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

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[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

The angel and the girl are met.

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[Stained glass window, Chapelle des Jésuites, Quebec City.]

The Annunciation

The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.

The eternal spirits in freedom go.
See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other’s face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He’s come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
Of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way.
Sound’s perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

– Edwin Muir

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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Image of God

As I travel to and from work on the subway I am reading a book shared by my candidacy director. God of Surprises by Gerard W. Hughes, SJ has given me so much to think about and pray about over the last couple of weeks.

There are so many passages that I would love to copy and paste into this blog, but I think I would end up reproducing the whole book! Better, perhaps, to focus on smaller portions at a time.

Right now I am struck by what he says about having a false image of God. In Chapter 3 – Inner Chaos and False Images of God – he presents an illustration of the kind of image we can have of God, when we have been introduced to God by our parents and other adults when we were children:

“God was a family relative, much admired by Mum and Dad, who described him as very loving, a great friend of the family, very powerful and interested in us all. Eventually we are taken to visit ‘Good Old Uncle George’. He lives in a formidable mansion, is bearded, gruff and threatening. We cannot share our parents’ professed admiration for this jewel in the family. At the end of the visit, Uncle George turns to address us. ‘Now listen, dear,’ he begins, looking very severe, ‘I want to see you here once a week, and if you fail to come, let me just show you what will happen to you.’ He then leads us down to the mansion’s basement. It is dark, becomes hotter and hotter as we descend, and we begin to hear unearthly screams. In the basement there are steel doors. Uncle George opens one. ‘Now look in there, dear,’ he says. We see a nightmare vision, an array of blazing furnaces with little demons in attendance, who hurl into the blaze those men and women and children who failed to visit Uncle George or to act in a way he approved. ‘And if you don’t visit me, dear, that is where you will most certainly go’, says Uncle George. He then takes us upstairs again to meet Mum and Dad. As we go home, tightly clutching Dad with one hand and Mum with the other, Mum leans over us and says, ‘And now don’t you love Uncle George with all your heart and soul, mind and strength?’ And we, loathing the monster, say ‘Yes I do,’ because to say anything else would be to join the queue at the furnace. At a tender age religious schizophrenia has set in and we keep telling Uncle George how much we love him and how good he is and that we want to do only what pleases him. We observe what we are told are his wishes and dare not admit, even to ourselves, that we loathe him.

Uncle George is a caricature, but a caricature of a truth, the truth that we can construct a God who is an image of our tyrannical selves. Hell-fire sermons are out of fashion, but they were in fashion a few decades ago and they may well come in again. Such sermons have a great appeal to certain unhealthy types of mind, but they cause havoc with the more healthy and sensitive.

Our notion of God is mediated to us through parents, teachers and clergy. We do not come to know God directly…Intellectually, I may know that God is not like Uncle George, but it is my feelings about God which determine how I approach him, and they do not change as easily as my ideas. Uncle George is not easily exorcised from my emotions and, although I may know in my my mind that God is not like that, I may still experience a strong disinclination to approach him, without knowing why, and find a thousand reasons for not praying – I am too busy, I prefer to find him through my work, etc. We have to pray constantly to be rid of false notions of God, and we have to beg him to teach us who he is, for no one else can.”

To me, this is fascinating. I think about my own ideas of God and I see that they are contradictory. I believe that God is loving, is in fact Love itself, and offers unconditional love, and yet I still feel that I need to do things to earn God’s love. There are the right prayers, right actions, right thoughts that will earn me God’s love. So somewhere in there, in the recesses of my mind and heart, there is a battle between my images of God – a God who is all loving but is also a taskmaster I have to please. Maybe it is the result of the condition of our society where we constantly strive to prove ourselves and earn respect and admiration, and even friendship, from others. So somehow I also want to earn the respect and admiration of God (and surely, entering religious life has got to be a surefire way to do that!). It’s going to take me quite a while to wrestle with this.

 

Advent

I live my Advent in the womb of Mary,

And on one night when a great star swings free

from its high mooring and walks down the sky

to the dot above the Christus i,

I shall be born of her by blessed grace.

I wait in Mary darkness, faith’s walled place,

With hope’s expectance of nativity.

I knew for long she carried me and fed me,

guarded and loved me, though I could not see.

But only now, with inward jubilee,

I come upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:

someone is hidden in this dark with me.

– Jessica Powers, OCD (Discalced Carmelites)

On retreat

Villa St. Joseph
Villa St. Joseph

I’m back from a weekend retreat at Villa St. Joseph in Cobourg, ON.

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Hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, it was a perfect way to begin the Advent season.  There was time to read, pray, explore the house and grounds (at one time a summer home for the daughter of American President Ulysses S. Grant!), and of course, enjoy delicious meals prepared by their cook. I’ve come back the Abbey feeling refreshed and ready for Advent and the busy month of December.

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Candidacy Reception

program cover
program cover

This evening I was formally accepted into candidacy with the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The program was beautiful and touching.  I feel very loved by this community and it is very humbling.  It’s a bit overwhelming, really.  I managed to hold off the tears until the end, when I received a congratulatory hug from the vocations director, and then I couldn’t keep it in any longer.  It’s hard to express the gratitude I feel to have reached this point.  Nine years to get here and it’s really only the beginning.

Today we also celebrate the feast of Christ the King and so I know that this day, in fact, belongs to God and not to me.  I feel blessed to have found this community, led here by God, and my heart is open to whatever lies ahead.

 

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!

Greektown

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Getting off at the Chester subway stop, I started my tour of Greektown. What a lively area of the city!  Lots of shops and restaurants and people on the go.

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I had been craving a gyro for lunch and decided to stop at Messini Authentic Gyros. Delicious! For $10 I had a massive (and delicious!) gyro, fries, and a drink. (I took the photo below with my phone and it doesn’t accurately capture the generous portions!)

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Thoroughly satiated (and with enough leftover to take home for dinner!), I walked along Danforth, checking out the shops and sights.

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One store I wandered into sold an assortment of Greek books, music and DVDs. I passed bakeries and supermarkets, all selling Greek products. I had a great time checking out Treasure Island Toys. Even though it really is too early in the year to be thinking of Christmas, I couldn’t resist the Christmas storefront window display.

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Despite the wet and chilly day, I really enjoyed exploring Greektown. It’s definitely on my list of places to return to soon!

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Malcolm Guite

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