Friday, December 27, 2013

My Mother's Hands

I was caught by the sight of my own hands trimming pastry last week as my husband and I made apple pies. I have come late to pastry making, even though I started baking when I was ten years old, I only started baking pies last year. Despite the late start, it seemed that my hands instinctively knew how to mix, roll out and trim the pastry. They knew this from the countless times I watched my mother do it.

This is a picture of my mother’s hand; it was taken on Mother’s day 2009 and she is showing off a family ring that her five children gave her to replace one she had lost.

I remember when she saw the picture and lamented her ‘old’ hands; with fingers that won’t completely straighten out any more, perhaps remembering her mother's hands in her later years. But I don’t see that, I see hands that have have performed countless tasks from the most basic to the most beautiful. 

A mother’s hands are usually the first one to tend you… change your diaper, feed you… the basics of life: food and clothing. One of my earliest memories is of my mother reading to me; her hands held books before I was capable of holding them on my own and inspired in me a lifelong love affair with reading. 

My mother was in many ways typical of mothers of her generation: she baked, cooked, cleaned, sewed, knit, gardened, pickled, preserved etc. Her hands were constantly busy. She taught her children many of those skills and we can all do some of them, although not one of us does all of them. What was not typical was that she also worked outside the home much of our growing up years, continually mastering new workplace skills, with both head and hands.  

In my mother’s retirement she took up cross-stitch, creating beautiful works of art, inspiring all four of her daughters to do so as well. She embraced the world of the internet, first getting a laptop to keep in touch with us while they wintered in Florida, learning the intricacies of the internet, then an e-reader and now an Ipad mini.

Most recently my mother’s hands have tended my father as he underwent treatment for throat and tongue cancer, cleaning the open wound, organizing his nutritional intake through the feeding tube and probably countless tasks to which I haven’t been privy.  

So, when I look at my mother’s hands, I don’t see old hands; I see hands that taught me countless things, hands that gave and received love, hands that reveal a life of blessing and challenge, hands that reflect a life well lived and loved. 

And that’s my window on God's world. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Zoom In, Zoom Out

One of the things that I have been consciously trying to do over the past couple of years is 'reframe' something. For instance, when I am presented with a challenging situation, is there a way to look upon it as an opportunity? Is there a way to think about it in a different way? Are there things I am not seeing because I am so close to the situation? Or am I missing the intricate connections of the tiniest details because I am too far away? 

Since I have been exploring the sacred through photography, the idea of re-framing has become clearer. For instance, when you look at this picture, taken in our backyard, you may think that our yard is full of the extravagant array of colours that deciduous trees display as they prepare for winter. 

Now look at this uncropped picture of the same scene; quite a difference isn't there? 
This pictures shows that there is a row of evergreen trees, with a solitary deciduous tree spattering the sky with its colour.  

Both pictures are true, but you will have a very different interpretation and understanding of what you are looking at based on which one you focus on. 

My life is often like that. Sometimes I have to zoom in and reframe something in order to grasp meaning and beauty in the details, in the finer points. Sometimes I have to zoom out, in order to see the meaning and beauty in the big picture. Wisdom is knowing which one to focus on. 

Life usually isn't tied up in neat little packages is it, at least mine isn't. It doesn't come with numbered instructions with the promise that following them will lead to happiness. Every situation has multiple 'still' shots within it. Multiple opportunities to either zoom in or zoom out. No matter which one you choose, know that the tiny details and the overarching view are both full of the sacred. 

And that's my window on God's world.   

Friday, October 25, 2013


Two women consistently lift my spirits each week. Belinda Ferguson is the founder of Belindance and I have been taking belly dance lessons from her for over a decade. I often claim that belly dance is the most fun you can have with your clothes on! It it is a strenuous workout, employing both large and small muscle groups, not to mention learning how to isolate movements and learning to counteract the body's tendency to be lazy and use muscles that will do the job most efficiently, although perhaps not quite as gracefully or elegantly. 

Vanessa Lindsay-Botten is the founder and director of You Gotta Sing! Chorus. I have been singing with them for about six weeks and absolutely love it. I am continually filled with awe and gratitude to be part of this amazing group of singers.  

What do these two amazing women have in common. They both emphasize the basics, and of course, breathing is one of the most basic of human actions. For the most part, we aren't conscious of our breathing, it's involuntary and most of us don't use nearly all of our lung capacity. 

The other thing they have in common is enthusiasm for their art and for encouraging people to be the best singer, the best dancer, the best person they can possibly be. Belinda never allows a dancer to say 'I can't,' but rather, the expression becomes, "I have not yet learned how." I have taken those words to heart and apply them in many other areas of my life. Vanessa smiles with genuine pleasure at our efforts and I have heard her say on more than one occasion that any other note than the one printed on the page is harmony! 

One of the earliest understandings of the word enthusiasm is 'filled with God's spirit.' I experience the sacred and holy when I am with either of these women. Whether I am finding the choreography challenging or finding the right notes is a lost cause that day, both of these women find a way to affirm me and others in a way that leaves me feeling affirmed, valued and better equipped to spread love and life to our hurting world. Both of these women seem to appreciate the idea that their gifts and skills are gifts of God. Through performances and participation in concerts to raise funds for various causes, these women share their gifts with others for the benefit of our world. These women make me feel as if I have tapped into the very breath of the universe, the breath of God. 

And that's my window on God's world. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

God and Dog

It’s no secret to my friends and family that I am a cat person. So it may come as a surprise to them that I am writing about a recent encounter with a dog that was both profound and sacred. 

Last week, I went into the local flower shop, Props Floral Design in the Hydrostone Market, to pick up some wheat that I had ordered for our communion table. When I arrived, Ms. McFadden, the sales associate was on the phone and Chester the Golden Doodle was sitting in front of the counter. Ms. McFadden looked up as if to ask if I was okay with the dog, I smiled and nodded. I spoke to the dog which immediately came over and needed to be petted and scratched etc. 

I had had a rough 24 hours, my father had had a crisis in the hospital, I had back to back meetings in my church, some of which involved difficult conversations, I was tired, and facing a day of funeral planning, attending to the last details of a wedding and dealing with the ordinary, myriad demands of ministry. In short, I HAD NO TIME TO WASTE PETTING A DOG! 

But something happened as I interacted with Chester, my breathing slowed, I could feel the tension leaving my body, and I was simply present. I don’t know if my blood pressure or my heart rate decreased, but I certainly felt much calmer. It’s no surprise that there are therapy dogs and when I spoke with his owner, I found out that Chester was one!

As she continued on the phone, Chester continued to want to be petted and fussed over. Ms. McFadden occasionally glanced up from her phone to offer a silent apology for taking so long, and I conveyed by understanding in the same way.  

My encounter with Chester stayed with me all day and I went back later on, spoke to his owner about it and asked if I could take a couple of pictures and write about it in my blog. She graciously obliged and the picture above is my favourite one.

Look at that open, trusting face, a face that says, “It is enough right now just to be with me, there is nothing more important than that.” Chester was God for me that morning. Chester reminded me once again that practicing the art of being present is the art of experiencing God. I left behind the previous 24 hours and ceased to fret about the upcoming days. I was reminded that all we have is each moment and to experience each moment in its fullness is making room to encounter God.  

There is a luminescence to his face, perhaps only the camera flash, but it’s a beacon of love and welcome. Chester’s persistence in being petted reminded me of God's persistence in being in relationship with us and that’s God's invitation is always just a moment, a breath away.  

And that’s my window on God's world

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Am In the Thistle and the Thistle Is In Me.

Thistles! In my freshly dug and planted perennial beds! Beds that are carefully mulched to keep out weeds. A weed so prickly that I can’t just remove it with my bare hands, but have to get a trowel and my gardening gloves to try and get rid of it. I chose this picture this week because of the tenacity of the weeds. It thrives despite my efforts to eradicate it. 

I have watched my father display that same tenacity following an unexpected cancer diagnosis at the beginning of the summer. He was admitted to the hospital last week; his body has been poisoned by six weeks of daily, sometimes twice a day, radiation treatments for tongue cancer. The last few weeks have been especially hard on him and of course, on my mother. He stopped driving a few weeks ago and so my siblings and I have been taking turns driving him and our mother to his treatments. If you have ever been in a cancer treatment centre, you will know the tenacity of both the patients and the staff. People, like my father, resolutely walking in each day, knowing that the treatment that will hopefully help, will at first hurt. Treatment that must destroy part of the body in order to save the whole of the body. Treatment that may render them ill, weak, and dependent and yet still, they walk in. Sometimes it seems as if the cancer’s tenacity to devour the body will overcome the body’s tenacity to live and thrive. That tenacity is mirrored in the technicians I met. I can only imagine what it is like to administer treatment like that every day, to many different people of all ages.

How does this image of a thistle reflect God and a sense of the sacred? The thistle reminds me of how tenacious God is in wanting a relationship with me. That relationship may very well feel prickly at times.  In fact, there are times when I actively avoid reaching for God, as if God had prickles, or as if I need protective gear. And there are many times that I am prickly, using whatever means necessary to keep God at bay.

How is this image inviting me into a deeper relationship with the sacred in my life? Perhaps there are reasons, good reasons to be prickly and keep up barriers. Perhaps the insistence of keeping something or someone at bay is a lifesaver.But then the question becomes, do I need to maintain barriers with God? Is there any part of my life that God cannot reach? Where is my life not touched by the sacred?  

The wide reach of the tenacious thistle also reminds me of our persistent and determined God, who continues to reach for each one of us, despite our protective casings.

And that's my window on God's world. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Praying While Driving

Did you know that you can’t or don’t drive aggressively if you are praying for the person in the vehicle ahead of you? Most people know that I have a rather heavy foot and like to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. But my morning commute is neither quick nor efficient.

A year ago, I moved to Dartmouth, and since I still work in Halifax, this involves a daily commute over one of the bridges. The distance as the crow flies is only 11 kilometers, unfortunately, I am not a crow. After 4 years of living only 2 kilometres away from my church and an additional four years before that of working from home, the daily commute aggravated me each day. 

Given that we just built a house in Dartmouth, the likelihood that I will continue to commute is high. Resenting the drive wasn't helping matters any; in fact, was possibly making it worse. So, I did what I always do eventually, I prayed about it. This was the answer I received, “Pray for the people along your route, bless then and share my love with them.” Even as a minister, I find it challenging to find time for prayer. Phone calls, visits, meetings, sermon preparation, a thousand other things on my list often take priority; which sooner or later impacts my connection with God and the sacred.

At first glance, praying while driving may seem like another form of multi-tasking, just one more way to get a task done while doing something else. But that depends on your approach. For me it’s being mindful and noticing my surroundings and I simply pray for the person or people in the car directly in front of me. I hold them in the light of God's love and visualize positive energy surrounding them. I pray that whatever that person may need will come to them. It may be just for a few seconds, or it may be for my entire commute. One morning, I followed a blue car onto the highway and it stayed directly in front of me until the exit off the bridge, where I went one way and it went another. I felt a curious loss of intimacy as our path diverged.

The picture above is similar to what I see on my morning commute, lines of red taillights, keeping me from getting to my appointed tasks! I took this one on my day off; my husband was driving. What do you see? It’s certainly not nearly as lovely as the other pictures I have posted, you may have to look closer or with different eyes to see the sacred beauty displayed. What do I see? I see God's people, of various kinds, going to work or school or hospital. I see God's people, in the midst of concentric and overlapping circles of connection and responsibility. My prayers slow me down, my prayers let me arrive at my destination calm and ready to be present to whatever my day brings, my prayers enable me to tap into the divine spirit that lies within all of us. Do they make a difference to anyone along my route? Who knows? They make a difference to me and the people I meet that day.

And so this week, my window on God's world, is the windshield.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Long and Winding Road....

What lies beyond the bend? What mystery does the curve hold?

I love to walk in circles… not the circles that have no purpose and indicate frenzy, but the ones that take me on a circular path, ones that bring me home by another way. Two years ago I started walking on a regular basis to prepare for the 10k event in the Bluenose Marathon, an annual event which has a charity challenge component. As I gained in strength and endurance, I expanded my walking zone, it became an ever widening circle in the neighbourhood that I both lived and ministered.

A year ago, I moved out of that neighbourhood and into my present one. There is no circular route to walk, we live at the top of the hill on a dead end street. The only suitable walking area is the trail up behind our home, but it’s not a circle, it’s straight, I have to return the same way I came.

I resisted walking the trail for a long time, condemning it without experiencing it, using it as an excuse to not walk. And yet, over the summer, something changed in me. No, I still don’t like having to retrace my steps, I would still prefer it if there was some way to make a circular route, but something in me shifted. Without the need to be cautious of traffic, I was able to enter into an almost meditative rhythm, something I couldn't on city streets. And for the first time since I was a young teenager, I walk a pathway that is more or less wild, one that is unscripted and untended by human hands. 

There is an abundance of foliage and greenery on either side of me and I have become fascinated at how much it changes from week to week as one plant comes into season and then another. Each one beautiful in its own way and setting and often a glimpse of something up ahead will lead me onward. Like the morning I thought I saw a large dog just around the bend… and it was these!

The reality is, this straight path isn’t straight, no path is, even the straightest ones curve around the surface of the earth. We never know what lies just ahead when we look through the window in God's world. 

Monday, August 26, 2013


My husband and I were pulling out some suckers away from a blueberry bush in our back yard and I noticed this! Heart shaped leaves climbing an unused clothesline that has been drooping unused from the pole.   

In the midst of a day of frustrations, petty frustrations, and definitely first world problem frustrations, this seemed like a sign from God for me. A sign that love is present in the midst of frustrations and the messiness of life and not to wait for some perfect time to express love and to be love. A sign that God doesn't wait till everything in our lives is in order to make an appearance and so why should we wait? In fact, over and over again (I am a slow learner sometimes) I find that life and love is in the messiness of life, despite my constant urge to create order out of the messiness.

Friends have since told me that this is probably wild morning glory that will take over our back yard if not held in check. In that case, isn't it the perfect symbol of God's love and perpetual reaching for us? Wild and untamed, flourishing despite conditions, not because of perfect conditions. 

How often do we neglect our relationship with the divine? I know that despite being in ministry, it is all too easy for me to push aside my need for a personal relationship with God and continue on with the tasks of ministry, trusting that God will be there when I make time, even when I don’t spend much time nurturing that relationship. Think about it, is there any other relationship that would flourish and endure without some effort on your part? And yet every time I turn to God, God is there and I am nourished. I have been a bit more intentional this summer about spending nurturing my spirit, a month of vacation and a month of sabbatical have made it easier. My prayer is that when I return to church life on September 1st, I will carry that habit forward into my ministry life. 

God and nature continue to surprise, delight and intrigue me. The resiliency, determination, and drive to reach for life. Like wild morning glory, God reaches for me, prods me, confronts me and comforts me. And that’s my window on God's world.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I was at Tatamagouche Centre at the end of June participating in a program on spiritual deepening. 

During that time I was introduced to a spiritual practice that was new to me: 'visio divina’ and ‘natura divina’... exploring the sacred through visuals and nature. I discovered a love of photography as a way to reflect upon God's image in the world and have been seeing the world a little differently ever since. 

This picture to the left is the window in my front door;  it portrays what I hope to do through this blog: reflect on how I see/experience God at a particular point in time through images, usually using my own photographs. 

So, what does the image say about God and life? What does it say about the workings of my soul and spirit? There is light and dark in the same image, and various shades, a reminder that no experience is ever one thing or the other, and that we can count on the light replacing the darkness. There are curves and straight lines and no one right way to find God. There are some almost greenish places… what is growing and being nurtured within me right now? Not in some mythical, perfect time, but right now, in this life I have.  

There is mystery… what lies beyond or through the window? What will I encounter THIS day as I step outside or go deep within myself? How does who I am on this particular day affect who I encounter or the types of encounters I have? 

How is this portal, this space between my personal and public lives, significant as I step over its threshold? Do I even realize that I am crossing a threshold? Most days, I confess I do not, mentally, I am already at my first appointment or into my first task. And yet, if I would pause... and breathe... and be present... I would know that the doorway holds endless possibilities as I go through it. 

May your windows be open to the possibility of encountering the sacred.