All posts by deaconheathers

I work as a Diaconal Minister (deacon) in the United Church of Canada. I have a progressive perspective on faith & spirituality, religion, and love to engage in conversation on said topics. I also love to knit.

Lamenting & Resilience

A little over a decade, Moose Jaw SK experienced a huge fire in their downtown.   Several beautiful historic buildings were lost, burned literally to the ground;there was concern about other buildings being structurally affected by the heat: what else would have to go? The downtown area was completely changed in look and feel.  Some thought “oh that’s too bad” and switched to shopping at the big-box stores up the hill. Others lamented the loss, worried that other buildings would be structurally affected; what else would have to go? These folks stayed with the sadness for a time; they weren’t ready to simply “move on”. They sifted through the rubble… which changed the downtown positively.  Check out tunnelsofmoosejaw.com.

Doesn’t Life often resembles that fire!  Our village absorbed news of three significant losses this week. Some of us have already come up with how to work around the losses. Others of us are working through the sadness of last week’s news, so this feels overwhelming; we wonder if all that is left is “rubble” and what will happen to the rest of our community as a result?  I’m usually in the first group, but this time I’ve decided it’s ok to sit in the sad and lament the losses. Really feel them.

I’m being re-affirmed that it’s spiritually helpful to feel the losses deeply.  In lamenting, we come to realize just as deeply, what it is we do not want to lose.  Feeling our brokenness, we experience a Presence which holds our sadness with us, assures us that  abundant life is seeping through the cracks. Sometimes it’s an abundance of community support, or discovering a new skill, or a ‘crazy idea’ that sparks into something new. Sometimes it’s a feeling that We Are Not Alone.  Lamenting is a birthing process.

We all have had deep losses.  We all have ways of coping. And our culture is good at helping us avoiding the sad. Suck it up, get over it. What can one person do?  And the wide variety of diversionary activities, and living vicariously through others: Go [insert team name here]! I succumb to that too, and it’s fun sometimes. But isn’t it only an illusion of life going on?  Does it help build the resilience we need to meet and overcome the next inevitable challenge?

I am no Pollyanna; I’ve been cut before on some of the sharp edges of this rubble-sifting.  But I don’t believe in quick answers, that all loss or change is a good thing, or that it was “planned” or necessary; I know it’s easy to become paralyzed to act. But even with these danger areas, the lamenting process gives the spiritual space to see the possibilities and face “what is” with a renewed spirit – and isn’t that resilience? Doesn’t there have to be a “death” before there is a “resurrection”?

Doesn’t resilience, resurrection of spirit,  come from being touched by the loss and being reminded of what kind of community/ies we want to live in?  As we sit with one another and lament these loses, may we discover among the rubble the holiness that we are Not alone, we’re better together, and Life  Will Come Again.

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What do we do with our grief?

I was so sad when I heard about the shootings in Las Vegas, the attack on the police officer and pedestrians in Edmonton.  On top of that, I was saddened by the death of two people in my community, and Tom Petty. What a week!  Like many, as I reeled from one story to the next, my grief compounded.

So I do what many others do.  I look for answers: how could this happen?  I remember: stories of the person, or (in the case of the attacks) similar events.  I look for community: who else is sharing this sadness with me?  I look for strength and hope: what do I learn from this person’s life, or from this incident?  Because, ultimately, for my grief to be effective, not paralyzing, I have to integrate it; I have to ask ‘how shall this affect how I live?”

I spoke with family and friends, listened to music, read websites.

But I was disturbed with a trend I saw.  Remember the June ’16 attack in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub? That single shooter killed 49 people; it was called a “terrorist attack”, by many.  The Las Vegas shooting, which killed more people, also carried out by a single person is not being called a “terrorist attack”.  The attack this weekend in Edmonton is it being called a terrorist attack; why?

Don’t get me wrong: I am appalled by the violence. It may be driven by ideology.  But I am more appalled that we live in a world where violence is an easy response – and I fear it’s beginning to be the first response.  Is this because a person doesn’t know how else to dispel their grief and anger?  Anger, often, is a grief turned outward; when our life is not unfolding as we want or think it should we explode. Literally.

I, too, am seduced sometimes by violent-think. I’ve said “would somebody just shoot [this person] and relieve me of my misery?”  Maybe it is, too, because I am deeply saddened, and cannot see a different way to alleviate it?

I wonder if we are quick to identify bad actions as “terrorist attacks” when they are done by people with particular flavour-of-the-year names*, while we dismiss other bad actions as the work of disturbed people?  And I wonder, when we denounce the violence quickly (rightly so), why we aren’t as quick to understand what in the world would push someone to such grief, such anger?

So what do I do with this grief? How will it help my spirit live?  It leads me not to take this day for granted; who knows how it shall end?  It leads me to actions which help cultivate peace; can we avoid yet another generation (here and around the world) which sees no option but to explode rage outward?  It calls me to compassionate listening because don’t we all grieve sometimes and need to have that sadness heard and shared?  “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will receive comfort.”

 

* It feels like someone picks a “bad guy” every year.  In my lifetime the  names have been Arabic, Korean, French, Irish, Russian, Pakistani, Iranian, Chinese and even some anglicized names associated with nations indigenous to Turtle Island.

Thanks,  listchallenges.com for the image!

On Postcards from the Valley*

As part of my morning practice, I was reading an entry from a book called Postcards from the Valley.  The author, David Giuliano, offers the collection of reflections as a gift of encouragement for when we feel overwhelmed.  It’s even more profound for me as I read it from a place of feeling well and solid.

He writes about having “dreamed of leading our church for a time from a place of strength….Instead I have been offering my weakness to the church….I would not have chosen it but I cannot deny that it has been a gift to me and others….There is fear and there is faith in the valley and surprising encounters with the Holy One.”

I’ve had those experiences too, of being unexpectedly “accompanied in the valley”.  When I felt overwhelmed and someone called with a message of encouragement. Or leaving a meeting feeling ineffective, and lifting my eyes to find an amazing Aurora Borealis before me. In those moments, I am reminded of my insignificance in the Universe (in a good way) and my ego-talk is humbled out of me.

But when I have this kind of experience when I am in “good space”, I am, unexpectedly, taken aback.  This entry — in which he shares what it felt like to be far from home, reflecting on being intentional about nurturing particular relationships, how sometimes he feels like he is living “a long way from the centre of who I was created to be” — pulled me up short.  Feeling quite capable, confident, carrying on business-as-usual, I was called out to remember: who has helped me get to this place?  I had to call to mind, and heart, the relationships in my life, who has helped me to know what my centre is.  And, more pointedly, how do I nurture these relationships so they continue to grow?  With what do I feed them? Do I offer real nourishment, or superficial junk food, or left-overs past their best before?

As David reminded me, rather than praise myself in moments of strength, perhaps it is in these “good space” times when I carry on as if I’m invincible, that I need to keep myself in perspective and remember who has helped me get here. While allowing myself pride in what I do well, maybe I need to roll my eyes at my ego-thinking I was just “born this way”. The gift is in recalling that I have been nurtured and nourished along the way by many very patient people.   My spiritual journey is made deeper when I am called to be humble, because that is when I sense my connectedness most fully.

So from “good space”, I call to mind what relationships are important to me, who has supported me on my journey, and who still is. I am grateful to David who reminded that relationships don’t grow on trees; they take effort and time to be nurtured to be healthy.

I give thanks for the relationships that help  me (and have helped in the past)be my best self, who confront, challenge and support me,  and commit to nourishing them with my best self.  My heart is filled with gratitude.

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*Postcards from the Valley, by David Giuliano, Toronto: UCPH, 2008. Available as an e-book from ucrdstore.ca

 

Be. Here. Now.

I was at a church business meeting and, after acknowledging the indigenous people’s traditional territory on which we live and work and with whom we share it, we began a very moving, powerful, sitting body prayer.  “Be here now.” What made it powerful for me was my reaction to it.

Think of our standard greeting “how are you?”  Do we ask because we really want to know?  And why do people tend to “auto-respond” by saying, “Fine”, or by listing what they (or someone else) has accomplished that day rather than how they are feeling about their life. So this body prayer is quite radical in that it upholds “being” as of value and worth honouring as holy, rather than our usual approach in “the West” of honouring only action, doing and accomplishment.

I’m a product of this culture; this spiritual work of honouring “Be-ing” takes my conscious (and conscientious) effort.  Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great spiritual thinkers of the 20th century, said: “Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy.”  He also said that when we make the time, the space in our life, to honour, to worship, what we hold as Sacred, and recognize the holiness of being, we “create a cathedral in time.”*

Reb Heschel would ‘make sabbath’ every week; this prayer is like making a mini-sabbath.   It’s power lies in our asking: What if it were true that just to be is blessing?  What if the essence of “being” (or Being, or God) is where my hands are, right here?  What would that mean for me and for how I live my life?

So I invite you to try it. I’m sure it’s undergone the “folk process” of change over crossed arms anglicanpastor comtime; this is version I was taught.**

The 3 words are spoken slowly and deliberately as if there is a period between each word; on each word place your hands on the next part of the body.  Be aware of where your hands are with each word. Three sites engaged per round, four sites…yes this is on purpose, hence the repetition. Take your time. Relax; remembering the order of the “body sites” is less important than noticing each word, and where the hands are with each one.

Site 1: hands above or towards the space above the head;

Site 2: hands flat on thighs or knees

Site 3: hands by the belly button – either on the body or just in front, as if holding a basketball

Site 4: cross arms, or put hands, across one’s heart

Ready? Let’s begin:

Round One: start with hands overhead, and say the word Be. Move hands to thighs; say the word Here.   Move hands to belly button area; the word Now.

Round Two: Move hands to heart; say Be…hands above head; say Here…hands to thighs; say Now

Round Three: hands to belly button: Be; hands to heart: Here; hands overhead: Now.

Round Four: hands to thighs: Be; hands to belly button: Here; hands to heart: Now.

 

…… How are you, now?

 

******* Of note:  Thanks to anglicanpastor.com for the photo; * Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic book The Sabbath (1951) is an easy but hauntingly beautiful read; **though Ram Dass, a Hindu teacher,  used this saying as a title for one of his works,  he is only one in a long line of diverse spiritual teachers to offer this prayer to their students.

 

 

When the eye-rolling starts….

I was part of a Canada-wide meeting at which were voting on motions that will have long-term, wide ranging consequences for this group. It was tech-facilitated, which means there was a wide range of comfort and competency levels with how to be involved, and with the reliability of the services.   More than a few times the business was suspended while the Techmeisters did troubleshooting; there were expressions of frustration and impatience, mostly in the chat room. Discussion necessarily had to go slow, so I was surprised at how quickly some people were calling to end discussion and for the vote to be taken.  These were important decisions for the group and I thought, “Be patient, people. We’ve heard two or three views; how are we supposed to decide on a motion that brings us to the best decision with the widest possible agreement?” I was frustrated by some people’s lack of patience for process.

Afterwards, as I was heading back to my digs, I witnessed two near-accidents; one when a car swerved, cutting off a cyclist, in order to get around a car waiting to make a left hand turn; the second happened only a few blocks later, when car made a right hand turn almost knocking down a small woman holding the hand of a smaller child who were crossing the street.  I was gob-smacked, and thought “when did we become such an impatient people that 20 seconds’ wait was too much??”  I was very upset by the time I “got home”.  All of us have situations that make us feel impatient; what would you say were yours?

In my teens, I heard a well-respected and highly organized person say quite proudly,  “Patience is a  virtue I do not possess.”  It seemed funny, then – until I was the one needing their patience.  So I honour the need for patience.  I’ve worked to develop my sense of patience, and thankfully some of you know me to be quite patient in particular situations,. Others, would seldom (if ever!) use that term and my name in the same sentence.

It is work for me to be patient, and I’m not always successful.  I understood the frustration of just wanting to “get ‘er done” and resenting those who just don’t go along. Other times I need time to chew over a new insight, look at all the angles, and “live with” an idea before implementing it and I get impatient (ok, stubborn) with people trying to rush me to a decision.  Sometimes my level of patience is related directly to how much sleep or food I’ve had that day.  How do you do when you’ve reached your limit of patience?

I found myself reciting an explanation of what means to “love”: Love is patient and kind….never arrogant, boastful or rude, nor insisting on its own way.  Love doesn’t rejoice when bad things happen but only when there is goodness. (Often this is read at weddings; it’s from a letter to the early church at Corinth.)

So if spirituality is about experiencing sacredness in our everyday life, are we cultivating that experience by pracitising that first principle of patience?  Somehow we increase love in the world whether we are slowing down – or speeding up – to accommodate group decision-making, or waiting 30 seconds rather than just passing that car, or allowing that someone else’s impatience may have an unrelated cause. When we recognize our own impatience, perhaps we can understand it in others, and increase compassion in the world.

being Home

bird rock tripadvisorLast week I was on the Avalon peninsula visiting two amazing places.  Witless Bay and Cape St. Mary’s are home to the largest colony of puffins and nesting shorebirds, respectively, on the continent, perhaps the world.  Between them more than 500,000 seabirds return from 8 months at sea to find their lifelong mate and together hatch their egg(s); they “come home”.  At Cape St. Mary’s most of the 60,000 Northern Ganeek pairs make their home on a 100 foot column of sandstone.  It amazes me that they know where to go, instinctively, like homing pigeons.

Me, I tend to call “home” wherever I happen to be sleeping that night.  When I’ve toured enough for the day, I’ll say “I’m going home now” — whether that’s the guest house I’ve been in for 3 days, the overnight B&B, or my back porch in Pierson.  I told friends I’d be “coming home” this week.  On the other hand, I’ve lived in apartments and houses for as many as 12 years without it actually “becoming home” for me.  I don’t define “my hometown” by one place.  So this “homing device” I saw in the birds fascinates me.

What makes “home” for you?

Is it the place where you “hang your hat”? “where the heart is”? (and what if your heart is divided among several people and places?) Is it the place where you can “let it all hang out” and leave socks on the floor?  “where they have to let you in whether they want to or not”?

In early September, I was at a conference at which we sang a refrain “return to the home of your soul”.  That got me to wonder if “home” is a place, or a way of being.   And after seeing the bird flocks, I wonder how does a person know when they are “home”?

Don’t get me wrong, I easily feel comfortable in many places and among many people, and that’s a form of “home”.  But not capital-H “Home”.  I’ve also had experiences, usually on solitary walks or in meditation, where I feel so “Home” I don’t want to leave it.  In those moments I feel completely not-alone, not fearful, whole and holy.   Often though, even knowing I can’t stay in that place, I feel I am being ripped back, like Velcro®, to the tasks of cooking and attending to email. ….and then I feel those everyday tasks becoming home again, but differently; somehow they are more precious and fragile, and I am full with gratitude.

What are your experiences of “home”, or “Home”? Can you describe that to others?  When, and to where, does your “homing device” bring you?  How do find the “home of your soul”?  How does it affect your interaction with the everyday tasks you face?

 

Who’s “from away”?

Sept 11th…   I’m in Newfoundland this week, and seeing the sign for Gander made me remember Sept 11, 2001. That day on which Newfoundlanders were even more hospitable than usual, helping to billet and feed thousands those “Come from Away”-ers* stranded because ComeFromAwayLogoair space had been shut down over the USA.  The award-winning Broadway (Amazing) play, by Hein & Sankoff, lifts up the hospitality of those from Gander and area, and gives voice to the gratitude of those who received this generosity.

How do you imagine you would react if there were a major pileup on the highway and people were stranded for hours, or days, and you were asked to help billet someone?   Would it be different if you were the one being billeted?  Would it matter if the billet was to an emergency shelter or someone’s home?

This past month I was billeted to someone’s home (non-emergency) so I was particularly touched as I thought about this.**  To open our home to …or to be a guest of… a stranger we have to be vulnerable.  The one who opens their home has to risk that their houseguest is a thief, or a homicidal maniac, or flea-ridden.  The one who accepts the  offer has to risk the same of their host.  When we open our home, or accept a bed, we meet each other, strangers, and have to trust one another.  When the situation is a large emergency shelter, I can only image how these fears are expanded exponentially. We have to reach past the natural human fears of the unknown and embrace the vulnerability.

There’s a reason that hospitality, welcoming the stranger, is one of the most repeated encouragements of spirituality.  As the host, we put at the other’s disposal the precious commodity of our safety and haven.  As the guest, it’s humbling when we are handed the gift of this kind of trust.  Both ways, we experience our interdependence. Both ways, we experience walking into the unknown. Both ways, we receive a gift as we realize not only are we are not alone, but we’re in this together.   That is holy.

Where else do you experience this sense of “being in this together” with someone? Is there a difference for you whether or not you are related?

And what happens if we pan out the picture, away from our house, away from our community, our country.  What does it mean that are “in this together” when we share a planet and its resources?

I wonder, what if we lived our lives as if we all were “Come from Away”-ers? Would we embrace the vulnerability of caring for each other?  What if we were to want for the other what we want for ourselves? What if were grateful for the hospitality of the Earth? Would we be more likely to modify our actions if we knew they would affect someone on the other side of the globe for good?  Would we risk being touched by holiness as we recognized our interdependence as strangers?

 

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*The phrase “come from away” is a Newfoundlandism that describes visitors to a place – invited or not. The musical Come from Away, written by David Hein and Irene Carl Sankoff and tells the story in story and song of this day. It was nominated for 7 Tony Awards (71st Tony Awards, 2017), winning for Best Direction, 14 Helen Hayes Awards winning Best Musical, Actress, Direction & Ensemble, and 7 Outer Circle Critics Awards, winning Outstanding Broadway Musical, Book, Actress, Direction & Sound Design.

CFA LOGO: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50190216

**Thank you Judy D. in Edmonton for your hospitality during EverWonder.