Living with Grace

Photograph of Grace Chantiam by Jared Sych.

For Grace Chantiam, 2020 was supposed to be a year she would remember for the rest of her life.

In an interview Grace gave to “myleapmagazine.ca“, Derek Clouthier writes:

“As it turns out, it was, but not for the reasons she had hoped. COVID-19 brought a halt to her May wedding, and, in August, Chantiam was diagnosed with stage 2B endocervical adenocarcinoma – cervical cancer. Walking into the Tom Baker Cancer Centre [Calgary] for treatment at the age of 40, Chantiam was not ready to have the cancer conversation. But the support of her family and friends helped her find the strength to celebrate her small wins. She also became focused on living for the now. A lesson learned from an unlikely but very important person in her life – her five-year-old son, Alexander.”

I share this article in hopes that we can recognize the life lessons from a person who saw what she needed for the journey:

In Her Own Words

“I’ve learned that kids live now. They don’t worry about the future because they don’t think about it. Whereas all I think about is, what now? What could happen? That’s the anxiety that’s in my head. [But] I turn to my son, Alexander, and he’s just playing with his Lego. That’s all that matters to him right now. So I’ve really learned to take that perspective and live in the now instead of worrying what possibly could be in the future…

My advice is to find your support system. I met people during this journey who had zero support systems. It broke my heart because I had such a strong support system to cheerlead me through this journey. You need people who you’re able to talk to about what you’re going through.

“The journey keeps going. I’ve learned that this is my new life.”

Sadly, Grace passed away shortly after we conducted this interview. When Grace knew she might not have much time left, she gave her blessing to publish her story to Leap Magazine who are honoured to share it with their readers.


May we live in the now and find the support we need with the friends who need us as well.

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Like an overgrown path

Image: Dreamstime.com

The way of perfection is the way of compassion.*

It is the way of true holiness, and it is hard to find.

The human story has ceaseless and recurrent narratives about what is the path of life.#

In the later stages of his life, Huevelin (1838-1910), the Abbe de Tourville reflected:

[Perfection] is not like going up a great hill from which we see an every-widening landscape, a greater horizon, a plain receding further and further into the distance. It is more like an overgrown path which we cannot find; we grope about; we are caught by brambles; we lose all sense of the distance covered; we do not know whether we are going around and round or whether we are advancing.

We are certain only of one thing; that we desire to go on even though we are worn and tired. That is your life and you should rejoice greatly because of it, for it is a true life, serious and real, on which God opens His eyes and His heart.

We are too apt to think of virtue as a broad, smooth road, whereas it is really a very rough and narrow one. It never becomes smooth or less uneven, until we observe that, in spite of all the jolting, we do manage to stay on it an even to advance a little, thanks to our Lord who holds us. Our confidence in Him, gained by experience, gives us a certain inward tranquility in spite of the jolting.

Source: Letters of Faith through the Seasons, James. M. Houston.


* Compare Matthew’s and Luke’s rendition of the same idea:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Luke 6:36


# The Psalmist sings to knowing the path of life:

You have shown me the path of life:

You fill me with joy in your presence…

Psalm 16:11

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Indigenous Prayer for National Indigenous Peoples Day

Oh Great Spirit : Whose voice I hear in the winds, And whose breath gives life to all the world

Hear me for I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you’ve made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and every rock.

I seek strength not to be greater than my brother but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.

Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

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Love Juggles Anvils

From The Art of Blacksmithing by Alex W. Bealer

In commemoration of Juneteenth (June 19), here is a moving poem of the slave experience by black poet laureate Marilyn Nelson:

A Suite for Temperance

Temperance Still
“molata” (1/2 Narragansett,
1/2 African)
b. 1706
i. x her mark
Jan. 13, 1726 she signed
an agreement
to be sold for life
to Richard Lord
What, in the movings overhead at night,
in the circle of the Four Directions,
in the bedrock sequence of the seasons,
made our eyes meet with this forever love?
Whose dream envisioned our togethering?
We might have lived and died without knowing
the gaze that melded two fates into one.
What would living have meant, without our pledge?
We might still be as distant as children
in different worlds, longing up toward the stars
for the other half who will make them whole.
What if my mother’s tribe had won the war?
What if our fathers had not been enslaved?
If they had died in the nightmare voyage?
What if Africa hadn’t been plundered,
or this land seized? Would our eyes have met?
I might not have looked up from planting corn
and seen the shy smile on your handsome face.
Now this white man says we may marry, if
he owns me and any children we have.
He’s happy to allow our happiness,
he says, but life’s a business of profit and loss.
“Oxford,” he says, “this girl shall be thy wife,
and my slave.” I love you. I make my mark.
ii. slave marriage
Jan. 21, 1726
marriage of Temperance
and Oxford
“negro servant” of
Richard Lord
I can’t say I do take her for my wife,
to have and to hold. But I do accept
with thanksgiving this heaven-sent gift
of a partner and sharer of despair.
How can I call an owned woman my wife,
knowing my children born to her are his?
In sickness and health, richer or poorer,
when he whistles she must run like a dog.
But I will take her to the airless room
in the attic where I sleep, and our breaths
will blend in the air over my pallet
until we jump to work in the pre-dawn.
I will hold her warm sobbing in my arms,
touch her tenderly with work-hardened hands.
I will hear her peoples’ drums in her heart,
and with her make people for the future
Loneliness has been an anvil in my chest,
almost as heavy as being enslaved.
But love juggles anvils. Love makes us free.
Before, I didn’t know I was not whole
was only one half, and she the other.
No longer alone, I’ve become a we.
Shoulder to shoulder, we shall face down fate,
blessed and cursed by the trickster Ancestors.
iii. faith, hope, love
1731: her
attempted lawsuit in
New London County Court
to recoup 60 pounds back
wages failed because
of gender, race,
and social status of husband
We’d planned for Grace to help me birth the child,
but Abiah came so sudden: one quick push,
and Mistress caught her in her petticoat.
She laid her, swaddled in it, in my arms.
She opened the door, said “Oxford.” He came in
and bowed to her, then turned his eyes to me
with the same joy promise that bound us at the start:
faith in the future, in a better tomorrow.
Three children later, now Judge Lord insists
my X on that paper made me a slave
for life, not just a servant for five years.
He says all of the gentlemen in the room
that day clearly explained to me that he
would own me, and those born to me, until death.
He says everyone thought I understood.
He says our board and keep are my wages.
He says I should be grateful: now I’m churched.
Behind my eyes a red storm cloud rumbles.
“Church.” Always praying about “faith, hope, love.”
Truth is, they believe in the opposite.
I think their suffering Jesus would agree
praying don’t even make you halfways good.
Truth is, they don’t know who they’re praying
to gives me strength to believe in tomorrow.
iv. sorrow food
I eat only sorrow food now.
—Bessie Head
Aug. 27, 1735
bill of sale: Oxford,
Temperance, and
infant Joel, to John
Bulkley of Colchester
for 180 pounds
Abiah helps me keep house. Zachery
and Jordan help their daddy with the outside work:
weeding, feeding the chickens. Our children
are smart, well-mannered, and obedient,
with sweet smiles and (mostly) clean fingernails.
Oxford and I are proud and heartbroken:
our miracles surrendered to this world.
Our children forced to live on sorrow food.
Should I have bowed and said master with gentle eyes?
Should I never have glared into his face?
We’ve shared this household like a family
of wolverines and white-tailed deer
the ferocious and the ever-eaten.
Manto is generous. Though the Great Wheel
sometimes seems to wobble, Manto is good.
But must we serve forever, hiding rage?
Ten years. Four babies born upstairs. The moons
of making home for our joined families,
of cooking, cleaning, washing, nursing the sick,
of scrubbing bootees for nine babies in all
How shall I look in the face of Richard Lord
who just called me and Oxford in and said,
“This man has bought you two and your baby
We’ll keep the other three. Go get your things.”

This poem is from “The Witness Stones Project” portfolio that appeared in the November 2021 issue of Poetryfoundation.org.

James K. A. Smith noted that in early December, Image partnered with the LOGOS Poetry Collective and the Luce Center for the Arts & Religion to host a “liturgically-inflected” poetry reading that included Marilyn Nelson. Smith writes:

I had no idea how hungry I was for such an evening with actual embodied humans gathered by art and transcendence. Lighting up the night but also naming the dark. The song of human voice wed to the heart-rhythms of poetic line. A wonderful community of people who, finding friendship in poetry, truly experienced communion.

I’m not doing justice to how moving this evening was. [My wife] and I both left with eyes wet, hearts full, and hope abounding. Thankfully, you can get a taste of the evening in the recording on the LOGOS Collective Facebook book.

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Bread

The Lord’s Supper, Louise Boyce

It would not be a gross exaggeration to say that the Bible is a culinary manual, concerned from start to finish with how to eat, what to eat, when to eat. Food is the first way the Bible shows that God intends to provide for humanity…

Thus begins Lauren Winner’s excerpt in Image Journal titled Bread.  She observes that the biblical writers discuss God’s relationship with His people in nourishment metaphors. Even the dietary codes reveal God’s interest in the details of their lives. “Food accompanies hospitality,” she writes pointing to Abraham in Genesis 18 as a first mention.

“Food carries memory and food becomes sacramental vessel”

Jesus instructs his friends and followers to eat a ritual meal in his memory. And finally there is God’s own self as food: “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink,” Jesus tells his baffled audience in the Gospel of John.

That description—flesh, blood, real food and drink—is startling and graphic. (In fact, in the first centuries following Jesus’s death, pagans who overheard Christian worship and teaching accused Christians of cannibalism.) There is a decided strangeness about the metaphor—but at the same time, the pair of foods that God most preeminently is seems almost unremarkable. Wine and bread. The fruit of the vine; the staff of life.

In calling Himself “the bread of life”—and not, say, crème caramel or caviar—Jesus is identifying with basic food, with sustenance, with the food that, for centuries afterward, would figure in the protest efforts of poor and marginalized people. No one holds caviar riots; people riot for bread. So, to speak of God as bread is to speak of God’s most elemental provision for us.

This may mean more to those who live in hunger than for those like Lauren who confesses that she has “never been hungry for more than thirty-five minutes” (sound familiar?).  We take nourishment for granted, and often forget to credit God for His attention to it.

So for me (and maybe for you), the image of bread as provision can be a bit of a corrective, showing me how insensible to my dependence on God I really am. But instructing me in my hunger is not all this image can do. Bread is basic food, but bread nonetheless contains meanings beyond sustenance.

For the full article see Lauren Winners essay “Bread.”


Who is this Bread who contains meaning beyond sustenance?

How do you know Him?

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Waiting

Waiting:

Waiting to hear from you

waiting to hear you

waiting to hear you say

You are well and worshipful as always.

 

Waiting to hear about our new grandson

that he is healthy

that our son is happy

that his wife is blessed.

 

Waiting for good news

waiting for any news

but especially news from you:

your lips, your mouth, your voice.

 

Waiting for family to arrive

for the noise and joy and transition

waiting for our reunion,

waiting…


On the occasion of waiting:

as my wife went to be a support for my son and daughter-in-law who has just given birth to their first child;

as my daughter and family are soon to return to Canada to live with us;

and the occasion of our 39th wedding anniversary tomorrow.


The Message translation of Romans 8:22-15 is particularly good in capturing the idea of waiting:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

For more, see “On Waiting“.

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What the Desert does for us

Image: UN Environment Programme

If the desert is to be a pathway to God, it must be welcomed by a mind that has really abdicated worldly pleasure… [for] it is in the desert that we can make a periodic clearance of those illusions which prevent us for obtaining a clear view of all the things that clutter our heart. Traveling in the desert soon becomes impossible if one’s heart is not open and [not] unattached, and if one continues to expect from life something that only God can give.

So writes Father Rene Voillaume who in 1933 began the Saharan community of Abiodh Sidi-Sheikh, and then scattered into many of the other “urban deserts” of the world’s largest cities. He often wrote his pastoral letters after visiting the places Jesus had been.

The place of the desert with which Voillaume is most concerned is the cite where we can make periodic clearance of those illusions that clutter our heart. With the insight of a desert dweller, he states how impossible it is to make this clearance if our hearts are not open, and not unattached. I suppose this can include detachment form materialism, but Voillaume speaks to the abdication of worldly pleasure and the illusions of a cluttered heart.

As if to make a fine point of the issues for the cluttered heart, Voillaume states it is impossible to make this clearance of the illusions if we continue to expect from life something that only God can give. Here is the point of contact with where faith lives. Whenever we expect from life, or others, or sources other than God to give that which only God can give, we lose our way, and find ourselves in a desert of a different kind.

James Houston writes:

Our desolations, or “deserts,” can be the sphere God uses to free us for our fantasies… It is in the “desert places” of our lives when we can come to most intimate self-knowledge.

What have you learned in your deserts?

From what illusions have you learned to detach and declutter?


This excerpt from Father Voillaume is from a collection edited by James M. Houston – “Letters of Faith through the Seasons.”

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