I’ll be home with bells on

I’m heading home to Calgary for Christmas and departing tonight! Two weeks of holiday fun with family and friends. Can’t wait to see everyone and partake in the usual traditions. I’m looking forward to making pink popcorn with Little Brother, hunkering down for the annual family Lord of the Rings marathon (we will soon have to add The Hobbit to this viewing tradition!), playing games on Boxing Day with my aunts, uncles and cousins, and just generally relaxing. .

As I finish up my packing, I’m listening to Kenny and Dolly and getting in the spirit!

 

The bells of waiting Advent ring

christmas candle

[Christmas candle, Lisa Cyr, Flickr/Creative Commons]

Christmas

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare —
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

– John Betjeman

Seasonal beauty

I love the Advent and Christmas seasons in the church. They are beautiful seasons of hope, joy, faith, and love – together we celebrate the beauty of life and of creation. The beauty of Advent and Christmas is often revealed to me through poetry, story, and music so over the next few weeks, I am going to post a variety of the poems, stories and music (if I can figure out how to embed music or perhaps YouTube videos in to this blog – I am still discovering how to use this site!) that are meaningful to me. I hope you will enjoy them!

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A trip to the capital

I was in Ottawa for a few days this week for work. It was wonderful to reconnect with coworkers and friends. Even though I’ve only been in Toronto for 7 weeks or so, it feels like much longer to me. It was a whirlwind three days, but lots of fun.

I was happy to be able to go to Ottawa to join my colleagues for our National Child Day celebrations. Our department is responsible for organizing federal activities for this day – November 20th – also known as Universal Children’s Day. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child so there were many events taking place around town.

We went to the annual National Child Day Senate Breakfast in the morning, facilitated a webinar on public health and children’s rights in the early afternoon (a collaborative effort between our department, CHNET-Works!, and presenters from UNICEF Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, and a youth panel from the Students Commission), and attended an event at the Landon Pearson Resource Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights in the late afternoon. I was exhausted by the end of the day but so happy to experience the passion people have for human rights, and for the rights of children. I don’t know what the future will hold for me in religious life, in terms of work, but I do hope to continue to work on children’s rights in some way. There is so much that needs to be done!

Tonight I have been preparing for a special celebration that will take place tomorrow afternoon. I am officially being received into the community as a candidate. It’s very exciting! I have been given a copy of the program (which I will post tomorrow after the celebration has taken place). It has been beautifully and thoughtfully put together by my candidacy director – I have a feeling that I will end up crying by the end of it!

How did I get here? (Part 1)

This is a question that has a long answer. The short answer is most definitely: God has called me here. But how do I know that God has called me here? How does anyone know what God is calling them to do? Well, I can’t answer for everyone, but I can answer for myself. It has taken a long time to get to this place (hence, this story will be covered over the course a few posts – prepare yourself!). In fact, it has taken me 9 years to reach this point.

Although I have been a practicing Catholic all of my life, I would never have classified myself as particularly religious. Growing up in Calgary, I attended Mass with my family, went to Catholic schools, and volunteered at my parish here and there, but my faith was not something I advertised or made public. I always felt slightly self-conscious about it. I certainly never would have considered a vocation to religious life – I didn’t even know any nuns! However, in 2003, my mom passed away after a long illness. Faced with questions, doubt, and grief, I turned to God for answers and comfort. It was at that point that my relationship with God matured and I began to pray with greater intent and purpose, seeking direction in my life – what should I do? What kind of career should I have? Where should I live?

After a year of feeling lost and confused, I felt God leading me to Ottawa in 2004 to pursue graduate studies. I felt right at home in Ottawa and quickly found a wonderful community of friends. I joined my neighbourhood parish and was welcomed immediately. My faith life was nourished there and unexpected things began to happen!

I first felt God’s nudge towards religious life in 2005, when I was watching the funeral of St. John Paul II on television. At one point there was shot of St. Peter’s square and I saw all of the men and women religious gathered there. I felt this longing in my heart and I thought to myself, I wonder if I could do that. Of course at the time, I didn’t recognize this a call from God. I just thought I was getting a bit emotional. It was only months later when a friend and I were talking, and she asked me if I had ever thought about religious life. I said, “No. Well, maybe.” I told her about what had happened but that I didn’t think that was how God called people. It felt far too subtle. Don’t most people become nuns or priests after some major supernatural event? Don’t the heavens open up and there are visions of angels and flashes of lightning?

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JP II Funeral

However, my small experience seemed to be good enough for my friend. She pushed me to check out religious communities in Ottawa. I thought, No way. I’m in the middle of a masters degree. When I’m done I’m getting a job with the government. I’m pretty sure God wants me to have a stable job, a good pension, and probably one day to become a Deputy Minister. I pushed the thought away.

What am I doing here?

Good question. What am I doing in Toronto with a group of women I barely know, navigating my way through a new city, when it seemed like I had everything I wanted in Ottawa?

Well, the short answer is: I am here because I was called here. (Much more on that later.) By asking to become a candidate with the Loretto Sisters, I have asked to deepen my understanding of religious life by spending a year living with the community. In essence, I am testing it out, seeing whether it is right for me. This next year will be a year of further discernment (reflection, decision-making) of the path I feel God has asked me to take.

I will find out what it means to live my life as a religious sister, to figure out if this is what God is actually calling me to do, and whether this community of sisters, the Loretto Sisters, are the community for me.

It’s a year of unknowns. While some things are the same (I continue to do the same job – albeit from a different location, still have access to my own car and resources, am free to pursue my interests, see friends and family, etc.), other things are very different. I packed up my house in Ottawa, and have gone from having a huge amount of personal space to having my own bedroom. It’s kind of like being in university residence again (although my floor mates are much tidier!), which is an odd place to be in after so many years on my own. I am also living with a group of women who are far older than I am. Many of them have been in religious life for 50, 60, or more years. I am not among my peer group, which I am sure will present its own challenges as time goes on.

But for now, I am savouring the adventure! It’s a chance to be different, to be open to newness, and to see the world from a different perspective.

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog, created to share my discernment experience with family and friends. In my blog, I’ll write about what has drawn me to religious life and how I came to recognize this call. I’ll also write about daily life at Loretto Abbey, the ups and downs of candidacy, the history of the Loretto Sisters (Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary), and their foundress, Mary Ward.

I hope that this will allow my family and friends living far from me to better understand what this journey is about and to help you feel part of my journey.

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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