21 September 2010

Weekend at a Convent

I spent the weekend at a convent, and it was good. I went expecting to meet God, and I was not disappointed. I had given myself permission ahead of time to waste time with God and others. As for my time with others, the only negative thing I can say was that the conversation and questions raised were too interesting and delightful to be part of! It was the kind of fellowship that you hope for and yet still are delightfully surprised by. But at the same I also wanted to spend time with God alone and listen/talk with Him far enough away from a world that had felt confining and confusing in the last little while. Although it took some effort to put aside both my book and the delightful distraction of others around me, it was worth the effort to hang out with God. I emptied (again) before God all of what had been happening in the last while, especially the pain, confusion, guilt, and anger involved. This release to God felt much needed - and although the presence of the others might have felt like a distraction from this really good part of the weekend, I think the laughter and delight in meeting the others made it easier to face with honesty the challenges of the last time. Even if I wasn't willing to share what I was struggling with, sharing in the laughter was enough - perhaps another time/day, it will be good to share more.

One of the best parts of the weekend was a strong feeling that this kind of religious life is for me (albeit transposed to a less Catholic setting and as a married person). One way was in getting some perspective; to be reminded that we are not the only community with its share of quirks - and laughing at these more would probably do me good. And another was the fellowship - the delightful sense of getting to be yourself and have opinions and puzzle together through things and laugh together; in all of these things, to celebrate the other person for who he/she is. Certainly with time, fellowship becomes more challenging because we bump more into how who each one of us is sometimes exasperates others - and then we have to learn to make space and celebrate the other still. And this is what I want to strive for in living in community - and even if it's hard and sometimes exasperating, it is worth the effort - as this glimpse of delightful fellowship let me see.

And perhaps the part that is the most confirming was the sense of having been ready to meet God. Even if I'm not always present for the daily prayers here (physically or mentally), even if I struggle with doing fellowship well, even if my goal of Sunday with God doesn't succeed so well, and even if I feel overwhelmed sometimes with things here, my normal life has still been shaped to be open towards God and others. And thankfully, even when I don't do as well as I want to in being open, God gently finds ways to meet me and remind me of how it can be - and how much I can delight in that.

20 September 2010

looking at the Red Light District

I haven't written too much about my neighbourhood in the last while, but it is something that is often in the back of my head. So when I read Marco's thoughts about his experience here in the Red Light District, I wanted to share them with more people as I thought they might be a helpful way to have others see the Red Light District.

Marco begins thus:
"This neighborhood gets me down. And the worst thing is not the prostitutes or drug dealers. The worst thing is the tourists. Isn't it sad enough that humans have strange and dark needs and desires, that they can so easily fall victim to all-consuming addictions and that these are so universal that every major city has prostitution and drug dealing... must we make a TOURIST ATTRACTION out of it? What went wrong?

His further thoughts can be found at his blog, "songs of a soupman"

10 September 2010

Resolving my commitment to the community with my commitment to my future spouse

In the last while I've been doing quite a bit of processing about my relationship to the community. This has to do with some of the things that have been happening in the community, especially changes in the core group. But a lot of it also has to do with the fact that my relationship to Matthijs changes pretty much everything.

Have I mentioned that I don't always handle change well?!?

So in the midst of these changes, I've been sorting out commitments and loyalties and looking closely at how I relate to people and what expectations I have (including trying to be honest about what's not healthy, in the hopes that it will become healthier). I'm deeply thankful for this processing, and I believe deeply that my relationships are generally improving because of this, but it hasn't been very pleasant - and not just for me, I know (Matthijs has received the brunt of my frustration sometimes, alongside of the lack of clarity found in being in the middle of processing, and he's still been really encouraging).

As part of the processing, I wrote an article for catapult magazine about communities and commitments and sorting out the balance. It can be found online: but nuns can't get married!. If you read it, it'd be helpful to remember the lack of clarity that's often found in the middle of processing - and that I'm still in the middle of it.

But even though it feels like the processing with all this stuff is not yet resolved, there's been some really great moments of clarity along the way. I have received a strong sense of two things -first: that I really want to be more honest, including in my relationships with others - and second: pray more. Those two realizations have been worth all the messiness of the processing.

09 September 2010

the friendly neighbourhood homeless guy

When I moved into the community a number of years ago, I was aware that we had a sort of drop-in centre. That part of the life here intrigued me, especially as it felt like I'd be better able to be personally involved with the poor and needy, something I felt Christians ought to do but had no idea how. I had felt pretty distant from the poor and needy while attending Seminary or living in a small town. My only experience with homeless folk was a few random people begging and some of the gypsy camps in Ukraine. When I taught there, a gypsy woman who I saw regularly would often ask for money. I'd give her money sometimes, but I felt rather helpless in knowing better what to do.

And now, I sit and have coffee amidst homeless folks. Sometimes it's nothing more than sitting in the same room as each other - conversations flow among people who've known each other for long and less with those who've just come to visit for the coffee. And sometimes a coffee that's all that's wanted - or a place to get out of the rain or cold and to rest and get a bit of coffee. But sometimes it's a conversation that's desired, something I still find difficult to manage with some people. But with others, it's much easier - and we've built a kind of rapport. So with some of those who walk in, even if we don't talk, there's a general appreciation for the other.

And sometimes we'll even see each other on walking along the street and then we'll greet each other. That I now do that and find that normal is something I'm glad of; it feels like a number of people have stopped being "those homeless folks" who are nameless and in desperate need of help. Instead, a number of guys have started becoming one of my friendly neighbourhood homeless guys, people I enjoy greeting on the street and look forward to seeing. And even if I'm still not sure when it comes to homelessness how best I can love God and others, it feels like there's been a step forward. And I feel honoured that I now have some homeless guys in my social circle, something I would never have imagined possible before I came here.