Singing & Praying Taizé

As you might imagine from my absence from blogging – life is just overwhelmingly busy, busy this year. I am hoping that next year my teaching workload may be less, or perhaps DH will be around for more than 1 week of 4 (average) with the work he is currently doing. But life right now is pretty overwhelming.

There are many amazing blessings which I appreciate so much, and much joy to be found. I just wish more sleep (and the energy to maintain a tidier house) was a part of the package! I have been moving more and more into the excitement of the journey of faith, though. A great part of this is meeting regularly with two friends to talk, study the upcoming mass readings, and pray. Another involves listening to many Journey Home episodes (for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZUBhZDj0_w) while doing the necessary nightly tasks of getting the lunch dishes washed. I have become more and more interested in the Catholic faith, of which I am a part. There are still some tough questions though – some of which come to the fore when I occasionally read about the experience of those in the LGBTQ community. (one – Catholic, Gay and Feeling Fine – gives an invaluable view into the Catholic Faith: http://www.stevegershom.com/ and the others really makes me question how we can be loving and accepting of all: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/permissiontolive/2013/03/oblivious-to-privilegepart-two.html

Anyway. Amid all of this I had the opportunity to go on retreat (thank you parents, for coming up to look after things on the home front so that I could go!) I attended a Taizé Lenten retreat at Loyola House, a Jesuit retreat centre. One thing I like about Loyola House is that I have met people there from many different faith traditions – various Christian backgrounds (Anglican, United, Lutheran … I don’t think I have met any from Baptist or Quaker though) and also some non-Christian backgrounds (Buddhist, Agnostic).

The retreat was completely, utterly, amazing. Not only was it truly a retreat, I had the chance to participate in evening, midday, and morning prayers in the Taizé singing format. I find this to be such deep prayer and connection with God and community. Singing is a natural way to connect with the divine for me, and I was really ready for a time to live the peace and quiet of a time to just focus on God and self, with some awareness of and sharing with others. (not to mention naps, cups of tea, fantastic food and nibbling on cookies!)

I have not done many retreats, but those I’ve found most productive in terms of listening to God have been 6 or 8 day completely silent retreats. This one had periods of silence (breakfast, morning, mid-day prayer), which I cherished. But the singing … one reflection that came to me (especially as I ponder the Catholic teaching on what it means to be male or female, what we bring to our lives in this way) – is how singing perfectly integrates and depends upon each role. I personally love hearing the bass voices of the men, which underlie and provide a foundation for all singing. I love hearing the soprano voices soar – they are often the superstars of the music – though I myself am not soprano. I sing alto. While less ‘showy’ it is often very interesting. You have to be attentive to the melody, and try to balance it perfectly. Sometimes altos do carry the melody, too! And tenors as well have some very interesting roles to play, and key harmonies to sing. When all these different voices are put together, I sometimes find it unspeakably moving and beautiful.

Now, the Taizé songs (or chants) are not performance art. They are prayer – and I could really feel that. They are short, simple, usually harmonized songs or chants which are repeated many times. They seem to sink into the heart and sing of themselves. I often would stop singing and let myself be carried along by the music. Something about participating, being in community with others in various degrees of suffering upon this road …. you know, I guess it is the action of Holy Spirit acting among us all – there was such a feeling of being carried upon a swelling current in the ocean. Most songs have English translations, which is what was usually sung. We also sang in Latin, French, and Spanish.

Here I am listening to my discs of Taizé now that I am back home – and they are beautiful, I can sing with them – but it does not compare to the experience of singing & praying with them in community. I am so thankful to have had that experience.

In case you have never heard of Taizé songs, here are a couple of samples. I hope you will find them beautiful, but rest assured that their real power comes in the singing of them – with others.

God bless us all, and the new pope as well!

Bénissez le seigneur

Confitemini Domino (come and fill our hearts, Lord)

Stay with us:

In honour of Remembrance Day

I’m sorry it’s been so quiet lately – life is crazy busy and I can barely keep up with what I need to do day to day. I realized that getting on the computer to blog and read blogs can result in too much time on the computer, so I have banned myself from blogs Mon-Fri. This means that I have quite a few posts to catch up on over the weekend and I haven’t managed to balance it with writing much myself.

However, I did want to share this song and video with you, in honour of Remembrance day. It is based on an actual experience of the song writer, Terry Kelly.

We had our Remembrance Day assembly at school today. Our school population includes many who come from other countries, some of which are not as peaceful as ours. We are so very fortunate in Canada – thanks to those who have answered the call when it had to be done.

Small victories: Washing carpet squares in the washing machine

I’ve been putting in a lot of time to get my classroom ready for the first day of school. I moved from an older portable (in not very good condition) to a newer portable (better flooring, better lighting, air conditioning that works well). Unfortunately the custodians didn’t have time to get everything quite as I would have liked, so I was in washing walls and shelves (they wouldn’t have been able to wash the shelves anyway – I had a ton of stuff stored there), and desks and chairs (these are usually done for me, so I am not sure why they were overlooked).

Anyway I don’t have my bulletin boards up, but the walls are clean. I am going to try the approach of having the kids involved in the design of things anyway – though I may still block out general areas. We’ll see. I would like to have an area of celebration – I teach at a very multicultural, multifaith school and last year I didn’t do much celebrating, even of holidays I love (like Christmas). Then I need areas for reference charts, places to display the expectations for assignments, and I’d like a place to display and celebrate student work too. It gets complicated because I am teaching the French half of French immersion to a split grade 4/5 and grade 6. It will be a busy year!

Anyway on to the carpet. I had a stack of carpet squares passed on to me last year. YOu can imagine that they were not so inviting by now. I have never tried deep cleaning carpet and renting a machine and all seems a bit overwhelming when I already feel overwhelmed. So I looked up how to wash carpet in the washing machine, and headed down to the laundromat.

Here is what I did:
1) vacuumed the back
2) vacuumed the front
3) sprayed spot remover on the stains

at the laundromat I rolled each mat up with the carpet side facing out and placed them in washers where the drum was a pretty close fit to the rolls. I fit 4 comfortably per machine (these are front loaders) and I stuffed 5 into the last load. Then I put in laundry detergent and vinegar in the fabric softener slot, where I had added a tiny bit of tea tree oil to the vinegar for extra anti-bacterial properties.

I put the wash temp onto warm, took a deep breath and pushed the button.

They all came out nicely (though I think a couple are a bit more frayed where they didn’t have good edging.) They are sitting out to dry outside right now – hopefully they will dry nicely.

I guess only time will tell if the adhesive on the back has been weakened. So far they look good though!

http://www.ehow.com/how_2341475_keep-rugs-safe-washing-machine.html

Bragging and Narcissism versus being valued for who we are

Ahhh …. back home again, however humble, after a holiday away. I thought I would do lots of blogging but it didn’t turn out that way.

Although my coffee isn’t as good as my aunt’s “second cup,” insulated coffee thermos kind (on my list of luxuries for someday), I enjoy sipping it while I peruse cbc.ca – especially when I find an article as interesting as one on how faceb.ook and other elements of our culture encourage, or perhaps reflect? our growing trend to be narcissistic.

This touches a nerve with me because I think the more we have invested in being perfect, successful, and in basing our pride in ourselves at what we do – the more brittle and stressed and vulnerable we are. If we are convinced of our value just because we are us, if we know we are loved because of who we are and we don’t need to prove anything to anyone, I think we are so much happier. At least, I have found that once I could let go of being successful and feeling that disaster would happen if I made a misstep, life became a whole lot better. (Of course there are many times I fall into this trap still).

I do feel that we have an obligation to use our gifts and talents to the best of our ability, and strive to learn, grow, improve and make the world a better place. It’s just that success isn’t the end-all and be-all. I guess it connects to a statement that made a real impression on my this summer … in our society, people are valued for what they produce and not for who they are. Thus a person who has Down’s syndrome, or is elderly, may not be seen as having the same worth as someone who is a celebrity.

Having this idea spelled out so clearly – to value others not for what they produce but appreciating and loving who they are – will really help me in the coming teaching year. Not that I ever (to my knowledge) valued high-achieving students over others. I have often emphasized effort and intention over results. But I want to remind myself to value, love, appreciate those in my life just for who they are right now, before thinking of how to push them to expand their horizons and develop their ability to persevere, take responsibility, etc.

The cbc article about how social media plays into this trend of relentlessly managing our image seems to have be drawn in from a post in the Wall Str.eet Jou.rnal (both links included below) and you may be interested to read them. I think it would take way less energy to just be ourselves instead of to be setting up an image and then trying to be the image. But in order to accept ourselves we have to be at peace with our weaknesses and failures … and where is the support and learning for how to do that in our current culture??

cbc link:http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2012/08/has-facebook-spawned-a-bragging-epidemic.html
WSJ link:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444184704577587091630924000.html

Easter 2012

Well, I would like to think that misfit was writing about me when she complained about bloggers letting weeks go by without a post – but since I think I number in the months – I guess I will just let myself be inspired by her.

So, Easter … every few years it really hits me – there is something that becomes clear to me, a new direction, a new revelation of God. It does not happen every year. In 2002 there was an especially powerful year (I was on a retreat) when I realized how pride underlay so much of my life, of my fears and the pressures I put on myself, and how I wanted to be free of it. In the ten years since this was revealed to me I have seen even more clearly how pride ensnared me, and I do feel much more free from it now (though it is still there for sure). I just had a feeling that something big was ready for me this year. It was – but – it wasn’t what or how I expected.

Holy Thursday, the mass of the Lord’s supper, was so unlike what I expected. Even years where there is no big ‘revelation’ this is a special mass for me. I have celebrated it in many different churches, depending on where we were living or if I was on retreat or whatnot. As far as I can recall it has always been a celebration of how we should serve and love one another, ‘washing each others’ feet.’ I have seen members of the parish have their feet washed by the priest – men, women, old, young. I’ve had my feet washed and have washed the feet of others. Then there is the institution of the Eucharist and the love in that.

This year I felt unexpectedly, shockingly shut out – the door slammed in my face. Now this was a visceral reaction, which I have been trying to process. I don’t say that it is ‘right’ – but it is what I experienced.

Our new priest (Fr J) is, in many ways, more … hmmm … traditional. He’s from Africa so there is a difference in culture. He’s much different to Fr G, who was in his 80′s, steady, quiet, loving, and rock solid on what he thought was right and wrong (but always with love). Fr J has a lot of energy and is really into building community and has a lot of good points – though I don’t connect to him in the same way that I did to Fr G.

So, at thursday mass, he had 12 people up to wash their feet. All men. All older (youngest maybe 42 or so?) It was so different from what I expected that I had a strong emotional reaction of being completely shut out. There were none of the women who faithfully serve our parish up there – older, younger … there were no young people … there wasn’t anyone there I saw as ‘like me’ – it felt like I was seeing an old boys, patriarchal kind of club up there. (No disrespect intended to some of the really great guys up there, please understand!)

Anyway as you can imagine – no great revelation – but alot of frustration, resentment, stewing, sadness and loneliness for the rest of the service. I actually felt close to tears, like I had been kicked out of my home or something like that. It gave me an inkling of how perhaps some women feel about women being denied priesthood (though that does not bother me – I am at peace with that).

That night and over the next few weeks I did research and I think I know why this came about. I had always experienced this service as being about love, and serving others – even the most lowly. Fr G sees it as the celebration of when the eucharist and the all-male priesthood was instituted. So instead of it being about love and service to all, it was about Jesus preparing his male followers to be priests. That is actually, from what I gather, how the Catholic church wants it celebrated.

Thus, I think my reaction was because my expectation was so far different from what happened. I still haven’t talked to Fr J about it and I don’t know if I will. I may go to the other RC church in town next Holy Thursday though, to see what is done there. I feel that this shouldn’t matter so much to me, that I should just get over it, but honestly I am still upset about it. Part of me feels I should not be upset (because it sounds like this is what the church indicates should be anyway), and part of me really feels like the way I am used to it being bears such wonderful fruits of love and connected instead of isolation, why is it wrong?

Anyway. That did not get Easter going on the note I had hoped. I was quite happy to head 3 hours down the highway to the Home Town in time for Good Friday mass (previously I’d been wanting to stay in the town where I live until I absolutely had to go for family visiting – in my books, Christmas is the holiday where family has priority, and Easter it’s the religious part that should be top consideration).

Good Friday mass was good (but I was still roiling with upset from the day before) though no breakthrough moments.

But Easter mass – one line from the homily – and then suddenly all kinds of things jumped out at me. The priest was going through different things and mentioned that really, selfishness is at the root of many, even all or almost all, of our sins – of the ways we distance ourselves from God. That hit me between the eyes.

After receiving communion I prayed about this. I told Jesus how I knew this was true of me but I didn’t quite know what to do with it. The answer was something like: ‘Haven’t you been asking, and seeking to find what gifts I would like from you? Give me your selfishness – this is the gift I desire.’ Ummm. I’d been thinking about giving GOOD gifts. You know, my hard work helping out a student who needs help … being the world’s most amazing mom or wife or friend or daughter … hm. Selfishness just doesn’t sound like a ‘gift’ kind of offering, does it.

so I prayed more over this, asking God if he was really sure this was what he wanted – and feeling quite convinced that it absolutely is, that this would bring him joy … and so that is the journey I was on.

For 10 years I’ve been offering up pride, and now I am continuing with that but also offering up selfishness. Not exactly the revelation I had hoped for but I do trust it is what I need!

I suppose there may be a connection between my reaction to Thursday mass and the underlying pride and selfishness that bring me unhappiness. But I am not convinced yet that that is all there is. It really felt like what I imagine it would be to be rejected from your family when you expected a warm and loving welcome.

I guess I have another year (or 10 months) to sit with it.

Thoughts on God and prayer

This post is based on an email I wrote to a friend, after a few minutes of conversation today.  She is really questioning right now – God’s existence, the usefulness of prayer, etc.  But she still came to mass today so I know she is still pursuing in her quest!  Please keep her in your prayers.

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I do believe that God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing (this last one because I think time works differently for Him – not in a linear way as it does for us – it’s one of the things I am most curious to experience when my time on earth is done.)

However how can all the evils of this world exist if God is all-loving – that was the key question for me when I was seeking the answer to ‘does God exist or not.’

You know I love science and studying it in high school and university was wonderful … so often I was taken by surprise by the miracles I could see under the microscope, or what came out of the proofs and theories, etc.  To me, it is like God left His fingerprints all over creation, and when you happen to glance over and see it – it is amazing.  A sunset, a strong wind, the music of the ocean or some other natural beauty has a similar effect like that for me.

It also gave me a lot of respect for the laws of nature, math and physics – which are laws because they have never been proven false.  (A theory can never be ‘proven true’ – you can have findings consistent with the theory – but it can be disproven if you find credible evidence that goes against it.

So, when God acts in the universe – to me, He has to play by His own rules.  In the words of Einstein ‘God does not play dice with the universe’ – it would be a horrendously confusing place for us if He did.

What is the point of praying, then?  As I see it – God works through human beings  as well as through the laws of nature.  We are his hands, his heart on earth.  Here are some things I have prayed about recently.  For all of these, I pray earnestly for what I really want or am hoping for, but I try to also pray,and I pray that I can truly mean, ‘Not my will, but they will be done’ as Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.

1.  DBIL’s surgery – for the doctors and nurses to be open and responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit within them as the surgery was performed.  I prayed that they would remove every last bit of anything that was cancerous.  I prayed for the Spirit to be with DBIL’s heart and mind, in every cell of his body, to work towards recovery.  I prayed for the Spirit to give DBIL, DSIL, his family, the nurses and cleaners and everyone in the hospital – for them to have strength and courage and love and that they would see and not miss any chance of whatever they could do to bring him to full health, happiness and lack of pain possible.

2. DH’s job situation – Thank God for everything He has given us to now, and the ways that He is working for good even in this very difficult situation.  Pray for His will to be done above all.  Tell Him how hard it is to not have DH home, how I worry about that impact on the family, and ask Him to provide a job opportunity that is nearby so that we can be intact in our current home town again (while recognizing that if God intends for us to all move out West or somewhere, I need to be open to that too).  Ask God for the Spirit to move in DH’s heart and mind, and that of the recruiter or company seeing his resumé, that if it is the right thing for DH, for our family and for the company – that the Spirit will lead everyone involved to bring DH into that job.  

3.  Infertiity – this, as you know, was a big, big deal for us.  My prayers here centered around God changing my heart to desire His will above all else, and if His will was not for us to be parents, to change that intense desire that I had.  If His will was for parenthood for us, that He would open our eyes to the way He was leading; that He would open a path to us, guide us to the right people and to the right decisions.  Every month I would hope and pray that he would guide the sperm and egg together, that HIs Spirit would come down to provide the soul of a new little being that might become our son or daughter.  Every month when it didn’t happen, I would ask for comfort as I cried, knowing that Jesus too had struggled with God’s will for his life (before Easter) – struggled such that his heart was sorrowful unto death, that he had sweat like drops of blood, that he was in agony.  I knew He could understand my pain, at least part of what I was suffering.

I would love to give more examples …. I try to pray for my students every day – Friday was a particularly bad day, but I really felt God beside me – when trying to manage a difficult situation with a student I felt the words, like a pulse inside of me, ‘love, love, love’ when I was trying to find the right words to handle a situation.  I pray for DH’s conversion, for the many members of my family and friends who are not believers and many who show no interest in God – and for all of us to convert (as from what I have read, even ‘believers’ still have a long way to go in conversion).

I really do believe these prayers make a difference.  I don’t know if you’ve ever had a gut feeling about a situation, like a big ‘Get Out Of Here Now’ feeling – I have experienced this in a creepy situation and I got out of there, who knows if it was justified or not.  My grandpa had this feeling when he was eating his lunch on a break when he worked in the Gold Mine in Northern ONtario.  He got out of where he was asap and moments later that area was caved in.  My aunt had a strong feeling to change lanes when driving, and did so even though it made no sense given where she wanted to go. Moments later, a load of logs spilled out onto where she would have been.  I believe the Holy Spirit and our Guardian Angel can communicate with us in some way, can protect those whom we love – *if* we are open to them, if we are willing to listen.  I pray for us to have hearts for love, for being humble enough to listen and not get caught up in pride and selfishness (two of my BIG problems) – so that we can hear and take action.

Speaking of action – right now praying for guidance big time!  I have perused some more stuff on conversiondiary, and was reading about how our priorities ought to be 1) God    2) vocation to marriage and our spouse   3) our children    4) job (or whatever).  

So, I feel that progress is being made for (1) – I am really engaging and trying to put time and energy, praying for help etc., to make progess in my walk with God.  (2) – so, what am I doing to nurture my marriage, to show DH how incredibly important he is to me?      ummmmm ……..             ya ……………..     well ……………..    ok, I can’t actually think of anything.  (how sad is that??)  So I asked him about an hour ago, explaining the context, and what does he see me doing that lets him know that he, and our marriage, is really really important to me, the most important thing after all the religious stuff?

He answered  - well, neither of us are doing anything for that right now.   Yowza.  He’s right.  And that is so, so not good.  Especially with the long distance model we have going.  I am sure there are some things we are doing or we would be either fighting all the time, feeling taken advantage of, or just basically ignoring each other and living in our own little worlds.

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I have a couple of posts for the blog cooking in my head – Easter was really powerful for me this year – but right now I just need to get to bed.  I hope to post again soon!

Prayer Buddy Reveals!

I have been honoured to pray for Kaitlin over at More Like Mary, More Like Me during this Lenten season.  I hope she will forgive my late reveal … to me it’s a bit like Christmas and I can’t wait to find out who was thinking of me :)  (which I will reveal a bit later in this post).

Kaitlin is one busy lady, with a beautiful little family with her DH and her new daughter. She is looking for discernment in the choices that will guide her and her family, so please think of her are a praying type of person.  I checked Kaitlin’s blog daily (I was sneaky and went in through misfit’s blog) and prayed for her during my morning commute – which is when I do most of my serious praying – and during my almost-daily rosary.

I thought it was really amazing that her particular blog popped up for me, as I had an interesting experience a few months ago that pointed me towards getting to know Mary better, and learning to pray with her and to her.  (I was in a time of feeling a disconnect in my prayer life so I prayed intently to Jesus to show me where I had gotten off track.  I had an image of Jesus taking my hand, walking with me over to Mary, and placing my hand in Mary’s.  Jesus said to me ‘I’d like you to meet my mother.’  Since then I have been seeking to know Mary better, to learn about how to pray to her and with her (I am Catholic so I know the ‘usual’ stuff, but I have been reading about Medjugorje, looking into the prayers I do not know so well, etc.)

And … I was excited to find out that Meg from  True, Good and Beautiful  was praying for me!  Thank you Meg for keeping an eye on me and helping me through some difficult times.  I really appreciate it and I look forward to getting to know you.  I said some prayers for you, even though I didn’t know who you were yet.  

These are the ‘little things’ in life that add some excitement and connection to our day to day journey.  A BIG shout out and thank you to TCIE and Mrs Henderson for putting together the prayer buddies once again!