Monday, 15 November 2021

Lest I Forget...

 Lest I Forget...


One of the things I’ve noticed about getting older is that I think about the past a lot more than I used to. It’s not a nostalgic wish to return to the past or to relive it, but an active engagement with my own past. For instance, the recent death of the Tayler family matriarch, my 101-year-old Aunt Jeanne, has led to hours of poring over family photos. In particular, the discovery of a 1955 aerial view of my family’s Wellington-area farm (where I lived as a child) has opened the floodgate of memories. I plan to feature these photos in a future blog post. I’m not sure how I became official ‘keeper of the family photos’, but every family needs one.

 

For this blog post, however, I’m focusing on Remembrance Day and my annual rite of observance. When I was a child, attending Remembrance Day services was in my family DNA. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, military service was a tradition in my family, especially on my father’s side. November 11th was always observed with dignity and solemnity. As a Cub Scout and later a Boy Scout, I attended the Remembrance Day services at the Wellington War Memorial in uniform – and was proud of it. By osmosis, I came to appreciate my family’s involvement in both World Wars. In World War One, my Grandfather Tayler served in the Forestry Battalion of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment in northern France. In World War Two, my Uncle Mel died off the coast of Sierra Leone in a bomber crash; my father served in the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, performing duties with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Québec because a back injury prevented him from shipping overseas; my Aunt Jeanne served in the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF); and Uncle Homer, my mother’s brother, was a Spitfire pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in England.

 

So each year on November 11th, the family ghosts beckon me to bundle up, no matter how miserable the weather, and get myself to the closest cenotaph to pay my respects. It’s an annual rite of gratitude. 

 

It is not, however, an automatic or unthinking response. I have little time for the ‘My country, right or wrong’ crowd or for those who glorify war in the name of macho camaraderie. Such mindless bravado nauseates me. What I do respect, however, is the willingness of ordinary people to put their lives at risk in the service of their country. It infuriates me when military leaders use these people to bolster their own egos and careers. And it especially infuriates me when governments don’t actively support members of the armed services when they return home. Their physical and psychological suffering can be immense. They deserve better than a token pat on the back once a year. 

 

So, when I attend a Remembrance Day service, I’m not there to glorify war or indulge in jingoism. I’m there to say ‘thank you’ to the people who stepped forward when needed, especially the precious members of my own family.

 

The photos:

I made the two photos above on November 11 this year at the Picton Remembrance Day service. The first features the carved name of my Uncle, Melvin Tayler, on the commemorative altar at the Picton Cenotaph. The red maple leaf is a photo I made while walking home from the service. The photos below come from a moving visit that Bill and I made to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on March 25, 2019.

 

Thank you for reading this post.

 

Until next month, stay safe.





Eternal Flame, Australian War Memorial, Canberra



Indigenous soldier, Private Alfred Coombs (centre), 60th Australian Battalion, training with his mates in England, 1916.
Unknown Photographer


Myra Harvey (centre) and other family members, Hyde Park, Sydney, await arrival of returning troops, 1919.
Unknown Photographer.


Driver Charles Eldridge (front, in shirt) with other recently released Australian Prisoners of War outside Singapore's infamous Changi Gaol, 1945.
Unknown Photographer.


Melvin Tayler's name is among the armed service members from Wellington who died in World War Two. It appears on the commemorative altar in front of the Picton Cenotaph. Uncle Mel was a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, serving with the Royal Air Force 95 Squadron. He died when the bomber he was navigating crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone, on November 28, 1942. His gravestone is in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Freetown. 










Wednesday, 13 October 2021

A Tribute to Jeanne Hamel


Jeanne Hamel

June 17, 1920 – September 27, 2021

 

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

Housed as they are in the same body.

From “We Shake With Joy”

by Mary Oliver, from Evidence (1990)

 

My blog post this month is focused on Jeanne Hamel – my fabulous Aunt Jeanne – who died peacefully late last month in Scarborough at the age of 101.

 

Imagine that – 101 years old and living a vibrant, engaged life right up to the end. In an August phone call with me, she had gleefully described her strategy for not getting any more speeding tickets on Toronto’s busy Highway 404. (“I stick to the centre lane because it’s harder to nab me there!”)

 

Although this blog post is primarily about Aunt Jeanne, it is also about me. From my earliest memories, Aunt Jeanne has been a radiant part of my life. After my parents died in the late 1990s, she took over as my mother figure. I am feeling her death as keenly as I did their deaths.

 

Aunt Jeanne, aka Rachel Jeanne Hamel, was the youngest child of Norah and Garnet Tayler. She was born in 1920 on the Tayler family farm – now owned by the Sztuke family and called Mink Island Farm – on the shores of West Lake in Prince Edward County near Wellington. (See the gallery of Mink Island Farm photos at the end.) Aunt Jeanne’s older brother, Melvin, was born in 1913. He died in 1942 when the bomber he was navigating crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Her middle sibling, Douglas (my father), was born in 1916 and died in 1997.

 

From Aunt Jeanne’s recollections, she led a happy rural childhood, actively engaged with the farm’s chicken hatchery, garden, and field crops. The entire family was involved in the life of the Wellington Methodist Church (later Wellington United Church after church union in 1925). The family farm included most of the island – Mink Island – across the lake from the farm, so she had many adventures rowing and swimming to the island, as well as camping there. Her brothers teased her mercilessly (her word) – and “I loved almost every minute of it.”

 

For her entire life, she had a sharp, inquisitive mind. After completing high school, she attended the Macdonald Institute in Guelph, graduating with a diploma in home economics at the beginning of World War Two. (The Macdonald Institute became part of the newly formed University of Guelph in 1964.) Following the family tradition of military service, she joined the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and became part of a precision marching squad that toured Canada to raise money for War Bonds. It was when she was stationed at RCAF Base Mountain View (in Prince Edward County) that she met her future husband, Will Hamel. They married after the war and lived in Wellington, not far from the family farm. They had one child, my delightful cousin Norah, and moved to Scarborough in 1961. Aunt Jeanne became actively involved in Knob Hill United Church, where she met Ruth Ledsham, the woman who became her dearest friend for sixty years. 

 

It was with Ruth that Aunt Jeanne drove across Canada several times to explore the natural beauty and wilderness of our country, especially after Uncle Will’s death in 1997. Together, they walked long sections of the Trans-Canada Trail. They even spent a week in England, after Aunt Jeanne – an inveterate free contest enthusiast – had won a week’s vacation in London. Sadly, Ruth died recently, a month before Aunt Jeanne’s death. They remained travelling companions to the end...and beyond.

 

Aunt Jeanne was always a ‘doer’ – she just jumped into her community and got involved. She ran Cub Scout packs, taught swimming and skating, volunteered with Community Living in Scarborough, and generally made herself useful. (“Because that’s what you do!”) When she and Uncle Will bought a condo near the Scarborough Bluffs in the mid-1970s, she joined West Hill United Church, where she remained a much-beloved member until her death.

 

One of the great gifts that West Hill United Church gave her was an avid and informed interest in Progressive Christianity. Under the inspired leadership of West Hill’s dynamic minister, Gretta Vosper, Aunt Jeanne and the entire congregation embarked on a far-reaching (and, for some, controversial) re-evaluation of what it meant to be Christian and what it meant to be church. It was in this process that Aunt Jeanne became a devotee of the American Episcopal theologian John Shelby Spong. I recall many satisfying and challenging discussions with Aunt Jeanne about Spong’s books, his critique of Christian orthodoxies, and his honouring of lesbian, gay, and queer people. She derived impish delight in upsetting traditional Christian complacency, taking to heart the advice of the early 20th century American journalist Finley Peter Dunne “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” 

 

She developed a strong conviction that you could not be both Christian and complacent at the same time.

 

Aunt Jeanne was one of the first people in my family to whom I came out in 1983. Her unconditional love and encouragement – way, way beyond mere acceptance – were important in my early days as an openly gay man. As in so many other things, she gave me strength and courage. When my first husband, Spencer, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2011, she gave me a safe space for bashing through my grief, anger, and tears. When Spencer decided to have an assisted death in Switzerland in 2012, she was fully supportive. And when I met my future second husband, Bill, in  2013, Aunt Jeanne was once again enormously supportive. I’ll never forget what she said to me after she met Bill for the first time: “You’ve been through enough, Larry. HE’S the one! Grab him!” And I did.

 

A singularly important part of my relationship with Aunt Jeanne was our Sunday morning telephone calls. And it was all because of my dad. After I moved to Toronto in 1984, I began phoning dad in Picton on Sunday mornings just to check in and to stay connected. For the next thirteen years, until he died in 1997, the tradition of talking with dad on Sunday mornings took root in my life. Soon after he died, Aunt Jeanne drew me aside one day and said, “Look, you’re going to miss talking with your dad on Sunday mornings. Why don’t you start calling me instead?” And thus began a tradition that lasted 24 years. Wherever I was in the world on a Sunday morning, I would phone Aunt Jeanne, at precisely 8:05 am Toronto time, and we would talk for at least an hour, often longer. By my estimate, we talked for about 1300 hours in total – yet we never seemed to run out of things to say. She took particular delight when I phoned her from the cabin that Bill and I rented in Tasmania’s Huon Valley – where it was almost midnight – and I would set up the phone so she could hear the soft nighttime chorus of the Tasmanian bush. 

 

My logical mind knew that these Sunday morning calls with Aunt Jeanne couldn’t go on forever. After all, when you’re 101 years old, at some point time catches up with you. But her death took my breath away and leaves an Aunt-Jeanne-sized hole in my life. 

 

How I miss those Sunday morning calls. And how I miss Aunt Jeanne.

 

Thank you for reading this tribute to Aunt Jeanne. I hope you enjoy the photos of the former Tayler family farm. I recorded most of them on July 29, 2019, while happily wandering the farm with my camera. The exceptions are the last two photos, which I made on September 19, 2020, on the occasion of the memorial celebration for the life of Peter Sztuke at Mink Island Farm.

 

I will finish up this post the same way I began – with a quotation from the poet Mary Oliver.

 

...I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

From “The Summer Day”

by Mary Oliver, from House of Light (1990)


 












Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Navigating Ambiguity

  

“We live the given life, and not the planned.”

- Wendell Berry

This Day/Collected & New Sabbath Poems

(Counterpoint Press, 2013, Page 150, “III/Ye must be born again.”)

 

Dear Readers,

 

It has been almost a year since I stopped posting weekly updates to this blog. Last September, my husband, Bill, and I had just moved back to Prince Edward County and, while I was exhilarated about being back home in The County, my energy for writing blog posts had dried up. I had been posting regularly since 2016 and had simply run out of ideas. Instead of being a delight, the blog had become a drain. So – I decided to take a few weeks off, which morphed into a few months, which morphed into a year. 

 

And such a year it has been.

 

First, there was the COVID rollercoaster that we’ve all experienced. 

 

Then Bill had significant health challenges. It started with the removal of his gall bladder on Christmas Eve in Belleville and galloped along with a diagnosis of liver cancer in January. The culmination was a miraculous liver transplant in Toronto at the end of July. (With eternally grateful thanks to Kate, Bill’s daughter, for donating part of her liver to save his life.) Both of them are making excellent progress and are healing beautifully. 

 

Finally, in late August I celebrated my 75th birthday. Woohoo! I’m now three-quarters of a century old! (My dear 101-year-old Aunt Jeanne put this milestone into perspective by saying that I still had a long way to go...) To celebrate my birthday, I treated myself to a new SONY a7III camera. My previous camera, with many thousands of photos under its shutter, was simply wearing out. 

 

So now, a year later, I’ve decided to start posting to my blog again. Instead of weekly posts, however, I’m planning to post monthly. I want to keep the experience fresh and creative and not post merely for the sake of posting.

 

The current plan (subject to the usual caveats, asterisks, and advice from Doctor Tam) is to feature one of my photos per post and reflect on its circumstances and impact. At the end of each post, I’ll include a gallery of my recent photos.

 

Navigating Ambiguity

 


This month’s photo is entitled “Covert Hands”. Using my new camera, I recorded it near Old City Hall on Bay Street in Toronto on Thursday, September 2, 2021. Bill and I were walking down Bay Street towards Union Station to catch a VIA train home after Bill’s early morning appointment at the Toronto General Hospital Transplant Unit. As soon as I saw this park bench scene, I knew I had to photograph it. I made six photos, getting closer with each photo. In the first five photos, this person’s hands were not visible. Only as I clicked the shutter for the last one did the hands suddenly appear. A second later, they just as quickly disappeared. Bill and I then continued walking down Bay Street – I never did see the person’s face. The whole episode took maybe fifteen seconds.

 

I love the photo...and I have no idea about what is happening. 

 

Which brings me to navigating ambiguity. 

 

I have often said that some of my favourite photographs are ambiguous and have no clear storyline. You can project onto them an infinity of scenarios, all of them simultaneously valid and wildly inaccurate. There are no privileged interpretations – just a glorious multitude of possibilities. The very nature of ambiguity is that you don’t know for sure about something – all you have is your intuition, aka, your gut instincts.

 

I struggle with ambiguity, despite my appreciation of it in photographs. Where ambiguity gnaws away at me is when I worry about my health or the health of my loved ones. Or about grandchildren. Or about finances. Or about the planet. Or about my carefully conceived plans that suddenly go sideways. 

 

From my privileged position as a well-resourced white man, these anxieties pale when compared to the harsh realities faced by many on our planet. But they are my anxieties, and to me they are real, and they do keep me up at night. And what is most worrisome is that they can be neither resolved quickly nor easily. 

 

When my worrying mind threatens to overwhelm me, I have to gently but firmly nudge it back to the present, count my blessings, vow never to become complacent about my life, and then – forgive the cliché – simply get on with things. 

 

As the gifted American poet Wendell Berry says, “We live the given life, not the planned.”

 

When I look at this photo, I see ambiguity: joyfullness and challenge; blessings and burdens; security and flux. Just like life.

 

To be continued.

 

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you find it engaging and that you enjoy the photos that follow. 

 

Until next time.

 

LT

 

Photo Gallery


In front of Toronto City Hall,
1 September 2021


House on Curtis Street, Picton
2 September 2021


Wellington Market
4 September 2021


Connon's Nursery, Bayside
4 September 2021


Connon's Nursery, Bayside
4 September 2021


Long Point/Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory
6 September 2021


Long Point/Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory,
6 September 2021


Buchanan Avenue, Picton
7September 2021


Twig (4 cm) brought into our home by Otis, our long-haired miniature Dachshund, 
9 September 2021
(Photoshopped!)

Larry Tayler Photography

Picton, Ontario

LarryTayler.com




















Monday, 1 February 2021

Sacred Pauses & Healing Ritual


On Sunday, January 31, 2021, I gave the following presentation (via Zoom) to the members of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Picton, Ontario. It was a privilege and an honour to once again share my thoughts with the good people of St. Andrew's. I thank the Reverend Lynne Donovan for her friendship and support.


Sacred Pauses & Healing Ritual

A Pre-Lenten Reflection by Larry Tayler

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church

Picton, Ontario

31 January 2021

Reading Time: 30 minutes (approximately)

 

Lilacs In September

by Katha Pollitt

Shocked to the root

like the lilac bush

in the vacant lot

by the hurricane – 

 

whose black branch split

by wind or rain

has broken out

unseasonably

 

into these scant ash-

colored blossoms

lifted high

as if to say

to passersby,

 

What will unleash

itself in you

when your storm comes?

 

Let me repeat that last line:

 

What will unleash

itself in you

when your storm comes?

 

We’re about to start Lent, that forty-day period when Christians traditionally prepare themselves for Easter. It is an opportunity to ponder the central paradox of Christianity: that from the shock and despair following the death of Jesus on Good Friday comes hope and renewal at His resurrection three days later. It embraces both our experience of mortality and our hopes for eternity. It is a time to mourn loss and embrace rebirth, to wait and hope, to relinquish and receive, but mostly to pause. Sacred pausing. And it is a time to pray and perform ritual. Healing ritual. 

 

Thus the title of this presentation, Sacred Pauses & Healing Ritual

 

During the last year, we have been living through very strange times indeed. The COVID pandemic has disrupted the very fibre of our lives. In fact, I considered calling this presentation, Lent in the Time of COVID & COVID in the Time of Lent. It has been a time of profound dislocation and isolation. We have all hit the pause button on our lives, our assumptions, and our expectations. And, we have also been handed a gift – the opportunity to consider that, while the suspension of norms we once took for granted can be painful, it is also an opening for renewal and transformation. Consider for a moment how the pandemic, with all its sufferings and challenges, has stimulated the global scientific community to co-operate in extraordinary ways to speed the creation of vaccinations that are countering the virus. This co-operative legacy promises to serve humanity abundantly in the decades ahead. In other words, from the depths of the pandemic has risen hope for the future. A paradox not unlike the paradox of Christianity itself. In the pauses – the sacred pauses – of this past year, we have not only experienced grievous wounds, we have also rethought how we live our lives. And in doing that, we have all improvised our own healing rituals to cope and create.

 

And thus back to the title, Sacred Pauses and Healing Ritual.

 

I use poetry to help me understand the world, especially when I’m confused, which is often these days, so let me reread the poem that I began with, Katha Pollitt’s Lilacs in September. Pollitt is an American poet and essayist. I met this poem in the pages of Emily Urquhart’s  recent book The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father, and Me, a tribute to her father, the Canadian artist Tony Urquhart. As I reread it, I hope you will detect the rhythms and themes that I am exploring today.


Lilacs In September

by Katha Pollitt

Shocked to the root

like the lilac bush

in the vacant lot

by the hurricane – 

 

whose black branch split

by wind or rain

has broken out

unseasonably

 

into these scant ash-

colored blossoms

lifted high

as if to say

to passersby,

 

What will unleash

itself in you

when your storm comes?

 

“What will unleash itself in you when your storm comes?” What a deliciously provocative question! It does not ask if there will be a storm; it simply states that there will be one. Furthermore, it will not be just any storm – it will be your storm, a unique storm, tailored to your unique circumstances, vulnerabilities, and fears. And the poem does not ask if your individual storm will unleash anything inside you; once again, it simply states that something will be unleashed. And there is no adjective describing this something that will be unleashed in you – it could run the emotional gamut from anguished to zealous.

 

So, please join me in exploring these Lenten, pandemic times by focusing on sacred pauses and healing ritual. 

 

Let’s start with Sacred Pauses.

 

The concept of pausing is an important feature of many faith traditions. As the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says, “When we pause, [we] allow a gap and breathe deeply. We can experience instant refreshment. Suddenly, we slow down, look out, and there’s the world.”

 

I first became aware of sacred pauses from the Melbourne lawyer and human rights advocate, Nyadol Nyuon, who was interviewed in September, 2020, by Meredith Lake on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program Soul Search. Ms. Nyuon, whose family arrived in Australia as refugees in 2005 after having fled civil war in Sudan, spoke to Dr. Lake about what it was like to go from being a much-sought-after international speaker and consultant to being locked down in Melbourne with her family at the beginning of the pandemic. 

 

Here’s what Ms. Nyuon wrote about that experience in a subsequent Guardian essay:

 

“What I want to salvage from the wreck left by this pandemic is a fresh point of view and a new way of life. I am borrowing the idea that this...is a ‘sacred pause’. I do not want to return to the rush of my life as it was before the plague. [This] is an opportunity to rebuild a life...to re-examine our lives while the noise of the world has turned down. Perhaps now we can hear whatever it is that our inner voice has been struggling to tell us as it tried to compete with the buzz of a busy life in a busy world...We can now weigh up what truly belongs and what can be left in the life before the plague.”

 

The concept of sacred pauses has a long history, both as a spiritual practice and a secular tool, for re-evaluating and re-assessing the direction of our lives. 

 

Observant Muslims, for example, have five sacred pauses every day to pray and stay connected with God – dawn; midday; afternoon; sunset; and nighttime. 

 

The late Benedictine nun Sister Macrina Wiederkehr wrote in her 2008 book, Seven Sacred Pauses/Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day, that by consciously pausing seventimes each day to examine what we are doing – and asking ourselves how what we are doing is contributing to our well being – we would be raising our self-awareness, while also caring for the wider community. 

 

Sister Macrina’s seven sacred daily pauses are:

 

•        Dawn – The Awakening Hour

•        Mid-Morning – The Blessing Hour

•        Noon – The Hour of Illumination

•        Mid-Afternoon – The Wisdom Hour

•        Evening – The Twilight Hour

•        Bedtime – The Great Silence

•        After Midnight – The Night Watch

 

The psychologist Tara Brach wrote in a December, 2014, Psychology Today article entitled The Sacred Pause that when we consciously place such pauses in our days, we are taking the first step towards what she calls, “Radical Acceptance” – acceptance of both ourselves and our circumstances. When we resume our activities, we do so with increased self-awareness and ability to make choices.

 

Here’s Dr. Brach’s description of that process:

 

“...Often the moment when we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so. Pausing in a fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by sorrow or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do. Pausing can feel like falling helplessly through space – we have no idea what will happen...Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to [be] open to whatever arises.”

 

Let me repeat that paragraph, because it touches on many powerful themes:

 

“...Often the moment when we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so. Pausing in a fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by sorrow or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do. Pausing can feel like falling helplessly through space – we have no idea what will happen...Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to [be] open to whatever arises.”

 

Interestingly, most of the sources I consulted about sacred pauses don’t define their understanding of the word ‘sacred’. For the purposes of this presentation, here’s my working definition of sacred:

 

Sacred is the quality that transforms our lived experience into a wider awareness, an awareness that we are all connected with each other and to higher power – what I choose to call God. It is that transcendent quality that transports us beyond ourselves to a more welcoming and expansive consciousness. 

 

Let me repeat that. Sacred is the quality that transforms our lived experience into a wider awareness, an awareness that we are all connected with each other and to higher power – what I choose to call God. It is that transcendent quality that transports us beyond ourselves to a more welcoming and expansive consciousness. 

 

It is not a huge leap to extend this concept of sacred pauses beyond daily observations to include all-embracing re-assessments of our lives, our relationships, and our broader world. Which means that such pauses are ideally suited for times when the scope of our lives has been narrowed. In other words, times such as now, when the Lenten season and the COVID season coincide. Some might say collide. And some might even say collude.

 

One of the most intriguing characteristics of sacred pauses is that they frequently have rituals attached to them, either external rituals created by faith communities, or micro-scaled internal rituals that we create for ourselves. In this next section, I want to explore not only ritual, specifically healing ritual, but also the connection between ritual and sacred pauses. 

 

Let me start with an anecdote. Bill, my quilt-making husband, and I have been married for seven years. Before we met eight years ago, both of us had lost beloved husbands to devastating illness. As Bill so eloquently phrased it when we started exploring a relationship, “There will always be four of us in the room.” So, there is a strong spiritual element in our relationship, which for me is one of its great strengths. That spiritual element often manifests itself during dinner. We rarely eat breakfast or lunch together, but having a shared meal at the end of the day has become a tradition. For me, it is both a sacred pause and a healing ritual. We typically eat around 7:30 and it’s usually at least an hour before we finish – the meal and the conversation. At the end of September last year, shortly after we had moved back to Prince Edward County, we had a particularly thought-provoking discussion. It got started when I talked about how I had adapted my morning habits to life in our new home – waking up, feeding the animals, cleaning the litter box, emptying the dishwasher, reading some poetry, and so forth. After breakfast, I brew a really strong double dose of espresso and read The Globe & Mail. That’s what many mornings look like for me. Bill was of the opinion – and I hope I’m not putting words into his mouth – that maybe these morning habits had become a tad – um – inflexible. And I understand how my behaviour can be interpreted that way. From my side of the table, however, these behaviours aren’t so much inflexible habits as they are comfortable rhythms. They help me get my day started. They give me a framework. I’ve always been an anticipator and a planner – ‘future focused’, as a teaching colleague once gently observed. These morning routines release my mind to think and wander and explore while I’m doing other things. And despite looking fixed and unchanging, they do, in fact, morph and adapt. 

 

As this conversation with Bill about habit and routine continued, it took a remarkable turn: I realized that if I saw these habits and routines as ritual, I was also reframing them as sacred. Not a bad dinner conversation to have with your husband!

 

By reframing our lives and actions as sacred, we honour the divine spark within ourselves and within others. Thus, the journey from habit, to routine, to ritual puts us on a divine path – a healing path – and puts us in divine company – healing company. Thus, healing ritual. The kind of rituals that get me through the rough spots, the times when I don’t know what to do. My rituals help me put one foot in front of the other. They help give me a short-term sense of direction and purpose that allows my mind to quietly work in the background resetting the larger compass of my life. They connect me to an immediate, practical reality that does not disappear simply because I’m troubled. There’s something about having Edna, our sixty-pound Basset Hound, nuzzle my eye socket first thing in the morning because she needs to pee that transcends all other considerations. Edna brings an exquisite sense of ‘NOW!’ to my life. She is a powerful reminder that the world beyond my own life calls on me to get out of bed and do the things I need to do in the service of my loved ones and my community. I’ll cycle back to the larger dilemmas that are troubling me later after my subconscious has had a chance to work on them. Meanwhile, I’ve got a Basset Hound to walk!

 

So, yes, walking Edna is a healing ritual. Emptying the dishwasher is a healing ritual. Cleaning the kitty litter box is a healing ritual. These actions put me in touch with a reality beyond myself. They heal me while simultaneously giving my soul the breathing space it needs to ponder the larger issues of life. 

 

Joseph Campbell, the wonderfully wise philosopher and mythologist, said it much more elegantly:

 

“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. By participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual...you are being... reminded of the wisdom of your own life.”

 

What a brilliant definition of healing ritual – “being reminded of the wisdom of your own life.”

 

Which brings me to one very specific healing ritual I want to commend to you. It is a healing ritual that embodies sacred pause. It embraces both Lenten tradition and COVID experience. It allows us to grieve what we have lost and reclaim hope for the future. 

 

The healing ritual I commend to you is the sabbatical. The word has its origins in the Hebrew word shabbāth, meaning ‘rest’. The Bible is very clear about telling us to come to a halt regularly and to rest. Exodus, Chapter 34, verse 21: “Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day, you shall rest.” The Bible takes this day of rest very seriously indeed. Exodus, Chapter 31, verse 15 states sternly, “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” Think about that the next time you do laundry or mow the lawn on a Sunday!

 

The Bible commands us to call a halt, regularly and completely. The season of Lent is a perfect time for us to do that – and so is the season of COVID. Both seasons provide us with the opportunity to reflect on what is happening in our lives: to acknowledge and tend our wounds; to recognize and celebrate our accomplishments; to accept and work through our shortcomings; to treasure and share our joys; and to make loving, conscious assessments about where our lives are and to make equally loving, conscious choices about where to go next.

 

So – I am commending to you this challenge: that you reframe your experience of COVID and of Lent as a personal sabbatical – a sacred pause and a healing ritual.

 

Let me finish by reading The Facts of Life, a poem by the Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. It is rich in the themes of both sacred pause and healing ritual. 

 

The Facts of Life

by Pádraig Ó Tuama

 

That you were born

and you will die.

 

That you will sometimes love enough

and sometimes not.

 

That you will lie

if only to yourself.

 

That you will get tired.

 

That you will learn most from the situations

you did not choose.

 

That there will be some things that move you

more than you can say.

 

That you will live

that you must be loved.

 

That you will avoid questions most urgently in need of

your attention.

 

That you began as the fusion of a sperm and an egg

of two people who once were strangers

and may well still be.

 

That life isn’t fair.

That life is sometimes good

and sometimes better than good.

 

That life is real

and if you can survive it, well,

survive it well

with love

and art

and meaning given

where meaning [is] scarce.

 

That you will learn to live with regret.

That you will learn to live with respect.

 

That the structures that constrict you

may not be permanently constricting.

 

That you will probably be okay.

 

That you must accept change

before you die

but you will die anyway.

 

So you might as well live

and you might as well love.

You might as well love.

You might as well love.

 

Thank you.