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)