Thursday, 19 March 2015

St. Joseph's Day - Life Given and Received

It's St. Joseph's Day. A special day. I've said it before - I'll say it again - St. Joseph's Day reminds me of what was and what is. It's part of who I was, who I am, and who I am still becoming.  It's about Love. Community. Haiti. Transformation. Longing. God. 

Kenscoff outside our retreat house, overlooking the valley ...  for early morning meditation I sat on the rocks overlooking the mountains as the sun rose and flooded the valley with light.  Poinsettias flourished along the opposite ridge, so bright, bright red in season. If I'd realized the two shiny bright things in a crevice of the rock I sat on might have belonged to a tarantula or a scorpion, I probably would have meditated a little? less peacefully.

St. Joseph - a loving Dad

My heart feels open and it hurts. That's a good thing, right? It means my heart is flesh.

This morning, I attended Mass at Eglise Saint-Joachim in Pointe-Claire as I often do on a Thursday morning. I sat, four pews from the front, and tears began to flow. I cried softly off and on throughout the Mass, surprised but willing to learn from the tears. 

44 years ago today, I was professed in first vows in the Society of St. Margaret, and 41 years ago I made my profession in Life Vows. The tears began as, "I'm sorry." Sorry, I think, that I didn't keep my vows. Couldn't. I know I couldn't stay. I meant my vows when I took them. But there was so much hidden in my depths that I was unaware of. I wondered briefly who I would/might have become if I'd tried to return to the convent after my breakdown/break-through in 1975. I might have returned to Haiti - and I might have burned myself out trying and trying - forgetting that the world has already been saved. 

It doesn't matter in a way what might have been if I could have stayed in community. I remember Aslan telling Lucy in, I think, The Voyage of the Dawntreader that we are never told what might have been. 

Instead, I returned to my Montreal home in 1983, completed my degree ... then through in theology to ordination. and so, we come to today...

When the priest arrived this morning, he placed a statue of St. Joseph on a white stand at the left corner of the altar. Then he disappeared, returned and put a bronze? bowl at the base of the stand. Incense rose, wafting over Joseph - ahh - the scent!  Whoever invented incense, thank you! Joy! And he placed a large, red votive candle in front of St. Joseph. Through Mass, I watched the light from one of the tall stained glass windows shining - a blue strip and a yellow small round area. By the time we got to communion, the sun had shifted north enough that the blue light shone up the stand and the base of Joseph's statue, and the yellow shone on Joseph's head. Awe.

At the start of the Mass, the youngish priest, Dominic Richer, spoke briefly of St. Joseph, telling us he is the patron saint of "l'intériorité" - the interior life, of prayer. (In addition to being the patron saint of Canada by the way). In the homily, he spoke of St. Joseph being the first to hold Jesus after his birth. (I hadn't thought of that, but somebody had to take him when he landed.) He suggested we welcome Jesus from Joseph - both the symbol of infant into our hearts and also in communion - as if it were Joseph giving us communion. 

The biggest thing was: Joseph put "la foi avant la loi." It's more poetic in French :-) - He put faith before the law. Putting aside arguments about facts and truths expressed poetically in myth in the birth narratives - Mary would have been stoned to death if Joseph had not chosen to put faith before the law and to welcome her. 

I choose to put faith before law. I choose to accept the wonder and struggles, prayer, joy, depression, growing, talents unknown and developed... my time at SSM, my Sisters whom I loved and love. My love for my Sisters lives on - including for so many who have gone on to the other side of somewhere. I wore my Associates' cross this morning. I still feel, and often touch, a slight indentation where my ring lived on my right 'wedding' finger. Silver for first profession; gold for life. Those years formed the person I have become. 

We can't take love away. Who wants to? Love is forever.  I could deny the impact of the religious life and SSM on who I have become. To do so would be life-denying. So, I give thanks. I feel sadness as well as joy. I miss something precious. I reclaim what was and is precious. I thank God.

Others don't have to understand. I need to. To let go in ways that might hold me back; to own and cherish the gifts of the religious life - past into present.  

I recently went through thousands of my Dad's slides, tossing the majority and getting others put on CDs. I'm sharing some of the ones Dad took while I was a Sister ...  

21st birthday. October 31st, 1967, four days before leaving for the convent.
Early days: first trip home to Montreal 1968 - holding my first cat, Min(erva). He was a boy, but answered to Minou when he 'followed' me home ;-) in my arms in 1954 and I wasn't, at 8, terribly knowledgeable about sex.

With Min again. He wasn't a cuddly cat, but suffered a hug.

After Min died and Mum and Dad were visiting Duxbury they got a kitten - Pip - at a local animal shelter.
Pip in a rare quiet moment. Sister Eugenie thought he was the cat's miaou. 

Not sure what beach this is. Probably Duxbury

Chapel at St. Margaret's Home, Montreal, where I first met the Sisters.
Sister Felicitas, Sister Rosemary, Sister Juliana, Sister Jane Margaret 

Chapel in Duxbury in the olden days.  What a gift. Memories.

And to Haiti, one of life's greatest gifts.

'My' children - girls in the afternoon school during a visit of Mgr Garnier

Sewing/embroidery class, Ecole Ste-Marguerite. Behind the cathedral.

We went for a picnic to Léogane - Ste-Trinité bus and another - overcrowded  beyond belief - everyone squeezed (as in squeezed) in. Everyone arrived and returned safely. A wonderful time was had by all.
Some of 'my' children - confirmation held two days before I left Haiti in 1973.
The children (mostly girls who are now called 'restaveks') were so proud when we developed a uniform for the school.
I designed the chasuble, mitre, etc in cross-stitch, and Sister Claire Marie's sister, Miscelène, embroidered it - the crest is the symbol of the Eglise Episcopale d'Haîti. Although it is beautiful, I prefer the modern Haitian embroidery to cross-stitch.  Mum ordered, and Sister Marjorie Raphael organized, a chasuble set for my ordination in 1992.
Our black cat, Peter on the front wall of the convent. Peter had a Siamese miaou. I have a talent for mimicking a miaou. Peter had to spend nights downstairs at the convent. Sister Joan called him, he ran down, and I miaoued from the top of the stairs. Sister Joan said to Peter, "And don't talk back."
Introducing Sister Jean's little poodle Sarah to one of our kittens at Kenscoff.
Sarah went in heat twice a year, moaned under Sister Jean's bed at night, and half the male dogs in PauP would show up in our courtyard, hopeful and noisy ... I threw water at them one night from the second floor balcony and the plastic glass escaped my hand and clatter, crash, banged onto the pavement below.  :-)
Sister Anne Marie in the courtyard of Sainte-Trinité, with the cathedral entrance in the background. I was holding the censer. I was sacristan at Cathédrale Sainte-Trinité and prepared  vestments, etc. for ordinations of numerous male clergy. Although I sensed a call to priesthood at one of the ordinations, it wasn't an option in the early 70's.

Our home at Kenscoff - retreats, rest, and relaxation

I loved the walk from Kenscoff towards Robin. There were tiny, tiny blue, blue flowers scattered along the path, people to greet, mountains to stir awe, always the scent in Kenscoff of the massive eucalyptus trees...  the only place in Haiti they were found. Driving up from PauP, we knew we were close to Kenscoff when the scent of eucalyptus reached our nostrils.

Pumping water. In the 1970's a stream ran by our home, our night lullaby. Women grew watercress for market. In 2003, when I returned for a visit, there was no running water and the stream bed was filled with garbage. The streams in Kenscoff have been diverted to provide water to the massive homes of the wealthy on the road to Kenscoff.

A woman washing leeks for market - Kenscoff, I think.
Sister Anne Marie was always on the move. Energetic. Passionate. Committed. She developed the first orchestra in Haiti, as well as being director of Ecole Ste-Trinité ... and more. 

In Connecticut - a day out with the Trinity Mountain campers

I'd been working at St. Monica's Home. Mum and Dad came for a visit and we went to Nauset Beach with friends who lived in Eastham.

Always loved, and still love, the angry sea. Nauset Beach a day after a storm.

Sewing, I think.

Visiting in St. Lambert - my niece and nephew, Lisa and Kevin c 1974

With Kevin and Lisa - p'raps at the airport.

Trousers Lake - on  holiday. We didn't swim in those days...
Trousers Lake. Good thing I didn't fall in. And where's my life jacket?

Unsure where this is ...
And now - today ...

Sharing the peace, Lent 3, 2015 at our little parish - St. Cuthbert, St. Hilda, & St. Luke

Friday, 13 March 2015

God Made Puddles for Splashing

OK - so today (Wednesday, March 11th) the temperature was 9 degrees above zero Celsius. Quite a change from 19 below and wind chill factors of -30's. Snow was melting. Puddles formed - big puddles. Gigantic puddles at the corner of Wagram (now Goupil) and Lasalle and Mercier in Montreal South. Those of you who don't have REAL winters, have no idea the fun that comes when spring pokes its head around the corner ...sniffs of musty earth and oozy mud, wet brown grass patches with a hint of green, gritty gravel speckling the sidewalks, And just the merest whiff of the scent of skunk contemplating ending hibernation but not quite sure yet ... 

A brief theological reflection on city spring puddles:

Splashing in puddles is FUN! Puddles were created for our delight - as well as to water the earth of course. 

City puddles are however, on closer inspection, disgusting. Splashing disturbs the still surface and an illusion of beauty by stirring up brown/black silt and poisons, I suppose, from the atmosphere. People throw Timmy (Tim Horton's for those of you non-Canadians) cups and McDonald's wrappers on the ground and they get washed into the mess. And yet - look at the photos. The puddles reflect the beauty of the world around them. Bare trees thinking of budding and leafing. Telephone poles. Homes. Blue, blue sky. So ... looks can be deceiving? Or mud and mess is only part of the story. Or... 

No matter whether they're clean country puddles or yucky city puddles, God made 'em for splashing - and made us to enjoy them. 

Billy boots - ready to go splashing and exploring

Lasalle looking east - muck for ducks

Corner of Wagram (now Goupil) and Lasalle (Judy's old home)

Someone cleared the drains - puddles have decreased in size

Looking towards rue Ste-Hélène along Goupil - Still fun


Reflections 2


Never get too old to splash in puddles

Saturday, 7 March 2015

"There Are No Grown-ups" ;-)

There are no grown-ups. Well - there are and there aren't. We are and we aren't.  :-)

Image from Google
Image from Google
"Both-and" is my middle name. I've been a both-and person for many years - certainly since 1990 or so when I first articulated it clearly in the in-ministry year before ordination. It's a sort of traditional Anglican thing-y, I think. "This is true and that, though seemingly opposite, is also true." You non-Anglicans out there can tell me if it fits with other denominations and faiths, or if it's an individual or Anglican peculiarity. Nahhh... can't be just Anglican. It may be a sensible and grown-up approach to life and faith.

Grown-up??!! Who's grown-up? What's grown-up? 

Well suffice it to say … there have been plenty of opportunities to confirm what I've long (maybe almost always) suspected unconsciously : There are no grown-ups. We haven't made it. We're just playing at being grown-up. Well, sometimes, anyhow.

Pamela Druckerman  says it perfectly in “What You Learn in Your 40’s” :  “There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.”

...."There are no grown-ups... everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently ..." 

I'm not sure those who seem more confident are more grown-up. They may just have developed better masks. 

I do write. Ok – so I haven’t attended parent-teacher conferences. Actually, I did for a year, as a teacher in 1965-66. I forgot. I’ve done plenty of church-y type meetings at all levels, though … and board and staff meetings at Mile End Mission … lived in and observed families and communities - and, if I were to go farther back, my own family when I was a little girl... 

WOW! Awesome. Sister Marjorie Raphael told me many years ago, "We all have pockets of immaturity." She was right.

So, there are no grown-ups? Phew! What a relief! I’m not alone! I’m free! 

Free of trying to pretend to be something I’m not – and can never be – some idealized version of what I would look like if I were grown-up. 

Free of expecting others to live up to this idealized version  - authority figures, for instance, whom I have expected or hoped were grown-ups. They aren’t grown-up either.  :-)  

Here's the idealized version:  Grown-ups are in charge. Grown-ups know what they’re doing. Grown-ups always make right and sensible decisions. Grown-ups are strong and have it all together. Grown-ups protect their children from harm. Grown-ups don't do power struggles. Grown-ups are grown-up, understand their children's needs and meet them. Grown-ups don't play mind games.   Grown-ups don't get depressed and they grieve tidily ...     Add your own... 

Our bodies develop into grown-up bodies. We learn and grow and make wiser decisions (maybe) than we did or could when we were 3 or 10 or … but growing up seems to be a lifelong process.  :-)  If it wasn't so scary sometimes, I'd say "Alleluia!" but it's Lent and Alleluias have gone to bed for 40 days. Laughter, however, is permitted in Lent. 

Image from Google

And now to both-and. We are both. No question about it. 

My journey of discovery in tracing my roots and learning our family stories has led me to understand my parents and ancestors as more rounded, interesting, courageous, determined people than I could have imagined. A three year old needs to believe that parents can protect them from harm, keep them from dying, will be strong and competent and in charge. Enter the death of a child and WHAM!

As a child, in order to survive, I imagined my parents to be other than they were. When Lorne died, Jim and I needed adults who could assure us that we were safe. They couldn't; we weren't. The world is not a safe place for many - maybe most. As an adult, I've searched for safety and hoped it would come from somewhere outside myself. It doesn't. Or maybe it does in bits and pieces here and there - or maybe safety isn't the answer anyhow, though it's certainly a necessity for small children.

As an adult, I clung for a long time to the illusion that somewhere out there was someone who could help me feel safe in an often chaotic world of uncertainty and unpredictability. Don't give me the God-stuff yet, please. That too can be an illusion and escape and it was. I clung to a God who would do what I needed if I just prayed hard enough. I also loved God, but that's another story.

So - welcome the both-and. 

Mum, Dad, and the other adults in our lives were unable to understand a small child's desperation and terror. They had fallen into their own Pits of grief and despair. The attitude then was: "They're young. They look fine on the outside. They don't understand." Whatever. They couldn't be the grown-ups we needed. And yet...

Now I see Mum's immense strength and courage in just getting out of bed every day, in going to work, in studying to get a college degree, in driving and camping across Canada with Jim and me, cooking pancakes and bacon on a Coleman stove... In swimming, stopping for picnics, and splashing in roadside streams. In continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Unable to comfort two grieving children, still she survived and more than survived. In her 70’s near the end of her life, she told me, “After Lorne died, I was always afraid to be happy because happiness could be taken away.” And yet, she had carried on. Winging it. Being the best grown-up she could be in the circumstances of her life – affected by choices that had been made by her parents and others before her, choices she had made, choices that were made around her over which she had no control.  And tragedies. She laughed again, always from a heart that had huge rips patched over but still there. Mum wung it (new past tense of wing it) – or should it be wang it? Since the past of cling is clung, I'll go with wung. ;-)

Jim, Mum, and me 1956 on shores of Lake Superior, I think. How brave she was.
Big Bro kissing his little sister while Mum and Gram look on - dining room at 427 Lafayette c1958

Dad – well Dad wasn’t grown-up either. As an adult, inside he was very much an insecure child who sought love. I don’t know that he ever believed he found it. He grew up in lies about his own father, was moved about from Wembley, England where he was born, to St. John’s, Newfoundland at age 3 into poverty and insecurity, to Montreal at age 6 where the real lies began of his father’s 'death that wasn't'…  an abusive stepfather, a mean-spirited, unhappy mother ... moving around Rosemount each year or two in the middle of the night because they couldn’t pay the rent. Leaving school at 12 to help look after his younger siblings and because the family couldn’t afford the tram fare to send him downtown to high school.

He had no healthy grown-ups in his family, but Dad, too, made some good choices. He discovered the Goat family in Montreal South, a best friend in Lorne and in "Pop" Goat a father figure who loved him and supported him. He met Mum and married her. He had various jobs (part or fulltime, usually brief in the 30’s) until the war came along and he joined up. He discovered a talent for driving and taught driving to new recruits who were heading overseas to drive trucks and tanks and other war machines.

Dad had children – three of us – two sons and a daughter. He hadn’t been well fathered, and found it difficult to father his sons. And then one died. He found himself impotent, having imagined he was strong and able to protect his children. I think his rage was the other side of the coin. (P’raps – I wish we’d talked about life.) 

Grown-up? Not really. He wung it  He did the best he could with the tears in his heart – patched them over and continued to search for love and acceptance. 

Gram had left behind her life in Bermuda to join her oldest brother' in Liverpool, not by choice, but of necessity. There was no work for her father. She was a person of colour where colour severely limited choices. She was extremely intelligent, completed all but one year of teacher training, and again was forced to move with her family – this time to Montreal - her dream of being a teacher smashed. She passed for white in Liverpool and in Montreal and lived the rest of her life hiding that aspect of who she was. Gram became a wife in an unhappy marriage and mother – limiting in some ways her ability to become the grown-up she longed to be … The mother of three girls, she passed on some of the female relational quirks (being polite) and hidden frustrations to another generation … and yet, she made a wonderful Gram.

Grandpa Mac … mysterious man – intelligent, broken ... Terrified as a child by 4 older brothers, stuttering, breaking with a vengeance out of his extremely rigid, religious upbringing --- In the few photos we have, he certainly looked like a grown-up in charge. And apparently he acted like one in his work. He didn't know how to connect to people in a healthy way, and this manifested itself in ;-) Dad having at least three half-siblings about whom he knew nothing. We're still looking for more ... siblings that is.. ;-) And of course, Dad didn't even know his father was still alive until 1954.

Brian, was the only son of Dad's half-brother Ernie who was killed on the blood-soaked fields of Normandy in 1944, four months after Brian's birth. Brian lived a tragic life - and I don't know his story well enough to know the reasons behind many of his choices ... nor would I tell it here ... Suffice it to say he wasn't very grown-up. And yet ... what we saw was only part of his story. And his death on March 1st this year wasn't the end of his story or of our relationships with him.

So – we all bring our heart-breaks. Most are hidden from the world. We do the best we can to be grown-up along with masses of people doing the same. In a world of questions and violence, fear-mongering and struggles (read wars) for power…

In a church that is dying to what it was – and p’raps – hopefully, I sometimes squeak, sometimes speak with courage  – growing into what we are called to be … holding on to what is good from the past and open to the challenges of stepping out into a new world of insecurity and uncertainty - in - ummm - faith?    "What a novel idea," as Bryan often says.

There ain’t no such thing as a grown-up if the definition is an idealized one.

I’m learning to be a grown-up by becoming more and more conscious of my inner demands, needs, and crooked learned ways of relating in the worldI'm learning as I observe and enter into others' journeys and gain/choose compassion for my grown-up and not-yet-grown-up self. And for the others in the same boat..

I’m a priest. I suppose I should put some God-talk in here. Prayer.

Prayer is a way of living. Being. God can take care of Godself – 

Part of growing up right now is becoming aware of ways in which I've used God over the years to – in a way – prevent myself from growing up. That is not to judge myself or those around me for 'falling short.' It is to understand our humanness with growing compassion. We do what we need to to survive. And at some point – if we’re ‘lucky’ – the survival structures fall apart or away leaving us free (terrified, p’raps but free) to make different choices – to allow that not only are/were our parents and most of the other people around us not grown-up – but God is way beyond what I have projected onto God as well –

This grown-up stuff leaves me in a fair bit of insecurity, uncertainty, anxiety, not-knowing – but then maybe that’s life – and maybe that’s becoming grown-up.

Maybe that’s the best we can do – wing it – together.

Image from Google

Charlotte’s Web was on the Grade 3 reading list in 1965, and I read it to my class in Otterburn Park. I almost – note the almost – came to like spiders. But the passage I love best of all is the description of Templeton the Rat on page 53. I’ve loved this passage since I first read it, and long before I had any conscious notion of what lay beneath my sweet, nice, working-at-becoming-grown-up self…

“… both the goose and the gander were worried about Templeton. And with good reason. That rat had no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness,  no compunctions, no higher feelings, no friendliness, no anything. He would kill a gosling if he could get away with it – the goose knew that. Everybody knew it.”

This is a weird leap from grown-up (or not) to Templeton the Rat. I don't understand the leap, but - I love this passage so! It’s so…. Real. Sooo… human! There are people like Templeton. Maybe we have a little Templeton lurking inside. We also have leaders who betray us, who are so hungry for power that compassion seems dead. Who are blind to the terror and  'collateral damage' we inflict on others while imagining our countries to be right and good.

Some truth to this, but not something to live by :-)

It’s a complicated world.  I need to acknowledge my own not-yet-grown-upness and ease up on my projections and expectations on others. I hold myself accountable. I try to hold others accountable where it is my responsibility. And I recognize the courage with which most of us meet each new day.

Each of us is a product of our history – personal, genetic, family dynamics, church or other religious institution, school, community, society … US and THEM’s that were created around and within us …

Image from Google

Image from Google

So, we keep winging it. Both - and. Grown-up and not-yet-grown-up. And, when possible and appropriate, we keep laughing. 

And we remember what's really important:   Go HABS Go!

Woo hoo. Onwards and upwards.... You can do it!