Sunday, November 30, 2014

Awakening to Advent

When your mental judgmental grid and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to you, because your pettiness is at last out of the way. Then Truth stands revealed! You will begin to recognize that we all carry the Divine Indwelling within us and we all carry it equally. That will change your theology, your politics, and your entire worldview. In fact, it is the very birth of the soul.
-- Richard Rohr 

Charleen's book club (of which I am a member) met this first Sunday of Advent to discuss Richard Rohr's Falling Upward (2011, Jossey Bass ISBN 9780470907757), a very inspiring book about the journey of life. Reaching the second half of mine, I find that his words are an encouragement -- and a freedom -- to ignore the judgmental voices that are always talking in my brain, comparing me to others and forgetting that I am turning into the person God made me, just as others are the people God made them. We all carry the Divine Indwelling within us equally, and that means that we are called simply to love rather than to live in fear of others or of our mistakes.

I feel an affinity for the author, Father Richard, because he's a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, who was, like Jesus, a rebel in his time. And like Francis and Jesus, Father Richard gives us permission to question and find truth outside of the rules we live by in the first half of our lives -- that period that helps us to figure out who we are and what we value. Once we reach the second half of our life, we begin to understand that life really isn't under our control, that we are never going to be perfect, and that it's okay to step outside of some of the boundaries we accepted in our youth, and to fall into the good, the true and the beautiful by facing our shadows and widening our perspectives. We can't put new wine into old wine skins, so sometimes we have to wake up, toss our old rules, structures and often misbegotten ideas away and use what we've learned (from our failures, sins and mistakes) to start fresh.

In the season of Advent, which begins again today, we awaken and await the coming of something and someone new -- someone who is always saying, "Be not afraid," and inviting us to step outside of all that we think we know to enter a new relationship with a God of surprises, who loves us beyond our understanding. May this Advent season be a time of allowing God to get through to us!

O God,
you made us, 
with all our struggles and joys,
our shadows and light,
so that we can find our way home
to you.
In these Advent days,
show us what's important
and what isn't
and let us seek your face
in those you have placed in our lives.
Knock down our walls
and widen our hearts enough
that you may dwell in them.
Let your joy and grace
overflow through us 
to touch all those you love,
especially those who feel unlovable.
In other words,
help us to stay awake
and be ready for you!


Thursday, November 27, 2014

The power of a river, of love

The city has vanished today, it's snowing that hard. I know it's there on the other side of a wall of whiteness, but it's not possible to see the skyscrapers across the river, never mind three blocks down the road.

Shadow and I took just a short walk this morning. I decided to let him follow his nose, and was surprised when his nose turned homeward even sooner than I expected, probably because the windchill was reaching -29 C (-20 F). By mid-afternoon, the white stuff was up to the pup's chest, and it's supposed to continue snowing until noon tomorrow. 30 cm (12 in) was predicted, and I think we've got that already.

So it may be a while before Shadow and I can return to our favourite walks along and in the river valley. I'm glad we took the valley trails last week and on the weekend. If you remember, last Thursday we found a lovely rebel bike trail and were able to walk along a mostly frozen expanse of the North Saskatchewan where it takes a fairly tight turn. I told Lee about the walk that evening, and suggested we walk it together on Saturday.

The next day was warm and sunny, and everything began to melt. Grass started showing in our back yard, and the dog got so mucky from walking in puddles that I had to throw him in the laundry sink when we got home. 

On Saturday afternoon, Lee, Suzanna, and I took Shadow down the same rebel bike trail -- and the difference in the river's edge was amazing. Friday's warmth had weakened the ice that had spanned the river on Thursday, and the water pushed it right up against the banks in a giant jumble of slabs of all thicknesses. It would have been amazing to have a time-lapse camera set up for the 48 hours between the two walks...

This picture was taken on Monday, after more snow started to fall. You can see the open water where more ice is forming on the other side of the broken ice slabs. What amazes me the most is how tonnes of them piled up against the bank after just one day of warmth. The forces of nature are often quiet, moving almost without notice, but unstoppable all the same. 

And love is unstoppable, too. I've been thinking a lot about the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri, and how much people the world over need to remember that it's up to each person to decide whether love or hate will flow with inexorable force in our lives. It brings back to mind an old David Foster tune (written around the time the Berlin wall fell, with a line or two sung by Brian Adams) that I haven't heard in ages -- upbeat and optimistic -- that insists we are moving back to a River of Love. If you've never heard it, and the key change that still gives me goosebumps, I've found it on YouTube and posted it and its lyrics below.

My prayer, for everyone in Ferguson Missouri, for ICIL and those working to counter its hatred, for our missing and murdered First Nations women and their families, and for the marginalized homeless who are certainly feeling the cold in my city today, is that we can all remember our oneness and unleash God's relentless, unstoppable love in every corner of our broken world. God, help us to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our hands in yours.


Life after life
Stand before eyes of the world
Each man, woman and child must decide
We hold inside
All the keys to paradise
All nations, all people, all are one

We were born in love and innocence
That's how we came here
We were given hearts to love or hate with
Our time has come
When we can live as one
River of love
We are moving back to the river of love

Tired walls must fall
That new hearts may be set free
We stand close to the edge of the truth
Old wounds must heal in a fresh equality forever
All nations, all people, all are one

We were born in love and innocence...

Every day our lives draw together
Why don't we help each other?
This is a chance for all the word
To have what it needs
The freedom to love

We were born in love and innocence...

We are moving back to the river of love...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Simple Suggestions #145 and #188 revisited... Observe Buy Nothing Day

Here it comes again! The day after American Thanksgiving and the consumption of all that turkey has been designated an anti-consumption holiday by many people who are concerned about the health and well being of our planet and its inhabitants -- a day to be grateful for what we already have in our lives rather than to go out and buy more (a.k.a. Christmas shopping). Unfortunately, in most circles, Buy Nothing Day is called Black Friday -- because many companies leave behind the red ink in their yearly ledgers and begin to make profits through holding insane, all out consumption-oriented events that have led to huge door-crashing, people injuring sales frenzies.

(While it's not this bad in Canada, thankfully,
there's increasing emphasis on Black Friday
as Canadian stores jump on the bandwagon
in attempts to boost their sales, too.)

I'd like to think that the world's people are waking up to the understanding that our planet has only so many resources to go around, and that human beings are becoming aware that we need to use less of those resources so that our environment and its endangered species (us included if we keep going at our present rate) stand a chance in the future. I'm doing my part by living as simply as I can, generally avoiding shopping malls, giving necessary or experiential gifts instead of stuff, and encouraging others to do the same (if you're looking for more ideas when it comes to avoiding consumerism, click here, or check out the Simple Christmas Ideas tab under the Simple Moodlings heading).

Really, Buy Nothing Day (November 28th in the U.S. and November 29th everywhere else) is good practice for every other day of the year. If we all gave our purchasing habits serious consideration every day, buying only what we need and gifting people with our presence and perhaps some homemade goodies, our world would be a much healthier place for all living things. Don't you think?

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the Knave?

The Knave of Hearts,
he stole my heart
and took it clean away.

                  --English nursery rhyme, adapted.

To be completely honest, I've always had a hard time with today's Feast of Christ the King. All that "His, the scepter, His, the throne" stuff just doesn't ring true for me when it comes to Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth. I know, I know -- he's God, he can be whatever he wants! -- but he's so much more than the title "King" can ever convey to me. I have no real experience of a king of any kind.

Fortunately, this year, thanks to an experience this past summer, I'm looking at things a little differently.

I think my problem with celebrating the kingship of Christ comes partly from having studied church history in my twenties. Since those studies, it has always seemed to me that this annual celebration of Jesus' kingship was more like the hierarchy's feeble attempt to align the wealth and power it amassed with the glory and majesty of God, rather than anything Jesus would claim for himself. It seemed to me that if the princes of the Church could somehow link Jesus to the wealth and worldly power that the greatest of kings had while downplaying his actual message to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison, that might make it okay for the church to own bishops' palaces and gold-gilded altarpieces and fantastic frescoes and rule as Holy Roman Emperors or... Popes.

But actually, this feast day came about under the watch of Pope Pius XI after the First World War. It was the Pope's well-meaning effort to make Jesus a King above all others, and encourage the faithful to turn away from the nationalistic and secularist thinking that was pervasive at the time. The problem, of course, is that the very idea of "King" comes with a lot of baggage. It's a human construct, and it hardly speaks to the age we inhabit because most of the kings we know are merely unreachable figureheads or celebrities, with very little to do with ordinary people.

But our God has everything to do with ordinary people. God is not about thrones or scepters or palaces or even basilicas. God is with us as we live, breathe, and go about our ordinary lives. And Jesus, who seems to have known and understood God better than any other human being who ever lived, because, well, he's God, too, told us the most important things we need to know -- that we are to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves -- to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Everything else is distraction. Including categories like king or carpenter.

This idea was underlined during my visit to Taizé this summer (click here for a recap), where I spent a lot of time singing and praying in the Church of Reconciliation, which is basically a large but very simple worship space. There are candles and brightly coloured cloths hanging behind the altar, maybe a dozen icons, and perhaps that many small, square stained glass windows in one wall, and that's the extent of the richness and majesty in the building. And yet, I felt closer to God there than I ever did in St. Peter's at the Vatican. The simplicity of Taizé's church and its meditative ecumenical prayer brought me to God in a powerful, distraction-free way.

On my last morning in Taizé, I was walking down the road toward the church, reflecting on an idea that had struck me the evening before at prayer -- that Jesus would feel more at home in the inclusive and welcoming Communauté de Taizé than in the huge, ornate (and often rather empty) churches in Europe. That's when I found a playing card face down on the path, the very fellow you see at the top of this post. I laughed aloud. He likely fell from the deck of one of the 800 German youth who populated Taizé that week. A nine of diamonds wouldn't have meant so much! It was as though Jesus was telling me that he wasn't as interested in being a king of anything, as he was happy to be the knave of my heart, and of everyone else's, too. After all, knaves are so much more accessible than kings.

Jesus never claimed a throne or dominion. He never professed to be loftier than anyone else, either -- when Pilate tried to insinuate that Jesus was trying to usurp the authority of Herod/Rome, Jesus told him, "My kingdom is not of this world." That's because he was more interested in our hearts than any kind of wealth, power, glory, or fame. He only wanted to rightfully claim his place as a child of God, and encourage everyone else to do the same, underlining God's love over and over again.

So it's not that Jesus is King of the Universe or King of Heaven that I want to focus on today. Instead, it's the way that he knew and lived God's love, and showed it to me, and asked me to show it to my sisters and brothers in need -- that's what makes Christ the all important and most loving Knave of my Heart.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A good walk is like a prayer

Amazingly, this morning, our little puppy with the short haircut didn't hide himself in the blankets in his crate for a few extra hours sleep, so I took the opportunity to boot him up and bundle him out the door for a good walk. Most days, he's more of a couch potato than I am, but lately, I don't want to give him the option of lazing around all day. I think I may be addicted to my morning walk!

As the sun was rising, Shadow-pup and I found ourselves on the path down into the river valley. It was one of those gorgeous, wintry late fall mornings, blue shadows everywhere. We meandered along the edge of the river on a winding and bumpy rebel bike path, and crossed over the traffic via the pedestrian bridge, walking all the way to the Muttart Conservatory. Then we walked past the Ski Club and tobogganing hill, up 141 steps (I think) and back home through one of our usual parks. It was beautiful, I must say, to be walking through the woods and along the edge of the partly frozen North Saskatchewan. Shadow had a good time, too. We came upon a tidings of magpies (that's the term for a group of them, did you know?) and he was so excited to get to them, he practically turned a somersault in the snow, which slowed him down a little, and left him with a white face.

A good walk doesn't have to be too long. To get out and breathe deeply and feel my muscles move can be like a prayer because I'm appreciating -- and enhancing -- the good health with which God has blessed me. Too much more than an hour makes my gimpy shoulder ache, but 15 minutes isn't nearly enough. Today my pedometer said 8,693 when I got home, so I'm well on my way to the recommended 10,000 steps for today.

I've been doing early morning centering prayer using mantras lately -- and my phrase for today is, "Let every step bring me closer to You, God." Which, of course, each step does, if you're looking at things with a long view. We're all on our way home.

The pictures below show you a bit of our journey, but I hope you can get out and enjoy some fresh air and a feeling of wellness for yourself.

There's nothing like a good walk!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Simple Suggestion # 220... Celebrate multiculturalism

This morning as I listened to the radio, my heart cracked a little more, again. The radio host interviewed the mother of a young gentleman who was attacked by two un-gentlemen on a city bus on Friday night. The perpetrators used racial slurs and picked on their victim just because he was of a Turkish/Trinidadian background. And when people around him defended him and tried to help, the offenders lashed out at the good samaritans, too.

How people can be so terrible to one another on the basis of skin colour/race is beyond me, but I don't want to dwell on that. Instead, I'd like to suggest that we take every opportunity to celebrate multiculturalism wherever we live, and get to know our neighbours who are different than we are.

On Friday evening, there's a great opportunity -- our L'Arche community is celebrating what we call Heritage Day. Because the assistants of our core members with disabilities come from across the globe, we have an annual celebration where everyone is invited to dress in clothing from their own cultures and bring food to be shared with all participants. Last year we had foods from Brazil, Germany, Korea, Romania, Russia, and Syria, just to name a few. Entertainment and music are provided by the community, and sometimes a special cultural group will come to perform. I'm planning to bake some cookies that my family knows as German buns, but my friend Cathrin in Munich educated me, and now I'm calling them zuckerschnecken.

So, if you've nothing to do on Friday evening, come join us. Tickets are only $12, with all funds going to support L'Arche communities in Central and South America. It's a great way to celebrate our multicultural society, and to counteract the ignorance of those who have yet to learn that diversity is beautiful! To put it simply, friendship is always better than fear.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A simple prayer... in a song

Here's one that we like to sing at our family sing songs, sung by the man who wrote it, Kris Kristofferson, a man who hasn't had the easiest life. It's one of those little gratitude prayers to God that says, basically, "What have I ever done to deserve the goodness in my life." The thing is, we don't have to do anything. God just loves, period. Even so, I feel I'd like to respond to that love more wholeheartedly. So here's my own third verse:

Thank you, Lord
for your love all around
in the sights and the sounds
of our lives here on earth.
Teach us, Lord,
to be loving and true
show us what we can do
to give your mercy birth.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Simple Suggestion # 219... Let sleeping plants lie

Every fall I see them, neighbours out hacking down their perennials before the snow flies, stuffing the dead leaves and stalks into garbage bags for the city to haul to its composting facilities. Those same neighbours probably look at my messy, un-hacked yard and think, what a lazy gardener she is!

Well, yes and no. Yes, in that I refuse to cut my plants down to the ground in the autumn -- but that's because I know that perennials fare better through the year's cold seasons if they are protected by last summer's decomposing growth. No, in that it all gets cleaned up in the spring when it's not so necessary for protecting my bushes and bulbs through the winter.

Raking autumn leaves out of my flower beds is also something I won't do because they are free, natural mulch. The layer of detritus that so many people pack up and toss makes a good winter home for numerous beneficial insects like ground beetles and the cheery little lady bugs that get rid of nasty, plant eating aphids and others of their ilk. Until heavy snow cover arrives, birds are always poking around in the mulch looking for a bite, and our local jack rabbits often nibble their way through. The chickadees, grosbeaks and nuthatches pick grains from the seed heads that they like, and play hide and seek in the stuff that's still standing. Of course, if you don't like nature paying you visits, it's best to get rid of all those plant leftovers. (Don't forget the benefits of winter composting, though!)

I know, leaving those plants sticking up all over the place makes a yard look messy -- but once there's a snowfall, the bumps and branches are a lot more interesting to look at than flat snowdrifts. And who really cares what the neighbours think? Once spring rolls around, cabin fever and the excess energy all gardeners get from garden hibernation will make it easy to get out and clear space for new growth. Plus, fall's already full compost bins will have shrunk through the winter to make space for a few more stalks and leaves that can later find their composted way into the summer garden, or be made into compost tea-fertilizer. The yard will look happier than ever come summer, and if the neighbours happen to wonder why, well, that's a perfect chance to educate them!

So if you didn't get your yard cleaned up before the first snowfall, fret not. You're only gardening like God does (going back to #3 of these Simple Suggestions), and actually doing your garden and its creatures a favour!

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering in 2014

Remembrance Day is even more poignant and solemn this year, thanks to our trip to France and Belgium this summer. We spent July 3rd on Vimy Ridge and in the tunnels and trenches around it, and we visited the In Flanders Fields Museum and the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres on July 11th. Our visits to these places made war more real to our girls -- and to us.

Perhaps what makes this year's observance of Remembrance Day most heart-rending is our conversation with Gaby, our dear friend who lives in present day Flanders. Lee recalled him telling a story the first time they met about how he had to guard a bridge during World War II. After our day in Ypres, I invited him to tell us about his memory of that time, but instead he told us about his father, who fought in the trenches right to the end of the first world war. Gaby said that even though the Armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918 at 11 a.m., the news did not reach his father's regiment until later in the day, just after his father's best friend died, one of the last military casualties in the trenches of World War I.

We sat in silence for a few moments after he told that story. How many others like it he could share, we'll probably never know.

War is the worst of human-made disasters. It is estimated that over 40 million military personnel died in the two world wars. They and soldiers from the many conflicts since are remembered every year at solemn ceremonies at different times of the year in different countries.

But who remembers the more than 62 million civilians who also died, some through military action, others through resulting incarceration, famine and disease? Not to mention the soldiers and civilians who were injured and traumatized to the point that they couldn't go on with normal life? And then there's the decimation of the lands where war was made... more than 65 years after the last world war, we could still see the remnants of shell holes and concrete bunkers in Northern France.

My many days of remembrance this year have me thinking more deeply about how war can never bring about true peace. Witness how Canada's going to war in the Middle East brought about the deaths of two servicemen here in the last few weeks. Since then, I've been thinking that, during our Remembrance Days, we should remember not only those who died in our wars, but also reflect on peace and our role in it.

Last year we attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at the University of Alberta, but this year, I plan to join the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network in its prayer service and Public Prayer Walk for Peace. It starts at McDougall United Church (10025 101 Street) at 6 p.m. on Remembrance Day, well after the 11 a.m. moment of silence that we'll attend at our Legislature grounds.

And I also honour our war dead by posting these pictures from Vimy, Ypres and the Menin Gate. It was still summer daylight when we were there to observe the Last Post on July 11th, but it will be dark this time of year.

God bless all those who have died in war, and grant us peace.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

God restores us

Tonight is our annual Taizé Prayer for Peace. With Remembrance Day on Tuesday, it’s important to reflect on our world’s past conflicts, not to glorify our military, but to recall their sacrifices and to pray that peace and justice come to the trouble spots around the globe, and that they live in our own lives and hearts.

You’re invited to come and join us in our prayer for peace this evening at 7 p.m. at Strathearn United Church (8510 95 Avenue). A friend of mine was telling me yesterday that it has been proven that meditative practice actually has the ability to alter the state of certain things – so Alfred Lord Tennyson’s comment, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” is truer than he knew.

Tonight we’ll be singing the beautiful chant in the video below in its original Italian, reminding ourselves that God does not push us away, but restores us through holy presence. The icon you see in the video, taken from the Bawit monastery excavation in Egypt, is now housed at the Louvre. It’s an image of Christ and Abbot Mena. I love how Jesus has his arm around his friend the Abbot, who was living in a dangerous time. I like to think that Christ has his arms around all those living in dangerous situations today, bringing them peace.

Il Signore ti ristora.
Dio non allontana.
Il Signore viena ad incontrarti.
Viene ad incontrarti...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

5 years already!

Last week was my fifth anniversary at L'Arche Edmonton. I started October 29, 2009, working on a piecemeal basis to help my friend, Pat, who happens to be our community leader. Since then, I've done all sorts of things including answering phones, babysitting, delivering mail, filing, gathering information for board meetings, hanging art, writing stories/history, ordering take out, providing a guest room for an assistant, singing, washing dishes, watering plants... and the list goes on. It's been a lot of fun because it's so varied.

But the best thing about my job, hands down, are the other friends I've made in the past five years, those with and without disabilities. I haven't been to the office much in the last two months because I'm working on the history in peace and quiet at home with Shadow cuddled up next to me. So you could say I've been missing my L'Arche friends more than usual.

So when I went to the Community Centre for Prayer Night on Monday, it was like being welcomed home. All sorts of people came to say hello and give me a hug. Core member friends who didn't notice when I entered the room (because of the initial hubbub of a community gathering) suddenly saw me during the prayer. Their faces lit up, and they waved, though it was a solemn moment as we were remembering the 20+ people in our community who have joined the Communion of Saints.

When the prayer ended, community anniversaries were announced. My friend, Honey, gave me a hug and a rose. Being in the prayer circle with all my friends reminded me how blessed I am to work at L'Arche. It is much more than a 'job' because I am surrounded by God's best gifts -- special, wonderful, warm and loving people! The communion of saints here on earth.

Who are the communion of saints on earth who surround you?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Simple Suggestion #218... Take a break from technology

This morning Julia handed me her little piece of technology as if it was a gift. Surprised, I asked what she was doing.

"I'm taking a break from my iPod. I don't want to be distracted. I'm going to read books instead."

Last night, Suzanna spent almost the entire evening at the piano, learning to play the beginning of the Danube Waltz. It made me so happy to see her at something other than FaceBook.

It wasn't all that long ago that we didn't have these little screens that absorb so much of our time and distract us from the things we'd really like to do. Now they seem to demand our attention multiple times a day, if not all day long. I often wonder if we are going to be a tech-addicted society until kingdom come. You know it's gotten really bad when people in the same room text each other.

Can you turn off your device for a few hours? A full day? A week or longer? Too many of us rely on these things for work and communication to the point that we barely remember how life was before... and as much as we'd like to cop a break, our work or our commitments demand that the phone stays on.

Of course, there is a really simple solution to tech addiction. Turn the devices off! At least for a few uninterrupted hours a day. Or, as Julia did, hand a device to someone who will put it away in an unknown place. And... learn to play a song on the piano. Read a book or magazine. Write a note to a friend. Go for coffee with someone. Get some fresh air. Be fully present.

In other words, live in the real world instead of a virtual one.

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014


We've been doing a lot of celebrating lately... anniversaries, birthdays, and more birthdays. Today is the birthday of the man I love. His birthday cake was a bit too big, so we lit the candles and sang happy birthday five times with all the different people who came and went from an open house. It was a real celebration of a wonderful person by family and friends who love him.

He'll likely never be famous, or powerful, or win awards and prizes of prestige and honour, but he is loved, there is no doubt. This weekend's celebration, including the music, flamingos, balloons, and colourful socks, was a "shout of love" -- for an absolutely loveable man.

We love you, Lee!