Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Door To Eternity

            Don’t you just love finding a new author whose work you love?  A few years ago a good friend introduced me to Irma Zaleski, and soon after that I was addicted.  Born in 1931, Zaleski was educated in England after her family fled Poland during the Second World War.  She now lives in Toronto, and unbeknownst to me before I started reading her books, is actually one of Canada’s most popular spiritual writers.  Some of her titles, which I now happily own, are The Way of Repentance, Living the Jesus Prayer, Who Is God, Finding Christ Within, Who am I, Conversion of the Heart, God Is Not Reasonable and Mother Macrina.
            Her books are short, with very brief chapters, which one might think would make for an easy, quick read.  But I find that her writing is often so profound and thought-provoking that I have to sit and ponder and re-read almost every chapter. My journals are littered with quotes from her books.  She never ceases to give me food for thought, and often opens the way to a deeper perspective of my beliefs, or sheds a new light on events in my life.  She takes me up on the balcony and helps me see the “bigger view”. 
            I have read some of her books more than once, and they always seem to provide me with fresh insights.  As you can tell by now, I’m a big fan.  Because her books are so small and compact, I often have one tucked away in my bag, in case I am ever stuck in a line-up or a waiting room. Right now I am reading her 2001 book Door to Eternity (Novalis Press).  Here’s a sample of her writing from Chapter Three:

“Belief in the possibility of coexistence of time and eternity lies at the root of all religion.  Religion can be even, perhaps, defined as a path, or a “ladder” to such a coexistence.  Christian teaching makes the truth of this belief absolutely clear.  The creed, the liturgy, the sacraments, the icons, proclaim it:  Christ, a man like us, born at a precise moment of history, living in a small corner of the Roman Empire, dying on the hill of Calvary, buried and risen on the third day, and Christ the Eternal Word, coexistent with the Father.  Christ with us now, on earth, and Christ, already ascended into heaven, sitting in glory at the right hand of the Father.  Christ the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, in whom time and eternity meet.  And so it is with us.  We are here, at this specific moment of our lives, still bowed down under the burden of our mortality, but the hour of our passing is already known and present to God, who is beyond time.  We are already immersed in his glory and light.  We have been baptized into Christ’s death and are buried with him, but we have also already risen with him and are with him in eternity, at home.  This is the great mystery of faith, the reality of the eternal presence of God “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). Yet, because we cannot know it – because we cannot grasp it with our finite, human minds or see it with our earthly eyes – it appears to us as darkness and we are afraid.”

Monday, 11 June 2012

A Special June Day

Yesterday was pretty special for a couple of reasons.  First, it was our wedding anniversary, and we started the day off right with coffee and fresh banana bread at the Grand Re-Opening of the Relax Cafe in our neighbourhood. The former owners closed down and moved away a few months ago, leaving a black hole in the community. It was with great joy a few weeks ago that we noticed a sign announcing that new owners were going to bring our favorite walking destination back to life.  What a great anniversary gift!

But we received an even greater gift in the afternoon.  Together with thirteen other “Inquirers”, we were admitted into the Secular Franciscan Order during a beautiful Mass at St. Luke’s Church.  After this past year of study, prayer, meeting new friends and learning more about the lives and spirituality of St. Francis and St. Clare, we now begin our time of formation as “Candidates”. 

The day was special for one more reason: it happened to be the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, when we focus on God’s new and definitive covenant with His people through Jesus, and His sacrifice on the Cross. How fitting that as we made our pledge at the front of the church, we were also celebrating God’s ongoing pledge of love and mercy to us through the gift of Holy Communion. 

It was a beautiful moment when the fifteen of us spoke, in unison, these words of promise and hope:

“We here ask to enter the fraternity of the Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis, so that we may live more faithfully and intensely the faith and dedication of our baptism by following Jesus Christ according to the teaching and example of St. Francis of Assisi.”

And so, the next chapter of our journey begins.  Alleluia!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Lilac Time

I’m so glad I live in a country that has distinct seasons.  When spring finally comes to Canada, it’s a celebration – big time.  And we all have our own personal harbingers of spring…the first robin sighting…tulips popping up around the neighbourhood…the Stanley Cup playoffs…mowing the lawn for the first time…relegating the winter coats to the back of the closet…digging up dandelions…wearing sandals again.  For me, it’s when our lilacs bloom.  I don’t really feel safe to call it spring until I see – and smell – those beautiful purple blossoms. 

We’re lucky enough to have some lilac bushes in our back yard, thanks to the family who built our house in 1946 and made the excellent choice to plant them.  According to Alberta Plant Watch, the purple lilac is a native of the mountainous regions of southeastern Europe, and it was brought to Canada by homesick settlers who bravely travelled here over a hundred years ago to homestead and start a new life.  Lilacs grow robustly even in poor conditions, which is why you see them in abundance in old neighbourhoods like ours, and on many farms around here. I love bringing great armfuls of lilac boughs into the house and arranging them in a big old vase that was a wedding present from my Aunty Babs.  We were married in early June (many moons ago) at Bill’s parent’s home.  It was a small wedding, but we had extravagant bouquets of lilacs everywhere in the house. Maybe that’s another reason why I love lilacs – they remind me of my wedding day.

Because there is such a contrast between winter and spring in most parts of Canada, we see and experience a kind of re-birth every year around this time. Spring reminds us that it’s possible to put away the old and walk into the new.  It’s possible to forget past hurts and disappointments, and move forward.  It’s possible to forgive oneself and try again.  It’s possible to make a fresh start.

Jesus pushes us even further.  At the beginning of His ministry in Galilee, He traveled around, proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1: 14, 15).  He was telling people (including us) that God’s unconditional love is available to anyone, here, now, without restriction. But in the same sentence, He speaks about the need for repentance.  

I did some research on the word “repent”, and found out it comes from the Greek word “metanoeo”, which means to change your mind, or to change direction. Jesus was basically calling His followers to embrace a radical new way to think and act and be. What exactly is that supposed to look like? Fr. Robert Barron, one of my favorite authors and speakers, describes “metanoeo” this way:  “When the organizing and energizing principle of one’s life has shifted from the fearful ego to the love of Jesus.” Or as Paul put it in Galatians 20: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” St. Francis is such a wonderful example of someone who took Jesus’ proclamation seriously.  After a dramatic U turn, his life became fully integrated and wholly focused on one thing – expressing the glory of God.  Kind of like my lilacs.