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Our mission in life

My daughter has been doing a high school careers course. It is inspiring to watch her strive to understand her gifts and talents, and dream optimistically about her future.  But how many of us have shared our dreams and been ridiculed or told “there’s no money in that”?  How quickly we learn to hide our dreams deep in our heart, and settle for a practical, and sometimes soul-crushing,  path!

God does not laugh at our dreams.  Nothing delights God more than when we use our God-given gifts for God’s purpose.  Whether our passion is for numbers or writing, building or art, counselling or cleaning, God wants us to use our talents to their fullest.

At each season of our lives we may take our shriveled dreams off the dusty shelf to revisit them – perhaps with regret, or perhaps with renewed resolve.  For some a mid-life crisis may cause us to muster the courage to pursue our dream, having developed enough faith to step out into the fog, hand-in-hand with God, trusting that he will lead us safely in the right direction.

Mountains looking into the distance

We may wish for a life-changing voice from the mountain top, and a clear view of our destination.

Chances are you have a copy of What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles on your bookshelf.  With ten million copies sold, you will find it in every bookstore and used book sale.

The exercises in his book will guide you through identifying your career direction and job search, but last chapter goes further.  In my 2009 edition it is titled “Finding a Life that has Meaning and Purpose.”  I commend it if you want to explore your mission on earth, God’s purpose for you.

And although we may wish for a life-changing voice from the mountain-top, it is more likely we will walk through the fog in faith, hand-in-hand with God.

As Bolles puts it:

When the question, ‘what is your mission in life,’ is first broached, and we have put our hand in God’s, […] we imagine that we will be taken up to some mountaintop, from which we can see far into the distance. And that we will hear a voice in our ear, saying ‘Look, look, see that distant city? That is the goal of your mission: that is where everything is leading, every step of your way.’

But instead of the mountaintop, we find ourself in the valley – wandering often in a fog. And the voice in our ear says something quite different from what we thought we would hear. It says ‘your mission is to take one step at a time, even when you don’t yet see where it is all leading, or what the Grand Plan is, or what your overall mission in life is. Trust me; I will lead you.’

 

I have been reflecting on this text by Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun who was a mystic and a writer.

 

collage of hands and a cross

We are God’s hands in the world.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

 

The image is my collage expressing the idea that we are God’s hands in the world.

red squirrel

Squirrels act as nature’s alarms.

Squirrels in the forest chatter and scold if they see a problem. They act as nature’s alarm bells. Today I met one of society’s alarm bells: a woman who scolded and nagged non-stop at me about accessibility problems for people with physical disabilities. She was deeply passionate about the issue, and I could see how she might annoy administrators and politicians.

In just 20 minutes of listening – I couldn’t get a word in – I learned about the challenges of getting to work from outside the city on our commuter train. I hadn’t quite realised that when someone with a disability gets off the accessible commuter train or subway downtown they are on their own, unless they are lucky enough to wait on a street corner for our para-transit service, assuming their train was not delayed.  Many struggle with streetcar stairs and impossibly long walks to get to work.

In one case, staff located at a building near a subway station were moved to a building a 20 minute streetcar ride away. The commute is now hugely challenging for those who cannot manage the streetcar stairs.

Like a squirrel in the forest, this woman acts as one of society’s alarm bells. Someone who gets right in our face and demands answers. And we need people like her. People who scold and push and insist that we are not doing enough for accessibility, or homelessness, or food security, poverty, special education …

Through them God works for change in our world.

What are you expecting for Christmas?  Presents, a family meal?  A sad lonely day missing loved ones?  What about God coming to visit in person?  I bet you are not expecting that!

This video tells the story from a delightfully different perspective.

God comes to share our humanity, to live as one of us.  To share our very human joys and suffering, born to a peasant woman.  And God visits us every day in ordinary people, in our daily interactions.  Look out for him.  Be awake.

 

An angel on the bus

For the last few months I have been travelling on Wheeltrans, our transit service for people with physical disabilities.  I have met all kinds of people – sad, discouraged, bitter, but also optimistic, cheerful and inspiring.

sketch of an angel with a cane

Be alert, for you may encounter an angel on the bus.

One inspiring woman works as a receptionist.  She always has good things to say about her employer, her colleagues, her husband, her nieces and the bus driver. She is brightens my day every time I share a ride with her.

Yet I see how much she struggles to walk slowly and painfully, leaning on a sturdy white cane.  I have to introduce myself every time we meet, for she is blind and cannot see me.  I wonder that a person beset with difficulties can be a beacon of joy to those around her and, frankly, I wonder if I could do the same.

One day she told me how she used to babysit her nieces when they were very young.  Before the babies could talk they knew their auntie couldn’t see them, so they would come straight to her when they needed a hug or wanted their diaper changed!  Laughing, she described how she fed them with her fingers because it was impossible for a blind person to feed a toddler with a spoon.  “Can you imagine,” she exclaimed, “the mess that would be?”

I am grateful for these chance encounters with God’s beloved people.

 

When I see the muted colours of autumn I imagine God’s paintbrush making the first rough brush strokes of next year’s glorious painting.

The promise of new creation is written in muted tones, browns and greys and somber greens.  And if you look very closely there is wondrous beauty hidden here, in the last remnants of autumn.

Dead flower head

Tiny white fringes like miniature ruffles on a pixie’s ball gown.

A dead flower head reveals hundreds of tiny white fringes like miniature ruffles on a pixie’s ball gown. In the centre, a few black seeds are left behind.

Awesome tiny seeds that are poised to scatter on the frozen ground in the next north wind, survive the deep cold and miraculously come to life as new green shoots in spring.

There is both beauty and hope in these dried husks, a season’s end and the promise of resurrection.

Hope in darkness

Sun breaking through dark ines.

God’s light shines in darkness.

This was meant to be a post about gratitude, about God’s work in the world.  The first in a series leading up to Christmas, shining light on love and hope in a world that is too often mired in cruelty, greed, despair and evil.

But as I scrolled through my emails this evening one dropped like a bomb onto my screen.  The subject line was “sad news.”  Someone’s relative – a young man in his twenties – has taken his own life.   You are probably familiar with the tragic story line.  A young person living away from home, reached a depth of hopelessness and despair that made death seem like the only alternative.  A family in shock and denial.

Where is God in this senseless loss of life?  How can I write about gratitude and hope in the world now?  How does God let this happen?

All I know is that God walks alongside us in our grief and despair, that God cries out and suffers with us, that God will carry this family in its terrible grief as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  God’s love will surround them unawares, even if they rail at God or deny his very existence.  God’s love will shine through family, friends and neighbours who will hold and support them, feed them and listen until they can begin to live again.  Their lives will never be the same, but God’s light will gradually penetrate and one day they will feel hope again.

So maybe this post is about God’s work in the world after all, and what I am trying to express in clumsy words is my gratitude for hope even in the face of tragedy, and my faith in God’s love for us even in our deepest despair.

Crucify him!

Sculpture of Jesus with the cross in the Chapel of the Flagellation, on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.

Sculpture of Jesus with the cross in the Chapel of the Flagellation, on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!” I shouted with the crowd.  People surged forward towards the Roman soldiers holding Jesus, crying “crucify him!” – whipping the crowd into a standing frenzy. We were the crowd in Jerusalem, and we wanted blood.

How easily my teenage self stepped into the part, swept up into the spectacle, something like a scene of out of Lord of the Flies!

It was many years ago, but the scene is fresh in my memory.  A Passion Play in an open air stone amplitheatre in Florida.  Surrounded by palm trees, a warm breeze, dark sky studded with stars, actors dressed in first century costumes and sandals. Jesus whipped and bleeding.

The actor were quietly intermingled with the audience, so that we all became the crowd. We shouted, chanted, we wept, we rejoiced. But what I remember most is shouting “crucify him!”

Then Jesus crucified in a flash of brilliant bright light suddenly extinguished, dropping us into black night with a clap of thunder.

Each time I read the passion I re-live that night. My gut remembers being horrified at what I was shouting, frightened at how easily I was swept along with the crowd demanding blood. I hope, I pray, that I would have the courage to do the right thing and stand up against the mob in real life.

But if there was danger and violence, if I was truly afraid, I think it is more likely that I would step away.  Maybe I would say a silent prayer and disappear into the shadows, just like most of the disciples.

And, in my apologetic silence, would I be whispering “crucify him” all over again?

Seeker

I remember the feeling of awe that took my breath away when I was pregnant, realising that a new life was growing within me.

The realisation that we began in our mother’s womb – each of us a small miracle of creation, grown from a single, microscopic cell into a human being … beings with hearts to feel, and minds to think and hands to act.

And before the miracle of our own creation, our mothers began in their mother’s wombs, and our grandmothers and great grandmothers – generation after generation.

Each mother witnessed a miracle of creation, a miracle of giving birth to new life – connecting us directly to the very beginning of time.

And so also has each living thing – each tree, each plant, fish, bird, animal – grown from its parent, and its grandparents, generation after generation, each a miracle of creation, back to the very beginning of time.

Each of us live, every day, in this miraculous world, anchored to our past by countless, countless miracles of creation.

And we are entrusted with a formidable, sacred task –  to perpetuate the miracle of creation.  To care for our earth so that every living thing can continue to bring about new life, connecting us all – together – to the very beginning of time.

Seeker

Moon at night

The moon at night.

Sometimes,  this could be me.

A modern folktale.

Once upon a time there was a woman who woke up at 3 am, every night, for no good reason. 

She wasn’t worrying.  She wasn’t sick.  She wasn’t depressed.  She just woke up – wide awake – at 3 am.  Every night.

 She tried cutting down on coffee, squeezed in some exercise during the day, but she still woke up every night.  Night after night after night. 

Now, this woman was busy.  She had a family, job, friends, volunteer work, parents.  She prided herself on getting things done.    Driving the kids to activities, making meals, cleaning house, shopping, paying the bills, working, volunteering – she was always on the go.  And she thrived on the activity, thrived on being in control and being needed.  

Sometimes she felt lost in her busy-ness, as if something elusive was missing in her life. But she brushed off that nagging thought and went back to proudly crossing things off her long list.   She didn’t have time to worry about it.

But she was used to being in control of her life, and so the night waking drove her crazy.  In the mornings she was tired and frustrated.

She began to get angry.  Finally, one night, waking up yet again, she sat up in bed, wide awake.  She was really, really pissed off.  “God!” she shouted to the air “Why am I waking up every night at 3 am?”

And to her utter astonishment, God answered:  “Because it’s the only time I can get your attention.”

Sometimes,  this could be me.

Seeker

(I’ve been told this story, with different details, several times by several people.  This is just my re-telling of this tale.)