Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Actually written the following Wednesday - but today should be the day that time and space come together and allow us to live in the present again.

The trip up was fast and easy compared to the days when I had to compete with workday traffic.I deliberately left early and enjoyed a quick breakfast at the convent and it was nice to share a quiet start to the day with those in residence. Matins was lovely as usual, - quiet and reflective. Though the morning weather looked promising, we were suddenly deluged with rain that turned to hail - noisy blessings.

The plan for the day was somewhat different. We gathered briefly in the chapel as usual for brief instructions. This was the day that the discussion groups were to bring back suggestions for the future of SSJD and how it might respond to the needs of the wider community. We were to return to the chapel at 10:45 with our reports.

Margaret briefed us and reminded us of the image of the tree of life. I particularly like that one because I used it in the Quiet Saturday reflection I gave earlier in the year - one of the oblates who re-committed herself on the Feast of St. John had mapped a similar one, which she had placed on the altar for all to see. The roots of the tree, Margaret said, are prayer, courage and compassion and they are watered by grace. The SSJD tree also has particular branches that bear fruit. It is now time to harvest the fruit and develop a particular "salad" to be served with delight. Like all creatures we are given energy to create it.

Sister Elizabeth Ann, responding to the weather also reminded us that John literally meant "Son of Thunder". She encouraged us to release that energy through "Big Bodacious Holy Dreams". This reminded me of the book by a writer who has always identified herself by her initials, S.A.R.K. who uses the word, "bodacious", in one of her books and is herself a living example of life transformation.

One of the participants in our discussion group showed us a picture that she had earlier also passed on to Margaret, showing that some oysters produce not just one pearl but a multitude of them. She has kindly sent it through so you can see it for yourselves - an inspiration to use a multitude of gifts.

The small groups met and returned to the Chapel after a very short coffee break. There was a wealth of ideas, all written on large sheets and mounted on both sides of the seating - serving as an offering. Many of the small groups had come to the same conclusions, particularly with extending knowledge of the value and contribution of the relgious life. You will have to forgive me for not taking notes on this session and I will simply highlight some of the ideas of my own group. Along with other groups, we thought that promotion is an area where associates and oblates can play a wider role in their parishes. There were hopes for a "religious orders day" to become part of the church calendar. We recognized that we needed to be more inviting. Associates outside the Greater Toronto area had greater needs to assemble and support one another and keep in touch. The geographic zones of the order might be reviewed because they corresponded to the country's, rather than the actual proximity of people. We wanted to add the religious life to subject matter for study groups forming part of parish programs. The most receptive to adding them would be priest associates and they provide a place to start. We also hoped that the religious life could become an option in discernment programs as well as educating candidates about the order at the beginning of their process of seeking ordination. There were also ideas about planting seeds, by speaking to groups of women, young and old, who currently had affiliations outside the church, such as professional or social organizations.

Sometimes the best messages come in pictures not words. As each group was asked to stand and identify themselves one group produced signs bearing the number 12 - harking back to Margaret's address about discipleship. Clearly they had signed on. I was able to get a couple of them to pose later.

We were then off to a silent dinner. There was a brief break but no walking outdoors as rain teemed down. By now we enjoyed talking with new friends and having a last look at the tempting books in the corridor.

Then it was time for Margaret's final address. Just before that happened participants were asked to assemble the lovely plants that had graced the common areas on the marble table in the refectory and invited to take one of the living stones in the font with them as a keepsake. Then Margaret began her address entitled, More is Less.

In our protectiveness we are often unwilling to take risks. But she related a story of a religious community of women who did. They allowed a rather rough and tumble group of boys to spend a day at the convent. Though apprehensive throughout the visit, the sisters' risk taking was rewarded by one of the boys saying on departure, "Ive never heard silence before - or heard a bird sing".

It's always her stories that make Margaret's point. Another concerned the game of 'pass the parcel'- a children's game rather like musical chairs, except children pass a package from one to another. When the music stops, the child holding it gets to unwrap a layer. There is a lot of expectation through the various stages and usually the gift in the final layer is quite small - a prize on the inside wrapped in layers of less. It reminded her though of a ruse played on a monastic, where after peeling off many layers, he found a Bible. He had the last laugh though with his immediate response - "I've read it!".

In another incident she was on a bus, where a passenger didn't have a fare in the correct currency. Another passenger simply stepped up and paid it. The one in trouble protested mightily and wanted her to take the other currency in exchange. Watching, Margaret noted how hard it is for many of us to receive when we can't pay it back. The only solution is to pay it forward.

If less is more, it requires stripping away what we have acquired and moving closer to the core of our being. This is a process that continues throughout our lives when the final unpacking comes with death itself. In hindsight, we have to discern how we have come closer to the core through loving choices, and continue them. Margaret related how during a particularly painful period in her own life she had attended a Holy Week retreat and returned to her room to find that the last petal of a bouquet of sweet peas had finally fallen. It seemed to mirror her own desolation until she saw that what remained was a seed pod that could be transformed into new life.

Finally those who know the pain connected with birthing might ignore the fact that the process isn't any picnic for the baby either. It has existed in a comfort zone where food is continually available, the temperature is steady and the heartbeat is comforting. Suddenly the baby is pushed and squeezed into a new world where its food supply is rather violently cut off, the temperature is cold and the heart beat disappears. But it is also a world of blazing light - where new warmth is found in human arms, where new food is offered with increasing variety - Margaret earlier talked about telling her granddaughter what fun it is to be able to turn a small jar of pureed cauliflower and cheese into a little girl - and where many new hearts beat to surround the child with love. The entry to planet earth places us in new relationship. It feels like loss initially but leads to life.

We venture out moving from one stepping stone to another. In a dream, Margaret imagined herself trying to cross a fast flowing river of life and needing stepping stones ot ensure her passage. Suddenly a boulder appeared and then another which ensured her passage. She wondered where the boulders were coming from and then realized they were being removed from her former house.

We have to let go and leave some things behind. The bridge to the future may require relinquishing huge and familiar traditions and the need to deconstruct and reshape them. A good experience in a secular training course found her resisting leaving because the place felt good. But the solution was to walk forward with open and empty hands, not clinging, confident that more would come, internalizing what was best in the experience to add to the person she already was.

We are, like the participants in the skit, weaving a web of who we are. It has to be based on the kind of trust that we remember Mary in the Angelus had in which she staked everything. Like her, we are called by name and our previous life will never return. It's scary to go forward without fear. But we can be a little like the long distance truck driver who turned his engine on for his first trip in a dark night and realized that he could see only fifty yards ahead. He was about to embark on a trip of 7,250 km across the country. The only solution is to start to move - because the light travels with us.

The final eucharist was preceded by a musical offering from Sister Ann and Dan Norman. I noted especially Sister Thelma Anne's pleasure in the music as they played demanding repertoire exceptionally well - and it was fun to see Dan give Sr. Ann a small hug in recognition of her talent as they acknowledged the applause of the crowd. The celebrant and preacher for the eucharist was Bishop Linda Nichols, Area Bishop of Trent-Durham in the Diocese of Toronto, and an Associate and long time friend of the SSJD Community. I have the privilege of working with Linda on a national task force - in fact I am meeting with her later today - and rejoice in her life giving energy as she celebrates. The elements cooperated beautifully when she said "Listen to the Wind" - and in the silence we heard a powerful rushing that was spirit filled. She also anticipated the Sunday lections summarizing so well the role of vines and branches that we have been immersed in for this amazing week.

We went to the refectory for one last talking supper. There were thank you's, leave takings and introductions of the planning group and an incredible sense of gratitude for all that we had been able to experience and share. Volunteers were invited to accept one of the plants as a thank you. One of them now graces my dining room table as a lingering reminder of the Gathering Experience.

I'll care for it as best I can. It will inevitably reach a stage when it will have to return to the earth - as will we all. But the core of The Gathering Experience will act as a stepping stone as we continue the journey.

I want to thank all those who have travelled the week with me for their kind remarks. Once they unpack both suitcases and the experience itself I hope they will add their comments. I was amused at how many people were reading the blog as the week progressed. Where were all those computers hidden? We seem a bit like tourists who spend the whole time reading the guide book - and I confess to sometimes being one of them - instead of looking at the place where we are. Why don't you write your own blog, I sometimes hoped.

I'll have a writing vacation for now. But I will want to share the debriefing meeting that is coming up in a couple of weeks. Please feel free to add your own thoughts and ideas. The Gathering journey, after all, is really just beginning.

Norah Bolton

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Friday Postcript - Part 4

I should have turned to page two of my notes - those with good memories or better notes might have noticed that I omitted a story or two from Margaret's afternoon session. So here they are.

She asked us to discern in the afternoon discussion group where humanization was happening and what were the positive signs of it. How can we avoid the danger elements. It's too bad that there aren't yellow caution signs and red warning signs in life as well as in traffic. She was reminded of her daughter's graduation when the college president asked each grad what he or she was going to do next? One said that she was going to become a leading neurosurgeon. Another answered, "I'm going to walk down three steps". Both are correct answers, - we are more apt to side with the second answer though, rather than face up to the demands of the longer journey.

Margaret has participated in some quintessential Canadian experiences, - like being in a canoe. She was paddling around happily on a small Algonquin Park lake and was later fascinated to hear that one could paddle from the St. Lawrence to Alberta, by means of a path called "portage". Her French was good enough to interpret it.

How does one accomplish it, she wondered. By trial and error. She finally discovered that one found the path ultimately by walking it. First nations people did ultimately provide a shorthand though. They looked for the tallest pine near the path and stripped off the lower branches so that all the energy would go to the top and provide a way.

The portages on Lake Homo Sapiens have to provide a path travelled single file but along with others. And of course as soon as you up end the canoe, everything in it spills out. One has to travel light and shed excess baggage. There is no signage or corporate head office but always somewhere to go. Stripped and marked, Jesus promises I am the Way, - but the way is not the same as the destination. That is ours to find.

Friday - Part 3

The disconnect in real time continues. It is now Tuesday, - and after a day that the other grandchildren and their parents routinely spend with me on Monday, life has calmed down again. After taking the car in to repair a missing headlight, it's quiet and time to finish Friday, -after all, it is more than a week since this journey started.

The midday Eucharist was originally to be celebrated by the Primate, Fred Hiltz, but he had to send his regrets when the Council of General Synod required him to make a presentation. Pinch hitting for him was Bishop Gordon Light, newly retired from the Diocese of the Central Interior, and now the Chaplain to the Staff at Church House, the Anglican National Office. It was a wonderful reunion for me personally, because I first met Gordon in 1963 when he was a keen guitar playing teenager, who performed what we thought was the Canadian Premiere of the American Folk Mass at All Saints Westboro in the Diocese of Ottawa, where my husband had just been appointed curate. I remember that my three year old could sing the entire Creed because of the catchy tune - and knowing my son Michael's musical memory, he probably still can. The other invention of Gordon and his banjo playing musical partner Don Manders was to set "The Lord's My Shepherd I'll not want" to the tune of "The Happy Wanderer" - and substitute - "He lives, He lives, He lives, I know that my Redeemer lives, He Lives, He Lives, He lives within my heart. You can hum along as you read this.

Gordon still plays the guitar and accompanied us on one of his own Hymns - "Draw the Circle Wider. We also sang " Ask or Imagine" and were reminded of his musical gifts to the whole church.

At the beginning of his homily, Gordon asked us to pray for his friend and fellow musician of the Common Cup Quartet, Jim Ulrich. Jim is in hospital seriously ill, and it reminds him of the precariousness of human life. Our individual lives, which seem so important are always on the edge of crumbling into nothing, but we are like the little thing he then showed us - a tiny sliver of hazelnut which is an image of God the creator, who made it loves it and looks after us. He also noted that he had retrieved it in the morning from his granola.

He then reminisced about something he noticed in the past in One Hundred Mile House in BC - the place resonated with me immediately because I have been there visiting one of my nieces. He took a walk "on the wild side" and noticed a broken chunk of asphalt in the driveway. Intrigued by what had caused it, - water?, a jack hammer? - he traced the source to a day lily that had poked a very determined head right through the cement. Life, he concluded, cannot be stopped. Dandelions and thistles have the same power. This provides the insight that one way or another, we will last.

Like Philip, we have trouble seeing it. Jesus reminded him, - "Who sees me, sees the Father. In a life that is also fragile, the Father gives us Jesus. All indeed shall be well.

After lunch, rain prevented a walk. I found a comfortable sofa in the sitting room just beside the guest house rear entry, stretched out and shut my eyes for about 15 minutes. While we had tried to be reasonable in planning the schedule, I was more than ready to agree that there was not enough time for rest and reflection. We moved back to the Chapel for 2:30 to hear Margaret's next address which was titled. "More than Homo Sapiens".

She started by asking us how far we had come in the journey of humanization. Her first story detailed the experience of an aboriginal Australian chief who died. His followers wanted him buried in the local Roman Catholic cemetery, but the priest refused, "spitting feathers" - this is a UK-ism that Margaret has taught us - and it is pretty self explanatory. The followers accepted the decision and buried their chief outside the fence of the cemetery - but they returned later in the night and moved the fence to include the new gravesite. Fences can always be moved to "draw the circle wider".

As she has done so well in her book, Root and Wings, Margaret took us through the journey when eons ago, man became bi-pedal and upright. Four year old Benjamin got it yesterday, when I talked to him about this and he said, "So then we got hands". Perhaps about 200,000 years ago our brains increased by three times in volume and landed us with the biggest cerebral cortex in the animal kingdom. As hunter/gatherers we had to learn collaboration to survive and started to enter relationship. It was the beginning of community but also opened up the shadow of individuality that sought to go its own way. We'd entered the doorway of the garden of the knowledge of good and evil.

Perhaps 40,000 years ago we entered the mystery of spiritual evolution - indigenous communities have always sensed it well and continue to challenge our own truncated sense of it.

Then about 4,000 years ago we entered the realm of religions and the prophets. Margaret noted that some of us are still stuck in their outdated cosmology where God is viewed as coming down or dropping in. The truth is that God has always been here, however aware or unaware we may be. Sometimes we fear whether another day will come. Her prescription when we feel this way is "Call Australia - because it is already another day there". Similarly we rejoice when the daffodils come again - as they are in Toronto now - even though they have come in England or BC several months ago, - conveniently forgetting that they have always been there. They are just being revealed in a new way. For the last 2,000 years we have been blessed with a sense of a new season of growth that emerges when the time is right. We might be still in the spiritual playpen, but we are given beatitudes, parables, pictures, powerful experiences of circles of friends.

So how is the human family actually doing? The invitation is "Follow me" - which suggests footprints. It might also suggest uncovering mystery, transparency and vulnerability and moving past the many spin doctors in our environment. It also suggests value shifts, - accepting failure and vulnerability, taking risks, accepting mystery, choosing service over control, interdependence over independence, wisdom over knowledge.

The resources for this journey come not only from the legacy of the Gospels,the Desert Fathers and Mothers and others throughout the ages, but they also come from the footprints of modern prophets and mystics of our own time like John Bell, who haven't yet eaten a Big Mac or owned an I-Pod. We also need to look at modern science where many thinkers are respecting the mystery of the universe by seeing the beauty in chaos theory and the sense of our earth as a living organism.

Margaret ended with the story of an African woman, who when asked how she would like to be remembered said that she wanted to be known for "Spending it All". This wasn't an attempt to avoid inheritance tax, but to use all the gifts and leave a footprint that points the way. We were then pointed toward our discussion group to ponder these things.

When we reassembled for Evening Prayer, we had a Taize service. It was greatly enhanced by the music of organist Dan Norman and Sr. Ann (Norman) - though they are not related and we were quickly able to join in the music by ear if our reading skills were deficient, as mine are. We were also offered an anointing for healing, which many of us took advantage of. Several of the sisters and associates are trained to offer this special ministry which is so welcome and needed.

After a silent supper, we reassembled in the refectory for an evening of entertainment. It soon became evident that we made a great choice in inviting Fr. Tim Elliot to be a combined entertainer and MC. Tim is a gifted jazz pianist as well as a parish priest and consultant and he uses all these gifts to draw people together. It wasn't long before he had us singing "Side by Side" - and in keys far friendlier to older voices than those of the soprano-challenged of the chapel services. Our pitch in the lower keys improved dramatically.

The programme proceeded with a presentation by the Sisters of the Life of the foundress of the order, Mother Hanna. Sister Elizabeth narrated and others took turns in reading excerpts from her life and diaries. They reminded us of the courage and hardships of this amazing woman and her early sisters in responding to calls for service. Mother Hanna's wry sense of humour obviously got her through many trials and tribulations, - and some of ours seem modest in comparison. I hope that these could be published so that all of you could share them. The presentation followed with a lovely meditative improvisation on the piano by an associate, which seemed to tie it together and provide a reflective segue to the rest of the entertainment.

And entertaining it was. My digital camera gave up the ghost at this point, but if you go to the convent website and go to the picture section for Day 4. You will see a nice picture of Tim at the piano on the SSJD website plus one of several the singing and dancing groups - beams of sunlight as I remember it, in their nice yellow T-Shirts. How did they ever round up enough in the same colour? They had been preceded by another one singing new words to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me" so we could all join in - and they had neat signs for SSJD and the keywords of the order which came up on cue in the front and back rows. Margaret then took centre stage with the reciting of the tale of Albert Ramsbottom in appropriate Midlands accent and then it was my group's turn.

As I announced to the crowd, this was a challenging group to work with because they didn't want to do anything when I announced the assignment on Wednesday morning. A couple of them had offered to sit and knit - so I had to go with that. They somewhat reluctantly agreed to do a kind of cat's cradle tossing wool back and forth - and I promised to write a few lines of doggerel that the crowd could sing while they watched them. It sounded pretty lame. But the two singing groups that preceded us sang so well that I invited them back to form a choir during the proceedings, which they were surprisingly willing to do. Tim was giving them a lead into the tune of On Top of Old Smokey and after failing to bring them in, they came in by themselves and sang a ballad of the Gathering. I was able to retreat to the piano and play along with Tim. You can see us doing so on the above link as well.

Other acts followed which showed imagination and style. There was an invitation to join in the dance of "He's got the Whole World in His Hands" - and we did. Etched in my memory is Sister Patricia, one of the planning group, singing and dancing her heart out - I suspect by now that she doesn't regret paying for it with sore knees the next day. Most of the participants - excellent women, as Barbara Pym would describe them - and sisters, associates and oblates, look alikes in their Tilley skirts which some days almost seemed like a uniform - danced and sang enthusiastically.

After an invitation from a lovely poem, Why Not Fly, we were treated to a video campfire. There had been some signs of life in the kitchen and what suddenly came out were S'Mores, a perfect ending to a joy filled and entertaining night. Apologies to those whose wonderful entertainment acts, I have forgotten to mention. Please add yours in the comments if I have neglected them.

Friday - Part 2

This gets complicated because Friday is now in reality, Sunday, and I have returned from a Mother's Day brunch with my daughter in law, grandson and grandaughter preceded by morning service at my own parish church. Ariel, who will be five on June 1, had made me a Mother's Day card on behalf of her father who was away working in Orlando. The artwork, as you can see, is more than one could ask or imagine.

But it is time to fill you in on a busy and fun filled Friday.

Toronto has been filled with changeable weather ever since The Gathering started. I left in the rain and tried a different route straight up Yonge Street. This should be the busiest route of all - after all it becomes the highway that ultimately ends in Thunder Bay - but it was a better route and I arrived in time for Morning Prayer.

I haven't commented on the service booklets that greeted us for the morning and evening office, but they were a great help since they provided the canticles and lections for each day and made them easy to follow.They seem so straightforward but one has to recognize with gratitude that they take hours and hours to pull together. After a brief break we were again ready to hear from Margaret.

She did not disappoint. Her theme for the morning was "More than Discipleship?". Noting that the disciples might have seemed strange choices of people to go fishing for men and women (My late husband always told his small sons that he was busy "fishing people"), but she reminded us that they were already good at fishing for fish. She had been a technical writer when she was later led to realize that she could use her gifts in a new way. God had definitely given her something more interesting to write about. She also led us in a secret about computer manuals that we have failed to understand. "Neither did we!!", she said.

A disciple is essentially a learner, one who learns attitudes and values. Like her doctor daughter, we learn by reading, studying, observing and even interning. But ultimately we are sent out. We too have a mission to participate in to realize the dream of God for the world.

Margaret took us back to the time in the early church where a replacement had to be found for Judas to bring the number of apostles back to 12. The job requirements are rather stringent. It has to be someone who knows Jesus intimately - and that means more than just knowing about him. It has to be someone who has walked beside him in the journey from the annunciation to Pentecost. It has to be someone who witnessed the resurrection - and it has to be someone who is prepared to advance the good news to the afflicted, set free the captives, give sight to the blind,lift the burdens of the oppressed, and proclaim God's love and forgiveness to all. No one can be forgiven for initially responding to this, "Who - ME?"

But that is precisely what WE are asked to do. It's a tall order. It is audacious to think that we would even try. but we were reminded that we can do these things for others because we know them from being recipients of all of them at some point in our own lives. Her stories give the proof.

Her own very small daughter noticed that she was deeply upset one day. Margaret herself had withdrawn, not wanting to upset the child as well and had retired to her room. But the tiny girl followed her anyway and saw her mother in tears. She left the room and returned to her mother with her favourite teddy bear. Margaret remarked on the complete love and trust that the little girl had, even before she could speak that the favorite toy would provide solace - and she didn't even know that in giving the gift that she would ever get it back. Sometimes we are able to take our blinkers off and take risks.

Another story concerned a family who liked to go to the beach in Africa, - but the same beach was frequently inhabited by baboons. So they built a cage for themselves and limited their own space in spite of thinking that they were now safe. Sometimes we are also imprisoned by fear or poverty and small acts can let us out of the cage. What we get in life is lots of "on the job" training that makes it possible to give to others experiences that we ourselves have received. So we were challenged to make our own response as Number 12, - which we did in our small group discussion.

At the beginning I was quietly reminded that we might be straying away from the admonition about group discussion that we had been given when we started, - It comes from Parker Palmer and it suggests "No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting one another straight". It's a useful one for the whole of life.

We still haven't finished Friday - so that there will have to be more to come.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Friday - Julian of Norwich

While I promised that I wouldn't post anything from Friday, I'll include a couple of items before getting on the road. Saturday traffic should provide a quicker trip than the earlier ones. Pictures also are worth a thousand words. As you can see, one participant knew how to dress for the occasion.

I also want to return to Christal Joy's pin and its story - in her own words. She also dressed for the occasion and it was wonderful to see her on Friday morning.

Here is the story of the button in her own words:

We are one in the spirit

While on a retreat at the Convent of ths Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in April, 2007 several Celtic Knots were given to me to color as a way of praying contemplatively. It took me 3 1/2 hours to colour this particular one while praying the whole time. As I did the colouring I found that the Celtic Knot design lent itself to my being able to bring my Native traditional beliefs and my new found Faith in Christ together.

I used yellow, red, black, white, blue, and purple. The traditional colours of yellow, red, black and white, represent the four directions and also the nations of the world being united in one circle. The purple or lavender, I have recently learned, represents the Grandmothers or Elders. The white represents wisdom.

As I was colouring the cross purple, I realized it symbolized the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross with the white cross in the centre representing Jesus' resurrection and ascension into heaven.

As I prayed with the design, God gave me more understanding. The blue colour of the knot is the colour of the habit the Sisters wear. The "knot" also symbolizes the different paths we take in life. It is the thread given to the Israelites to remind them and me of how Awesome God is.

The outer blue circle is God's all-encompassing Love for me and the love I am called to give to others. The white cross in the centre symbolizes Christ as the Centre of My Life. The Buttons are called 'We are One in the Spirit'.

Being able to share this with others is my way of thanking God for all God has done for me.


There is much more to come but I wanted you to have this to reflect and ponder on as you enjoy your morning coffee.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


A good trip up Bayview Avenue in the rain allowed me to make Matins on time. It was lovely. There was a serenity that suggested an atmosphere of restfulness and the plainchant was well sung – especially when some participants were not familiar with it. We were praying for the unity of the church, part of the common practice of the Community each Thursday and marked by a special light on the altar which remains there for the entire day. We now have settled into the rhythm of the life of the convent.

Sr. Elizabeth’s morning announcements started by explaining the additional light on the altar – just in case we missed it the first time, - and also explained an important part of The Gathering that I meant to mention before now. Each of us were given a beautifully designed button to wear during the conference and you may notice it in some of the photos. But we were blessed with a large easier to photograph version as a frontal on the lectern, - complete with flowers matching its colours. It was a gift from participant, Chrystal Joy who designed it in an earlier workshop to represent her integration of her faith and her. There is a wonderful note from her describing the symbolism, which I’ll try to post here at the end of the week. Suffice it for now to say that it represents the fact that We are One in the Spirit. What a gift from this remarkable young participant. This is the design and she is on the left in the next picture.

The pictures here and on the SSJD site will reveal that there are a variety of women attending of all ages – and one man, who is part of my discussion group. We were pleased today when he remarked that he did not feel marginalized or harassed by the rest of us and he has been an excellent and moving contributor.

Margaret’s topic for the morning was “More than Happiness”. She noted how we often settle for the good instead of the better, comfortable and even content in our usual ruts. Happiness, though is not the same as joy. The latter she described as “forever” or “kingfisher” moments, flashes of eternity impinging on ordinary events. They come to us uninvited when we are open to receive them and they are transformaational and imprinted on our memories. This was borne out in our later discussion group when we shared examples, many of which came from our early childhoods.

She asked us to think more deeply about two human experiences, spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation. “Console” is derived from the Spanish for “with the sun” while desolation is “away from the sun”. She then told of a memorable experience of her own under the direction of Jesuit, Gerald O’Malley. He reduced the light in a room about the size of the chapel where we were sitting to a single light, and asked one of the participants to stand with his back to the light. He then asked those present to look where the shadow fell. They saw it was in front of the person. He then asked the person to walk the full length of the room. The person focused on his own shadow. He then asked the person to turn around. Suddenly he was bathed in light, - and the shadow was behind him. It is important to notice, Margaret reminded us, that the shadow had not disappeared. It is always there. But you need only to turn to gain a new perspective. The source of the light is God. Life is not a continuous walking toward it for anyone, but a constant challenge to turn from the focus on our own shadow. We were encouraged to become better acquainted with St. Ignatius and his understanding of how consolation brings a sense of peace.

She contrasted the group that was present, whom she had no doubt had already made a fundamental choice to align themselves with the dream of God for them, with those who make the choice of focus on themselves. Financial and career success, climbing the ladder and stepping over others can even create a comfort zone, but underneath there will always be the turmoil of the shadow of desolation.

Once the choice for God is made, it does not guarantee that darkness will never fall. It is then that we need the compass, the inner direction of the heart and a sense of trust, no matter what the temporary turmoil. She retold the story from one of her books of the Native American grandfather who, when asked for a story by his small grandson, said, “There were two wolves who lived on the same mountain. One was good and one was bad. That’s the end”. Not surprisingly the child said, “But which one wins?”. The grandfather responded, “The one you feed”.

Which self grows? Which one becomes less dominant? Margaret suggested that the review prayer, referenced yesterday is a good shortcut to check which wolf we are feeding. She also asked us to reflect one how our individual actions have a larger application for society as a whole. Which actions are allowing the world to become more human and fully alive and which actions dehumanize us? We were asked to go to our groups and focus upon and share moments of consolation. We did to great advantage.

The celebrant and preacher at the Eucharist today was Sister Constance Joanna. She rejoiced in the history of the community and appreciated how the previous gathering in 1995 had brought positive change. She invited us to imagine ourselves as a “Good Household”. What unites us is our ability to see Christ in one another and our ability to reach out and heal the world. Like any extended family we are very human with the ability to complain, pout and sulk, but our first strength is the power to be a community of loving witness, to recognize its shortcomings and recommit to Christ in love and forgiveness. The second strength is recognition of different gifts and ability to live with differences. The third strength is dedication to a sacrificial mission The fourth is being rooted in prayer. Finally the strength is the Community’s ability to grow and change, - evident particularly in the active presence and work of volunteers and the addition of Oblates – a vocation that is itself an evolving and creative presence.

A second talking dinner allowed us to meet others and enjoy the Community’s gracious hospitality. The rain cooperated by staying away just long enough for outdoor walks. Some took advantage of the labyrinth, and the bookstore beckoned with competing delights. We heard at afternoon announcements that Margaret had agreed to a book signing on Friday. And we were again reminded of our need to provide entertainment for Friday night’s party. Comments on the blog were also encouraged. You do not have to sign it to add them, - though you are asked to type in a few letters, just so that the system knows that you are a human and not a spammer.

Margaret’s theme for the afternoon was “More than ‘Just Me’.” She reminded us how often we are going to do something “as soon as I - fill in the blank with, retire, have enough money, have enough energy or any phrase of your choice. We all do it. Another way of approaching it is considering a “Really Big Thing” and then saying “But”. There are really two choices, - you can do something completely different or you can do the same thing differently.

Then there is the matter of reproach. She admitted to herself telling Jesus, - "You didn’t have to deal with being a woman, you didn’t have to deal with being married, you didn’t have to deal with being a parent worrying about whether your kids were on drugs, you didn’t have to be worried about being immobile, you didn’t have to worry about getting old." The answer that gradually came to her was that being incarnate really means getting inside every human situation. We have to let God into them.

She likes returning to the four elements – the mediaeval world made sense of them:

Earth is walked upon and accepts; it is also where seeds grow. But it can also result in landslides or earthquakes
Water flows to the lowest plain; but it can also become a flood or tsunami.
Air is invisible yet life giving, but it can also become a tornado.
Fire warms us, cooks or food, provides us with pottery, but bushfires can destroy.

The elements have no choice, - but we do. We can accept what we cannot change, be open to what is best and life giving, and know which is which. An option is to say, What would Jesus do, but in looking for a rule there is a danger in settling for what we were planning to do anyway, what we just wanted to do. She had a nice story of a bad woman driver who was pulled off the road –(If you have seen that dreadful woman in the persistent commercial, you know the type) – and the policeman said, We saw the fish symbol on your car so we assume that it is stolen”. But "How would Jesus drive?" doesn’t exactly cut it”.

The real question is – What is life giving and Christ like? The remedy is gospel saturation. There are four good stories of how Jesus lived. What we are looking for is attitudes and values and the grace to internalize them. Getting inside the gospels means the gospels getting inside us and making a home there. This is not a matter for the intellect or even theology. There are other places to ask what happened or how it happened. What we have to ask is – what do the gospels have to say in my situation. We have to allow Jesus in. Imagining oneself in the scene and put one’s self in the role of all the people in the story helps. So does Lectio Divina where meditating on a short passage and taking it through the day and making connections are resources for our toolkits.

Margaret reminded is that our choices have implications for others besides ourselves. Sometimes a choice brings reconciliation with others. She ended with an explanation of her pendant made from shards of Ming China teacups raised from a sailing ship that was wrecked hundreds of years ago in a battle between Dutch and Portuguese ships. A merchant in the far east decided that they could be made into jewellery. He was a Dutch emigrant with a Portuguese wife. The design was a lotus flower. A lotus is rooted in mud which blossoms when it reaches the light. The seed of the past became a healing bud of the present to blossom in the future. We too can create something more.

Evensong, dinner, a quick trip back to my own apartment hermitage – where I now have to think about a skit for tomorrow. The evening isn't over yet. Friday will bring a later night and Saturday the final day. So I'll sign off until the weekend when you will get a full report of the last two days.

Meeting and Sharing

I'm able to post an extra early message this morning after a more restful night. I was finally able to read two of the inserts in the registration package, - instruction for a Retreat in Daily Life, which shares some wonderful help for daily prayer. If it has not been published in News Notes, it could be requested by associates and others because it is very valuable. The account of the history of religious orders took me back to the excellent course on Benedictine Life and Influence in the Anglican Church that Sr. Constance Joanna allowed several of us to audit for a dry run, before she delivered the course in the Toronto School of Theology. There are so many good things to learn there too.

Sister Elizabeth and I are both taking pictures for a slide show to run here eventually. But somehow I have managed to lose the information of where to access it so I'll have to ask Sr. Amy, who helpfully set it up, to come to the rescue.

The discussion groups bring small pearls of great price and so do talking dinners. Many of these are private, but a very few can be shared to give you a taste of the myriad interactions.

A woman told me yesterday that my late husband was the reason she came to her parish church and stayed there for the last 30 years. In the process she met another associate who led her to SSJD.

Another related how she had become an associate at age 23, - but this is the first time she has been able to come to the convent. At the time of her admission she was living in a L'Arche community and all 40 insisted on coming to her admission, - so it had to be moved to a larger church.

Another had suffered early illness and dislocation and had to completely re-frame her life. She noted that she had to give up any sense of achievement and simply be thankful each day that she is still here. That joy exudes in her smiling face.

It's time to get on the road and "get me to the church on time". And we'll have to decide what we are going to do for the entertainment tomorrow. I've also forgotten to appoint a recorder for each session - but I have a feeling that what we want to share with the whole group on Saturday will emerge naturally.