Saturday, January 28, 2017

To make compassion our action

I recently came across the little video below. These wonderful Tibetan Buddhist nuns are using the spiritual values of interdependence and compassion to heal the earth where they live:

Their message to us:

"Listen to the water. I am here for the well-being of all life.

Listen to the forest. Care for it like your own child.

We need to work together. Listen to the changes affecting us all.

Compassion is action!"

How can we bring this kind of action about in the spiritual spaces of our North American culture? Can we convince our church, synagogue, or temple communities to put our faith into action for the environment's sake? For the sake of Our Common Home, our sister, Mother Earth? It's been a while since I've moodled around topics related to Pope Francis' letter to the world, Laudato Si.

To start with, we need to give compassion a much higher place in our lives -- to care for our earth, its creatures and its climate more than we do for economic growth. Because of the climate-change-denying, backward-moving politicians in this part of the world who are more interested in pipelines than in encouraging people to reduce their reliance on greenhouse gases, I was delighted to receive an email yesterday about efforts being made by some religious groups to divest from investments connected to fossil fuel industries.

Wouldn't it be something if all the faith communities on our planet put our compassion for the earth into action? There are at least a half dozen religious organizations already involved in divestment campaigns, the Canadian Jesuits among them. And there are several websites encouraging us to start our own divestment campaigns, with free resources to help us get started. Even if we're not ready to consider divestment, tackling our personal dependence on fossil fuels is something we can all do, simply by reducing our own use of vehicles, carpooling and taking public transit more often, or better yet, walking or cycling. And how about those mostly unnecessary tropical vacations? Maybe we need to learn to love where we live and do our utmost to keep it beautiful, like these wonderful Tibetans.

Action turns compassion into more than a feeling. It becomes life for the world. And isn't that what the greatest religious teachers have tried to tell us through the centuries? The way, truth and life that humans seek comes through working together for the good of all of creation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hoar frost in the city

With the fog, frost and snow that we've had around here lately, the city is looking pretty gorgeous, though I must admit, I tend to stick to parts of the city where nature is most visible. Even without sunshine and blue skies, the white trees are pretty spectacular. My camera and I have been enjoying ourselves, capturing images of winter. Here are a few for you to enjoy, too.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Unity at the YEG Women's March on Washington

The Edmonton version of the Women's March on Washington was a foggy, somewhat chilly event for all those who chose to stand in solidarity for the sake of women's rights. But the passion of the speakers, the spirit of the crowd, and the importance of what we were there for kept us all warm.

It wasn't lost on me that my family and I were standing in the shadow of a statue that honours the many orders of religious women who established the healthcare, education and social welfare systems of our province. I'm willing to bet that a few of those religious women were present in the crowd, standing up for human rights in the form of women's rights, just as they always have.

It also wasn't lost on me that the Women's March fell in the middle of the Week for Christian Unity. In some ways, I wish it was the week for World Unity, unity not only in a religious sect that has divided itself into different churches, but a week for the overall unity of humanity. Sometimes I think we Christians are too focused on ourselves, and miss the bigger picture that God intended the whole world to work together in all spheres, not just our religion!

That aside, I took the opportunity to stroll around the grounds of the Alberta Legislature, and was deeply moved by the people, young and not-so-young, who came together to voice their support for women all over the globe. In a world inundated with social media, we know more than we ever have about the abuse, inequality, injustice, discrimination, ignorance and violence directed at half of the human race. As one of my favourite placards, carried by a young boy, stated, "When half of us are held back, none of us succeed."

As I wandered back through the crowd to return to my family members, I looked into the faces of the people gathered and suddenly, my eyes filled with tears. It's good to know, in a world that has had more than its share of nastiness lately, that there are people who refuse to be bystanders when it comes to important human issues. Thousands packed up their families or met their friends and came out on a chilly day to cheer on the speakers, including a young Muslim woman who was harrassed for wearing a hijab. She gave an impassioned speech which reminded all present, "The moment you were born was not when you came from your mother's womb; it was the first moment you stood up against injustice."

And that's what most of the people (other than a few hecklers whom the security guards banished from the area) were doing yesterday -- standing up against injustice, marching for kindness' sake. As always, though, the challenge is to turn the goodwill of events like this into action for good: to support organizations that help women leave situations where they live with domestic violence, to give to causes that shore up women's health, education, and employment, to insist upon equality for women in our goverments, workplaces, communities, and churches.

Women are making inroads into many traditionally masculine fields, but they pay high prices for it. My friend Ruth has had to let go of her place in the larger Catholic community for following her God given vocation and being one of the best Catholic priests I know (yes, you read that right). Our premier and other female government members are sexually harassed by online trolls simply because their views don't fit with the trolls' views. Do men in politics get sexually harassed? Rarely. Something's gotta give.

Women "hold up half the sky," as the Raging Grannies noted in one of their songs (or was it a rap?) and yes, men hold up the other half. But what is considered to be women's work is too often denigrated by our partriarchal world, and it's past time to acknowledge that though we may have different gifts or talents, the work of all people, female, male, or LGBTQ, is equally important. Generally speaking, in our society, women are expected to take on the roles that give comfort: to raise and feed families, to care for the sick and elderly, to offer hospitality. Women fight for peace. Women educate children. Women are about tenderness, trust, forgiveness and wisdom. I'm not saying that men can't also be and do these things, but until we have a society that gives women and men equal opportunities and equal pay in every field, this kind of duality will divide rather than unite us.

What men traditionally do, and what women traditionally do, and our LGBTQ family members do, all humans do. Let's be united in our support for one another, no matter the gender involved.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A foggy winter walk

I've never seen fog this thick in our city during the month of January. We're just back from a walk, and if anything, the fog seems thicker than when we left. It doesn't usually stick around this late into the day, either. Traffic noise was deadened, and the usual view of the river was missing, but we enjoyed ourselves, and Shadow had a marvelous time chasing his tail on the hard-packed snow. A few cool and foggy pictures for your enjoyment. Looks like we'll be having a foggy Women's March on Washington here in Edmonton. More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A cure for January blues

January is a strange month. It's the start of something new... and a time when many are blue.
Christmas has passed, the decorations are down, and our spirits sometimes go that direction too.

It didn't help that this work week began with news from five of my colleagues who had lost a friend or relative over the weekend. I've heard it said many times that people often hold on through the Christmas season for one last celebration with loved ones, and then succumb to illness or old age once all the feasting and festival is over. I'm not sure that's really the case with all the deaths I've been hearing about this week, but I know that it's made for a more sombre atmosphere at work. We are saddened by our friends' sorrow.

So this morning, our L'Arche Day Program decided to do something to lighten the burden a bit. We were all invited to join our core members to pray for those who had died and for those who are grieving. And it's safe to say that the little impromptu prayer service lifted all our spirits a little. I was especially touched when Mariette began her prayer: "I'd like to pray for my wonderful friend, Thomas, and my wonderful friend, Lucy, and my wonderful friend, Sandy, and my wonderful friend, Darren..." and on it went, as she looked around the circle and prayed for all present -- a simple, heartfelt naming of each of us to God.

I wonder, in this strange month of January, how much our spirits might lift if we would simply remember all the people who bless us, day in and day out, by their presence in our lives. Maybe Mariette is on to something -- the real cure for January blues.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Welcoming migrants and refugees -- in laetitia!

Today is World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a day that should be declared publicly and celebrated more than it is. I know and love many migrants, some of whom started out as refugees, and they are all wonderful, hardworking, loving individuals who have enriched our society in more ways than we will ever realize.

Why can't everyone see that welcoming those who choose to come to our countries to find a better life is a good idea? They widen our hearts and bring so many beautiful gifts to share. Many of them, coming as they do from places where life is harder and more dangerous than we can possibly imagine, have a greater sense of hospitality than we do. I often think it must be difficult to come to North America, where really, unless we are Indigenous, we are all descended from migrants or refugees from years gone by. Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten that deep sense of hospitality that came with our ancestors from the "Old Country" by sheer necessity. I think it is a sing when we fail to extend hospitality to newcomers and conveniently forget that our people were newcomers, too.

Even so, they come, they surmount the obstacles that face them, and they become valued and valuable members of our communities. Their generosity has put me to shame on occasion -- I think of the people I work with at L'Arche who add so much joy and enthusiasm to my days with their cheerful greetings and unexpected kindnesses.

If we let them, most of our migrants and refugees want only to become our friends and colleagues, and their ability to open our minds and hearts is something we ought to value more than we do. They are not coming to take our jobs or make our lives worse -- they are often fleeing situations that are untenable. We are called to let go of our paranoia and fear of the other, to be welcoming, to join hands with those who come from afar, and to raise a song of gladness. Why not learn a song of theirs, and teach them one of ours?

This evening, we had a beautiful ecumenical prayer, and our last chant was the one posted below. "Rejoice in God, people of the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!" is the direct translation of the Latin words. As the song lifted our hearts and reverberated through the worship space, I found myself thinking of the many refugees and migrants who have come to Canada in the past year, and how they have added to the mosaic of our life here with their many languages, cultures and traditions. It's definitely something to celebrate, with gladness, in laetitia!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Loving, working

These days I'm back to work pretty full-time with the L'Arche Edmonton community, helping with our triennial accreditation process. I'm happy to be working -- I can't think of a better place to work. The policy-related typing and organizing I'm doing isn't exactly exciting and gives me eyestrain by the end of the day, but my colleagues are a lot of fun, and laughter drifts down the hallway from every direction. I love the place, and the people.

Plus, I have Thomas to keep me company -- my friend who makes it his business to know the location of everyone in the building, or alternately, where the people who are missing might be. If Thomas doesn't know where someone is, he sometimes makes something up that seems plausible to him, and sticks with his story until that someone shows up.

Thomas' dedication to his friends within and often beyond our Community Centre is one of the things about him that I really love. He's happiest, of course, when everyone he loves is present, and he gets a bit worried when people are sick or away for too long. Sometimes we have to phone people who are missing but in action elsewhere just to keep Thomas from getting too agitated. But these days, with his friends mostly present and accounted for, he's happy to just sit and drink his coffee at the table near my desk, and tell everyone when people are coming in or going out for the day.

Thomas can't quite figure out why I keep showing up every morning because he's used to me being very part-time. Today he asked, "You here tomorrow?"

"Yes, Thomas," I replied with a smile. It's nice to hang out with someone who loves everyone so much that he wants to know the timing of where they'll be morning, afternoon... and even tomorrow.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A year for tenderness

My best friend and I have had a tradition of picking a word at the beginning of each New Year, a word that we want to focus on for the 12 months to come. Usually the words are tied to our hopes and dreams, or to personal attributes that we want to work on.

2016's word was Trust, and it turned out to be a year in which I had to do lot of work on my trust in God. There were a lot of times when it was hard to see Her and Him working in the details of my life and the lives of those around me. It required a real effort on my part to let go of my own ego (a never-ending battle) and really listen to the people in my life so that I could love them better.

And though it was a very difficult year in many regards, I reaped many benefits, including the commitment to more regular centering prayer and a greater openness to possibilities even in situations that seem negative. God is in charge, and I think my trust in His and Her goodness and mercy increased in 2016. Even so, it was a tough year that broke me and some of the people around me in unexpected ways. Being brought to our knees by circumstances beyond our control is humbling and, to be frank, exhausting. I don't think I've ever cried as much as I did in 2016, angry, sad, and happy tears, but perhaps that just means I'm getting softer as I age!

When I was in Taizé in October, I brought home a postcard of the Madonna of Tenderness, above, written by Frère Eric, and she is posted near my desk. See how tender the Mother and Child are to each other? His little hand wrapped around her neck, caressing her cheek behind the veil, her cheek against his? If we could all feel the tenderness of mother for child and child for mother more often in our lives, this world would be a much different, more hopeful place.

And so, my word for 2017 is tenderness. I need a little more tenderness in my life. I need to be more tender toward the people around me, and I also need them to be tender toward me. I want to see the world become a place where tenderness and forgiveness and acceptance is chosen ahead of blaming and anger and apathy, where we can all find the peaceful places in our hearts and open them wider instead of becoming overprotective of what we think is ours. I want to remember that all the abundance of goodness, beauty and truth that we have has been given to us by our Tender God, our God who tends us and is attentive to us, our God who is more generous and loving than we can imagine.

That's my word, and I'm sticking to it.

If you were to pick a word for the year, what would you choose?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A morning walk in Canmore

I'm in Canmore with my sisters, celebrating a significant birthday (not mine). We're hanging out together, marveling at mountain beauty, going for walks on frozen lakes and river edges, doing puzzles, reading books, watching the first season of Eli Stone, and just being sisters for a change under Canmore's "Three Sisters."  Faith, Hope and Charity, as they're known, looked beautiful in the early morning light from our big window:

Canmore, Alberta, is a lovely town just up the road from Banff, Alberta, with all the amenities, including a gorgeous new recreational centre known as Elevation Place (which has a library, beautiful swimming pool and climbing wall among other things) and a world class Nordic Centre. But as someone who is not a skiier, what I appreciate most are the walking trails around the town and its creeks. Here are a few pictures from the walk I took this chilly morning while my sisters watched a bit of curling. I often wish on my walks that I could take my readers with me but this is as close as I can come. You'll just have to imagine the crunch of snow underfoot, the sound of Bow River, and the fresh mountain air...

Above, Canmore Creek, would be a nice jigsaw puzzle picture...

This path seems to run right through town...

The Pond, a place for skaters in the winter...

Raven lives here, too...

I love the shape of these peaks, with the little valleys between them...
That's Mount Rundle at the far end of the row, 
and Cascade standing by herself at the far end of the valley...

The Three Sisters seen from the Engine Bridge...

Looking the opposite direction...

I met a lot of pedestrians on the trails...

In the shadow of the mountain it was a bit cooler -- -16 C while I was walking...

Ice in the water, but it's flowing pretty fast...

I think being here is a pretty awesome way to celebrate a significant birthday, surrounded by beauty and people who love you. I love being one of three sisters!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ecumenical Prayer in 2017

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it will be a year of hope and prayer, a year of communion, mercy and peace. I'm starting the year by sharing our annual prayer schedule, and inviting my readers to join us if possible.

When I visited Taizé last fall, I was struck by the humility of the brothers, and the way they live their lives without drawing any attention to themselves or their work. And it dawned on me that they would probably prefer that our prayer simply be called prayer rather than "Taizé Prayer." So our posters look a little different this year. And our prayer will be a little different this year, too, as the brothers don't limit the silence in the prayer to five minutes, but allow for a longer period of quiet so that God has more time to speak to the soul.

We will still pray with the beautiful meditative music of Taizé, incorporate a piece of scripture read in different languages, and offer a time for intercessory prayer, but we have made these small changes to be more in line with the spirit of the Taizé community. I hope that if you live in the Edmonton area, you will have the opportunity to join us for prayer. And if you are a FaceBook user, I would invite you to click here to find our FaceBook page. If you "like" it, you will get updates about our prayer schedule and hopefully a few interesting stories now and then about what's happening in the Taizé community.

A blessed 2017 to all!