29 December 2008
Though there are different models, the general understanding of grief is that we pass through: denial; anger; bargaining; depression; acceptance. These are met not necessarily in order, and not necessarily only once. I find myself cycling through them randomly and varyingly depending on my own mental state and the latest news. Denial is a frequent companion...he and I have become very close. I know that my dad is very sick; I feel it with my hands when I touch his poor, frail body. But I hope for healing - I hear in his voice that he doesn't want to leave us, though he is preparing us, the house, the car, and himself for him not being here anymore. I love him so for being so concerned for us - particularly mom - that even now he is concerned about details like water filters.
And that leads me to anger. Such a man, such a fighter, a worrier, a provider...he has so much to give us - his wife, his daughters, grandchildren and friends... why does he have to go now? What will we do without him? I'm angry at God. It doesn't make sense, because at the same time I am a person of faith. I know that God loves us, that He loves my dad, and even though we are losing my dad's physical presence, he will be waiting for us in heaven, and there he will be without pain. He will once again be the strong and vibrant, funny man I now mourn, and more than that, he will be glorified. That is God's promise, that is what the Cross paid for.
I haven't done any bargaining, but I do feel guilt. I am guilty of wanting my dad here with me, of not wanting to let him go, of being willing to forfeit his eternal rest now, for my own sake. I am guilty of not surrendering my own desire, of not trusting God's mercy enough to be at peace. I am guilty of fear. What will become of me without my dad to look out for me? Horribly, I am also guilty of having days when I forget to be sad, and I act as if life is normal again.
Depression? Yes, there is that, too. Days of fatigue, of inability to think clearly or make decisions. It can feel like nothing matters. Then it lifts like a fog and I get my bearings, and am able to navigate life for a while. It's a glimplse of the other side, when we're in a place we can say "remember...?" and that after-time is normal.
There hasn't been a great deal of acceptance yet. Not deep down and lasting, anyway. I have the occasional mental ability to accept that Pop's death is a reality but I have developed the knack of keeping it in the realm of Frodo leaving Middle Earth for the Undying Lands: it's unbearably sad, but as much as it hurts, it isn't really true. And isn't that strange, considering everything I've written above? It must be real to me on some level, or I wouldn't be grieving. Not even I cry everyday over poor Frodo.
So, I'm not on a train: I'm grieving. It's not logical, it doesn't really make sense. If it manifested physically, what I'm experiencing would look like Pig Pen's cloud: it's always with me, and it's a confused tangle. I pray that God's grace and mercy will carry us through this. I pray for my dad to have a holy death. I pray for Jesus to guide him safely home, and I ask for the gift of one day being with him in eternal life.
28 December 2008
26 December 2008
This post, however, is only indirectly about St. Stephen, and rather more about The Lord of the Rings, or more precisely, The Fellowship of the Ring as interpreted by Peter Jackson. The film trilogy is inspired by the books by J.R.R. Tolkien and diverges from that inspiration in several ways - at times because film always must - but the first installment in particular is very close in spirit if not in letter to The Book itself. For one thing, The Fellowship is so successful at transporting the viewer into Middle Earth that elves, dwarves, warped orcs and screeching wraiths are accepted without question. Jackson and his able crew infuse every frame of film with the atmosphere of Hobbiton, Rivendell, Moria, Lothlorian and the wilds of Middle Earth so thoroughly I always believe I could drink from the tea cups in Bilbo's kitchen, and slap Pippin upside the head for being such a turkey.
I just watched The Fellowship, and was struck once again by the theme of sacrifice running throughout the story. Bravery, honour and humility are also present, along with the overriding good versus evil, but sacrifice is the one that ties in with St. Stephen, whose day this is. Almost every character in the story sacrifices something; I have selected only a few from The Fellowship of the Ring which illustrate donation of self.
Samwise Gamgee, brave servant of Frodo, has his own doubts and fears (not to mention his own dreams involving a certain Rosie Cotton) but despite them he follows Frodo, and ends up playing a vital role in the fate of Middle Earth. At the beginning of his journey though, he has no idea what terrors,trials and sacrifices lie ahead. He doesn't question his ability to save the world, he merely accepts his small role in the bigger story, and proceeds step by step to the bleakest place imaginable - a place so bleak that hope is leeched from the landscape. Sam doesn't even know if he will ever make it back home, or if his quest will be successful, yet he sacrifices every dream and plan for his future in order to help Frodo. Sam begins his journey much as we do: we usually don't know where we're headed or precisely what we're going to be asked to do. That is God's mercy...and wisdom! at work. He knows that if we knew we were going to have to trudge to Mordor we'd say no thanks and remain behind at the Green Dragon pub, courting the love of our life and drinking half pints until we stumbled home to our cosy hobbit holes.
Merry and Pippin offer themselves as a sacrifice for Frodo, first by joining him on the road to Bree, then in a very direct and dramatic way by distracting the rampaging orcs allowing him to escape across the river, and thereby being taken hostage by the orc army themselves instead. They both go on to make specific and personal contributions to the outcome of the story, but I believe their biggest role was this moment of selflessness on behalf of their friend. Being a companion to someone who has undertaken an arduous task is easy to overlook as being a sacrifice, but it is. It entails abandoning your own time and plans to be at the service of someone else, and is not easy to do without question. There may come a moment when you have the opportunity to offer yourself in their place, and perhaps the companionship that comes first enable you to do so.
Gandalf falls to the Balrog when attempting to fend it off so the Fellowship could reach safety outside the Mines of Moria. By choosing to take a stand against the Balrog when he did, Gandalf made it possible for Frodo and the ring to continue on. (One important lesson to learn from Gandalf is to never turn your back on evil; never assume you are free from it until you have seen its dead and withered corpse on the ground.)
Frodo himself makes the ultimate sacrifice - donation of self. Everything he is, is given to the quest. In Lothlorien he laments to Galadriel having to bear the burden of the ring by himself. I love her response to him: she does not console, cajole, or give false courage. She acknowledges the effort required, and tells him that to bear a ring of power is to be alone...but also that "even the smallest may change the course of history". We are told that God does not give us a burden we cannot carry, and that we do not carry it alone. It can often feel like the opposite is true though, and that we are like Frodo: aching and weary from the effort, and perhaps even altered or twisted by the chore. However, like Frodo, while it may look like we're only carrying a ring (a very small burden) we are in fact changing the course of history.
The character whose sacrifice always has the greatest impact on me is that of Boromir. He struggles for a very long time with the desire to be the Hero, save Gondor, and defeat Mordor by using the ring himself. He becomes obsessed with the ring to the point that it destroys his reason and wisdom. He makes an attempt to overpower Frodo and force the ring from him, but is wrenched back to his senses in time to regain his honour and integrity by giving his own life in order to save his friends. As he lays dying, he confesses his wrongdoing, asks forgiveness, and acknowledges Aragorn as his king. His actions sever the Fellowship, and yet it is quite likely the quest would have failed if the Nine had remained together. His sacrifice enabled each member to find and fulfill their own role. Not many of us are called to dramatic action like Bormir, but I'm sure many of us have experienced his struggle with false pride and temptation. His ultimate sacrifice was dying to self - he surrendered his lust for power, his grand schemes and plans, and his nagging desire for the ring. When we are able to do the same, along with confessing our wrongdoings, seeking forgiveness, and acknowledging our King, we allow The Quest to continue.
St. Stephen's death also dispersed a Fellowship (Christians), resulting in the spread of Christianity and the salvation of many. The Church is wise to remind us of the cost of faith so soon after we celebrate the Birth of Christ. Yet while we will have to make sacrifices, we do have the consolation that even the smallest among us can change the course of history.
22 December 2008
Shopping is agony, have you noticed? Especially at this time of year,when every Tom, Dick and Harriet, Uncle Bob, and their dog is out shopping too. Uncle Bob tends to browse and wander very very slowly, while Harriet stands in the middle of the aisle examining her list. Tom and Dick circle the same department again and again like a plane waiting for clearance to land. They do this two-abreast so no one else can land in the meantime.
Despite the firm resolve to keep a simple Christmas, and a long-standing tradition of restrained giftgiving, there are still supplies and sundries to be purchased which necessitates leaving the warm safety of home to brave the madness of the shops...and roads.
First of all, this city is experiencing a bus strike, which means the usually high number of cars on the roads is even higher. Then, the modern idea of a parking lot is not about ease-of-use. The entrances are obscure, the right-of-ways are unclear, pedestrians set themselves up as easy targets, and never can you find a spot near the store you are going to visit.
Then, there is the actual frustration of shopping. Products are discontinued or 'improved' on a monthly basis (do not become attached to your shampoo; it's not going to be available for long.) Sometimes the choice is overwhelming, and can require hours of consultation and discernment.
What I was looking for on this occasion was a cookie sheet. You'd presume it would be fairly straightforward, the work of merely seconds to scan the options, toss it in the cart and dash to the nearest (or rather shortest) checkout and escape the vast-store-that-sells-everything before it absorbs you whole. (I'm sure poor lost people wander the aisles everyday calling out 'exit! exit! in a desperate plea to be magically removed from their surroundings. It's no stretch of reality that a book and movie had a young woman live in the store and deliver her baby in that store without anyone having a clue she was there.)
Wouldn't you know it: cookie sheets have become complicated over the years. There were so many to choose from, I needed a map to find my way back to the beginning of the selection. There are different finishes, depths, rims, shapes, sizes...it was almost intimidating...and I once bungee-jumped, so I'm not super easy to intimidate. Regardless, a choice was made, the checkout was braved, the road home was driven, parcels were brought into the house and de-bagged, and the hard won cookie sheet was prepped for a test run in the oven. Only to find it didn't fit. Either the sheet is too big, or the oven is too small. Who knew that ovens are not universal in size, and that a standard full-size home would have a dainty little one? After trying the cookie sheet (several times, as if the first time was a mistake)at different angles and directions to confirm that it was indeed too large to fit, I realized that yes, it was rather bigger than others I'd bought in the past. It's a nifty thing though, with one rimless side so the cookies would theoretically slide right off onto the cooling rack, and the short sides had little wing-like bits perfect for clutching safely in mitted hands. I would like to point out that nowhere on its fact sheet does it mention it happens to be awkwardly out-sized and essentially useless to the averagely-ovened person.
Today I once again braved the roads and shops to hunt down normal, featureless cookie sheets. I grabbed the nearsest and cheapest one off the rack, went through the self-serve checkout and rather disparagingly brought it home. Two outings, hours of endurance, agonies of decision...and it was all worth it. We now have full cookie tins and happy tummies, and Christmas is coming soon!
21 December 2008
My heart feels content with all I've been blessed with today. I'm looking forward to sharing Christmas Day with my family: all the little peanuts, and especially my dad. Being faced with the fragility of life has helped us all to focus on 'the important things' which also turn out to be the simple things.
20 December 2008
- Church. Midnight Mass is one of the most beautiful liturgies of the whole year. No matter what else is going on in my life, Midnight Mass brings peace and contentment to my heart. Besides, all the Kwanza and season's greetings cannot negate the truth, that Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ.
17 December 2008
~Isaiah 40: 28-31
In a previous post I used the word 'just' as in 'do enough to just get by'. It's a little word with a lot of influence. 'Just' gives permission for mediocrity, doing as little as possible. 'Just' is wimp of a word, but it can be dangerous, because it can seduce us into being comfortably numb.
Isaiah 40 encourages us to seek the Lord, and promises us that despite our hardships, He will give us strength not 'just' to survive, but to run and to fly. Some people believe that if you pray just right, God will bless you with success and abundance. I've heard this called the Prosperity Gospel which is essentially that turning your life over to Him brings riches and happiness. That sounds warm and fuzzy, but it overlooks some important points, the foremost being that God's priority is our salvation, not our wealth, stature, success and so on. The prosperity gospel takes the easy way out: it's 'just enough to get by', the mediocre effort. Salvation requires transformation - rebirth. Ask any mother: birth is a painful, uncomfortable experience.
"They that hope in the Lord..." Hope is expectant, it is desirous, it is alive and vibrant. 'Hope' is not compatible with 'just' because 'hope' does not settle, but reaches for more. God really wants that from us. He is "eternal God, Creator of the ends of the earth", and certainly that is big enough for us to place our hope in.
Christianity has its symbols as well; many of which are familiar sights at this time of year such as candy canes and wreaths. Sadly though, we're losing touch with the meaning behind the symbols, and the symbols themselves are becoming weak.
One of my favourite fixtures of Christmas is the tree. Here's what the Holy Father said about them this week:
In winter, while everything else sleeps, the evergreen gives us hope of new life...of eternal life. That's something the most artfully decorated white plastic tree can't give.
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).- "With its
loftiness, its green [color] and the lights in its branches, the Christmas tree is a symbol of life that points to the mystery of Christmas Eve," says Benedict XVI.With this, the Pope explained Friday the Christian meaning of the Christmas tree. He was speaking to the delegation from the Austrian region that donated the 108-foot-tall tree in St. Peter's Square."Christ, the Son of God, brings to the dark, cold, unredeemed world in which he was born, a new hope and a new splendor," the Holy Father said.
(The Vatican tree is lit with over 1,000 lights and 2,000 ornaments and after Christmas it will be recycled to make toys and furniture for children.)
15 December 2008
-- St. Sebastian Valfre
When I read this quotation from good St. Sebastian, I tried to imagine myself regretting not having suffered more. My life is fairly easy: I have health, employment, family, a sound mind...and yet there is struggle and hardship which I am usually trying to avoid. I know people who really do suffer, through the loss of loved ones, physical challenges, chronic financial shortfalls, deeply unhappy marriages, and so on. I have wondered how they persevere, and I have been asked by them what it means, or why it is permitted, that there should be pain and suffering in the world. I offer here only a few thoughts.
St. Sebastian's are words for sober reflection. It is often hard, in the course of everyday ordinary life, to have an eternal perspective. We can get stuck in a rut of survival, of trying to 'just get by'. When today is the same as yesterday, and yesterday was no jubilee, where's the inspiration to look up, spiritually and physically?
Monotony and tedium are soporific, as is (unfortunately) level ease. They cause the spirit, the mind, and the heart to drift into sleep, to no longer be aware of Beauty or Truth. To experience suffering is like being poked with a stick: it wakes us up, focuses our attention, sharpens our vision. When there is trouble or strife, our instinct is to reach for help; the cry of our heart is a child's cry for its parent. For a soul disposed to perceive Truth, life's difficulties are opportunities to become acquainted with the mercy of God.
I walked to work a few days ago, after a heavy snowfall and in frigid temperatures. The few people I passed were as bundled up as I was, and as we trekked through unbroken snow we shared a smile of acknowledgement: we had survived it, and there we were, getting on with things...wasn't it great? We have months of this challenge ahead, and when it's over and the sun shines warmly and the earth turns green once again, our spirits will exult and we will delight in the new beauty we see around us. So, being shaken by trials can help us grow in strength and learn to appreciate the blessings more evident in calmer times of life.
This is not something to be taken lightly: being awake is important. A soul has to be alert in order to perceive God, to recognize the dignity in each person, and to fully realize its own potential. Suffering doesn't suddenly become easier with this knowledge, but it can be a comfort to know that it isn't without purpose.
14 December 2008
The readings for today make the point over and over: rejoice; share your joy; and in your joy prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord. His time is now, He is equipping us now, calling us now.
The first reading is one of my favourites, and in fact is something of a recurring theme in my life:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; To place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit. They will be called oaks of justice, planted by the LORD to show his glory.
This passage is a reminder to be alive in every moment...to be aware of each little moment of joy. (Joy is quieter, deeper, more substantial than happiness; my joy is rooted in the certainty of God's love for me), and to share that joy with others. The Lord's anointing will bring glad tidings, healing, liberty, freedom, comfort, gladness. All these things He promises, and all these He gives, even amidst poverty, heartbreak, captivity, mourning.
We all experience hardships, trials and sufferings, but His promise is that we will also experience joy, renewal and healing. Today in particular is a day to remember that promise and rejoice in it. One thing that strikes me in this scripture, is that God will not just give us good things, He will give us what we need, in place of what we suffer. He is able to transform our ashes into diamonds, and surely that is reason to rejoice.
10 December 2008
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08 December 2008
I write my name Nephew T. Is there another Nephew in your class? Is that why you include 'T'? [asks inquisitive Aunt to Number Two Nephew, as he does his homework] No, I'm the only Nephew in my class. But there is a Rebecca!*
I bumped the house! [distraught Number Four Nephew, after running into the wall 'cause he was looking over his shoulder while moving full steam ahead]
Go pick up your mitten! [frazzled Mom to Number One Son] Man! Now I'll never have time to play!
Oh duckie? Duckie? Where are you? [Number Four Nephew bathing in the kitchen sink, with rubber duckie in hand] Coming, duckie? Ok, duckie?
07 December 2008
Like many families, we have long-held and beloved Christmas traditions. One of them is bringing out and setting up the Creche during Advent.
Our Nativity set has been carted across oceans, and stored in various attics, basements and barns over the years - always carefully wrapped and stored away after each Epiphany by mom, into its own special blue plastic bag. Last Epiphany was no different as it was packed away, and we thought this Advent would be no different as we prepared to set it up again. We were not expecting what we found in that special blue plastic bag, that's for sure!
This particular Creche is rather rustic...a wooden barn, with real straw, and simple figures of the principle players, from Blessed Mother to sheep. The barn contains a little loft above the main room: this is where a little mouse usually takes up residence - a felt character added to the cast of characters years ago. (Even mice worship at the Manger, no?) Mom was in the process of assembling the movable bits, and tidying up the straw into a pleasingly artful arrangement, when she noticed a peanut nestled in the straw of the loft. That was rather odd, as peanuts have never featured in our Manger scenes in the past. What was even odder was that the peanut was not alone...it had a companion. In fact, several companions.
As mom pulled blades of straw out, trying to come to grips with what she was seeing, the peanuts multiplied by the tens and then by the handfulls. My cupped hands were filled four times and emptied into the kitchen garbage, before I gave up and merely dumped peanuts straight into the blue bag.
You have to imagine mom's startled exclamations of "How?" "This is nuts!" and "What's going on?" with me on my knees in helpless giggles as mom got more and more baffled, straw drifted down around us, and holy figures were unceremoniously pulled out in the hunt for nuts. Honestly, the Creche turned out to be literally packed full of peanuts. Mom was shaking it overhead, and tilting it from side to side in an attempt to get stragglers out through the loft opening, or trying to scoop them out with a long-handled spoon. And they kept coming, and kept coming. We had them rolling under our feet all over the dining room floor. They were tucked into strands of straw, or lodged between the feet of shepherds. Have you ever struggled to open a bag of candy in the theatre, only to have it spill all over the floor and down the tiers in a long, drawn-out cascade of noise? That's the sound these peanuts made as they came tumbling out of the Creche in the hundreds.
We speculated as to how peanuts came to be in the Manger in the first place. Did little hands decide it would be fun to put Oma's treats in with Baby Jesus last Christmas? But Oma is meticulous and very observant: she would have noticed such out-of-place residents as these. Or perhaps a little foraging critter stored up its winter provisions in the tightly sealed blue plastic bag with no holes. I can't imagine how many trips it would have taken from bird feeder to barn with peanut-stuffed cheeks to fill that Creche...certainly a whole summer's worth of back-and-forthing.
If indeed it was a little chipmunk who did all that hard work, my sincere apologies for undoing all your efforts. Please do not come searching for the Creche in the hopes of finding your stash...a nice fresh pile of peanuts awaits you outside. (and this year when we put the Creche away, we're going to use Rubbermaid!)
04 December 2008
03 December 2008
It's not just coalition protestors I want to motivate. If you sincerely believe that an alliance of opposition parties is the very best way for Canada to move forward, then please express your opinion in public forums: write your newspaper, phone in to radio shows, write your MP.
I'm on the other side of this fence. I believe Dion has already stepped down, and therefore the Liberal party is in effect leaderless; the NDP is the mouthpiece of unions, not the most disinterested, national-minded of groups; the Bloc's whole raison d'etre is to break apart our country (their view of it is different, but a broken country would be the result). Dion's poltical cache comes from his early desire to undermine the Bloc within Quebec. Liberals and NDP generally do not see eye to eye. How a three-headed monster can govern a country in an effective Parliament is uncertain.
And now, Elizabeth May (it is speculated) will benefit from this proposed coalition government as well. My opinion is that she has pushed the Green Party onto the national stage during the televised debates. Now, the Greens have a valid concern that environmental issues should be considered in the machinery of government and legislation. However, her party has not yet matured into a national level party that should have a seat at the table with the main parties. Win a riding...just one riding, then we can talk again. Ms. May really should not merit a Senate seat for riding Dion's coat tails.
All this to say, I am not an unquestioning PM Harper supporter. I will say that I voted Conservative, because I believe the traditional conservative principles most closely align with my own views. I think Mr. Harper would do well to reign himself in a tad, but in general I believe him to be a strong leader, and I admire his implacability. Our system, different from that of the US, is such that the leader of the 'winning' party has the power. The challenge comes from balancing that power with accepting wise counsel, and having confidence in your leadership team.
Please take the time and make the effort to arm yourself with the facts. It's good to have an opinion, but opinion is not the same as information. Read articles from reputable news sources (not just blogs, as interesting as they are). Once you have equipped yourself with fact, take the time and make the effort to share your opinion with the appropriate people.
So, once again, here are some links to give you a chance to express your views:
Conservative party of Canada http://www.conservative.ca/EN/4799/74614
Liberal party of Canada http://www.liberal.ca/contact_e.aspx
NDP of Canada http://www.ndp.ca/contact
Governor General of Canada http://www.gg.ca/contactus/index_e.asp#5
Don't forget newspapers and petitions. Make your voice heard!
01 December 2008
Please take up your sword and undertake to fight. (By which I mean you should pick up a pen, dial your mobile, or login and contact your local and federal politicians). It seems that honourable Misters Dion, Duceppe and Layton have forgotten that we (not two months ago) elected, in the usual way, a Conservative government. In part, said election was called in response to repeated threats by the opposition to pursue no-confidence and overthrow the government.
During the election campaign, the Liberal Party, in particular, made the economy a particular focus, and proposed the 'Green Shift' plan as their answer to the current economic crisis. The NDP held to their traditional socialist position of asking nothing of people and giving them everything. The Bloc, well, no disrespect meant, but they even less than the NDP would be expected to follow up on their promises, so did anyone pay attention to their platform?
Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party proposed a radical economic approach...in that it wasn't radical. The main idea seemed to be: if we can't afford it, we can't have it, can't do it, can't fund it, can't support it, can't buy it. Sort of the approach we need to take as individuals. And as individuals, we seem to have agreed with the approach, because we voted the Conservatives in again. With more votes than in the previous election, it should be noted.
Now, not quite two months after that election, the Prime Minister has proposed withdrawing the monies each party receives for every vote cast in their favour in the course of an election. Perhaps there are other reasons, but I suspect this is a big cause for the current attempt by the opposition parties to overthrow our duly elected government, and seek to gain power in a coalition government, consisting of the Liberal, Bloc and NDP parties. Who would lead it, I've no idea. Could Canada potentially be governed by a party that believes adamantly in the sovereignty of one of 10 provinces and 3 territories? (essentially meaning that the one province is superior to, and apart from, all the others). Didn't Dion step down from Liberal leadership? Shouldn't the Liberals sort out their own chaos and confusion before attempting to spread that chaos and confusion nationwide?
Regardless your economic outlook, surely this drastic move by the opposition is senseless and heedless. I encourage you to write to each of the three parties, or attend one of the rallies being planned in support of Canada this coming weekend.
Stephane Dion: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Layton: email@example.com
Governor General: firstname.lastname@example.org
For rally info: http://www.rallyforcanada.ca/
To sign an online petition: http://www.canadians4democracy.ca/
Please get involved.