Sunday, August 20, 2017

Guest Moodler: Sermon on Forgiveness

My friend, Cathy, has written a beautiful sermon that's she's delivering at her church today. Her congregation gets to hear the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers (Genesis 45), and the story of Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21 ->). (These days, I am the Canaanite woman, pleading with Jesus to heal my daughter, too, who has been having a difficult time of late -- if you have any spare prayers, I'd be grateful.) I'd like to be in Cathy's church, to hear her share with her Christian community. What she says about spending time in silence with God, the ground of our being, is so true. Enjoy.

Forgiveness
Cathy Coulter, RN, BScN, Parish Nurse

Not everyone that comes to church has grown up hearing the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, but chances are they know the story of Joseph and the amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Here’s a quick synopsis: Joseph was the favoured child among the twelve sons and one daughter of Jacob. His jealous brothers sold him into slavery to a caravan going to Egypt. In Egypt Joseph experienced suffering and adventure but eventually ended up finding favour with the Pharaoh and gaining a position of power. When famine spread throughout every country, Jacob’s sons came to Egypt to look for food and Joseph recognized his brothers and finally revealed himself to them as we heard in the reading this morning. It’s a really great story with twists and turns that I’d forgotten about and I encourage you to read it again for yourselves.

Our scripture passage today is dramatic. Think of the emotion of that moment. Joseph had been ripped from his family and his home and here were the brothers that had done it. We expect Joseph to harbour anger and thoughts of revenge. But Joseph forgave his brothers with a graciousness that turned their world upside down.

How about Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman in the Matthew gospel? Was his response as welcome and gracious as Joseph’s? A Canaanite woman seeks out Jesus to beg him to save her daughter and Jesus says in effect, “Nope. You’re not good enough.” Jesus has taken his disciples away for a rest and that rest gets interrupted by this demanding woman. Who hasn’t been in this situation? You’re just about to have a break or settle into something you enjoy and you’re interrupted by someone’s demands. You’re annoyed. You ignore them, like Jesus did initially, or feel like saying to them, “I can only please one person a day. Today’s not your day. Tomorrow’s not looking good either.” But the woman has the courage to persist and use her wits to counter Jesus’ argument that only the Jews should receive his healing. Jesus finally shows graciousness at this point. He hears the woman. He changes his mind.

Does he admit he made a mistake? Not in our scripture reading, and likely not in traditional theology. But I like to think about Jesus, not as some sanitized, sinless saint, but also as a human being who has the vulnerability to admit he was wrong and change his actions accordingly.

How I want to see myself is how I see Jesus once the woman has schooled him with her quick witted reply to his protests… “Even the dogs get the crumbs”. How often I react when I’m caught out in bad behaviour by feeling embarrassed and defensive and “double down” to prove I’m in the right. But Jesus softens and changes his attitude. He shows the woman respect, hearing her and praising her for her faithfulness. And, best of all, he sends his healing energy to the Canaanite woman’s daughter.

Two stories this morning. One of forgiving and one of admitting making a mistake. We need to practice both of these actions to bring peace into our lives and our world. But how difficult forgiving and admitting mistakes are for us.

Forgiveness is a mysterious process to me. It’s not something we can summon up with will power. We can say with our heads, “I forgive you,” but we can’t force our hearts. I don’t know if it’s something we can practice and work on, or if it is more to do with God’s grace working on and healing our hearts. It doesn’t happen all at once, but you’ll know when you’ve truly forgiven someone. I’ve tried to figure out how to express the feeling, the knowing, but I can’t, other than to say a bad feeling is replaced by a feeling of love. We can’t force ourselves to feel forgiveness but I wonder if the first step is wanting to forgive. Wanting to have our eyes opened to the other’s humanity like Jesus and wanting to find gratitude like Joseph.

And what about admitting we’ve made a mistake? This can be excruciating, if we’re honest with ourselves. I call it my cringe-worthy moments. When, after my blustering and protesting and telling friends my side of the story to prove I had every reason to act (or not act) or say what I did…when I can finally admit to myself that I behaved badly or acted stupidly, or spoke wrongly, I feel an inward cringing that I find really hard to take. Do others ever experience this? That terrible feeling of cringing embarrassment?

I think I’m not alone because there is an epidemic of being right at all costs. I’m sure many relationships end because both parties insist they are in the right. Marriage can be a battle ground of two people being right. Like the old joke goes, I married Mr. Right. I didn’t know his first name was Always. The same joke can be told about Mrs. Right. A self-help talk on the internet is titled, “People Would Rather Die than Give up Being Right.” The classic, pathological example of this is the current leader in the country to the south never admitting he is wrong.

A really nice little book about this kind of thing that I found surprisingly useful is the classic “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson with the subtitle “And it’s All Small Stuff”. One of his quotes is, “Choose to be kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.”

So it’s not easy to admit we’re wrong. And it’s not easy to forgive. And I think that it is almost impossible to do either fully without two conditions.  These are the two conditions for being able to forgive and being able to admit we’ve made a mistake. The first is we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. While forgiving may seem magnanimous, in reality, true forgiveness is hard because it means we leave ourselves vulnerable to being hurt again. Think about this for a minute. Even if you never see the other person again, to forgive you must drop the wall that you put up to protect yourself, and that is a vulnerable place to be, but the only place from which you can live a whole hearted life.

And of course, to admit we’ve made a mistake is to be vulnerable. It is to admit we are not perfect, and perhaps, like me, feel some uncomfortable feelings.

The second condition to be able to forgive and admit we’ve made a mistake is really the only condition because we can’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable without it. This condition is knowing we are grounded in that which created us and sustains us. In our tradition we call that Love. We call that God. We need to know in our hearts, in the very core of being, that we are okay as we are, loved as we are, not required to pass a worthiness test. That there is a purpose and a rightness to our very specific being in the world right here and now. If we don’t experience this sense of okayness and are not grounded in that sense of being loved, it will be impossible to become vulnerable. It will be impossible to forgive and allow someone who has hurt us back into our heart, or to admit we are flawed and imperfect and (God forbid!) wrong about something. It will be impossible because without that sense of groundedness it will feel like we are falling, with our feet swept out from under us. It will feel like we are dying. People would rather die than give up being right.

Jesus said over and over, in his words and in his life, you have to die before you can live. Sometimes life circumstances force us to be vulnerable. And then we fall, and that is where God begins to reconstruct our hearts. But we can also get a head start on the heart reconstruction that gives us that sense of ultimate security, and allow God to work on our hearts with prayer, particularly contemplative prayer when we stop doing and learn to sit in the presence of the Holy.

Until we come to know God as the ground of our being, we experience too much anxiety about protecting ourselves and making sure we don’t slip up. But when we sit in intentional silence, there is no hiding from ourselves, no pretending that we are better than we are, or covering up because we think we are worse than we are. In silence we can’t pretend we are in control and slowly and gently we begin to relax into that which is holding us. Into who is holding and always has been. And always will be. Practice sitting in silence every day. Start with 5 minutes. Then 10. Then 20. And see your life change.

What two betters examples do we have of people who lived grounded in the love of God than Joseph and Jesus? Look at the rest of the stories of their lives. It is really profound.

So now I want to ask you, who in your life are you estranged from, or have a strained relationship with? Are you ready to think about forgiveness?

A few years ago I spoke here about a vulnerable letter I wrote to my cousin when our relationship had been fractured. That was the talk that I got the most feedback about ever. One woman told me that after I spoke she went home and phoned her son whom she hadn’t spoken to for two years. Well, ever since then I was thinking about another letter I needed to write for another relationship that I had deliberately let go, but never felt right about. This was a friend that I had shared many important life experiences with when we were in our twenties. But I did not relate to the direction her life took after that. It seemed not to share many of the values that were important to me and I grew increasingly uncomfortable whenever we got together until finally I just kind of dropped her. But it niggled and niggled and I could never move on. It took years, maybe ten years until I was ready to try to find some closure and I did that this spring, writing her a letter over three stints in a coffee shop. The letter I ended up writing took me by surprise because through it I worked out why I was so uncomfortable with her life choices. I had been jealous. I was not secure in my own choices and felt I suffered in comparison. My wobbly self-esteem took the form of judging her harshly but what I worked out in the letter, now that I am more in that place I mentioned of feeling grounded, was that I actually behaved badly towards her. It turned out to be a letter of confession and apology.

When I came home from the coffee shop after I was done, I felt really buzzed, like the decaf coffee I’d ordered had been caffeinated. But I felt really good. Really happy with the letter. It was a good energy, and the rest of that day I turned to a big job I’d been poking away at and that was cleaning out the basement. And my goodness, did I clean out that basement! I couldn’t believe it when I was done. I honestly felt a surge of power and energy that I can only explain by the release of admitting I made a mistake and asking for forgiveness, and for forgiving my friend as well.

Annie Dillard writes:  “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? ... It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews…. ”

There is power in this God of ours. God is the rock on which we stand. God is the wind beneath our wings. God is the great dissolver, the great heart reconstructor. God gives us the power to forgive and ask for forgiveness and even clean our basements.

Let us pray.
God of Joseph and Jesus, thank you for the gift of life! Thank you for the gifts of the heart. Give us courage and grace to forgive and be forgiven. 
Amen

Friday, August 18, 2017

A moment of silence for one of the host

Sparrow eulogies
Yesterday, I found a visitor in my garden, crouched beneath my tomato plants. She was a gorgeous white cat with black patches and very blue eyes. I was delighted to meet her, as it's been a few years since Chloe, my previous cat-in-the-garden companion, moved away.

But my visitor wasn't actually interested in hanging out with me. When I picked her up and carried her to my back step to introduce her to my daughter Suzanna, she jumped from my arms and sauntered to the back gate. Slipping through it, she rolled on the driveway for a good back scratch and disappeared around the corner of our fence. So I shrugged and headed to the pea patch to collect a few snap peas for supper.

Within moments, a huge hullabaloo arose from the host of sparrows in the bush across the alley, with one of them wailing loudly, over and over. I went and looked over the fence, and there was the black and white cat with a small sparrow in her mouth, wings akimbo. "Did you have to do that?" I said. "It's hard to be friends if you kill my other friends." She slunk off down the alley with her prize, and I had to wonder if she'd silenced one of the little voices that I'd been hearing in my birdhouse before they fledged last week. If only her owner had put a bell on her collar!!

The flock of sparrows (properly known as a quarrel or host) returned to the bush for a time of reflection on their friend's life, I kid you not. What had been a noisy group -- hence the choice of the word quarrel by whomever decided on bird group names -- was extremely still and subdued. They sat in near silence, barely moving, and it seemed as though they were taking turns offering a few words of remembrance about the one killed by the cat.

As human beings, it's too easy to think that we are the only truly sentient beings, able to reflect on the meaning of our lives and other big questions. But the truth of the matter is that we don't really understand the thought processes of other creatures, their feelings, communications, or aspirations. We assume they are less intelligent than we are, and we assert our will over them all too easily, especially when they cause us some sort of inconvenience. But what if every life is just as valuable as mine?

Just asking.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

#holyroodbenchproject update -- two blue benches

Last week I saw SEESA's Executive Director, Kim, when we were both out for an evening walk (or maybe she was heading to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival?). Her neighbourly bench had been missing for a few weeks, and when I asked her where it went, she said that one of the artists at SEESA was repainting it for her. Seems the benches in the neighbourhood, besides giving people a place to rest, have inspired more art too. Here's Kim's bench...


Who doesn't love Van Gogh's Starry Night ... 
this one above with a bit of an Edmonton skyline 
and some hidden objects for the kids to find...


Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, 
this bench (above) recently appeared.
(To see others, click here).
I'm wondering if this latest one is paying homage
to the Arrogant Worms' song about
the pirates on the River Saskatchewan...
If you've never heard that tune, 
here's a humourous cover version 
by Edmonton folk-rock band, Captain Tractor...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G_L9tXEwmc

Even though our perennials are mostly past their peak,
it's still a lovely day to sit and enjoy a neighbourly bench. 
If you're interested in sharing a bench like this 
with your neighbours, they cost $100
and can be ordered from SEESA at (780) 468-1985.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

God in the sound of silence

You
are not to be found
in a wind that splits rocks,
the crash of an earthquake,
or the fury of a fire.

You would rather walk on water
than scare away the fish.


You come to us in silence,
not violence.

You wait for us to quiet ourselves
so you can speak to our souls.

And so, God,
we ask you to heal us
of the many forms of noise
that prevent us
from hearing your voice within us.

Incline our ears toward those silenced
by the fear, injustice, and prejudice
of markets, politics,
and the exploitation of your creation.

Help us to find ways to silence
the chaos that keeps us from you.

Give all your people the deep desire
to build a loving, peaceful, just world
that we can create together,
with your help.

+Amen.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tomatoes

It's a busy time in the garden these days, and moodling is happening off-screen rather than online. For the first time in ages, I missed moodling a Sunday reflection. So to make up for it, I'd like to share a wonderful prayer by Michael Leunig, from his book A Common Prayer (©1990 Dove - Harper Collins,
ISBN 0 85924 933 6). Even though it's coming on time to harvest tomatoes rather than plant them, it's a wonderful prayer:


It is time to plant tomatoes. Dear God, we
praise this fruit and give thanks for its life 
and evolution. We salute the tomato, cheery,
fragrant morsel, beloved provider, survivor
and thriver and giver of life. Giving and
giving and giving, Plump with summer's joy.
The scent of its stem is summer's joy, is
promise and rapture. Its branches breathe
perfume of promise and rapture. Giving and
giving and giving.
Dear God, give strength to the wings and
knees of pollinating bees, give protection
from hailstorms, gales and frosts, give warm
days and quenching rains. Refresh and 
adorn our gardens and tables. Refresh 
us with tomatoes.
Rejoice and rejoice! Celebrate the scarlet
soul of winter sauces. Behold the delicious
flavour! Behold the oiled vermilion moons
that ride and dive in olive bobbing seas of 
vinegared lettuce. Let us rejoice! Let this 
rejoicing be our thanks for tomatoes.
Amen.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Simple Moodlings the easy way

A friend recently asked for the name of my blog because she couldn't remember how to find it. I guess if I wanted this blog to go viral (I don't), its title would probably prevent that even if the content didn't. I'll admit that its name is a strange combo of words that doesn't come easily to mind, simply because moodling isn't a word that very many people have ever heard. It was coined by Brenda Ueland, a writer who lived to the age of 93 and who inspired many people to write (or to follow other artistic dreams), me included.

For Ms. Ueland, moodling was "long, inefficent, happy idling, dawdling and puttering." I've come to see moodling as an amalgam of the word doodling, which I often do with pen and paper when my mind is otherwise occupied, and musing, which seems to occur naturally as I walk the dog or work in the garden. For me, moodling is usually done in silence so that my mind is in free range mode with few distractions.

The things that find their way into these moodlings usually come from that kind of space to ponder this beautiful world we've been given and how we need to treat it with the utmost care, to consider the many good people who share this planet with us, and to reflect on happenings that beg to be shared with family, friends and folks I might not know -- just to make them smile or to perhaps see things in a slightly different way.

But finding Simple Moodlings can be challenging if you can't remember the title. My mother-in-law figured out how to use the bookmark feature on her computer. She was my most faithful reader for a long time -- bookmarking worked well for her because she took the time look at her bookmarks on a regular basis. But for people who can't be bothered to check in regularly and who still use email, perhaps the easiest way to get moodlings is by signing up on the top right hand column where it says, "Get Moodlings via email" -- just plug in your email address and a window will pop up asking you to "prove you're not a robot" by typing a given letter or number combo into a box, and voila! Next time you check your email, you'll receive a verification message asking you to click a link in order to receive Simple Moodlings emails every time something is posted. You can always unsubscribe at any time.

Getting moodlings by email isn't quite the full experience -- because readers don't see the blog's design (which I switch up fairly frequently just for the fun of it) and because sometimes a post gets sent out prematurely (before I've fixed all its bugs or thought things through completely). Email moodlings often have awkward wordings, messed up formatting and outright errors that eventually get corrected on the blog itself. But pobody's nerfect, least of all me.

There are lots of better things to do than read blogs online, but if you enjoy these moodlings, I'm happy to share this email trick, and if you aren't interested, I wish you many happy moodlings of your own!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

#holyroodbenchproject update -- special edition

The SEESA (South East Edmonton Seniors Association) wood workshop carpenters are still making their wonderful benches for anyone willing to part with $100. Call 780 468-1985 if you're interested. If you haven't heard about the bench project, click here for the original moodling about it. And if you want to see some other pretty cool benches, click here.

Holyrood resident Jennifer sent a message recently -- her family just finished painting their neighbourly bench -- with no less than 150 maple leaves! So finally this morning Shadow and I went for a walk and took one more picture for your enjoyment. Jennifer and her elementary school-aged daughters did a marvellous job, don't you think? Shadow thinks so, too.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Book Review: When the Moon is Low


For all the reading I do, I don't leave enough book reviews in these moodlings. But When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi (ISBN 9780062369574) is a book that needs to be shared here. It's written by an Afghan-American pediatrician who tells a fictional story of an Afghan family trying to find its way from a country being destroyed by the Taliban to freedom in England in the 1990s.

I suspect that author Nadia Hashimi has drawn from some of the life experiences of her extended family to tell the story of Fereiba, a young Afghani mother whose engineer husband, responsible for water facilities in their city, is taken away one night by the Taliban. Her son, Saleem, is only 14, and not yet considered manly enough (according to Taliban rule) to accompany his mother on errands around Kabul. Life becomes impossible for Fereiba and her three children. She sells everything and relies on human smugglers to get to Iran, as most of her family left earlier, when the trouble began in their hometown of Kabul.

Thanks to falsified Belgian passports on which much of their money is spent, Fereiba's family makes it through Turkey to Greece, but it is there that Saleem tries to sell some of Fereiba's jewelry to pay for the remaining part of the journey and is caught by immigration police who ship him back to Turkey. Because of her baby's heart condition, Fereiba has no choice but to continue on with the little one and her daughter, hoping against hope that Saleem will somehow manage to make his way to England and rejoin his family.

Saleem's journey as an unaccompanied minor among refugees, farm labourers, human traffickers and contraband smugglers is a harrowing one. It's chilling to wonder how many kids are in the same boat, how many parents have been separated from their children, how many people have died while riding under trucks crossing borders, and related human costs. Nadia Hashimi has offered us, in our relatively peaceful and secure lives in North America, what is probably a fairly sanitized version of what many refugees must go through to reach better places than the war-ravaged countries they were forced to leave behind, and introduces us to compelling characters in Fereiba and Saleem. I would love to know people like them.

When the Moon is Low is worth a read simply to give fortunate North Americans an idea of the challenges faced by refugees and why we need to open our hearts and borders to those being displaced by human-made disasters and conflicts. I didn't realize that, after Syrians, Afghans are still the most numerous people in refugee camps twenty years after their exodus began, and heaven knows there are many other people who need homes because they are unable to return to their own. The news tells us snippets of their stories from places like Lesbos in Greece and Lampedusa in Italy, but since many other European countries have closed their doors to refugees, the patience of the Greek and Italian people who receive so many is wearing thin and it seems the tide of feeling about rescuing people from the rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean might be shifting...

But we are one human family. Nadia Hashimi's story of ordinary people -- with hopes and dreams like our own -- trying to survive extraordinary times is worth a read, if only to remind us of the needs of our sisters and brothers around the world. Everyone needs a home where they belong, and if the tables were turned, we would hope and pray for help just as they do. It's incumbent on us to be their source of help and hope. I can't recommend this book enough, especially if it moves us to get involved by giving what help we can...