Sunday, 29 March 2015

Holey, Wholly, Holy

Call it Easter Week or call it Holy Week, for Christians this week is the biggest annual festival of all.
Forgive the punning, but my holey self wants to enter wholly into this sacred celebration. The timeless story of Jesus Christ's execution and resurrection prompts a spectrum of thoughts and feelings.  

On this part of the planet, we’re crawling out of winter’s stark cold. Trees are still bare and there are no flowers at all. Nature's lingering death season makes it easy for us to identify with the dark hopelessness of the characters in the bible's Easter story. When everything we see is grey-brown it's almost impossible to believe that the greening will ever arrive. 
Besides his family and friends, and hundreds he had healed, lepers, blind people, the mentally ill and sick children, Rabbi Jesus had also embraced local cast-aways, like a Jewish woman deemed “unclean” because of her chronic bleeding, a financial cheater named Zack, an adulteress woman on the verge of being stoned to death.  All of these, so grateful for Christ’s miraculous kindness and life-changing message, must have felt bleak beyond bearing at the news of his arrest.

This week, on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Vigil Saturday we imagine what it was like for his followers at his last Passover meal where he spoke and acted in confusing ways. When his team disappointed him by falling asleep as he begged for their support, how did it feel for him and for them? Led by insiderJudas who kissed Christ's cheek, terrifying soldiers arrived to arrest him and chaos erupted as the disciples scattered and Christ was dragged away. Next came excruciating torture and finally his grim death by crucifixion. 

Re-hearing the ugly story with its elements of weakness, fear and betrayal, Christians think about our own cowardice when it comes to standing up for the poor, or to speaking out against wrongs.
We recognize our fears for the future.
We admit our own reluctance to take seriously Christ’s way of healthy humility that eagerly helps others.
We confess that we clutch our possessions tightly, murmuring privately, "Mine, mine, mine.”
We remember thousands of our sisters and brothers who are without safe drinking water and adequate nutrition, never mind our ham-happy Easter dinners and egg hunts.
What can we do but throw our puny selves face-down in our helpless hope for God’s forgiveness. We deserve nothing but punishment for the ways we have messed up our relationships, our ecosystems, our human community.

And then Sunday comes. Relieved and excited, we greet the dawn, millions of us all around the planet, reliving Mary's astonished shout, “I have seen him! He’s alive!” 

Better than the sight of Spring's green shoots, better than a newborn's arrival, better than a wedding day, Easter morning's shocking news calls for wild joy. Trumpets sound and the party’s on. Countless voices over the centuries in every language announce, "Once I was blind but now I can see. Once I was dead to hope but now I can trust. Once I was handcuffed in so many ways but now I am free. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!"

In the biggest mystery of all, somehow, Jesus the promised One rose from his grave to an unending new life. He was God's open invitation to peace, justice, kindness, and all goodness, welcoming all. The Life-Giver, the Holy Someone beyond our imagining, deigns to accompany us every day, to enliven us with the Love that wins.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Oh, Them

He spoke with a guttural Eastern European accent that was hard to understand over the phone.  My heart sank a bit – isn’t there any construction contractor in Toronto who speaks English clearly? 
My frustration with this very common Toronto experience provoked unwelcome thoughts about other non-anglo immigrants: Poles who cling to their native tongue, still not fluent in English despite decades of Canadian residency; ubiquitous Filipino nannies walking through my neighbourhood with strollers, understandably more comfortable with their Filipino sisters than with my attempts at friendship; sales clerks who use English with me and then turn to a co-worker to carry on chatting in their mutual foreign language.

I force myself to remember how hard it is to learn a second language, not to mention the challenges of emigration itself,  but…

Current news headlines report a Muslim woman who believes that Allah is better pleased when she covers up her beautiful face, even while declaring the Citizenship allegiance to Canadian values of equality and community. How can we welcome you, Muslim sister, and build bridges, when there’s a black cloth barrier preventing us from seeing your smile? 

One of the most vivid sightings of ‘us vs. them’ surprised me during a political campaign meeting. Nervously I watched a person from one side violently grab and rip up a sign held by someone on the other side; audience members shouted down speakers they opposed. The police showed up. Ugh. It revealed how little some of us respect others' rights to disagree. 

Another time I sat in on a discussion where church people spoke disdainfully about fellow Christians. They scorned those "born agains" who understood Jesus' teachings differently - wrongly, in their opinion. 
“Oh them!” An accompanying spit was implied.

What a challenge it is to keep our hearts open to “those people”.  But Jesus showed the richest, deepest, most joyful way to live. He said to care for our neighbours as much as we care for ourself, and to treat even our enemies with unselfish love.

Because of my own ugly prejudices, I relish every experience that decreases such bias. I long for the healing of our divisions.
Yesterday, in a hardware store, I passed a young Muslim girl wearing a bejewelled headscarf, stretched tight across her forehead. She stood waiting for her parents to finish shopping. I gently touched her sparkles and said “So pretty!” She responded with a sweet grin. I shudder to think of how wary Muslims must feel in Canada these days.

It's easy for me to reach out to young girls. By contrast, stone-faced men make me nervous, especially if they somehow appear “foreign” (clothes? Hairiness? Wha?).  As it happened, one such was ahead of me in the long lineup at the Express check-out. He put his basket of groceries on the floor in front of me and hurried away, presumably to get a forgotten item. Before he returned, the line had progressed, so I stepped around his basket to put my two cartons of cream on the counter. Then he reappeared. I offered to let him go ahead but he refused, shaking his head silently with a mute gesture for me to move along.
I turned away, feeling a touch of rejection, to continue with checkout, but my heart lifted when I heard a male voice say, "But, thank you!" That simple appreciation from him connected us and gave me a bit more courage for my next timid border crossing into StrangeManLand. 

Still it's hard not to act hatefully by ignoring and distancing “those people”. There was the immigrant in my Toastmasters Club who chuckled about how he tries to remember not to bribe police here in Canada the way everyone did in his homeland. His differences became even harder to tolerate when he was annoyed that I couldn’t always understand his heavily accented English on the first attempt. Because he could speak English quickly he thought he was fluent, and maybe he was to his compatriots, but not to me. I was glad to say a permanent farewell when my membership ended.

Hard truth: if we want a peaceful planet, or even a peaceful neighbourhood, we have to make peace with others, even them.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Frozen Melt

Winter in the North holds sway with deadly cold, treacherous layers of ice and snow, power outages, and broken water mains.

When humans struggle to survive, and some poor souls die from exposure, how can a feathered body the size of a plum keep from freezing stiff? How does that tiny heart keep beating, its blood keep flowing? If I feel chilled in my insulated, minimally heated basement, how can there be the sound of a sparrow chirping outside my window on this March morning?
Sweeter than honey are such natural miracles of the Creator’s magical mystery tour.

Metaphorical winters can be deadly, too. Bitter losses and tragedies can smother joy like snow piled high. And still our hearts melt at kind words and stories of compassionate outreach.

In Marianne Robinson’s novel, Lila, she offers an acute perspective on the jarring discomfort we feel when life tosses us between beauty and horror. An elderly minister in the story drafts his sermon and we read this poetic wisdom,

“Life on earth is difficult
 and grave
 and marvellous. 
Our experience is fragmentary. 
Its parts don’t add up. 
They don’t even belong in the same calculation. 

Sometimes it is hard to believe they are all parts of one thing….
joy can be joy
and sorrow can be sorrow
with neither of them casting 
either light or shadow on the other.”

Hang on for a wilder ride than any drug trip: