Write by the Sea Retreat

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 

~~~SORRY, WORKSHOP CANCELLED, BUT MAY BE RESCHEDULED ~~~

2014writebytheseaCreativity ultimately finds us when we patiently pause to listen…when we step away from life’s demands and make a sacred space for dreaming and mulling and wondering and waiting. In doing so, we also nourish our relationship with nature, spirit and self.

Join me and nutritionist/massage therapist Elaine Mandrona for a relaxing writing retreat by the sea where you will learn the flow of the writing process, from generating an idea and gathering details, to shaping and polishing the story waiting to be told through you.

The workshop will be held at the lovely Auberge vue d’la Dunes in Bouctouche, NB, overlooking Northumberland Strait. Each day we will interweave workshop sessions with solitary writing time.

 

When: Sept 13-14, 2014
Please register by Sept 6.
More details here

 

Categories: All Workshop & Book Events, nature, relationships, seasons, stillness, writing, writing retreat | 1 Comment

Write from the Soul Workshop

“This is the first, wildest, wisest thing I know…that the soul exists and that it is built entirely our of attentiveness.”
Mary Oliver

Many moons and months have passed since my last workshop. Life has been…well…complicated.  We all  know how it is, don’t we?  We deal with the things that come our way and sometimes have to let the beautiful, creative part of us slide by without expression for a while.

But the maple trees are budding and the last silly drifts of snow in my forest are folding in upon themselves. Last night, I heard the cries of a fox in the dark and this morning I awoke to the soothing call of a mourning dove just outside my window.

mourningdove_spring

Meanwhile, down at the duck pond, ring necks and pintails are preening and picking partners. There is excitement in the air. Reviving excitement. Creation excitement.

 pintail

How about dusting off your notebook, choosing a beautiful new pen and joining me at one of my favourite places…the delightful Artists’ Garden in New Horton? Or, if not for you…how about a unique Mother’s Day gift?

Write from the Soul
Saturday, May 24; 10AM-4PM
An Artist’s Garden, New Horton, NB
Price: $95 (includes HST)

 

Categories: All Workshop & Book Events, Bay of Fundy, writing | 4 Comments

Be the change.

snowtree_sm

He stands alone on the curb; an island beside a river of drivers intent upon their own heroic mission…a place to be, a task to complete, a deal to transact, a person to meet, a shopping list to fill.

Although I catch barely a glimpse of his solitary shape through the traffic, I recognize the stamp of homelessness. Limp hair separates in strings about his ears, a beard wraps his neck like a scarf, sombre clothes fall from shoulders sloped by life’s burdens.  A bundle – perhaps a backpack or bag – lies on the ground at his feet.  He clutches a single piece of cardboard scratched with the handwritten words, ‘HELP ME’.

***

The Native woman sits opposite me, speaking quietly, her hands folded upon themselves. Her hair falls in greying whispers upon her cheeks; her face is creased, chiseled deep by careless words and misguided actions. She was seven when the government placed her in a residential school. “They took me from my family, my culture, my language, and put me in a white man’s world. They took my identity. Now I live between both worlds; I belong in neither.”

So she clings to her identity as a child of God. She tells me she once asked God for a word; he gave her “Harmony”. She asked why he allowed pain to come to the native people; he told her, “Theirs is the pain of people who have been denied honour, esteem and love.”

***

I’m in a taxi, weaving through suppertime traffic on my way to the Toronto airport. My driver bears the weathered look of a Tibetan Sherpa. It is May, yet he wears a furred winter cap and sagging hand-knit woollen sweater. I think he has not adjusted well to our country, then he tells me he is a nomad from the Sahara Desert near Timbuktu.

I ask him what lured him out of his desert to Canada. He wanted a better life for his children in a beautiful country, he says. Did you find it, I ask?  No, he says sadly. He has decided Canadians live too fast, consume too much, care too little. Disillusioned and disappointed, he tells me he will return to the Sahara before another winter sets in.

“I came looking for something that I now know does not exist anywhere on Earth,’ he adds.

“What is that?” I ask, intrigued.

“Freedom, justice and human rights.”

“And what will you tell your children when you return?”

If you want these things too, then you must make them yourself.”

ohChristmasTree

What have these to do with Christmas?  Good question. They are scattered stories emerging upon the page as I sit to compose this post during a winter storm. I’ve felt lost of late, and the process of writing often leads me home.  It began last year in Haiti, I believe…in a moment when I looked across an empty courtyard and saw the eyes of Jesus in a broken, battered man. Such moments change a person. You cannot go back.

The thread continued, as I became more involved in local activism.  As is often the case, when you wade into battle, you discover the enemy is not who or what you think it is. While facing an oil and gas industry that degrades the environment, negatively impacts health, and widens the gap between the rich and the poor, pits neighbour against neighbour, we found even greater enemies… complacency, prejudice, judgement, oppression.

Having visited a country where people trampled by government corruption and foreign industry survive by re-manufacturing mountains of our cast-offs and garbage; where climate change, exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels, causes severe weather events, I can no longer ignore how my decisions affect others. The words of a woman ring true, “We used to think God was punishing us, but now I am angry because I realize it is the rich countries that are to blame.”

In August, I spent three days camping and participating in sacred ceremonies at a First Nations conference. As we sat together in a clearing in the forest, watching nighthawks and waiting for the first stars to appear, I saw people making a heroic effort to reclaim their cultural traditions, pride and strength. Later, some were arrested for upholding their sacred duty to protect Mother Earth. It’s a commitment to duty that few of us might understand. We forget that it takes many diverse trees to create a strong, healthy forest. Protecting the garden is their Great Mission; one they may have strayed far from, but have we not strayed also from ours?

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I’ve become more sensitive to prejudice and judgement as I’ve learned how Canada has oppressed native populations, withholding the honour, esteem and love we should have afforded our First Peoples, and how our policies affect those in other countries. And then, when a stranger tells me that my country – the one my ancestors built on their pursuit of freedom, justice and human rights – seems bereft of these values, I realize he is right. We have fallen far from our heritage, from our beliefs, from our values.

Cloistered in the insulation of our busy lives, we often only remember the poor at Christmas. We believe the oppressed live elsewhere. We forget the voiceless and belittled who live amongst us every day. It all seems so huge and dangerous…this chore of opening ourselves to compassion, and of feeling love for the unlovable.  But how we walk in the world is so important to our heart and soul.

Remember the man with the ‘Help me’ sign?  I would like to tell you I did the right thing. But while I sat conflicted in a parking lot across the street, watching and wondering whether I could provide what he needed, a beautiful stranger stopped to offer help. So I sat alone and wept, realizing the man on the side of the road was perhaps not mine to help, but his image was mine to carry.  Like the man in the Haitian courtyard, I knew he would never leave me.

So, this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of a rebel who challenged the authorities of his time, I return to the profound wisdom offered by a nomad immigrant driving a Toronto cab. “If you want these things, you must make them yourself.”

Be the change you want to see in the world.  Watch for Jesus in the eyes of those around you.

I leave you with the words of Nelson Mandela, who broke the law to create monumental change:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

And a hope that, in the coming year, you will find your own Harmony, and pursue one personal change that makes the world a freer, healthier, more diverse place.  Remember: be gentle with yourself if you fail, but carry your lessons well.

    I’m sorry I’ve been away so long…God Bless and keep you safe,

Deborah

Categories: change, community, courage, earth, relationships, writing | 10 Comments

Light of the World

“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”

 ~John 8:12~

The sun casts its late afternoon light upon the tops of the birch trees behind my home as I sit here, mulling over words that seem reluctant to show me their shape. This is the way with words…I must simply begin with faith, to find out what needs to be said.

It is 3:30pm on Christmas Eve…about -5°C, the ground white with frozen snow left from last week’s storm.

The vegetables are prepared for tomorrow, homemade eggnog is chilling in the refrigerator, the turkey is ‘brine-ing’, gifts are delivered, others are scattered beneath the tree. All is well and solid in my world.

My heart has been searching for the precious, sublime moments cast quietly amidst the rush of this season…straining for a glimmer of light amidst the despair…despair felt both with people whom I love, and with grieving strangers beyond our borders.

St-marys-ext

And my willing heart has found a treasure trove … the cold glitter of moonlight, the pungent drift of wood smoke, gentle flakes dancing, the haunting strains of a violin, friendship that needs no words, shadows cast by flickering candlelight, an aged sanctuary bathed in light, an impromptu trio of voices…the music of the ages.

st-marys-singing

This is the lovely little St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Hillsborough, NB, a tiny architectural treasure built in 1887. Unlike many churches, you won’t find this one boldly centered on the village’s Main Street.

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No, St. Mary’s is unobtrusive; almost shy. The humble little structure with windows stained with glass, cedar shakes and a practical chimney instead of a steeple, is tucked away on a back street, amid century-old trees and leaning tombstones.

Like its members, it does not strain to call attention to itself, yet those who stumble upon it quite by accident feel as if they have inadvertently touched upon a secret longing.

St. Mary’s has a small, but faithful congregation, less than 30, really. Oh, but the care that you will find here. Most all participate in the ritual of service. While Sarah plays the violin on Sundays, her daughter solemnly crawls about at her feet. The ladies knit and sew and bake to raise funds. They gather materials for medical kits, and stitch dresses and shorts for children in other countries. They check on each other when one is missing for a few Sundays in a row.

They gather regularly for meals in the evening, or tea and cookies after the morning service. They epitomize Christ’s love, one for another.

st-marys-int

Two weeks ago, some of the men clambered over the steep pitches in biting cold to string Christmas lights along the peaks. Outside, the gleam of white lights now sparkles modestly against chilled darkness.

Inside, reverence reigns in a warm sanctuary where hand-knit afghans and cushions soften stiff, narrow pews. High wooden ceilings, arched and ribbed like the hull of a ship, resonate with rhyme and ritual, hymn and harmony.

st-marys-int5

We came here, for a silent vigil, several days after Newtown, finding comfort in the worn wood infused by countless liturgies and prayers. The following Friday morning, one of the members made a special trip to open the church. Inside, he grasped the thick hemp rope attached to the iron bell lodged high in the belfry outside the peak, braced himself part way down the aisle and began pulling on the chord, ringing out a solemn tribute into the winter air…28 times in remembrance of the dead.

We may be separated by miles and borders, but are joined by the nature of our small town souls.

st-marys-int1

We returned this weekend, to light the manger scene and put out cookies and hot chocolate for those seeking a quiet interlude with God. Candlelight flickered as visitors were warmly welcomed to come in a sit for a spell in the silence.

st-marys-int3

A few came, anxious to spend a moment pausing silently in remembrance of One who is the source of our longing…the One who also did not draw attention to himself, but came quietly and unobtrusively on a darkened street in a small unremarkable village, an unexpected Light in the Darkness.

Tonight, more will gather just shy of midnight, candles lit, voices rising.

To all my friends, near and far, I bid you a sweet finale to 2012 and a tender Christmas season. Watch for those single precious moments and capture them firmly in your grasp. There is something there for you, a treasure, a glimmer of light and longing that has much to tell you.

I am so grateful for your many words of encouragement, your thoughtful comments, your friendship and wisdom offered. Heartfelt love from my heart to yours,

God Bless and Merry Christmas,
Deborah

Categories: community, faith, Matters of the Heart, peace, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Protecting hearth and home

Something I love is being threatened.

My ancestors were among the first to settle this land. I am at home here and when I walk these crisped leaf-laden paths, the souls of my feet grind the skins of these trees into soil that’s alive with my heritage. Strength and fortitude has nourished this soil, these trees, those rivers…all of them as much a part of me as the genes that live on in my cells.

When my soul is weary, I head to the shelter of the forest, to the gentle slope of my mountain, to the places where the tide caresses the shore.

I am there now, watching the tide ebb and flow over the frozen marsh. Pausing over the fresh snow where fox paws cross my path, or where coyote and I strode the same space, each of us feeling the frost in solitude.

Can anyone blame me for loving and caring for the continuity of place?

This is my land, my birthright. It sustains me in the same ways it sustained my grandparents, great-grandparents and all the generations before. Albert County is in the blood and bone of me.

And now, the gas and oil companies have moved in. Oh, they’ve been here awhile, drilling away in the distant hills, and I have been as guilty as others of complacency. Of being too busy to take notice. But I notice now. Because my blessed Albert County sits on top of a goldmine of oil and shale gas and my neighbourhood is being threatened by the poisonous process and greed of hydraulic fracking. And my government’s ears are deafened; its vision obstructed by dollar signs.

If you share a corner of the world that is coveted by the industry, then you know that fracking involves mixing huge volumes of fresh water with toxic chemical and sand, then pumping it into the ground with ferocious velocity to shatter the bedrock. You know that it endangers groundwater and aquifers, spews noxious fumes into the air, involves noise and truck traffic and diminishes property values.

It destroys the land. It fractures communities. It contributes to climate change.

You also know it poisons fresh water and segments the landscape, stripping trees and vegetation, interrupting wilderness pathways and migration routes, gouging quarries for sand, stripping forest for highways of pipelines. You know there is a rising tide of opposition throughout North America and Europe. You know that people and animals are getting sick from the downstream effects of the industry. Entire countries, provinces, municipalities have enacted bans or moratoriums. Yet the lure of profit is pushing governments to ignore health, lifestyle and environmental dangers to ‘improve economy and create jobs’.  You know that the prosperity is for the companies and shareholders, not the landowners left with the lingering mess.

The past months, I’ve been wallowing in the research, pulling myself out of the toxicity of each new study I read in order to grab a lungful of fresh air and re-energize myself. We have started our own opposition group (Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County), developed a website, circulated petitions, organized community meetings, joined a larger alliance of others who share our concerns (so excuse me for my absence from blogging!). We protested at the Legislature.

Meanwhile, our government ignores the voice of its people and plunges its head in the sand, spewing out platitudes and unfounded figures of wealth and prosperity that are built on a foundation as tenuous and shifting as the sand pile its buried in. Our news media is owned by the oil industry, so the mass of opposition is understated and largely unreported.

It’s demoralizing, discouraging work. But if you’re going to fight, you have to understand what you are fighting….and what you are fighting for.

Our lives begin to end
The day we become silent
About things that matter

~Martin Luther King, Jr

Categories: Bay of Fundy, community, connection to place, earth, fear, landscape, loss, nature, wild spaces | 10 Comments

Autumn in Albert County

I want to cling to fall; to hang, clasped tight, onto every blessed minute of it. My eyes have not yet opened wide enough to take in the kaleidoscope of colour bursting over the hills and valleys, cold waters rushing over granite, the mist drifting with the morning light, or the harvest and hunter’s moons heaving themselves over the horizon.

 

If you pause to listen, you will hear a conversation with the light, and slopes that rustle with bittersweet knowing…alas this is a fleeting thing. Like a twilight that lingers, echoing with the song of a distant coyote. But perhaps beneath the  howl, beneath the sorrow of leaving lies the sharpest kind of living joy.

 

I live in hill country, where hardwood slopes erupt into a stained glass mosaic for a few short weeks. The sun bends low in the scarcity of these days, peering up the skirts of the maples approving them with inner light.  And, then one day, as if they cannot sustain this glory for long, the brilliance tarnishes into a tawny blush as they drop their skirts, crinolines crinkling and gathering in the shadows at their feet.

 

It is a stunning land, come October…a land that teaches us of the ephemeral, and the everlasting, rhythm of nature’s seasons. I have basked in 52 autumns here and a part of me that sleeps all year, comes alive with the damp chill rising, with the applause of the birch and the tremulous flicker of the wheaten aspen, the ripples of marsh grass, tamped and swirled as a yellow dog’s mane.

I welcome this time of gathering…of geese and ducks, of mushrooms and winter’s wood, of community suppers and pumpkins, of warm soups and apples, of seeds and nuts and dusk, even as I bemoan its passing. A time of celebrating the golden wishes that came to rest and the approaching quiet that blankets it all.

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Isa. 55:12

Categories: Bay of Fundy, connection to place, earth, landscape, nature, seasons | 8 Comments

Love beyond words

“Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing–sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death–can take that love away.

~Henri Nouwen

 

September 24, 1988

 

I am feeling particularly loved today. And so, particularly joyful.

One of the most cherished gifts I have received was when my dearest girlfriend looked me in the eye and said, “I will always love you. No matter what. There is nothing you can ever do or say that will diminish this love. Nothing.”  What freedom she unleashed in our friendship with those words. With them, she gave me permission to be myself always with her, no pretense, no holding back.

Twenty-four years ago today, my heart-mate and I promised each other essentially the same thing in front of a sanctuary of witnesses:

“Today I give you my heart, as you have given me yours. I will love you and cherish you in the future, as I have done in the past. I will rejoice with you when you are happy; I will comfort you when you are sad. I will share my thoughts openly and honestly with you. I will always respect and honour who you are.

How could I know on that day, as I whispered these forever words, of the many moments of joy and the sorrow and the stretching and growing and deepening that would come with them?

Back then, I was anxious to please, needy for reassurance. That striving is gone now, no longer necessary.We now move comfortably…with and around each other. I need no sound to know he is in the house. I need no touch to know he stands alongside me.

We’ve moved past the need to hear the words and reached the place where the love resides in the tiny gestures; the quiet hollows; the absences, as much as the presences.

We have laughed and cried, and laughed until we cried. We have traveled, climbed mountains, shimmied down gullies run long distances and danced in the rain. We have wallpapered, cleared brush, raised a dog, built a home from scratch, and squared off over how to create a garden waterfall. We have picked up after each other, cooked for each other and scrubbed each other’s back. We’ve lost friends and buried loved ones. We’ve suffered and celebrated together.

He has quietly loved me through my nasty turmoils, my selfish outbursts, my dismal failures and my childish tantrums. He has honoured my requests, even when he didn’t understand them.

I love that he is a wise and fine and honourable man. I love his honesty, his independence, his loyalty, his thoughtful nature, his generosity with friends and strangers alike, his humour, his stubborness, his brilliance with making things work, his bow-legged swagger, the endearing part between his teeth.

He sees and feels me, even when we are apart. He knows exactly when I most need his tenderness or his strength…as well as he the times when I need my space. He has held me and lifted me from my knees, calmed my fears, defended me, rescued me, taught me, and pushed me out the door when I need to stand on my own. He has been my best friend, my comforter, my confidante, my protector, my provider, my teacher.

And so today, for all that he has helped me to become, I love him beyond words.

To my Friend

“I love you not only for what you are, when for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.

I love you for putting your hand into my heaped-up heart and passing over all the foolish and frivolous and weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there, and or drawing into the light all the beautiful and radiant belongings that no one else had looked quite far enough to find….You have done it without a touch, without a word, without a sign.

You have done it first by being yourself.”

~ Anonymous

Categories: Matters of the Heart, memories, relationships, writing | 8 Comments

Let me tell you something about passion

Haiti is still very much on my mind.  It drifts in and out at the oddest times, as if looking for its proper place to settle in the landscape of my life.

Memories tend to do this…they wiggle into some crack, sandwiched between this and that, making themselves at home until, obscured by the vibrant new experiences that each day brings, they blend into the background.

Then something – a word, a song, a smell, a touch – lifts them like the nondescript shrub that suddenly bursts forth with bloom and fragrance and meaning.

I was in my garden lugging mulch in the heat, watering and cutting back parched plants, sweat stinging my eyes, weary, grunting and complaining a bit to myself, when suddenly Josette Chery’s face floated across my mind.

 

Here are the words she penned in a writing workshop in Mombin Crochu….

I work in a field.
I reflect on the life of women
who pass through misery
in order to live.
Women who work under the hot sun
to live.
Who work
Hauling rocks.
Hauling sand.
Hauling water.
So that other people
can build a house.
Washing people’s clothes,
Working in other women’s houses,
where they are cursed at,
In order to send their children to school.

This is truly a misery for women.

© Josette Chery 2012

I still see her standing determined in her prim black mourning suit; tiny, strong and sure against the bright lime walls of the community center where we had gathered. I feel, again, the sheer force of the words she unleashed with raw passion — not the kind of giddy enthusiasm that we employ here in North America to define our purposefulness, or to spur ourselves and others on to some great and essentially fleeting thing…

 

…but the pained, gritty, gut passion that is birthed in suffering. Passion that demands response.

Josette Chery, in that lime green room in the mountains of Haiti, redefined the word for me. She exposed the superficiality of my own self-indulgence. I thought of passion as an ingredient of a purposeful life. That it was about infusing our days with meaningful activity for the sake of fulfillment.

She made me question the motivations and worthiness of my own pursuits. Indeed, how many times had I spoken to groups about living life with passion?

I suddenly realized I had no idea what that meant.

In his essay on Passion, Henri Nouwen reminds us that this was the word used to describe Christ being ‘handed over’ in Gethsemane and it meant giving control over to others, then of suffering and waiting.  He writes, “Passion is a kind of waiting – waiting for what other people are going to do…It is supremely a waiting love, a love that does not seek control.”

It is the agony of  a God who depends on us to decide how to live out his divine presence amongst us.”

Oh, what a patient God he must be…waiting for such a thing.

Josette Clery, too, has patience as she cries for the women she has lost and the women she works alongside – women who give birth in the dirt of the fields and sacrifice all for their families. Patience,  as she waits for deliverance from the suffering.

Meanwhile, I muddle through my own feeble discomforts, trying to listen and hear and understand how I might live this one blessed life I’ve been given with an inner fire for something that really matters.

Categories: change, courage, Haiti, hope, landscape, thoughts | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments