Setting the World on Fire

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Artwork by Anthony Chiarella, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

This Sunday was Pentecost and on Saturday the Royal Wedding occurred.  That got me thinking about how we each are given fire on our baptism. Pentecost, of course, is the feast where the apostles receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire resting on their heads. At the wedding, the Most Reverend Michael Currie, Bishop Michael Currie, used the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, to remind us love is the only way:  We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way.  Currie also paraphrased Jesuit PierreTeilhard de Chardin quote:  Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, (humans) will have discovered fire.

God sent the Spirit of Love on Pentecost to inspire us to set the world on fire. We are each given this gift and must decide how to use it. Many of us extinguish it and move away from our faith.  Others turn down its brightness by refusing to see their own goodness and do not reach out in love to serve.  Still some decide that love is indeed the only way and work hard on stoking the fire into a blaze.

I am finding that I do not always say I love you at this time.  I suspect it will change. At the moment I am too overwhelmed to say it in return to everyone who tells me they love me.  I am in awe of those who words are emboldened by the Light of Love.  The words sear my heart in a good way–as they purify the relationships I have formed. So many of us do not comprehend the power of the redemptive power of love that Dr. King mentions.  It has a power unlike any other. I urge you to discover this blaze in your own life as I seek to set my world on fire.  Seek out the power of love and receive it.  Discover this fire and use it in your relationships to create a whole new world.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When have you received the power of love in a way that transformed your world?

How can you set the world on fire with your love?

Prayer

Fire-Starter, You want to set the world ablaze with the power of your love. May we discover this power in our own lives and help to spread it. Amen.

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The One Who Sent Us

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Last weekend marked three years since my liver resection and two years since my big Freedom 55 Birthday Party. Saturday marked the first event and Monday I became a Heinz 57 Special. My cousin and our mutual friend had flown in for the celebration. My brother and sister-in-law would surprise me on Sunday by showing up at the family homestead. I entered this weekend with gratitude for these past three years and the loving hands that supported me.
The weekend was purple in nature.  Dark purple tulips and lavender roses arrived.  Mylar balloons still float in my home. Card after card of purpliciousness was opened.
Even the First Reading on my birthday was about Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth.  I chuckled as I read it out loud to my cousin and friend.
Beautiful emails arrived, commenting on how inspiring I have been or how much I am loved.  This is the blessing of celebration.  The pitfall, however, is the acknowledgment that I am getting sicker.  I am losing weight.  My clothes are beginning to hang on me in places, except for the distended abdomen where they are tighter, even in maternity clothes.  The jaundice is visible.  My appetite is limited, as is my time here.  We are all in a hurry to say the words that still need to be said.
A friend from junior high school who now lives out of the country sent an amazing email in the early morning of my birthday. He said many things with his beautiful gift of expression but these lines struck me deeply:
I think everybody is a beautiful variety of God’s love but too few have bloomed the way you have. So go on giving glory to God as Nature plays out, you Suzanne flower, and we’ll take in your beauty and know a little more about the one who sent you.
He captured something different in these lines and I realize that the One-Who-Sends-Us does want to reveal something of the Divine through each of us.  With our birth we are meant to give God glory and point the way to the Creator.  Some of us put the gifts we are given away from public view and others of us return them to the best of our ability.  I know that even as this flower fades, I am still trying to do so with beauty and grace.  I am wanting to learn more about the One-Who-Sent-Me as much as everyone else.  These lines gave a profound meaning to my birthday this year and were a gift to receive.
What if each of us helped another to know a little more about the One-Who-Sent-Us? Would we see the world through a lens of beauty and joy more often? Would we praise more and whine less? Would we seek out the goodness of the other instead of condemnation? Like my dear friend, I too believe that everyone is a beautiful variety of God’s love and can blossom if given the encouragement.
While it is unlikely that I will see much of the year that lies ahead, I do hope that until I leave this earthly vessel, that I will continue to take in your beauty and watch for the lessons that you have for me regarding the One-Who-Sent-Us.
Peace,
Suzanne
Reflection Questions
Have you used the gifts you have been given to bring God glory?
What would others say is one lesson that they have learned from your life that reveals something about the One-Who-Sent-Us?
Prayer
You-Who-Sent-Us, help us to be all that you know we can be, beautiful vessels that point to you.  Let us blossom into a people that point the way to you, with grateful hearts and smiling faces. Amen.
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Dying as I Have Lived

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In these past years, I have tried to live more and more authentically.  When people look at my life. more or less, a consistency is there.  God has been my stronghold.  My faith has carried me through some of the more challenging times.  Loved ones are important to me.  Engagement in life created beautiful memories.  Curiosity and a desire to learn encouraged me to step beyond my comfort zone. These are true in the present tense too.

Many folks have said to me that I am dying as I lived.  No real changes in who I am, only a deepening of what was already there.  Consistent. I keep working on the lessons I am still learning.

When I turned 40, I worked on casting out fear that would grip me.  Fear paralyzes and is not of God.  We can get so caught up that we turn away from God and what God wants.  I am still learning to breathe and turn to God when life–or rather dying–becomes overwhelming. Fear is losing its grip on me.

Truth is also important to me.  In talking with my social worker this year, he suggested that one of the reasons that I bristle when people consistently move to denial of my dying with me is that I am being authentic and do not want others to try to distract me from this.  I want to stay the course that I have been given.  It is not easy and so those who try to distract me do me no favours.   Yes, we all fall into denial from time to time.  I understand that.

Communication has been a key to healthy relationships for me.  Some of those who were in my inner circle no longer are because they have shut down, cannot talk to me about what is going on, only want to talk to me about what is going on, want to overcare for me, are bewildered at what to do, and so many other reasons.  These tend to be people who do not have good communication skills or who clash with my skills.  We are on two different planes.  I have become more clear about what is happening to me, what I need, and what I do not need. This is unsettling to people.  I can be short with long-time friends because I do not have patience for games or disrespect.  This is not what I want and I am learning to be more compassionate to others and myself.  I am still learning lessons and continue to struggle with setting boundaries.

Love is what has guided me for decades and I find that the moments I lose the grace to love, I spiral downwards a bit.  I want to be charitable but my energy is such that I cannot always be.  This will be a task to focus on in the coming weeks and months.  Service is one way to practice love and so as long as I have breath, I hope to serve in whatever ways I can.

Being authentic provides me good ground work to die.  I am familiar with what I want to do.  I think of my grandmother who in her final days had staff coming into her room because they found it so peaceful to sit there.  She died as she lived.  I hold that example hopefully.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Who is the authentic you?

How do you interact with people who try to distract you from your authenticy?

Prayer

Creator, you long for us to be our truest selves and shine in this world.  Help us to discover who we are and to embrace that goodness.  Let us not be distracted by those who wish for something different than your will for us. Amen.

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Walking on Thin Ice

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Who knew that a visit to the dentist office could trigger such intense grief?  You would think that after facilitating grief workshops that I would be better prepared. Of course, I do know that the one consistency about grief is that it is unpredictable. Why should I have been surprised that I found myself struggling to hold it together and unable to answer honestly the questions that were being directed to me?

Today would have been my father’s 85th birthday.  My day ended up being very full–of appointments, surprises, joy, and sorrow.  Grief is sometimes not so clear cut–it is layered and messy.  The goodness and the hardness, the beauty and harshness of life obscure the emotions and sorting out reality is challenging. At times, I walk on very thin ice as I maneuver the mine field of emotions of grieving and my own dying.

I received an early morning good news text from a friend about the arrival of her baby.  A stunning bouquet of spring flowers arrived mid-morning.  My three-month blood test was the first appointment.  Now I wait for results.  Afterwards, I went to pick out the marker for my gravesite.  Yesterday I paid for my plot. Each step brings me closer to being ready for death where I will be reunited with my father, my sister and so many other dear ones.  For the first time in a long time, I felt tremendous sadness about leaving this world, even if it meant I debated about whether I should spend the money on a new crown to replace an aging one. Who knew that would make me sad?

Several times during this last appointment, I found myself wanting to weep…because I miss my dad, because I know how my passing will take a toll on my loved ones, because I will miss this life which I have loved.  I knew that I could not bring myself to tell the wonderful, always-upbeat staff that I may not make it to my next six-month cleaning. I was vague about the work that needed to be done as the dentist said it was not a priority.  I felt like a fraud but I knew that I could not speak without crying so I avoided the issue.

I paid and the lovely receptionist went over the treatment plan with me.  She looked slightly puzzled by my ambivalence instead of my usual cheeriness. She looked away for a moment and I took a breath.  I am dying, I heard myself say, I am not even sure I will be here for the October appointment. She looked up and her hand went to her chest:  Oh my! My heart….before she looked away. I am sure she said more but I do not really remember except that I felt held. She handed me my receipts and I left. I felt emotions arise in me but I could not cry. I sat in my car and thought for a moment about my dad and my own situation.

This adventure has dark days on it.  As I end this day, one final text rolls in full of love and encouragement by someone who understands.  The goodness and beauty of others allowed me to keep standing today.  I am emotionally exhausted but I am not in the abyss. I think of my social worker who tells me to free fall and let go of control.  That would not have worked today.  I think instead I have to stand on the thin ice knowing that Jesus will catch me if I fall through.   He will grasp my wrist and pull me close to him until I can stand again on my own. For anyone who has ever gone through grief, you will recognize these emotions.  Perhaps it is because my time is short that I do not fear being in the dark space for too long. Tomorrow is another day, and God’s mercies are new every morning.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How do you find your way in the darkness and sadness?

What graces have you received today that were a blessing?

Prayer

Papa-God, I know you and Papa are here today with me, holding me up and caring for my heart. May I move from thin ice to a solid foundation again soon.  Amen.

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Wounded Healers

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Ah, poor Thomas, late to the party and thus left out of rejoicing.  I will not believe, he asserts, even though all the others say that Jesus is risen and has returned. We are sometimes slow to catch on.  There is no proof that Thomas needed to put his finger in Christ’s wounds in the end but he does  believe when he encounters the Risen Christ.  I am sure he is never the same, as many of us who are healed of our disbelief and fears.

One of the lines from the latest movie version of A Wrinkle in Time that struck me was by the Persian poet Rumi as quoted by Mrs. Who:  The wound is the place where the light enters you.  I could not help but think of the Canadian poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s lyrics:  There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.  Our wounds are our greatest teachers in some ways if we allow them to be.  Christ offered his wounds to us as an example of how they can be transformed.

St. Ignatius was wounded in battle in Pamplona and brought back to his home of Loyola to recover.  His forced recuperation was the beginning of his conversion experience. His wound healed his soul.  The light permeated him as he lay in bed reading the lives of the saints. His dreams of being a knight dissipated as his faith caught fire.

Our wounds are scary–perhaps that is partially why Jesus greets his followers with peace be with you.  They have never experienced the Resurrected One and would naturally be frightened to see him alive but his wounds are part of his glorious identity now.  What if we were to accept our wounds as part of our glorious nature and allow them to transform us and those around us?

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Which wound does the light need to enter for you?

Do you believe that the wound you carry can transform you and others?

Prayer

Resurrected-Wounded-One, show us how to accept our wounds and use them to help heal ourselves and others.  May we always know that the light will transform the darkness. Amen.

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Why Weep?

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In John’s rendition of the Resurrection story today, Mary Magdalene stands weeping outside the tomb.  An angel in white asks why she is weeping.  She has lost her Lord twice–once in death by crucifixion and now his body is seemingly stolen.  Then Jesus appears and asks her why she is weeping.  Thinking he is the gardener, she asks if he can tell her where Jesus has been moved.  He calls her by name and she recognizes him. He tells her not to cling to him because he has not yet ascended.

Ah, this story of grief and joy! Do you know it?  Many of us experience similar tales though it is usually through some dream where our loved one appears or some symbol/sign in nature.  Letting go is one of the hardest tasks we endure in life–of our identities, our ideals, our dreams, our hopes, and our beloveds. In Jesus Calling last week, Sarah Young writes This is a time in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control.  Yes, I thought, this rings true for me.  I have let go of some of these and much more is yet to come.

At the Easter Vigil reception the other night, I had two conversations back-to-back just prior to heading home before midnight.  Both were with people I had known for a long time.  The first caught up on my health and told me I was looking good.  I became a little teary in our exchange.  Despite telling her I was fading, she said she looked forward to seeing me at the Vigil next year because it would not be the same without me. The next woman was a dear friend’s sister.  She had not known I was sick and I had been meaning to find the right time to tell her.  Oddly enough, we laughed so much as she learned the news.  Her sister had died of a rare form of cancer too. She teased me about trying to be special just like her sister. The difference in the reactions was priceless.  No clinging here, just acceptance.

Why do some of us weep at the news of an impending death while others are joyful?  There is no easy answer.  I am glad that I left the Vigil though after talking with my friend who made me laugh. Letting go makes us weep but if there is one lesson I have learned in these past three years it is that I am a stronger person who knows better what I can endure.  I have less patience for my whining about the unimportant parts of life.  I have learned that joy is different than being happy.  I am not happy that I am dying.  I am not happy that my life changes every few months as more of who I am is stripped away.  I am full of joy though at my core, even when I find myself weeping for what was. I am ready to go.  I am at peace with how I have chosen to live these past three years. The joy comes from knowing I am ascending to my heavenly home.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What is the most challenging thing you have had to let go of?

Why do you weep in the letting go?

Prayer

Life is filled with choices.  Creator, help me to chose joy over misery, love over hate, engagement over withdrawal.  Help me not to cling to earthly attachments but to keep my eyes on you.  Ame.

 

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The Quiet Tomb

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A couple of decades ago I was on a retreat team that hosted a Holy Triduum weekend.  The event ended up being one of the most profound experiences of my life.  We created a rich and powerful journey for the participants who ranged in age from infant to elderly.  Also on the team was my clown alter-ego, Violet, who greeted each guest with a large nail.  She ended up making several appearances throughout the retreat. We began with Holy Thursday and the washing of the feet.  Good Friday we added a Taize-style veneration of the cross where people could spend as much time as they wished with the prostrate wood, laying their head or hands on it.  Holy Saturday we created an empty tomb so that people could go inside the darkness and wait.  That is where I went so that Violet would be fully ready for her performance early the next morning.

I lay down upon the floor in the small room at the back of the chapel, allowing the darkness to envelope me.  I wanted to get in touch with what had happened in the day proceeding for Jesus so that when Violet did her liturgical dance, she would take all that knowledge with her.  I replayed in my head Maundy Thursday and Good Friday’s events, letting the words of the liturgy settle into my soul. I imagined Christ here in this space, throwing off the burial linens and laughing with great joy.  Death had no victory!  Yet it was not over.  He would descend into hell.  I tried to picture that moment but wrestled with images.  I was not yet trained in Ignatian contemplation.

I chose instead to settle in on how it felt for the disciples and Mary, each in their own tomb. I could feel their pain, disappointment, and disbelief.  Now what? I let those emotions run through me.  He is dead.  Good and dead, as a friend said to me in an early morning text today.  I have come back to those words a few times today….good…..sinless, compassionate, merciful, kind….not what was meant but what I keep hearing today.  Good…and dead.  Killed. Crucified. Pierced with a sword.  Good and dead.  Ain’t no way he is coming back.  Or at least that is what people thought.  Those poor disciples!  Their dreams shattered in a million pieces. Their master shamed and framed. He did not even put up a fight but seemed to go willingly.  What had happened?  This was not what they had envisioned.

In the quiet tomb decades ago, I realized fully how great the price he paid.  For me.  So that I do not end up in hell. So that I may join the Resurrected Christ in Heaven forever.  The next morning, as Violet slipped through the door,  the words Remember he is dead came.  I had to stop myself from sobbing. The music had begun and I could not stop to recompose myself.  On with the show, as they say.  The retreat house director’s toddler son’s voice could be heard over the music:  Daddy, clown sad. Clown sad.  I almost lost it again and yet as if I were not in my own body, I danced my way to the tomb and slipped inside.  When I came out again, I held high the empty linens, beaming with joy.

I have spent this Holy Saturday doing nothing but sleeping and resting in silence.  I have remembered what Christ is doing before tonight’s Easter Vigil, the high point of the Catholic Church.  I have recalled my experience in the tomb from that retreat.  I have thought about my own in-between experience of waiting for my resurrection.  I wait without knowing when that will be but grateful that I have a Saviour who has prepared the way for me.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Holy Saturday is often busy with Easter preparations.  How have you spent this day?

How do you envision Jesus spending this day?

What are you grieving this Eastertide?

Prayer

Waiting is never easy.  Grieving is near impossible.  Show us the way as someone who knows.  You waited in the garden.  You grieved for your friends. May we take up our cross with courage and walk.  Amen.

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