Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ministry of Presence

In The Anglican a few months back I read an article by Fr. Matthew Johnson from St. James Anglican Church in Vancouver. He spoke of the 'ministry of presence' with respect to the large homeless community in the neighbourhood of St. James.

Rev Matthew wrote that some of the church members wondered why he bothered with these people because this is the life that they chose. However, Matthew wrote, few people ended up on the streets by any real choice of their own. Almost all of them, he said, have experienced extreme adversity in their lives which led to their current situation. Often that trauma had been experienced in their childhood and included abandonment, violence, sexual abuse, extreme poverty. Some had spent their childhood in an endless succession of group or foster homes - sometimes facing abuse there as well. Many never recover and find themselves on the street. Some find that drugs help to dull the pain for a bit. Thankfully some do recover and Fr. Matthew rejoices in their success.

It was the phrase 'ministry of presence' that particularly captivated me. For many years I was very involved in the food bank at my local church. As much as it broke my heart that there was such an overwhelming need for the food bank I loved working it. I enjoyed meeting and connecting with the people who came. We never preached to them. Apart from the fact that the food bank was inside an Anglican Church there was no proselytizing - we simply practiced the ministry of presence. We were present to the guests who found themselves in need of our help. We greeted them, befriended them, welcomed them and were just there for them. I made some amazing connections from among the people who came - developed relationships and memories that I will cherish always.

So often people who find themselves struggling, down & out, and become invisible to the larger community out there. People avoid looking the homeless in the eye; cross the street so that they don't get asked for a handout; make judgements based on clothes or demeanour. Generally do not make themselves present.

And one of the main goals of The Community of Caring Foodbank was, along with providing food, to be present to each and every person who entered the doors.

The ministry of presence. Fr. Matthew is bang on.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Honoured to have been selected

On December 29th I performed a wedding. The couple had selected me from my profile on the website and then, when they confirmed and I was given the details, I discovered that the wedding was to be held in their home - and their home was just 6 houses away from my own!

A week before the wedding the couple discovered that, due to the complexity of paperwork, it wasn't likely that they would have the marriage license in time for the ceremony. What to do? They had family travelling in for the wedding - it was Christmas time after all. So, we decided to do 'wedding theatre'. I "married" them in front of their family and friends with the understanding that I would return to make it legal once they received the paperwork.

We finalized the marriage today. I walked up the street at noon and was home before the half hour was up. The bride's two adult children were the witnesses and the groom held a bag of ice chips to his head because he'd smashed his head into the chandelier over the dining room table. 'I've felt worse' was all he said as he applied the ice his step-son got for him. And that's an understatement. He's being treated for a recurrence of leukemia and they were pleased to be able to make the marriage official before he had to return to hospital. He'd had a very difficult week but thankfully was feeling better today and their wedding was beautiful. Short and sweet but beautiful. The ceremony on the 29th was heartfelt and emotional; I could feel the love in the room that was filled with friends and family. Today, with only 6 of us gathered around the dining room table (the reason for the chandelier incident!), that feeling of love was there as well.

I was honoured to have been selected to be the official at this wedding. Honoured to have participated in a monumental moment in this couples lives.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

'Absolute unmixed attention is prayer'

These words are from Simone Weil, French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist.

Born to an agnostic Jewish family in 1909 it wasn't until Simone experienced a religious ecstasy early in 1937 - while in Assisi at the same church in which St. Francis prayed - that she said her first prayer. The following year she had an even more powerful revelation after which her writing became increasinly spiritual.

In 1943, at the age of 34, Weil was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told to rest and eat well in order to take care of herself. However, she continued to limit her food to equal that available to the German occupied French nationals. As a result, Weil died later that year and was said to have killed herself by her own actions.

'Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.' When you think about that sentiment it makes a lot of sense. Paying attention - really, really paying attention - to another person makes them feel loved, wanted, valued, special and important. Just as we feel when, in the words of Jean Vanier, we sit in the quiet, gentle presence of God. We feel loved, wanted, valued, special and important.

Absolute unmixed attention is prayer. Remember that the next time you are with someone. Really be with them. Not superficially present; not looking over their shoulder or thinking about something other than the present. I believe that Simone was right on. Give absolute unmixed attention. The best gift ever.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why does my puppy eat rocks?

Now that's a question I don't think I would have imagined having to ask a few months ago. But since getting a 3 1/2 month old Golden Labrador on New Years Eve, my Internet searches involve Cesar Milan, where to buy gates with small pet doors, obedience classes and, yes, why does my puppy eat rocks.

He's a beautiful boy is my Bailey. Full of fun and playfulness but easily calmed. Well, relatively easily! He's integrating well into the home which already had four cats when he arrived. Two of the four - the biggest ones - have pretty much established their place in the hierarchy. The third is slowly coming around and the littlest guy - the only one with claws - is expressing more interest than fear. Baby steps.

We've had 8 days with only one "puppy accident" - which probably means that I'm the one who's trained rather than Bailey but I'm good with that anyway.

It's been about 5 1/2 years since my last dog died. Raggs died just 6 days after my mom and the idea of getting another dog right away was too much for me. So we got cats. Two HUGE 10 year old cats. We also ended up with two more cats who originally belonged to my sons but who are now part of my menagerie.

Since Bailey arrived I realized just how much I missed having a dog in my life. I wonder why I waited so long. Oh well, the wait is over and I'm thrilled with my boy.

"It's not the fatigue. It's the emotional load."

I read this quote in the paper today. "It's not the fatique. It's the emotional load." Spoken by Dr. Mike Howatt, a surgeon with the GlobalMedic team in Haiti, as he reflected on what he had been facing since arriving. Amputations by flashlight, many without anaesthesia. We complain when we have to wait to see our doctors. We complain when we're faced with delay at our local emergency department - a place we often go even when we really don't need the services of an emergency physician. We complain when we have to wait to get our pain medication after recovering from surgery. We complain. But why? Because humans certainly have the capacity to do otherwise. The paper talked about a ten year old girl who sang hymns while the doctors cut off her infected hand - with no anaesthesia. Doesn't sound like she complained does it? Nope, she sang hymns. Amazing. My hero.

We can learn a lot from her. Give generously to help Haiti.