Moving to Higher Ground

As 2016 draws to a close, revelers around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts and deaths of legendary celebrities. So begins one of today’s articles on the CBC website. Yes, from a global perspective, 2016 was the year many would like to forget as soon as possible. It was beyond ghastly — the horrors of conflict and war, the millions of displaced peoples migrating to safety, terrorist atrocities inflicted on innocent civilians, more martyrs (persons dying for their faith) killed than in all previous centuries, unsettling political outcomes in countries of world influence, and a persistent dragging-the-heels attitude in western nations to implement urgent shifts in lifestyle required to preserve a healthy planet for our children’s children. Against this global backdrop I am tempted to run for cover, to insulate my personal life from the cries of persons and creation, from the complexities of our global problems and to live my existence in a safe bubble.

But of course the safe bubble is an illusion. There is no safe bubble; sooner or later discord, pain and suffering burst onto the happy stage of our insulated lives, and we find ourselves joining the world chorus in cries of despair and betrayal, pain and abandonment. Sometimes it’s as close to home as a family dispute over land ownership or the refugee family settling in our little community. Other times it’s as far away as a distant relative suffering an untimely death or an entire island in the Pacific threatened by extinction because of global warming. Our own agony reminds us that there are no exceptions and no favourites in the grand scheme of things, nor in God’s economy, and that pain and suffering come to us all in varying degrees and through various life situations.

So it is not what happens to us that makes the year a blessing or a curse, but rather how we live what happens to us that will carry the day. I was struck by the words of Russ DeanIn world that is shrinking every day, our contact with the “other” will only increase, and learning to see myself in the eyes of sisters and brothers, black and brown, Christian and non-Christian, gay and straight and transgender — must be the way of our future. We cannot afford to (…) to stand in arrogant isolation, ever again…

If we wish to contribute to a better world in our own little corner of this beautiful planet, it is imperative that we grow a bigger heart, increase our commitment to healthy dialogue and become living witnesses of reconciliation and stewardship.

Family strife and racism, reconciliation with First Nations and same-sex marriage, understanding Islam and integrating new immigrants, assisted suicide and abortion — all subjects that can spark controversial and polarizing disputes. Most of us have experienced the painful alienation that can result from such conversations. Unresolved divisions and disputes, conflicting worldviews and moral standards risk leaving relationships permanently impaired or ended. Each time that happens our capacity to love unconditionally suffers.

If there was ever a mission for the Christian churches in today’s conflict-ridden world, it is to move difficult conversations to higher Spirit-filled ground. This desire ignited a bright flame in my heart as I witnessed global and personal breakdowns in dialogue and understanding, in mutual respect and appreciation. I refused to sit by idly as differences in perspectives would turn into bitter conflicts. This burning desire gave birth to a daring initiative. I took a deep breath and stared down the fear along with the impulse to hide … Inspired by books such as Crucial Conversations and Living Reconciliation, enhanced and deepened by theological and Biblical reflection, I initiated a series of eight sessions in which participants were challenged to choose listening before judging, sharing before walking away, receiving before dismissing, and loving before condemning. Five brave souls from five different paths of life signed up for what I called a “blind date.” The experience was personal, challenging and most enriching. Together we learnt a bit more to put into practice God’s call to us all to live in renewed relationship, both with God and with one another in all the complexities and diversity of this broken yet beautiful world God has created.

We need to move to higher ground when it comes to engaging difficult conversations, welcoming the stranger and stewarding Mother Earth, our common home; the survival of humanity and the future of the planet depend on this. A second group will begin January 21, 2017. And for the 37th year in a row, we will walk gently on this earth by living below our means, growing a huge garden and eating healthy home-grown food all year round. These two resolutions are my two-cents worth in the coming year towards helping to create a safer and better world in which it can become easier for all people to be good. What New Year’s resolution are you offering this year to the healing of human relationships and to the restoration of our planet? Happy New Year everyone 🙂

Prairie Encounters

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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 🙂

Prairie Encounters

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