Swimming in the deep

So it is New Year’s Eve 2015. This blog is celebrating its very first birthday — yeah 🙂 What began as a spontaneous urge for the new and untried has turned into a unique and surprisingly fun and edifying playground. While my writing expectations didn’t dare exceed more than posting two entries per month, last count totalled over 46 entries in 52 weeks! I have been learning a lot — about myself, about publishing and sharing deep thoughts, about others.

Writing the blog has confirmed and strengthened a tendency I already had, i.e. I process emotions and strong experiences through writing. Many entries have their genesis in my journal, gestating quietly but surely in those safe and secluded pages. Other entries come from previously written articles and essays, reflections and homilies but now updated and adapted for blog publishing. Each one grows from the intimacy of personal experience into food for public sharing.

This transformation does not come without effort and discipline, however. The process by which the raw material is refined into universal gold requires many rewrites and critical wordsmithing. For one thing, some reflections involving experiences with other people require a respectful concealing of identities while maintaining the core dynamics of the message. Other reflections become much more digestible with ruthless trimming and streamlining, turning my own uncensored verbal diarrhea into a coherent and intelligible flow of thought ready to serve to the blog guests …

Hmm, not sure if this is an appropriate image … from diarrhea to serving guests! Can I find a more palatable image? How about: turning my own uncensored verbal avalanche into a carefully crafted ski-jump, both inviting and challenging my guests? From avalanche to ski-jump — have I just invented a new analogy? Maybe this is how wordsmithing works — see what I mean by fun? 🙂

A third factor that challenges writing for publication is the important question: how do those not sharing my religious worldview read this, and how can I make room for them? To be honest, I often struggle with not seeing the Christian woods through the religious trees. My language and expressions are steeped in Scripture and the faith of the Church. I am so used to wearing the Christian meaning-making lens that I don’t notice how that same lens can make my ramblings hard to access for those who use a different meaning-making lens.

I believe this question is crucial in today’s secular culture if we wish our witness to have any meaning for future generations. Henri Nouwen is my guide in this matter:

Much of my thinking and writing presupposed a familiarity with concepts and images that for many centuries had nourished the spiritual life of Christians and Jews, but for many people these concepts have lost their power to bring them in touch with their spiritual center. (Life of the Beloved, pg, 20)

Nouwen wrote his book “Life of the Beloved” for his dear friend Fred who was a secular Jew. One day, Fred, who was familiar with most of Nouwen’s books, challenged Henri to write a book he and his secular friends could resonate with. When Henri resisted, his friend insisted, “You have something to say, but you keep saying it to people who least need to hear it … What about us young, ambitious, secular men and women wondering what life is all about after all? Can you speak to us with the same conviction as you speak to those who share your tradition, your language and your vision?” (Life of the Beloved, pg. 21)

The past year presented a few challenges in this department. I was asked to offer some “words of reflection” at a civil wedding ceremony with the request not to make it “too religious.” I discovered that this was easier said than done for me. I employ biblical images and references without thinking. I thought I had trimmed down my God-language ruthlessly. But when I asked a friend, familiar with speaking into people’s secular realities, to read my draft text, her comment was unequivocal: too much God! So at her gentle yet clear suggestion, I performed more surgery on the text and it hurt. Yet, once delivered at the ceremony, I realized that the couple had truly heard my words, for they were words which found resonance in their life experience.

Another challenge to share outside my comfort zone pertains to cherished relationships and friendships with those whose lives are interpreted through different belief systems. This will be an ongoing quest in the new year — learning to write and speak with a new vocabulary without feeling that I am somehow untrue to my deepest convictions by doing so. Suggestions and insights from blog readers would be most welcome on this subject.

So I’ll own up to it: when it comes to meaning-making I’m definitely a Jesus-lovin’ deep-sea swimmer (when it comes to the real physical version, I prefer lane swimming in the pool (slow but steady) followed by the hot tub!). Day-to-day living makes me rub shoulders with many people, some of whom may never consider swimming in the deep end of meaning-making waters. Others may swim deep in different spiritual waters than I do; still others prefer to safely stay in that part of  the pool where they can still comfortably stand. All this can make deep-sea swimming a crazy and lonely quest, so I’m doubly grateful for those who take the time to read my musings.

Reactions from readers always leave me in awe and wonder about the miracle that turns one individual’s fumbling meaning-making attempts into something that has a universal resonance. Only a few readers post comments for public sharing, but more share privately. I’m deeply grateful for every reader — you help me realize that I’m not the only crazy one that swims deep into the meaning-making oceans of life, with Jesus as my compass and guide. While swimming in the deep layers of life is a solitary activity, and necessarily so, it also needs a community of other swimmers to belong to, to be corrected and enriched by, to be encouraged and  affirmed by.

??????????????????????????????????????????????So, dear readers, wherever you are on this beautiful planet (and for some of you it is already 2016~), it’s time to post this last piece in 2015 before I settle into the evening with my dear husband to watch movies. Let’s raise the glass to another year diving into the deep together — it promises to be an exciting one! HAPPY NEW YEAR 🙂

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The Terniers in 2015

Another year flew by — we are older, richer in life experience, challenged in new directions, and wiser? Well, some days that’s in doubt. But here are some snapshots of our growing and thriving family, each one unique, each one deeply cherished.

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Jim at his big 70th birthday bash in January 2015
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David & Kathryn with daughters Kiana & Marika

David & Kathryn:  with two charming but very energetic girls, both parents working irregular hours and shift work, life is in the fast lane most days. They do, however, still find time for relaxing holidays, great outings and family visits. And believe it or not, our son has at times given in to a writing urge, sharing some lovely reflections on his FB page, much to this Mama’s delight …

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Scary lions …. !!

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Gift of the gab … must be one of ours 🙂

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Visiting Fender who used to live with the girls and now lives at Auntie Betty’s

Jim: whether it’s seeds or envelopes, knowledge or stamps, Jim continues to have great fun being a collector. He continues to mentor and support Rachelle in the process of taking over the seed business, but is also happy to let her take things in new directions.  While his daily naps might betray a certain age, nothing else really does. Jim ended up celebrating his 71st birthday last month with David while stuck in the Rockies due to road closure — can you guess which photo marked that memorable occasion??

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Stuck … in the mountains … with … Looks like quite the hardship!

Daniel & Candace: well, the photos below will tell you what they’ve been up to … tying the knot!!  A wonderful celebration  with a gorgeous-looking couple and their 8-year old daughter Sakura. Judge for yourself in the picture. Candace still works with HomeCare while studying sign language in her spare time, and is proud to call herself a Ternier at last! Daniel has been working at one of the Potash Mines since March. Working hard, but playing hard too when the need arises — they deserve every bit of it.
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What’s going on here, thinks Sakura …
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Our lovely granddaughter Sakura
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Sakura with her “Buddy”

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Rachelle: Spent her first summer living back on our farm in the house where she grew up — no power, no running water, wood cook stove. Grew a big garden, had an apprentice for gardening and seed saving, and enjoyed LOTS of company. She is proud to be a farmer and is determined to continue preserving biodiversity and teaching seed saving through Prairie Garden Seeds collection and work! While she’s back with us in Humboldt for the winter, she and Russell plan to be on the farm together in the spring.

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Happy farmers on our lakeside farm near Cochin, SK
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Happy Farmer Rachelle!
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Rachelle and Russell

Marie-Louise:  I guess you could say that I’ve been living my 60th year of life with great intentionality, joy and new ways to realize some old dreams.  The blog I began last Christmas (on my 59th birthday) has proven to be a life-giving venue for meaningful reflection on the things that matter most to me (hard to understand for Jim, as he finds writing sooo difficult!).  And I’m always surprised and deeply grateful when my ramblings in fact resonate with others, some as far away as Asia and Australia!
Transitioning to the Anglican Church was not on my radar when 2015 began, but it soon appeared in an unexpected yet quite beautiful way, a way that had God’s fingerprints all over it … While managing a small community centre in our hometown, I continue to be involved in ministry through Queen’s House, Catholic Health Association, the ecumenical community and our local Anglican parish. The new year will see more focused study to complete my Masters of Divinity and further preparation for ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada.

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Handsome as ever … 🙂

The love and joy we receive from being a family are gifts we wish for all people. A new coalition has recently formed here in our small prairie city preparing to welcome several refugee families in our midst; we hope to contribute whatever we can to this endeavour. The plight of our sisters and brothers on the run to save their lives makes us appreciate even more our own safety and comfort, meaningful work, as well as our continued health and well-being. May the new year bring those same gifts to ever more people and may each of us give our very best to help bring this about.

WISHING YOU ALL THE PEACE AND JOY OF CHRIST’S BIRTH,
HEALING FROM LAST YEAR’S SETBACKS,
AND A WONDER-FILLED 2016 🙂

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Prairie Garden Seeds
Special Requests Weddings (our son David’s website)

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Lessons from a Christmas Tree

For years I did it — again and again, much to my kids’ embarrassment. Shopping for a Christmas tree, I would spot the scrawniest tree in the bunch, paid my $15.00 and haul it into the trunk of my car. I couldn’t help it, I’d tell my kids. It was no fun buying a perfect tree and covering it with perfect ornaments.  It was more challenging and way more satisfying to make a scrawny tree look like the most beautiful one from the lot. But I admit, I’m not the greatest decorator either, so my trees would have that scrawny look every Christmas season.  Just ask my kids.

But where did we get the idea that imperfect trees have no place to call home at Christmas? The very feast that celebrates a perfect God entering our imperfect world ought to give prime place to scrawny trees and …. scrawny and needy people too. You know, the kind we meet on street corners, or hurry past as we cross the intersection. The other day I noticed the young woman in the line-up at the grocery store: she looked tired and the light in her eyes had dimmed. My scrawny Christmas trees are affectionate reminders of those who don’t have it all together but whose hearts long to be loved and adorned with care and compassion. And some years, I too rank among those who don’t have it all together.

It is no secret that we continue to lose the connection with the original meaning of the season.  Radio and television programs bombard us with commercials while warning about post-Christmas financial hang-overs. Radio hosts speak of the “holiday season” and do-gooders are featured like the entertainment pick of the month. Everyone asks the “big” question: are you ready for Christmas yet? I know what you’re “supposed” to answer, preferably in a hectic tone of voice: no I’m not, too many gifts to buy and wrap, cards to write and to send, goodies to bake and decorations to hang up. I’m not ready!

But I reply: ready for Christmas, absolutely I am. Quiet daily Advent prayer with the lit candles on the Advent wreath – one more each week – keeps me anchored in essentials without drowning in waves of excessive consumerism, not to speak of grounding busy days in a moment of rest.  Dreams and yearnings rise up in my heart in anticipation of extra attention by the God who nurtures them in the womb of my spirit. My Christmas baking gets done by loving and competent hands (way more competent than my own!) from annual Christmas bake-sales, filling my freezer while supporting a good cause.  Instead of gifts we try to find quality get-away times close to home with our adult children, their loved ones and little ones even that’s getting more challenging every year due to irregular working hours.  And yearly donation checks to various charities, however small, have just been written and sent out. Other years and in other places, our preparations have seen us assisting with food hampers and helping out at soup kitchens.

Gravitating towards non-commercial activities at this time of year is good for our mental, emotional and spiritual health, reconnecting us with the original meaning of the season, not to speak of easy on the wallet. In the birth of Jesus God became one of us – that is the most radical and most beautiful message the world has ever received. Divinity came among us as a tiny, helpless baby for whom there was no room anywhere. Born to a young teenage virgin and a dedicated foster father who was forced to take his little family to Egypt to protect the child from brutal murder — not unlike millions of refugees on the run today. A teenage mother, an outcast from birth, a refugee in infancy – that is our God, throwing in his lot with all the scrawny and needy ones among us. Am I ready for Christmas? You betcha, and I like my tree just the way it is.

By the way, a special thank you to Charles Schultz for creating the Christmas Charlie Brown Special (image above). Turns out it is still an all time favourite in its 50 years of existence — see this recent CBC article.

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I Wonder as I Wander

This past spring, in a meeting with the Anglican — Roman Catholic International Commission, Pope Francis pointed out that working toward the restoration of full unity between Christian traditions is not optional but is an urgent summons of Christ himself. This was not the first time Pope Francis made such comments. In the nearly three years of his pontificate the Holy Father has taken every possible opportunity to stress this summons.

I am immensely grateful for his words. My many years of ecumenical ministry have given me numerous friends in a wide variety of Christian traditions. But more importantly, these involvements and precious relationships have greatly expanded my understanding of church. I have come to realize that it is only together that we reflect the fullness of the Gospel message. It is only together that we can credibly proclaim Christ’s saving love and mercy in an increasingly skeptical world. In fact, the task of unity among churches is a question of sheer survival in some parts of the world — see this article. We become a stronger witness when we learn to bind as one the various aspects of the witness of Jesus perfected in our respective denominations. Cardinal Emeritus Walter Kasper referred to this notion in a recent article as follows:

There is no ecclesiological vacuum outside the Catholic Church. Since Jesus Christ also works in and through the other Churches – and these often give clearer expression to individual elements of being church than the Catholic Church – the complete realization of Catholicity is only possible in ecumenical exchange and reciprocal enrichment. Catholic and ecumenical are therefore not opposites but two sides of the same coin. (Mercy is the medicine to heal the wounds of the Church, Cardinal Walter Kasper   – The Tablet, November 12, 2015)

Back in 1952, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches met in Lund, Sweden. As the churches were searching together for the means of common witness, they asked each other earnestly whether they were doing all they could to manifest the oneness of the people of God: “Should not our Churches ask themselves whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other Churches, and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?” The answer to this urgent question has become known as the Lund Principle. This means that Christians and churches should try to act  as much as possible ecumenically, in particular, to bear witness together to a common life in Christ.

Ecumenical involvement, therefore, is by no means limited to experts and scholars. In fact, much of the real ecumenical work occurs among ordinary people in the pews – the rubber-hitting-the-road type of stuff. Last year I was part of a Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue process. Seven Lutherans and seven Catholics (chosen from the pews) met on a regular basis to read and discuss together the new document entitled From Conflict to Communion, a text written by an international Lutheran–Catholic dialogue group in preparation for the year 2017, the year which marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The text bears witness to the good news that we are finally living in a season of reconciliation between our churches, a reconciliation which allows us now to tell the story of the  500 year old break-up together. Given the length of this separation and the centuries of mutual disregard, each tradition developed in isolation from and in contrast to the other. Fortunately, the time of such mutual distrust and condemnation is behind us and the time of recognizing our common faith in Jesus has been ushered in.

Thus was created From Conflict to Communion – the title aptly captures the reconciling movement and growing convergence  between churches. Our group participants would prepare  assigned reading at home; then we would gather to discuss and learn together by bringing questions and insights, as well as joys and sorrows about being Lutheran and being Catholic. The experience was electric; friendships were born, understanding grew through conversations which made dry words leap off their pages and take on flesh in real people’s lives.

This past spring another ecumenical milestone was reached in Saskatoon with the creation of a Common Statement of Faith. This text is the fruit of local dialogue meetings which took place over three years between 10 representatives from Evangelical Churches and 10 members of the Roman Catholic Church, both clergy and laity. Formal dialogues between mainline Christians and Evangelical Christians are not as old as some of the other dialogues, but they are a fresh expression of increasing numbers of Christian sisters and brothers desiring to come together in order to encounter Jesus Christ in one another’s faithful worship and witness.

And lo, as I am walking the “road to Canterbury” another delightful gift has recently been prepared for the people of God in the pews, this time from the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Canada. A unique series of short videos featuring Anglican and Catholic presenters offer “small answers to big questions.” The series is entitled Did you Ever Wonder? and can be found here. Each 8-minute presentation is followed by a few discussion questions at the end of the video. The series is an ideal recipe for a delightful encounter with fellow Christians. I wonder as I wander … is it thanks to my expanded experience and understanding of church that my current transition to the Anglican Church does not feel like a “leaving”?

Some seasoned professional ecumenists have called this era a winter of sorts in ecumenical relations. But this brief sampling of recently produced resources, themselves the fruit of faithful discipleship in Christ, indicates anything but a winter. Clearly even in winter we walk together, and never more so than among ordinary people in the pews. So if you have been wondering about “those Christians in other churches,” be bold. Go knock on their door, attend their worship or invite them to yours. Then suggest that you meet for shared prayer and learning; delve into From Conflict to Communion (if nothing else, at least study the Five Ecumenical Imperatives in its last chapter), propose a joint prayerful study of the Common Statement of Faith, or enjoy some of the lovely online videos produced by the Anglican–Roman Catholic Dialogue. Other Christians belong inside our comfort zone instead of outside of it, even if their Gospel expressions challenge us. There is no more excuse not to know each other, no more excuse not to befriend each other. There is no more lack of resources and study materials, no more excuse not to see Christ in one another. Pope Francis himself says so: it is an urgent summons of Jesus Christ whom we all profess as Lord and Saviour.

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