Wednesday, 27 March 2013


I realized last week that there are so many doors in my life. Doors that opened. Doors that welcomed.  Doors that closed with me inside. Doors that were closed with me outside. Doors that locked me in. Doors that wouldn't lock, and created anxiety in me. Doors that still frighten me because I don't know the meaning of them. Doors in real life and figurative doors. Doors I chose to pass through and those I refused to or was afraid of. Doors I regret having gone through and others I wish I had - or at least sometimes briefly wonder what if..

I think of the doors in my first home. The front door was glass and wood and was the one that contains, as in keeps them contained, memories in my growing up place - of terror, anxiety, joy, and sorrow. The door to my bedroom that folded closed and clicked, but couldn't be locked. The fragile door into the back porch and the two doors - one to the back yard and the other to the driveway. The door to the basement that led down steep stairs to an earthen floor, around the corner to the furnace and coal chute. Blackie, our white (just kidding) dog that Granny gave us, caught a rat down there once. (Granny was never quite forgiven for dropping a little hyperactive dog off on us.) The door at the top of the stairs when we entered the house - lit from below, but dark just before the entrance at the turn into Gram's apartment. The door from her living room onto her back verandah - though it was through her windows that the rushing throbbing chaotic living horrors entered the house and our lives when the phone call came July 8, 1950 that our Lorne had drowned at Camp Kanawana. I was three and a big girl who answered the phone. Mum took it from me because Daddy was at work. I wonder, when the house was cut in half circa 1968 (so said neighbour Hughie) and moved somewhere the other side of the Taschereau overpass at Lafayette - I wonder if the swirling dark chaos was released into the atmosphere - sort of exploding like the trail of a missile being launched in reverse. Or a massive balloon full of poisonous gas that bursts. More to the point, of course, is that some of it still swirls within me behind the door that I slammed and crazy-glued shut to go into survival mode - and which I've creeped open a little at a time over the years.

Blogs have their limits. I am not going to explore the depths of the doors in my life on the internet. However, as I've begun to chat with a few people about the image of doors, it's an image that strikes chords for others. Human stuff.

The door at 17 Louisburg Square - St. Margaret's Convent. I arrived, November 4, 1967, four days after my 21st birthday as Mum and Dad wouldn't give me permission to go before that. I took a night bus and arrived early in the morning, walked from the station across the gardens with my suitcase (no wheels in those days, but then I didn't have many worldly goods to carry) to Charles and up Mount Vernon, along the square. I rang the bell and could hear it echo inside. A very heavy oak door with a wrought iron window grille and a huge black wrought iron handle. Sister Emily Louise was portress and welcomed me into the reception room ... and thus began a journey in prayer, love, self-giving, joy, sorrow, confusion, anger that I didn't know how to express... Did it close me in? Well, no one dragged me through. I found life - and then death - and then leaving through the door eventually found life again. And the community life I shared in throbs still within me - I could write a book on the meaning of the convent doors alone - and life within and without. But I won't.

1850's Louisburg Square, Boston

Louisburg Square

Life is good. I was talking with someone recently about remembering St. Joseph's Day -  my profession anniversary 1971 and 1974. He thought it rather odd, at first, that I would remember this day with love. I explained that I felt I had the choice of integrating it into my life or of denying it. I choose life. He replied, yes - it's like life after divorce. One doesn't go back to the person one was before being married. One is never single again. And no - even if I wanted to - I cannot go back to the person I was before the convent. It's a door I chose. My motives were confused in ways I didn't know then. I loved God. I still do - though God has grown a lot since then - ummm... who has grown?? :-) I was searching for safety - family - a place to belong - perfection (good grief, eh!?) - and I found those things in a measure - but I had no idea I was dying inside... that I had been dying long before I went - and that I had to face myself to become whole.  

I regret not that door. It gave me life, discipline, prayer, love, skills, Haiti!, and enough distance from Montreal to crash into the Pit and rise again. Speaking of Holy Week and Easter. 

To be continued... 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Farewell Talk Mile End Benefit Dinner with a bit of commentary

Today, I had the most amazing experience. I was invited, on my retirement, to join a committee at Christ Church, Sorel, as they move forward in articulating and developing Café Christ Church. Similar to the ministry at Mile End Mission, but once a week, and of course with its own dynamics. Unilingual French. Good opportunity to keep my French up to snuff. 

This experience, once a month, has been so affirming as I realize that I have wisdom to share - and it is received so warmly and openly. I don't know what I was doing the past 17+ years, and I know I worked hard, very hard, and we accomplished miracles - but I find I've integrated so much, and my intuitions are pretty well on.

The really neat thing though - one of the members of the committee hadn't had time to read the talk ahead of the meeting, so he went through quickly and fed back to us the form I had no idea was there. The talk had been translated into French. Guy took it apart (in a good way) and showed how coherent it is - and that there is a method and articulation that I was absolutely unaware of. What comes intuitively in fact has a - what's the word - form. A process for developing community ministry. 

Awe. Oh, I know, we were brought up to be 'humble' in a way that I no longer accept - sort of like when Mum was a little girl, she would ask her grandmother if she was pretty. Her Gram would reply, You'll pass in a crowd." Preventing vanity? Who knows, but Mum felt the hurt to the end of her life in a way - because she never believed she WAS pretty.

Anyhow - it's not about vanity. I'm amazed. And it affirms my ability to write. So, here it is...

Mile End Community Mission Benefit Dinner (and my retirement) October 25th, 2012

I’m really anxious about this. Really anxious about how to speak – in what language – what will most people understand – and what will I be least likely to mess up being anxious --- I put my anxiety onto what I would wear - took a whole pile of clothes to a friend’s on Tuesday – we decided against all of them. Sigh ….

(sing) “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start….” I was born October 31st, 1946 at 4:56pm. The witching hour. Now, witches have gotten a bad rap. Many were, and are, simply women of wisdom and power. Why do you think they got burned at the stake in societies that feared women with power, gifts of healing, wisdom … ?  If you see me out soaring on my broomstick on Hallowe’en, I’ll be sprinkling dust of compassion and love … and I will be out.

My early childhood was rather chaotic – with deaths, grief, and uncertainties...  I never felt safe or ‘enough.’ Tonight, a voice says: this feels like my last chance to “get it right” concerning my ministry at the Mission. (Yes, I know it’s ridiculous). I, and we, HAVE gotten it right. We are, and have been, AMAZING! Through hard work, struggle, laughter, mistakes, growing together, wrestling with what it means to be Mile End Mission – a small community trying to be home, a place where people are loved, respected, encouraged to be, and become, the best they can be.

I’ve come to believe that my voices of anxiety, of trying to get it right – of feeling I am never enough – are links – threads that connect me with all people – to all of you and all of the people who come to us at the Mission in need of love, acceptance, respect, hope, and encouragement. Of a home to rest awhile, or a long-term home – depending on the person’s abilities, life situations … We’re all the same. Some of us have had opportunities of education, circumstances that have allowed us more choices, and sometimes better ways to hide away those little voices of despair or anxiety.

Katherine Paterson, an extremely successful children’s author, grew up in China, a daughter of missionaries. She wrote that every time she enters a room full of people, she feels like the 9 year old dressed in odd clothing from the missionary barrels … Don’t we all have a child lurking inside … different stories and the same stories?

Our work at Mile End has been based on the reality that we are the same. We are all human trying to make sense out of life, to find a place to belong, to grow, to love and be loved … as we are.

In the early days, Lori tells me, I brought this apron (made for me by Sister Rhoda c1970 during my convent past in another life (hold up apron). I was new and green. Apparently I wanted to wash the vegetables given out at the food bank. In those days, I also took my car to pick the food up food at Moisson Mtl …

We struggled financially for many years.  Basic funding was limited and insecure. We collected cans, bottles and Canadian Tire money to survive.  Then I realized – the Mission was living like the people we welcomed – on the edge, never knowing from day to day if we would have enough. It is not a good way to live - for an organization or an individual. Too much energy goes into survival. We all need to LIVE.

Mottos:  We don’t do perfect. BREATHE.

I, and we, have made ‘mistakes’ – lots of them along the way. Or we can look at them as learning opportunities.  – Australian Aboriginal proverb: “There is no path. The path is made by walking.” The Mission had no path.
I just noticed just the other day – it doesn’t say by running – we have moved slowly, always building a base on which to grow – always with the goal of creating community for people – sometimes there was a push to move faster, and I have almost always resisted it.

We’ve learned and grown together. I was learning. Always. We were all learning, moving ahead in trust and picking ourselves up when we messed up. We all picked ourselves up figuratively. Sometimes I did literally. All in the aid of following our principles, of course.

Details and responsibility for tasks you have taken on are important. When the garbage cans are emptied at the end of the day, clean bags are supposed to be put in them. It was Joyce’s responsibility. Joyce had just left, and the cans were bagless. I moved quickly – across a pile of folded up Christmas boxes, went flying, calling Joyce loudly. Joyce came back in, saw me sprawled on the floor, thought I’d had a heart attack and was ready to give me CPR. When I asked her about the bags – she was, needless to say, angry! Then a couple came in looking for information. Lori introduced me as the director – I was still on the floor. 

Donations need to be checked for safety. A skateboard came in. I’d never tried a skateboard, so I stood on it. Just stood on it. Whish. Wham. Ouch. Much laughter.

Our space needs to be safe. There needs to be a path to the doors through the stacks of food on Friday food bank. To prove the point, I (accidentally) lost my balance in a narrow space, landed unceremoniously on bread and popped open a bag of chips.

Furniture needs to be checked out. I sat in a chair that had come in, comfy, just the right height. RRRIIIPPP. I was hanging by the arms, my behind on the floor. Connie was bent over with laughter, tears rolling down her cheeks. No respect, I often chided – no respect. But there WAS respect. And trust.

Well, mostly trust. Long ago, a box of bananas came in. I had hardly turned around, and the bananas were GONE. Later on, something came up, and I said, “I trust you with my life, but not with bananas.” And I HAVE trusted the people with my life and my own story. The banana story has gone into Mission folklore.

Now and then I’ve been tough.  I’ve encouraged people to gradually take responsibility and to develop their skills and confidence. When we were re-decorating the Mission and setting up shelves for clothing, Connie had the brilliant idea to get a student in design to come and help us decide on colours and set-up. We did. The student suggested the yellow we have on the St-Urbain side with dark brown shelving… Green and white on the kitchen side. After much discussion, the staff all voted yes to yellow. I was away for a few weeks. When I returned, the colour they wanted was peach… Even if I had like peach (I didn’t) for our space, I would have said, NO. You’re not changing it. Here’s why. Connie had a brilliant idea. It was carried out. You all voted on it.  Trust yourselves and be proud of your idea and decision. BTW - the soft yellow gives such an air of light and hope. … Peach??

These are some of our stories. We had a lot of fun. We fought. People quit in huffs and frustration a few times, and of course returned with apologies made on both sides.

We all have a voice. We decide most things together, and I seldom made a decision without consulting. Over the years I have had many brilliant ideas.  I learned quickly that no matter how brilliant my ideas were, if they did not either come from the people or find support in the people, they did NOT work. Period. Maybe it was too soon, and it would work later. Maybe it didn’t meet the needs and desires of this community at all.  And they were brilliant!

We’re all the same at the Mission. We eat together, sharing a meal and conversation. Members help with dishes and clean up.  We’re family.

My friend in Irish South Boston told me recently she could tell me a lot about Southie history , but if she did, she’d have to kill me. “What happens in Southie stays in Southie” the saying goes. Much of what happens at the Mission stays at the Mission.

There are so many stories I could tell of people’s struggles and journeys – drugs and alcohol, suicide, the vicious murder of a member, mental illness and hospitalization, jail, rats, mice, and other beasties in people’s low-rent apartments and rooms, hoarding (think about it – some people may hoard because they have never had enough and are afraid they never will … efforts made with sometimes difficult governments, insufficient public housing so a family of four lives in a tiny 3 ½ … We journey with people. But I have no right to tell their stories in a small organization like the Mission, where some people would be recognizable.

I’m in AWE at some people’s stories. Many who are judged by externals, are in fact miracles who have not only survived their early lives – but have managed to live as creatively as possible within limitations. Aren’t we all broken? Some of us have had more opportunities for education, more access to support, less chaotic and tragic lives … and the finances to get ahead.

At Christmas one year, Gilles took the names. He asked each person to sit down with him. Hecould feel the anxiety in each one when he said he wanted to ask two questions. Coming to a food bank, after all, can be de-humanizing. What did he want to know about their private lives? Gilles asked:
1.       Tell me something you like about yourself
2.       Tell me a skill or talent you have

As Roméo Dallaire said: No person is more human than another.   And, everyone has something to give/share.
We’re REAL at Mile End.   Lots of laughter.  Lots of “What do you think? Recognizing that, although my early growing up years were precarious financially, I am not the Mission expert on poverty, welfare rights, legal and government red tape and issues, finances…    we deal with conflict up front. People who grew up with crisis are apt to re-create it – and part of our struggle together has been to re-wire – to learn other, more creative ways of interacting.

In 1971, in my previous life as an Anglican Sister of St. Margaret, I was sent as a missionary to Haiti for two years.  Hmmmm… guess what – I was the one converted, transformed – by the courage, resilience, dedication and faith of so many … Mile End Mission became a way of giving back – I’m not called to return to Haiti to work. I’m called to struggle for justice and peace, here. To help create a place where people belong, find family, feel safe, move on when possible … I’ve been transformed by the Mission.

Our bishop, Barry, at our 20th anniversary celebration, said I’m sometimes an irritant. I replied, “I’ll take that as a compliment.” I realize that irritants can be difficult to live with. Well, isn’t that the point? Stir things up. Keep things on the table. Fight for what is right – like financial security. Fight for recognition of what we do, and of everyone’s right to dignity and respect. The diocese has felt it. The board has felt it. Some in the community have felt it. Although I’m conscious that I’m not always right, I wear the badge of irritant proudly. It has been essential to moving the mission along.

Tonight I am a priest. Well, I’m always a priest – but I haven’t dressed for the role overtly most of the time. I’ve officiated at baptisms (most of them in a lake in Ste-Agathe), weddings and funerals. 

At our parish annual children’s service for Halloween – All Saints, I’ve also dressed up. Standing at the altar, I asked the children if I was still a priest, even if I’m dressed like a tiger. There is a resounding “Yes!” I don’t need the outfit to be a priest – and I have felt that dressing in my super-Christian outfit would, or could, have been a barrier for people.

We welcome people of many faiths at the Mission and it’s wonderful. We have had members who were Duplessis orphans who were abused in the church… a clergy collar has not been necessary to my being a priest. Tonight I reclaim it a little. (hold up clergy collar). We are Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, agnostic, atheist…

If I arrived at the Mission with my clergy outfit, people said, “You have a funeral today?” And yes, I usually did. Well, tonight is a little like a funeral J - certainly a good-bye. A transition. Endings and beginnings.

Tonight I claim Mile End Mission as Church at its best – our call (read in French and English - … l`Éternel m`a oint pour porter de bonnes nouvelles aux malheureux; il m`a envoyé pour guérir ceux et celles qui ont le coeur brisé, pour proclamer aux captifs la liberté, et aux prisonniers la déliverance… The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…   Isaiah 61.1, Luke 4.18          

We learn from each other. We share a God who has many names. All religions are based on compassion and love. I received a letter recently from one of my favourite people – Sr. Marjorie Raphael, who is 88, was the Mother Superior when I was a good little nun all those years ago. And yes, I was, believe it or not, a good little nun.  Too good. I’ve kind of broken the habit of being too good …

Sr Marjorie Raphael wrote: “Jesus , after washing the disciples feet, kept urging, “Love one another,” perhaps the essence of our life on earth, and maybe in eternity…… Being mindful of one another is the great love story. It is really all about love.”

A local Imam drops by at least once a week. We were discussing the diversity at the Mission, and that we are not out to convert people – he gave us a Muslim proverb – “There are many paths on the mountain and they all lead to the top of the same mountain – to God.”

Small communities like the Mission are essential in today’s world. We don’t make the front pages. Our numbers are small – purposely. The love and compassion we share has a ripple effect into the broader community, more than I realized until I was leaving and people outside the Mission have shared what we mean to them and to Mile End.
Being small and less recognized makes it more difficult to raise funds. Especially for staffing – and the reality is – there are no programs without the staff to run them. For many years, as a half-time priest here with a traditional parish as well, the director’s position has been too much. I don’t  regret staying as long as I have. This is the right time to leave. I’ve done my job and I leave behind incredibly competent and courageous people to carry on the vision.

I’m taking this last opportunity for advice: with apologies to C.S. Lewis who wrote The Screwtape Letters – from a Senior Devil to the Junior Devil(s)

To Linda – give yourself lots of time to adjust, to experience the Mission, the people, as they ARE before changing things. And you will, with the community, inevitably change things.  BREATHE. LISTEN. Give yourself that gift. Cancer taught me: “Life is short. It doesn’t matter.” And – “If it doesn’t all get done, it doesn’t all get done.” We don’t do perfect. I’m still learning this, by the way. People come first, or you wouldn’t have wanted this job.

To the Board: Give Linda time and space to do this before having expectations for new and wonderful things. In my humble opinion, the first months should be observation, doing the normal  J (like Christmas) things, and getting to know the staff and people. The pressure and tensions at the Mission is always high, even before we get to crises. I encourage you to give Linda that gift.

To Lori, Carol, Joanne, Doris, and all of you Mission staff and members – YOU are the experts.  On the Mission. On the vision. On the people and the programs. Be confident. Speak. Share your ideas, concerns and knowledge. I’m leaving the Mission in good hands. You’re in my heart for always. As is Connie. You changed me. Thank you. And thank you again.

To all of you: Breathe. We don’t do perfect. Breathe. We don’t do perfect.

Thank you to all of you: Staff, Board, Friends … for your love and commitment.

To Luke Martin – thank you for all the early years in which you supported us in so many ways – helped us get our ‘Lettres patentes’ and our charity number… your grace and commitment live on.

I received this message from Lori last night: There are so many stories and memories. You have them all with all the emotions – happy, sad, mad, proud, frustrated - but in all this you gained wisdom and learned that all people have something to offer and can make a difference in this world.

Thank you. Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for standing with and/or behind us and encouraging us. I ask that you take us in your hearts when you leave – that you continue to support us – to help us fund the full-time director’s position and other staffing so that we can carry on standing straighter – without the perpetual financial burdens and worries. So we can focus on the ministry, on the people.

Connie Olson was a founder of the Mission and food bank director, as well as the heart and backbone of the Mission. At her funeral, Johnny came to the front and spoke  an epitaph all of us could wish for:   “I’m Johnny. I’m from up north. Connie gave me clothes. She fed me. She loved me. I’m going to miss her.”

Staff and mission members take candles to each table and share the light from mine.
Sing together - Ubi caritas – where there is love, God is there.
Please take the light out with you, Share the light and remember us. 

God Boxes, Tragedies, and Waking Up

Trying to keep God down?
For much of my life, it seems, I was very effective at putting God in a box. A little box. Wrapped in string or ribbon or something stronger. It still is a temptation, especially when things seem out of control. I believed that if I just prayed hard enough, Mum and Dad wouldn't divorce. That God would tell me what to do about this and that.  Problem was, when things fell apart, it meant I hadn't prayed hard enough - and was somehow a failure. 

How could God let this happen or that? Suffering in Haiti. Children dying. Poverty. Wars. When we let God out of the boxes - or rather let go of the illusion that God can be contained - we open ourselves to questions that have no answers.

I'm also aware of something extremely troubling. I'm wondering where I was during the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. I mean, I know where my body was, but where were my heart and mind? It feels like a blur. Why weren't we marching? I was north of the border for much of it. Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat on the bus was 1955, and I was 9. So, a bit young, maybe to know much ... But the Civil Rights movement was 1955 to 1968. Why weren't we talking about it in school? I remember the assassination of MLK. I  I was also in Boston during the bussing desegregation. And only in recent times did I realize, thanks to friend Karen from Southie, that the bussing was to poorer white neighbourhoods - not to the wealthier areas.

Where was I during the Vietnam War? Why weren't we talking about it in school? Paul Napper, who graduated with us, joined the US Marines, returned home and died of cancer caused by Agent Orange. I was in the US from 1967 onwards. I don't remember talking about it at the convent. I remember a Mennonite in Haiti who was a conscientious objector and doing service that way. I vaguely remember card burnings and hearing of campus disturbances. But I don't remember praying about it or discussing the politics or justice and injustice. Where were we? Am I the only one in the mists, and others around me were thinking about it and discussing? And - well, we didn't act. I wonder if we would today.

A pastor wrote a letter to other pastors on the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, challenging himself and us. He tells how when, early on, he spoke from the pulpit against the war, some parishioners walked out of church never to return. And so, he kept silent. And he asks if we would keep silence next time.

Not only are there almost 5,000 dead in the US military - young men and women who leave behind children, spouses, partners, parents, siblings, friends, comrades. Countless thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, including so many children ('just' collateral damage) in Iraq. The Middle East is further destabilized and Iran is getting stronger... And it was based on lies. Criminal. Tragic. Lies. 

And now - can it be true that there have been so many, many suicides both of personnel on active duty and of those who returned scarred ... ?  Every 80 minutes a veteran of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attempts suicide in the US.  I want to say surely not - but that would be denial. There was an 80% increase in suicides amongst military personnel between 2004 and 2008. Those who served in recent conflicts are 30 percent to 200 percent more likely to commit suicide than their ­non-veteran peers. Every day 18 to 22 veterans take their own lives, depending on the source of the statistics. WHAT is wrong with this picture?

Closer to home ... there was an article in the Montreal Gazette on February 13th. In two years (2007-2009), there were 566 documented suicides in the Montreal area.  566. More, because some deaths that are suicides aren't classified as such. The Jeanne Mance district, where I worked until recently, had the highest rate at 17.4 per 100,000. 45% of these were people under 45. Mostly men, I imagine. "People in (the Jeanne Mance sector) tend to live a more isolated existence and are more transient than in the West Island... they tend to be childless and unemployed. And poverty is more of an issue ... substance abuse is higher in certain areas ... (Jeanne Mance) ... for every 25 attempted suicides, one person dies. An atttempted suicide is an indicator of someone in need of immediate help."

Now I am awake. I feel as if, in some ways, I was asleep long ago. And now I am even more convinced of the need for small community ministries like Mile End Mission. The Mission is in the Jeanne Mance sector. Everyone needs to belong. Very few people are living on society's margins by choice. Mental illness, life tragedies, poverty, old age ... it is so easy to dismiss suffering - to dismiss PEOPLE, actually - every single person has value. Every person has need of a place to belong, to be seen and valued. Everyone should be helped to have hope, be treated with respect, and loved. 

I love the image of Anton Boisen - every one of us is a 'living document.' Everyone has a story. Every person has a right to tell his or her story and for it to be heard. 

There ARE tragedies out there. It's overwhelming. 

However, we CAN make a difference. I've seen this as an African proverb, and a quote of the Dalai Lama...

So, what does all that  have to do with God boxes? God has long since burst out of the boxes in which I've tried to keep Her contained. I wonder if we're asleep to the extent we try to capture the firefly Spirit and keep Her locked in the bottle, to mix my metaphors? (Sorry, Mrs. Tudor.) I'm sorry I was, in some ways, asleep for so long.  But - it's never too late to decide we don't like boxes for God or ourselves ...  to wake up ... 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Snowlight, Three Deer, One Cardinal, and Other Joys

Grade 6 memory work, Miss Pitman, William White School:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Ste Marguerite d'Youville, Foundress of the Grey Nuns

I couldn't write about joys until I had chewed on and vomited, in a sense, the experience of the film "We Were Children." Doris's Mum was taken at 5 in 1931 from Montreal to Shingwauk, a residential school near Sault Ste-Marie. Her Mom died a few years ago, and her aunt who was 3 years older, is still living. Her Mom would never talk about it. April 24 - 27 there will be a Truth and Reconciliation  Commission in Montreal at which First Nation people will tell their stories in a variety of ways - depending on what feels safe - and their stories will be recorded. It is our responsibility to attend and hear their truths.

I pray that this may also happen one day in the not to distant future for those who were abused in our churches by priests and lay people in the past. Truth and Reconciliation. Reconciliation can only come after the truth is told - and before the truth can be told, the Church has to create an environment where truth-telling is called forth. I live in hope.

And from that - we held our clergy conference at the Manoir d'Youville in Chateauguay. Last night it began to snow - and snow - and snow! The photos were taken early this morning walking the grounds. Three deer - or possibly two deer, but one twice. In the distance. A cardinal singing so cheerfully and so very RED. A tiny bird's empty nest - I wonder what kind of bird raised its family there last year? Mrs. Tudor, I almost put an apostrophe in 'its.' But I remember - spring 1963 - Roslyn! in red ink - and I've lived in terror ever since of getting it wrong. :-)

Unfortunately, I cannot claim credit for this photo :-)
Silence except for the wind whistling off Lac St-Louis swirling the snow round and about.  Blankets. So soft. Wandering, I still ache back for that illusion of comfort - a promise that snow can't keep. And I went into chapel and a liturgy for St. Joseph's Day - 42 years since my First Profession at SSM. I told one of our priests, and  he said "Happy Anniversary for something that no longer exists" or something like that - not as harsh as that sounds - and I told him I felt I had a choice - of pretending that it never existed, or welcoming it into my life and giving thanks for all that those years at the convent gave me. He said, "It's true. For instance, if someone marries and divorces, s/he doesnt go back to being single. One is changed and different." I'm not the person, thank God, that I was before 1967 - and before March 19, 1971. The convent is in my blood and bones. Love, prayer, Sisters, friends, commitment, learning, growing, HAITI, bread-making in the 1,000's of loaves, Duxbury cook-outs, cherry seed-spitting contest with Sister Rosemary and the novices, sleeping at the boathouse and walking up through the grove to chapel early in the morning when the dew sparkled on the diamond err... smoke bush ... marshmallow hat on Christopher Columbus in Louisburg Square when we'd been graced with snow, the view from the roof over the Charles ... well, I wasn't planning on getting nostalgic - but we are made up of memories - and love - and struggles - and joys - and decisions - and ... well, to be continued. Maggie has been at me to play since I got home ...

I still feel a little guilty playing with the laser - as she can't catch it and doesn't know. I do. Cruel streak? But she loves it and goes mad. And then I'll gaze in peace at the snow outside my window and be thankful.

"We Were Children" Residential Schools in Canada

Last Tuesday evening, Doris, Lori and I attended the showing of the film documentary "We Were Children" about Canada's residential schools. Words fail, and yet words are essential, because the stories must be told. Truth must be told. I'm not going to get the facts here. I'm not good at facts. However, truth being told, many, many thousands (150,000+) of our children were taken from their homes in First Nations communities across the breadth and depth of our fair land. Or, should I say, their fair land? The children were placed by our government in residential schools run by the churches (RC, Anglican, United, Presbyterian) where many were abused physically, emotionally and sexually. Their languages and culture were beaten out of them. Most did not return to their communities until the age of 18, having been removed as early as 4 or 5. Many died and their bodies lie in unmarked graves. All this for 'the good of the Indian' who needed to be assimilated into 'mainstream' Canadian culture. Rather, folks, to rid the government of the 'Indian problem.'

Mmmm... let it be said (because some will say this, so I'll get it out of the way right off) that some children benefitted from the system. Some received a good education and went on to 'bigger and better things' than they might have otherwise. And let it be said that not all teachers, missionaries, administrators were evil and abusive. OK - that's said. Done. Finished.

Nothing - absolutely nothing - not even hundreds of 'success' stories could justify the abuse of one child, never mind the many, many thousands. It's heart-breaking, soul-destroying horror. It  makes me wonder again or still - how do we come to this type of behaviour? Yes, we're all human and capable of harming each other - yes, we all have a capacity for evil - but .... but .... little children. 

What leads us to believe that we have the only way? That God created the world for white people to control, destroy, use ... Where did we get such arrogance? How could we take a whole people's children and try to turn them into little - God, what? - caricatures of white people, but still with their darker skin that children came to believe was dirty because it wasn't fair - that they were savages because they didn't speak English or French, depending on the province, and because their spirituality was other than "Our Father, which art in heaven" Christian? White man's food, white man's clothes, white man's haircuts... and when they returned home eventually, they were neither one nor the other? They had lost their language and culture - had it beaten out of them - and yet they weren't white, either.

Idle No More is the rallying cry in Canada at present. I hope and pray it is a rallying cry that will continue until some kind of justice is done. Some kind of agreement reached about whose land this is that we inhabit and who has the right to sell, use, destroy. Until our Conservative government either gains a conscience, compassion, and understanding, or is defeated. Before it's too late ... I believe in hope - but realistically in this case it may be miracles that are needed - and I don't hold my breath that our PM and his government will gain a conscience.

If you get the opportunity, see this documentary. It reminds me of the Australian film, Rabbit Fences, I think it was called. Tragic arrogance of governments fixated on turning the world white by ridding the world of those who are different at the expense of their own and others' souls.

It reminds me too of the African story: "When the Christian missionaries arrived in Africa, we had the land and they had the Bible. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes and prayed. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had the land."

Pray. May we keep our eyes open, though, and stand firmly for justice.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Roller Skates, A Funeral, and Home-coming

Late yesterday morning, I headed out for errands and to gradually wend my way to the funeral of  Mammie Fillance Gabaud, one of the matriarchs of the Haitian Anglican community in Montreal. As soon as I opened the front door, I gasped with joy and felt a dance attack coming on. It was perfect! The sun shone, the temperature was about 3 Celsius, snow still sparkled, and ... it felt like 'almost spring' - damp earthy scents, birds chirping, a cardinal singing, teensy buds on the maple trees... bits of gravel, sand, and stone lay scattered on the sidewalks, water melting from the snow created wee sparkling streams, and everything was exactly right and ready - as it was 58 + or - years ago - mostly clear and dry and ready! 

I'm 10 again and it's the first day of roller skate weather! Call Cheryl! OR4-9424. Get out those skates and key.  Attach the skates to my white and blue saddle shoes, hang the key on its grubby string around my neck, and I'm off! No thought that at 66, I couldn't possibly roller skate without falling and breaking my wrist and scraping my knees. I'm 10. It's 'almost spring'. I can do anything! Joy!
Days that were... :-)

Remember these? 
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart...  the joy has remained from that moment  ... through a funeral that was a wonder-full send-off on the journey home for a faithful, loving woman who lived great sorrows and great joys. Yves sang the traditional sentences (in French) at the beginning of the service, and they were hauntingly beautiful. The church was packed to overflowing. Singing, especially the Créole, dynamic and moving. Music with piano and guitars. 

When I was a student and then curate at St. Paul's, Lachine, we began a French ministry, largely with this extended family. I presided at the funeral of a stillborn baby girl, baptized children, married one couple, felt connected back to Haiti through relationships, the liturgies and hymns (no Creole in 1991ff). Fabiola, at 10ish, had the sweetest, pure voice and learned to sing verses of the Gloria and the rest of us responded after each phrase: "Gloire à Dieu, et paix sur terre, aux êtres que Dieu ai-ai-me." (We changed the word from 'hommes' to 'êtres', with a little initial resistance)  :-) Joy.

Deep, deep sadness as we buried the body of this woman who was so blessed and a blessing. Her connections go deeper than I realized. The Sisters in Haiti used the Gabaud family home in Mathieu (near where our PWRDF school lunch program is) as a mini-convent and place of ministry. Sister Marjorie Raphael says in the beginnings of Foyer Notre Dame, a home for women who are alone near the end of their lives, violence in the neighbourhood necessitated a quick move. The Gabaud family provided their home. Memories. Family re-members and re-connects. 

Still the joy hovers. Or is it hope? Or ... it all fits somehow with the reading I've been doing, the homily we shared at church this morning, an ongoing journey of home-coming. Back to Henri Nouwen and his book The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen's life was transformed over time as he lived with, and within, Rembrandt's painting of the same name. He travelled to St. Peterburg, Russia, and spent many hours sitting with the original work. The details. The different characters. The theological and psychological depths. He found his way home. In himself - and living at the L'Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto. Curiously, on his way to St. Petersburg again, he stopped off at his original home in Holland where he died of a heart attack at the young age of 63. His body was brought back to his Canadian home for burial in a coffin made and decorated by his Daybreak community.

I printed 8 1/2" x 11"copies of the painting and distributed them after the Gospel of the prodigal son was read as a powerful dialogue. Following a brief explanation of the background of Nouwen and Rembrandt's painting, we all took a few minutes to simply BE with it. To touch it. To feel it. To look at details - or whatever each person felt called to do. I find myself constantly touching it - moving my fingers so softly- awe-struck by faces, hands, feet, the woman who is a ghostly shadow who emerges in silence and sunlight ... I feel as if I could spend the rest of my life exploring this work of art and this story and still there would be mystery.

We shared thoughts about the different characters. where we saw ourselves, what details touched us, the why's and what might have been going on in the heart of each one... Awesome insights into ourselves and each other and into the painting and the story. 

I feel joy. Did I already say that? :-)  Peace and quiet joy. I wish I could still roller skate, but... reality checks in. I'll happily remember when I did ... on these almost spring days on these gritty sidewalks ... Journeying home. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

A Little Bit Crazy

Somewhere in time, I began saying, "You have to be a little bit crazy to stay sane." It's true. Very true. More true sometimes than others. Today, it fits. I was asked to take on a responsibility, but it turns out all sorts of other people are also doing so. Or think they are. Or don't know they are. Or have already prepared for it. Which means I don't have to. Which is fine - as it means I can sleep better tonight and just fit in wherever I'm needed. IF I'm needed. But I'll certainly be there. :-) And enjoy. And my heart will be touched. And so will many others' hearts.

We have a Lent Study in our little parish, using the book Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. Friday mornings we gather, a wonderful, committed little band of pilgrims of varying ages, but let's just say that I'm, at 66, the youth group. After 19 years and counting of growing together, we've built trust and love. We share and laugh and cry and explore the Good News together. 

Sometimes we're a little 'crazy.' Just enough to stay sane. Was it the same for boys? Did you have all the pressure a lot of little girls had in the good old days :-) to 'Be GOOD'? "That's not nice." You know the stuff... Implied (or maybe we just thought it was implied) that in order to be loved we needed to be perfect. And many of us have striven (or is it strived?) for far too long to be good. Perfect. To get it right. To not get it wrong. To be enough. What would be enough, anyhow? Speaking of crazy-making. 

I want to make it clear that when I use the word crazy, crazy is NOT a term I use to define someone suffering from mental illness or depression. Crazy is sort of related to chaotic nonsense in our lives. Sometimes foolish. Sometimes ... well... More like Maggie Muggins leaping in and out of the bathtub playing with the toy on the end of the stick. She enjoys it more than I enjoy some of the 'craziness' in my life - but then she's a cat. What does she have to worry about?

One of the chapters in Made for Goodness is titled: Stop "Being Good." "... the space is very small between"I am doing it in response to love" and "I am doing it to be loved." But in that space resides the difference between joy-filled peace and anxious despair. In short, we don't have to 'act' like a holy man or holy woman. We need to simply live out of the joy and generosity of our goodness."  (P. 24)

It's never too late to discover we can let go of some of the nonsense we picked up as children - that may continue to govern our behaviour as adults. We don't have to be GOOD! How about that?! When I was a novice at St. Monica's Home, I broke a vase. I wrapped it carefully in paper and quietly put it in the garbage. Sister Mary Christine taught me the beginning of freedom when she said, "All you had to do was say you're sorry." And there was me thinking I'd be sure to be sent packing if I wasn't perfect.

PERFECT for Pete's sake?! I'm not alone here. I know some of you have tried to be perfect, too. Whatever perfect would look like. I fear it looks rather like walking a tightrope, terrified to step a centimetre (this is Canada, folks) to the left or right in case God zapped us or we fell into some terrible pit, which ever came first. We would NOT be loved. We had to earn love. Yikes. So sad.

It's hard. It's hard to believe that we are good to start with, that we are lovable and loved. that we don't have to earn it, even if we could, which we can't. And what kind of love is it, that's earned at the cost of our soul? 

And then, the Gospel for this Sunday is the prodigal son - and I'm enjoying Henri Nouwen's book The Return of the Prodigal Son and entering into the Rembrandt image of the same name. How beautiful it is - how tender - how compassionate the love.

Questions. And I thank God for the opportunity to share the questions and the quest with such an honest and open little gang of women (they just happen to all be women at the Lent Study) in our little parish on the fringes of the church in an area where there are few anglophones left. We're small. We may be dying at some point. But we're alive now. A little crazy and therefore sane. And we're GOOD! Made for goodness.

Time for a little play with the cats. Especially given that Maggie has tried three times to reach a wind chime, landing once unceremoniously in the paper recycling bag. Then, of course, she pretends it was meant to be to hide her embarrassment and tries again. Speaking of crazy. But she's so cute. And she's presently rolling ecstatically in front of the computer screen, enjoying a tummy rub, and almost knocked Made for Goodness on the floor.

Look at her little pink tongue

Friday, 1 March 2013

Snow Walk Home

I wandered the neighbourhood in the blowing snow on Wednesday night. Stinging cheeks. Branches and wires covered - fairy land. I live, and we grew up in, Montreal South. If you're under 60, you won't remember it, as we were annexed into Longueuil c1961. Diehard Montreal Southers still call it that. I count myself proudly among them. :-)

Our family moved to Lafayette Street from Parthenais Street in Montreal in 1923. The story is, Granda wanted to bring his family to the country after a little boy was killed by a car near their home. Montreal South was country then. The children picked violets in the woods in spring and skated between the trees in winter. No sidewalks. No paved streets and plenty of mud. Clean air. Swimming in the St. Lawrence in summer.  

Our neighbourhood was three blocks by three blocks - Lafayette to Ste-Hélène and Victoria (now St-Laurent) to Washington (now Désaulniers). The railroad tracks at Désaulniers were levelled and are a much -used bike path in snow-free days. In spring, cherry blossoms overhang the paths, intoxicating scent, pink snow drifting.

I walked to Lafayette and in by the trees that used to bookend our stone wall and Gram's irises and hosta. Into the hall, out the kitchen window, and across to the Carlson's - all in imagination, as our house full of light, laughter, tears and dark swirling things, was cut in half and moved under Taschereau Boulevard (so said Hughie Oakley). I've never been able to find it, and still I search as if memories and understanding could be re-captured in the house. Carlson's house was taken down, and there's a four-storey apartment building at the back of the property. The chestnut trees that Cheryl and I used to climb are still there. When my Mum and aunts were young, they could climb the massive willow in the back yard and watch ships sailing down (or is it up?) the river.

Along St-Laurent and south on Lasalle past Ruby and Hughie's, whose house was built (according to a plaque on the side wall) in 1897. As I approached the house, I smelled Pot, and then noticed a man in their driveway who turned away from me. And how, you may ask, do I know the smell of Pot, former nun and good priest that I am? Well, in 1975 when I was hospitalized in Boston for my breakdown/breakthrough, someone walked by outside the window of North Belknap 1 smoking a joint, and my roomie who was more worldly than I at the time, introduced me to the smell. I didn't inhale of course, and have actually never smoked it - though it's a pleasant enough tangy scent.

Ruby and  Hughie have long since crossed the bar to whatever comes next. Except when snow was too deep, we always cut through at the back corner of their property from ours on our way to school or friends. We stopped off when they had kittens in the shed, but I was never happy going inside.  The house was mysterious, dark, messy with newspapers and clutter, and it stirred feelings of a nameless anxiety. A large stuffed owl kept watch from on high.

Wagram - Campbell's - Judy's on the corner, her Campbell grandparents upstairs after Grade 2 forever teacher Mrs Briscoe retired and moved to Brockville. Judy's Deville grandparents lived in the right side extension. Mrs Deville made the most delicious date cookies with a hint of nutmeg. I have her recipe, but could never get them to come out light and fluffy and oh so good. Judy does a close second to her Grandma.

William White School is no more, having been torn down and replaced by - guess what?! - condos. Some of the trees were saved. I remember walking in the front schoolyard with Miss Pitman (who became Mrs Anderson) holding her hand - around the trees and keeping an eye on the Grades 1 - 3. At the back of the school on the girls' side, we played marbles, stand-oh, and other games. In winter, Mr Butler, our caretaker, put up the boards for a rink. As Trevor Butler was Jim's best friend, we would go over at night, shovel the rink if necessary, and skate to our heart's content. I can still hear echoes of us under the lights, laughing and shouting, cheeks red, eyes bright - alive!

Past the Lidstones' on Mercier. I don't remember them having a shed at the back. Mrs Bertha Carleton's little house has a new open verandah along the front and left side. Oddfellows Hall is long gone. Jim played the piano there once accompanying Jean McLean who sang. Condos. Along St-Laurent to the corner restaurant that is no more. In our day, the owner was whispered to keep rather nefarious company - but no one ever knew it for sure. Or if they did know, they weren't saying.

Ste-Hélène - The small theatre burned. The theatre to which we marched from school each June to receive our report cards and prizes. Jim composed, at the tender age of 11 "The William White March" and played it his last year there ... He's a talented musician is my big brother. Next door, the old Montreal South United Church was torn down a few years ago, leaving an open space with trees, weeds in summer, and a lonely feel. Auntie Eileen attended school (Grade 3) in a tiny room at the back of the church hall in 1923. We attended Girl Guides in the hall on Wednesday nights, so given that this walk was on a snowy Wednesday, I heard the soft voices of our little gang walking each other home at 9pm, laughing and chatting. Cheryl and I were the last two, and parted north and south, she to 790, I to 427 Lafayette. 

A few years ago, I discovered why the people from Montreal South United and Gardenville United were - mmm -- less than friendly and co-operative with each other. Turns out that Montreal South was Methodist and Gardenville was solemn Presbyterian, and when the two denominations united in 1928 to form the United Church of Canada, neither congregation forgot its roots. :-)

Along Désaulniers, with the bike paths on my left. Night of mystery - did I hear a ghost train? And when I reached Lafayette, I heard the old Southern Counties car chugging along, bell clanging. The tracks were removed long since, and trees grace the centre of the boulevard. A little girl was killed by a trolley on those tracks on Hallowe'en night when we were children. 

Idyllic little neighbourhood? We played outdoors every chance we got. Summer time was dawn to dusk, often softball on our spare lot with first base being a huge rock at the edge of Salette's. Bicycles. Tree-climbing. Cowboys and (yes, I cringe at the thought now) Indians. Davy Crockett hats. Guns. (Cringe again). Imagination, fun, laughter, arguments, tears, forgiveness. 

And yet ... at least 5 children died in that little three by three block neighbourhood when we were children. There were at least three pedophiles, about whom we were not warned. Troubling? Yes! As an adult, I discovered that my oldest brother, Lorne, who drowned at 8 in 1950, was molested repeatedly by the teen-age son of our neighbour. (It took a while for my parents to find out. Can't we trust our neighbours?) Alcoholism. Spousal abuse. Depression. Bullying. Anxiety - I accounted for a fairly high percentage of the neighbourhood anxiety, :-) but I had plenty of company amongst children and adults alike. Grief.

Real life, then. We had our Gram upstairs when we came home for lunch and after school. Our cousins across the street from my present home, two blocks from our childhood home. Comfort and a measure of safety - or the illusion of safety. And hey - illusions serve their purposes - especially when we're children in desperate need to survive. As we grow up, we may choose to give up illusions to set our hearts free.

What is it about falling snow that stirs up nostalgia? Memories? Longing for - what? It's so beautiful it hurts my heart. Music does that. Art. Cats' whiskers. A child gazing at her baptism candle. Daffodils. The sweet, soft scent of violets. A newborn baby. Open hands at the altar at communion - old hands, young hands, crossed open hands of tiny children as they gaze up in awe and a little puzzlement about the funny white 'bread' ... They so want to be part of it .... and are ...

More snow coming! :-) This winter is sooo wonder-full. I just, just love it! And I hold in tension the memories... the life we lived ... the children we were ... the truths we have discovered as adults ... the child within ... the grace of falling snow ...