Thursday, November 29, 2012

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

I'm posting this Simple Suggestion from work today because I needed a picture to go with it (I wrote the text last night). I don't usually get into Christmas ideas until we've at least reached Advent (December 1st this year), but I'll share this a bit early because some people have already been calling to ask about our simple Christmas pageant. Others will be able to find it on Google if I moodle about it.

Every year our L'Arche Edmonton community stages the best Christmas pageant ever -- a simple retelling of the birth of Jesus with lots of carolling. It's my favourite Christmas event every year -- seeing our people with and without disabilities working together to perform a Christmas play that is always touching and unique. The picture above is last year's -- two of our core members as Mary and Joseph, and the mom of "baby Jesus" settling him into the arms of a delighted Mary, who cooed and cuddled and kept him happy until his twin brother took a turn. As I think back on the pageants I've attended, I remember the different people and the specialness they brought to the roles of holy family, shepherds, kings, angels and inkeepers... and for me, it just wouldn't be Christmas without everyone singing Silent Night in as many different languages as our community holds.

So if you're in the neighbourhood on December 17th, you're invited to come to St. Thomas D'Aquin Catholic Church (8410 89 Street in Edmonton) at 7 p.m. for possibly the most Christmassy hour or two you'll ever spend. Bring a friend or three, a little non-perishable something for the Food Bank, and a few dollars in case you feel like buying a craft from our Day Program Craft Sale. All are welcome!

And if you don't live nearby, watch your local papers, community announcements or school notice boards and enjoy a Christmas pageant in your area. In a world where radio and TV stations only seem to play "holiday tunes" and "seasonal specials," it's a treat to hear real Christmas carols and watch a real Christmas play unfold before your eyes... I can't wait!

In the words of Jean Vanier:
I like this time of Christmas. God becomes flesh. He becomes small to teach us to love and to be open to those who are suffering and who are in difficulty....
-- Letter from Jean Vanier, January 2010 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The littlest library

Almost two weeks ago, one of my Master Composter/Recycler friends posted a picture on Facebook of a tiny outdoor library. Another MC/R friend commented that he'd heard there was one like it near a little grocery store just a fifteen minute walk from my place. Intrigued, I announced that I would find it and post a picture.

It was a chilly day last Thursday, but I needed a little fresh air and exercise, so I stuck my camera in my coat pocket and headed for the store, which is on the corner of 95th Avenue and 92nd Street. I took a snowy stroll down Strathearn Drive to check out the cityscape, and hung a left. I had the idea that what I was seeking was behind the shop, but actually, it's right out front between the grocery story and the Massage Therapy Supply Outlet. Can you see it? I almost missed it because of the Strathearn Community League's community notice board beside it, another house-shaped box that isn't nearly so fancy or brightly coloured.

The lady in the grocery didn't seem to know much about the library, other than where it was, so I stepped into the MTSO and explained my picture taking errand. I must say, it smelled great in there (massage oils, perhaps?)... and the staff were very nice. They tried to track down the shop's owner to come and talk with me, but Joe is not the kind of guy who will answer a cell phone while driving, kudos to him!

Joe's partner, Vera, was in the building, however, and was very happy to show me his "pride and joy."

 It's an adorable cabinet with a glass window, and cute stone trim around the bottom.
There weren't too many books in the library yet, but they were well arranged. 
Vera showed me some "new" second-hand children's titles laying 
in the bottom so little ones can reach them.

Vera also told me that she's in the process of building her very own little library, possibly the second or third in Edmonton (depending on whether she or another gal at MTSO finish building first). Vera's will be fabricated of completely recycled materials -- she has an old piece of Ikea bookshelf that now has a roof with real recycled shingles, she said.

I just love it when people come up with creative ideas for redistributing wealth -- in this case, books. It's great that these titles aren't in the landfill, but are available to anyone who might be interested in them. It's little deeds like this that improve the happiness quotient in our communities, and preserve some of our planet's beauty. A beauty worth preserving, I'd say.

November 30th: Turns out the Little Free Library is a movement. See the link and Anna's comment below!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A favourite piece of video for a Sunday

I've already moodled about how I love Alice Walker's writing... but I somehow missed sharing this little video clip from The Color Purple. 25 years ago, my castmates and I sang "Maybe God is Tryin' to Tell You Somethin'" in our Up With People show, and it was one of my many favourite moments -- such a lively piece with such a great message, and so much fun to sing and clap while the dancers brought it to life. Francis or Lisa's lead vocals never failed to give me goosebumps!

If you've never seen The Color Purple, I'd highly recommend it. In this scene, Shug Avery and her preacher daddy share a wonderful reconciliation. It also softens Albert's heart... Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

They've got me...

This morning, I wanted to post a little story about an adorable tiny library I discovered in my own neck of the woods... but when I tried to add pictures to my moodling, Blogger announced that my 1 GB of free photo space is full. I know that I post a lot of pictures, so I wasn't surprised by that.

What surprises me is Blogger's packages to buy more space -- and how little information there is about other options. I mean, what if I delete posts in my archives? Will that give me more space? Or perhaps I should start a new blog, simplemoodlings2, and get another GB of free space there (and lose some of my faithful followers in the process?) I'm not crazy about giving Google my credit card number.

This is a bit of a conundrum. Anyone else out there have any ideas? If so, leave me a note. I'll figure something out... but for the moment, the pictures of "Edmonton's First Little Free Library" will have to wait.

I'll keep you posted. Pun intended.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Simple Suggestion #145... Celebrate "Buy Nothing Day" all year round

Buy Nothing Day finally seems to be coming into its own. This year, the people who brought us The Story of Stuff videos have jumped on the bandwagon, encouraging folks to opt out of Black Friday, which falls on November 23rd this year.

Statistically speaking, the Friday after American Thanksgiving is one of North America's biggest shopping days of the year. With Thanksgiving feasting behind them, I guess our Southern neighbours push away from the turkey table and head for the malls to get in on the huge Black Friday bargain sales that signal the start of Christmas shopping. The day has been dubbed "Black Friday" because for some companies, it's the day that they leave behind the red ink in their yearly ledgers.

It is also a black day because in recent years, people have been trampled to death in their attempts to be first to get to the bargains offered by some big box stores. Here's a sad but true video to show you a bit of the insanity, in case you've missed it. It doesn't actually show people being trampled, but it's definitely not humanity's proudest moment. Don't feel that you have to watch.

Of course, there is a much better way. In 1992, a Vancouver artist named Ted Dave decided to see what he could do to subvert consumerism. He made up posters and organized the first Buy Nothing Day to offer society a chance to examine the issue of over-consumption. Since then, it has become something of an event in many places, and was adopted by Adbusters, a not-for-profit, anti-consumerist foundation that engages in consciouness raising efforts. Their website used to post a page promoting Buy Nothing Day meet ups, where members creatively disrupt shopping activities in an effort to get people to think about their consumer habits (for example, Whirl-Mart: Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a shopping mall or store in a long, baffling conga line without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases. Just the idea makes me giggle!) The whole idea is to encourage people to "unshop, unspend and unwind" rather than get caught up in excessive consumption.

In Canada, Black Friday isn't a day-off during a long weekend, so the idea of starting Christmas shopping isn't very realistic for a lot of us. Canadian companies are trying to encourage Black Friday style shopping by offering special sales (I heard this morning that West Edmonton Mall, the local temple of opulence is trying to do Black Friday in a big way this week), but it has yet to really catch on.

Even so, I avoid shopping on Buy Nothing weekend simply because I love rebelling against the consumer machine. We just don't need a lot of stuff, and because we believe that excess just complicates life, our family celebrates Buy Nothing Day most days of the year. For the most part, we shop for what we need and call it good. And that's certainly better for us, for our planet, and for the rest of its inhabitants. If you think about it, a lot of the reason for Global Climate Change has to do with our obsession with the stuff we associate with "the good life," and the energy it takes to manufacture and transport that stuff all over the planet. But if I really want to have a good life, I need my planet to be healthy. And the fewer objects I have to clean, maintain, organize and repair, the more time I have to do what really makes me happy!

When my parents were small, Christmas was about family, friendship, food, drink, and celebration. Maybe they got a special surprise like a Christmas orange or a peppermint stick, but presents weren't the point of the celebrations. These days, it's really great to see that there are a lot of people trying to go back to that kind of Christmas. The Buy Nothing Christmas folks have put up a neat website to encourage simplicity rather than over-the-top, exhausting insanity that makes us all cranky and miserable right into the month of January when the bills arrive. I get a charge out of the Buy Nothing Christmas posters (that you can print off for free if you want to get people thinking).

Facing facts, we don't HAVE TO buy anything for Christmas. Presents aren't essential to celebration. But if you feel they are, why not give some "experiences" to your friends? A concert ticket, a canoe trip, a long walk, a basket of preserves, fair trade chocolate? A dinner out, with good conversation?

What are you doing on Buy Nothing Day this year? It's tempting to visit West Ed Mall and spread a few posters around... but I think I'll avoid that insanity, and just unwind instead.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy 40th Anniversary, L'Arche Edmonton!

It's very late (for me) and I'm pleasantly exhausted after a wonderful anniversary celebration for our L'Arche Community's 40th anniversary. People from all 40 years of our community's existence came together this evening to reminisce, dance, sing, honour one another and celebrate a very inclusive group of people with and without disabilities. It was marvelous!

I'd love to post my video of everyone grooving to African/Celtic Fusion music by Wajo! but I can't really do that without permission from the people I filmed. So instead, I'll leave you with a message from the man who inspired our community's founders to open the first Western Canadian L'Arche home in Sherwood Park in December of 1972.

Jean Vanier recorded this little piece to encourage young people across Canada at WE Day to think bigger than themselves, and to reach out to do things to make the world a better place... just like L'Arche Edmonton has made the world a better place. Happy Sunday, and Happy 40th Anniversary, L'Arche Edmonton!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The beauty of L'Arche

This weekend, on Saturday, our L'Arche community here in Edmonton is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Just eight years after Jean Vanier started the first foyer of L'Arche in Trosly, France, a couple in Sherwood Park followed his lead. They bought a duplex in Sherwood Park, christened it Shalom House, and invited four assistants and one core member with developmental disabilities to make it their home. 40 years later, there are six homes and a Day Program for our community, which includes more than 20 core members, and assistants from across the globe.

Now that I think about it, I grew up with L'Arche. When my family arrived in Edmonton in 1974, we met some of the first community members at our church. I witnessed the assistants and the core members going shopping together, participating in parish picnics, and especially, enjoying music at mass by dancing in the pews. They always seemed to be happy!

During my university years, I worked at group homes run by Resources for Dependently Handicapped (RDH). It was while I was there that I learned about the beauty of L'Arche. One of the fellows I worked with had been an assistant at L'Arche, and he pointed out the difference between institutional group homes modelled on L'Arche, and the real thing; the difference between L'Arche assistants who share life with core members, and group home staff who work shifts with clients. That's when I decided that I wanted to work for L'Arche.

Of course, life took me in other directions -- until three years ago, when my friend who is now the L'Arche Community Leader asked if I would mind helping her out part-time with filing, typing, and whatever other odd jobs she might need done. The job bonuses are plenty -- sharing a little bit of my life with the community, working with a wonderful admin team, kibbitzing with the core members who come to the community centre for our Day Program, and feeling like I've found another home.

Yesterday, I was at the other Maria's desk making a phone call (there are two of us Marias sharing the same office) when Thomas came into the room.

"You taking Maria's job?" he asked. I nodded, in the middle of ordering anniversary cake. "Then I take your job," he said, gleefully settling into my chair.

I shook my finger at him and finished my call, then went over to shoo him away from my desk.

"Unh-uh, my job now," he teased.

"Okay," I said. "You work hard. I'm going to get a cup of tea."

I returned four minutes later, and he was still sitting there, smiling like the Cheshire cat. "My job now," he said again.

"Okay, Thomas, then I'll have to sit on your knee to get my computer work done."

He didn't budge, so I half-sat on his knee, and said, "Owww, Thomas, you're a hard chair. Too lumpy!"

He laughed, but didn't move until I told him that I had a real job for him, and got him to do a little bit of "decorating work" for the anniversary celebration.

The thing about L'Arche, its real beauty, is in the relationships between community members. In the early days of L'Arche Edmonton, the founders took the view that they had to save people with developmental disabilities from the misery of institutional life. But over time, many of us involved with L'Arche have come to see that it's the people with disabilities who save the rest of us from thinking ourselves indispensable, from being self-centred, and from taking ourselves too seriously. They help us to realize that while we all have our burdens to carry, none of us need to be perfect, but all of us need to be loved. As our founder says,
If at L'Arche we no longer live with the poor and the broken and celebrate life with them, we as a community will die; we will be cut off from the source of life. 
They nourish us and heal our wounds daily. They call forth the light and the love within us.
--Jean Vanier,  Community and Growth, p. 186.
At L'Arche, we have much to celebrate! Happy 40th Anniversary, my dear friends!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Re-moodling: Simple Suggestion #112... Try winter composting

I've never been a huge fan of re-runs, and I promise I won't be recycling my ideas very often in this space. But now that winter has definitely arrived where I live, I'm thinking it's probably a good idea to re-moodle about winter composting, seeing as I sort of missed the boat last year by posting Simple Suggestion #112 in mid-February, when winter was on the decline. Winter composting isn't any more work than composting the rest of the year, really. In fact, it's probably less work, because if you can put your organic waste outside in a cold climate, you don't really have to do the work until spring! What follows is a re-run, but one worth considering:

Simple Suggestion #112... Try winter composting 
(Thursday, February 16, 2012)

I really should have moodled about this back in October, but didn't think of it until a few weeks ago, because of a conversation with my neighbour. He was cutting my hair, and he mentioned that he had saved a few bags of autumn leaves for me and my composting efforts. We got into a discussion about how I planned to add them to my compost pile because composting actually requires five to twenty times more "browns" (carbon material like dry leaves) than "greens" (higher nitrogen kitchen peelings, etc.), and he said, "but you won't be composting until spring, will you?"

He was very surprised when I started talking about winter composting, because he didn't realize it could be done. I explained that in our cold climate it's just fine to toss our kitchen scraps out on the compost pile because they usually just freeze solid until spring.

If the pile starts to get a bit smelly as it melts, I just add leaves on top as a bit of a "fragrance filter," but it's not usually an issue before it really warms up and I have a chance to get out and start stirring more leaves into the mess.

I also told my neighbour about folks I know who keep a plastic-lined garbage can near their back doors for fruit and veggie scraps.

They just keep piling the scraps in there through the winter, and in the spring they have a soupy mess to pour into their compost bin with leaves and other fall yard waste. The freezing and thawing actually makes the kitchen waste break down more quickly, and they get compost a lot sooner. My neighbour sounded interested in trying his own winter composting, so I might not get my bags of leaves from him in the spring. But that's okay. I'm a leaf thief, and I have lots stored up already...

For unsqueamish people, there's also another way to winter compost, involving a few friends imported from the Carolinas. In our basement, we have a condominium for red wiggler worms, all very neat and well contained.

Most of the time, we forget they're there, but every couple of weeks, they're happy to receive our kitchen waste, and they turn it into the best compost you can imagine. They don't require a lot of effort, and they're not even that gross!

I spent a little time with them this afternoon, giving them carrot peel and kiwi skin snacks to keep them happy. I line the bins up in a row, make a little space for the kitchen scraps, and cover them over with compost again. Voila, waste taken care of in a couple of weeks by hungry red wigglers.

Before I put the lids back on the worm bins, I always tuck them in with a sheet of newspaper. That way, if there are any fruit flies among my banana peels, their life cycle is cut short because they can't get past the newspaper. Works like magic! The far bin is already tucked in, as you can see.

Those are my two ways to compost during the winter. In the spring, my garden benefits from all the work my composter and red wigglers have done over the winter... and during the winter, my houseplants are happy when I put a bit of vermicompost into their drinking water (1 tbsp/litre). It's like a vitamin booster for plants.

Soil gives us so much fantastic food... and composting, winter and summer, is my way to give something back so good things can keep growing.

Any questions? Just ask.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday prayers for peace

Today is the anniversary of the end of the First World War, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. In Canada, we call it Remembrance Day. When I was growing up, it was all about reciting "In Flanders Fields," watching old soldiers march or wheel past with medals decorating their chests, and imagining life in the trenches long before my generation of Canadians was born. But now, it's about so much more, with many peacekeeping missions in the last 40 years and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All present generations are affected by these wars, even though our country hasn't felt the full brunt of armed conflict within its boundaries for hundreds of years. Knowing people involved in or touched by war affects us all.

One evening two summers ago, when I pulled up to a parking booth, the attendant gave me my ticket with the comment, "be sure to enjoy your life today." I thanked her, and as there was no one else around, asked the reason behind her comment. Her eyes filled, she thanked me for asking, and she told me about her son, who had been killed in Afghanistan. The tears poured down her cheeks as she shared about Sgt. George Miok, a junior high school teacher who had volunteered for the reserves, and how she was heartbroken when he never returned. It turns out that our school Vice Principal knew George, and was on staff at St. Cecilia's with him, and when this letter arrived at the school. It makes George almost as real to me as his mom's tears did. And now there are so many stories like hers.

Today, I'm also thinking in particular about my friends from Syria, whose country is embroiled in a terrible civil war that is being fed by outsiders and nations who often don't even know the people who are affected by their illegal arms shipments and political sanctions. Today, around the world, many words will be spoken about peace as an ideal for which we strive. But peace has to be more than an ideal in Syria and other places like it for the sake of those who live there, and for their families far away. Peace needs to be a reality. As Jean Vanier says on page 34 of his book, Community and Growth,
The ideal doesn't exist. The personal equilibrium and the harmony people dream of come only after years and years of struggle, and then only as flashes of grace and peace. Peace is the fruit of love and service to others. I'd like to tell the people in communities, "Stop looking for peace. Give yourselves where you are. Stop looking at yourselves, look instead at your brothers and sisters in need. Ask how you can better love your brothers and sisters. Then you will find peace."
He's right, especially on this Remembrance Day. There are far more losers than winners in any war. But if everyone on this planet thought of everyone as a brother or sister, and gave to those in need, everyone would win.

Tonight, our Taize Prayer service at St. Luke's Anglican Church will be for peace. Dona la pace, Signore. Give us peace, O God, we who trust in you. And make us servants of your peace. Amen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Simple Suggestion #144... Clear out your seasonal clothes closet

That's what I did yesterday. I keep my small personal closet space well managed, but in the corner of our basement rec room is a little closet where we hang seasonal clothes. Summer coats in the winter, and winter coats in the summer. The problem is those items that get hung there and never looked at again because they've been outgrown or abandoned. With winter's heavy duty arrival in the form of a major snowstorm that snarled traffic for hours yesterday, I made the most of my time at home by going through that closet and removing winter wear that hasn't been worn for a while.

It's only too easy to forget about what's in the back of our closets, but it's kind of silly to keep those things that have been ignored for more than a full circle of seasons, especially when my homeless friends who visit the clothing room looking for gently-used, clean, dry winter wear can use them. As a result of yesterday's efforts, I have a couple of bags full of coats, snowpants, scarves and boots that I'll send to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's clothing room. Why store perfectly good clothing that I don't need when I can give it to people who will gladly reuse it?

Today's Simple Suggestion has two benefits, the first being the most important: my homeless friends have good things to keep them warm, and the empty space in the closet gives my clutter-hating psyche more room to breathe.
There, that's better!
Do you have some winter clothes you can give away?

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Simplicity Study Circles -- rescheduled

We're being walloped by winter today. I'm glad this snowstorm arrived after last night's Simplify Christmas workshop at Strathcona County Public Library. I was afraid that people might stay home to watch the U.S. election results come in, but most of the participants who signed up came, and we had a good evening together. At the end, I did a little plug for the Simplicity Study Circles starting up at Newton Community League this month, not realizing that the schedule of evenings needed to be adjusted at Newton's end. After speaking with Sonia this morning, and fixing up the schedule, I decided I'd better repost it. So if you were thinking about coming, please note that the first session will be on November 27th, not the 13th as previously advertised. If you're able to join us, that would be great! Hopefully the weather will cooperate for that evening, too.

Do the stresses and excesses of life get you down?
Are you looking for ways to slow down and simplify?

Join us for Simplicity Study Circles!

Come and see what it’s all about!
First session “Exploring Simplicity” on
Tuesday, November 27th, 7-9 p.m.

Newton Community League Hall, 5520-121 Ave
 (10 sessions for $35, workbook included)

To register, email Maria (under profile on sidebar).

Topics include:

Simplicity and Personal Growth (Dec. 11th)
·        The Best Things in Life (Jan. 8th)
·        Simplicity: The First “R” (Jan. 22nd)
·        Simplicity and Diet (Feb. 12th )
·        Time Check-up: “Ideal Day” (Feb. 26th)
·        Simplicity and Community (Mar. 12th)
·        Money Check-up and Exploring Definitions of Enough (Mar. 26th)
·        De-junking Your Life (Apr. 9th)
·        De-junking Mind and Heart (Apr. 23rd)

Open to ALL City Community League Members

Facilitated by Maria, Master Composter/Recycler & Practitioner of Voluntary Simplicity,
& Sonia, Chairperson, Newton Community Revitalization Initiative (NCRI) & Voluntary Simplicity Advocate
See how wintry my garden looks today?! My daughter ended up walking a lot of the way to work downtown when her bus got stuck. These folks might have made it to work faster by walking too (and they'd have saved the planet hours of carbon emissions)! I spoke to a lady in that lineup, and she had been stuck on 98th Avenue for an hour already. It was ten a.m., and nothing was moving. A true snow day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Soy milk and me

I like soy milk, or at least I used to. I started drinking it in an effort to cut down my consumption of animal products, and both the thought of drinking something organic and the flavour of it pleased me. Not that I drank a lot. One glass before bed, usually, as my calcium to give me a good sleep. The fact that soy milk also contains isoflavones that might help with symptoms of peri-menopause (yes, I'm getting to that stage in my life) and possibly reduces the risks of certain kinds of cancers could only be of benefit, right?

But then my friend Judith dropped a comment one day about the fact that soy milk contains the wrong kinds of chemicals to be of any real help for peri-menopause, and that she stays away from it. So I went online and started to look at some of the claims about the product, which led me to wonder about the fact that I had been suffering some rather serious night sweats. You know, the kind that drenched my pajamas AND the bed, causing me to get up and change clothing, sometimes twice a night.

So I decided to try an experiment. When I ran out of soy milk, I didn't buy another carton. And I haven't bought one since then, because the night sweats stopped. Just like that.

I'm not saying that soy milk causes night sweats, but I'm pretty sure it did for me. Why my body can't handle soy milk, I'll probably never know. But I share this information, because perhaps others have been having night sweats that they can't explain, and if they tinker with their diets a little, they can figure out why. I still enjoy soy dishes, and soy beans, but my life is much better without the milk. 

It's great to sleep through the night, warm and dry! 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Mom, why can't women be priests?" Part II

(Click here for Part I.)

This life is an interesting journey, to be sure...

On a recent Sunday morning, I woke up to an interview of Toronto's Cardinal Archbishop Thomas Collins on CBC radio. He was talking to Michael Enright in connection with the 50th anniversary of the second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church. Michael asked Archbishop Collins about the ordination of women, and his reply was that the church cannot change the male priesthood that was instituted by Christ. And I replied, aloud, “where exactly in scripture did Jesus say that only men could offer the Eucharistic meal and that women aren’t allowed to participate as fully in the priesthood as men? And why do you cling to man-made laws over justice and equality for Jesus’ female followers, who hear God’s call just as clearly as men do?” I'm sure I reacted that way because I know a few of those female followers personally, women who feel they are unable to live their vocation because the Catholic Church won't allow it.

Cardinal Collins’ interview was an interesting start to a day that we had planned, as a family, to go to Ruth’s house for eucharist. I’ve known Ruth for almost 30 years, ever since we both worked at a Catholic youth summer camp, but I had lost touch with her until recently, when I learned (by a series of what a friend of mine likes to call “God-incidents”) that Ruth was ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest this past spring. I contacted her, and after some thought and prayer and a few emails back and forth, I finally asked my family what they would think about attending a mass with a woman presider. Without exception, they were all VERY interested, so we let Ruth know we were coming, and off we went.

I know that this moodling will ruffle some feathers (if it hasn't already), but I risk sharing these reflections here because, for me, silent acquiescence to a male-only priesthood feels like a perpetuation of injustice. Over the last few weeks, I've discovered that ruffling a few feathers on this topic brings about interesting discussions and new awareness. Maybe, just maybe, those things can help to bring about the ever-dreaded but often-needed event known as change.

When we arrived at Ruth’s house that Sunday, we were greeted at the door by some of Ruth's community. After introductions all around, we and two others who had never been there before were invited into the living room, where the kitchen table was surrounded by living room furniture and a few strategically placed kitchen chairs. There were duotangs containing the prayers of the liturgy, in which God was God, Source of all Being, Father and Mother God, and tender-God, a name with a double meaning that I really like. Readings were passed out among the group, we had a short music practice of a couple of less familiar hymns, and we began the liturgy in the name of God, Source of all Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit. Throughout the celebration, God was transcendently Great and Glorious and Triune, but also close and loving and intimate.

The penitential rite and prayers were less formalistic versions of what we usually hear on a Sunday at our church, with beautiful, evocative imagery. After we heard the scriptures, Ruth began the homily with her own reflections about the story of the Rich Young Man and the other readings, and then invited the gathered community’s reflections. For my husband, this felt more like a bible study than a homily, but our girls were most attentive and interested in the sharing of ideas, one of them expressing her own thoughts. Our youngest said she heard every word of that homily. When I quiz her about homilies from the pulpit at our church, her usual response is a blank-eyed shrug.

The Eucharistic prayer was simple and covered all the usual bases, with no over-emphasis on the masculinity of God. Not having God stuck in male pronouns was refreshing (but no worries, Jesus was definitely male). It was also amazing to hear Ruth pray for our bishops Richard, Gregory and Marie. At that point a tear trickled down my cheek, and I found myself praying that the fullness of humanity could be represented both in the clergy and throughout the liturgy, male and female, simply and without fanfare. A missing piece clicked into place.

We sang no acclamations but the Alleluia and the Holy, but other than that, the mass proceeded as usual until the prayer of Jesus, which began, “Our Mother-Father God, who art in heaven...“and ended, “For the Kin-dom, the power, and the glory are yours...” Ruth broke the bread and offered the plate/patten to the person next to her, saying, “The Body of Christ,” and it was passed from person to person that way, as was the wine. Ruth received communion last of all, a much different model than the one offered by the Catholic Church at present.

After communion, we reflected quietly for a few moments and prayed for peace in the Middle East. The closing prayer concluded with, "The mass is ended. Let your service begin!" We sang River of Glory, and were invited to enjoy coffee and snacks in the kitchen. The cats were allowed out of their bedroom exile, and our girls enjoyed making friends with them while we got to know the other adults.

The mass in Ruth’s living room was simple and beautiful, and there was a warm sense of community among the dozen of us who hardly knew each other at the start. I’m sure Jesus was there among us, and present in the bread and wine consecrated by the Holy Spirit and Ruth, yet at the same time, I felt Rome breathing down my neck, saying, “WE HAVE NOT SANCTIONED THIS. HOW DARE YOU GO AGAINST MOTHER CHURCH!”

It reminded me of the disciples running to Jesus and saying, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us” (Mark 9.38) -- just change the pronoun's gender.

Ugh. If it wasn’t for Rome's rules, it would have been a perfect day.

Our daughters enjoyed the experience of mass at Ruth’s, and told Ruth herself that they look forward to return visits. They don’t have their parents’ hesitations and hang ups when it comes to stepping outside of the boundaries set by Rome. My own struggle is not with the idea of women presiding – it’s that so far, the Holy Spirit hasn’t nudged the hierarchy to give Roman Catholic Women Priests full stature in the Church. The Church seems to be going the other way entirely, putting women's ordination on par with pedophilia as a grave sin (I wish it weren't so, but here's a link to a Time Magazine article.) Simply by the fact of her ordination, Ruth has suffered the Church's worst punishment -- being excommunicated -- even though she can trace apostolic succession right back to Christ through the laying on of hands, just like any other priest. But she clearly loves the Church, prays for it, and does what she does because of her love and her desire that it come to fullness in Christ. She IS faithful to the Catholic Church and has been all her life -- the only part of the pope’s teachings that she ignores is where it says that only men can be priests.

The more I think and study and pray and learn, the more I understand that Jesus didn't set out to be the founder of Catholicism, or even Christianity... those things just happened on their own (with some help from the Holy Spirit, whose true intentions are rarely fully followed by we imperfect human beings with our very human biases). That God loves us and wants relationship with us is what Jesus came to show us. Unfortunately, his followers make church about power and authority too much of the time. But as Henri Nouwen says in my Bread for the Journey daily reflections book on October 26th,
There is such an enormous hunger for meaning in life, for comfort and consolation, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for restoration and healing, that anyone who has any authority in the Church should constantly be reminded that the best word to characterize religious authority is compassion. Let's keep looking at Jesus whose authority was expressed in compassion.
I suspect that very compassion would rule out sexism if Jesus had his way. Sexism is an ugly thing wherever we find it in our world, and not, I'm convinced, what Jesus intended. Most of the other Christian churches have recognized this and made necessary changes already. I can't help but think how much richer the Catholic Church would be if everyone who discerns a true calling from God could share their priestly gifts within Christian community! As Ruth is doing. We certainly wouldn't be facing a shortage of time-pressured priests that forces our faith into mega-churches; rather, we would have a wealth of men and women connecting with a world of people hungry for God -- and I'm guessing that most people can find God more easily in intimate Christian communities than in a huge crowd of strangers.

As much as I loved mass at Ruth’s house, I won't turn my back on my little parish community, though I am praying that God’s calling of women to the priesthood in the Catholic Church will soon be as fully recognized as men’s vocations are. I'm delighted to see Ruth quietly answering God's call and living her vocation in her own way, even if it makes her persona non grata in the eyes of the hierarchy. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work gently through the Roman Catholic Women Priests, and that it won't be long before they are called back into the arms of Rome, because when that happens, I think the Church will become much more welcoming and less narrow-minded -- it will become fully inclusive, and create a greater sense of community in the world through its wide compassion.

I was a little concerned that mass with a woman presiding would feel like “playing church,” but that wasn’t the case at all, and I am sure we will join Ruth again from time to time. Eucharist at Ruth’s was a simple, beautiful, and deep experience of God's love, and I came away wondering, for the second time that day, “what is the magisterium so afraid of?” But I suspect the real question is, “Is this the Holy Spirit’s quiet and gentle way of bringing about change, a few hearts at a time?”
God of Conscience, God of Courage, give us whatever grace we need to work for the coming of the reign of God now, here and always. Amen.
-From a prayer by Joan Chittister

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Simple Suggestion #143... Give a thought to your garbage guys and gals

When we got home from Jasper on the weekend, I noticed a line of garbage bags along my neighbour's back fence... autumn leaves from her yard clean up, which I promptly "borrowed" for my compost pile. As I lugged six bags to my storage area beside our garage, I decided that this week would be a good time to post this suggestion, which, I admit, is mostly for city dwellers, or towns where garbage is collected by people in waste management services.

Our garbage collectors work really hard, and their work often takes serious tolls on their bodies. But if ordinary citizens like you and me think about what we can do to make their jobs safer, no one gets hurt and everyone wins. So here's a quick list of things to keep in mind that can make life a lot better for your garbage guys:

1. Ensure easy access to your garbage area. If in an alleyway, keep the path between truck and cans clear. If on a street, try to keep vehicles parked away from collection points.

2. Make sure your cans have fixed handles. Moving handles can wrench wrists.

3. Stationary cans (without wheels) are less likely to cause back injuries.

4. Keeping bags under 40 lbs (20 kg) also saves backs.

5. Sharp things should be packaged in a way that they can't cut collectors. Put broken glass and other sharp items into labelled, puncture-proof boxes or containers.

6. Grasscycle and compost if you can. The guys really don't mind picking up FEWER grass clippings and leaves.

Here's a great little 4 minute video that tells you everything your garbage collector wants you to know. And even if your area doesn't have garbage collectors, giving some thought to your garbage now and then is good for the planet... but that's another moodling for another day.