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Archive for November, 2013

Creation Story

“Yesterday, I fell from the sky.”

I resonated with these striking words from Erik Mollenhauer, the leader of the “Voices From the Land” workshop I went to last weekend in Toronto.  He opened his Saturday morning session with these words, referring not just to the plane that brought him to Toronto, but also retelling the story of Sky Woman. In the Aboriginal creation story, she drops from the sky, which leads to the formation of North America.

The Aboriginal story recounts  Sky Woman’s disorientation after falling from Sky World, which is like Eden. She doesn’t know

Sky Woman painting by Jean-Jacques Rivard

Sky Woman painting by
Jean-Jacques Rivard

how she will survive, but one event after another ensures that she is provided for.  A flock of geese give her a soft landing, and animals band together to bring her bits of dirt which she places on turtle’s back and her new home is born. “Turtle Island” is the name given to North America.

The entire story of creation is rich in detail and apparently takes days to tell (proving it came from pre-TV days). Even if I didn’t fall through the hole in Sky World left by an uprooted tree like Sky Woman, all weekend I kept thinking that I had more in common with her than I realized.

Our van pulled up to the nature center in the early evening of Friday, and my Winnipeg friend Cathy and I stepped out into the crisp fall air. Maple leaves crunched underfoot and the smells of nature were instantly calming in the moonlit air. We were a group within a group – 8 of us teachers were being trained to present the workshop, but we would be also taking the workshop beginning on Saturday with 20 other participants.

We began the next morning standing in a circle outside to participate in a smudge led by an elderly Aboriginal woman named Sam. I’ve taken part in smudges before, but this was the most meaningful one. Sam first gave a talk about gratitude, and, standing in the circle in the misty morning, surrounded by huge white pine, cypress trees and birds, it was hard not to notice a growing sense of gratitude as she spoke. One by one, Sam invited us to be grateful for the aspects of our lives that we often take for granted.

The one that topped my list was being thankful for all the people who had freed us up to be at the workshop – the people who affirmed our vocation and helped us say yes. My husband had helped me to arrange the trip and encouraged me to go, along with my friends who helped me say yes and reminded me that my fear-inducing “to do” list was not as urgent as I thought.

Previous to the smudge, I had woken up on Saturday morning with the first line of a poem in my heart. I quickly emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t forget. This is not a normal occurrence for me! It was indicative of an atmosphere which allowed me to rest in the miracle of nature and poetry and excellent content from the workshop.

Another shot of our nature art

Another shot of our nature art

Part of my group's nature art

Part of my group’s nature art

My group created some art using found objects in nature and then wrote a poem about it. I wasn’t looking forward to this part, but when we rehearsed and then performed our poem the next morning, it became an experience of being more deeply anchored in the gratitude Sam talked about. And being met with cheers from our audience must be what a poetry slam feels like! Surrounded by meaning and creativity, it felt like I was being provided for in abundance like Sky Woman.

Scripture says that God is continually creating and re-creating us, and I felt a bit like I was part of the creation story last weekend.  Being in a new environment had an awakening effect on me; like I was finding who I am for the first time, or at least in a deeper way.  I’ve wasted so much of my life mired in emotionalism. As I’ve been letting go of that old way this fall, I’ve been discovering the truth of what God says in scripture, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) IMG_4978

I hope that I can provide even a small taste of this experience for my students in the future, but more than that, I hope that I will continue to be reborn. Continue to take leaps of faith into new worlds and become more grateful for the provision all around me. Like the bits of soil the animals brought to Sky Woman, God’s gifts come our way so steadily.  You could build a whole new continent; a whole new life, out of it.

Be Not Afraid

This week I experienced God’s presence through a decision I had to make. A sudden opportunity came up to go to Toronto this coming weekend to get trained in a workshop called “Voices From the Land”. It’s all about making art with students using found objects in nature and then writing poetry to go with the photographed art.

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Art from Voices from the Land

I took the workshop 2 years ago at Ft. Whyte. It was taught by one of my all time favorite teachers, Erik Mollenhauer along with his wife Kris. Erik is the founder of the Monarch Teacher Network, and he and Kris are ardent supporters of teaching students to protect our planet by learning to love it.

I first met Erik when he led the Monarch Teacher Network tour of the monarch butterflies in Mexico in 2009, which I was blessed to be part of. He is a born teacher, perfectly exemplifying one of my favorite teaching quotes, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (attributed to William Butler Yeats)-BeNotAfraid_grande

It was a difficult decision to make because life is more than full right now with report cards to complete along with regular school planning.  It didn’t seem to make any sense to even consider going, but the opportunity kept tugging at my sleeve.

In my quandary, I decided to try bringing it to prayer. I sat beside Jesus in my imagination, as I’ve been doing. It’s often strange to try to do this.  There are moments when it feels weird and other moments when Jesus seems real, but I’ve been encouraged enough to stick with the discipline. I straight out asked Jesus what he would want me to do.

As I sat with this question, all the fears I had came to the surface; fears around not getting my to-do list done. It felt like a swirl. And then, in my imagination (or was it real?), Jesus reached out, put his hand on my heart and said, “Be not afraid.” And the swirl stopped.

What followed was a feeling of profound peace and gladness, and I knew that all would be well. I checked out the decision with my close friends. And that’s how I decided to say yes, trusting in God’s word to me.I was able to use my school division’s discretionary day and book my flight.

In the song, “A Dream Like Mine”, Bruce Cockburn’s sings, “When you know even for a moment that it’s your time, then you can walk with the power of a thousand generations.”  In the 2 weeks that followed, life has been fuller than full but I have felt God giving me strength. Remembering the moment I heard “Yes” and that I could step into life and not be afraid has made all the difference.

Prayer and the Imagination

The alarm on my clock radio was going off way too early. Hadn’t I just gone to sleep? I’d spent a few too many late nights getting my school alarm-clock-ringingassessments done. My stomach was achy and my yawns were insistent.

But, habit is a routine hard to break, and I got up and went to my daily quiet time with scripture and prayer. As soon as I sat down, a cynical thought greeted me that morning. “Why are you even doing this prayer thing? It’s foolish not to be sleeping instead. It doesn’t change anything anyways.”

My disbelieving thought stayed with me for a moment. It felt so logical and I considered heading straight back to bead, but another thought kept me there. Unbidden, my friends in the faith came to my imagination, and I realized they’d never agree with the skeptic. They would (and do) encourage me to stick with the discipline of prayer, believing, as C.S Lewis once famously said, “we were made for another world.”

I stayed with the prayer time. I usually pray for my faith community, my family and others who come to mind, but that morning, I just imagined them in a circle with me, joining hands, united in a purpose beyond the logic of the world.

That prayer time, as with many others, came to me as a gift that morning and despite feeling hemmed in by the demands of the job, the day felt expansive. My cynical thought had insisted that prayer doesn’t change anything, but my experience proved otherwise. It stayed with me all week, and deepened a sense of gratitude even as I  took deep breaths trying to get everything done.

Present-Perfect-CoverPrompted by a book I read this year called Present Perfect by Gregory Boyd, I have been imagining Jesus with me during my prayer time. Boyd says that this practice helps us rest in God instead of making prayer an obligation. Jesus sits with me in my imagination, and encouraged by the verse which says to “cast all our anxieties on him”, I imagine giving all my worries to him. I literally take them and dump them on Jesus’ lap.  Boyd writes that this sense of resting in God is not just a technique, but is how we stay awake to what is true.

Over the months since I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed a few things. First of all, it helps lighten what is weighing me down. I remember often that I’ve given things to God and it’s like resetting a computer or erasing my whiteboard at school at the end of the day. Jesus has become more real; Someone I love rather than an idea. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I have also been noticing far less bodily aches and pains in the months since I’ve begun this practice.

Earlier in his life, C.S. Lewis had quite an inner battle of the use of imagination vs. the use of reason. He used to think that reason trumped the imagination and became an atheist as a result. It began to dawn on him that everything that his mind came to solely through reason produced only a dull and unhappy life, whereas the places that his imagination led him produced joy. He began to see that while reason was the natural organ of truth, “imagination [was] the organ of meaning.”  His friend Owen Barfield, introduced him to the notion that reason and imagination could co-exist and it changed his world forever. Giving up his atheism, he gave his life to God, then Jesus and the world is much the richer for it.

It’s this sense of meaning that has accompanied me in my journey of imaginative prayer. I’m the furthest thing from an expert. I am often distracted by what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”, and my imagination clearly is often limited by mistrust and doubts. But I have tasted enough of Jesus’ presence to feel encouraged to continue; to steep my life in the reality that I am not alone in this universe.

When I was a teenager, our youth group painted the walls of a room at church with murals. Though the walls no longer exist since the church was circlesdestroyed by fire in 1998, one mural has always stayed with me. The mural depicted 2 thrones. On one throne was a great big S, which stood for a life where the Self directs life, and on the other throne was a cross. Here, the Self is not in charge anymore and the Self yields to Christ.

In both circles, the dots represent our interests. When self-directed, our interests result in discord and frustration, but given to God, they result in harmony.

It is a simple depiction of my deepest desire. I want always to sit with Jesus, giving everything to God’s care and serving God’s purposes. In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu, “I want what God wants.” And on the days when my imagination is clouded by self-direction, when I am fighting this release, I give my scattered-ness to God, asking to “want to want” a life touched by God’s imagination. It is the only life I want.

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