudy, but well-placed hugs are definitely a ray of sunshine.

*I use pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Another day to remember

Today we remember bravery, pray for all the casualties of war, and ask wisdom for the world...
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is no a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower 

God, show us the way to peace.

+Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Simple Suggestion #242... Reread an old journal

I haven't been moodling as much as usual lately because I've been rereading the books of my life. They inhabit two heavy banker boxes on a shelf in our basement.

What brought this on? My girls and I were chatting about letter writing, and I mentioned how one of the first letters from their father threw me for a loop.

"Dad wrote you letters?!" They couldn't imagine their dad writing to me, I guess. So I went down to my boxes and pulled out the duotang that holds the story of my beginnings with Lee, including many letters we wrote back and forth (we lived 100 km apart at that time).

I read them the threw-me-for-a-loop letter, about Lee's conversation with God on a golf course, how he told God he'd like to find "someone special," but that he probably couldn't expect someone to just come up to him and say, "I've been looking for you." And guess what happened? If you guessed that when he got back to the clubhouse I was standing there saying those exact words, well, I don't have to tell you the rest of the story. My girls ate it up, of course! And I got lost in the rest of the book, rereading our whirlwind romance and early life together.

It was so much fun to look back to the time when I didn't know the love of my life -- when we were feeling our way into friendship and courtship and permanent relationship. Some pages are downright embarrassing and should probably be burned, but others fill me with a deep delight, especially since I know how happily the story continued.

Those two banker boxes hold all sorts of journalled treasures dating from the time I was 14. They tell stories of a younger me, my ups and downs and in-betweens, as well as stories of friendships made and lost, my first years of teaching, and our daughters' growing up. When I was younger, I found it hard to reread my life, probably because I wasn't proud of the painful, hurtful, embarrassing, less-than-charitable moments in my past, but now that I've reached a certain age, I see how all those moments have made me into a person at whom I laugh a lot, and love most days.

The books of my life bring back long forgotten events... like hanging out with summer camp friends, a wonderful camping trip with my sisters, a long phone chat with a faraway friend, a moment of pure anger with the parent of one of my students, the ever deepening love for my husband, the incredible joy as I held my newborn babes, and the struggles and joys of parenting, all of it written as I tried to sort out my heart and life.

I know that not everyone journals the way I have, but most people at least try it once or twice. So today's simple suggestion is to dig out that old diary or notebook -- or computer file? -- and remember who you were at another time in your life. If you are able, offer that person of the past your blessing and love from the present.

For more Simple Suggestions, click here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #16... God's love letter

Image result for the peaceable kingdom
The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks
This week the dog and I had the pleasure of a few walks through neighbourhoods along the river. It was nippy but otherwise nice even though the trees have lost their leaves and the November skies were rather grey some days. I found myself moodling about this amazing world God has given us to inhabit, this love letter that we too often trample in the dust rather than wrap up in a special ribbon and keep carefully.

I'm particularly bothered by the litter I find as I walk. The excessive noise and speed of motorbikes and sports cars, the blue smoke exhaust of some vehicles. The oversized homes with garages so full of stuff that no car can ever park there (which begs the question, should our vehicles or excess stuff have better homes than the homeless people living in the ravines of Edmonton this fall?)

Sorry, this is not the way I intended to start this reflection, but these are the things that I noticed on my walks, which connect with today's paragraphs (81-85) from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Homewhich can be accessed by clicking here.

Today's paragraphs actually focus on the relationship between us and the One who created everything. Paragraph 81 looks at the fact that every human being on earth has developed or is developing into a unique creature with our own ways of being: "The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship" not only with God, who addresses herself and himself to me, but also with creation. Each one of us is a subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object by virtue of those relationships.

And if we human beings, unique in our development, are not objects, how dare we view other living beings as objects? I know, it's tempting to think of all cows as merely cows, and all cougars as the same, but they too follow their own unique patterns and our lumping them into categories has done them -- and us -- no favours. Especially when we think of all cows as feedlot stock, and all cougars as threatening mountain predators. Or pick any other creature in creation and imagine it as an idividual, from spider to sperm whale.

"When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society." I'm so glad that the human idea that "might is right" is noted by Pope Francis and his encyclical team in paragraph 82. It's a fallacy that has led to immense inequality, injustice and violence against the majority of humanity and many other species since resources are exploited by the wealthiest, the most powerful, or the first on the scene. Of course, "Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, community and peace as proposed by Jesus," who told us not to use power over one another, but to serve one another.

Whenever the "peaceable kingdom" reading from Isaiah 11 comes around in Advent -- you know, the one where the wolf lives with the lamb and the leopard with the goat and a little child shall lead them -- I wonder how it could be possible in our present day that the weak and the strong could serve one another and create heaven on earth. I believe God would have liked to see that from the start, but for the fact that he and she has given us free will and an intellect that seems to us to have put us in charge of everything else, and too many of us chose to use not to increase our sense of community, but to put ourselves above others. Why are we like this?

The main gist of paragraph 83 doesn't surprise me: "All creatures are moving forward with us and through us to a common point of arrival, which is God" -- and we are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator, say the human encyclical writers. Of course, I want to argue with this assertion. Yes, all of creation is called back to God, but we human beings with our big egos are not only leading all creatures back to God -- we are also being led by them, if we allow it. I'm thinking that the ducks in the river at the bottom of the hill are as much a sign of God's action in creation as I am. Their community is just as important as mine, and their gentle way of being together inspires me as I pause and think about where I can be with my loved ones in a gentler way...

I'm not expressing myself very well this morning, but paragraph 84 gives me the opportunity to try again. What I'm trying to say is that each creature has a role to play in the harmony of creation and "Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose." But where I beg to differ, Pope Francis is in my assertion that each creature is as much an image of God as I am! God is not contained only in human beings -- "The entire universe speaks of God's love" and life. We human beings are putting God into a very small box when we forget that all creatures are part of God's image, just as we are. Unfortunately, our intellects generally aren't wide enough to understand that everything that exists is part of God's oneness and goodness, though Saint Francis sang his Canticle of the Creatures from which this encyclical takes its name to try to wake us up to that idea once again.

Paragraph 85 notes that in creation, God has written a precious book, but going back to the beginning of this reflection, I prefer to think of it as a love letter. This idea of God as a lover writing a love letter first hit me as I was working on a novel in which one character says to another,
How many lovers have you had who could woo you with a gorgeous winter sunset like the one we had this evening? How many lovers could create a planet like the one I live on, and give it to me as a free gift? How many lovers could place entire diamond galaxies out in space just for us to marvel at with our dinky little telescopes? And how many lovers could create human love to show us the overarching love behind everything that is?
The Canadian bishops say, "From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine." Everything God made holds a lesson for us -- "for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice." And what is that message?

That we are loved.

In seeing the world's sacredness, created out of God's love, we also find our sacredness, and an encouragement to love creation as God loves it.

In the week ahead, look for God's love letter in your life. Notice where creation is not being properly attended to. But more importantly, if you are able, note down all the places where you see the Creator's action and goodness in your life and in creation. It's our awareness of the latter that inspires us to care more for our world.

I'm going to post my Love Letter List on Friday, and if you want to share yours too, either on the blog or in a personal message, I'd love that!

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #17... It's not just about us