Category Archives: Gratitude

From war and hardship to pleasure cruising: Thoughts on Colonel By Day

Yesterday most Canadians celebrated a civic holiday. Not every Canadian (some provinces don’t have a long weekend in August) and not all for the same reason.

Because there is no specific occasion for a holiday in August (other than it’s really great to have a long weekend in the summer) provinces and municipalities have creative licence. In British Columbia, it is British Columbia Day. (Okay, maybe not so creative.) In Alberta it’s Heritage Day. (Better, if a little vague.) In Toronto it’s Simcoe Day. (For John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.) Here in Ottawa we designate the weekend as Bytown Days and Monday specifically as Colonel By Day.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

Ottawa’s original name was Bytown, in honour of Lieutenant Colonel John By. Colonel By, a military engineer, was the first city planner, and he laid out plans for the area that has become our downtown core. He oversaw the construction of the first bridge across the Ottawa River, a vital link between the provinces of Ontario and Québec. Most famously, he engineered and supervised the building of the Rideau Canal and the lock system that connects the Ottawa River to the Rideau River. (Here in Ottawa, Rideau is pronounced REE-deau, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Pronounce it Ri-DEAU and we’ll know you’re not from here.)

Canadians first had the notion that a navigable trade route other than the St. Lawrence River might be a good idea after the war of 1812, when American/Canadian relations were a little more fraught. At the time, the unquestioned need to maintain water transportation avenues that could be protected from American attack made the prospect of carving through 125 miles of bush and swamp and rock seem not only possible but imperative.

For six years, thousands of Irish and French Canadian labourers and skilled stonemasons endured hellish working and living conditions with high incidents of accidents, disease and death to build the canal and the lock system. Malaria, of all things, was a major threat. They did it because they needed the work to survive, and they believed that their labours would ensure the survival of future generations.

These days we are at peace with the United States. These days our supplies travel by airplane or highway or train. These days, the trade route that Colonel By envisioned, that water transportation link that people lost their lives over, is a place for pleasure only. In the summer yachts fill the locks and cruise the canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

In the winter skaters laugh as they glide way between Beavertail stands.

Rideau Canal Skateway

Rideau Canal Skateway

I wonder, what would Colonel By think of how we use his creation today? I walk beside the canal and the locks on my lunch breaks in downtown Ottawa. As I stroll in peaceful, malaria-free Ottawa,  I imagine Colonel By surveying his city from his vantage point on the great cliff at Major’s Hill Park where his house used to stand. I envision his stiff British bearing as he peers down to watch us walk and bike and boat in the same area where men suffered and died.

I wonder if Colonel By, a man who lived in harsh times, would despair at how we luxuriously and thoughtlessly take his engineering marvel for granted. Perhaps he would scowl over our carefree abandon. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would commend us all for shaping our city into one of safety and freedom. Maybe he would give us a rousing Hurrah! for creating a vibrant, economically progressive, multicultural and compassionate city to honour his name.

____________

Read more Rideau Canal history here: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/hist-canal.html

Training ourselves to be kind

If you want to spend your day in despair over the state of humanity, the fastest route to that sentiment is through the comments section on YouTube or any other internet site.

Comments sections put the meanness, pettiness, ignorance, judgment and narrow thinking of some members of our society on full display. I simply cannot read them, or I have to spend time after giving myself a chin-up pep talk.

unfoldingSociety needs a kindness injection. And there might be a way.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggest we might be able to enhance our tendency toward kindness. All it takes is some meditation, some training and some practice.

Participants in a study worked at building their compassion “muscle.” Those who did responded to others in need with caring and a desire to help. They became more altruistic.

Goodness knows we need more people like that.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is not the first to propose physical, spiritual, mental and emotional benefits of meditation; it has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase serotonin levels, reduce pain, and increase creativity and mental sharpness. Their study adds another motivational level to begin the practice.

Okay everyone? Let’s change some brains.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2543812/Can-train-KIND-Just-seven-hours-meditation-rewire-brain-claims-study.html#ixzz3xcdrISBE

Faith, whether we claim it or not

More food for thought from Bishop Steve Charleston

_________

“We do not know what is around the next corner.

We do not even know what will pass in our lives between sunrise and sunset. Therefore, whether we claim it or not, we live each day in faith.

We believe. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our family. We believe in others who are close to us.

Some of us believe beyond that, to name a loving power that guides us, to walk with others who pray with us. But we all believe, in some way, in our own fashion.

Let that thin thread, that simple affirmation, bind us in a shared respect. We are not strangers in shadows, but believers searching for the light.”

—Bishop Steve Charleston

unfolding

Chance treasures: Waiting for the good stuff

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”

—from Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

In her time of simplicity at her beach house, Anne Morrow Lindbergh discovered that when she lay empty, open, choiceless as a beach, nuggets of insight, treasures of faith materialized in her mind like seashells gifted to the beach by rolling ocean waves.

“One never knows what chance treasures these east unconscious rollers may toss up, on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind, what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor.”

Relaxing by water opens one’s mind to ideas that wash into consciousness like waves to the shore.

For the next few weeks I’ll be enjoying some time by a lake. I aim to be patient and to lie empty, open and choiceless as a beach to see what washes in.

“But it must not be sought for or—heaven forbid!—dug for. No, no dredging of the sea bottom here. That would defeat one’s purpose.”

—from Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

new-horizons

 

The laying on of hands: A touch of love, power, blessing

“Every moment is a starting point.” —Etienne LeSage

On the weekend, I attended the ordination and commissioning of two friends of mine into the United Church of Canada. The ceremony touched me deeply, and since then I’ve pondered what to write about it.

So many aspects of the event filled our emotional wells to overflowing. We cried happy tears.

The two people involved are both joyful givers; they embrace all people, work for justice, don’t sit in judgment of others, and allow and encourage questions. Love envelopes them; their parents, spouses, siblings, friends, children and other supporters glowed with it. The two people possess the perseverance and the indefinable “something more” that propels them into the challenging work of ministry.

Photo courtesy of Shaun Dunmall https://www.flickr.com/photos/llamnuds/

Photo courtesy of Shaun Dunmall
https://www.flickr.com/photos/llamnuds/

In the end, though, I kept coming back to the laying on of hands.

Those unfamiliar with the practice, or those who have never been on the receiving end of it, might see it as an empty ritual, or even as a showy bit of hocus-pocus. But the ancient tradition of laying on hands is a powerful experience for both giver and receiver. It recognizes the potency of human touch. Like a comforting squeeze on the shoulder of someone bent over in grief, like a cool touch to hot brow, like a gentle nudge to the back of someone who hesitates—hands have the potential to soothe, heal or empower.

After the ceremony, one of the two people, Mark, told me that he felt the love flowing to him from hands placed on him by his parents, spouse, family and friends. But when he felt the touch of his daughter and his toddler son, his heart burst—the power of children blessing a father.

I lay hands on my friend, Etienne, as he was blessed and ordained. I was a member of his discernment committee, and I walked with him—metaphorically speaking—on his path to ministry. When I lay my hands on him, it was a conduction of love, power and blessing.

I sent him love, because the tremendous amount of love I had for him grew even stronger during the psyche-testing process of discernment.

I sent him power for his journey, because the path he has chosen (or that was chosen for him?) is not an easy one. He begins ministry in the face of assumptions about Christianity that just don’t apply to him. He’s funny and open, not sombre and judgemental. He knows that love is the foundation of a strong and healthy marriage, not gender. He sees the soul in people, no matter what race, ethnicity, religion or shape the body that carries it around, so he excludes no one.

I sent him my blessing of courage and compassion to face it with strength for the highest good of all.

Both people, in their individual ways, had to overcome big difficulties to arrive at the day. They both chose to take the road less travelled, and it is one that is fraught with challenges.

They both know that their lives, in so many ways, would be so much easier if they were taking the well-trodden path. Now that they have been sent forth with the love, power and blessing of the touch of those who love them, they might just make it.

One corner left open to represent open minds.

The Trinity United Church cross, designed by Rev. Dr. Glen Stoudt. One corner left open to represent open minds. http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/

 

 

 

Gardening wisdom: How does your garden grow?

“Gardens, like lives, require choices. What will we let grow? What will we encourage? What needs cutting back because it’s growing too wildly and out of control? What’s crowding out what you really want in life?” —Rev. Sharon Moon

red-roseI listened to a reflection by Rev. Sharon Moon about spiritual wisdom gained in a garden.

It’s true, isn’t it? When we putter in our flower beds and dig in our dirt, we “plug in,” as she calls it, to a different energy level—a spirit channel, if you will.

At least some of us do. I enjoy my time in a garden and I do “plug in” to an infinite place, but I have many friends who regard gardening as a chore. But no matter whether a person loves or loathes a horticultural pursuit, the activities, complexities, the growth, the pruning and the death in gardens so closely mirrors our human existence that we can learn from them.

We learn to be ready for surprises: the flower you didn’t plant that suddenly appears or the tender sprouts you admire one day gone the next thanks to a hungry rabbit.

We learn that sometimes a plant needs to be moved to an area better suited to its needs.

We learn that when a long, cold winter buries treasures under snow, it is easy to forget the bounty we have.

We learn that weeds are inevitable, and that a garden left untended quickly becomes overgrown and filled up with “things that come in and just steal the energy from the life that you want to encourage.”

As Sharon Moon points out, a garden teaches us that pruning is a good thing—cutting out the dead wood that no longer serves a purpose. A garden teaches us to give of ourselves—generous perennial dividing and sharing for the good of both the plant and the recipient. A garden teaches us that “a material that has been allowed to die transforms into new growth.”

What is happening in your garden these days? Are you bursting with new growth? Do you have weeds that need careful pulling? Have you had a shock or trauma that requires you to take some fallow time? Do you need some support and attention from “the Gardener”?

How does your garden grow?

_________

Listen to her reflection here:

Gardening God

http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/reflections/gardening-god/

The inevitable weed

The inevitable weed