Monday, October 31, 2016

Squash-o-lanterns

I had a good chuckle when I saw the Hallowe'en carving my kids did while my husband and I were out of town visiting my in-laws this weekend. Somehow, the two large "moonface" pumpkins that I harvested from our backyard this fall and set on a box in our furnace room weren't seen or carved. However, the gang did find the five smaller winter squash that I intended to turn into soup. To be fair, winter squash do look like pumpkins, but they have a bump on the bottom that prevents them from sitting as level as a jack-o-lantern should, so we'll have a few off-kilter characters on our steps this evening, hee hee, and tomorrow they'll become yummy squash soup!

Happy Hallowe'en!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Saints and souls


The saints in the orthodox chapel at Taizé
While I'm not really fond of this commercial thing known as Hallowe'en now that my kids are grown, I do appreciate the two hallowed days following... November 1st being All Saints' Day, and November 2nd, All Souls' Day. I love the fact that there are two holy days to cover us all.

Of course most people think of those Capital S Saints who lived exemplary lives and who have been officially declared to reside with God by ecclesial authorities, but I prefer St. Paul's view of saintliness, as he phrases it in Ephesians 2: "...you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God..." In Paul's writings, we are all saints with a small s by virtue of the fact that we are loved by God.

And, of course, every person on the planet has a soul, so November 2nd is for all of us, no matter who we are, what we believe, or how we vote, ha. But it's also a day to remember our loved ones who have died. So the first two days of November are a good time to recall our communion of saints, those who have gone before us and who intercede for us, and to celebrate the fact that we will see them again "in the land of the living," as the Taizé chant below reminds us.

I hope you can find some time to remember the saints and souls who have blessed your life during this week ahead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Something everyone needs to see

It's a low-ceilinged grey day, not quite as cold as the day that killed 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack. He was taken from his family in Northern Ontario to a residential school in Kenora. Imagine what that would be like -- to leave your family, your culture and your language, everything and everyone you know and love because you must be educated. It's still happening here in Canada, not in residential schools any more, but many of our young Aboriginal brothers and sisters must travel to larger centres away from their homes to complete their education.

Chanie Wenjack ran away from school and tried to walk the 600 km home to Ogoki Post through a miserable autumn storm, wearing nothing but a light jacket. His story has recently been retold by two Canadian artists -- Jeff Lemire is an accomplished graphic novelist, and Gord Downie is the lead singer of the Tragically Hip. Gord has terminal cancer, so you could say that this work is a very special project.

The Secret Path tells the story of Chanie Wenjack's attempt to walk home. Jeff Lemire's graphics evoke the cold faced by the child, his thoughts, memories, and deep desire to get home. Gord Downie's music provides the only words to the story. I'm not a fan of the Tragically Hip, but I found the songs deeply moving, a fitting soundtrack to the loneliness and desolation faced by a twelve-year-old on an impossible, body- and soul-chilling journey. Chanie died on October 22, 1966, and this program aired 50 years and one day later as part of Gord Downie's effort to help the healing and reconciliation process begun by our country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The legacy of Canadian Residential Schools has done deep damage to our relationships with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, and healing won't happen until we face the facts and ask forgiveness.

It's a slow-moving film, but definitely one worth watching. For more information about the project, visit the website: http://secretpath.ca/

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 my final train with only four minutes to spare!

They're everywhere, those 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 ecumenical 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 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), Taizé's community leader,
 who tells us about the young brother from Bangladesh being welcomed
into the community at that evening's prayer 
and the brothers' work with L'Arche 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 also 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.