Wednesday, December 25, 2019

May you find a little bit of Heaven this Christmas

It's that time of year again, the season when we remember that God IS with us. Somehow Christmas, in these darkest days of the year, offers us an opportunity to discover the little bits of Heaven all around us that we often seem to miss in daily life.

My sister had her grade 5 students sing this song at their school Christmas concert last week, and it brought tears to my eyes... I offer it to you, my readers, with a prayer for blessings in your lives now and always. May you be the grace that shows our world the hope it needs, and may others be that grace for you, too.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: Wearing God's glasses on the Third Sunday of Advent

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10.

O God,
the prophet Isaiah explains
that your Master Plan
for our earth
is better
than anything
we humans can ever envision or create.

He says you will make the wild lands glad
and the deserts rejoice,
and your glory and majesty
will cover everything.

He insists you will strengthen the weak
and encourage the frightened,
and tell us all
Be strong, do not fear!

He promises you will come and save us.

He tells us you will open the eyes of the blind,
unstop the ears of the deaf,
make the lame and the mute
dance and sing for joy --
and unending joy
will belong to us all.

When will you come,
O God,
and make it so?

but you have already come!

And all these things Isaiah tells us you will do
are also what we must do in your name!

You come again
each time we speak and act
for justice,
and beauty.

As we wait for you,
empower us to act as you would
in every situation.

Let us see the world as you see it,
and love all of creation
the way you love it.


* * * * * * *

This week's paragraphs of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (130-136, which can be accessed by clicking here) almost make me wish we hadn't progressed in technology for changing biology in particular as far as we have. Paragraph 30 quotes section 2417 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it notes, "While human intervention on plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life... experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only "if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to care for or saving human lives"" (paragraph 130).

Pope Francis and his writing team also underline the words of St. Pope John Paul on the 1990 World Day of Peace when he said that it is part of our vocation as human beings to "participate responsibly in God's creative action" while paying close attention to how human interference affects the all-important links between ecosystems and their species. Human experimentation involves considerable risks, as many sci-fi movies and novels (like the ones my husband reads) have had fun pointing out in rather horrific ways. This is exactly why we must constantly "rethink the goals, effects, overall context and ethical limits" of the biological experimentation that technology affords us (paragraph 131).

Paragraph 132 is where I really wish we could wear God's glasses. It is all very well and good to say that we need to be careful and to experiment on nature only in such a way as "to favour its development in its own line, that of creation, as intended by God," as St. Pope John Paul told the World Medical Association in 1983. The problem is that no one can really envision what God intends, as we can't begin to know the mind of God. 

Does God really want us to play with human DNA to the point that we thereby rid the world of Trisomy 21 and the gorgeous and loving people who have Down Syndrome? Is our experimentation using animals really something that God appreciates even if it saves people from medical problems? If God had really wanted us to have corn that has built in pesticide to kill corn weevils (not to mention other insect life as "collateral damage"), wouldn't God have come up with it?

Paragraphs 133 and 134 try to address the issues of genetic modification, but it seems a pretty wishy-washy effort that only manages to warn us against corporations who are running small producers into the ground through control of genetically modified seed and fertilizers that have been patented by said corporations. But the infertile seeds mentioned at the end of paragraph 134 already exist; surely the Pope and friends are aware of that and could have used stronger words!

The ethical implications of biological technology and genetic modification are topics about which a lot of the world's population is oblivious, and I suppose a papal encyclical isn't going to be the thing to wake us all up and impress upon us the need to call our scientists and the corporations involved to accounts. There are many activists who try to make us aware; unfortunately they don't have Pope Francis's star power, and even his fame isn't enough. 

The best the Pope can do, it seems, is to say that "Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected... can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future" (paragraph 135). It seems that no one is able to definitively state what is right and what is wrong when it comes to genetic modification because we are unable to see what the future holds. And we still don't know how to communicate with animals well enough to find out what they really think.

There's mention of the common good, at least. As we complete the reading of this chapter about the human roots of the ecological crises we are facing on so many different fronts, Pope Francis and friends remind us that "the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development," pointing out the importance of protecting human life in all its ages and stages (paragraph 136). Would that we could feel that way about all life on earth – that environmentalists and medical ethicists and scientists could all see through the same lens, through God's glasses, to what is the common good for all life.

But no one has actually found God's glasses yet, so the best we can do is be vigilant – to see where human activity is overstepping its bounds and refuse to support those projects, even to protest if necessary, while encouraging more positive choices. My husband and I know that supporting the development of alternate forms of energy rather than fossil fuel pipelines is better for our earth, so we've put up solar panels, and encourage friends and family to buy green power whenever possible. We're always looking for the healthiest options for our planet. It takes work, and I'll admit that we're not always successful.

While I don’t much like the biological manipulation of anything, preferring to trust that things will unfold as they should in God's loving hands, I'm also pretty aware that "when technology disregards the great ethical principals, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit... [and] will not easily be able to limit its own power" (paragraph 136).

But facing facts, if it wasn't for biological manipulation, I wouldn't be here. For ten years, I lived thanks to pork and beef insulin. Now I take five injections of synthetic, human-made insulin each day. And I have to thank God that Banting and Best and other scientists have figured out medications that keep me and others alive, that medicine has evolved to the point that it has perhaps saved my dad from his particular cancers, that we human beings have developed ways to live in cold climates like mine, and that we can transport the things we need from one place to another, to name just a few of the ways technology has made life better. I bet we could come up with thousands more.

Life must be lived with a sense of balance if we are to truly create a common good that works for all of creation. Sometimes that work involves incredible contradictions. So for this week, perhaps we can reflect on how human creativity and manipulation of our planet and its resources has made the good things in our lives possible. What do we most appreciate that we have received through the work of human hands? What are the positive technological options that we can support to enable life on earth for future generations? And have we thanked God enough for those things lately? 

Wearing God's glasses, seeing the way God does, requires a combination of vigilance, action in support of positive options, a lot of prayer, and abundant gratitude for all that is. It's a tall order, but there's nothing lost in trying!

I'll close with my little Advent reflection in our parish bulletin for this week:

Instead of store-bought presents, consider:
-charitable gifts – a donation to a local charity that may be of interest to the recipient (eg. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Ronald McDonald House, Hope Mission, etc.) or that benefits brothers and sisters in the developing world through fair trade (Ten Thousand Villages) or social/ecological justice (Caritas Canada).
-food gifts – a basket of all the ingredients for a simple but delicious meal to make the cook’s life easier.
-the gift of a family story – a treasured tale, written and illustrated, perhaps with a few photos.

Help us to care for our planet, the poor, and those near to us this Christmas.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Not a Christmas gift for bees (or anyone else)...

If you're looking for a Christmas gift for a bee lover, please don't buy one of these!

I was given one for my birthday two springs ago, or is it three? But I recently learned that these mass-produced bamboo bee homes (I think this is the Costco variety) are just death-dealing decorations for our North American mason or carpenter bees. The bamboo stalks have splinters inside that damage bees' wings if they try to nest in the tubes. You can learn more about the horrors of these kinds of bee homes by clicking here. Mine, the one you see in the picture, will burn well in a bonfire next spring, I'm afraid.

Better than having a poorly made and mostly ignored bee home is to cut and leave your hollow-stalked plants laying in your yard so bees can populate them. (Messy yards are great bee habitat!) The other problem with bamboo bee homes is that it's important to dismantle and clean them so parasites don't take over and make meals of the bee larvae before they even hatch. It turns out that bamboo homes like mine are better for parasitic wasps (which are tiny) than for nesting bees. And when I think how many of these have been put out over the past few years, I shudder. I thought I was helping bees by providing them a home, but it's clear that an idea without further basic understanding can be disastrous.

If you want a good bee house, they aren't that hard to make (get some ideas about how by clicking here), but it's probably best not to bother unless you're willing to care for your bees by cleaning out their homes each autumn. You can find cleanable homes and the proper kind of wood or cardboard nesting tubes by clicking here, but it's really important that they be maintained over time.

For more information about creating sanctuary for our wild bees, check out this blog by the Queen of Green, a Canadian woman who knows what she's talking about.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

What to do on December 9th?

I'm in a bit of a dilemma. There are two really special things happening on the evening of December 9th.

One is a premiere showing of The Condor and the Eagle, a documentary about Indigenous people from North and South America coming together in their environmental efforts, trying to lead the rest of us to join their campaigns. It will be showing at 7 pm at the Garneau Metro Cinema (8712 109 Street). Trailer below, tickets available at the door or on the Facebook Event.

The other is the Annual L'Arche Christmas Pageant, 7 pm at St. Thomas D'Aquin Parish (8410 89 Street). A wonderful way to get into the spirit of the season!

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Two very different events, both deserving of attendance. If you're in the Edmonton area and not already busy on December 9th, I hope you'll consider attending one or the other, and bringing some friends with you. Whether and where I go depends on this cold that is not giving up just yet...

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: The value of labour on the First Sunday of Advent

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Romans 13: 11-14.

You call us now,
O God,
to wake up.

Too much time has already passed
since we saw
that glaciers are melting,
since we heard
of species reaching extinction,
since we smelled the smoke
of out of control wildfires,
since we felt our hearts break
for climate refugees
with nowhere to go.

The night is far gone, the day is near.

We are called by Saint Paul
to put on the armour of light
and avoid the distractions
our world offers,
to face the challenges ahead of us
by putting on your spirit,
O Christ.

Help us to find the necessary balance
between what is and what can be
so that you will find us ready
to do your will every day.


* * * * * * *

This week we're looking at "The need to protect employment," paragraphs 124-129 of Pope Francis's most recent encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, which can be accessed by clicking here. Basically, this section is looking at how an ecology that cares for creation must also be aware of the necessity of labour in our lives, and how our work can aid -- or hinder -- our planet in its fruitfulness. Paragraph 124 notes that "Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things."

Paragraph 125 underlines the importance of a "correct understanding of work." If we understand human labour correctly, we see that it is underpinned by our relationship with God, with others and with all created things. Early spiritual communities were more organic and carbon neutral than we are today, and every year there are more Black Friday events that encourage us to find our meaning in possessions rather than in spiritual fulfillment with God and community. For early Christians, "Personal growth and sanctification came to be sought in the interplay of recollection and work." For us, "This way of experiencing work makes us more protective and respectful of the environment; it imbues our relationship to the world with a healthy sobriety," says the end of paragraph 126.

Unfortunately, this kind of simplicity has been overtaken by the idea that our personal growth and fulfillment can only be found in what we possess rather than in how we make the world a better place by how and who we are: "once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood," as St. Pope John Paul noted in his writings (footnote 101). Since work became a means to more money and possessions rather than a way to foster community and participate in God's creation of a just world, the overuse of our planet's resources has rapidly increased. "Work should be the setting for... rich personal growth, where many aspects of life come into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God" (paragraph 127).

When human labour doesn't meet the above-mentioned criteria, it can feel like drudgery, and when it is taken out of our hands by misdirected governments or technology, that's not good either. Paragraph 128 says, "The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work.... Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves... "through the progressive erosion of social capital: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules"" that Pope Benedict noted in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

With all the recent news about the coming layoffs of civil servants in my province, this sentence stopped me in my tracks:
...we forget about the value of labour as a means for providing "meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.... To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short term financial gain, is bad business for society""(paragraph 128).
And the answer to this concern? Pope Francis says,
Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power.... Business is a noble vocation... especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good (paragraph 129).
I'm tempted to send my premier a copy of Laudato Si! The fact that the phrase "the common good" comes up almost 30 times in the encyclical is significant -- because many human beings (including our provincial government) have become so focused on the economy as the bottom line, rather than what is necessary for the good of ALL. Too many of us have forgotten that we need to serve the common good if we want to have meaningful lives.

As this Advent begins, I intend to pay attention to where I can best serve the common good and how I can find where my life's work can bring benefit to the life of the world God gave us as pure gift. Realizing that we are gifted by God, and speaking up for those who are less fortunate is the best way to celebrate the birth of Christ in our world. I plan to write my premier a letter about his layoffs.

On a different note, I offer this little piece I wrote for our parish bulletin for your consideration on this First Sunday of Advent:

When preparing for Christmas, consider our planet:
-buy less and use fewer resources – one gift per person is more than enough if we make Christmas about togetherness (presence) rather than presents.
-give the gift of experiences – a local concert or play, an art class, or an activity designed to develop an appreciation for nature.
-contact your politicians and ask them to save and protect Our Common Home, especially its natural areas (and its doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers, on whom we rely for so much that is important).
-spend love miles rather than Airmiles. Plan less travel in the new year, and try taking a stay-cation to appreciate local attractions.

O God, 
help us to care for our planet this Christmas.

CANCELLED -- "A Sacred & Simple Christmas" Workshop

I can't stop sneezing, my nose keeps dripping unexpectedly, and my voice is only about half-strength (and about an octave lower than usual). I have my first cold in two years. So I've had to cancel today's Christmas workshop, sorry to say. My apologies to those who might show up for it because they haven't seen Facebook or this moodling.

The point of the workshop, of course, on this Black Friday Weekend, is to point out that consumer culture has really sold us a bill of goods when it comes to celebrating Christmas. We've been conditioned to believe that it's all about buying each other presents, eating, drinking and being merry  to the point of excess. But we already have enough stuff, and the only gifts in the original Christmas story were those brought by the Magi to a dirt-poor family who were about to flee persecution.

There's nothing wrong with celebration in these darkest days of the year -- but as with anything good, moderation is key. And even though marketers are doing their darndest to convince us that the economy is the bottom line and we all need to support it by our Christmas shopping, I'd like to put a bug in your ear: take the money you were thinking about spending this Black Friday Weekend, and give it to a homeless shelter, or an organization that helps newcomers, or, if you prefer, a facility that supports war veterans and their families. The economy is only important in the way it serves the least among us, and it doesn't do that very well.

True Christmas gifting isn't about us, it's about those in need.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday Reflection: What the Ruler of the Universe wants for Christmas

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Colossians 1:15-17.

O Christ,
are God,
and you reveal God to us
in all that you have created.

In you,
all was, 
and will be created,
beyond our telescopes and microscopes.

Nothing exists apart from you;
we all come from you
and depend upon you
for our very substance
and our every breath.

The powerful have no power before you
and the weak have all their strength because of you.

You hold everything together,
yet we behave as though everything depends on us.

Help us to remember
You are in charge,
and to withhold our judgments
in favour of yours.

May your reign, 
your justice 
come to us all
and save us.

Help us to see and do
your will,
and to give you
what you really want
for Christmas this year.


* * * * * * *

Consider yourself warned -- in this week's paragraphs of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team bring out a dog's breakfast (British slang meaning a confused mess or mixture) of issues that our world isn't handling particularly well due to the fact that many of us give priority to personal interest rather than the common good.

I'm focusing on paragraphs 120-123 of Laudato Si, which can be found by clicking here and scrolling down. Only four paragraphs today because a fifth would take us into a different topic which we'll cover next week.

As the seventh chorus of Laudato Si reminds us in paragraph 120, everything is interrelated and all of God's creation -- from the human embryo to his mother to the oilsands worker to the wildlife that lives near the tailings pond -- all are important and really, how can we assign them particular value, especially when we are not God and we can't see the Big Picture?

When human beings try to play God and make decisions about who should thrive and who should die; when practical relativism says, "it is inconvenient, therefore it must go"; when we devalue life in any form, we end up with a dog's breakfast "whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay" (paragraph 122).

Let's backtrack a moment to practical relativism. Basically, it has to do with seeing everything in life in terms of how it serves my personal interest. It's interesting to me that practical relativism really took hold during the age of the 'me generation' which is comprised of people my age and older.

The world's present leadership came of age in a time when there was mostly peace and prosperity in the Western World, and many of us developed a sense that we had worked hard for our wealth and security, forgetting that there were others like us in poorer and more dangerous parts of the world who were working just as hard or even harder, but were unable to reach our standards of living because of many factors beyond their control (some of those factors created by our high standard of living). Some of us have lost sight of the fact that everything we have is blessing and gift from God, and now think that because we can afford it, we are entitled to a life of luxury and convenience, and that the world revolves around us and our desires.

But it doesn't, and it shouldn't. All God's creatures should be as fortunate as we are, and we shouldn't rest on our prosperity until they are.

In paragraph 123 we read that "The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts." And it leads to the dog's breakfast which we see in our newspapers almost daily (some of which is named by Pope Francis and friends in the continuation of paragraph 123):

sexual exploitation of children
abandonment of the elderly
human trafficking
organized crime
the drug trade
commerce in blood diamonds and endangered species
buying of organs of the poor for resale or experimentation
elimination of unwanted children
(and this list hardly begins to account for the hardships faced by other species... like loss of habitat, pollution of soil, water, and air, climate change, etc.)

And all of it, all of it, springs from our inability to really appreciate the value of life in its many forms. If I have a bone to pick with Pope Francis and those who helped to write Laudato Si, it is that is that they fail to acknowledge that we humans might need to employ some form of reliable birth control to limit our numbers for the sake of all earth's species, all God's creatures.

Be that as it may, I completely agree when they note that
[relativism's] "use and throw away" logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts of the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided (paragraph 123).
A quick word about our "use and throw away" logic as we come toward Christmas -- could this year be the year to do what Christ suggests we do for the poor and marginalized among us? To offer a different sort of gift?

How shall we celebrate your upcoming birthday,
Ruler of the Universe?

You give no directives
about spending so much on gifts
or cooking massive meals.

Instead you remind us:

“I was hungry and you gave me food,
thirsty and you gave me a drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
sick and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.” (Matt 25: 35-36)

You can’t get more direct than that.

Help us to be your compassion this Christmas.


Friday, November 22, 2019

A "Sacred & Simple Christmas" workshop

If you're in the Edmonton area, you're invited to spend Buy Nothing Saturday afternoon (November 30th) to give some thought to more meaningful ways to observe Christmas this year.

So many of our Christmas "traditions" were invented by people who wanted to make money from our desire to make the season really special. You don't have to be part of Assumption parish to join us in discovering ways to make Christmas less commercial and more meaningful. All are welcome!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Icing-sugared trees

On Tuesday evening, we had a lovely gentle snowfall of rather wet snow that stuck to the trees, not quite like hoarfrost, but pretty all the same. Shadow and I went for a walk to take pictures before the sun melted it all. As it's been a while since I've posted any wintry beauty, I thought I'd indulge today, and put some pretty snow at the top of my moodlings against our gorgeous winter blue sky. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: Calling for what the world needs

Today's reflection is brought to you by 
Malachi 4:1-2 and Luke 21: 9-19.

Oh God,
climate change is coming,
already burning like an oven
in some places.

Human apathy,
and greed
have brought us to a point where
much of creation is suffering
in many different ways.

With what will we be left?

The only answer to our plight
is to turn to you,
to work for the good you want for all,
so that your righteousness arises
in us
and all creation knows the healing
in your wings.

Help us to turn to you now.
* * * * * * * 

We're entering section three of Chapter three, "The Crisis and Effects of Modern Anthropocentrism" -- that A word referring to the belief that human beings are the most important creatures on earth as far as our value and intelligence go.

But rather than re-flog the anthropocentrism horse too much (flogging any horse is a rather anthropocentric thing to do, if you think about it), I just want to quickly summarize what Pope Francis and friends are saying in paragraphs 115-119 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (you can read them for yourself by clicking here and scrolling down).

Paragraph 115 -- Our human-centred, technological-minded world view has turned creation into an object to be used in too many peoples' minds -- this is ground that's already been covered, except perhaps for its connection with technological thinking.

Paragraph 116 -- We need to pay attention to reality and its limits and recognize that we are not masters of the earth, but stewards of creation. I dislike the word "stewards" as it still places human beings as managers above creation -- wouldn't it be better to say, co-operators WITH creation?

Paragraph 117 -- "When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities -- to offer just a few examples -- it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected." There's the chorus of Laudato Si, sung for the sixth time! But again, only mentioning human beings -- there's a problem when we're so stuck on human worth that we fail to acknowledge the importance of everything from aardvarks to zooplankton because we are only worried about human issues. There has to be a balance.

Paragraph 118 -- "There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology.... Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued." Again, balanced with the concerns of all God's creatures.

Cowichan Bay, BC
Paragraph 119 -- "Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence."  But I can't see immanence, the idea that God is present in all material things/beings as stifling -- rather, we are freed from self-absorption when we can see Divine Presence in everything around us. That's where humanity's mind needs to be re-set so that we can do what's needed for the good of everything.

Our relationship with God should never be isolated from our relationship with creation. Otherwise, it's nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in over-pious garb, locking us into a religiosity that ignores God's presence in the rest of creation -- and unfortunately, that's where some folks seem to be stuck at the moment -- "our eyes are fixed on heaven; who cares about the earth?"

Connecting these paragraphs of Laudato Si with this Sunday's Gospel reading somehow isn't much of a stretch for me. Imagine Jesus saying something like this to us:
When you hear of and see pollution and climate change disruptions, do not be terrified. These things must take place first, before human beings wake up and take their responsibility for the earth and each other seriously. Fires, floods and all sorts of disasters will happen, famines and plagues, and there will be dreadful portents and signs of climate strife. 
But before things get really terrible, some good people will come up with some important plans, and it is up to everyone to put them into practice, especially your political leaders. This will give you an opportunity to push the world into action, to demand necessary changes. I will be with you in words, wisdom and actions that none will be able to contradict. By your endurance, you, with me, will save the world.
Are we ready to call for what the world needs, now?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Something gorgeous for a Friday

This woman, Antoinette, speaks like an artist and a poet from where she lives in the Karoo in South Africa. I love her language (Afrikaans) and the way she lives in harmony with nature and understands the secret to life. For me, watching this beautiful little film is like going up the mountain to visit the wise hermit. Kudos to the videographers for the stunning images. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: A wake-up call

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Psalm 17:1,5,6,8,15.

Hear me
when I cry to you,
O God,
out of my deep love
for all that you have made.

Hold my steps to your path
and keep my feet from slipping
out of your abundant life
and into the death dealt by greed.

I call upon you,
for you,
my Hope,
will bend down to answer me.

All of your creation
is the apple of your eye;
protect it
in the shadow of your wings.

May we all behold your face
in the beauty of all that you have made --
every snowflake,
every sunrise,
every sequoia,
every songbird,
every sperm whale,
every small child.

When we see you in all things,
we shall truly be awake --
and satisfied.

Wake us up from our delusions of grandeur
and show us that we already have enough.


* * * * * * * 

Last week, instead of reflecting on Paragraphs 111-114 of Laudato Si, (which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down) I was discovering God in spawning salmon and a sea lion choir (well, maybe that's a generous description of the sounds they made!) This week I've been looking at the last four paragraphs from the section, The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm.

Pope Francis and friends are calling us to recognize that technology has its good points, but that giving it complete power over the way we live, think, and act is a huge issue that our world needs to face. The two-pronged belief that technology is the answer to our planet's every issue and that technological convenience is essential to every part of our lives has brought us to Monday, where 11,258 scientists declared a climate emergency because, as the encyclical says, "a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources" (paragraph 111) is clearly not going to save us.

What's required is "a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm" (paragraph 111). It's going to take more than scientists to get us out of the mess we're in. We all need to do as Henri Nouwen suggests in the quote to the right.

Pope Francis rightly notes that "We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral" (paragraph 112).

And I am hopeful that this will happen -- in fact, I am seeing it happening more and more. At the beginning of our family's journey into a life of less consumption and more meaning thirteen years ago, it felt as though we were constantly swimming against a tide of non-essentials that marketers told us we needed for happiness' sake. But in the last few years, there's been a huge uptick in common sense as people realize that happiness actually means owning less, living smaller, protecting the planet and enjoying a healthier, more balanced life. Recent increases in vegetarianism and veganism are a literal rethinking of consumerism. And there are dozens of other examples -- slow food, tiny homes, permaculture, you-name-it!

I love these lines at the end of paragraph 112, which notes the awareness that is creeping into our world:
An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance? 
Yes! I want to shout... But... Technology has offered humanity so many amazing gadgets and gizmos -- the "novelties" mentioned in paragraph 113 -- that we've become distracted from living lives of depth and meaning. The "constant flood of new products" are simply "new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness" because, in our distraction, we have forgotten how to deeply appreciate what we already have. Pope Francis and his encyclical team clearly ask that we get back to authenticity -- that we "refuse to resign ourselves to this [escapism], and continue to wonder about the purpose of life and meaning of everything."

Here is the beginning of the BOLD CULTURAL REVOLUTION (the Pope's words, my uppercase) that the world needs. Perhaps we've let science and technology take on God's saving role in the world, but we can return to the God of peace and justice who acts through us -- through our appreciation for creation's wonders and our efforts to improve the lives of every being on earth by reducing our consumption, sharing our riches, and cleaning up after ourselves.

The final line of paragraph 114 says it perfectly:
Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.
Can we see and appreciate our many blessings? Can we reject those delusions of grandeur that fill us with a sense of entitlement until all of creation is cared for? Can we live in harmony and solidarity with creation and our sisters and brothers in the developing world?

Gratitude and the desire for justice for all are where BOLD CULTURAL REVOLUTION begins... and it only begins with us.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Ridge Key Phoenix

One year ago today, my friend, Allie, lost her home and business to the Camp Fire at Paradise, California. Allie is a force for positivity and good in the world, a warm, loving person who draws people into her gentle and fun-loving presence like a magnet draws iron. Today, November 8th, is an emotional day for her and everyone involved with the healing and rebuilding of Paradise, as there will be different events marking a very difficult anniversary.

I spoke with Allie this morning, and she reminded me of the video she shared to her Facebook page earlier this week. I decided to share it here because Jesse Mercer's idea is inspired, brilliant, and life-giving. It's a sign of the resilience of the people of Paradise, and a reminder that art inspires healing, community, and hope. I wish I could be there this morning to see it unveiled because though the pictures are amazing, they can't really give a sense of the sculpture's size, scope and meaning. If you have the time, please watch to the end -- you'll get a better sense of what an artwork like this means.

My prayers today are for the many people of California who are climate change refugees because of so many terrible fires, and especially for those from Paradise, that they may find strength and goodness as they rebuild their lives in many different ways.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Awesome eagles, spawning salmon, and lazy sea lions

This past weekend was a somewhat significant birthday for my husband, who decided that since he'd never done anything really interesting for his November birthday, he wanted to go somewhere warmer. Because we practice Voluntary Simplicity, tropical vacations are not something we consider much. It's bad enough adding to greenhouse gas emissions just to drive from one place to another.

So our trip was a one-and-a-half hour flight (bad enough when 11,000 scientists are telling us we're in a climate emergency!) to Vancouver Island to visit my husband's brother and his wife (who moved out there over the summer). The bonus was that I also got to see my best friend (for the third time this year). It was a really wonderful birthday weekend, complete with decadent birthday carrot cake, great conversation, and good hikes. We climbed Mount Tzouhalem, and a bald eagle even flew up to our height to wish Lee a happy birthday.

Our other encounters with nature were also serendipitous. Our trip happened to fall within the ten days that salmon spawn in Goldstream River, so we went to witness the perpetuation and ending of the life cycle of the creatures as they made their way upriver to deposit their eggs and ultimately, die, leaving their bodies to feed eagles, seagulls, and other sea life...

And we were just as lucky to witness some of that other sea life when we headed to Cowichan Bay for supper. There, on the outer marina docks were hundreds of California sea lions, well-fed thanks to the salmon, snoozing in the late afternoon sun, breaking out in frequent cacophonous choruses of sea lion song. But what happens below made us dock-watchers chuckle almost as much as their singing did...

Clearly, as hikers and nature-lovers, we couldn't have asked for a better birthday weekend.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Come to a smashing event

Last year, the folks at Compost 'S cool were brainstorming about events to involve Edmontonians in more composting. One brilliant member of the team thought it would be fun to invite people to come out after Hallowe'en and to bring their jack o'lanterns to Compost 'S cool for a Pumpkin Smash and composting event. They thought if a dozen people showed up with their pumpkins, they could call it a success.

They were pretty modest in their expectations... and 300 people brought 500 pumpkins to that first event, and had a wonderful time demolishing their jack o'lanterns and turning them into compost. The pile of composting pumpkins was almost five feet high (you see it in the picture above). Below, there's a little video of my friend Markster Composter turning it about 5 months later...

I always turn my pumpkins into pumpkin soup, muffins, and peanut butter pumpkin dog biscuits that Shadow-pup absolutely loves... but if you aren't inclined to use yours for cooking or baking, I think a pumpkin smash sounds like a lot of fun (and it keeps pumpkins out of the landfill while making great compost for enriching soil)! It's a free event, a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and all are welcome. If you go, say hi to Markster for me!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Seems to me that kids today possess more talent than my friends and I had at the same age. Or maybe because they've been raised in a world with social media, they're less shy about sharing that talent? Whatever the case, I delight in their creative efforts, and hope to share more of their talent here in my moodlings.

The young guitarist featured in the video below teamed up with a vocalist from Scotland, and what you see is a pretty cool international collaboration that features some lovely images of Edmonton, too. Well done, Don and Scott. Love those harmonies!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Laudato Si Sunday reflection: Realities vs. ideas

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Sirach 35: 15-17, 20-22, 26.

O God,
are the just one.

We are all your favourites.

But your ears are especially attuned
to those who have been wronged,
and you hear the humble
ahead of the proud.

Perhaps you are hearing your voiceless creatures,
those who are losing their place in your creation
because of human beings and our greed.

Help us,
help us,
help us,
in your kindness,
to do what is just.

Show us how to live more lightly,
to let your creation evolve as you would have it,
and to use technology only as necessary.

Your mercy is as welcome in time of distress
as clouds of rain in time of drought.

Let us trust in your goodness,
rely on your mercy,
and become your justice
through wise choices in our lives.

Make our actions speak louder than our misplaced technologies,
our realities more important than ideas.


* * * * * * *

Over the past two months, these Laudato Si Sunday Reflections fell by the wayside so that I could participate in some climate action of my own. I took a refresher course on waste reduction, helped to plan a Climate Vigil, attended two School Strikes for Climate, and worked for my local Green party candidate. It was an amazing and uplifting two months, for the most part, but there's still so much to do!

When I took this picture,
I didn't realize that Greta
and her Youth for Climate Justice entourage
were just behind me and to the right...
And all the while, I've been walking, figuratively and literally, with Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist who is doing her utmost to wake the world to the climate emergency that we find ourselves in. People don't like the truth she is telling, it seems, but the part of our common home that is California is burning yet again, there have been frightening reports of other ecospheric issues, and our lifestyles simply must change to keep our climate from warming more than 1.5 degrees. The polarization in our discourse around how to actually do that is a sign that people everywhere are afraid, for one reason or another. These days, I'm puzzling over how we can move through the fear toward actual solutions.

This week's section of Pope Francis' letter to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, includes "The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm," paragraphs 106-110 . It looks at technology's role in our present ecological crises (the paragraphs can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down).

For a long while, it seems, we have been dreaming that technology will be the solution to all our problems. We heard that dream again in our Alberta Budget this week when the Finance Minister talked a lot about using "clean technology" to green our petroleum industry -- rather than reduce our use of the fossil fuels that are warming our planet. Clearly, the government has bought into the idea of technology as saviour.

But Paragraph 106 notes that technology depends upon human beings who, "using logical and rational procedures, progressively and rationally gain control" over our surroundings through "a technique of possession, mastery and domination." More and more of us -- especially our young people -- are finally realizing that that there is no "infinite and unlimited growth" when it comes to the earth's energy and resources and their renewal. Mastery and domination are a dead end if we end up overheating the only planet we have.

While it is true that we have come a long way in knowing how to build and create and impose order with our machines and computers and factories, we have not been able to foresee the ways these technological advances have endangered our existence. Technology is just one kind of knowledge, and "technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups" (paragraph 107).

And who are those powerful groups? Can we trust them to improve life for all species on our earth? Not so far. When scientists began to notice that our climate was heating up, big corporations produced 'experts' to undermine the truth their own researchers had uncovered. Money and power are more important to them than facing up to reality, so they manipulate knowledge to confuse the public with arguments that climate change is a hoax, wasting precious time we could have been using to find and develop alternate energy sources.

For many of us, knowledge and technology have become so integrated into our daily existence and so indispensable in our daily tasks that "It has become counter-cultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same" (paragraph 108). But where technology and its particular kind of knowledge are destroying habitats and species, we need to stand against it, to be counter-cultural.

But it's never easy to buck a trend, is it? This week, I succumbed and joined the cell phone universe -- but only for texting my kids and making the calls I would have made on our now non-existent landline. I refuse to live through cellphone technology because I tend to agree with the last line of paragraph 108 -- so many of the motives behind our technologies are about power, and "Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one's alternative creativity are diminished" by such power.

And what is this power? Jesus knew. He talks about it in Matthew 6: 24 when he says, "You cannot serve both God and wealth." Our society is hung up on wealth and materialism, and the economy has become the bottom line to the point that we've lost the big picture -- that we were put on this earth to look after one another. As the Pope and friends say at the end of paragraph 109, "We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning, and social implications of technological and economic growth."

Paragraph 110 says it straight out: "technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture." And that larger picture is life as we know it, "appreciation for the whole, for the relationship between things, and for the broader horizon" that shows us our place in the vast goodness of all that God has made. Technology is not "the principal key to the meaning of existence" but by thinking that it is, we have come to a place of "environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and community living."

Electronic waste at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre
So how do we put technology in its place? Perhaps we can begin by turning it off more often, and by living with less of it. Here I'm talking about the devices that surround us -- phones, computers, TVs, things that distract us or divide us from our families and communities. We can also give more thought to the use of all the machines/technical components in our lives.

Are our time- or labour-saving devices really saving us time or labour? Or have we been brainwashed into believing that they make a difference in our lives as they guzzle gas or energy and create unnecessary pollution? (We often forget the pollution it takes to manufacture these items... never mind the waste when they stop working.) Do we really need the latest techie gadget or gizmo, or is it one of those market items that will end up in our landfills sooner than later? How many single purpose appliances are filling our cupboards and using unnecessary resources? Is that whisk-o-matic doohickey for frothing my hot chocolate really necessary? No matter what our sense of entitlement or our marketers tell us, we need to consider the realities of our lives and whether our knowledge or technology will really work for us -- or against our earth.

"Realities are more important than ideas," say Pope Francis and friends in the last line of paragraph 110 -- and they are 110% right.

Friday, October 25, 2019

A glass half-full and getting fuller

Waste Reduction Week in Canada
October 21-27 is an important week!
Last week, I finished a Master Composter/Recycler "refresher course." It was well worth the time and effort to attend ten classes, two of them full days at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre and Compost's Cool.

When I became an MCR in 2007, things were quite different. Edmonton's Waste Management was considered world class, with an amazing system that saw Edmontonians using blue bags for recycling, Eco Stations for Household Hazardous Wastes and bulky items, and our garbage cans for almost everything else. The City had a pretty incredible Composting Facility that was able to separate the organic and inorganic materials in our garbage without us worrying about it.

But in 2017, the City discovered that the Composting Facility had structural issues related to the high temperatures and moisture that are byproducts of composting. The roof of the structure was found to be unsafe a few years earlier than expected, and the facility had to be closed for the safety of its workers. Since then, most of our garbage has gone directly to our landfill, which is 80 km away near Riley, AB. That's a long way to truck garbage, and it's giving us a good opportunity to take a hard look at our waste.

Is the glass half empty, or half full? Depends on how you look at it. I like to think that the prohibitive cost of replacing the metal roof of a building the size of almost two and a half CFL football fields is giving Edmontonians a chance to consider the true costs of our garbage and how we can create less waste from the get go. We've done well in the past, but we can do so much better in the future!

On our MCR class tour of the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, we came across the graphic to the right. It tells us that most of Edmonton's waste comes from our need to have tidy yards. The fact is that sending grass clippings and yard waste to the dump is a huge contributor to our city's overall waste budget. If we could "leave it on our lawn" as the "Go Bagless" waste reduction promotions suggest, we save our environment a lot of wear and tear in terms of fossil fuel emissions required to haul all that good, compostable green stuff out to the EWMC, where it's put on long-haul trucks and sent to Riley for the time being. We'd also save on our own personal wear and tear if we stopped dragging our grasses to the garbage! See my old moodling about the other benefits of going bagless!

Misplaced recyclables and Eco Station items account for another almost 20% of our waste. If you're not sure what to do with an item, try the Waste Wise app (click here to find it.) It has plenty of helpful information, and a fun little game for the kids in us all.

All that's left is the almost 45% of garbage and food scraps. Within the next year, the City will be asking residents to adopt a new way of separating their garbage, effectively cutting it in half. We'll still have blue bags for recyclable items, but a black bin will take the 22% that is un-recyclable and non-reusable items, and a green bin will take the other 22% that are compostables, and both will be picked up by mechanical means so that our waste collectors won't get so worn out (the average collector lifts between 14 and 22 metric tonnes of waste per day, imagine!)

Besides protecting our collectors by separating our garbage at the source, we are all challenged to waste less and compost more. And that's important because it means that maybe we aren't buying excess stuff that only goes to waste, and we are returning to the earth the food scrap nutrients from natural resources that we can't eat, so that more good things can be grown.

I have a neighbour who loves to complain. His complaint is that he's going to have to separate his own waste and work harder for the same waste disposal service provided by the city. What he's missing is that we were spoiled by the City for a long time. His parents and grandparents had to do a lot more to take care of their own waste than we do now. By separating his own waste, he'll only be doing his natural part to contribute to a much better, less wasteful, waste service.

Soon we won't be sending as many reusable resources to the landfill or spending as much energy as it took the old Composting Facility to compost our waste. We won't be sending so many garbage trailers to Riley, and spending so much fossil fuel. And hopefully, as Edmontonians learn more about the new system, we'll find ways to reduce our waste overall. I'm excited by the idea that I won't have to throw out so many plastic garbage bags that take thousands of years to break down (I can put garbage directly in the bins without plastic bags!) And did you know that 1 in every 3 residences is already composting their own kitchen scraps and yard waste in one way or another? We're becoming more earth-friendly (and soil-friendly) all the time!

That, to me, is a glass-half-full-and-getting-fuller approach to life.

What Edmonton's new residential garbage set out will look like:
A black bin (for garbage), a green bin (and cute little kitchen compost bucket for compostables),
compostable brown paper bags for yard waste, and a good ol' blue bag for recycling.
Household hazardous waste (think paint, batteries, vehicle fluids and chemical cleaners),
electronics, and bulky items will continue to be accepted at Eco Stations.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


When you become friends with an 88-year-old neighbour, it's probably wise to tell your heart that the friendship won't last as long as you'd like.

My dear friend, Ralph, died recently, and my heart is broken. We became friends in September six years ago, and I am very grateful for those six years. I continue to be grateful for his wife, Lidia, who is struggling with widowhood after 65 years of marriage.

Ralph's actual name was Raffaele, so much more poetic than I realized in all the time I knew him. And what a delight he was to me. The day that we first met under his plum trees, I thought him to be a bit gruff and unsmiling, but that first impression was incorrect. Within minutes, he had invited me into his home for coffee and Italian cookies, and we gardeners became fast friends, sharing produce and swapping garden stories. Lidia taught me how to make minestrone with squash blossoms, and makes me laugh when she says, "I speak English like minestrone!" All mixed-up, in otherwords. I fell in love with these two neighbours, no question!

It wasn't long before I kept an eye out for them every time I walked the dog past their house, and I would stop to say hello if Ralph was in his garden or greenhouse. I didn't really see him and Lidia very much over the winters. It's only been the last two years or so that I've made a point to go and visit them more frequently, including through the cold, dark, non-gardening seasons.

This year, I've tried to visit at least once a week, mainly because if I didn't, Ralph would come looking for me to be sure that I was okay. During planting time this past spring, I missed a week or two and was surprised when I arrived home from running some errands to find him standing in the middle of my backyard, saying, "It's been a longa time since you came over."

That's when I knew that I wasn't the nuisance neighbour who showed up and drank his coffee in the mornings, but a beloved friend who was missed if she didn't turn up on a regular basis. It made my day! But I was also very aware that it was a major effort for him to come looking for me, so I started letting him and Lidia know about my schedule and when to expect my next visit. I didn't want to be the reason for him to have any sort of accident, vehicular or otherwise.

One morning in August, on my way past his garden with the dog, I noticed him sitting rather listlessly on his back patio, and when I climbed the steps to say hello, he barely cracked a smile. Uh-oh. He mentioned that he was having pain in his left abdominal area, and he winced a few times as I sat with him and he told me about the tests he'd gone for.

The following week, when I came to the door, Lidia answered. I asked how she was, and she said, "Bad." We had a whispered conversation right there about liver cancer and how radiation or chemo were out of the question for a 94-year-old man. But Ralph was in fairly good spirits -- the doctor had given him some painkillers, and he was only taking them when it hurt too much. He was feeling okay, he said. Lidia complained that he wasn't eating her cooking, but he waved her off, saying he wasn't hungry, so I ate lunch with them that day to take some of Lidia's attention off his lack of appetite.

For the past few weeks, I was surprised each time I visited by how much Ralph had declined. The man who bragged about partying at his grandson's wedding until 1 a.m. was fading away. He had always impressed me with his robustness for a man in his nineties, but now his lack of appetite was clearly taking its toll. My last visit with him, he sat slumped in his kitchen chair, and he looked very pale. It was the day of his brother-in-law's funeral, and he wasn't feeling up to going. So we sat and visited and drank Lidia's espresso, but Ralph didn't have much to say, other than to tell me that he'd finally met his first great grandchild, named for him.

I was chatting with a visiting nephew (Ralph and Lidia often had visitors) when Ralph announced that he wasn't feeling well. Lidia and I watched him closely and did what we could to make him more comfortable. She kept insisting that he drink some orange juice, but I suggested that if he wasn't feeling good, something acidic might not be the best idea. She plopped a cool cloth on his forehead, but looked like she was going to teeter over herself, so I encouraged her to sit down, and took the cloth to wipe his dear old face.

Ralph's colour returned, and I laid the cloth over his forehead, kissed his cheek and told him that I had to catch a bus to our local Climate Strike, but that I'd see him again soon. That evening, Lee and I stopped by with some gingerale for him, but he was already in bed, so we had a little visit with Lidia, her son and his wife.

Monday morning when I returned from walking the dog, there was a message on my answering machine. Ralph's son called to let me know that he had died on Sunday afternoon. I had a little cry, then walked over to see Lidia, and we cried all over again. And I imagine we will for a while.

I miss my neighbour -- his quiet and gentle way, the way a smile would slide across his face when I teased him about being a magic gardener, his laugh when I told him that his lavatera plant was a tree compared to mine.

Thank you, Ralph, for six years of friendship, gardening companionship, and generous hospitality. Thank you for the tomato and squash plants and seeds you shared with me. Thank you for all our little garden visits. I would have enjoyed more time with you, but I am grateful for the precious memories you've left me.

We'll meet again in God's garden, I'm sure.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Declaring myself

I just realized that it's been two weeks since my last moodling. Not that I haven't been doing plenty of it in other places while I'm harvesting my garden and working on other special projects. Harvest time is coinciding with a Federal Election, and I've decided that I can't sit on my hands this year when it comes to political participation. Less online moodling, and more action!

So as I'm dealing with produce, I'm also declaring my affiliations and getting active in a local election campaign, and I'm inviting you, my readers (all 16 of you, ha!) to do the same.

No photo description available.
My daughter is wearing this t-shirt these days...
You may hate the idea of talking politics, but I'd like to assure you that there has never been a more important time to do so. The human population of our country and our world need to get our act together and step up to the challenge of reducing and adapting to the changes in climate that we are noticing more and more. For most of us in Canada, climate change is not serious yet, but we can't let that lull us into complacency! 

Listen to our scientists -- the people who study what's going on because of their passion for our planet have been telling us that its warming is endangering our survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report gave us 12 years to cut our fossil fuel emissions drastically, or we may not last much longer as a species.

But some say that 12 years is optimistic -- already we are seeing mega storms, mega fires, mega floods, mega droughts, mega heat waves and more than 7 million climate refugees looking for safer places to live since the beginning of this year alone... and on it goes.

In my part of the world this summer, we have had one of the coldest and wettest seasons on record, and I've heard lots of people comment, "Global warming? What global warming?"

My response is that it may not be hot here, but Europe saw temps around 45 degrees in some places this summer. Tuktoyaktuk is already losing land due to higher seas. Greenland was warmer than Edmonton a lot of the summer. Stream temperatures in Alaska reached the predicted temperature for 2069, fifty years ahead of time, and spawning salmon can't survive that kind of warmth. The burning of the Amazon is only making things worse. And how about Hurricane Dorian? Dismiss all these things as one-offs, and you're missing the message that our planet is trying to send us all.

If you know me at all, you know that I'm not the kind of person who is a pessimist. But I'm a realist, and I cannot, in good conscience, work for one of our three best known political parties. I'm working for the Greens because they are the only ones who are constant in making climate issues a priority.

I know that a lot of people are worried about vote splitting creating an opportunity for a less appreciated party to come up the middle and win, but this time, voting strategically is not an option for me. I want to see vote shifting -- using our limited resources to get to a greener economy, away from big polluting industries and toward options that care for people and the planet.

I am voting for, and working for, our climate. Sure, there are many other issues, but if we don't have a liveable environment, none of them matter. Though our Alberta government might be in denial, the world is shifting from fossil fuels to greener options, and I want Canada to hurry up and get on that bandwagon. And I'd like to see how the Greens would bring that about, because the other parties don't seem to understand that climate change and moving away from creating greenhouse gases is the main issue for this election and for our survival.

If we we work for our climate, we'll have a better planet overall. If we don't work for our climate, we may not have many more elections to try and fix things. 

We don't have much time. And making positive sacrifices for the sake of the planet right now, when things are relatively okay, will be much easier than adapting to bigger disasters further down the road.

Please, check out your green candidate, or better yet, call them and see if there's something small you can do to shift votes for the climate.

The time to make a difference is now.


Monday, September 2, 2019

A truly amazing story

Before I tell my amazing story, you might like to see this:

It's a song I learned in the early 80's from a wonderful folk singer named Joan MacIsaac. Joan was a warm and wonderful person who performed locally, and we had a few common friends who would let me know when she was performing so that I could attend her shows. I loved the song you see above from the very first time I heard it. So I borrowed some money from a friend, bought Joan's Wintersong album, and committed those lyrics to memory almost immediately. I wanted to sing them for my high school friends at a party we had right after graduation, before we made our way in the world. I remember Joan mentioning that she liked to sign off on her personal letters with the song's title, and I've adopted that, too, often shortening it to just, "Hovering, Maria," when I write to my friends who have heard me sing the song. That would include my best friend, and friends from summer camps where I met some pretty special people.

After finishing university, I traveled around North America and Europe for a year with a performing group where I made some more life-long friends. I taught the song to some of my cast mates, and we sang it to the rest of our cast at a year-end talent show. And I also sang Joan's "When I Can't Play" as my grande finale, inviting them all to sing along. Needless to say, they loved it.

A few years later when I attended our Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut when another performer mentioned that Joan had died, still very young, and with so much talent untapped. He sang "Wintersong," and I sat and cried. Joan had been so positive and encouraging of me and my rather inferior talents, and when she sang, she shone like the sun. The music world dimmed for a time -- and I was really sad when my record player needle wore out and I could no longer listen to her album. But it's a rare occasion when I don't play "I Hover Over" on my guitar, though I realize now that I've got it a little bit "wrong," probably because of all the years of singing from my faulty memory! I've sung it for many special people over the years, usually when there was soon to be "miles between us..." that, of course, "don't mean a thing..." because "we conquered them so many years ago..."

It was a chilly day in February of 2010 when I realized that an over-seas friend was celebrating her birthday, so I sent her an email signed, "I hover over your left shoulder." She responded within the hour, saying, "I remember! But I can't remember the melody!" Having nothing better to do right then, I set up our digital camera and started to make a video, but Buddy the Budgie struck up a scolding ruckus. So I opened his cage door and the second take is what you see above. I couldn't have planned it better myself, with him sitting on my left shoulder being his boppy little self! He was chattering up a storm, all his favourite phrases, like "Whatcha doin?" and "Hey, Buddy!"

Worried about copyright infringement, I searched the internet to see who I could ask for permissions before posting the song, and even tried to look up Joan's record label, but came up empty as Joan's music was written pre-internet. Taking a chance that no one would object, I uploaded the video, and sent the link to my friend overseas, who was very pleased to sing along. The video has also made the rounds with other cast mates and a few high school buddies.

A couple of years ago, I was snooping around YouTube and found that a certain Paul MacIsaac had put many of Joan's songs up on the platform. I sat and listened to them all, and sent a little note via his YouTube channel to thank him, but whether he saw it or not, I don't know. I'm not sure how these things actually work a lot of the time, so maybe it didn't get through.

Fast forward to this year. I keep some of my videos on this blog in the far right "Songs" tab under the header picture above, and have received some wonderful comments over the years from people who knew Joan MacIsaac, or who wish they had. But in April, something really special happened. I received a message from one of Joan's immediate family:
Hi Maria. I have always enjoyed your videos of you singing Joan's music. Your joyful delivery is reflective of the encouragement and caring in her music and warms my heart and soothes the feeling of the loss of her incredible voice and talent. I am so grateful that you posted those when there was nothing out there of Joan's music after her death. I am Joan's sister Molly and had sung with her as a duo before she went solo... I witnessed the creation of many of her songs and there are still many more that were never published. Our brother Paul posted her music after you did. All our family had the opportunity to watch your videos and were grateful and encouraged by it. It was due to our great loss that there were years of silence. But now the music is still circulating and encouraging others as it was meant to be....
I responded immediately, so thrilled to have heard from Molly. I asked her where she was writing from and whether her family would prefer that I take my videos down. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing whether she would ever see my message. I heard nothing further from her, and because her comment was "Anonymous," I had no contact info. Suspecting that Joan had family connections to the Maritimes, I thought Molly might live there. I gave up, hoping that somehow she would know how much I appreciated hearing from her.

In mid-July, I attended my nephew's wedding here in Edmonton. It was a lovely event, an opportunity to really enjoy the party and dance up a storm with my hubby without the responsibilities we had at our daughter's wedding two weekends before. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, being a bit of a goof, leading a chorus of That's Amore to get the newlyweds to kiss, and introducing myself as "Auntie Maria" to tell a story about my groom nephew for the same reason. My sister-in-law and I were very much enjoying dessert and a bottle of red wine when a small, attractive and sharply dressed woman with her hair in a silver bob came to me saying, "You don't know me, but I know you, Maria. You've sung my sister's songs on YouTube, and I've been so grateful for that!"

My chin dropped to the basement. "Molly??!!"

We were immediately wrapped in each others' arms and laughing at the quirkiness of life bringing us together as guests from opposite sides of a wedding. Molly is a dear friend of my new niece-in-law's family, and we have had several lovely email exchanges since that evening. There's no denying that she and Joan are sisters. And there's yet another connection between us -- my son-in-law has a close friend named Claire, who is the niece of Molly and Joan.

I am flabbergasted by all these sudden connections, and I think it's safe to say that Molly is, too. It has meant a lot to me to reconnect with someone so close to Joan, and it meant a lot to Molly that I thought to post a few low-budget home videos of Joan's music online when the loss of Joan was still too painful for her family to do it. As Molly says, sometimes we do these little things, put a little positivity out there for the world, with no way to know how far the ripples go.

It's been amazing to have these ripples come back to me with a new friend. I hope to sing with Molly sometime soon. Her family and mine both like to have singing parties, so perhaps we'll attend each others' somewhere down the road.

In the meantime, here is Joan singing the song that started it all, as posted to YouTube by her brother, Paul. No one can beat this -- she was an excellent guitarist, and I still just love her voice! Enjoy!