It is MY birthday and I am 64. I take after Daddy, so I am not yet grey. I walked almost 8 km yesterday. (We are celebrating in Alma and Fundy National Park.) I climbed back up the Laverty Falls trail without getting out of breath, while my hubby at 53 had to keep stopping for a rest. Short ones, mind you, because of the black flies. (Three years ago it was me needing the breathers.) So much for marrying a younger man. Even his mother admits I’m the younger one. 😂
I think of my Mom who only managed 62, living her last years with cancer, and last decades with arthritis. I am so fortunate.
My goal is to be as healthy and fit as now, when I’m 85, with a few extras like chin-ups on the monkey bars (never ever did these) and splits on the living room floor again. Good to have goals. I go at it slow and steady and surprise myself.
After that, the goal is to continue being happy and well for a long long time. I want to keep dreaming God’s dream of joy for many many years.
Easter Sunday when I was eight years old, must have been cold and snowy, because I remember I had to wear my boots to church. I remember that very clearly, as well as the mess of feelings Little Me was having that morning.
I am the oldest of six, but that Easter we were only four – three girls – age eight, six, and five – plus our four year old brother. We were excited about Easter eggs, or maybe a chocolate bunny, or a hollow chocolate hen, sitting on a hollow chocolate nest. We woke up early for the hunt.
Daddy came in from the barn, running late, like most Sundays. He smelled of hay, manure and milk. He rushed to wash, don a suit, and comb his fine unruly hair. It was almost church time, but I still had not found my Easter eggs! My little sisters and brother had theirs, but mine were nowhere to be found. Looking back, I don’t know how we knew whose eggs were whose, but I certainly did not have mine.
It was time to go. Daddy was ready. “Put on your boots,” he said.
“No! I want my candy! I can’t find my candy!”
“Put on your boots!”
“NO! I want my candy!”
“ALICE, put – on – your – boots!!!!”
He was getting angry. I was furious! No candy and I had to go to church! I stomped my little feet all the way to the corner where my boots waited, under the hooks piled high with coats. One foot in, and then…. What? Something was in there! Candy!
You would think that I would be overjoyed. Instead, I felt horrid. So sorry for disobeying my Daddy. So sorry for being angry when he was telling me where my candy was, all along. But at the same time, really mad at him for not just saying so. Mad at him for embarrassing me this way. Embarrassed, that I, the oldest, was acting like a baby, on top of the fact that all the little ones had found their candy first.
I was reminded of all this earlier this week. Usually I fall asleep easily, but that night, I was up late, sipping camomile tea, fussing into my journal about uncertainty. It’s a strange world right now. It has been over a year since we had church services. Two Easter mornings have come and gone without choruses of Alleluja. Finally, this Sunday, we are going to open our doors, AND our windows, wear our masks, and sit socially distanced, so we can at last worship together in person, instead of just online. We will NOT be singing.
The decision to open this Sunday was made weeks ago, and here we are, with increased cases of variants, a public exposure at the Post Office, which is just down the street from the church, and a mobile testing unit set up in the mall parking lot. Some of my people will be isolating as they wait for their test results. Others will be more nervous than before, about being at church. And so I was fussing. How many people would come to church now? Would we be safe, with all our safety measures? No one would know until too late.
That night, it wasn’t just Covid on my mind, but climate change, economic change, work change, school change. I don’t know – none of us know – whether tomorrow will be the same as today. I could feel everyone’s anxieties swirling around me, mixed with my own. How do we make a plan for anything, with Covid rules subject to change daily? If any of us have to go into isolation, is there enough food in the house? What about work? Will there be money? What if something breaks? How do we get it fixed? How do we replace things that break or wear out, with shortages in the stores, and the list of shortages growing? Can we learn to make do, to value old chipped dishes, for example, instead of tossing them at the first signs of wear, or the first dash of boredom? What are we losing in all this change? But what, also, are we gaining?
So many questions, so much fussing. No wonder I couldn’t sleep. I had my Bible open beside me to the Book of Sirach. Sirach is not part of the Protestant Bible, so I had never read it. At some point recently, I had heard a beautiful quote from Sirach, and got out my Catholic New Revised Standard Version Bible. That night, I began to read. Sirach 3:22 popped right off the page at me, and landed deep in my heart: Reflect upon what you have been commanded, for what is hidden is not your concern (NRSV).
I had been fussing about what was hidden, all the things in our imagined future that we know nothing about. We guess and guess. We worry. We fuss. Well, at least I do. Yet here, Sirach is saying that those hidden things are not my concern. What I do need to think about, what I do need to reflect on, is what I have been commanded, what I already know that I am supposed to be doing. We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves, for instance (Mark 12:30-31). Those two commands take in all the rest, Jesus said.
And don’t worry. Don’t worry, Jesus said, about your food or your clothes. Don’t worry, just seek the Sacred, the Holy, the Spirit (Matthew 6:25-32). That, just that, is enough to keep me occupied, Love and Seeking the Sacred. Can I keep my mind on those things? Can I reflect on what I have been commanded? Can I focus on that instead of those things that are hidden, which, Sirach says, are no concern of mine?
Sirach was written about 200 BC, yet here it was, a timely message. I fell asleep meditating on those words, and listening to the sound of the frogs. Frogs don’t have a worry in the world, even though they too are facing climate change and environmental troubles, even extinction. They are smarter than me. They do not fuss about the hidden things. They only lift their voices as they are meant to do, reflecting the commandment of their very Being, night after night, in joyful song.
Candles that won’t light are the bane of any worship leader, even when the worship is solitary, at home, for online services or private prayer. I’ve written about my necessary careful tending of the Peace candle. Then this morning, my fire would not start. I kept adding paper, kindling, but only achieved smouldering and smoke. Finally, sitting with the stove door open, I managed for it to catch. Only later did I realize the damper had been closed for the night. I’d forgotten to check.
Not enough air. Not enough breath. Not enough Spirit sometimes in our lives, to light the flame of hope or peace or love. Persistence, writes Allison. Staying with it. Let’s not give up on our world. Thanks, Allison!
Today’s sermon is about Love, not the usual kind of love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. Today you will hear about Elijah and Elisha, the strength of Elisha’s love for his mentor, and Elisha’s courageous determination not to look away from Elijah even at the moment of his death.
I was not at the side of either of my parents when they died. Daddy’s death was sudden, and I was away. Mom died more slowly, in hospital, and I had to be home. I had to be a mom, and I had to work. Self-employment does not give time off for hospital vigils. So I wasn’t there. I wish I was. I was there in spirit. I was there in dreams. But I was not at my mother’s side. In these Covid times, people around the world have not been there with their dying loved ones. My heart aches for them. My heart aches for those of YOU who have had to wait outside of hospitals in these last 11 months.
Elijah told Elisha that he would go on, to his death, alone, but Elisha refused. He went every step of the way at Elijah’s side. He did not take his eyes off his master, and witnessed the moment when his spirit left his body, like a burning chariot and fiery horses. He tore his clothes in his grief, but he did not turn away.
Our attention capacity is short. We are always blinking, looking away, getting distracted, in normal every day circumstances. In the tough times, keeping our gaze turned toward the pain is hard, almost impossible. At other times, we feel like we can’t pull our attention away at all, from the news of what is happening in the world around us. But being “glued to the screen” is itself a way of NOT seeing what is happening beside us. That pain beside us begs for our attention.
We are learning to be a 21st century church, I’ve said. We are learning to become something different than we have been. In fact, we are being forced to be different, against our wills. We don’t like change, not at all. As I say in today’s sermon, we prefer to look back at the past, than to look squarely into the changes that are coming.
Just like the “Sons of the Prophets” in Elijah’s time were facing a change of era, so are we. Do we watch from a distance like most of them? Or do we walk into it, courageously, like Elisha? I do hope that we get back into our churches for in-person services soon, but what is “soon”? And how long will it take for our services to be “normal”? Will they EVER be “normal”?
I’ve come to realize that we have three congregations in Prince William Pastoral Charge – Living Waters, the Kirk, AND our online congregation. The online folks, some of them never come to church. Some live elsewhere. Some would love to be with us in person, but health concerns or disabilities keep them away. These people tell me how grateful they are for the recorded services. No matter when we get back to seeing each other face to face, we must not abandon these people. This Covid Journey is making us rethink what church is, what church membership is.
For a long time, we have been saying that Church is not a building. The question becomes, can church be ONLY online? Can we do without buildings completely? No, we cannot do without buildings. We need to be able to gather in person. Real change happens in person. Real love happens in person. But the buildings do not have to be church buildings. The buildings may be our homes.That is where Church started, after all, in the homes of believers in communities everywhere, supported by ministers like Paul and Silas, who travelled and wrote letters.
We CANNOT be Church ONLY online, because online it is too easy to look away. I get an email, for example, about the children starving in Yemen. I can delete that, and forget it. I see post after post on Facebook or elsewhere, of people in pain, and I can scroll right past. Or click the “care” button to send a hug, or the “sad” button to express my concern, but this leaves that individual alone, while the Facebook post disappears into the depths of the feed, and my attention is caught by the next meme, or the next funny video.
Real change, real concern, does not happen online. We need to be face to face, loving, caring, helping, supporting. We need to be face to face looking each other in the eye, not turning away from the pain. That is what Church is. No matter what happens with Covid, no matter what happens with our ability to sustain our buildings, we need to keep on loving, keep on being devoted to each other, just like Elisha was devoted to Elijah.
I’m writing this early on Saturday morning. It’s not quite 6 am. I did not expect to write paragraphs; my sermon was already a longish one. Thank you for reading all this. Thank you for not looking away.
I like things to be in order. I like cupboard doors closed, books arranged so they are easy to find when needed, my grocery list arranged in the same order as the aisles in the store. I’m not obsessive about these things, but order, having things and activities in order, my order, keeps my stress level low.
At the same time, whenever life gets more haphazard, so does my space. I have said that the number of papers and assorted odds and ends on my kitchen table act as a useful gauge of my stress level. The same goes for the number of emails sitting in my inbox, or the number of open pages in my browser. The other day I counted 208 emails and 13 windows. Not bad, really, but this feels like having 221 things on my to do list. Two hundred and twenty-one loose ends.
Loose ends take up precious room in my mind. Loose ends gobble up time too, as I spin in thought, trying to decide what is most urgent to get done, or all the smaller steps that are linked to the bigger task.
Do I really want to fix the leaky faucet? Is it better to be annoyed by a leak? Or to brave a trip to the hardware store in Covid? (And with my history, leaky faucets tend to mean more than one visit to the hardware store.)
So here’s what I’ve decided to do: I am going to catch as many loose ends as I can catch, by listing them on slips of paper, dropping them into a pretty box, and then making a Lenten practice out of randomly drawing tasks to complete.
I have started gathering loose ends, writing them down on slips of paper, curling them into twists with scissors, and tucking them into my Loose Ends box. Some loose ends, like dust, are never finished. Some will eventually get done, like the leaky faucet I mentioned the other day. Other loose ends went officially to my “today” list. It’s amazing how much I accomplish once I commit. Since I committed to this Loose Ends practice, many things have shifted, just because of the decision to begin.
I whittled the contents of my inbox, from 208 emails down to 38. I deleted a few, but moved many into a new file named “Loose Ends”. What is left in my inbox are emails about upcoming zoom meetings, and current items for action. Just doing that made me feel more relaxed and spacious.
I also determined that some things do not need to be completed; not all books need to be read. Sometimes one chapter is enough. I can send unfinished books back to the library, or pack them up for the church yard sale. It is a relief to let them go.
I have an ongoing list where every book I’ve read and released in recent years is recorded. I started that practice 40 years ago, when most books I read were from the library. I know I haven’t caught all the titles, but it’s fun to compare what I read in 1981 to what I’m reading now.
It’s harder with books that I love, that belonged to my parents, or that were given to me from the bookshelves of people I respect and appreciate. Marie Kondo says to decide what books to keep based on how you feel when you touch them and look at them. Does the book give you pleasure just by its presence? Don’t decide by opening the book, she insists. Um, no. I’m not there yet.
Deciding what to keep, what to toss, what to pass on to others is now one of the curled up slips of paper in my Box of Loose Ends. But already three boxes of books are gone or ready to go. It’s like a breath of fresh air, like opening a window on the first springlike day. I’ve even dusted a bit, lol!
I woke this morning at 3:30 am. I am an early to bed, early rise, sort of person, but 3:30 is ridiculous. My first thought was that sleep time is boring; I’d rather be up and reading with coffee. Sleep is much more fun if there are dreams, and my dreams have been sparse.
I pulled my nite hood back down over my eyes, and watched the blur on the back of my eyelids for a moment. Soon it was 5 am, and I had a dream! A tiny dream that was not very exciting, but here I am, about to tell you about it.
I dreamed about a wooden box. In the dream, I had seen an ad about this box. It was a cube, maybe 14 inches square. But in my living dream experience, it was much taller, maybe twice as tall or more. I kept checking the ad, and looking at the “real” box. I was confused in the dream, by the difference. It was a box that I had to construct myself, one of those self-assembly jobs, but an easy one. The cover would sit snuggly into place, but I stood with it in my hand, as I weighed the difference between experience and expectation.
Sometimes the most powerful dreams are tiny like this. The fact that I remembered it at all made it important, when I’ve not recorded many dreams for ages. My first thought was that maybe I don’t need dreams, that I live in a larger waking dream than anything I might catch in the night. I reminded myself to continue to pay attention to the symbols and metaphors all around me, all the time. If we carefully watch our waking life, we don’t need to process it so much in the night.
But I did not want to dismiss the dream without thinking about it further. Boxes, boxed in, limitations. I was not boxed in, in this dream. I was outside of the box. I was the one MAKING the box, and feeling the surprise that the box was bigger than expected. If boxes are limitations, then my limitations, limitations of my own making, are less restrictive than I was led to believe by “advertising.”
I was encouraged by the notion of being outside the box. That’s me, in many ways. I am not boxed in at all, and I think outside the box. The boxes I construct are more roomy than people expect. But I still make boxes. We all do. It’s scary to be without limits. What if we all lived outside the box? How would we contain ourselves? Lol! Would our imaginations run wild? Would our emotions be out of control?
I think about how often I try to box up my difficult emotions, and how I tend to jam the lid on them. I do this less now. I used to do it with food, and I no longer use the lid of overeating to squash and bury emotions like I used to. But I still have other lids – a game of solitaire, a tv show, facebook… The list goes on, all the ways I can box up what I do not want to look at.
I have been practising meditation more lately. If I catch myself trying to box stuff up, I sit with it, look at it, release it. I don’t hang onto it, whatever “it” is. (Remember, I am not always successful at this, but I’m getting better at it.)
Maybe by putting fewer things in my “box”, and by keeping the lid off, I am making more space inside of myself. My interior world is more spacious because I am not hoarding so many hurts, worries, or negative belief systems.
Early morning prayers and a candle lit for peace … but it keeps going out! Last time I used this candle, I pressed the soft wax back toward the wick, too tightly, perhaps. The candle sat on my shelf, beautiful, for almost a year, unlit, and now when I want to pray for peace, I find the flame needs close attention, as I relight it again and again.
Is that not the way with peace? We have an extended period of calm, and then let it sit on a shelf too long, trimmed up and beautiful, but unattended and fragile. We don’t see how fragile is that light until we want it, need it, long for it, only to find it isn’t there, nor easily regained.
The flame of peace goes out when we don’t watch over it. The flame of peace needs attention, coaxing, care. Turn away too long, expecting it to burn on its own, and the light goes out.
In the darkness, we need to huddle close to this light, and to each other. We need tenders of the flame, fire keepers, peace keepers. And if your candle of peace goes out, relight, and relight again! Relight that flame of peace again and again, and sit close with your loved ones. Pay attention to this fragile peace. Do not give up.
Happy 2021! A few weeks ago, I was asked to prepare a video lecture for students in the Human Services program at the New Brunswick Community College. They, like everyone else, are doing virtual classes in our COVID circumstances.
Now that the students have had their turn, I’m making the video public. Most of it can be instructive to anyone, student or not. I trust you can be patient with those parts that don’t apply. 😊
The beautiful words of Pslam 23 have at times prettified me and given me hope on some of my darkest days.
I wrote this poem just to reflect on the pslam and how important it is to me.
As I wander through the green uncut grass
the stories of the garden unfold.
Imprinted into the soil, deep dark tunnels of despair,
My burdens glistened into the dewy footprints of life
I know that I am the gardener, listening to the creator.
With every seed thats sown, I learn more of him.
When I doubt, he lifts me up, reminds me that I can grow.
He leads me through valleys that I never knew existed,
waters my soul with life giving streams, which hydrate me.
Growing in a new place, Where its safe to sit and stay.
With him I am at peace to say no words, as he knows my…