Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Pray gently.
Pray with intensity.

Dig deep.
Dig for resources.

Stand firm.
Stand for humanity.

Weep fiercely.
Weep with compassion.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Quilt Project

Quilt Posted by Hello

Inspiration: Harrison/Agassiz Community Quilt, Hotel Harrison, Harrison British Columbia

2004 has been a year of expanded awareness for me. It began with a trip to Bulgaria, not your average tourist destination. With a group of other women from Global Action Canada, I discovered God's heart for suffering women in Bulgaria and in Canada. I brought back with me an increased compassion and a growing vision for how individuals might make a difference to the human condition.
In August I led a small art workshop for young adults at a summer camp for the arts hosted by The Salvation Army. There the enthusiasm of young people permeated everything, and God's Spirit was was expressed in creative arts and in discussion, particularly as we looked at issues beyond our own narcissism, and focused attention on what we might do in the world.
In November, a trip to British Columbia refined my personal vision and moved me forward in my spiritual journey. My task was clear: to express my gifts through conceiving and birthing Beauty. But how was this seemingly esoteric goal to link with the urgent claims of the world?
Within days, a trip to the hot springs at Harrison, British Columbia supplied the first answer. The result is The Walker's Point Community Quilt Project, a thing of beauty, and a means of raising money for children at risk in Tanzania. The little church I've been writing about in my last few blogs, partnering with Global Action (vision) and The Salvation Army in Tanzania (facilitation) is sponsoring this project. Families and businesses within our small community will prepare quilt squares which, for a small fee, will be included in the large quilt. The money will go to house children who have been orphaned by war and Aids in Tanzania. The quilt will hang in our local Community Centre as a snapshot of the history of the community.
Thus do the strands of experience, insight and inspiration connect to form a pattern, something elegant and beautiful, reflecting humaness and the heart of God.
I hope to facilitate further quilt making projects. The next will be the Linwood House Quilt Project to raise money for a safe house for women in Bulgaria/Eastern Europe. Watch this space for progress, as well as the Global Action website http://www.globalactioncanada.org/default.cfm.

Quilt 2 Posted by Hello

Detail showing block styles, Harrison/Agassiz Community Quilt

Quilt 3 Posted by Hello

Detail showing block styles, Harrison/Agassiz Community Quilt

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Midnight Clear

Christmas Eve was clear and cold. A near full moon rode high in the sky, silvering deep snow and weighted boughs, and casting the dark shadows of bare black branches across the road. A deer, full grown and huge, perhaps the one who visited at church a year or two ago, met us on the road. He stood his ground. We swerved and screamed and whispered thanksgiving. Strange how shadows and branches and antlers blend. One moment the way is quite clear and the next, a woodland creature is standing sentinel right in the path. I wonder how this deer told his tale, when all the animals gave voice at midnight?
Our impromptu nativity went quite well. Some of the children we expected didn't show up, but others came in their place. My own wee grandchildren sprouted angels wings and acted their parts as they perched on sheet draped chairs. Some older kids helped out, and four children I had never met before took roles as wiseperson, shepherds and lamb. The lamb was most touching of all. He really got into the spirit of the thing, curling up in fetal position at the infant Jesus' feet. This lamb child, from a simple country family, had the absolutely right response to the Christmas story. Peace. Then too, "I a child and Thou a lamb"...a William Blake moment.
Oh yes, and our live baby Jesus was a no show. The instant 'baby' I crafted out of rolled sheeting and soft 'lambskin' looked realistic enough...better than a doll really, which sometimes has that stiff fake look. The actors were suitably reverent, and the audience managed a credible "suspension of disbelief." Indeed I thought the wiseperson carrying myrrh was never going to get up off his knees. We could have closed in prayer right then and there.
In fact, it was magical. Worthy. Well worth a couple of sleepless nights getting costumes assembled. And I'm grateful for the eternal relevance of the Christmas story, for the innocence of children, for their eagerness and creativity, for the child-like capacity to invent, and be real in the moment. I'm grateful for the clarity a simple staging of an old story brings, and for the heightened awareness of an encounter with a deer by moonlight.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Authenticity and the Impromptu Nativity

I attend a very small, rural, non-denominational church. The building is an old red brick schoolhouse set back against a hill and surrounded by bush. It is a strikingly beautiful place, perhaps because of its rough hewn qualities. During service in winter, we look out huge windows at snow laden trees. One Sunday morning a deer dropped by in search of winter grazing.
The Christmas candlelight service has always been special. The place is packed with local families and cottagers visiting the area for a unique Christmas experience. But because our church does not have "programs" such as a Sunday School, it has always been a challenge to include elements in the service which will appeal to the children gathered. Last year we did an impromptu Christmas acrostic. The children loved doing it, fresh and unrehearsed, with a good narrator to carry them along. This has emboldened me, this year, to try an impromptu Nativity.
So the script is written, a little freshness, a little tradition. We are having wisepersons this year, since I suspect a girl or two may have to bear in gifts. The costumes are assembled, mostly, just bits and bobs, material to drape, hats and canes to don and carry. And, all unrehearsed, the Holy Family, the baby Jesus (seven months old at last reckoning), the angels, star, shepherds, sheep and wisepersons will assemble at the front. A bale of hay will stand for the stable. Totally unrehearsed, the children will do it, I trust, and they'll bring to the familiar story a freshness which can only be born of their own enthusiasm, and the authenticity of their youth and faith.
Of course, on the first Christmas, no one had time for rehearsals either. They had to take it as it came. The pain, the blood, the cold and exposure, the shock and surprise, the joy, the love, the simple pleasure of friendly fellowship, the awe of worship and the symbolism of gifts. Just as it came. Authentically.
So, this is how I face Christmas this year. Just as it comes. A little more simply. A few less gifts. Some goat equivalents mailed out. Simpler decorations and a come what may attitude. I'm for an authentic Christmas. And if the angels giggle a little, or the shepherds forget to kneel, it will be real, unrehearsed, an improvisation, just like the first Christmas.
Oh God, let the sheer humanity, the holy reality of it, the authenticity of it, soften hard hearts and heal broken ones. Let it be!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Out of the mouths

My grandaughter, Rachael, (not infrequently mistaken for my daughter, of course) is three years old. She is a charmer who enchants the residents at my mother's Senior's Home. This week she paid her Christmas call, running about, hugging folk at the knees, eating Christmas cookies and talking to everyone. She calls them "all the grandmas", and I'm certain the odd man doesn't mind.
"Where does Santa live?" asked Yvonne, my mother's tablemate.
"At the North Pole," shouted Rachael, finger pointing authoritatively.
"I bet she doesn't know where Baby Jesus lives," regretted Yvonne.
"I bet she does," I retorted. "Try her."
"Where does baby Jesus live?" Yvonne inquired doubtfully.
"At my Nana's house," replied Rachael, not missing a beat.
"I thought she'd say, 'at church'," pondered Yvonne.
Ahah, I thought, Rachael is quite right. If baby Jesus lives anywhere, he lives at Nana's house, and at Rachael's own house too, and at your house. There may be cathedrals where he is worshipped, temples where he is praised, but if he lives anywhere he is lives in the homes, the hearts and the actions of his people.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

First Month on the Blog

I've been writing here for about a month. I'm so thankful to Lisa for getting me going and to Bulgaria buddies and Linwood connections for suggesting that this might be an edifying way for me to spend my time.
This is what I've discovered about blogging:
1. This is a useful prayer tool. It helps me focus on needs worldwide.
2. It keeps me constantly aware of the nature of the Divine, of Light and Dark and of the battle we wage for wholeness, understanding, compassion, and purpose.
3. It has helped me feel less lonely in the struggle to emerge with a new voice and a new message.
4. It has renewed my passion for writing and has encouraged me to see my words as worthwhile.
5. It has given me an added reason to get up in the morning. I seem to need less sleep, less food, and have dropped THREE POUNDS!
Thanks to all who share heart and soul. You teach me.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Comfortable Forgetting

There are some things one forgets, not necessarily on purpose, but "out of sight, out of mind." This, I think, is a blessing. Birth pains. The hideousness of passport photos. The sweetness and embarrassment of that first kiss. Tooth ache. The extra twenty pounds of weight about the hips. Stomach flu. And snow.
You would think that living half way to the North Pole in a place esteemed for being Santa's summer playground, I would never forget snow. Not so. In the green months, the lush months, I forget the feel of ice underfoot. Can't even imagine it. Even in the crispy, smokey months the thought of snow is impossible. The freezing sting of it is beyond comprehension. Slippery mush is mirage on roads that are clear and dry.
And then it hits. The first sticker. The big blow which is not going away for three or four or five months. Travelling is suddenly dangerous. Drivers, fearful of the stuff, climb hills slowly, fail to make the grade and slide down again. Cars cluster at intersections. Trucks slide off into ditches. Visibility drops to zero. Fog restricts vision in places where water has yet to freeze. People sit, gripping the seat, as someone else drives, always too rapidly.
How could this be forgotten? Skating along mainstreet. Holding onto buildings for support in the blizzard. On-ing and off-ing boots, coats, scarves, hats, mittens. Buying sand at Canadian Tire. Buying long underwear at the Bay. Sweating indoors. Freezing outdoors. Eternally exhausted by the battle against the elements. I think, why didn't I move somewhere warm while the going was good?
Stuck. Here. For another season. Ho. Ho. Ho. I forgot, when things got comfortable that there are four seasons at the 45th parallel. And one of them is cold. Just remind me of this when dandelions and black flies come again, I'll not complain.
Blessings, Connie

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Past in the Present

At Christmas, like Mr. Ebeneezer Scrooge, I confront my past in the present. Each year, the rolling round of the season offers up another opportunity to explore memories peaceful and painful; to call up the person I was and to accept more fully the person I am becoming.
I have more than the average number of poignant, hilarious and even downright scarey Christmas memories, enough for a book. For most of my life, I was involved with an organization which is a Christmas icon, and it was this association which created the context in which I lived out my Christmases. In fact, for some years, I myself was a Christmas icon, receiving generous gifts for charity and listening to the reminiscence, praise, complaint, fear, longing, grief and expectation of those who lingered around my post. It was a valid thing to do at the time, and not without personal rewards. But it came to an end, and I moved on.
I hardly grieved the loss of Christmas, so eternally rooted for me in good works, Christmas concerts, baskets for the poor, Church suppers, carolling, carolling, carolling. But it was a loss. When I changed employment I was unable to sing a single Christmas carol. I was all sung out. Every tune seemed overfamiliar, every sentiment maudlin, overhyped and stale. I had worn out Christmas. I felt sceptical of the needy and fed up to the teeth with the rich. I, along with a huge segment of Western population, gave up the practice of communicating with friends at Christmas. I could barely cook a turkey. I started handing out cash instead of making ties, candles, wreaths, decorating potted plants and other trinkets as gifts. Christmas had become a very bad, very heavy thing to me. I was turning into Scrooge.
It is a relief now, fifteen years on, to look back and not be tired. Not that I want to recreate it all. I don't ever want to be that busy at Christmas again. But recently I've been able to sing again. I'm able to reclaim the best of my past, to celebrate it and honour it. "The Holly and the Ivy" has regained its celtic mystery laced with the deepest Christian symbolism. The Basque lullaby, "The Infant King", is touched again with simplicity, humanity, reality. "How far is it to Bethlehem?" glows with childlike hopefulness, the eager expectation of a new baby.
Perhaps it is that this year, at Christmas, we expect a new baby in our family. Perhaps I have opened my heart, just a little bit, to let in what is tenderest, most precious in my heritage. Perhaps I have accepted that it was not all bad, all those years of busyness. Indeed, much of it was jolly entertaining. Duty kills joy. Love revives joy. I look kindly at the past, and smile at my infant self, and hug the exhausted woman she became and celebrate the joyful woman she is becoming.
This is the thing about Scrooge...his last name being a Dickensian invention has come to symbolize meanspiritedness. But his first name...well that means, "up to this point God has guided us." Neat.
That means that nothing is lost. The past can be redeemed in the present. There are second chances and thirds and fourths. Looking at my life, I begin to see the hand of Creator God in all my past. No regrets now. Hey, Ebeneezer!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Fixer

I have sat this evening with my shoulders scrunched up, neck stiff and jaw tight. Not even the tender silliness of Tom Hanks' roaming around JFK airport in his bathrobe could quite dispel the tenseness in me. It is an occupational hazard. Understand, I'm a fixer. I fix the world. I interpret dreams. I arbitrate family disputes. I offer recommendations about pastoral care problems that occur half a continent away. I mean, in response to Bobbie's current blog I emailed an American politician to encourage him in his stand on nuclear non-proliferation. AND I'M NOT EVEN AN AMERICAN. If there is a responsibility anywhere within my reach, I seize it, add my two cents worth. Try to fix it.
Not that I believe my efforts can alleviate all the worlds ills. I know I'm just a piece of the puzzle, a small cog in a very big wheel, a rung on the ladder, a link in the chain. But I try. I'm a fixer by profession; helping people tape together broken pasts and disconnected relationships. I'm a fixer by avocation; renewing old furniture, making curtains and cushions for tatty looking rooms. I'm a fixer by designation, having been assigned that role within my family. Let me tell you, it is a hard role to relinquish.
As a member of the Sandwich Generation, I find myself squeezed between responsibilities to young and old.. My elderly mother, now in a senior's residence, is ill and her state of mind and her bodily health are a daily concern. My children, both girls, treat me as a best friend, and I rejoice over that, but it doesn't mean I don't worry when they are ill, or their spouses are ill or stressed, or their children suffer in some way. I want to fix it all. I want to make it better. And the raw truth is that I can't. I can't alter the fact that my mother is 86 and frail. I can't change the fact that my children and grandchildren are living in a world which is more complex socially, morally and politically than the world in which I grew up. I can't fix it.
It is a relief to write this out. To say it to myself and to say it out loud, in a sense through this blog. It holds me accountable only for letting go. And that is distinctly what I am called to do.
Recently at a retreat at Linwood House I developed a mission statement:

"To express my gifts by conceiving and giving birth to Beauty."
There's nothing in that mission statement about fixing at all! I can't tell you the peace that gives me. My shoulders come down, my neck unkrinks. I stop gritting my teeth. I can pray now.
Creator God, who out of chaos, formed dry land.
Still now our ever straining hearts and trembling hands.
Dear Brother Christ, who saved the best wine to the last,
release us to rejoice in life, let go the past.
Oh Spirit, who with Presence comforts all our ills.
Speak wisdom where our chatter ends, our knowledge fails.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


I had an accident this morning. Not much. Just a fender bender really. No one was hurt, which was a very good thing since I had a three year old in the backseat, strapped in, of course. It happened mid-turn...left. Another car decided at that moment to pass me. Soft crunch. Tinkle of glass. The other car curled sideways down the highway like a well placed rock.
My sweetie was saying, "There's Granma's house. There's where she lives." Then it happened.
Those thoughts you know. Oh God. Not an accident. Yes. Can't avoid it. Impact. Never mind screaming, it's all over. Replay. Replay. REPLAY.
Breath rising in -15C. Other driver claiming responsibility. Get the cars off the road. Get the child to safety.
Crunch of tires. Warmth in the senior's building. Telephone calls. Shaking. Wanting to cry. Not now. Kind words. Waiting.
In the back of the cruiser. Packed in. Never have my legs felt so long. A GOOD THING. My legs press into the front seat. How do tall people manage? My feet get trapped. I eye the bars on the sides. Locked in. We talk. Long pauses. Writing. Can't these guys have laptops connected right to the station? Pencil scratches slowly. Time passes. I think of sleeping.
Released. I can't extricate myself from the cruiser. My feet are stuck under the front seat...size 6 1/2. Really. I sort of fall out bum first, my legs and feet slithering after me. No charges. Hah. Not even for silliness. GOOD THING. Later I am 25% to blame as far as the insurance company is concerned. But no court. Thank God. No anxiety of waiting. No trying to remember in a year and a half what happened on an icy highway in November, 2004. No revising my memory to suit the circumstances.
But most of all. Our precious little one is unscathed. Not a whimper. Not a cry. Didn't even know what hit her. Entertained the seniors and her great-grandma like the little trouper she is. It could have been otherwise. Thank you God. Thank you. A sobering reality. A heartfelt Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Lamb Wins

Last June I had an opportunity to travel with Global Action Canada to visit women (and men) in the church in Bulgaria. I think I wept for the first three days. It wasn't that I was sad. The services we participated in were lively and praiseful. The people were welcoming and generous and loving. The team was open and eager to be present in every situation. No, it was the sense that Christians I met had come through persecution and suppression. They had endured and prevailed.

I prayed with one elderly couple at our first service. They were so dignified, having the composure that only a lifetime of faith can give. We held eachother, all three weeping, and took turns praying in foreign tongues, not understanding a word of eachothers' prayers, but knowing the gist of the matter: the love of Christ and the sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit. I knew, without being told, of how they had worshipped for fifty years, in secret, in the underground church. I knew the risks they had taken, the cost of their discipleship. This knowledge just brought me to my knees.

Today was the Sunday of Christ the King, the culmination of the church year, the celebration of the victory of Christ over sin and evil. Not by coincidence, it was also the Sunday of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. It was with new ears, then, that I heard the words of St. John from his exile on the Island of Patmos. John, part of the persecuted church was writing his vision of just what it meant to be Sovereign. And I understood what these words of scripture mean. Out of the depth of persecution, imprisoned, silenced, tortured John sees with clarity. It is the Lamb that wins, the wounded Lamb, the crucified Lamb. It is not the Lion who is worthy to read the scroll but the Lamb. It is not the mighty but the powerless who are worthy. Victory is not triumphing by force or even by ballot.. Victory is laying down one's life for one's friends. Victory is a cup of water given in His name, the widow's penny offering, the little child leading, the faith of ordinary people tested by adversity. Bless them. They walk in the footsteps of Christ the King.

" Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?' But no one in heaven or earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.'
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: ' You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...." Rev. 5:1-9a

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Dawsonwood Cottage

I bought a picture of a door today. The door is solid and closed, but has that sort of invitation one finds in doors painted blue, or yellow or red. This one is blue, with a gothic shape, and large blue bricks at its apex, like a halo. It begged to be opened. Inside, I saw a place of rest and peace, a place of stimulation and challenge.

Divine paradox. The closed door invites change and movement, daring and venturing, the coming into a new place both physically and spiritually. That is where I find myself, beginning to shape the plans that will open the door on a new reality.

My house is taking a new name, Dawsonwood Cottage, and will open its door for retreat and revisioning in the new year.. It's the dream of decades...a heart cry, for community...my own need speaking perhaps more than the needs of others. Yet I expect to entertain angels unawares.

I bought a picture of a door today...symbol of hospitality and opportunity. If in our Father's house there are many mansions, O God, let this cottage be one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


I stumbled on grace in the garden last Sunday. My search was for pansies and roses, before the sun was fully up, before its warming rays could crack the frost and melt those few remaining petals. I found a yellow pansy, still intact, sheltered beneath its dying sisters, and a tiny red rose bud, no bigger than your pinkie nail, tucked up in the arbour. But the grace, that most surprising and undeserved of gifts, was a full stem of delphnium, as blue as the sky in July. I have seen jumping jacks in January, cornered between a rock and a hard place, their hardy faces smiling beneath a lacey melt of snow. But never, never, delphiniums in November. This is, after all, half way to the North Pole! Exactly, they tell me. We've already sunk to 10 below zero (Celsius, of course!) It was grace, Grace, GRACE. Personally, I need a lot of that these days.
Blessings, all, Connie

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Home Again, Home Again Jiggetty Jig

All hell broke loose while I was away. My mother was hospitalized with unexplained bleeding. My son-in-law, suffering from an inflamed pericardial sac, joined her. It was my daughter, my brother and sister-in-law who ferried them in wheelchairs, dragging their respective intravenous poles, back and forth between rooms for little family cups of tea.
I felt quite redundant when I returned. However, the malevalent case of flu I contracted on holiday as my penance for having a holiday in the first place was adequate to assuage the guilt of "not having been here." They are both recovering, thank you very much, however, I am still suffering from surges of adrenaline which have no outlet except for vacuuming up fur balls, reading mounds of mail, doing laundry, uncovering dusty furniture and watering thirsty plants. This, of course, is a perfect chance to close the door on important activity and open it on crucial, vital, necessary and inescapable activity, such as writing.
This is my first blog...something which would never have happened if Lisa hadn't run ahead and created a site for me. Thank you. Truly. Once I get a feel for this space, it will be such fun. It's fun already. Imagine my surprise when several of you had "posted", if that the term applies, before I'd written a word!
I had thought my first entry would be elegant, full of deep wisdom and sonorous phrases. Instead, it's just about the eternal struggle to wrest meaning out of the common stuff of life. Tomorrow I will spend many hours doing things I'd rather not do in places I'd rather not be. Perhaps you will too, or perhaps you'll find youself briefly in divine space and time. To redeem my time, I shall try to find a pansy still blooming in the garden, or a rose, up close to the house. I shall watch November light play on bare branches and sparkle off the river. I am quite confident it will be enough.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The door faces the world

...and when I close it, this place, Narnia-like, is bigger on the inside than out.
I have always been captivated by the notion that some things are both larger than they appear and larger than imagination. So the magic of a water droplet over eons, reduces a rock to a beach. Prayer, without wires or keyboards, can warm a heart across the miles. And someone typing random heartthoughts into cyberspace might contribute to change in the world.