gratitude

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Strong, spring winds blew us into church. Most Sunday mornings I morph into a petulant teenager. I DON’T WANT TO GO TO CHURCH! This day, I plodded up the steps feeling extra grumpy.

Hubby and I were greeted with a big grin, and outstretched hand, “Good morning! I’m your hair-dresser and greeter. Let me check your hair. Yup! You’re good to go!” 

My mood instantly changed. This woman’s good-natured attitude and beaming smile were contagious. I don’t remember much about the rest of the mass, but I do remember how I felt after such a warm greeting. 

We are often reminded to be mindful of the little things in life that bring peace, joy and happiness. Stop and smell the roses. Slow down, you move too fast. Groovy!

It’s easy these days to embrace pessimism. The news feeds our anger and fear, convincing us that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. Daily life is filled with its own worries, sorrow and grief. Our minds race with worse case scenarios, shattering our calm and ruining our sleep. 

We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts…How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gratitude. A simple and easy antidote to pessimism. 

Three months ago, hubby and I began a wee project. A gratitude journal. Here’s how it works for us. 

The journal sits on our dresser. Every night, before we go to bed, we each write one or more things that we’re grateful for that day. Feeling grumpy doesn’t give you a pass. It’s all the more reason to dig deep and find that positive nugget hidden beneath the gloom.

I suck at keeping resolutions. Making this resolution together has been a good thing, as we nudge each other to pick up the pen and get writing. Usually it’s but a few words. Sometimes it’s longer. Other times it’s a lazy “ditto”! The pages are quickly filling. 

We’re thankful for visits with kiddies and grand-kiddies, recording the latest hilarity in word or deed. 

We’re thankful for sun and warmth and green…finally, after a long winter. 

We’re thankful for leisurely meals on the deck.

We’re thankful for the pelicans flying over the marsh. 

We’re thankful for tasks accomplished. 

We’re thankful for connecting with friends.

We’re thankful…

And, this is a good thing. 

Anthony Bourdain’s lessons in hospitality

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I love to cook. I love to eat and drink. A relaxed, leisurely meal with good food, good wine and good friends, for me, is truly a touch of heaven. Around a table, plain or fancy, community is born. Lives are shared. Bonds are made. 

The death of Anthony Bourdain shocked and saddened me, as it shocked and saddened so many others. I have been a long time fan of both his books and his shows. 

I read his books with envy. Anthony wrote like I wish I could write. Witty. Smart. Honest. Raw. But, what I loved the most about the man, was his utter joy at sitting down to break bread with anyone and everyone. The mighty and the humble. He loved people, and it showed. He was as comfortable dining in Michelin restaurants as in the back alleys of Vietnam. 

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Anthony Bourdain was the antithesis to the current isolationism and xenophobia that is spreading around the world. He contrasted the image of the “ugly westerner” travelling in baseball cap, cargo shorts and Crocs, grumbling and complaining that “this isn’t how we do it at home”. 

“Why can’t everyone speak English?”

“This isn’t how pizza is supposed to taste.”

“Eww, this street food looks dirty. Wonder if there’s a McDonald’s nearby?”

hospitality

There are two sides to hospitality. Giving and receiving. 

Giving hospitality is often, by far, the easier of the two. When we invite others to our home, we are in control. We choose who is coming. We choose what to serve. We choose how we will spend our time. 

Receiving hospitality, from family and friends when we know what to expect and how to behave, is also easy. But…

How many of us would feel comfortable being welcomed into a completely foreign environment, not knowing the people, language, customs, culture or food?

You don’t have to travel miles to imagine such a situation. It could be a family down the street, or across town. For many of us, no matter how warm and welcoming the hosts, we still experience an  “uncomfortable hospitality”. We are out of our comfort zone. We fear newness, difference, and the unknown.

We are used to being in control, and having others form themselves into our image. Not the other way around. 

What Anthony Bourdain did on the micro level, had a much deeper meaning on the macro level. Sharing a bowl of soup with a street vendor in Thailand instantly builds bridges among cultures. Welcoming being welcomed by the “other”, and relishing that welcome, opens doors to dialogue and friendship.

Perhaps we depend too much on elite diplomats to forge peace in our world. Perhaps the answer lies in that most Christian of symbols. The most human of activities.

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A table. 

Sitting down with our sisters and brothers.

Breaking bread and raising a glass.

Sharing our stories, our joys and our fears.

Communion, in its deepest most human sense. 

The world has lost a great promotor of global table fellowship.  May he rest in peace. 

To be treated well in places where you don’t expect to be treated well, to find things in common with people you thought previously you had very, very little in common with, that can’t be a bad thing.

Anthony Bourdain

where is the catholic dialogue?

I continue to struggle to write regularly. Recently, the frustration is compounded by increasing guilt.

The purpose of catholic dialogue is to provide a forum for dialogue on issues confronting the church and the world. This blog opened the doors for me to write for two publications that I admired and respected. The first was the Prairie Messenger here in Canada. The second was the National Catholic Reporter in the US.

I stopped writing for both publications when life circumstances overtook my mind and heart. I didn’t lose interest in “things catholic”, but I did lose the passion required to stay on top of the minutiae of daily/weekly church news. I tried to “stay in touch” with reading, but the writing didn’t come.

I regret it.

The presses have stopped at the Prairie Messenger. The end was announced a year ago. I tried not to think about it. The year whizzed by and the final issues were published. Many commentaries and letters were written by writers and readers, mourning the loss of the last independent Catholic newspaper in Canada.

Quietly. Privately, I mourned also.

I still remember the pure joy and excitement when Maureen Weber, associate editor of the PM, invited me to write a regular column. She gave this insecure writer confidence, and I discovered a soul mate and friend. I regret not continuing the writing. I regret even more not contributing in these final months. It is the regret of many a mourner. If only I had said ____, before they were gone.

The Prairie Messenger reported on church news locally, nationally, and internationally. More importantly, and this was repeated over and over in the many tributes, the PM provided a forum for dialogue; often on issues that were considered “not to be discussed”.

What is left? We have an archdiocesan newsletter that is published every three months. (How’s that for timely news!) Its scant pages are filled with photos of the bishop and priests, parish celebrations, meetings and workshops. It is no more than a PR rag, of interest only to the faithful involved in various parish/diocesan activities.

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, the independent newspaper continues to produce high quality reporting and opinion articles. An excellent example is NCR Rome correspondent, Joshua J. McElewee’s latest article,  Bishops’ prosecutions may point to new phase in church’s sex abuse crisis.

One of the best features of the online version of the National Catholic Reporter was its lively discussion forum. Sadly, the editorial team struggled for years to maintain a safe, civil discourse, but the trolls kept coming. The discussions turned nastier and nastier. The discussion boards were finally shut down. The dialogue that enriched and gave life to the articles was no more.

I follow several Catholic writers, theologians, and publications on Twitter (yes…she guiltily admits she is back on Twitter…sigh). It keeps me informed on the latest news/commentary on “things catholic” from all positions on the lib/trad spectrum. Unfortunately, there is little feedback or dialogue.

So, what to do with all this regret and guilt?

All I can do is try to write.

And keep writing.