Love Your Elders Well

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I freely admit that I’ve had a stormy relationship with my parents for all my life. And I’ve seen enough family relationships being played out at hospital bedsides to know that I am not alone.
As children, we see our parents as all-powerful, because they hold all the power over our lives.
As adults, we begin to see them as human beings, with all their faults and foibles.
If we are lucky, we will some day come to the point at which we realize that they are frail and mortal and that, try as we might, we will never truly understand the fears they grew by and through.
Perhaps then we can cradle them in our hearts, and, if they allow it, in our arms.
Amen

Walking the Iron Horse

The Iron Horse Trail

Iron Horse

How many times I’ve looked at the street map and guessed that walking from Kitchener to Waterloo was just too far, I really don’t know. But I had eight hours to kill and $3.00 each way for the local bus was just too much when I was only earning $2.00 an hour. Besides, I reasoned, I needed to walk to put in my ten thousand steps per day.

What I had not accounted for was that the insoles of my shoes had worn out, but, aside from some awkward blisters, that soon became immaterial.

In Hamilton, I was quite used to walking for the sake of shopping, but the map between cities just seemed to cover much longer distances.

The heat of the day felt more like August, but the scent of the air was clearly September: that wonderful combination of fall flowers so reminiscent of my youthful  first days of school.  And some part of me clearly channeled my youth. I was still several minutes from the crossing at Victoria Street when I registered someone standing on the sidewalk facing me apparently increasingly frustrated by the constant stream of traffic that prevented him from crossing the street. When I was directly opposite, now also between the two yellow lines that mark a pedestrian crossing point. My arm swung up and out of its own accord and my finger pointed across the road.  On either side of us, the cars slowed and stopped, obedient to the decades’ by-gone ‘stop and point’ signal. I strode confidently forward and the younger man opposite raised his eyebrows in surprise before he followed suit. “So that’s how it’s done,” he grinned as we passed each other. “I don’t honestly know, “I smiled back. “But apparently it’s worth a try.”

My legs quietly ate up the blocks of sidewalk, while my eyes drank in the brilliant autumn flowers. There was no question but that my Canadian world had changed in the past six decades. The bright saris and snowy headscarves of two elderly women taking shelter from the sun under a crab-apple tree was enough to tell me that.  As I left the street to join the trail that marked the old railway line, the sight of two women jogging along the path confirmed my perception. Not only the face of our culture, but also its concerns have changed for the better. Fitness has become more important that floors, and learning different outlooks and ways from ‘the other’ more important than teaching them ours. I may miss the first days of school this year, but I have no nostalgia for Kinder, Kirche, Küche.

I have changed too in the intervening years. Schoolmates remember me as a girl who would blush if spoken to. The burden I carried as a teenager dragged my head earthward and kept my eyes fixed on the ground to avoid those of others. Although I will always be a shy introvert, I am no longer either the victim or the victim-in-waiting. I have sunk my roots deep into the earth like the wildflowers around me.

The wildflowers on the trail are indeed abundant this year and I am grateful for another change. No longer are they mowed down in favour of some imported grasses, they are allowed to run riot, their heads held proudly upward.  Shy asters, gentle brown-eyed Susans, and bold goldenrod scent the air around me.

Ah – but there is a scent that makes me chuckle for it is certainly not native or quite natural. Here in a cool shady patch alongside the dry creek-bed, there lingers the scent of recently burned marijuana. Someone sheltered here not so long ago for a little illicit relaxation. Once a totally foreign odour, I know it well, for it drifts nightly from the balconies around my apartment and, when the weather is colder, permeates the hallways.

The trail comes to an end and I dash into the Bauer Lofts to use the bathroom. My finances are stretched past their limits so I don’t even browse through the offerings at the deli. And by now my heels are very sore. To my delight I discover an assistance agency just a few doors further along and I am every so grateful for the bandages they give me.

The difficult part of this journey is not the journey itself; it is the need to ask for help when I was the one who freely offered help for over thirty years. Asking and receiving are harder than offering and giving. But the journey continues.

The trail

Chrysalis

Hungry to the banquet came I

Starving with desire

My soul’s net skimmed out

Captured the light and drew it in

Hungry to the banquet came I

But a tiny spot.

Wriggled and burst out

And searched for my first rich meal

Hungry to the banquet came I

Thirsty for fulfillment

I nibbled my way through

Each green offering of wisdom

Hungry to the banquet came I

Eating ‘til my skin burst

To make room for more

And then ate refreshed and renewed

Hungry to the banquet came I

Until at the last

My old wounds burst and revealed

A chrysalis of emerald

Hungry to the banquet came I

And now I can rest

Until once again

My skin be riven to reveal

A spirit refreshed

What is it that is important?

I spent Sunday with my parents because my Dad, while he insists on outliving every doctor’s prognosis, is very clearly dying. The cancer treatments have prolonged his life, but they are not working any more. The well-muscled arms that once shovelled snow off the driveway as if it were just heaps of Styrofoam are now just bones held together by skin and sinew and a walk just as far as the condominium’s garden takes a lot of energy. He sits in one of the chairs in the shade and waits for my mother to come back from her walk down into the Don Valley where they now live.

But there’s a lot about him that hasn’t changed.

When I told him that one of the attractions of Miramichi (where I’ve applied for a job) is that it is very close to the ocean, he insisted that there’s a great chunk of the province of PQ between Miramichi and the ocean. I was about to tell him that he was wrong, thought about it and said “I guess I’m not remembering it right then.” He must have expected me to argue, so he repeated it in a more forceful tone. I looked at him and said “Do you really want to fight?” He almost smiled when he said no

After he finished his coffee, he disappeared into his den. My mum said he as probably having a nap. As it turns out, he wasn’t – he came back with a map of the Atlantic Provinces and a very rare apology.

My dad had been forced to start working when he was 16 years old. By that time he’d already helped his mother and baby brother make their way from a city that was about to be bombed out to a safer place, walking at night, sleeping in ditches by day and spending weeks on foot bouncing back and forth between enemy lines. When they did reach safer territory, like many other internal refugees, he was put to work on a farm. The city boy learned to hitch horses to farm wagons and to harvest hay.

When the war was over, there was no schooling to be had for those who had missed the schooling they should have had. So, he read books and watched others and taught himself whatever he needed to know as he went along.

The skill he was proudest of was mathematics. And he was well-known as an amateur chess master both to his colleagues and in the Scarborough neighbourhood where we lived. He traded those skills: piano lessons for his kids from a high school music whiz who really wanted to improve his chess skills. When we moved to Willowdale, he did the same –chess lessons for the church organist in exchange for piano lessons for his kids.

My dad is still brilliant at mathematical puzzles – he has the kind of mind that would have led him into engineering under different circumstances. Instead, he worked as a machinist – proud of the fact that he sometimes had to correct the engineers.

He wanted his sons to get the best education possible and did everything he could to help them. Learning, school, education: it’s all important to him.

Meanwhile, my mum has also recovered somewhat – it seems that her dementia was more likely delirium: her medications have been changed recently and she seems more “with it.” I did something I’d never done in all my struggles with education and endorsement. I told her how dreadfully disappointed I was that that I had lost my denominational validation.  And then I told her that I was currently considering a denominational switch. I was so surprised that she was happy to hear that.

As important as my education has been, putting it to real use is even more important to me. I know I have a gift and I want to – NEED to use it. My parents’ gifts were diminished by earthly powers beyond their control.

My Spirit wrestling has resulted in changes beyond any I’d have foreseen – and now I need to pay back, by not hiding my light under a bushel.

TBTG

Clinical Pastoral Education isn’t just for Chaplains

Jesus reaches out“This is mine. You can’t have it.
This is me. I like who I am.
THIS is who goes to the bedside.
I am the best tool I can bring.”

The Chaplain's Report

Back in seminary I had the opportunity to do CPE at a local hospital in New Haven. It was a great facility and a prime opportunity – the slots fill up fast. But I didn’t take it because I planned on doing more traditional church ministry, not chaplaincy. While some of my classmates jumped at the opportunity to get CPE, others, like myself, said “why bother if I’m not going to need it?” Looking back I can see that I missed out on a great opportunity.

So do you need Clinical Pastoral Education if you’re planning on traditional ministry? Is it really only for hospital chaplains or navel gazers? Absolutely not. 

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Desert Reflections

We are, I think, by our very nature, a meaning making people.

And yet, I find myself looking back at the meanings my ancient ancestors made with an occasional raised eyebrow – especially given that we can see what is happening thousands of light years away.
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Our rental car was hot, despite the air conditioning. The blazing August sun over the Syrian Desert seemed to reach in through the glass with fiery fingers. My neighbour, sitting on the west side of the car leaned uncomfortably toward me, and away from the sun’s searing grasp.

As we drove north on a narrow ribbon of black through the dry red land, it was clear that something was afoot in the nation because we passed several very large army convoys going in the opposite direction.  Soldiers clung to the long khaki tarps that shielded the machines of war from the sting of the desert sand.

The red-brown cloud off to the northeast made me VERY uncomfortable. It looked at first like smoke fuming across the plain. The colour reminded me of dried blood – and I could almost feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up despite the heat.

The cloud came closer and closer, apparently travelling towards us even faster than we were travelling towards IT.

All of a sudden, the first fat drop of rain hit the windshield – rain? In the desert? In August?

I stared at the land we were whipping past and suddenly realized that as each immense gobbet of water hit the dry red earth, it sent up a puff of carmine dust. The distant red cloud, that was now almost upon us, was in fact the churning earth itself, roiling up to meet the lowering sky.

In that moment, I understood the primeval conviction that it was the mating of Mother Earth and Father Sky that gave life to the dry world.

Yes – there are other connections that can be made to a cloud of dust, the colour of blood. As Christians, we can make the connection to the blood shed by Jesus on the cross. As citizens of the world we can also make the connection to the blood of shed by modern Christian, and non-Sunni Muslim martyrs for their faith. The rest I leave to you and your own religious imaginations.

Joy and Pain

Poking and prodding
pain pursues,
penetrates, pervades

tears
prickling behind my eyes

threaten
to trickle and then teem.

But there
there in the corner
there peeping
under the blind
there peeping
through
one wee perforation
There lies the show-stopper:
Snow
frosty flakes of joy
dancing in the breeze
lifting my heart
with laughter.
My spirit soars,
salsas, skips, and sways
Scales the pain
seeking sanctification
A blessing
touches my soul
putting pain
back
in a peace-filled place