February. Who can think warm thoughts in February? It’s bleak, grey and hard to get through, despite its brevity. Margaret Atwood described February in a poem as the “month of despair, with a skewered heart in the centre.” I know what she means; I, too, come from Ottawa. But maybe it’s healthy to remember that poets like to exaggerate. Cold February might be less about grim despair than simply keeping going. In Old English, February was called kale-monath or cabbage month. It’s a month for persistence and daily, ordinary life.
A new year and the same old aches. The headlines change, and the photographs are different, but we still watch and worry, adding the names of far-off places to our church prayer lists. This year began with Australia’s massive bush fires. How do we answer? With prayer? Grief? Action? Donations? As with news of any disaster, it can be hard to know where to start. In October, I wrote in my column about trying to find a faithful response to the world’s hard news.
After all the gifts, one more. A new year ahead. A fresh start, if you want that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need to change anything. You can just keep going. There are loud voices at this time of year crowing about all the changes we can make. Be stronger, be thinner, be greener, be better. But newness comes with or without our effort. Newness is a gift.
My mother came to visit. This was a big deal because these days we live five thousand kilometres apart and I hadn’t seen her since I was home last year when my dad died. We email and video-chat fairly regularly, but that isn’t the same. It isn’t face-to-face. She came at the end of September and stayed with us for a month. When I told friends about this visit, they paused, then asked rather deliberately how it “actually” was. A whole month with your mother in your house?
Bad news on the radio. Breakfast on the table. We sit together and drink coffee. Listen. Morning after morning. The news might be local or international and these days, it’s often tense, sometimes shocking so it can be hard to take in. Sometimes we get angry and the kids ask questions that we try to answer, and we try not to rage. Then more bad news: bad decisions, bad outcomes, bad weather on the horizon.
There was a sign on the window stating the cathedral was closed that morning for trimming, but the man sold us tickets anyway. There would still be plenty to see, he said. Just follow the path and enjoy.
Last September, I bought my first smartphone. The next day, I flew home to Ottawa because my father had been moved into a hospice and the doctors said he wouldn’t have long.
Summer. Slower pace and open days. Sunshine, if we’re lucky, and some fine warm weather. A few days ago, I was biking through the park and a fellow cyclist shouted out to me, “these are the days we’ve earned!”
Ten years ago, the Spouse and I drove across Canada with our two small children. You might even say our too-small children. Blue was not yet two years old and Beangirl was only approaching her fourth birthday.
I spent one day last week tidying our bookshelves because they needed it. They were a jumbly, unstable mess of books and papers, everything balanced horizontally and pushed in the wrong spaces. The poetry shelf threatened to collapse. The travel books had found their far-flung ways everywhere, appropriately enough, and the novels were on the march.
My kids had a week off from school earlier this month, and we decided to visit Stonehenge. The bigger kids and I had been to the stone circle before, but we hadn’t explored the wider area, and the Spouse and the youngest hadn’t been there at all, so it seemed like a good educational trip. Something old, something new.
When I write my column The Messy Table, I focus on identifying and shaping spirituality within my family. That was also the subject of “The Spiritually Vibrant Household,” a Barna Group webcast last month in which they introduced their new study, Households of Faith. Their aim was to share new research on the rituals and relationships that turn a home into a sacred space, asking the question: what does a spiritually vibrant household look like today?