Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

Hungering February 14, 2013

Filed under: faith — wakingupincanada @ 7:10 am
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I have an inkling what it feels like to be viewed as a religious extremist.

I arrived back at work from a lunch-time mass, with ashes on my forehead. 5 of colleagues, each at separate times asked, wondering if I fell into an inkpad or rubbed dirt on my forehead. Each time, in humour and shock, I explained. Having grown up in a Catholic country, there was never a need before to explain the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. “From dust you came, and to dirt you shall return”. If that is the looks I get, good humoured and curious, to ashes on my forehead once a year, I wonder how others feel with more stringent day to day activities. I had taken for granted being a Catholic in Ireland, where growing up having ashes on your head was not accepted, but expected. It is not that my colleagues are not religious, some are, some are spiritual in other ways, but the Catholic population is low on the ground. I travelled 13 miles to get a Mass that I could attend, and I was the youngest person in the small congregation, and by a pretty good gap.

It was also the first ever Ash Wednesday where I followed the fasting obligation. There are 2 days in the year the Church asks us to fast: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. From my mother, I learned I was supposed to have a slice of dry toast, black tea, and a dinner without meat. Never one to accept just one opinion, I had to research: a fast day constitutes one proper meal; you may have something at the 2 other mealtimes, but those 2 together should not amount to a full meal. There is no snacking. It is a sacrifice to prepare for Lent and connect with those less fortunate than ourselves, a sacrifice as penance, to say sorry for sinning, to increase awareness, to detach from the body and connect with the soul, to imitate Jesus’ fast in the Bible.

There was a reason I hadn’t done it before. I may question its reasoning: how does my hungry belly help starving children; why do I need to pray for people who in my judgement, should already be in heaven (Yes I know, I am neither a judge on earth or above) but the real reason: It is tough. When I was doing 24 hour fasts as a child for different charities, I would start after dinner one day, and finish with a late inner the next day. Not so with Ash Wednesday. It lasts all day, and you go to bed hungry. I even ate extra on Tuesday night to give me a head-start on hunger on Wednesday. I skipped breakfast and by lunch was hungry. Somehow, being that hungry made me more aware of actually being hungry and I didn’t even accidentally slip some fruit or nuts into my mouth like I would on a normal day. When hunger pangs struck, I thought on people I would dedicate my suffering to, to help me through it; people who had passed away, people who needed a little extra help, people I miss in Ireland. I really enjoyed my dry toast at lunch time, which I had sneakily sliced deliberately thick, just in case. I aimed to eat slowly, quietly, really savouring it, to make sure I benefitted  from every crumb. When it was all I was getting I’d make sure it counted.

Due to work, we went out for dinner, ironically to an Irish pub, but I safely chose the soup, potato and cheddar. Colleagues again looked at me through their bites from their steaks, cooked rare, as if I was mad. Wow it was good, and then I wondered if having such a delicious soup was over-indulgence. It was thick and creamy and filling, and feeling full, I wondered if I should stop, 3 spoonfuls from the end. I couldn’t, it was far too delicious to waste. Regardless, I felt wonderful; this fasting thing was no problem. I would also have a tiny piece of brie later at a buffet later, and felt a teensy bit guilty. Arriving home at 10.30, I was famished. My tummy was empty, I was tired and I went straight to bed. Maybe for the first time in my life, I went to bed hungry. Again, I felt successful, I was hungry but I was in bed. I’d fall asleep, awake and eat, mission accomplished.

Sleep didn’t come. I tossed. I turned. I tried to focus on breathing yet it took nearly an hour to fall asleep. I was easily awakened and again would lie, trying to take my mind of my empty stomach. I had an argument with my boyfriend and it was harder to be ational when all I could feel was the emptiness in my stomach. At this stage the hunger felt painful. At 12.30, I had some cereal.

So ended my first fast on a holy day of obligation. I may not have been as successful as I had hoped, but I am proud of my attempts. I feel more connected. I can vaguely understand now how it feels to go to bed hunger. How it would feel to do that regularly, with no fall back is beyond me. I felt tired of hearing about famine and poverty, felt powerless to know how to help, but I have a renewed sense of injustice, of seeing a need I should respond to. Children especially should not go to bed, staring at nothing, overwhelmed by the hunger in their stomachs. I wonder how many people in my own community do not have enough food?

As well, perhaps less lofty as a feeling, I am proud of myself. I set myself a challenge and I worked hard on it. From someone who grazes at food all day long, I did not think I would even manage what I did. I learned that I am stronger than I think.


Ash Wednesday February 13, 2013

Filed under: faith — wakingupincanada @ 8:05 am
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We have tested and tainted too much lover
-through a chink too wide comes in no wonder”
Patrick Kavanagh

This morning brings us Ash Wednesday, and throughout the world for over a billion Catholics, this marks the beginning of Lent. To some it may seem as the biggest diet club around as the junk food is hidden at the back of the cupboard until Easter Sunday, but the next 46 days can go much deeper than that and offers a rare opportunity for all.
For me, growing up, Lent meant no chocolate, sweets, after dinner biscuits or Sunday ice-cream. Even as an adult, if I wasn’t “off” chocolate, I sure didn’t eat it in front of my mother. Oddly, my most successful Lents were when my conscience was standing in the kitchen, and now when I fail at Lent, I always feel I’ve let my Mum down, not because she is strict or would be angry at me, but because I want to live up to her standard, be the person she raised me to be and be able to follow through on something I committed to.

From my Mum, I see Lent for 2 things: Discipline and Simplicity.
There can be scoffing at the idea of abstaining from certain foods, and the connection between Lent and dieting was far from Jesus’ fast in the desert as a sacrifice to bring him closer to God. However, try and abstain from certain foods, and one can see, just how hard it is. It isn’t about losing weight, I believe, it’s about checking in to see where our addictions are, what are our demons, what has a hold on us? Is it tea, chocolate or just mindless eating throughout the day? Is it alcohol or cigarettes, television, computer games, or even a lack of time for or friends, spouse, children, colleagues? Lent affords us a time to see what it is we think we can’t live without, can’t be better at, and disciplining ourselves to realise, we are more than that. We can do better. We are not consumers or reactionaries, we are persons, people; we are children of God.

By paring back on all the clutter, the extra stuff that takes up our day, we can now focus on that which matters. Meals are not about being stuffed, but about savouring a nourishing meal. Spend a week on holiday, eating out all the time and we welcome the home cooked meal when we get back. Luxury can be too much. I forgot until Monday night when I was too tired to cook how wonderful a plain cheese toasted sandwich tastes. I am surprised again and again when I mind my nieces how good a jam sandwich tastes. How special 5 minutes in silence can be instead of an evening in front of the television. Move away from the clatter of everyday, the usual gossip, the worries about money, the stress of the future, the ticking clock on the to- do list, and concentrate on the little things. Live simply. Look at now. What needs to be done now? It is much less than you think. It is not easy to do, live simply. It takes discipline to block out the magazines telling you what you should be wearing or the news telling you what you should be fearing, the DIY shows on how your home should look, how your kids should behave, how you should have kids, have a spouse, have a retirement plan. It takes discipline to give the time to those things you deem important: do you sit and read with your child or get on with the laundry and the dishes and packing tomorrow’s lunches? Do you take time to pray or do you get an extra 5 minutes or 30 minutes sleep? Do you face your fears and join the team, volunteer for the community or stay in the background wondering. Simple, yes. Easy, no.

Lent is a time to pare back the clutter and see that we are stronger than we think. What do we need and what do we want? It takes perseverance and discipline, but it asks us to be compassionate with ourselves. Jesus told us not to go about looking drawn from fasting and loudly giving alms, but to do so quietly. We do not need the world to watch as we fight our inner demons, we don’t need their judgement on whether we are succeeding or failing, it is for ourselves alone. But come the joyous morning on Easter Sunday, we may be a little more relaxed, a little more nourished physically and spiritually and in a better place to appreciate the wonder of our own lives


Amazing Grace October 2, 2012

Filed under: faith,Inspiration,Uncategorized — wakingupincanada @ 8:02 pm

I wondered sporadically on Saturday on the long drive to see friends up north if I would find a Catholic Church nearby. In the same thought train, I wondered, will I actually get up?

I did. Late as usual, I followed my super-smart phone as it directed me there. Parking on the kerb, I thought, this place is big. Walking in, I thought, this place is welcoming. Kneeling in my pew, I prayed.

I have been going to Mass since I was, maybe 2, probably 3, in preparation for school and making individual choices, and because there was a hope I would sit relatively still. As the priest walks in, we stand. This Sunday our standing was met with thundering music. Wow. This was different.

I am no music aficionado, more a music avocado, but I know what sounds good. This was pop meets rock, where prayer met joy, and people seemed genuinely happy to be at church. I checked. There were a mixture of ages. Those who attend Catholic Services know this in itself is interesting; we are an aging demographic. Not only that, my Irish friends among you, people were singing along. I didn’t even know the songs.

Pause music. The priest stands. Do you know the scene from Friends, where Joey explains to Monica that with his presiding over her wedding, she gets a minister and an entertainer a “minitainer”. I met my first. I was concerned. I love the Mass, and I go there to pray and celebrate, to hope and love, not for entertainment. Yet I gave him a chance and this is a man who simply uses excellent people skills to inspire his flock. The first exercise was to introduce yourself to the people around you, and this they did with warmth, smiles and handshakes. I wished I could stay in this parish; as an immigrant Catholic, fitting in is not easy.

The media did not overwhelm the message. His question was simple: what can I cut out so that I can do more, give more, be more. “When I quit whining about losing weight, I lost weight” he shared. Wow, a priest who can hit me on many levels. The lay involvement in the Mass was tremendous, beyond the usual collectors, choir and Eucharistic Ministers. There was bake sales and transport people, a couple going to help a community in Mexico, a children’s liturgy, workshops and more. You could tell, more happened than Sunday Mass.

At the end, a Minister of the Eucharist spoke about his personal experience in this vocation. I’d never thought of it as a vocation before, until he talked about praying with the old person to whom he is the only visitor, of praying with the family around a deathbed, of helping a lady to the car and eating homemade cookies. I had never thought before of the role these people play in our communities. I, who shout about the importance of citizenship and community involvement, missed the work her own faith community do everyday. I guess I took for granted my Church, and all those in it. I didn’t love it all; their version of Amazing Grace, to me, altered an original that was already perfect. I guess there is no pleasing everyone.

I left Mass refreshed, as I always do, and also inspired. When I met my friends, 2 atheists and a something, we talked about the priest’s statement, “when you have more than you need and do nothing to help those who don’t, you are robbing them”. We each had opinions and angles.

For the rest of the week, I pondered over what I need to cut out. Tonight I am writing instead of watching TV. A small start but a start. I am reflecting on that Catholic community, the Catholic community in which I was raised and the community I now belong. My faith is based on love, and what I saw on Sunday was the amazing grace of that love in action throughout the community.

By the way, we, the 4 of us agreed with the Priest’s statement.


The lesson outside the church December 18, 2011

Filed under: faith — wakingupincanada @ 11:45 am
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Today, a week before Christmas, we were getting into the good stuff: the Angel has visited Mary and so it begins. Again, we were reminded, this is Christmas not just a Happy Holiday and it is our role to bring what we hear within the walls outside, all through the week.

As I met my friends for breakfast, I reflected on this. Or rather, was challenged by it.  As I sat and discussed an awkward situation with someone, I was reminded of talking behind someone’s back. This was not the angel in my head but rather my friend, who does not go to Mass on Sundays. Her voice pulled me back. To talk in spite is wrong. I know it is, despite how good it feels to vent my anger and have others validate my negativity. I do not trust those who talk behind people’s backs, a lesson my mother long ago instilled in me. Why is it easier to complain to those who can do nothing to improve the situation that to talk it through with those who can? The friend keeps pulling me back. Just being in her presence reminds me about loose tongues and helps me to be a better person, a person I want to be.

I go to Mass every Sunday and yet, the lessons I learn often come from those who spend their time elsewhere. I think it’s God’s way of teaching me humility. Just like He preached against those who parade their generosity or their fasting, He is showing me that going to Mass doesn’t make me special. I just go because I know He is special.

There are many people I know this year that I didn’t this time last year. Some have come and gone, people I have shared hostel dorms or train journeys with, some who have moved on on their own journey. Some surround me now. Each has been a gift. They may believe in different things, different ways, but they are helping me through my flaws, to stand on my own feet, to live my own faith.