Thursday, December 21, 2006
1. I am extremely impetuous. I tackle many things for which I have no experience whatsoever, such as making Marzipan decorations. I never research beforehand but grab an idea and run with it and learn while doing. I have yet to figure out whether this saves me time or makes the task longer. The famous Walker's Point Quilt Project, which came miraculously to an end with a presentation to the Church at Thanksgiving and to the community as a whole last Saturday, was a case in point. Most of what I knew about quilting before I started could have been written on the back of a postage stamp and still could, but the quilt is beautiful.
2. I have a mood disorder which is called hypomania, a mild form of bi-polar disorder. On the one hand, I believe this disorder may contribute to my creativity, while on the other hand, perhaps my creativity contributes to the disorder. When I am in a true manic phase, all creativity grinds to a halt because I can't concentrate long enough to finish things, have too many projects running at the same time and don't get enough sleep to be rested enough to be creative. Impetuousity and impulsivity are certainly linked to this mood disorder. While I still take anti-depressants to control the debilitating low mood swings, I have been off of lithium for nearly two years. I can control manic episodes by listening to feedback from those closest to me, resting more, and being more intentional about my life. Lately I have missed a number of nights of sleep because of a restless, elevated mood. While this gift of extra time resulted in the completion of the painting in the everlasting kitchen renovation, I am heeding the warning and will get to bed as soon as this post is finished. Ah, but will I sleep? (Surely this disclosure counts as more than five things in and of itself.)
3. I have managed to lose twelve pounds this year by eating salads and decreasing carbs. Now it is winter and that primitive part of my brain craves all those foods which will be my undoing. Perhaps just saying this in this space will encourage me to keep on with diet and exercise. I have felt better with those pounds off and my clothes fitting nicely. I've even felt sexy!!!
4. Some of you will know this, but I share it again anyway because it is a seasonal story and really belongs in Ripley's Believe It or Not. I am one of the few persons still living who has sung 'O Holy Night' in the Toronto Stock Exchange. This happened in the 1970's, a less politically correct time in Canada. It was a tradition that the old TSE would shut down for those few minutes when the woman from The Salvation Army sang that particular favourite carol. It was a respect thing, I think, back then, because, truth to tell, few brokers were christians. I'll write about the many facets of this experience in The Dawsonwood Diaries 'winter' edition...coming in three years time.
5. My website www.dawsonwooddiaries.com is up and running and while it is not news that I wrote a book, somewhat impetuously this year, it will be news that the website is functional. Please, you don't have to buy a book. Just go to the site briefly every day and get your friends to go to the site. Just hit it...because this somehow helps something that I don't understand, which is another example of how I launch into ventures without having a clue what I am doing. For instance, Paypal is working and people have received books through ordering them online...but I have yet to figure out where the money which they sent me has gone...that might involve research. Will I find it on my Visa as a deposit? Does Paypal hold it until I buy something from someone else? Does it lurk forever in cyberspace? Does anybody know the answer to that?
You see how ignorance can co-exist quite comfortably with wisdom...but I'm not proud of that!!!
Thank you Bobbie.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
And then there is Joan Chittister, peacemaker and world activist. This week she is writing movingly about her trip to Syria. Theologically profound and morally challenging as ever, Joan says that the Road to Damascus is still a place for conversions.
Here in part is what she has to say. Read it in full at her site below:
"We decided that this time we would go straight to the religious leaders of the country to ask them what kind of a place they thought Syria to be.
First we met with His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, Patriarch of Antioch and the Entire East for the Russian Orthodox. He was very kind but very straight forward:
"We don't know the American people. We only hear the President . . . and we have a deep resentment about the image of Syria in the U.S. Syria is not an Islamic country. Syria is a secular state. . . . We are not oppressed as Christians. Look at our cathedral. It is no tent!"
His points were clear and the scene was set: Christianity was not being oppressed in Syria. Christianity was one religion among many there. Just as it is in the United States...
They would show us the modern church, they told us, in one of the oldest Christian populations in the world.
Our first appointment, they told us, would be a trip to "meet with the Iraqis."
The Iraqis? What did that mean? We were, after all, in Syria."
As we wound our way back from the Patriarch's palace, through the narrow back lanes of the city, I realized that Paul of Tarsus had walked in this very area, too. "Not in this area," our translator said. "Paul walked here. Here. On this street. I will show you." And, all of a sudden, we emerged "on the street called "Straight" talked about in Scripture.
The impact of the statement was far more than biblical. Damascus is the longest continuously populated city in human history. More than 7,000 years old, they tell us. We were on the very street that ties the early moments of Christianity with today's struggles..."
Read this brilliant work in full at: http://ncrcafe.org/node/677
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I’ve given this some thought and this thought turned itself into a post. Of course, by doing this, I am neglecting to finish the story I have to tell in front of 1,500 people on December 2, 2006. But at least I am doing something! And it involves creativity.
Procrastination is the dreaded twin of perfectionism. Perfectionism is the good twin, always clean and prompt, always saying the right thing. Procrastination is the outwardly compliant child, who seethes with inner rebellion. She is the one who desires success and fears failure to the point of immobility.
My father always claimed that life was short. By repeating this endlessly, he hoped to spur my brother and me on to action. This became a family slogan. ‘Life is short.’ ‘Life is short.’ We should have it on a coat of arms. But I never truly believed my father until I myself reached my fifties. There is nothing like the brevity of time to spur a soul to action. Life goals become urgent goals when one can see the horizon of old age.
One thing that always interfered with my beginning a project was the certain knowledge that I would run into obstacles to its smooth completion. Now I have embraced this notion as a friend and give myself some time to resolve these obstacles without adding to the time-line stress of the project. Sometimes I just look at procrastination as planning time...time to figure out how I am going to tackle something.
Strangely, procrastination is related to impatience. I want the job done and I want it done yesterday. Since that is impossible, I don't begin at all. But amazingly, I am learning to calculate the length of time it will take me to complete a project and budget in difficulties and fatigue. I am actually tackling my ridiculous kitchen cabinets in this way...with small roller and tiny brush, a bank of cabinets at a time. It is so much better than trying to cram the whole project into an eight hour push.
Then, if a task is boring, I find music, conversation or an interesting documentary to provide the background intellectual stimulation required for the completion of the job. At my age, time is compressed. I multitask on tedious tasks; quietly clean out a cupboard while talking on the phone, for instance.
I suspect when it comes down to it, I will procrastinate about dying. I will linger on the brink of eternity, gazing over into the Promised Land and tarry, hoping to get one or two more things accomplished before the next life. Which is totally ridiculous!
What does the Lord require of us? Do we procrastinate about those things? Living justly? Loving mercy? Walking humbly? It seems to me that it might be possible to do these things while walking down the street. They aren't something to procrastinate about. They are a way of being in the world which obviates the necessity to accomplish anything at all.
In the end, self acceptance and forgiveness will go a long way to healing the problem of procrastination. I get more done when I am not nagging myself to death. And I think this pleases God who welcomes loving service as opposed to grudging obedience.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
My grandson Robbie underwent successful surgery on the twenty-third of October. He is doing extremely well as measured by the amount of mischief he is getting into on a minute by minute basis. His asthma is well controlled. We are praising God.
I cancelled my book project with Xlibris when I discovered that the book would cost me…drum roll...$60.00 US, per book, on top of other costs to bring it to Canada. Of course, this was not stated up front. I was told there were hundreds of Canadian authors in their stables. Who? Margaret Atwood? Farley Mowat? I can’t think of any author whose work might be worth in the neighbourhood of $75.00 in paperback.
Xlibris did me a favour, although for a couple of days I was reeling. I have never in my life been both as speechless and as articulate in anger at one and the same time. In truth, if I had not been able to go straight to the phone to sign on with Xlibris last March, I might never have written this first, long delayed book.
Bookmark Publishing is doing the book in Canada. The small team there has been attentive, enthusiastic and helpful in the extreme and the book will be ready for December 2, 2006 when I tell a story at Christmas with The Salvation Army at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. Yes.
The often delayed book launch will be at The Gingerbread House in Bracebridge on the twenty-fifth of November. Yes, this year.
The website for ordering the book is www.dawsonwooddiaries.com and is being set up and hosted for me by Bookmark. I’ll let you know when it is running…but I suspect this will be within the next two weeks. While Bookmark will have a few copies to supply through its own online services, the first volume of The Dawsonwood Diaries will be lovingly wrapped and shipped out to you by me from Dawsonwood Cottage.
Birthdays have been celebrated by Rachael who says proudly that she is five and she is the oldest grandchild and by my daughter Sarah who is twenty-nine, where I expect her to remain for some time, and by me, aaaagh, and by my mother, who is eighty-eight but blissfully unaware of the fact. My niece Carolyn, also turned twenty-nine and gave birth to her daughter, Hannah Gabrielle, a few days later. Rob’s sister and her husband celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. Barbara is half way through her pregnancy and we are much relieved about that.
My brother Len and his wife Heather have taken on the responsibility for Yorkminster Community Church of The Salvation Army which is visible from the 401 corridor and is a Toronto landmark. For those of you who know the area, it is the A-frame church which appears to be at the corner of 401 and Yonge, but is really on Lord Seaton Drive. Drop by if you are in Toronto at eleven on a Sunday morning. Great blended worship, wonderful multi-racial, multi-cultural congregation with simultaneous translation of the service if you are a Spanish speaker. Yes, not French, Spanish. Yes, in Canada.
God is blessing me with new cupboard doors in The Dawsonwood kitchen, because I didn’t do a good paint job last year and things look shabby. I have never posted pictures of the Dawsonwood kitchen renovation because I HATED WHAT I DID to that poor room. Well, not the colour scheme, the countertops or the built in seat…but the cupboards. Aaagh.
My client base is building. I’m not sure if I am happy or sad about that. But life is full. I always need to measure out my commitments and have a tendency to over schedule myself. I’ve accepted the responsibility of being rehearsal pianist for our local production of Oliver, which Rob is conducting. This will be a stretch for me.
This post sounds like a Christmas letter but it encompasses only a month of events in our family. I’ve added a site meter to my blog and if I want people to linger more than 24 seconds, I’ll have to write MORE INTERESTINGLY, MORE CONSISTENTLY and visit you all at your sites. And post pictures and do more frequent links. I doubt that I am going to get political, but you never know.
Our municipal election is happening by post as I write. Rob got two ballots. Does this mean he gets to vote twice? I think it was safer when we all lumbered ourselves in to the polling station. So far, an astronomical number of ballots have been spoiled because the process is so complicated. And, I would really like to know how many people got more than one ballot in the mail.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Most of the poetry which I have written for worship services is themed for a special occasion, often a holy day, a commemoration or covenant day. At its best the work arises from heightened spiritual awareness or life changing experience. The writing process is reflective of Wordsworth’s ‘emotion recollected in tranquility.’
One of the first such poems, The Passing of Janice Worthy, was written in a night-long storm of grief following the death of a young friend. I was called to the hospital on my way to the beach. Dressed in shorts, I felt inadequate to my priestly role. In a gesture which seems absurd now, I raced home to change into uniform!! Janice, thoughtful as ever, waited. What followed was a compassionate release in which she taught me about forgiveness, love and dying well. I learned about pride and helplessness in the face of ultimate reality and that my deficiencies were irrelevant.
Read at Janice’s funeral, the poem was later set to music by my brother (Major Len Ballantine) and sung in concert. Surprisingly, a Christian teacher used it for years in his poetry curriculum. In part, the poem reads:
From the other side
she saw us as we were,
our foolish fears,
As in life
it made no difference.
Still she gave us love,
forgetting the limits of our own.
simply, she taught us much.
A poem from the other end of human experience was written for the dedication of a grandchild. It springs from a lifetime of watching parents struggle to do their best in a world which compromises their efforts. This poem is about the discipline of relinquishment and trust in the benevolence of God. It speaks of our inability to control outcomes. We surrender our children because we never owned them in the first place. Their destiny is to become individuals, personally accountable before the One who loves them supremely. The poem ends:
But when we give our little children to God
we pray that the Divine,
will draw them back.
despite the dusty years
recalls the golden limbed child,
his zeal of heart,
her innate godliness.
when we give our children up to God.
For me, poetry provides a bridge into the mystery of the work of Holy Spirit. It issues from the dialogue of prayer and a life journey with Jesus. It is healing. Offered in worship, poetry connects us to each other and to Abba, the parent of our hope.
Friday, October 06, 2006
I quote from the email:
They took Jamie for a walk for over two and a half miles, along the way, stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his Mommy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him, threw stones at him,rubbed paint in his eyes and pushed batteries up his anus. It was actually worse than this. What those two boys did was so horrendous that Jamie's mother was forbidden to identify his body. They then left his beaten small body on the tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created. These two boys, even being boys, understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident.
This week, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities. We cannot let this happen. They will also leave early this year only serving just over half of their sentence. One paper even stated that Robert may go on to University. They are getting away with their crime. They disgustingly and violently took Jamie's life away. In return they each get a new life.
This is horrendous. I decry it. And yet I cannot sign the petition. This was my response, for what it is worth.
I cannot forward this on. It has taken me some days to address my feelings about this and I feel strongly enough to invite you all to hear my thinking.
I remember the case well and the actions of these boys was egregious and yes, in many ways they 'knew' what they were doing. However, laws governing crimes committed by children are different from laws governing crimes committed by adults. Children cannot be said to be fully aware of the consequences of their actions. For instance, children have been known to jump out of apartment building windows with the mistaken notion that they might fly like superman or that they will resurrect themselves at the bottom like the eternally living Road Runner. In short, high functioning reasoning including the ability to foresee the consequences of actions develops very late in children...continuing into late adolescence up to the age of twenty-five or so. This speaks to ongoing neurological development which is necessary for logical reasoning and decision making.
While empathy and compassion develop early in some children and I think that both of my older grandchildren are good examples of this, some children are slow to identify with the suffering of others and there is much in our culture to support this. If these boys have participated in endless violent computer games and have watched inappropriately violent material on TV, they will have seen modeled a callous attitude to the suffering of others...I mean, who grieves for a death in a computer game? This means that not only the boys, but also their parents are culpable and by extension...ALL OF US who support violent films and video games in the name of artistic licence and individual freedom are guilty. It can be argued that an adult watching such material can exercise some detachment and has the ability to enter into entertainment with what has traditionally been known as "willing suspension of disbelief"...in other words we know that we are watching fiction and sometimes even ponder "I wonder how they did that?" while watching buildings blow up and cars fly off the ends of broken bridges and so on. Such distinctions are not so immediately apparent to children.
And having said that, I personally know of an abusive ADULT who dons camoflage gear and a helmet while playing violent video games. In him the distinction between reality and fiction is fairly well blurred. He is into control and he has this reinforced by his 'hobby.' If and when he enters completely into his fantasy world, none of us should be surprised.
We might take note of what has happened to those innocent Amish girls and the amazing example of peace and forgiveness which the Amish community is extending to the widow of a seriously deranged man who killed and maimed those little girls. This is a model which the whole world would benefit from. Just imagine if such forgiveness were extended in Israel and Palestine and Lebanon, in Iraq and let alone in The United States itself. The Amish may be backward in the eyes of mainstream society but their Christian attitude is precisely what Christ wants for us all. They are salt and light in the world and this is a moment in history in which their gentle behaviour could teach us all.
Yes, I believe the boys might well have served out their full sentences but we have not been made privy to the therapy which they have undergone, and it is safe to assume that they have not been deemed a threat to society...that is, they do not shown nacient signs of Psychopathology at this time.
This is my lengthy reasoned response. Would I feel the same if one of my grandchildren had been the victim? I don't know. But I am working hard to think and feel at the same time and this capacity is what separates us from the preying animals, both beasts and humans.
Finally, when we are forgiven by God, we all get new pasts. This, on Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend, is something to celebrate indeed. And should any of us find ourselves in Church to celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, let us fully pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." It is a difficult line.
Pray for the two boys who have committed this atrocious act and pray for the family of the little boy who was so brutally killed. Pray that some good may come out of such extended misery. This is truly casting your vote where it counts.
Give us hearts of compassion where we seek an understandable revenge.
Open our minds to your wider justice.
Help us not to fear those who would kill our bodies but those who would maim and ruin our souls.
Connie Knighton B.A., M.T.S., M.F.T.
Monday, September 18, 2006
I've missed you all. I've missed tracing your journeys and the special gift of your wisdom. Blogging has been integral to my growth in God over the past two years and I gave it up only to embrace a greater good, which was to write the first of four books of spiritual reflection. I expect my last galleys to arrive by this Wednesday and hope to have the book in print by a projected book launch on Saturday, October 28, 2006.
Writing 'The Dawsonwood Diaries' has seriously disrupted routines at Dawsonwood Cottage. I found that I wrote best first thing in the morning and in the later evening and on into the night. It was not unusual for me to be nattering away at the computer until three o'clock in the morning. Is this late or really early???
On the whole, I am pleased with the result, although I was dismayed to find that I had edited about six chapters in hard copy and then 'forgot' to make the necessary alterations to my disk. This necessitated more corrections of galleys than I had hoped. And typos did slip in no matter how well Rob and I edited. All of this slowed down the process.
I had the most encouraging letter of rejection from Knopf, a division of Random House, with recommendations that I go to Word, Castle Quay or Zondervan. Even though the diary is marginally fictionalized, it really is autobiographical in nature and therefore not within their specific mandate. I wanted the book to be out in time for speaking engagements this fall and therefore chose to self publish through Xlibris, also a division of Random House. If this book draws any interest at all, I will find a way to publish the next book through a Christian publisher.
Yes, the book is about Christian spirituality and personal growth. This surprised me somewhat in the end, not that I would deny Christ, but I really thought that there would be more of a family therapy emphasis in my stories about my family. Not so. In the end, I am really writing about the context of my awareness of God and the fact that this came to me through family. It is about how God uses the imperfection of my creatureliness. It is about doubts as well as certainties. It is about the foundations of my attachment to God. It is about the heart of God for the strange and seemingly invisible people who have taught me much over a lifetime.
The book is serendipitous but I discovered that certain life themes came through in the end. I suppose that with diary entries being reflections somewhat losely connected, it would make good bathroom reading.
I am still debriefing this experience for myself, so please forgive me if my next few posts explore this a little more. I'll be visiting your blogs today to see what you are doing. There will be a bit of back reading to catch up on and I don't expect to read all the way backward to April, but I do want to catch up on my friends' thoughts, struggles and triumphs.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Some of you have written to ask where I am and how I am doing. Well, I’m right here, ‘not’ writing away. The book I am ‘not’ writing is being published in time for October distribution. It will be available online and from other sources. I have always been a stubborn soul, somewhat oppositional. Just tell me I can’t do something and I will. When I told myself I wasn’t writing a book, it started writing itself.
I have an engagement to do a Christmas monologue for a concert in a major Toronto venue at Christmas time. I want my book available in the foyer. This is my last big chance…and since I have blown any number of opportunities in the past, and since I am not likely to pass this way again…I’m going for it. Whatever energies I have are being invested in this project.
I am sorry to have missed out on so much which you have written over the last month or so…and I have to keep missing out until this work is done. I think of you often and keep your faces and selves in my prayers. Blogging has been a major impetus for me to get back to what I have always wanted to do.
Now, I am going to tell myself that I will not lose weight before the Christmas concert, nor will I lose weight in order to look thin in my book picture. I absolutely am resolved not to diet and exercise for any reason whatsoever, especially for reasons of pride.
I’ll connect again in early June. Looking forward to reading backwards through your blogs….which is a little like I am writing this book…all chapters at once…back and forth, upside down and sideways.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
What do a 20th Century Olympic “Gold Medalist” and the 18th Century “Golden Boy” of Methodism have in common? They are both the subjects of off-Broadway, one-man plays appearing at Theatre 315 (315 West 47th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues in New York City) from April 17 through April 23.
Critically acclaimed actor Rich Swingle’s new play, “Beyond the Chariots,” takes up where the Oscar-winning (Best Picture, 1981) movie, Chariots of Fire, leaves off. In dramatic style, he chronicles the incredible adventures of 1924 Olympic Gold medal runner Eric Liddell in war-torn China. Swingle recently performed the play in Hong Kong, where Dr. James Hudson Taylor, III, saw it. As a boy Taylor was with Liddell in the Japanese concentration camp featured in the play. Taylor called the performance, "authentic, moving, thought provoking!"
On alternate performances, you can enjoy the wit and wisdom of pioneer John Wesley as he rides on horseback 250,000 miles across the 18th Century British Isles. In “The Man from Aldersgate,” award-winning actor Roger Nelson recreates the life of the founder of the Methodist Church—as only Nelson can in 1,300 performances, in 32 countries, and all 50 States!
And to make sure these glittering performances really do shine, Broadway lighting designer David Lander (Dirty Blonde and Golden Child) will be working his magic.
Beyond the Chariots will appear on April 18 at 7:00 pm, April 19 at 8:00 pm, April 21 at 8:00 pm, April 22 at 2:00 pm, and April 23 at 7:00 pm.
The Man from Aldersgate will appear on April 17 at 8:00 pm, April 19 at 2:00 pm, April 20 at 8:00 pm, April 21 at 2:00 pm, and April 22 at 8:00 pm.
For more information on these productions or to order advance tickets, visit www.FireOffBroadway.com. Order by March 17 and save 20%. Seniors and students save 25%. Group discounts are available also.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
The hearing aids, which she has worn almost as long as she has worn glasses for reading, have been a source of blessing and irritation to her from the beginning. Fortunately the age of miniaturization was well advanced and she was spared the indignity of trailing wires and large battery packets. The aids have always tucked conveniently into her ears, well hidden by beautifully dressed hair. The necessity of changing the aids from time to time as technology improved has been a trial. I suppose that one gets used to an aid, the feel of it, the size and weight of it. Over time any given aid must become just a body part, without which one feels vaguely incomplete. Adjusting to tinier and tinier and more and more efficient aids has been, in recent years, quite confusing and complicated.
This is why I am trying to see that her present aids work for the rest of her life. She really couldn’t adjust to new ones. I take the aids in for servicing by turn. They were manufactured by a wonderful firm which will keep rebuilding them and providing warranty on new parts as long as they are needed.
The hearing aids are seldom in my mother’s ears. They migrate from pill cup to paper tissue. They rattle about with her fine watch in a drawer. I panicked to find one under the bed. It had been stepped on and needed a major repair. “Cheap at half the cost,” as my father would have said somewhat enigmatically. I was so grateful to have been able to have it repaired.
Recently I needed to take an aid in for cleaning. My mother announced: “I DON’T THINK I REALLY NEED HEARING AIDS ANY MORE. I CAN HEAR JUST AS WELL WITH THEM AS WITHOUT THEM.”
This was reminiscent of the time, almost five years earlier, when she had declared that she didn’t think she really needed her glasses. “I see just as well with them as without them.” Quite possibly she does. From time to time she discovers the glasses in her bedside table and wonders who they belong to.
“They are yours, mom,” I say. She tries them on wonderingly and offers, “I should try to wear these more often.” She doesn’t wear them.
So it was with considerable concern that I heard her shouted declaration. Her aids are a last post of communication. Conversations are repetitive, confusing and difficult as it is. Without the hearing aids, we would be lost. I took the offending aid away.
This morning Rob and I took it back. It was a very good day. My mother received the aid like a long lost friend, and tucked it instinctively into the appropriate ear. I retrieved her other aid from the drawer and she fitted it in place. “I’ll be glad to get my other aid back,” she said. That statement gave us pause. “Mother, it’s in your left ear right now!” I could hear a rumble of hilarity issuing from Rob. I laughed, unable to prevent myself.
And here is the miracle, a moment of sharing the divine absurd. My mother felt the truth of my words in the instant and joined me in laughing. We roared on. She giggled, touching her ear and her mouth and throwing back her head. Tears of laughter rolled happily out of the corners of her eyes. “Imagine that. Imagine that,” she gasped. We laughed on, stretching out the moment.
Alzheimer’s dementia can be a sad disease. A lengthy dying. It is almost as confusing and difficult for family members as it is for the one whose self is disappearing by degrees. This morning we crossed an undeclared boundary. It was permissible to laugh at the unthinkable. It was permissible to look mortality and frailty in the face and howl with humour.
“This will make a good memory,” my mother said, and that set us off again. I could see she didn’t quite get this one, but it didn’t matter. She chuckled anyway. For a few minutes we shared emotion, were companionable and whole. That is today’s miracle and it is more than enough.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
My memories go back before I was two years old, and I do not remember a time when I did not know the word ‘God.’ I believe I learned this name simply as I learned the words Mama and Dada, while my mother prayed.
Prayer was a constant part of our daily life as a family. We prayed at meals, before setting out on the daily round, at dinner-time devotions and before bed. Prayer was the rhythm of our lives. Perhaps this is why I, to the chapel born, am nonetheless attracted to liturgy and the prayers of the daily office. The rhythm of prayer.
I was the much desired first child of parents who had been childless for a biblical seven years. Before my conception, I was prayed for. My mother’s pain and yearning was evident in pictures taken with her multitude of nieces and nephews. Coming from a large family, she was the only one of ten to struggle with infertility. Thirty years later, I would pray the same prayers and feel the same shame, undiminished since the days of Hannah. It is no different now. While couples may decide to remain childless and take steps to insure this, those who are not childless by choice feel that they have been denied a blessing, the fulfillment of a very human expectation and an inescapable biological urge.
My mother had many false intimations of pregnancy during those seven years. Yet, in the January before my birth, she was given an assurance from God. Before she had missed a period, she knew that she was pregnant. She felt this with unswerving conviction, but my father, Zechariah-like, disbelieved. He was not rendered speechless, but believed only when the pregnancy had progressed beyond all doubt. Unlike my mother who had a simple and unquestioning faith, my father's lifelong position was: “I’ll believe it when I see it."
At birth, I was considered to be a child of blessing. In the line of Isaac, Joseph, Samuel and John the Baptist, I was set apart for God. In the second half of the twentieth century, the fact that this particular child of blessing was a girl was tolerated. I wonder, now, about those female children of blessing whose names were excluded from scripture by patriarchy. This was not a thought which troubled many minds at that time.
Quite early I intuited that to be an answer to anyone’s prayers exacted a weight of goodness, and one which I might not always be willing to pay. One of my mother’s sisters took one look at me and pronounced, “She’s too good to live.”
Beware what you intone over the cradles of infants. They may be listening.
What could my aunt have meant? And why would she have uttered these words? Mystery. My life has been a struggle to achieve some rapprochement between being good and actually living . A major breakthrough has come in later life as I have accepted that being good doesn't demand perfection so much as authenticity. This, I have discovered, is living.
From the beginning, the burden of sanctity was heavy. No one intended this. Least of all my parents. This legacy was a simple consequence of the context of my birth. When parents take scripture more or less literally, children also believe. The words of scripture were sonorous: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." That was it. The primary, elemental attachment to God. It was inescapable.
When, in due course, I was dedicated in the manner of our denomination this primary connectedness was further strengthened. These were the words spoken over me:
In the dedication of this child you now declare your willingness for the Lord to take possession of her, and you wish that she shall always and only do His will. You must be willing that she should spend all her life for God, wherever He may choose to send her, and not withhold her at any time from such hardship, suffering, want or sacrifice as true devotion to the service of Christ and The Salvation Army may entail.
You must, as far as you can, keep from her all intoxicating drink, tobacco, finery, wealth, hurtful reading, worldly acquaintance, and every influence likely to injure her either in soul or body; you must let her see in you an example of what a faithful Salvation Army Soldier should be, giving all the time, strength, ability and
money possible to help on the Salvation War.
(Salvation Army Ceremonies, 1947, p. 15)
Be careful what you speak over a sleeping child.
So, I was a desired child, loved, cosseted by parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and older cousins. Beloved. But being a child of blessing did have this dark side. In my family, at least, being a child of blessing meant being a child of self denial. Suffering. Want. Sacrifice.
I slept through the dedication service oblivious. My huge extended family witnessed my parents' declaration. They rejoiced that my mother's prayer had been answered. Throughout childhood, I, too, would watch other parents willingly pledge their children to a Christian life defined more by hardship than grace. There was, for me, a tough stoicism about this take on the godly life. The words were not so much in theological error as seriously devoid of joy. Vaguely romantic dreams of dying for the cause of Christ filled my head. Was this how one pleased God? And I was deeply aware that, should God call, my parents would deem it a high honour to see me in God’s service. Was entering ministry the best way to please my parents?
How complicated things are when we are young. How inscrutable the ways of God at any time, at any age. That I would eventually come to experience God on my own terms was nearly, though not quite, inevitable. If we can rebel against attachments within the family, then certainly we can reject our Divine attachment. Free will is a given.
This is the context into which I was born. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that I had a highly developed sense of right and wrong and a tender conscience. Nor is it surprising that I would have a personal encounter with God at a very young age. My mother recorded in her diary for October 5, 1953, "Connie gave her heart to the Lord." I was six years and one day old. But I knew, even as she wrote, that what I had experienced could not be encompassed by these traditional words. These were her words, her understanding, her interpretation of my experience.
What I experienced was other. Bright Light of Knowing. Radiant Comfort. Divine Presence. Eternal Truth. Transcendent Compassion. Oneness. From the other side of my life, it seems not so much that I gave my heart to the Lord, but that the Lord gave his heart to me. From this awareness, neither my failures and doubts, nor the cynicism of a liberal arts education have ever been able to shake me.
Monday, February 27, 2006
You have been Christ to me,
anointed my head,
been daughters of consolation.
Clouds lifted with your prayers.
I felt you,
there in the room,
to be fearless,
relax into story.
Did you know I would laugh a lot?
The women stayed with me,
even though I had material for three talks.
A women's retreat seminar.
Didn't cover half of it.
Jesus showed up.
And I was glad.
This is how I started, just so you'll know how it went:
Lessons in Laughter, Longing and Letting Go
I had a car accident this week. Again. I’ve had four or more such accidents (not all in recent memory). All in horrific weather. All when I was distracted by too many demands. No one gets hurt in these accidents, mercifully. But I’m thinking about giving up my licence. It is just too much. This week’s incident plunged me into a little spiral of depression...that is a genetic legacy in my family. I’ve worked hard to fight against my genes. I take my medicine. I’ve been in therapy...all creditable therapists have been in therapy. But when something negative happens, the pull to sink down under adversity is strong. That is my genetic make-up.
Fortunately, I have an emotional and spiritual legacy from my family of origin. The legacy of laughter. My grandmother was a great laugher. And my father. And eventually, perhaps even as I talk to you tonight, I will see something funny in what happened this week.
And so on.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
I don't know why I decided to publish this rant on Canadian politics. Politics are not what I am about here. Sometimes, I just can't stand to edit a word. Maybe that's it. Even though I know that editing is half of the job of writing...more than half, if truth be told. I'm leaving this rant up for a while because the cbc decided to print a letter by someone who felt that increased military spending would make a safer Canada. And I worked so hard to get all these metaphors just right!!! He he.
Okay, Canada has a new government. How long ago did Thatcher star at Downing Street? Well, Canadians, in their wisdom have decided to stage their own version of "Conservatives on Parade," even though we have seen the play in more than one country, and know it to be overpriced, and less than entertaining.
They say the production will cost $5.3 billion. (Link to cbc online, click title)
Why $5.3 billion?
Why not $7.3?
Why $.3 added to a sum greater than imagination?
This number is a rabbit in a hat, dragged forth by the ears to give the illusion of precision. Of course, military expansion of the magnitude proposed by our new government will cost in excess of $5.3 billion dollars.
But the money is nothing.
Does a weary Canadian audience know this? We should. We have been told. There is an elephant waiting in the wings which will push the cost of this show overbudget. Can we afford this?
I project that closer military ties to a Republican America will cost us, minimally:
- our role as trusted peacekeepers
- our individual voice in the G7 and the United Nations
- our remaining neutral air space
- our right to form opinions and shape military policy which differs from those of our neighbours to the south
- the lives of more Canadian soldiers
In my view, the price of this ticket is too high
I haven't written much about depression here. Not because I am ashamed that I suffer from this particular blight, but because I use my blog to help me focus positive spiritual energy. I summon my effort of will, to reflect and pray, to ask for prayer, to tell stories. But lately, despite the birth of wonderful baby Megan, despite manifest answers to prayer for baby Robbie, despite my daughter Barbara's finally finishing her course and landing a job, I have felt the pull of the old enemy. The familiar vortex of despair.
Now my Aunt Jean, who reads this from time to time, doesn't like me to be negative. She is my surrogate introjected superego (a new category of psychobabble), now that my mother has passed quietly beyond her noted ability to quote scripture to me. "The rain falls on the just and the unjust." "Rejoice and be exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven." Aunt Jean doesn't quote scripture and she once, in a fit of hyperbole, told me that I wrote like Henri Nouwen. That should be enough to kick depression square in the butt and set me up for years of productivity. You can see why I might like to keep on the good side of Aunt Jean.
But I have to confess to an emotional slump which was not made better by the fact that this week I HAD ANOTHER CAR ACCIDENT. Once more bad weather played a huge part in it. As a matter of fact...I have had at least four car accidents in bad weather. Extreme weather. Half way to the north pole weather. Heavy snow. Icy conditions. Freezing rain. Snow covered roads. My mother would say I should rejoice and be exceeding glad that no one was hurt seriously in any of these collisions. However, one accident sent me to hospital with severe depression. And I am wondering if depression plays a role in the accidents before hand. I am wondering if I should give up my license. I may not be able to afford my insurance premiums. And, I am clearly unsafe when I am distracted and the weather is bad. Blowing snow is hypnotic to me. Am I driving in a trance or what???
To tell the truth I am hopping mad at myself. And angry at the slings and arrows of outrageous forture. Over which none of us has any control at all. And the kicker is. I have to talk to a group of women this weekend. I don't know if I can keep Eeyore out of my voice. I don't know if I can stand and deliver.
So this is to ask for prayer. To overcome this bleakness of soul. To find peace. To discern a direction for the future with respect to driving. (Lessons? Only drive in fine weather? Never drive when distracted? Walk everywhere?)
Sunday, February 12, 2006
We don't know if she came early or late, because 'due' dates were conflicting. The waiting seemed like an eternity to those who marked the weeks before her birth. We always, wonder, don't we, if a child will be born complete, well developed. Whole. Even in these miracle days of ultrasound, it is never a given that all will be well. And when we have experience of infant death, infertility, miscarriage, and birth anomalies (and who amongst us is untouched by these things?)...we worry and wonder.
At 8 lbs. 1 oz. and 23 & 1/2 inches long, she was surely 'full term,' and healthy. Of my four grandchildren, she was the only one to come out screaming her rage at being in a cold, bright world. She had just a bit of her second cousin Kathryn's fierceness at birth, that echo of Great Grandpa 'B' which foretells strong character and creativity. However, for now, we won't lay any expectations on her.
I found Megan's birth to be miraculous!!! If a woman can be absolutely beautiful in labour and delivery, then my daughter Sarah was beautiful. In the zone. Focused. Radiant. Tired but fulfilled. Megan's father and Nana were superfluous to the event, although Megan will no doubt be told the story of how we were there. Overawed bystanders.
So dear readers, my fourth grandchild is here. Four in four years!!! They are all individuals and we look forward to seeing them grow in grace, learning tolerance and tenderness, compassion and courage, faith and forgiveness. So be it Lord.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Four jobs I've had:
- family therapist
- hash slinger (my very first job in a greasy spoon called Ashton's where the local guys from the car wash came over to ogle and my boss, who weighed 500 lbs. bellowed orders from his private booth and liked his dozen eggs sunny side up and his pound of bacon crispy)
- Amadeus (Solieri is my alterego, and I find a judicious review of this movie from time to time brings me to my knees)
- The Secret of Ned Divine (There is nothing like a straight English comedy, set in a charming place, with a cast of character actors who are aging energetically and without benefit of cosmetic surgery.)
- Simon Birch (because it was filmed in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and is funny, compassionate and transformational all at once. And because the wonderful Anglican church featured in it was torched by teens a few years ago, and I can see the original in this movie.)
- Dead Man Walking because it is so complicated theologically and so brilliantly acted. I wonder if actors are touched spiritually by the material they work with?
Four Places I've Lived: (only four?)
- Fond des Negres, Haiti
- Springhill, Nova Scotia
- London, Ontario
- Winnipeg, Manitoba
Four TV shows I love: (I added House and Monk because good television can be produced in the United States. If you haven't seen This is Wonderland, with its wonderful Canadian cast, script and setting, do it now.)
- Masterpiece Theatre
- How Not To Decorate
- This is Wonderland (plus House and Monk)
- London (U.K.)
- Iqaluit (Inuvik, Canada)
- San Diego
- Outer Banks, East Coast USA
Four of my favourite dishes:
- Baked Brie with cranberry sauce or peach chutney
- Spinach Salad with pears and candied walnuts
- Salmon lightly poached with lemon dill sauce or Halibut with pureed mango
- Foamy Lemon Pudding (the best, the lightest dessert to follow fish)
- Northumbrian Community
- CBC news online where I have been privileged to have once written the "letter of the day" and where I am constantly tempted to reproduce my minute of fame.
- Henri Nouwen
- sorry, only three
Four places I'd rather be right now:
- Home, even though waiting for the birth of a new grandchild in Brampton is exciting
- The Hebrides (yes, in winter)
- Any Greek Island
- St. Augustine (for another little jolt of American history)
Friday, January 27, 2006
- found an agent
- selected a subject
- chosen a title (from the hundreds of great book titles I've concocted over the years)
- submitted a proposal
- or answered Xlibris affirmatively
- paid my money to self publish
- paid my dues (Have I not done this yet?)
- turned my back on seemingly more important things (as Frederick Bueckner does)
- edited my last post more carefully
The ether is full of dreaming these days, and much consideration of what we truly want out of life. Here, in part, is what Cindy said on Tuesday, January 24, 2006: (click on Quotidian Light in my links to connect with Cindy's post.)
Thinking Out Loud: On Knowing What One Wants
This week I received a rejection letter for my last submission. There was once a time when I would have been devastated. I hardly even blinked when I opened this one. It's not that I've become immune to disappointment through Rejection Letter Repetition so much as that I've made a discovery in the past year--publication doesn't seem to be what matters so much anymore...I thought I knew what I wanted.... And to some degree I evidently succeeded. Why, then, the definite diminishment of desire instead of an increased wish to continue?
We yearn for something, set ourselves to accomplishing or acquiring it, and then stand befuddled, holding it in our hands, staring at it as if to ask, "How did I get here, and why did I think I wanted this?"...
So I've got to give this more thought. I, like Cindy, am perplexed about what I really want. And what does it mean, anyway, Psalm 37:4: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart?" Since I am a little foggy about the desires of my heart, perhaps it is time for a clear call to "Delight in the Lord." Now how do I do this?
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
I enjoy working with dreams. I am the family dream consultant. Got started as a kid. Hooked on all those dream stories in the Bible. Intriqued by how God revealed plans and purposes through dreams. The Bible is a veritable pasture for dream grazing. It's my major inspiration for dream interpretation. I don't use dream books, which clearly conflict with one another. I have my own theories, supported by experience and some specific psychological knowledge, to say nothing of my work in the field of altered states as pioneered by Stanislav Grof. Don't rush to your local Bible bookstore for Professor Grof, gentle readers. Enough said.
I don't know whether it is reassuring or disappointing to discover specialists who make their bread and butter from ideas which I stumbled upon, quite independently, exploring and manipulating my own dream life. We've arrived at similar conclusions from different angles, of course. They were doctors experimenting and I was just me, reflecting on my own dreams.
Which is why, at first, I couldn't relate to the current Globalgirl topic: "Dream". (Click on title above for link.) Dream. As in: imagine, envision, wish, aspire. Another take on the word altogether. I've always dreamed, grandiosely, that I might pioneer something, have an idea first, market it and make enough to endow a few charities and live comfortably for the rest of my life. I dared to dream at a Path Workshop in November, 2004. While some of my dreaming turned into plans which have been acted upon, other dreams lie unfulfilled. To be expected, you say. Yes, well my lofty expectations have frequently gotten in the way of fulfilling my dreams. And additionally, there are times I feel, that at my age, I should stop dreaming and settle.
So it is with some trepidation that I dare to dream here, once more, in the public space of my own blog. Which is written under my REAL name. And believe me, this is one post which I wish could be anonymous. Because if I write a dream, then I am held accountable. To God. To you. And anyone else who reads this. I am accountable for working towards these dreams. Sort of like New Year's Resolutions. Or prayer. Mmmm.
Here is my partial response to Idelette McVicker's "Dream" quiz from the January Globalgirl Ezine.
1. Three places I'd love to go: Bangladesh to visit my friend Elizabeth; St. Petersburg to fulfill the longing inspired by an undergrad Russian history course; and Home (The British Isles) with my husband to explore the lands of our forebears.
2. Three things I'd love to do: a pottery course; dance without shame in public; swim well enough to enjoy swimming as exercise.
3. Three things I'd love to accomplish: finish the endless Quilt Project; really, this is silly...my three things are One. Write a book. Write a book. Write a book. So?
4. Three skills I'd like to acquire: a fearless mind; a more tranquil spirit, and the ability to access most of the capabilities of my computer and cell phone. Could these three be related?
5. Ten things I'd really love to have: (Materially? I've got so much. But I'll make a stab at this.)
- no debt
- access to a car with a spotless interior
- clothes which washed themselves (too fanciful?)
- a big pile of river rock, another of well composted manure and topsoil, and a third of mulch for the garden in the spring
- no visible TV in the living room
- a fuzz free face
- all that new baseboard moulding in the garage, painted, caulked and installed magically by elves or some helpful relative or friend
- a small, soft sided hot tub for my aging bones and Rob's wonky back (now that IS material) Where could I put it?
- clean ducts (furnace not tear) and less dust
- fewer books or more shelves
Thank you Idelette for the dream questions.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Some decisions we make on a whim. Some out of necessity. If we hadn't booked our tickets five months earlier, we would never have gone. Plenty of excuses to stay home. But this journey was both a whim and a necessity. Time away from work and crisis. Time for us. Time for relationship. Time for sharing the things we enjoy together. Moments of the Spirit. History. Discovery. Nature. The creative unknown.
Why San Diego? Heard it was a wonderful city. A hop from Vancouver. Best climate in North America. Great zoo. Not too big. Spanish-full. Close to Mexico.
It was...although not a hop from Vancouver...all the other things and more. Just the kind of place to relax and be together and count our blessings and laugh that we are getting old. Laugh at ourselves. Laugh, full stop.
Thank you, all of you who prayed for me over Christmas, and for my grandson Robbie during his recent surgery. We recover. God is Love. And Grace. And Goodness.
We are richer than we know.