Tuesday, August 30, 2016

listening, wondering and wandering in mile end...

Alors maintenant, il commence... we are settled in our AirBnB apartment in the Mile End neighborhood of Montréal and totally ready for some true flâneurie. Our apartment is owned by a Ph.D. engineer who specializes in water 
management. Judging from the markers on a world map on the wall, she has been to Africa, Eastern and Southern Europe, South America and is now in residence in Korea. What a privilege to stay in her place while she is away and take in her kindness and beauty.

Yesterday we walked through the neighborhood for about two hours before dinner and then another area afterwards: what a great locale! There are hipsters and Hassids, Anglophones and Francophones, old timers and little people in strollers, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and nones, too. I know that many communities exemplify being un beau mélange and yet I find the scope and pace of life here humane and accessible. Its scale is grand enough for bold diversity, but never so big as to overwhelm and diminish. 

At dinner on our first night I was thinking out loud about why I am so attracted to Montréal. Certainly the size of this city and its groove are factors, "but so are the psychological and emotional challenges of the language barrier" said Dianne. "For much of your childhood - and all of your career - you've been the guy in charge. The man with the plan. The one expected to make things happen and be in control. But here, even when it is uncomfortable, that simply cannot be so." Very interesting, yes? Being here I get to experience simply being, listening very carefully is a humbling and joyful spiritual discipline as is just going with the flow, without any pretense of control. Not only am I free from the expectations of others, I am liberated from my own obsessions because of my limited vocabulary. Not long ago I came across this quote from the late Henri Nouwen that speaks to me on many levels:

My whole life I have been surrounded by well-meaning encouragement to go 'higher up,' and the most-used argument was: 'You can do so much good there, for so many people.' But these voices calling me to upward mobility are completely absent from the Gospel. Jesus says: 'Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25). He also says: 'Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3). Finally he says: "You know that among the gentiles the rulers lord it over them, and great men make their authority felt; among you this is not to happen. No, anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:25-28).

This is the way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus. It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless - toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God.

Both Dianne and I continue to move in this direction - she with a calling to teach English to Syrian refugees and me with an aching to connect with L'Arche - but this has been true for the past 15 years, too. In another dinner time conversation (or maybe it was in the ride here from the Townships) she said, "The trajectory of your ministry keeps getting more focused." To which I suggested, "Maybe more intimate is more accurate." And that's what it feels like to me: smaller, more geared towards simple relationships with lots of time for tender love and listening, alongside quiet prayer and liturgy. Nouwen also observed that:

We often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don’t know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others. That truth, however, is usually discovered when we are confronted with our brokenness.

Today, after walking downtown for about four hours, I give thanks to God that our time of quiet wandering and careful questioning and listening continues. Soon we'll head out to take in some local jazz at a small Francophone club that became our favorite haunt during last year's sabbatical. And tomorrow... could be tattoo time!

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