Friday, October 28, 2011

subsume


We saw the band Mumford & Sons last night.  A real treat!  Those boys play hard, put everything they have into their music, graciously deal with each other, the audience, and their fellow musicians, and write some of the most insightful and profound songs I have heard in a long time.

I was one in a crowd of about 10,000 and we chose to buy general admission tickets on the floor instead of reserved seats further away.  The great thing about general admission is that you can decide your location.  The bad thing is that you have to get there early and stand for a few hours before the band plays.  Also, as the floor fills up, you have to deal with all the people who start to infringe on the space you thought you had claimed for yourself.  I am also not one of the tall people, so standing, general admission gigs are not ideal for me. 

I positioned myself as best I could with Dean right behind me, but at the last minute a tall guy and his girlfriend parked themselves right in front of me.  Despite their promise that they were just passing through on their way to a friend somewhere else in the crowd, they never moved from the spot.  As things got more crowded, I had to deal with frizzy hair in my face, garbage on the floor, loud yelling on the left, more tall people squishing in on the right, a few unstable people falling/leaning over, and the smell of things being smoked.  Sigh.  It is all part of the concert experience.

 But an interesting thing happened when the band finally took the stage.  None of these minor irritations seemed to matter.  I completely forgot about my tired feet.  I have no idea what became of the frizzy hair that had disturbed my calm earlier.  People leaned into me, shouted close to my ears, and raised their hands in my face, but none of it really registered.  These things were all subsumed in the greater experience of enjoying the band as they lived in their music and invited us to live there for a few hours as well.  Words wafted from the singer over us all and landed on my heart.  I closed my eyes and listened to the call for hope coming from the sound system.  For a short period of time last night, I was one with everyone in the room.  I jumped and felt them jump with me.  I applauded loudly at the end of each song.  I joined in the singing when a familiar song was played.  All eyes were not on each other nor our irritating situations - they were on the light, the movement, the passions, and the joy in front of us.

Let the minor irritations of my life always be subsumed into the greater song of life and beauty, truth and hope, love as it was meant to be.

The photo:  Mumford & Sons playing in Montreal last night.  Taken by thrusting my hand as high as it could go.

Here is one of the songs they played last night:  Awake My Soul.  Filmed in Reading, 2010.

Monday, October 24, 2011

tour guide


We had some good friends from Tennessee visit us this past week.  They were only here for a short time, so that meant some tough decisions had to be made.   What did I want them to see in Montreal, remember about Montreal, know about Montreal, experience in Montreal?  It was tempting to make a list of every significant sight to see and experience to be had and try to get through as many as possible, but I resisted.  Instead, I wanted my friends to experience what I knew to be the richness of life in Montreal.  This meant that we leisurely enjoyed the day, took time to eat desserts and drink yummy drinks, sauntered into small shops and wandered along the water, talked to strangers and took silly pictures, drove slowly along narrow streets, stood and marveled at beautiful structures and artwork, spent some time in contemplation at a religious site, enjoyed pleasant and meaningful conversation over dinner as savoury, Greek dishes appeared in succession at our table, and stood in the dark silence as we looked over the twinkling city from a vantage point on Mont Royal. 


When introducing people to something I love, it is never a good idea to force my ideas and agenda on them or try to cover every important angle or even expect that their experience will be my experience.  "Introducing" means that I help them connect.  After that, they are free to explore and enjoy at their own pace and in their own way.  In all my sauntering tours around Montreal with visitors over the years, I have always discover something new. 

When introducing people to the God I love, it is never a good idea to force my ideas and agenda on them or try to cover every doctrine or even expect that their experience will be my experience.  "Introducing" means that I help them connect.  After that, they are free to explore and enjoy at their own pace and in their own way.  In all my meandering discussions about God with friends and strangers over the years, I have always discovered something new.

 Photos: 
Top:  Part of the mosaic at the front of the sanctuary in Saint Joseph's Oratory. 
Middle:  Cakes at La Crème de la Crème Café in Old Montreal. 
Bottom:  The lights of Montreal from the lookout in Westmount.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I don't want to be taller


I don't own a pair of high heels.  I did try to wear them for a bit back when I was doing my first degree, but after a few months of tottering about, I pulled them off my feet one frosty spring morning and walked barefoot back to my dorm room, never to embrace the style again.  Whenever I see women in heels (especially those spiky, skinny ones that are sure to get caught in a grate or sidewalk crack or street sewer cover), I wonder how they do it.  I know that some women claim that they can be comfortable, and fashion sense insists that heels make the female leg look great, but I am not convinced.  I think my legs look great just as they are.  I don't need to be taller, either.  I do need to be able to walk safely (and occasionally break into a run) without fear or fatigue.  Silly me - I believe I can look good without 3-6 inches of scaffolding strapped to my foot.

Heels are not evil, don't get me wrong, but they speak to me of the not-so-subtle pressure out there to look or dress a certain way in order to be attractive. What it says most loudly to me is that we are not happy with who we are.  We want to be taller, sexier, more shapely, have longer legs, blonder hair, flawless faces, longer lashes, redder lips, and bouncier hair.  Where can I find a woman that is happy with who she is?  And the age she is?  Why do so many of us have 'downplaying our alleged figure faults' as the primary motivation when getting dressed?  How many of us wear something because we feel fantastic in our bodies?  I love looking good, but who decides what this "good" is?  I would not give that authority to the fashion industry - they are trying to sell us their goods and in order for them to do this, we have to feel we lack something.

In my opinion, a healthy and content person is beautiful.  They carry themselves with an air of confidence that needs no heels to bolster it.  Love also makes people glow.  When my husband and my good friends tell me I am beautiful, I need to believe them.  They know the real me.  Yes, I usually wear make-up, colour my hair, and try to wear matching clothes, but there are times when I don't, and that's okay.  Some days the natural look is a refreshing change, and Dean would certainly agree with this.

I don't need to be taller - I need to stand taller, confident that God made something beautiful in me.
I don't need to be younger - I need to embrace the fullness of life I have now.
I don't need longer lashes - I need to see clearly the beauty all around me.
I don't need a flawless face - I need to smile at more people.
I don't need redder lips - I need words of kindness to grace my lips often.
I don't need longer legs - I need a willingness to walk in grace and goodness and humility.

In case you have not heard it yet today, "You look good!"

the photo:  Dean and me at a wedding this past summer.  No heels, but we both looked fine!  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

gleaning


Dean has been talking about generous living lately.  He is much better at it than I am.  For one thing, he understands the concept of 'gleaning.'  This is related to a farming practice in which the farmer deliberately leaves a bit of the harvest out on the field for folks down on their luck to 'glean' or pick up in order to feed their families.  You find it figuring prominently in the biblical story of Ruth.  The basic principle is that we do not try to wring the last bit of value out of our resources, livelihoods, or transactions, but make sure we leave something behind for someone else.  Dean compares it to the contemporary practice of tipping in a restaurant. Leave something behind - something good and substantial - not just leftovers that are hardly worth scraping off the ground. 

Another place that I find myself thinking in terms of 'gleaning' is when I am selling or buying something that involves negotiation.  I always try to leave the other person with a sense of dignity, a sense of being treated fairly and generously.  My goal is not to score a great deal at the expense of another.  Instead, I aim for a situation where both parties feel they came away with a fair deal: win/win.  I know that I have often paid more than I really had to, but I think of the seller coming home to his family and saying, "Hey kids, today a lady paid me more money than usual for a pair of sunglasses, so ice cream for everyone!"  That possible scenario is worth more than a few dollars in my wallet.

Time is another area in which I try to leave room for 'gleaning.'  This means that when I have a certain place to be at a certain time, I leave my home a few minutes early - enough time to spare so that I don't have to rush past a stranger asking for directions, or I can allow for a conversation with a friend I haven't seen in ages, or I can talk unhurriedly with the person behind the counter at the coffee shop.  Time is not mine to use to the last second; I need to leave some spaces in my day so that I can give time to others along the way.

Sharing is sometimes a challenge for me.  I tend to buy only enough food for myself and don't always think to share my snacks or drinks.  I don't always like to give up  my hard-won seat on the subway or let others go first in line, either, but I am learning.  When I do think to share, the gratitude on the faces of the recipients reminds me how much giving a little bit of what I have can mean to someone else.  Extra change, extra food, extra clothes, extra seats, extra tickets, extra time, extra space in my home, etc.  It doesn't take much to leave some of my 'extra' for others. 

I have certainly been the recipient of 'gleaning.'  Let me be a happy and conscientious 'gleanee" as well.

The photo:  a squirrel on my balcony this past weekend enjoying a green tomato left in the pot after I cleaned up my plants.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

the stages of a cold


I have been living with a stupid, nasty cold for 10 days now.  I suppose the fact that it is still partying in my body means that it is perhaps not so stupid and in fact pretty smart.  But I still maintain that is it nasty!  Whatever the case, over the course of the last week and a half I have observed a few different stages that I have gone through with this cold.

1. Denial.  It is just a wee scratchy throat.  It will probably be gone by morning. I'll just ignore it.
2. More Denial.  It's been a few days and I am starting to cough, so I think that's a sign that it is almost over.  I am sure I will feel much better tomorrow.  And besides, I can pretty much function as normal.
3. Impatience.  Why is this taking so long?  It's been a week and I should be feeling better!  It is interfering with my life.  (At this point I started asking for helpful suggestions to get rid of the thing).
4. Anger.  Okay, that's it!  I have had enough.  This sucker is done! (I bought cough syrup and cold medicine and started stuffing it down my throat).
5. Disappointment.  I can't sleep!  I don't feel any better!  Why isn't this medicine working?  Everything is useless.
6. Make a plan. So the cold medicine is keeping me awake at night and not really helping.  I'll forgo all the medicine and change my diet.  No dairy products (which feed the phlegm) and no sugar (which feeds the bacterias and viruses).  Just clear liquids, fruit, and vegetables.  And I'll go to bed earlier.
7. Small improvements.  I got good night's sleep!  I am not coughing as much!  I have a bit more stamina!  Yes, things are getting better!
8. Gratitude.  This morning, I noticed myself rejoicing over small things that I take for granted much of the time.  Things like being able to sleep through the night, having energy to do my work, a clear head and mind, being able to walk without pain, a loving husband who forgives me for coughing on him at night, a shower in the morning, a beautiful home, a sunny day, fresh tomatoes, a glass of orange juice, clothes to wear... (and the list goes on and on).

I have done my share of praying during this cold.  I asked God to heal me, to help me sleep, to take away the cough, to clear my head.  I whined, I complained, and I pleaded.  When nothing much seemed to change, I was disappointed that my requests went pretty much unanswered.  Why would God let me suffer this long without loving intervention?  It seemed cruel.  This morning, I realised that my goal of 'feeling good' is perhaps not the same goal that the Lover of my soul has in mind.  He always seems more concerned with things like character, maturity, patience, gratitude, and other things that, if they are truly real and present, should not be affected by any amount of suffering or inconvenience.  In our weak moments, we see where our strength really lies.  I hope that my strength does not depend on everything going well in my life.  That would be a pretty shallow and temporary strength.

One of my strengths is a grateful and trusting heart. Today, I am trying to grow and nourish it.  That means that I am even thankful for this cold which has shown me how ungrateful I can be.


Photos:  Top - cold paraphernalia.  Bottom - flower blooming this morning on my back porch... so pretty!

Monday, October 03, 2011

day off

Something I read awhile back has made me rethink my idea of what constitutes a 'day off.'  Here is the quote from Douglas Steere:  "A day off...is a bastard Sabbath." [1]  What he means is that a day off is not a legitimate sabbath.  'Not working' does not constitute what God had in mind when he initiated a day of rest.  So what does it mean to keep a sabbath, and to keep it holy?  Steere suggests that it is much more than a day of 'not doing.'  It is a day of getting ourselves out of the way.  Embracing silence, embracing prayer. 

This quote of Steere's is taken from Eugene Peterson's book, The Pastor.  Peterson goes on to describe how his interaction with Steere initiated a change in how he and his family took a day off during the week.  "We deliberately separated ourselves from the workweek .. .and gave ourselves to being present to what God has done and is doing, this creation in which we have been set down and this salvation in which we have been invited to be participants in a God-revealed life of resurrection." [2].  For him and his wife, this meant a weekly ritual of sending the kids off to school, packing a simple lunch, and heading to a trailhead.  They read a psalm and prayed, then walked in silence for the morning.  Over lunch, they talked about anything and everything, but they especially paid attention to the week they had just lived through, the holy bits and the ordinary bits.  He states that it always turned out that they had missed a lot.  "Each Sabbath became a day of remembering, becoming aware of where we were, who we were - the gifts of God for the people of God." [3].

Thinking about this concept of a 'day off' reminded me of something Bernard of Clairvaux talked about - the four loves.  The first stage is where we love self for self's sake.  This comes pretty easy and natural to most of us.  We love and take care of ourselves first.  The second degree is loving God for self's sake.  Here we love God for what he can do for us, how he can improve our lives.  The third stage is loving God for God's sake, and this is where true worship happens.  The final degree is love of self for God's sake.  This is a very difficult one, but it is where we truly see ourselves as God sees us, and we unite our wills with his.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that a typical 'day off' which consists of rest and play and perhaps some celebration is very much on the first level of self-indulgence.  And much of my so-called 'holy activity' falls in the second category where I am looking for God to give me something or rejuvenate me.  So much of the time we are only concerned with our own amusement and well-being.  It is not a sabbath if it is centred solely around my own interests.  What Peterson and Steere are talking about is a day where I forget about my desires and my work and set some time apart to pay attention to what God is doing in order to reorient my life according.  That is a true sabbath.  Time set aside for God's pleasure.  I get to participate in that.  What a privilege and wonder!  Why don't I do it more often?

[1] Douglas Steere as quoted by Eugene Peterson in The Pastor.  (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 220.
[2] Peterson, 220.
[3] Peterson, 221.

The photo:  Me at the lake in St. Donat on a weekend away last year.  Photo credit to Dean.