Column for The Kingsville Observer

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Here in Kingsville we no longer have a print newspaper, but a crew of seasoned journalists has started an online paper. They focus on stories with a local focus. One of the writers, Rob Hornberger, did a piece about me making the short-list last year for a Crime Writers of Canada award for unpublished authors. My mystery novel, The Book of Answers is still a work in progress. I plan to use this year’s NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) in November to re-work it.

In the mean time, The Kingsville Observer has invited me to contribute a regular column, which I am thinking of calling “LifeCycle”. It may, sometimes, be about being on a bike.

Here is a link to the first column: https://www.kingsvilleobserver.com/post/shaking-the-covid-doldrums-on-essex-county-s-back-roads

I have added the text of my column to this post, to archive it. My “precious” words disappear from the Kingsville Observer site when I submit a newer piece.

I rode my bicycle more in the month of August than in all my previous 58 years. My shiny new bike had only been used a dozen times. It took the “new normal” to get me beyond good intentions.

Disconnected, disappointed over cancelled travel plans, and caught in the low level distress of the pandemic, I felt it was time. I signed on for a month-long challenge, cycling to raise money for children’s cancer research at SickKids Hospital. I dedicated my effort to my cousin Scott, who died young, after a hard struggle with cancer. I’d have pedaled around the world, if it could have saved him that ordeal.

I cycled daily, except for a day to recover from saddle sores, and learn how to avoid them!

My initial goals were 300 kilometres and $100 in donations. As I became more fit, more enthused, I upped the numbers. Two thirds into August, I declared on Facebook that I’d aim to match kilometres to dollars donated. Friends posted encouraging words, and some made strategic donations to inspire me to pedal on. These kindnesses stayed with me.

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher said, “In difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart.”

Pascal didn’t live through a pandemic, but understood hardship. He suffered frail health his whole life, before dying at age 39, of untreatable cancer that started in his stomach, and reached his brain.

On August 19, the 338th anniversary of Pascal’s death, I cycled from Kingsville to Point Pelee. The 60 kilometre round trip was the furthest I’d ever gone. It was a gift to realize I was up for it.  

Cycling the backroads of our county, I encountered frogs and toads, garter snakes, hundreds of rabbits, a family of wild turkeys, soaring hawks, an imperious American Bald Eagle, and two varieties of turtles (box, and snapping). I marveled at bright, cloudless skies, and at other times, raced to get out of the rain. I learned to take water and snack stops under trees, for the shade.  I met friends on the bike trails, and paused one afternoon to help search for a stray kitten.

No luck with the kitten. Over the weeks I found coins, the key to a Harley, and a working cellphone. I gave the money to SickKids, and returned the key and phone to relieved owners.

I marked the last day with a “century ride” (cyclist talk for 100 km) from Kingsville to Cottam, then to Essex, on to Amherstburg, through Harrow, (with a pit stop at my church office) and back home for a celebratory, slow cruise around Kingsville.

By the end, I’d traded a bit of belly for stronger legs, raised $1215, and covered 950 kilometres. I’d also learned a little about the power of holding something beautiful in my heart.  

Colour your Prayers March 26, 2020

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And the One who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV adapted)

I don’t know how it is for you, but there are times when I have the need, the urge to pray, and really don’t have words. I don’t know how to say what I am feeling, and the thoughts have not coalesced, solidified enough that I can attach actual words to them.

These days, there is so much. I am carrying in my heart voices of people I talk with on the phone, pictures of folks in the church directory that I look at, while I ponder who to call next. There are the memories of things I have been told.  I think about people I am used to seeing almost every day. I think about people I have not seen for years.

I wonder about our world, and what will happen this afternoon, next week, and on and on….

That’s how I am today. Full of… prayers, questions, worries, dark thoughts, hopeful glimmers, deep love, compassion. So much. Maybe you have times like this too.

Back when I was studying and teaching contemplative practices, and offering the ministry of spiritual direction (I did that for about a decade before I came to Harrow), I developed a way to pray, when I don’t have all, or any of the words.

It starts with my art box, and a blank page.

I write down names, places, concerns. I paint over them with a colour that feels like God’s love, God’s attention. I used watercolour today, but I’ve done coloured pencils, even crayons in the past. More words, names, places come to mind, so I add them. God’s love is not limited by the size of my heart, so I add more colour. It’s a bit of bright mess- and that’s about right, for today.

 

Mindfulness, and the secret lovely toad

During this week of study leave, my “serious” reading has been Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ”. Each day I employed the discipline of taking notes from the chapter I read, and distilling them into a blog post, with the hope of integrating Rohr’s ideas into my conscious thinking, and way of seeing the world.

natalie goldbergMy more personal “reading” has actually been listening to Natalie Goldberg read a commemorative edition of her book “Writing Down the Bones”, which is about a Zen approach to writing. I love that at the end of each chapter, she sets down the script, and talks about how it felt to read that section.

One of the themes running through Goldberg’s work seems to be “noticing” the small details of moments, and writing them down, to bring exactness, precision, and life to your writing. I think this gentle encouragement to notice grows organically out of her Zen practice. Be mindful. Pay attention. Be where you are, and see what there is to see, right where you happen to be.

Goldberg’s theme is not a great departure from what Rohr writes of in The Universal Christ. He sees, and loves, the presence of the divine imbued in all things, in every aspect of Creation.writing down the bones other

I like to listen to audio books while I do chores. This may be something like the opposite of living in the moment. Even so, it fed my soul to have Natalie Goldberg’s voice in my ears this afternoon while I did yardwork.

One of my tasks was repairing the downspout fed by the eavestrough on the back of our house.  It is the only one that does not feed into the town sewer, and when it rains, water pools next to our foundation, and finds its way into our basement laundry room.

When I lifted the vinyl splash block that guides the flow of water out of the downspout, I noticed a little brown toad. The toad’s colouring provided such camouflage, I wonder if this species has t20190520_171117he chameleon-like capacity to shift its appearance. Because I was using my phone to listen to Natalie Goldberg’s book, I was able to take a photo before the toad scampered away, and disappeared under some brush.