Tuesday, March 21, 2017

As I Am #8 -- We remember

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

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


Sunday, March 19, 2017

To the well again

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

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

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

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


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Simple Suggestion #262... Let music lift you

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Here's to all those snow blower super heroes

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Happy Holi!

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

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A special Lenten prayer

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

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

When too many yeses equal no

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

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

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

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

How about you?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The original 40 days of Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

Welcome March

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

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

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

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

Welcome, March!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Simple Suggestion #108 revisited... Naturalize your wardrobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It's quarter to two in Saskatoon

I spent a fine day at the L'Arche Day Program today while some of the team did their first aid training update. We had musical morning prayer with shakers and drums, and Mariette* prayed for all her wonderful friends as usual. Then we had a seated circle game, passing a ball around with hands and feet, and our own special version of the Bird Dance. We played Dominoes (and made lines of them for Leanne to knock down), Connect Four (who can get their pieces into the stand the fastest?), and Kerplunk! with Thomas and Leanne, counting all the marbles. It was all great fun as I hadn't played some of the games since my kids were young, and to heck with the rules!

But the most enjoyable moments of the day came from Mariette and her cell phone. While we were having lunch together, she turned it on and announced quite authoritatively, "It's twelve-seventeen in Edmonton, and one-seventeen in Saskatoon." That made us laugh out loud, no one louder than Mariette. Then we got into a conversation about what time it was in Vancouver, and Brantford Ontario, where Mariette's brother lives, and whether we know people in all of Canada's time zones.

About a half hour later, Mariette was finishing a game of Ludo, Trouble, or Aggravation (one of those games that has different names in different cultures) and she suddenly blurted out, " What do you know? It's quarter to two in Saskatoon!" to more delighted laughter from those of us present. I guess it's the running joke at L'Arche Edmonton these days, asking Mariette what time it is in Saskatoon, because she loves to give the answer. She knows she's right.

Certainty can be a wonderful thing. And aren't we all happy to show off what we know? What's delightful about Mariette's announcements of the time in Saskatoon is that it's like a big joke with a punchline that's hers to deliver -- and she delivers it with gusto and a big laugh to boot. We can't prevent ourselves from grinning and laughing with her. Jokes don't really have to be funny if you deliver them with enough joy!

It reminds me of my kids' riddles when they were small and didn't really understand conventional humour. Lines like, "What did the table cloth say to the table? Oh, you need to be washed. Hahahahaha!"

I think everyone needs a Mariette, or a child in their life, just to remind them that punchlines can be whatever you want when delivered with enough enthusiasm and a belly laugh!

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Even when perturbed, Benissez le Seigneur

On Friday night, I had a lot of dishes to wash, so I downloaded the Taizé podcast from www.domradio.de (thanks to my friend, Claudia) and got to work. It was uplifting to hear the community singing -- including two of my favourite frères -- and there was also flute, recorder and oboe, a trio I hadn't yet heard together on a podcast. In February, when pilgrims aren’t so numerous, it seems the musicians come out of the woodwork!

Toward the end of the podcast, the community sang the chant below, and I realized that this week, I was perturbed and weighed down by so many things that I kind of forgot to Benissez le Seigneur (Bless the Lord). Good thing God is compassion and knows exactly where I’m at -- with friends and family who have health issues, an unexpected cat-care regimen, my frustration with politics, and my worry-wart nature...

So I’ve decided to make up for my self-absorption by posting the chant with verses taken straight from the Book of Daniel (3:58 onward), sung in the many languages of the brothers at Taizé. Even if life seems a little bleak for the moment, it’s still important to Benissez le Seigneur – and it lifts the spirits, too. God is good, and continues to hold us and our beautiful world together even in our struggles!

All you peoples, bless the Lord -- benissez le Seigneur... Spirits and souls of the just -- benissez le Seigneur... and have a good week!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Simple Suggestion #261... Focus on one thing

These days I'm spending some time as a volunteer at our L'Arche Day Program, on days when the team has its meetings. What this means is that I arrive early enough to greet the gang when they arrive, to help with coats and pour coffee while the regular staff are elsewhere in the building.

Last week, Sandy* arrived early, even before I did, and I found her already "working hard." "Hi, Ria!" she said, and got up to pull a chair next to hers. Patting the seat so I would sit, she returned to her task -- she has playing cards from five different decks that she sorts while she drinks her coffee every morning.

I sat and marveled at her as she worked. She was methodical and unhurried, putting the cards into five different margarine containers according to the designs on their backs, and then starting over again and sorting them into suits in four of the same containers. She was so focused that nothing distracted her, and there was something very calming about the way she worked -- I found myself mesmerized -- and suddenly flashed back to the end of my first year of teaching, when I spent two days unwinding before returning to the city, doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and playing solitaire the old-fashioned way, with a deck of playing cards.

Sandy worked down to the last few cards, mostly spades, and didn't miss the fact that one of them was a club and had to go into a different container. She tossed it in with the other clubs, turned to me, and smiled, pleased with herself. I cheered and clapped, and so did she once all the cards were in the right place. "Yay!" she said. "I did it!"

There's something important about putting things in order, in finishing tasks, and in patting ourselves on the back. I'd recommend something like sorting with Sandy to anyone who could use a little break from our multi-tasking world's chaos. Focusing on one simple objective -- whether putting dishes away, straightening your desk, sweeping the floor, or playing solitaire -- is good for the soul somehow.

Thanks, Sandy, for the reminder.

*I use pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All we need is radical love

After listening to the reading of the Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) this morning, my mind went off on its own homily. I couldn't help but reflect on how Christianity is failing. And I think the reason for its failure is that too many of its churches have turned into tribal councils or morality police more concerned with ensuring that their "own flocks" follow the rules than with how we need to work together for the common good of all.

Of course, it's not Christ's fault, he who said that we need to live non-violently, go the extra mile for our sisters and brothers on the margins, love our enemies, be perfect as God is perfect and a few dozen other basic things that we seem to have forgotten in our relatively comfy, privileged pews. It's a rough, raw, radical love that Jesus expects of us, one that takes a hit without hitting back and still moves forward in humility, generosity, patience and compassion. It's how he lived -- his kind of radical love reaches through the centuries -- otherwise we never even would have heard of a small town preacher and healer from a backwater town in the middle East.

The word radical comes from the Latin word for root. Radical love roots our lives in the important things in life so that we can ignore the inconsequential ones and live simply, out of love. The only way our world will survive is if we return to radical love for our planet, for others, for creation, and for ourselves. We need to work for the common good, to turn the other cheek, to give our life energies to goodness, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and do all the other radical things that Jesus himself chose to do right to the end.

A tall order. But we're seeing far too much radical hatred these days, and it's clearly not the way our world needs to go.

What acts of radical love will you engage in this week? They don't have to be anything heroic, just rooted in love.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A sun dog of a different kind

When it's so cold that the sun has little snatches of rainbow around it, we call those glowing prismatic spots sun dogs. But here's a sun dog of a different kind...

I'm so happy to see the sun rising in the sky. Every day, it gets a little higher, and Shadow has noticed, too. He's finally able to enjoy his sunbeam on the dining room floor again...

Mmmm, this is good...

Were you talking to me?

No? Oh, good.

Life's simple pleasures. Ahhh....

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Praying for so many things

This evening, we will have our monthly ecumenical prayer at Grace United Church (6215 104 Ave) at 7 p.m. Please join us if you are able. I find that I have so many things/people to pray for...

My family
A friend who is dying
Others who aren't well
Our immigrants and refugees
Wisdom in our political leaders
Peace in places where it is lacking
Care for our planet and its climate, in particular
The lovely Syrian friends I bowled with yesterday (their first time)

Just to name a few...

But really, God knows everything in my heart before I utter a word. So this evening, I will simply rest in God's compassion, without asking for anything, trusting that God is caring for everything without me saying anything. We won't be singing the chant posted below at this evening's prayer, but it's become the song that plays in the back of my mind every time I pray.

In the words of Brother Roger:

You love us. You love us.
Taking everything upon yourself
you open a way for us toward faith
toward trust in God who wants neither suffering
nor human distress. Spirit of the Living Christ,
Spirit of compassion, Spirit of praise
your love for each one of us will never go away.

Who/what are you praying for? If you feel like leaving a comment, I'll pray with you, too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Taking a chance on each other

My great-grandparents in Russia
I’ve been noticing way too much anti-immigrant/refugee commentary on social media here in Canada, and it’s really bothering me. Yesterday it reached the tipping point in my head and spilled out in a grumpy, miserable moodling that I’ve toned down a lot. Even so, this may get a bit messy:

With the exception of our Canadian-from-the-very-beginning Indigenous sisters and brothers (who are still handling the effects of long-term Canadian racism -- another huge problem that still needs to be addressed), we, the people of Canada, are made up of immigrants and refugees from all over the world. Most of us came from other places to belong to a country that wasn’t ours to begin with. None of us really own our homeland, but we have helped to shape it into a country that strives to be open toward and tolerant of our human differences -- with varying rates of success.

My own great-grandparents were Russian-German farmers and blacksmiths who left their land near the Volga river during the Russian Revolution in the early 1900s. They came to Western Canada simply because their lives had been caught between the Red and White armies battling for control of Russia after the era of the Tzars. Their homes and families endangered, my ancestors fled to safety in Canada. Eventually they learned English, though the punchlines of jokes were usually in German, much to the chagrin of my third-generation cousins and me!

I suspect that most Canadians whose ancestors arrived in the first quarter of the last century (or much earlier) would say that they are also descendants of immigrants who came to Canada for the promise of good farm land, freedom, and safety for their children. Yet some of the descendants of these same immigrants now self-righteously act as though they own Canada and have the right to determine who is a “true” Canadian.

How quickly we forget our own history!

My great-grandfather came across on a boat, praying with his family to survive the long ocean crossing. He stood in a line at Pier 21 in Halifax, like thousands of others waiting to be documented, and I wonder if he got down on his hands and knees to kiss the ground once he'd scrawled his signature on the dotted line. Then he and his wife and children boarded a train that took them across the country, searched the Saskatchewan prairie for the iron stake that marked their homestead, and built a sod house before winter set in. The new immigrants had to work hard physically -- longer, harder days than many of their great-grandchildren ever will. It goes without saying that we are grateful for the Canadian birthright they worked for and handed down to us.

In a similar fashion, today's immigrant or refugee may have been driven to put his family on a boat -- belonging to a human trafficker -- because it was safer than facing terror, genocide or war where he once lived. He and his family prayed to get across the sea safely, and arrived on the other side to be herded into a truck that took them to an overcrowded refugee camp where they waited for three or four years in squalor  -- with no school for the children, no privacy, no real healthcare, and nothing to call their own but the clothes they wore. They had to scramble for money to pay foreign people to fill out reams of paperwork so they could to come to Canada, where they now have to navigate a very complex and, unfortunately, racist society. And the worst of the racists are usually nth-generation descendants of immigrants from years past.

From conversations with my immigrant friends who have come to Canada more recently, I know that they are more than willing to uphold Canada's laws and support their new country in good and bad times, to learn a new language, and to contribute their many significant talents to society while working, worrying about family members back home who might also hope to come to Canada, and helping their children to feel as though they belong here. They just want to make a good impression, to be welcomed, to have friends.

So it makes me angry when some people -- who probably don't even personally know (as friends) any of these newcomers -- decide that our new arrivals to Canada don’t deserve to be here because they’re not adapting quickly enough. The thing is, life is so different now -- in many ways that we barely even realize. While it’s true that today’s immigrants and refugees don’t have to build sod houses or plow virgin prairie, they struggle like our ancestors did to build new lives, but in a world where land, home, employment and citizenship are harder and harder to come by for lots of different reasons.

And it disturbs me to no end that some of today's nth-generation children of immigrants use the "history" of their European ancestors' military service in fighting for Canada in the World Wars as an example -- to insinuate that recently-arrived Canadians are probably terrorists from other countries who would never dream of lifting a finger to defend the Canadian lifestyle into which they and their families have been welcomed. The critics are forgetting that many of the new Canadian soldiers in the World Wars (who fled wars in their lands of origin) were conscripted. And isn't it a bit unrealistic to expect people who have fled violence for peace and security in Canada to turn around and enlist in our armed forces? Most of the Canadians-to-be that I know are just struggling to understand and fit into their adopted country’s language, culture and traditions while still treasuring their own, just as my great-grandparents did. My immigrant friends have left war, desperation, hatred and divisions behind to fully embrace their new homeland with an incredible gratitude, even as many life-long Canadians take our country for granted.

To people complaining about our newcomers I want to say: Sure, immigrants and refugees might dress differently than you and I do, but that's okay, really, it is. Their customs and traditions might seem a bit unusual at first, but everything new takes some getting used to. Their skin might not be the colour we're used to, but they're just as beautiful if you really look, and though it might be hard to understand them at first, communication will become easier with practice. And I am almost certain that anyone who lives a week in their lives or walks a hundred miles in their shoes will have nothing but respect and admiration for them, just as they respect and admire Canada for welcoming them.

Diversity means resilience and strength in nature. And diversity in our country is one of our strengths too. So while our family histories as longer-term Canadians are something that, yes, we can be proud of, they are also a reason to cut our newcomers some slack, to give them some time to settle in without facing undue criticism or racism. We need to realize that offhandedly spouting racist remarks (or copying them on social media) about not accepting people different than ourselves isn't helping anything -- rather, it's increasing bullying, prejudice, injustice, and worse, creating conditions for violence.

Instead, let's make time and opportunities to get to know more immigrants and refugees and let them share with us their goodness, kindness, generosity and friendship. And let's reciprocate! We’re better off taking a chance on each other than ignoring or denigrating potential new friends. After all, we are brothers and sisters in one human family, and in this country, we are all on our way to being Canadians together.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sunday Remoodling: Old Turtle and the Broken Truth

I was recently reminded of this moodling from two years ago because of all my present moodling (musing and doodling) about truth during these days of "alternative facts." I think it deserves to be revisited:

December 2014 -- This week I paid a visit to my local library. It's been a few years since our family's weekly routine of hauling home a bag filled with children's books went by the wayside due to the onset of adolescence, but I'm still a sucker for great children's picture books! I brought one home called Old Turtle and the Broken Truth (2003, Scholastic, ISBN 0-439-32109-3), written by Douglas Wood, and illustrated with beautiful water colour images by Jon J. Muth (I'm a sucker for water colour art, too!) 

Old Turtle is a beautiful story about a truth (like a meteorite) shooting through the sky and breaking up before it hits the earth. Animals find the truth, but realize that it is too sharp, with a piece missing that prevents it from "working properly." Then people find it, and declare it to be the most beautiful truth ever, enshrining it in a special place and fighting to keep it from others, causing all sorts of bloodshed, hatred, anguish and pain.

But a young girl with an open heart and mind goes to talk to grandmotherly Old Turtle, who gives the girl the missing piece of the truth. Gratefully receiving it, the girl takes it back to her people, who discover that the two pieces fit together perfectly, revealing the whole truth: "You are loved / and so are they." Discovering the whole truth, the people begin to be able to look at others... and see themselves, too.

Since reading the book, which I recommend to anyone with children, and even to adults(!), I've been reflecting on places where love of the 'other' has gone missing -- in relationships between nations and races, in our abuse of creation, in our refusal to accept difference.

I am realizing how much God is needed in our world in the form of justice, mercy, peace, and love. There are so many places where the darkness is calling out for light. So, we can't just sit on our hands while we wait -- we need to let our hands be God's hands, our words be God's words, our actions be God's actions in love, peace, mercy and justice.

Come, O God,
light our darkness,
heal our lovelessness,
make us into your justice
and thus,
bring us peace.
Let us always remember that,
as we are loved,
so are all the others you have created.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to avoid cruel and unusual punishment

It was bad enough getting my teeth cleaned by a less-than-gentle dental hygienist, ouch. What made it worse was the television on the ceiling of the room that was playing the U.S. President's press secretary speaking to the media while my teeth were scraped and scaled. When I told a friend about this morning's experience of being a captive audience in a dentist's chair, she laughed and said, "double cruel and unusual punishment, for sure!"

Like many people, I'm trying my best to find some good in Donald Trump -- or at least trying not to get into rants about him. I grew up hearing Thumper the Rabbit's voice (in Bambi) saying, "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nuthin' at all," though I now temper that phrase with Edmund Burke's "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing." My best theory about this whole situation is that perhaps the Holy Spirit is allowing the present president to teach the world that we can't wait for presidents to make the world a better place; we also have to engage in improving ourselves and the situations where we can make a difference, and speak up for those without a voice.

So far I've managed to avoid signing the many on-line petitions of complaint against the man (what will they prove, really?) and I'm watching what I say about him because I believe that all the nasty badmouthing of both sides in the last year or so seems to be what got us here in the first place. But with all the negative and fear-based things happening in the first few weeks of this presidency, it's really difficult not to continually assume that the worst will happen, especially when so many lies are flying around (and so many refugees who have already gone through "extreme vetting" and have valid visas are waiting for the U.S. borders to reopen).

When I first saw the video below, I was put off by the negative and mocking tone of the speaker, whoever he may be -- but a few days further on, I'm thinking he makes some valid points, especially after seeing this morning's press conference. If the President continues to use the media to market and push some of the lies he's using to support his agenda the way he has been, it's definitely within the media's rights to push back -- to "pause the tape" and do some fact-checking so that the truth may be heard (more than) twice as often as the lies. Some of the world's present problems lie in the fact that so many people accept whatever the loudest or most "official" voice says. We can't even hear the truth any more.

But truth, if it is true, doesn't have to be loud and pushy. It is clearly "official" because it manifests itself in beauty, goodness, generosity, kindness, and understanding. If we don't want to live with at least four more years of this "cruel and unusual punishment," of lies and the backlash they create, we need to move into a more positive place. So how do we convince each other of the truth? Not with the angry voices of the President or the man in the video, but maybe with some honest facts coupled with a lot of compassion -- and plenty of action to reveal lies for what they are.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Listening to voices of love

I'm not a crowd counter, but I would guess that more than 4000 people gathered near the steps of the Alberta Legislature on Monday night, and thousands more continue to gather in other cities and towns across Canada to stand in solidarity with our grieving Muslim communities. Six of our Muslim brothers in Quebec City, members of our human family -- a computer programmer, a university professor, a pharmacist's aide, a Hallal shop keeper and two newcomers to Canada who were fathers and husbands and brothers and uncles and friends -- died when a university student shot them after their evening prayers on Sunday night.

It's not much of a stretch to link the events in Quebec to the fear and lies being spread by certain politicians in our midst who are focused on closing our borders to immigrants and refugees. It hurts to listen to them create undue fear and insult those who simply want to live in peace and security by insinuating that they are terrorists -- to the point that I'm finding it harder to listen to the news for all the political lies and finger-pointing we have to wade through to get to the real stories of families who are often fleeing terrible situations for a better life with us here. Perhaps you've seen this list from the American Centre for Disease Control already, the point being that terrorism is a poor excuse for closing borders:

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Such stupid excuses to close borders are enough to make anyone lose heart. Thankfully, a friend of mine from work was doing a Toastmasters presentation about Jean Vanier last night and she reminded me why I need to continue to pay attention. We spent some time chatting about how Jean's book, Becoming Human, dragged her from her home in Aleppo, Syria, nine years ago to come to Canada and join L'Arche, a community that helps people with and without disabilities to belong with and to each other. She reminded me of Jean's desire to "build a world where everyone belongs," and in the process, she put the heart back into me. I realized that shutting out the world only allows the wrong rhetoric to gain strength. I need to be aware and to refute it every chance I get. Even with these moodlings.

I'm not sure how we can convince those who are living in fear of immigrants and refugees to believe that everyone belongs -- except to invite them into relationship and to treat them with such tenderness that their fear is banished. It takes time and effort, but most Muslim members of our human family seem to be more than willing to show us the way, laying down their own anger and anxiety to reach out and invite us in to be with them in peace and to pray with them. On my way home from work, I pass a mosque that has thrown up a sign since the shooting inviting passersby to get to know Islam. They are living proof of the words spoken by one Muslim man to our mayor: "We Muslims hear whispers of hate, but we just listen to voices of love."

Every single person on the planet is called to listen to voices of love and to build a world where everyone belongs. So what will you do to help?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

To make compassion our action

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

Their message to us:

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

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

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

Compassion is action!"

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hoar frost in the city

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Unity at the YEG Women's March on Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A foggy winter walk

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A cure for January blues

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Welcoming migrants and refugees -- in laetitia!

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Loving, working

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A year for tenderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A morning walk in Canmore

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

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

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

This path seems to run right through town...

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

Raven lives here, too...

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

The Three Sisters seen from the Engine Bridge...

Looking the opposite direction...

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

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

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

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