Monday, December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!
Isn't it amazing that God became a baby?
John and I are doing well. We had a few good days with Mom & Dad McAlister and James and Lindsay. And today we celebrated Christmas Ivany styles. We didn't expect to be in Toronto this Christmas, but we are blessed to be surrounded by family. It's so nice to have Kirsten and Josh home - and Kirst's friend Crystal.
I've had a really emotionally volatile month (thank you for your patience, John and Sherri!) but God is good.
Today is boxing day. It would seem that it is the holiday that unites people of all faiths - consumerism! Supposedly in an average day, a North American Christian spends 7 times more time in front of the t.v. than in worship, prayer and Bible reading combined. No wonder we keep wanting more. Yikes. But, as for t.v.... you have to admit - LOST is fairly addictive...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Stephanie Ali

My friend Stephanie Ali died yesterday.
She was 30, and I miss her.
Last Saturday night a few of us went to her hospital room and watched a movie and told funny stories and broke visitors' curfew and it all seemed so normal... Steph didn't seem like she was sick or dying - she just seemed like Steph.
Steph was one of the most courageous people I knew. And she was hilarious. Steph was so talented - she had a flair for style and designed jewelery. We joined the choir in the same year.
Life is unfair and God is mysterious sometimes. Please pray for the Alis this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The lion, the kangaroo and the dinosaur

The kids at our church put on a spectacular Christmas pageant last Sunday. All the main characters from the nativity scene were there, such as the lion, the kangaroo and the dinosaur. Everything went fairly smooth until the lion and dinosaur decided to "borrow" the baby Jesus. Mary was not amused. I think that's why most modern presentations of the Christmas story omit the lion and the dinosaur. I have been assured, however, that they do appear in some ancient Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke. The presence of the kangaroo was a bit of a stretch though.

I'm currently reading The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides. It's a wonderful introduction to Orthodox spirituality and Eastern monastic mysticism. I'm halfway through and have already been challenged to explore my beliefs of icons and idols, signs and wonders, angels and demons, hell, spiritual direction, illnesses of the heart and the influence and source of negative thoughts. I'm hoping to get Gifts of the Desert, Markides' new book, over the holidays. It will probably have to be a gift from me to me. The next book on my reading list is Living Prayer by Anthony Bloom, which I had to track down from a used bookstore in New York.

We're having a dinner party this evening at Rochelle's parents and have invited 13 of our Chinese friends. Dave and Bev have made some of their spectacular chili and each family is bringing a homemade Chinese dish for everyone to sample. Yumm. Kirst is home for the holidays and is planning some games with her friend Crystal, so it should be a blast. We did this last year and had a great evening.

One more day until I get my wife back. She's been coordinating kettles (Christmas fundraising) for our church this year, and has gone a little wacko. But don't tell her I said so… We head out to my parents place tomorrow night after she finishes her final kettle pickups. Yahoo!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ecological footprint

If everyone in the world enjoyed Canada's standard of living, it would take four Earths to supply our needs and dispose of our waste. Americans consume even more. Makes you kind of wonder if our part of the world doesn't have some serious vested interest in making sure other parts of the world don't reach our standard of living (because - at the moment - we only have one Earth - so that would means we'd have to consume and dispose a lot less...) Hmmm...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Absence of God

The first chapter of Anthony Bloom's Beginning to Pray deals with the absence of God. Well, not a real absence – God is never really absent – but the sense of absence that many of us will experience at some points in our lives. Here is a snippet from this first chapter:

First of all, it is very important to remember that prayer is an encounter and a relationship, a relationship which is deep, and this relationship cannot be forced either on us or God. The fact that God can make Himself present or can leave us with the sense of His absence is part of this live and real relationship.

If we could mechanically draw Him into an encounter, force Him to meet us, simply because we have chosen this moment to meet with Him, there would be no relationship and no encounter. We can do that with an image, with the imagination, or with the various idols we can put in front of us instead of God; we can do nothing of the sort with the living God, any more than we can do it with a living person.

A relationship must begin and develop in mutual freedom. If you look at the relationship in terms of mutual relationship, you will see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him. We complain that He does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer 'I am busy, I am sorry' or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, or our minds, of our conscience, of our life. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.

The second very important thing is that a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us. We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned. I do not mean this is major terms of eternal damnation or eternal salvation already given and received, but it is always a critical moment, a crisis. 'Crisis' comes from the Greek and means 'judgment.' To meet God face to face in prayer is a critical moment in our lives, and thanks be to Him that He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because we might not be able to endure such a meeting. Remember the many passages in Scripture in which we are told how bad it is to find oneself face to face with God, because God is power, God is truth, God is purity.

Therefore, the first thought we ought to have when we do not tangibly perceive the divine presence, is a thought of gratitude. God is merciful; He does not come in an untimely way. He gives us a chance to judge ourselves, to understand, and not to come into His presence at a moment when it would mean condemnation.

Monday, December 05, 2005


What a weekend! My choir concerts were HYPE! God was glorified!
Sunday morning Sherri brought me to an Eco-Sabbath. A group of us got together to reflect on God's creation. It was beautiful. At the beginning we heard a piece of music (Meditation from Thais - Massenet). I closed my eyes and pictured God creating on His great canvas of the Earth. I pictured him sliding his thumb down the Earth and seeing a river starting to to trickle, or His hands reaching into the earth and pulling out mountains. I pictured Him flicking His fingers and seeing trees and forests come into being. It was beautiful.
One of the quotes from the service: "The universe is the primary sacred community...In general, however, we have thought of the Earth as joining in the religious expression of the human rather than the human joining in the religious expression of the Earth. We have consistently thought of the human as primary and the earth as derivative..." (Thomas Berry)
I'm a city girl, and don't often think about Creation, but it was really humbling to realize how long the Earth has been alive and how small a part humans are in it. And yet we hold so much power. The universe has been around for billions of years, and only in the last 50 years have we started to sersiouly destroy it. And the way we're treating the environment, we'll be the first species ever to exterminate ourselves. That's scary, eh? It was humbling also to realize that I often think of myself as a creator rather than part of the creation.
Let's take care of our dear planet - for the sake of generations to come, and for the Artist's sake.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Integrity for life

In Beginning to Pray, Archbishop Anthony Bloom reflects on his fascinating upbringing that saw him living (and fleeing) throughout Russia, Switzerland, Persia, Kurdistan, India, Spain, France, Austria, Yugoslavia and probably a host of other interesting locales. His father, who was a Russian diplomat prior to the revolution, never returned to his old standards of life, choosing instead to work as an unskilled labourer for as long as his health permitted and then in simple clerical duties. He was a strong man who felt that as a Russian he ought to share responsibility for what had happened in his homeland.

Here are a couple of Bloom's memories of his father:

I remember a certain number of his phrases. In fact there are two things he said which impressed me and have stayed with me all of my life. One is about life. I remember he said to me after a holiday, 'I worried about you' and I said, 'Did you think I'd had an accident?' He said, 'That would have meant nothing, even if you had been killed. I thought you had lost your integrity.' Then on another occasion he said to me, 'Always remember that whether you are alive or dead matters nothing. What matters is what you live for and what you are prepared to die for.' These things were the background of my early education and show the sense of life that I got from him.