Comforting Words: 01/2005

Friday, January 28, 2005

"X-Rated" Existence

There are times in life when you have to make choices based on what some call principle. Personally, I prefer to describe such decisions as life-choices. Recently I had to make such a life-choice – having to do with whether to stay on a job to pay my bills or leave and help keep the integrity of all women.

Again, like the life-choice not to jump for joy when Martha Stewart was indicted, this decision was not made from some noble place of my heart, nor was it made because I am a prude or some moralizing fanatic. I decided not to be a facilitator of the objectification of women as one small step to keep my personal integrity and that of my daughter and to do my part to end this type of abuse against women.

Each of us, men and women alike, has that power. All it requires is a commitment to doing your small part in your small corner. If each of us out of concern for our daughters, wives, sisters, neighbours and lovers took persistent action, there would be a movement, a change in attitude. By taking one initial step and continually renewing our commitment to full equality, women will eventually win their rightful and respectful place in societies across the world.

This might not happen in this lifetime but this cannot deter us from trying. Truth is we cannot afford to pretend that the sexual objectification of women is not expanding and even exploding, carrying with it children especially those in difficult circumstances.

The media report an increase in the numbers of women and children being trafficked across borders for the sex trade. The cold truth is, if there was not a demand, especially in North America, the trade would have dried up.

This is not a call to start a religious or moralistic war against people who desire to have their “fun.” Sex is a beautiful thing, an act to be encouraged and cherished between two consenting and adult partners. My urging is for you to be a part of the solution and help women and children around the globe, who are continuously exploited for the “fun” of a few.

I invite you to share these Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart, and then see how you can effect personal and communal change to women's “X-rated Existence.”


From the Unification Church:

Sun Myung Moon, 3-20-77

“Violating and misusing love is the greatest of all crimes. Abusing love is a greater crime than cutting the universal root of life (murder).”

From Jainism:

Acarangastura 2.61

“A wise man has nothing to do with lust. Lust is nothing but death, and lack of it is serenity. How can one who perceives this indulge in wanton behaviour?”

From Judeo-Christianity:

1 Thessalonians 4: 4 – 5:

“. . . That each one of you knows how to control your own body in holiness and honour, not with lustful passion . . .”

(Excerpt from the Unification Church and Jainism taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 335


Make no mistake I love sex just as much as anyone else does.

The issues I have with sex has very little to do with the act itself which I consider to be the most intimate form of expression of love. In fact, for years, I have explored ways to ‘expand’ my sexual horizons with my partner of almost 15 years. In that search, tantric sex has caught my attention and I have wanted to attend a workshop or two with my partner whose resistance to the idea, as we get older, is gradually waning.

Through sex and therefore through our bodies we share at the most intimate level of our existence who we are. I remember a workshop facilitator saying to a group of us women that through the sexual act we share another’s consciousness and therefore we should take care what we allow into the core of our being. This was an awesome revelation for me, though I was about 30 years old and had gone around the block a few times.

Recently, a co-worker asked me, while slowly turning the pages of a glossy magazines, why publishers feel a need to tell people how to achieve an orgasm. Though she found my response that many women have never had an orgasm hard to believe, her comeback was, “And so what if they don’t?”

While I do not believe that each sexual act must culminate in this fashion, it is a telling tale that many women never had the experience (other than when eating chocolate). My unqualified explanation of this is that sex has lost its real meaning and has become another trick in the trade. The trade being the pretence that our intimate lives and relationships are meaningful and life enhancing.

Many women still exist under the notion that their bodies are “means of production” – of children and sexual machines for men, while others, sadly, regard their bodies as a “means to an end.” In my youthful days, some girls were admonished to “keep yourself pure” for a husband as the primary purpose of their existence. Others, and I include myself in this latter group, were taught that men only wanted one thing from women and, knowing this, we therefore must exact as much as we can from them in return.

Whichever school of thought one evolved from, the bottom line was men ruled (and continue to do so to this day). This meant that the female body is primarily for the sexual pleasure and/or appeasement of men (gods). Little has changed in this sexual power structure even with the academic and professional progress women have made. Dressed in a business suit or bikini, the female body is still an object to be ravished not savored. This is evident in pornographic magazines and movies, on the Internet and even on the sides of buses.

Never before did I appreciate the connection between female orgasm and respect of the female body until my now former co-worker posed the question about glossy magazines. Then I understood that as long as the female body is viewed as a means to an end, to satisfy lust, women would never be respected as equal human beings.

In the absence of deep respect, love, cherishing and a desire on the part of a man to share his whole self the, sexual act will be to the detriment of the woman and that act will be unfulfilling. This is what Sun Myung Moon rightly describes as “the greatest of all crimes” and murder.

For the sexual act to be mutually fulfilling and life enhancing, far more is required than mechanics. A total sharing of consciousness, of spirit is necessary to make the sexual act life enhancing. Tantra, rather than being libertine, offers great insight into this aspect of sexuality.

I left my part-time job largely because I did not want to be selling pornographic magazines that help to perpetuate the notion that women are sexual objects. Though I would do well with loosing a few pounds (and have joined Spa Lady to do just that)I consider my body sacred. The same is true of my sisters (and their children) everywhere in the world.

The sex for sale in pornographic magazines while offering temporary release of “lustful passion,” is not my idea of sacred sex. To be an indirect link in the distribution of pornography would undermine not only my sacredness but that of women everywhere. Any action, whether professional, religious or academic, which belies the truth about the female body, minimizing our God-given form to something to be mindlessly pounded over or used is not my idea of equality and dignity.

Pretension at holiness is not something that I do well. However, the decision to leave a job that is indirectly part of the sex trade, trafficking women and children across the globe for the sexual fantasy and violation of North American men, is not honouring my journey.

I could not sell my sisters across the world, my daughter or myself for a few hundred dollars. My action is not earth shattering, but it is an essential part of sharing my consciousness through my work and my sexuality. Another job will come along.

What will you do?


Wake me up from my slumber dear Divine.
How can I sleep when others are aching?
Strengthen me to make a change,
In a world where pain dominates.

Uplift me so that I can make a difference.
How can I be oblivious when others hunger?
Order my steps to help another,
In a world where suffering endures.

Enliven me as I walk this path.
How can I be feeble when others are smarting?
Silence my fears as I do your will,
In a world where injustice prevails.

Humble me as I serve my sisters.
How can I rejoice when my brothers are struggling?
Heal my wounds so I carry the message,
In a world where love seems misplaced.

Blessings, until next week.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Martha's Vineyard

She and I have a very little in common, except for the obvious fact that we are both women. Despite all that separates our world, I could not help but empathize with her. It is hard for me to imagine having that much wealth at my disposal, even harder for me to think about living in the spotlight as she does – even from her cell.

Martha Stewart is a self-made woman – in as much as she built her earthly empire with the sweat of her blood. When she was indicted in 2003, I was not among the thousands, possibly millions of people who cheered and jeered her. “How the mighty has fallen!” they said.

Admittedly, my empathy did not come from some noble place in my heart. Rather, for a brief moment I walked in Martha’s shoes. I became a millionairess in seconds, driving through the posh and not so posh streets of the United States, ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and drinking champagne with the rich and famous. In that moment, I realized the fear and anxiety she must have experienced when a different bell tolled and said to myself, “I would not want to be her.”

Martha’s story is the story of all of us, including the scenes where people are seemingly clamouring for her downfall. It is a story, which must cause each of us to ask ourselves – “What is my relationship with money?”

I invite you to explore this question with me through the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart. Those of us who are like Martha and those of us who wished we had even half of her monetary wealth, let us examine our hearts to see whether we could live in “Martha’s Vineyard.”


From the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

Ecclesiates 5:10

“The lover of money will not be satisfied with money, nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This is also vanity.”

From Taoism:

Chuang Tzu 14

“He who considers wealth a good thing can never bear to give up his income; he who considers eminence a good thing can never bear to give up his fame. He who has a taste for power can never bear to hand over authority to others. Holding tight to these things, such men shiver with fear; should they let them go, they would pine in sorrow. They never stop for a moment of reflection, they never cease to gaze with greedy eyes – they are men punished by Heaven."

(Excerpt from Taoism taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 296


You would not understand my relief when a Minister of religion clarified for me that money is not the problem, rather it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. I had recently embarked on the journey to understanding my faith traditions and was wrestling with the issues that for years had prevented me from doing so.

One of those issues was money. The big question for me was how do I balance what Jesus said about blessed are the poor and the reality of not being able to pay my basic bills – rent, food, transportation, clothing and financing my child’s education.

For those of us who do not have a lot, money seems to be the key to happiness. When we see the lifestyle of the rich and famous like Martha Stewart, we become envious and want that life for ourselves. Reading the numerous account of broken life among the so-called celebrities one has to wonder though whether with all their wealth are these people really happy?

Up until a few years ago I thought Martha Stewart owned Martha’s Vineyard – a place to which her friends could vacation. You can therefore imagine how foolish I felt upon learning the truth! Yes, it is hard for me to admit this – but there is a Jessica Simpson in all of us!

Not all is lost however, as I came to a greater realization that my ignorance of U.S. geography held a valuable lesson. Martha Stewart is probably rich enough to own a good piece of that picturesque area of Massachusetts. Further, being the purveyor of fine living and dining, she probably would consider getting into the wine business someday. The lesson that I got from this connection however goes deeper.

Jesus also spoke about a vineyard owner in the gospel of Matthew. He tells a tale of a landowner who, needing labourers for his vineyard, went out five times to the town square and hired men who were idling. At the end of the day, this landowner paid each man the same wage although some worked for fewer hours than others did.

This caused a dispute, as those who were hired earlier thought they would receive more. The owner of the vineyard we could say was taken aback by this as he had honoured what he agreed to pay them and then generously decided to pay the same amount to those who came on last. He said, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt 20:15)

The Martha Stewarts of this world have much in common with this vineyard owner. They have property and great wealth. They have the ability to hire many and affect the economic and social lives of communities through their entrepreneurship. They determine wages and benefits they will offer and sign contracts binding them to keep their end of the bargain and for the most part, they do. The practice in corporate America and anywhere in the world however is “last in first out” and the ‘junior’ members of staff are paid less.

That is where the similarities between the landowner of Matthew 20 and the Martha Stewarts of our societies end. The landowner in Jesus’ story is God and God is an equal opportunity employer in every sense of the word. God is also a generous employer, seeing the need of the community rather than focussing on His/Her bottom line.

In this story, God did not place an ad in the paper but personally went out, not once but five times, to take people off the streets. At the end of the ‘work day’, each person is paid equally – from God’s bounty and generosity, not from man’s idea of proportional pay for proportional work.

This approach does not make sense to most of us. We would try to save a buck and pay the people hired for fewer hours less. We pay by the hour and not from any generous attempt to alleviate poverty. We see money as an instrument of privilege and something to be amassed and hoarded for our personal pleasure. The more money we have the more privilege we expect to be extended to us by others. In our giving, we do so in a fashion that people take notice and praise our ‘kindness’. We expect the people who receive from us to feel privileged that we gave to them.

God, the vineyard owner in Jesus’ story does the opposite. God does not try save a buck and pay according to hours worked only. We could say that as God ‘knows’ there is no lack and so freely pays from a generous place where there is no need to hoard or store. Jesus’ told this story to describe what he called the kingdom of heaven where all are equal. He illustrates that there is no need to hoard and generosity is shown to people in need – not because a tax break is involved.

The vineyard has its own meaning. The fruit of the vine is symbolic of life. The labourers are toiling for life. We satisfy many of our basic needs in life through money. The landowner in this story recognizes this and shares to sustain the life of not just those who worked for longer hours but all who were unemployed.

Money is also a symbol of our relationship with the Divine. According to Eric Butterworth, money is not the object of life’s search for meaning, it is merely a symbol of our relationship with universal substance. Herein is the connection to what Jesus said in the Beatitudes. I stopped short in reading the first verse and did not see the real implication of his words to the disciples.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” Finally, I understood that Jesus was not suggesting that to attain the kingdom of heaven one needs to intentionally remain in economic poverty. The “poor in spirit” are blessed because of their humility before the Divine and willingness to toil for their own and the lives of everyone.

The "poor in spirit" are willing to do what Chuang Tzu says and hand over authority to others, loosen their hold on material wealth. They share easily and are generous to others despite how much or how little money they have. The "poor in spirit" are those who have no need to hoard and try to get the biggest bang for their buck no matter what.

The financially wealthy like Martha or those who are poor and homeless, are owners of personal vineyards and each must seek to nurture the best fruit. This is achieved not by being in love with money, but by poverty in spirit – therein we find happiness.

That is the lesson to be learnt.


Strengthen me this day dear God,
As I toil to clear the pathway home.
There is a mission with my name
Boldly emblazoned on it,
Masked only by my spiritual amnesia.

But with vigour and fortitude,
With the power of your name
I move towards my calling.

Dull my ears to the worldly noise
Threatening to bring me to heel.
Stretch my resolve to serve.

Strengthen my muscles to do the work.
Teach me today dear Spirit how to wait
As God’s glory is made manifest.

On that beautiful day, I will soar like an eagle,
With wings spread wide, elegant and regal.
Gliding in the certain knowledge
That I have been made whole,
And on the road to home.

Blessings, until next week.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Levite's Concubine

Have you noticed that often times the ‘big story’ in the newspapers is the one in small print, hidden somewhere in the middle of the paper? I find this true, as the big stories are not headline grabbers. They do not report about wars, financial losses or even government or private sector corruption.

The big stories are the real stories of personal struggles and triumph of ordinary people. The small print stories grab my attention and stir emotions in me that I sometimes forget exists. The Edmonton Journal carried such a story this week, buried in a column of “briefs” from around the world somewhere on the fourth or fifth page.

After reading it, I checked the Internet for more details and found information from the Associated Press at Yahoo News and at the Houston Chronicle. This was a death and life story of Afsaneh Nowrouzi, an Iranian woman, the victim of rape. As I read the various on-line papers, it dawned on me that this was the story of the women in Iran and women all around the world. Sadly, it is a story we all know exists since biblical times.

I invite you to let the Words from Scripture; Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart guide us, open our hearts and make us courageous as we speak our truths to stop the violence against "The Levite’s Concubine."


From Taoism:

“It is true that you commit no actual crimes; but when you meet a beautiful woman in another’s home and cannot banish her from your thoughts, you have committed adultery with her in your heart. Consider for a moment! Would you have sufficient control over yourself to imitate the sage Lu Nan-tze if you were placed in a similar position? When he once found himself obliged to pass the night in a house whose only other occupant was a woman, he lighted a lamp and read aloud until morning to avoid exposing her to unjust suspicions.”

From the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

Matthew 11: 28

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

(Excerpt from Taoism traditional text taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 661


Afsaneh Nowrouzi was approximately 26 years old when she stabbed the police chief of the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. Reports are that she cut off his penis and placed it on his chest as she defended herself against rape. The police chief died because of her actions, but I contend that he was not the only one who died that eventful day. Nowrouzi, I would imagine died also, not a physical death but a death of her sense of person, as the humiliation and violation a woman experiences at the hands of a rapist is tantamount to death.

Unlike what many would want us to believe, violence against women and specifically the incidents of rape is not decreasing. Some statistics offer that one out of three women will be raped in her lifetime. Men are victims of rape and I do not mean to discount this fact by emphasizing the statistics of sexual assault against women. However, rape is a weapon used against women and sadly children in far greater numbers by men wishing to exert their sense of powerfulness.

As we can see in Nowrouzi’s case, rape is not isolated to any one or few geographical areas – it is a worldwide dilemma. Inevitably, in any news account of war for example, we hear reports of women and children being sexually assaulted by the ‘conquerors.’

After reading this story, to quench the anger and pain it stirred in me, I turned to the Christian bible for some guidance, knowing that it holds a number of accounts of rape. For example, the book of Judges, chapter 19 verses 1-30 tells the tale of “The Levite’s Concubine,” who was offered to “men of the city, a depraved lot” to be ravished. This story is often quoted in other contexts, namely against homosexuals, however that is not my purpose. What this story says to me is the view held then about the value of the personhood of women. It is sadly a view that holds true to this day across the world.

Nowrouzi’s claim of self-defense was ignored and she was sentenced to death for the murder of the police chief who wanted to ravish her. Women around the world are sentenced to death after being sexually violated or for sexual acts deemed unlawful by religious courts. Remember the case of the Nigerian woman who was to be stoned to death? This week, Nowrouzi was released from the death sentence because the family of the deceased accepted monetary compensation rather than her execution.

The Levite’s Concubine was not so ‘lucky’ as she died as the men enjoyed themselves. However, for many women who have survived rape and Nowrouzi may be one of them, the imposition of a death sentence may very well be spiritually irrelevant. The core of your personhood dies when you have been raped and violated and this cannot be replaced even when you ‘escape’ the hangman’s noose.

Thirdspace has an interesting article on the issue titled Teaching Rape and Incest, by Elizabeth Breau. In this article, Breau describes the feeling I have often experienced when people, usually men or women who have never experienced the trauma of rape, starts theorizing about the real life experiences of women. One of the things I have learnt about sharing your experience in the academic setting, particularly ones about sexual abuse, you are regarded and derided as delusional feminists. Breau relates her own experience in the article as a student and teacher.

We cannot loose sight of the fact that rape and sexual violence though issues of power are learnt behaviours and therefore are rightly addressed in all settings, particularly in educational institutions. I would however expand that to include churches, synagogues, temples and anywhere people attend for learning of any kind.

Breau suggests that teachers (and I include preachers, rabbis and ministers) therefore have certain choices. “We can ignore all aspects of students' lives outside the classroom or go back to victim-blaming ideologies. We can assume that all men are evil and implicitly guilty from birth and only teach from a gynocentric perspective in an all-female environment. We can assume that at least some perpetrators act without awareness of the harm they cause or as a result of their own victimization. We can explore sexual violence as a self-perpetuating oppressive structure and debate what that implies about individual responsibility.”

If we are to experience real, deep and everlasting change, the choice of approach is obvious. People and specifically women around the world desire to live in societies where they and their children are safe and are able to realize their full potential as human beings. It is therefore unacceptable that children and women are not protected from the misdirected desires of men.

Using Canada as an example, on its web site the Canadian Centre for Missing Children indicates that a 1984 study “revealed horrifying statistics about how prevalent these crimes are in Canada. One in two girls, and one in three boys are the victims of unwanted sexual advances before they reach the age of eighteen.” That was over twenty years ago – imagine what the statistics are today! As for women, they are not safe even in their homes or marriage. According to a 1993 Statistics Canada Report, more than one in four women have experienced violence in a current or past marriage.

What does Nowrouzi’s story hold for us? Firstly, it witnesses to that fact that the work is far from done. There are still large numbers of men, including supposedly educated men in high office, who cannot follow the example of Lu Nan-tze and choose to “read aloud until morning” to maintain a woman’s personhood intact.

Secondly, it says that each of us, men and women alike, must continue to do what we can to actively educate and help effect behaviourial change and changing the understanding of power. This has to take place in homes, schools, and places of worship and in our governments. More importantly, it also has to take place in the heart.

In the meanwhile, I take great comfort and support in the words of Matthew 11: 28 - “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”


Today I give myself permission to live.
For too long, I have been sleep walking,
Dead to the unlimited possibilities that
Life has planned for me.

Today, I open my eyes and look straight ahead
At the glory of God’s creation, which is me.
I affirm “I am amazing, wonderful and
Beautiful just as I am. I am full of potential!”

I give myself permission to love unconditionally,
Letting go of all hurt and regret.
Letting go of all self-doubt and self-depreciation.
I am a child of God and in this moment, right now
I will live truly believing that.

Today, I give myself permission to have hope,
To be comforted and to be loved.
I refuse to harbour thoughts of despair.
I refuse to hide and refuse to grieve about my differences.
I refuse to feel less that who I know I am - God’s beloved child.

Today, I give myself permission to live!”

Blessings, until next week.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tsunami Dignitaries

The news since December 26, 2004 is filled with stories of survival from Asia where a tsunami devastated the lives of millions. People and governments around the world have come forward with assistance in cash and kind, helping to restore a sense of normality for the survivors.

Recent reports have told us that schools are slowly reopening as part of the effort to create a sense that "everything will be alright," among the children. The love and generosity expressed by the world to the survivors of the tsunami is said to be unmatched and unprecedented. Differences in culture and race have been put aside for the most part, and the focus has been on how can we help our brothers and sisters recover their lives and secure a hope-filled and respectable future for the children.

There are those who are acting selfishly, seeking to profit from the disaster. They are stealing the aid that have poured in, withholding aid from the so-called "untouchables" in India and reports are that security measures have had to be implemented to ensure against the trafficking of children. Unfortunate as this is, it is a sad fact of our humanity that there are those among us who cannot see beyond their personal agenda and greed. Those that can, and thankfully they are in the majority, have the additional task of making sure that the most vulnerable irrespective of caste, age, creed or gender is assisted.

I invite you to open your hearts and help the survivors of the tsunami, in cash, kind and/or a simple prayer. Join me through this Blog in this effort. Each week through I post, Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart that guide me (and you if wish). This week's is entitled "Tsunami Dignitaries."


From the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

Proverbs 31: 25 – 26

"Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to

She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on
her tongue."

From Jainism:
Tattvarthasutra 7.11
Have benevolence toward all living beings, joy at the sight of the virtuous,
compassion and sympathy for the afflicted, and tolerance towards the indolent
and ill-behaved.
From Islam:

Nahjul Balagha, Saying 9
Treat people in such a way and live amongst them in such a manner that if
you die they will weep over you; alive they will crave for your
(Jainist and Islamic traditional text and saying taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 684


The tsunami in Asia has quite correctly captured the attention of all over the past three weeks. Looking at the harrowing pictures of utter despair and confusion, particularly on the faces of the adult survivors, I questioned my ability to recover a sense of dignity if I had this terrifying experience and my life washed away.

I have used the word dignity on many occasions and in many conversations, particularly in those where comments are being made about someone’s behavior or attitude in a given situation. Have we not all said, "Oh, such and such a person was dignified when he or she did so and so"? Then there is the case of calling people dignitaries, persons who have attained some high office of authority and ‘power’ – we bestow the title of dignitary on such persons, regardless of their character, particularly politicians.

Being a student of theology and a believer, I looked to my faith beliefs for guidance on this word and how a person in a time of great despair retrieve and maintain their dignity. I attend a Catholic theological college so my first point of reference was the social teaching documents of the Catholic Church, which is rich with arguments for the ‘dignity of the human person’. The most apropos is this comment by Pope John Paul II, in his 1991 encyclical entitled Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year) which reads somewhat like this: "Human persons are willed by God; they are imprinted with God's image. Their dignity does not come from the work they do, but from the persons they are."

Feeling that I was onto something as God had entered the scene, I did what is normal for me when I am consciously in that awesome presence – I closed my eyes and thought about persons in my life who personified dignity in this way. Three faces of dignity slowly passed across the screen of my mind.

Luda. My daughter’s former nanny. I am not being pretentious here – that was actually what we called babysitters in Kiev. Full-time students like me who decided to have children in the middle of working on their degrees either had to take their children to government –run nurseries in ‘communist Russia’ or find the funds to hire a nanka. I chose the latter. Most nankas at the time were older ladies, seeking to supplement their very meager state pension, women who themselves were in need of care.

Someone told me about this excellent nanka but warned that she could be a bit much and therefore was never employed for very long. I was desperate as my papers were piling and exam dates looming, after all we were in the former U.S.S.R. to learn and get degrees not have babies. The call was made and the rest of my time in Kiev was never the same after Luda entered my little apartment.

This blue-eyed, well coifed, no-nonsense blonde immediately took charge of not only my two-month old daughter, but also my then husband and I. Luda was all I could have prayed for and some days I felt that my daughter and I were her dream come through. She was one of those many Ukrainians who dreamt of a different life than the one promulgated by the regime of the time. Her stories, the few those she would tell, were reminiscent of the good-times when her family was together and happy. Luda had been estranged from her family members for various reasons, not least of which was the pressure brought to bear by a restricted society – but she was a proud woman, one who refused to be brought down. Therefore, she worked for the ‘foreigners’ as we were called, but never reducing her old Eastern European ideas of standards by which a child and a home, no matter if it was one room, was to be raised and maintained.

Luda would not accept gifts without having one in return – she was filled with a pride that was not puffed up with self-importance, but the pride of a people who had endured tremendous hardships and changes. She gave service but was never in servitude and as such was never diminished regardless of the role she was playing. Those years that my daughter and I were nurtured by Luda are ones for which I will be eternally grateful.

Grace was the next face on my kaleidoscope. News of murder sadly was not news in the Kingston, Jamaica that I left a few years ago – killing was and is still commonplace and more so as the country spirals down the slope of poverty. So the initial reports about the murder of a young man on the streets of inner city Kingston, on his way home from school, sad though it was, really did not elicit more than a sigh from me. It was not until about three days later when I heard the voice of Grace, Sister Grace as she was called by her community, that I started to pay attention. Maybe it was because she sounded like a gentle breeze in the otherwise hot and agitated Kingston why I listened.

She was being interviewed on a popular morning radio program, known for its harsh, yet objective criticism of the state of affairs on the island. Grace was being prodded to tell the story of her son’s senseless murder, a child caught in the middle of a clash between warring gangs. Grace, like any mother in that position, had every reason to be angry and screaming for swift justice. In fact, this was the norm in Kingston – much like the Romans in their arena urging on sparring gladiators. However, Grace was not taking the bait – she lived up to her name.

Tears were flowing down my face as I dressed and got into my car to find her. I simply had to meet this woman, who just called for peace, who just said she would like to meet the killers of her son and let them know she forgave them. Hours later, when I found her house and reverently entered her room she embraced me and we wept together. Grace and I have been friends ever since.

Images were now rushing across my mind and but conscious not to bore readers I selected only one more. I do not know his name but have seen him several times before coming out of the supermarket here in Edmonton where I purchase our weekly grocery. Frankly, the first few times that I saw him, I looked through him. Let us blame that on the cold and rushing to get home before my butt froze. Despite the below freezing temperature, at least once per month, he would be standing out in the cold, silently offering his ‘street paper’ – The Voice. As it got warmer, the rush to get home was not as great, I guess, so I actually looked at him and contributed to the paper. The first thing I noticed were his hands - nails broken and almost black, and his hair ruffled could use a shampoo and cut.

On the next occasion, I noticed more – his clothes were well worn and he seemed in need of some new ones. Lastly, I noticed that he was a Canadian Native. I made a greater contribution to the paper and this time, before I went to sleep I really read the paper. The last time I saw him, we actually had a ‘conversation’. It was the day before Mother’s Day and I was again waiting for my ride with a cart filled with grocery.

We spoke about the weather, he asked me the time, told me about his new place, and then something stirred me to contribute yet again. As my ride pulled up he said to me in the gentlest voice, "Are you a Mother?" Surprised, I responded with a question, "Yes?" He reached behind him to the side of the receptacle against which he was leaning and picked up something. "Someone gave this to me for my Mother, but she passed," he said, "And I would like you to have it." He handed me what was for me the most beautiful flower.

Did I make my Native newspaper vendor dignified? I doubt that. Like, Grace and Luda he epitomized "the quality of being worthy of esteem." Dignity is not in titles bestowed on us for jobs we paid to perform. Dignity is not in wearing just the right clothes or having the right house, career or stuff. Neither is dignity having a roof over one’s head or being certain where tonight’s meal is coming from. Honestly, dignity cannot be earned, bought or bestowed. Dignity is a state of mind, it is courage and it is strength. In my experience, the Pope’s right on this one – dignity is who we are.

There is a beautiful poem or essay, whatever you may wish to call it, written by the Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation. One of the most powerful passages from that piece perfectly describes these three people – my friends and dignitaries – and the thousands of dignitaries across Asia who will sleep in a refugee camp tonight. These are people who, in the words of the Mountain Dreamer, "can see beauty even when it is not pretty everyday, and . . . source [their lives] from its presence." That my dear reader, is how you recover and maintain your dignity.


Spirit of God, Breath of Life, Healer of Pain, Giver of grace and love
Teach me this day how to express the essence of you that I have been blessed to embody.
Use every part of this body in your service this day.

Open my eyes so that I may see the beauty of your creation in each person I meet.
Touch my heart and from it will ooze thoughts that honour your name.
Caress my lips, dear Spirit, and out will flow songs of praise.

Whisper in my ear throughout this day that I may only hear ideas of upliftment and love.
Move my feet in time with celestial drums in celebration of your love.
Use all of me dear God so that all whose life I touch in this day may come see not I but your glory.

Blessings until next week.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

In the Beginning

If you are like me, every New Year there are things that you have been putting off that you promise yourself that this will be the year of accomplishment. Then December 31 rolls around and you realise that you were sidetracked by life happenings and those resolutions remained unresolved.

This year, I am taking a different approach. No promises, no resolutions have I made. This year I will take life as it comes and roll with the punches. What I hope to achieve by December 31, 2005 is that I would have lived an authentic year - being and doing the best of me. At the end of the year, I will take an inventory of the cupboard of promises which I have been consciously filling for over 20 years now. Something tells me that I will be in for a surprise.

I invite you on this journey with me through this Blog. Each week, Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart that guide me (and you if wish) will be posted here. This week's is entitled "In the Beginning:"

Words from Scriptures

From the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

Genesis 1:27, 37 (King James Version)

"So God created man in in his own image, in the image of God
created he him; male and female created he them. And God saw everything that he
had made, and, behold, it was very good."

Genesis 2:7 (NRSV)

"Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living

From the Hindu Tradition:

Laws of Manu

"The universe existed in the shape of darkness,
unperceived, destitute of
distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning,
unknowable, wholly immersed,
as it were, in deep sleep.

Then the Divine Self-existent, himself indiscernible but
making all this, the great elements and the rest, discernible, appeared with
irrestible power, dispelling the darkness."

From African Traditional Religions:

Shona Prayer (Zimbabwe)

Great Spirit!

Piler-up of the rocks into towering

When you stamp on the stone The dust
rises and fills the land,

Hardness of the precipice;

Waters of the pool that turn

Into misty rain when stirred.

Vessels overflowing with oil!

Father of Runji,

Who sews the heavens like cloth:

May you knit together that which is

(Hindu and African traditional text and prayer taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 83 - 84


Something struck me while doing my Christmas shopping recently - something which apparently has been nagging at me for awhile now which I chose to ignore. It is something which I believe I share with many but has escaped the attention of the marketing gurus.

I noticed this absence during my stop at a Carlton Cards store - no plug intended - looking for Christmas cards. Deliberating whether to go with 'funny' or 'mushy' cards, which would have to be rushed mailed this last week before Christmas as my funds had just come in, I wandered into the section with cards for Moms. That was the first jolt to my awareness - I don't call my mother 'Mom'! So I started browsing the ones that simply said 'Mother' when the second jolt to my consciousness came. "You cannot send any of these cards to your Mama," the voice said.

My immediate reaction was a defensive "Why not?" "Well first of all," the voice said, which I now recognised as that of my friend Truth, "You don't call your mother "Mother" either and secondly, none of these cards speaks to your relationship with your Mama!" I now seriously started to read the cards and to my dismay the voice was right. What was I to do? All of these cards were laced with what for me would have been platitudes. In that moment it dawned on me that for years I have been buying cards like these, which neither reflect my deepest feeling or speak the truths that were written on my heart. There was no way I could honestly sign my name once again to one of these cards!

You see, I am a member of what sociologists and the news media now describe as the "Sandwich Generation." Members of the "Sandwich Generation" are people who like me have the responsibility of parenting both their offsprings and caring for their aging parents. In my case, I have been directly and primarily responsible for my mother for the past 14 years, although I am neither in the 50 - 60 age group of a regular Club Member. To add insult to injury, my mother much is not yet 70 years old.

For some, the experience has been rewarding and give them a real sense of giving back to parents who have truly loved and supported them throughout their growing years and even well into adulthood. There are others, myself included, for whom this has been a real burden and a trying experience, who have been financing their parents who never formally "retired." It is to these 'sandwich kids', the ones who fall within the category of burdened, stressed and at their wits end, to whom I write and who will really understand this true confession.

Before you begin to judge those who describe the experience as burdensome and stressful, hear me out. My story may differ in some specifics from others but it is basically one of trying to survive in a world that is designed for those who had their backpack filled from the get go. Unfortunately, for some of us our parents or parent were either too busy having a whale of a time in the glory days to bother about preparing for old age, tried their best to plan but inflation ate away at their retirement fund or they were like my mother, economically and spiritually poor and have no pension.

Fast forward twenty to thirty years later and meet the sandwich kids who are either prepared to handle the stress graciously as they are economically empowered to do so. Then they are those who are not for a myriad of reasons. We are kicking, screaming and pulling at the short and curlies trying to make it work. Now consider the critics of the latter group. Some critics cite Scriptures to admonish the sandwich kids who are having a really hard time making it work, calling them ungrateful and wicked in spirit. I have been told by critics that forgiveness is the key and once you forgive, it is possible to make all the sacrifices necessary to help your aging parent, including foregoing your and your offsprings personal needs.

My response to such comments has been to suggest to these critics that they walk in my shoe for a mile. The issue is not unforgiveness nor is it with the parent who made and attempt but was unsuccessful with retirement planning. The issue, at least for me, is the burden on the family to care for a parent who made little or no plan for retirement either because they felt that "life was just for living" and "God will provide" or they were too poor to think about preparing for the future. Whatever the reason, sandwich kids are willing to help and care for their aging parents, however their abilities to do so is severely curtailed by their own economic realities, expenses of childcare and college age offsprings and the need to prepare for their own retirement.

The last concern is probably the most crucial if the cycle is to be broken.One of my kinder critics have recently apologised to me, having now had first hand experience with caring for a demanding senior with no retiement resources. The point is, it is easy to tell others what they should do and even feel in challenging circumstances when you have not had to live that experience yourself. When you have had to allow your teenage child to take a job in order to have money for lunch and other school expenses and give more than serious consideration of student loans to finance his/her way through college because all your savings have been spent on on a parent since she/he was 55 then you can judge.

Christmas can be a very stressful time for sandwich kids and until this passing season, I did not know the hidden emotions it held for me. Trying to find a card that, to use my teenager's language, 'kept it real' was the moment of truth. Finding a card which expresses love for a parent whose reckless living now places demands on you that can hardly be met while keeping food on the table for your child is hard. There are two options I can think of, either you purchase the "To a Wonderful Mother/Father" and convince yourself that it doesn't really matter.

The other option is, while you wait for someone at Carlton Cards or Hallmark to come up with cards that speak to real life situatons, you do like I did - write a letter instead.

For more information or to join the Sandwich Generation Club, visit:

Words from the Heart

Father/Mother God, Creator of all Life

Giver of Love, Wisdom and Understanding.

Hear my voice this day as I come

Into your Presence as an unlit lantern,

Standing in the Garden of hope and beauty.

My heart yearns for the spark that will

Ignite the wick of my soul.

My heart hungers to be in your service.

I desire to radiate your glory,

Shine with your magnificence and

Glow with your love in the darkness of my existence.

Hear my voice this day, dear God,

As I ask to be filled with your wisdom and

Understanding of even those who would seek to

Dull my light because of its shade.

Teach me to love and understand even more

And to shine even brighter.

Guide me dear God to that place of compassion that

My light may not be dimmed by the wind of anger, mistrust,
ignorance and

Stengthen me, dear Divine, that I may be

Anchored in my faith and trust in your power and

Build a wall of love around my heart light, that though

It may flicker it will burn brightly even in the storm.

And so it is.

Until next week.