Sunday, April 30, 2017

Surprising grief

Related imageMy friend Ruthie died very early on Easter Sunday morning. I like to think that the Easter celebrations in heaven were irresistible, and she just had to join in. So it is a bitter-sweet Easter season this year, feeling her loss while at the same time knowing that her suffering is turned to joy...

The last two weeks have been full of ups and downs. The first week was all about preparing music for her funeral and wondering about the future of the Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community now that we've lost our priest and friend. The funeral service was really lovely, with a most excellent eulogy given by Ruthie's best friend, and the Emmaus community mass with Ruthie's sister priests presiding the following day was a special time for those of us who celebrated Eucharist with Ruthie these last five years.

We will probably gather again later in May to determine how our small Christian community can move forward without her, and to continue to grieve our loss together. In the meantime, I am always surprised by the ways my own grief wells up at the most unexpected times.

This morning at mass, it happened again, probably because the gospel reading was the story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus... only I found myself walking that road with both Ruthie and Jesus, with them both talking to us about the events of the past days, our love, and our loss. Suddenly the tears were pouring down my cheeks and my husband put his arm around me. I almost sobbed aloud when he handed me a tissue.

It's been a while since I've lost a dear friend, and I'd forgotten how grief can surprise a person. A memory of Ruthie that suddenly returns. A phrase that brings her to mind. A conversation with another friend that reminds me of something Ruthie once said. She was probably the most avid reader of these Simple Moodlings, and always commented, in person, about something she read and enjoyed. But now she's gone, and our community will continue to catch glimpses of her in each other and in things, causes, people that we know she loved.

As much as we miss Ruthie, she is now one with the Christ-stranger on the Emmaus road, the one who walked with the disciples... recognizable in more subtle ways, maybe when we least expect it. At the moment, when I am reminded of her, my eyes fill with tears because I miss her. But give it some time, and it will be easier to keep in mind that she has turned the corner on a road that I am travelling too, just a little way behind her, and these tears will be replaced with a wistful smile.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A revolution of hope and tenderness

Tenderness is the word my best friend and I chose as our focus for 2017, and I'm delighted to see Pope Francis choosing it as a theme for his TED talk, too. He also uses a lot of other words I love, like hope, solidarity and inclusion, and reminds us of the story of the Good Samaritan as a model for each one of us to care for the suffering among us.

"...a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. 
A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you."

"...tenderness is the path of the strongest, most courageous men and women."

There are so many good lines in this TED talk that you might want to listen to the whole thing.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36zrJfAFcuc

If you do nothing else for yourself today, have a listen to this man,
and join the revolution of tenderness!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Simple Suggestion #264... Set yourself an Eco-challenge (or join one)

With Spring upon us and Earth Day just behind us, it's past time to wake up our ecological awareness after a winter of hibernation, or at least that's how I'm feeling these days. Not that I ever give up on trying to reduce my ecological footprint or on saving the planet further problems, just that when the weather improves and nature revives herself in this hemisphere, it's a good time to revisit all the things we can do to live in harmony with her all year round.

The people at Kindspring.org have come up with a 21-day Eco-Footprint Challenge that began on Earth Day.

So far, I'm impressed with their daily schemes for reducing my personal impact on our planet. Though most of the resources they reference come from U.S. based websites, their ideas are definitely applicable to North Americans in general. All world citizens can give a thought to our use of light, to using less energy for the heating or cooling of our homes, to eating in-season food that comes from closer to home, and to supporting local conservation projects (the topics addressed thus far). And for those who like to write, or to share and compare results, there's the option to post stories and read about the efforts of others when it comes to responding to different suggestions and tasks.

It's not hard to join/sign up for Kindspring's daily email that explains each challenge, but even those who don't have time to bother with an online program can make improvements just by say, being more aware of our use of the earth's resources each day. Can we use less water? Walk or bike instead of driving? Have a vegetarian meal? Remember those reusable bags, water bottles, or coffee mugs? Maybe revisit our ecological footprint and see if it's gotten any smaller?

What eco-challenge will you set for yourself today?

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Every Sunday should be Earth Sunday

Some Christian churches have designated the Sunday nearest to Earth Day as Earth Sunday -- and I'm wishing my church was one of them. I know it's the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday too, but I feel like our sister, Mother Earth, needs a lot more attention. Pope Francis tried to wake us up with Laudato Si almost two years ago, but it's almost like his own church didn't even hear him. His encyclical letter to the world about the plight of our planet has hardly made it into our pews yet, and I'm still waiting to hear a homily about it (though I've given a few of my own...)

I know that some churches offer a stewardship prayer, but to me it feels like they're praying more for full collection plates than for us to wake up and act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with the creation God has given us. Couldn't we incorporate the prayer from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home into tomorrow's liturgy? And every liturgy?  Just to get us thinking a little more about how we are treating creation, the poor, the abandoned and the forgotten of our world? It would be a good start... especially if we make the prayer into our action, don't you think?


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Simple Suggestion #263... Consider all living things as neighbours

The City of Edmonton has made a neat little JSYK (Just So You Know) video (below) about "critters," and I just have to share it here, simply because too many of us human beings have removed ourselves so far from nature that we tend to see living things in terms of two categories: "Useful" or "Nuisance." When we come up against a critter that we don't like or that scares us, we quickly forget that every living thing is part of the web of life that supports us all, and in the case of bugs, out come the chemical pesticides (that contain poisons which are increasingly causing disease in our bodies, too...)

Yesterday I noticed a small spider in our greenhouse. I was fascinated to see it tracking a fungus gnat on the window pane, and very surprised when it jumped and caught the gnat for a quick lunch. Because I suspected it would grow into a bigger spider that I wouldn't want to deal with later on, and not wanting to walk through webs in my work space, I caught the little critter in a pail and took it out into the sunshine where it ran and hid in some rocks.

Turns out it was a Zebra Jumping Spider that doesn't grow any larger than it already was, spins webs only as safety lines, and hunts for prey by crawling around. So the little Zebra and I could have happily coexisted in the greenhouse for the most part, at least until she decided to leave an egg sac behind. I don't really want an overpopulation of Zebra Spiders in the greenhouse, but now I may end up with an overpopulation of gnats. Oh well, they're part of the ecosystem too, somehow.


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

Peter Daly, the Biological Sciences Technical Assistant in the video, makes a good point when he says, "Considering the importance of insects in general ecosystems, I'd certainly like to think of them more as friends and neighbours, and helpers, rather than just pests." 

And really, that's a good way to look at all living things on our planet. I just wish Peter had gone one step further to recommend avoiding the chemical pesticides and herbicides that too many of us use to do away with weeds and those insect friends and neighbours. Better to take ecologically friendly approaches...

So today's Simple Suggestion is to notice your neighbours of all shapes and sizes, and to treat them kindly. Definitely don't treat them with poisonous chemicals, and maybe don't put them in your little sister's hair!

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

See, I am near

Christ's Easter message could be something as simple as this:

I am always near
whether you notice or not.
Even when you feel alone
or abandoned,
I am with you.
When you face defeat,
I am facing it with you.
When you aren't sure how to move forward,
my arm is around you, easing you ahead.

I know all about disillusionment,
disappointment,
betrayal,
abandonment,
fear,
pain,
and death.
I've been through them all.

Why?
To show you
that you will come through them too.
You will be alright.
In fact, better than alright.
I promise.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ecumenism on Good Friday

It's been a busier Holy Week than I expected, so I may be too late with sharing this moodling of invitation to my readers to join in our family's more recent Good Friday tradition. We like to attend and participate in ecumenical Good Friday commemorations in our city because Good Friday is one thing all Christians hold in common (along with many other things).

If you are looking for a less denominational way to mark the day we remember Christ's self-giving, I'd like to invite you to two special events tomorrow:

The Outdoor Way of the Cross begins at 10 a.m. at Immigration Hall (100 St and 105A Ave). It's an opportunity for Christians of all denominations (and people of any faith who want to join them) to walk with our inner city brothers and sisters, to reflect on social justice issues, and to sing and pray. It's a very meaningful reflection on Christ's presence in our world today. I just hope the forecasted snow doesn't get in the way!

And the second event is the annual Ecumenical Prayer Around the Cross, held at 7 p.m. at Providence Renewal Centre (address on the banner). It features silence, scripture, and the songs of Taizé. The music is gorgeous and easy to learn, a piece of Luke's gospel will be read in as many languages as we can muster, and the prayer is always from the heart of the gathered community. So if you're looking for some gentle meditative and musical prayer, you're most welcome. Bring a friend, and come sing and pray with us.

Here's a little taste of what we will be praying with tomorrow evening... the last words of Jesus:
In Latin: In manus tuas, Pater, commendo spiritum meum.
In English: Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

He emptied himself

You show us, Lord,
again and again,
that life is about emptying ourselves
to make room for God.

Your equality with God was not what you came to prove.
Your obedience to God
and your unity with all who suffer
show us many ways to empty ourselves
of our self-righteousness and egotism.

You shared an earthly
and heavenly banquet with your friends,
offering yourself (though they didn't understand right away)
and we learn
to give without counting the cost.

You forgave your betrayer
even as he dipped bread in the bowl with you
and we learn
that it's better not to take things too personally.

You loved Peter
in spite of his false bravado and grand promises
and we learn
to accept people as they are and help them find their way.

You prayed and grieved
and received God's will,
and we learn
to let go and trust.

You accepted an unfaithful kiss
and we learn
that those we love sometimes make mistakes they -- and we -- regret.

You rejected armed conflict in your defense
and we learn
that violence is never the answer.

You healed someone you didn't know
and we learn
that in the midst of our own anguish
we can help others.

You kept silent in the face of many accusations
and we learn
that it's not always necessary to defend ourselves.

You endured abuse and torture
and we learn
that you are in all those who suffer.

You died between two criminals
and we learn
that you are closest to those on the margins.

You felt abandoned
and we learn
that ultimately, we are never abandoned.

You gave your spirit to God
and we learn that
that's where our spirits belong.

You were buried in a borrowed tomb,
and we learn
to accept generosity wherever we find it.

Help us, O Christ, to understand,
as you did,
that our lives are not about us.
Help us to empty ourselves, too,
so that God's plan can unfold.

+AMEN.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

More Spring thinking

It's a gorgeous day. 
I should probably plant my sweet peas, 
but I went out and shovelled over my compost pile instead. 
Earliest I've ever been able to do that!


And while I was shovelling,
 I was joined by two lovely little dancers,
 also known as Fire-rim Tortoise Shell butterflies. 
They are among the earliest to appear in Alberta's spring, 
and it seems to be mating season for them.


My camera and I found many things in which I take delight -- 
among them the return of garlic chives,


the survival of the strawberry patch 
in spite of rather poor snow cover this winter,


and my own gardening fingers...


(one of these years I'll figure out a way
to keep the dirt out of my garden gloves!)
But what I'm anticipating most 
are some new residents in my bird house.
They even have their own bath.


Can you tell how much I love spring?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Lazarus you might not know

Image
I have fallen in love with Jean Vanier’s view of the story of the death of Lazarus from the eleventh chapter of John's Gospel (I've borrowed from The Message and the Good News Translation for the version below). When we come to the gospel reading on the fifth Sunday of Lent, I like to close my eyes and see it this way…
A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.” 
We don’t know much at all about Lazarus, other than that he was Mary and Martha’s brother. It is unusual that the two women seem to be the heads of the household and that Lazarus doesn't seem to bear any responsibility for looking out for his unmarried sisters in the patriarchal society of Jesus’ day. There are also no recorded conversations between Lazarus and Jesus, while we know about his conversations with Martha and Mary. For Jean Vanier, founder of the international L'Arche communities for people with and without disabilities, these things could indicate that Lazarus might have been a person with a developmental disability who lived in the care of his sisters.

It's an interesting idea, and one that makes perfect sense to me because of my experiences with family members and friends who have developmental disabilities. They have a knack for gathering special people around them simply by their desire to have friends and by their unconditional love and welcome for everyone they meet. They are unapologetic about needing help, unlike those of us who are able to care for ourselves.

So it’s not hard for me to imagine Lazarus seeing Jesus somewhere in his travels, taking a liking to him, asking him for help to do up his sandal, then inviting him to supper. This vision of Lazarus reminds me of my friend Harry*, who invited a solitary Japanese tourist at a campground to join his L'Arche vacation group for supper (Hiro was so moved by Harry’s openness and hospitality that later he returned to Canada to join our L’Arche community on a permanent basis, and Harry and Hiro are friends to this day).

I imagine that because of Lazarus, Jesus meets Mary and Martha, their brother’s caregivers, who are used to Lazarus bringing home stray dogs and new friends. They all welcome Jesus as if he was an expected dinner guest, and a deep friendship begins -- one that I'm guessing is full of fun, laughter and unconditional love. That’s why, when Lazarus becomes ill, his sisters send word to Jesus. They know that Jesus loves Lazarus, and they trust that their healer friend will help.

But Jesus is held up for a few days because his disciples want him to lay low, afraid after an encounter with some Jews who are accusing him of blasphemy and who might still be carrying stones in their pockets in case they meet Jesus again. So he appeases his disciples, saying that
“This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”
Clearly, Jesus knows things that the disciples, Martha and Mary don’t…
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been buried four days before. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Judeans had come to see Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother's death. 
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died! But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask him for. 
“Your brother will rise to life,” Jesus told her. Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.
Jesus gives Martha a triple-whammy of good news. 1) Lazarus will rise, 2) knowing Jesus himself is life itself, and therefore 3) Martha and anyone who believes in Jesus will also have eternal life! He says:
“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord!” she answered. “I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” After saying this, she went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”  
The moment Mary heard it, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The people who were in the house with Mary comforting her followed her when they saw her get up and hurry out. They thought that she was going to the grave to weep there. 
Mary arrived where Jesus was, and as soon as she saw him, she fell at his feet. “Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” 
Mary is completely at home with Jesus. Her grief at losing Lazarus knocks her to the ground, and she doesn't care if Jesus sees it. She knows that he feels it too. If you've ever lost someone dear to you, you know what it can be like when a friend comes to be with you in your grief...
Jesus saw her weeping, and he saw how the people with her were weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved.  
Jesus wept.
I love that these two words are the shortest verse in the Bible. If Jesus weeps, we all have permission to weep, and more than that, we all need to allow ourselves to grieve. He’s showing us that our human emotions are gifts, too. And if Jesus can weep, in public, every person can do the same no matter their gender, never mind the idea that "Men don't cry."
“See how much he loved him!” the people said. Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” 
In my mind, these are also people who loved Lazarus deeply. Lazarus probably united all the neighbours in Bethany – everyone knew him, and everyone looked out for him – and he looked out for everyone too (like my friend Thomas* does), greeted them all by name every day, smiled at them even when they didn’t smile back, and doled out plenty of hugs. So of course they’re a little miffed that Jesus would heal a blind man and not their beloved friend. And Jesus hears their murmurings and feels the same way about Lazarus as they do.
Deeply moved once more, Jesus went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone placed at the entrance. Martha, the dead man's sister, said, “There will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days!” Jesus said to her, “Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believed?” 
Martha’s heart leaps. Of course she believes in Jesus, who loves her brother so deeply. Anything is possible with that kind of love.
They took the stone away. Jesus looked up and said, “I thank you, Father, that you listen to me.I know that you always listen to me, but I say this for the sake of the people here, so that they will believe that you sent me.” After he had said this, he called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  
He came out, his hands and feet wrapped in grave cloths, and with a cloth around his face. “Unbind him,” Jesus told them, “and let him go.” 
And there stands Lazarus, fumbling with the cloths with one hand, his other had reaching out for his friends, the hugest smile on his face, probably even laughing with delight, as if to say, “I’m so glad you came! This calls for a celebration!”

Jesus healed many people in his short ministry, and could have raised many more people from the dead, but according to John's gospel, Lazarus is the only one. If, as Jean Vanier suggests, Lazarus was a man with a developmental disability, Jesus' attentiveness and love for him tells us a lot about God's special love for people with disabilities of any kind.

And if God loves them so much, it seems we need to allow them more room to bind us together as community, to pay attention to how their weakness calls forth our love, and how their love helps us to admit and accept our own weaknesses. Relationships with persons with disabilities help us to become people who celebrate -- not money, fame, or power, but rather -- every person with our abilities and disabilities. Let's face it, none of us are perfect.

John's gospel tells this amazing story about life and death and life again before we hear about Jesus' death and resurrection. Maybe we've heard this story so many times that it's ceased to be amazing for us. But Jean Vanier's version has helped me to view it in a way that makes all its characters more real to me. My reflection for today is to imagine the celebrations that ensued for Lazarus, the man who called forth so much compassion and joy in Bethany. What an incredible party!

And when we all walk out of our graves to endless life with our loved ones, it will be even moreso!

*I use pseudonyms for my L'Arche friends.