Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Tigers, Tummy Rubs, and Tabletops

Annie was a teeny tiger kitten when I got her Thanksgiving week-end of 2001. Our Hester and her sister, Elsie, joined us for dinner after church. Karen and her boys were up from Wustah, MA. I have a lovely photo of Hester (who would be about 99 now), holding the little mite. Hester was, like all normal and sane people, a cat person. :-) 

Annie, it turned out, had cystitis. When I took her to the vet's, the vet picked her up by the scruff of her neck and she shrieked like a Tiger. That's Annie. As sweet as can be if you don't cross her - and then she's wild. 

What does all this have to do with tummy rubs and tabletops?

My Annie had tummy surgery years ago after swallowing something she shouldn't. Hester visited again, Annie rolled over and showed her tummy. Hester naturally took that as an invitation and stroked the lovely soft fur. Rrowrr. Hester had a scratched hand. I took a photo of that silky tan, rust, white, and greyish tummy and Annie sent it to Hester with love  - and an 'X' marking the spot to avoid. I still am very cautious approaching that tummy.

Tiger Annie protects her tummy

Maggie Muggins, on the other hand, exposes her tummy for rubs with no reservations whatsoever. She moans, chirps, chats and rolls - especially on the knitted circular rag rug Mum and Grammy Cameron made c1965. (see photo). She is affectionate in the extreme, if she feels like it of course. She is, after all, a cat with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to uphold.

Maggie Muggins, on the other hand ...
allows vulnerability and loves tummy rubs

Maggie is named for the Maggie Muggins, the little red-pigtailed girl in the first book I ever received - age 4. She's a pert, curious, energetic child who dances through life exploring, and at the end of each day says "All in all, it's been quite a day," to Mr. McGarrity. I use that expression often. I think Maggie would, too, if she spoke our language. Her sweet, pointed pixie face and dainty white paws rate her extremely high on the cuteness scale. But she has this thing for the kitchen table. Table is a no-no. She leaps boldly onto a chair and onto the table.  I splash water on her, lift her down with a little smack and a big NO. It matters not what I do. She zips across, flattening her body as she goes - so I can't see her ?? Sigh ... Part angel. Part brat? Ah well - in my heart of hearts, I have to admire her outrageous determination to do what she wants. Period. And she's so cute!

I named Annie after Annie G. Rogers, a psychologist who wrote A Shining Affliction: A Story of Harm and Healing in Psychotherapy. True story poetically and powerfully told. Annie was completing her PhD at an inpatient children's psychiatry facility. One of her patients was a very troubled, fascinating five year old named Ben. I can't tell you the whole story - it would take too long - or it wouldn't do the characters or the story justice. You should read it! It is profound and thought-provoking - way beyond an intellectual journey. It was - let's see - healing. Yes, that's the word!

I was reading the book when I got Annie - and it had become my small 'b' bible. What a journey. She writes, "The oldest meanings of the word affliction include a vision or spiritual sight that follows upon a time of darkness and torment." This book was one of my watershed times (literally, actually, as it brought many tears) ... setting me free by affirming my experiences of the Pit, of two different therapists, of recognizing that healing is always two-sided, that we have this inner drive towards healing and, if we listen, we will find the paths and/or create the paths we need. She found a therapist who was creative and open, as I did, to therapeutic play and discovery. She journeyed in imaginative play with Ben and each of them opened in ways she couldn't have predicted or expected. Wuff! 

So, I remember Annie Rogers' and Ben's courageous healing, enlightening journies in my Annie-Cat. Annie who sets very clear boundaries on affection given and received. Growls if picked up. Invites a tummy rub, but don't you dare actually rub it. Who will curl up, beside me, but if she sits on my lap, she always faces away. 

Maggie, who enjoys a brief cuddle, has many things to do in her busy cat life. She enjoys sitting in front of the computer screen to get attention. Kisses on her head most welcome and appreciated. Tummy rubs - ecstacy. Table top - the brat looking for trouble.

I'm in awe of the brat. Of each one with different levels of intimacy - of allowing people close. I ponder my own journey in their light and in light of humans whose journeys have touched me.

I wonder - about Henri Nouwen who could speak so passionately and compassionately about God, faith, life and our human journey - and then go back to his hotel room and cry with loneliness. Who could reach out in love to others, but persistently wondered and asked from early childhood through adulthood if he was loved. Wounded healer. Anton Boisen who suffered from schizophrenia, yet wrote profoundly about mental illness, founded the clinical pastoral education movement, and was instrumental in transforming our understanding of mental illness as spiritual.

And now, I've discovered The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger. the first part of the book refers to The Shack and connects us to Mackenzie Allen Phillips when he arrives at the shack at papa's strage invitation. Mack  screams "I hate you!" at God. Kruger write: "It is the scream of honesty, the only real response when our pain and the cold, heartless impotence of this god collide in real life tragedy. I hate you!(p23) Mack's understanding of God is formed by his early experiences - as are ours. His journey is wonder-full. Opening to a God. The large, warm-hearted African-American 'Papa' tells him - "I'm not who you think I am, Mackenzie." Hmmm - and God is not the God we have constructed, either. Or at least way beyond ...

Where are we at? We want to be open, loving and loved. We set limits with people as well as God based partly on our own woundedness. We want our tummies rubbed, at least figuratively, but don't come too close. We do that which we should not do - race across tabletops - which reminds me of Bonnie. Bonnie who tested us at the hospital when she was in for treatment - and helped me release my inner brat. Bonnie who learned, and taught us all, about loving and allowing ourselves to be loved. 

Sooo... a continuing journey in, and into, love. Or is it Love. Or is it both? Meantime, Maggie wants to play, and Annie, whose tiger ancestry is closer to the surface, needs some attention but no tummy rubs allowed.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Sound of Snow Falling ...

Long time ago in Bethlehem... oops - Boston again ... 17 Louisburg Square - I used to leap out of bed on winter mornings to see if the John Hancock Tower light was flashing red - indication that snow was on its way. I loved Boston and convent life, but my Canadian heart always longed for snow. In fact, I just discovered this ditty:

Steady blue, clear view
Flashing blue, clouds due
Steady red, rain ahead
Flashing red, snow instead.

If it had already snowed on a winter morning, joy filled my heart, and I danced (well not quite) to chapel. 

Somewhere in those early Boston years, I wrote this poem:

Be still
and listen
to the sound

Prayer. Be. Be still. And I was.

Fast forward to Longueuil. It snowed last night - gently covering branches and turning the streets white. Joy so soft.

Snow has had other meanings through the years. Gram, who was my rock through the early years of chaos and what I now recognize as childhood depression, died in August 1964 when I was 17. That winter I remember standing in a raging storm, snow swirling around me, and thinking if I just knew the magic word I could somehow slip through into that other world and find her again - find peace. I never discovered the word, and am thankful I didn't. There was a great deal of life ahead for me.

During my breakdown/breakthrough in Boston, there were a great many storms, internal as well as raging snow (including the Storms of February '78) when I longed for that imagined peace.  Dangerous times when life was very fragile and I clung to (or was held by) a thread. Snow called, or so I felt. Life won.

Lettie Cox, a prof in pastoral ministry in my last year of theology before ordination, told us that half the world has a depressive core. I asked about the other half. She said, "They're in denial." Mmmm...

Be still and listen...

I've spent a fair bit of time being so Busy the last 20 or 30 years - understatement? ;-) -  that I haven't spent enough time listening to my own heart. It was all good stuff, of course - studying at university followed by Wonder-full and challenging ministry. 

Now there is time for quiet, snow falls softly, and I can be aware and listen. 

Two incidents on the week-end made me realize sharply (and I mean SHARPLY) how distracted I am these days. STOP! Be still and listen, Ros. And I am listening and realize the mists of depression are hovering round about and within. A series of losses are apt to tip the balance ... there it is again ... needing to be acknowledged and lived. Losses. I know what they are. I suppose the main ones are Mile End Mission, retirement (even if it's partial),  Connie's death, recognition that the church sometimes refuses to do justice (that's called dis-illusionment) ... 

So. the answer is not to run. The answer is to be still and listen to the sound of falling snow. To allow joy and peace to be in the midst of grief, depression, dis-illusionment or all of the above ... to acknowledge that triggers may cause the old fears that I'm falling into the Pit to raise their heads. Then I re-member the determination and courage through the years that have brought me to a place of health and strength. Depression no longer has the power it did in 1975 and years following. I remind myself.

Be still and listen. I'm no longer searching for the magic word to take me to Gram and Lorne, Mum and Dad and all the others whom I have loved. Life is now. Snowflakes are signs of joy. And I'm not alone.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Life Is Messy - Zapped by Jeremiah

life is messy.
if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be COLORFUL.

Where to start? My apartment is becoming more and more of a disaster. :-) Not dirty, just messy. Papers multiply overnight all over the floor. I'm angry, among other things, and not clear yet what it is about - and actually feel like throwing (as in THROWING) more papers and books and things on floor space that isn't yet covered. I won't. I'm quite civilized much of the time. Sigh ... 

Anger, of course, is often a cover emotion for others. Grief. It's hard to let go of the Mission. I'm still not clear on the concept that Connie is dead. And I'm wrestling with stuff. It's messy.

Yesterday's first reading was the call of Jeremiah. You know - "I've known you since before you were in the womb ... I've always known you ... and I want you to ... " "Oh, but I can't. I'm just a kid. Or I'm too old. Or I'm sick. Or I'm ... " (insert your own excuses). Our parish (or yours) might say, "We're aging. Or, we're too small a congregation, now... Or, if we give money away, we won't have enough to survive... " Or .... Excuses, excuses, for not speaking and living the truth - God's truth. 

A week or two ago, I posted a poem I wrote about 20 years ago, but that also spoke to me of a situation that we became aware of in recent times - a story of historical abuse in our diocese. And I rage at innocent children being molested by clergy or others in power. And I wondered - should I have posted the poem? Should I have used the word 'bastard' for those who abuse children? Should I remove the post? And as I pondered, I realized that it was not the perpetrators of the abuse that the church protected by shifting clergy to other parishes and dioceses, but its own image. 

Enter Jeremiah. The prophet who spoke God's Word when his belly burned from holding it in. The prophet calling us to recognize our sin - the ways in which we aren't loving and compassionate - especially towards those who are vulnerable or marginalized.

Enter also one of our priests who has been doing wonderful ministry as a part-time prison chaplain. (Our Prime Minister and his conservative government in their 'wisdom' are cutting these part-time chaplaincy positions across the country end of March - and that's another story - and shame, shame, shame on them). So, Tim said something like, "It's challenging working with people who have harmed and who have been harmed." Ahhh ... another dimension. He sees the whole person.

Harmed and been harmed.

Then there was a recent situation in Montreal of an alleged sexual assault at a church (I say alleged because that's what we're supposed to say when it hasn't been to court). The man was caught and imprisoned, and a few days ago took his own life. The whole story is tragic.

Hold up the mirror, Ros. What are some of the truths in all of this? It's good, sometimes, to be Anglican with our traditional both/and. Once we let go of certainties and learn to live with ambiguities, life is much more creative and challenging. Messy, but challenging.

Firstly, I hate that people molest and abuse children and other vulnerable people. Of course.

Secondly, the people who harm were in all likelihood also harmed when they were vulnerable. Yet many who were abused as children, grow up to protect children. Marie-Reine, a Duplessis orphan who was part of the Mile End Mission community until she died, led a tragic life of abuse, abandonment and loneliness. She was Broken. As an adult, Marie-Reine became a school crossing guard, protecting children.

So, zap! I left the poem up. I left the word 'bastard' for the priest who molested dozens of children. The passion of the poem lives. 

However! The man who assaults was once an infant. I would like to think he had a mother who held him in her arms and loved him in his innocence and that he was a sweet little boy. I don't know whether he was loved. I don't know his story. It is likely he was abused in some way by someone. I don't excuse his abuse of others. Judgement and forgiveness are both God's - and between God and each of us.  And mercy.

We have to be willing to live with the uncertainties and ambiguities. With standing firmly in one place - re protecting our children and condemning abuse - yet holding an awareness that the one who harms was also harmed.

I can't accept what our government seems to be saying - that people who harm are irredeemable. Where would we draw the line for irredeemable? We harm people, too. With our tongues. With silences. With secret-keeping. By creating insiders and outsiders. By dismantling the gun registry even though the police across the country told us how valuable it was. By looking away rather than seeing the homeless person ... 

So, I come back to Sister Marjorie Raphael's statement: "It's all about love." And the Epistle yesterday - 1 Corinthians 13. 1 - 13 - none of our gifts and talents and work ... nothing matters if we don't have love. And, I'd add, compassion.

Rembrandt - Return of the Prodigal Son