A Sacrifice of Praise

Note: Our concern and care for the health and safety of all, as well as our profound respect, gratitude and support for exhausted health care workers, have lead once again to the suspension of in-person worship. The reflection below was written a while ago, before Covid turned both world and church upside down. I’m sharing it now on the occasion of a dual anniversary:  my priestly ordination (Feast of St. Andrew, November 30, 2017) and 41 years of marriage to Jim (December 1). I cannot think of a better way to express my gratitude for a lifetime of hard-earned marital love and for my priestly vocation than to reflect on the meaning and importance of the Eucharist, the holy meal Jesus gave to the Church.

Sunday Eucharist begins long before the appointed worship time. In the early morning silence God invites me to consecrate the day as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, all of it, the good and the bad and the ugly. Despite my best planning efforts every day contains unexpected curves and challenges, alongside surprising joys and laughter. And the beauty, oh the beauty of creation, of life. Take and eat, says our God, take and drink … deeply …

Presiding at the Eucharist generates holy energy, flowing through body-mind-spirit in leading God’s holy people. So good to see you; who’s missing — oh dear, hope John isn’t sick again, farmers are seeding; oh my, there’s Gertrude at 97 still walking to church with her walker, and look, there’s our young family, trying hard to make it once in a while. The prayers and preaching on the Holy Word weave the life of our farming community into God’s tapestry of salvation. Taking my place at the altar, praying my way through the ritual preparations, the words are spoken slowly: “Take and eat, take and drink.” The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Holy words over holy food bringing holy mercy, healing and reconciliation to God’s holy people — Holy, holy, holy all right. Wash away my iniquity, O God, and cleanse me from my sin, so as to be your vessel of mercy and grace to this little flock of faith.

Following worship, the spirit of Eucharist continues with a sharing circle. Several parishioners recently attended the Blanket Exercise and are ready to share their experiences and impressions. Others join, curious to hear and learn. Feedback is mixed; tentative words reveal the struggle to shift mental maps around the old ideas about our Indigenous sisters and brothers and the history learnt in elementary school about cowboys and Indians. I am present to them, as I was present in the holy meal — receiving their discomfort, naming it gently while breathing peace into the circle and pointing the way to the Table of Reconciliation, the Eucharist, in this moment with this experience. It’s not perfect, and we have a long ways to go, but we have set out on the road, the road of slow but steady learning and reconciling: “Take and eat, take and drink.”

Next the spirit of Eucharist is pressing me as I meet two young couples who wish to have their children baptized. No church practice, little manifestation of faith, tongue-tied when asked about God and Jesus and the Bible. Yet, their hearts whisper a faint desire; there’s got to be something holy for their kids, even if they don’t have words. Wash me from my prejudices and irritations, O God, and cleanse me from my judgments towards these well-intentioned young people. “Take and eat, take and drink,” is for them too. Let me be your vessel of grace and mercy and hospitality. With Christ-like hospitality and compassion, I gently plant seeds in their hearts, just as my husband plants his garden, with unwavering faith that God will make for sprouting and growing.

I just have enough time to stop by Terry’s place. Still living alone in her house, she’s tired of living. “I’m smoking and drinking again,” she tells me defiantly. “What harm is it gonna do me now? I’m 91!” Her adult kids agree and resign themselves; why fight with this resilient spirit that has stood the test of time? Stubbornly clinging to petty churchy hurts from a bygone era, she politely declines God’s holy food — not feeling worthy. Yet I feel called to be Eucharist to her in my demeanour — accepting and honouring, loving unconditionally and self-giving: “Take and eat, take and drink.”

And what to do with Dave? He’s going through hell with a wayward daughter. I sit with him in the muck of the situation while his words are splashed with tears of frustration and helplessness. I listen patiently, knowing myself on the holy ground of his vulnerable spirit. Words of reverence, communion and compassion bring God’s grace and Eucharistic self-giving into this good man’s hurting heart. “Take and eat, take and drink.” The Body of Christ, given for you. The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

Finally, a planned meeting in a coffee shop. Bryan is a millennial who grew up in church. But, he is quick to add, “I’m not an avid church goer.” We connect because he showed up at church one Sunday morning and made the mistake of giving me his contact information — I know how to find him now. Despite his disinterest in traditional religious practice, he appreciates our social chats. He trusts enough to tell me that he only attends church to honour some family roots — roots poisoned by family addictions and dysfunction. He talks and I listen, honour and welcome his musings and insights, even those different from mine. “Take and eat, take and drink,” says Jesus to Bryan, even though Jesus and monotheism have long lost their appeal for Bryan and he now prefers Eastern religious paths.

After a day of human joys and sorrows, a day of Eucharistic outpouring of God’s grace, mercy and love, I drive the 45 minute trip home alone in the car. I feel empty and full, grateful and challenged, my heart sensing the joys and pains of God’s holy people in my prairie town.

Once home, I connect with Jim, my life-long partner. We break bread together at supper, and share about the day, realizing once again that God’s holy reality, evident to eyes and ears of faith, operates always and everywhere just below the surface of human consciousness, eluding human language. We know ourselves on the Holy Ground of God’s beloved world.

Marriage Dreams

A few weeks ago Pope Francis noted that “a vast majority of marriages are null. They say ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they do not know what they are saying because they have a different culture.” Well, below is my son’s reflection on his experience of marriage in the past 7 years. It is not every day that one’s own off-spring reveal gifts inadvertently obtained through genetic transfer. So please allow me a little indulging as I take credit for having transmitted the writing gene to our oldest son David (given my husband Jim’s resistance to writing anything, I’m fairly sure Jim would agree). I was deeply moved when I opened Facebook this morning and found his musings on this July 4, his 7th wedding anniversary.  Below is David’s testimony on his experience of marriage, and I am proud to call him my guest blogger today. I consider my son’s musings a noble testimony to the notion that we live into our commitment to love one another day by day. Sharing his insights and wisdom with my readers is my gift to our son and his beautiful wife Kathryn. Dear David and Kathryn, happy anniversary, may you have many more amazing years of learning and growing and loving together:

As I enjoy this morning’s beautiful sunshine while sipping coffee, eating a quiet breakfast, and listening to the chitter chatter song of the birds, it seems to me a great time to reminisce over what’s taken place during the past 7 years.

On July 4, 2009 a couple of young and foolish kids walked into a church and said some vows to each other, thinking… for a moment… that they knew what they were doing… what they were getting into. I love them both, but what naive young people they were…

As one of those two young kids, I can say I didn’t have a clue what I was truly getting into. The strength of our character that we’d both been raised to live with was going to be truly tested over the next few years. Some unexpected detours, foggy roadways and the occasional wrong turn would challenge us to remain steadfast to what we’d committed to each other that day, regardless of our understanding of that moment, 7 years ago.

Shortly into our marriage, as we both took on new career challenges, one in policing, one helping celebrate weddings, it became increasingly clear that the very nature of our full time work endeavours couldn’t be further apart from one another. One of us helps people celebrate one of the single greatest moments of their lives (even if, like us, they too don’t fully “get” it during that moment) and the other one of us often deals with people at the opposite extreme of their life (not always, but often). This has been a challenge for us more often then I will share here.

Now sitting here today on our anniversary, looking back over the past 7 years and mentally preparing for our first transfer and move through Kathryn’s work, it becomes increasingly obvious that both of our career choices provide a mental balance to each other’s lives in a way we probably don’t fully appreciate. It is far to easy in her line of work to end up being the cynical, harsh, quick to judge type of person that doesn’t appreciate the large, small and seemingly insignificant moments in life that should really bring us a lot of joy. Conversely, living in the non-stop happy world that I enjoy as wedding entertainment director, it is far too easy to forget that where I live and work is far from many people’s reality. In fact, many of them can’t imagine anywhere close to the joy I am so blessed to be able to celebrate with week after week, month after month, year after year.

Through these two interesting worlds that we’ve dedicated our life’s work, I think we keep each other in check. We aren’t letting the environments of our work worlds completely define our views and attitudes toward things, but rather, together, we are able to maintain a healthy outlook on what we have as a couple, what the world is like around us, and what’s out there for our daughters to explore in their own time.

For this, I am thankful that we’ve made these 7 years work and that we didn’t get too bogged down in the discovery of what marriage is all about. While our work worlds have made it a challenge, I’m beginning to see how perfectly they compliment each other. Happy anniversary my dear Kathryn.  Thank you for everything. We got this.
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As if this isn’t enough wisdom from a young couple, this same day Sarah Bessey’s latest reflection arrived in my email — on marriage. Striking how both reflections echo one another – happy reading 🙂

Prairie Encounters

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