Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Nearly Final Christmas: Recipe for Lowering Stress in the Nick of Time

Okay, so mostly it is my own fault. The kitchen reno had gone on forever, (yes, yes, pictures are coming soon,) and I was determined to have some order in that holy of holies for Christmas dinner. I had been shopping for so long that some people had several gifts too many. Twenty-six individually wrapped parcels, with seven more for the personal care workers who help my mother bathe and dress, had been delivered to the Villa. Two candlelight services were in the offing. I had joined Rob on "kettle" duty as a charitable act towards him and for old times' sake. Various bouts of sickness continued to plague family members. Robbie's christening took place, after having been scheduled and cancelled twice before. And I was losing it. Crying on odd shoulders. Snapping at family. Wanting to fall to the floor screaming. Thinking negatively.

Very negatively.

I knew the signs and those of you who have been down this road know
them also. I called my doctor. This was the verdict three days before Christmas. "Take more &*%$# and go more easily, or be hospitalized for four days over Christmas." Then he prayed with me. Bless him.

I have to admit that hospitalization seemed preferrable to the heaps of work left in front of me. Nevertheless, I swallowed my pills and carried on. I slept as much as five hours in the middle of the day and did what I could when my energy was higher.

This is my recipe for lowering stress in the St. Nick of time. Once again, the items are in no particular order.

1.) Forget the minutia of decorating. No snowy villages. No elaborate manger scenes. Put a small tree on a table with a long cloth, light a few candles and sit in the near dark.

2.) Order baked goods from a good bakery instead of being hospitalized, and make your partner or a friend pick them up on Christmas Eve in the morning.

3.) Limit the time, especially the meal times, that all three grandchildren and their parents will be in your house together. Let an adult child play with the children. Hold the baby yourself, in a darkened quiet room, if possible.

4.) If some gifts aren't wrapped, so what? Just put them under the little tree.

5.) Let someone bring good cheese to go with bread, crackers and fruit.

6.) Cut down on the number of vegetables served with Christmas dinner. The usual 8 or 9 vegetables are not necessary. A squash with a little water will cook very nicely in the slow cooker while the bird is doing.

7.) Scrap the traditions which have seemed so indispensible for years. No midnight smorgasboard on Christmas Eve, after the Candlelight Service. No Christmas morning brunch. Let them eat toast.

8.) Wear comfortable older clothes.

9.) Use stuff already in freezer or pantry:
  • instant stuffing
  • frozen broccoli
  • salad in a bag
  • sparkling drinks

10.) Open presents slowly over the day. Spread out the pleasure. If your mother has some memory problems, she will enjoy looking at her gifts several times and they will give her the same happiness each time. And you can enjoy her smiling.

11.) Let dinner be late. This saves the panic of preparation in the morning when your energy is at its lowest. It also increases the possibility of guests volunteering to peel veggies, set table and make gravy, and decreases the chance of someone yelling the inevitable words, "Board games anyone?"

12.) Never mind that the French doors and kitchen windows need cleaning. It is dark on December 25. No one will notice.

13.) Let others take pictures.

14.) If all the bathrooms were cleaned well before Christmas, let family clean for themselves, or not.

15.) Leave the computer alone, especially if your son-in-law is taking it apart and putting it back together again.

16.) Refuse to do more laundry.

17.) Refuse last minute shopping. Enough is enough.

Hope you all had a blessed Christmas. I had a low key, peaceful time, and will be recovering nicely somewhere warm in the near future.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Prayer for Our Children

Delight. Innocence. Tenderness. Hope.


for children,
innocent as Bethlehem's babe,
anticipating discovery,
larger worlds waiting.
Once, too,
our infant selves,
untouched by Life,
held promise and potential.

Fulfill your Word, Lord.
Bring in the lion with the lamb.
Keep our children safe from battle.
And since by virtue of humanity
they'll, in due time, grow,
give them clear minds and large hearts.
Let them love without prejudice
and labour without resentment.
May they carry into age,
the unspoiled dreams of youth,
and stand before You at the last,
complete and unashamed.

Humour. Spencer

Mastery. Pleasure. Strength.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Yuletide Sights and Sounds Synonymous

Ah, the strains of brass band playing and Christmas. Sounds Synonymous. Many of my loyal readers, will know that Rob and I served with The Salvation Army for many years as ministers (officers) in congregational and youth work. Our reconnectedness with The Salvation Army has increased over the last two years as Rob has worked in Pastoral Support for officers serving in Northern Ontario and Metro Toronto. While he has been known to solo on the E flat tuba at Christmas kettle stands of long ago, he has preferred guitar in more recent years. Here is an accounting of his experiences while offering support at Salvation Army Christmas kettles this year:

Being in Toronto, and having no scheduled visit for three hours, I volunteered to sing at a Christmas kettle for a Salvation Army officer friend. I truly love doing this but, being older than when I was in my prime kettle singing days, there were also a few surprises and unanticipated wrinkles.

My friend kindly set me up in the exit half of the vestibule at Walmart. Lots of activity – though the loads of parcels in the hands of those going by did present their natural charity with a problem. Their only having two hands meant that many of those who would otherwise have given generously, accelerated their pace or slid by along the opposing wall when in kettle range.

Undaunted, I took out my guitar, raised my music stand, put up New Christmas Praise (red and green), and let her rip. "A starry night" - great kettle song. I was briefly lulled into deep Christmas mystery before reality dawned.
Having read the Army’s latest protocol for kettle security, my friend had been most diligent in assuring that "Kettles must be secured to the kettle stands". At 58.65 years of age, I am not what once I was. A wiser man might have checked the current routine for rest stops, before starting. Three hours loomed. Could I manage a washroom break by lugging guitar, music stand, music, kettle stand, kettle and handouts with me?

I would have approached the Walmart greeter/security guy – but he was a scary sergeant-major type (military, not Sally Ann, who, we know, are all kindly and sympathetic). Moreover, he was busy with ensuring that everything moved smoothly at the front of the store – bringing in abandoned carts – a "tsk! tsk!" look on his face. What would he think of a grown man who hadn’t figured out a way of getting a bathroom break? Besides, he was also regularly called upon to chase down the poor souls whose improperly demagnatised purchases activated the exit alarm. The hapless and dazed shoppers were tracked down and hustled back so that bags and purses could be examined, and their contents compared against the sales slip. Meanwhile, I sang "O Holy Night".

Rediscovering an exhaustive Christmas repertoire was a joy, although I hadn’t played guitar for months. Ergo, no comforting callouses on ends of string fingers. Instead, my digits became so sore that I couldn’t play two consecutive pieces in the same or even related keys. Since C, G, and F are popular song key settings, I was in trouble. Transposition was called for – songs in G became songs in E, songs in C became songs in A or D. ‘Twas a blessing folk went by on the run, or surely they would have wondered why a man was singing every carol either too high or too low.

It got a bit lonely and demanding. Nonstop singing taxes even my iron voice. I soldiered on. At half time, the greeter guy accosted me with, "Bit of a long shift, isn’t it?" I couldn’t really read whether this was from compassion, carol fatigue, or discernment that I was now playing everything in F# minor.

Then, respite. Venturing into "Angels we have heard on high," I was getting to the Glo-ow-ow-ows, when suddenly there was with the soloist, a multitude of the earthly host, praising God and singing "Gloria in excelsis deo." Glory to God in the highest. Three young mothers with lilting Carribean-Canadian voices and five little children had gathered in my corner. Singing heartily, they proceeded to unpack from a huge box a newly purchased baby stroller/ buggy /car seat /carry bed / bassinet /ice dispenser, and to assemble it from constituent parts, right there. As they worked, we choired "Mary’s Boy child", "The Virgin Mary had a baby boy", "Silent night" (their request) and others. It took them about five carols to get the stroller fully assembled and place one child in it, ready to go.

Then the eldest of the children, a sweet little girl of about 5 asked, "Do you know any songs about Santa?" So off the ladies and children went, singing "Santa Claus is coming to town", into the darkening night. What angels they had been for me! I missed them terribly. While they were there I had certainly felt peace on earth, good will toward humankind.

I flew on, solo. After the three hours, my officer friend retrieved the kettle. I packed guitar, music and stand in the car, and headed back to the Walmart necessary. At my final exit, the greeter guy muttered "Very good". Was this reference to my leaving or the concert?

Next day found me kettle singing in Bracebridge. At the end of the shift a father and his young son approached. "We’re your relief", they said. Having not yet read the Army’s memo on security, I took them at face value, thanked them, and we chatted as I packed up gear. With no apparent connection to the Army and living in rural Rosseau, they nonetheless, thought it important each Christmas to do a shift of kettle standing. The rest of the family, mother and daughter, were in Huntsville doing the same thing. The young boy had even invested in the effort by bringing a bag of candy to reward donors! My heart was touched at the intentional way in which this father and mother were impressing into their children’s characters the importance of giving, and supporting worthwhile causes.

Got a few more shifts coming up. But already my Christmas has been "made".

P.S. Three notes:
1.) Nobody was actually caught shoplifting –everybody checked out, and at some points people proceeded into the exit vestibule with their sales slips in their hands, showing them to him as they walked by – like a RIDE check or something. This greeter guy was good.
2.) The mothers left the large box and all packing material in the vestibule which really unmade the greeter’s day.
3.) Callous is forming on ends of appropriate digits. Can more kettle singing be far behind?

Robert Knighton (guest blogger)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Prie Dieu

Amongst the ever changing furniture at Dawsonwood Cottage is a piece more often found in a chapel. A Prie Dieu. It stands in the corner of my room, inviting me to prayer.

This morning at five, I awoke, still exhausted from an all-nighter of carpet cleaning and present wrapping the previous day. I looked at the Prie Dieu and knelt in my heart and felt Divine Love cradle me. Mentally I wrestled against an urge to 'task' my devotional life. Love rocked me gently, soothing my compulsions. I slept.

The Prie Dieu was my anniversary present this year. The most unusual present received this side of a monastery, you think? Our relationship is something reminicent of Abelard and Eloise. We courted by snail mail in the days before text messaging and email. Some of you will recall that we still do write letters to one another (click on title or link for my Anniversary letter to Rob).
http://dawsonwood.blogspot.com/20052005_10_01 dawsonwood archive.html
Rob, showing his early theological bent, wrote me poems in the style of John Donne, his favourite poet. I must admit to being mystified quite often by Rob's poetry, mixing as it did, human and divine love in a tight archaic form. Being mystified, I find, is often as good as understanding. I can't remember what I wrote, but I don't think I was funny then, and those priceless letters were tossed in a fit of purging during one of our many moves. We were both serious lovers.

So, this morning, the Prie Dieu stands as symbol of relationship, human and Divine. Place of comfort and devotion. Place of Love. Place of Rest.

Peace to you all and Rest.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's the map...dah, dah, map...dah, dah, map

Being a visual person, the map idea, stolen from Cindy, seemed really good to me. And I am surprised I managed the negotiations to set one up for Dawsonwood. Go to http://www.frappr.com/friendsofdawsonwood. Sign in. Come on you who lurk here. Humour me. Send a picture, a word. You sign in with your email, which won't be used for anything else. I trust the process. And I trust Cindy, who is brilliant and not frequently given to frivolity.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Guest Blog

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Here is an insirational blog from LoveBarbara. Barbara's link can be found by clicking on the title above. I really identify with a lot that she writes, and this is not just because she is my daughter.

Fear can haunt me, too. All those things I can't control about the future are frequent companions. My prayer: "Dear God,
Let faith answer." Amen.

So here is what Barbara says:

"Fear knocked at the door, Faith answered and nobody was there."

This is a quote often said at my meetings. I am not sure where it originated from, but it is a quote that has worked for me these past few months while I haven't been well enough to go to them. When I first heard this said I thought it sounded crazy, I didn't get it. I get it now though. When I am fearful, I am pushing faith out of my sight and out of my thoughts. For me, fear comes in many forms. Fear of more illness, not only of myself but for the people I love. Fear of abandonment, financial insecurity, not knowing what lies ahead in tomorrow, fear of yesterdays' skeletons falling out of the closet and so on.

When I focus on fear, it rules my life. It tears away ambition, kind actions or thoughts. It creates resentments, jealousy and anger. I begin to doubt my life, my friends and my family's intentions. It can change how I feel and react about most things, which under normal circumstances would not bother me. It throws me in a deep, dark well with no way out. The incessant droning of negative thoughts drives me mad.

Then it comes. Like a gentle wave, or a soft breeze. Renewal of faith. A phone call from a friend in the program, a kind word, good news from the doctor, relief of symptoms left over from an illness, ability to hold my children, laugh, cry, accept and feel at peace with what is going on around me. Faith answered when fear was pounding down my door.

This is my life lesson. Everyday I need to remind myself that God has laid down his plan for me that day. All that is required of me, is to ask God for acceptance, courage, wisdom and especially the strength to carry it out. Today, I have a choice. It can be a good day, or a bad day. I can choose to look at my yesterday's as failures, or lessons. Tomorrow is too uncertain for specific plans, but for today I know God will give me the strength to endure as long as I am willing to ask for help.

This is a piece of prose read at most of my meetings, it helps me when I feel overwhelmed. I wanted to share this with anyone who is interested. It has helped me many times to stay in the now, in today. As Ray Charles delicately phrased it "Live everyday like it's your last, because one day you'll be right."

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
author unknown

"There are two days in every week about which we should not worry,
two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.
One of those days is Yesterday, with it's mistakes and cares it's faults and blunders, it's aches and pains.
Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.
We cannot erase a single word we said we cannot undo a single act we performed.
Yesterday is gone.
The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow, with it's possible adversities, it's burdens, large promise and poor performance.
Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control. Tomorrow's sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds but it will rise.
Until it does, we have no stake in tomorrow for it is yet unborn.
This leaves only one day, Today.
Anyone can fight the battles of just one day.
It's only when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities,
Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.
It's not the experience of today that drives us mad.
It is remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring
Let us therefore live but one day at a time."
posted by Barbara 7:03 PM 2 comments
Monday, November 14, 2005

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Intentional Eating

I was troubled with stomach pains. Pain when I was empty. Pain when I was full. Discomfort with spicey food. Distention with bland food. The doctor said I probably had an ulcer in the making. I was to eat small meals, several times a day. Sit down. Savour my food. Stop rushing. Eat peacefully. At table. Never eat on the go, and never do anything but eat when I was eating. It sounded easy enough.

Intentional eating. No distractions.

Do you know how often people call the pastor at meal times? When else is she home?
How peaceful is a family meal table when adults need time to share the day, and two middling girls need focused attention?
Cups of tea and boxed cookies consumed while I visited shut-ins? Surely that was not what the doctor ordered.

Mid-morning seemed an appropriate time for my first small meal in solitude. It was an effort to put aside my current book, The Alphabet of Grace. When eating alone I always read. The side of the cereal box in French, if nothing else were available. I reluctantly relinquished Frederick Bueckner, and chose herbal tea in a china cup, a tiny bunch of grapes and three dry crackers.

I sat for a long time looking at these offerings. The task of eating anything seemed impossible.

I plucked a grape. Weeping. What was this? Tears for a grape? It felt heavy in the hand. Gigantic in the mouth. More tears, silent, streaming. I would choke on this one grape and be found dead at the dining room table. The need to chew and swallow was growing. The body responds with saliva when food is placed in the mouth. It’s natural. But it is one of the things you don’t notice when you eat on the run.

Something holy was happening. A singular sacrament. With an effort of will, finally, I bit into the grape. Brought body, mind and spirit to the task. Felt its skin. Tasted its juice. Saw its deep purple colour in my mind. Sensed the other half dozen grapes waiting on the plate would be a surfeit of blessing. Reverently, prayerfully, I swallowed the grape.

What a struggle food had been for me all of my life. Too much. Too often. Too hurried. With a flash of parallel insight, I saw my whole life as a banquet, consumed but not savoured. Awash with tears, I choked down the grapes, the three dry crackers and the tea. There was a necessity to go through this ritual. To taste and see.

The intentional meal was a life altering experience. I marked it by writing a poem and offering that poem to Frederick Bueckner, in my first ever and only fan letter. He wrote back, by hand, some time later. And I still have the poem.


Life is a large grape,
hard to swallow whole,
tough as chicken,
big as a balloon in my mouth,
but insignificant enough
to make the necessity of chewing it,
an embarrassment.
The task's to get it down.

What holy hesitancy is this
to bite, bear down and masticate,
chew it up with clenched teeth,
let the juice run down over my chin,
empty myself of saliva in the living of it?

I distract myself from my devouring,
read a book,
write stories in my head,
dangle from the chandelier,
I have managed half a lifetime of grapes
in this manner,
some sustenance,
no substance at all.

Now this one grape,
commands me to taste it,
know it for itself.
I fasten on it,
will not let it go until it blesses me,
my first and last supper.
It bleeds between my teeth,
and I weep my grace,
anger and reverence,
and glory.

C.K. after Frederick Buechner

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Antidote to Anxiety

One of the antidotes to anxiety is a thankful heart. Tonight I am reminding myself of the things I am grateful for.


I am thankful for a roof over my head,
and not just any roof but a solid, newer, softly spreading roof,
with broad eaves.

I am thankful for a tolerant, understanding, forgiving and kind husband.

I am thankful for answers to prayers:
  1. Robbie's health and his continued growth and development; his constant urge to stand up and push with his legs and try to walk; his ability to shake off this cold without a visit to the doctor's.
  2. Spencer's silly antics, loving heart and fast feet. For his energy, his friendliness and tender feelings. For his passions for mechanical things, his boyish playfulness.
  3. Rachael's voice, her growing ability to communicate the subtleties of her feelings, her observations of the universe (when seeing the moon behind fast moving clouds..."Oh, look the moon is flying home.")
  4. Sobriety in my family, hard won and stalwartly maintained against all odds.

I am thankful for:

Humour. For the ability to laugh out loud when my cell phone set off a thrum in the organ...even played a note all by itself, before it rang in church this morning! Wrong number.

A place to write this stuff...here.

People who read it.

The passage of time which heals all wounds.

Being understood.

Enough money for now. Enough money to give to others.

The joy of words.


God's love experienced in peace and in turmoil.

New handles to replace the one's Rob constantly fixed with crazy glue on the old Toyota. A detailed cleaning on the same motley vehicle. It looks like new.

A kiss.

Being treasured and appreciated by a loved one.

Seeing my mother enjoy my grandchildren at play.

Robbie pretending to be a frog and laughing. Rachael being a friendly tiger. Spencer talking to me basso profundo on the phone. "Love you."

Good sons-in-law. Dylan helping Rob take the paddle boat out before the river freezes over. Jeff helping me with my cell phone ignorance.

Daughters who are good mothers.

Roses in November.

A good book at bedtime.


Clock chimes.

The end of a day.

For all these blessings and those not named here, I am grateful. My cup runs over and I can face the future with less anxiety knowing that I am so richly provided for in this day.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Kitchen Renovations Z to A

Okay, so everybody knows there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Let me tell you, with these kitchen renovations you can work magic in any direction. Start with Z and work through to A, or do it the other way round, more conventionally. Either way, the results are sure to command another reno in a year or two.

Z. Assemble fabrics you really like in large amounts when they are on sale and keep them for as long as possible before beginning the project.

Y. Pull down the overhead cupboards, leaving a shortage of storage space. Buy a couple of overpriced painted black pine bookcases to make into a faux armoire.

X. Smash the microwave moving it from A to B. Rob a bank. Buy a new one.

W. Take off a little wallpaper. Fade fast.

V. Prime a few cupboards. Decide to use STP and sand the cupboards first the next time.

U. While taking off the doors of cabinets would be a good idea, do them in place. Dab paint on the hinges and hope no one notices.

T. Hack off a little more wallpaper.

S. Cover some crumbling wall in beadboard.

R. Reline a few drawers and refill them. Throw out one or two things.

Q. Use the odd tea towel for a paint rag. Notice the pile of tea towels is growing precariously small.

P. Clean out the fridge if it smells.

O. Scrape off a few more shards of wallpaper. Bits of wall may come off with the paper. Daub on some crack filler.

N. Take the window screens into the shower with you for a really good clean. This is an amazing time saver.

M. Paint a bit of window trim. Hope no one sees the excess paint on hardware bits.

L. Clean freezer if something still smells.

K. Do a second coat on something.

J. Get a special tool for scoring old wallpaper. Soak walls and floors with warm water and wallpaper stripper. Scrape off the grease which has loosened up under the stove.

I. Clean sides of stove while they are exposed.

H. Put a few new handles on a couple of unfinished doors to see how they look.

G. Line a shelf or two.

F. Scrape off a bit more wallpaper.

E. Disconnect ambient lighting. Show off. Buy new fixtures. Check them out it the space. Take them back. Get more. Take them back. Do this for as long as it takes to get the fixtures right. Beauty is in the details.

D. Order counter top on the pay next year plan. Pretend you know what you are doing when the guy comes to measure the space.

C. Scrape off a bit more wallpaper.

B. Ignore family, friends and blogging for weeks on end.

A. Get a cold.

A. Do not let this stop you from continuing with the project. Advil Cold and Flu medicine should keep you just well enough to scrape off more wallpaper.

B. Don't forget to get the paint off your hands before going to church, but look as dirty as possible when on an outing to Home Depot or Northern Buildall. It's expected.

C. Buy new baseboards and hope someone else will put them in.

D. Get a more handy partner.

E. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. And Pray.

You could start these directions in the middle and work out to either end and the results would still be stunning.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For All the Saints

November First. All Saints Day. One of my favourite days in the church calendar. It was of little importance in the tradition in which I grew up, which paid no notice to the movement of the church year, that dignified process from the Sunday of Christ the King, through Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and so on.

Much more importance was given to November 11. The lonely tones of The Last Post. The two minutes of silence. (An eternity to a child with frozen feet, and an inability to see anything but trousered legs and the bottoms of women's heavy winter coats.) A brass band pondering Abide With Me . Pipers lamenting. Slow and measured steps. The laying of wreaths at The Cenotaph. (Cenotaphs and Pyramids were about the same thing in my mind then...and when you think about it, I wasn't far off the mark.) Poppy wearing. There were huge crowds of still young sainted veterans, amongst them my father, who always refused to wear his medals, despite my mother's pleading. He was ever a self-effacing man. No doubt we honoured a few sinners too, both living and dead, who were also beloved by man and God. It escaped no one's notice that their courage had preserved the way of life we were privileged to enjoy.

But All Saints Day a few brief days earlier. Hard on the heels of Hallowe'en. It had passed without note. Not so now.

My list of saints has grown extremely long in the last years. And this year my heart has been deeply moved by the recent loss of two friends, both men, still in their prime. One was a lifelong friend, who with his wife, was generous of heart and lively of mind. He was, in Nouwen's terms a "spiritual strategist," someone whose visionary planning raised millions of dollars for charity and for the major educational institution for which he was head of planned giving. The other was a "quiet" man, with a pastor's heart, whose steadfastness in sickness and suffering brought him much admiration. He was my parents' pastor when my father was dying. He was at Dawsonwood Cottage the day they brought us a hospital bed and he helped Rob set it up in the dining room. On the day my father died, he dismantled that same bed, and trundled it out to the garage. A practical christian.

I copied this from Henri Nouwen (click on title above for link) and saved it for November 1.

The Garden of the Saints

The Church is a very human organization but also the garden of God's grace. It is a place where great sanctity keeps blooming. Saints are people who make the living Christ visible to us in a special way. Some saints have given their lives in the service of Christ and his Church; others have spoken and written words that keep nurturing us; some have lived heroically in difficult situations; others have remained hidden in quiet lives of prayer and meditation; some were prophetic voices calling for renewal; others were spiritual strategists setting up large organizations or networks of people; some were healthy and strong; others were quite sick, and often anxious and insecure. But all of them in their own ways lived in the Church as in a garden where they heard the voice calling them the Beloved and where they found the courage to make Jesus the center of their lives
Thank You God For All The Saints.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Rain on the Just

Dear Readers,

You may have noticed that I have been at a loss for words lately. Passing strange. Not a one has entered my head. At least none fit to print. My silence occasioned a phone call from a friend in Winnipeg who reads Dawsonwood, and who had begun to wonder if I was ill. I can't tell you how much I appreciated that.

So, first things first. Robbie is fine. His new dose of medication is working much better. He has incredible upper body strength and can grip my arthritic fingers with enough force to make me gasp. He manouvers all over the living room and is disappearing around corners and opening seemingly impenetrable cupboard doors fastened with giant magnets. He loves ripping up phone books and magazines. He is taking to reading, as this photo shows and he has something of the little professor about him, I think.

Rachael and Spencer, my two older grandchildren, are looking forward to Hollowe'en with keen excitement. Spencer is going to be "a scarey pirate with bones" and Rachael, with all of the costume angst of diva is going to be variously, a dalmation, a poodle, Dora the Explorerer or Princess Ariel. Robbie may be a pumpkin if he goes out. And next year, AAAAgh! there will be four of them decking out for "Trick or Treat"...or as they say mysteriously in Winnipeg "Hallowe'en Apples." (So what regional variations to the Hallowe'en door cry have you noticed where you live...a propos of not much?)

My daughter Barbara has had a wretched bout of mono and I have been looking after Robbie daily from 7 a.m.. While purportedly looking ten years younger than my actual age, suffice it to say that I am not as young as I once was. I haven't had the energy or will to do much writing...and truth be told, it is an effort to hang on to the mostly positive outlook I like to maintain in these posts. Not that I am above a rant or two. I don't have the strength. The mono has strained, but not swamped the ability of this family system to cope. It was inevitable after a year and a half of high stress, Barbara's immune system would cave in. But I would like God to know that it has rained enough on the just of Muskoka lately.

I had a little weep in church last week. Someone was wanting to know what happened to about a dozen dollar store bud vases. Yes, this is the kind of thing which can happen even in a church with six people in it. Somehow this hadn't really registered on my radar as important. I felt so helpless about the bud vases. I was even more helpless when it was noted that the emergency church telephone was missing, although I have a hunch or two in this regard. Everything is relevant.

The rain falling on the just in Muskoka is nothing to the rain falling on the just in Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, India and Kashechewan on James Bay in Northern Ontario. The world seems to be awash with displaced persons, the dead and the dying.

I don't have the courage to watch the news lately. Compassion fatigue. The numbers are meaningless to me...1,000 here, 1,000 there...more. This many dead. That many homeless. Pictures of bodies. Rubble. Water. Wind. God In Heaven. What are my little woes compared to all of this?

And still there are places where a child will say, "Daddy, I want to be a martyr. Can you get me some explosives?" And still there are offices where leaders say, "Git 'em." As if the rain falling on the just and the unjust were not, of itself, a sufficiency of suffering.

Bless you all, wherever you are, whatever personal and collective deluges overwhelm you.

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Chipmunk Feast

Feast for Ommm,

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Anniversary Week

The Garden in Autumn C.K. 10.15.05

October brings birthdays and anniversaries. My mother turns 87 tomorrow. On that day also, my niece will turn 28 and my daughter Sarah and son-in-law Jeff will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. I have passed my birthday, spent in the midst of a funeral for a close personal friend. Perhaps this is what has given a perculiar melancholy to the celebration of our wedding anniversary this week, also. There is a renewed determination on our parts to make each day count, to take nothing for granted. Our muted celebration last evening included a leisurely walk to and from a local bistro where we enjoyed the prix fixe menu and much rich conversation about our individual weeks.

Some of you, who remember that the documentation concerning our wedding had been lost for a couple of years, will be happy to learn that this precious certificate was eventually located by officialdom in government records. (Click on title above for post from last April...funny.) So, do not concern yourselves that Rob spends several days a week out of town doing pastoral support. We are still married. I run Dawsonwood, care for my mother and support Barbara and her family, as frequent readers of this blog will have discerned. I also write. This week I wrote my husband a letter and this is the expurgated version of this text.

Dear Rob,
Friday is our 38th wedding anniversary...

You are the best part of this life-long marriage. Your commitment has kept us going when I have been ill with depression, when I have been weary in well doing, when we have grieved together, and even when medication has failed to control my anxiety and mood disorders.

It is amazing to me that you still find me attractive after all these years. And yet, when I look in the mirror today, I do not hate what I see as I once did. Isn't that a miracle? It has taken the best part of thirty-eight years for your vision of me to sink into my head.

These were things I loved about you from the beginning and still love: your wonderful voice, speaking and singing, your soulful eyes, your keen mind. I enjoy talking with you about life and God as much or even more than I did thirty-eight years ago. The passing of years has deepened our understanding of what it means to love God and eachother. Are we just beginning, after all this long time, to love the essence of eachother, in ways which were clouded by early passion and exceptionally high expectations?

Because we have come to understand that we cannot fulfil every need of the other, we have become comfortably independent. I want to continue to grow in my art and writing, even as you develop your skills as a spiritual director. These differences give us something to contribute to the spiritual growth of the other. Our strength has always been our ability to talk with one another. Your strength is that you have learned, when I am upset, just to listen and not try to fix anything. Having taught you that skill, painfully over the years, not knowing myself what I wanted from one minute to the next, I now wish I could be this way in all my relationships...just listening and not trying to fix anything.

The most amazing development over the last year and a half has been our growing common dependence on our relationship with God and our willingness to pray, even when God seems distant. This reliance on faith in difficult times is something which we share, though we might not always hold every political, ethical and theological notion in common. We believe that there is a Prime Mover, a Great Lover, a Source of Being. We believe that humans can have a relationship with the Source. We believe that that relationship makes a difference.

I want to start our 39th year with renewal...I want the kindness you have given me in my weakest moments to be the hallmark of our daily walk together.

I know that over these last few months you have been particularly taxed with worry over your new job and whether or not you will be able to do this Herculean task, and how you will do it. I celebrate with you that you are finding answers to prayer already...I admire, as I always have done, your ability to find ways and means in situations where others despair. This is a great gift of God in you and it is so exciting to see this finding fulfilment at this stage of your life.

I would have written this letter literally in ink, but I can't write as fast as I type and think. This way is better. You can file it somewhere and reread it and remind me of what I have said, if you think I need reminding.

I am glad I married you. We were impossibly young. We didn't know what marriage entailed. I was living in a romantic daydream. You were unaware of and confused by my needs for active companionship and gentle affection. We had not developed our God-ward capacity, even though we were so inclined. We were babies in faith as in life. Isn't it a miracle that the sufferings of life have toughened me up and softened you down, so that the incorrigible romantic and the logical philosopher can meet now on equal terms? I look forward to the best which is yet to come.

Love, Connie

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Music Has Charms

Music has charms to sooth a savage breast.

William Congreve
(1670 - 1729)

Or beast...if the movie, "The Story of the Weeping Camel" is to be believed. And it is!!! Those of you who do not watch subtitled movies will have missed this one. A rare docu-drama in Mongolian with English subtitles which are hardly necessary. The dialogue is so spare and the acting so clear as to make the story self-evident in any language. I was deeply moved by this tale of a first time mother camel who rejects her colt after a protracted and painful delivery. I was astonished at the simple yet elegant lifestyle of the camel herders of the Gobi desert. I was appalled to see the encroachment of Western inelegance (in the form of televisions and motorcycles) on the rythmned, mythic lives of these hard working people. And I was delighted by the climax of this movie as ancient music is used to aid the new mother to surrender her love to her nursing colt. A must see.

Another 'foreign' film to plomb the redemptive, healing power of music is Les Choristes, this time a French film shot in (Yahwehsisters, yes) Bulgaria! A heartless, punitive school for so-called 'wayward' boys is blessed by the coming of a teacher with an open heart and a flair for music. The sound track alone is worth a listen in this new classic film.

See it. See them both. Hollywood is not the centre of the universe. Films of superb quality are being made the world over.

This is the first in a periodic series of film reviews by Sister Maryconstance, director of cultural pursuits, Dawsonwood Cottage.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Miracle

To those of you who regularly tweak you blogs, this small improvement will seem laughable. But for me it is miraculous, a triumph over computer mind fog, a victory for persistence! I have managed to edit my links list properly! Many thanks to those who over many months have attempted unsuccessfully to teach me about this and other elusive blogging skills: Deb, Lisa, Bobbie, to name a few.

It took a few spare hours at the end of an exhausting Thanksgiving weekend. Several members of the family were ill. The green veg turned to mush. But I have a Links list!!! Now if I could only discover how to call it something else, like so many of you have done. Friends. Wayfarers. Lightbringers. Connections. That would be a quantum leap indeed.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Dear Friends,

My daughter Barbara who has appeared in my posts as 'Robbie's mother' and sometimes as herself, now has her own blog. You can find it by linking through the title of this post...just click on "Love Barbara". I am thrilled that this has happened. Pleased to see that blogging will be a form of therapy for her, as it seems to be for a lot of us. Take a look at what she says about setting high expectations for ourselves and others, and the fact that unrealistic expectations may then lead to resentment and bitterness.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Playing God 5

This is the last in my series of posts about enacted prayer. And yes, I got to "play" God.

I was fascinated to find out if enacted prayer would work in our small rural congregation, a congregation where we have been, in the main, the youngest people attending for the last 16 years. I wondered if the blessings of enacted prayer which were palpable in a large congregation of young adults could be perceived in a small congregation of seniors. Sunday September 11 provided the opportunity, falling as it did on the fourth anniversary of 9/11, with the concerns around the devastation of hurricane Katrina still heavy on our hearts. No one in the congregation had any preparation for this. I was relying on their good-will and the power of God's Spirit.

I explained briefly what I was going to do. Instead of saying that I was "playing God" it just seemed appropriate to say that as we worked I would be discerning the mind of God for these situations, and that individuals would be chosen to represent (rather than PLAY) the various persons around whom we would be focusing our prayers.

I picked a lovely older couple to represent those who had lost loved ones in 9/11. They sat in chairs, opposite one another just in front of our low platform. A strong, tall man represented firefighters. An ex-school principal stood in the pulpit to represent government. A woman of great heart who has been widowed represented refugee victims of Katrina. Another woman with a mischievous child-like spirit became a lost child, folded into a heap on the floor. My husband, without his robes, represented aid workers. That was all we had room for in the front of our little church. I prayed and began to move about amoung the "actors."

I worked with those representing 9/11 first. Gesturing them to stand. Bringing the fireman closer with arms and face raised heavenward. The grieving couple linked hands. I remembered how often people who lose a child end up divorcing because they cannot bear the pain they see reflected in eachother's face. I held them in my heart. I helped them lift their eyes to heaven.

Then I worked with the Katrina 'actors'. My husband used his clerical gown to tent the homeless woman. (We hadn't rehearsed this. It was just given in that moment and it was powerful.) The indifferent posture of the government official was changed to reveal compassion and concern. I comforted and lifted up the "child" and danced with her and then went to find her mother, with whom she was reunited. We danced as three in the narrow aisle of the church. When all eyes were raised Godward, I said, "Amen," and sealed the enacted prayer with a sentence of spoken prayer.

Five...ten minutes...that was all. A powerful pastoral prayer.

It was impossible not to be moved by this. "Players" who had been hesistant to be part of the scene, gained confidence. The "child" talked to me about how really very much of a refugee she was in her real life. Then she donated a box of worship tapes to be sold for the Katrina relief effort!!! ($300.00, NO TAX, NO OVERHEAD) The fireman, a shy man, spoke of how he could feel in his heart just how he should move to comfort the bereaved of 9/11. He is a man of compassion and this role brought out the best in him. It was really real!!

We'll try this again. Perhaps on Christmas Eve as part of our annual Christmas candlelight service. The church will be packed and we will do an enacted prayer which will help us to focus away from materialism and onto the true meaning of Christmas. Maybe. Or perhaps God will give us another prayer request. Whatever we pray for, I know there will be answers. We live in exciting times.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Playing God 4

If you have been following the story of these posts, you will remember that I had asked for enacted prayer on behalf of my grandson Robbie. Some of you will also know that Robbie has a considerable medical file compiled on his brief life.

In the beginning, his mother was told she would not carry him to term. Robbie confounded every expectation and made his entry into the world, last January 17. There was a preliminary diagnosis of I.U.G.R. (inter uterine growth retardation), a result of abruption of the placenta. He had survived to full term with about half the food supply a normal infant requires! He weighed a meagre 5 pounds and looked, for a full time baby, like a starved waif. Strong will in this little guy, right from the first. He was immediately hooked up to tubes for feeding, and wires for monitoring, and tucked into an incubator. Anxious start. But Robbie is nothing if not determined. And he was determined to live.

Additionally, Robbie had a small, common, birth anomaly which will be corrected by plastic surgery. However, the onset of asthma, this past spring, was very worrisome. At times he seemed so frail. It took multiple trips to the doctor, and several hospitalizations before a diagnosis was reached, and appropriate medication was prescribed. At the time of the enacted prayer, I was concerned that Robbie would once again be hospitalized, with all the attendant disruption of routine and deep concern which this would bring. That did not happen. He had a cold. He survived the cold. And he has gone on to have further sniffles without hospitalization. He has even hatched two razor sharp teeth.

I came home expecting to hear more good news about Robbie. Perplexity. Robbie's mother burst into tears as she told me that he had been diagnosed with yet another health concern. For months, she had been trying to get his doctors to take notice of the way he held his head, and the shape of his head. They delivered platitudes. "His head shape will improve over time." "Just let time pass. This will correct itself." I had been with his mother on several occasions when her concerns were minimized or dismissed. Now, she informed me that the condition had been noted as 'serious,' and physiotherapy and occupational therapy prescribed. It even had a name. Torticollis. Wry Neck. Should these mechanical manipulations not correct the condition, Robbie would have to undergo surgery to release his neck muscles, with possible cranial-facial surgery in years to come.

How was this an answer to the enacted prayer, I wondered? I felt a little deflated, but I was not dismayed. A general feeling of calm continued when I saw Robbie himself. Over the ten days I had been away, he had grown. His head looked better to me already. He was beginning to hold it up straighter. He was trying to sit up. Over a two week time period, his parents worked with him on his exercises. We all played rigorously with him to stimulate his awareness of the left side of his body. His strength steadily increased. On one memorable afternoon, he rolled efficiently to the left. Excited by the discovery of a new skill in his repetoire. he continued to roll to the left about ten more times in succession.

It was clear, that on his second trip to the psysiotherapist, he had outstripped her every expectation. He was sitting better and displaying awareness of his need to adjust balance to prevent himself from falling over. He was swimming all over the mat, moving confidently to find toys. The therapist had trouble keeping her jaw from dropping open as Robbie displayed his exponential development.

This has continued. Within a few more days he was trying to pull himself up to sitting from a recumbent position. This afternoon he made several successful attempts at this while sitting on my knee. When he accomplishes anything, he flings himself down to repeat the process and solidify his learning. I may be his Nana, but believe me he is SMART. He is almost fanatically determined to exercise his body.

Now I am not so naive spiritually as to suppose that Robbie's development would have continued to be delayed, had I not asked for enacted prayer on his behalf. Things would have unfolded in much the same way. I do not worship a God who is stingy in blessing because I weak in asking. But enacted prayer gave me eyes to see the miracle. Yes, even the miracle of the diagnosis of Torticollis. Just in time. Thank God, a diagnosis in time for exercises to have some effect.

Miracles happen every day. We only notice them when we are aware. We only remember to be thankful when we are aware. Otherwise, we go through life with a sense of entitlement and a hardness of heart which resents the normal maladies which afflict us all as human beings. Our constant bleat is "Why?" Why God? Why me? As if somehow, because we are believers we should be exempt from every suffering. But believing that God has the best interests of his children at heart is a step of faith. I think that we need this kind of faith most especially when we are tempted to despair. I think we need that kind of faith when faced with 'one more thing.'

She who has ears to hear, let her hear. He who has eyes to see, let him see. Jesus said that. I believe that enacted prayer allowed me to see my daughter and her husband and children prophetically, as God sees them. Whole, standing strong, eyes heavenward. This prophesy has helped me grasp the miracles which are moving them to this place of wholeness, despite fleeting contrary indications.

This week we made a second pilgrimage to Toronto's famous Hospital for Sick Children, affectionately known the world over as 'Sick Kids.' I fully expected the surgeon to say that Robbie was still not big and strong enough to undergo his plastic surgery. Lack of faith? Or a way of protecting myself from disappointment? Perhaps.

Robbie has more than tripled his birth weight. He squirmed and wriggled all over the examining table. He arched his back. He protested at being immobilized for examination. He is ready. His surgery is booked for January 10, 2006. Will you pray? Will you enact the healing in your minds. Visualize it. See it as true. A good result. No complications. Calmness amongst us adults. Quick healing.

Every day is another miracle day with Robbie. Since the enacted prayer, his mother switched him to soy milk formula and his mucous secretions are decreased, which helps his breathing and decreases the tendency for asthma attacks!! To night he sat up in a high chair at the table for family dinner and had mashed up squash and carrots just like the rest of us. His two baby teeth were unequal to the corn. He looked so proud of himself. "See me. See me."

We see you. We see you, Robbie. A strong young man with a bright mind and a sensitive heart, open to all the possibilities of the Spirit and living by Faith.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Playing God 3

So it was, that the inimitable Rich Swingle introduced the concept of enacted prayer to the entire student body and faculty at the School for Music and Gospel Arts. For the first demonstration of enacted prayer, Rich would 'play God'. I had an intuitive sense that what would follow would be similar to psychodrama or sociodrama, something I was familiar with in my work. I was intensely interested.

Rich called for a prayer request. I felt an immediate inner response. I had just received news from home that my grandson Robbie, then seven months old, had once again been to the doctor's with an asthma attack and that his parents were taking him to hospital. I wanted prayer. I wanted it with urgency. I tried to hold myself back, feeling that this special prayer must surely be for one of the students. But when no one immediately leapt to his/her feet, I was catapulted out of my seat. I sprang into the pool of blessing.

Rich elicited information from me about my prayer request. I told about Robbie's fragile start to life and his asthma. Rich called for one of the faculty children to come up and play Robbie. A young girl came and was positioned in a lying pose at the front of the stage. Drama students volunteered to be Robbie's parents. Another faculty child came forward to play Robbie's four year old sister. It became clear that each person in this little family had special need for prayer. Then Rich called for someone to play illness. Rich asked 'illness' to put his foot gently on 'Robbie's' chest. And finally, someone was asked to play me. This was something I hadn't anticipated. My niece Kathryn came forward, eyes shining and full of compassion. I knew, of all the people in the room, no one could understand my heart more keenly than Kathryn and no one would play me better. It was a special moment for both of us as our eyes met across the width of the stage.

Rich prayed briefly that God would be in the enacted prayer. I sat to one side of the stage, my back against a pillar. The enacted prayer began. Everyone slowly moved into their roles. It was evident from their postures that Robbie's parents were sad and felt helpless. Robbie looked so frail. His little sister looked lost in the midst of something which was huge and overwhelming. Kathryn, playing me, went around trying to hold up everyone. She lifted Robbie's head, without success. She tried to raise the arms of Robbie's parents. Their arms fell back helplessly at their sides.

Tears began to roll down my cheeks unbidden. I wasn't sobbing. I made no sound. Tears just fell as I recognized the ways in which I try to hold up everyone in my family, not just those represented on the stage. Others too. The whole multigenerational mass. My own helplessness to effect change was apparent. As my tears fell, I let go of my need to control any outcome. This was beyond me.

God moved into the scene. Kathryn, playing me, took Robbie's sister out of the family group to one side and entertained her, while God worked with Robbie and his parents. First, he banished 'illness.' He removed the heavy foot from off Robbie's chest and cast illness away. He assessed the helplessness of Robbie's parents. He blessed them. He loved them. He nurtured them. He lifted their eyes and their arms toward heaven. When they themselves were strong, they were able to attend to Robbie. They stooped down to where Robbie lay, to sit by him, cradle him and love him. I felt the tension of the situation release. I felt calmness and peace. Kathryn, playing me, restored Robbie's sister to the family group. They stood closely, mutually supported, as a unit, undivided by illness, serene and whole.

The picture of my little family as portrayed on stage by this group of relative strangers was intensely touching. Powerful. I could hear people sniffing back tears from all over the large auditorium. Otherwise, there was not a single sound. The word Amen was spoken. And Rich sealed what had happened with a brief spoken prayer.

Now I don't know about you, but for me, when I have been deeply affected by God's Spirit, my mind gets very large. I see potential. I feel enlightenment. My mind is large enough to possess possibilities, but it is also numbed in some way. Regular talking, walking and even thinking are difficult. I stumbled back to my seat. I think some people hugged me. The service swirled on around me. I have no idea what else went on. I was in a different place.

And a different place was where I remained for the rest of the week. As a matter of fact, I am still resting in that special spot. Sacred space. Mercifully, mobility, speech and thinking capacity returned to me.
1.) I functioned at a high level troughout the week, and was able to be present to many different people in many different ways.
2.) I was absolutely released from responsibilty for things at home. When I placed a check in phone call to each of my daughters, they were unavailable to talk. I got my sons-in-law instead. I took it as an indication that things were well in control without me. I didn't have to hold everyone up.
3.) God's Spirit rested on me in a unique way. I felt nudged by the Spirit. Say yes. Say no. Do this. Do that. Don't do that. Try this. Say that. Don't say that. This immediate, constant, unhesitating sense of the presence of God in a minute by minute way was quite new to me.
4.) After a lifetime of wrestling with God, like Jacob at Peniel, I carried in my body a wound, but I felt continually touched by blessing. This was the prayer I had carried in my heart for years. I had sung it, pleaded and bargained for it. Demanded it. "I will not let You go until you bless me." A lifetime of this prayer. And now, in this strange way, when I asked for prayer for someone else, this blessing came. This was intimacy with God, not totally unfamiliar, but fresh and new.

So that was the first and perhaps the most profound answer to the enacted prayer. But there's more to follow.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Playing God 2

Imagine the most energetic, postive thinking and committed Christian you know. Multiply that energy by two. Package it in a slight, masculine, athletic frame. Top it with an expressive, deeply sensitive, strong boned and often willfully clownish face, slightly receding hair and an invisible halo. You've got Rich Swingle, a New York actor and playwright. Rich brought his love, his talents, prayers and energies for a second time this year to the School for Music and Gospel Arts at Jackson's Point.

Rich played St. John in an amazing one man interpretation of the book of Revelation. Neatly avoiding the usual eschatological and didactic pitfalls, Rich rendered a portrayal of John's vision on the Isle of Patmos which captivated us and set us to thinking about the power of prayer, the purpose of life, the meaning of vision, the grace and love and yes, JUDGMENT of God.

Rich also played God. He taught others to play God. You read that right. Rich played God. Not for Rich the wry comedic style of George Burns or imaginative dialogues of Bill Cosby. Rich's turn as God came as he used the tool of enacted prayer to discern the heart of God. Drama students and faculty children supported Rich as he addressed our prayer concerns. Taking roles as family members, ill friends and relatives, victims of hurricane Katrina, aid workers, pastors, youth leaders and so on, the students mimed oppression, illness and distress. Rich or a designated student 'played God', moving to embrace, to heal, to comfort, to encourage, to embolden, to relieve, to sustain, to uphold, to release. I cannot find words to describe how utterly moving enacted prayer was. But I can tell you how this kind of prayer touched my life, and freed me up to do my real work at the school. I'll tell you about that in my next post.

While I'm gathering my courage for that, take a look at Rich's blog sites, his itinerary, his prayer blog and other bits by clicking on the title of this post. Rich is out west on a three week tour and will be doing enacted prayer with survivors of hurricane Katrina in Denver, Colorado. If you read back through Rich's posts you'll find pictures of students at this fabulous camp and the story of how I woke Rich up on the morning of the last day to tell him what enacted prayer had meant to me.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Playing God 1

I've been away from blogging for a bit. Been working with a staggeringly energetic and talented group of young adults at The Salvation Army School for Music and Gospel Arts at Jackson's Point, Sutton, Ontario. Over the next few posts I want to share some of the things I experienced. I will be writing about prayer and the power of prayer and healing.

A lot of praying of one kind and another went on at this camp. Students prayed scripture in the Jewish manner, all at once and in full voice while circling around the auditorium. Faculty and students prayed, sang, worshipped, praised. Some leapt up and down, danced, did cartwheels and flips. Others drew prayers. Some lay prostrate before God. Others knelt in the traditional pose of worship, heart lower than head and arms outstretched. Hands were an important accompaniment to prayer. Hands raised. Hands clapping. Hands cupped. Hands joined. And feet were important too. Sandled. Sneakered. Feet in need of a good wash. Manicured feet. Whatever their condition, our feet were metaphorically bare, because we were standing on holy ground.

In the midst of all of this, on Wednesday evening, I met the mother of a girl who had been killed years before, in a tragic car accident in connection with the camp. We talked for some time before we found our common ground. My husband's cousin had been critically injured in the fiery crash which took her daughter's life. They had been best friends. I remember how we had received the news in helpless horror and were thrown to our knees. I remember not being able to find the words to pray. And now, twenty-six years later, this mother was eager to hear this year's crop of campers perform at the midweek festival. "It was a long time ago," she said simply.

I remember feeling guilty about not knowing how to pray at the time of the accident. Finally I wrote my feelings down. Now, I felt I was being given permission to pray without words. If one could jump up and down in prayer, march around in prayer, lie down in prayer, then groans, interpreted by God's Spirit, were acceptable prayer. This is what I wrote, somwhat defiantly, at the time of the accident:

I cannot pray with words.
I write with words,
I pray with sighs,
or thoughts
or faces.

Then I cannot be accused
of trying
to make up God's mind for Him
or of colouring prayer
with too much self.

And there are
times too terrible for tears.
A breath and heartbeat
suffice then
to bring Him near.

For P.H. C.K. Aug. 31, 1979

More on this topic to follow.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Life Is Too Short

"Life is too short." This was one of my father's favourite sayings. Plus, "Do it now," and "She who hesitates is lost." The message was: procrastination leads to regret, and ultimately ruin!! Late in life, when asked if he had regrets, he said: "I wish I had gotten out to work sooner." In the 1930's young people worked to help support the family. Petted youngest of five, my father was offered university. (He got around to fulfilling his parents' dream in the 1960's.) But as a kid, he wanted to get his hands dirty. Contribute. Like his brothers and sisters. And as an old man, he wished he had started sooner!!! This from someone who worked harder than most any other two men I have ever known.

Obsessed with the brevity of time. Beneath an engraving of one of his handmade clocks, his gravestone reads, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." Ps. 90:12 KJV My brother wanted us to put, "Life is too short." Funny. True. We balked at irreverent.

I'm numbering my days. Just attended a thirty year reunion of the booming Sunday School of our first pastorate. Met again the eager twelve year old, now a vigorous, greying, prosperous forty-two. And a man who finished his week of long distance trucking with a stint in one of the blue buses. He's retired, a widower, softer now, gentled down by time and sorrow. A Sunday School mom brought nearly grown grandchildren to the reunion. Her soft-featured metis face was beautiful as ever under snow white hair. Life is short.

I'm numbering days. The never ending purge of Dawsonwood continues. Sorting. Tossing. Keeping. Giving away. Going through old photos. Making up keepsake boxes for my parents' five grandchildren. Wasn't it only yesterday my parents were my age? There they are. Young looking. Taking trips to the Middle East and China. Here's Pavarotti, who they met somewhat incongruously in Beijing. Here are shards from that dig in the Middle East. Who gets that pen stand my father fashioned to display an ancient clay pot handle?? That shard is centuries older than any of us will ever be. Life is short.

Numbering days. Here are the incarnations of Dawsonwood Cottage in black and white and living colour. The house buried under snow. The garden with mini trees dug up from the wild and planted in their infancy. They are giants now. And the kitchen. Yellow. Aqua. French cafe mural. Red check curtains. Peach and green with subtle wallpaper. Infamous cluttered green plaid. It will be French again soon. French Country this time. If life isn't too short.

Days. Wasn't it only yesterday the children were small, fishing off the dock, paddling upstream? There's Rob. Supervising swimming. Playing guitar at campfire. A boy-man thin as a stick. Our girls, wee tots beneath blankets. Could it possibly have been raining? Were we singing in the rain? And here's my brother, young and handsome. Has he always worn that tidy beard? Nearly forever. Here's Dawsonwood buried in snow. Len's on the roof, shovelling. Drifts from the roof meet drifts on the ground. Life is too short.

I'm numbering my days. Perhaps that is why I stay up half the night. Redeeming the time. Reviewing my life for signs of wisdom. Finding beauty even in pictures of me. What's that father? "Too soon old, too late smart." Right.

Spent some time recently with a visitor who wondered why we only know what we know late in life. It seems to take for ever to be wise. No regrets. It is a process. The child who visioned the light of God at six, has walked in that light even when she thought it was darkness.

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Ps. 90:12 NIV

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sleep Deprivation

This 'poem' was inspired by Cindy's post of July 15, 2005 (click on title for link). Yes, I am that far behind. Part of the reason is that I am staying up all night to read, and clean out closets as well as stargaze. One night I listened to a neighbourhood orgy downriver, an unusual thing in these parts. I called the police, talked to the police and my three year old grandson was up then, thinking the police had come to the house because he had fallen out of bed. Then, of course, we were all awake and had to stay up longer to see how the cops would handle the violence. It took them several hours to set up their intervention. All has been quiet since. Not a light is showing from across the river after dark. But the habit of late hours is well...read about it:

Hunger for quietness
can be addictive.
The house at rest,
deep darkness,
wee hours
stolen from
the abyss of sleep,
Staying up all night
is habit forming.

Lunacy feasts
on too much dewy grass,
sips of silken summer air,
bites of coming frost,
the flavour of northern lights,
starsong and moonset.
Finally it renders a giant belch of
overindulgence in solitude and nightcraft.

Hangover the next morning.
Moderation in everything.
Excess in nothing.
Creativity exists in balanced appetites,
cravings held in check,
a strict diet of sleep and wakefulness
in healthful portions.

Sweet Dreams, all.

Constance 08/05

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lost in the Ether

Until I began to use internet, the word 'ether' was otherworldly. Speaking of sky, life, mystery and myth. It was a spacious word, timeless. It harked back to Greek gods and forward to intergalactic travel. Grander than mere air. Poetic. Ethereal.

Oh yes, and it also reminded me of the terrible smell which preceded my tonsil operation at age six, and the lonely, terrifying hospital stay which followed. It is this ether which sticks in my nostrils today...AND THE FACT THAT WE HAVE HAD THE MOST OPPRESSING COMPUTER PROBLEMS FOR SEVERAL WEEKS. EVERY SIMPLE TASK IS A SLOW RELEARNING...like swallowing after that dreadful surgery.

I am back up but lost my emails, my addresses, my favourites and my capacity to post pictures. Thanks to those who placed comments while I was gone. I do appreciate the encouragement to keep writing and am honoured that any of you think this space is an entertaining or inspirational place to visit.

Cindy, I hope I find your address. I haven't forgotten that stimulating list of questions.

Friday, August 05, 2005

In-laws and Outlaws

The Harris family has moved back home. They are officially 'out' of Dawsonwood. Their house is looking wonderful. There are a few more things to do. But the basic things: Robbie's room, the downstairs painting and flooring, the bathrooms are done. And who would have thought that underneath that mangy orange carpet was a gorgeous pine staircase, now stained and painted and shining like new?!!!

I had thought to write something funny about this experience, but find that it really hasn't reached the "funny stage" yet. My computer is lagging behind my fingers which reminds me that I, too, am tired. There are about ten loads of wash to finish downstairs and Dawsonwood guests arrive tomorrow.

But I want to say a word about my son-in-law Dylan. He has put up with whatever design or decorating ideas Barb or I have hatched...put up with our moodswings, our alternate despair and excitement, uncomplainingly (at least in front of me). He has slaved unstintingly from 6 a.m. to midnight in exhausting heat. He has put furniture together!!! I need say no more. But I will. He actually made that laminate flooring come right, matching kitchen, dining room, living room and hallways in one seamless gleam of perfection. (It looks easy on the decorating shows, folks. It is not.)

Living together is not always easy. I want to thank my daughter Barbara for all the times she bit her tongue before biting off my head. I appreciate the fact that she took my unnecessary reminders, suggestions and nudges in good spirit. Her decision to do wainscoating in the powder-room was genius. Her courage in purging and her daring in holding a garage sale right in the middle of the reno were admirable and rewarding. And she continued to pull occasional night shifts, endured the bomb scare at the nursing home, and care for her sick baby.

We grandparents did our best with child care...but we WOULD forget to take along the puffer. We let the kids stay up too late, and generally wrecked any semblance of routine they had formerly known. So now that Barb is left with the little finicky bits to finish and the new asthma routine to establish, I pray she'll continue to have the strength to do what needs to be done and joy in doing it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Unofficial Dawsonwood Cottage Debut

Down on the dock, peace and quiet on the slow branch of the Muskoka River. Posted by Picasa

They say good things happen when you least expect them. There have been moments during the past eight months when I thought Dawsonwood Cottage would never really open. I haven't kept to my schedule. The cost of even minor renovations has seemed insuperable. The emotional trial of purging has been at times overwhelming. Occasionally the thought of hosting even one guest has sickened me. In this steamy, smoggy summer, in the midst of illness and drama, home renovations and a multiplicity of change, while my back was turned and I was busy doing other things, Dawsonwood Cottage opened itself.

In the last two weeks we have hosted long term guests (family), unexpected guests (friends), planned guests (pastoral support), invited guests from overseas no less, indirect guests (via telephone, email and blogging). The place has been a hive of activity. I am getting about five hours sleep a night. Can't remember when I had my afternoon nap.

Dawsonwood Cottage has not been at its best. Grandchildren's fingerprints dancing across windows and doors. Carpet soil hiding under footstools. Corn cobs lingering on the kitchen table. The family room groaning under loads of wash, all clean, some folded, some not. When I was younger I could never have entertained the thought of fifteen people seeing my home in this state.

Guess what? Everyone has had a good time. What has really needed to be done has been done. God has shown up, as they say. Dawsonwood inaugurated itself.

I have dished up meals in record time. Catered for the reno crew at 80 Woodward. Unfolded davenports and cots. Folded them up again. Made beds. Stripped beds. Made them up again. Nursed my grandson. Played with my granddaughter. Shared these two important people with my other guests.

It has been remarkably good, in retrospect. A time of high energy, sometimes mistaken for tension.

Those who have shared the Dawsonwood vision from the beginning have always felt that this is a healing place...this small town, small home on the south branch of the Muskoka River. A friend who plans a visit this fall has written that this is a safe place. In this past two weeks it has begun to fulfill its promise as a healing place.

I am being healed. A blog in and of itself. And Baby Robbie's asthma has stabilized here. He is visibly growing and becoming stronger every day. He has cut his first tooth, and is making attempts at creeping as he rolls and even back flips himself around the living room floor in a pool of constant sunshine.

Today our visitors were a family of four. Mom and Dad in ministry with children 6 and 4 years old. The younger child has a form of unspecified autism. Here at Dawsonwood he did several things his parents had never seen him do before. He even experimented with food he had never eaten before...quite an accomplishment for any child. He met new people and communicated with them. He was expanding his skills while we sat and talked. Babe, our aging Sheltie was his constant if somewhat reluctant companion. She was reborn as the therapy dog of her youth, finding perhaps vestigial memories of the children she played with when I worked in community mental health. Neat.

So the door opened itself, I thought, as I rocked Robbie to sleep on the balcony in the cool of the evening. I let myself down into the moment, the rest of holding a sleeping child, the movement of the swing. Surrendering to what God has given, to what is and to the best which is yet to come.

The door to Dawsonwood Cottage. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

When We are Weak, Then He Is Strong

Robbie, age three months Posted by Picasa

This is Robbie, six weeks ago. Now he is longer, rounder, smiles and chuckles. He can pull up to a solid lap stand. Roll over and back unassisted. Hard to believe, this cheerful, contented baby is ill. Robbie has been hospitalized twice in the last three weeks. With ASTHMA.

I am ashamed to admit I have never understood this disease. I've been rather inclined to judge it. Discount it. Blame the victims. The same way others tell me, as a depressive, to give myself a shake.

I'm learning. I'm humbled. God is at work.

Asthma is a pernicious troubling sort of disease. Worrying. It calls for all out warfare against the enemy; dust, smoke, pet dander. Omnipresent pollutants, seen and unseen, are hunted down. Clutter and dust eliminated. Older flooring exhumed. Laminate flooring installed. Ducts cleaned. Walls painted. Mould exterminated. New roof. New insulation. New windows. And the two family pets, Tisha and Pollywoggalina, have needed, sadly, a new home.

Amazingly, in just three days, things are coming together. Answers to prayer. Robbie and his family have been sheltering with us for the duration. Funding has become available.

Renovations are mammoth. My daughter Barbara and her husband Dylan tore into the task with the kind of enthusiasm only parents of threatened young can muster. They were ripping up carpet within minutes of their return from hospital.

Help has come. My brother and nephew did grunt work...getting out ancient nails and staples and uncovering a solid staircase. "We're good at destruction," they rejoiced. My sister-in-law took over child care. Contributed perspective, practicality and calm.

High heat, humidex and smog, have made this enterprize more dangerous for all. Papa Robert has suffered more than usual with chest conjestion, fatique and severe coughing. It is hard to imagine how a small baby can handle such an assault on the lungs. But young Robbie is a fighter and has lots of people praying for him.

I'm general contractor and design consultant on the job. My own father hovers in spirit at my shoulder and utters, "That stair rail has to go." And, "If you're going to do a job, do it right."

Son-in-law Dylan, a man of brain and skill, is accomplishing the impossible. The new subfloor is almost complete. Coats of paint have gone onto main floor walls. Dylan with Barb has done most of the labour. More friends and relations have surfaced to help. Dylan's brother David and friend Chris are working like a well oiled machine. Barb's friends, Sandy and Cheryl, have wielded paint brushes, cleared up, swept up and taken glee in it. Other people are promising to come as the week unfolds.

There have been miracles. Cat placement. In a world of surplus cats and kittens, who would want our excess pair? Yesterday a young couple adopted both cat and kitten. Their previous cats had died within a year of eachother, and they greeted the new additions to their family with choking tears of gratitude. Polly, they claimed, was a veritable reincarnation of their former feline companion.

And Rachael, who at three, might have resented the loss of her pets, seems to understand. "No furry pets so we can help Robbie get well," she exclaims with a wag of her imperious finger. She looks forward to the purchase a gold fish the size of a Northern pike, with twenty teeth just like her and long brown hair. "Goldie" will live in her room.

Love generates amazing energies. We are all exhausted. We misunderstand one another. Struggle. Get back on the same page of the combat plan. In our frailty, the power of God is unleashed. I am learning more about the God of sufficiency and provision, more about trust, more about the awesome capacity of all those I love.

Keep us in your prayers. With gratitude, Connie.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London Blasts: Counter Attack of Love

Last night, after watching the news from London, I wrote:

Let us exercise civility in the face of barbarism.
Choose compassion, not horror.
Fortitude, not vengeance.
Courage not terror.
Let trauma teach us,
soften our hearts,
make us, not more vulnerable, but resilient.
Let our common wounds unite us, not our power.
This is our work.
We are both terrorists and victims by turn.
Only the privilege of moral choice
determines our humanity.

This morning's word from Henri Nouwen said it again:

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

No one can expect those recently traumatized by the London subway blasts to be wounded healers. They battle for their lives, count their miracles, grieve, suffer, and begin the long, perhaps endless journey towards wholeness. But those of us who have known what it is to suffer. Those of us who are informed by our wounds as well and our sins can stand in the gap for them. We can bring the understanding of pain and healing to Londoners through prayer. We can surround them with Christ's compassion. We can make the masterful counter attack of Love.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Beyond Jealousy

It is time to repent. Of jealousy. A major impediment to growth in my life. Should be spelled...'gee lousy', I think. Stinkin' thinkin' as my AA friends say. So petty. So puerile. So petulant.

So I'm confessing jealousy:

Resentment of those born into conventional religious backgrounds. The so-called 'normal'. Those who didn't have to perpetually explain the eccentricities of their churches. Time now to celebrate the gifts of my unique heritage. Time to honour the struggle which has birthed in me a broader, deeper spiritual understanding. Time to let this petty jealousy go. Forever.

Jealousy of the genetically thin. Good grief. I've hated them on sight, (not you Stephanie). But I've sacrificed potential friendships. And I've spent fifty years covering up my arms. How I have sweltered for my sins!!! Having taken a realistic look at those arms, I'm wearing sleeveless tops for the first time in my life. Cool. Enough. Let my next new friend be thin or plump. This no longer matters.

Distrust of those whose business, organizational, relational and technical skills help them to forward their careers, get grants for projects. GET PUBLISHED. If any of this can be learned late in life, let me learn it. Let me find people who can help me with the things I'm not good at. Dear God, release me from reverse snobbery, the secret belief that it is a virtue to be incompetent in business. I declare this as the lie it is.

Downright envy of the rich. Crass covetousness. Special resentment of those who have money and no taste. I have achieved miracles with no money, basic skills and a good eye!!! Relative poverty has been an incentive to creativity. I don't need to drag others into the equation at all. Still, I would love to be able to afford to pay someone to paint the endless dark trim in Dawsonwood Cottage. And that's okay.

I regret that my mostly silent jealousy may have hurt my family. I've given pain to my husband, who celebrates abundance and accepts rather than regrets reality. I've provided a negative role model for my children. Let my pettiness not be perpetuated into the next generation.

Henri Nouwen's thoughts on the story of the prodigal son/daughter have been seminal for me this past week (click on title above). Here is his salutary thinking:

Jealousy arises easily in our hearts. In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder son is jealous that his younger brother gets such a royal welcome even though he and his loose women swallowed up his father's property (Luke 15:30). And in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, the workers who worked the whole day are jealous that those who came at the eleventh hour receive the same pay as they did (see Matthew 20:1-16). But the Father says to the older son: "You are with me always and all I have is yours" (Luke 15:31). And the landowner says: "Why should you be envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:15).

When we truly enjoy God's unlimited generosity, we will be grateful for what our brothers and sisters receive. Jealousy will simply have no place in our hearts.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Company 150

While I recover from surgery, I am taking time to catch up with myself, read a few blogs and send up a few prayers. It seems that weeks have sped by and that my spiritual rhythms have been off kilter, along with my bio-rhythms. This is what seems to me to be important tonight.

My young niece, Kathryn Ballantine, is part of a youth ministry this summer. She will be singing, dancing, acting, and teaching in an initiative to inspire other young people to develop skills in contemporary worship arts. Click on title above for link to Company 150. You'll see Kathryn's picture and bio there, as well as early posts from team members and music tracks. This is an earnest, talented and dedicated group of young people who deserve our spiritual support this summer.

My littlest grandson, Robbie was in hospital on Father's Day, the day which should have been his christening. He has recovered well and is looking, acting and sounding more his healthy self. After his shakey start in life, he has been thriving. This infection was only a temporary set-back. We are thankful for him each day, and bask in his enigmatic, wise little smile.

But even as we rejoice about Robbie, our hearts are heavy with news that three year old Katelyn Bedard has died from complications of leukemia. Some of Katie's story and her funeral arrangements can be found at www2.caringbridge.org/canada/katieb. Her parents and grandparents (my cousin Melba (Williams) and her husband Rene Bedard) have borne Katie's illness with great strength of faith and character. They need our prayers.

Yesterday was Canada Day and we are in the middle of the high holiday between the first and fourth of July, when two sister nations celebrate their births. Best wishes go out to my American friends. Can we pray that our two countries will put justice and righteousness before economic growth and power? And if this is too big a prayer for nations, can we pray for these graces for ourselves as individuals? And wisdom. And discernment. I need these gifts right now.

For all lands in turmoil,
For all families in distress,
For all people who are confused,
For those in prison, and those being set free,
For the sick, the grieving, the lonely,
Lord have mercy.
Have mercy too, on me.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Jack and Jill

I am at the age when doctors advise me to take Calcium for my bones. I up my yoghurt quota, eat a bit of goat cheese on my salad with broccoli and carry on. I figure it's mostly downhill from here, and the fewer pills I have to remember to take, the better. Never had a broken bone. Never smoked. Never drank. I live in a kind of foolish haze of optimism with regards to my health.

Still, I wonder if there is a kind of pre-senescence after menopause. Like puberty but the reverse. An awkwardness. As things begin to fall apart.

I had a fall on Friday evening, while I was out gathering flowers for Dawsonwood Cottage. It was one of a singularly tedious string of mishaps this week...the bruised finger caught in the door, the brush fire flash which trimmed my eyelashes, the ugly abrasion from my miscalculation of the distance between my body and the open refrigertor door.

So the fall. The steps down to the waterfront are supposed to provide a gentle descent, but I twisted my ankle on the last one and lost my balance. I flew sideways through the air. Heard a crack as the side of my face hit the trunk of an ancient birch and landed squarely in a patch of Tansy, with my head inches from the water. My legs flailed vainly in the air.

There was a moment of panic before I realized..."I'm okay." In that moment, there was a surge of doom and gloom, self-blame and more than a tinge of resentment at my undignified position in the Tansy. "My face will be permanently deformed." "I should have taken that calcium. I have a broken hip." "Are my teeth okay?" Then and only then. "Good grief, I'm perfectly okay."

"Why doesn't anybody hear my screaming?" And. "How long can I lie here upside down in the Tansy before Rob notices I'm not in the house?" More hollers. More screams. Dusk descending. No gallant rescue.

I hauled myself upright, not an easy task when one is head first down a 45 degree incline. I dusted myself off. I stepped gingerly back towards the house, gathering bits of bouquet which had been jettisoned in all directions.

Now this it is hard to believe. I should have had mild concussion at least. A few bruises. A black eye to boast about. A contusion on my face where I hit the tree. Nope. This is the sum total of my injuries: A tiny scrape on my ankle along with a nearly invisible bruise. A few Tansy scratches on one knee. A gentle soreness of muscles as if I had been weeding too long.

And a miracle. I went into that tumble with a major overbite, but I swear that as a result of my face hitting the side of the tree, my teeth form a better bite than they have been able to accomplish in the last thirty years! The whole thing was like a violent, unexpected chiropractic adjustment! And because of that miracle, I get no sympathy. Minimally, I should get commiseration for the post traumatic shock.

My brother claims the fall has healed me. He claims I won't need the scheduled gall bladder surgery next Thursday...the fall having corrected all that ails me. Am I to be denied even a get well balloon and a card?

Having no broken bones to show for my mishap, I am confirmed in my reluctance to take Calcium. Obviously, my bones are made of iron and my head is stainless steel.

Still it is a salutary event. I am in decline, beginning the relentless disintegration of later middle age. I need to watch where I am going.