Thursday, 26 January 2017

Let's Talk: And Sharing "From Rules to Relationship

Hmmm... I haven't posted for ages. Lots going on - mostly internally. Yesterday was Bell's Let's Talk Day - encouraging people to speak with each other - to get help - to TALK. To break the stigma around mental illness. This past year has been a time of grief and, sometimes, depression. It can be hard to know the difference - and both have to be lived through. There are reasons. The loss of a long-time therapist and mentor in things church-y (as he's also a priest) when his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and then died last January. Now he may be moving west to Vancouver. An enormous loss. In October, my first (and only) therapist when I had my breakdown in Boston, Dr. Maltsberger, died. He who journeyed with me through the first years 1975 - 1981 - the Pit - hospitalizations and sometimes suicidal hopelessness ... There are other reasons for what's going on in my mind and spirit ... but let this suffice for now. 

I can say, "Look at me now!" But saying that takes nothing from the struggle beyond words of those early years, or the anxiety in later years caused when depression creeps in on silent but big cat feet... Gift that it was ... that's a hindsight view. And - I share because my details are unique - and yet they are simply human. 

Anyhow, this is a talk I gave at an event celebrating the ordination of Anglican women in Canada. 35th anniversary, I think it was. It's the closest I'm going to come to writing at this moment ... the present journey ... and btw - on Pentecost, June 4th (a Saturday) you can come to St. CHL for a Jazz Mass to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination as a priest.

I've found a measure of stability and peace by attending Mass almost daily at St-Antoine de Padoue in Longueuil. In French. Swimming 2-3 times a week. Walking. And of course, I've kept on keeping on ...  BUT taking better care of myself than in the past. AND - it has snowed with some regularity - so healing. 

Image result for snow falling
from Google images

Telling our stories, sharing our insights, celebrating the Spirit
Ros Macgregor – June 11th, 2011

From Rules to Relationship

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.”

I’m going to share some experiences that led to me becoming a priest (and I’m still becoming) and that have affected my ministry ... and some insights gained along the way.      One image I use of my life is – a Living Quilt – pieces becoming a creative, life-filled whole. Some of the pieces of my quilt include:

Childhood – Deaths and insecurity led to my being an extremely good little girl, largely invisible - afraid of being sent away or of people dying and abandoning me. We all bring our little child with us – and mine eventually led me to look for a stable family in community – at St. Margaret’s Convent. 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 Haiti.

Haiti: I had a dream recently related to working feverishly to complete a pamphlet for a project of Solid’Haiti (our group created after the 2010 earthquake) and PWRDF–to provide meals for 15 small schools in the hardest hit areas of Haiti.  The dream was chaotic but ended in calm – with a voice saying – “If you want to know God, go to Haiti.”

I went to Haiti as a ‘missionary’ and I was converted! Ah – God is a God of justice – who wants us not just to ‘serve’ the poor but to ask with them why they are poor.  I’m carried back by the scent of eucalyptus trees – memories of mysteries at the markets – roosters crowing all night long in Port-au-Prince ... plants that breathed THANK YOU when rain teemed down at 5:30pm. I met earthy, real people, extremely visible poverty, joie-de-vivre, determination, passion, courage – Haiti showed me God in people and also started me addressing my own white privilege.

I was director of an afternoon literacy program for girls who couldn’t attend school. As sacristan at Cathédrale Ste-Trinité, I prepared for the ordination of many priests. At Père Monique Bruno’s ordination, I felt the first stirring of a call to priesthood – but 1972-3 was before the day. 

There are other places I’ve known God – a certificate made by Anne Dijkman when I was ordained, “I found God in myself, and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.” That’s an ongoing and exciting journey.

In 1975, still at the convent, 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.    Lettie Cox – In-Ministry year – “Half the world has a depressive core.” I asked about the other half – she replied, “They’re in denial.” A sense of humour is essential.

A theology student in Cowansville the summers of 1989 and 1990 – Mary Irwin Gibson was 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.

I took two units of CPE as part of a Masters in Etudes pastorales at UdeM – integrating experience (with children with cancer and their families) with theology. I met Bonnie the Brat – and I loved her.  I loved her fiercely. Besides a cancer that would kill her at 13, Bonnie 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 Bonnie, and Bonnie 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.

St. Paul’s, Lachine – In November 1993, my curacy of two years at St. Paul’s ended.  I was unemployed for a year. My Dad had died suddenly. My Mum was dying of cancer. It was not a happy time. I volunteered part time in chaplaincy at the Douglas Psychiatric Hospital. A friend told me of a rumour at St. Paul’s that I’d had another breakdown – I sent a message back - “Tell them I have the keys.”  Connie told me just a few months ago, that John Beach, when he was leaving Montreal, offered Connie and Hannah, co-founders of Mile End Mission a choice of two priests – one of whom was a woman who was unemployed, whose mother had just died, and who might have to go on welfare.  Connie said they chose me because I would understand. ;-) (the welfare part wasn't true though.)

Cancer: I worked through my breast cancer surgeries and treatments– at both the Mission and St CHL. (I took medical leave afterwards). It was a growing time for all of us – people saw that they had calls to ministry in new ways. I came to believe that we need to allow others to support us – let go some control – while staying aware of our own dynamics ...  It gave others an opportunity to give, helped build community, relationship and increase our faith. We were weak and strong together. Becoming REAL, like the Velveteen Rabbit.
My living quilt is filled with questions. I think my process has been to move from wanting and needing things organized, neat and definable (including God) to living in Questions.

Mistakes? I’ve made plenty, especially at the Mission - if we want to call them mistakes. They’re simply learning opportunities on a path where there is no map. Very little at university (as it is today) can prepare us for much of what we live as a team day in and day out. Life prepares us – not a breakdown in and of itself, but the willingness to work hard to understand my own issues – to make changes – to yearn for health.  To forgive myself – and to laugh – a lot! – “We don’t do perfect.”  :-)   

Feminist theology – finding a balance. I want to make clear that I’m a feminist. I believe in inclusive language and round tables. However, 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. When I began at CHL, I asked what they would say if I told them I wanted to do everything my way. Silence. Then Elsie said, “You wouldn’t.” I replied – “I DO want to do everything my way, but I’m not going to.” It was the beginning of keeping things in the open. 

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? 

I watch our girls – especially at the mission – and I listen – and girls can be cruel. Exclude. Passive 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.  It’s what many of us learned at our mothers’ knees – withdrawal was, for many of us, the 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? I ask this of myself, too – how much do we support each other, and how much do we allow ourselves to be supported and encouraged?

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 didn’t used to own my power. I imaged myself for many years as a mouse. Hiding. Go ahead – laugh! ... (Those of you who know me, mouse is probably not the first word that would come to mind.)  No more. We deal 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.   

There are very few places or people with whom I feel I can be confident - confidently say I’m doing a good job.  I’m saying it now. Why should that be so scary? Will someone need to put me down? Can I be confident and show it? Can I/we stand somewhere and hold our heads high? Do I have to give all the credit to God? (The old convent way).

Why should I play small? I work with a wonderful group of people in the parish and at the mission who have been willing to address conflict openly, racism, poverty, how to be community – when the individual comes first, and when the good of the community comes first, what healing means, that we have struggled and continue to struggle with gate-keeping. We laugh, spit watermelon seeds, and cry together. I’ve enabled much of this to happen, though not alone. Still, can I stand tall?

I’m going to stand in a minute for the last bit. For myself - one more step towards standing firmly somewhere and being less dependent on external acceptance.

I’d like to thank my family and friends who stood by me. And the people of Mile End Mission, St. CHL, and Bryan Pearce – for journeying with me through the hard times and for rejoicing with me in good times.

I’ll end with 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.