Taking Up the Challenge of Loving

Frequently, we miss the beauty of life surrounding us. Near my home are beautiful hiking trails that snake through a small forest near a bustling university. The woods are quiet and offer time for …

Source: Taking Up the Challenge of Loving


Taking Up the Challenge of Loving

Frequently, we miss the beauty of life surrounding us. Near my home are beautiful hiking trails that snake through a small forest near a bustling university.

The woods are quiet and offer time for quiet reflection  and observation

of the various trees surrounding you. Occasionally, I will see a passerby who frequently

smiles or utters a greeting; some will even stop and chat briefly. These are all gifts, as we literally share the paths  and  sometimes briefly our individual journeys on that day. As Henri Nouwen says we do not have to travel abroad necessarily to appreciate the

people and places in our own area. Truly, our senses may be heightened however, when we do travel to another place that is quite different from our own. For example, in Costa Rica, I appreciate the very grounded authenticity, of the Latin populace who welcomed us to their country and who emphasized the importance of family and friends in their daily lives.

Nevertheless, we know that we cannot possibly meet many, many people- at least not in this lifetime. Thus when God permits you to encounter certain individuals, really listen to them. Life is so difficult that we need constant affirmations in one form or another. God has given all of our lives meaning,whether we realize it or not. Acknowledging someone

whether it be eye contact, a smile or a kind word may have a profound impact on an individual, particularly if they are hurting. No one has the right to say who is “in” or who is “out”. After all, the latter mentality presupposes a superior mentality on the part of the observer. WE may have different levels of responsibility in our careers for example, but are all equal in the eyes of God. Mother Theresa says that God is not interested in how many degrees you have or how much money you have, but whether or not you love other people.   Yes we have to compete for jobs for instance, but we can still be respectful to one another if we recognize our common humanity and the divine spark that resides in each person. Let us strive to love one another every day.

Accepting The Other


Certainly it is easier to associate with those that look and think like us. There is a comfort level

in sharing common experiences within a familiar culture. However, it requires a greater level of maturity to accept those who are different. For instance, it may take more effort to interact with those who come from a different country of origin and whose first language may not be English.

For example, I have friends who are non-Christian, vegetarian and of Chinese ancestry. It is more challenging to speak at length because English is a second language for them and I do not know how

to speak their language. However, I feel fully accepted by them. Indeed, they are a very loving and courteous group. We have many differences but enjoy one another’s company. I am happy simply to chat with them over a cup of green tea. We have also shared meals. They exude joy towards

one another and welcome me into their circle! They may be the newcomers but they are sometimes more open and welcoming, then those who resent refugees and other immigrants coming to Canada.

I am Canadian born and yet I am the stranger that is welcomed into their midst. They came, like my father,

to find employment and better educational opportunities for their children.

The Good Samaritan in the gospels wishes to assist anyone, not just those who practice the same faith. Once, when I was studying to be a teacher in Toronto I saw a man lying on the ground who appeared inebriated. Someone said he may be drunk or on drugs and to ignore him; however, I called the authorities to see if he could receive some help. I acted correctly on this occasion although I know other times I have  failed to be a good neighbour. These are times I ask God to forgive me for not loving others.

Hence, try to welcome everyone whether they be rich or poor, gay or straight, obese or skinny, man or woman and any other category you can think of. Our goal in this life is to love one another. The more you can love, the happier you will be. As you know, with our built-in prejudices or at least strong preferences, this is not easy. It involves suspending our ego and being fully present to the other. Meditation certainly helps us detach from the false self so that God’s love may flow through us out to others. Finally then, make an effort to reach out to those different in every way much like Jesus did on

his mission on earth. Consequently, you will no doubt grow in compassion and hence become a better person.

Life, the Way It Is

WE can never comprehend the vicissitudes of life no matter how much we might try. Besides, we were never meant to anyway. If we cannot accept that we have little control over what happens in our lives, then we may admire people who supposedly appear self-assured and in charge of their destinies. This last point overlooks the fact that we are all vulnerable precisely because we are human. We all must live with our imperfections and if we do, we will likely forgive others for theirs as well. Tolerance of others usually means we feel a greater sense of peace internally and with one another.

Yet here is the really good news. Since God created the universe, God is to be discovered in everything. This applies to the

darker, unhappy aspects of life too. For example, I visited a long-term care facility

to witness patients who could not feed themselves, patients crying out for attention, patients who could not sit still even for a moment and patients who could not communicate. A place for the aged and infirm is not exactly a joyful place at the best of times. However, in the midst of the infirm, God is present. Nurses dispense medications, nursing aides feed those bound in wheel-chairs, PSW hold hands and comfort the afflicted and other caregivers offer a smile and kind word to the distressed.  This love and dedication can be seen daily, rendering it all the more remarkable. This feat is phenomenal as the care givers are not seen with the same status as a someone with power, wealth and status. In short, the long-term care workers, serve quietly

no doubt, without the three “virtues” so highly valued in our culture. Essentially, the higher selves in their natures, what we call the presence of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, is active in the lives of these people. Truly, they are living out the gospel, despite their own imperfections because of the love they exhibit towards the patients. Certainly this is my perspective as I have a loved one living there.

Do you wish to increase your own sense of peace? Then, thank those unsung heroes that help you and your loved ones by expressing gratitude towards people who genuinely and  unselfishly care for others. You will be happy you did as we find it so much easier to criticize than to give praise. I see Mother Teresa active here in many ways!


The Journey of Grief- How Might we Help?

Note: Despite being preoccupied assisting an ill, loved one, I pray that I can make more consistent entries!

There are no easy answers about how  best to assist those grieving a significant loss including that of a spouse, child, grandparent, aunt, friend or anyone else that someone may have loved. There is probably no greater challenge in life than to face personal loss! But here are a few ideas on how we might be present to others. Never say to a grieving person that things could be worse as there is nothing worse than a loss; your world may be the same after a funeral but the widow or widower’s world is usually tumultuous. Indeed, he or she may appear strong but they may be in too great a shock and too numb to realize fully what has just occurred. In fact, it may be some three months later when supporters say “he must be over it by now”; it is usually then that the grief may become worse as the full impact of the loss sets in. Sufferers will often feel overwhelmed and worry that they are going insane. Many times the grieving, months later, will pine for a friend to talk about their loss only to find the visitor will talk about everything except the person who is missing. After all, we may worry that we will upset the lonely individual if we broach the sensitive topic.

Hence, if there is no one available to listen, the mourner may conclude that no one understands them and that their ability to cope is poor! In reality, we must learn to empathize even  if the situation make us nervous. If the mourner is ready, talking about their loved one’s life and the memories it evokes may be very helpful. Find any way you can to let your friend know that you will help them get through the crisis. Do not pretend you have all the answers but instead, simply listen to the person who may wish to retell, repeatedly, their story. Respect that everyone may grieve differently than others and that the above are merely guidelines for assisting others. Certainly grieving for a loved one is an indication that the person really cares for another. Unfortunately, in this life, there is much we cannot control; hence, our task whether we be Christians, some other faith group or good humanists is to help  each other through this journey we call life. Remember what you say is not nearly as important as how you make the person feel after your visit!

*** I wish to thank and acknowledge Dr.Bill Webster for sharing his wisdom about the grieving process.


Death and the After-Life

Due to caring for an ill loved one I have not been able to write for some time….

There are many times in life when it seems we have little or no control over our destiny and that of our loved ones and acquaintances. A loved one receives a terminal diagnosis

and you are stunned by the implications. This is someone that interacts with you and affects your life directly. The person has cancer and you storm the heavens with prayers asking God to heal that person. The person does not get better physically necessarily (although this can happen) but learns to accept their situation. I witnessed this transformation before my eyes. Naturally, the loved one wanted to live on but miraculously accepted her terminal illness. God supported her in her trial as her faith grew enormously! She gave her family strength through her courage. She even had visions of the after-life. When this person’s husband heard about these “imaginings” he simply said his wife must be dreaming. However, she assured her spouse that these images of heaven were real. She knew they were real.

My loved one was reluctant to tell others outside the family believing that others would interpret her experiences as being fantastical. Today this woman’s testimony remains the most solid evidence for us personally about life after death. Because of this experience the woman felt that her mission on earth was accomplished. She also felt she was unworthy of such a unique experience but I can attest she was a very loving person. Alas, God notices as Mother Teresa would say, to perform small acts of service with love. For example, if you give someone a cup of tea solely to make them feel better, then it is being done with the right intention. Probably one of the most moving scenes in the Charlton Heston movie of Ben Hur is when the protagonist gives the cross-bearing Jesus, a cup of cold water.  Earlier when Ben Hur had lost the will to live, Jesus lovingly provides water to the despondent, galley slave. Jesus of course uses his entire life unselfishly loving others. For me I sought out and was consoled by Jean Vanier who listened to my tale of woe and sense of helplessness. He assured me that the family should continue to love the dying person to the best of our abilities. This timely advice sustained us in the coming months and years. Truly God is present-especially when we need our Creator the most.

The Art of Forgiveness

I once heard Jean Vanier say during this season of the full harvest moon, that we are all

called to forgive one another. This is very difficult to do for it is so much easier to see the faults in other people rather than ourselves. In fact, if we become greatly upset by another’s actions, it could very well be that we are seeing our own imperfections which manifest themselves in another person. If we do not recognize this, then we may feel wronged and be angry with the individual. Oftentimes, the person irritating us is unaware that they have upset you; hence, we can waste a great deal of time and energy feeling angry because another individual does not behave the way we want them to. When the apostles asked Jesus if there is a set number of times we should forgive, He responds that there is no limit since we all fail one another many times.

Nevertheless,the great English writer, C.S.Lewis says we must try to rid ourselves of resentment and the desire to humiliate the offender since we tend to see only how we have been hurt and not what the other is experiencing. However, Lewis recognizes that “forgiving does not mean excusing” especially if one has been bullied or cheated. While extremely difficult, we try to pray for people who may have wronged us and whose level of consciousness is so low that they cannot fathom our point of view. Hopefully, there will be more groups and voices like those in the Middle East where for example Palestinians and Israelis try not just to see one another as victims but see each other as having been wounded. A rapprochement is indeed more likely if you see the other’s pain and suffering.

On an individual level if we accept ourselves as we are -including our faults then it is unlikely we will judge other s so harshly. It is important then to work on our own stuff, raise our level of consciousness and then help others to raise theirs. Only by practising love not hate will be able to learn better to work together in greater harmony.


MIchael F.