Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Spring thinking

I went out to my happy place, the greenhouse, this morning.

Then I wandered around the yard a bit...

and the warmth of the creeping thyme got me thinking...
maybe it's time to plant something!

The soil in our cold frame is warm, 
so half of my lettuce, spinach and arugula
(cold crops) are now outside, and the rest in
greenhouse pots.

You could say that it doesn't take much
to put me into a Spring frame of mind.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Roman Catholic woman priest wends her way home

I'm in the midst of saying good bye to a dear friend, and this Sunday's first reading about the anointing of David speaks to my friend's experience: "The Lord does not see as the human sees; the human looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7b).

God saw something in my friend, Ruthie, and called her to the priesthood as a young child. She had two great-uncles who were Redemptorist priests, and they would visit her family and say mass. To hear her tell it, Ruthie, the oldest in her family, became the clan presider when the kids would "play church" together. It went much deeper than play for Ruthie, though, because she knew God was calling her to do as her uncles did.

Of course, humans and human institutions don't see the way God does. Because the Catholic Church doesn't yet see that women could be called to the priesthood, Ruthie chose the next best thing. Her love for God led her to become a sister with the Ursulines of Jesus, and she taught in the Catholic school system for many years, sharing God's love with her students and colleagues. She also took courses at Newman Theological College and developed a solid foundation of theology, scripture and tradition.

I first met Ruthie and some of her siblings during my summers at Our Lady of Victory Camp. Not only was she an excellent quarterback for touch football, but she wrote the camp theme song of the time, Love Life, which was published in Young Peoples' Glory & Praise and recorded by Carey Landry. We sang her melody and performed the actions to the song hundreds of times at camp each summer, the woods around the campfire ringing with enthusiastic young voices and guitars. Love Life was a song that told the story of salvation history in a way that kids could understand -- Ruthie has always been about helping people to understand and experience God's love.

Our lives went different directions after camp, but about five years ago, I heard that Ruthie had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Exploratory surgery revealed that there was no way to remove the cancer so she opted for experimental drug therapies. Aware that her time would probably be short, she left her home to a Muslim family that she had befriended and moved in with her longtime friend, Jocelyne, who cared for her through the progression of her illness and the side-effects of different drugs. Their friendship, which dates from their joining the Ursulines, is a really beautiful story in itself.

With no time to lose after her cancer diagnosis, and with a fresh perspective on what was really important in her life, Ruthie chose to follow her conscience and obey God's call to the priesthood. After learning about and connecting with the Roman Catholic Women Priests of Canada, Ruthie went through a thorough screening process, and because of her already extensive theological training and pastoral experience, she was ordained by one of Canada's Roman Catholic woman bishops on March 31, 2012. She is in the line of apostolic succession thanks to a Cardinal who followed his conscience and ordained the first women priests and bishops in 2002 and 2005.

When I met Ruthie again eight months after her ordination, she was exercising her priestly ministry with a small inclusive Catholic community that gathered in her home most Sundays, and she welcomed me like a long-lost friend. The Sunday liturgy was simple and beautiful, with no pompous prayers to distance us from the tender Father and Mother God who loves us all. Ruthie presided with deep joy, consecrating the Eucharistic meal, and the sacred bread and wine were offered equally by each person in the circle to the person beside them, Ruthie receiving last of all in true servant-leadership. For me, the liturgy was a revelation, a celebration of the sacrament in the way early Christians did -- according to historical records, they had male and female presiders, and there were no "spectators" because of the priesthood of all believers. Everyone in the room contributed to the celebration.

The experimental drugs gave Ruthie more time, but there is still no cure for her cancer. At the community's last liturgy at the end of January, she told us that she was having rather serious memory issues and was going through some more tests. February and March brought many appointments, decreasing balance, and time in and out of hospital. On Friday morning, I spent several hours at Ruthie's bedside in Hospice. The cancer has metastasized to her brain, she is weakening, and her words are now confused, reminding me of what it's like to have a conversation with someone who is talking in their sleep. While I was there, she dozed on and off, but whenever she opened her eyes and saw me sitting beside her, she smiled.

Sitting in silence with Ruthie, I had a lot of time to think about the gift she has been in my life. She is a warm and loving person with a wonderful sense of humour and a deep yearning for justice. She has strong opinions about what is right, and though I have barely glimpsed it myself, I can imagine that others might see her as stubborn at times. Her liturgies often focused on care for creation, right relationship with our Indigenous communities, local and international social justice issues, inclusion of the marginalized, and the needs of various members of the Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community. She gave excellent homilies, and always invited the community members to share, too, which helped us all to learn from each other. Her friendship and love these last four years have meant so much to the faithful people she has gathered around her, and to me. We had deep theological discussions, and plenty of laughs. Her heart is open to everyone, and she offered encouragement and hope to everyone whose path she crossed, even as she faced her own decline and death. And now she is showing us the way to Paradise. Her gratitude for and gentle appreciation of those around her in Hospice is both moving and humbling.

After a bed bath and lunch, she was a little more awake and asked for her rosary. I gave it to her and asked if she wanted me to pray. "Not just now," she said. But a few moments later, watching her try to untangle the beads, I reached to help her and she said, "We could pray it together." So we did, she holding onto the cross, and me working my fingers around the five decades with tears trickling down my cheeks. Even though my Lenten practice this year is to pray a daily rosary, for some strange reason, I couldn't recall Friday's First Sorrowful Mystery for the life of me (the Agony in the Garden! Ruthie's sister reminded me later) -- so I took that as the Holy Spirit's suggestion to start instead with the First Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection, since that's what Ruthie's working toward anyway. Her eyes closed, and her lips moved intermittently to the prayers. She smiled frequently, especially every time I started a new decade.

Though her words are no longer clear and she fades in and out, the words to one of her favourite devotions haven't left her, and never will. I suspect that, as she wends her way home to God, the rosary plays like a gentle pastoral symphony in the background of her mind. We prayed and Ruthie smiled, and I couldn't shake the feeling that Mary and Jesus are walking along the path to Paradise with my friend, and they are smiling, too.

Thank you, my dear Ruthie, for your conviction and courage, your love and compassion, your ministry and your openness to all, and for being my friend. God saw your heart and loves you deeply. I miss you already.

Ruthie couldn't resist the heavenly Easter celebrations and went to join them early Easter Sunday morning, April 16, 2017.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

When the snow is up to your belly

Apparently it's World Puppy Day, hence the video below. It has melted a lot since last week, when Shadow had a couple of pretty long walks, and by the end of them he was pretty worn out. I guess that's how it is when the snow is up to your belly. All that delicious snow to bury your face in and eat, and definitely a good cardio workout by the time we got home! Happy Puppy Day...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

As I Am #8 -- We remember

The L'Arche International #AsIAm video producer has done it again. As I Am #8 was released yesterday, just in time for World Down Syndrome Day, and it shares a beautiful remembrance of Bapi, who lived in L'Arche in Kolkata, India. The community's recollections, sorrow and wistful smiles remind us that every life matters, and every person is a gift.

This World Down Syndrome Day, I celebrate those people with Down Syndrome who have been and still are gifts in my life.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

To the well again

The woman at the well icon at Taizé
Every day, Lord,
I try to return to the well to sit with you.
Heaven knows I'm not always successful
when it comes to actually getting there...
and staying there!

But when I do come,
you know me better than I know myself,
and you show me to myself in the silence.
You tell me everything I have ever done,
and I don't always like what I hear.

But resting in your presence
and listening for your voice
I discover who I really am
and how deeply I am loved.
And our silence together
often inspires me to action --
to move from silence with you
-- to presence with others.
I know what you want me to do -- or not do.

Now that you have given me your living water,
my thirst for you only increases,
and I only want to return to the well
to sit with you again.
Help me to get there...
and stay there!


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Simple Suggestion #262... Let music lift you

Life around here has been a bit more emotionally challenging than usual, with sad news from friends, backward steps in the world of politics, health problems and all sorts of other uncertainties. My eyes have been tired from all the tears of late. So it's always wonderful to find something hopeful -- and music lifts me up more than anything else. When I'm feeling blue, a cheerful tune is pretty much my best medicine, especially if it's danceable.

This lovely music video isn't quite in that category, but I ran across it the other day and had to listen to it several times. It is "glorious" in its way -- both in its message, and in the lovely young faces of the One Voice Mormon Children's Choir so focused on their choral conductor and filmed so beautifully. The song's harmonies make me wish I could sing in a choir again.

What raises your spirits? If it's a song, I'd love to hear it! Send me a link and if I can, I'll post your musical lift here for others to enjoy. In the meantime, here's Glorious...

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Here's to all those snow blower super heroes

Not a stitch of snow...
Maybe there are guys or gals like him in your neighbourhood, too. You know, the ones who might be recently retired, and who also recently remembered the leaf blower/snow blower that hasn't seen enough use. And hey, now that they're retired, they have time to go out and clear those sidewalks of every last bit of snow, even as it's falling... and they seem to enjoy doing it!

I'll be the first to admit that it hasn't been our snowiest winter on record. I'm actually a bit worried about a dry spring. Even so, we've been happily watching our super snow blower man lately because not only are his own sidewalks completely clear of snow and ice, but he's been out with every dusting of snow, blowing off everyone else's walks, too. He clears his own driveway, the walks of his blind neighbour, and the newly widowed elderly lady who lives the next door down -- and then he keeps on going. On Saturday, when the snow was deepest, he blew a path down the middle of the sidewalks all the way around our little area park (past about twenty homes), and our neighbour, thinking the snow blower was done, cleaned up the edges in front of our two homes. That's when super snow blower guy came by a second time and obliterated the thin skiff that the shovel couldn't get! I guess his machine had more juice than he thought, and he just kept on going, leaving not a stitch of snow behind.

Several times of late, seeing and hearing him coming, I stood at the front window to wave my thanks, but he's a heads-down, hard-working super snow blower guy who is so focused on his work that he never looks up to see my gratitude (or maybe the snow gets in his eyes). So I stuck my head out the front door, but he was already moving on, the noise of the machine preventing my voice from reaching his ears. Of course, I know where my snow blower super hero lives, and I vow to leave him some of this year's first batch of fresh backyard berry jam when the time comes...

Here's to the super snow blower people, the neighbours who clear other people's walks, or brush off their cars, or pick up litter, or perform nearly unnoticed acts of kindness just because they can. You know who you are, and you deserve better than berry jam. Thanks for all you do!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Happy Holi!

A couple of years ago, my friend from work shared a gorgeous Bollywood movie with me, and I'll admit that I was completely absorbed by what turned out to be a lovely romantic comedy with subtitles. It was just good clean fun, with some pretty amazing dancing, and the wonderful Holi scene in the video below. I love how different cultures celebrate Spring!

Today is Holi -- a festival that "signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of Spring, end of winter, and for many a day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships" (Wikipedia). Because of the Indian diaspora all over the globe, Holi is celebrated in many countries... and I remember seeing a picture of my niece covered in colours from a celebration here in Edmonton (though I think it was celebrated in the summer, not on a -13 C day like we're having now).

It's supposed to warm up, and Spring can't be that far off. In the meantime, here's a little colourful spring fun to tide us over until it actually arrives. To all friends from India, Happy Holi!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A special Lenten prayer

The thing about the silence, song and scriptural prayer of Taizé is that it's supposed to bring Christians of different denominations together. That's why we try to visit different churches each month in our prayer schedule, and to encourage people from all of the churches we visit to cross each other's thresholds more often. It's easy for Lutherans to pray in their own churches, but it's a bit of a challenge to get them to attend prayer in an Anglican church. Our hope is that people will enjoy this prayer so much, it won't matter which worship space they're in!

This weekend, our usual group of musicians is combining with the musicians who lead Taizé on the second Sunday of the month at All Saints' Anglican Cathedral (10035 103 St) at the very same time as we usually do the same. We are very excited to pray and sing with our sister group downtown, and we invite you all for what is sure to be a very special Lenten prayer. Come and pray with us, and bring a friend!

For those of you too far afield to join us, here's a beautiful chant which means, "Forever I will sing the mercy of God." I especially love the flute parts in this one. Enjoy...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

When too many yeses equal no

You could say I'm feeling pressured these days, and it's my own fault. As someone who works on a very part-time basis most of the time, it's only too easy to feel guilty when I'm not bringing home much of a pay cheque. That's when I agree to doing too many other more voluntary kinds of things. I have the time, right? I'm so blessed in that regard.

But even I have a limit. With ten musical commitments between now and Easter, one of them as musician for a week long retreat in Montreal the week before Holy Week, I hit my limit yesterday. When I was asked to lead the music for the L'Arche community's Seder Meal, I think I shocked the Community Life Coordinator by saying no. She rephrased the question and tried again, and again I said no. It took her a few minutes to understand my no, and then she did not look very happy -- I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that I've never said no to her before (plus it means she still has to find someone to say yes).

As much as I would love to help, I just can't see my way to adding one more musical commitment to a pile of other ones: two this weekend, two more next weekend, the week in Montreal (I need time to learn some French songs for that one!), two rehearsals for Easter, two Good Friday events, and Easter Vigil. And that's just the musical commitments. There's also a greenhouse calling my name, appointments to make and keep, friends who are being neglected, and other life events (and family) to which I should attend.

No is the only way to go at this point. And it actually felt good to say it yesterday. Looking at all these yeses I've been saying, I suspect I should say no more often!

How about you?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The original 40 days of Lent

I don't know about you, but I've never really given a lot of thought to the original Lent, the forty days when the holiest of holy men walked into a desert to spend time with God. It seems to be what was needed before Christ embraced his mission to teach us all about how love and the suffering that comes with it bring us to resurrection and deeper love.

In Jesus' day, going out to the desert was a practice mostly undertaken by the Essenes, a sect in Roman-occupied Palestine who embraced simplicity, prayer and fasting as a way of life. John the Baptist probably "trained" in that tradition, and it's clear that the average Jane and Joe of his time looked at the desert-dwellers as either really holy or really crazy people. You can tell from Jesus' comments about John (Matthew 11:18). Going into the desert wasn't something taken lightly -- a certain reputation came with it.

What exactly does one do in a desert for forty days? No one really knows what Jesus did with his forty-day "time away from it all retreat." I can't begin to imagine fasting or praying for that long, so I guess that's why this video with Matt Maher's song, 40 Days, caught my attention. Kudos to the video creators!

To be honest, I didn't really like it when I first saw it a few weeks ago, but after listening to the gospel reading this morning, I had to find it and watch it again and rehear the lyrics... and now something in me has changed.

The images, while simplistic, touch something fundamental about the meaning of Lent. It is a time apart from the ordinary, an opportunity for silence, solitude and simplicity. The image that stays with me the most is Christ on his belly in the dust, watching a flower grow, probably in deep conversation with the One who made the flower.

What will you do in the desert for these 40 days?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Welcome March

How did the first two months of the year disappear so quickly? It's crazy how time flies faster the older I get. I used to find March to be the hardest month of the year as far as my mental health went, but this year I'm happy to see it.

When I was younger, March was painted blue, and I found its accompanying mood hard to shake. The end of winter and Easter couldn't come soon enough, the skies always seemed to be grey, and everything felt monotone. Maybe I'd hit my limit for darker winter days.

But things have shifted over time. Having a child to celebrate mid-March helped somewhat... and buying the odd bouquet of tulips... or maybe it's the optimism that naturally arrives with age and wisdom? I'm seeing the light increasing in a way that I never did when I was younger.

At any rate, it's a bright sunny day, I've hung my first load of laundry for 2017 on the clothesline outside, and I'm singing happy little songs to March, whose blue is now sky blue. It's so good to see the sun getting a little higher in the sky each day, the daylight lasting a little longer, the waxwings flying in their swooping murmurations, and the brown patches wearing through the white coats of the jack rabbits.

Welcome, March!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Simple Suggestion #108 revisited... Naturalize your wardrobe

After a shopping trip for some cotton camisoles went nowhere on the weekend, I got into an interesting clothing-related conversation at work yesterday. A couple of my colleagues were commenting on North Americans' clothing, and how surprised they were to see people going to church in jeans and t-shirts, or walking the streets in sweat pants. According to one of my friends, in Zambia, people get gussied up just to go to and from work because it's important to look good even if you're a labourer for most of the day. For many people, a good wardrobe is a must, and wearing the same clothing over and over isn't a good choice.

But the industry that drives people to always wear the latest fashion isn't sustainable. The earth would be much better off if we had fewer clothes of better quality and wore them until they wore out, never mind what's trendy. After sorting through bags and bags of donated clothing at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul over the years, I came to a place where too much is TOO MUCH. My wardrobe is very simple, and I'm sure people have seen every item I wear many times over, but does that really matter? Not when the health of our planet is at stake. If everyone on earth buys a new spring, summer, fall and winter wardrobe, it won't be long until our planet is uninhabitable!

It's also a good idea to live in natural fibres as much as possible. For one thing, they breathe better, and for another, when they get to the end of their lives (or mine), if they end up in a landfill, they will biodegrade in a way that polyester and other artificial fibres don't. In the earlier days of humanity, everyone wore clothing that was hand-made from plants or fleece and skins of animals, but now we're covering ourselves with petroleum-derived materials that shed microfibres into our ecosystems. And our ecosystems are us... as this new video from the Story of Stuff people makes clear.

These days, almost everything we wear is processed in one way or another, so it takes extra effort to find clothing made from wool, cotton, hemp, and other natural fibres that aren't chemically treated in ways that wreck our environment at their beginnings, or aren't made by people trapped in poor working conditions. But if we can find it, clothing manufactured using sustainable, people-friendly methods is often of such good quality that it lasts longer than the unsustainable equivalents, if you can even call them equivalents. Another option is buying natural-fibre clothing second-hand instead of creating consumer demand for new items.

I've spent part of my afternoon today looking at "sustainable clothing" websites, and there still aren't enough retailers for natural fibre fair trade apparel as far as I can see. So, as the video says, we need to let the clothing industry know that we want more sustainable options, and it probably wouldn't hurt to let some of the more sustainable clothing producers out there know that we appreciate their efforts. The powers that be can't read our minds, but it seems they notice when we vote with our pocket books. Right, Ivanka Trump?

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