Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wisdom, Truth and Reconciliation (Day 4): Remembering the Children

There's another full day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission today. Events can be found by clicking here. This evening around 6 p.m. there will be a gathering of people at the Shaw Conference Centre who will walk in solidarity (as I understand it) to the Alberta Legislature to wrap up the TRC. All are welcome.

For today, I close with the prayer with which our volunteer training began on Thursday morning, which I think originated with Anglican Church leaders on the 2008 Remembering the Children tour across Canada....

Remembering the Children

God of our Ancestors,
who holds the spirits of our grandmothers and grandfathers
and the spirits of our grandchildren,
Remembering the Children,
we now pledge ourselves to speak the Truth,
and with our hearts and our souls
to act upon the Truth we have heard
of the injustices lived,
of the sufferings inflicted,
of the tears cried,
of the misguided intentions imposed,
and of the power of prejudice and racism
which were allowed to smother the sounds and laughter of
the forgotten children.
Hear our cries of lament
for what was allowed to happen,
and for what will never be.
In speaking and hearing and acting upon the Truth
may we as individuals and as a nation
 meet the hope of a new beginning.
Great Creator God
 who desires that all creation live in harmony and peace,
Remembering the Children
we dare to dream of a Path of Reconciliation
where apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart
and the chance of restoring the circle,
where justice walks with all,
where respect leads to true partnership,
where the power to change comes from each heart.
Hear our prayer of hope,
and guide this country of Canada
on a new and different path.

Click here to see Day 1...
Click here to see Day 2...
Click here to see Day 3...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wisdom, Truth and Reconciliation (Day 3)

Day 3 was my day to volunteer, so I didn't get to listen to very many sessions. But there were experiences worth remembering...

... a man whose painful past made many of us cry... and add our tissues to the collection for the sacred fire...

... a woman who said, "I forgive my abusers, not because they deserve my forgiveness, but because I deserve to be free of the pain and hatred. I am free!...

... Terry Lusty, whose poems I appreciated yesterday, telling me that once he became a teacher, he taught in a First Nations school that burned down, and it was forced to relocate to an old Residential School... he never thought he'd have to enter a Residential School again, and here he had to teach in one. It must have been difficult beyond imagining... I wish I had asked him how it was for him...

... two women chuckling at class pictures they found in the archives (where I was volunteering) over the expressions on their faces, and the faces of their friends...

... looking around the tables at the archives area where so many people were poring over photo albums and feeling it was, in a way, like a big family reunion... except for the pain...

Click here to see Day 1...
Click here to see Day 2...
Click here to see Day 4...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wisdom, Truth and Reconciliation (Day 2)

Today's moodlings from the Truth and Reconciliation commission...

... how beautifully our First Nations sisters and brothers lead prayer... rather than imposing their words, they invite everyone gathered to pray, and then stand away from the microphone to talk to Creator for a moment in their own language, allowing all to do the same...

... on a survivor's wall... "I am 72 years old, and still hurting. I need help"...
Another survivor wrote: "Don't just say sorry. You's also need to ask us for forgiveness"...

... the story of a young boy who was called ugly by the authorities at his residential school, and the abuse he suffered not only at their hands, but at the hands of other children who scapegoated him, though he was one of them. Imagine being 8 years old and forced to wade through the 3-hole lavatory pit in search of a handkerchief that a nun insisted you had used as toilet paper, though you knew full well that someone had stolen it from you...

... Emcee Stan Wesley leading the crowd in stomping our feet to make it sound like a herd of buffalo running through the convention hall, out the doors and down the river valley...

... the prayer by First Nations poet Terry Lusty that appears in today's Edmonton Sun newspaper...

... the story of a young girl whose 13-year-old brother was beaten to death by a nun. Now a woman in her seventies, his sister just wanted his story, and his name to be known. Michael Antoine...

... the story of another young boy who had hated and wanted to kill an abusive priest for over 50 years, but upon meeting his abuser at a funeral, the survivor apologized for his hatred instead, and realized that he was further along the road to reconciliation than the perpetrator of his abuse...

... the taped voice of a cancer-ridden and dying Jack Layton, former NDP leader of Canada, sharing the story of how his grandparents only survived their first winter in Canada through the kindness of New Brunswick Mi'kmaq  people living nearby who showed the newcomers where to find the sweet potatoes and how to live off the land... and Jack's undying commitment to the healing of First Nations people. His son, Mike Layton, brought the recording to the Edmonton TRC from Toronto...

... the post-traumatic stress flashbacks still suffered by survivors...

... the wisdom of parents who told their children, "We didn't give you up; they took you away"...

... the care of the people in the red and white vests who pass through the listening crowds with glasses of water, boxes of facial tissues, and paper bags to save the tear-filled tissues so that all tears are honoured by burning in the sacred fire that is carefully tended outside...

... the decision of many survivors to let go of bitterness and anger in favour of forgiveness...

... the mention of two good Catholic priests who accepted the hurt and anger of two survivors and created a safe place where their healing process began...

... the 2000+ prayer shawls made so that people who have to speak or hear difficult things can wrap themselves in courage...

... the long road ahead... and the challenge of reconciliation...

... and so much more. I encourage you to attend either in person at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton, or to follow online by clicking here for daytime broadcasts.

Here's a mini-documentary by Wab Kinew, one of today's honorary witnesses at the Edmonton TRC...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wisdom, Truth and Reconciliation (Day 1)

Seven flames in the logo represent the seven sacred teachings:
love, respect, courage, honesty, humility, truth and wisdom
(on the volunteer t-shirt, which also says "It Matters to Me.")
"In order to educate the [Aboriginal]children properly we must separate them from their families. Some people may say that this is hard but if we want to civilize them we must do that."
-- Hector Langevin, 
Public Works Minister of Canada, 1883

Wisdom. There wasn't much of it around when it comes to Canada's dealings with our First Nations sisters and brothers in the past. But Wisdom is the theme of the final leg of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which is taking place here in Edmonton for the next three days.

I'm attending sessions at the Commission hosted at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton (on Treaty 6 Lands) not just as a volunteer, but as a Canadian who has grown up with First Nations friends. My friends' families were affected by the Indian Residential Schools which took aboriginal children as young as five years of age from their parents in an effort to turn them into Canadians according to the misguided colonial (and often racist) version of what it meant to be Canadian. The stories told by many residential school survivors about loneliness, abuse, neglect and the destruction of their families and culture are devastating -- and something all Canadians need to understand. Too many of our First Nations brothers and sisters have had a very, very, very bad rap since the first schools were opened well over a hundred years ago (the last one closed in 1996), and many of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are suffering now because of the pain their parents and grandparents still carry.

These days of Truth and Reconciliation are a step in the long journey toward healing. Today, thousands of people converged to begin four days of sharing stories, listening to and supporting one another, and offering or working toward forgiveness. There were many moving moments, and I'd like to share a few impressions/experiences from the point of view of one who stands in solidarity and support...

...waiting for my daughters outside the conference centre with a survivor named Ted as he had a smoke. He told me that if his residential school had been anything like the private sports academy up the road, there would be plenty of First Nations NHL players. "We were every bit as athletic, and there were lots of us in the junior leagues, but by the time we came of age, we had too many problems from the past following us." Ted has come a long way in his healing -- it was clear in the way he talked with me,  the light in his eyes, and the number of people who lit up when they saw him and came to greet him...

... chuckling with a man from Onion Lake when he asked my daughter for help to turn off his cell phone. Seems we both need teens to help us understand technology...

... the heartbeat of the drums during the Grand Entry procession...

... weeping with the man from Onion Lake as an Honour Song was sung for Residential School Survivors...

... a panel of five youth sharing their hopes for reconciliation and the change it can bring to relationships between all Canadians...

... a young non-aboriginal woman expressing the shame she felt when she first heard about Indian Residential schools, and her complicit shock and silence... for which many of us feel bad...

... Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, encouraging First Nations and other youth listening to the youth panel discussions to discover the answers to four important questions:
Where do I come from? (Discover your creation stories and the meaning of your name/clan)
Where am I going? (Discover relationship with the Spirit world that will welcome you one day)
Why am I here? (Discover what am I called to do for family and community) and
Who am I? (Discover and take my rightful place in creation with both pride and humility)...

... having the privilege of hearing the sharing of five survivors and intergenerational survivors who courageously told stories of how the Residential School experience affected them and their loved ones...

... sharing the moments above with my daughters and halls full of people who want to see healing in our country...

If you are interested in the TRC but unable to attend, some of the proceedings are being broadcast live -- click here for daytime broadcasts. To learn more about events in Edmonton, check here. And to learn more about the Residential School experience in Canada, here's a link to an interim report called They Came for the Children.

I'll be moodling more on this subject over the next three days...

Click here to see Day 2...
Click here to see Day 3...
Click here to see Day 4...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Simple Suggestion #200... Try some Earth Hour activism

As much as I like the idea of Earth Hour, which started in Australia seven years ago and is now the World Wildlife Fund's annual big splash, I think it needs to go much further if we want to save our planet for future generations. I've been hearing some very scary numbers lately about the rapidly increasing effects of global climate change, making me wish our governments would get with the program and take some really serious steps toward clean energy and less use of fossil fuels. Sure, it would create some immediate hardships, but better small inconveniences in the present than huge climate disasters in the future...

I know I'm always preaching to the choir here, but it's time to seriously consider more ways to reduce human impact on the planet. If our governments aren't thinking about clean energy, we need to demand it of them. This Earth Hour, as I sit in 60 minutes of candlelight and otherwise find ways to reduce my energy use, I'm going to take paper and pen (ZERO electricity use for that hour at our house) and write a letter to the leader of my country, the person who holds the environment portfolio in government, my personal representatives, and the folks who run my local community, and remind them to look at the Earth's bottom line -- our air, soil, water and resource use. I want to tell our officials that we need to go further in reducing our energy use in order to preserve the health of our planet, which sustains our health. After all is said and done, we are only as well as our environment!

Of course, letter writing only goes so far. Governments are thick-headed, and it takes them too long to get the message, so we also need to do our part. By all means, turn off the lights, walk instead of drive, employ those Rs -- reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, repair, refurbish, re-everything rather than wasting anything -- and walk lightly on the planet. Check out your personal environmental footprint at and discover other ways to reduce the size of it. Be Earth friendly for the entire year, not just an hour.

Join me?
With gratitude to Jeremiah Armstrong and WWF Canada for the use of this e-card.
P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

At the well

God, it's hot.
But I walk
with my jug
to the well
at midday,
in my shame.
A Jew, a man
sits there.
In this heat?
Is he crazy?!
"Give me a drink,"
he says.
"Are you blind?"
I say.
"I'm a Samaritan."
(And a woman.)
He shrugs, like it
doesn't matter.
"You could ask me
for living water,"
he says.
"What? You have
no bucket,"
I remind him.
"My water
is eternal life."
he says.
"Go, bring your husband."
My shame droops.
"I have none,"
I say.
"You've had five,
and you've not
married this last one."
A prophet,
I finally understand,
but my sins
don't matter
in his eyes.
"The Messiah is coming,"
I tell him.
"I am he."
We sit
in the heat.
As we talk,
I am turned
inside out.
My shame,
my fear,
my shadows
in the light
of his midday
don't matter.
I am loved.
I am forgiven.
I am called.
I am chosen.
Forgetting my jug,
I run to tell
God, it's good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Simple Suggestion #199... Celebrate World Down Syndrome Day

The twenty-first day of the third month has been designated as World Down Syndrome Day by the UN, the date being a nod to the fact that people with Down Syndrome have a third copy of chromosome 21. I'm so glad that my family members and friends have a special day for being celebrated, because, as anyone who knows them will agree, their disabilities seem to give them a simple understanding of the value of relationship that the rest of the human race forgets or misses in our hurry to grow up.

So on Friday, World Down Syndrome Day, I plan to "Rock my Socks" -- that is, I'm going to wear my most colourful socks in honour of my cousins S., C., and O., and my friends T., B., J., and K. And if anyone asks me why I'm wearing my bright socks, I'll tell them about S., who calls me her favourite oldest cousin in Edmonton, or T., who loves to make videos and once managed to get a dishwasher donated to his L'Arche home, or K., who loves to wear his cowboy hat and play guitar. I might even direct the folks who ask about my socks to the World Down Syndrome Day website to learn more about the beauty of some of our brothers and sisters with disabilities.

And I will definitely share this video, which brings tears to my eyes because of all the beautiful people I know. Enjoy, and share sock day with your friends!

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Let's not forget Syria

Embedded image permalink
Thousands donated photos to make this image to represent
Syrian children caught up in their country's conflict.
(Save the Children/
With all the rightful concern and excitement about what's been going on in Crimea over the last days and weeks, something else has been missing from the news -- namely, Syria. Have you noticed? I have, because I work with two wonderful people from Syria whose families and friends have been affected by the ongoing crisis there. It hasn't been easy for my friends to watch their beautiful country descend into total chaos over the past three years. There have been periods when they've wondered if some of their family members are even alive... and when they've heard that some are not... I think of my friend's twelve-year-old cousin named Giorgio who was killed by a stray bullet in his own living room...

Many Syrians have been forced to flee their homes for overpopulated refugee camps where health issues such as polio and leprosy have suddenly reappeared. Lebanon, to Syria's south, is about half the size of Nova Scotia (10,800 sq km), and its population of 4.5 million has swelled by almost a third as 2 million Syrians have sought refuge there, further stressing the country's already precarious finances, healthcare, housing, employment and education.

Two weeks ago, a Lebanese doctor who works to provide healthcare to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Dr. Rita Rhayem, came to Edmonton to make us aware of how our donations to Development and Peace (Caritas Canada) have helped Caritas International in Lebanon serve many Syrian refugees. She shared stories about helping families to get essential health services from basic first aid and vaccines to more critical help like delivering babies, psychological counseling and wound care. The Caritas Lebanon team of  approximately 25 doctors and 30 nurses is a dedicated group, many of whom have been working with the organization for more than twenty years. They are so convinced of the importance of what they do that there is little, if any, staff turnover -- they see that they are making a difference with every smile they receive from their patients. Here's a little video that gives you an idea of what they're doing:

When it became evident that the Syrian crisis would not just go away, every politican and their dog jumped on board to raise funds to help the people of Syria. But now, three years in, other issues have turned their attention elsewhere, and Caritas Lebanon's funding of projects to help Syrian refugees will soon run out. So it's important to spread the word about excellent organizations like Caritas, which also runs projects for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and within Syria itself. We need to point people to places where they can learn about and support the work that people like Dr. Rhayem and her colleagues from Caritas International are doing. Please consider sharing this post and visiting any of its links to learn more and make donations to help the people of Syria. It's one simple way to live in solidarity with our Syrian sisters and brothers.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thoughts on a week of solitude and community

I'm back from Montreal, tired and happy. It was a beautiful, busy first week of Lent for me, full of solitude and community, celebrated in both of Canada's official languages. If I wasn't quite so tired (hard bed and busy brain to blame), I'd be as excited as the disciples at Jesus' transfiguration!

It was a wonderful experience to help as musician/accompanier at L'Arche Canada's Emmaus Retreat for assistants. 23 people who live with people with disabilities in L'Arche communities spread from Vancouver to Halifax came to Villa St. Martin on the bank of Riviere des Prairies for a week of silence, reflection and talks about their journey with people with disabilities. They learned (if they didn't already know) that sometimes it's a good idea to "unplug" -- to take a break from routines, technology, noise and activity to just rest a while, consider life in L'Arche, and listen to the still, small voice within that speaks of God's love in day-to-day life.

Our team of six leaders was amazed by the sincerity and depth of the assistants, how they embraced the silence, were eager to hear the talks, to share their insights from the talks one-on-one with their accompaniers, and to participate in small group discussions. In this era of instant communication and hi-tech gadgets and devices, it was amazing to see how many of them took full advantage of the opportunity to put away their smart phones and follow the week's simple program to renew themselves by reflecting on their relationships with their communities' core members, assistants, leaders -- and their relationship with God.

The week's gifts to me were the opportunity to attend mass in French in the lovely little chapel (pictured above) before breakfast each morning, the meeting with and sharing of the assistants I was invited to accompany, and a deepened sense of the importance of both solitude and community in my own life. I need to make time for quiet and reflection, but I also need the demands of community to keep me real.

When's the last time you've taken advantage of some silence and solitude, and allowed it to deepen your love for those around you? How is your sense of communion with others? I hope this season of Lent can be a time for us all to live both solitude and community well.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Julia!

I wasn't happy when I learned that this retreat I'm helping with was scheduled during the week of your birthday, but it is, so I'm forced to wish you a happy day from far away.

I just want you to know what a wonderful girl you are, and that I love you very much. You're turning into an amazing young woman! I love to read stories with you, and hear your own. I love to hear you play your trumpet, and talk to the dog. I love your creativity, and your sense of humour. In short, I just love you, period; always have, and always will. You're a beautiful, friendly, sweet, funny and altogether loveable kid, and I'm sorry to miss your birthday... but I'll be home soon.

May God bless you and keep you always close to his/her heart! And may you keep God close to yours...

Happy, happy birthday, may all your dreams come true...


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Simple Suggestion # 198... Love a houseplant (or six...)

We all need nature in our lives. Studies have shown that just taking a few minutes to look out a window during a busy work day helps a person to relax and refocus their thoughts. So bringing a bit of nature indoors only makes sense.

Houseplants are a natural way to do this, and their presence can also improve air quality and decor. I didn't know this, but apparently spider plants and peace lilies can actually remove some toxins from the air in our homes. And though I know all sorts of people who say they have no green thumb whatsoever, most folks are capable of watering a plant or two and maybe even fertilizing them once in a while. It's just a matter of getting into the habit.

So today's Simple Suggestion is to love a houseplant, or at the very least, keep one alive. And if you're houseplant/green thumb challenged, don't give up. Keep trying. A little green is good for the soul.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A gorgeous Sunday song

Tonight's Taizé Prayer will take place at St. Luke's Anglican Church (8424 95 Avenue) at 7 p.m., and of course, all are welcome. I look forward to the day when people invite and bring neighbours from all denominations to pray as one, as Jesus intended, I suspect.

This is the first Taizé Prayer that I've organized and will miss, as I'm in Montreal at a L'Arche Emmaus retreat for assistants from communities across the country. I've spent the past week learning some gorgeous non-Taizé French songs for use at the retreat -- mostly thanks to my daughter's brilliant idea to check YouTube since I didn't have sheet music for some of them. This one below is an amazing piece by self-taught musician Jean-Claude Gianadda, easy to play on guitar, and with a refrain that can be sung as counter melody to the verses. When I hear it, I think about God's presence in the many beautiful moments of life -- love of family and friends, the beauty of our planet, the joys we experience. It's been stuck in my head for days, and I don't even mind. A perfect Sunday song, if you ask me. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Unwanted advice

The dog of the day, sitting in the middle of Lee's map
as he tries to plan a trip.
What do you do with unwanted, unsolicited advice?

I'll admit that it's taken me a while to acclimate to being a dog owner, but our little Shadow-dog is slowly winning me over with his puppy ways. Now that he's house-trained and we're learning, daily, how to fit into each others' lives, life with a dog is fine, mostly. True, I complain now and then about the fact that my daughters don't pull their weight at times when it comes to his care and maintenance, but my complaining phases are slowly phasing themselves out (I hope!) as we become reconciled to our newest family member's permanent status in our lives. At least, that's how it's feeling to me.

But yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend with whom I hadn't spoken in a while, and without my initiating the topic other than a brief mention that I was tired of nagging our girls to take the dog for a walk, my friend informed me that I'm really not a happy dog owner... to the point where it felt like she was belittling me and my misunderstandings about what dog ownership means. She then went on to rant about the fact that my complaints were minor (which, of course, they are, and I never said they aren't -- I have a happy life). "Sell the damn dog," she said, and I was so taken aback that I said I might just do that in an effort to end her endless tirade. (It felt endless!)

But of course I won't sell the dog unless something really drastic happens and we can't keep him for some unforeseen reason. Shadow is much less work than he used to be, he's a presence in the house that I enjoy, and I've never had such a regular walking partner. He's good for our family because he makes us laugh, takes us out for exercise, pulls our attention away from our own little worlds now and then, loves car rides and cuddles, and welcomes each one of us home with more enthusiasm than anyone else ever will. In other words, we may complain about him now and then, but he's alright. He's one of us now. Had my friend asked me if I was enjoying the dog at all, I might have had the opportunity to share these things!

So what do I do with unsolicited and unwanted advice? Well, this time, I let it fall, unheeded. I invite anyone else who is tired of hearing about the dog to simply say so. And I go take Shadow for a walk.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Simple Suggestion #197... Use every last bit

This is a pretty obvious suggestion... yet I suspect it's something that North Americans, blessed with an overabundance of everything, often forget. We have a tendency to throw things away before they're all used up, and as a result, waste a lot more than we realize.

My toothpaste tube is a case in point. I could have tossed it out two weeks ago because it was ALMOST empty. But sense prevailed, and I decided to see how many more uses I could get out of it. I squeezed the heck out of that sucker, as you can see. I even got my hubby to help squeeze out the last bit because I couldn't manage one-handedly, and his fingers are stronger than mine. I was finally forced to start a new tube last night. Had I thrown this one out when it reached the almost empty stage, two weeks' worth would have gone into the garbage.

And there are so many things like that in our lives... things we haven't used up completely before we toss them out. But if we don't want to use up our planet completely, we need to consider our consumption from all angles, and use every opportunity to avoid waste.

We need to think about...
wearing our clothes til they're no longer wearable, 
repairing every last thing that's repairable,
avoiding the fads and ignoring the trends, 
being model consumers for our families and friends...
So let's eat the last crumb and drink the last drop
and ensure that our waste of our planet will STOP.

What can you be sure to use completely in your life?

*       *       *

Speaking of reducing waste, I want to brag a little more about my cousin Cyla, an artisan whose baby quilt was mentioned in Simple Suggestion #196. As you might remember, she's a quilter extraordinaire (I can't get over her sharp corners and straight seams) and she enjoys reusing fabrics in her works of art (that's what they are). This simple, old fashioned quilt that she made for her own happiness (and use) is made of men's old dress shirts and old white cotton pants that she got from her local thrift shop. It reminds me of my two dads, and Cyla says it reminds her of her quilter grandmas. God bless our quilter grandmas for memories like this. I think it's gorgeous, even though it's not quite finished, and I fully intend to visit Cyla, and see her, and it, in person.

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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Spring will come...

March's new proverb -- in like a polar bear, out like a ....???

Officially, Spring is less than three weeks away, but as nasty as winter has been these last few days (with windchills into the -50 C (-60 F) degrees across the Canadian prairies), it's pretty hard to believe that there's any such thing as Spring out there in the distance. So today I feel the need for a Spring fix -- and am recycling pictures from my neighbourhood and yard, along with a poem I wrote for my best friend's birthday a few years back. Think warm thoughts!

Spring will come
along daffodil paths,
tuck herself under tulip
and blossoming bough.
She will come
just as sure as leaf and bud
wait beneath the snow.
In dreams, we see her now.

Spring will roll
across leaf and lawn,
parading her petals
underfoot and overhead.
She will come
in pastels and shimmering whites,
and delicate hues
over everything spread.

Spring will wake
every seed and bulb;
stretch her limbs, and stand
in glory, in her power.
She will come!
Though winter hides her lushness for a time,
she’ll return
to keep primrose promises
at her self-appointed hour.

Spring is but a memory at the moment.
her creativity, the vaguest  dream.
When faced with the endless freeze of winter,
Spring remembrance is a trickle, not a stream.

But spring will stream
and gush and flourish!
She’ll show her colours
in proud display.
She will come!
But until she does
we revisit these memories
to keep winter blues away.

Spring will come!
And we will greet her with joy!
Spring WILL come!