NOTE: [Interspersed among Unpublished Words From Elsewhere, (which I Do Not Write), are my personal reminiscences, like this one. There is a list of posts so the two can be sorted out, on the right hand side; carols, poems, memoir, essay and so forth. As Unpublished Words is now the focus of this blog, the bits from me appear much less frequently.]
When I was appointed to the board of St Mark’s Anglican Church at the top of the Jacob’s Ladder in Port Hope, Ontario, 1970, I was bemused enough to write about it to the Canadian Churchman. “I’m a hippie…” it began, “while they have tradition and history behind them in their suits and ties…”
Hugh McCullum, the editor, wrote back and offered me a regular monthly column on the spot. He also wanted a picture of me barefoot with the board. It was the time of Malcolm Boyd’s, ‘Are You Running With Me Jesus?,’ and Pierre Berton’s, ‘The Empty Pew.’ The Churchman was looking for someone young and prone to getting into the sorts of situations that people in the explosive seventies often did. My mandate was to write about the world outside the church and God in it.
I have been a writer my entire life, basically as a form of personal insurance. When I published something, bearing my name and sometimes a picture, it was proof that I was still alive on this planet. Given a spotty childhood with indifferent parenting in the Alaskan bush, day to day survival was often in doubt.
As I write this, I have moved house 42 times throughout my life, always with the intent of staying in the place forever; wanting to actually belong somewhere, plant a garden and be around long enough to see it grow up.
When I turned 50, I published a series of essays in the Globe & Mail about my life, most notably when I had attempted to get myself killed by hanging around in a nasty part of Portland, Oregon where I had been assured, only murders and other felons lived. Like a Christ figure, an older student found me and brought me back.
That particular essay, about all the joy I would have missed, had I succeeded, was picked up by the United Church, used for a year in their teenage Sunday school materials and eventually chosen for their ‘best of,’ collection.
Having the column for many, many years, I stuck my life bit by bit into it. How I graduated with a degree in theology from a west coast bible school, married my Sunday school teacher, immigrated with all the draft dodgers, had a baby in Peterborough, adopted my dear daughter and opened an out of print bookshop.
It all came to an abrupt halt when after much checking, I allowed my sons to enroll in the boys choir at St George’s cathedral. I had never questioned my belief that God only lived in church, not out in the community with the rest of us. But when the abuse by the choirmaster came out, I knew that I had to picket what I thought of as God’s house in order to see justice done. This proved to be the end of the column.
The bookshop had a run of about the same length till the ice storm of 1998 where all our pipes froze and broke (with 35,000 books stacked on them). Then the furnace died and we spent 3 months out of our home, 2 of these living over the Kingston Community Credit Union who gave us their staff room floor to sleep on till repairs were completed. By then, all the books were gone.
It wasn’t until I came to St Andrews and 12 step programs at about the same time that I began to understand how completely God is in every bit of His creation. ‘Church’ is just a tiny segment of all the places and ways He is to found. Particularly He is to be found in ‘others.’
Two and a half years ago, when my husband died suddenly and I no longer rode above others in a car, I began to see for the first time, the God I had so belatedly come to understand and his compassion and love. The welcome changes in my life have been a long time coming. Still they go on, opportunities to share with strangers I would never before have met.
‘An attitude of gratitude,’ is what they call it. ‘Gratitude, the hinge by which the spiritual life swings,’ is another saying. My, my, how it swings! And I am very grateful.