Taking a time out

Coming out of the First Spiritual Exercises (FSE) retreat that recently concluded at Regis College, I made the resolution to make a retreat day once a month. Nothing too formal, just a day set aside to be with God and to hang out the way I hang out with friends. A time out from the usual routine.

So today I purposefully spent the day with God. We walked over to see the old Loretto convent on Brunswick Avenue, now turned into beautiful condos called “The Loretto”. Then we went to Indigo to browse the books and inadvertently stumbled upon Canadian icons. Sharon and Bram (of Sharon, Lois, and Bram fame) were there giving a children’s concert and talking about their book Skinnamarink.

It was a childhood dream come true. I remember watching their show in the mid-’80s and being terribly jealous of the children who got to perform on their show and sing with them (those darned beautiful children with their adorable lisps and slight off key-ness). How I wanted to be up there on stage singing along with “Tingalayo” and “Little Rabbit Foo-Foo”. Well, this morning I had my chance. Not to sing on stage with them. The requisite adorable kids were already there and beat me to it. But I did get to wander along looking at books in the science fiction section, singing along to “Tingalayo” and a new-to-me classic, “I Had an Old Coat”. It was bliss. 

This afternoon I continued my retreat by going out for tea. I wanted a chance to read old journals and to write in my current journal. And why not do so in the company of strangers with a chai latte? Questions came up during my FSE that I wanted to explore, and part of that exploration required going back into the past. So, I read a couple of journals from 10 years ago. They made me laugh (and a few entries made me want to cry) and I realized, my God, I am really me. I am so me. While the external circumstances of my life have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, I haven’t actually changed all that much (except hopefully, ever so slightly, for the better in some respects). My preoccupations and anxieties are pretty much the same, just transplanted into a new context. Realizations that I have about myself now are just a bit further along compared to the realizations I had then. In large part, it was consoling to read my journal, to see that I am growing, in baby steps for sure, but growing nonetheless. 

The always inspiring Eucharistic prayer.

This evening I went to the Church of the Redeemer for their monthly Rock Eucharist. Tonight the Eucharist featured the music of Alanis Morissette. How could I resist? If Sharon, Lois, and Bram provided the soundtrack for my childhood, Alanis Morissette provided the soundtrack for my teenage years and early adulthood. It was a beautiful liturgy, albeit with a couple of surprising song choices (I hadn’t expected “All I Really Want” to be the offertory song), but it was meaningful and thought-provoking. The pastor gave a beautiful sermon and spoke about the tensions we all hold in life. Like Alanis sings, “I’m sad but I’m laughing, I’m brave but I’m chicken shit.” We are rarely one or the other. We are both. And often both at the same time. 

My old journals reminded me of the tensions I held 10 years ago, which, it turns out, are not so different from the tensions I hold now. In one entry I wrote: You know, for awhile I thought Ron Rolheiser had it all figured out. [I had been reading several of his books.] He knows about loneliness, sadness, feeling unfulfilled, but he seems content to live the tension out. Prolong it, enjoy it almost. It seems so difficult to me. My patience hinders me, well, my lack of patience.

I think Ron Rolheiser does have it figured out. Not that I particularly enjoy the tensions inherent in my life, but by the grace of God, I think they are getting a little bit easier to hold.   

‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket…

Praying with the music of Joni Mitchell

While walking along Bloor Street a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a sign advertising a ‘Rock Eucharist’ at The Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican parish, featuring the music of Joni Mitchell. Being a big Joni Mitchell fan, I was immediately intrigued.

It’s rare to find experimentation like this in the Roman Catholic Mass so I really wasn’t too sure what to expect from the Rock Eucharist. I have to say that I was enchanted by it. It was prayerful, reverent, meaningful, and, yes, experimental.

The Ice Offering. In 2000, I visited my grandmother in Saskatoon and she took me to the Mendel Art Gallery to see “voices”, an exhibition of Joni Mitchell’s artwork. Her paintings, like her music, are evocative.

The themes of creation and conservation were woven throughout the liturgy, drawing from the same themes found in the music selected for the evening. We sang “Big Yellow Taxi” as the opening song, “Woodstock” as a sort of responsorial psalm, “Both Sides Now” as the offertory, “Passion Play (When All the Slaves Are Free)” as the communion song, and “Love” as the closing. The combination of the music and the prayer was powerful, and to be honest, because I found it so unusual, I was very attentive to all of the details.

Middle Point

What I found was that the break from the liturgy routine I am used to opened me up to a renewed encounter with God, hearing God speak to me in new language. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the spirituality and soul-searching qualities of Joni Mitchell’s music. Long have I admired and enjoyed her work and to hear her music in the setting of a liturgy gave it a deeper richness for me.

Both Sides 2

I hadn’t heard her song “Love” before, a meditation on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13). It’s beautiful and compels me to meditate on Paul’s letter myself.

Love

Although I speak in tongues
Of men and angels
I’m just sounding brass
And tinkling cymbals without love

Love suffers long
Love is kind!
Enduring all things
Love has no evil in mind

If I had the gift of prophecy
And all the knowledge
And the faith to move the mountains
Even if I understood all of the mysteries
If I didn’t have love
I’d be nothing
Love never looks for love
Love’s not puffed up
Or envious
Or touchy
Because it rejoices in truth
Not in iniquity
Love sees like a child sees
As a child I spoke as a child
I thought and understood as a child
But when I became a woman
I put away childish things
And began to see through a glass darkly

Where as a child I saw it face to face
Now I only know it in part
Fractions in me
Of faith and hope and love
And of these great three
Love’s the greatest beauty
Love
Love
Love

– Joni Mitchell