Ready for Christmas?

It doesn’t matter where – in the checkout line-up, at the pool, at the post office, even in church. Everyone asks the big question, often in a hurried tone of voice: so,  ready for Christmas yet? I’m supposed to answer: 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!

Odd isn’t it? I mean this type of reply. I’m ready for Christmas, because I take the question to mean something quite different. Quiet daily prayer is enriched with the Advent wreath – lighting one more candle each week, keeping me anchored in essentials without drowning in waves of excessive consumerism. Dreams and yearnings are allowed to rise up in my heart, as God’s gifts growing in the womb of my spirit. Christmas baking gets done by loving hands way more competent than my own from annual Christmas bake-sales, filling the freezer (and eventually our tummies) while supporting a good cause.  We strive for quality time with our adult children and their families even with the challenge of irregular work hours; looks like a chess tournament is on the radar this year. Yearly donation checks are off to various charities, however small. Sharing is good for the soul and a blessing to others. Ready for Christmas? Yep.

Because our family Christmas takes place when everyone can make it, Jim and I have become regulars at the annual Community Christmas Dinner on December 25, organized by our friends from the local Soup Kitchen. A weekly meal free of charge is hosted throughout the year for anyone who needs food and company. You can find us there most Tuesdays, hanging out with a motley crew. We go not because we are “hard-up” but because we eat with friends who’ve expanded our notion of family. Helping out at the Christmas Dinner therefore is not only a great way to spend the holy day of Christ’s birth, but it is truly a day with family.

We do appreciate receiving Christmas letters from beloved family and friends; letters full of the latest travel adventures and the year’s achievements of children and grandchildren, and sometimes including the latest health challenges. Such letters are a great read. It’s the yearly catching up on news in the lives of loved ones.

But we don’t travel a whole lot anymore, and don’t even miss it. There’s hardly anything left on our bucket lists. We are most content and comfortable in our own bed, our own home, our own routines, our own garden and backyard (not fancy, just … lush). Do we sound like old folks set in our ways?? Or is it the quiet contentment and joy that comes from truly living a simple, modest life we both love and have no need to get away from? We do regret not seeing our granddaughters as often as we would like due to distance and work commitments. They are each growing way too fast into three lovely individuals, each with their unique personality. But we are grateful for photos on Facebook and video-calls. And we’ve been relatively healthy (not counting the hearing aids I’ve had to acquire this year), rarely accessing the health insurance we’ve been paying into for so many years — touch wood! So there isn’t much news to share.

Or maybe there is …

We learnt new things this past year, found new questions, gained new insights into relationships and into living a full life. We enjoy many blessings, right in our own home and community, even in the hardships. Once again we learnt that it’s not what happens to us that brings blessing or curse, but how we live what happens to us:

  • Ordinary days in our prairie towns (Humboldt and Watrous) burst with extraordinary little rays of light and joy, of love and of mercy. The abiding faithfulness of friends is nourishing food for the soul. New friends keep sprouting from the stubble of prairie fields, each one bearing gifts of vision and compassion, of invitations into new discoveries and into exploring different worlds.
  • On the other hand, our quiet community was rocked to the core last April by the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Shock and grief have never been so close to home, never been so deep and so widespread, galvanizing the attention of the world. But even in the darkness of that tragedy, blessings were hiding: see Grieving in Community and April in Labour. For the first time I preached on empty, only to nd discover that tears in the pulpit sometimes preach more effectively than words.
  • We learnt that discord with loved ones, whether friends or family, is best lived as an invitation to look inside — how have we contributed to the breakdown? The resulting honesty, vulnerability and humility can then turn into a healing blessing. Own up, fess up, repair it — these virtues are keepers. Or when unjustly accused or treated, draw the boundaries firmer and forgive; don’t let anger poison your heart.
  • Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it moral, ethical or desirable. We’re keeping our fingers crossed about legal pot, and other questionable practices. The best (and healthiest) highs come through healing hurts, cultivating a curious and open mind, and from seeking meaning and purpose in all things every day, good and bad, ugly and beautiful.
  • In our age of fake news and the crumbling of old certainties Pilate’s ancient question, “what is truth?” is ever so relevant again. Even the Church is not spared this piercing question as it grapples with massive loss of members, credibility, and revelations of abuse. What if truth resides in the quality of relationship — to life, to this planet, to one another? I’m trying this out for awhile.
  • Electing our new Indigenous bishop Chris was a great experience; his arrival as a messenger of reconciliation and a bridge-builder bodes very promising for our Anglican diocese and beyond.
  • Living below one’s means creates a freedom the world truly cannot give. It’s oddly easy to stay clear of the traps of over-spending and consuming when it’s an attitude/perspective fostered over a life-time, not to mention the light ecological footprint and the effect on the wallet. It does lead to an odd problem, though: we don’t create enough garbage or recycling materials to fill the bins we pay the city for! But we admit, it takes all kinds: the economy would be in even worse shape if it depended on frugal spenders such as us!
  • Being a country priest with a dedicated band of Anglicans and Lutherans is all and more than I had imagined, and Catholics are coming along for the ride. Weekly Eucharist and preaching, ecumenical studies and worship, baptisms and funerals (no weddings yet), hosting weekly (free!) summer BBQ suppers for the town, pastoral care and counseling — a rich spiritual harvest. Good energy among parishioners, renovating the church hall, planning for great things in the new year.
  • Not everything was roses. The murder of our cousin Kim’s husband shook us all to the core. No amount of tears can hold the sorrow and loss.
  • Our God-daughter Josephine married Brody this past summer, inviting me to preach holy words at their celebration. Blessings of joy galore and a great wedding party on the farm.
  • Jim is still helping Rachelle with the seed business, but managing a slower pace while mentoring his young, energetic and passionate successor. Some of our kids have discovered a new role for their night-owl Dad: they phone him on late nights, sometimes  to be accompanied on long drives.
  • I saw signs of limits to inclusiveness; some call them boundaries, others call them barriers. Why does including some often seem to happen at the exclusion of others? There’s got to be a better way.
  • Year-round exercise of choice: lane swimming. I’m the slowest swimmer in the pool, so every 20 lapse feels victorious, rewarded with time in the hot tub!
  • Two weeks in Israel with my bishop and clergy colleagues was a true gift — walking where Jesus walked, getting to know my colleagues better (a glass of wine in a warm climate does wonders!), and growing a disturbing realization of the plight of our Christian sisters and brothers: The Not-So-Holy Land.
  • Even with my Sunday church duties, Jim and I enjoyed a record number of four Christmas concerts in one weekend, each one outstanding. What a talent on the prairies!
  • My first meeting with the national Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada (ARC Canada) in Ottawa was substantial, inspiring and so much fun, including a surprising renewal of old friendships. Working for Christian Unity continues to be my passion, integral to my ministry and my vision of church.
  • The best bread in town is still the one kneaded with my own hands, with flour milled from Jim’s home-grown grains, and coming out of my own oven — oh, that smell … it’s the one foolproof baking I can muster.
  • Praying for others is powerful and rich, esp. when writing down the daily intentions and mentioning others by name. Pray for people far and near, for victims of disasters and violence of all kind, and for friends and family struggling with too much, helps keep helplessness and despair at bay. Praying for others grows our heart softer, bigger and more compassionate, fostering real-time connections, collapsing all distance.

We are painfully aware that life delivers too many blows to too many people, stretching to the breaking point one’s capacity to see and savour blessings. In this year’s season of Advent waiting in hope, we have learnt of a suicide, a stripping of job and reputation, legal challenges in a custody case with devastating effects on the children, a tumbling back into alcohol and drug abuse after a 10+ year sobriety, betrayal by church leaders, painful diminishment in aging, terminal diagnoses, all within our own circle of love. Not to speak of the horrors millions face daily across the globe. Life is fragile, vulnerable as we all are to unexpected and unmerited chaos and disaster. And yet, as I wrote in my previous blog post, we need a vision to inspire us, to motivate going on living. The birth of Jesus still gives us this vision.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, we hold in our hearts and minds both the pain of the world and the vision of God in Jesus. In the birth of Jesus God became one of us – that is the most radical and most beautiful gift the world has ever received, no matter how much the Church has tainted this message with its own sinfulness. 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 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.

This is the vision going with us into 2019. This vision is our prayer and our wish for us all. Ready for Christmas? You betcha!

Marie-Louise and Jim

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Daily Halos

Homily, Christmas Eve

Our secular culture seems to have decided that religion is not good for us. Religion is unhealthy, old-fashioned and certainly hostile to the human body. Religion is considered the enemy of fun and freedom and fulfillment. If you are among those who think that religion is something best to avoid, then tonight’s news is for you.

Because tonight’s news is pretty darn radical and pretty darn awesome. Believe it or not, but Christianity is based on the goodness of the flesh/our body. We haven’t always communicated that very convincingly, but it’s true. Think about it, if human flesh was good enough for Jesus, why should we reject it? To be human is to be flesh. To be holy is to glory in it.

The very scandal of Christianity lies in the fact that we see God/divinity in … humanity. Every major religion acknowledges the role of the Creator in the development of life, of course. But the Creator in life? Part of it? Identified with it?! Only … Christianity … makes the crazy claim that the Creator … has taken on … the flesh and blood of creation in order to connect us to the divine in ourselves.

In that forlorn stable in Bethlehem, God became helpless and vulnerable, and adorable and lovable in … greeting us in a small baby. A baby makes heads turn and hearts soften – that’s our God. The good news of the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, gives all human beings dignity and inherent beauty, capable of holiness in and through our bodies and in and through the ordinariness of life.

And so tonight, on this Holy Night, I’d like to illustrate this claim through the words of a dear friend. Not because I couldn’t come up with my own thoughts, but because Leah is a young mom expecting her next child. Leah’s words paint a vivid picture of what the beauty of God/Christmas looks like, feels like, tastes like in our own lives – the sacred of God in the small and ordinariness of human flesh. Leah’s words reveal the possibility of … halos … in our everyday existence:

Preparing a place is one of my favourite things.
We love having the guest room full,
the bed made and food planned,
the anticipation of time spent with people we love.
Preparing makes space, in our home and inside of us,
for those who are coming.
And this year, for the second time,
we are pregnant at Christmas.
It’s a beautiful connection
to the ancient Story of God coming as an infant.

I have a rounded belly growing full of mischief.
I feel exposed and empty as I prepare for this Christmas.
The year has been one from hell:
We have crawled through a miscarriage,
a season of unemployment,
and the cavernous murder of my own twin sister,
my own flesh and blood.
The planting work of living, of daily meals and tidying,
of tucking in and washing hands was laboured and late.
We showed up and watered and fed
with all the strength we had and it was not much.
The fall harvest was spotty at best.
There was more grace than we put in, and that was a miracle.
The stubble that is our family
lies poking through the snow; we survived, barely.

We have had so little to give;
Now I see that nothing … has given us … everything.
All the years spent preparing for guests
actually taught us how to let people into our lives.
This year, so many friends and strangers
have walked into our mess with food and cleaning supplies,
with hands for folding laundry,
with a willingness to be with us in tears and big emotions.
The bathrooms have not been as clean as I would like them.
The kitchen counters are littered with paper and toys.
The drawers and closets are getting out of hand.
Yet people who love us, our people, came anyway.

Jesus is coming, again, to our messy world.
He chooses us over and over again.
And He’s the kind of guest that comes regardless of the mess.
If we are willing, Jesus will stay all year.
He doesn’t care about unpacked boxes,
the mess in the junk drawer,
or the toothpaste clumps in the sink.
Actually, Jesus finds treasures
in the very mess I am trying to hide.
Jesus pulls joy out of my sadness,
finds space and meaning and possibility in my emptiness.

Preparing readies my heart to be broken open by love.
Jesus came to an unwed, teenage mother
and a foster father who risked faith.
He came in a stable and their little family
became refugees in Egypt to flee a massacre of infant boys.
Jesus wept for my little Claire (lost in miscarriage),
held us in job loss, wailed with me at the murder of my twin sister,
and now sends us every gift in death and grief,
in our next-awaited baby.
Jesus is not a stranger to our raw and exposed wounds.
From the moment of his birth,
Jesus knows emptiness too well
and loves us in the emptiness we feel.
He comes to us again as we are.

Preparing my heart and my home
requires a recognition of what I can do
without becoming resentful,
or burdened by my own unrealistic expectations,
and distracted by the unnecessary.
The straw and the snow and the sky
are a stark and simple beauty.
I am learning to prepare with some more slow,
some more gentle, some more kind.
Preparing from emptiness feels shaky and weak.
I only ever have myself to give anyway.
When I am empty there is more space for the ones coming.
Christmas is about the simplest things:
God in this time and this place;
generosity and hospitality,
hope in struggle,
light in overwhelming darkness.

***
So far Leah’s musings. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Earth is crammed with heaven.” Gerald Manley Hopkins said the same: The world is charged with the grandeur of God. The human body was good enough for God in the baby Jesus. Our bodies, and our daily lives, however messy and painful, are “crammed with heaven” – all the time. The halos, the kind we can see around planets and constellations through a telescope, exist around each one of us. The halos, imprints of God’s loving kisses, are everywhere. As Leah’s musings show, we just need eyes to see and a heart to love. God is our glory. God is our power. God shows up in our emptiness and fills it with love, joy and beauty through the babe born in  Bethlehem. That is the Good News we celebrate tonight. May we all be blessed with a beautiful and grace-filled Christmas. Amen.

  • Leah’s original blog can be found here. 

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No Time to be Born

Christmas Eve 2016, St. John’s Cathedral

I held  8-week old baby Stone Marshall throughout this homily. I began by speaking with the Dad about his little firstborn son. The first paragraph captures our conversation:

Before we are parents, our lives are pretty free, right? I mean we could kind of do what we wanted with our time, energy and money. If we wanted to go out for dinner, we could. If we wanted to read a book, we could. If we wanted to travel, we just decided to go. Then comes the baby, and my goodness, does s/he have power over our lives. Not only over our lives, but over our hearts! Baby’s needs dictate our activity 24/7. But a peculiar thing happens to us: the baby’s helplessness and vulnerability have an unusual power to open hearts, hearts that discover a limitless supply of love and joy to pour into this little bundle of life …
xmaseve1

Imagine we have four persons present here: a dictator, an Olympic athlete at the peak of his career, a rock star scoring at the top of the charts, and a newborn baby. What do all four have in common? Power – all four have power of some kind.Which of these ultimately has the most power to open hearts? The baby! The baby ultimately wields the greatest power. The athlete could lose his power, the dictator can kill others, and the rock star can fizzle out. But the baby has a different kind of power. It can touch hearts in a way that a dictator, an athlete, or a rock star cannot. Its innocent presence, without physical strength or words, can transform a room and a heart in a way that guns, muscle, and charisma cannot. (I’m guessing several of you are paying more attention to little Stone right now than to my homily … Stone has more power than I do)

Friends of mine became parents to tiny Julia. Their joy was covered with the shroud of death when the doctors told them their little daughter might only live for a few hours. Julia beat the odds and lived for 23 days. At Julia’s funeral her father shared on his daughter’s short life: “No one has ever had so much power than our little Julia. She drew love from us in ways we never thought we were capable of giving. She touched hearts we never thought could be touched. She called us to love in ways far beyond our expectations.” It was the saddest funeral I ever attended; I can still see the little white casket at the front of the church. But little Julia continues to give me life today, 19 years later, as I recall her witness and her power.

The powerlessness of a baby opens our hearts wide, touching us at a deep moral place. Around a baby, we watch our language and try not to have bitter arguments; we try to be better, more loving persons. Metaphorically, a baby has the power to cast out evil. It can cast out demons of self-absorption and selfishness in us.

The Gospels describe Jesus’ power and authority in exactly this way. In Greek, the original language of the Gospels, we find three words for power or authority. We easily recognize the first two: energy and physical strength. There is a power in energy, in physical health and muscle, just as there is a power in being dynamic, in dynamite, in having the power to generate energy; but when the Gospels speak of Jesus as “having great power” and as having a power beyond that of other religious figures, they do not use the words energetic or dynamic. They use a third word, exousia, which is best translated as vulnerability. Jesus’ real power was rooted in a certain vulnerability, like the powerlessness of a newborn child that powerfully opens and softens human hearts.

This is the kind of power God wants to use to win our hearts. So is it any wonder that God, in his wisdom and great love for us, comes to us in a newborn baby yearning to invade our hearts just like little babies do?

If you’re anything like me, you love to watch old Christmas movies. One all-time favourite is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even when having watched this film several times, I noticed something this year that I haven’t noticed before.

Charlie Brown is best known for his never-ending depressed mood. Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the movie we hear Sally, Snoopy and others cry out insistently: “Linus, drop that blanket!” Linus’ security blanket remains a major source of charliebrowntree1ridicule. But Linus, otherwise pretty mature and thoughtful, simply refuses to give it up. Until  … Linus shares “what Christmas is all about.” When Linus utters the words, “fear not” he drops … his security blanket. Other attempts to separate him from his blanket had failed. Baby Jesus succeeds … At the end of the movie, we see Linus’ blanket wrapped around the Christmas tree. Linus is set free from his fears…

For way too many people the world of 2016 is a very scary place. And most of us find ourselves grasping onto some type of security blanket, whatever that may be. The terrible blows life can deliver us can make it very difficult to “fear not.”

But in the midst of fear and insecurity, Linus dropped his blanket when he realized the truth about the Christmas story. This much-beloved inspiring movie classic issues an invitation to seek true peace and true security in the one place it has always been and can still be found: In the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem.

The birth of Jesus still has real “power” to calm our fears. The birth of Jesus still has real “power” to free us from  habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus still has real “power” to make the world a safe place, despite all the violence, abuse and terror attacks.

And so we come together on this Holy Night because we believe that Jesus Christ, the unique son of God, whose birth we celebrate, is the face of God on earth. In Jesus we see most fully divine love and justice, divine mercy and compassion, to which we are all called.

He grew as we grow through all the stages of life. He lived as we live, prey to the pressures of evil yet choosing the good and the beautiful, choosing the grace and the mercy of God. In Jesus, God knit himself intimately into our lives. In the vulnerable power of Jesus, we can be saved from our sin and learn from him never to stray from the mind of God.

Through Christ we can become new people, called beyond the consequences of our brokenness and lifted to the fullness of life. By living God’s love, grace and mercy to the full Jesus opened the way to our salvation. He showed us the Way, lived it for us, opened it for us, suffered for it and died because of it. Jesus modeled how to hold fast to God’s love even in the face of betrayal and death.

Because of the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight we too can live with a new heart, a new mind, and new strength despite all the suffering and death that ambushes our lives every day. Let this vulnerable baby Jesus draw from our hearts all the love and joy and grace and mercy we can muster. God knows how badly our world needs this.

Let me end with a poem by Madeleine l’Engle, the well-known writer of children’s books.

The Risk of Birth (Christmas, 1973)

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of doom;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And yet by a comet the sky is torn–
Love still takes … the risk … of birth.

AMEN

Special thanks baby  Stone Marshall who slept in my arms the whole time, and to Rolheiser’s column on exousia.

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Silent Joseph Speaks

Preached at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon this morning on Mathew 1:18-25. Of all characters featured in the Advent Scriptures, we never hear Joseph speak his own words. So I decided to give him a voice:

Good morning everyone. I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar – my family line goes back to King David. So Matthew wrote about me in his Gospel – I guess you could call it my Annunciation (you know, Annunciation – to announce …) Some announcement it was all right! Embarrassing and shocking to say the least, to find the woman I was engaged to with child – and I knew it wasn’t my child! You know, in our days to be “betrothed,” engaged, carried more weight than it does in your day today. To be engaged meant that formal words of promise were exchanged. Mary and I had entered a sacred covenant with each other. In the Law of Moses, in the eyes of the people, Miriam – my dear Mary – was already my wife. But she would still live with her parents for another year or so, before I would come in procession to get her, to bring her into my home and into our bridal chamber.

So imagine my horror when I learnt Mary was pregnant! How could I ever go through with the marriage now??! The Law of Moses was crystal clear on what to do with an unfaithful wife – cast her aside, stone her! But I could never do this to my beloved Mary – I loved her way too much. But neither could I dismiss the Law of the Lord. O my God, what to do?? My heart was breaking and I was terrified. I had many sleepless nights with tears of agony …

Then when I finally slept for sheer exhaustion, that night I had a dream. In the dream a figure like an angel spoke to me: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Do not be afraid?! How could I not be?! And a child … from the Holy Spirit?! What if your daughter or wife comes home and tells you that? But the angel went on with words that rang a distant bell in my mind, a bell of insight in my fear-stricken mind and my breaking heart: “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Where had I heard these words before?

Now you need to know that I loved God. I loved Mary, of course, but I also loved God – fiercely. It was important for me to live according to God’s ways all my life. I wanted so much to be counted as righteous before the Almighty. So I made sure to ponder the Scriptures often, especially the prophets.

And now as I tried to make sense of the dream, my familiarity with the prophets paid off. I recognized the words of the angel –they echoed Isaiah’s words: “The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel…” Really? Hmm … Mary was a virgin all right, that I knew … or I thought I knew … but what if God … hmm …

Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t all honkie-dorie right away. I was still scared to death – literally. But now the situation with Mary began to look differently. And I wondered if I … was being called to something new … but to what though? Should I put my trust in the law of Moses or trust Isaiah’s words that God was indeed up to something brand new through my dearly beloved fiancée Mary? Should I quietly divorce Mary to minimize scandal, or risk taking her into my home, name the child Jesus, and be his father?

At first part of me said: “Come on, it’s just a dream!” I’m sure you’ve said that about your own dreams at times. But hold on a minute … Even your modern day psychology considers dreams as bringing messages from the unconscious, so don’t dismiss them too quickly. In my day there was no such psychology wisdom, but we had the Holy Book. And that Book did tell me too not to dismiss dreams, but to take them seriously. I remembered my ancestor Jacob – he had dreams. My namesake Joseph was betrayed and sold by his brothers, and grew up in Egypt – he was known as a dreamer. But that talent eventually helped him to save our people. There was King Nebuchadnezzar whose sleep was disturbed by unsettling dreams for many nights. Eventually he turned to Daniel to interpret them. And what do you think of the prophet Joel’s words:

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams (that’s me!), and your young men will see visions.”

So I slowly realized that my dream could have a message too, a divine message that helped me overcome my fear. I took a deep breath – don’t forget to breathe when you’re afraid – and took my dearly beloved pregnant Mary as my wife. And the rest is history as we say.

But, you might wonder what all this has to do with you here in Saskatoon in 2016? Well, let me tell you what I learnt through all this.

One, God continues to speak to us in all time and place. But … God’s speaking is not always black and white. To really hear and recognize God’s speaking we first need to orient our entire lives towards his plan for us, long before the cryptic messages arrive in our dream inbox. If our hearts and minds are steeped in our sacred tradition, grounded in the ways of God, this will both anchor us and give our lives purpose and meaning. The wisdom of our faith tradition will be a trustworthy guide. At the same time this wisdom tradition always needs to remain open to a new future – always. We can never regard it as exclusive and absolute, as our God is a God of new life and surprises at all times. Take it from me – I know from experience! Do both: listen to God’s wisdom in the tradition and wrestle with the complexity of life, while leaving room for the possibility that God might want to bring about something new in and through you.

Two, by risking to trust the new thing God was doing in and through Mary with her son Jesus, I made “my” son Jesus the most important reason for living and loving, and I’m so grateful now that I did.Now in your modern day and age, you are seduced to put your trust in many other things besides God and Jesus. In fact, it’s pretty ironic that this season of waiting for the birth of the Messiah has become the peak consumer season of the year. So many people put their trust in material things, thereby neglecting the things of heaven that will last. So many forget that we cannot take any of our possessions with us when we die. The only things that will cross over from this life into the next is love and mercy – love and mercy given and received. That is what Jesus came to teach us and to show us. So, will you make the Christ, Emmanuel, the centre of your life, the reason for all your loving and living? Will you commit to live and love and forgive like Jesus? I did, and it was worth all the risks. I’m so proud of my adopted Son, the Christ.

Last but not least, don’t dismiss your dreams. Try to listen to them; you might be surprised what you can learn from them. A wise person in your modern time once explained the importance of dreams as follows: ”Dreams are the perfect way to hear from God. When you are dreaming, you are quiet, so you can’t ignore God. Plus, you are not easily distracted. You’re basically all ears for about 7 hours every night.” 

Our dear friend Job in the Holy Book reports the same thing with different words: For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds. He whispers in their ears…

 If you have trouble interpreting your dreams, you have psychology to help you along with the Holy Book. It’s not easy, though, and you will wrestle and feel fear. Sometimes dreams urge you to heal from past hurts – those too are messages from God. Messages from God are not intended to make life easy, but rather to make life rich and worth living. Remember that God desires us our fullest potential, a potential that reflects God’s own divine image and likeness. And God’s messages are not a one-shot deal either, but an ongoing challenge. If you read on in the Gospels, you know that for me the dreams kept coming:

“Joseph, wake up – Herod wants to kill the child – take him and his mother to Egypt.” “Joseph, wake up – Herod is dead – take the child and his mother back to Nazareth.” Now, looking back, I can honestly say that it was worth all the anxiety and gut-wrenching fear. Jesus grew in wisdom and strength and grace. And I was one proud husband and father.

So don’t be afraid to put your trust in God, even if that leads you into unusual places and decisions. At the end of your life, I pray that you can join me in saying: what a ride it was, worth all the blood, sweat and tears. Then you will be ready for your final and most complete act of trust – to hand over your life to the One from whom your life came in the first place. There is nothing more amazing than this.

You will not hear me speak words in Scripture, but I am grateful you have given me a hearing today. I thank you for your patient listening. And give Jesus a chance – he’s really worth it. One more week until his birth is celebrated. As I, Joseph, descendant of David, retreat back into the shadows of the Holy Book, know that I pray that your heart be ready to receive my son. AMEN

Prairie Encounters

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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 🙂

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

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