Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Into Silence - The Gospel according to St. Joseph

Sunlight and shadows. Why are snow-shadows blue?

Into silence. 47 years ago on March 19th, St. Joseph's Day, (or maybe 44, depending whether it was for my First Profession or my Life Profession), Sister Christina Faith gave me an old lined 3" x 6" black leather notebook. She inserted a book-plate:  "The Gospel according to St. Joseph." Surprise!  The rest of the book was empty. Joseph never spoke - or at least nothing is recorded of his speech. He thought a lot, though. And dreamed and did what he was called to do. 

"Be still. Let the tide of memories wash over you
Listen to the whispers of the saints
Feel the breath of wisdom refresh your mind
Return to the place of peace your Holy Island" 
from art by Mary Fleeson, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne

This year, our clergy retreat was from March 18 - 20 - so St. Joseph's Day was spent at Manoir d'Youville in Chateauguay in the silent company of about 60 Montreal area clergy. I held my illuminated calligraphy and Celtic inspired - what to call it ? - page and used these words as a mantra - stilling my heart ... reaching into the tears that have been waiting until I stopped and listened ... 

On the way to Chateauguay - and quite a few times since, I've been listening to the CD (transferred from a tape) of my profession anniversary in 1975. Sister Emily Louise, Sister Arlen and others went out of their way to make it a special Mass. Guitar (SEL). Recorder (SAM). And Sister Rosemary's rich, full voice. I wonder if she is still singing? Or if it is enough - our memories of her?

I'm shocked at the language, being a feminist nowadays. At the theology that fit me then but doesn't now. Mystery. Still it is moving and fills me with longing - not for life as it was (mostly) - but with so many memories and with awe at the transformation that this grounding in love and community gave - and then the power of a breakdown - heart ripped open by grace and for grace ... 

1975. It had been a  rough time.  March 18,  I'd given up my Canadian citizenship to facilitate my expected return to Haiti without having to return each year to keep my green card. Dad had finally left Mum. Mum was depressed and sometimes suicidal (She tried once). I was sliding, unknowingly, down down into the Pit of depression. To name a few ... 

"Be still. Let the tide of memories wash over you
Listen to the whispers of the saints
Feel the breath of wisdom refresh your mind
Return to the place of peace your Holy Island" 
from art by Mary Fleeson, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Archbishop Colin Johnson, the retreat leader, told us it was our retreat and he wouldn't take it personally ;-) if we chose to spend our time not listening to him. I listened for awhile. Long enough to take the most important part of his message - we are God's beloved. And then I followed my heart into silence - much of it in the adjoining snowy wildlife refuge. 

Black-capped chickadees alighted on my extended hand. Over and over. Having learned the process, Tuesday morning I bought a package of sunflowers at the counter and held my hand filled with seeds. They came. They fluttered sometimes anxiously. They sat, teeny little things with bitsy, delicate feet - bright beetle black eyes, feathers soft and ruffled by the breezes ... cold breezes, I might add ...  They're quite fussy. Pick up one and another and maybe number three or four or five - one suits and off they go. So close I could see the pink in their mouths. There was a sense of line-up of planes on the runway ... watching, waiting their turns ... 

Meanwhile, cardinals (Mr and Mrs), red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, white-breasted nuthatches (blue-grey back feathers) nibbled and knocked at the feeder. I think I know where the term "pecking order" comes from.

Frederick Buechner is one of my present comforters and challengers. Truth. Hope. Faith. Questions. Memory.  I was reading A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory.  

Buechner told the story of his father's suicide to a group in Texas  when he (Buechner) was ten and his brother a little under eight. "Afterward the retreat leader came up to me and said, 'You've had a good deal of pain in your life,' which of course he could have said to any one of us. And he said, 'You've been a good steward of it. You've been a good steward of your pain.' That caught me completely off balance." p. 16

"... simply put, suffering is universal. Pain is what it's all about. Life is terminal. We all end up in death or losing everything we have and are and love. And I think that when Jesus looked out at the world of young people and old people, lucky people, unlucky people, black people, white people, poor people, rich people, and said, 'Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' he was saying some of the same thing. No matter who you are ... part of what it means to be a human being in this world is to labor and be heavy laden, to be in need of whatever he means by rest."  P. 17

I've done that - been a good steward of my pain. Learned. Struggled. Grew in the fire and depths. 

At a certain point in therapy, I had an image of who I had been ... of a very, very hard nut - unbreakable - dark - and inside there had been the teeniest almost immeasurable bit of red flame - nearly dead - might have died. The thing - it wasn't a nut - it was hard like rock - rough, ridged granite maybe - and somehow - through much work - and much grace (though I am never willing to give God all the credit for the enormous work I have done to enable healing), the flame came to life and broke out ... 

As with all of us - when we are willing to face our pain, take responsibility for our lives, we can use it in ministry. 

Enough for now - it was a relief to cry - and such joy to play with chickadees and take photos of pussy willows and so much more.

Blessed and a blessing. What we're all called to as we journey into becoming more and more human.

Pussy willows just beginning ... Refuge faunique Marguerite d'Youville

Mr. Cardinal - hear him singing ... 

Chickadee waiting his or her turn ... couldn't figure out which was male, which was female

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Maggie Muggins and Baby Jesus

Beginning a yawn after being disturbed

Some of Ellen's stuffies that gather round the crib at church and Mission


Maggie Muggins was the first book I received as a child about 68 years ago. And we listened to Maggie Muggins on the radio when I was a little girl. I've often quoted, "All in all, it's been quite a day said Maggie Muggins to Mr. McGarrity."

My latest kitty is called Maggie Muggins. 

Got up in the middle of the night recently and noticed a dark blob on white on the chesterfield. On inspection, discovered Maggie had found our Baby Jesus-es... and snuggled up with them. On the left is a porcelain faced doll that belonged to Dorothy Spence, former parishioner first of St. Alban's and then, after their fire, of what became St. CHL. Then there's Black Baby Jesus and Asian Baby Jesus. 

If you've never seen the world creches at St. Joseph's Oratory, it's a wonderful experience for a confirmation class. 

Jesus belongs to all of us. Jesus is in all of us. Jesus is all of us - or is it that we are all called to be Jesus in the world?

Maggie Muggins is also fond of the Dalai Lama's Cat. She doesn't have the Himalayan pedigree, but she's royal just the same. Or at least she thinks so - and that's what counts.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A Holy Happening

Guatemalan cross - from Google images

* some names are changed

Our Hector died. December 23rd. A refugee from Guatemala in the early 80's after fighting on the wrong side (against American backed forces). Hector was poor. Lived in a decrepit rooming house across the street from Mile End Mission. He drank to excess and died in his 50's as a result. He had no family but us. He was the type of person society often judges and dismisses as of little value. Invisible. Faceless. Story-less unless one takes the time to learn the story. 

Hector's funeral was at Mile End Mission last Wednesday. Something happened at the funeral that was, as Lori put it, "more than the funeral."

We began with adding chairs to expand the circle and setting up the little table/altar. Declan stood in the middle saying "F**k" a number of times to one of the other fellows. I asked him if he'd please not use that word in front of me and could he just step outside if he felt he needed to say it. He went out front saying something like our prayers are 'f**k" to him. Wait before you judge me. Declan came back into the picture ... 

Time to begin and chairs were gradually filling. Tom was playing beautiful music on the piano. Funeral leaflets and candles were on all the chairs. But where were the Spanish speakers who were Hector's friends? And then they came ... 
Carlos, his best friend, in a black pin-striped suit, crying. And more - 

I had thought we might be able to sing Amazing Grace in Spanish, so asked ... no they couldn't sing - well - a little bit - so we agreed to sing the first verse after the rest of us were tutored in the Spanish version - Sublime Gracia. Then - I asked Carlos if he would read the entire hymn aloud in Spanish and he did with such passion, tears, power, I asked him to read it again.  Then we sang in English. Amazing Grace.

Prayers. Readings in Spanish, English and French - read by different members. 

26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you…. 28Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 
Ezekiel 36. 26 - 28

Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  John 14, 1-3

After the Gospel, we sang six times in Spanish the Taizé chant 
Nada te tur-be, nada te es-pan-te :                
Quien a Dios tien-ne nada le fal-ta.
Nada te tur-be, nada te es-pan-te : Solo Dios bas-ta.

(Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.
Those who seek God shall never go wanting.
Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. God alone fills us.)

... and while we were singing, I noticed Declan standing at the back outside the circle holding a lit taper. I realized I'd forgotten to light the Paschal candle on the altar and motioned asking if he'd come up and light it with his taper. He walked slowly, gently - almost a dance - to the front, lit the Paschal candle and proceeded around the circle to light everyone's candle.

We sat. I preached sitting, sharing some thoughts from the book by Gregory Boyle, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship

Boyle tells us that tenderness is the base of interactions at Homeboy Industries, the ministry he founded in LA working with gangs and young men and women who chose to exit gang life . Tenderness towards ourselves, towards others, all of us wrapped in the tenderness of God. The book is full of stories - of courage. of society's approach to gang members - to any who live on the margins - who have lived lives of violence, mental illness, suffering ...  faceless - invisible ... lives transformed and transforming. Judgement is the opposite of tenderness - or prevents it. 

He debunks a common fallacy: Youngsters join gangs to belong. No, he says, never. They join gangs to run from their lives ... of abandonment, horrendous abuse, violence ... 

... and they are survivors. The heroes of their own stories. We passed a small heart-shaped mirror around - so each could look in it - with the option of seeing instead of shame at our pasts the hero that each of us is.

Somewhere in there, Declan, holding his taper, spoke - "We all have our shit. We carry it. We aren't supposed to dump it on others. We have our shit. But it's the soul that's essential." he apologized for swearing. I said this time, it's prayer.

People shared memories of Hector.  Hector was family. 

"So people in bondage need liberation, and people in exile need to return home. People who are blind need to see, while people who are sick and wounded need healing. People who are outcast need community." p. 135-6

We need community, and belonging extends past our living to our deaths.

When most of our members die, their bodies are unclaimed, sent to the coroner, and buried 'somewhere.' Last fall, when Hector was dying, I realized that our people who are often faceless in life are also faceless in death. I sent a request to the clergy list - for thoughts on how we might bury our own who had no one. Shirley Smith, priest in Lachine, offered us a space in St. Stephen's Church cemetery. Andy O'Donnell spoke to the folks at the Protestant Cemetery in Philipsburg and they offered us a grave that would hold the cremated remains of eight people.  

Think about it - most of us know where we will be buried. Or, if we choose to allow our families to - ummmm - do something with our ashes (like put them in the sea) it is still a choice. For those who are poor and have no one, there is no choice. They disappear s if they belonged to no one.

So, at Hector's funeral I told them we have decided to bury our own if at all possible. The government provides up to $2,500 for burial costs. We apply (well Lori applies, bless her) and in time, we are re-imbursed. 

The message: You are visible to us. You belong to this family. We will take care of you. 

That's when it happened.Words fail; words are necessary. Something was set free in each of us and in us as a community. It was like Pentecost without wind or fire. Silent. Like a bubble bursting - no pop. Like a collective letting go of breath - of something we weren't even aware we were anxiously holding onto. It had to do with death. Being faceless. And tenderness silently breaking in.

Individuals looked at us, tears in their eyes, and whispered, "Thank you."

We sang "la sérenité" The Serenity prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971): 
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.  

When we got to the prayers, Moustafa reminded me he'd asked if he could say a prayer. Of course. 

He asked us to hold our hands, palms up, in front of us and he prayed - two prayers in Arabic! He's Muslim - and I imagine they were Muslim funeral prayers. 

We shared the Peace. Things got a little chaotic. Lori reminded me we were set up for communion but there was no eucharistic prayer in the leaflet. Oops. Some people thought it was over and went outside. Always a little chaos in services at the Mission. No problem. Grabbed a Christmas service leaflet from the table. Behold a eucharistic prayer. We gathered most people back to finish the service.  Others were starting to come in for lunch. Onwards and  ... we don't do perfect.

When it was time for communion, I told them in French and English the story of the little guy on Christmas Eve who'd stood in front of the altar as we broke the bread and cried: 

"Are you breaking the body of Christ?! Are you breaking the body of Christ??!! Mommy, they're breaking the body of Christ!!"

Then I said he was one of three children that night who helped share the broken body of Christ with us, the broken body of Christ. 

Everyone had communion. This has NEVER happened. French, English, Spanish, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian ... we all shared ... those outside the circle who had come in for lunch also reached their hands through the crowded gathering to receive ... 

Something happened. Call it what we will. Grace. Tenderness. Love. Compassion. Peace.

Two of the fellows who sometimes growl at each other, and had done so that morning, came behind the altar when we were tidying up. One had a candle lit. He handed a candle to the other, lit from his. And they grinned at each other.

Individuals came up to me after the service, during and after the meal of delicious pierogies made by our Cherie... and continued the conversation.

Ongoing ... 

Friday, 12 January 2018

Remembering Haïti - N'ap sonje Ayiti

Photo taken 2003 when I attended the ordination of Fernande Sanon, the first woman priest in Haïti
I wonder if it survived the earthquake

Remembering Haïti tonight 

Remembering the 220,000 - 300,000 who died in the catastrophic earthquake January 12, 2010

Remembering those whose family members and friends died

Remembering with admiration the courage, determination, resilience of the Haitian people

Remembering those who rescued - often with bare hands - and the rescued

Remembering doctors without borders, doctors and other health care workers from Cuba and so many other countries all those who went to Haïti in the aftermath to help

Remembering music and art and beauty

Remembering Haïti's history - first Black Republic in the world - and the forces (France and US, for two) who conspired to prevent its full development through the years

Remembering with more thanks than can be expressed the life-changing experience of being in Haïti long ago

Just - well - remembering

If this link works, it is a tribute by Anderson Cooper to the people of Haïti taken from Facebook. If it doesn''t - look on the internet for Anderson Cooper's tribute to Haïti.

Liturgy, Laughing Rooms, Love in Motion

We gotta laugh. Laughter surely opens us to - what? Unexpected Grace? Being surprised by God? Freedom from taking ourselves too seriously? 

Image from Facebook

Two of my favourite people in the entire universe - picture from Google Images
Read The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing Worl

Speaking of taking our selves too seriously:

Maya Angelou and Frederick Buechner were brought together for a series of lectures one year at the Trinity Institute in NYC.  In his 2017 published book The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life, Buechner introduces us to the idea of laughter and liturgy/prayer/ in the chapter "The Laughing Room of Maya Angelou."

Angelou tells us that in the days of slavery, on certain plantations there was a rule against laughter amongst the slaves ... Is it harder to make a slave out of a laughing person? Were owners secretly afraid of being laughed at? Who knows? 

"... slaves devised something they called the laughter barrel ... when the impulse to laugh became overpowering they would simply lean into it, as if to get something out of the barrel, and let it all go..."  p.50

Buechner, quoting Angelou about the liturgy at Trinity Church with incense, chanting, vestments:  

"I just looked at that service, and you Episcopalians do it so well. Those gorgeous vestments you wear and those candles and the singing. And there was that man who came in holding that great silver cross with this look of great serenity on his face. And I thought to myself, what you should have right off the vestry is a laughter room. You parade around with all these wonderful things, and every once in a while you go in and ha ha ha!, and then you come out of the laughter room and you pick up the cross and keep going."

Buechner continues: "The wonderful truth of that, of course, is we act in these religious traditions and rituals as if we know what we're doing. None of us knows. We all think a church service is when you sing this here, then you pray that there, and you read this here, and you stand here and you stand there, as if this is the appropriate, natural way to worship him who is beyond our wildest dreams, whose glory we can in no sense capture in any kind of ecclesiastical box... "

Which reminds me of:

Richard Holloway, retired Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church wrote in his memoir Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt of experiences in the chapel when he was a novice at the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham ... how in our praying/liturgy there was sometimes a "putting on a show of self-conscious unself-consciousness and practised spontaneity." 

I could hardly read it silently or, last week-end aloud to Sister Dorothy, without laughing to the point of crying. If you have the book or access to it, check out pages 89-92

"I was sure that the others were unaware of themselves when they came back to their seats from receiving Holy Communion ... in blissful unawareness that their demeanour was the object of fascinated interest. Some returned with downcast eyes, their self-consciousness slightly betrayed by the sudden theatricality of their genuflection to the altar, back erect, head tilted unconsequentially to one side, both hands posed briefly on the left knee, thigh parallel to the floor, ... the inwardness was maintained ... body upright, till the bottom sagged gratefully onto the edge of the seat and the head fell into the hands in the usual posture of semi-somnolence..."

Holloway goes on to describe an incident when he was thurifer in charge of the incense pot, accompanied by a boat bearer... fragrant incense ... carefully choreographed liturgy ...

"I was experimenting with a more introverted mystical approach (to censing the people) ... meant to suggest my detachment from the whole process..". (then he and the boat bearer) "bowed to the altar - stopped parallel to our stools about nine inches from them ... stepped back the requisite nine inches and sat down, bodies erect ... in complete unison ... He found his chair with accustomed precision. I missed mine and hit the floor, my legs in the air - arse over amice ... "

Ha ha!! Seriously - ha! ha! Surely we laugh because there is something of ourselves in this. Our human nonsense.

And then there's our children's Love in Motion and Mile End Mission worship. One day, as we were sharing communion at St. CHL, I noticed Max wasn't there. Told he was in the hall, I asked someone to tell him it was time for communion. He dashed breathless, eyes sparkling, up the aisle, plunked down at the communion rail, raised his little hands to receive - and then danced excitedly back down the aisle as if he'd received the most wonderful gift. He had!

Sharing the Christmas story - all photos by Samantha Proulx-Olson

Quite a few years ago, we began having a Black Baby Jesus in the creche at Mile End Mission for the Christmas Eve creative chaos service. A little boy (who's Black) cried excitedly to his Mum: "Maman! Maman! J'savais pas que Jésus était Haïtien!!!" (Mommy! Mommy! I didn't know Jesus was Haitian!!!)     Hmmm...   :-) Now there's a thought! Exactly!

And then, Christmas Eve 2017 - 22 children. More creative chaos than usual. Like trying to herd cats - though I've never been foolish enough to try that - can't even get one cat to do what I want her to. We were in a large untidy sort of circle - people of different ages, colours, classes ... all one.

The children gathered, as usual, around the altar assisting - one pouring wine into the ceramic chalice, another adding the drop of water - one little guy to my right who spontaneously took the second roll in his hands and held it up as I held up the other (I don't know what he was saying, but I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't saying the same words I was)  ... 

Gathered at the altar

Breaking bread - note little hand on my right ... :-)

We got to breaking the bread and another little guy standing in front of the altar cried fiercely, "Are you breaking the body of Christ??!! Are you breaking the body of Christ??!!" Then he ran to his Mum and cried, "Mommy! They're breaking the body of Christ!!"  What could I respond in that moment? The wisest thing was to acknowledge him silently and continue breaking bread. A few minutes later, he was one of three who assisted in giving the broken body of Christ to the broken body of Christ. 

Sharing the broken Body of Christ

with the broken Body of Christ

and then - out of the chaos - after communion when lights were off, children lit everyone's candles,  and silence just descended ... if it weren't so spiritual, I'd say it's magical - awe. 

Surprises! Laughter. Break-through aww and awe moments when we are caught breathless and transformed. Liturgy can be beautiful and beautifully 'done.' And, it can be alive with the unexpected brightness of children and the young at heart who are willing to welcome the creative chaos as God's gift. 

P'raps all of our churches and missions should have laughter rooms - reminding ourselves to take our faith seriously but not too seriously.

My dear friend Ellen died in August. She left me her animals for our creche.
Thanks Ellen. I miss you. We love your gift.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Dusting Mary, Pieces, Peace ...

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.” 
― Frederick BuechnerTelling Secrets

Photo taken RM November 2017, St. Margaret's Convent, Duxbury, MA

In 1967, when I was a postulant at St. Margaret's Convent on Louisburg Square, I was often portress. This meant answering the phone and the door, dust-mopping the long hallway, and dusting in Mother Marjorie Raphael's office. The highlight was the opportunity to gently hold this statue of Mary and Baby Jesus - to dust so carefully in all the crannies - taking as long as possible ... I loved them and love them still. They look Middle-Eastern - brown skin, dark eyes, not blonde and blue-eyed. Rather than pale blue, white and pink robes, Mary wears earthy tones. Peace. She holds him gently; he holds her hand, safe and curious.

The image below is the convent creche scene. All were created long ago at St. Mary the Virgin, Wantage, UK. On the left of the creche a tiny mouse hides. 

Photo by Sr. Krinstina Frances of the creche, St. Margaret's Convent, Duxbury, MA

About two years ago, after a series of losses and unwanted! changes in my life, I slipped into a depression again. My body felt as if it were shattered into pieces that I had to clutch together somehow - clasping arms around myself - breathing painfully and praying wordlessly - trying to keep the shards from exploding outwards to my destruction. I gradually discovered a tiny measure of peace, or at least the ability to feel I could hold the pieces together, at daily Mass at St-Antoine-de-Padoue Roman Catholic Church in Longueuil - about 10 minutes by car from home. 

It felt like going back to the time when I dusted Mary, knew where I belonged then (at the convent), and attended daily Mass and daily offices that gave a structure of worship and meaning to life. The convent is also the place where I had my break-down 9 years later - and slipping into depression always stirs a fear of the Pit - how deep will I fall? 

I am not the child/woman I was in 1967 or in 1975 when I fell to pieces. It has still, however, been a frightening time ...

“God has to die,” he said. “The God of our childhood has to shatter in a thousand pieces, die, disappear or change, if we are to have a spiritual life beyond our childhood.” Bryan Mealer in The Guardian

Seems to need to happen more than once.

And now, I find attending daily Mass an answer to finding (or re-finding) health, to being part of a community even if we don't mostly know each other's names - many of us know our faces ... and smile and share the peace. PEACE. 

Someone might say, "Why not go to an Anglican service?" We don't do daily masses except at the cathedral downtown at noon and St. John the Evangelist (also downtown). And I'm afraid the language of the old BCP at St. John's is troubling and, for me, definitely not healing. Mass at St-Antoine-de-Padoue is nearby, at 4:30pm, and it is where God calls me right now. I recently was surprised to realize that when I arrive my respiration slows, my hands relax and are open to receive - as they were long ago in the chapel at Louisburg Square when I arrived, genuflected, and knelt in my place in choir - home. Candles flickering - red sanctuary lamp glowing - altar waiting - soft scent of wax and incense ... And now, as then, prayers of so many over the years a living, breathing presence even if most are long gone ... still they pray ... the saints of yesteryear and the saints of today.

A youngish priest in Pointe-Claire when I attended once in a while a few years ago on my way to appointments - said, when I told him I'm an Anglican priest - and asked if it was ok to have communion?  - "C'est pas supposé - mais qu'est-ce que Jésus dirait?" And we both agreed Jesus would be happy to welcome me. In Longueuil, after a while I asked a wise old priest and he was delighted to welcome me as is today's curé.  And after all, Pape François told RC's that if they couldn't go to their own church, they should go to the Anglican Church. 

God is so much bigger than we allowed God to be in the past - and still - Mystery ... 

March 6, 1919 Mum was born on Parthenais Street in Montreal and baptized at St. Thomas Anglican Church, corner of Sherbrooke and de Lorimier. January 1919, Carroll Kerwin had been born in east Montreal and baptized at St. Aloysius RC Church. Early 1920's both families moved across the St. Lawrence River to Montreal South. Carroll and Mum became best friends. Yikes - RC's and 'Protestants' didn't do 'together' in those days. Yet, Carroll told me a  a story not so many years ago. Her father died when they were children, and the first person at their home was my Gram, bearing food and comfort. The Kerwin and Hamer families remained friends all their lives. Carroll grew up and married Jean-Paul Brissette and they attended St-Antoine-de-Padoue. Both were buried from there. At Jean-Paul's funeral, a shaft of sunlight filtered through one of the stained-glass windows and shone on the urn - a touch of heaven. We grew up at St. Mark's, the little stone church just down the road.

Institutions create barriers and ways of understanding themselves that include and exclude. God is larger than institutions, powerful as they may be.

I miss women presiding and I miss women's voices. And I haven't given up the Anglican Church :-) I'm still presiding and preaching - filling in. I wonder if it isn't partly about accepting that no institution is perfect. No relationship fulfills all of our needs - personal or institutional. None has the whole answer to the mysteries of God or what it means to be human and spiritual beings.

Re-reading Frederick Buechner's books these days. There's a wonderful section in Telling Secrets: A Memoir ... He writes about the Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century. On the second floor is the small Norman Chapel of Saint John. Bare, simple, silent ... peaceful. A holy place.

Directly below the chapel is "the most terrible of all the tower's dungeons. It has a heavy oak door that locks out all light and ventilation. It measures four feet square by four feet high so that a prisoner has no way either to stand upright in it or to lie down at full length. .. " It is called Little Ease. There's s name on which to meditate.

Buechner says he is (and we are) the White Tower - both the Chapel of Saint John - places of light and peace in our souls - and Little Ease - There is in each of us a place of very little ease - airless, frightening places where fears have overcome or depression or ... we know for ourselves... 

“The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather” 
― Frederick BuechnerTelling Secrets

When I found myself in Little Ease again, beginning a couple of years ago, God led me to a Chapel of Saint John by another name - St-Antoine-de-Padoue (or nearby St-Georges at 8:30am if I can't make the 4:30 service) - daily Mass that sustains and contains me ... within a memory of another time in Boston ... 

New Year's Eve, I attended mass - an African rite - wonderful music -  New Year's Day - having complained on facebook that I was missing my Haitian Independence Day soupe joumou made with ingredients slaves grew for their owners but had been forbidden to eat - squash, veggies, meat ... I received an invitation from friends to Précieux Sang in Répentigny to a dégustation ... and then time with my friends at their home - a journey through the photos with Pierre who recently visited Ile Gorée - the Door of No Return for African slaves being transported to the "Americas." Discussions on slavery, racism, the Atlantic Triangle,  and the world in general. Wonderful, enriching friend time.

Maybe we need to find and keep re-finding our places of peace - and part of that is living, acknowledging, accepting the Little Ease broken, airless, crippling parts of ourselves, our churches, and our world. 

May God be born in us anew - in whatever ways each of us needs - and as we are nourished, may be go out into the world and make a difference in whatever large and small ways we can, each using the gifts we are and are given ...

This is the blessing I use for Epiphany:

When the song of the angels is stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and the wise ones are home
When the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken
To feed the hungry, to release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people
To make music in the heart
And the blessing of God our Creator, Liberator, and Life Giver be with us and remain with us and those whom we love forever.                         

from St. Matthew’s in the City, Auckland, NZ

And it's gently snowing!

Be still
and listen
to the sound
of falling 
RM c 1974

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Gum under Pews, Stories, and Grief

Last year when life was difficult (understatement) I discovered that one way to hold the inner pieces together was to return to attending daily Mass - as in convent days. The easiest way to do that was at 4:30 pm at St-Antoine de Padou in Vieux Longueuil. A day's work followed by a half hour of peace. Odd. Only male priests. In French (which is actually good practice) and pretty exclusive language. For a feminist, inclusive language loving woman priest - what the heck was going on? It doesn't have to be analyzed to death. It enabled me to keep things together through a  period of depression and keep going a day at a time - sometimes one step at a time. (It didn't help that I had sleep apnea and stopped breathing 25 times an hour and was permanently exhausted. Now I sleep - thanks to a CPAP machine!)

St-Antoine-de-Padou is huge. A co-cathedral along with Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Gradually I got to know people by sight and vice-versa. I kept my priestly Anglican status a secret for quite a while until I asked a kindly senior priest if it was ok for me to have communion. "Of course," he replied and we chatted for a few minutes. (More recently, of course, Pope Francis told RC's if they can't get to their own churches, they can go to an Anglican one.) 

So, what has this to do with gum under pews? Well, one day I was sitting quietly (how else does one my age sit in a huge church?) and leaned a bit forward with my fingers under the pew. Gum! Hard as rock little nobs of gum! Mystery. So, I began checking other pews (since I didn't always sit in the same pew) - was there gum there, as well? Yes, there was. Every pew I tried. Hmmm... who put the gum there? When did it happen? Was it children or adults? Or both? What were their stories? Were they children in the 50's as we were? Did they take out their gum before going for communion and stick it under the pew? 

Reminds me of a clean-up day we had at St. CHL a number of years ago, and Madeleine who must have been coming up for 90 was down on her knees with her granddaughter Madison cleaning gum from under our pews.

Back to St-Antoine's - Which leads me to more stories. I'm so aware of people especially as I'm walking out of church. People with bowed heads. A lot of white and grey heads. Younger people of Spanish origins - Central and South America. Haitians and Africans. Two priests are from Democratic Republic of Congo and one is from, I think, Guatemala. The curé from Belgium originally, was appointed last Thursday (Sts Peter and Paul) to be the next Bishop of Ste-Hyacinthe. 

St. Antoine's is a place that has been long prayed in and smells lightly of incense and wax ... Each person has his or her story - grief at the death of a spouse, joy at the birth of a child, illness, arthritis, a grandchild on drugs, refugees or simply people who chose to leave their countries behind, separatists and federalists, ... God knows each one's story.  I'm deeply moved.

Jump ahead. tomorrow is my last Sunday at St. CHL. I have ministered there for 22 years and five months. but who's counting? I've never been anywhere this long is my 70+ years. If I am moved by stories of people whose names I don't know, whose faces I begin to recognize, how much more by the stories we have lived together at St. CHL. From Lily Hermitage resisting giving me keys to the church the first Sunday I arrived. (I discovered later that a previous priest was never given keys - after 18 months, he got the key people to make them for him.) I inherited a parish with conflicts and at the same time that the final people from three church mergers in five years arrived from St. Luke's, Rosemount. A priest had never been placed longer than 2 years. 

from Google images

I don't want any religious nonsense thrown at me. I am grieving, as are the members of our parish. It's not a competition. It's not like the death of a spouse or a child. But grief is grief. I don't know where I will belong. I don't know myself apart from this community in some ways. Yes, we will all be well. Yes, it will take time. 

In the last three weeks, I have presided at three funerals. Two of them asked to have 'I did it my way" by Frank Sinatra as part of the liturgy. I should do that tomorrow. The world is changing. The church is changing. And we have done creative, dynamic ministry on the margins of the church. We have addressed issues like racism directly. We have addressed conflict directly . Right from the start (and I didn't learn this as a child or even as a young adult) I refused to hear complaints through a third person - and requested that the complainer be told to speak to me directly. We worked together, studied together, certainly prayed together often in creative ways. I remember where each one sat (we're Anglicans, after all and don't change pews unless under duress or if someone had the audacity to sit in our pew)  !  :-)

There were suicides, a horrific stabbing, and an attempted murder, and a murder ... a few examples of what we weren't prepared for in seminary . Where to get rat traps - and, after trapping 30+, helping the family find an apartment free of the beasts. Some parishioners living in unbelievably substandard conditions - and voices going unheard to get the city to build more low-income housing. Helping three families to settle after the earthquake in Haiti, and organizing with PWRDF a project to provide meals for children in the area worst hit by the hurricane.

We had chickens and a garden - first to minister to and with vulnerable children - leading to outreach to our neighbours - Enduring memory: at our picnics until they stopped growing watermelons with seeds - I see Hester at 90 and others who had not only never spit watermelon seeds - but had never even considered doing so. Celestine was the consistent winner of the spitting contests. When watermelon seeds became no longer available, we tried peanuts, cherry seeds, and others - but I hasten to report (and save you the trouble of experimenting) that no seeds are as aerodynamically perfect for spitting than watermelon seeds. 

The list of memories could go on and on. They are in our hearts. Bill Brocklesby singing loudly and off-key. Gordon Pike muttering during my homilies - and I learned later that he was, in fact, listening and commenting. Gloria, our resident Evangelical who could give me chapter and verse from her front left-hand seat - and who sang glory to God with such beauty and enthusiasm. Children at the altar assisting with communion. Max racing in from the hall, kneeling at the rail and holding his hands to receive and then dancing back down the aisle ... Jazz Masses ... healing services. Learning about Japanese-Canadian internment camps from Akiko Edith Sakai who, with her family and many thousands of others,  endured them. Our Johnny's sister and brother singing  "Jesus Christ is Risen today" in Inuktitut at our Easter service a few days after his funeral .... singing in Créole with our beloved Baptist brothers and sisters and receiving gifts of mais moulu ak sauce pwa... Spoiled, I was. 

We have laughed and cried and argued and loved each other. We have baptized, married, and buried loved ones. We have been community. And I am sad to be leaving. The time is right - kairos time - but that removes nothing from the sense of grief.

Yes, we will always be part of each other. Yes, we will continue to minister - all in our own ways. 

An old approach to faith might be that priests shouldn't get too involved in the lives of their parishioners and that they move on when it is time. No tears. Excuse me! If we are going to be human and love each other in community, then we will grieve when we leave.

So, there will be tears tomorrow. And in days following. Tears tinted with thanksgiving at all that was - at how we have changed each others lives - and how we will carry each other always. We are human. There are different kinds of death - and this is one. 

Jesus wept.

And - two quotes I use for almost all funerals along with the biblical readings, of course:

Give sorrow words;
 the grief that does not speak
whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.

from Macbeth

From The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran
Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of death.  And he said:
You would know the secret of death,
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day
cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death,
open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one…
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides,
that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing,
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb,
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

May we know peace - God's deep peace - and may we know it in the midst of grieving.

from Google images

And then there was JOY -  my 25th Anniversary as priest at Pentecost - thanks to Helen Foster for the photos
more on this wonderful day another time now that I got the photos from DVD to memory stick