Saturday, 8 July 2017

Gum under Pews, Stories, and Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Google images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus wept.

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

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

from Macbeth

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

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

from Google images

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

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Dancing with Our Ancestors - A Women's Day of Celebration - Montreal May 2017

Following is the text of a talk I was asked to give at the annual Women's Day of Celebration in Montreal. I borrowed a little from another talk I gave at the 35th anniversary of women's ordination a few years ago. Mostly, it grew out of wrestling both with the meaning of being a woman today - and the connections with my female ancestors - and the difficulties I see and experience as girls and women - church in particular, and our society in general.

There was a wonderful line in Call the Midwife on Sunday night - Sister Julienne is holding Sheila tightly as Sheila's labour progresses and it is hard ... Sheila had been a sister, developed TB, left the community, returned as a nurse and midwife and married Doctor Turner. In response to Sheila's uncertainty and anguish, Sister Julienne says something like: "Every woman is the sum total of all the girls and women she has ever been ..." (Later - watched it again - the quote is "Every woman alive is the sum of all she ever did and felt and was...")  I love that. I've spent a long time integrating the girls and women I have been - anxious child, terrified teen, and especially the Sister of St. Margaret I was and therefore in some ways still am  - along now with one who broke apart and put together (with God's help and a lot of others), parish priest, director of Mile End Mission, writer ... and one who is wondering what retirement will mean ...

Here is the talk: At a point when I asked questions, I didn't expect responses - especially the second question - What is the little girl in you afraid of. But many DID respond. So moving.

Women’s Day 2017
On one of my first trips back ‘home’ to Bermuda, I walked to Grape Bay Beach and, alone except for my friend Judy, I danced a dance of freedom in the soft sand along the edge of the turquoise waters – imagining myself connected to my fore-mothers – aware of a long history of strong, courageous, fearful, amazing women - my Mum, Frances, my Gram, Emily Millicent, born in Bermuda, leaving as a 12 year old for England and then Montreal – with ‘African’ features but fair skin, passing for white because it was, and is, easier to be white in our world… my great-grandmother, Laura Mary and her mother, Susan Jane Smith who was born a slave in 1832.  At the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, August 1st, 1834 her owner Elizabeth Hayward was paid 14L 10s 16p for a 2 year old  slave’s freedom … Susan Jane’s mother was Joanna Virgin and her mother Margaret Burrows … Smith, Virgin, and Burrows were all the names of slave owner families in Bermuda. Since slave records are difficult to find – that’s as far as I can go. My DNA shows 7% African, mostly from Nigeria and Mali with 1% North Africa and 1% Central Africa hunter – gatherer.

There are lots of stories I could tell about these women. Susan Jane emigrated with her much younger British army husband to Runcorn in Cheshire in 1881 and died there in 1892 of lung disease in the horribly polluted industrial air. She made our exquisite family baptism dress and sent it to Bermuda for the baptism of my Gram in 1891.

How Gram and her sister, Auntie Jenny were teased about their colonial accents and probably their hint of colour – and their intelligence. How Gram won a scholarship to teacher’s college, but they emigrated to Montreal before she could finish – and she was always saddened not to have become a teacher. How she had green thumbs and then some. How she was always homesick for Bermuda – and returned (with my brother Jim and me) in 1963 for the first time in 57 years – and died the following year.

How my Mum never felt she was ok. She told a story of asking her grandmother if she was pretty and the response was, “You’ll pass in a crowd.” The way of the day. This same Mum told me shortly before she died that after my oldest brother Lorne drowned she was always afraid to be happy. (Happiness can be taken away in a flash.)  She also, 6 years after Lorne’s death, drove across Canada with my brother Jim and me. Became a teacher – and was one of the first to recognize and work with children with dyslexia. The day after her divorce from my Dad was final she flew to England and drove alone on the wrong side of the road to visit friends and family.

from Google Images

Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. “Be still” they say. “Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”    Linda Hogan, 1947

What women do you dance with? Do you dance? What kind of dance?

My dance is one of becoming REAL. Like the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Skin Horse in the nursery says, ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,“ he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. … Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  (page 17)  “…Except to the people who don’t understand…”

It’s scary, though. We carry broken bits and sorrows as well as joys and triumphs.

If you were to stop and look inside – and find the child that still exists in you – who would you find?

What does she love?

What is she afraid of?

My fears:

Katherine Paterson, a well-known author of children’s books, twice received the Newbury medal (top prize in children’s literature). Paterson was born in China to missionary parents.  And yet, competent, creative, and well-known as she is, she writes that every time she walks into a room full of people she feels like the little girl she was who was dressed in clothing from the missionary barrels.

Childhood – Deaths and insecurity in my first few years led to my being an extremely anxious and extremely good little girl. I made myself largely invisible – I remember the moment it began - unconsciously terrified of being sent away or of people dying and abandoning me.  Every morning before school, I’d run upstairs to kiss my Gram good-bye … terrified on some level something might happen to her if I didn’t. One morning I was late and going out the door – no – I ran up, kissed Gram (who was in bed) good-bye, and ran back out.  Control – imagining we are in control is, as children, preferable to realizing the world is chaotic and unpredictable.

I tried for perfection for many years – walking a tightrope … if I could just get it right … God would love me … I’d be safe …

My little anxious child eventually led me to look for a stable family in community – at St. Margaret’s Convent in Boston. I also loved God. The first part I didn’t understand at the time.

Convent: If my understanding of God was limited by a lifetime of anxiety, SSM also gave me an opportunity to grow in contemplative prayer, a life of discipline, commitment, struggle, love  ... courage ... some of my best friends ever ... and much more.  And SSM gave me two years in Haiti that changed my life. Sent as a missionary, it was I who was converted.

In 1975, back at the convent in Boston, I had a major breakdown. Big time. I’ve long since seen it as a breakthrough –God offering me health. In and of itself it was not a gift in ministry. First there were years of living through and scratching my way out of the Pit into light and discovering that I have a right and responsibility to live. Many years of hard work in knowing myself.  Weakness – strength – we all bring our weaknesses AND our strengths into ministry. Which is which? One of my greatest gifts has grown out of ‘falling apart” and creating a stained glass window with the fragments.   

In 1983, when it was clear I couldn’t return to the convent, I came home to Montreal and completed my BA, a diploma in theology, and an MA in Etudes pastorales at UdeM.  A theology student in Cowansville the summers of 1989 and 1990 – Bishop Mary was the priest down the road in Dunham. She told me going with women to shop at Zellers is ministry.  Hmmm - ministry outside the box. It was also the time I began visiting in a housing project – in people’s kitchens – and beginning to hear stories of spousal and child sexual abuse, including by clergy. Curate at St. Paul’s, Lachine. We met around kitchen tables. I heard more about abuse and the challenges of being a woman, especially a woman living on the edge of poverty.  We formed a women’s group: WINGS – Women Initiating New Growth Successfully. We learned to quilt. We had assertiveness training courses. One woman, Sheila, had three daughters also involved … at the end of one course, she said, “Now when Nancy asks me at the last minute if I can babysit, I can say, ‘I’m sorry, I have other plans tonight.’”

I took two units of CPE as part the programme at UdeM – integrating experience (with children with cancer and their families) with theology. I met Barbara the Brat – and I loved her.  Besides a cancer that would kill her at 13, Barbara had a really tough home life with parents short on parenting skills. She didn’t know she was loved and she tested us every way she could. She, like many of us, took on responsibility for her parents’ inadequacies   I helped Barbara, and Barbara helped me along on the journey “We don’t do perfect” which is a motto of both St CHL and Mile End.  Discovering my inner brat after so many years of being GOOD is challenging, freeing, and fun. And scary.

Until my car was rear-ended twice on my way to church and the bumper was replaced – I had a bumper sticker. “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”     It could also be, “Speak your heart, even if your voice shakes.”

Some of you may have been at synod about 10 years ago when I spoke up about funding for Mile End Mission. Norman Spencer had just become treasurer and he stood aside when he realized I was waiting to speak. Norman has retold this story many times, often in my presence – because he admired my courage. It wasn’t tidy. It WAS passionate – For 12 years I fought for stable funding at the Mission – 12 years of promises made and promises broken – and more…  I shook waiting to speak, I shook at the microphone, and I shook after I sat down. AND after 12 years, we got stable funding and all of my energies could finally be channelled into ministry. A few years later, Norman began to tell the story at synod while I was trying to get the mike to work – and I said, “It wasn’t that bad.” A woman’s voice came to me from the side, “Yes, it was.” I’m just sorry I said “It wasn’t that bad.” Why did I feel the need to put myself down? Apologize? And I’m saddened that another woman expressed disapproval that way.

I watch our girls – especially at the mission – and I listen – and girls can be cruel. Exclude. Passively aggressive.  We had a group of 10-11 year old boys and girls visit the Mission from our local school. I asked them if they thought there was any conflict at the mission. (Yes, there is.  Often.)  I asked how they handle conflict. Boys and girls said that boys fight. Their main answer to how girls handle conflict was - to push away, to talk behind their backs, to be mean.  In essence, “Who does she think she is?” And they/we pull each other down.

Google Image

I see Lori. She’s here today. Lori who has awesome gifts with people of every kind – who is able to bring together, respecting both, a heavily alcoholic and difficult man in need of a new health card and the man behind the desk who tries to push them away and refuse to help. Lori who was told, in frustration, by a board member, “You never used to speak up like this.” Lori replied, “I didn’t have to. Ros was here.” That’s when I knew I’d done my job at Mile End Mission. Empowering women to recognize and live out their strength and wisdom. Lori’s good! So quick to respond effectively in situations that might take me 15 minutes to two days to come up with – to trust my knowing …

We all have our own stories of Survival. Many (or most) of us have basic insecurities about our own worth  ...  Not knowing where we belong. Many of us learned as children that girls are supposed to be... mmm ... nice?

It’s what many of us learned at our mothers’ knees – withdrawal was/is a method of expressing disapproval, leading partly to a sense of shame. Girls and women often still use withdrawal rather than direct confrontation. We all learn as children the survival techniques in our own family situations – we continue to use them until hopefully discovering that we don’t need some of them anymore. We bring them with us into ministry. Not bad. Simply a challenge. How do we work together as strong, competent women? How much do we support each other, and how much do we allow ourselves to be supported and encouraged?

Feminist theology - I’m a feminist. I believe in inclusive language and round tables. However, for a number of years I bought into, but now see as at least partially Fantasy-land – the writings that suggested that men are competitive, women are co-operative. You know – the circle stuff. Somewhere in there – we are simply human beings – men and women - and we are all capable of being co-operative, and also competitive. So what? It’s real. What’s wrong with wanting to win? To do well? To find a place? To belong?  Both/And. A good Anglican position.  I am human. I can be both competitive and co-operative.

I was born on Hallowe’en, as convent bells were ringing in First Vespers of All Saints. I say I’m a witch – defining witch for myself – as a woman of power.  I wasn’t aware of own my power. I imaged myself for many years as a mouse. Hiding. (Those of you who know me, mouse is probably not the first word that would come to mind.)  If we don’t own our strength (power) we misuse it or use it in destructive ways. No more. The ‘mistakes’ I’ve made in ministry have mostly been when I refused to own my authority/power. It’s been a long journey from ‘nice’ to ‘real.’ Messing up sometimes, but real.

We’ve dealt with murder, suicides, rats, drug-dealers who take over the apartment of a gentle man who suffers from schizophrenia. ... alcohol ... child abuse ... spousal abuse ... abusive landlords ... cancers ...  psych units when someone is hospitalized ... welfare rights, people who have lived lives of turmoil who re-create chaos when things get quiet... People of many faiths and languages – creating community together.  Not things we can learn or be prepared for in seminary. 

There are very few places where, or people with whom, I feel I can be confident - confidently say I’m doing a good job.  I’m saying it now. I’m retiring. And I’ve done and am doing good ministry. Why should that be so scary? Will someone need to put me down? Can I/we be confident and show it? Can I/we stand tall and be less dependent on external acceptance?

Why should I play small?

I’d like to read a quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Challenge I’ll leave us with:

Have you been put down by another woman – put in your place – had an experience of “Who do you think you are?”

Have put down other women, tried to put them in their place – wondered about another woman : “Who does she think she is?”   If so, Why?

There’s a wonderful story of my great-grandparents.  The Virtue family lived in St. George’s. Mr. Virtue, a white man, inherited a pew in the front white section – Pew # 26. The Virtues shared their pew with my great-grandparents. For years I’ve wondered how my great-grandma, Laura Mary, a woman of colour, got to sit in a front pew in the 1800’s. Two years ago, I met Sandra, the great-granddaughter of the Virtues. I asked her my burning question. Turns out Mrs. Virtue was also a woman of colour, but it wasn’t provable. I laugh every time I think of some of the white people at St. Peter’s looking at Pew # 26 and thinking to themselves, “Who do they think they are?”

And - one of my favourite passages of all time : Dancing with my ancestors...

From The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner concerning the Feast of All Saints'

...HOW THEY DO LIVE on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them. Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us. Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill , taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us—and through them we come to understand ourselves—in new ways too. Who knows what "the communion of saints" means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us. They have their own business to get on with now, I assume—"increasing in knowledge and love of Thee," says the Book of Common Prayer, and moving "from strength to strength," which sounds like business enough for anybody— and one imagines all of us on this shore fading for them as they journey ahead toward whatever new shore may await them; but it is as if they carry something of us on their way as we assuredly carry something of them on ours. That is perhaps why to think of them is a matter not only of remembering them as they used to be but of seeing and hearing them as in some sense they are now. If they had things to say to us then, they have things to say to us now too, nor are they by any means always things we expect or the same things...

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

No Leap-frogging over Holy Week to Easter

from Google Images

Herbie O’Driscoll told us many years ago, “The Resurrection isn’t just about an empty tomb 2,000 years ago. Resurrection is NOW! NOW! NOW!”

So also: “Good Friday isn’t just about Jesus on a cross 2,000 years ago. Good Friday is about Jesus on a cross NOW! NOW! NOW!

Where is Jesus suffering and dying today?

I don't 'like' Holy Week. I don't like suffering - my own or anyone else's. So, who does? It still feels kind of wrong - even heretical? - to say I don't like Holy Week. And yet ... understanding Good Friday as also happening today helps me live it ...

Sunday, we celebrated the Sunday of the Passion, aka Palm Sunday. "All glory, laud and honour to thee, Redeemer King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring ..." we sang as we processed from the hall with our blessed palms into our little church. 

Hosanna! I thought hosanna just was a way of shouting praise - which it also is - but apparently it actually means something more like, "Lord, save us! Lord, rescue us!" Hmmm... that puts a different spin on it. Still .. were the people shouting two thousand years ago looking to be saved from earthly oppression and injustice hoping he would overthrow the Romans and restore their country to their own people? All of them?

Lots of questions. Mystery. Wonder. Even awe. 

I read this week - I think by Frederick Buechner - about two kinds of power. That Pilate entered Jerusalem from one side of the city on a horse, with cohorts of soldiers, symbolizing earthly power - the kind the beats up on people, forcing compliance ... plenty of that about in the world today.

And on the other side of town, Jesus entered on a donkey - a symbol of another kind of power. The power of love, mercy, compassion ... of truth ... His was the power of the fool who turns the world upside down.

Saturday afternoon, I had also attended Palm Sunday Mass at Eglise St-Antoine in Vieux Longueuil. It got me pondering in new ways. About power. Mine. the Church's. About what we're looking to be saved from... while welcoming Jesus with enthusiasm. 

In order to get to Easter we can either hide out and be really busy, or live through all the questions, confusion, mystery, and suffering of Jesus - and of the world - and discover anew that true power is the power that Jesus lived out in his life, ministry, and his willingness to die rather than sell-out to the wrong kind of power. That's when the image of leap-frogging came to mind. No leap-frogging over the tough stuff to Easter -  no leap-frogging over suffering and death to resurrection.

Many years ago, I heard the story of a priest who told his congregation on Palm Sunday that if they didn't come (at a minimum) to the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, they shouldn't come on Easter. Ummm... well, some people can't. Being unable to attend church doesn't prevent us from living Holy Week.

I miss, at times like this, the depths of Holy Week lived in a convent. I don't miss some of the theology of those days (whether taught implicitly in the religious life or learned unhealthily in my youth)... offer it up ... my suffering is nothing compared to Jesus' suffering ... I can't imagine that Jesus believes in competitive suffering. "My suffering is greater than yours." It's not a competition. Jesus is with us ... in our suffering - in the world's suffering... 

And the world's suffering is beyond heart-breaking. 

Our liturgy on Good Friday is, again this year, based on the Stations of the Cross. A shorter version - the Biblical stations. And Good Friday finds its meaning for me in Jesus' suffering today. So, here are some images we will use for prayer:

Children mining cobalt in DRC - from Google Images
Jesus is the children who mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo - cobalt to be used to make our cell phones and other electronic equipment. Pray for them. Pray for Père Laurent Somda, a priest of St. vincent de Paul, who works with these children. Pray for us that we may wake up not only to the suffering of child slaves and to our implication in situations like this.

From Amnesty International:

"Walk into any high-end phone shop and you’ll find all the hallmarks of the luxury tech market: slick surfaces, cool lines, spotless screens.

It’s a far cry from the toxic dust that children inhale as they mine the cobalt that powers the batteries we rely on for our phones and other portable electronic devices.
These child miners, some as young as seven, live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), central Africa. Given that more than half the world’s cobalt comes from the DRC, that one fifth of it is extracted by artisanal (or informal) miners, and that around 40,000 children work in southern DRC where the cobalt is mined, there’s a chance that our phones contain child labour.
Yet phone manufacturers – global brands including Apple and Samsung – won’t tell us if their cobalt supply chains are tainted by child labour. They have a responsibility to do so –to check for and address child labour in their supply chains, setting an example for the rest of the industry to follow.
We all agree that our phones are indispensable, but we can’t dispense with the rights of the men, women and children whose labour powers our phones."

Cemetery in  First Nations community in Northern Ontario.
Jesus is our Aboriginal sisters and brothers in Canada. Pray for communities like Pikangikum where 92% of the 450 homes have no water or waste-water services. Overcrowded homes, poverty, lack of community infrastructure, and soaring food costs. Where suicide rates are 36 times the national average, and Pikangikum has the highest child suicide rate in the world.

Children in southern haiti after Hurricane Matthew
Many years ago at a Christmas service at Mile End Mission, a child whose father was from haiti, looked at our Black Baby Jesus and cried out to his mother, "maman, je ne savais pas que Jésus était Haïtien!!" (translated: Mummy, I didn't know Jesus was Haitian!"

Jesus is Haitian. Haiti is forgotten as soon as another tragedy happens in the world. Pray for the resilient, courageous, and burdened people who had not recovered from the earthquake when Hurricane Matthew struck, destroying home and crops, again leaving people homeless and destitute. And still the people sing. And rebuild.

 A church bombed in Egypt on Palm Sunday - from Google Images
Jesus went to church on Palm Sunday in Egypt. At least 44 people were killed and 100+ injured in bomb attacks in two Coptic Christian churches. Pray for those traumatized by this violence, who live daily with terror and uncertainty. Help us to understand the root causes of this violence and Western implications in it. Help us to speak for justice. What would justice look like? 

Children in Somalia - from Google Images
Jesus lives in refugee camps in Africa. Jesus is starving and dying. Pray for all those affected by the drought in Africa, for refugees, for those living continually under threat of violence and death.

Farmers, traders and consumers across East and Southern Africa are feeling the impact of consecutive seasons of drought that have scorched harvests and ruined livelihoods.
The El Niño-driven crisis has increased the malnutrition rates of rural children, and driven up food prices for urban residents. Livestock deaths and fire sales have slashed the asset wealth of pastoralists, and cumulative bad harvests will make recovery all the harder for small-scale farmers.
In the worst cases, where conflict has made farming impossible and reduced humanitarian access, there will be famine. That currently applies only to South Sudan, but could also include Somalia if the emergency response falters.
What makes food price spikes all the harder to bear is that there is rarely a corresponding increase in people’s wages. And when the drought is over, prices often stay stubbornly high, note researchers Paul Adams and Edward Paice.
A number of countries wrestling with the impact of El Niño have still recorded decent macro-economic growth rates, but food price inflation means those benefits are rarely felt by ordinary citizens.
There are a number of strategies governments could adopt to address the situation: from improving the tradability of food, to coordinated climate change adaptation strategies, to meeting the African Union target of allocating 15 percent of budget spending to agriculture.
“No miraculous discoveries are required,” suggest Adams and Paice. “But the start point is recognition of the unsustainability of a relentless rise in the cost of food throughout Africa; and the fact that while droughts and conflict may create price spikes, the root causes of this phenomenon lie with government.”

17 countries (are) struggling to come to terms with the impact of two consecutive years of drought, which has left more than 38 million people at risk this year.
A child died of poison gas in Syria - from Google Images
Jesus lives in Syria. Pray for all those, again, living continually under threat of violence and death. For those who grieve. For perpetrators, whoever they are. For leaders in all countries who perpetuate war for nefarious purposes as if it were a game and deaths simply collateral damage....

So, no leap-frogging over Holy Week to Easter, Ros. The natural human reaction to suffering is to want it to go away rather than live through it. Holy Week is an opportunity to choose to live in the questions without simple answers and to become more fully human.

Randolph Rose bronze collection - from Google Images
Next week, we can play leap frog - those who are still young enough to do it. Well, in our hearts if age and infirmity prevent the act.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Mud, Ministry, and Miracles

Long walk this evening. Large wet snowflakes lightly covering branches and all things. Two cardinals singing, invisible in treetops. Sparrows chirping from inside cedar bushes. Reminds me of a poem I wrote many years ago at the convent:

Be still
and listen
to the sound

Wondering. Remembering. Puzzling about mud and ministry and miracles.

from Google Images

I discovered this image of mud and miracles this afternoon while putting together Sunday's bulletin cover - John 9. 1 - 41 is the Gospel for Lent 4, Year A. The healing of the man born blind. Jesus spat on the ground, made paste of mud, placed it on the man's eyes, and told him to go and wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. And lo and behold, the man could see.

Mud and miracles. 

Jesus Mafa image - from google Images

from Google Images

I was blind, and now I see. Or at least I have begun to see.

August 1971, Phebe and Phil Jacobs stopped off at Trinity Mountain Camp in Connecticut (where I was working) on their way west, having visited the summer convent in Duxbury first. Phebe told me I was going to Haiti that fall. WHAT??!! How she knew (and I didn't) is another story. It was actually an educated guess. I did NOT want to go. Leaving home or being sent away has always been an underlying child terror. Not to mention very large tarantulas and other creepy crawlies. 

But go I did in October. Sacristan at Cathédrale Ste-Trinité and director of Ecole Ste-Marguerite, the afternoon literacy programme for girls (many of whom were what is now called restaveks) who were unable to attend regular school.

Two experiences of mud in Haiti:

One of our children had been ill and was missing for a couple of weeks. Jeanne Romain (Cathedral member and volunteer at Ecole Ste-Marguerite) took me to try to find her along the muddy paths that became narrower and narrower between homes in one of the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince ... a symbol of the journey into the mysteries of poverty, reality, humanity, and awe that Haiti gave me. Transformation begun. Beginning to see. We found, sadly, that our little girl had died.

I don't know where I'd 'lived' before Haiti. Well, I do. I'd lived in a shell of unconsciousness. Aware and not aware of the world around me because so much energy was going into survival - clinging to illusions of safety and imagining that if I prayed hard enough, God would answer ... searching for perfection - to belong - accepted - loved - to be lost in God ... depressed, in fact.


One night the Sisters went to an ecumenical service at the Salvation Army Citadel - again in one of the poorest areas of the city - It had rained at 5:30, as it often did. Down, down we seemed to walk in mud and darkness - to a profound experience of lively worship and real people. I have such admiration for the Salvation Army as they minister with the poorest of the poor. "Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." Micah 6.8 

September 17, 1975. My first visit with psychiatrist, Dr. John Terry Maltsberger (who died October 5, 2016) in Belmont, Massachusetts. He asked, "How long have you been depressed?" If I had known then what I know now, I'd have said, "All my life." As it was, I didn't even know there was a word for the unfathomable darkness I eventually called The Pit. 

A few years into therapy, I distinctly remember JTM (as I called him) saying, "Come down into the mud with the rest of us." Terrified of knowing, of loving, of being loved - in short - of living fully. It's been a long journey.

Mud. We're all in the mud. Yet, Jesus uses mud to heal. We're made of mud - of earth - the Spirit's breath blown into us bringing us to life.  Healing mud.

Unhealing mud. Recently I found a Youtube video of children in slavery in the Democratic Republic of Congo mining in mud for cobalt to be used to make our cellphones and other electronic devices. Digging tunnels that sometimes collapse, killing all who are inside. Working with cobalt, a dangerous substance.

Where's this going?

On CBC radio last week, a doctor in the US spoke about doing work which is controversial yet necessary. With compassion and mercy. He has had death threats.  He is a man of faith doing what he is called to do. He said, "I could live to be 100. If I don't follow a path of compassion and mercy - my call - I may live to 100 but be dead inside from the age of 35 because I chose not to live fully.  If I am killed, die young, at least I will have lived." 

I think he's choosing to live in the mud with others who are also living in the mud. Alive.

Haiti set me on a different path that I could never have foreseen. First, came a breakdown/breakthrough. A long hard (understatement) journey in the mud to healing. And, Haiti pointed me to ministry on the fringes of our world - with others who are suffering - whether from mental illness, cancer, the effects of poverty ... This is my call.

Monday of the first week of Lent, Charles Mangongo one of several priests in the local RC parish originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, preached a sermon that not only touched me deeply, but reminded me/us of the way to which we are called.

I use parts of his homily with permission. Forgive me if it is not perfectly translated. 

"L’appel à la sainteté est universel. Tous nous sommes y sommes appelés... les deux lectures très abondantes, nous donnent des pistes pouvant nous aider à marcher sur le chemin de la sainteté."

"The call to holiness is universal and we are all called... the two rich readings show us the path to follow, helping us to walk the road of holiness."

The first reading from Leviticus 19: 
"Be holy because the Lord your God is holy.... don't steal, don't lie, don't take my name in vain, don't exploit your neighbour ... don't revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind ... you shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself... you shall love your neighbour as your self..."

"Pourquoi il y a-t-il encore du mal dans notre monde aujourd’hui ? La haine, la violence, le vol, le mensonge, le faux témoignage, l’oppression, l’injustice, la vengeance... ? C’est parce que nous nous sommes détournés de la voie de la sainteté à laquelle Dieu nous a tous appelés. Il nous appelle à aimer notre prochain comme nous-mêmes. Et c’est le même message que Jésus nous lance dans l’évangile à travers le récit de sa venue à la fin des temps."

"Why is there still evil in our world today? Hatred, violence, theft, lying, false testimony, oppression, injustice, vengeance..? It's because we have turned away from the path of holiness to which God calls us all. God calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves. And it is the same message Jesus gives us ... " (in the Gospel)

The Gospel: Matthew 19. 34-40
‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 

"Jesus shows us that He is in the person who is hungry, who is thirsty; He is present in the stranger, the one who needs clothes, who is ill or a prisoner. Every time we reach out to these persons, we do it for him. Every time we close our hearts to the sufferings of others, we cause him to suffer." 

"Bref, au soir de notre vie, nous serons jugés pour l’amour et par amour ! Pour l’amour, à cause de nos actes, et par amour à cause de Dieu qui n’est qu’Amour et qui veut le bonheur de tous ses enfants... Que ce temps du  Carême que nous venons de commencer nous aide à porter un regard d’amour sur toutes ces personnes que nous pourrons rencontrer sur notre chemin et qui ont besoin d’être secourues et aimées. Soyons bienveillants comme Dieu notre Père est bienveillant envers tous. Amen !"
                 Père Charles Mangongo Male, rsv

"At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love and by love! On love by our actions, and by love because God is only love and wants the happiness of all His children... May this time of Lent ... help us to see with love all the people we meet on our journey and who need our help and love. May we be kind as God is kind to all."

So - is the miracle that we begin to truly see our brothers and sisters - and ourselves - with the love God has for each of us? And seeing, act upon it?

Let's go play in the mud. Sacred play.

from Google Images

from Google Images