Monday, December 28, 2015

A pre-Christmas mountain trip

Christmas lights in Jasper
For a few days before Christmas, our little family went to Jasper, Alberta, to enjoy fresh mountain air and a wee winter break. It was cold but gorgeous. We arrived to moonlit mountains and, after checking into our hotel, immediately went stargazing near Patricia Lake, where we experienced not the sound of music, but the sound of wapiti calling in the woods surrounding the lake -- a strange, sometimes grating or whooshing, sometimes thumping sound.

Lee and Christina got in a bit of skiing while the rest of us took a walk with a friend around Lake Beauvert. We hit the best pizzeria in Jasper for lunch, did a bit of shopping, and took a wonderful winter nap before a marvellous meal at L&W Greek restaurant. Returning to the hotel, we took a dip in the hot tub and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

My favourite moments of the trip were the next day at Pyramid Lake, 
where we skated on the ice loop,

Julia tried some woodblock curling

and we had a crazy game of 3-on-3 boot hockey. 

After a late lunch, a few of us walked up Maligne Canyon to see the ice falls, which is something I've always wanted to do.

We cooked supper in our kitchenette and hurried to down town Jasper on foot to see Star Wars, but arrived just as the manager of the movie theatre was posting a SOLD OUT sign. Oh well. Back in our room we saw the movie Philomena instead, an amazing story of loss and forgiveness.

It was a beautiful break, and continues to be a relaxing holiday.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas finally arrives

Due to a few people being a bit under the weather this year, we celebrated Christmas as a family tonight. A yummy dinner, incredible Christmas karaoke, gift opening, and a yummy dessert. So you could say I'm really feeling Christmas now. It just wasn't right without the family connections.

So although the carols aren't playing much now that December 25th has passed, I'm determined to enjoy and celebrate right up to the Baptism of Christ on January 10th. And today I'm celebrating by re-posting the little video below from St. Paul Arts and Media. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Love has come to walk among us

This Christmas eve, I am struck by the fact that the Holy Family are a sharp contrast to so many of us celebrating the birth of the Child. We in the western world lack for nothing, but they were poor travellers with no place to lay their heads. Then they became refugees, running from a mad king who was afraid that the Child might usurp his powers. These days, we all know about refugees, and some of us are afraid of them.

But that little family and its holy Child call us to a simple awareness of those among us who are frightened, far from home, alone, struggling, or looking for a friend -- we who have so much are invited to be generous, warm-hearted and loving. Do we have more than a stable to offer?

Today, I was listening to Michael W. Smith's Christmas Album and was struck by a line in his Anthem for Christmas: "Love has come to walk among us/ Christ the Lord is born this night."

Let's not fail to notice the love that waits to be noticed as it walks quietly among us, or to live it and be it ourselves. That's why Christ came -- to call us to BE love, so that love walks among us always.

Thanks to Alwyn Barry for posting this YouTube video (with Chris Monson's fitting images) so that you all can hear the Anthem for Christmas for yourselves. It's an inspiring and inspired piece of music.

Have a blessed Christmas, my friends, and BE love all year long.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Selfish Giant

Everyone probably has a few unforgettable stories in their lives, bits of literature that never quite leave us, though we may forget them for years at a time. For me, it's Hugh Lofting's stories of Doctor Doolittle, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family.

And then there's this one, Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant. I've been looking for this 1971 Canadian short film version on and off for the last several years, and was delighted to discover last Friday that someone finally put it up on YouTube. I've always loved the story of the Giant's redemption (though I couldn't have expressed that when I first saw it when I was six), and its images have stayed with me -- the Giant's odd whiskers, the disappointed children, the way Snow spreads her cloak over the Giant's garden, the Viking-god-like North Wind, Hail dancing on the roof of the castle, and the Little Child walking with the Giant at the end of the story.

The animation isn't as sophisticated as my children are used to, but the tale still succeeds in melting my heart a little. In my books it's a Christmas story because TV stations seemed to play it only at Christmas during my childhood (with Kraft foods commercials at the breaks).

If you've never seen or read The Selfish Giant before, or if you haven't seen it in years, enjoy.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A new favourite Christmas song

It's been a long time since a really good Christmas song has given me goosebumps, but last night my sister's grade six class sang one -- the kind that makes my heart inexplicably happy, my toes tap involuntarily, and my eyes fill with bright unshed tears of joy. And I find out afterward that the song was released in 2013 on the album, Merry Christmas to You, by the Sidewalk Prophets, a Country band from Nashville.

There's something about the simplicity and happiness of Oh What a Glorious Night... and the final verse, sung gently, like a lullaby. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The best little Christmas Pageant ever...

was last night, and unfortunately, I had to miss it this year. But my eldest daughter didn't, and she wrote a lovely blog post about it, which you can access by clicking here. Why not see if her little story makes you smile? I can just see it all... and her happiness is contagious.

Monday, December 14, 2015

My (very early) morning at the Museum

Edmonton said goodbye to the old Royal Alberta Museum last weekend by inviting the public to a 48-hour marathon farewell. I talked about it with my girls and mentioned that if we were to attend, we should pick a time when it wouldn't be too crowded -- like four in the morning (over 35,000 people visited in those 48 hours, and my sister experienced the crowds on Friday night and wished she'd stayed home).

"Let's do it!" said Julia, our youngest daughter. So I told her to set her alarm for 4 a.m. Sunday morning and we'd go.

At 4:15 a.m. Julia came and woke me from a very sound sleep. I was confused by her appearance in our room until she said, "It's time to go to the museum, Mom."

"Do you really want to go?" I asked, preparing to haul myself out from under my warm blankets.

"Not really," she said, and headed back to her bedroom. Oh well.

But you don't wake me at 4:15 a.m. and expect me to go back to sleep. I laid in bed hoping to doze off, but after 45 minutes I decided: "Maria, if you don't get up and go to the museum to say goodbye, it will be one of those things you'll regret." (I've always been a sentimental fool of sorts.)

Had to see these pioneers one more time.
I tried to wake my girls to take them along, but they seemed more interested in their pillows, so I ate some breakfast, made a travel mug of coffee, and drove through a dark and disorienting downtown, arriving at the museum at 5:31 a.m.

As I walked in, I realized that it was the first time I had ever been to the Royal Alberta Museum alone. I found myself moodling about how museums are a place of wonder and awe about life as I spent a lovely two hours wandering around, remembering different experiences from my past:

as a grade five student learning about Alberta's first peoples,

 as a grade eight student learning to identify Alberta wildlife, 

I always loved the cub on the lower right, playing with a feather
as a teacher bringing my own grade four class to learn about rocks, 

Mark S. and Jon H. liked the UV rock room...
and as a mom, trying to stay calm as my child held a centipede from Madagascar!

"Mom! Mom! It doesn't feel slimy at all!"
Walking through the museum by myself was quite wonderful. 
There was no one to hurry me along 
so I looked at things at my own speed 
and even watched an entire 15-minute video loop 
about Aboriginal traditions from start to finish. 
But I'll admit it would have been much nicer 
to share the experience with my girls 
(who in the end were sorry to have missed one last visit to the museum).

At the end of my morning, I went to the Goodbye/Hello room
 and found myself a little emotional 
as I wrote my own message to sum up 
my 30+ years of experience at the museum:

On the way home, I was rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise
along the boardwalk overlooking Victoria Park.

The museum closed its doors nine hours later, 
and will reopen in a new location in downtown Edmonton
in two years. It will be hard for the new museum 
to beat the memories I treasure from its old location,
that's for sure.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #21... "Realities are more important than ideas"

Did you follow any of the coverage of the Climate Conference in Paris? I missed a lot of it, but did hear the appeal of some island countries who were begging that world leaders do everything in their power to keep the climate from warming more than 1.5 degrees or their lands could end up underwater due to melting polar icecaps. It's just another proof of the idea expressed in the title of this moodling, taken directly from Laudato Si:On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis' letter to our world.

This week I've been studying part of "The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm," paragraphs 106-110, which are basically all about technology's role in our present ecological crises (the paragraphs can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down).

For a long while, it seems, we have been dreaming that technology will be the solution to all our problems. Paragraph 106 notes that technology depends upon human beings who, "using logical and rational procedures, progressively and rationally gain control" over our surroundings through "a technique of possession, mastery and domination." But the earth is God's gift to us, and we are finally realizing that such a technique doesn't work because the earth is not meant to be possessed, mastered and dominated only by human beings, and that there is no "infinite and unlimited growth" when it comes to the earth's energy and resources and their renewal. Mastery and domination are a dead end if we end up destroying the only planet we have.

We like to think that the many advances in technology in our lifetime mean that we have also advanced in knowledge and wisdom -- but as we saw last week, wisdom is a different creature altogether, and it's clear that the two come unglued from one another too easily. While it is true that we have come a long way in knowing how to build and create and impose order with our machines and computers and factories, we have not been able to foresee the ways these technological advances have endangered our existence -- until the hole appeared in the ozone layer, the polar icecaps and glaciers began to melt, species started disappearing at an alarming rate, and the fabric of our societies began to fray. Technology is just one kind of knowledge (which doesn't necessarily include wisdom), and "technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups" (paragraph 107).

And who are those powerful groups? Can we trust them to improve life for all species on our earth? Not so far. Allow me one example: several big oil companies have provided us with necessary heat and transportation in the past century, but at what cost? When scientists began to notice that our climate was heating up, corporations produced 'experts' to undermine the truth their own researchers had uncovered. Money and power were more important to them than facing up to reality, so they manipulated knowledge to confuse the public with arguments that climate change was a hoax, wasting precious time we should have been using to find and develop alternate energy sources. It's only in these last months of 2015 that we have finally started to hear about the possibility of climate litigation against some of these offenders -- and it's also taken us this long to reach a climate agreement last week in Paris, one that will demand more effort than would have been required had we begun when rising temperatures were first noticed in the 60s...

For many of us, knowledge and technology have become so integrated into our daily existence and so indispensable in our daily tasks that "It has become counter-cultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same" (paragraph 108). But where technology and its particular kind of knowledge are destroying habitats and species, we need to stand against it, to be counter-cultural.

But it's never easy to buck a trend, is it? For example, not to have a cell phone in this day and age is to be "out of the loop." And yet, as I look around and notice how many people on the bus have their eyes fixed on their mobile phones, or when I am forced to overhear someone loudly talking to her boyfriend, I'm not wishing that I had one. I don't want my life to operate through cellphone technology because I tend to agree with the last line of paragraph 108 -- so many of the motives behind our technologies are about power, and "Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one's alternative creativity are diminished" by such power.

And what is this power? Jesus knew. He talks about it in Matthew 6: 24 when he says, "You cannot serve both God and wealth." Our society is hung up on wealth and materialism, and the economy has become the bottom line to the point that we've lost the big picture -- that we were not put on this earth to stimulate the planet's financial growth, but to look after one another and all of creation. Our moral, spiritual and ethical values have slipped to the side even as technology and economic growth have blinded us to reality and fragmented what little vision we have left. As the Pope and friends say at the end of paragraph 109, "We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning, and social implications of technological and economic growth."

Paragraph 110 says it straight out: "technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture." And that larger picture is life as we know it, "appreciation for the whole, for the relationship between things, and for the broader horizon" that shows us our place in the vast goodness of all that God has made. Technology is not "the principle key to the meaning of existence" but by thinking that it is, human beings have come to a place of "environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and community living."

The sooner we remember that technology and knowledge are only tools that allow us to do what needs to be done, the better chance we have of slowing climate change, reducing consumption and saving ourselves and the rest of creation with the wisdom that comes from awareness of the big picture.

So how do we put technology in its place? Perhaps we can begin by turning it off more often, and by realizing how it's possible to live without it. Here I'm talking about these devices that surround us -- phones, computers, TVs, things that distract us or divide us from our families and communities. We can also give more thought to the use of all the machines/technical components in our lives. Are our time- or labour-saving devices really saving us time or labour? Or have we been brainwashed into believing that they make a difference in our lives as they guzzle gas or energy and create unnecessary pollution? (We often forget the pollution it takes to make these items.) Do we really need the latest techie gadget or gizmo, or is it one of those market items that will end up in our landfills sooner than later? How many single purpose appliances are filling our cupboards and taking space in our lives? Is that whisk-o-matic doohickey for frothing my hot chocolate really necessary?

No matter what our sense of entitlement or our marketers tell us, we need to consider the realities of our lives and whether our knowledge or technology will really work for us -- or against our earth. "Realities are more important than ideas," say Pope Francis and friends in the last line of paragraph 110 -- and they are 100% right.

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #22... BOLD CULTURAL REVOLUTION, anyone?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Simple Christmas idea #9 revisited -- Attend an Advent service

It's that time of year again... Advent, a lovely, anticipatory time of reawakening the birth of Christ in our hearts, hoping for the justice and peace that our faith calls for, and looking forward to the return of light to our lives...

On Sunday at 7 p.m., the Southeast Edmonton Taize group will be praying together at Resurrection Catholic Church, 10555 50 A Street. All are welcome, and to make the experience truly ecumenical, I would invite participants to bring friends and neighbours of any denomination. Taize Prayer is open to all believers, so the more the merrier.

I love the chant below for these days of long winter darkness. You're all invited to come and sing it with us on Sunday evening.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #20... WANTED: Wisdom

The Treasure Within
by Mary Southard csj
(more of her art can be found at
The advancement of human beings is pretty incredible when you really think about it. It's just our wisdom hasn't kept up. In this week's 5 paragraphs of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis names some of the amazing technological advances of the past two centuries, and notes our need to rediscover wisdom for our planet's sake. See for yourself by clicking here and reading paragraphs 101-105.

We've completed the second chapter of Laudato Si, The Gospel of Creation, and now we are moving into Chapter three, The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis, which will look at how "human life and activity have gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us." Our encyclical writers "focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and of human action in the world" (paragraph 101).

"We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change" begins paragraph 102, and here's a long list of some of the changes mentioned:

steam engines
the telegraph
chemical industries
modern medicine
information technology
digital devices
domestic appliances
transportation systems
bridges, buildings and public spaces
nuclear energy
information technology
knowledge of our DNA (all in paragraphs 102-104)

And I'm sure there are many more that our writers didn't name. God-given human creativity has brought about all these wonders, many of which have vastly improved the survival and fulfillment of many human beings on earth. The problem is that these things have also given human beings "tremendous power" and dominance over one another and all God's other creatures.

The problem is that our technological advances keep occurring faster than our understanding of what they mean for all of creation in terms of "human responsibility, values and conscience" (paragraph 105). Our awareness of our limitations is clouded by human ego -- "look what we did! Isn't it incredible?!" -- preventing us from remembering that it's not just human beings who are affected by what we do with our discoveries. If we really think about it, there hasn't been a bridge built or a medical procedure invented that hasn't affected the lives of countless creatures, human and non-human, in one way or another. As has already been mentioned four times already, everything is interconnected. But we have the freedom to create, and unfortunately we don't always use wisdom to remember those connections, or use our creativity the way God intended.

The last three sentences of paragraph 105 sum it up pretty bluntly:
Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.
I'd like to underline two key words in this last bit: spirituality and self-restraint. It strikes me that, had human beings created that long list of wonders above while in spiritual, meditative relationship with God, one another, and all of creation, self-restraint would have come naturally, and wisdom would have played a much larger role in our creation of a world with fewer problems. But we humans are often in too much of a hurry to wait for Wisdom, she who calls to us so beautifully in Chapter 8 of the book of Proverbs (click here to read it).

We could all use a dose of wisdom in our lives, especially during this holy season of Advent. We succumb to such a pressured pace in December that it's no wonder we lose perspective. So this week, I would invite us all to slow down and spend some time meditating on Wisdom as she appears in Proverbs 8, and allow her love of truth and goodness to fill our hearts as we prepare for Christ's coming, and as we wait to see what will come out of the Paris Climate talks. Perhaps she can motivate us toward self-restraint when it comes to the consumerism linked to Christmas, and inspire us to find ways to walk more simply on the earth in this holy season.

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #21... "Realities are more important than ideas"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mateusz's gifts from the heart

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, here is a lovely little movie from L'Arche in Poland. I have received several such wonderful broken gifts from my friends with disabilities at L'Arche, and somehow they touch me more deeply than many of the unbroken gifts I have been given. Mateusz's smile is a gift in itself! Enjoy.

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Simple Suggestion # 244... Simplify your Christmas season

Today I spent a few hours with some gentle folks, leading a workshop about having a simpler, more sustainable and less stressful Christmas season. I've given the Simplifying Christmas workshop for the last seven years or so to many different groups, and today I had the unexpected pleasure of having a repeat participant! She came to me after the workshop asking if I had given the session in a certain place -- and that's when I figured out why she seemed so familiar. What was really lovely was that her 94-year-old mom also joined her, and shared some of her favourite Christmas memories.

As I listened to the dear lady talk about special Ukrainian Christmas foods, time with family and neighbours, and singing Christmas carols in three languages until the wee hours after midnight mass, I found myself yearning for a Christmas that depends less on consumerism and more on community. It's only the last 70 or 80 years that have seen Christmas shackled to shopping, and are we any happier for it?

Many of the so-called Christmas traditions that we now take for granted came out of someone's desire to make money, and generally, they aren't the things that stay in our memory through the years. Can we even recall the Christmas gifts that we received last year? I can't. But I do remember precious times shared with family and friends -- visiting, going Christmas caroling, playing a wild and crazy game of cards, tobogganing or skating, or even just going for a walk together (in our Christmas pajamas!). And what's interesting is that these happy memory moments are much kinder to our earth and its limited resources than the items on the "Christmas Must-Haves" lists compiled by marketers and consumer magazines.

So today, I'd like to suggest that we recall those simple Christmas moments, and consider ways that we can simplify the season ahead. I know I've shared plenty of Simple Christmas ideas in the past that you can read up on below, but if you don't feel like reading, check out the little 4-minute video version ... and have a gentle and joyous Advent and Christmas season...

#1 -- Decorate organically (naturally)
#2 -- Have a happy Advent (observe "anticipation")
#3 -- Have a cookie of a day (cookie bake)
#4 -- Turn off the TV (more time, more peace)
#5 -- Forgo gifts for family togetherness (presence vs. presents)
#6 -- Avoid using credit cards for gift purchases (no Christmas aftershocks in January)
#7 -- Choose charitable gifts (offered by charities)
#8 -- Make your own wish list smaller (remember what you have)
#9 -- Attend an Advent prayer service (anticipation again)
#10 -- Give food gifts (and make cooks happy)
#11 -- Be a secret angel (random acts of kindness)
#12 -- Share the gift of a personal story (family history or something funny)
#13 -- Make a micro-loan gift (support the developing world)
#14 -- Create a family calendar (a photo keepsake enjoyed all year)
#15 -- Give gifts to the homeless (warm socks or other necessities)
#16 -- Plan a few quiet evenings during the Christmas season (relax a little)
#17 -- Give homemade coupon gifts (gifts of time and talent)
#18 -- Take a Christmas stroll (enjoy the outdoors)
#19 -- Consider a community gift (share-able presents)
#20 -- Feed the birds (gift our feathered friends)
#21 -- Hold your own candlelit concert (enjoy music at home)
#22 -- Try something other than wrapping paper (avoid wasting paper)
#23 -- Go carolling (sing for neighbours and friends)
#24 -- Bake a birthday cake for Jesus (and share it)
#25 -- Serve Christmas dinner buffet-style (simplify)
#26 -- Adopt a gifts-in, gifts-out policy (the true meaning of Boxing Day)
#27 -- Play a simple game (parlour games and family interaction)
#28 -- Have a meatless meal (be kind to the animals)
#29 -- Get enough sleep (be kind to yourself)
#30 -- Set up a new Christmas giving box (think ahead)
#31 -- Dance! (enjoy your body's ability to move)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #19... How would Jesus live?

There was no environmental crisis to speak of in Jesus' day. World population was steady at maybe 300 million, and most people lived very simply, growing their own food, bartering and trading for other things they required, building or crafting the necessities of life and mostly using just what they needed. Consumer culture existed for the rich, but even they didn't control everything back then, though Jesus' conversations with some wealthy people of his time made it into the Gospels. He spoke of the dangers of wealth and excess, and his words still resonate today, but often go unheard because the message of commercialism is so much louder and brighter. Maybe we need bumper stickers like the one below...

It's an interesting exercise to consider Jesus' life in comparison with our own, but it seems to me that too often the church gets hung up on his divinity and all the head stuff that goes with it rather than his human experience of the heart and guts of life. This week's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, focuses on Chapter 2, section 7, The Gaze of Jesus (you can access the entire document by clicking here). Paragraphs 96-100 have me thinking about what it would be like to see our present world through Jesus' eyes.

I like this section of the encyclical, because it reminds me that if Jesus and I were to go for a walk, he'd be as happy as I am to walk down to the river and just watch the ducks for a while (not that there are very many ducks now that winter has finally hit Edmonton). He might like spreading soil amendment from my compost pile, and eating garden vegetable soup at our dinner table. But what would he think of all our computer gadgets? The noise of traffic? How my husband has been working ten hours a day of late?

Paragraph 96 says that Jesus was always reminding his disciples of the intimate relationship between God and God's creatures. In the scriptures he often reminds us about how God clothes the lilies in splendor, notices every sparrow -- and counts every hair on our heads.

Jesus also "often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things," says paragraph 97, to the point of using creation in his teachings and parables and thus indicating that he was a nature-lover who was deeply aware of and in love with the great Lover who had created everything around him.

In paragraph 98, Pope Francis and his letter-writing team note that "Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed" -- the others, of course, being those who witnessed him walking on water, calming the storms, and enjoying the fruits of the earth. Jesus wasn't someone who "despised the body, matter and all the things of the world" -- he noticed and appreciated life in a holistic way. And yet, there are long periods in Christianity where so-called spiritual ideals were elevated so far above ordinary moments of daily life -- like birth, death, sleep, sex, food, drink and work -- that "unhealthy dualisms... disfigured the Gospel."

I blame this on the fact that celibate clergy who believed they had to live in the Spirit instead of their bodies were put in charge of religion for so long. Had they been allowed to continue serving God and their families, wives and children would have prevented the men from retreating so far into their ivory towers. Married priests were actually only outlawed in the twelfth century when the princes of the church grew tired of supporting families, preferring to keep their wealth to build monumental cathedrals to the glory of God. But what do cathedrals add to the beauty of God's creation, really? And it's family life that keeps most of humanity grounded in reality!

The end of paragraph 98 notes that Jesus was a carpenter who spent a lot of his life as a labourer, endowing work with a holiness of its own. He didn't let big theological ideas unbalance his love for life as a whole even though he was God. He was able to see the big picture.

I like the idea of Jesus
being part of the Green movement
No idea where this photo-shopped pic
The fact that Jesus came to live in the middle of creation gives everything a sacredness: "One person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing his lot with it, even to the cross... Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy" (paragraph 99). The fact that God entered creation as a human being is a sign of how loved and valued we and the rest of creation are. God didn't create the universe and leave us on our own, but joins in the life we live and knows firsthand what creation is all about. Jesus saw -- and continues to see -- the world through eyes like ours.

The section concludes with paragraph 100, which says "the risen One is mysteriously holding [the creatures of this world] to himself and directing them toward fullness as their end." But what does an earth living out of this kind of fullness look like? How does Jesus see it? The old question, "What Would Jesus Do?" applies not only to our relationships with each other, but also to how we treat our earth and live our lives.

So here's an exercise for the week ahead. Let's imagine that Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and son of God, moves in next door. What kind of house does he build for himself? How big is his moving van? What are his yard and garden like? Who are his friends? How does he entertain them? What does he buy at the grocery store? How does he travel around? What does he wear? How does he spend the bulk of his time? How does he care for our earth?

And then we can imagine our lives changing to match his...

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #20... WANTED: Wisdom

Friday, November 27, 2015

Back to snowy walks with a small dog

Winter arrived this week. I'm happy to see snow, and don't generally mind the cold, as long as it's a bit warmer than -30 C (the coldest thus far this week was an early morning -20 with windchill to -26). Shadow and I have been waiting until after lunch to go out this week, though I prefer to get the day's walk out of the way earlier.

Here are a few images and a video from this week's walks:

Mountain ash berries are pretty with snow...

The river is slowly freezing (when it isn't thawing -- 
our cold snaps keep getting interrupted with temperatures
in the pluses... 

It's hard to see, but Shadow has a white beard
from licking snowbanks as he romps along...

Gallagher Park -- arguably the city's best tobogganing hill...

We love living so close to the river valley...

No ducks left here...

and long shadows at two p.m....

If you've never walked a small dog in the snow, this is what it's like, minus the cold fresh air... Have a good weekend, friends!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Simple Suggestion #243... Give gifts of the heart

Every year when Black Friday sales roll around, I try to remind people that we need to appreciate what we have without cramming more stuff into our lives. If you follow these moodlings you'll know all about "Buy Nothing Day", which is anti-consumerism's response to the big sales frenzies developed by marketers to kick off the Christmas shopping season the day after American Thanksgiving.

By all means, boycott shopping on Buy Nothing Day. But I'd also invite us to be mindful of our shopping habits the other 364 days per year, and consider where all our stuff will end up when we're gone. I'd also like to share 10 somewhat-tongue-in-cheek rules of Christmas gift giving that we all need to grow out of here on our limited planet:

And there are probably more...

The thing is, it's just too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have to buy something for everyone on our Christmas list -- and even for others who are not. But not all gifts need to be store bought. Here's a list of alternative gifts, what I would call gifts of the heart:

1. The gift of presence -- just being with someone.
2. The gift of a shared experience -- like going for a walk, a game of cards, star gazing, maybe a book we've enjoyed.
3. The gift of a random act of kindness -- clearing a neighbour's walk, some fresh baking, sweeping the snow off a car...
4. The gift of a heartfelt letter.
5. The gift of a funny story.
6. The gift of a long forgotten memory or photograph.
7. The gift of music.
8. The gift of something treasured being handed on to someone else to love.
9. The gift of an actual voice-to voice phone call.
10. The gift of a coffee/tea/wine/other beverage date, or maybe lunch.
11. The gift of a home cooked meal...

And perhaps you've thought of a dozen others as I've been naming these.The thing is, most of the big ticket gifts sold at Black Friday sales require space, maintenance, cleaning, and eventually, disposal. But the gifts I've named above leave a warm place in our hearts and memories without cluttering our lives. Every thing we give as a gift or own ourselves will have to go somewhere when we are gone, but the gifts of the heart always go with us...

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.
Or click here for more simple Christmas ideas.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #18... Time to tone it down

It strikes me, as I work through reading this encyclical and writing about it, that in discussing 5 or more paragraphs each week, I'm writing a lot more than that! So if you read Pope Francis' letter to the world for yourself, you'll be reading a lot less...! I guess the only difference is that I'm trying to somehow connect every paragraph I read with how we live our lives daily... and I keep hoping for a bit of discussion in the comments below. How are you making these readings relevant in your day-to-day existence?

This week's paragraphs (91-95) in Pope Francis' latest encyclical letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home carry some pretty sharp words. (see for yourself by clicking here). We finish the section on A Universal Communion and begin the one on The Common Destination of Goods, and guess what? Our North American lifestyle is a clear sign that things aren't shared very well around the globe. More on that later.

If human beings really believed that care for each other and care for creation are inextricably linked, would our world be in its present state of pollution and climate-related issues? Paragraph 91 notes that "It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted." Once again we hear the chorus [for the third time], "Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society."

Our sense of community and universal communion can exclude "nothing and no one" says Paragraph 92, because "our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings.... We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality.... Everything is related" [that chorus again, fourth time].

And yet, we are always disregarding aspects of our reality. For example, and this is just one of many, how often do we think about how or where our clothing is made? Are the people who make them being treated fairly? Are the processes involved compatible with a healthy environment? It takes research to find out those kinds of details, and most of us simply don't have the ability to interrogate the CEOs in charge, or the time to look into the business practices related to everything we wear. But here's a thought -- buying our wardrobe second hand, or wearing hand-me-downs is actually recycling and opting out of the consumerism that insists upon the latest style and the most recent market-created trend...

Am I repeating something I said a few weeks ago in that last paragraph? I'm starting to feel as if I'm always singing the same song from this encyclical, and not just because the everything-is-connected chorus is playing over and over again. Awareness of where we can improve the planet's health by using fewer resources eventually makes all these suggestions I'm offering rather obvious. At least, they're obvious to me. Are they obvious to you?

Unfortunately, awareness can be a dangerous thing. It means we have to change!

On Thursday I sat outside a coffee shop and became aware of how many disposable cups were carried out the door by its patrons. In my mind I was trying to multiply that by how many coffee shops there are in my city, and eventually I was tempted to stand up and scream, "Why don't you all bring your own cups and save the trees, the landfill, our planet?! You don't deserve coffee if you don't bring your own cup!" Of course, awareness of these kinds of things is part of the road toward being fully loving toward all that God made (provided I change my own life and make gentle suggestions rather than yelling at anybody! After all, I've used styrofoam and paper coffee cups hundreds, if not thousands of times. But now that I am aware -- it's really hard to go back to that old pattern. I've gotten pretty good at remembering to take my travel mug with me -- I'd say, 9 out of 10 times. But there's still that one time...)

Paragraph 93 says that "every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged." Here I would carry our social perspective even further than that yet again -- because it's not only human beings who are poor and underprivileged in this world -- we regularly impoverish other species as well by our lack of consideration. Saint John Paul II said that "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone." But I think God went even further than that -- the earth isn't just for the human race! It's for all living beings. I can't disagree, though, when he says that "it is not in accord with God's plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few."

Unfortunately, it's too true that 1% of the world's population possesses more than half of its wealth, and that many of us in the cities of the western world have more than our share of the planet's goods. Paragraph 94 reminds us that "The rich and the poor have equal dignity," and quotes the Bishops of Paraguay regarding the rights of every campesino to "a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life... [with equal access to] education, credit, insurance and markets."

Do any of us really have need for more than these kinds of basics: food, water, shelter, clothing, right livelihood, education and community? Paragraph 95 tells us that nature is a collective good which belongs to and is the responsibility of everyone. If we are honest, we don't actually 'own' anything. So really, those things we consider to be possessions are things we just administer "for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others." The last sentence of the paragraph is the real zinger: "the Bishops of New Zealand asked what the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" means when "twenty percent of the world's population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive."

I'm guessing that you and I are in that twenty percent. I know that if everyone lived as I do, we would probably need another four planets like earth to support our lifestyles! Which tells me that I need to tone it down! But how is the way we live killing people in the developing world -- or in the future?

It's not like we're doing it directly. It's the little things that we often aren't aware of that are the problem. Wasting or being careless with what we have. Buying more than we need. Thoughtlessly adding to global climate change by unnecessary use of fossil fuels. Eating too high on the food chain. Taking what we have for granted. Feeling entitled to more than our share because we've worked hard for our money. Going overboard to keep up with the Joneses.

The better way? Appreciating everything. Owning less. Travelling less. Eating simply. Sharing. Living in sufficiency instead of excess.

And participating in events that make us and the world more aware of how we can become more responsible for our planet, reducing climate change and other negative impacts created by over-consumption and unequal distribution of the world's common goods. The fact is that a lot of us have gotten used to living pretty "high on the hog." I'm suspecting that Laudato Si is Pope Francis' gentle way of telling us that we're going to have to tone it down several notches when it comes to our lifestyles in order to save the lives of those in the developing world and the generations to come, never mind our own lives!

That's all I want to say about Laudato Si for this week. But on a related note...

Displaying Collages.jpg

The Paris Climate Talks (COP21) are beginning on November 30th, and next weekend, around the world, there are many rallies and marches being planned to let world leaders know that we need serious action to reduce climate change. Here in Edmonton, people are gathering at the Alberta Legislature next Sunday, November 29th at 2 p.m. as a sign that we need and want action -- even if it means our lives have to change. All are welcome to rally together and show support for the global movement to reduce greenhouse gases and improve our planet's overall health. If you're not from Edmonton, hopefully you can find information about rallies and marches in your neck of the woods by clicking here.

And if you are from Edmonton, I'll be pouring the hot chocolate... hopefully mostly into travel mugs!

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #19... How would Jesus live?

Friday, November 20, 2015

God's love letter(s)

I was supposed to post this last week (after Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #16... God's love letter), but somehow posted something else first... so here is an account of God's love letters to me in the last two weeks or so... God is in all these things, in everything, really...

The warmth of my blankets
The first sip of a good cup of coffee
The good morning shouts of a blue jay at the sunflower I attached to the fence
A breath of cold fresh air as I step outside
The kiss of a pale Novermber sun when I sat against a south facing wall
A rare hug from Darren
The excitement of the dog as he welcomes me home
The satisfaction I feel when the kitchen is tidy
A kiss from my husband as he goes out the door for the day
A snuggle with my daughter (who climbed into bed with me one or two mornings)
The smell of clean sheets hung out to dry
The frost on the edge of a leaf, marking its intricacies
The wind blowing across the long grass in the park
The pinks and oranges in a spectacular sunset
Our veterans
The joy of making music, or just listening to it
A smile from a stranger
A handshake when meeting someone new
Prayer (communication with God)
The long light and shadows of a November afternoon
My daughter's rosy cheeks as she comes home from university
A phone call from the one who has left home
My husband's hand holding mine as we go for our evening walk

This is only a partial list. Where does God say "I love you" to you?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Singing on the bus Part II -- The Preacher and the Bear

(Click here to see the original 'Singing on the bus')

The bus driver who offered me a free ride for a song was driving the 94 again yesterday.

"We've missed you, been waiting for you," he said. "There's room right here on the wheel well for your guitar case."

The boy with the earbuds grinned and shoved over to make room for a woman with guitar, and a few of the passengers further back smiled at me, clearly aware of what was coming -- a song from a stranger.

I unpacked my guitar, telling the busdriver, "You weren't driving the last time I rode this bus, but I had such a bad cold that you wouldn't have wanted me to croak anything out."

"You seem fine today," he observed.

So I sat down and sang my favourite joke song (don't you think there should be a music category like that?), 'The Preacher and the Bear.' This time, no one applauded, but they laughed at the punchline. Then I packed up my guitar again, and chatted with the driver about this and that until we arrived at the university where I got off.

The driver said, "You made the day of some of my riders. If you can do that, why not?" And I agreed. But next time, I think I'll sing an audience participation song. Hey Jude, maybe?

Last night I searched the internet for 'The Preacher and the Bear,' a song that my Uncle Richard recorded in the early '70s with the Macklin Alouettes on the only record they ever made. It's a song that has stayed with me for reasons unknown -- I guess because it's a cute, clean joke with a catchy tune. I've sung it on several occasions, sometimes to pull the leg of clergy friends (substituting "Fr. Jim, he went a walking," for the opening line). It usually gets a chuckle or two.

There are some interesting versions of the song on YouTube, but they all leave the poor preacher stuck in a tree, including my favourite find by the Jubalaires, which is almost more like slam poetry than the song I sing.

I love how the story of the preacher and his grizzly nemesis are the verses between "That a-old-time-a-relid-gion-brother..."

Of course, I much prefer Uncle Richard's version of the story in which the two opponents go their separate ways, one somewhat triumphant and other unscathed. Not finding anything like it on YouTube, I've recorded my own version in an effort to keep the song alive -- I don't imagine too many people are listening to the Macklin Alouettes these days, and I'm not sure where the Alouettes found the song to begin with. Maybe they invented their own version? Complete with the sound of a boxing ring bell ('Ding! One round for the bear!').

So here's 'The Preacher and the Bear,' especially for Uncle Richard, for my friends and readers, and, as I said, as a record of a song that I can't find anywhere else. I'm glad for these electronic ways we have of preserving the stories and songs of the past (those Jubalaires have some pretty great old tunes if you have time to listen)... and I'm also grateful that I have a voice to sing one or two of them for my own enjoyment. It's not a great voice, but it's a good story. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #17... It's not just about us

If there's anything that drives me crazy about Pope Francis' recent letter to the world, it's that it had to be written from the angle where we human beings with our theologically-approved ability to relate to God seem more important than the rest of God's creation, even though creation would probably manage better without us! I think it's really hard for human beings -- with our big intellects and sense of our own souls -- to get our heads around the fact that maybe, just maybe, God loves -- and lives in -- every other creature in the web of life too. It's not just human beings who are special. We are just special in a different way than the others (and as I've said before -- how can we be so sure they don't have souls too?)

Halfway through section IV, which is called The Message of Each Creature in the Harmony of Creation, paragraph 86 notes that "God's goodness "could not be fittingly represented by any one creature. Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships." Actually, the writers of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, are quoting different pieces of Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, which were written in the 13th century! (You can read this week's paragraphs, 86-90, including the footnotes about where to find Aquinas' ideas, by clicking here.) The Bible says that God created humans in His and Her image, yes, but Saint Thomas tells us definitively that God's image also exists in the rest of creation and we need to understand the importance of everything. How did we miss this?

What I love about this encyclical, besides the fact that the Pope and friends are addressing our planet's ecological crises, is that it is constantly pointing out that creation is all "of a piece." We can't understand anything if we don't even attempt to look at the entire picture -- because everything depends upon the interdependence of all aspects of creation. Humans have gotten into the habit of thinking we must be independent (that's what marketers want so they can sell us each our very own fill-in-the-blank) but clearly, we need to change such thinking because it's creating quite a mess.

Our insistence on our independence means that there too many single occupant vehicles driving around the cities of North America. But what if we decided to try some interdependence -- carpooling, carsharing, public transit and other modes of getting around? We might have to depend on one another, build stronger community supports, create fewer emissions that lead to climate change, and maybe live a healthier life, but would that be so bad? Not according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which points out at the end of paragraph 86 that "Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other."

Sound like Utopia? Or maybe heaven on earth? But what if I don't want to carpool with a neighbour who irritates me? What if I lend my car to a friend who scrapes the bumper? What if it's too much of a hassle to share because I don't have time to organize a car pool?

The thing is, what is worse? An uninhabitable planet, or making time to connect, share and get along with others? This Anthropocene era in which human activity has had a major impact on our earth's ecosphere since the Industrial Revolution has seen an incredible increase in population and pollution, partly because we've gotten out of the habit of working together. The increasing suffering worldwide due to climate change-related weather events seems to be a catalyst for the beginning of a conversion in us, where we see the necessity of living more simply, co-operating with our neighbours, and respecting the sacredness of creation.

Paragraph 87 seems to be designed simply to allow for the reappearance of Saint Francis' Canticle of the Creatures to aid us in praising God. I just wish they had printed it in its entirety, including the part about Sister Death. I can't help but think that if we were all better friends with our mortality, we wouldn't spend so much of our lives accumulating the earthly treasure Jesus warned against, "that moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal" (Matt 6.19). If we are constantly aware that Sister Death allows us to take no possessions with us, maybe we'd leave fewer behind!

In paragraph 88, we are reminded that "The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship" by cultivating the "ecological virtues" that are part of the social doctrine of the Church. In my brief skim of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, creation is seen as important to the well-being of humans. I hope the Compendium also sees it as important in and of itself, or both Saint Francis and Saint Thomas Aquinas will be frowning... Every creature in creation has its role to fulfill, and human beings in particular need to acknowledge our "right and proper place" instead of thinking ourselves the pinnacle of creation or of creation as merely the fulfillment of our wants. Not the left, but the right, below.

I'd love to know where this graphic originated so I could give the artist credit, because it pretty much sums up my feelings about our relationship with the earth. Who says human beings are the highest level of creation? Human beings! But the true picture is on the right. We are not the top of the pyramid, though that's the image that consumer culture (and the beginning of the book of Genesis) may have imprinted upon us.

God (not us) owns everything, says paragraph 89, and
all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate respect... God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.
No kidding. This summer I kept finding dying bumblebees. My heart broke every time. Can't we stop with the pesticides already?

Paragraph 90 underlines the importance of the role of people in the care of creation, stating that
we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, where we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.
Enormous inequalities breed enormous anger and terrible division. I'm afraid my church pretends to be blind to the greater rights it gives to men over women, and how that only feeds the inequality of women around the globe, many of whom are left to feed families and care for the elderly without much support from the males who are seen as having greater value in many cultures. The inequality of people based on gender is just another example of living beings being treated irresponsibly, though Pope Francis and friends are ignoring that here (they don't want to think about things like women priests, for example) -- for them, the division is not so much between male and female, but between rich and poor.

But again, it's all of a piece, and we'll never get to equality and heaven on earth if we ignore sexism... or any of the other "isms" that divide us from other beings in creation. All that God made must be valued and considered worthy of care... and it would be good if all living things were accorded similar rights, though it would require more effort on our part to care for them all. At the moment, we only care for the things we value, and heaven knows we haven't always valued the right things!

For the week ahead, let's give some thought to the things we value and how they fit into the web of life that God created. If a fire was to come and swallow everything we own, what would we miss the most? What could we easily live without? How much do our "needs" impact our planet and its ecosystems? How much impact do our "wants" have on the earth?

Let's give some thought to the idea that the needs of creation are important too.

This life, this planet, is not just about us.

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #18... Time to tone it down

A prayer for Paris (and other places)

O God,
it's so hard to understand this.

The kind of hatred that would
motivate young people
to blow themselves up outside soccer games
or shoot fans at a rock concert or restaurant
is not something we experience
on a daily basis.
Yet it seems there are many who do.

How do we reach them?
How can their angry hearts
be transformed into loving hearts?
How must we be different
so that the anger and violence in them melts away?

Bless all those who mourn,
and those impacted
by the trauma of shootings and bombings
and violent events the world over.

We grieve with them,
and we pray that you will show us all
how steadfast love and faithfulness can meet
and where righteousness and peace
can kiss each other in justice and truth
in all the situations like these.

Even more basically, show us how
it is not
them vs. us
us vs. them,
but that we are all one family,
your children.

Free us from our fears,
keep us open to those in need,
and help us to do your will.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Two hugs

Art by Mimi Noland, from The Hug Therapy Book
(Compcare 1983, ISBN 0-89638-065-3)
I like to think of myself as a giver of hugs, but this week, I was definitely the recipient.

On Sunday evening, our Taizé prayer group led our annual Prayer for Peace at a downtown church, a place we'd never prayed before. We arrived an hour early to set up and were met by the minister and a young man who helped us get organized. Richard was most anxious to be of assistance, and went out of his way to be hospitable in every possible way.

Toward the end of the evening, I thanked him for all he had done. "How about the snacks? Were they okay?" "Excellent," I said, and gave him a thumbs up.

When the time came for us to go home, I went to thank the minister with a hug, and Richard stepped across to hug me, too. It was totally unexpected, but much appreciated, and on the way home, I found myself moodling about how we can meet strangers for a short time and never really know how much we'll impact one another. Clearly, something I had done or said touched Richard, and his hug touched me, too. I won't forget that moment.

Then, this morning, Suzanna and I returned to L'Arche for the first time since she left the Community Centre to start university. Usually, Thomas is there to pepper us with questions as we walk in the door, but today, Darren spotted us coming first and hustled over to give us both hugs in his most unusual way.

Hugging Darren is a bit like hugging a porcupine -- it's very careful, and you can't get too close. He sort of stretches his hands out and puts them gently around a person's neck. Today, when his hands were around my neck, he sort of snuggled in just a tiny bit, and I found myself kissing him on the forehead, my eyes filling with tears, as it was only the second time I've ever received a hug from him. He did the same to Suzanna, whom he had never hugged before.

Darren is a non-verbal man with autism, and Suzanna and I have come and gone from the Community Centre many times without him paying any notice. But today he was clearly very happy to see us!

It's been a Novemberish week, grey and cloudy, but well-placed hugs are definitely a ray of sunshine.

*I use pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends.