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.

 

 

 

 

 

Dem Bones, Dem Bones ~ Of Bugs and Bones, Part 2.


Dry-BonesCoincidence is the term used to describe two events which unexpectedly occur together in a way that makes one wonder if this is chance and simple happenstance, or is there a hand.  John Terpstra, Skin Boat ~ Acts of Faith and Other Navigations

The following year, after my first encounter with a ladybug at Seton House of Prayer, I returned to the retreat centre for what was becoming my spiritual practice of solitude and silence. I left the busyness of my daily routine, and, for a day, invited God into the silence, into the inner room of my heart. I have not yet found my journal from that visit to confirm the precise date, but my experience that day remains indelibly etched into my psyche.

In planning my time of solitude, I gathered my journal and pen, my Bible, spiritual books I was currently reading, my camera, some lunch, some layers in case the weather turned, a plain wooden box with an inscription, “Buddy ~ Forever Faithful, Forever At Rest,” and Buddy’s old collar. I carried a painful weight of loss. Buddy, my companion and muse, my gorgeous German Short Haired Pointer, had died not long before. I was not moving past his void in my life, and I thought I might be able to bring Buddy to Seton House, release his ashes there, and in that find some release for my deep sadness, find some solace from the God who again felt so distant to me.

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I drove to Seton House, unpacked my car, and moved into the Poustinia for the day, alone, with Buddy.

By now my solitude practice had widened to include several ways of contemplative and prayerful being, the stations of the cross, several walks with niches and statues of saints, a lovely woodland altar where one day I came upon a doe resting, a labyrinth, and a small chapel at the top of the property. I quietened myself in the Poustinia, fed by the views of my natural surroundings, read some scripture, prayed, journaled, and then took a walk to the chapel.

I felt broken, empty, so placing my body prostrate on the floor of the old chapel felt right to me, to lay myself down in a response of surrender to God and to my feelings, there, in an old wooden chapel, with a plain altar, and embraced by the forest beyond. I lay myself down. And when I opened my eyes and looked around me, I saw dozens of dead ladybugs.

My sharp intake of breath, as in the next thought vicious words drove into my mind;

This is you, Lesley-Anne! Dead. Empty. Dried up like these dead ladybugs. You are not worthy of flight. You are not who you thought you were. Rise up… I don’t think so. You aren’t going anywhere.

No, no, I cried. Tears, running down my face. No, that’s a lie! God does not speak this way. I am not dead or dried up. I am sad, mourning, and that does not disqualify me from anything. I recognized the darkness, the lies of the enemy of my soul. Thank you God that I recognized who spoke.

But I was shaken. I quickly left the chapel, made my way back to the Poustinia, as these thoughts, jumbled but memories of a certain story came to my mind;

And God took his servant to a mighty valley, full of dry bones, and he asked the man, can these bones live? (My own paraphrase and just enough to send me back to my bible with hunger to learn how God can make dead things live.)

For the next two hours I poured…poured over the scripture verses I found in the book of Ezekiel, poured out my deep anguish and despair over the death of my sweet dog, and the death of my spirit because of his loss. And I felt God asking me the same questions as were asked the prophet of old, And He said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, You know! And in me a shift, a realization, a revelation, something opening me to the answer within my pain. God knew how he might take my loss and turn it from death to life again. So I prayed it out, anguished out a surrender of whatever was going to come from my pain, and I thanked him for my dog, for the love I had experienced, and I thanked him that he could make my dry, broken, mourning bones live again.

And then, my time was over, and I packed up my things, and I went back down the mountain, with everything I took up. And the plain wooden box with the ashes of my precious Buddy remain unreleased, instead gathered, to my bedside table.

And change comes, and life comes, more pain, more loss, more dry bones transformed.

My journey continues, and the mystery of ladybugs returns from time to time,

chance and simple happenstance, or is there a hand?” “You can decide for yourself if…[these events] together have meaning or are only interesting but ultimately random coincidence of events. If you decide they do have meaning this does not imply you know what that meaning is.” John Terpstra ~ Skin Boat

Like last week…but that’s another story.

On the way,

Lesley-Anne

P.S. If you missed Part 1 of this story, see Of Bugs and Bones, Part 1.

Thanksgiving Sabbath unrest…


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Yellow ribbons of remembrance hanging outside a NYC Manhattan church.

My Thanksgiving Sabbath rest began with a hot cup of coffee and a little book my dear friend gifted me with for my last birthday. My darling went to church. I didn’t. I’m hoping this day will continue with family time, perhaps a hike somewhere on this lovely day, and then it will culminate in us five gathering around a table and ordering turkey dinner (my darling’s idea to reduce the work and increase the conversation) and watching the sun set over the lake and behind the Monashee. We may or may not talk about why we are thankful… often that makes for discomfort and eye rolling on the part of our young adult kids.

So I read the little book from cover to cover. “A Liturgy for Sunday Schools,” published in 1842 by the Dioscesan Sunday-School Society of Pennsylvania, fragile, water spotted, smelling faintly of must and mildew, is only 36 pages long, and for the purposes of leaders leading children in the various services of the Episcopal church Sunday-School. An easy read.

As I sip coffee and read, I am touched by the deep reverence of the words, and the words themselves, some of which are no longer part of our language today are unique, special, resonant. My mind wanders to my perceptions around church history, the simplicity, literal, black and white, how it seeps into everyday life back then. I move to my own church history, its complexity, its greyness, and how it has for a long time been part of my everyday life, but now not so much. And how I miss it but no longer know where I truly belong, if anywhere.

And I begin to see my Sabbath unrest rather than rest, not always, but now. Do you experience this? What does it look like for you? Have you found a way to peace?

There are others who share my place, others who have written about it. One of my favourite books, “Skin Boat,” by Canadian author and poet John Terpstra, resounds deeply for me. The dance in and out of the pews and I want to end up somewhere, sometimes, and other times I am repelled by the thought.

Or another friend of mine who says he is allergic to church, breaks out in a sweat when he is there, and I get that. Because there is physicality, emotion and intellect involved sitting and listening to words that you can no longer accept in their entirety, or underlying dogma, or attitudes, all those things that begin to get to you like a bur under a saddle and you finally have to untether yourself and run free for a bit while your flesh heals.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written here, and that’s partly due to feeling I have very little to say mixed with a bit of resolve and shame, but maybe it’s time to open up a bit, I don’t really know.

This blog is supposed to be about hope, and that hasn’t changed, and my belief in God hasn’t changed, nor my belief in who Jesus was and is and what he is about in the world. Jesus words (the red letters of the bible) speak precisely to how I want to live, but how I do that… that is the sticky point. I get hung up on the cast and hook, the doing what I do for the agenda/purpose of type stuff.

Yet my desire to live for God’s glory does not change. My desire to write my experience of the fullness of it, the spirit and humanity of life. My hunger for relationships that connect spiritually has not changed. My desire for spiritual formation, the integration of spiritual practice remains. I am becoming… but I do not know what.…

Anyway, I think maybe I’ll unpack some thoughts here over the next little while. I’ve done it before, HERE and HERE and HERE. Maybe it will take us to more clarity or more willingness to be unsure, more restfulness?

Here is a partial poem I’ve been messing about with on the subject… all I have for now:

This accidental architecture defines what belongs
and what is outside, romantic notions
of historic field boundaries somehow justified
by the latter commendations of sparrows and
and small creatures nested in crevices, hollows. How
we are drawn by longing then repelled by the lines drawn between us.

Build me not a wall but an altar, a holy well
set mid field and shaded by fairy thorn.

Along the way…


Years ago I began to see. At birth, my physical eyes opened. At the age of 40, my spiritual eyelids lifted to reveal new and meaning filled sights. And, another (almost) ten years later, I recognize that the second sight that comes with the spirit focused eyes must be intentional, often requiring of me a tuning up, a dusting off, a wiping of my glasses to ensure that I am seeing as best I can. God has things to reveal to me… even when I forget (see this post) or when I’m distracted or simply focusing on myself way too much.

Ten years ago or so I often saw things as I walked my dog and talked to God along the way. I was reminded of those wonderfully intimate times this morning as I drove to meet a circle of women who are becoming very important in my life and spiritual development. I saw things along the way today… and they revealed a deeper sight that I will share with you. May it bring you peace. God often brings peace in the midst.

I saw… a soldier dressed in his fatigues walking a very happy dog with tail back and forth and tongue lolling and face turned up to his master with an obvious ‘smile’ to share (those of you with dogs know this canine ability to smile). The dog was so full of joy at the walking with the one he loved that I almost didn’t see the obvious, that this pup had three legs, not four. At some point the fourth leg was removed due to an accident or disease and the dog carried on in a way that appeared to be without any real impact on his ability to enjoy the life he’d been given.

and I saw… a man waiting at a traffic light, a man whom I’ve noticed for years now, pocket protector in his short sleeved dress shirt, comb-over hair almost all grey, dress pants, and in one hand his black briefcase… very much the ‘Death of a Salesman‘ image here. And his body, his 60-something body, had conformed to the weight of whatever was in the briefcase, turning in, shoulders dropped forward, arms almost lengthened by the pull of the case. He was heading… somewhere… no smile, no joy, yes purpose, but no outer signs of pleasure.  Compared to the dog.

And here’s what I think I’m going to take from these images that linger in my mind, I’m going to take what I saw and own the truth that speaks. How we each have a choice to carry or to leave behind that which is diseased, that which weighs us down, that which we do not have to carry. And with that another choice, to leave the burden behind and embrace the joy of the moment, the gift of what remains rather than what could have been, might have been, and maybe still is. The dog made adjustments to how it walked to enable him to bounce on three feet. The man, burdened for years, his body also made adjustments, but in a way that left an impression of sad emptiness and pursuit of something just beyond his reach. Yes, I’m reading much into this, but I believe there really is something to it… a revelation of truth in the ordinary.

Thought I’d just lay it out there for you. To do with as you wish.

Journeying and watching, sometimes spirit sight,

Lesley-Anne

Naming one thousands gifts… days 9 and 10


Albert Namatjira refuelling for a trip to Alic...

Albert Namatjira refuelling for a trip to Alice Springs. Ampol branding is visible on the car itself as well as the bowser. Dodge B Series pickup truck, made 1948-53. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

138. driving, eyes never tired of new things, fresh tasting the feast

139. Fishtrap Creek and other word combinations

140. ethnic diversity

141. navigation systems

142. crab traps stacked on back a pickup truck

143. ocean inlets

144. wild blackberry bloom in ditch

145. 4 exciting games, no injuries, best scores ever

146. border crossings

147. patriotism, large flags

148. all five of us in the car

149. narrow roads

150. indian paintbrush, daisies, side of interstate 5

151. good radio

152. low cloud

153. husband driving, keeping us safe, getting us there and back

154. weathered barns, clusters of buildings, outbuildings

155. sons that said yes to the journey

156. a daughter who still wants my opinion on clothes

156. American Hershey chocolate tongue melt

And the following guest gifts offered up by my observant husband who wanted to know what I was so busy writing down in my notebook as we drove through the landscape on our way…

157. architecture

158. storage sheds in yard

159. car washes

160. hot days and cold pools

161. railway dome cars

162. flat water for skiing

and back to my personal notes…

163. song lyrics

164. traffic circles organizing flow

165. ‘adopted’ highways kept clean

166. lush grass

167. strawberry fields being harvested by workers

168. ripe raspberries on the bush

More from my observant husband who appears to like this looking…

169. trim cedar hedges

170. white fences and wildflowers

and me…

171. roads without curbs

172. level railway crossings

173. old highways

174. country churches

175. picnics

176. tandem tanker truck carrying milk

177. barns full of Holsteins

178. vernacular language

179. high mountain road, rainbows, double rainbows, sunset like the sky on fire, carrying it all in our minds

Footnote to self:  And in all of these, am I truly grateful, truly receiving all as gift from an abundant, lavishly loving God? Or, am I merely taking notice and making lists? Even then, is the enjoying each for what it is and being on the lookout for more, expectant of beauty and joy and grace, proof enough of a thankful heart? And why must I complicate things with thoughts such as these?

Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him?” saith the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:24 21st Century King James Version (KJ21)

Journeying…

Lesley-Anne

Baby steps, but still walking.


Sometimes I wonder if the little things are what count the most. Like the things you do along the way… you know, the journey, rather than the destination? ‘Cause I can get pretty bogged down by the thoughts of what to do, where to go, where I’m headed, and lose sight of the things that are right under my nose. Today I’m just trying to take one moment at a time and let God take care of the big picture stuff.

Last week I blogged about some big picture stuff, and I do love doing that. My heart beats faster when I envision a great big picture, and I begin to see myself stepping out into something wild and wonderful. Then, as I begin to work out some details and the reality hits me, I often find myself deflated, less than enthusiastic, even scared. And I start to wonder if it’s what God wanted me to do at all or some crazy pipe dream I came up with. Then I wonder how I can truly figure out what God wants from me?

A friend shared with me the other day about her husband’s perspective on the question of what God wants him to do. He looks at it this way, “who cares”. WOW! This man is a devoted Christ follower, gives his time and talent and money to many things, loves his God, loves his family, works hard at his career, and when he says this, it’s without any sense of disrespect or irony.

I believe what he means is this… when you are in a loving relationship with God, and are living your life (to the very best of your ability) to please God and bring glory and honour to God, (and covered with a huge umbrella of God’s grace, of course) then it doesn’t really matter what decision you make, God’s going to do the best with it, make the best of it, use it to his purposes. Bottom line is, just do SOMETHING! Stop dithering. Make a decision.

I have to say that’s a good way of looking at things. Can it be backed up biblically… I think so. Many (all?) of the fathers and mothers of the faith were messed up sinners like me, and God continued to allow his plans to go forward in spite of all the times that humanity got in the way. Things like murder, adultery, lies, disobedience, things that were contrary to how God wants things to be, happened, and still God worked with those people because he loved them and they loved him in spite of their downfalls. He did good with them and through them. Big hope for me here.

There’s another perspective on determining God’s will. It’s the one where people pray, seek God, and then wait for clear direction before moving forward. And I know many dear Christians (some of them, my friends) who live this way, and truly believe that God directs specifically, clearly, and they follow his lead. I would never ever discount their experience or their integrity. I too have experienced this uncanny providential involvement in the details of my life that cannot be written off as coincidence, or fancy. And those times are epiphanies and have proven to be life or direction changing. I believed and still do believe that God directs in this way, and the bible is full of examples of times that this happened. But this usually doesn’t happen for me on a daily basis (probably because I can be obtuse a lot of the time).

Me, well, I fall someplace in the middle of the ‘who cares’ and needing to have the writing on the wall before acting. Problem is, that often leaves me in a void of indecision, considering this way and that way and the next way, rather than just stepping out and doing SOMETHING. In my heart of hearts I’d like to pray and ask and see writing on the wall all the time, and sometimes I’m standing in the way of that happening. Being a slight control freak type ‘A’ personality means that I’m used to figuring things out, taking charge, making things happen. Only if I want God to lead that doesn’t necessarily work, does it?

So, back to today. No big picture planning today. Today I’m cleaning my house and looking forward to coffee with friends in a couple of hours. No agendas, no life altering plans. Just enjoying completing the tasks at hand and then we’ll sit and talk. Tonight I’m going to show up with my daughter and take tickets at the door of a local benefit concert for Haiti. No wondering how the money will get to Haiti, no considering how I might be able to use my writing to help with the crisis there. No, I will take tickets and smile and thank people for coming. And then I will go home. And that’s all OK. God will take care of the rest.

I’m not quite at a place where I can say, “who cares”, but maybe that’s where I should be. If I could only step aside and make room for God to show up and do what he has in mind, with whatever circumstance I’m in, whatever choice I make, wherever I may be on the path. Baby steps with God holding my hand, walking ahead of me. Like, in the words of a song by Switchfoot, “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.”

And like this verse,

“I being in the way, the Lord led me”. (Genesis 24:27)

On the path, blind and dumb,

Lesley-Anne