Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

We pass through Christmas into the hard reality of January, the warmth of the stable left behind. The path before us stretches unknown, fraught with difficulty and unexpected obstacles. Herod pursues us, and the angels voices are silent, gone.

But wait. The soft sound of a camel’s hoof approaches. The wise men appear, silent as a desert night. They come from a far off land, traveling together on hope, dodging enemies, avoiding pitfalls. They arrive days after the birth, their epiphany not the result of angels singing, or knowledge of a virgin birth, but of their own desire to seek, to find the truth wherever it may lie.

The wise men guide us into the New Year. They remind us to accept the challenges of today, to live now, and not wait for graduation, for vacation, for retirement. There will be obstacles. There will be enemies. But together it is always possible to find another way home.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Four Candles

One candle for everyone who reaches out to a neighbor or stranger during this Advent season, to make their burden light and their Christmas bright. For the givers and the seekers who notice the lost, forgotten and poor, who visit the prisons, feed the hungry, and befriend the lonely, that their compassion may be returned a hundredfold.

One candle for the forlorn and forgotten, whom no one will visit this Christmas, that they may know they are loved by God. For the sick, the grieving, the fearful, the suffering and the dying, that they may feel held in the arms of God, and remembered by the world.

One candle for the peacemakers and justice seekers who speak up for all of us in parks and squares around the world, in newspapers and on cardboard posters, on Facebook and in the streets, in letters and in conversations, in Churches, mosques and synagogues, in rallies and vigils, who persist and hold on, even when harassed, ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, or ignored. That they may keep the vision of God’s peace forever in their hearts and know their voices matter.

One last candle for the dictators and thieves, the Herods and Pilates, the CEOs and presidents, the Generals and politicians, the oppressors and powerbrokers, who work without conscience, who send others to war, who kill at arm’s length, who pursue greed at any cost, because business is business and a dollar is a dollar. That their eyes and ears may be opened and their hearts turned so that they may see and hear and serve their brothers and sisters who hold a different candle.

Four candles for justice, hope, faith, and love, all lit from the fire of a star that burned across the universe two thousand years ago, illuminating the lowly manger, reflecting the infant’s first breath, and calling us to keep the flames alive.

Note: My Christmas story, Elizabeth's Hope: A Meditation can be found at

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Struggle

Waiting usually involves quiet expectation, a period of idleness even, a time to gather thoughts and energy for an important event. But Advent, that time set side to wait and prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, contains little of those qualities any more.

I love Advent, but I struggle this year to find the peace it offers. I feel as if I’m standing on a platform while an express train hurtles past, warning me to hustle, hurry, get things done. I try to find the stillness inside, but the world calls out that nothing interior matters, except reflection on the gifts I should want, the food I must prepare, the decorations I must hang. Buy it now. Eat it now. Do it now.

I read of the failure of the Kyoto protocol on the environment, the struggles of the Occupy movement, and the imposition of ever more draconian security legislation, and I feel as if we have lost sight of all vision and all hope for the future. But that is exactly what Advent is about.

Advent calls me to reflect on the future, on what is to come, as Mary did, as Joseph did. It tells me to take risks for peace, for love and for all those who are to come. It reminds me that life isn’t easy but with our eyes turned toward the divine and our ears tuned toward the angels we might have a chance. And where do we find this divine? With the meekest, the poorest, and the most vulnerable, into whose arms the messiah was born.

I don’t do enough in my life for God or my neighbor, but Advent allows me to begin again, to try harder, maybe to reach higher this time. I force myself to find time for reflection and prayer in this busy season. It fills me then, this spirit of hope. It fills me and reminds me that Mary and Joseph struggled too, that their path was hard and their world imperfect. But they answered the angel anyway. They said yes. Maybe we can too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SOA Watch 2011

What do we do with this world that turns a blind eye to torture, that permits state sanctioned murder all in the name of greed, all in the name of consumerism?

I spent last weekend in Georgia at the annual SOA Watch, a huge vigil outside the gates of Fort Benning, home of the infamous School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC in an effort to hide its evil reputation). The school trains Latin American and South American soldiers for the specific purpose of oppressing their own people. Why? To ease access to land and resources for American and Canadian corporations.

Graduates of this school have a nasty history. They are responsible for murders in their thousands. Their victims include Oscar Romero, Rutilio Grande, and the entire village of El Mozote in El Salvador. Their dead include infants only a few hours old, elders over 100 years old, and every age in between. They have killed women, men, missionaries, politicians, children, the educated, the illiterate and anyone, absolutely anyone who stands in the way of the corporate machine.

The weekend brings together torture survivors and peacemakers from all over the Americas. It includes workshops and prayer services, reminding us of the intimate link between faith and justice. It is a weekend of remembrance of the victims, and hope for the future.

The slow memorial procession on the last day testifies to the spirits of the victims who live on in the hearts of those who see something better than consumerism, something higher than greed, something more meaningful than war. As the name of each victim is read, the thousands who have come call out ‘Presente’ for they will always be present to us. And then slowly, one by one, a cross is placed in their name on the gates of the School. Once the gate is covered with crosses, it transforms from a place of hate to a place of hope.

For every name there is a cross. For every cross there is a resurrection. I am reminded that this is not the end. It is only the beginning.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy Everywhere: Building the Kingdom Now

The Occupy movement has exploded in cities and towns across North America. ‘Enough’, people cry. Enough of the greed. Enough of the fraud. Enough of the inequality.

Thousands of people have left their homes to call for justice before the economic rulers of our time. They’ve presented their faces, their whole selves, to those who control the money and make the rules. They’ve called for accountability and appealed for fairness. And the backlash has begun.

The CEOs have hunkered down to wait out the protesters. The police have girded themselves for the fight. And big media has ridiculed the Occupy movement from the start. Why? Because big news outlets are big business. The Occupy movement with its grassroots communication is as much a threat to news outlets as it is to corporations and the political elite. So they’ve ignored as much as possible the real issues of the protests in favor of side stories and fillers.

How safe then is our freedom of speech in North America? How safe is our right to gather? Are we any different here than in the despotic regimes of the world? Who are the police here to protect? Who are the news outlets reporting to?

The Occupy movement happened because people couldn’t make their voices heard by conventional means. The media wasn’t listening. Neither was government. It happened because people realized that soon they would have nothing to lose (if they weren’t there already). It happened because it had to happen.

If we really believe in our right to gather and our right to speak our minds with sincerity and without prejudice, then we should be standing up for the Occupy movement no matter what we believe about each individual issue. (Still don’t know what the issues are? Try unemployment, disparity of wealth between the top 1% and bottom 99%, corporate bail-outs, and corporate taxation, just to start).

We are at a crossroads as a society. Either we protect the right of citizens to gather and voice their discontent, or we descend into the swamp of intentional, planned, and accepted systemic injustice. Up until now we may have been able to convince ourselves that systemic injustice was unintentional, and that our courts would lead us to justice in the end. That mythical bubble is bursting.

As Christians we need to ask ourselves, are we disciples or are we Romans? Will we stand with the poor and voiceless? Or will we look away from the fight, or worse, side with the people in power? Will we allow the crucifixion to happen?

Because it’s a slippery slope. As we accept the slow erosion of justice, the tiny increments of loss of freedom, the perhaps unnoticeable growth of the wage gap, we also accept a society that will require more tyranny, and more control to keep it from falling apart. We accept, in short, our own oppression.

But we can stop this. Let your friends know you support the Occupiers. Go to the Occupy sites if you can. If you can’t, occupy the internet and the opinion page of your newspaper. Write to government. Keep the conversation going.

It’s time now to speak up against the forces that would end the Occupy movement. It’s time to stand up for freedom of speech and the right to gather. It’s time to call for accountability and justice. It’s time to recognize that we need to create a more just world.

Not tomorrow. Today.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Our Vulnerability, We Find our God

November leaves turn crisp and musical, carpeting the roads and sidewalks, calling to be kicked. The cold of winter descends in the north, and we turn our hearts to the coming of the dark days of winter.

Our lives pass in seasons, both in our bodies and in our souls. Humans are born vulnerable. We are exposed at the moment of our birth, and we never quite manage to cover up completely. This is good. In our vulnerability and need we meet each other. In our transparency, we meet the Spirit of God.

When we empty ourselves of all our immediate coverings, our things and our worries, we open ourselves most powerfully to God. When there is nothing to hold on to and eternity lies ahead, when pain rips open the scars we’ve built for ourselves, when nothing at all stands between us and our fears, we paradoxically find ourselves most present to God. And once touched, we carry that knowledge with us everywhere.

When I reflect on the people I know who are most willing to ignore the condemnation of society and the ridicule of critics to embrace the poor and the marginalized, I find it no surprise that they are always people with a strong sense of the divine. These are our peacemakers and hope givers, our servants and our lights. They have made their vulnerability a strength and found a way to see past their own present to a future where all belong and all are embraced by God. Let those who have eyes to see, see…

People like Chris Hedges, Liz Berrigan, Bob Holmes, John Dear, Art Laffin, Sr. Ardeth Platte, Sr. Carol Gilbert, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Roy Bourgeois, Dwyer Sullivan, and so many, many others are not saints or magical people, simply those who have, in their vulnerability, seen something bigger, greater, and more wonderful: love. This is a tangible love, a defenseless one that builds community, friendship, humor, peace, and inevitably, faith. By its very existence, despite setbacks and failures, it builds the Kingdom of God.

As I struggle to remove the blinders from my own eyes and the muzzle from my lips, I look to their example. I wonder how to follow the call of God. I wonder how to accept my failures. I strive, weakly, to set my fears aside.

And there, in weakness, in vulnerability, in trepidation, I find it all – the keys to the kingdom: faith, hope and love. I pray my eyes will always be open to them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm Coming Out of the Closet: Will You Join Me?

Last week yet another Canadian teenager committed suicide, this time in Ottawa. He had come out of the closet, and let his friends, family and school community know he was gay. But the unbearable homophobia, bullying and sheer hate he suffered as a result overwhelmed him.

He escaped. Permanently. Tragically.

It’s time we stopped this. It’s time we declared this kind of bullying and discrimination off limits. It’s time we said no.

Rick Mercer, Canadian comedian extraordinaire, recently called on prominent LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer) entertainers and politicians to come out of the closet to become role models and supporters for our teens.

But we can do even better than that.

We can each come out of the closet of our silence to our family and friends and declare homophobia unacceptable. We can stand up for our LGBTQ coworkers, teenagers and community members.

To our teenagers, it doesn’t matter that it gets better when you get older. It doesn’t matter that high school doesn’t last forever. What matters for a teenager is the here and now, the present, today. We need to be there for these young men and women. We need to walk out of the closet with them.

The time has passed for those of us who accept sexual difference to simply stand by. The time has passed for silence. Not one more teen must die for this. Not one.

How do we come out of the closet? We stop using the word ‘gay’ as an insult. We stop making fun of other people’s sexuality. We start accepting that each of us is unique, and that different isn’t just another word for wrong.

For those who hold up their Christianity as a barrier to acceptance I say, remember what Jesus said about sexuality. Can’t think of it? That’s because he said exactly nothing. Not once in any gospel does he bring it up as he eats, travels and hangs out with the so-called sexual and societal deviants of his time.

Jesus leads us with an example of acceptance and integration. He comes out of the closet against hate and discrimination. He strides out into the world proudly with the marginalized and bullied.

I think it’s time we followed. Will you join me?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stranger than Fiction 2: A Cry for Freedom and Justice

Why bother with the bible?

After all, some biblical fundamentalists seem to use it as their primary tool to put down those who are the wrong gender, wrong color, wrong nationality or wrong sexuality. So why not leave it to them?

Because that narrow-minded approach risks stealing the bible’s real unparalleled message of freedom and justice. It’s a dangerous book, subversive even, driving its readers not to create division, but to escape all systems of oppression, greed and hate.

The bible connects us to our past and points us to our future. It’s really a book of hopes and dreams, of God and humanity. It’s a book that calls to us, and compels us to speak out, not just about what we believe about God, but what we believe about ourselves.

The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas reminds us that at the heart of Scripture, be it the Hebrew texts or the New Testament, lies a call to respond to God with, ‘Here I am.’ It’s Moses before the burning bush, Mary before Gabriel, and Jesus on the cross. It’s every prophet, every ancestor, and every poor forgotten suffering person who encountered the Divine.

The bible teaches us that the story is not in what God can do for us, but what God calls us to do for each other. ‘Here I am’ we must say to each other. ‘Here I am’ we call out to God.

This is truth beyond fact. This is wisdom beyond rules. This is the hope of all futures. If we can commit ourselves to love and care for each other we will have committed ourselves, finally, at long last to our God. The self-emptying of Jesus on the cross is a model of love for all of us.

Give yourselves, God cries. Care for my children. Love my people, all my people, but especially the downtrodden, marginalized, suffering, oppressed, and yes, the enemy. “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you. For this is the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus commands, reminding us of the heart of Scripture.

This theme echoes through the bible from the opening where God hovers above what will be our world and our future, through the call to freedom of Exodus, the cry of the poor in Deuteronomy, the appeal to justice of every prophet and finally on through the story and example of love of Jesus the Christ.

Our sometimes misused and maligned Book throws us a challenge that we dare not refuse. Love each other, no matter the obstacles, no matter the pain. This and only this will lead to God.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stranger than Fiction, and Deeper Too

I hold the bible in my hand, and slowly let it fall open. The pages settle on the Gospel of Matthew, and Jesus’ parable (story) of the Lost Sheep, a beautiful tale that compares a shepherd’s commitment to find a stray sheep to God’s love and commitment to find even the most wayward of us humans.

Two thousand years ago in Judea, storytelling was an important way to teach and impart truth. It still is. Think about it: When was the last time you went to a theatre to watch a documentary as opposed to a fictional movie? And the movies we love most are those that tell us something about our human condition. We seek truth everywhere and always, even in our stories. Jesus knew that.

Certain concepts defy the precision of human language. They can be understood, but most easily through the lens of a good story. It’s much like stargazing. The constellation of the Seven Sisters lies like a blur across the night sky when we gaze at it directly. But when our eyes shift to the side, all seven stars emerge perfectly shaped in our peripheral vision.

I mention all this, because within Christianity we take different approaches to the bible. There are those that argue that every story in Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) must be understood as fact, and then there are those that argue that to understand a story as fiction does not belittle the truths it professes. So for example, some Christians take the story of Adam and Eve literally, but many others accept the theory of evolution while at the same time also fully accepting the deeper truths of God’s love and humanity’s failings found in that story. Both sides value truth.

Sadly, the different branches of Christianity sometimes struggle to talk about their differences, let alone accept them. And yet, reading the bible always reminds me of how inclusive God calls us to be.

The decision over which books to include in the New Testament was arrived at through consensus over a period of years, with information, letters and books shared between different worshiping communities. Early Church leaders decided to follow the example of Hebrew Scripture. Just as the Old Testament contains several retellings of the same stories, with differences, so the New Testament should contain several different reliable perspectives on Jesus’ life. This is why there are four Gospels, each from a different community. One would not be enough.

Eighteen parables would be lost if the Gospel of Luke had been eliminated. Eleven would be lost without Matthew. And of those that they have in common, the slightly different tellings enlighten us to deeper truths.

The Bible invites us to conversation. The stories within its pages call us to speak to the truths that resonate in our souls. Rather than rejecting different understandings, we should seek the truths that may be hidden there. We will not always agree, but together we will grow. We are unique individuals within particular communities, and we are called together to be a people of inclusion, wisdom, faith and love.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Death Penalty and the Dignity of Life

The execution (murder) of Troy Davis this week threw the issue of Capital Punishment back in the limelight. The deep and continuing tragedy of this policy continues to mar too many US States not to mention many countries around the world.

There is no shortage of reasons to oppose the death penalty. For one thing, it costs four times as much to execute a murderer as to house him or her for life. For another, judges and juries make mistakes (this week alone a Florida man was released after thirty years in prison for a crime DNA evidence has just proven he didn’t commit).

Its historical application has more than smacked of racism, not to mention political grandstanding. And, once convicted, a death row inmate must actually prove his or her innocence, a fact that sent Troy Davis to the executioner’s table even though 7 of the 9 witnesses to the murder recanted their original statements and no physical evidence ever linked him to the crime. Doubt was not enough.

Finally, it wreaks emotional and mental havoc on guards, executioners and families of the executed – all innocent victims. Any time we tell someone (guard, soldier, doctor) that they are not responsible for their actions, that they need not exercise their conscience, that others (judges, juries, officers) are the ones responsible for the call, we stray into dangerous territory. Like it or not we are each responsible before God for our actions. We were given the freedom to exercise conscience. We cannot pass it on to others and simply argue that we were following orders.

But the overarching reason that the death penalty is wrong is simple. It comes down to four words: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Of all the commandments this is probably the most straightforward – so much simpler than trying to figure out what it means to honor your mother and father, or what exactly constitutes a lie. Don’t kill. Don’t ever kill.

The dignity of life lies at the forefront of Christian faith. It is the reason that Jesus does not fight back from the cross. It is the reason that he allowed himself to be killed, innocent victim of capital punishment, in a self-emptying act that should have ended the death penalty once and for all. Two thousand years ago the Roman soldiers got it wrong. Has anything changed?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Seeking the Real and the True

What is real?

Many years ago I landed in Montreal after a two year stint in rural Malawi as a volunteer teacher. My first thought as my family drove me away from the airport through the winding cement highways of the city was, ‘This can’t last.’

I had spent my two years in a rural location, in a country which at the time had no traffic lights, no billboards, no television, little variety in food, and whose one main highway was still not entirely paved. After the fields and forests of Malawi, Montreal’s flashing lights, towering buildings and congested highways appeared not civilized, but rather like the bedroom of a spoiled infant so choked with toys and things that no one can find the floor.

So I come back to the question: ‘What is real?’

Quite often people who don’t believe in a higher power (God) will tell me their disbelief is based on the fact that they have no proof of such a divinity’s existence. There is nothing they can touch, nothing they can hold, nothing they can point to that would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists.

The trouble is that they’re looking for things. But physical things are only real in the immediate sense of today. Wealth and possessions are tenuous and temporary. They cannot lead us to truth, wisdom, faith or love. And they won’t last.

Reality is found beyond the tangible. It lies beyond human touch and human eyesight. In order to understand what is truly real we must look with the heart.

We find what’s real in human relationship, in friendship and community, in compassion and fellowship. There too, we find God. In hospitality and love, we find the deep Spirit of faith. The word ‘companion’ comes from the Latin root ‘com pane’, or ‘with bread’, because if we live our companionship with each other, then our things, even our food, become no more than tools for sharing. The fellowship of a meal leads us to the fellowship of God. This is what Jesus pointed to when he said ‘Where two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am there with you ’ (Matt 18:20; CEV).

It’s an interesting fact that people who live in the impoverished countries of the south, bereft of the physical trappings of our society, often find it easier to find faith. In the slums of South America or Africa people flock to churches, mosques and other houses of worship perhaps because, although they may have little else, they have the one thing that is real. They have God.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Captivity: A Review

James Loney's book 'Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War' carried me away from the first page. It's a terrifying read, not so much because of the potential violence that hovers behind each page, but because of the emotional, political and ethical turmoil it provokes.

How do you create peace in the center of unrelenting violence and despair? How do you live day after day with fear? How do you deal with the boredom of captivity, shackled to the same people in the same room, navigating their coping strategies even as you develop your own? How do you hold on to your values, principles and beliefs as your world condenses to a few square feet and the ever-present threat that even that may yet be lost? How, in the midst of all this, do you maintain any sense of humor let alone sanity? And how, ultimately, do you love the neighbor that's too close, (the fellow captive), and the enemy that's too strong (the captor)?

The questions that 'Captivity' elicits are bigger than Loney's experience. They force the reader to reflect on where we're going as humans, and what it means to truly live faith in our time.

'Captivity' is a book that defies summary. It's a book that needs to be read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Compassion and Companionship in a Small City

What if Jesus hadn’t fed the 5000?

What if he had confined his actions to a ‘preaching tour’ without any active involvement with the poor and needy of his time? What if he’d thought they were too different, too dangerous, too unimportant to spend time with?
Well, the answer is simple: He wouldn’t be Jesus.

This means of course that if we want to be followers of Christ, if we want to be real Christians, then we have to get involved. Fortunately, many Churches understand this, and run hospitality and outreach programs.

For example, in my little city of Brockville, the Pier Christian Church’s Common Ground program provides hospitality, prayer and lunch for 50-80 people a day. Common Ground started as a coffee and prayer drop-in program several years ago. Its primary intent was to provide spiritual care to the wider community. At Common Ground everyone is welcome. Participants find friendship, fellowship, faith and food all in one place.

Good Christian ministry should always be more about solidarity than charity. True solidarity means being there for each other regardless of our circumstances, our appearance, our interests, even our sins. A church community isn’t made up of saints, but rather neighbors struggling to help each other and follow in the footsteps of Christ. This is what it means to love your neighbor. This is what it means to love your God.

The Pier’s Common Ground, like other church ministries, serves as a reminder that we cannot worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one the rest of the week. We’re called to be creative, courageous and compassionate. We’re called to walk in the footsteps of the man from Galilee who ate, prayed and laughed with the poorest around him.

What ministries are you involved in? What draws you to it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Siblings and Summer

It’s my sister’s fault.

Alright, fine. It’s mine. I should have posted earlier this week, but my sister Jennifer is visiting from England, and we’ve spent the last few days together at a cottage in Bouchette, Quebec, far away from the internet and landlines.

It was wonderful.

There’s nothing like spending time with someone who’s known you since before you knew yourself. My sisters and brothers know ALL my flaws. They remember EVERY mistake. But they also remember every success, every joke, every trip, every joy and every sorrow.

This means that I have no choice but to be myself, completely and fully, when I’m with my two brothers and two sisters. It’s liberating to know there’s nothing left to hide and it doesn’t matter anyway. They value my strengths, help me deal with my weaknesses, and tolerate my stupidities.

The unconditional love of siblings (or best friends for the only child) is a blessing hard to put in to words, and hard to qualify except as priceless. Over the years our family has grown with spouses and children. Each new member has brought us the gift of their particular view of the world, and new insights into love, solidarity and friendship.

Families can be like complicated and unique treasure boxes, each member rubbing up against the other, sometimes producing irritation, more often (if you’re lucky like me) producing a shine. Good families are built on relationship rather than blood and DNA.

As my sister and I sat by the bonfire at midnight, gazing at a sky brilliant with stars and moon, the only thing more beautiful than the night was the knowledge of the blessings of my ever-loving, ever-changing, ever-growing family.

So I leave you with a question this week: What does family mean to you and where do you find it?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

We Walk Together For a Little While

Many years ago, on a cold December night, I stood on a sidewalk in Kingston outside the Grand Theatre waiting for my date. He was late. It was the last night of term before Christmas vacation.

“Cathy!” My brother James called to me from across Princess Street. “What’re you doing? There’s a bunch of us going to Coppers.”

“Can’t,” I answered, as he crossed over. “Got a date.”

“Ooooo,” James ‘ eyebrows went up. “That him?”

A good looking young man in a leather jacket was heading toward us at a rapid pace.

I smiled. “Yup. Don’t do anything stupid. I like him.”

“Sure,” James said, and threw his arm around me pulling me close.

“Getyourarmoffme!” I hissed. He just grinned until I pushed him off.

My date approached and I introduced them. “James, this is Brian. Brian this is my BROTHER James.”

Later, Brian told me he’d never felt so relieved. Much later. Brian and I celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary last Friday.

Now twenty-two years may seem like a long time, and it might be an eternity in a bad relationship, but a few decades are nothing, not nearly enough time together, in a good relationship, be it friendship or marriage.

We walk with each other for a short time only on this earth, and some day Brian and I will say good-bye. Sooner or later we all grieve or are grieved. But for that short walk we can support each other and love each other. We can embrace companionship and bear each other’s sorrows.

It’s easy to let conflict overwhelm us, easy to blame the people closest to us for our pain, easy to nurse the ways we are wronged. God knows I’ve done that often enough. But it might be easier still to forgive, let go, and fall into friendship and love, if only we would let ourselves.

Friendships are treasures that last beyond human breath, and outpace the beating of a human heart. May you embrace yours, and hold close the memory of those who are gone. Eternity and love belong to all of us.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prayers for Norway

My heart breaks for the people of Norway. Last week I wrote about the gift of camp counselors. Today we mourn for them and their charges. May we build a world beyond hate and violence. May we hold each other close on the journey toward it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Memories of Summer Camp

I love summer. The heat, the blue skies, the refreshing lakes, and days that last well into the night make it a favourite time of year.

As a teenager I worked as a summer camp counselor, and I still think there is no better summer job in the world. Camp Pine Valley lay just outside of the little town of Sainte-Agathe-Des-Monts in the Laurentians in Quebec. It catered to Jewish children from Montreal, and I was grateful to the directors for hiring me and my brother even though we were Christian.

Like all camps, our goal was to entertain the children and make them feel at home in a rustic group setting. Days were spent moving from activity to activity, motivating and encouraging the children while keeping their homesickness at bay. Most came from wealthy families, and Pine Valley would be their home for the summer while their parents worked overtime through July and August.

The work could be exhausting and at times difficult, but the counseling staff developed strong friendships and support for each other. And Friday nights were always treated reverently as the Sabbath, emphasizing the presence of God for our campers.

Years later, after I met and married my husband Brian, we spent our summers at a camp where he had been a counselor and senior staff member as a young man. Columbus Boys Camp welcomed underprivileged Catholic boys from Toronto for an experience of wilderness and community. Although the campers’ backgrounds were different from those at Pine Valley, the same small group experience of meeting the natural world with a counselor in the lead brought the best out of children who had rarely left the big city.

Given the shortage of priests it wasn’t long before Brian and I were asked to assume the position of chaplains. We felt privileged to be given the task of helping the campers sense the deeper presence of the Spirit beyond camaraderie and play in forests, fields and water.

The value of our camp was brought home to us in so many ways. City children staring awestruck at star bright skies as we prayed around a campfire, or crying when it came time to leave their counselors made it clear that something had touched them in a profound and meaningful way.

Perhaps more than anything else, I was moved by the surprise return visits of former campers, now men, often well past their fifties. They were always welcome at the lunch table and I can remember one sitting beside me and crying as he told me how Columbus Boys Camp had changed his life. It had given him a whole new understanding of friendship, of faith and of who he was and what he could become.

I never returned to Pine Valley so I can’t say for sure that it had that same effect on its alumni, but I expect it did.

Both camps are now closed but there are many other camps doing that same good work today. To those young people who are out there doing the work of camp counselor, I say thank you. For some child you may provide the memory that gets them through the dark times, to some you may be the source of inspiration for a better future.

And you too will learn in the hard and sometimes endless work of providing support and encouragement, that you have great gifts to share and great worth to others.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Sex Abuse in the Irish Church

When will it end? A judicial report into the handling of priestly sex abuse cases in the Irish Diocese of Cloyne, published this week, has once again revealed a Church leadership more interested in self-preservation than justice. This is the fourth report on sex abuse scandals in Ireland in the recent past.

According to the report, Bishop Magee, himself guilty of inappropriate advances on a young parishioner, disregarded the 1996 guidelines on dealing with sex abuse allegations, and did so with the full support of the Vatican. He also lied to government officials about the extent of abuse in the diocese.

These are not decades old allegations. All of the abuse happened after 1996, and the cover up continued until as recently as 2009.

Although Magee is assigned primary responsibility for the failure to deal with the allegations, the report also notes that the Vatican was “entirely unhelpful” to Bishops who did wish to implement them.

Apparently, dithering over implementing the guidelines had to do with questions of canon law. Rome fiddled while Ireland burned.

Unbelievably, not only did the Vatican refuse to help implement the guidelines, but once the story of the abuses broke, the Magisterium debated at length whether or not the clearly culpable Magee should keep his post. In the end he was removed from governance but allowed to keep the title of bishop. (Contrast this to the quick firing of Bishop Morris of Australia for the so much more serious ‘crime’ of suggesting that the Church open discussions on the ordination of women).

Not surprisingly, Frances Fitzgerald, the Irish Minister for Children commented that the Vatican’s “sole concern was the protection of the institution – not the children”. (Donadio and Kulish, “Irish Report Finds Abuse Persisting in the Catholic Church” New York Times, Wednesday, July 13 2011).

It is clear, absolutely clear, that those in power in my Church, the Catholic Church, are more interested in preserving the ragged remains of what they perceive as the prestige of their position, than breathing the spirit of life and love into the world.

While the church of the community continues to value humility, charity, justice, compassion and hope, the Church of the Rock (and a hard cold lifeless rock it is) navel-gazes and holds the world at bay. No child, no woman, no lay person can clamber on the slippery boulder from which the Vatican pronounces and denounces.

But here’s the thing. If God truly is a living God, if there truly is such a thing as the Holy Spirit, if truth does prevail in the end, then the Vatican should be careful. Rocks weigh a person down, and cause one to stumble and fall. Eventually they erode, collapse and roll away. Nothing eternal is made of stone. Remember the stone in front of the tomb? It moved, displaced by the power of the Holy spirit.

Lay Catholics need to speak up and be a voice for compassion, stability, honesty and truth. The Spirit given to all people, to all the world, has to be allowed to advocate for truth and change within the Catholic Church. If we don’t want to be complicit in the abuse of minors and the exclusion of women and married people, then we need to speak the words in our hearts. We need to call for reform and conversion within the cold stone walls of the Vatican.

In the end, breath, spirit, faith, hope and love, these intangible senses of the divine, carry forward and last beyond today, beyond the world, beyond all time. And that to me, is Church enough.

For more information on the Irish report go to

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom Flotilla... Again

Should my world ever crash around me, my country reduced to a captive land, bombed, abused, and besieged, I hope and pray that people like those on the Freedom Flotilla will come to the aid of me and my people.

It breaks the heart to hear that this week the boats of the flotilla were first sabotaged, and then restricted from sailing to Gaza by Greek authorities. As Greece struggles with economic collapse, Israel is only too ready to help ... at a price. No one may sail to Gaza from Greece. And so the flotilla of ships laden with humanitarian goods are confined to port, even though the UN does not recognize Israel's right to restrict access to Gaza.

When will the world say no to this? When will we say no more collective punishment?

There are children in Gaza who hunger. The destitute and sick wait for help, confined and cut off by the Israeli military who treat anyone as a terrorist. But Deuteronomy is clear: 'The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers' (24:16a).

Where is our willingness to safeguard the dignity of the human person regardless of race or religion? When will our world leaders speak up for justice and peace? If 86 year old holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein is willing to risk sailing on the flotilla, should we not at least risk words of hope?

May there be justice and peace in Israel and Palestine. May there be hope for all those held captive by fear or prejudice.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hunger in Our Backyard

How important is food to you?

Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? But according to our local Health Unit, 8.2% of the population of Leeds and Grenville Counties reported food insecurity (hunger) last year. That’s almost 6000 hungry local households in my area.

For those of us with enough to eat, these statistics may seem shocking. We can’t tell by passing someone on the street whether they’ve eaten anything nutritious recently. But ask any school teacher about the need for ‘breakfast clubs’, lunch stashes, and cafeteria vouchers, and you’ll realize that there are hungry children in this city. And where the children hunger, so do the adults.

This past week, the Health Unit gathered participants from their fall ‘Food Matters’ Campaign to discuss their experience of living off charity food for a week. Many of our civic leaders spent a week living off a three day supply of food from their local food bank and whatever meals they could find from Churches and community kitchens (like the local Pier Church’s meal program, or Loaves and Fishes Restaurant).

All participants, who should be heartily commended for this act of solidarity, spoke of the hardship of dealing with the lack of fresh vegetables and fruits, the blandness of the packaged food, and the difficulty of making the food stretch. They reported trouble focusing, and a sense of gratitude that it was only a one week experiment. None of course experienced the issues that poor families often have with no transportation (how do you get the food home?), lack of cookware, or figuring out how to make a non-existent budget stretch to shelter, clothing, or children’s needs. Or the hopelessness of seeing no end in sight.

Discussions afterwards focused on better ways to feed our community. I was impressed by the many creative ideas, the dedication of those present from all walks, and the leadership by the Health Unit.

Food banks are important, as are community gardens, low income restaurants and Church dinners. One participant pointed out that the dinners in particular provide a social outlet for people who may hunger for more than food. The volunteers who run Food Banks and community meals deserve our deepest gratitude and active participation. But while we should keep the practice of creating community, these also rely on charity, and charity is not enough.

It’s time for our politicians to really ask themselves the question of how they will resolve the issue of poverty. It’s not okay that you have to be a mathematical genius to budget on our social assistance programs, or that so many working families are one crisis away from hunger. It's not okay that parents must choose between eating or letting their children go to birthday parties. It’s not okay that hungry people must hope that the Churches and citizens of their town are feeling generous if they want to eat.

By the way, it’s no surprise to me that people of faith and Churches do so much to combat poverty. The kingdom of God is not accessed through a statement of creed, but rather through the living Word, action on behalf of the poor and marginalized. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my own, you do to me.” (Matt 25:40)

But we can do better. We must. In Ontario we need to figure out how to include the $100 healthy food supplement for people on assistance. We need to fund community gardens for all. We need public transportation that allows access to jobs, banks, clinics, and food. We need incentives for businesses to hire full-time workers with benefits, not a succession of low-paid casuals.

And more than anything else, we need creative compassionate political leadership at all levels of government that will make ending poverty their first priority.

Image from

More on Freedom Flotilla

Harmeet Sooden responds to Israel's condemnation of the Freedom Flotilla. I'd never heard of 'Scoop' before. Looks like a great independent journal.

Picture from

Monday, June 20, 2011

Freedom Flotilla

This coming week, the world is coming to the suffocating, captive land of Gaza.

Beyond the walls of this besieged area of humanity lies poverty, unemployment, hunger, lack of medical care and waning hope. Israel continues to hold the people of Gaza collectively responsible for terrorist acts in clear contravention of the UN Declaration of Rights. This bombed land, where movement is restricted and everyone treated as a criminal, needs our voices and our help. Forty-five percent of the population is unemployed, hunger is rampant, and medical care scarce. Something needs to be done.

So, peace activists from around the world are gathering on ships to head into Gaza carrying medical supplies and food.

Israel, predictably, wants none of it. Last year, when the first flotilla tried to approach, Israeli soldiers boarded the ships in international water in the middle of the night and killed nine unarmed peacemakers. There were no weapons on board. Even so Israel has made it clear that they will use force once again, possibly including snipers.

Israel has the right to defend itself. But it does not have the right to starve out, dislodge, abuse and bomb (horrifically and at length) an entire people. Nor does it have the right to forbid travel in international waters. Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, jointly dismayed by Israel’s abuse of Gaza, are calling for help. In Canada this includes over 150 civil rights organizations as diverse as Independent Jewish Voices, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, and the London District Labour Council.

The flotilla, comprised of citizens from many countries including 35 from Canada, has called on the UN or another international body to inspect their ships to put the Israeli government at ease. So far this has not been sufficient and the flotilla remains under threat of attack from the Israeli army. But the fifteen boats, including the Tahrir (‘liberation’) from Canada, are going anyway.

To those who are going, including Queens Professor Robert Lovelace of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, Harmeet Singh Sooden of CPT, novelist Alice Walker, politician Manon Masse and filmmaker John Greyson, I say thank you and God bless you for your courage and commitment to justice and peace. To our politicians, I say please, stand up for what is right.

Our Canadian history remains stained by a past that has not always reflected a commitment to human rights. I think only of our treatment of indigenous peoples, or Japanese-Canadians during WWII, or Jewish refugees during the same war whose boats were turned away from Canada and sent back to Germany to certain death. Could we stand on the side of right this time? Could we be a voice for justice? Could we care for our distant neighbours as God calls us to?

For more information go to or Then write to Stephen Harper at, and ask him to publicly support the flotilla. We can’t all go, but we can all send our spirit and speak up for what is right, true, just and compassionate in this world.

Picture from

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I believe I've finally fixed the comment function for this website. To leave a comment, click on the title of a post. This should open a comment box at the bottom of the piece. Hopefully that'll do it! Looking forward to hearing your views and opinions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 20th Day of Solidarity

The clock is ticking towards June 20th, the National Day of Solidarity for Canada’s Indigenous People. On that day Canadians will gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in other venues around the country to show their support for our First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.

Why is such a day necessary? Perhaps because suicide rates in Canada are five to six times higher for Indigenous youth as they are for other Canadians. Perhaps because Canada’s Indigenous women are far more likely to face violence than anyone else. Perhaps because the Canadian government continues to abuse the lands of Indigenous peoples without respect for history, tradition or environment.

This truth was highlighted again on April 29th when the largest oil spill of the past thirty-five years in Alberta spilled out onto the land of the Lubicon Cree. The Lubicon never ceded their land to the Canadian government, but this has not stopped logging and oil companies from exploiting the community’s resources. In Alberta, companies are ‘self-regulating’ in terms of environmental regulation. Imagine how effective that is.

Canadians need to listen more carefully to Indigenous peoples. We need to learn about the history, way of life and current struggles of the country’s first inhabitants. We need to challenge current approaches and insist that human rights be respected for all Canada’s citizens.

And there’s one more small concrete thing we can do:

We can make a banner. Kairos, the social justice organization of 11 Canadian churches, is calling on Canadians to participate in their ‘Roll with the Declaration’ campaign and send banners to Ottawa for June 20th. The 2 x 4 banners, calling on the Canadian Government to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, will be collected this week at train stations across Canada. In Ottawa they will be attached together with Velcro to make an eye catching statement of solidarity.

My banner is almost done. Will you join me?

More information on the June 20th celebration as well as how to make a simple banner (and where to deliver it) is available at

Monday, June 6, 2011


We built a Church my second year in Malawi. I was twenty-one years old, Catholic, not a missionary. But my volunteer teaching contract had already exposed me to more pain, more joy, and more eye-opening, soul-expanding experience than I had bargained for. With no television, computer, telephone, video games or anything else to tempt and distract me away from real encounters with poverty, friendship, celebration and, well, God, I needed worship.

The nearest Catholic Church was a four kilometer walk across maize fields and woods. Services were in Chichewa, the local language, but my visits caused such a stir that I dreaded them. It’s not that people weren’t kind and welcoming – they were, in more ways than I could handle – to such an extent that I felt put on display and found it hard to settle into the kind of contemplative meditation that I treasure in the Catholic Mass. I was the only non-Malawian present, a clear outsider, and people fell over themselves to make sure I was comfortable, obliging me to sit on a scavenged chair in the center of the ramshackle building, checking on my well-being, smiling and watching me for the entire mass. Protests went unheard. Throughout the service, people craned around, children stared and pointed, and I felt I had ruined the celebration for everyone.

Had I been older, I might have stayed with that Church and rode out the novelty until people accepted that I was just another parishioner. But I was already doing that at my school, and I craved a place to worship where I wouldn’t be such an outsider.

My roommate, also a Christian but not Catholic, suggested we try a new Church she’d heard about in the capital city Lilongwe. We had motorbikes so the 25 km ride would be manageable. The congregation was meeting in a rented room, and she had heard that it included Malawians and expatriates. She assured me that, although it was nominally Baptist, there were attendees from all different Christian backgrounds.
We rode in with some trepidation on our first Sunday, dust flying behind us, signaling our need for prayer and community. Sure enough the congregation was welcoming and diverse, and still majority Malawian. I had never attended a Baptist service before, but enjoyed the music, prayer and sense of common reaching for God. The congregation had raised enough money for a Church building, and ground was just being broken.

Over the course of the next few months, we continued to worship, plan and build. I contributed little I admit, having no expertise in building, and no knowledge of the needs of a Church. I helped clear debris, and assisted with planting when the time came. Funding was provided by generous donors from the States. But all ideas were welcomed, including mine. I would still attend the Catholic Church from time to time – the mass had meaning for me, and I missed it. But I considered the Baptist Church my home.

The Church took shape rapidly, but what truly left an imprint on me, was the coming together of all these people from different nations and faiths, with a common desire for worship and community. Many of us were from different denominations, and this enterprise required understanding, listening, patience and tolerance. It worked.
I didn’t agree with all the theologies I heard. No doubt many people disagreed with me too. But we didn’t stop conversing.

As we approach Pentecost, I’m reminded of those days of sharing. After that experience, I found myself seeking out other denominations, and taking the time to listen and learn. There are hidden truths in each of our churches, clarity of vision, a commonality of purpose that we need to remember.

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and Mary, they burst forth in conversation, in desire for community, for building the kingdom of God beyond denominations, beyond languages, beyond barriers of all kinds. The Holy Spirit still calls us to this, to build a Church for all, embracing difference, invoking Christ.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Prayer Walks; Prayer Talks

“The person of prayer is not a person of private agendas” (Joan Chittister)*

What is prayer?

Is it the desperate call of last resort to One who is everywhere? Is it the recitation of set words over and over again, in a meditative state of relaxation? Is it the ongoing conversation in our heads with a Divine being that we neither see nor touch? Is it the emotional ecstasy provoked by beautiful music and fellowship? Or is it the quiet flooding silence of knowledge of being in the presence of God?

Prayer of course is all these things. Intensely personal, always soul-building, prayer is often a neglected practice in today’s world. We may forget that prayer is the embodiment of our lived connection with God at all times, not only in the pews.

And this is key: prayer cannot be disconnected from life and action, from justice and peace. Though prayer can provide comfort, it can never become idle and selfish, nothing more than a panacea to personal pain, deaf to the pain of creation.

Prayer walks. Prayer talks. Prayer emboldens us to follow conscience, take risks, suffer ridicule, for the sake of God, for the sake of humanity. Prayer drives us to speak for truth and act for peace. Prayer lives in heart, mind, soul and body, calming us, driving us, bringing us together. One world, one God, one beating compassionate heart.

A dull prayer life reflects a dulled life, one separated from the condition of one’s neighbor, one living for the self, not the community. If we feel no need to pray, could it be because we have detached ourselves from the unpleasant problems and issues of our world? Could it be that we have turned away from the poor, the marginalized, the needy, the forgotten?

Martin Luther King Jr knew this. So did Gandhi. So did Mother Teresa. We all search for meaning in our lives, but too often we look only within. We need to do both, seeking the presence of God within, and the presence of God in a world where the voiceless are relentlessly crucified by violence and greed. We cannot do otherwise. When we find something outside ourselves to care about, something to work for, not for personal gain but for the good of all, we find prayer easy, necessary and fulfilling.

What might that be? Food for the hungry? Shelter for the homeless in our community? Peace in the Middle East? Nuclear Disarmament? When we pray meaningfully we find ourselves drawn to help build in some small way the Kingdom Jesus described in the Beatitudes, one where the poor, the mourning and the hungry are truly blessed.

Prayer brings us inner peace, and urges us to spread peace, to be a voice for eternity, for love, for all that is truthful and meaningful in our world.

*The Breath of the Soul, Novalis, 2009

Monday, May 9, 2011

Torturous Truth

Does the end ever justify the means? This past Wednesday I had the strange sense of waking up in an altered universe. While waiting for the washroom to be free (two teenagers in the house), I checked out the online edition of the New York Times, and immediately wondered if I was still in some kind of bizarre waking dream. The Times had posted a serious article entitled ‘Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture’.

First of all there were the words Torture and Value within two spaces of each other. Then there was (finally, at long last) the admission that the US uses torture, but with no sense of moral outrage. (The Times actually, unbelievably, has had a policy of not referring to waterboarding as ‘torture’). Then there were the pompous Bush era politicians self-justifying. And finally the word ‘revives’, as in ‘revives the debate’.

What debate? I don’t recall the last ‘debate’ on torture. I pretty much thought every reasonable American opposed torture. They certainly didn’t like it when American prisoners-of-war were tortured in Japan in the 1940s. They didn’t approve of the Nazi torture of Jews. So how is it alright now? I doubt that it is for the majority of Americans.

What truly scared me was the accepted premise at the start of the piece that if torture works it would be alright to use it. According to the article, the only question on which the use of torture should be weighed is on its effectiveness, not its morality.

Well. I’ve been working in education for a quarter of a century now, and the strap was banned long before I started. I thought it was immoral. Maybe someone just decided it was ineffective.

And it is. All torture is. I’m pretty sure the Catholic Church proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt with the Inquisition. The threat of torture and death provoked even Galileo to go back to teaching that the earth was the center of the universe, even in full knowledge that it was not. People under duress will say anything to make the immediate pain go away: Torture me and I’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. The years it took to find Bin Laden despite the torture of countless unprosecuted (and often innocent) detainees in Guantanamo Bay simply cements the fact.

But torture’s lack of effectiveness remains a smokescreen for a deeper truth. Torture is immoral. Torture is wrong. And that is all that matters.

I realize that it’s difficult for the educated mind to accept absolutes. I too relish shades of grey. But educated people in particular should be able to accept a few moral imperatives. Does no one study Kant anymore? The ends do not justify the immoral means. The ends never justify the immoral means. It’s simple, clear, absolute.

In Christian terms this might read as “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you,” or perhaps, “Love your enemies as yourself.” Now, who said that? Oh, yes, just some ancient itinerant preacher from Galilee who lived as a member of a conquered population, and who ultimately suffered torture from whipping, a crown of thorns, and death on a cross. Fortunately, maybe, the Romans hadn’t thought of waterboarding.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bin Laden and the Problem of Hate

What does it mean to create a compassionate world? What does it mean to live as children of God, as Christ followers who do not celebrate the destruction of the enemy, but instead strive to live in love? What does it mean when Jesus says, “Love your enemies”?

Like so many others I was disturbed by the public celebration of Osama Bin Laden’s death. It’s not that Bin Laden fit anyone’s idea of a good person. It’s not that I don’t recognize the evil that he wrought in the world. But his killing once again marks our failure to convert war into peace, anger into compassion, and hate into love. It’s not cause for celebration. It’s cause for sorrow.

Yes, one person can do much evil in the world. Like Hitler, like Pol Pot, Bin Laden fomented hate and destruction. But no one acts alone. Destroying the one does not solve the problem of hate, nor should it mask our inability to maintain true peace in the world. Killing spirals into more killing, creating an ongoing cycle of destruction that eventually seems normal, so much so that it infiltrates our movies, stories and games, and becomes our structure for understanding the world. Ask any media savvy teen.

Hate caused Bin Laden and his followers to mindlessly destroy people he’d never met, who became no more than tokens in his war against the West. Hate propelled the West to retaliate, to kill more innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, regardless of the cost both in terms of money and humanity. Hate works with violence and greed to decimate the weak, the poor, the mourners, in short the beatitude people that Jesus names and blesses in the Sermon on the Mount. Hate dehumanizes the other until their face no longer matters, their dreams have no value, and the innocence with which they were born becomes an irrelevant and forgotten part of a life that retains no dignity.

Hate produced 911, and hate was on display at the many celebrations that were held in the wake of the announcement of Bin Laden’s death. That feeling, juxtaposed behind the flags, the chants and the songs, is not lost on those of us who live outside of the US. Nor is it lost on so many American citizens, many of whom lost relatives and friends in 911, who cannot understand why these strangers, their fellow citizens, would think that the death of Bin Laden would somehow create restitution for the death of their loved one, who remains dead, lost, out of reach, gone.

I am heartened by the many, many Americans who have spoken up to criticize the celebrations. The death of Bin Laden is not some extreme Super Bowl celebration. It is one more piece of a tragedy that continues to encompass our world, one founded in hate, dehumanization, and nothing any religion should recognize as Godly.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finding Lost Hope: Happy Easter!

In hope, peace and joy we enter the season of Easter. After the forty days of Lent, after the solemnity and sacredness of Holy Week, after Jesus’ horrific death on the cross, finally, finally, we experience the explosive joy of Easter morning.

Easter is about resurrection and transformation. It’s about discovering what we thought lay dead and lost in our lives, and regarding it anew. Easter tells us all futures are possible, no ending is final, and no sorrow everlasting.

It surprises me, given that Jesus made no secret of his coming resurrection, that none of his earliest disciples truly expected him to come back to life. They hid after his death, understandably cowering from the might of the Roman army that had killed their leader.

Only the women, holding to the tradition of anointing the dead, visited Jesus’ tomb early on the third day. And when Mary Magdalene reported Jesus risen, the men still did not believe her. (Some things don't change!) “But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (Mark 16:11).

Disbelief and cynicism infect humanity. We undermine our hopes all the time. We tell ourselves that the things we desire are impossible and out of reach. We accept finality, limitations, barriers and obstacles despite the word of God, despite the call of Christ. We fear setting ourselves up for failure and so retreat behind the closed doors of society’s expectations.

Easter teaches us to forget human limitations. It cries out to humanity to abandon all fear, forego all norms and reach for dreams and stars. All is possible with God. Anything can happen. We are reminded of the days before grief and failure weighed us down. We are thrown back to the aspirations of our childhood and fantasies of our youth before the world taught us that we weren’t good enough, couldn’t do it, weren’t worth it.

Because ultimately, on Easter morning, Jesus teaches us that we are worth it and always have been.

We will suffer. That is a given. The wonder of Easter is not that suffering is eliminated for humanity (it isn’t), or that our lives will be obstacle-free. If anything, we are called to address barriers to peace and justice in our lives, and bear the cross of creating a better world. But the cross is not the end. We are also pointed to a future beyond pain, sorrow and fear, a new day of hope and possibility where justice, peace and love can prevail. Faith in God opens us up to faith in ourselves.

This Easter I invite you to embrace your blessings and dream your dreams. Reach for God. Find the Spirit within. Love life and live lovingly. Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Reflection

How quickly betrayal happens. The sharp word out before we think, the little put-down, the laugh, the hesitation when reassurance is called for.

I broke my Lenten promise to give up pop this week. I ordered a diet coke in a restaurant without even thinking, and drank it when it came.

Is that how it was for Judas? Selling his friend without a thought, without reflection, the action done, the cold hard coins in his hand before he even realized it? Then the remorse, enough to drive him to suicide. And for Peter? Denying his friend, his Lord, three times before the cock crowed, and running away mortified and ashamed. Peter does not stand at the cross, or go to the tomb.

Good Friday brings us face-to-face with our human frailty. Humans fail. Humans err. Humans sin.

But even as we ponder our inevitable falls, Good Friday reminds us that God will not fail us, or give up on us, or let our failures be the last word on who we are. Forgiveness and reconciliation remain ours for the choosing. And God’s love is ours whether we ask for it our not.

The cross exposes the horror of our world in all its thoughtlessness and cruelty. But it also points us to a love that transcends all horror, all pain and all suffering. Even as we recognize ourselves in the ones who crucified Jesus, we also recognize that we can do better, we can reach higher, we can stand at the foot of the cross.

Knowing ourselves as we truly are is the first step to transforming ourselves into what we are called to be. And that is God’s people, a people of justice, hope, faith and love.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On Fasting

I hate fasting. Let me be clear about that from the start. I don’t look forward to it, and I don’t enjoy it while I’m at it. But every year during Lent I overcome all my rationalizations and trivializations, and run a fast for the students at my school.

Why, you may ask, would anyone want to torture teenagers so? (Don’t answer, parents!)

Fasting is a traditional observance for Catholics, as it is for people of many other denominations and religions. For some, fasting on Fridays, or at least avoiding meat, is a way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. One prepares the mind and body for the celebration on Sunday of the resurrection. During Lent in particular, Christians make sacrifices and fast in order to model Jesus’ forty days in the desert, making space in their lives for reflection.

But what, the modern person may inquire, is the point of all that deprivation? After all, surely we are beyond the age where we might think that fasting will bring some magical indulgence or benefit to the participant like an outdated rabbit’s foot or lucky coin.

People fast for a variety of reasons and some, I admit, may be suspect. I offer here only my own perspective.

Fasting makes me aware of my connectedness not only to my own body but to the world as a whole. When I fast, I acknowledge that food is a gift from the earth, not something to be treated casually. I give myself time to reflect on the connection between the way I treat this planet, and the way I live my life. It’s an unavoidable reflection, brought on every time my stomach rumbles.

More than this, fasting reminds me that I belong to the privileged group of humans who every day have enough to eat. In my life, I do not wonder if I will eat. I only wonder when I will eat and what I will eat. By fasting I offer an act of solidarity toward all those who struggle to maintain their existence. These are the poor and marginalized, the beloved of God. The money I save on groceries goes to them.

The fast that I run with the youth involves more than simply giving up food. The teenagers engage in activities that open their eyes to issues of injustice, poverty and environmental distress. We watch relevant videos. We play games. We engage in role play and creative arts. This year we focused on the School of the Americas Watch, as well as the relationship between the military-industrial complex and the degradation of water, earth and people in so many parts of the world including Canada.

During our fast we hunger together, grow together, pray together and endure together, mindful that we are exercising a freedom to choose or not to choose food that many people on our planet do not enjoy. And the teenagers every year inspire me with their wisdom, their steadfastness and their concern.

Even if God doesn’t need humans to fast, humanity needs humans to fast. In so doing, we offer an act of peace toward the earth, toward each other and toward God.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Palm Sunday and Friendship

Slowly now, we approach Jerusalem, following Jesus in our journey through Lent. Next weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday, the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, hailed and adored by crowds so glad to see him that they line the path before him with palms. Crowds that will nevertheless desert him once he is arrested.

How steadfast are we to our friends? How far will we go to support them? Are we there only for the celebrations, or will we stay nearby when challenges arise? When Jesus says to his disciples to pray that they not be tested, he speaks words of profound wisdom.

Palm Sunday reminds me that friendships are covenants not to be easily discarded. We revel in our friendships at weddings, baptisms, parties, celebrations. We lean on our friends at funerals, during job losses, through heartbreaks, and in ill health. While friendships may stumble at times, if we persevere, seeking to emulate Jesus’ steadfast and persistent love for us, we reap the benefits of enduring affection, support, laughter and honesty. Friendship expands and solidifies through the threads of old conversations, new memories, fresh wit, and faithful companionship.

In the presence of a good friend, we find the God within, the Spirit that binds humanity to each other. This treasure, beyond what the eye can see or the ear can hear, deep within our hearts, gives interest and meaning to our lives. Friends help us unravel the complicated textures of our lives to find the worthwhile, the essential, the truth.

Palm Sunday reminds me to look into my past this week to discover if there are old friends I may have neglected lately. Is there any way I could do better in my friendships? What must I do to renew connections, and bolster relationships? Have I cheered my friends as the crowds cheer for Jesus? Is my affection strong enough to endure the crosses in my friends’ lives? The process fills me with hope as indeed Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem did 2000 years ago, and still does today.

Monday, April 4, 2011

For God Does Not See With the Eyes of a Human

When the Prophet Samuel approaches Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel from amongst his sons, Jesse doesn’t even bother to bring his youngest child David out. Only after Samuel has rejected each of Jesse’s older, stronger, and supposedly wiser sons, does Jesse admit that he has another younger boy who is out minding the sheep. For Jesse is blind to David’s potential. Yet David goes on to be the greatest King in Israel’s history.

In the Gospel of John we read of Jesus restoring sight to a man blind from birth. The religious leaders, who should know better, cannot accept this miracle as the gift from God that it is. They revile not only the formerly blind man, but also his parents and Jesus. They bring them to trial. They question them to hear the answers they want to hear and see the world not as it truly is, but as they have set it up to be with their rules and regulations. No matter the evidence before them. No matter the truth. In so doing they reveal that indeed they are the ones who are truly blind.

So often in Scripture, the ones who should be able to see most clearly are those who are most blinded by rules, tradition and prejudice. But these stories are not confined to scripture. They play themselves out everyday in institutions, governments and Churches.

The story of the blind man reminds me of Father Roy Bourgeois’ current struggle with the Church. Once Father Roy could see that women are also called to the priesthood he refused to accept the blind obedience demanded of him by the Church. By contrast, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church remains stubbornly stuck in its blindness toward the need for conversation on the role of women.

As I wait this week for the final judgement on Father Roy for his advocacy of the ordination of women, I pray that sight may be restored to his Superior and to the Vatican. Can they not see Truth when it presents itself? Can they not feel the movement of the Spirit? Must they hold trials and arguments (none of which admit women) to decide what the truth must be when it shines brightly before them?

Or like Jesse, will they remain blind to the potential of the women who stand before them?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lenten Sacrifices, Water, and the News

This week leaves me dizzy with world news on global conflict. Official wars in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, unofficial wars in countless corners of the world, attacks on villagers in mining communities in El Salvador, another election in Canada, air attacks in Gaza, and sex abuse cases in Philadelphia. Then there was Earth Day reminding us of the constant threat of self-annihilation through greed and apathy. And who knows what we haven’t even heard about?

The news, any day, any week, reminds me that life is fragile, and that on a personal level, prayer is essential. Without the peace of reflection, the centring on God’s presence that Lent calls us to, the only possibility would be to dig my head in the sand and ignore all social responsibility.

That of course, is unacceptable. The Lenten season calls us to live intentionally, however difficult that may be. For myself, several things demand attention, and sifting through the different demands hasn’t been easy. In the end I set myself the Lenten goal of growing my personal knowledge about the water bottle industry and investigating the ways in which it operates both in North America and abroad. The recent movie ‘Tapped’ shows that companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle hold little regard for the ecosystems, political structures, or lives of the people in the places where they collect their water. Water, symbol of our baptism, source of our life, is more precious than oil.

I don’t drink bottled water very often, but I do like pop. So for Lent, I gave up soft drinks. It hasn’t been easy. By 1:00pm on the first few days, I was busily rationalizing why I could/should break my resolve, calm my nerves, and have a pop. I don’t drink coffee either, so soft drinks were my primary source of caffeine. My poor husband, children and colleagues demonstrated profound patience in the early days. But now that the cravings have subsided, I feel better.

I hope that I don’t go back to drinking soft drinks. The more I learn of the world’s water issues, the stronger my resolve becomes. There is this connection between the large issues of the world and the small issues that we deal with daily. Will the next war be fought over water? Corporations need to be held to account by the choices we make. So do governments. So do religious hierarchies. Whatever Lenten sacrifice you choose to make, may it enrich not only your personal life, but the life of the world.

ADDENDUM: Next week, Americans will gather in Washington DC to call for the closing of the School of the Americas (see blog post, December 11, below). They will fast for a week, and peacefully proclaim the need for justice in corporate and military ethics. My thoughts and prayers go out to them as they prepare for this event.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Heartbeat of Lent

In silence I hear the beating of my heart, a rhythm that mirrors the tempo heard in the womb of my mother. We speak of silence as if it exists, as if it is real, and yet we have almost no conscious experience of it.

Can we turn off our heart for a minute even? Can we turn off our thoughts? What then exists in that space we call silence? Only ourselves, only our God.

In the biblical book 1Kings, Elijah, the ancient prophet, journeys for forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (Sinai) where Moses received the Ten Commandments centuries earlier. Elijah wanders desperate, lonely and afraid. He drags himself on, outcast by rulers and priests alike, as the people turn away from God and God’s prophet.

Elijah would sleep, would let himself die, but God does not allow it. Instead he is sent to await God’s presence on the sacred mountain. Wind rends the mountain, but God is not in the wind. An earthquake follows, but God is not in the earthquake. A fire erupts but God is not there either. Finally in the silence that follows, God comes to Elijah as a ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12).

In stillness, God instructs Elijah of what he must do next. And Elijah follows, Elijah listens.

We too find ourselves on a Lenten forty day journey to come closer to God. We too are called to spend time with God in silence. Not forever, not for always. Elijah does not remain on the mountain. But we cannot act responsibly, sacredly, without first spending time with God.

In the New Testament, Jesus climbs a mountain with Peter, James and John, and stands transfigured before them, shining bright, with Moses and Elijah at his side. But when Peter urges Jesus to stay on the mountain, to create booths for everyone to remain above and away from the crowds, God refuses.

Like Elijah, like Peter, we stand at a moment in history when it appears as if cataclysm is imminent (and for many people in the world, including those in Japan, has already come). Environmental degradation threatens life itself, materialism fuels a sense of the self indistinguishable from selfishness, and religious hierarchies often appear more intent on control, exclusion and power than facilitating humanity’s ability to hear the still small voice of God.

What then are we to do amidst this cacophony of competing demands? Some flee to the mountain, refusing to return to the world, hiding amongst a self-centred charismatic and wasted faith from the dirt and uncertainty of life. Others remain unaware that the mountain even exists beyond the screen of secular busyness.

But the mountain feeds the valley as a stream splashes down a hillside into the lived world. So we move from one to the other in a heart-thrumming rhythm, a breath inspired and exhaled. Return to God. Reach for the world. Find that still small voice, that silent gap amidst the heartbeat of life. Listen, pray. Follow. Then act.

Once we have spent that time in silence, once we have climbed that mountain and beheld God, we are called to move beyond silence, to speak the words that must be said, to bend to the task of creating a world of peace, justice and love.

In the complexity of life, we need to move to the rhythm of our hearts and to the voice of our God. Like that moment between heartbeats, we need silence in our lives. But without the thump of life, of reality, we would be nothing. So raise your voice. Say your piece. Throw yourself in the fray, nourished always by that still small voice that carries through silence and noise, rest and confusion, laughter and tears, up and down, lost and found.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lenten Peace

“Peace, peace, to the far and to the near says the Lord.” (Isaiah 57:19)

The world spins and crashes even as Lent calls us to breathe deeply, take this season slow. But earthquakes, tsunamis, riots, protests and nuclear meltdowns, not to mention the individual dramas of our lives that will never make headlines, do not concede us the time for breath, for reflection, for peace.

This may be the reason Jesus went into the desert. The harshness of the Judean desert brings a stillness that even two thousand years ago could not be found in daily life. And so for a moment we are asked to seek our own desert, our own place of peace.

A friend of mine struggles as she tries to enjoy a sabbatical year. Unable to relax, to spend time at peace, she drives herself to stay busy, to remain involved, to stretch herself. We all do this perhaps. Idleness can bring guilt, unrest. But stretching ourselves is dangerous on a continuous basis. Even elastics snap.

I suspect that few people reading this will be able to take forty days for contemplation, and even fewer can afford a sabbatical year. It isn’t necessary. It isn’t required. None of us are burdened with the salvation of the world. And yet, together, collectively, all of us share some responsibility for it.

If we are to feed our world, if we are to be there for our neighbour and for the distant stranger in the crises that inevitably come, we must allow time for thought, meditation, even prayer. We must divest ourselves of the guilt that forbids us to spend a moment in that empty space where nothing is a barrier to our God.

It is true, our reflections during lent should lead us to action, just as Jesus’ time away prepared him for his role in the world. They may lead us to cry out for justice with the people of Wisconsin or Libya. They may lead us to reach out in solidarity with the people of Japan. They may lead us to speak out for truth in our own nation. They may lead us to kindnesses within our own families and communities.

But action without thought, without preparation, can often do as much harm as good. Continued frenzied action that prevents time for laughter, games, quiet and prayer, is action that if nothing else, will eventually harm the soul.

So I invite you this lent, to claim that quiet space in your life. Find your peace, find yourself, find your God.