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Archive for March, 2021

The Feast in the House of Levi” by Paolo Veronese

These days from Palm Sunday (marking the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem) to the following Sunday (marking the rising of Christ) are known in the church calendar as Holy Week.

This week is one of preparation and prophesy fulfilled. It is a pendulum-shifting drama that swings from joy, to sorrow then to an even greater, impossible triumph.

As I have been contemplating this Holy Week, I have found my heart and mind to be asking questions.

These questions I am focusing on as I walk through the week, remembering the events and how they enfolded, bringing myself into this great drama.

These are my queries:

  • how did the disciples not know what was going to happen as they ate with Jesus?
  • what if I were there?
  • what happened to open the eyes of those who met him on the road?

As soon as Palm Sunday passed, my thoughts moved to the final meal, the last supper of Jesus with his ragtag group of disciples.

It boggles my mind that the disciples could have sat, eating with their leader and friend, listened to the words he said, observed actions (Judas) and words of Jesus and of others … yet they seemed clueless to what was happening, what was to happen.

… but I read the Gospel accounts with the benefit of hindsight

Like a person grieving the earthly loss of one held dear, reminiscing over and over again the actions and words spoken by their dearly departed, we can read the accounts of the Last Supper knowing what comes next. Therefore, we read the words with limited possible meaning.

The meal itself was not simply a final meal between friends, but the annual observance and celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast represents the end of the plagues brought to Egypt as a result of their refusal to , as Moses said, “let my people go.” The Jews were saved by painting their doorposts with the blood of lambs, so that when death came by, the blood would prevent it from entering the household … thus it passed over (Passover) their homes. This seder meal was part of a seven day feast, when the only bread eaten would not have been the puffy, yeast-risen bread, but the flat and crispy Matzah type.

Perhaps it is because of this cultural and religious event that the disciple’s minds were not on the future that Jesus was speaking of, but the past. Perhaps all they could see and hear in words of their leader were simply Even Jesus himself said, “I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples” (Matthew 26:18).

Though we see the parallel of celebrating the Passover feast (which celebrated the saving of the Israelites by the blood of the lamb) with the very Passover lamb (whose blood was spilled to save them, us all) … they just saw the observance of a festival.

This Feast of Unleavened Bread … they celebrate it with the very one who said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), but they were just looking for physical (not spiritual) nourishment.

This unleavened bread, a reminder of fleeing Egypt, before their bread rose to wander in the dessert. No yeast was to come with them … symbolizing their need to leave their sins behind them. Jesus, sharing their table, was to become like yeast in their lives, growing and spreading his message of redemption.

These Jesus-followers were primitive mortals who knew only in-part as they sat down to feast with their fearless leader. In the days to come, their eyes would be opened to the drama being written as they simply enjoyed a good meal, drink and companionship around the table.

The banquet was just beginning.

*This video (below) presents a discussion of the Veronese painting (above) and compares it to that of Leonardo da Vinci … this comparison, in my mind contrasts how the disciples might have experienced the Last Supper with Jesus (Veronese) to how we see the Last Supper (Leonardo).

“in some ways it just looks like a banquet, and not a Last Supper”

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My first memories of Palm Sunday were as a young child, on a bright Sunday morning, in my grandmother’s church, deep in the rural woodlands on Canada’s East Coast. The children of the Sunday School were each given a palm branch. At a designated point in the Sunday service we were to walk from back to front and back again in the sanctuary, waving our branches and saying

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

The congregation smiled encouragingly. Then the pastor instructed all to join in our joyful, hope-filled announcement.

Shortly after, the service ended and we all went home.

Palm branches and excitement over the arrival of a man, a king, on a donkey all but forgot.

This is what Palm Sunday is … excitement then apathy, it is the height of the people’s love for this king, yet it leads to the hardest week for Him, as he walked the road to sacrifice so as to provide the way for the greatest height for us.

This triumphal entry, parallels, yet so different from his pilgrimage on the Path of Sorrows (Via Dolorosa) to Calvary. This trek, leading from his place of torture and sentencing, to his place of death. No palm branches, no joyful, hope-filled exclamations from the crowds in the street.

Today, Palm Sunday, joyful and hope-filled as it was, as it is, is a window into the fickleness of our human race. In less than a week, those who followed him went from

“blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord!”

to

“crucify him”

We, who follow him today, are not that different.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end, of the beginning. We must check our cheers of hallelujah today … ensuring that our joy in Him lasts longer than this day. For darkness will come into each of our lives and we will need this King to save us.

A Sonnet for Palm Sunday
Malcolm Guite

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart,

The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune. I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple. Jesus come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

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As we walked along the forest trail it wasn’t the heights of the trees around me, not the brook noisily flowing past, but the moss growing on the trees that captured my attention.

Lush, soft, growing in varying amounts on every tree and stump. It drew one’s eyes to it simply because the rest of the forest, in early spring, was still in it’s winter slumber. Only the emerald green of the moss dotted the landscape with colorful life.

Moss does not harm trees, unless the weight of it, saturated with rainwater grows to the point that the stability of branches is in question. It just simply lives and grows on them, adding mystical appearance.

Moss growing on a tree is an example of commensalism it gets a place to live and grow and the tree neither benefits nor is harmed. Basically, moss is simply a squatter on the tree.

At least that how science would define the relationship.

But, as I walked amid the moss covered forest trees, I saw things differently.

That rich, life-filled moss drew my eyes to the tree that, otherwise, would have blended into the forest of trees. It stuck out, brought joy, delight in the showy example of living brightly in a dark and shady place.

Though the tree is not harmed or benefitted from the moss growing there, I was indeed benefitted.

Sometimes, as a follower of Christ, as one who lives and desires to be light in the dark, be living water amid the murky depths in our world …

it can feel as though we are like moss on a tree …

growing and living,

but never having an impact on our host (the world).

It can seem, perhaps, that we are so busy with our own living, that we don’t bring Jesus to those around us.

As though, like the moss on the tree, we are simply living our life, without any impact for Christ on our surroundings.

Psalm 34:5, a Psalm of David, tells us:

“Those who look to Him are radiant with joy;
their faces shall never be ashamed.”

We, who are followers of Christ, have looked on his Crucified self … sacrificed for us, for the world. But we have not only looked, we have accepted that his sacrifice was for our own good. That “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). And in seeing the reality of the purpose of his crucifixion, we reflect, or radiate joy that is found only in Him.

This joy that we radiate is not only seen by God, or by his followers, it is also seen by those around us. It is seen by those walking though along beside us,

standing out like moss on the trees in a forest in early spring.

Like that moss, we can have an impact (if we live as followers, growing from the word as our nourishment). Though we are busy we still bring something to the forest in which we live …

we bring beauty

Isaiah 33:17 tells us,

Your eyes will see the King in His beauty;
They will behold a far-distant land.

We reflect this beauty of the King and He in us will allow others to imagine life and eternity with HIm.

All we have to do is bring beauty to our dark and murky world.

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One of our daughters spent many hours working at swimming pools. Phrases like extend your reach, keep your head above water and throw a lifeline were commonly heard in that water world.

Lately, I have been reminded of lifeguard strength, mentality and the necessity for everyone to have a lifeguard-type person in our lives. As a matter of fact, I think we are all lifeguards.

To throw a lifeline (according to freedictionary.com) is :

“to give someone help 
or a means of dealing with 

a problematic or dangerous situation, 
especially if they are desperate 
or are unlikely to succeed on their own”

Who doesn’t need a lifeline at different times in their lives?

Maybe it is a phone call, assistance with a task, a card, or flowers brought to your door. Maybe it is childcare, or a visit, or a meal delivered. Perhaps it is just (as if just is appropriate when one is in need) a kind word.

Such expressions of help are like lifelines to safety and security. They can be just the best examples of us as the very hands and feet of God.

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It’s spring!

Is it just me or does it seem that winter lasted an entire year?

Though Easter came and was celebrated, last spring. Though the days got longer. Though the weather warmed. Though we experienced vacation time and even a bit of (more local) travel. The restrictions and cautions connected to this Covid pandemic have made it feel as though, like in Narnia,

““It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas Spring.””

This year, as the calendar, the news and even Google’s search bar announces the start of spring … it actually feels like we might get to experience the hope that spring heralds.

Many have already received one (or two) shots in the arm of vaccination against the Covid virus, with many of us awaiting our turn at, what I like to call,

the arm jab to a more normal existence

With this rollout of the vaccine, we feel a spring in our steps, hoping that things like travel, concerts, sporting activities, church services and hugs will soon come back to us, to our open arms.

This past year has been the liminal time … between what was and what is to come.

And I wonder what is to come …

The experts on business are discussing the probability that working from home will be around long after the globe is vaccinated. That online ordering and curb-side pick up of various goods will continue to increase in popularity. That people will continue to make more meals at home. That online meetings will continue to be utilized. That shopping local will carry on.

Will churches continue to offer online services, realizing that they are not just an opportunity in a pandemic, but an option for distanced connection? Will school districts and private schools consider how beneficial distanced education was for the students who struggle with anxiety, or who simply learn better with less distractions? Will restaurants, pet food stores, grocery stores and pharmacies continue to offer home delivery and curb-side pick up? Will doctors keep a few appointments available for online patient care? Will we continue to look at nurses, doctors, grocery store employees, emergency workers and delivery drivers as cheer-worthy?

Will we continue to look into the eyes of people passing by?

Like the season of spring heralding the switch up of weather, plant growth, daylight, activities and wardrobe changes, the vaccines can lead us into the time after the pandemic … from the liminal to whatever is to come.

And this puts a spring into my steps.

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Soon I will turn fifty-two … Still in my early fifties (this is my indirect pointing out that I am not that old yet), still very much an active mom (does that ever change?), still very much in love with my guy (I hope this doesn’t ever change), still experiencing the close relationship with my own mom, enjoying my work, my (socially distanced) church, friends and activities.

I am still very much alive.

I have reached that stage of middles … though I do not expect that fifty-two is the middle of my life, that I will live to be called a centenarian.

I am in the middle of adult children and parent, loving my job yet looking forward to days when I don’t have to rush out the door, anticipating retirement and considering further education and a career change, purchasing (a new home, stuff) yet purging, planning for the future yet seeing the future’s end, loving my guy and fearing he might die before me (my plan is me first).

I am stuck in the middles …

and (much of the time) I absolutely love it!

From this vantage point, I have learned that my life needs to have more of two things and less of one.

More doing …

At this stage of life I know that I am on the other end … awareness of the brevity of this life tends to remind one to make the best use of this time. I need to be doing more with my time (this might be something I need to focus on this coming year). As an introvert I can make up so many excuses to not be doing things (other than making a puzzle, watching a British Crime Drama, etc.) … but I have this niggling in the back of my mind that I now have time and energy and ability that might not always be at my disposal. I need to move, to do the things I might not always be able to do, now.

Less speaking …

Greek philosopher Epictetus is noted as having said,

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

In our world today, with social media posts, tweets, sound bites and bloggers (ahem … preaching to self here) it is all too easy to speak our truth and not take time to hear from others (other than their social media posts, tweets, sound bites and blogs). The beauty of being in the middle is that you have opportunity to hear from the past and the future … the struggle is to remember to do listen and listen twice as much as we speak.

Love more …

To love others costs nothing, but reaps the greatest of rewards … a regret-free existence. Actually to love more does cost, but it’s cost is my pride and to reduce my pride is to be more in the black than in the red. I want, when I die, not for people to say I spoke the truth, but that lived the truth … in word and in action. I want to leave this world and those around me, better … less damage, more healing. I have seen what damage can be done when there is an absence or withholding of love in generations … love is the better way.

I will show you the most excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31) … the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

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We sat there, enjoying our meal together, when the conversation moved into an area of gold.

“So, who has inspired you and why?”

What followed was great revelation, great insight into those who have been the influencers in the life of my, now adult, son.

The people named were not surprising to me, though I did find it interesting the order of who was mentioned. Then there was the why question … why did this person, or that, stick in your mind as inspiring?

Youth leaders, teachers, camp leaders … those were the areas of leadership that they all originated from. Mostly men (as this was my son), but women as well. Descriptors such as authentic, available, consistent, interested, solid, challenged to work harder, be better flowed from his lips.

I found myself to be so encouraged.

As a mom, a parent, it is always good to know that your child received encouragement towards growth from someone else. It is good to see that our children are not just impacted by us, as parents, but by others around them. That they take into adulthood the whispers of encouragement from others.

“If your actions inspire others to
dream more, learn more, do more and become more,
you are a leader.”
John Quincy Adams

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It doesn’t matter how tired I am, time off always means that I struggle to get to sleep on the eve of my first day off. My brain is whirling a twirling around, trying to come up with a way to squeeze everything I have been dreaming of doing in the days and weeks leading up to the break.

One would think, at my age, I might have grown beyond this sort of anticipation, but alas I still spend my first night tossing and turning, counting sheep, cows and kittens and trying every trick in my getting to sleep book!

In my over-excitement of what is to come, I lost out on the sleep, the rest that my body and mind so needed.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Sometimes we (okay, I) think that the (above) text has to do with the fearful anxieties that take over our minds, but we can also be excited to the point of anxiousness … to the point that our excitement and anticipation can take over our thoughts wholly, interrupting a healthy balance in our lives.

The apostle Paul, in this clip from a letter to the Philippians, reminds us all that prayer is the key to peace in any and every situation. That this peace will be out of this world (perhaps even allowing sleep to come to us).

According to Paul:

Prayer is the conduit to peace.

Though I remembered this truth after the fact, it is one I need to remember.

When my anxious thoughts are on the dire, the sad, the fear-laden, the dark and twisty things of life … I always remember to take them to God in prayer.

But, when my heart and head are full of joy and excitement that bubbles over, filling my thoughts only of what I anticipate, I am slow to remember to share those joy-filled thoughts with Him.

Perhaps, if I did, I would sleep in a heavenly peace.

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Never has a spring break been so anticipated by so many.

I recognize that not all have a spring break in their life, through their own work or through the children in their lives. For those who do, my thoughts may reverberate in your own heart and mind.

For some it started a week or two ago, or maybe not for weeks yet. It might be called Spring or March or reading break. It might be just a week, or two.

Whatever it looks like, this break is starting differently than last year’s, when we were introduced to lock down, closures, cancellations and Tiger King as people all over the world were repatriating to their home countries.

Though we Canadian’s are still not jetting off to sunny destinations (lest we would have to quarantine for two weeks upon return to our home country), I think we are thankful that, just like the days of growing daylight, vaccine rollouts are providing the light in the darkness for our constitutions.

For those who work within learning environments, Spring Break this year is particularly appreciated. From teachers, to custodians, to office staff, to educational assistants, to maintenance crews, to bus drivers, to administration this has been a year of stretching, additional responsibilities and fatigue like none other. Then there are the students … who have encountered at least as much change and challenge.

A year ago at home learning was being whispered about, leading to at least two months of zooms, online conferences and all of the technical issues that came with them.

When (many, but not all) classes resumed in the fall, they do so differently. Cohort became a daily used word. Online daily health checks started our days. Physical education and music classes changed significantly (and changed throughout the year). Masks became expected fashion accessories. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!

In many school districts, high school schedules changed exponentially from full year or half year semesters to ten week semesters, with only classes each … I even know of a district where students only have one course, for five weeks at a time (think about that … a teacher and their students are together ALL day, EVERY day for five weeks!).

Barriers were brought into the office reception area, parent-teacher interviews were completed by phone, field trips all but a faded memory and many teaching staff (in high schools) have gone without much of a break in one semester or had half a day in another (sounds good on the one hand, but ten weeks of little break from working with students does little to enhance quality of teaching).

All school staff are fatigued of being mask police …

“mask on”
“over the nose too”
“mask on in the hallways”
and, similarly,
“no, you cannot eat in the hallways”

and, believe me, the response is not always compliant or kind.

Then there is Covid itself. Schools all have staff who, themselves, are immunocompromised. For them, going to work could feel like a daily play of Russian roulette. Or those who live with loved ones whose health is equally fragile. The thought of possibly bringing a virus home, that could have much more severe consequences than just a cough and malaise, has been a daily fear.

So, Spring Break, we welcome you, with open arms …

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Over the past weeks, my son has had me on a steady weekly diet of Star Wars films and animated series (Clone Wars and Rebels) to prepare me for season two of The Mandalorian. He felt I needed more background knowledge of the Mandalorians as well as a better understanding of how things fit together in the Star Wars narrative.

I just want to watch Season 2 of The Mandalorian!!

He, though, sees the bigger picture. He wants me to not just see season 2 as a show, but as a part of a bigger picture …

where did he learn this bigger picture emphasis?

Okay, so … maybe from his mother.

Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm… but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes: failure, most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.

Those words, spoken from Yoda to Luke, in the Last Jedi, could fit as appropriately when speaking of the parent/child relationship.

As my own three apprentices are now adults, I feel much of the teaching, the passing on, is done. Now I am watching them reach out into the world with their training done, making their own choices of which lessons to keep and which to abandon (temporarily or permanent? who is to say?).

In my parental passing on of what I have learned, I have equally passes on strengths and weaknesses, wisdom and folly. In my human imperfection, I have also failed them at times … and that failure is also part of the package that I hand over to them.

This is how the human race has a tendency to repeat past mistakes, for history’s teachers impart both the good and the bad, the blessings and the curses from within themselves.

As their parent (master 🙂 ) I have handed down to them many things, but my legacy is not just what I have modelled, taught or insisted upon … my legacy is also what they do with the treasures (and trash) I have shared with them.

Just like a teacher to a student in a classroom, there is no formula for guaranteed success.

If we look beyond human parents and Jedi masters, even in the mastery of Jesus himself, to his disciples, there was not perfection in the following of his teachings. Yet, two thousand years later, his word and his way (“this is the way”) are still being taught, still being modelled … imperfectly.

Though the burden, or struggle of all masters, all teachers, all parents is that our legacy is not in what we impart, but in how our apprentices, our students, our children use what we have given them.

And this is the greatest burden, but also the greatest learning of all parents.

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