Monday, August 25, 2014
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Since the labyrinth is simply mown into the meadow, it is home to butterflies and bees, along with mosquitoes and other flying and crawling things. I had bug spray on and so even though bugs were buzzing around me, they weren't landing and I simply continued to walk, appreciating the sights, sounds and smells of this special place. Until a bee started dive bombing me! I ignored it for the first few times, knowing (intellectually at least) that there were many more things around that were more appetizing to the bee than me. Apparently the bee had other thoughts and after a few minutes, I could no longer ignore it! Waving my arms, adrenalin rising, completely ignoring the energy of the pathways, I hopped over them in the general direction of the exit, waving my arms frantically around my head. I arrived safe and sound, and rather sheepishly at the parking lot, with nary a bee in sight.
My window on God's world includes meadow mown labyrinths and bees... but I headed to the beach.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
It was the first day of my three month sabbatical and seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect with other women outside of my church, to spend time outdoors in a beautiful setting, and to stretch my comfort zone by drumming.
Heather Pentz was the retreat leader; I met her when she drummed for You Gotta Sing! Chorus, the community choir with whom I sing.
This is the view from a hilltop off the West Lawrencetown Road where I, along with a group of eleven women, did Tai Chi a month ago. We were participants in a retreat for women entitled Awake In the Wild. There were eleven of us: we walked the land, we drummed, we danced, we ate, we sang.
I spent all day outside, something I don’t think I have done since I was a teenager. It put me in touch with that younger self, even as the body that climbed the hill to that magnificent view protested!
There is power in the drum, despite never having drummed before. The retreat opened with us beating on various kinds of drums as we made our way to the woods singing. As we sat in our chosen places, we were invited to say a few words about what we hoped for in the day and then beat out a rhythm on the drum we had and the rest of the women picked up the rhythm on theirs. The woods echoed with ancient and new beats.
The sacred wove its way through the day in ways that are almost indescribable. There is something sacred about having, as a friend puts it, ‘skin to skin’ contact with the earth. There is something sacred about moving your body to the heartbeat of the drum, the heartbeat of the earth and the breath of the ocean. There is something sacred that is always present, if only we are ‘awake.’
Later in the day we were invited to think of a mantra for ourselves. We made bracelets and were encouraged to wear them, to repeat your mantra throughout the day. To have the mantra become a part of who we are.
The day culminated in a drumming circle and if we felt called, we were invited to sit or lay in the middle of the circle as the others drummed or sang what we asked of them. I asked them to sing my prayer/mantra/song. It is an adaptation of a song I learned at YGS. They sang, “I let the love wash over me, I let, I let, it be.” They sang it over and over again. They sang it till I felt it vibrate up through the earth. They sang it till the love washed over me.
And that’s my window on God's world.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
I drive past Camp Hill Cemetery quite regularly in my travels around Halifax, and as a minister, I have occasionally presided at graveside or committal services there. Camp Hill Cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in Halifax, the final resting place for many of the city’s elite; you can read more about it here. I have frequently promised myself that one day I will explore it a bit.
This past week, between a doctor’s appointment and meeting a friend for lunch, I had the opportunity to do so. And in doing so, I made two discoveries: the middle of the cemetery is made up of concentric circles, almost as if it is laid out in the shape of a Celtic Cross. Given the Scottish history of Halifax it is quite possible that this is the case.
Most headstones are very solid, as if to say, “I was here and here I am and this is the end!” This one on the other hand seems to invite one to ponder what is on the other side. Its very openness invites one to be drawn into the mystery that is death. Its unique shape had me pondering life and death and life again. I believe in life after death, even as I have no idea what that life may be like. The curved shape and the tree or flower like opening seem distinctly feminine. As much as it looks like a window, it invites me to pass through it like a doorway. What lies on the other side? What lessons does the other side have for us?Whatever markings were on it are long since worn away by wind and rain and salt air. Does it mark a woman’s grave? A man’s? Its placement close to the centre of cemetery tells us that it is one of the earlier graves. Whoever you are and wherever you are, blessings on your continuing journey.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
It’s been two months since I wrote a post. Two months that have been demanding professionally and personally as my congregation and I dealt with a number of deaths, including the most recent one, that of my father two and half weeks ago. My father’s death was sudden and shocking, his body unexpectedly succumbing to the effects of throat cancer and radiation.
His wish was that following cremation, his
ashes be retained by our mother until her death, and then they be interred together.
This is a birdhouse that I gave my parents a number of years ago. They had a collection of birdhouses from the utilitarian to the whimsical hanging in the trees at their home outside of Windsor, Nova Scotia. This one never housed birds, it was kept inside, I am not sure why. Now it houses my father’s remains. We decided that this was an appropriate container for them, although I have since discovered that many people wondered whether he built houses in his retirement, not realizing it was a birdhouse.
My mother has a special spot for his ashes in their TV room; it’s on the table on which this birdhouse sat since they moved into their apartment. Sitting alongside it is a small, decorative hummingbird lamp, hummingbirds are important to my mother and the candle that was used as a Christ Candle during his funeral.
It's been a long, cold winter here in Nova Scotia, the first one my parents have spent here in about 15 years, my father was reluctant to make the trip this year. They have a second home in Florida, where they quickly made friends, got involved in their mobile home park association and enjoyed an active social life and appreciated the sun and sea. After talking with her children and receiving assurance that we would not feel abandoned, my mother decided that she would go to their Florida home for a couple of weeks. However, she also said that on some level she felt as if she would be abandoning her partner of 57 years; and so I asked her if she would like one of their children to take them while she was away.
And so, his ashes have made their home with me for the past week; they sit on a small table in our open concept living/dining room and so are part of the ordinary landscape of our home. Despite knowing that his spirit/soul/presence is not contained in that box, there is some sense of his presence nonetheless.
My mother will be home next week, his ashes will go back to her apartment as she begins the process of building her life without him. I wonder how much emptier my home will be.
And that’s my window on God's world.
Friday, February 14, 2014
I learned how to bake by using this cookbook. I still do most of my baking from it. They are tried and true recipes that never fail. As you can see from this picture, this cookbook has been well used, in fact, I have lost some of the pages, but since my mother and all three of my sisters have one as well, I can usually find what I am looking for. This cookbook, first produced by a group of church women, has been in print since 1965, my copy was published in 1974. The first versions had the women's names by the recipes, just like all good church cookbooks do. I don't know when they were dropped or when the cookbook became more than a local fundraiser.
As I baked birthday cakes this morning for a family celebration tomorrow, I was reflecting on some of the things I have learned about ministry and life from baking:
1. Some things you HAVE to do in a certain order, otherwise the results are unappealing.
2. When you are a beginner, it helps to follow the rules, except when the rules make no sense. In baking and ministry, there is a tension and dance between the familiar and the novel.
3. Patience. Somethings you can throw together in a few minutes, some things you can't hurry.
4. You have to trust that the end result will be greater than the sum of the parts.... communities of faith can do amazing things when they come together for a shared purpose.
5. Heat, like a refiner's fire, can burn beyond usefulness or transform mundane things into amazing creations. transformation. The secret is the right temperature.
6. When you don't have the right tools, improvise! Sometimes the tools we have are no longer serviceable for the new task.
7. Once you know the basics, the possibilities are endless.
8. Sometimes tried and true is what you want and need, except in case of number 9.
9. Sometimes you have to step out of your rut and try something new.
10. Sometimes you just have to rest and trust that something is happening beneath the surface. Bread dough looks pretty unappealing, but with the right ingredients, in the right proportions, at the right temperature, rises and bakes into basic, delicious sustenance and can feed the world.
And that's my window on God's world.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
I started this blog as a way to explore the sacred through photography. This photograph, taken at the southeast corner of Young and Robie Streets in Halifax, is not sacred at all. Up until a few months ago this site was home to Robie Foods, an iconic Chinese Food Restaurant, that closed after more than 50 years of providing the city with a one-of-a-kind experience.
There was a great deal of speculation and then anticipation when the decades old building was demolished and a new one started going up. It was a shock to me when I drove by shortly after Christmas and found a CASHMONEY outlet in its place! It seems like desecration.
The Northend of Halifax is in the midst of change; the beloved Hydrostone houses and market are part of the gentrification of the former working class neighbourhood and yet it is also home to Mulgrave Park, a large public housing development. It has drawn in creative individuals and businesses that come to be part of the artsy atmosphere and provide something other than the cookie cutter streetscape of so many of our cities. It is a place of diversity in race, origin, economic and marital status. There an increasing number of young families who want to be close to city amenities. New immigrants find a home here. It is a place where neighbours look after neighbours.
And yet here is CASHMONEY, a place that preys on those who are economically disadvantaged, who have no savings or access to ordinary credit, whose only recourse when they find themselves with a financial emergency is to turn to this kind of outlet. In large, eye-catching signs, 'Payday Loans' are advertised. $300 for $20, NO CREDIT CHECK! I went to their website to find out just how much a loan would cost. Provincial regulations obviously state that they have to say that Payday Loans are high cost loans, otherwise why would they? A $300 loan for 14 days, costs the borrower $66. Which works out to be an annual percentage rate (APR) of $573.57%! This is legalized loan sharking.
I am comfortably middle-class now, but I wasn't always. There was a time when something as small as needing a new headlight for my car strained an already tight budget. When you live close to the edge economically, it doesn't take much to tip you over. I was lucky, I had family I could go to for short-term loans.
And so places like CASHMONEY offend me. They offend me because they can draw a person into ever increasing loans with little way to get out. They offend me because they seek an exorbitant profit on the backs of the poor. They offend me because as a follower of Jesus, I am called to help create a world that is better for all of us, not just some of us.
My window on God's world is cloudy tonight.
Friday, January 17, 2014
This is our drug cupboard, and you don’t see the containers behind those!
I consider myself a fairly healthy mid-fifties woman, who nevertheless relies on a daily regimen of drugs, both prescription and OTC to stay that way. Each morning I portion out the pills: three different ones for my aching joints, one to keep my underactive thyroid working better, one to control migraines, a magnesium tablet and a multi-vitamin.
Most mornings I do it without thinking too much, I do it in a particular order so that I don’t double dip or forget one. Periodically though, as I look at the handful of pills, I get depressed at the betrayal of my body. And then I can start to lay blame. If only I looked after myself better, if only I exercised more, if I lost some more weight. If only, if only, if only. Most women I know can identify with the love/hate relationship we have with our bodies. Yesterday, as I picked up another prescription at the drug store was one of those days. However, the latest one is only for 5 days!
On my good days, which are most of my days, I am thankful that I live in a time when drugs are available, that I have a drug plan that pays for 80% of them. I thankful that I live in a time when a bacterial infection can be cleared up in a matter of a week or so. I am thankful that my daily medications enable me to go about most of my days with energy and comfort. Yes, I would rather not have to take medication, but without it, my life would be constrained and restricted.
I am thankful that this mid-fifties, imperfect and flawed body has also completed two 10k walks and raised $3000 for the work of the United Church by participating in the Bluenose Marathon. I am thankful that I can belly dance with my 18 year old granddaughter on a regular basis and have performed in a number of shows, I am thankful that I can walk regularly, at least in good weather. I am thankful that I can enjoy a night out with my husband. And I am thankful that I can keep up with my 4 year granddaughter, at least for a couple of hours.
So this is me, on drugs.
And that’s my window on God's world.
Friday, January 3, 2014
This ‘Christmas’ cactus sits on a table tucked into the bay window in my study. Of course it blooms when it wants to, which is not necessarily at Christmastime. The cactus was given to me by two friends as a housewarming present when I moved back to Nova Scotia from Ontario.
Both of these women were part of my formal discernment process as I explored a call to ordained ministry; through that process we became close friends and kept in touch throughout my years of study and when I moved to Ontario to begin my first appointment as a minister, 1800 kilometers from all that was familiar, both of them came to visit that first summer, although not together.
One of them died a little over a year ago and every time I look at the cactus I am reminded of her. Sheila was of a woman of deep faith, although like many of Scottish background, reserved about it except with people she knew well. Like the cactus, Sheila could seem to be prickly at times, but those of us who knew her well, knew that her prickliness covered a heart of great tenderness and generosity. If you look closely at the picture, you see a blossom reflected in the glass table top. Sheila reflected love and faithfulness combined with practicality.
I don’t know if Sheila knew how much of an impact she had on my ministry. When I presided at my first funeral, while still a student and feeling ill-equipped, she gave me a button to put in the pocket of my alb as a reminder that there were others who thought I was very equipped. I found out later that it was a button from a dress that Sheila’s mother had been making for her when she died. The dress was never finished, but Sheila had kept it all the years since, knowing that love was stitched into the very seams. She wanted me to have a tangible reminder of her love to carry me that day. Little did she know that I would carry that button in the pocket of my alb for years, always a touchstone for me, particularly when I felt inadequate or for difficult funerals.
The button is on the table with the cactus right now, by chance, perfectly lined up between the blossom and its reflection. In fact, the reflection is clearer than the blossom in the picture. Isn't that often true, we don't see our own beauty and truth clearly until it is reflected back to us by someone who knows and loves us? Beauty and practicality, love reflected in ways unimaginable, that was my friend Sheila. I miss her.
And that's my window on God's world.