Comforting Words: Walking Softly

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Walking Softly

If I took away only one thing from my philosophy classes, though I am quite sure it was more, Socrates’ famous dictum “the unexamined life is not worth living,” constantly reverberates in my mind.

At given intervals, I try to go over the occurrences in my life and what gifts and messages they held and in some cases still hold for me. This examination sometimes takes the simple form of pouring over my journals or I might go on a retreat from the distractions of my everyday life. Other times, it takes the form of starting a Blog.

Through this Comforting Words blog, I examine my life and the issues that propel me into a state of contemplation and/or action. Over the past week, it has been my honour and privilege to meet and be in the presence of some everyday heroes.

Coming away from those experiences, the desire to take stock of my own steps in the world became urgent. Join me as I evaluate my week and how these everyday heroes taught me to Walk Softly through the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart.


From African Traditional Religions:
Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

“God drives away flies for a cow who has no tail.”

From Hinduism:
Bhagavad Gita. 6.28 – 32

“The infinite joy of touching the Godhead is easily attained by those who are free from the burden of evil and established within themselves. They see the Self in every creature and all creation in the Self. With consciousness unified through meditation, they see everything with an equal eye.

I am ever present into those who have realized me in every creature . . .. When a person responds to the joy and sorrow of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.”

(Excerpt from African Traditional Religion and Hinduism taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 89, 160


Sunday, March 6, 2005:
This Sunday was to be a special one for me as a small group of people were coming to my home to pray. For me this was a daunting, yet awesome happening, as I was not sure whether I was prepared to ‘journey’ in such an intimate way with my visitors.

What was awesome about the visit was the fact that this group represented people who felt spiritually uncertain and desired a space and time where they could together come together and invite the Divine presence.

To calm my nerves and get a sense of greater peace and direction, I made sure to go to Sunday Worship and Communion with my fellow sojourners at Southminster-Steinhauer United Church. The words of the opening hymn, “We Are One,” were the first salve to my anxiety:

“We are one as we share, as we share brokenness and fear; in the touch of a hand there’s a sense that God is here. We are one as we care, as we heal, we are healed; and we share warmth in God’s embrace as we pray together in this place.”

My friends and I sang those lines that evening.

Monday, March 7, 2005:
This was the beginning of the campaign week for elections at my college. Though I am not running for any office and in fact, my time at this college ends this semester, the process and the way that the race for President was turning out intrigued me.

Without going into the details about each of the three candidates, this election embodied in many respects how to walk in the world. The three candidates come from seemingly different life-perspectives but they share a common faith.

From their life-perspectives, I perceived in their campaign gifts that will go with me as I continue my journey through this life. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, in his guidelines for mindfulness has this as the second guideline, which I believe, would serve us all very well – regardless of faith traditions:

“Do not think that the knowledge you possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2005: International Women’s Day
God “drives away the flies from the cow’s tail” through his helpers and sometimes they come in petite packages. I met one such helper on Tuesday, when I skipped the last session of my class to attend a presentation by Jan Reimer at Stephen’s College here in Edmonton.

Ms Reimer is a former mayor of Edmonton and is now the Provincial Coordinator of Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters. How well she was as a mayor I do not know nor do I care. As the Provincial Coordinator of this programme she is doing a fantastic job in her presentation of the issues surrounding violence against women and what is being done to help women in this circumstance.

Without fanfare, hype or what some love to call feminist-hysteria, Ms Reimer painted a picture of the advances being made here in Alberta to assist women and children in difficult circumstances. She also, to my amazement, through confirmed data, showed how the incidents of domestic violence outnumber gang violence approximately 50:1, however top priority is given to fighting gangs, with residual attention and resources channeled to women and family programmes.

My ‘woman-friend’ (there is a story here, but I will share that another time) and I left the presentation with our heads nodding in agreement that this too must stop! Over supper, at an organic food restaurant much to my dismay and my friend’s pleasure, we spilled our guts and disgust about the situation of women in Canada and in my beloved Jamaica.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005:
This was another anxiety-filled day for me. It was my privilege and pleasure to be a part of a panel discussion on how to create a non-homophobic, non-heterosexist and non-sexist church. This discussion took place with members of a semi-rural Alberta church (United) and facilitated by their young, female Minister with the bottom line being whether they should conduct and/or support same-sex marriages.

The gift(s) that I received from this dialogue was that when there is mutual respect and a willingness to not only share but to listen, people can arrive at a new understanding, if not endorsement, of others reality.

My personal contribution to the discussion focussed attention on the link between all these “isms” (heterosexism and sexism) and racism. The bonding word is discrimination.

At the end of the discussion, though the bottom line issue of same-sex marriage was not resolved (and it was not intended to be), I left feeling that I could truly call Canada my new home. In this rural community, I met people who, unlike many in academia and the big city, genuinely wanted to understand how they discriminate against others and how the ‘victims’ felt.

Thursday, March 10, 2005:
The words that best describe this day are “mind blowing,” as not everyday I meet someone who stops me in my tracks and cause me to examine my life. Denise McLaren of the Women’s Re-Integration Chaplaincy did that to me.

Another pint-size, soft spoken, charismatic, no-nonsense woman like Jan Reimer, Denise McLaren was different in significant ways. A visible minority (which is the politically correct way of saying African-Canadian), former drug addict and former inmate of the Edmonton Institute for Women (EIFW), Denise packs a mean verbal punch.

Arrogant as theological students tend to be, one could be fooled into thinking that she would offer very little by way of theological insight and biblical exegesis. By the end of her 30-minute presentation, I was so stunned that for the second time this week, I missed most of my post-lunchtime class.

Along with her fellow former inmate at EIFW, Denise reminded us what being disciples of Jesus meant – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Richer for having been in her presence, I left the college that afternoon for the hairdresser and had my hair cut, giving up my foolish desire of growing it.

Denise reminded me what it meant to be real and living from one’s purpose. Having my hair short has always been my statement to me and to the world that I am not afraid to be and am not valueless as a person of African descent, woman and different. Thank you Denise.

Friday, March 11, 2005:
In my ‘impatience’ to be released from the walls of academia, into the real world, I decided to do six courses this semester. Every day I pay the price of that decision by either having to spend the entire day in classes, then doing reading assignments or writing papers.

This Friday, the ‘punishment’ varied somewhat and I spent the day, guess where? In the library until closing time. Every time I utter a complaint about my life as a 40-year old student, my partner reminds me: “be careful what you wish for . . . you might surely get it.” Years ago, I wished to be in a job that paid me to read all day – who says God does not answer prayers.

My problem is I am not being paid!

Saturday, March 12, 2005:
Some years ago, I met a Canadian woman who was living and teaching in South Korea at the time. Adventurer that she is, soon after our meeting, she came to Jamaica for a three-week stay with my family and I. Only once before had I met a ‘foreigner’ so trusting of people who are racially and culturally different from her. That other person was also Canadian.

Sonya is full of life, willing to realize God in every creature, responsive to the joy and sorrow of others and in herself. We have kept in touch over the years, though we live even further apart these days – she in Australia and me here in the great North.

Both of us share similar interests including a passion for justice, spirituality and travelling. A few weeks after starting this blog, I invited Sonya to write articles, from and about Australia in all its manifestations, for posting here. She finally did and so today, I invite you to read her article, Our Freedom, Your Freedom, on one aspect of homosexuality in Australia.

Eagerly I posted this article as it touched on an issue raised in that panel discussion in rural Alberta – how does a gay parade, in all its nudity and seemingly sexualized as it is, help the “cause” for equal rights.

More than anything else, Sonya’s article points to something that we all experience when the discussion turns how to walking softly with others. The pain, anxiety and need for understanding and compassion on all sides, not only here in Canada, not only in Australia but also around the world is clear.

Make Me a Blessing, Lord
By James Dillet Freeman

Make me a blessing, Lord! Help me
to help those needing help, to be
A blessing to my fellow men.
Instruct me when to speak and when
To hold my speech, when to be bold
In giving and when to withhold;
And if I have not strength enough,
Then give me strength. Lord, make me tough
With my own self but tender toward
All others. Let there be outpoured
On me the gentleness to bless
All who have need of gentleness.
Give me a word, a touch to fill
The lonely life, faith for the ill,
And courage to keep hearts up though
My own is feeling just as low.
When men have bitter things to meet
And quail and would not accept defeat,
Then let me lift their eyes to see
The vision of Thy victory.
Help me to help; help me to give
The wisdom and the will to live!

Blessings, until next week.


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