FEENY WOOD. Retreat. Reflect. Restore.


Over the past two years my husband Bob and I have been responding to an invitation of the heart. When I’m most awake and sense something percolating up into a compelling vision, I interpret it as God saying, Look, look, over here! Given who I am, where I’ve been, and what brings me fully alive, is it any wonder that God’s invitation for change can be particular and specific?

FEENY WOOD is a seed that was planted in my heart through a book — Poustinia, by Catherine Doherty.

Feeny Wood arrived when I noticed and responded to an inkling that niggled and captivated me, then compelled us to leave our family home of 18 years, move to a countryside location, and begin to open our lives more fully for the sake of others.

We are fairly certain that Feeny Wood is a God story.

Here’s what Creator says:
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.
Isaiah 43:19

Feeny Wood is a contemplative Christian retreat and our home. It is a place of refuge and prayer extending welcome to those in need of rest, reflection, and spiritual refreshment individually and in community.

Feeny Wood has become an unfolding and defining chapter in our lives.

Find out more HERE at our newly launched website.

Since November 2018, we have nestled into our home, built a prayer hut — a modern woodland Bothy — and created a tranquil courtyard garden. Feeny Wood is now open for individuals seeking a half-day or day long retreat. Through a trusted community partner, spiritual direction is available to our guests. You can reserve your time through the website.

Our vision going forward includes creating a woodland sculpture trail and a meadow labyrinth, holding small gatherings focused on living an artful faith-centred life, and publishing a blog series of spiritual meditations. God continues to lead us in the way.

Our first guest spent 5 days on retreat and said,

Everything at Feeny Wood is saturated with beauty and meaning that draws the spirit into restful reflection and renewal. The hosts are the definition of hospitality. I will come back time and time again. Thank you so much for providing this space for me! 

Come on over to our new WEBSITE, subscribe to our email list, and be in the know about upcoming happenings at Feeny Wood.

With deep gratitude to Joel Clements of Brainstorm Studio for capturing our Feeny Wood sensibilities so beautifully in branding and website design.

And for my dear husband, Bob, whose large-hearted YES continues to embolden and sustain me — I’m so grateful for our shared years of adventures.

A hundred thousand welcomes. Céad míle fáilte.

NaPoMo poetry party.28


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Good morning good folk. A dear friend who was going to drop by and share some work today has had a family emergency. I pray all will be well with them and that they can return one day to be with us.

(I’ve been giving some thought to a regular poetry party here at Buddy Breathing; what do you think?)

I hope you’ve been enjoying the daily visits with so many beautiful and inspiring people? I’ve intentionally steered away from any sense of promotion as I wanted to honour each guest as a person, and to simply sit and spend a little time getting to know their hearts. Please jump in on the comments and let me know how it’s been for you. Let me know if you want to come by one day and share too.

You heard from me once before this month, and here we are again. What shall I say? I think I’ll just share a wee bit from my life in hopes it encourages someone else on their creative journey. It’s a complex mess at times, but today I feel I’m being exactly who I am. With integrity. Truth. Purpose. Providence. With a splash of should-I-be-saying-this-out-loud and do I sound pretentious?

This week I went for a walkabout and installed some poems in my neighbourhood in a process I’ve called “Pop-up Poetry.” I keep another blog all about it HERE. I had a surprise encounter with boys on bikes that you might like to read about HERE. Two front line medical workers affirmed what they called my immeasurable gift, and this at a time when I’m questioning the helper in me. Each time I step out with my poetry and receive a response from anyone, I sense something that feels like a quiver of certainty. This is how I help. This. Poetry.

Eight years of doing Pop-up Poetry and it never gets old. I step out in a mixture of angst and fear and embarrassment (reverse pride) and come back lighter and almost free. I think there’s something about doing what I can, and sharing what I have, that carries me. Pop-up Poetry is woven into my life now.

I’ve been working with the brilliant editor Harold Rhenisch over the past couple of years. He is mentoring me, unleashing me, helping me to believe in my voice and to allow poems to be born through me. It is so difficult some days as I feel my intellect stretched past what I think are my limits. Sometimes I rise with understanding. Sometimes I write and it is complete crap. Sometimes I enter into a flow and a few words string together into a luminous line. I remember the day I asked Harold if he might take a look at my poetry and see if there was something worth doing there. From that day until now is pure gift. Harold inspires me to be like him; to come gently and humbly alongside others in their creative journeys, to speak life into them, and to be a friend.

I’ve also been giving myself to a vision I’ve carried for years, to create a place of refuge for those seeking solitude and soul refreshment. It has meant moving homes. It has meant enfleshing ideas and building things and refining the vision. This place we’ve landed, this place we’ve lovingly named Feeny Wood, has brought me to tears of frustration and joy. When COVID happened, it meant the very first booking in our Bothy (forest prayer hut) had to be postponed. Carrying a vision for hospitality in a time of staying-in-place has me wondering and asking what’s this all about, God? I keep stepping in.

Today I will sit down with my husband to talk about plans for our courtyard contemplative garden. I’ve planted a line of blueberries, transplanted some wild strawberries, and wheeled in 4 yards of lovely black earth. One step at a time. In due course our bans will lift, and our doors will open, and people will come. Maybe it will be you?

I’d like to share another poem with you today, one that arrived this week. She is new and saying something I’m still straining to hear. In other words, more edits are likely :)

May this day bring you bright spots, and a laugh or two,
Lesley-Anne

My Son as the Captain of A Tall Ship

That gentle trough
of sinew and skin like velvet
seems an odd design
for a boy's neck or a horse’s nose.
I want to rest there. I feel faint
at the thought.
When you are absorbed in Lego worlds
I will walk up behind you
and wait. Imagine how it might feel
to float once again in the swirl of hair
on the top of your small head;
drift there for a while — a buoy
in the current of our story.

From above I will tip over
and touch your neck — here, now;
a hint of sweat; your hand
brushing mine away.
I am a channel marker.
You are long gone to sea.

NaPoMo poetry party.17


Carmen Rempel is here with us today, from Kelowna, British Columbia.

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Hi, Carmen, and welcome to Buddy Breathing.  By the way, I’m enjoying your BLOG But I’m Brave so much. You have a way of tackling tough topics with authenticity and humour. I know you as a compelling public speaker, and I’m delighted to get to know you as a writer.

As you know we’ve been having a daily party for April – National Poetry Month, and I’m hosting a creative a day for a conversation based upon a handful of questions. And then most people share a poem, either one they wrote, or one that wrote them, or one that is meaningful to them. Let’s get started!

Lesley-Anne: We often say we wish we had more time for certain things. Are you spending your time differently in view of our current world challenges? If so, how?

Carmen: I’ve heard about this “more time” people have been talking about. I’m an adoptive mom of two teenage girls (one with an anxiety disorder and one with an intellectual disability) who are now doing school at home online, while I’m trying to work at home online, so I have less time than ever! I’ve been waking up earlier so that I have a few hours in the morning to read and write before the rest of the house gets up.

Lesley-Anne: What is the core factor that brings vitality and life to you?

Carmen: Nothing breathes life into me more than being totally alone in the backcountry. There is a tension of total peace, and constant anxiety as I hike alone with bear spray in hand, hours away from the next human being, with nothing but the Divine Presence and my own thoughts. 

Lesley-Anne: What is one surprising thing that happened today?

Carmen: We got a roommate! A friend found herself needing someplace to stay because her roommate was exposed to Covid. We are so grateful to have her staying with us for the next two weeks!

You have a poem with a story for us today, and so I’ll just pass it over to you to introduce us and carry on. Thanks again for dropping by. It makes me long for the days when we will be back sitting across a table sharing a coffee, or a pint, and unpacking something light and frivilous, yeah, right!

Until then, may your words be unleashed and good health be sustained,
Lesley-Anne

When Your Hands Were Little

Background of Poem:

We were going over her old report cards together, snuggled up on the couch, tea waiting to offer comfort sitting wisely beside us. She had never seen them before, and they were from the time well before I knew her, so there was discoveries to be had for both of us. We read about her teacher being proud of her for this and that. I praised her for being called a friendly and helpful kid in kindergarten. I didn’t read that part that said she was well below grade level. I skipped over the extra note written by the teacher asking the parent to make sure she came to school more often because they couldn’t assess her properly because she had missed so much school. I left out the note from the principal asking to meet. Instead I read the bit about how the teacher said she was learning to share well with others. But then she pointed to the box at the top of the page that said “34.5”, and asked what it meant.

Sigh.

“That’s how many absences you had in between March and June in grade 2.” I said.

“Oh.”

There was along pause and I watched the wave of understanding roll over her. Then I watched as the wave of painful memories came next. By the time the third wave, the wave of attached emotions, came crashing in, she shoved the papers aside and laid her head in my lap and began to cry quietly.

I took her hand into mine, and we waited out the waves together.

After a while she started playing with my hand, fiddling with my ring, feeling the sandpaper of my dry skin. She held her hand up, stretched out against mine. “Your hands are so small!” She giggled. Her 12 year old hands match her tall lanky body, and are significantly bigger than mine.

They always have been. In our entire relationship her hands have always been bigger than mine.

I brought my other hand up, capturing her one hand between two of mine, and said “They may be small, but they are capable of taking care of you.”

Her smile turned sad. “I know.” she said.

As an adoptive mom of an older kid I have this guilt companion with me all the time. I’m her mom. Its my job to care for and protect my kid. And she had been going through hell without me. I know its irrational, I know its misplaced, but in my heart I carry a deep regret that I didn’t get to her sooner. This feeling is what inspired the following poem. There is probably some therapist somewhere who would love to name this feeling I experience, but I haven’t met them yet. So this is what I have instead.

If you want to take a peek into the deepest parts of my heart; here you go.

Please handle with care.

When your hands were little

I'm sorry I wasn't there 

I'm sorry that you were alone 

I'm sorry I couldn't be there when your hands were little.

Littler than mine.

I'm sorry I didn't know you then.

I'm sorry that you were scared

I'm sorry I couldn't hold you when your hands were little

Littler than mine.

I'm sorry I wasn't there to protect you

I'm sorry that you were hurt

I'm sorry I couldn't soothe you when your hands were little

Littler than mine

I'm sorry I wasn't there to feed you

I'm sorry that you were hungry

I'm sorry I couldn't pack your lunch when your hands were little

Littler than mine

I'm sorry that I missed so much

I'm sorry that you had a whole life before me

I'm sorry I couldn't get to you sooner, while your hands were still little

Littler than mine.



NaPoMo poetry party.16


MermaidPinkHair

Hillary Ross’s energetic and enthusiastic spirit spills over into her creation of music, visual art, songwriting and poetry. Hillary splits her time between Kelowna, British Columbia and Redding, California, where she studies at the Bethel School of Ministry. Like many musicians during the time of COVID, Hillary is finding ways to share her music virtually.

One of your favourite quotes is this;

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” – Miss Rumphius

Let me just say you are doing this, Hillary! Last week I tuned in to a Facebook live concert you held with a friend and it was light-hearted, fantastical, and fun. You have a boundless number of ways of bringing beauty to the world, and I appreciate that about you.

Lesley-Anne: What is this quieter version of life teaching you, if in fact, it is quieter?

Hillary: The word that is ruminating over my spirit these days is selah; to pause and reflect. These days the minutes pass by like molasses and I am forced to either avoid my once unconscious mind or courageously unearth things I might have unintentionally hidden in my heart. This catharsis of tenderly and gracefully exploring places in my life where I have previously pushed pain aside has given me the courage to finally face grief, disappointment, expectations of where I believe I should be in life, deferred hope and unfulfilled promises. Giving myself permission to explore this sadness head on has brought an incredible joy and even though the pain has gone deeper, this gives joy the opportunity to do so as well.

This time is a gift in the midst of uncertainty and agony occurring in our world right now. In the slowing down, my roots have been firmly established, knit together and I have a greater appreciation for my own creativity than ever before and this immense equanimity of peace in my mind found when I yield and surrender control to God. When we surrender control our energy makes its way to the heart and we feel love more. Experiencing more love releases higher levels of oxytocin which suppresses the survival centres in the brain. It’s literally that 18 inch journey, you know that book we did that study on? I want to stay in this space and live from this overflow. Oxytocin signals nitric oxide which signals chemicals which cause our hearts to be filled with energy. We feel wholehearted and have more to give to each other.

Lesley-Anne: We often say we wish we had time for certain things. Are you spending your time differently in view of our current world challenges? If so, how?

Hillary: I am spending my time on taking naps and re-establishing my own natural circadian rhythm. Devotionals, morning journaling, yoga, long walks in fresh air, bike rides and writing more poetry as well. I am calling my Grandmother more and being more intentional with family and friends.

I have put on a mermaid themed quarantine concert with my friend and this week I am actually hosting a #StayHomeTour with a few friends from the west coast, follow my band @syrenandthewaves to catch the performances!

I recently released a new single which you can hear on Spotify and I have also organized, cleaned out everything and my next goal is to re-edit my book, Poems By A Mermaid. It is complete but I’ve been putting off publishing it as there’s a few simple spelling mistakes that are pretty hilarious and embarrassing. In one of the poems the line is supposed to read “Roots grow down deep” yet it says “Toots grow down deep.” How’s that for imagery?

Lesley-Anne: What is one surprising thing that happened today?

Hillary: Lately I am focusing on being a Christian Hedonist. What is that you might ask? Well I don’t believe in hedonism for selfish reasons but as for things of the Kingdom, I’m exploring how I can fully and wholeheartedly enjoy, lavish, linger, dwell and seek out beauty in every area of life. Polishing up my rose coloured glasses and saying yes to courage and my own dreams.

I am in a dance class and even though our class has moved onto a cyber platform we’re still able to connect, express and dance together. The activity we did today was to dance for April, May and June of 2020. When I danced for April I felt very strong and an anticipation for May. May is my birthday so each year I feel a similarity in that this year will be the greatest one yet! I danced powerfully and noticed that my body was wanting to move in ways I don’t normally move and this brought a greater level of confidence and freedom to myself. I gave myself permission to take up more space and expand my territory in the room. When I danced for June it felt like I was dancing with fulfilled promises over my life and a new perspective as I ended the dance in a headstand. Paradigms being turned upside down.

Here is one of Hillary’s favourite poems & a tiny piece of her art that goes along with it from her book Poems By a Mermaid. You can find and follow all of Hillary’s social media links at www.syrenandthewaves.onuniverse.com.

Hillary it’s been great to host you today, and I hope everyone who joined us enjoyed meeting you.

Peace, and good health to you all,
Lesley-Anne

Reach into my chest,
take what’s left.
Tend to this garden
with your elaborate hand.
I’m going to be more than okay is what they say.

Today,
Breathing deeper,
slower,
than ever before.
Laying here in your arms
of trustworthiness.
Blanket me all day in your presence.
open my minds eye to your constant love. 
Wash me in grace
Remove this brokenness.
I want to skip this process and
freely run from mountaintop to mountain top 
but I’m down in the valley
with a guitar for a gun,

streams in the wasteland,
singing you songs.

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NaPoMo poetry party.11


Photo: Lesley-Anne Evans

Today is Easter Sunday. Whatever your Easter tradition or practice, whether you have one or not, I celebrate your presence. Having thoroughly enjoyed our time together over the past 10 days, and looking forward to more this month, here I am, hosting myself.

Easter Sunday is a day in the Christian tradition we’d be gathering together all over the world. We’d be turning to one another and saying: He is Risen; He is Risen Indeed! Those words are a proclamation for followers of Christ; those who trust in God’s mystery and love; those who celebrate the compelling audacity of Easter’s message; those who hold holy questions and doubts and wonderings; me.

I have been wandering on the road between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And I arrive back here: with my lack of knowledge and understanding, and with my inconsistency of practice and ofttimes questionable motivation, still I am the BELOVED of GOD. The Easter story is perhaps so mythic and audacious because of its offer of unconditional and divine LOVE.

With a gift like this, then why does Easter feel less like a celebration this year? Why have I struggled so much with what I will say today on this blog post? Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist, borrows the words of her dear friend Rachael Held Evans, when she describes similar unsettled feelings this Easter. Sarah shares her Easter Sunday Field Notes deeply grounded in her life of faith, and then she says this:

On the days when I believe this…

It’s the oddest and yet the most honest thing for her to say in my opinion, this way of believing one day, and not the next. What else do I have but the truth of my own experience? And this is how my faith looks; one day transformed by love; one day tempered by the worry of personal circumstances and a great blanket of fear and weariness brought on by COVID; one day I believe; the next I wonder if any of it is true.

In her Easter message, Sarah goes on to say:
“God [is] with those still mourning, with the scared, with the sick, with the angry, with those who hold the great and terrible knowledge of the Presence of Love in our thin and weary places. On the days when I believe this, it’s enough. On the days when I don’t, it’s still enough. Christ is Risen.”

He is Risen Indeed.

Sigh…

And now, in responding as each poetry party guest has done so generously, here are my answers to our daily questions:

1. We often say we wish we had more time for certain things. Are you spending your time differently in view of our current world challenges? If so, how?

Lesley-Anne: Being a writer and already working from home, my life hasn’t changed much on the surface. I have a daily routine and creative practice that I’m continuing to keep while I stay in place. Adjusting to having my husband working at home, and hearing his business calls in what would have otherwise been a silent space, has been interesting.

I find time has expanded, and sometimes days feel endless. I am taking on small projects to try to focus on good things outside myself. Like this poetry party, for instance. It is a way to reach out to others and right size (for a little while) my worry. I’m may join the mask making efforts as well, or something else. But I still wake at night, anxious about my kids, about our world. There is always tension.

2. What is the core factor that brings vitality and life to you?

Lesley-Anne: Curiosity, along with the desire to look and see has always taken me to beautiful places, and can be a challenge to me. I wonder things and pursue answers, but often there are none. If my curiosity takes me too deep, it can be difficult to bear. But if I approach the world with lighter curiosity as an observer and then celebrate what I see, then I am easily overcome by the beauty of the natural world, the little everyday miracles all around me, and I find myself taking photos of it, writing about it, and going deeper with it in a way that is not too heavy or difficult. I find creation and creativity are mysterious connections to Creator.

3. What is one surprising thing that happened today?

Lesley-Anne: I was shocked to discover that a Northern Flicker has been trying to create a nesting cavity in my Bothy’s exterior wall. Now we will try to find a way to live in harmony, possibly by building a nesting box for him, or for owls.

My blog you already know about, and if you’d like to learn more about my creative life, projects, writing, please drop by my website here.

The poem I’m sharing today is a work in progress. Thank you for spending your time here with me today.

Blessings and peace,
Lesley-Anne

It is a Song With and Without Words


It’s robin red breast who gives word 
to backyard junkos, who calls 
a five minute warning. 
And as the swans v-wing I know 
for sure, light 
stretching elastic to meet early risers, 
leaves winter to a little death. 

I breathe, restless for essence of rain 
and reclamation, earthworm soundings 
in soil depths. The glory, 
glory hymns of songbirds, glory 
in the fullness of Fibonacci curve 
of lambs wombed and waiting, 
subtle fissures in fragile shells, 
green’s insistent pierce 
through monochromatic grey. 

Revival days, when tulips prove 
their faithful hearts, and bridal-wreath 
believers raise their arms wide 
and white in praise. And the wood 
blooming the colour of Amen.

-Lesley-Anne Evans

 

NaPoMo poetry party.10


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Norm Millross is a creative spirit who finds truth and healing through visual art, guitar, songwriting, poetry, and his faith. His resilience is contagious. For several years Norm and I met at Metro Community for our weekly poetry circle, where he wowed me with his prolific writing. Norm’s poem I Can is installed as one of two bright blue panels in the courtyard of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission where it lifts spirits and speaks of a power to overcome. I’m so thrilled to have Norm here, and for him to share a new poem with us.

Norm, we’ve been asking everyone a series of 3 questions, focusing on current circumstances and how we are coping in them. Here is what you said in response:

1. We often say we wish we had more time for certain things. Are you spending your time differently in view of our current world challenges? If so, how?

Norm: No, not really. Time is already very precious to me as I’ve experienced serious cardiac events.

2. What is the core factor that brings vitality and life to you?

Norm: It is hope; hope in humanity.

3. What is one surprising thing that happened today?

Norm: Not much, I was stuck in my room. But I am starting to get a lot of music theory back, after struggling post concussions. It’s starting to make sense again, which is really good.

On this Good Friday, when we would have traditionally gathered together to celebrate one of the foundational elements of our shared faith, I find it appropriate that you and I are here in spirit, Norm, and your poem is about believing in miracles.

Peace and continued good health, my friend,
Lesley-Anne

I Believe in Miracles

I believe in love
I believe in fantasy
I believe in what was
I believe in the reckoning
I believe I am me
I believe there is power
I believe I am free
I believe there is good
I believe there is bad
I believe in the question
I believe I’m not mad
I believe I am real
I believe there is pain
I believe there is freedom
I believe I am sane
I believe love can happen
I believe it is real
I believe love is magic
I believe love can heal.

Norm Millross, 2020 ©

NaPoMo poetry party.1


Back story

Yesterday a friend reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to share some poetry on his lit blog. Rob said he’s planning to host a full month of guest poets on his long time blog in celebration of National Poetry Month 2020. Yes, I said. And as I looked at what poems I might send to Rob, I felt a tiny shift in me that felt a wee bit like I mattered again in the world (cue all the feelings). And then I began wondering how I might be part of a ripple effect within my own creative community.

Bringing us here: day one of our NaPoMo poetry party!

Please say hello to our first guest and my friend, Anne Linington. Anne and I met through Faithwriters, an online writing community in 2006, and have continued a virtual friendship every since. Anne is a lay minister (Reader) with the Church of England, and lives on the picturesque Isle of Wight. Anne reads her poetry at open mics, and leads a monthly poetry group at Carisbrooke Priory.

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Before you share your poem Anne, I’d like to ask you 3 questions, questions I will be asking each one of our poetry party guests:

1. What is this quieter version of life teaching you?
Anne: The importance of structure for the day which will be useful as we head to retirement.

2. We often say we wish we had more time for certain things. Having been given this gift of more time, what are you spending it on?
Anne: Sharing more of my writing, not necessarily new material, but older articles and poetry.

3. What is one surprising thing that happened today?
Anne: I offered to share my seventeen years experience of “Contemplative prayer” with others via Facebook.

Thanks for starting us off so well, Anne, and for sharing your beautiful gift and heart.
Blessings,
Lesley-Anne

The Plough

How could I have known
When I opened the creaking gate
to the field of my life,
And invited you in
To do the necessary work,
That your activity would be so painful
And yet ultimately
Bring about a harvest?

Setting your plough
To dig down deep
To turn over
And break up
Almost touching the deep bedrock
Of my soul
Revealing me in all my created
Rawness.

Leaving me exposed
Rich pickings for hungry gulls
Whilst all that I had previously
Thought worthwhile
Is torn from its root
Dies
And is re-interred
In the soil
Of my life

Now I lie open and naked
As my neat furrows are
Rained upon
Reduced
Frozen
Broken down
Emptied of all former life
Waiting

Then one day
The returning sun of your love
Gently warming
O'er lengthening days
Begins my re-awakening

Precious seed is sown
In prepared ground
Watched over
Anticipated
And the Autumn pain
Brings life
And hope.

Anne Linington ©

 

Outlier


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Outlier. The word intrigues me. I’ve been chewing on it for a couple of weeks, wondering if this word relates to me or not? I am beginning to identify with it. I also wonder what creates an outlier? Could it be that outliers have a somewhat common experience of the world, or a common way of looking at it? Do outlier’s share certain personality traits? Might understanding some of these things help me to unpack my struggle with the elusive sense of belonging in any church?

What is an outlier? Or another word I’ve heard of late is “done,” though I don’t like that word as much. An outlier is defined as a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system, and a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set. In a church context this is a challenging type of person, because one of the things churches wish to do is create community, belonging, family. The church wants to draw all people in, most especially the outliers. But what if the outlier cannot be drawn in?

Maybe it’s best to start with my personal journey in and out of the doors of churches. I’m curious to see what I can mine from my story. Let’s see where it goes. Please join in with your thoughts on this as I can only speak to my own predispositions and experiences. Please join in especially if you self identify as an outlier.

First stop, my church story.

Born into a fundamentalist christian sect, I grew up in the church, the eldest daughter of an elder, and from the start I was a good girl. There were so many teachings from my formative years that are vital to my story; purity culture, end times prophecy, the inerrancy of scripture (literal interpretation), male headship, within a small church where whose you were mattered. I struggled to fit in. I was not athletic, chatty, outgoing, and my father was an Elder. I was doomed socially. I loved books, art, time on the family farm, the quietness of the garden, music. I understood God to be rules, love to be conditional, and relationships to be complicated.

Leanings: introverted, with artistic ability, kept from culture (in the world but not of the world – rules against movies, drinking, dancing, smoking, swearing, etc.) and pushed to the social margins of church. Pleaser. Somewhat repressed.

I invested and persisted with church through to my senior year of high school, when I concluded that while church youth didn’t like me, non-christians did. I found friends outside church. I found a capacity within me to rise to intellectual and artistic recognition by applying myself with good old work ethic. Work was easy. You either worked hard, or didn’t. Achieved or didn’t. I had part time jobs, and enjoyed making money. I had long been aware that the kids who rejected me at church were not who they pretended to be. I didn’t call it integrity at that time, or recognize my bullshit detector, but I knew intuitively who was to be trusted, and who was not. I especially found this perplexing around church leaders who lavished love and belonging on some, but not on all, and in particular not on me. I didn’t feel sought after or special. At church. On my grandparents farm and in nature however, my heart sang. 

Leanings: intuition, a felt sense of what is truth and fiction, strong work ethic, a desire for more – self improvement, environment improvement, love of the natural world, no nonsense approach to things. Sensitive. Quiet. Curious.

In my final year of university I was excommunicated from the church. What was my crime? I married a Catholic. I’ve written about this before on this blog. Any sense of lingering belonging I may have had within the church of my childhood, no matter how challenging it had been, was ripped away from me for choosing to love someone who I was told did not belong. I took it all on the chin and carried on. For 35 years.

Leanings: trusting, until trust is broken, judging of others and self, introspective and curious, educated, seeking, idealistic, keen, resilient, stubborn.

Marriage, career, the upheaval of moving across the country and starting over, 3 children in 5 years, and church again became part of my life. Healing began as I discovered a different church culture and within it God’s grace and love for me. But his people continued to create havoc in me. In particular I struggled with what it meant to belong, what was required to fit in, and how fleeting that belonging seemed to be. When I served I felt belonging. When I did not I felt invisible. This sense continued over years, but I pushed it down, pushed through. Perhaps mega church was an odd choice for someone like me, but that’s where we found ourselves at last…with good friends, good children’s programs, good teaching, and a good life…fast forward 22 years to a place I could no longer abide by what felt like duplicity or confusion or plain old unanswered questions around the love that supposedly defined the place, yet denied certain people groups.

Leanings: social justice, righteous indignation, taking a stand on behalf of others, questioning of doctrine, theology, and black and white thinking.

Retreat, full on. No church. For a couple of years. Followed by testing out a few options. Nothing seemed to draw me. I went to the beach and thought about nature’s beauty. I wrote poetry and thought how like prayer it was. Slowly and incrementally God became more real to me in ways that had nothing to do with church, and all to do with a personal experience of his love. I found elements of Christianity…Desert Fathers and Mothers, contemplative, liturgical, great theological writers and poets, resonant thought…and at the same time felt a warning to proceed with great care…to not jump from one box into another, to not exchange one language for another…but to find a way to live in integrity with Christ, myself, and others.

Leanings: willingness to say I don’t know, willingness to hold unanswerable questions, willingness to withdraw and be solitary, seeking, asking, disillusioned, hopeful.

35 years after I’m put away from my childhood church, this happened. Another layer is peeled back and I recognize how my excommunication was spiritually formational. Big time.

Leanings: personal trauma, a desire to make sense, and overcome. Willingness to do the work.

Of note here is I carry my peculiar sense of things to the world, not just church…I also feel apart when I consider society and culture. What appears to matter to many folk, just doesn’t to me. I weigh things, and I find so many of them wanting. I am peculiar, one who finds it hard to relax, play, give myself over to pleasures. I can’t imagine retirement. I seek meaningful pursuits, and often give more to others than I give to myself. I’ve been told I’m too hard on myself, am my own worst enemy. I wonder what it’s all for, why I am the way I am.

Still God persists with me.

I find myself volunteering at a church run street mission, facilitating a poetry circle for those experiencing homelessness and marginalization. It is an evangelical Christian organization but I find a way to participate without having to give answers for myself. I dip my toe in the water of belonging. I join staff. I apply work ethic and creativity. I create things. I instigate things. I still sense there is a divide between the in crowd and me. I don’t know why but it haunts me. I cannot abide group think or conformity. I still have so many questions. Am I creating my own sense of marginalization?

Leanings: self knowledge, independent spirit, lived experience of God’s presence, creative energy, rebel, brave, lonely, leadership tendencies.

Present day. Again I step back, and wrestle every Sunday to go to church. Staying home wins out more often than not. When I do go I spend time listening, and watching. I sense intimacy between others in the group, I long to be asked to do something, I long to be seen. I am seen more by my street friends than by the staff. I offer my help, I facilitate a study, continue to visit my street friends, but I know I am again on the outside looking in. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in. I wonder if being in is like “The Borg”…a form of assimilation? If so, I sense I will never experience that feeling because I am attuned to it, repelled by it, and run from it. The very idea of conformity stands against who I am, rightly or wrongly.

Leanings: a strong sense of personal mission, a strong sense of God’s leading, learner, seeker, fragile, indignant, willing to speak out and bear the cost most days.

How do I interpret all this, I wonder? I think it will take more thoughtful consideration. Someone suggested I look at my Enneagram # and consider how that informs my sense of belonging. Do I set myself against the very thing I believe I am longing for…belonging? Is there too much about how the church operates that is against my grain, so that in some ways, the church repels me?

This I know, I continue to see the beauty of the church and her ability to bring love and hope and mercy and justice to those who are in great need. I believe passionately, and I am not all in with everything, and I continue to have some deep questions. God has not left me, Jesus is walking with me. I may not align completely with the church but I have not given up having a place and purpose there. I have a sense that being an outlier matters to God…

Thoughts?

 

Suffering


dsc_05151.jpgI’m a terrible sufferer. I hesitate to use the word, as my experiences with suffering are few, and not long lasting. Still, being ill with a particularly virulent flu virus at the moment opens me to feelings I’d rather not have; lazy, unproductive, frustrated, angry, bored, sorry for myself…to name a few. I’m OK admitting these things. They are truly true. But my suffering is minor, the flu, nothing more.

I can’t imagine how those with chronic pain find the capacity to carry on, day after day, with no relief. There are those who seem to bear the lion’s share of pain and suffering, not just one thing, but many things one after the other. I don’t understand. I feel powerless to help them. And I am ashamed to say seeing their suffering makes me afraid. I think about the end of my life. If I am so impacted by the minor pain that I’ve experienced so far, what will I do should more come to me?

Medical assistance in dying appears to offer a way out of the suffering. I watched a documentary once, a beautiful story about someone taking leave of their illness. After attending to their affairs, and doing what they could to carry on as long as they could, they lovingly attended to their goodbye’s. In a poignant ceremony of gratitude, surrounded by their beloveds, they left this earth for the hereafter. It appeared very peaceful, meaningful, and dignified.

Suggesting this option is heresy for some, hope for others. For some there is a deeply held value in soldiering on through illness, to suffer silently and with great inner strength. I recall as a young child my parents spoke about folk who were dying. They talked about their testimony. They found in the way these gentle people handled their illness, hospitalization, and treatments, a reflection of God’s love and grace. I’m not so sure.

I have been witness to the sorrow of a dying friend of great faith who implored us to help him, who when he lost the capacity to do everything, and being deeply afraid of ever being left alone, asked us to take turns sitting by his bedside through the days and nights until the end. I can’t imagine God’s love shining more brightly in my dying friend than it did when he was healthy, and whole. I can’t imagine how his slow and lingering decline testified more greatly to his life of faith. Perhaps it did to some. Not to me.

It is said, “Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.” I’m not a scholar, but I have to wonder about the carry you where you don’t want to go part. Yes, it could be literal, but might it also be metaphorical?

There may come a day when I sit in a doctor’s office and hear something I would prefer not to hear. I wonder about suffering again in that context, and if when I am old (or any day now really) and I am dressed in the burden of suffering and it carries me where I do not want to go, will I also be given the grace to accept it as part of my journey that will have its own gifts of mercy and moments of transcendence. I believe I believe that.

Today my throat is too sore to swallow, so I try not to. My fever has broken. The sun just came out for a few minutes, and the feeders are busy with an abundance of birds. The dog naps on the couch, and in the time it took to write this I become unaware of anything other than my fingers on the keys, my thoughts on the page. The flu becomes less. These words become more. That is a grace.

Thanks for joining me in considering these things. I recently read an article by Anne Lamott. She says: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. And here it is again. Paradox. Is suffering a vehicle, a way, or a curse, a great burden? Both. And.

I can’t help thinking of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me, some of them through deep suffering over their lifetime; my ancestors, friends, all regular folk. Many of them, of great faith. Thinking on them I am reminded of how it is possible to make a life, like a pie, out of the ingredients you have on hand…and then share it bite by bite by bite…right to the bottom of the dish. The taste is not always sweet, but mostly. And the fragrance of the pie while it’s baking, well there’s nothing quite like it. I’ll have to think more on what that means.

 

 

 

 

 

A snapshot of my life


dsc_0907To be honest, sometimes nature speaks, and I hear things. I’ve been aware of this since around 2006, but I think it may have been happening to me when I was a little kid. Only I didn’t understand what or who was speaking. 

In 2006 I began to walk with my dog with the intention of paying prayerful attention to what God might have for me, what he wanted me to see. I asked. And I believe God began speaking to me through the eyes of my heart. I became aware of the divine presence of God in all of my surroundings. I learned the whole earth is the fulness of his glory. I went seeking. I found God’s supernatural presence and life feeding thoughts in things like a roadside rose bush, and two seagulls chasing one another, heart shaped poplar leaves, and even in a tarp covering an old boat. And then I went home and wrote those thoughts down. This was the beginning of my writing life (two ancient blogs, here and here), and how I eventually came to poetry. 

This morning I was overcome by the weight of loneliness. Sipping my morning coffee, I looked out over the wood and wondered about how who I am aligns with these particular feelings at this particular time. I thought about what feeds me, why I do what I do, why I am hurt so easily, and the depth of joy that fills me in the creative process when I am realizing a vision for the sake of something or someone. As solitary as I am, creative partnerships invigorate me. I recognize how meaning must accompany my actions, and how the mundane responsibilities of my life are almost always my greatest challenges. I realize the tension of opposites in pretty much all of my life.

I began to cry as I thought of some relational challenges in my recent years, and I said out loud, I am so lonely. The next thought that came was, are you a victim in this? But I dismissed it and felt the depleting feelings.

Then an eagle flew over the treetops toward me and straight over the house, and the wisdom words “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” downloaded into my mind/heart. Did I feel caught up by that? You bet, I did. A teeny bit of pressure in my chest/heart/gut lifted straight away. I thought on those words a little more, how God is for me, he loves me and will come to me, and also how I have a responsibility for my own life and choices. Then I texted a couple of friends, and made a couple of asks that might help this introvert stand against self-isolating behaviour. 

Nothing has changed yet, but it might. It always does. 

Peace, out,

Lesley-Anne

#beautyhunter

p.s. This, just now, via email:

DAILY MEDITATION | JANUARY 14, 2020
God Longs to Bring Me Home
For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.
Henri J. M. Nouwen
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
ISAIAH 41:10 (NIV)