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…
“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” ~ Richard Rohr
This morning, with my coffee, I read, as usual, in no particular order, my email, Facebook notifications, and news. Some of my email is summarized news, which is where I started today.
I’ve come to believe that coffee energizes or unnerves me, depending on where I am emotionally to start with. Yesterday I was energized. The day before, I was shaking with anxiety. Same amount of coffee. Hmm. What’s that about?
What it is about is my responsibility to myself, to appropriate self-care, looking after my own emotional state, first and foremost. I need to clean the inside of my own “cup”, as Jesus advised.
He said this, according to the Gospel of Matthew (23:26), as part of an extended exchange with the religious leaders of the time, who were also in many ways the political leaders as well.
The exchange comes shortly after his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, riding a donkey, an event we celebrate even today on Palm Sunday. That day, Jesus rode into town to the fanfare of the crowds, going directly to the temple, where he drew the ire of the religious leaders by tossing over the money changing tables.
Money changing was part of the onerous level of religious expectation. You couldn’t use Roman coins for your temple gifts and shopping. Yes, shopping. The temple grounds were filled with animals for sale at exorbitant prices. If you wanted to make a sacrifice, of the required type and quality, you paid through the nose. Jesus called the temple a den of thieves, rather than a House of Worship.
This exchange was the beginning of the end for Jesus. The political system and religious system worked together in earnest to precipitate his arrest and death. It’s like Jesus decided that under the circumstances he could be pointed in his comments about that system.
He told them a story about two sons whose father asked them to do certain tasks on the farm. One son said, “Sure, Dad!” and then as some sons do, went on to completely ignore the father’s request. But the other who at first said “Nope! Can’t help you, Dad,” went on to do exactly what he had been assigned to do. Which son, Jesus asked, was obedient?
The answer was an easy one; the second son was obedient. “Well,” replied Jesus, “be aware that people you look down upon from your critical high horse are likely much closer to God than you.” (My paraphrase.) Jesus went on to tell more stories critical of leaders who were disrespectful of others whom they regarded as being below them. The God who had always asked them to be fair in their care of widows and orphans, foreigners, and the poor (Jer. 7:5-6), was saying they obeyed in word only, focussing on outward behaviour instead of the intent of the heart.
And so, Jesus concluded, they should look to the motivations of their own hearts first. They should clean their own cups, the insides where the tea stains accumulate, rather than pointing accusing fingers all around.
Today, my body reacted to stories like that, as evidenced by how shaky my handwriting appears in today’s first journal entry, after only one cup of coffee. I turned to my daily email from Richard Rohr, whose gentle words would soothe my soul, and found the quote, above, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
Rohr, in an expansion of that statement in another document, reminds us that “when you don’t transform your pain you will always transmit it…, that we cannot afford to hate because we become a mirror, a disguised image of the same.” In the face of all that, we usually either fight or hide away in denial. Rohr suggests a third way, of fighting AND fleeing at once into the heart, where we clean our own “cup”, as Jesus said.
That is indeed a fight, as we struggle against our natural tendency to point fingers. What Jesus did, in the midst of trouble, even minutes before his unjust death, was to forgive. Cleaning my own cup means looking inside myself, centring into the Presence of Spirit, trusting and letting go.
This post is part of my process. May it bring you readers some peace as it has for me. May this become our better practice.
I want to brag. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I will anyway. I’ll start by saying I have two gorgeous delightful smart-as-a-whip grandgirlies. That is a typical grandmotherly thing to say.
I am married to a science teacher. He found a video called The Infinite Pattern That Never Repeats. He watched it, told me about it, and we watched it the next evening together. So interesting! Mind blowing science that I really don’t understand, but it is beautiful. I sent a link to my daughter, saying she and the girls would like it. I was thinking particularly about 5 year old Anna, the artist.
Of course, as things go, when watching YouTube, we ended up watching more, including this one: Parallel Worlds Probably Exist. Here’s Why. It has a hilarious explanation of Schrödinger’s cat, a thought experiment regarding quantum physics. If you put a cat in a box, and set up circumstances that may or may not release poison, is the cat dead or alive? Both! Watch and see.
Pixie was watching intently. She did not like that experiment! I don’t blame her! Good thing it was a thought experiment, all in the mind of Schrödinger and in the pages of physics textbooks everywhere.
So Daughter Dear and the girlies watched the first video, and like us, kept on keeping on with more. Anna chose this second one. And wanted to DO the cat experiment! Wise daughter suggested a different experiment: Slinky Drop. This is a safe experiment that anyone can do, with a slinky and the slow motion setting on your phone. No cats are harmed. 😂
In our COVID world, there are so many ways to learn, to share, to love, and to be present. I got to see the result of my girlies’ slinky experiment, even though they live a thousand miles away. They learned things about science that may inspire their future careers and creativity.
We can put too much focus on the scary things in the world, but if we look instead with wonder, we can experience joy and gratitude instead of fear.
It’s dawn, on the beach at Pocologan. I am the first to come down the stairs and walk on the sands this morning. Last night I sat here until my toes got wet, on a rock that earlier in the day had been far from the edge of the water. Last night, the beach was marked with footprints big and small, bare and sneakered, human and canine, around sandcastles and names inscribed with sticks or clamshells. This morning, below the line of seaweed marking last night’s high tide, the sand is pristine. They talk about the tides of time and the sands of time. Perhaps that means something about Mother Earth’s ability to remove all evidence of what was, and to start again.
My room here at the Clipper Shipp Motel is a small one, too small for doing any of my usual stretching exercises. Instead I have walked the beach at various times of the day, marvelling at the height of the Fundy high tide, and sneaking around points of rock that had been under water a few hours before, to walk on the bottom of the sea.
The other night at home, as sometimes happens, my stretching released the emotion I carried in my muscles. When that happens, I let the tears flow. I’ve learned to ask, whose tears are these? My tears are not always my own. The other night as I stretched, the tears that flowed were the tears of the people on the West Coast, watching their forests and homes burn.
Where will they go? What will they do? So many thousands homeless and broken. I noticed how my tears flow more easily for these sudden refugees in California, Oregon, or Washington, than they do for refugees fleeing fire in Greece, or terror in Myanmar. I can more easily relate to the traumas of our North American neighbours. And yet, I know that refugees around the world are also mothers and fathers, children, losing everything they love, feeling the same grief, shedding the same wrenching tears. I pray that these difficult times will help us see each of us everywhere as a sister or brother.
And so as the sun rises this morning, I reach for the sky, bend to the earth, and pray for our planet. On this new day, the skies above me are clear of smoke. The crescent moon waves goodbye through wispy clouds. I am grateful for these blessings, aware that I no more deserve clear skies than my brothers and sisters near or far deserve pain and loss.
I live in the same place where I have lived most of my life. Some things remain the same. Dawn on my horizon looks the same as it did when I was a child. Other things change more drastically, like the traffic on this road. When I was in junior high, the school bus came up the road this half mile, and turned around in our driveway. My siblings and I, and whatever children might be living next-door in the house where my grandmother grew up, got on the bus and headed off to school. By the time my own children began their education, the bus went right past us, returning a while later half full of children. Now, on this holiday weekend, the traffic speeds by like a busy highway, despite the deplorable state of the pavement, as seasonal neighbours travel to and from cottages on the lake.
My husband and I went for a ride in the woods behind our house. In my mind, that journey should be the same as it was 50 years ago, when I took solitary walks down the same woods road. I still expect it to be overhung with maples, but that has not been the case since the tail end of Hurricane Arthur blew through in 2014, toppling a quarter of the sugar maples, and many other trees. Instead of the deep magic forest of my childhood, now the skies are open over the Little Mactaquac Maples sugar camp, which itself is a more recent addition to our landscape. But the stream still flows, and in spring the falls still roar down the rocks from the fields above. Yet the contrast between my childhood memories and the current reality is so stark that I grieve every time I make the trip. I miss the magic in the ancient trees.
I am thinking about these things, because of the change this pandemic brings. We still don’t know what the longterm changes might be, as we wait in an extended pause between what was and what is coming. But we have survived change before. I think the biggest upheaval this extended community has experienced in my lifetime was the construction of Mactaquac Hydro Dam. I was 10 years old when the water rose in the St. John River Valley. Farms that my father worked were inundated. Mactaquac Stream, into which our Little Mactaquac Stream flows, could once be crossed on stepping stones in summer. Now it is part of the deep headpond above the dam. I remember the Snowshoe Islands, but since they weren’t part of my daily landscape, I don’t miss them like some do. I do miss the darkness of a starry night, something that disappeared forever when they turned on the lights on the “damn dam,” as it is affectionately called around here.
I was small when this all came about, listening on the edges to adult conversations, and hearing the anger, sadness, and fear in their voices. I imagine what it might have been like for them. Perhaps the years of change and the uncertain pause between what was and what was coming is similar to what we are experiencing now – knowing that things were changing, seeing the survey stakes go up, hearing news of neighbours’ land expropriated, watching swaths of trees cut and piled, denuding steep hillsides that would soon be under water – unable to imagine what the river valley would be like in the future.
That future came and we got used to it. Some still grieve what was, while others fought tooth and nail to save their beautiful river, waterfront houses, and tourist industry, when, in recent years, a decision needed to be made either to refurbish the dam or remove it. Some envisioned the removal of the dam as a return to what was, while others pointed out that what is under the water will never again be the river of our memory.
We got through that massive change, somehow surviving and becoming a different community, a truly beautiful community up and down our river, with new people, new activity, and a new way of life. That history of loss and rebirth in our lives can encourage us as we face the changes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our future will again be different. We don’t know how different, and we will naturally grieve what was, but we will also rejoice. I hold onto my faith, believing that those things that need changed, that we didn’t know how to change, will be changed, through this pandemic, for the good of all.
I am just back from a very nice walk. It’s a little after 9 AM. Sun is shining, birds chirping, breeze blowing. I found myself singing one of my father’s favorites, “Trust and Obey.”
The song begins with the words “when we walk with the Lord.” I used to think of this song as a message to buckle down and do what we’re told, with the emphasis on “obey.”
Whenever I hear this song, I hear it in my father’s voice, coming strongly over the fields, from the tractor while he plowed. Today, I wondered why he would sing that song.
Today, walking with Spirit, the message came through that there were times when Daddy was very glad to be out in the field all alone, times when he was discouraged or overwhelmed, times when it was hard to bite his tongue, and be a good husband/father/son. He was the best Daddy ever, so good and patient. But he had to deal with a slew of us kids, a difficult stepmother, and the usual trials of farming. He was a young man, once upon a time, doing the best he could. And so, today, I heard the emphasis on the word “trust”, to trust and just keep doing the next best thing, as the key to happiness.
I walked today, singing Daddy’s song, feeling connected to everything, to Daddy, to God, to the road, the birds, the neighbours, the forest and the sky. It was a beautiful day to walk and pick up other people’s garbage, which I try to do once a day, along the side of the road, especially in spring. It was a beautiful day to pick up other people’s garbage, because it’s really my garbage, as I am part of all of it.
It doesn’t matter that I didn’t drop that garbage. It doesn’t matter that I can’t stop in to see my neighbours during this pandemic. It doesn’t matter that I can’t go for a walk with my friends. We are never alone, “when we walk with the Lord.” ❤️
I have always been an optimist. Once upon a time, when Pollyanna was a popular children’s story, I took on that persona, the cheerful optimist, the “glad girl”. The book was published in 1913; Disney made a movie in 1960. I was very small at the time, and never saw the movie, but the story became part of my repertoire for life. I’m sure I wasn’t glad all the time. Neither was the little orphan Pollyanna, but her Glad Game of finding something to be glad about in any circumstance got her through, and changed the lives of those around her. The story lives on in our parlance, pejoratively, as a put down of those who are considered naïve because they do not see things as being as horrible as others do.
I have been called a Pollyanna numerous times, even now, as an adult. When I first interviewed to become a candidate for ordination in the United Church of Canada, I was so excited, that the Interview Board gave me an assignment, to talk to a good number of ministers about what was the best part of ministry and the worst part. They didn’t say as much, but it was clear that they feared I was entering ministry as a naïve dreamer. I carried out the assignment with vigour. The answers boiled down to “the people” and “the people”. One minister’s story deeply discouraged me; their people had been exceptionally hurtful. Yet with prayer and the encouragement of other ministers, I regained my optimism. God is still working in the world, even if Christendom completely disappears. In fact, if Christendom disappears, that would probably be a good thing. Followers of Jesus could then get back to living the Way, instead of maintaining church buildings and tradition. I may be disheartened from time to time, but I still hold the belief that the Biggest Big, Love, Life, the Universe, is moving in a positive direction.
Probably because of this natural optimism, I have never thought of myself as “suffering”. Others may suffer, but I did not claim that word for myself. Then in August 2018, I came across a definition that fit how I was feeling. Suffering, James Finley said, is “ an inescapable sense of precariousness”. He was discussing Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths. The cause of this sense of precariousness, Finley says, is wanting life to be different than it is. The cure is surrender. Buddha taught that the “how” of surrender is the Eight Fold Path — right practices — right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Of those eight practices, right mindfulness was the one that spoke to me that day, and speaks to me still. Paul Knitter, in his book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, wrote about “a mindful trusting of each moment as it comes” (p. 159). That’s what surrender means to me now — trusting in the moment. The paradox of trust in the midst of suffering carries us through dark times. This is not a smiley face that says there is no suffering, but a sense of solidness inside the presence of the Biggest Big.
I posted a video on my Facebook page about making today, New Moon Day in March, like New Year’s Day. If what you do today sets the tone for the next year, do what you want to be doing for the next twelve months. I am doing social distancing at home with Hubby, and I hope we won’t be still doing THIS twelve months from now, but today has to be intentional. As I say in my video, the main thing I want to do today and for the next twelve months is to write. The above paragraphs are an excerpt from my current writing project. Just a taste. I needed to read these words myself, this morning, so I thought I’d share.
This morning I came across a clipping and a quote that struck me as so true: “Keep quiet, pray, and wait for God to work.” (Rose McCormick Brandon) Yesterday, someone told me to read Psalm 91, especially vs. 7, which says, “You will not be harmed, though thousands fall all around you” (CEV). It is comforting to think that somehow God will keep me safe and sound while thousands of people die. Seriously? Not! Certainly not comforting for those thousands! Better to just keep quiet, pray and wait. And yet, here I am, writing.
I’m writing because sometimes the medicine we need does not taste very good. Chemo almost kills before it cures. We submit to medical traumas for the long term good of our health. Over the years I have counselled many who were burnt out, on stress leave, at their wit’s end. They didn’t think they could stop and rest. They thought they had to keep going, no matter what. Parents do it all the time – work all day, then spend the evening driving children to events and activities on the other side of town, sometimes several trips in different directions in one night. If they are lucky, they have time on Sunday to do a load of wash or get the groceries.
I often have reminded people that when they don’t take a break, eventually the body just stops, gets sick, plays out, forcing us to rest. We have to make up the rest that we never took. Some never make it back to where they were before, having worn themselves out too far, pushed themselves too much. Maybe that’s what is happening to our species right now. Maybe we are being forced into a reset. You probably have seen a meme passed along on Facebook, more than once, about Sabbath. A day of rest. We haven’t taken our day of rest for so long; we have lots of catching up to do.
My province, New Brunswick, yesterday joined the ranks of many others around the world, declaring a state of emergency, closing all non-essential business, and severely restricting the places we are allowed to go. We are so used to going to the pool, the spa, the gym. We spend hours in hockey rinks, pool halls and theatres. Not now. Not for a while to come. Not for quite a few daily Sabbaths.
Now we stay at home, read books, play games, talk to our friends and family on the phone. We are having meals at our kitchen tables, getting to know our family in close quarters instead of escaping for a cup of coffee elsewhere. All the things that keep us so busy, we are told, are not important after all. We are being given a simpler life, at least for a while. We rediscover what used to be the norm.
When my son was ten, he said, “Mom! You have to read this book!” He passed me a copy of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. (You may have seen the movie.) My son, even at ten, could choose good books, and I have since read the sequels as well. The Earth of these books was much like ours, full of war between races and countries, until…. until an alien species comes from space, and suddenly everyone is on the same side, fighting the “buggers”. I’ve often thought, yes, we need an alien invasion to help us see that we are all one. That alien has arrived, in the form of a virus, not from outer space. Suddenly, the other side of the world is our next door neighbour. Suddenly everyone is aware of the plight of everyone else. We are all in the same boat.
We want this to be a very short boat ride. We want to get back to normal. But many say this is not going to be short. This Sabbath rest will be a long one. The world may not be the same when we come out the other side. In fact, I hope it is quite different. Can we learn that we don’t need to be jetting around the planet as easily as taking a trip to the grocery store? Can we be content to enjoy where we are instead of hopping on a cruise ship to see the world? Now, believe me, I love to cruise, but I also cringe knowing what it does to our oceans. Can we learn that what really matters is the people we love? That, and health? Can we come to appreciate a simpler way? Can we take time to fly a kite for a change? Can we reset?
Back to Psalm 91:7 and Rose McCormick Brandon’s quote…. In some ways, we are all being harmed by this virus, whether we get sick or not. We have a new understanding of the perils of pandemics. We face having loved ones die in hospitals when we are not allowed to be there. We fear not having enough hospital beds at all. We may be angry at the idea of God, especially one that saves a few and lets others fall. Whether you think of this as something from God, the Universe, Life, or Chance, if we can be quiet and wait, when this reset is complete, I pray we will find much to be grateful for. Already the air and water are healing. Already we are learning to be kind again. Be quiet and wait for this Virus to work in our lives. Find love. Find things to be grateful for, and expect healing for our souls through this bad tasting medicine.
Years ago, a very good friend of mine, Linda Dashwood, told me that on my birthday I should watch for a message from the Universe. It could come from anywhere, a song, a text, a page in a book. One year, my message showed up in something I misread. It was on a sign in a gift stop. I realized quickly that I had received my message, and went back to look again, but what I’d read wasn’t what it said at all. Still, the misread words were what I needed. My friend is no longer with us, but she remains very dear to my heart. I pass along her birthday instruction often. Watch for a birthday message from the Universe.
My birthday is in May. Each year I write my new birthday message into the front of my journal, so I can be reminded of it regularly. My current message is “What Matters Most”. I’m realizing today that my birthday message must be a very important one, because I got the message twice. First, in a birthday card: “Think of all the things that mean the most to you.” Then again, more succinctly, in the preface of a book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: “What matters most.”
In the past months, my health has been what matters most. I had major preventative surgery, taking off my breasts, because I have the BRCA2 breast cancer gene mutation. My future health matters much more than having breasts. I am glad I made the decision.
Now thanks to COVID-19, the requirements of social distancing are showing us what is really important, what matters most. Health, our own, and the health of our loved ones and community, matters more than school, or church, or hockey, or music festivals. When you are going stir crazy from cabin fever, remember what matters most. Call a friend, but don’t go out for coffee. Have a cup while chatting from a distance.
What matters most is love, and love, today, means staying home.
A couple of weeks ago, I went for a walk out our road. Our road is a country road. In late winter, the pavement is full of holes, bumps, and frost heaves. Traffic moved slowly. The day was mild, warmer than it had been, and sunny, without a puff of breeze or a single blackfly. It was a perfect day for a walk.
As I walked, I was praying. I was feeling out of sorts, unsure of where things were going, for myself, or for anyone, really. I walked and prayed for insight, a meditative stroll. I walked until I met up with my sister and her husband. I turned to travel back with them. After I left them at the end of their driveway, I knew I had my insight, the sign I needed.
I have lived on this road most of my life. A good number of my neighbours are my siblings and relatives. Others I have known for a very long time. I walk and think about each of them. I am fortunate. In hard times, I have a ready support group, just a short walk away. I too can support them in trouble, as need be. My sign, that day, was to go slow, and remember my neighbours.
This morning, I cancelled church services and meetings until further notice, because of COVID-19. I hate to do this, but for the safety of those we love, we decided we must. My congregations will miss what Sunday morning offers them, a sense of community, sharing with friends, solidarity, and a few moments of peace in a crazy world.
This pandemic is affecting all of us. It is reminding us that everyone around the whole world is a neighbour. Six degrees of separation is all there is between us, six or fewer. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. We just don’t think about it most of the time. And so, today, and for the foreseeable future, maybe, together, we will begin to go slow, and remember our neighbours. May our world right itself, but not as the same world. May our world right itself into a better version, a better version of each of us.