Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Dining Room Suite

I remember when my parents bought it. A mahogany Duncan Fife style, reproduction, dining room suite by Bassett. They went shopping at Tepperman's. An adult's only expedition. But the excitement surrounding the suites' arrival was visceral.

There had never been a dining room suite because there had never been a dining room before. The 1950's house my father built had a kitchen with a bay window and built-in, restaurant style banquette, upholstered professionally by my mother. The table with dropped leaves for expansion and crafted by my father, was clear birch on a wrought iron pedastal. So my mother, blessed with the gift of hospitality, had for years, entertained at our kitchen table. A dining room for entertaining and a proper dining suite was a luxury which she anticipated when we moved.

For over forty years, the dining room suite has been central to our family celebrations. Christmases, all high holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and showers have been commemorated around this festive board. The suite had a sideboard for serving and a bow fronted china cabinet, both with lots of storage. The chairs, my mother claimed, were never the chairs which they had been shown when they purchased the set. In typical fashion, my parents didn't want to make a fuss and never followed this up. Recovered several times by both my father and me, the chairs did show the least elegance and the most wear and tear of all the pieces in this set.

So now, it falls to me to make the decision to sell the suite in order to make room for more guests at Dawsonwood Cottage. It is not a decision which everyone in the family greets with joy. The dining room suite has meaning somehow beyond itself, representing family unity, good times, times of struggle. Conversations. Great gastronomic creations.

The table moved into the living room to make room for a hospital bed when my father was dying. My mother's fine china watched over him as he slept. At the dining table, my mother and I wrote our thank yous for condolence gifts and kindnesses. Later that same year, I would assemble wedding invitations for my younger daughter at the very same table. Over the last seven years, I have been the one to decorate the table at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Now I am the one taking it apart.

My mother is failing. Her meticulous entertaining finished. Her memory faint. She lives in a retirement home and visits to her former home are tiring for her. It is time for another of the many transitions which Judith Viorst calls Necessary Losses.

We all have remembrance, and I more than any. Perhaps that is why it is easier for me to let the dining room suite go. I remember when the delivery men carried it, reverentially, into our home. I saw it go out today, faded but still grand. Time for practiced detachment. Time for releasing. There's a few good Christmases left in that suite for another family. Let it be.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Dying to Live Again

Have I missed something, or has the blogging community been largely silent about the Terri Schiavo dilemma? I probably don't read the right blogs. There has been an ocean of words in the press. Easter morning provides an opportunity to do the one thing we can do...pray with open hearts for everyone concerned.

If she dies
is Resurrection
defeated by the other side?
Weep we
in a darkened moment.
Then the Light.


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Daughter of My Daughters

Last night I sat up late with my daughters. The laughter was good. Storytelling was in the air. One of my sons-in-law heard there was coffee and stayed for the chat. We were too tired to stay up and too tired make the effort it takes to go to bed. I embarrassed them with my childishness. They surprised me with their wisdom, compassion, generosity and wit. What a delight then to open this morning to read a description of our relationship:

But a mother can also become the daughter of her daughter and a father the son of his son. A mother can become the daughter of her son and a father the son of his daughter. Father and mother become brother and sister of their own children, and they all can become friends. It doesn't happen often, but when it does happen it is as beautiful to watch as the dawn of a new day.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

He Shall Feed His Flock

For the last two weeks, in preparation for Easter, we've been listening to Handel's Messiah. It is a particularly wonderful recording by the Gabrieli Consort and Players, which attempts to render a robust, playful, passionate Messiah which is true to Handel's vision. I could listen all day to this exciting music. It calms me, energizes me, puts me in touch with God. The selection of texts is of course, appropriate to this season of the year, and one wonders how it ever came to be associated with Christmas at all.
Anyway, we (I mean Rob and I) have also been reading Parker Palmer on scarcity and abundance. Somehow when Palmer's words come into contact with Handel's music, the whole notion that "He shall feed his flock" comes alive. I am nurtured. Fed. My anxiety about a myriad family stresses disappears. I feel carried in Christ's arms.
When I was a child my uncle, a fine artist, painted a mural on the Sunday School walls. Jesus with the flock. I can see it still. Perhaps some would consider the image sentimental and dated now. As a child I was captivated by the larger than life size figures. It goes with Messiah, scarcity and abundance and Easter.
When my oldest daughter was about seven months old, we were ministering in a rural parish a long way from the place we call home. We spent a lot of time on the road going from town to town, visiting our outlying flock, holding small meetings, doing 'the work'. On one of these trips we pulled over to the side of the road to watch a flock of sheep with their lambs. It was snowing. A gloomy day, overcast and bitterly cold. We couldn't get out of the car, but our daughter waved and cooed at the lambies. The hillside was scarcely green, but the lambs frisked about. It was as if they were aware of the abundance which was their inheritance. They didn't look at all nervous that there wouldn't be enough grass when the time came. So Handel, and Parker Palmer, Jesus caring for the flock on the Sunday School walls, and newborn lambs on a stark hillside near Parrsboro Nova Scotia.
This year we have a new grandson, named Robbie after his Papa, whom he already loves. When Robbie was born he was very small and had to spend the first week of his life in hospital. The medical reasons for this are not important. What is important is that he is thriving today. At two months old, he is meeting his benchmarks and is close to double his birth weight. Abundance. Answers to Prayer. Jesus carrying the lambs. Handel. Parker Palmer. Sheep and lambs on a hillside in the snow.
Whatever the initial appearances, I do believe that there is enough and plenty. I have experienced this to be true this year. And this is my Easter blessing for you all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mornings are for Meditation

Wait and watch
as sunlight strengthens.
Winter fog like incense rises,
fades from white to palest blue,
disappears in morning skies.
Deep black pools form on the river,
lick the ice bridge from each side,
where yesterday
a feral cat
crossed safely to the other bank.

bright as teardrop winks.
Fear, loneliness,
and hurts past spent,
are warmed by Light
without, within.
heating at the core
weep silently,
give up their power,
dry by degrees.

Underneath the eager moles
dig tunnels for quick escape.
And beaver free to swim at leisure,
dive under ice.
Primrose and crocus
plump and swell.
Sap soars.

Here is God,
and here and here.
In person, sky, and river and ground,
God releases Life Unbound.

Watching the Seasons Change

Thank God. A perceptible difference. A change. Dare I say, epiphany? More like spiritual Spring. All the little bits and pieces of my life are coming together. After a winter of nearly fifteen years, poetry is returning. I am painting again. I have stopped struggling after perfection. I have found that there is a growing place of ease in me.

What has made the difference? Willingness to trust God. A wise woman prayed with me (see Listening 3/12/2005). She asked if I had forgiven God...for the pain in my life, for disappointments, for a long life of depression, for inherited pain, for loss of career, for financial instability. I have so often felt angry with God, and known that was okay, but had never imagined "forgiving God." The irony being of course, that it is not God who needs my forgiveness, but I who need to forgive in order to be free from bitterness and the hold of the past. Inwardly then, I was resenting God. Trust in God and love of God were impossible. Commitment without loving trust, a long winter indeed.

So now I can claim what I think God has been creating in me all along. My world is not the macrocosm, but the microcosm. Not the public stage, but the private page. My vocation is to conceive and birth Beauty.

After nearly three years of trying to paint a large canvas landscape of a vast valley in Nunavit, I found myself painting a small card, and capturing the sense of this place in miniature. Similarly, I sketched the vast frozen space of lake Simcoe, the distant huts, the racing vehicles. With a few strokes, the essence was there, in a tiny picture no bigger than my hand. It takes a measure of trust to let these tokens go out into the world. Their insignificance is both their strength and a metaphor of Creator God's attention to detail, and grace at work in me.

So too, prayer is opening. I have let go of the striving to make my prayers conform to what I think I have been taught. I am trusting that God has placed a prayerful heart at the core of my being, and that God's Spirit prays within me. I give myself over to this praying...a jumble of faces and situations, intentions and longings. Why should my prayer life be any more linear than my left brained thought life?

There is holiness as I watch the river. I accept that deep winter is slowly turning to spring. I watch the seasons change and hold up the ever changing world to the One who never changes, who loves me when I cannot love back, who trusts me even when I cannot trust, who has placed his seal on me from the beginning of time, who knows my calling when I cannot hear it, and waits with me through a long winter for the discovery of spring.

Poem to follow in next post.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


I have spent the last week listening. During two days of solitude I listened to my own thoughts quieten. I realized how I am often deafened by worry, and paralyzed by the concerns of life. In quietness, apart from family responsibility it was possible to bring my will to focus on God. It was possible, also, to listen with my eyes, to record in watercolours some memories of spaces, places and times where I have felt at peace.
Then solitude was followed by other kinds of listening. I listened to lectures and to students practising the art of counselling. Sometimes betrayed by my ears, I tried to listen with my heart. Thank God for eyes and see gesture, posture, movements and tears.
And while I was listening to others, someone else was listening to and observing me. At the very end of the week, a new acquaintance, sensitive to God's voice asked to pray with me. She helped me to give voice to issues that have been lying silent in the back of my mind, issues related to trust and love and will. I suspect I will be writing about this in the next few days.
Imagine my surprise then, upon returning, that the Henri Nouwen daily thoughts were dealing with this very topic.

Henri Nouwen has written:
Listening in the spiritual life is much more than a psychological strategy to help others discover themselves. In the spiritual life the listener is not the ego, which would like to speak but is trained to restrain itself, but the Spirit of God within us. When we are baptised in the Spirit - that is, when we have received the Spirit of Jesus as the breath of God breathing within us - that Spirit creates in us a sacred space where the other can be received and listened to. The Spirit of Jesus prays in us and listens in us to all who come to us with their sufferings and pains.

When we dare to fully trust in the power of God's Spirit listening in us, we will see true healing occur.

For those who don't already know this site, Henri Nouwen's wisdom can be found at:

Thursday, March 03, 2005


To all my faithful blog readers and lurkers:
I am going on a retreat for a few days and then participating in a workshop, so I will not be here at my post (ha, ha). When I get back I hope to be filled with Inspiration. Bless you all on your journeys.