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!