The Gift of Self Care

~Elenore Wieler

Art by Henk DeRoos

When my 23rd birthday arrived, I had a 2-month-old son, a husband and an incomplete education. I saw my life mapped out before me: get a teaching degree while raising a child and work on making a happy marriage. Early that April day I had my doubts about the last one. I did not feel loved.

In my family, we celebrated birthdays in the morning. The birthday child came downstairs to cake and presents on the kitchen table – no matter how early everyone had to rise to accommodate my father’s need to leave for work at 8 am. In late April, my birthday mornings were full of sunshine and the happy anticipation of cake for breakfast! That was love.

Being a night owl, my husband couldn’t see the sense of such an arrangement. He told me that, much as he loved me, cake and presents would arrive with dinner. I had agreed, and then woke with the bitter taste of deep disappointment. Surely he’d only pretended he wouldn’t get my birthday surprise ready? After he’d kissed me good-bye and left, the apartment seemed cold and depressing.

The day loomed empty before me as I went through the motions of caring for myself and my son. His sweet gurgles and delicious scent didn’t put a dent in my self-pitying funk. Since my routine was to take the baby for a stroll before his mid-day feeding and afternoon nap, I headed out into the sunshine.

We lived in Osborne village in Winnipeg, an area newly minted with little shops of a distinctly European flavour. I usually loved walking along, looking at window displays of goodies priced well beyond our budget.

When I got to the bookstore, I decided to head in. Browsing through books has always been one of my favourite activities, even if that was generally at the public library. I left with George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, feeling decidedly better carrying a birthday indulgence.

Back on the street, my eyes lighted on the lovely new pastry shop. Cake, yes indeed! I had a much lighter step as I pointed the stroller toward the bakery. With a book under one arm and a boxed lemon buttercream roll under the other, I spotted the florist shop. A bouquet of pink carnations, daisies and baby’s breath rounded out my little shopping spree.

That afternoon, once baby slept cosily in his crib, I brewed fresh coffee and cut a generous slice of cake. Sitting at my beautifully decorated table, I enjoyed the treats and dove into my new book. Absolute Heaven. By the time Roland arrived with the promised celebration, I felt indulged and sated. Everything afterwards was a big bonus.

My greatest gift of the day was learning that if there is a void within me, only I can fill it. So if I want flowers, I get them for myself. If I need solace, I check inside to find out what will provide it. I ask myself, ‘What will make me feel loved?’ Sometimes I can find it, sometimes I have to ask for it, sometimes I have to wait, but always, the blessings are there if I take the time to look.

The memory of my 23rd birthday always fills my heart with warmth and gratitude. That gratitude then leads to even greater appreciation of the many gifts life has seen fit to bestow on me: a grown son with his own lovely family, a satisfying career in education and 45 years of happy marriage.

Oh yes, the last part was helped along hugely by the fact that, for many years now, I’ve walked into the kitchen on my birthday to find a cake and presents magically waiting for me on the table!

Joint letter from the leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada

The events taking place across North America in response to the murder of George Floyd have given all of us a stark reminder of the ongoing sin of racism in our communities. Centuries of anger at injustice and anti-Black racism are literally bursting into flames as people stand for political and cultural change to address these deep-seated systems that work to oppress so many members of our communities. Coupled with the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the threat against Christian Cooper who was participating in a park activity so many of us take for granted, and so many other day to day activities, we are reminded of the horrendous consequences of anti-Black racism again and again, depriving people of their safety, their freedom and their lives.

We as church leaders, acknowledge the pain, frustrations and anger of our Black communities, and recognize that systemic anti-Black racism is prevalent in our context in Canada as well; in the streets of our communities, in the justice and policing systems, and in our congregations and parishes. It is important for church members in our largely white churches to look at how we continue to perpetuate anti-Black racism, either inadvertently or intentionally.

George Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe,” continue to ring in our ears; they act as a prophetic voice of the pain and re-traumatization that is coming from peoples of African descent again and again. The voice is weary and tired. “We can’t breathe” is the collective chant of peoples of African descent, especially those in North America, as they continue to struggle against centuries of racism and systemic discrimination.

We are hearing the same voice from ministers of African descent, particularly as they pastor predominantly white congregations. This voice is tired of violence towards Black lives. This voice is tired of the exclusion of people of African descent in our structures of leadership. This voice is tired of the emptiness that comes from supposed allies who aren’t willing to acknowledge their own privilege and responsibility.

As Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, The National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and Moderator of The United Church of Canada we want to affirm our commitment to ending our silence about and working towards the dismantling of anti-Black racism.

In March, we jointly released a letter in support of the International Decade for Peoples of African Descent (link here), acknowledging the reality of racism in our institutions and committing ourselves to naming and working towards the eradication of anti-Black racism. We are inviting the members of our communities to join us in this commitment by visibly and concretely demonstrating the call for solidarity in the UN decade. Some suggestions are:

  • Reach out to a friend of African descent and listen to their story and how these events have affected them. This is also a good practice for primarily white congregations whose minister is African descent.
  • Conscientiously and prayerfully consider joining public expressions of solidarity towards seeking justice against anti-Black racism;
  • Read books and other materials on Black history in the Canadian context, the impact of anti-Black racism, and the reality of white privilege;
  • Research critical elements of Black legacy;
  • Engage with the artistic and cultural production of people of African descent, with a commitment to learn the history and context within these expressions.

We call upon our members to join with us in this commitment.

Sincerely yours,

The Rev. Susan Johnson National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

The Most Rev. Linda Nicholls Primate, Anglican Church of Canada

?The Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Bott Moderator, United Church of Canada

Computers and Communion

~Cheryl Perry

On a phone call recently some colleagues were sharing their experiences of having Communion over Zoom. Eric Hamlyn of Lynn Valley United, who does ministry with youth, shared that he had simply told group members: bring something to have Communion with.

He didn’t prescribe bread and grape juice, though most youth would understand these as the foods we eat at this ritual. Conscious of the recommendation that people limit themselves to one trip out for groceries per week, he encouraged the youth to be creative and to “use what you have in your house.”

As he reminded them, in Communion we are recreating the Last Supper. Jesus did not serve his disciples carefully cubed bread and pre-purchased grape juice, but he took what was on the table, what was at hand!

Several weeks ago we at First United experienced our first Communion since we had become a “scattered community” because of the COVID19 virus. Historically, the term diaspora was particularly associated with the Jews. But in modern times it has evolved and has been used to describe any involuntary mass dispersion of a population.

It is said that qualities that are typical of diasporas are thoughts of return, and a desire to maintain ties with “home” (often a country of origin). In some ways we are experiencing a diaspora. The closure of churches by order of our province in mid-March was involuntary, even if we agree that it was necessary to protect citizens.

As Alberta’s chief medical officer, Deena Hinshaw, has observed: “We are holding many things in tension right now. The need to protect ourselves and each other from COVID and our need for human community.”

Being a faith community without a building has had many challenges, and a few discoveries—even blessings. I dare say this is the experience of any diaspora population. It causes people to take less for granted and to cherish more.

?Observing rituals of the faith are a way we maintain ties with other Christians. The simple act of eating a little bread (or garlic Naan, or rice crackers, or whatever you have on hand), while we gather around our computer screens or telephones in our separate homes, can help us maintain ties with each other. It can have the power to connect us in a real and tangible way, while we are separated.

We hope you will join us this Sunday—with whatever you have at hand—as we join our hearts as a community in the celebration of the sacrament of Communion.

“Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

Submitted by Ralph Milton

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
A thundercloud
And they’re going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
Ring the bells that still can ring (ring the bells that still can ring)
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in

My COVID-19 reading list

~Sharon Wilson

Be like Flockey, the Burke-Seethaler, and get reading! Send in the titles of books that have left a particular mark on you.

Thanks to my daughter’s kind gift of an e-reader several Christmases’ ago, I have been able to weather our current isolation with relative ease, at least as far as reading is concerned. I’m happy to curl up with a good or, only sort of good, book. My tastes run from Scandinavian Noir to biography, global politics to local history. This got me thinking: what is everyone reading in these days of pandemic?

As fate would have it, I was enjoying a delightful journey through the life of Florence Nightingale on the two hundredth anniversary of her birth. Heart and Soul by Gena Gorrell uncovers the complicated life of this woman who has gained almost mythic proportions for most of us. Rather than the serene lady of the lamp that remains the focus of her popular legend Gorrell reveals a determined, often caustic, woman.

Nightingale’s remarkable accomplishments in the creation of the nursing profession and the Red Cross came at great personal cost and more than a few outlandish financial arrangements. In so many ways, her life exposed the contradictions of the traditional roles of women in her time and her burning ambition to change the world. This is an old story that benefits from fresh eyes.

I am a great fan of Karen Armstrong. This British writer and educator has dozens of books to her name: The Case for God, Twelve Steps to a More Compassionate Life, and The Great Transformation to name only a few. One dreary late March day I loaded The Spiral Staircase on my e-reader.

This is Armstrong’s second effort to try and reflect on her life journey, particularly her transition out of the convent, away from God and, ultimately, back to something deeply spiritual but different. Her questions about the institutional church resonated with me on so many levels. Why must we accept what makes no sense in order to be a ‘good’ Christian?

Threaded through this memoir is also the revelation that Armstrong struggled her whole life with undiagnosed epilepsy. Reading why her symptoms were ignored and dismissed offers a frightening treatise on the notion of Christian obedience. This is a deep and thought-provoking book but not a struggle to read. It’s Karen Armstrong at her best.

Finally, if there is any suggestion that I only ready intellectual tomes let me disavow that notion with my third selection: Albatross by Canadian writer Terry Fallis. I had great fun reading this fiction/fantasy book about a high school senior who is blessed with the perfect physiology to play golf, even though he’s never touched a club. It’s a fun romp through his scholarship years at Stanford University, his win at the Masters and most of the other major golf tournaments in the world. There’s a fascinating back story about an obsession with fountain pens which I understand completely.

?Throw in a bit of international intrigue, a long unfolding love story and, in true Canadian fashion, the victory of good over evil and you’ve got yourself a near perfect diversion from social distancing and ceaseless hand washing! While I had to suspend belief as I read about this character’s extraordinary accomplishments at golf, I was left wondering what it would be like if researchers could actually determine the precise physical attributes to succeed effortlessly at any sport. This is a light, fun read and you can feel patriotic devouring this CanLit gem.

So, what are you reading?