LOGO angelican
March 2011
Vol 3, Issue 7

Practicing Month to Month
A Newsletter of the Spiritual Development Committee
Welcome to our Spiritual Practices E-Newsletter

Dear friends,


Today is Shrove Tuesday.  Please join us this evening at St. Laurence for Pancakes (anytime between 5:30 and 7:00) and then come back Ash Wednesday as we begin our shared journey through Lent.  Ash Wednesday services will be at 11 am (said service) and 7:30 pm (full service with choir).

This past Sunday marked the last of our 'journey' series.  The experience has been enriching for all of us and we will continue to find ways of incorporating this practice of sharing our stories and our faith with one another into our liturgies. Below are the texts from the talks given by Stuart McKay and Verna Reid.  If there are other talks that you missed and would like to read or hear please be in touch and I can send you texts or audio files.





The Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee   



Journey as an Artist and a Person with a Disability by Stuart Mckay

A man walks. His head is down.  He looks neither to the right, the left, up or behind.  God says not to concern himself about where he's going.  Walk, He says.


A man sees a desk.  On it is paper.  A pen is beside the paper.  God points in the direction of the desk.  Work, He says.


Such simple images have power.  Simple things always do.  These two images have informed my life and imagination for over twenty years.  Both images are from visions I had during a time of prayer at one of the life-altering Teens Encounter Christ retreat weekends in the early nineties. Both images speak to me more deeply now than they did back in my slightly ridiculous, self - assured youth.


You see, only recently have I truly let God have His way with me.  Patient and loving as He is, He slowly and beautifully edits my life of conceit, illusion and lies.  More than ever before, I see what God wants from me and what He wants me to do.


For many years I lived as if I weren't telling my own story.  The story God had wanted to tell in and through me was, I'm sorry to say, of little interest.  I did what most of us do.  I looked at other people, other lives and imitated them.  God was patient and kind,

though, and He broke my heart of these fantasies.  God told me it had come time to live in reality, to walk and not ask where, to work and not ask what was ahead of me and not ask why.


God delights in differences.  He speaks and works through them.  In my life, I knew of my differences early.  All through elementary, junior high and high school, I watched as my fellow students did well in class.  Learning seemed to be easy for them.  In math class, I was always lost.  In gym, I was awkward and humiliated.  This was not a happy period, obviously.


Teachers tried to help.  Some were wonderfully humane and compassionate, but this was the seventies and eighties.  The knowledge of learning disabilities was limited and the help I did get was barely adequate for my needs.  Worse, though, was that I  faced what every person with a disability faces.  An over emphasis on mediating the disability neglects a person's gifts.  This is isolating and confusing.


As the saying goes, I knew only in part.  Knowing how my learning disability would impact on my life could set me free to focus on my gifts.  I could become real and walk closer with Jesus.  This understanding came gradually and perfectly.


My post-secondary studies, at Mount Royal and the University of Calgary, were a time of revelation and freedom.  School no longer felt confining or numbing.  I studied what appealed to me and, for the most part, excelled.  I discovered that despite, and maybe even because of my disability, I could prosper in the world of language and ideas.  All those years spent on the outside of social and scholastic circles, slowly and intensely thinking and observing, enabled me to connect with the essence of my discipline.   I no longer felt that I was simply someone with a disability.  I had something I could do, something to offer the world.


So, I wrote: papers, poems, I began to publish.  My first published poem was in 1993 and I've published consistently since then.  Still, I hadn't come to a proper, full understanding of my disability.  As if this were an important point, God kept bringing me into situations where I would have to face it.


Near the end of my university studies, I worked briefly at two jobs, a café and in a book store.  These sound ideal for someone who loves both coffee and books.  In each I experienced how my type of learning disability affects me in the workplace.  Counting change or taking orders quickly was impossible.  I found that I processed all this information slowly, too slowly to do the job to anyone's satisfaction.  In the café, I worked for only six hours before being fired.  In the bookstore I had a similar experience. There it was either quit or be let go.  I saw my limitations, but I did not rage at them. Instead, I took these events as a signal that I was going in the wrong direction.  What did God want from me?  What did he want me to do?


Soon, I began to see a little clearer. I had finished my degree and was fumbling around a bit, writing well, but still unsure of my direction.  The clarity I had sought came to me in the spring of 1997, when I had my first comprehensive test of my learning disability.   All the things I had suspected for decades were true, I was set free from living a life that wasn't mine to live.  I could be myself.


I learned how my learning disability was linked to my visual impairment.  My left eye doesn't work well.  This means I can't drive.  What I can do on a computer is limited.  I need people to help me do work on the computer, such as typing out my poems.  My processing time for information is slow.  Although mathematics fascinates me in an abstract sense, I still don't understand basic concepts.  Speed and stress make it difficult, if not impossible to process information efficiently and act on what it means.


For my life to have any significance, for it to make any sense or be of any use, I must live it on my terms.  This may sound selfish or self indulgent, but I have little choice.  Living an illusion leads to mediocrity, which God detests, which ruins the soul.  In a true sense, my disability has focused my life.  It has forced me to do some things and not others.  It has compelled me to focus my energies on my strengths and continually ask of God if I am abiding in His truth.


This comes at a cost, of course.  I can live with my disability. I can even use it to my advantage.  What brings me to despair, though, is not the loss of employment or educational opportunities, it is when I confront discrimination and judgment.  I have lost friends because they could not understand my disability.  I do not look or act disabled (though I question what a disabled person is supposed to act or look like) so, the thinking goes, what's my problem?  We live in a culture that celebrates speed, efficiency and independence.  My life runs counter to these expectations, but it has value.



Were I to race around, independent, and assured, what good would my life gain?  Would I slow down enough to hear God's voice in the smallest, delicate thing?  Were I another man, what poetry would I write?  Would I be here now?


God has led me here for reasons I can't see.  This is good.  He never fails.  My life is  better now than it has ever been.  I'm writing well.  I'm teaching.  I belong -again-  to a wonderful church.  Friends and family are surprisingly good to me.  Though I will have struggles to face, I will struggle.  God has more for me to do.


In the past year, I have seen many of His promises fulfilled. I would like to tell you about one of them.  In February 2010, I spent 10 glorious days at the Leighton Artists' Colony at the Banff Centre for the Arts.  Doing a residency in the Colony had long been a dream. Artists from all over the world come to the Colony. They are given a studio, about a block from where they sleep and eat, and are left entirely alone to work on their project.  Last year I worked in the Henriquez Studio, an actual fishing boat converted into a studio and brought from Vancouver to Banff in 1984.  Finishing "a cognate of prayer", my second book of poetry was a delight.  Never before had I been so aware of myself as an artist and as a Christian.  Never before had I been so aware of myself as a person with a disability.  "a cognate of prayer", you see, is a series of long poems about people living with disabilities.


I, a person with a disability, was writing about people with disabilities.  Sitting there on that blue couch in my boat, on the side of a mountain, I gave expression to a human experience.  I, a person with a disability, had let God lead me.


It was as if I had concluded one part of my life and embarked upon another.  After walking through a dry land for years with my eyes down, God lifted my head and showed me a new way.  My studio, more than a boat, was a metaphor for a new life.  Of course, when God puts His people in boats, it is always a going out and towards new lands.


I think I'll go there.


Lent: Reflections by Joan Chittister from her book The Liturgical Year: the Spiraling Adventure of the Liturgical Life

Lent is a call to renew a commitment grown dull, perhaps, by a life more marked by routine than reflection.  After a lifetime of mundane regularity or unconsidered adherence to the trappings of faith, Lent requires me, as a Christian, to stop for a while, to reflect again on what is going on in me.  I am challenged again to decide whether I, myself, truly do believe that Jesus is the Christ - and if I believe, whether I will live accordingly when I can no longer hear the song of angels in my life and the start of Bethlehem has grown dim for me.

Lent is not a ritual. It is a time to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out.

Journey with the Holy Spirit by Verna Reid

Some thoughts on my life journey

            I must start by telling you that, as is inevitable for those who live to old age, I have had my share of trouble. My childhood wasn't easy, money was often scarce, our family survived a kidnapping, my brother died at an early age, I have had countless illnesses, (9 surgeries) and my husband, the love of my life, a successful and wonderful man, was nevertheless haunted by his part in World War II

However, as I look back over my eighty odd years, I feel blessed that I was directed to take a path that has been amazingly fulfilling for me.  I say, "directed", because the path has been marked by significant turning points that, in every case, are the result of actions, suggestions, or kindnesses of other people. I have been tempted to call these people the " angels" in my life, but biblically the word "angel" has a quite specific designation. I believe now that what has directed my life has been the Holy Spirit working on my behalf through other people-the grace of God.               

 Sometimes these events might appear to others as in significant, but each of these events has meant a lot to me. For example, I believe that the Holy Spirit rescued me in Grade Two by sending me Miss Post, an exchange teacher for a year from Scotland to Wellington School in Winnipeg. Grade One had been a disaster for me. I came down with a severe case of measles just as school was starting and must have been a month or more late in enrolling. The whole of that year's instruction was a mystery to me and I could never figure out what was going on. I certainly could not begin to read.  Grade Two was different because of Miss Post. For some reason, Miss Post and I were on the same wavelength, and when she explained the function of the alphabet, it all of a sudden made sense. I could read. As the year went on, I can see now that I loved her and I know that she loved me. When she said goodbye to go back to Scotland, we both cried and hugged one another. I feel that hug still.

Similarly, a beautiful redheaded nurse named Florence understood what a scared little girl I was when I was hospitalized in St Boniface isolation hospital at the age of 8 with a bad case of scarlet fever. Because of a polio epidemic, we were allowed no visitors and as a little Protestant girl I found the nuns formidable indeed. Florence became an angel for me if there ever was one. She gave me affection, smiles and care and brought a little present or two to help me pass the time. I think I was her pet. What was a traumatic experience was again transformed by kindness and love of a person who was essentially a stranger, but through the grace of God, sensed a little girl's need.  

However, the event that really changed my life was brought about by a simple phone call. I was eighteen and had just finished high school. North Toronto Collegiate Institute had been an alienating place for me. In my first year high school, we had moved from Winnipeg along about Easter time and I felt very strange in this new big school. The courses were different and I was not the popular student I had been in Winnipeg.  By the last of year of high school, I was certainly not working up to my potential and I was disenchanted with formal education. That summer, I was hired by the Toronto Star newspaper in the Classified section to work on the switchboard taking ads over the phone. The fact that I was working for a newspaper at first excited me but I soon realized that I was in a dead end job. I didn't care; I lived for the weekends. 

Then, in late August or early September, along about noon, I got a personal call from Vicky West, my mother's closest friend and a rather eccentric woman who edited a series of little poetry magazines and who was like godmother to me, although I don't think she had any specific religious convictions. Somehow she got through to me on the switchboard and said "I just called to tell you that this is the very last day that you can enroll in university and you had better not miss the boat" or words to that effect. I don't know what I replied but, after we disconnected and I sat there somewhat stunned, I experienced the inner compulsion that I came eventually to recognize as the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. I didn't call my parents or consult anyone else. I just told my supervisor I had to take the afternoon off and headed home on the Yonge streetcar to get the transcript of my high school marks and my cheque book. Somehow I found Convocation Hall on the Univ. of Toronto campus and then the Registrar's office.

By then it was close to five o'clock and the only person there was the actual Registrar, a tall distinguished looking Englishman. I don't know where the words came from but I looked up at him and asked" What honour course can I get into with these marks?" Why did I say "honour course?" Certainly my average wasn't good enough for entrance into any honour course. He scanned my transcript and said  (as I thought) "Your average isn't very good but you do have an A in English Composition and a B in literature and in French. I tell you what. There is only one Honour course anyone can get into to at five to five the last day of registration and that is Philosophy, English or History, You choose your option in the second year. I will let you in, but it will be at your own risk."  "Fair enough" I said not knowing it was the heaviest liberal arts Honor course  "How much?" He said " well you can give me $94.00 now and the rest at Christmas. But what college do you want?" and he listed them; "University college, St Michaels, Trinity or Victoria college?" I remembered that some high school classmate said " all the neat girls go to Vic" so I replied "Victoria" and wrote him a cheque, little realizing that world class literary critic Northrop Frye was a member of the Vic Faculty and would teach classes to Vic's Honour English undergraduates. Some years later Frye would teach only graduate students but I had him for three of my four years.

 I went home curiously satisfied and told my parents at dinner that I had quit my job and was starting University in a couple of days. My mother said "Mercy me" and my Dad, a contractor, asked. "What are you taking?", hoping it was Pre Law or Business. I said, "It's called Philosophy. English or History, Dad said, "Good God What is that?" I said" Daddy, I don't know. "   

            I tell this story in such detail in order to trace the combination of circumstances, set in motion by Mrs. West and my own curious sense of compulsion that got me, by the Grace of God to exactly where I needed to be at that time of my life. I could write a whole chapter on the impact of Northrop Frye's classes on my spiritual life and my academic career. Frye was a United Church minister and theologian as well as a literary critic and distinguished professor. He was a master at connecting ideas from various disciplines and helping his students to see the underlying patterns. He also was a noted Biblical scholar and placed the English Bible at the imaginative centre of human experience.  His fourth year course "The Bible as Literature" helped me to read the Bible in a whole new way. (He was writing The Great Code during those years) . From him, I learned to connect the life of the mind with the life of the spirit. He gave me a solid grounding that served me well as a teacher and as a Christian.

            If I were writing the story of my life, I would go on to track, as part of it, the serendipitous events that have marked the rest of my journey. The odds of Craig and I finding each other were probably very small-he hadn't really planned on coming to Toronto to complete his education. At the time I put it down to chance but looking back I am not sure. II remember that first night, as we were dancing the last dance, I go that familiar feeling of rightness immediately and I guess, so did he. We got married while still at University with no money and few concrete prospects. It just felt inevitable.  And now, by the grace of God, after sixty years of marriage and missing my husband, I have the inestimable comfort of three wonderful loving children, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

 I found my dearest girlhood friend Louise after thirty years because the Moncton phone book fell open at her married name, one I had temporarily forgotten. I owe my thirty-year teaching career to the fact that I was cast in a one-act play that was directed by an actor who, unbeknownst to me, was also the Director of Applied Arts at SAIT. As luck or fate or the Holy Spirit would have it, that was the very first year that SAIT hired women.

More recently, I would never had the chance to do my PhD if, when trying to answer questions about my future plans, my son John had not piped up " Mom you ought to so your PhD." "Verna?  Do you want to do Your PhD?" asked the acting Dean of General Studies who was sitting nearby. Once again, through the Grace of God, that feeling of compulsion overcame my sense of caution. "Maybe". I said. Then I gave her, out of nowhere, 15 minutes on what I would do it on. "Come and see me Monday morning," she said. Again, the direction of my life was changed. No retirement for me.

And does it work the other way?  All I know is that, on more than one occasion, one or another of my students has said to me " You (or your class) changed my life". If I  (or it) did, it was inadvertent. I think, by the Grace of God, that I had just passed on what Northrop Frye and/or the Registrar at U. of T. gave to me those many years ago.