Recollecting our Stories – Joyce Sasse

Reunions can be a great time for telling stories.  Memories long forgotten come back to life.  Sometimes it takes a little prompting.  But the story, put together by the memories of others, becomes important to how we look at these events in our lives.

“Story-telling (and story-recalling)” we are told “helps us make sense of our lives.”  How true!

Friends from Korea came to visit, and we started talking about a day we spent together in the Han family’s traditional family home-city.  I was more than glad to have use of a vehicle for the trip, and was more than proud to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the children were taught what this family’s pagoda-pavilion meant.

I completely missed the way some bystanders scorned us because a foreign woman drove the car.  I also missed the way the Han family patriarch introduced himself to those on-lookers, and immediately won their respect because of his high ranking in Korean society.

Recalling this story thirty years later, with each of us, adding what we remembered, made the event come back to life, and made it an important part of our shared experience.

Another important aspect of story-telling — anthropologist Margaret Mead’s children recalled that their mother “always let us have our memories”.  She never tried to correct those memories, though she also shared her memory of the incident.  What a wonderful way to respect each other!

What about recalling the Biblical stories?  Are they just something someone gabbles on about?  That we only half hear?  That we don’t bother to remember?  When and how might they become part of our story?  When might a memory from a particular story come to mind to help us through a difficult time?  When might the words of Scripture, speaking of the awareness of God’s presence in the human scene, give expression to our feelings of hope?

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As The Heat Continues – Joyce Sasse

There are those who relish the heat.  But there are others of us who find ourselves becoming more and more depressed by its excess.

Confinement to curtain-closed homes, stifling apartments, or air-conditioned spaces that irritate while they cool all take their toll.  Add the threat this may be more than a few-day phenomena –we look for positive ways to find relief.

Through the hot, sticky summers I spent in South Korea, I regularly sat in front of an electric fan with my feet in a basin of cool water.  Through drought days in Saskatchewan I retreated to the basement to escape the wind and dust-laden atmosphere.  Here in Alberta another concern is the forest-fire smoke.  Add the experience of loss of crops, homes, businesses, even entire neighbourhoods.  When the land suffers, those who are connected also feel the pain.

Most important is that we be there for each other.

The first winter after I was ordained, we had an exceptionally cold January.  I rousted myself to do pastoral visiting.  The seniors I visited that day put life back in perspective for me.  One lady was making cookies.  Another kept close watch on a sick friend.  A third made sure the new preacher stayed for lunch.  Their lives were purpose-driven.  Their day had a focus.

In tough times we can easily surrender to the disillusions and distresses that depress us.  Or we can be more proactive as we realize we have responsibility within our community to initiate phone-calls, to share memories with a friend, to consider what assets we have that we can pass to others …

Part of our God given capacity of resilience is echoed by the kid who proudly shouted “God made me, and God don’t make junk!”

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Selfie-Centredness – Joyce Sasse

Though we seldom stop to do the analysis, our actions are usually indicative of the basic values that propel our lives.  When are these actions of a more progressive nature?  When might they be regressive?

Do you remember taking pictures when the photographer was the person behind the camera?  Now we have become obsessed with selfie-centredness.  Whether it be with a favorite celebrity, standing at the peak of a mountain, or in front of a prized pet, the features of the selfie-photographer are front-and-centre.

It takes me back to those days when we thought that the earth was the centre of the Universe.  Humankind was so obsessed with the rightness of this thinking that those who thought otherwise were condemned to hell-and-damnation.

Our basic values determine the path our actions will take.  What I declare to be right or wrong, the causes I support or try to repress, the way I define what is just or unjust … when my attitude is selfie-centred it is easy to conclude other ways of thinking are illegitimate.  Our intolerance threshold is high.  The result can be conflict and chaos.

The spiritual teachings of most of our World Faiths would guide us along different paths because they are not selfie-centred.  They advocate ways to enhance the self, but it is usually so that followers might serve a greater good.  The call is to consider how to live enriched lives for the sake of the community, for the sake of the creation, for the sake of the whole.  One’s thoughts, actions and attitudes are lifted outward and upward.

In Christian Scripture, the missionary Paul expressed it so well by writing, “The three greatest things (one can aspire to) are faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love”.

You can’t be selfie-centred when you are called to respect and love one another!

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Uniting Community Through Prayer – Joyce Sasse

It was an honour to be invited to a “Community Day of Prayer” at the Piikani Nation.  Time had been set aside by the Elders’ Society and the Faith Communities of the Reserve during Aboriginal Week.  The intention was to help participants focus on holding fast to spiritual truths.  They were supported by leaders of various community wellness programs.

The theme for the gathering was “Uniting Community Through Prayer”.  As participants read scripture and led in prayer, each gave a brief testimonial about distress they had face, and told how support of family, community and their faith in Christ helped them survive.

The theme speaker drew particular attention to the commandment to honour our parents.  He looked directly at the High School students in the front row and didn’t pull any punches.  What kind of parents will you be?  Girls don’t get pregnant on their own!  And even if you don’t have a father-figure present in your life, think about how important that role is.  Beware of drugs!  Act responsibly and with integrity.  Be proud to be who you are.  Think through the teachings of your elders.

A second speaker, against the backdrop of the Truth and Reconciliation theme, pointed out how “Our People” had the stamina to survive through those seven generations of agony.  Against the greatest of odds they proved their fortitude.  He beamed as he looked at the students.  You are our future!  You make us proud! I feel very hopeful for our future.

The Elders, too, were reminded about the importance of their role in transmitting the cultural and spiritual truths to their children and grandchildren – to the next fifty generations.

I too was filled with appreciation and hope.  But I was a little envious that I have not recently heard similar unified sentiments share in my non-aboriginal community by our elders and faith leaders.

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God’s Glory and Human Dignity – Joyce Sasse

If you have a bad night, take yourself outside, look up at the star-lit night sky and let your mind settle on the words of the ancient Psalmist.  I particularly love the way author James (Jim) Taylor paraphrased Psalm 8 in contemporary English.

The wisdom and power of this ancient song shows how God’s glory calls forth our human dignity.

“My God, my God, how wonderful you are!”  Taylor wrote as he looked up at the vastness of the sky.  “There is nothing like you in the whole earth.”

Here he sensed the Creator’s presence.  “On a starry night, with your glory splashed across the skies, I gaze into your infinite universe and I wonder:  Who am I?”  Looking up, one feels so insignificant, so defenseless.  “Why do I matter?  Why do you care about mere mortals?”

Against all that powerful splendour “we humans are less than specks of dust in your universe – yet you choose us as your partners.  You give us a special place in your household.”

Alert to the sounds of the night, the writer was aware of life pulsating – the sheep, the oxen, the wild animals, the birds in the air and the fish in the sea.  O God “You share the secrets of the universe with us” and “you TRUST US to look after the earth on your behalf”.  You give us opportunity to act responsibly.

The poet thought of his own family.  “Babies and infants open their mouths (in praise) and I hear them cry your name.”

The glory of this great universe is both awesome and humbling.  But the Creator entrusted we finite beings to help care for this gracious gift.

We move forward with pride and dignity.

“My God, my God!  How amazing you are!”

(James Taylor’s “Everyday Psalms”)

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Recycling Our Pain – Joyce Sasse

“I think it important we recycle our pain”, the woman on the radio told her interviewer.  She had just received recognition for helping develop a police recruits’ training program on how to deliver devastating news to families of the deceased.

Some years previous she and her husband had taken an overseas holiday immediately after the wedding of their only son.  That son had since been killed in an industrial accident, and his father (as next-of-kin) had to be informed.  While the Canadian police were very aware this news should not be delivered over the phone, the local police simply knocked on the hotel door, checked the identification of the father, and instructed him to call a Canadian police number immediately.

As the couple wrestled with their grief, they realized it was important for them to find a way to move out from under their oppressive shroud of despair.

“We needed to recycle our grief”, she said as she talked about not stagnating in a pool of depression.

Use of the term ‘recycling” in this context grabbed my attention.  How can we find a way to convert something from out of our past that has consumed us, into something constructive?

In the couple’s case, they also recognized how hard it was for police to have to deliver tragic news, and how often.  Talking through the issues involved, workshopping what one might say, how to speak, how to listen, how to make the time –important considerations for both parties to the conversation.  This was the work they committed themselves to do.

In our personal lives, might we follow this wise advice?  When we have burdens that cling, that haunt us in the dark of night, that cause bouts of depression and despair – it may be appropriate to ask how we can recycle that pain.  It is possible to lighten our burden by finding ways to direct our experience and energies in positive ways?

Wise advice for inhabitants in a world where life is a constant challenge!

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Resilience Capacity – Joyce Sasse

Trying to maintain one’s emotional well-being and stay positive is a challenge in a world caught up in a perpetual state of disruption.  How, in the face personal upsets, do we maintain our resilience capacity?

Wise advise comes through bits of classic literature.  I’m ever so glad for those lines of poetry that float to memory from High School.  “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1895, “or being lied about, don’t deal in lies; or being hated, don’t give way to hating …”

Some cast this poem aside as typical of Victorian stoicism, but I sense wise advice for dealing with life’s inevitable challenges.  Kipling, a child who knew what it was like to be treated harshly, encourages us in times of Disaster as well as times of Triumph, to never give up our thinking and dreaming.

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve you long after they are gone; and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

We come to acknowledge how it is that life goes on, even in spite of hardship.  What happened is a reality, but as we carry on through that reality, we can develop skills that help us look into the future to find glimmers of hope.

The poem “If” was written by a 30-year old poet in the paternal style of his day.  But through it he was passing encouragement on to his daughters.

Whenever resilience is required, the formula remains the same.  Our resilience capacity is best honed when we interact with others who can support us, validate our experiences and empower us.  Story-telling and real-life examples enrich our understanding so we are able to accept the challenges and discover ways of moving forward toward beacons of hope.  We can feel ourselves blessed indeed!

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The Sacredness of Nature – Joyce Sasse

Can we understand the relationship of God and ourselves better through celebrating the gift of Creation?  As human beings, we and the earth are intricately bound together. As we live in harmony with this common partner our lives are enriched.

Was this what Pope Francis was trying to say when he gave Donald Trump a special copy of his pastoral letter titled “Care for our Common Home”?  Was this a plea to take the implications of climate change seriously.

Journalist Bruce Masterman has captured the essence of the human-and-nature relationship in his newly published book “One Last Cast”.  Through his columns and short stories, he conveys “why” this relationship is so essential for our daily living.

In one story, when speaking to a group of individuals who are struggling with addictions and mental issues, he mentioned that he had his own journey with depression.  Someone asked how he dealt with it.  There were a few uneasy glances around the room when he responded “I self-medicate”.  He quickly added “I prescribe myself generous doses of the outdoors when I’m feeling down.  Being in nature helps level out my emotional peaks and valleys.”

Masterman’s expression of how he moved himself “into the light” is a great reminder for everyone.  The older we get, the more excuses we have for staying entrenched in our easy chair, while the wonders of nature (part of God’s first revelation) beckon us to the health spa that is the great outdoors.  Breath deep and let the Spirit of the Divine touch your soul.

“One Last Cast”, a book for the whole family, will be in my pocket on Father’s Day so I can read the theme story.  It’s about a dad and a daughter who have shared many special moments fishing together.  Now she’s grown and ready to go to College.  They have this one last day, this one last cast, before the rhythm of their lives radically changes.

That is my story!  That’s the special, marvelous way my dad gifted me. He showed me why nature was a sacred place.  “Care for it!   It is part of who you are!”

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In our ending is our beginning – Joyce Sasse

Who can deny that spring is a miracle?  Bulbs and seeds, still buried and frozen, start to shoot toward the light.  What calls them?

The words of the hymn of spring speaks so poignantly.  “In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed an apple tree; in cocoons a hidden promise – butterflies will soon be free!”  Composer and poet Natalie Sleeth’s words are simply beautiful.

“In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season something God alone can see.”

It was written at a time of concern in Sleeth’s own life.  Her husband was diagnosed with cancer soon after the composition was completed.  As she struggled with her own thoughts about life and death and life beyond death, she saw how not only the bulbs and butterflies, but all that existed was filled with the Spirit of the Creator.

“There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody.  There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.”  Sound and light also carry the message of promise.  “From the past will come the future.  What it holds, a mystery – unrevealed until its presence something God alone can see.”

The key phrase: “In our end is our beginning, in our time infinity”.  All that might bind us and hold us in bondage no longer threatens.  “In our doubt there is believing, in our life eternity.”  We hear the words of another poet from of old asking “O Death, where is thy sting?”

“In our death, a resurrection.  At the last a victory.”  Even for those who cannot see beyond their doubts and denials, the Spirit within carries us.  “Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

Be in peace.  When we have done all that we can do, we are invited to entrust ourselves and each other into the mystery of our Creator’s care!  Amen!

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Food Sharing Memories – Joyce Sasse

I grew up in a context where quality of food and good cooking went hand-in-hand.  A recent radio discussion, about bake sales and (some) modern-day women, has brought memories to mind.

When I was a student minister in the 50’s, the wife of a retired lawyer told about being the “city girl” who was newest village bride.  Not only did she face a wood-coal stove for the first time, but she had to take her turn hosting the Ladies Aid.  “I started my baking a month ahead so I would have two or three things that were presentable for the meeting!”

I remember my family visiting my home on another student field: where the out-house was in the neighbour’s yard, water had to be carried from the village well, and you had to choose between using the two elements or the oven of the tiny electric stove.  Mother’s production of a good meal, while I was teaching Vacation Bible School, was quite an accomplishment.  Dad carried buckets of water.

There was one community where the ladies regularly sold everything at their bake sale in less than ten minutes.  Watch out for elbows!

Good strategy in another community was to have a bake-table for the men – and bring their favorites.  Grateful patrons offered somewhat larger “bills” and never asked for change.  They especially loved the samplers served at their tea-table!

How food fads have changed – in cook books, at bake sales and for lunch after church!  Young mothers bring health bars and carrot sticks.  But, as one mother confessed on the radio, when it comes to giving something to the Bake Sale cause, I hire my baking done.

What place does food have in our lives?  Is this something that is more important for rural people?  Do we see opportunity to twin with the “new bride”, the person from another culture, and with our own children?

Deep spiritual understandings can come in to focus as we exchange ideas and talk about our food practices.

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