Tuesday, January 30, 2018

L'Arche time

I haven't said much about L'Arche for quite some time, but I'm still happily spending small chunks of my life with the community.

On the weekend, we had our annual Solidarity Bowl-a-thon to raise funds for our sister L'Arche communities in the developing world. It's a great cause and it's always a lot of fun. Lizzy and Cassandra were both delighted to beat my score!

On Monday morning I hung out with my friends at Day Program as I often do, having coffee, socializing, enjoying our little prayer time, and participating in the scheduled activities. Mondays are a good day for having one-on-one time with core members, watering plants with Lucy*, dancing with Leanne, coloring with Anthony, or setting puzzles with Cassandra.

But my L'Arche time on Monday afternoon was extra special. The entire community was called together for a meeting, with the assistants (persons without disabilities) in one room and our 22 core members (persons with disabilities) across the hall. Carmel, a long-time community member, three seminarians who have been staying in three of our homes for their practicum in the month of January, and myself enjoyed a rare opportunity to be with our core member friends without the assistants (who have an energy all their own). Though we didn't really have much of a plan for the afternoon, one soon evolved.

We started by singing different core members' favourite songs. Lark loves Home on the Range, and Joe led us in a rousing version of It's a Long Way to Tipperary, while Keith was hoping we'd sing Taking Care of Business (I'm afraid we didn't manage that one). I can't begin to remember all the songs we sang and drummed and shook shakers to. It turned out that Jonathan, one of the seminarians, knew a slew of camp songs with some hilarious actions!

When our voices needed a break, we all made and signed a get-well card for a community member who just had surgery and a birthday card for one of the assistants. We talked about life in community and named each core member along a community timeline -- who came to L'Arche Edmonton at the very beginning, and who came most recently. We had a wonderful conversation about the ups and downs of living in community, and we closed our time together with prayer. When the assistants' meeting finally ended, we all enjoyed a chicken supper together.

I can't help but feel that we were on holy ground for those few hours that we were together yesterday. It's rare to have just the core members meet together like that, and while there were a few shorter tempers and some moments when we wondered how we'd keep a hungry group happy, for the most part, they led the gentle pace of the afternoon just by their interactions.

Talking, singing and telling stories with our core members, and being part of their sharing only underlined the goodness of L'Arche. They truly are the heart of our community, our teachers, and our society could take many lessons from them about what's really important -- friendship, humility, and generosity of spirit. They carry a gentleness and wisdom from which the world needs to learn!

*I use pseudonyms for the names of my L'Arche friends.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday Reflection: To go with the Divine flow

What follows is my homily this Sunday for the Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community, which continues to meet monthly even though we lost our Roman Catholic Woman Priest, Ruthie, last Easter. Tune in for more about the Emmaus Community next Sunday.

The Sunday scriptures both last week and this week have spoken about what it takes to be a prophet – last week we heard about Jonah, the prophet who didn’t want to go to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5,10) but finally did (after taking a detour through a fish’s belly), and this week we hear about Moses (Deut. 18:15-20) begging God to appoint a new prophet to the Israelites. It seems that hearing God’s voice and seeing God’s fire got to be too much for Moses, and he was afraid he’d die if it kept on happening. Moses and Jonah found that hearing and responding to what God wants can pretty challenging. Does that resonate with you at all?

And then there’s Jesus, the Son of God, the most connected prophet of them all. In today’s reading (Mark 1:21-28) the people are enthralled by him, saying, “He speaks with authority! Even the unclean spirits obey him!” And the excitement around him builds, and his fame spreads, at least until he starts challenging them to look at their own lives.

Being a prophet IS hard work, because you can’t be a really good prophet unless you’ve done the work that gets your own ego out of the way and unless you know who you’re talking about, like Jesus clearly did. Both Moses and Jonah weren’t quite up to the challenges God set for them, but Jesus managed to hear God’s voice and see God’s fire and speak God’s truth because he knew himself to be God’s child, God’s beloved, and he trusted God to take care of the rest. Moses and Jonah seem to have developed small “God complexes” thanks to their egos – saying to themselves, God wants this, but maybe it would be better if I did it my way – and they got steered off course a few times.

I’m guessing that’s because it’s just too easy to second-guess God. When things are moving along smoothly and life is going according to our plans, prayers of thanksgiving and praise flow naturally. But when God asks for things that seem chaotic and beyond our control, our egos spring into action to try to fix things. Maybe we harden our hearts a little. We make excuses, we come up with alternate plans, and we forget how to listen to what God really wants and do it God's way. For me, prayer usually goes out the window when I jump into fix-it-myself mode.

But Jesus spent a lot of time listening to God. He prayed so that he could go with the Divine Flow instead of what his ego told him. The only thing he ever said that sounded like second-guessing God was when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But I think what he was really doing was showing us that it’s okay to be human, to have doubts and fears, as long as you leave everything in God’s loving hands. That’s the ultimate challenge. Which he accepted and fulfilled, on that cross.

I’ll admit to having second-guessed God many times in my life, never with good results. The most recent is in dealing with my youngest child, who came out recently as a non-binary, asexual teenager. Jay has gone through a legal name change now so that their legal identity fits who they feel that they are, neither a boy nor a girl, but somewhere in between. Jay is Jay.

Unfortunately, through it all, my "God complex", my ego, kept insisting that Jay was just passing through a phase, or attention-seeking, or going through teenage self-esteem issues and insecurities, and that they’d get over it, given enough time. In the meantime, I took on a lot of guilt and self-blame for Jay’s “being this way.” I was second-guessing God, not believing that God could make my child different gender-wise, and feeling that it was my fault somehow. How is a person who was raised with a bible that announces in its first few pages, “male and female God created them,” supposed to get their mind around gender identities outside of those two boxes?

Short answer: by putting aside my own ego, and a bible written by humans who don’t really understand the huge heart of God, and by not second-guessing God. By understanding that God has a much wider view of humanity than most humans ever will. God made Jay, and Jay’s experience of being non-binary isn’t my experience or the experience of most people I know, but does that make it impossible?  With God, all things are possible.

Jay is a young adult who is coming to know themself and their way of being in the world, a really wonderful kid with a huge heart, a creative spirit, and a marvelous sense of humour. So getting my ego, my education, my background and my religious upbringing out of the way and accepting Jay as God made them is what I believe God has been asking of me for quite a while already. It just took me some time to get the message because I was scared, like Jonah and Moses. I wasn’t entrusting the situation into God’s loving hands because I was afraid that God was asking too much of Jay, and of me.

And don’t get me wrong – God is asking a lot. I worry for Jay. I know that our world operates out of those female and male boxes, and that there are many people who are afraid of the kind of diversity that God is giving us through people like Jay. I’m afraid of the backlash from those fearful people. But Jay is brave, and is teaching me to be brave, to set my ego aside and trust our Creator who made Jay as they are. Just as Jesus trusted God with his life.

I started by talking about prophets and their struggles. And I guess my point here is that we are all prophets in one way or another. God calls all of us to set aside our biases and egos and let God work through us rather than in spite of us. That’s what Jesus did. We may not think of ourselves as prophets if we aren’t out there challenging the world. But if prophets are those who bring messages from God to people, isn’t that what we are all doing by living the gospel? We are called to trust, to set our egos aside and to let God work through us, even in ways like the one I've just shared with you.

So where is God asking you to set your ego aside and trust -- so that God’s will, that Divine flow, can be revealed to others through you?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Simple Suggestion #271... Shop like a hunter

Have you seen this sign?

I don't think that way. I love shopping with my hubby. He and I are what you might call hunter-shoppers, like the first human beings were hunter-gatherers, and we like it that way.

What I mean is that when we shop, we don't waste time or energy on wandering around window shopping and getting side-tracked by stuff that we don't need. We make a list of what's necessary, imagine the most efficient route to get to the places we need to go, and tick things off the list as we collect them.

For example, last weekend, we needed a few groceries, a replacement part for a broken blade on my food processor, two watch battery replacements, and Lee needed some new pants. I wasn't sure we could accomplish all that in the two hours we had before I needed to get home for a music rehearsal. But Lee was determined.

So we stopped at a parts place for the food processor blade (tick one) on our way to a watch repair place. While the lady there needed twenty minutes to replace our watch batteries (tick two), we crossed the parking lot to a grocery store (tick three). Then we drove a little further and found a men's wear store where Lee got his new pants (tick four). We made it home with ten extra minutes for me to grab a bite before practicing music.

What's so great about that? 

We took less than two hours to complete four errands and came home with exactly what we needed, no more and no less. Our trip was efficient, used as little fossil fuel as we could manage, didn't cost more than we'd budgeted, and incurred no extra consumption of the planet's resources than was necessary.

Shopping has become a pastime for many people in North America -- we've become a society that fills our homes to the rafters and garages to the driveways with unnecessary things, all of which will have to go somewhere else when we go. Lee and I used to be like that, but since we began to practice Voluntary Simplicity, we've changed our ways.

Shopping like a hunter means determining what's required and getting it and only it, so that we aren't adding to the earth's burden of wasted resources and have more time for doing the things that make us truly happy. We know that "They who die with the most toys add the most to the landfill" and rather than doing that, we can think of people we'd like to spend more time with, activities or recipes we've always wanted to try, books we've always wanted to read, et cetera, et cetera...

As Lee says when we are shopping, "Get in. Get out. Get on with better things."

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A movie recommendation

On Sunday, my sisters and I went to see The Greatest Showman, a recent movie about P. T. Barnum and his circus dreams. While I can't comment on the real P. T. Barnum's life or his motives, I can comment on a feel-good sleeper of a movie with great music and stunning visuals, and a strong message about the value of every person and being true to self. It's definitely a movie to see on the big screen if you still can. I was amazed by the choreography and cinematography of this eye- and ear-pleaser.

The Greatest Showman is a beautiful, joyful, uplifting flick and a great way to get rid of the winter blahs! Just remember, we are all glorious!


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Fishers of people

We are all fishers of people,
O God,
though some of us
are more successful
than others.

Perhaps we need to look at our bait.

Do we speak with fire and brimstone
or joy and humility?

Do we reach out with dogma and doctrine
or simplicity and tenderness?

Do we listen to others with judgment and condemnation
or forgiveness and compassion?

Do we offer burdens of guilt
or smiles and helping hands?

Do we display pious pretenses
or do we live your gospel
through a real relationship with you
and the people with whom you surround us?

Please, teach us to fish for people
with the kind of love you offer to each of us.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Simple Suggestion #270... Take an evening stroll

One of the side benefits of having a dog has been our daily after-supper stroll. My hubby and I have gotten into the habit of setting out shortly after supper for at least a 20-minute walk with Shadow-dog. He seems to need it, or he paces the house and drives us a little crazy. Sometimes we opt for longer walks, and when it's really cold, they're shorter, but it's not the length of time that's important. It's that it happens at all.

On Wednesday night, Lee got home from a business trip to Ottawa/Toronto at about 9:30 p.m., just minutes before I returned from a L'Arche Board Meeting. Shadow hadn't had his walk yet, and we looked at each other and said, "Well, he needs a walk." And we put on our coats and boots and headed out, two hours later than usual. To be honest, we were the ones who needed the stroll more.

An evening walk is a wonderful way to unwind, a good place to review the day and let go of its stresses. Our routine stroll around our neighbourhood gives us a chance to catch up with ourselves and each other after a busy day. Even when Lee isn't here, Shadow and I walk without him. It settles the food in our stomachs, gets the blood flowing, and slows us down for the evening. Sometimes we opt to go a little further afield than our own neighbourhood just for a change, like last week's walk around the Legislature Grounds. Shadow loves a change in routine.

Even when it's cold and icy, we dress warm and head out for a stroll. And we recommend it to anyone who can manage it, all year round. Even if you don't have a dog who needs a walk.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle

During our family's very busy Christmas week, as we attended different gatherings, took a trip to Lethbridge to see Lee's parents, celebrated a 24th birthday, and wished for warmer weather, what I really wanted to do (besides what I was doing) was to put on my pink fuzzy jammies, make some tea, and set a jigsaw puzzle. It's an indulgence I allow myself every Christmas, one of those ME time things that fit with the 2018 Word of the Year, now that I think about it.

Sunday night
I had to wait until January 2nd to get at it this year, and it was worth the wait. This year's puzzle was of a painting of an Italian restaurant corner. It was a brain buster, the kind where you can't even set the edge pieces because they're shaped so strangely that you simply can't separate them all from the inner pieces. And I was never quite sure of the shape of a piece (or pieces) to fill a space until I'd set the ones around it. I'm not sure I would have finished the puzzle without Suzanna's help.

Puzzling is not a steady pastime for me -- it's a once a year thing because it's so time intensive, and my attention span flags due to many competing interests during Christmas break. For the first week, I felt like I was doing well to set ten pieces a day... after all the sorting of similar colours, there was lots of just sitting and looking, trying a piece in a spot, trying a different piece, then picking up the first one, turning it sideways or upside down, and discovering that perhaps it actually did fit in the first place. It was progressing so slowly that I was tempted to put it back in the box after a few days. But then Suzanna set all the tables, and we were committed. Even so, it wasn't until Sunday night that I began to feel like we had it licked!

Last night
At the same time as it's brain-taxing, I find puzzling completely relaxing. My mind is on the puzzle pieces, yes, but there is also room for reflection, conversation or background music. And there's gotta be something addictive about setting a puzzle piece in the right place. Last night I sat at the table saying to myself, "I should go to bed, but I just have to find one piece to fill that space there," "oh, and one more there," "and this one should be really obvious," until it was almost midnight! I wonder what part of the brain lights up when pieces fit. I suspect someone has already done an interesting MRI study!

When you think about it, setting a puzzle is a rather silly way to spend several hours of this one amazing life I've been given. There's nothing permanent to show for it. But maybe that's part of the point. We human beings have a way of thinking that our lives and our possessions will always be there, even though the Psalmist says:
Our days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone --
as though we had never been here. (Psalm 103: 15-16, New Living Translation)
And I might add, we are like a puzzle that is set, dismantled, and gone!

Setting a puzzle isn't a bad metaphor for life. It takes a while to sort things out, to put things in place, and to get things right. Pieces don't always go where we expect them to, and occasionally, one goes missing. Some pieces set together long before we understand how they fit into the whole. But if we keep at it, eventually we see our big picture, imperfect though it is.

All done!
My one puzzle of 2018 is finished. Suzanna and I gave each other a high five as she put in the last piece this afternoon, and we felt that sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a challenge, even though it was a rather frivolous one. I am very aware that there are many people in this world who simply don't have the luxury of time to set a puzzle like this one, and I thought of them, too, and offered a little prayer for them to have a bit of ME time too.

Now I can take down the card table, put the living room back in order and get on with the usual January activities -- work for L'Arche board and school council meetings coming up soon, a pile of books that I should read, an afghan that needs to be finished, ordering seeds -- and planning this year's garden!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Come and see

"Where are you staying, Lord?"
we ask.

"Come and see,"
you reply.

We look --

and there are people of all shapes and sizes
and genders and colours
and abilities and talents

and there are domestic animals that we know and love,
wild ones that we observe from safe distances,
strange ones in the deeps of the jungles and the depths of the oceans
that we will never see with our own eyes

and there are trees
and plants,
macro and micro environments
and a boundless universe
that surround us

an entire creation from A to Z
and alpha to omega
over the whole planet
and beyond

plus heaven (on earth)

-- and if we really look, we see

your presence,
your beauty and goodness and truth
in all that you have made.

And those of us who see
bow down and say,
"We have found the Christ."

Our gratitude and care for all that you offer us
should be the size of the universe.

Teach us how to love you
in all that you have made.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Forget POTUS. Remember Musa?

It's interesting to see and hear peoples' reactions to the latest outrage caused by the US President. Here's my reaction. Instead of going on about POTUS, I want to remind you about Musa.

Remember Musa? He's a beautiful man who happens to have cerebral palsy and who went from his BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY of Kenya to France some time ago, where a lovely #AsIAm video was made about his experience.

Musa's reactions to our world are dead on. He knows what's really important and what's fluff.

And now there's another lovely video about Musa, who brings people together, and helps them to see beauty and goodness. 

Forget about that other guy. The pundits are saying enough. 

Instead, spread Musa's message of positivity around!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A bright spot in the winter

Last Christmas, I sent a teleflora Christmas planter with a bright red amaryllis to my friend Gaby in Belgium. Red for Christmas, of course, but red also because of a wonderful red sweater that Gaby wore as he showed me around Flanders when I was there the previous October. When he comes to mind, he's always wearing that poppy- or amaryllis-red sweater. In his New Year's letter last year, Gaby reported that a beautiful flower was reminding him of our family, and he hoped that maybe he could make her bloom again next Christmas.

When I was placing my annual spring bulb order in September, I noticed that amaryllises of different colours were being offered, and a Red Lion amaryllis bulb immediately joined the tulips on my order form. One amaryllis is twice as pricey as a pack of ten tulip bulbs, but I didn't think twice. I wanted a flower like Gaby's, to remind me of Gaby, and to make our house more Christmassy.

And let me tell you, she didn't disappoint -- she's still going strong!

In these dark winter days with extreme cold warnings, it's wonderful to have a flower bloom indoors, and this one seems to be intent on blooming three different times. Her colour is gorgeous, and I could look at her all day. When she first came out, she was a brash, shiny satin, but now she's deepened into a full, deep red, the colour of the sweater that looks so good on 90-year-old Gaby, who is one of the loves of my life, if you haven't already guessed.

I'm not at all versed in keeping amaryllis, but you can bet that I'll be doing my research to try to keep this one going. Her breathtaking beauty pretty much guarantees that -- pictures don't do her justice. Maybe I'll call her Gabriella.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Epiphany and other bloopers

Jesus Christ - Liberator
by Will Wheaton
I'm not exactly sure why, but the Feast of the Epiphany has engendered a few funny events in our parish in recent history. We've probably all heard the joke about the little boy telling his baby sister about how the "three wise guys" go to visit the Holy Family, and there are many other scripture-related jokes, but it's the real life stories that are the funniest.

Six years ago today, a lovely woman stood up in church and read, "they offered him gifts of gold, frankenstein..." her voice trailed off and we could see her thoughts whirring, wait, that's not right. After a moment of thinking hard, she tried again, "they offered him gifts of gold, frankensigns (that sounds better) and myrrh." It was enough to give our whole pew silent giggles through the rest of the story.

And this weekend, our gentle cantor stood up to sing Psalm 72 -- "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you." Perhaps it was the extra long third verse, requiring her full concentration on the tune more than the words: "The kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring him gifts." she sang, "Before him all rulers shall fall prostate..."  And I got the silent giggles once again.

It's silly little moments like these that make me wonder... what does God think when looking down on our churches? Does God perhaps wish we'd lighten up a little? When frankincense becomes frankenstein, a baby gets a really loud case of the hiccups, or the choir sings, "Were you there when they nailed him in the tomb," I can't help but think there might be a Divine Hand at work, bringing a bit more hilarity to our solemnity...

O God,
your humour knows no limits.

I see it in your creatures,
in the people who share my life,
and in stories told about you...

I imagine Sara and Abraham
laughing at a God who says
that she will bear a child.

And laughing again when Isaac arrives.

I imagine Zechariah
laughing with joy
when his voice returned
at the naming of John the Baptist.

I imagine your son,
laughing with delight
with the groom at the wedding of Cana,
when the water turned to wine.

And I imagine you,
laughing along at all these times and so many others,
including when your people giggle in church.

Help us not to take ourselves so seriously,
to notice, embrace and enjoy
your sense of humour
in our daily lives.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

An old song made new for 2018!

Yesterday I received a wonderful Christmas present from Christina and Landon (my daughter and her fiancé). You might already know that some years ago a little song came to me during my Master Composter/Recycler training, and I recorded the original in my kitchen with a cheap mike, an old laptop and my guitar. After the music video received 24,000+ hits on YouTube over the last ten years (including incorporation into the Taiwan Public School Curriculum for a lesson on senseless consumption!), it got rather glitchy.

So for my Christmas gift two years ago, my creative kids offered to update it. Some talented friends and MCRs came together for a re-recording of the tune with all sorts of "recycled" instruments, Landon did the sound mixing, and Christina worked on the video over the last two years -- she's a busy girl, so you could say it wasn't exactly high on her priority list. And now, thanks to all these wonderful people, I'm delighted to share the results!

We fill our lives with so many unnecessary things, all of which have an ecological impact on our planet. If you really think about it, everything we own has to go somewhere else someday. So singing along with the chorus of this song might be part of an excellent New Year's resolution for 2018 -- to reduce our consumption by buying less, period. Some friends have commented on how the song has helped/hindered their different buying habits... and of course, that's the whole point! If we can all reduce our impact on creation, we and future generations will be better for it.

Feel free to share it around... just one more way of trying to save our sister, Mother Earth, and live in the spirit of Laudato Si!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The word of the year, 2018 edition

Moodlings followers who have been reading here for a while know that my best friend and I have a ritual of picking a theme word to focus on each year. Past words have included Freedom, Joy, Balance, Tenderness, and many more -- I think we started the practice of a Word of the Year in about 2003. I wish I had kept a list of our words over the years -- that would be 15 now! Actually, I suspect many of them are included in the handwritten letters we still write now and then and have saved over the years. Our friendship was founded on snail mail from the time we were ten, and we tend to discuss the really important things in our relationship via pen and ink.

Our word of the year for 2017 was Tenderness, and with hindsight, Cathy and I see that it was an essential word for both of us. We are both TWOs on the Enneagram, the kind of people who constantly put our own needs last, doing everything that we think other people need us to do before tending to ourselves, sometimes out of a "need to be needed." The word Tenderness came up in our conversations and letters over the past year when we were stressed or tired and not looking after ourselves. "Be tender with yourself," one or the other of us would say, and the comfort in that suggestion carried the day.

2017 was a very challenging year for me. Part of my tenderness toward myself recently was seeking out a counselor, a lovely woman who helped me to realize that my inner critic was dominating my thinking and making my life miserable. You know (or maybe you don't) -- that little voice in your head that is always saying, "You should do more!" "You should have said this instead," "you should have done it that way," or "you really don't know what you're doing!"

Constantly second-guessing myself in the many roles I play -- Mom, Wife, Sister, Daughter, Employee, and Friend -- took a huge emotional toll on me, to the point that I felt as though I was about to fall apart. And if anyone made a critical comment, my private tears were endless. But my counselor invited me to talk back to my critic, to stand up for myself and announce loudly, "I'm doing my best! And if that's not good enough for you, too effing bad!" Turns out, it's a much better tactic than allowing the inner critic to run me down and completely destroy my self-worth.

Cathy had her own struggles this year, a lot of them with the scheduling of her days and a lack of time for herself. She has a tendency to fill her daily life with more than it can actually hold, leaving her tired and out of sorts because she's left with no time to do the things that really make her happy.

So (drum roll please)...

Cathy and I have decided that it's time to look after our own needs, before all the other demands placed upon us completely wear us down... in effect, to "put on your personal oxygen mask before trying to assist others" so that we don't find ourselves incapacitated by our own inability to breathe!

In discussing it, we've both commented that having "Me" as word of the year rankles and feels too self-centred in many ways, but that fact alone tells us that we're on to something -- that perhaps it's time to celebrate Me a little more, to do something for Me every week. We don't want to end up like my favourite saint, Francis of Assisi, who reached the end of his life lamenting that he hadn't been kinder to "Brother Ass" -- as he referred to his own physical self.

How about you? Do you need some Me time? A year to celebrate yourself a little? If you've been giving yourself the short end of the stick for too long, join us. We're not going overboard; we're just making certain that in looking out for others, we also look out for the Me that goes hard for the sake of everyone else. And every so often in the next 362 days, I'll report on some of our Me year projects and activities. Stay tuned.