Monday, 31 October 2016

Mysteries: Hallowe'en. Saints. Growing Old(er).

 Saints? Hallowe'en? Getting old? Mysteries!

My little prayer box made by Joanne Racette - in front of my pumpkin
(first time I've carved a pumpkin in many years)

Yesterday (October 30) we had a Jazz Mass for All Saints' Day and a wonder-full birthday party for my 70th. I keep looking behind me to see if this is someone else. How can I be 70? Just yesterday, I was 10. 

Church was packed. 90 people. Five fabulous musicians led by our Tom Mennier on the keyboard/piano. Bass. Guitar. Harmonica. Drums. "Oh when the saints go marching in.... " A bunch of children jostling each other, carrying three processional crosses to the front of our wee church. The singing lifted the roof several times. There was laughter - joy - creative chaos (well, a little or a lot depending on your capacity for living with chaos) ... sharing peace and communion. 

And, I spoke about saints - which I will share ... it went something like this ... actually - having now written some of it - it's taking on a life of its own that approximates what I said... and those who listened might not recognize it.

The beginning was this:

If you want to sit with God, sit with saints. If you do not consort with saints, you will be lost; you will be separated from the whole.
- Rumi
Definition from Wikipedia: A saint, also historically known as a hallow, is a term used for a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness to God.
 “Saint” also retains its original Christian meaning, as any believer who is "in Christ" and in whom Christ dwells, whether in Heaven or on Earth.
In Anglican, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Oriental Orthodox doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation .... 
The English word saint originated in Christianity, historians of religion now use it "in a more general way to refer to the state of special holiness that many religions attribute to certain people",
... with the Jewish tzadik, the Islamic walī, the Hindu rishi or Sikh guru, and the Buddhist arhat or bodhisattva also referred to as saints.    (summarized or edited)

Saint:  holy, virtuous, perfect?     Uh uh. Or let's re-define terms. Technically, All Saints Day is supposed to be about The Saints. I'm more into saints. People we know or have known who have touched our lives for good. Who have wrestled with the meaning of life and death, faith, and being human.

Many of us were brought up with the idea that we were meant to to try to be perfect - that is - don't step out of line or you might get zapped by God, be nice, don't express 'negative' emotions like anger ... anger? I'm not angry - ummm... well, I wasn't that I knew of ... ha!

As we grow up - grow older - definitions and understandings change. 

I shared stories of some of the people who have brought me to 70 - saints who were real people, who did the best they could with the life they were given, the choices they made, who got up when they fell... 

My parents - After Mum and Dad died in the mid-nineties, my relationships with them  didn't end. I have, in addressing my own issues and life choices, been allowing them to be whole people - broken and courageous ... and so much more.

Dad who lived with the lie of his father's early death - and who therefore never had the chance to know Grandpa Mac or even know that he had two brothers and a sister. His step-father was abusive. Dad was a man who left school at 12 because he had to help with younger siblings and because the family couldn't afford to send him downtown to high school. Who was the only one of his brothers in Canada who didn't become alcoholic. Who went to school after the war to get his high school leaving certificate and then night course by night course, a BSc. Who was fragile and strong. Mysterious. Depressed and/or very angry.

Mum grew up with a father who loved her and her two sisters fiercely and was proud of them - a father who was away in the Black Watch in two wars and in Germany after WWII. Then he didn't return to Gram, though he'd left emotionally many years before. He was strong and strong-minded.  Mum used to say he'd be silent and/or angry at meals, and so mealtimes were high stress affairs. I can relate to that. She was broken by Lorne's death in 1950 and still she courageously struggled on. Camping. Driving across Canada with Jim and me. Got a B.A. at night, a teaching certificate in summers, developed MS. Told me shortly before she died that after Lorne died she was always afraid to be happy - happiness could be taken away. And yet ... 

Well, like the rest of us - they were human.

Just found on facebook - hmmm... :-)

In no particular order:

Gram kept me grounded as much as she could after Lorne died and my parents were, to put it mildly, broken. Dad went away to teachers' college. Mum returned to work and ran from the bus stop at the end of the day afraid something had happened to Jim or me. Gram was a constant, living upstairs in our home. (The worst that happened - Jim decided we'd try barbering and cut off all my curls. Mum got home before I had a chance to be the barber.) :-(

Last week, one of our cousins in Bermuda died. Dorothy Esdaille was in her 90's. When I first started discovering our Bermuda roots, someone took me to Dorothy's little home on Cut Road in St. George's. I don't think she knew I was coming. We dropped by in case... Dorothy opened to door into her living room... we looked at each other and I still feel the electricity - it was as if we had always known each other.

Now, our common ancestor is my great-great-great grandmother, Joanna Virgin Smith. That's a ways back - and yet Dorothy looked quite a bit like Gram. She was a generous, kind, loving woman in whose company one was bathed in light. She was a committed member of the Salvation Army. A saint. Not perfect, I 'm sure. But not far off. Real and committed to faith and outreach and loving those around her.

Dorothy Esdaille - photo Ros, April 2016

On October 5th, my first therapist died in Boston. When I had my breakdown/breakthrough in 1975, psychiatrist John Terry Maltsberger enabled me with compassion, empathy, and hard work, to survive and keep going when I was in the Pit, so depressed I could see no hope or way forward, often feeling suicidal. JTM stood with me. He wasn't perfect - in fact he missed some huge cues - but he was there and reached out or down or wherever to keep me going. he was quite young then. I expect he may have mellowed over the years - or - as with the rest of us - he grew.  His daughter told me after his funeral that he'd never lost a patient to suicide - except one through drugs - because he enveloped his patients in a bubble of empathy. Lovely image. He was human.

Sister Rosemary was my novice mistress as she was called in those days. And then my friend. She was an expert at putting her foot in her mouth. She had a huge heart. Gave away a pair of boots belonging to a Sister to someone who came to the convent door in need of boots. Threw things out. She loved to clean up messes and toss stuff. Sometimes it wasn't hers to toss. ;-) I used to visit her in a nursing home in New Hartford. We'd go for long drives in the country and sing silly songs.  Pop goes the weasel comes to mind on a tree-lined country lane. And shortly before she died, as I was leaving for home, I said, "We'll meet again some day." SRM replied softly, "I'm not sure I believe that." Me: "I'm not sure either, but love is forever." We agreed on that. We loved each other. 

Then another living saint - Sister Marjorie Raphael who was Mother in my day. Who sent me to Haiti. Who still passionately loves Haiti. Who loves snow, as do I! Who told me once - just one of her lines of wisdom - when I was anxious - to remember that sea gulls ride on the wind. When I see sea gulls, I remember - and when I'm anxious, I try to remember.

Joanne at Mile End Mission is broken as we all are - that is - she is human.  Creative and an artist who has developed the art programme at the Mission. Bringing in experts. Taking people to the museums. Providing opportunities and space for members to be creative, get in touch with deeper parts of themselves, be part of a little community within the community. 

Johnny, an Inuk fellow - who suffered enormously - beyond our imaginations - and who kept a warm heart and a sense of humour. Who would ask us why we cared and we would reply, "Johnny, you've had such a hard life and you've kept your heart." No one could be the same after knowing Johnny. A very human saint.

Jackie at St. CHL struggled often in excruciating pain for 46 years with Sickle cell anemia. She was on our altar guild. Faithful at worship. Loving. Spoke her mind! Touched us deeply. 

Bet who was my teacher in Grades 5, 6, and 7, was a steady, loving presence caring for extremely anxious little me. I visited her in New Zealand in 2000 when she was dying of cancer. She decided to live another ten years. ;-) 

There were and are others. They have in common being Human and Real (like the Velveteen Rabbit was Real). 

Saints are called to:
Be Real
Who they are
Speak truth even when it is difficult and Truth may be resented by others
People who struggle to love – within our limits and out of our histories
Have a sense of humour!

As a birthday gift, Joanne painted me a little round box to look like birch bark. (see above) If I were a tree, I'd be a birch. It's perfect. I asked the congregation if they were a tree, what kind would they be? Well - most had never thought of such a thing - so they did ... and I sent them off with homework. What kind of fruit? What kind of flower or plant?

The box was open on the altar. I said I was putting the names of all the people who had journeyed with me to 70, who had helped and supported me - who had gifted me with their presence and their humanity. Then we sat in silence for a moment or two, and I suggested they 'toss' the names of those who had touched their lives through the years into the box.

One more came to mind - not an individual - but a people. Haiti. I was sent as a missionary in 1971. I wasn't needed as a missionary. I was converted. And I understand the person I have become, committed to justice, anti-racism, the marginalized - as growing out of my experience in Haiti. I would not be the person I am if not for Haiti. It was also one of the experiences that led to my breakdown and eventual healing. I came back angry and have learned (and am still learning) to channel that energy into ministry.  

Enough - Maybe it would have been enough to just use this image and the quote and leave the rest to mystery ... The above all arose out of the picture below and the caption that went with it on facebook - a quote of Sufi poet Rumi:

"Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your Heart for Love."


from facebook ... Me at 70 and my little Maggie Muggins :-)

And now I'm off to the parking lot to get my broom - so watch out tonight - I'll be flying by... 

Photo sent as a card from my friends at PWRDF - thanks Suzanne

from Google images


  1. Ros, you are so full of love for all those who have touched you. I am so happy that your birthday was celebrated with a full house. Here's to many more happy days ahead. Love, Christine

  2. Great!!! You have such a WONDER FULL way of expressing 'you'!!! I am so proud of you!!! LOVE, Jim