Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Reflection: Daystar in our hearts appear

We've turned the corner. The days are getting longer once again. Our family spent a few days last
week during the turning of the light in Jasper, Alberta, noticing the glory of the skies, and most especially the snow-capped mountains.

These days, the sunrise doesn't hit the peaks until after nine a.m., and the sun was low at four in the afternoon when we finished hiking, or skating on Pyramid Lake. Little wonder, with less than seven-and-a-half hours of daylight.

I love that so many Advent and Christmas songs are sung in this darkest time of the year, because so many of them speak so beautifully of our longing for Light. Christ as the Light of the World. This one included...

Dayspring from on high be near,
Daystar in our hearts appear!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Reflection: an Advent Classic

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Isaiah 12.

Shout aloud and sing for joy:
great in our midst are you,
O Holy One.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell, my God.

We just need to learn to see you in all of life,
to know that you are with us
no matter what.

Then even our sorrows can become joy!


Advent's deep longing and subdued joy has created some really beautiful art and music, and you'll find both in the video below. Veni, veni Emmanuel is a 13th century Latin hymn that we in Canada often sing in English this time of year. This is New Zealander Hayley Westenra's version, and you can bet I'll be looking for more music by her in the near future. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Santa Lucia Day

A friend just reminded me of a wonderful experience from my year in Up With People. We were having our morning meeting in Oshawa, Ontario, when the theatre darkened, and the girls in our cast from Northern Europe processed in, singing for the feast of Santa Lucia. It was a moment that I will never forget.

St. Lucy is rumoured to have worn a crown of candles on her head so she could use both hands to carry food to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs. She's mentioned in the Litany of the Saints, and is associated with light and goodness. So it seems fitting that she is honoured this way.

Some years ago, my friend Charleen's choir began a concert with a Lucia procession. It moved me to tears, it was so beautiful. And this video is particularly gorgeous. Happy St. Lucy's Day!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

#AsIAm #12... Santos and Pipe

L'Arche Internationale has done it again -- another lovely and quirky video in the form of a Latin American docu-telenovela. It's a bit longer than usual (3 parts) but definitely worth watching. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Sunday reflection: Love's holy harvest

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Philippians 1:3-11.

O God,
it's easy to thank you
for the people we love,
to pray with joy
for the ones
with whom we see

It's easy to believe
that you are working
in those we agree with,
and to pray for their success.

But the real challenge is
to be grateful for
and loving towards
who frustrate us at every turn,
who do things we can't condone,
who demand our attention or our pity,
who are not as pure and blameless
as we imagine ourselves to be.

And then there are the strangers
who want to lay claim to our homeland.
If they seem to be
stealing our jobs,
turning our neighbourhoods into ghettos,
using our resources,
refusing to speak our language
or abide by our values,
how are we supposed to love them?

O God,
are witness
to all the ways we love
or not.

And you love us all

All that we have
is free gift from you,
not to be hoarded.

So if we are to be
your hands,
and feet
on this earth,
if we are to reap
a holy harvest
by embodying your love,
our willingness to share
your blessings
must overflow to all who cross our path.

Most especially strangers,
widows and orphans.

Show us where your grace is to be found
in the compassion and generosity
we show
to all your people,
especially those
we find most challenging
to love
with your love.

We are all your beloved.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Special Invitation


(I'm not kidding. The Annual L'Arche Christmas Pageant is a favourite among those who have attended it in the past. One of my friends says it's where the spirit of Christmas begins for her, and I have to agree. No one leaves without a smile.)

Come, and bring friends to share in the joy!

Image may contain: one or more people and text

Thursday, December 6, 2018

What would you take with you?

Last week I had a good chat with my friend Allie, who used to live in Paradise, California until four weeks ago today. She told me that everything but her fireplace and a trio of white cast iron table and chairs were gone, the patio furniture with not a mark on them! Everything else burned to the ground in such intense fire that when she and her husband finally were able to go back last week to see if there was anything to salvage, the few things they tried to pick up crumbled in their fingers. More than heartbreaking.

It seems Paradise had a close call with fire a while back, so Allie attended a fire preparedness workshop to learn how to be ready in case it should happen again. Then she came home and went around her house, seeing the small but treasured things that she didn't want to lose in a fire, something she strongly recommends that we all do. She also collected important documents and took pictures of her family's belongings, to keep them on a memory stick. Everything important went into a couple of bins that she stored in a handy place so that if she needed to evacuate in a hurry, she was ready.

Unfortunately, the fire came more quickly than anyone realized, and for Allie, the most immediate concern was collecting her four dogs and picking her elderly mom up from the local nursing home. The bins had to wait, and by the time Allie turned toward home for the bins, the roads out of Paradise were gridlocked, and there was no way to get back into her neighbourhood for them.

All of it is a huge loss, but Allie's the kind of person who puts a positive spin on life. She mentioned that she and her family have a fresh start, unencumbered by the collected things that they didn't really use or need. They are starting over with a mind to live more simply and sustainably. But every day she remembers something that she wishes she could see or touch just one more time. She misses her neighbours, who have scattered all over the area. And she's not sure if her family will be able to rebuild on their property until the soil is tested for toxicity. In spite of many challenges, Allie's still counting her blessings, the lives of her loved ones in the main, and the friends and family who have been supporting her through this crisis. Her heart is still intact because she treasures the really important things in life.

After my conversation with Allie, I looked around my own environs, wondering what I should put into a treasured objects bin. What's really important? I don't have a lot that I can't live without, and my head is full of memories that may or may not fade with time. I think I'd want a few photo albums, and maybe a journal or two. Personal ID and certain documents are important... and maybe favourite pieces of art by my kids? It's hard to know what I would really miss, but it's worth thinking about. In the end, of course, it's not so much the things as the relationships that are really valuable. And so my tangible treasures might be a few items from dear ones who are no longer here, baby pictures, and music that's gone out of print...

What would you not want to be parted from? And do you have an evacuation plan? You just never know when you might need one.

Monday, December 3, 2018

December wonderland

The first weekend of December brought us a lot of lovely, light, fluffy snowfall that left us with plenty of shoveling to do! On my way home from the dentist this morning, I ran around with my camera because I think the snow is simply beautiful. Don't you?

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Sunday Reflection: O come, Divine Messiah...

This week's reflection is brought to you
by the old French hymn,
Venez, Divin Messie.

Many hymns translated from their original language lose a little bit in translation, so I am looking at them with new eyes. In bringing this one, that English speakers know a bit differently, to prayer, I am amazed by its message. The following Sunday reflection/prayer is a loose translation of the contemporary French lyrics...

O come, Divine Messiah,
Bring us hope and save us!
You are our life!
Come, come, come!

O Child of God, do not delay;
By your presence, give joy
to our world, in its disarray.
Tell us again
of the love with which you love us;
help us all to believe in your love!
Come, come, come!

In Bethlehem, the skies were singing
of the best of your goodness --
the gift of your peace.
It's not hard to see that the world needs peace:
Everywhere, hearts are divided;
come and lead us to your reign!
Come, come, come!

You were born for us all.
May your grace, O God, save us
and dispel our fears in the night.
May your tender innocence
inspire us to live in simplicity.
Be our deliverance!
Come, come, come!


Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Knave of Hearts, Re-moodled...

I recently rediscovered the fellow to the right as I was cleaning my desk, and decided it was time to revisit my first meeting with him for this Sunday of Christ the King... 

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

                  --English nursery rhyme, adapted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(first moodled on November 23, 2014)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Guest Moodler: A Play

My dear friend, Cathy, has done it again... used her creative writing to get me thinking about what's really important -- in this case, looking after ourselves at a deeper level by detaching from our egos, something that many of us learn a bit late when, as one of her characters comments, "something drastic" happens.

Even before appearing in these moodlings, Cathy wrote a lot of amazing stuff (just search Guest Moodler in the sidebar and you'll see some of her more recent reflections). I'm privileged to share this little play she wrote about "knowing," featuring our friends, Head, Heart, and  Body, who rediscover how to work together for well-being. May we all let our Soul Child's desire to just BE lead us to delight and peace and better overall health more often!

A Play 
by Catherine G. Coulter

Head: I call this meeting to order!

Body: You would! But really, Head, do we have to be in this stuffy boardroom? I mean, come on!

Head: What? Meetings are held in board rooms.

Body: Can’t you imagine us somewhere a little more….imaginative?

Heart: Somewhere where we feel relaxed and peaceful.

Head: Like where?

Heart: How about down by the creek on a warm gentle summer day. Where we went that time.

Head (exasperated): Oh alright! There! Is that better?

Body: Much! I’m going to stretch out on the grass. Ahh!

Heart: Oh, and listen to that red wing black bird! It just gives me a lift.

Head: Fine. Let’s start over. I call this meeting to order. Now I have an agenda. I’m going to read it off to you to keep us on track. Item number one: Situation. Item number two: Background. Item number three…

Body: Blah, blah, blah.

Heart: What about a check-in?

Head: Additional business can be added to the end.

Heart: But a check-in should always come at the beginning.

Body: Like an ice breaker!

 Heart: Exactly!

Head (sighing): Alright. Check in. Then S-BAR: Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation. It’s a communication model that has gained popularity in healthcare settings, especially amongst professions such as physicians and nurses.

Heart: Body, I think it sounds fine. Let’s just go with it. Okay. Can we start with the check-in? How is everyone? Head, you go first.

Head: I have to think about it. Body, you go first.

Body: Well, I know how I’m doing. I’m a wreck! A Titanic approaching the iceberg! Someone needs to steer this ship on a different course! I mean, look at me. My shoulders haven’t come down from around my ears forever. My upper back is a macramé of knots. My gut is completely shut down. And my nerves are keeping us awake at night. I mean, seriously! I could keep up when we were much younger but we’re reaching an age where things start falling apart. I’m speaking up but the message isn’t being heard or understood and I’m afraid the next communication from me to her is going to have to be something drastic.

Heart (gasps): No! That makes me feel like sinking.

Body: I don’t want to scare you but I’ve been holding this fight or flight reaction too long. Something’s gotta give.

(The three sit in silence, digesting this.)

Head: Well, what you say has made me think about myself. I’m tired too. Always spinning, planning, anticipating. Worrying. And it’s not just your nerves keeping us awake. I never get a chance to shut off. Except for the sporadic prayer time.

Heart: Oh yes! That’s my favourite time.

Head: I just feel like I have to keep on top of everything. If I relax for a minute….

Heart and Body in unison: What?

Head: Well, I don’t know. Something bad will happen.

(They sit in silence again for a few moments.)

Heart: I’m not tired, but I can see why both of you are, my dear ones. I feel like I’m just waking up. Stirring, you know. It’s like I was turned to stone, like in a fairy tale and now I’m coming alive. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” It’s from Ezekiel and she’s been praying those verses for a long time. But it’s scary. So she puts up a little wall around me a lot of the time. It squeezes me.

Body: Yes, I’ve been feeling that little pain.

Head: Well it seems to me our check-ins are coinciding nicely with our agenda item one: Situation. Our girl wants to break free from this holding back, holding on, holding up.

Heart: Well said, Head.

Body: There’s another thing too. We’ve been working in isolation. At least I’ve been experiencing that. Like I’ve been marched along on automatic and nobody’s paying attention to me.

Heart: I know what you mean. There’s a disconnect among us.

Head: Well this may be a good time bring up Item two: Background. And I want to bring in another participant to join us.

Body and Heart: Who?

Head: Body, Heart, this is Soul Child.

Heart: Oh my goodness! I haven’t seen you, Soul Child for ages. Oh, I feel tears coming.

Body: Yikes! Why couldn’t you have warned us, Head? This one always wants to fight.

Head: I was doing some reading in Sandri Maitri’s book “The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram” and I learned about Soul Child. But how do you two know her?

Heart: Oh Head, it’s clear that you developed quite a bit after she went into hiding, but Soul Child was with us at the start, connected to Essence. She still is but she’s been acting out quite a bit.

Body: That’s right! She’s the one that made me eat half a coconut cream pie and lie on the couch all day last weekend. I felt sick afterwards.

Heart: She just needs a little attention.

Body: So why did you invite her, Head?

Head: Well once I found out about her, I thought she could provide us with some background. Like how were things at the beginning and how did we get from there to here?

Heart: Except she doesn’t talk in that way, Head. Not to be able to give a summary or a report. Here, Soul Child, lie down on the grass with us. Look up at the sky. Sees those fluffy clouds? Why don’t you see what shapes you can see in them. There. That will keep her satisfied for awhile. Body and I remember Soul Child, Head. We can fill you in.

Body: Yes. Back in the day, Soul Child loved to play and create and explore and delight. I had a great time running around with her.

Heart: I did too. I was filled with emotions overflowing back then. Tears of rage and hurt, great excitement and joy, abundant love. It was Being, pure and simple.

Head: What happened to her?

Heart: Well, you know. Life happened. Expectations, feelings of separation and scary times that made her need to hide and protect herself.

Body: We got our marching orders, so to speak, from the world around us and needed to protect her too. But hiding doesn’t work forever. She’s been wanting to bust out for a long time.

Head: She wants to play again?

Heart: Exactly. And create and delight…

Heart and Body in unison: And Be!

Head: I see. Well. My goodness. This is extraordinary. Well, let’s move on then to Item number…let’s see…three: Assessment. What is it we are looking for? What are our options?

Body: Well I’ll start from my perspective. I want to be more connected with the rest of you. More in tune.

Head: How do we do that?

Body: More check-ins for a start. Head you could do that. Start paying more attention.

Head: I’m sorry, Body.

Body: No blame. No shame. You’ve had it just as tough.

Heart: That’s right. What do you need, Head?

Head: Well, that’s hard for me to say. I don’t know what I need.

Body: If I may make a suggestion…and a pun…you’ve been shouldering too much of the load for too long, Head. Let us help you.

Head: But how can you help me? I have to do the thinking!

Heart: Silly Head. Body and I can think too. We can provide information that comes straight from the Source. You can trust what we say.

Head: Really?

Body: Absolutely. Learn to listen to us. That might mean getting quiet. Turning down the volume. 

Heart: Checking out so you can check in with us. We’re all in this together after all. We can trust each other.

Head: That does sound good.

Heart: And with trust, that wall will drop and I’ll have more space to expand and fill up and start flowing.

Body: And I’ll be able to drop these shoulders and untie these knots and take big breaths.

Head: And what about Soul Child? What do we do with her?

Heart: Oh, she’ll be okay. Once we get on track she’ll calm down and we can let her lead us into delight again.

Head: Oh that does sound good!

Body: So what’s the last item on the agenda, Boss?

Head: Ha Ha. I know now that I don’t have to be the boss and I’m going to lay that mantle down. But okay. Item four: Recommendations.

Body: Hey! Where’s Soul Child going?

Heart: Oh my goodness! Something has caught her fancy. There she goes!

Head: Shall we follow, Team? Let’s go!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Reflection: You who wait for us

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 10:11-14.

Two thousand years ago,
high priests were busy people.

Sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice.

But you,
O Christ,
offered yourself
in love
and for all.

No more sacrifices needed.

And you have been waiting ever since
for us to understand,
and turn to you.

Slow learners that we are,
we have been so focused
on our sins and failures
that often,
we have failed to notice...
you are the love
we need to become.

Let us find you in your waiting room.

Help us to rest
in silence
and stillness,
to wait with you
until the knowledge
that you forgive and love us
enables us to give ourselves over
to embody your love


Friday, November 16, 2018

The thing about Gay-Straight Alliances...

Image result for Gay Straight Alliances
Borrowed from the GSA page of
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School
The thing about Gay-Straight Alliances is NOT that they are "ideological sexual clubs" (to quote the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms). They are NOT designed to promote queer lifestyles. They ARE friendship support groups -- for kids who usually already know that they live somewhere in the spaces beyond the heterosexual male and female boxes into which our unenlightened society insists all sexualities and genders fit -- and for their allies. Kids generally don't join GSAs for the purpose of sexual education and experimentation -- they are looking for supportive friends who won't bully them.

Our youngest young adult was a leader for a school GSA. Most GSAs are places where kids can simply be themselves, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender, without being afraid of the consequences should their parents find out. They can hang out with peers from different places on the gender spectrum, queer and straight. Jay's group held bake sales to support student-organized activities. I've never seen so much baking in my life!

While many parents insist that teachers should tell them whether their child is part of a GSA, I would argue for the kids' point of view. The timing of "coming out" to family is a personal thing that should never be decided by a teacher/overseer whose participation in a GSA depends upon the trust of the kids, and it should never be decided by court action. Some kids take longer than others to figure out how to tell the world who they are, and it's important to give these kids the time and space they need to test the waters at home and determine how or when they can come out to their parents.

And this is because, to put it simply, not all parents understand that gender is a continuum. In my own Catholic upbringing, I absorbed the idea that homosexuality was contrary to scripture and decent human behaviour. It wasn't until I reached university that I made some gay and lesbian friends and realized that nothing about them or their lifestyles posed any sort of danger to my understanding of life. My friendships showed me that they were all good people who deserved the same kind of happiness that I experience, and that they should not be discriminated against in any way.

More recently my experience translates to those of different genders, too. In January I read a helpful book called The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney (2016, Cleis Press ISBN 978-1-62778-174-9). I learned that human beings are much more than the Bible's stock phrase of "male and female, God created them." God makes people in more gender categories than we can dream of, and God does not make junk. It's we human beings who create and dispute categories.

But it's hard for some of us to allow for a wider gender spectrum because, too often, we are afraid of things that seem to be beyond our own conscious experience. We stay within our comfort zones, our narrow ways of thinking. It's hard for us to put ourselves in the shoes of a 13-year-old who looks around math class and realizes that their life experience doesn't seem to clearly connect with either the boys or the girls there. But imagine for a minute -- what would that be like? And how could it be expressed in a safe way?

And if that 13-year-old has homophobic parents, and teachers "out" the child who attends a GSA, and the parents kick that child out of the house for being queer, how is this helpful? That's the painful question that some of the kids at the Youth Empowerment and Support Services Shelter could answer for us. They're likely to say it's not helpful at all. We need to remember that some parents simply haven't got the capacity to even try to deal with gender difference because it's not part of their life experience. It wasn't part of mine.

But now it is. And I can't help but think back to Jimmy A., a kid I knew in Junior High. Long before anyone even dreamed of Gay-Straight Alliances, he was a likely candidate for one. Instead, he was teased, tormented, and bullied. Some days, he was able to fly under the radar, but other days, he spoke up in his own defense and received a lot of verbal or physical abuse from other kids (some of whom, I suspect had their own gender issues). I was a foolish bystander who felt powerless to do anything about any of it, afraid of the other kids and a little bit afraid of Jimmy and the ways he was different from "the rest of us." But had GSAs existed in the late 70s, I know that Jimmy wouldn't have been the only one to spend time at meetings. There were other kids in my class who turned out to be members of the LGBTQ+ community, and maybe I could have been an ally at a GSA. I don't know what happened to Jimmy when Junior High ended and we went to different High Schools, but he was planning to leave home the minute he turned 16. I really hope he's living his best life.

The real beauty of Gay-Straight Alliances is the A word. Alliance. It speaks to unity for the sake of mutual benefit between those who hold basic things in common despite their differences. All human beings want acceptance, community, encouragement, friendship, and to be loved for who they are. And in my mind, a GSA should be a place where our young people, no matter their sexuality or gender, can express kindness and support for one another, share stories and helpful information, and rejoice in their common humanity.

The world is a hard place for those on the margins, and a supportive Gay-Straight Alliance should be a safe space where judgment is left at the door, and where the sharp corners of fear and mistrust can be softened for the sake of those who need the friendship of supportive peers until they are sure they can trust their parents to also accept them. A good GSA is a place to gather strength and confidence for life's challenges, and heaven knows our LGBTQ+ kids have enough of those.

Sorry parents, but your time to be in the know will come. For now, leave the confidential aspects of the GSAs for the kids who need them the most.

I have been wanting to moodle about this for some time, but it took an article about John Carpay's comments this week to finally light the fire under me.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Closing down the greenhouse

It's time. The greenhouse requires a running heater to keep our last few fruiting tomato plants from freezing at nights and on cloudy days, so we've finally closed it down and brought the freeze-ables indoors. And I have to say I kinda like having them in our dining room window. Green foliage on grey days gives me a lift. But at the same time, I'm looking forward to February and the greenhouse re-opening!

Friday, November 9, 2018

For the sake of Paradise

My friend, Allison, posted this picture from outside her home on Facebook yesterday morning with the caption, "Uhhhhh, anyone know about this?"

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature

Today I have learned that Allie has lost her home and business in Paradise, California, to the latest wildfire in that state. And oh, my heart is breaking for her. Of course, she's the kind of person who, while she will grieve her losses, is also grateful that she and her husband, Mike, were able to relocate to the home of a friend with 4 elderly friend and family members, and their 4 dogs. They are all safe, thanks be to God. They are putting a brave face on it, and will get through it all somehow, no doubt.

Most of us live far from these kinds of climate tragedies, and fool ourselves into believing that we are safe from this kind of thing, so we go on with our lives as though nothing needs to change. But if we really think about it, climate change could easily wipe out our own neighbourhoods with a wildfire, a storm, or a longterm electrical outage in deep winter. Call me a pessimist if you like, but it's the truth.

Image may contain: sky, tree, twilight, outdoor and natureI am too far away to be of much help to Allie, who has many friends to support her in the U.S. Of course, I send my thoughts and prayers, and I've made a contribution to a Go Fund Me page for the family. Beyond that, I'm writing this post today to encourage everyone, everyone, to please think about every little thing you can do that will help to reduce the climate change impacts that create these kinds of events. Maybe even think about supporting an environmental agency or organization if you can.

The thing is, we all live in Paradise, though we seem to take it for granted every day. Our beautiful planet needs us to really appreciate it, to take climate change seriously, and to live much MORE simply, sustainably, and carbon-neutrally than we do at this moment. We're too late to prevent the burning of Allie's paradise in Paradise, California, but if we get on it NOW and make some serious sacrifices when it comes to our own use of fossil fuels and other resources, perhaps we can save the rest of the Paradise in which we all live. Call me an optimist if you like, but it's the truth.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A re-moodling for US election day

To me, this speaks for itself. I pray that American voters hold love for their most disadvantaged neighbours, friends and family members in their hearts when they vote today.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday reflection: Living the new covenant with everyone else

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 7:23-28.

O Christ,
are our eternal high priest
of the new covenant
(which is all about God's love)
because you continue forever.

And I don't think
you would mind me saying
that you aren't the only high priest --
other faiths
have longstanding high priests
who have kept God's name
on the lips of believers
for many thousands of years.

And so we see
that God has raised
many faith leaders
to bring all God's people

You and these other high priests
will continue to make God known
as long as human beings study your words
and call on God.

So there is no point in arguing
about whose high priest is the highest
when we're all going the same way.

We will all get there together.

Thank you
for calling every human being home to you.

And please,
bless Cecilia and Gloria,
your newest saints,
and their families.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Short Story #25 A Meadowlark and a Killer Whale

My best friend surprised me a while back by reviving our writer's club for two. It's been a few years since we've set ourselves a writing club task, what with being busy at other things. But Cathy sent me a short story she had written on the topic, "Choose an event from childhood that reflects who you are today... positively or negatively."

I sort of cheated and wrote two memories that are related in my mind, and I share them here. Enjoy!

A Meadowlark and a Killer Whale
MCWC #25
October 2018

The monkey bar was calling my name one grey morning, so I put on my mittens and hopped on my purple one-speed bike to pedal up the gravel road to the school yard. The street was lifeless, and so was the park across the street from my house, except for the sparrows nesting in the budding willows near the footbridge, and the tiny tadpoles underneath it. No school today, so I would have the whole schoolyard to myself.

I pedaled as hard as I could and back-slammed on my brakes, leaving a satisfying three-foot skid in the dirt behind me. When I got to the stop sign on school street, I stopped, though there wasn’t a moving vehicle for miles. Plenty, Saskatchewan, was always sleepy on Saturday mornings after the teenagers tore up and down the wide Main Street in their noisy cars on Friday nights. The school parking lot was empty, though if I closed my eyes, I could still see the principal’s car stuck in the melt-water canals that Norman, Carol and I had dug through the snow with sticks just two weeks earlier. We hid in the willows when Mr. Smyshnyk got stuck, afraid that he’d be mad. Carol and Norman almost missed their school bus home.

I walked my bike over the curb and ditched it on the wide sidewalk that led up to the old 3-storey brick Stuart school. Without kids around, it seemed huddled into itself, but I wasn’t about to feel sorry for it. I had to get to the monkey bar. What a treat to have it all to myself. No Benita to hog it for the entire recess. Being a town kid who went home for lunch, my time on the monkey bar was limited. The farm kids had half of the lunch hour to play, but it took me the extra time to walk home and back. During the short recesses, I never managed to escape the school fast enough to reach the monkey bar first.

Kids today would laugh at our coveted monkey bar – a single pipe that came out perpendicular to the post holding up one end of a four-swing set, supported by a vertical bar that dove into the dusty ground. A kids’ chin-up bar, really, though tiny blonde Benita had a way of throwing one leg over the top and spinning her whole body around it at dizzying speeds. What she did looked like fun, and I’d always wanted to try it, but the few times that I coaxed Benita to share and actually had a chance, I’d been too scared and self-conscious to be that daring. Benita, on the other hand, was fearless.

I pulled myself up onto the bar and sat for a moment, then dropped back, feeling its steel chill through my mittens and behind my knees. Then I let down a leg next to the swing set support, and clamped my arms under the bar and around my shinbone. The idea was to use my free leg to brace against the vertical support and propel myself over the bar with my knee the centre pivot, spinning again and again, like Benita did.

What I didn’t bargain on was that Benita’s boots must have afforded her ankle more padding than mine did. The first time I pushed myself over the bar was fine, but the second time I banged my ankle as I drove my body up and over the top. Still, I kept going. After four or five times around the bar, I felt slightly motion sick, and I could tell my shin and ankle were getting bruised. Maybe Benita’s fun wasn’t as great as it looked.

borrowed from larkwire.com
Head spinning, hanging with my arms still clasped around one knee, I stared up at the cloudy sky just as a meadowlark flew overhead. His bright yellow belly was a small ray of sunshine, and I let myself fall back and watch him until he landed on the upside-down schoolyard fence a short distance from me. Pulling myself right-side-up, I dropped from the monkey bar and turned to the meadowlark, who was singing an amazing nine-note trill.

Moving slowly toward the bird, I said softly, “Good morning, sir, and what a lovely voice you have. Can I talk to you like Mary Lennox talks to the robin in The Secret Garden?” He cocked his head and stared at me with one black bead-like eye. The closer I got to him, the more slowly I moved, until his legs tensed, ready to launch him into the air. I stopped, and he waited. “Where do you live, sir” I asked, “and what are your plans for this Saturday morning? Do you have a lady and a nest somewhere?”

He flew to the next fence post as if he was about to lead me to his place, and I followed him, making conversation. If he had talked back, it wouldn’t have surprised me, but a full conversation wasn’t necessary. I was happy just speaking to him as though he was a long-lost friend, admiring his bright eyes, dark necklace, and yellow breast – and that song! He didn’t sing it nearly often enough for my liking, so I decided to stop talking and just follow in silence.

I had never fully explored the school yard before. Grade One and Two students generally played closer to the school because the bigger kids used the wider spaces for softball, kickball and other sports that might run over little kids like me. But that morning, the meadowlark took me on a grand tour: all the way around the fence perimeter, right to the farmer’s fields out back, and over to where the High School kids played football. He started to sing again, and, taking it for conversation, I responded in kind, telling him about bossy Diane trying to make my little sister eat a mud pie, and my difficulties with addition and subtraction speed tests. He sang a little song of sympathy, and listened intently. He seemed to agree that The Secret Garden was a wonderful book for Mrs. Hansen to read to her Grade Two class.

After what seemed like hours to my seven-year-old self, the bird stood up tall on his fencepost, and I heard a different birdsong coming from the grasses in the field beyond the fence. “Is that a lady bird?” I asked. He stretched even taller, trilled once, and was gone.

That’s when I realized that my hands were cold and my bike was far away. Plodding around the High School, past the middle school, and all the way back to where I’d started, I decided that I wouldn’t envy Benita her monkey bar spinning any more. I’d keep my eye out for meadowlarks instead.

*** ***

There wasn’t a single cloud reflected in the water. I stood, looking down at a wavy, acne-riddled face staring back up at me until it was shattered into a thousand watery fragments as the whale silently rose up, just inches from the railing. She had a piece of yellowish kelp on her nose, if killer whales had noses, and she bobbed in front of me as if she wanted me to take it.

I looked around for guidance or permission, but my family and the rest of the tourists had moved over to the four o’clock show, and the whale trainer had disappeared behind the stage door. I could hear the emcee two tanks over giving the same spiel we'd heard at the sea lions' 2 o’clock performance. But I’d had enough of people, and just wanted my space; reruns of sea lion tricks didn’t impress an introverted 14-year-old me. Until the young orca showed up, I was feeling more than a little melancholy and out of sorts.

Miracle moved a few feet to the right, her near eye watching my reaction. For reasons unknown, I decided to move with her. She moved back to the left, and I sidestepped again. She came a little closer to the railing, her piece of seaweed still on her nose. There was no one to tell me not to, so I reached over the railing, took it from her, and tossed it into the middle of the tank. She sank into the water, swam under the kelp, and came up with it on her nose, bringing it back to me. Fetch.

“You’re lonely too, aren’t you?” I said. I took the kelp and threw it in a different direction, and she brought it back again, her graceful body making only the slightest waves on the surface of the tank. I was delighted. The crowd at the Sea Lion tank laughed and cheered, clearly amused by Sally the costumed seal’s dancing, but I was communing with a killer whale. “Do you mind being cooped up like this?” I asked her. “Would you like to swim free?”

Our family had heard the story of the baby killer whale that had been found off the BC coast riddled with bullets. Fortunately, Miracle was rescued by marine biologists and brought to Sealand for medical care in 1977. By the time she recuperated, she had bonded with Sealand staff, and no one seemed sure whether she would be adopted or killed by a pod of wild orcas, so she remained as one of Sealand’s attractions, learning tricks and performing through the summer months. Two years later, our family decided it would be interesting to see Miracle with our own eyes.

She definitely wasn’t a baby anymore. The whale tank’s railings were marked in different shades of blue, and during Miracle’s performance, Uncle Scotty made the mistake of wandering off and standing alone behind a light blue railing while the rest of us stood in the navy section. None of us knew that light blue indicated where Miracle did the kinds of tricks that would have emptied the tank had it not been made of netted enclosures surrounded by floating walkways in the Pacific itself. Uncle was soaked to the skin, and it seemed that Miracle was pleased with her performance, nodding toward him when she took her “bows” at the end of it all. We laughed as he took off his tank top and wrung it out, but it was a hot afternoon, and we kids kind of envied him being cooled off by such a cool whale.

And here I was, hanging out with her! After a few more sessions of fetch, Miracle left the kelp in the water and came to take a long look at me, raising herself up so we could see eye to eye when I rested my chin on the railing. “Bored, eh?” I said. “I would be too, except for you.” She rolled to her side and flapped a flipper, then powered across the tank doing the motorboat impression that soaked our flip-flopped feet behind the navy railing during her show, and she made me laugh again at the raspberry-like sound she was making.

borrowed from
On her way back toward me, Miracle changed direction and leapt into the air, her splash not quite reaching me. “You missed,” I told her when she surfaced, and she flashed a big smile. Then she disappeared underwater for a while, and I could tell where she was only by the occasional appearance of her top fin where she was practicing her “Jaws Impression.”  Eventually, she surfaced to my right. I sidestepped to be in line with her, and she opened her mouth and smiled again, displaying a regular row of large teeth and a marvelous pink tongue. I stepped to the left a few paces, and she went under and came up in line with me. It felt like playing peek-a-boo with a little kid. I wished I had a few fish to offer her.

The sea lions were working on their grand finale and Miracle and I were back to playing fetch when my dad came looking for me. “Why didn’t you come to the sea lions?” he asked. “Been there, done that,” I said, cool as a sea cucumber, “but I’ve never played fetch with a killer whale before.” Miracle had resurfaced with the kelp, and I took it off her nose and handed it to Dad, who threw it toward the middle of the tank. Miracle retrieved it, and this time, after I took the seaweed, I dared to run my hand along the side of her jaw, showing off a little. Her mouth opened, and I nervously pulled back and threw the seaweed once again. Dad laughed. “Better than the sea lions,” he said, as Miracle went after the piece of kelp.

When the sea lion performance ended, my sisters and cousins came running over to see what was going on. “Just hanging out with Miracle,” I said. At the sound of so many feet running toward us on the deck, she had slipped underwater, just her top fin and fluke showing now and then. I wondered if maybe she was an introvert, like me, but she surfaced with the kelp. I took it from her, and we showed my family the fetch game. “Let me try!” shouted Ronald, my ten-year-old cousin. I handed him the kelp, and Miracle dutifully brought it back a few times for my sisters and cousins before Dad announced that it was time to go back to our campsite and make supper. Ron was disappointed, complaining all the way to the parking lot. I was the last to leave Miracle’s tank, wishing that I could give her a hug.

*** ***

I suspect all human beings are born with a sense of kinship toward other creatures. It’s only natural for toddlers to converse with caterpillars and lady bugs. But somewhere along the line, many of us lose that sense of connection.

I haven’t. My conversations with other creatures have continued well into adulthood, sometimes to my embarrassment – neighbours walking our back alley have overheard me talking to crows and squirrels and even honeybees. I’d like to blame Mary Lennox in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beautiful book, but it comes naturally, and it’s not something I would ever think to prevent. It just happens, and it makes me happy. I’ve realized that it’s part of who I am, no small thanks to a meadowlark and a killer whale.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lucky day at Elk Island National Park

On Sunday morning, Lee and I had the pleasure of taking a young L'Arche assistant from Germany to Elk Island National Park. We prepared Birte by saying that we've been there a few times when all we've seen were birds... but that's not what happened this time. We had a lovely, if chilly, morning, and took plenty of pictures. I'm not sure Birte knows just how lucky she was -- we managed to see a few herds of bison, and we've never seen a single moose in the park before, never mind two hanging out together! Here are a few pictures, for your enjoyment...

The two young bison behind the tree were butting heads...

We thought there was only one moose at first, but then they moved apart...

Brothers hanging out together, maybe?

This picture doesn't do justice to the beaver's 
engineering of terraced ponds

Birte took more pictures than I did --
but I can go back almost any time...

Astotin Lake was frozen at the edges... and my fingers were, too...

These bison weren't happy -- we disrupted their nap, 
and they shambled off into the trees...

On our way home, we stopped at the places where we'd seen the moose and bison as we came into the park, and they were gone. So if you're heading to Elk Island National Park, we recommend going early in the day... though that doesn't necessarily guarantee animal sightings. Apparently, there are more elk than any other kind of animal in the park, and we've yet to spot even one after many visits. Perhaps that's part of the fun of nature watching -- sometimes you simply get lucky.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday Reflection: To be like you

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 5:1-6.

Though you are God,
O Christ,
you don't hold yourself above us.

You are the one who walks among us
and who acts as our liberator,
the high priest
who offers himself
in place of the poor gifts we can give.

Because you lived our life
and understand human fragility,
you are compassionate,
and forgiving of our weaknesses.

And we are called to be like you:
and forgiving.

Not only to others,
but also, to ourselves.

It's not easy to be like you.

Please help us.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A sense of urgency

On Thanksgiving Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of a group of the world's top climate scientists, released their 6th report since 1974. It's scary, but hopeful.

And today, one year to the day before our next federal election, I finally sat down with a green highlighter pen to read a 34-page summary of it, which I then packaged up and took to the office of my member of parliament. I added a letter requesting that she do everything she possibly can to encourage the alignment of Canada's climate policies with what the scientists tell us we must do before 2030 in order to avoid more climate and human catastrophes. The document I dropped off had a lot of green text. I was just going to highlight the important parts, but it's all important!

The report came out on October 6th (click here to read it for yourself), but was shuffled to the bottom of the news cycle by most media outlets, something that makes no sense to me. We're talking about our future here, and hundreds of scientists from all over the world are in agreement, telling us that we need to make changes now or

  • we will see a lot more intense climate and weather extremes, and an increase in droughts, floods, wildfires and weather events that will make travel to our favourite places less possible (the Skyline Trail in Jasper is no longer recommended for hikers because of fire danger, a friend's trip to Mexico has been cancelled because of Hurricane Willa, many friends' summer vacations were spoiled by smoke that stretched from the coast to Ontario this summer... see the pattern?)
  • we will lose many more ecosystems (our coral reefs and marine ice are disappearing already)
  • more species loss and extinction will result in further loss of biodiversity, which has already impoverished our planet and us as a species in many ways
  • climate zones will continue to change, bringing desert regions to higher latitudes
  • oceans will continue to acidify, currents will continue to change, and invasive species will get around more than they already have (if you think zebra mussels in the Great Lakes are bad enough, just wait...)
  • there will be more risks to human health, livelihoods, food security, water supplies, human security and economy
  • disadvantaged, vulnerable and often indigenous populations, especially those in the tropics and southern hemisphere, will suffer the most
  • urban heat islands, already in the news this summer where people were dying from extreme temperatures in large cities, will only increase as temperatures climb
  • food production in extreme weather will be more difficult, and water stress is already a concern in many countries
There are things we can do, and that's why this report is so important. It reminds us that it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions by lowering energy use, increasing energy efficiency, and working to implement the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals because action on them can create synergies between countries in the areas of health, clean energy, responsible consumption and production, the health of our oceans -- and get cities and communities working together for the benefit of all.

None of this will be easy, because governments like to talk more than act. So we have to push...

All of it will require a willingness to make sacrifices and change our ways. It might start with accepting that we need to tighten our belts and pay a carbon tax to kick start an economy that relies less on fossil fuels. That we might have to drive less and walk or carpool more get by with fewer pipelines and more solar and wind energy. That we give up on those tropical vacations altogether for the sake of our grand kids' futures. And eat less meat. And waste less of the earth's resources, using what we already have until it wears out. And remember that we are not entitled to waste things, but that we are to share them, especially with those in the developing world...

Whatever we do, we only have until 2030 to do it. Less than 12 years. So let's start now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

River walking

It's been an emotionally heavy week, so I've been seeking solace in nature. I've probably walked 75 km, most of it along our wonderful river.

Edmonton is blessed with the most unspoiled and beautiful river valley, with at least 20 major urban parks, all of which I've walked through at one time or other, and 160 km of maintained trails. There are many paths for cycling, cross country skiing in the winter, walking and hiking, but Shadow and I have been doing a fair bit of "off-roading" of late, taking what I call coyote trails to be closer to nature and the water. When my heart and mind are in turmoil, there's something really soothing about the gentleness of the water's movement in the North Saskatchewan. Something timeless and eternal, that makes me feel like my struggles are but a ripple in the stream of life. River walking grounds me.

And there are other serendipities in walking the valley. A lengthy conversation about conservation with a fellow hiker. A pretty group of mallards who leave little wakes behind them when they paddle hard against the current. An unexpected golden delicious apple tree (probably planted years ago by someone who tossed their apple core) with sweet, ice cold fruit hanging just within reach.

For me, a walk in the valley is like a big hug from God.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Sunday Reflection: One of us

This reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 4: 14-16.

You've already gone before us,
O Christ,
passing through the heavens
and making a place for us.

You've also been one of us
and experienced the joys and failures
that we face as human beings,
but without sin.

Your own human life
was a brief moment in time.

Now you live in each one of us,
knowing our sins and struggles.
our hurts and happiness,
and walking with us
through our dark places
and into your light.

We know that you are with us,
closer than our very breath,
in the thrumming of our heartbeats.

You are holding us with compassion and grace,
most especially when we are in need.

Thank you,
for being one of us,
and being one with us.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Sunday reflection on a Monday: An undivided heart

Image by Jay (my words)
Today's reflection is brought to you by
Hebrews 4: 12-13, a day late because I forgot to hit the publish button! Oops.

Your word,
O God,
is your living and active self,
a sword
that comes to separate me
from my illusions.

Too often
I divide what you have made
into opposing camps,
that without darkness,
light cannot exist,
that joy is sweeter
once I've known sorrow,
and that my soul
needs its body
in spite of its aging
and imperfections.

But you see clearly
where my real divisions are.

You understand me
better than I know my own mind.

Depending on the day,
my divided heart fools me
into thinking myself and others
better or worse than we really are,
but you see through me
and love me
in spite of my illusions.

Though it be painful,
show me the places
where I need to grow,
to love,
and to live
according to your will for me

Give me
an undivided heart,
and lead me to wholeness.

Let me forget myself
and follow you alone.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Easy (and excellent!) tomato sauce

Ready for roasting
My best friend, Cathy, has been a parish nurse for the last ten years or so. In her travels, she's met and helped lots of folks. Most recently, she connected with Molly, who is in her 90s, and who shared a wonderful recipe for tomato sauce, which Cathy passed along to me.

With the gazillion tomatoes my garden produced this summer, I've used the recipe three times already, and adapted it to make spaghetti sauce (adding some onions, peppers, herbs and lemon juice to thin it out a bit and provide a little extra citric acid for canning purposes). But the basic recipe is just so good, thick, concentrated and tastier than any paste in a store bought can) and I've raved about it to enough friends that it would probably be good to post it here in an effort to share something really yummy. The first time I made it, we put it on homemade pizza... and I will never buy any kind of pizza sauce ever again. Mmmm mmmmm!

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce
(makes about 3 cups)

12 vine-ripened tomatoes, in season
12 cloves of garlic, peeled
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
herbs or other seasonings as desired

1. Preheat oven to 375° F, or 190° C.
2. Remove the stems from the tomatoes, making a hole into which you can insert a garlic clove deep into the tomato.
3. Insert the garlic cloves, and put the tomatoes into an oven-proof baking dish.
4. Brush tomatoes with olive oil and bake for three hours, uncovered. They may look a bit blackened in spots, but don't worry, this just adds to the flavour.
5. When tomatoes have cooled, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a food processor or blender, leaving all liquid behind.
6. Process for about 10 seconds and taste. Add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired.
7. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to five days, or freeze. (I like to drop my paste by dollops into paper cupcake cups and set in my freezer, then transfer to a plastic bag for freezer storage.)

Molly's recipe comes from an old cookbook page, probably long out of print, on which the author attributes the recipe to their uncle Uncle Bernie. God bless you, Uncle Bernie, wherever you are -- this recipe is better than gold. Gold could never taste this good! And thank you, Molly and Cathy, for sharing it with me.