Sunday, December 4, 2016

Re-Moodling: Simple Christmas Idea #9... Attend an Advent prayer


For the past five years, a group of churches in my neighbourhood has welcomed Christians of all denominations to pray in their worship spaces one Sunday evening each month (except June to August) in the style of prayer that originated in Taizé (pronounced Tay-ZAY) Community in the Burgundy region of France. The beautiful music and the spirit of the place draws people from all over the globe to go on pilgrimage to the tiny village every year (see www.taize.fr).

I would like to invite you to come and join us for a musical, meditative, internationally flavoured way to pray this Advent.
We will gather at 7 p.m. next Sunday, December 11, at Ascension Lutheran Church, 8405 83 Street.

Music is the foundation of the prayer that flows for an hour, interspersed with psalms, a gospel reading, silence and intercessory prayer. At the evening's conclusion, we sometimes gather as neighbours and friends for conversation and refreshments. Honestly, it's one of my favourite ways to pray, because I've always been strongly drawn to music as a form of worship... and because there is no preaching. We sing and listen to the scriptures and let them speak to us of God in the silence of our hearts.

Please consider joining us, and bring friends!

Holy is the name of God, sing out my soul, praising God evermore!
Holy is the name of God, sing out my soul, giving praise to God!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

As I Am #7 -- Beyond the Wall

Just in time for today's International Day of Persons with Disabilities comes a new episode in the #AsIAm film series developed by L'Arche International. Today's video tells a story from Foyer Nazareth in Bouake, Côté d’Ivoire, during the recent civil war that ended in 2011, a story about the incredible bravery of its residents and assistants. The Colonel's big smile when he hugs his friends upon his return reminds me so much of one of my friends in L'Arche Edmonton who gave me an unexpected hug. One of the beautiful things about L'Arche friends is how much they appreciate their friends.

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are you waste wise?

Image result for waste wise edmontonWhat do you do with empty pizza boxes? Shredded paper? Old VHS video tapes? Left over school supplies? The ugly, non-working lamp that Aunt Calliope left you in her will in the futile hope that you would love and repair it?

As a proud City of Edmonton Master Composter/Recycler, I'm pleased to tell you that there's an app for that... Waste Wise is the City's new phone and computer application that allows you to easily look up an item that you're not sure how to properly dispose of.  Click on the link above and scroll down to the search box. It will tell you that the pizza box can go in your blue bag for recycling, shredded paper goes into a garbage bag so it can be composted in the Waste Management Branch's huge composting facility, and VHS tapes are best taken to an Ecostation so that black magnetic tape from their sure-to-be-broken-in-the-garbage-compactor cassettes don't tie up recycling or composting equipment and cause system shut downs. And it's amazing the number of ordinary things like leftover school supplies that can be recycled or reused through Edmonton's Reuse Centre.

The app will even tell you when your garbage collection day is and send reminders to your phone (I hate it when I forget, but I don't have a phone, so I live with it). And the Waste Wise page also has an interesting garbage sorting game for kids (or adults -- I'll admit to enjoying building my very own vitual playground).

Unfortunately, the app still doesn't know what to do with ex-boyfriends or Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton... I keep hoping the Waste Wise webmaster will come up with some smart comebacks for those "items," like SIRI does when you say, "I love you."  I won't hold my breath on that one, as I'm sure the Waste Wise folks already have their hands full.

As for Aunt Calliope's ugly lamp... well, if it's fixable, it might be worth something at the Antiques Road Show. Or not. And don't forget that one person's trash is another's treasure. Sometimes if you set it out where your trash is collected, someone can anonymously claim it for their own. Or not. You just never know about these things!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Simple Suggestion #260... Have a chat with nature

Walking with Shadow-pup is always an adventure. These days, when it's chilly in the mornings, it usually takes a bit of wildlife to get him to stop dragging his feet (I guess he'd rather be curled up on the foot of someone's bed than hiking around the river valley with me). So yesterday, he didn't really get moving until he spotted the mother of all ravens. I swear, the bird was bigger than he was, sitting five feet up on a fence, and the silly dog ran at it as though he could take the bird down.

He can usually scare off crows, magpies, jack rabbits and squirrels. They fly or run away, and Shadow feels like he's the big dog on the block. But the raven just looked down its beak at the Shadow, as if to say, "That all you got? Really?"


It was a magnificent bird, and I told it so -- shiny black feathers, intelligent eyes, long, strong beak. I also told it how much I appreciate its presence in the neighbourhood, especially its sense of humour and play. I love to watch it ride the air currents way above the trees, and it left me lots of presents in the birdbath over the summer -- a few shiny trinkets, candy wrappers, and the odd half mouse, yuck. Anyway, I spoke to it, and it listened intently for a few moments, unafraid, and then Shadow and I moved on, the dog frustrated that he couldn't budge the bird, the bird looking like it wondered what that was all about.

Having wildlife around is always a good thing because it reminds us human beings that we aren't the only pebbles on the beach -- that this planet isn't just for our use, but to be shared with all the other creatures around us. If we could all see the intrinsic beauty and value in a raven, a rabbit, or a rosebush, you can bet we'd be more likely to treat everyone and everything with deeper respect.

So I dare you. Go outside. Find a tree, or a chickadee, or some other living thing and tell it that it's a valuable part of your existence. Perhaps the best way to change the world is to increase our own appreciation and gratitude for its myriad forms of life.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Hope

There's something about the little clip below that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. The music, the colours, the joy of the people, the beauty of creation all around them, and the hope in their eyes... it all adds up to an incredible celebration of life. I don't generally promote movies in my moodlings, but I just have to share this joyful piece.

Yesterday our family went to see Moana, the latest animated Disney movie, a gorgeous story of a young woman with a special connection to the ocean who reaches beyond her limits for the sake of her people. It's a perfect story for our time, because if there's anything our world needs now, it's people who look past our world's present difficulties to imagine and create better conditions for all living beings on Mother Earth. Pope Francis would agree, I'm sure!

Unfortunately, over the last several weeks, as our part of the world has been moving into winter darkness, it seems our news cycles have, too. There hasn't been much positivity anywhere, and I know that all the negative news and our sunless days have been dragging me and many others down. Sometimes it seems we forget that our human race has the power to flip things around.

Thank heavens for Advent! As it begins this weekend, let's put on a mantle of hope, a more positive outlook, and recall that about 2000 years ago, the people of Israel were living in the darkness of Roman occupation when a poor young refugee family found room in a stable to birth hope, love, joy and peace for the world. And let's look for every opportunity to bring those same gifts to our lives and the lives of those around us. Let's reach beyond our limits and follow The Way that God showed us through a wondrous child.

Happy Advent! We know The Way!

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Black Friday prayer

How much did we pay
to see a new day?
It's a gift.

A breath of air? Free.
But we often don't see
that it's a gift.

A life lived in peace,
the warmth of our beds,
the food on our table.
the roof over our heads.
all gift.

But through no fault of their own
many children have grown
to adulthood with
less than they need...
Still, we can go out in haste
to add to the waste
of our earth
through excessive greed.

Too often we are told
that with the first one sold
the second is half price.
O God, help us to see
that your best gifts are free
and to settle for our given slice.

Remind us, O God,
that it's not for sale,
your beautiful creation.
It's already ours,
to be protected and loved
and kept the next generation.

Our sense of possession
was not your intention
because Everything is gift!

Teach us how
to remember that now...

+Amen

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Celebrate "Buy Nothing Day" with a little ditty

Most people know by now that the Friday after American Thanksgiving (November 25th this year) is the consumer craze known as Black Friday, the day when stores are supposed to make so much money that their ledgers go from red to black ink. But the craziness that goes with those sales turns me off -- I've always much preferred to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, a day to remember that the season we call Christmas was never intended to be an all-out shopping frenzy.

In the spirit of simple living and saving the planet for future generations, I offer you a little jingle to encourage wiser consumption over the next several weeks (well, really, forever). There's absolutely no shame in buying useful items as Christmas gifts. Or in giving an experience, like a concert ticket. Or a favourite food item. Or something homemade. In fact, the world would be a much healthier place if we purchased fewer resource-gobbling big ticket items and used less stuff every Christmas. Instead of presents, why not give your presence to those you love? If you're looking for gift possibilities and other suggestions that don't ask so much of our earth's resources, that's what this Simple Christmas Ideas page is all about.

Below is the promised jingle, also known as "Do I Need It?". A remix with a marvelous Master Composter/Recycler chorus and new images is on its way, being created by  my daughter Christina and her boyfriend, Landon, as part of a Christmas gift they promised me last year (see, they came up with a very creative gift idea that cost them some time and effort rather than money or earthly resources -- good kids!). The new Do I Need It? video will be coming soon to a moodling near you... that's a promise. In the meantime, sing along with the old one (which has reached 24,500 YouTube views) -- I dare you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Simple Suggestion #259... Stick with soap bars

There's good old-fashioned bar soap, made from coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, shea butter, lye, water, and maybe a bit of essential oil (aroma compounds from plants).

Then there's aqua, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, lauramide DEA, glycol stearate, sodium chloride, cocamidopropyl betaine, citric acid, parfum, DMDM hydantoin, polyquaternium-7, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, tetrasodium EDTA, glycerine and hydrolized silk.

Seems almost like another language, doesn't it? But it's actually the ingredients that make up the liquid "soft" soap in my bathroom. I know that Aloe Barbadensis is an aloe plant, and who hasn't heard of glycerine? Aqua is water in Italian, right? And citric acid can be found in any citrus fruit. Sodium chloride is NaCl if I remember chem class -- salt? But the rest? How can something with that many chemically-unintelligible names be good for me? If I'm living simply, can't my soap be simpler?

Actually, our soap has been simpler for a few years already. Back in 2009, my youngest child had very dry hands and brown rings around her wrists. I mentioned it to my mom, who happened to mention it to my aunt, who said, "tell Maria to get rid of liquid hand soap. It's full of chemicals that have given my grandchildren the same symptoms, but when they started using bar soap, they improved dramatically."

So I brought out the old soap dish and got Julia to use bar soap. As my aunt said, the brown wrist rings and dry hands improved dramatically. But the rest of my family liked the convenience of soft soap, especially in the shower, so I left it there, and kept using it myself.

What's interesting is that this fall we also installed a soap dish in the shower, and since I've started using bar soap instead of the soft soap there, the winter eczema I've always had on my lower legs hasn't appeared as it usually does when the weather gets cold. It's the first time in years that the skin on on my calves hasn't erupted into itchy welts that last until spring. So even just washing my upper body with that liquid soap and having the suds rinse down my legs was having an impact I didn't realize.

What can I think except that all those fancy soft-soap chemicals listed above are a poor substitute for solid soap with fewer ingredients, the kind that comes in many colours and essential oil fragrances at a farmer's market, or in a little box at your grocery store. And a little box or ribbon around a soap bar is much less packaging for the earth to reabsorb than what you get from plastic soft soap dispensers and bottles. (I've noticed that kids' toothpastes are also using pump bottles now, even though our landfills already groan with all the plastic they hold.)

So, today's suggestion: Let's do the earth and our bodies a favour. Use bar soap, preferrably locally made. It costs the earth a lot less in packaging and transportation, and it's probably a lot better for our skin.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The wisdom of non-discrimination on a Sunday

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk and religious leader who ranks right up there with truly good and holy people like Pope Francis and Jean Vanier, in my books. Fondly known as Thay, which means teacher, he tells the beautiful story below in his new book, At Home in the World:


Lately I've been thinking a lot about human beings and our left-or-right, black-and-white ways of thinking. We like to divide things into opposing categories rather than try to see everything as one part of a much greater whole. Unfortunately this is where so much of our world's suffering arises.

But if the human race is to survive the challenges it is facing on so many different fronts -- ecological, social, financial, intellectual, spiritual, political, etc., we need to look beyond our own prejudices and our tendency to exclude those whose outlooks and opinions are different than ours. When we have the wisdom of non-discrimination, according to Thay, we don't suffer. Whether we tend towards the right or the left, we need to remember that the suffering or happiness we feel or cause isn't ours alone. Both sides are affected, and both sides can help the other to heal.

With this in mind in the week ahead, let's practice inclusiveness rather than discrimination. Talk to a stranger and learn about his or her challenges. Look at opinions different than our own. Smile at someone who needs a smile of their own. Hold open a door. Offer a helping hand. Show genuine concern for someone different than us by trying to understand their point of view. There are so many ways to reach across the chasms that divide people.

It's just a matter of reaching.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Celebrating "stay-home-mom-ness"

A screensaver someone made on my computer one day...
It makes me a little crazy how stay-home-moms are belittled or ignored by society so much of the time. I've heard more talk shows and read more magazine articles about women finding themselves only through having a meaningful role in the work force rather than the alternative of full-time parenting. I've stood on the edges of conversations with women and men who delight in one-upping each other when it comes to stories about juggling home life, kids and work life. And I've watched many eyes glaze over when I've responded to the inevitable question about my career with the words, "I'm a mom." In my experience, people know how to engage in conversation around occupational activities -- that is, jobs -- but aren't very interested in stay-home-mom-ness. It's like they're afraid I'll fill them in on distasteful events involving toilet training or the latest school field trip if they show any interest in my daily existence.

But being a stay-home-mom is one of the most interesting and challenging vocations there is. Hats off to the women who work full-time and raise a family, too -- I don't know how they do it, though there have been times I might have liked to trade them places for a few minutes just for the sake of having an adult conversation or an unusual opportunity to express my intelligence and creativity with colleagues from my own demographic. Other than that, though, being a mom is enough of a vocation for me, though I almost gave it all up for the almighty buck.

Eleven years ago, when our youngest child started grade one, I was feeling some invisible, intangible pressure to get back into the work force, to develop a real CV, get a real job and make real money. Somehow, I had bought into the idea that staying home, cooking meals, running a household and looking after my children was like being a "kept woman," and I didn't like it. I overlooked the importance of making breakfast, helping with school lunches, walking kids to the bus, doing the laundry or other menial tasks, planning supper, driving to swimming lessons, helping with homework, getting food on the table by the time my husband got home, supervising the doing of dishes, making sure baths happened, reading bedtime stories, and saying night prayers. That stuff was all just routine.

That's when I met a new friend, Mark. When we had the inevitable conversation about my career and I admitted to being "just a stay-home-mom," Mark said, "Just? I'm sure you're so much more than you realize." When I told him I was thinking about getting back into the workforce because my youngest was in grade one and the kids didn't need me so much, he smiled and said, "Why would you want to do that?" He proceeded to lay out for me the hidden costs of working outside the home. The wardrobe. The meals. The after school care costs, and the fact that strangers would have a hand in raising my children. The transportation required. Less time with my family, and more of my time with them used for keeping the household running.

Somehow, I wasn't quite convinced. I didn't want to putter around a child-empty house for 6 hours a day doing the repetitive maintenance required to keep a family going. Working outside the home looked a lot more glamourous, and definitely paid a lot better! Maybe we could afford to take the kids to Disneyland if I brought in a salary! But I didn't go job-hunting right away because my resumé-writing skills were rusty...

A few weeks later I mentioned my lack of a resumé to Mark in an email, and he helped me out in that department, too, by sending me the following description of my "occupation" since my first child had been born 12 years prior:
- Family Life Coordinator, consulting in the areas of Childhood and Adolescent Development, with on-the-job training as Conflict Resolution Specialist. 
- Experienced Nutrition, Activity and Special Events Planner. 
- Active Household Sustainability Technician and Marriage Enrichment Technologist.
- Futurist and Community Development Expert employing Integrated Maternal Holistic Healing Skills, with continual on-site professional development. 
- Progressively more organic, planetary conscious, Spirit-channeling, omni-practitional, hyper-evolved and carbon neutral.
I laughed with delight. I was all that? I was all that! And some of those six hours a day without kids became a creative time for me, a time for writing and volunteering (especially with school field trips). None of it was glamourous, but my presence to my family was more important than an impressive CV.

And so what if I didn't get paid in cash? I was paid in hugs, and fortunately, my husband's salary was enough for us to live on. We didn't need me to work for the sake of trips to Disneyland if I could be with our kids and make our house a home with an attentive adult when they were in it. I suspect Mark wrote my "job description" to make that point.

Eleven years later, my family still hasn't gone to Disneyland, but we've managed pretty well on Lee's salary. Our home has been a place of sanctuary, sanity and stability (most days, anyway) because I've been around to nurse sick kids, welcome school chums, keep appointments, bake bread and cookies, grow vegetables, have repairs done, and run the household instead of trying to fit all those things around work outside the home. And I learned that it really doesn't matter what people think when I tell them I'm a stay-home-mom, as long as our family is happy.

My kids are pretty well grown up now, and I love and am proud of the young people they've turned out to be. Even more, I love that I chose to be with them over the money I could have made or the career ladder I could have climbed. I like to remember how we tended a brood of baby chicks together, our visits to the playground after school, teaching them how to make grilled cheese sandwiches, soothing fevered brows, singing and dancing to their music, driving them to piano lessons, having art sessions at the kitchen table, reading a zillion library books together, play dough parties, and the thousands of conversations about everything and anything when they got home from school. I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

So today, I'm celebrating stay-home-mom-ness! And I cheer for all women (and men) who have made the choice to be with their kids rather than chase the glamour of an occupational title, especially if it has required the sacrifice of some of the less-important things that money can buy. You have given your kids a gift that will mean a lot to them in the future, even if they don't see it right now.

Plus you've got all those million-dollar memories to prove it!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Let's pray for peace

Every week in Taizé, the brothers of the community begin with a prayer for peace on Sunday evening. For the half hour before supper, pilgrims fill the Church of Reconciliation for silent prayer, Imagine a thousand people praying together in silence.

Silence is something that is definitely lacking in our world. It often seems that we are uncomfortable with it, because it feels like an emptiness, a void that needs to be filled somehow. In silence, our own thoughts and anxieties can seem too loud, and rather than pay attention to what's really going on in our souls, we turn on music, or the TV, anything for "background noise" or distraction. We put a wall of sound between ourselves and our hidden depths.

Unfortunately, that wall of sound also gets between us and the voice of God in our lives. We forget the story of Elijah on the mountain, waiting for God:

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before God, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire, a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. 
--1 Kings 19:11-13 

And then God and Elijah had some time to chat. In the silence.

The brothers of Taizé's silent prayer for peace is an opportunity for pilgrims to sit with their own souls for a while, to confront their own internal struggles and reach for the peace that God alone can give. They know that in a time of silence, our monkey-minds whirl around for a while, but if we give the silence a chance, we can come to a peaceful stillness where God converses with us without using words. Then our anxieties can lift and we can reach a place of true peace, the kind of peace our world really needs these days. At the end of thirty minutes of silence in Taizé, the brothers sang the beautiful chant below, and I found myself moved to tears of happiness.

Tomorrow evening, we will be praying (with a bit more silence than usual) for peace at Holyrood Mennonite Church. Please join us for our ecumenical prayer of silence and songs from Taizé at 7 p.m., followed by friendship and community.

And if you're too far afield to enjoy praying with us, please enjoy Da pacem Domine below and offer your own prayers for peace in our hearts, homes, communities and nations -- our world can always use them.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

#As I am #6... If I Were a Color

When you have a disability, people with small hearts can be cruel. That's why it's wonderful when people with disabilities are cared for in a loving community like L'Arche. Nagat's story from before L'Arche and her smile now say it all. I especially like the last line of this video. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

We'll be fine

Call me an optimist. I won't argue. It's much better than all the doom and gloom I'm finding on the internet today. Sure, things didn't turn out the way a lot of people (including me) expected or hoped. So now it seems there's a lot of depression, fear or anger taking the wheel because it's too easy to imagine worst case scenarios. The building of walls. The decimation of our climate. The proliferation of nuclear arms. In other words, the end of our world as we know it.

But who is really in charge? The spirit of the world's people. And no matter how decisive an election victory, it's the will of the people that leaders must obey, or they find themselves thrown over in a hurry. The non-violent power of the people is incredibly strong. Remember...

- the suffragettes who got women the vote?
- The Resistance in World War II?
- Ghandi's work for the independence of India?
- Rosa Parks and the March on Washington?
- The nuclear disarmament movements of the 80s?
- "People Power" in the Philippines taking down Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship?
- The Polish Solidarity movement?
- Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid?
- The dismantling of the Berlin Wall?
- The Occupy Movement?
- Idle no more?
- The Paris Climate agreements?
- Click here to see where I found most of these great events and even more.

We human beings are a work in progress, we are more than our elected leaders, and we are the ones who call them to be better than they even know they can be. And, bottom line, every single one of us, leaders included, are brothers and sisters, beloved children of God, so dissing one another is never helpful. Instead, we need to love one another, to stand up for each other, and to remember that it's not "us against them."

It's only ever us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Love those tamaracks

We're so lucky here in Edmonton to have a river valley with parks full of trees... and I have my favourites. These days, it's the tamarack, a golden-needled beauty that's keeping the fall colour going a few weeks longer.

Tamaracks are deciduous conifers, meaning that they reproduce through seed cones and drop their needles every autumn. I didn't know that one tree could fit both categories! But tamaracks start out with fresh green which becomes a blue green, then gold, and finally you find golden needles all over the ground. The really lovely thing is that the needles are soft, not prickly like many of our pines and spruces, so Shadow-pup can run around under the trees and not end up limping. He also enjoys the chickadees that feed on the seed cones during the winter.

We have several gorgeous tamaracks in one of our favourite river valley parks, and I've been watching their colour come and go over the last weeks. It won't be with us much longer, so I'm enjoying while I can... until the pale green returns next spring. It's nice to see a bit of gold on an overcast day, don't you think?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Love for creation on a Sunday

After watching the video in the previous moodling (still available, at least until tomorrow) I feel the need to show a little love for creation. This morning we had the most amazing sunrise, and there is glory all around us all the time -- if we just open our eyes.

Andie's Isle is a pretty great little website with a number of gorgeous creation videos. I don't know Andie, but I've seen several of her videos over the years, and she has a really great recent one, The Nature of God, which isn't available on YouTube, but you can click here to see it (thanks again to Charleen for sharing it with me!) It reminded me of Brian Doerksen's Creation Calls, below, so I had to post it a second (or is it third?) time. Not sure who came up with the images, but they did an incredible job of putting it all together, and I think it's worth posting many times.

So here's a little love for creation, and for God this Sunday. Enjoy...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

If you could design a new world...

What if you were given a superpower that would allow you to design a new society? What would your blueprint look like? What would you keep from our present way of life? What would be unnecessary? What would you add?

There's so much dysfunction in our present existence (especially the US election news these days!) that it sometimes looks like the dystopian novels my young adults read. From the disintegration of families to the breakdown of the environment, the polarization in politics to the rampant over-consumption of our earth's resources -- the hectic and harried pace of society as we know it has dragged us further and further from being soulful people who value life in all its forms. You'd think we could come up with a better plan, no?

Lucky for us, Mark A. Burch has written his own alternate society in his new novel, Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia, which is being released this week. It's a fascinating story of the beginning of something better than life as we presently know it, a renovated existence where people pull together, where everyone has enough, where humans cooperate with nature, and where beauty is appreciated and cultivated daily. I was fortunate to read early drafts of the story, and my initial response to Mark was, "Where is this place? I'll be there in a heartbeat!"

Of course, Mark's view of a simpler world is one that has resonated with me ever since I attended a workshop he gave on Voluntary Simplicity and Personal Wellness, ten years ago this month. He was kind enough to stay in touch because his workshop filled me with many questions, and thanks to the emails that flew back and forth between us, a deep friendship formed. Mark's desire for a world less focused on the material and more in tune with the values of simplicity and sufficiency will always ring true for people who give serious consideration to life's true purpose.

Besides being a wise man in the areas of simplicity and sustainability, Mark is also an excellent writer, having been published many times. It's not easy to pen a good novel that teaches without being overly preachy, but there's an abundance of fresh ideas and suspense in Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia to carry the reader through to the story's end. Chapters begin with wisdom sayings that seem to come from sages beyond our time. The establishment of Euterra is juxtaposed with its later existence and the arrival of an "outsider" whose appearance threatens the community's existence, making for a real page turner. And the bonus is that there's another book in the works, if readers want more!

I would love to see this book become a best-seller, simply because it carries the seeds for many long-overdue conversations about the kind of world we really want to inhabit. We're used to the status quo, to feeling like we have no choice but to go with the flow, but it's past time that we begin to envision and build a better future than the one that's coming down the pipe whether we want it or not. Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia is available via Kindle or in hard copy, with the possibility that Euterra book clubs could be the launch pad for a better world (book club resources are available on Mark's website).

For more information, see http://markaburch.ca/, or visit Euterra on Facebook and meet Nota Dorne, one of the book's characters.

Better yet, pick up the book for yourself, share it with friends, and start imagining and creating the world you really want to inhabit...

Monday, October 31, 2016

Squash-o-lanterns

I had a good chuckle when I saw the Hallowe'en carving my kids did while my husband and I were out of town visiting my in-laws this weekend. Somehow, the two large "moonface" pumpkins that I harvested from our backyard this fall and set on a box in our furnace room weren't seen or carved. However, the gang did find the five smaller winter squash that I intended to turn into soup. To be fair, winter squash do look like pumpkins, but they have a bump on the bottom that prevents them from sitting as level as a jack-o-lantern should, so we'll have a few off-kilter characters on our steps this evening, hee hee, and tomorrow they'll become yummy squash soup!

Happy Hallowe'en!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Saints and souls


The saints in the orthodox chapel at Taizé
While I'm not really fond of this commercial thing known as Hallowe'en now that my kids are grown, I do appreciate the two hallowed days following... November 1st being All Saints' Day, and November 2nd, All Souls' Day. I love the fact that there are two holy days to cover us all.

Of course most people think of those Capital S Saints who lived exemplary lives and who have been officially declared to reside with God by ecclesial authorities, but I prefer St. Paul's view of saintliness, as he phrases it in Ephesians 2: "...you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God..." In Paul's writings, we are all saints with a small s by virtue of the fact that we are loved by God.

And, of course, every person on the planet has a soul, so November 2nd is for all of us, no matter who we are, what we believe, or how we vote, ha. But it's also a day to remember our loved ones who have died. So the first two days of November are a good time to recall our communion of saints, those who have gone before us and who intercede for us, and to celebrate the fact that we will see them again "in the land of the living," as the Taizé chant below reminds us.

I hope you can find some time to remember the saints and souls who have blessed your life during this week ahead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Something everyone needs to see

It's a low-ceilinged grey day, not quite as cold as the day that killed 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack. He was taken from his family in Northern Ontario to a residential school in Kenora. Imagine what that would be like -- to leave your family, your culture and your language, everything and everyone you know and love because you must be educated. It's still happening here in Canada, not in residential schools any more, but many of our young Aboriginal brothers and sisters must travel to larger centres away from their homes to complete their education.

Chanie Wenjack ran away from school and tried to walk the 600 km home to Ogoki Post through a miserable autumn storm, wearing nothing but a light jacket. His story has recently been retold by two Canadian artists -- Jeff Lemire is an accomplished graphic novelist, and Gord Downie is the lead singer of the Tragically Hip. Gord has terminal cancer, so you could say that this work is a very special project.

The Secret Path tells the story of Chanie Wenjack's attempt to walk home. Jeff Lemire's graphics evoke the cold faced by the child, his thoughts, memories, and deep desire to get home. Gord Downie's music provides the only words to the story. I'm not a fan of the Tragically Hip, but I found the songs deeply moving, a fitting soundtrack to the loneliness and desolation faced by a twelve-year-old on an impossible, body- and soul-chilling journey. Chanie died on October 22, 1966, and this program aired 50 years and one day later as part of Gord Downie's effort to help the healing and reconciliation process begun by our country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The legacy of Canadian Residential Schools has done deep damage to our relationships with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, and healing won't happen until we face the facts and ask forgiveness.

It's a slow-moving film, but definitely one worth watching. For more information about the project, visit the website: http://secretpath.ca/

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Angels are everywhere

Have you noticed them? It's just a matter of looking, and there they are, ready to lend a hand, sometimes when you least expect it, and usually when you're most desperate.

Two Sundays ago, my best friend, Cathy, and I ran into several of them when our travel plans got all messed up. It was my fault -- I misunderstood a bus schedule when I was booking our tickets at home in Canada weeks earlier, and the bus that didn't arrive that morning when we needed it caused a cascade effect that nullified our intended travel plans for the rest of the day. It was supposed to be one simple bus ride that took my friend and I to our train to Paris, then a quick jaunt on the Paris Metro to another train station, and on to Belgium. Simple.

Except for that first bus.

When we realized that it was not going to show up until our train had already left the station, the angels began to gather. The first was a beautiful young French man named Pascal who promptly phoned every taxi within range (using better French than I speak) to see if a cab could get us to our train on time.

Even as Pascal was making futile phone calls, the second angel appeared and started flagging down cars of people arriving at Taizé to see if any of them might give us a ride to our train at Mâcon-Loché, but they weren't interested in missing the morning service. When it became apparent that no one was willing to transport us 40 minutes down the road (I don't blame them), the car flagging angel plopped himself down on the bench next to me and said, "Listen, I'll make you a deal. If you stop beating yourself up for mis-reading the bus schedule, I'll stop being angry with all these so-called Christians who wouldn't help you out." His name was Kevin; he was an Anglican priest from the UK, and he sat and amiably chatted with us until our bus arrived, calming my anxiety and missing the morning service himself. I've since tried to find him on Church of England websites without luck.

The bus finally came and took us to the Mâcon-Loché train station with just a few minutes to possibly catch another train to Paris, but when I tried to punch the information into the ticket machine, it kept apologizing that it wasn't able to complete my request. My hands were shaking, and I was feeling really panicky when the third angel appeared -- an SNCF agent who took my train ticket, punched in my information, and explained in broken English that there was no room on this train so we could catch another bus to a small town called Crêches-sur-Saône, then a train to Gare Lyon-Perrache, and another train to Paris.

That's exactly what we did. We got to wander a bit more in the gorgeous French countryside, see a bit of the pretty city known as Lyon, and spend more time together, practicing harmonies and eating our bag lunches beside the train tracks in Crêches-sur-Saône. So of course the fourth angel was my best friend, Cathy, who never complained once about my mistake even though it cost us more money. She raced with me through the Paris Metro (a train waiting for us at every platform, thank you God!) from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord, helped me at the ticket machine, and saw me onto my final train with only four minutes to spare!

They're everywhere, those angels, sometimes traveling right beside you!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A day in Taizé

It couldn't have been any better, I don't think. A full week in Taizé was not something I ever thought I would be able to experience, but when my best friend visited me in August and talked about her plans to visit Taizé in October, my wonderful husband said, "Why don't you go, too?" He knew how much it would mean to me, and I'm so grateful to him.

For those of you who follow my moodlings, you'll know that I've had a longstanding love for Taizé. In the summer of 1985 I attended a Lutheran-Catholic Student's conference in Ontario, where I was first introduced to the music of Taizé. It took a while before I found out about the ecumenical community of brothers connected to the music, several years after I had started participating in a music group that held prayers in a few Christian churches in my city.

It wasn't until our family travelled to Europe in 2014 that I had an opportunity to actually visit the small French village of Taizé and really understand what the community was all about. My two young adult daughters went with me, and we stayed for three wonderful days that left me wishing I could experience an entire week of life there.

Now I have, and it was definitely worth the effort and the jetlag! Here are some images from the week, with a bit of explanation to give you a an idea of a typical day at Taizé:


An autumn sunrise over the hills of Burgundy, 
from the top of the hill at Taizé. 
Three hours earlier, the stars were incredible, too -- 
every night that week we had a clear view of them...


On the walk to the church for morning prayer...


Early morning, before the bells call everyone to pray. 
The Church of Reconciliation is always a peaceful place, 
with many people quietly praying at all hours.
Prayer with the entire assembly takes place three times a day,
with incredibly beautiful music, scripture and silence.
There is also a silent prayer for peace 
at the beginning of every week...


After morning prayer, a typical breakfast -- bread, butter, 
and coffee/cocoa (but I already ate the two little chocolate sticks, I think.)
Meals are ample, but very simple. Other meals include a spoon, a beverage bowl,
some pasta or lentils with rice, maybe some cheese or a sausage link
with fruit and cookies for dessert -- and seconds after everyone has had firsts...


Passing out the handouts and singing a chant 
 before the English Bible Introduction with Brother Matthew (left),
who was translated into German by Christof, the man beside him
(though Matthew often corrected Christof's translation -- with hilarious results). 
The brothers offered the best lessons on mercy that I've ever heard...


Reflecting on the questions from the Bible Introduction near the little pond in the park
known as St. Stephen's source before lunch...


The brothers leave the Church of Reconciliation
 at the end of the noon prayer...


Waiting for lunch. Why does prayer make me so hungry?
Grace is always a Taizé chant led by our "angels" (young volunteers)
Betka, from the Czech Republic, and Helena, from Germany.


The conversations during our meals out in the sunshine are multilingual -- or
sometimes in sign language if we don't share a common tongue...


 Two p.m. choir practice with Gregor,
a Hungarian with a strong sense of music...


Group sharing about the questions from the Bible Introduction
 in the afternoon, in Margo's "living room"
(she was staying in a tent for the week).
Our adult group consisted of two Dutch, two Germans, two Swiss, 
two Canadians, and one from the US, all of whom spoke English, 
and all of whom enjoyed one another's company. 
The depth of sharing in the group was incredible from the start...


Another walk to St. Stephen's source, where
two storks were having their supper...


and I walked the 18 stations of the Way of the Gospel
(the raising of Lazarus below)...


After supper, our sharing group washes pots and pans
and sings in multi languages as we work... fun! 
"We are washing in the light of God, 
we are washing in the light of God!"
Everyone knows how to sing Allouette (who knew?)...


A meeting with Brother Alois (left), Taizé's community leader,
 who tells us about the young brother from Bangladesh being welcomed
into the community at that evening's prayer 
and the brothers' work with L'Arche in Bangladesh...


The end of evening prayer.
Many young people are already 
over at Oyak, the community's concession area, 
for snacks and friendship, 
but many also stay longer in the church to pray and sing...


This is the basic structure of a day in the Taizé Community, but there is so much more to it, of course. Words and pictures can't really convey the peace and joy of the place, the prayer that flows like breathing, the beauty of the countryside, or the warmth of the pilgrims who spend a week in the community. It was a perfect place for my soul to settle... the music, prayer and friendships touched me more deeply than I can say,,, and the happy tears that frequently flowed down my cheeks signaled many "God moments" that will stay with me forever.

If you ever have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Taizé, the little village on the hilltop in Burgundy, I can't recommend it enough!



Monday, October 17, 2016

Returning to winter

When I was in Taizé, my hubby texted me 
on October 2nd and told me that it was snowing. 
So I wasn't exactly surprised to return to this on Saturday morning:

 

All this snow so early doesn't make me very happy
because there are still things I needed to do in the garden.
But what can I do about it? Laugh and shake my head.
Especially since Suzanna did a wonderful job of keeping 
the tomatoes in the greenhouse happy.



Lee and Suzanna also did a wonderful job of digging 120 lbs of carrots
in a Friday night snowstorm, and everyone worked together to wash 
and bag them on Saturday. A million thanks to my family for all their effort!


I'm hoping that it will warm up enough for me to clean out
the raised beds this week and finish up the compost pile for winter, 
but if not, there's always next spring, sigh. 
It seems so far away, but time passes quickly
(though this might be a long winter...)
In the meantime, we'll enjoy our carrots!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Grand est ta bonté

I'm home, safe and sound, all in one piece. Tired from jetlag, but really good otherwise. It was a fantastic two weeks in Europe, all of it spent with friends, and this evening was the icing on the cake -- a lovely Taizé prayer in downtown Edmonton that raised over $100 for Hope Mission (we accept donations toward copying, and the rest of our money goes to charity).

I'll have some stories to share from my travels, but for now, I just want to post a beautiful piece of music that accompanies a video of driving to Taizé. A Hungarian fellow named Gregor led the choir practice that helped me to learn it. It's a difficult piece, but just gorgeous. I hope to sing it again someday with a group that can manage all the parts.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, October 7, 2016

The last of the leaves

Shadow and I had a wonderful walk before my trip overseas. I'm not a great photographer, but I love autumn. For your enjoyment... have a lovely day.