Sunday, February 14, 2016

This Week in Madonna House - February 7-13

While I'm suspending the blog during the week for Lent, in a spirit of increased silence and prayer, I will be blogging on Sundays, when our Lenten observances are mitigated. I know that the consistently most popular feature on this blog has been the 'This Week in MH' column, and so I am happy to oblige.

Mind you, I have been away from MH so very much in recent weeks that I am hard pressed to tell you exactly what is going on here. My trip to Regina was immediately succeeded by a weekend retreat for women in Ottawa. Upon getting back to Combermere I have been confronted by such a backlog of appointments and other work that I have barely noticed what anyone else is doing, to be frank! I been a busy busy little boy, in short.

That being said, our week in MH started with pizza, pancakes, football and yuks and ended with ashes and fasting. Yes, it was the great shift into Lent. We have our own little MH version of Mardi Gras, which happened to coincide with Super Bowl Sunday. So we had the annual Pre-Lent Event--a night for everyone to show off their comedy chops with skits, songs, and assorted silliness. I wasn't here for it this year (see above, retreat), but from all accounts it was quite droll.

One of the highlights was a skit involving the three magi trying to get across the Canada-US border and running into all sorts of bureaucratic snags (do you have the right form to bring precious metals into the country? Plant matter?), until their guardian angel appeared and miraculously stamped their passports. This was all deeply amusing to us, as we have had... well, quite a year of difficulties around immigration and border crossings.

The next day was Super Bowl Sunday, and we do have a good number of avid fans in the community. Since it was also the Sunday before Lent, the kitchen went all out and made a delicious pizza supper with home made soda pop, all of which lent itself to a buffet style service, so those who wanted to could watch the game, those who couldn't care less about it could just enjoy the good food. And... yay, Broncos!

Shrove Tuesday was just around the corner, so of course our little Mardi Gras was not quite over, as we enjoyed (and I do mean enjoyed!) the traditional pancake supper for that day.

All of the above shifted tone and content dramatically the next day when we began Lent with an early morning Mass and the distibution of ashes on the forehead. 'The Lenten Spring has come, the time of repentance. O brothers, let us cleanse ourselves from all evil, crying out to the Giver of Life, 'Glory to Thee, O Lover of Man!' This hymn rang out as we began the Church's annual season of repentance and mercy, fasting and prayer and journeying towards the beauty of Easter.

We have no special communal fasting during Lent itself--it is left to the individual and what he or she can do. After all, we have young men doing heavy manual labor in the bush, along with not-so-young members doing much less physically arduous work. We keep serving the same type and amount of food, in other words, and people can figure out themselves what they need to do.

A key Lenten element here is the hymn we sing at Lauds every morning--'Open to Me the Doors of Repentance', which lays out the simple, sad reality of our sinfulness in no uncertain terms ("When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am, I tremble at the fearful day of judgment"), but always with an immediate turn to the mercy of God ("Like David, I cry to thee, have mercy on me O God, according to your great mercy!").

At the end of Lauds we pray the great Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. I wrote a whole commentary about it two years ago. It is a great invitation to ongoing humility, reflection, and especially non-judgmental love of one another.

So that is the liturgical scene. In our work life, this week was the annual floor oiling in the dining room. This is the proper care and feeding of the hardwood floor in our main house dining room. It needs a coat of oil each year to protect it from the wear and tear of many, many feet. The carpenters do it in stages so that we can continue to use the dining room during the process, which takes about four days all together, blocking off one half of the room and having us eat in the other half, and then the reverse. It is all a little cramped and cozy--a good chance for us to practice mutual consideration and kindness as we all squeeze in a bit close.

The other major work reality is that, like most of Eastern North America, we are in the grip of severe cold right now. It was - 40 C this morning , according to the thermometer, and that is not counting the wind chill. This kind of weather up in this wilderness requires attentiveness and care about wood fires and the like, and serious care about even going outside for any length of time. This level of coldness can lead to frostbite very quickly indeed.

What else? The men are working (severe cold notwithstanding) in the bush, cutting down trees for fire wood. The MH staff are having their Friday afternoon study groups. This is something we do at this time of year when, at least for most of the community, it is a somewhat quieter season -- take some time during the week to study something or other for personal enrichment. People are doing a wide variety of things this year--everything from folk dancing to knitting to the intersection of science and theology to Pope Francis' writings on mercy to a Catholic understanding of gender issues. We are a really diverse community, and the interests are always quite varied.

As I always say at about this point in this column, I know there's a whole lot more going on, but that's all I can think of. Being away as I have been and taken up with catching up as I have been (unlike most of the community, this is NOT my quieter time of year), this is even more so than usual. Be assured that in the midst of all of it we are praying for all of you and for the world, and striving to offer our lives in service and prayer for and through it all.

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