Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Resurrection Sunday

(I took these photos when I visited the Heidelberg Project in Detroit in 2013. Begun partly as a political protest, the Heidelberg Project is revitalizing the blighted neighbourhood of McDougall-Hunt. I was fascinated by this community’s efforts to change their city. )

In her message for Passover, Rabbi Sharon Brous recalls the wisdom of a friend who taught her to challenge the narrative of a story, whether Scripture or the story of her life. She shares three questions we can ask ourselves when we contemplate our own narratives.

We begin by asking ourselves, “When have I been a victim in my life? Can I name one specific moment where I was the victim?” We have all experienced times when we were the victim of a circumstance or of another’s actions. It is important to recognize these moments because they hold a truth about that experience. However, we must not stop there. We need to continue and ask the next question. Looking at the same story, we ask ourselves, “How was I the hero of the story?” Oftentimes, in challenging circumstances, we have been both victim and hero. We have suffered because of external conditions but we have also been graced with agency and the ability to act and take responsibility for ourselves. It is important to acknowledge these moments in our lives, too. And finally, we look again at the story, and we ask, “What did I learn?” We see that in all stories, we may be victims and we may be heroes, but we are also learners. We are always disciples seeking truth. Rabbi Brous says we are “learners on a timeless journey from narrowness to great expansive possibility”.

The Resurrection opens us to great expansive possibility. Pope Francis, in his homily for the Easter Vigil, makes this clear. He suggests that in our lives we often come up against the stone that blocks the tomb. He says, “At times it seems that everything comes up against a stone”. In the readings for the Vigil, we are reminded of the stones that mark salvation history: the beauty of creation but also of the reality of sin, the liberation of the Israelites but also their infidelity to God, the promises of the prophets and the indifference of the people. The stones that mark salvation history mirror the stones that mark our own lives.

In the Resurrection, however, the narrative is changed. The stone is rolled away. And all because of a simple question that is asked of the women who go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. A simple question, one we need to ask ourselves, day after day: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

This is the question that changes the narrative. From failure to victory. From victim to hero. From victim to hero to disciple. Jesus is not dead, he is risen. Why do you seek the living among the dead? This question calls us (and calls me very loudly!) to look carefully at our own lives and ask the questions: In what ways am I looking for the living among the dead? Do I even realize that this is what I am doing?

Waking up this morning to news of the bombing in Sri Lanka was devastating. To learn of innocent lives taken and senseless violence that destroys families and communities does not square with Easter joy. It is not easy to encounter the violence that exists in the world, in our cities, and even in our homes. Where is the Risen Christ in a violent world? There are no easy answers.

In the Easter season, however, not only are we being asked to challenge the narrative of our lives, but to do so within the hope of the Resurrection. I experienced this hope profoundly in the Easter Vigil celebration last night. I was reminded that I, and all of us, have been given the Light of the World. Symbolized in the stark beauty of the Easter candle alit with new flame, I saw that the flame is undiminished no matter how it is divided. In fact, the more it is divided (symbolized in the tapers we lit last night), the flame glows all the more brightly and vividly. We take the hope of the Risen Christ, the flame of the Light of the World, out into the world with us and we challenge the narrative of the violence of our world. It is not an easy task but we are disciples who learn along the way, who journey from narrowness to expansiveness.

I’d like to end this blog post with excerpts from the Exsultet, that ancient prayer of the Easter Proclamation. It never ceases to give me goosebumps when I hear it chanted. It proclaims the victory of Christ, the victory of the light over darkness. May it give us the hope our world so desperately needs.

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred,
fosters concord,
and brings down the mighty.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed
to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

 


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The way of love

Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered today in the United States. I am a relative latecomer to his sermons but I have been deeply moved by the power of his rhetoric. My favourite of his sermons is “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”. In it, he speaks as the Apostle Paul, offering a critique of American society. His words continue to resonate and are significant for many societies around the world, including Canadian society. I’d like to share an excerpt from that sermon. Its words speak to my heart and are needed more than ever in today’s world where so many of our actions emerge from a place of fear rather than a place of love. This excerpt is taken from “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” found in the anthology Strength to Love published by Fortress Press.

American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language and you may possess the eloquence of articulate speech; but even though you speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, you are like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

            You may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behaviour of molecules, you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you have all knowledge, and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but, devoid of love, all of these mean absolutely nothing.

            But even more, Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor, you may bestow great gifts to charity, and you may tower high in philanthropy, but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilled blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s supreme heroes; but even so, if you have not love, your blood is spilled in vain. You must come to see that a man may be self-centred in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego and his piety his pride. Without love, benevolence becomes egotism and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

            The greatest of all virtues is love. Here we find the true meaning of the Christian faith and of the cross. Calvary is a telescope through which we look into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking into time. Out of the hugeness of his generosity God allowed his only-begotten Son to die that we may live. By uniting yourselves with Christ and your brothers through love you will be able to matriculate in the university of eternal life. In a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence, you are challenged to follow the way of love. You will then discover that unarmed love is the most powerful force in all the world.


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drifting beauty

It has been snowing, off and on, this weekend. The first real snowfall of winter in Toronto. It’s finally really cold. -15C, feeling like -25C with the windchill. I’ve been waiting for this weather to feel as though winter is properly here. When I lived in Calgary, and then in Ottawa, winter was a real presence, showing up sometimes too early in the fall, and often staying past its welcome. But I always enjoyed the cold, even when I complained about it; its sharpness and chill make me feel more alive and invigorated than summer heat.

Living downtown we don’t get much snow. It falls and doesn’t stick around for long. So this morning I went up to our roof with delight, desiring to photograph the snow while it was still fresh and clean and white. I wanted to try to capture something of the frost-bitten rooftops of the university campus that I view from my window. When I downloaded the photos to my laptop, I was taken aback. So busy looking at the snow, wanting to see if my camera could capture its crystalline essence, that I didn’t look above and notice the dramatic beauty of the dazzling blue sky and drifting clouds. How often do I miss the beauty that fills each day?

 

 


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A life rich in the living of it

I’ve taken a break from writing my blog for the past couple of months. I’ve been immersed in my theology studies and activities at school and in community. Life has been so rich in the living of it that I haven’t felt compelled to write about what has been going on. But I’ve started to feel that longing again to write, so I will continue as I can amidst the hustle and bustle of life.

Centre Island amusement park closed up for the winter.

One of the great treasures I have been enjoying is the gift of friendship. I feel very wealthy in friends these days, which is a big shift from when I moved to Toronto four years ago and knew practically no one. Bit by bit, I have met a wonderful miscellany of people – at school, in the community, and through various ministries – and I have been blessed to make a number of good friends. People who ask interesting questions, who laugh with me, and who challenge me to try new things and to see life from different perspectives.

Petite admiring the Canadian autumnal flora. 

At home, I feel especially blessed by friendship. I have been growing deeper in friendship with the younger sisters who are living in the Loretto community – Melinda, Maria, and Petite. I feel such a shift in my heart these past few months. After feeling lonesome for so much of last year, lonesome for peer relationships, and female friendships, in particular, I find myself gifted with these fantastic women and a joyful solidarity.

With Melinda and Petite.

A couple of weeks ago we went out to Centre Island to enjoy the autumn day. It was a great adventure – a time for spiritual conversation, laughter, and discovery. Being with these women made me think of Mary Ward, who was ‘apt for friendship’ and who said, ‘Let thy love be at all times rooted in God and then remain faithful to thy friend and value him highly, even more highly than thy life’.

Following the boardwalk to Ward’s Island.

And, of course, I also thought of Malcolm Guite, who wrote about old ways renewed by friends, in “Prayer/Walk”:

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,
Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,
And crossing places taken hand in hand,

The passages where nothing need be said,
With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot
And unexpected birdsong overhead,

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,
The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,
The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

A track once beaten and now overgrown
With complex textures, every kind of green,
Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,

The rich meandering of streams at play,
A setting out to find oneself astray,
And coming home at dusk a different way.

Cloud-and lake-scape melting into one.


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Ioannina and Vergina

Ioannina

From Meteora, we travelled to Ioannina, a city in Northern Greece that tradition holds was founded by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 6thcentury C.E. Ioannina flourished in the late Byzantine period (13th–15th centuries). Ioannina surrendered to the Ottomans in 1430 and there is a strong Turkish influence that can be seen today.

The walls of the old city.

Ottoman baths

The Ioannina Municipal Museum – a converted mosque. It houses an excellent collection of artifacts describing the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities that resided in Ioannina over the centuries. A Jewish marriage certificate


Traditional dress

The main area of the mosque, once used for prayer.

The grounds of the museum contained beautiful stone structures, now mostly abandoned, and a small graveyard.

Vergina

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of Vergina. We stopped here on our way to Makrinitsa to visit the tomb of Philip II (the father of Alexander the Great). The site has a fantastic museum showcasing the many artifacts that were discovered intact within the tomb. It sheds light on ancient burial customs and beliefs. Check out Aigaiand the archeological site.


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She’s just too beautiful

Last week I arrived home from holiday. I spent two glorious weeks in Greece with my dad and stepmom. It was  the best holiday I have taken in many, many years. The perfect blend of activity and rest. We took an incredible road trip and visited Delphi, Meteora, Ioannina, Vergina, Makrinitsa and Pelion, and Athens. Then we spent over a week together on the island of Kea, just relaxing and enjoying the sun and sea, swimming, sunbathing, eating bread from the fournos, reading, playing rummy, tending kittens, sipping ouzaki, and exploring the ancient sites of the island. I returned home rested and renewed, grateful for the precious time spent with the people I love most.

Over the next few posts I will share some highlights from the places we visited.

Delphi

Our first stop was the archeological site of Delphi, with the famous oracle of Apollo.  In the 6th century B.C.E, Dephi was an important religious centre in the ancient Greek world. According to mythology, Delphi was understood to be the meeting point of two eagles released by Zeus, one in the east and one in the west.

One of the ancient treasuries at Delphi.

The site of the ancient oracle of Apollo.

Looking up at the remains of the Temple of Apollo.

The remains of the Temple of Apollo.

The amphitheatre.

The stadium.

Meteora

High atop the cliffs, six (of an original 24) Greek Orthodox monasteries are precariously perched. Most are no longer inhabited although the two nunneries (convents) still house orders of nuns. It is thought that the monasteries were established sometime in the 14thcentury C.E. to provide refuge from invading Turks. This is a spectacular place to visit (though the treks up to the monasteries are arduous!) and the views are incredible. My favourite monastery was the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

 

 

The Grand Meteora monastery.

Climbing up the Grand Meteora. 

The views from the top. Kalambaka, the town nestled at the feet of Meteora.

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity. 

Just imagine bringing up supplies in a basket like this!

An icon of the Holy Trinity of God.

St. Barbara, patron saint of the Greek artillery. From the Roussanou Monastery (nunnery).

The secret garden at Roussanou!