My Life as a Dandelion

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Weedy and seedy, that’s me.

Not wedding bouquet material
But I adorn the heads of children
As milky fingered
They weave me into a crown
and regally wave to passers by

My husband’s name is William
Pronounced “Vill-helm” if we were properly German.
However we are not properly German
As evidenced by our butchering of our last name
Which we pronounce Weber.
Not Weeber, or Veber.

Vill-helm means helm of resolution
“You’re stubborn!” His mum chastised.
“Not stubborn! Resolute!” He countered.

Resolute
Stubborn
Like the dandelions proliferating in my backyard.
Mow em down
They spring up again.
Mow em down
They spring up again.

Like the old man in the Monty Python movie
“I”m not dead yet! Really I’m feeling quite fine!”
Or the soldier whose opponent systematically hacks off all his limbs.
“It’s only a flesh wound!” I cry.

It’s only a flesh wound.

Weedy and seedy.

How many of my companions
Have clutched me in their grasp,
Blowing their wishes into the receptive air?
Dreams and disappointments together
Tracing curlicues in flight?

They flutter and twirl
Land and curl
Their way into the receptive earth.

Don’t cry
It’s not dead.
It’s only a seed
Watch and wait for the unveiling
It will spring up again.

Luminous or Shiny?

She was a luminous soul.

It was a curious mixture of vulnerability and strength.  Her skin looked almost translucent.  Her eyes no stranger to sorrow, but also creased with joy.  She was slight, even a little fragile.  But somehow also solid.  Grounded.

 She was quiet, observant.  Attentive and present.  You could tell that she was just as aware of the Other in attendance at the table as she was the rest of us.  She didn’t speak much – she chose her moments carefully.  But when she did weigh into the conversation, her words carried heft and substance.

 I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and I hung onto every word.

Those who look to Him are radiant; 

their faces are never covered with shame.  Psalm 34:5

 This woman has been with Jesus.

 As we march towards Advent, I’m aware that my surroundings are becoming very shiny.  Lights hanging on the High Street.  Decorations in the stores.  The town is polishing itself up for Christmas.

Tolkien said in the Lord of the Rings, “All that is gold does not glitter.”  I wonder if the inverse is also true.  Is all that glitters, all that is shiny, gold?

 It’s so tempting to be shiny.  I want to polish myself up, put my best foot forward.  Make a good impression.  Possibly even impress.  My motives are good – well, mostly.  We are called to shine as children of light in a darkened generation, aren’t we?

 But am I full of light, or merely shiny?  Am I lit from within or do I merely glitter?

 Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18

  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

The pathway to luminosity?  Paul would say the contemplation of God’s glory.  British poet William Blake says “We become what we behold.

What might happen if I search for God’s glory in all it’s multiple manifestations around me?  In the Scriptures and in the Chantry Woods?  In the faces and lives of those I am growing to know and to love?  What I set my heart on a quest for His beauty and when I find it stop.  Look.  Listen.  Contemplate.  Take it all in.  Let it invade the inner chambers of my heart and fill them with light.

Might I become a luminous one?

First produced in Herrnhut, Germany, the Moravian star adorns Christmas trees and homes all over the world, in particular communities wherever Moravian missionaries have been sent.  It represents the star that led those with questing hearts to find Jesus.

It is lit from within.

Lord, as we approach Advent, may my questing heart find you.  Finding you, may I gaze upon you.  As I gaze upon you, may You fill me with Your light so that I might point others to Jesus.

 

Quebec House of Prayer – Even the Sparrow finds a Place by Your Altar

Tanya Allatt, with her husband Brian, runs the Quebec House of Prayer.  She posted this picture on Facebook yesterday.

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A robin had built a nest on the wreath on the front door of her home.

“She stays with her eggs all night. Then, in the morning, I knock gently to let her know that I need to let my chicks out the door for school.” wrote Tanya, “She is very obliging.”

The prayer room at QHOP has another nest, for another birdie.

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A local missionary contracted a very painful chronic virus while overseas, and is now convalescing at QHOP.  She is staying at their motel.  They care for her.  When her pain abates enough to leave her bed, they wheel her over to the prayer room where she can lie down and rest in the presence of the Lord.  The sparrow with the broken wing has a place by the altar.

Waitaminit, did you say motel?  A House of Prayer has a motel?

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Yes, last year QHOP purchased the motel on the adjoining property.  They run it as a standard motel, and suites are available for pilgrims to the House of Prayer.  As they took it over and learned how to run it, they have learned a lot about extending hospitality.

“At QHOP we host the Presence of the Lord.  Asking ourselves, what makes the Holy Spirit comfortable here?  What welcomes His presence here among us?” muses Tanya, “And we also host the people of the Lord.  What makes the House of Prayer a welcoming, safe place for pilgrims?”

Robins, sparrows, pilgrims, all finding a place by the altar of the Lord in Sherbrooke Quebec.

In the Belly of the Whale – Reflections on Surgery and Kenosis

Part of the reason for this fall’s silence was that I had bariatric (weight loss) surgery on November 26 (My birthday – happy birthday to me!)  I had three days in the hospital, about three weeks mostly in bed , and two months off work, which afforded me lots of opportunity to practice solitude and silence.

My journalling before the surgery was full of naive excitement around my goals for the time.  I wanted to read many books.  I had needle felting projects I wanted to accomplish.  Have an extended spiritual retreat.  Get back to my regular blogging.  I thought that even though it would be time off work, that it would be a creative and productive time.

Interestingly enough, what I sensed from the Lord about my surgery recovery time was that it was going to be a time of dormancy, not unlike winter hibernation.  I would be like a seed going into the ground, confident that fruitfulness and growth would follow.  I thought I understood what that meant, but it turns out I did not.

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What I did not anticipate was that going into the ground like a seed would feel like death.  Upon my return from the hospital, I was not functional at all.  The pain was easily managed, but I had no energy, mental focus or concentration.  I slept constantly.  My waking hours were pre-occupied with learning new regimes of drinking, eating, and vitamins, and managing secondary infections.  I don’t have cable or netflicks, so instead of mindlessly watching hours of television, I mindlessly scrolled for hours through Facebook and online communities that focused on bariatric surgery.  Prayer seemed to take mental and emotional energy that I was unable to muster.  In silence I would stare blankly at the walls or window for hours on end, or just sleep.  I felt vacant.  Emptied out.  Not what I expected at all.

Once the fog began to lift, I wrote a poem about the experience.

Kenosis

I didn’t think it would feel like dying.

The leaf falling to the ground

Crumpled and spent

Brittle

Veins popping.

The seed falling in the ground

Cold and dark

Split

The new life emerging

Tears me apart.

Resurrection plunges upward,

Leaving me in it’s wake.

A torn husk,

Forgotten and still.

I didn’t think it would feel like dying.

The season of dormancy ended up being just that.  Dormancy.  Being completely shut down, with no apparent evidence of any kind of spiritual or intellectual activity, either initiated by God or myself.

I found that the book Poustinia shed some light on this dormant season.  In it, Katherine Doherty says, “The only way I can describe it is to say that they are cleansed as we pass through some experience of nothingness.  When we detach ourselves from our intellect and will seem for a while as if we’re totally bereft of our personality, we are as if dead.”  That really is what I experienced.  Nothingness.  Detachment from intellect.  Bereft of personality.  She goes on to say, “Every Christian  should be living this kenotic way of life.  One cannot enter into the mystery of the Incarnation without first doing a hidden stripping of self.  Then follows a lifetime of continued stripping, of emptying oneself and becoming a nonentity.  You remain free, easy, direct, but especially simple.”

I am not sure how I feel about this theology of Kenosis.  I know that in Philippians 2 we are exhorted to have the same mindset of Christ, who embraced humility and self emptying.  However it seems to me the Russian Orthodox perspective on Kenosis is somewhat extreme.  I think that God has given me my intellect, my personality, my gifts, and He wants me to steward them in obedience to His leadership.  Buuuuuut, what if His leadership requires I lay them down and embrace emptiness?  What if He then fills me with something far greater than my own inherit capacities?  I haven’t sorted it out and still feel conflicted about it

In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr also provides a framework for my experience.  He talks of the “Paschal mystery”, and going inside the belly of the whale.

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Christians call it the paschal mystery, but we are all pointing to the same necessity of both descent and ascent  The paschal mystery is the pattern of transformation.  We are transformed through death and rising, probably many times.  There seems to be no other cauldron of growth and transformation.  We seldom go freely into the belly of the beast.”   He goes on to say, “We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning.  That is the path, the periods dark path of true prayer…we avoid God, who works in the darkness – where we are not in control.”   My surgery was elective, though it felt necessary due to the health challenges associated with my obesity.  So in a sense I did go freely into the belly of the beast, but I really had no idea what I was signing up for.

I am now almost three months past my surgery, and I feel like only in the last couple weeks that my faculties are returning to me.  My preoccupation with post surgery food and life management is diminishing as my skills are improving and new behaviours are solidifying.  It just doesn’t take up the same amount of brain space to manage day to day self care.  Whereas before I could read online message boards devoted to bariatric recovery for hours, I now find I’m bored with them quickly, and move on.  I have resumed my regular routines of spiritual reading, prayer, and meditation.

Again, I’m not sure what transformation (other than physical – I’ve already lost 45 pounds since surgery) was effected through this dormant season.  It’s the kind of thing that I probably will have a better perspective on several years down the road.

Resources for Communities – Bed Bug Prevention

We’ve been initiated.

And are now true blue Hamiltonians.

We spent a good chunk of the summer battling bedbugs in our community house. After 4 visits from the exterminators, likely 20 hours of vacuuming and a gazillion loads of laundry, we have now been free from bug sightings or bitings for about a month. I’m feelingly increasingly optimistic that we have overcome. A week or so ago, I baked a cake which I decorated as a bedbug, and we ATE IT, as a declaration of our vanquishing our creepy little foes (I know, kinda gross, but very satisfying).

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At our latest house meeting, we put together a bedbug prevention plan, which we hope will, y’now, prevent further infestations. So here is the list from our brainstorming session!

– wash bedding weekly
– keep bedrooms uncluttered
– have bedbug covers on every mattress
– dust with diatimaceous earth, which is a very fine algae that dehydrates and kills bedbugs within about 48 hours. We use food grade DE, so as not to cause any harm to our parrot Bert. We dust around the baseboards, all the nooks and crannies of our bed frames, in between our mattresses. We also dust under the cushions of the main floor couches and easy chairs.
– put a this goopy circle of petroleum jelly on each couch or soft chair leg, and bed legs.
– metal bed frames are better than wood.
– make sure your blankets don’t touch the floors of your bedroom, and that your bed doesn’t touch the walls.
– don’t leave clothes lying around on the floor of your bedrooms.
– vacuum the couches after big social events, or after a friend who comes over who you know has bedbugs. Inspect couch cushions regularly.
– when you visit someone or somewhere that might be infested (which includes movie theatres and buses!), throw your clothes in the dryer for 30 minutes upon your return. It might feel like a hassle, but it is nothing compared to the hassle of trying to get your house free of bugs.
– when travelling, don’t put your suitcase on the floor in the hotel room. Instead place it on a table. Upon returning, unpack suitcase outside the house, take clothes directly to the laundry, and then vacuum out your suitcase, and optionally dust it with diatimaceous earth.
– regularly run your purse/backpack through the dryer for 30 minutes.
– if you buy anything used (ie Value Village, garage sales), launder it immediately, or if it’s not launderable, closely inspect, wipe down or vacuum it.

I expect there are those among you who have great prevention strategies as well, and we would love to hear them! Send them to us in the comment section.

Bedbugs are pandemic in Hamilton. We wrestle with the tension of being hospitable to our friends, many of whom are struggling with bedbugs as well, and keeping our home uninfected. The reality is that hospitality can be hazardous and costly. We feel like it’s worth the risk, and with a little pro activity at our end we can diminish the risk and enjoy our friends with more peace of mind.

Attending to His Groaning

Monday night I felt off. Just…off.

Not quite myself.

Something was rattling around inside, like, hmm, how to describe it? Indigestion of the spirit maybe?

“I’ll go to bed early. I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.”

Come morning however, it had only intensified. A groaning and rumbling deep inside, like a bear in a cave waking up from hibernation.

Finally, I clued in. I was burden bearing. I’ve written about this before in my blog, here and here.

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I was in the kitchen alone, making pancakes for the house. Mindless work. So I went on pancake autopilot and attended to the groaning.

To His groaning.

I didn’t try to figure it out. I just tuned in to the rumble and sat with the feelings. Grief, pain, sadness. I prayed in the Spirit a bit. The closest I could get to articulating anything was ‘come, Lord Jesus’.

By the time we sat down to eat pancakes, it had passed. Whatever it was, it had been prayed through.

After pancakes, our housemates check in and pray with each other. I told them about my morning groaning, and in our intercession time, they prayed that I would have insight into what it had been about.

I realized though, that I don’t need to know what it is about. My modern, Western mind would like to be able to articulate and categorize things. But sometimes there are groans too deep for words, and sometimes it is enough to attend to the murmerings of the Holy Spirit, deep within.

Catholics classify prayer as kataphatic or apophatic. Simply put, kataphatic prayer is the prayer of words or images. Apophatic prayer is inarticulate, wordlessly attending to the Presence of Jesus within. We as Western Evangelicals are much more familiar and comfortable with the former. I am discovering in my journey in prayer, though, that with greater frequency I’m being drawn to a place beyond words, into the place simply of His Presence.

And sometimes His groanings. As He grieves over all the calamity in this world, is it not surprising that He would invite us to groan with Him? To accompany Him in His grief?

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A Day in the Life

What do urban monks, House of Prayer people do anyways? People have a hard time wrapping their heads around our vocation (most Catholics get it right away), so from time to time I find it helpful to post what a day looks like for me.

6 am. I’m in The Nook, a prayer space I created in Kirks and my room. We live in an intentional community with a bunch of other adults, so private space and time is precious and hard to come by. Kirk sleeps later than I, so early mornings are the best time for me to be alone with Jesus. I read, journal and pray.

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8 am. Heartwatch is our weekly Benedictine prayer time at the Vine, our prayer space. Brother David Peter leads us in singing the psalms, interspersed with times of silence and intercession for the city. Two young ladies from Sister Care join us after an early morning working with prostituted women on Barton and we pray together for the sisters they have grown to know and love. My heart is heavy. Today I’m feeling the weight of the loss of a friends grandchild, and the loss of one of our youth at the Living Rock. Too many deaths in our community these days. We cry it out, and trust that the ground is being watered by our prayers and tears, and that life will spring up.

9:30. On reconnaissance, prayer walking and checking out potential new office space for GOHOP. For the last several years, Hughson St Baptist has graciously donated us space, but renovations are coming, so I’m on the prowl for new digs.

10:30. Planning our Internship for the fall, with Peter Giokas, our Internship Director. Dreaming up wild plans for the future, expansion of our training arm. Over the last couple of years, The Lord has brought quite a few academics on our staff of urban/prayer missionaries. We have five folks with M.Divs, and one Doctor of Theology! I find that perplexing and amusing, cause all I have is half a degree of nothing. Jesus, how do you want us to share our gifts to serve the city and the large prayer movement? We are starting to get an inkling of what He is up to but shhhh, it’s a secret!

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12:00. Over to the Living Rock, a ministry to street involved youth in Hamilton. We’ve been partnering with them for years. Tough day today. One of the kids died last week. “I hate this part of our job,” one Rock volunteer shared, “we loose too damn many of them!” The room is full of candles and grieving staff and youth. We sit, pray, listen. Such a privilege to be a gentle witness in these times of loss, to be the loving presence of a people of prayer in their midst. Lots of good connections and conversations with youth happen.

2:00. Still at the Rock. The kids are gone, and we pull out our guitars and spend an hour in worship and intercession for marginalized youth and next generation leaders in our city. Throughout the day I had been checking Facebook for updates on a pastor in our city who was in ICU at a local hospital, and we pray for him as well.

3:30. Yes we do house calls! A friend is struggling with chronic health issues, so our team goes over to her house, anoints her with oil, and prays for her. She explains that she’s been sick on and off since her family moved into this house, and her kids too. “Why don’t we come back and bless and pray through the house?” One of our team member suggest. “Maybe there are some historical and residual spiritual issues at play here that we can deal with.” We make a plan to come back next week to do the house blessing/house cleaning.

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4:15. I’m feeling like a wrung out dishcloth. Such an emotionally and spiritually intense day! Time for baby therapy. We are trying to share life together more as a community, and among other things, that looks like sharing child care. So while our friends Andy and Gwen spring clean their newly purchased Community House, Hannah and I toddle off to the park with their baby and toddler, and introduce them to the wonderful world of slides. “Again! Again!” I can feel the stress slide away and my spirit quietens.

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6:00. One thing I love about intentional community is that I only have to cook one night a week! We come home to a lovely dinner on the table (thanks Mary!) and some wonderful dinner guests. A lovely evening chatting about life and ministry. We take time after dinner, around the table, to thank God for the day and to pray for the needs we are aware of.

“We live very simply,” I explain to our guests. “But it’s a good life, and very very rich!”

Yes it is.