All posts by Anne Simmonds

What Good Is It?

What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son
takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself?
What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace
And if I am not also full of grace?
What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his/her Son
If I do not also give birth to him
In my time and my culture?
Meister Eckhart

But Mary treasured all these words
and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

My almost four-year-old granddaughter tells me she is afraid of loud noises.
“Which ones,” I ask.
“Thunder” she responds.  I reassure her, probably foolishly, that in winter we have snow storms but not thunder.

Last spring an old tree across from their house came down, bringing with it two large concrete hydro poles, with part of the tree landing on the neighbour’s car.  The power lines lay across their property rather than keeping the lights on inside.  Her mother had just come up the front walk.

In the night during at least two of the loud thunder and lightning storms last summer, I lay awake in tears.  Not because I don’t like loud noises.  I was afraid for my grandchildren, and yours, or your future grandchildren, and theirs. What kind of environment are we are leaving them?  Individually and collectively we do not seem to have the will to do the hard things necessary to ensure the comfortable survival of humans on the planet.  I do what I can; ride my bike, limit unnecessary purchases, recycle.  But I also love to travel and I know that air travel is a big polluter.

Mary “pondered” these things “in her heart.”  She probably did not want to say “yes” to the request to birth “the Christ”.  What does it mean for me, for you, to birth the Holy in our time and place?  Can Mary’s “yes” be my “yes?”  That is the invitation at the heart of the ancient story.

I’m listening to the hopeful energy of our young people – the numerous “Christ” children already born into what I pray will be a world able to support their lives.  And I’m going to start buying carbon offsets for my flying habit.

Finding Hope In The Trumpford Era

It is Wednesday morning. I leave Sunday for my scheduled annual retreat in Connecticut. As I prepare breakfast, the top news story is Trump’s clamp-down on “illegals”; the separation of parents and children, migrants entering the United States, all being held in detention. I’m appalled: angry, at the latest bombastic bombardment from this bully, especially as it arrives on the heels of the 2018 G7 meeting, where he labelled Prime Minister Trudeau “weak and dishonest” – a slight projection, perhaps! Like many other Canadians I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of a visit to the United States.

With a morning free of commitments, I start looking on-line for retreat centres in Ontario, and the rest of Canada. Calls and e-mails go to at least 6 requesting space for a silent retreat the next week. I e-mail my friend and former theological professor – an American, living in Canada for the past 35 years – asking where she goes in northern Ontario. Responses come in over the early afternoon hours. The retreat houses are full. My former professor and R. C. sister friend calls me. She is in Arizona leading a retreat for other sisters, several of whom are helping to care for the children who have been removed from their parents under this Trump initiative. She asks: “Can you hold the tension between these two ends of the spectrum?”

I decide I need my retreat more than I need to protest Trump. I am met at the airport by another retreatant.
“How are you?” she asks
“I almost didn’t come. The news has been so hard.”
“Yes, for us too. We are embarrassed, ashamed.”

Our conversation continues. I hear just how hard it is to deal with Trump supporters who only listen to distorted news feeds which say things like – it is actors rather than students protesting gun violence in schools. A chasm exists in this divided country. I hear about the “resistance” that stared immediately, and the work being done to encourage people to vote in the mid-terms. I feel kinship, humbled by the possibility that Ontario is heading into a similar future with its new conservative government.

I’ve been carrying much grief over climate change and justice. The trumpfords either deny, or don’t seem to care, about the world that we are leaving for our grandchildren and the generations to come. Don’t they see that all the money in the “taxpayer’s pocket”, or political power in the world (in the short term, as that is the apparent limit of consciousness of this subset of politicians) mean nothing if you can’t drink the water, breath the air, or grow nutritious food?

The first evening of the retreat I sit in a circle with six American women.
“I almost didn’t come.” I say, as I introduce myself. There is a heaviness in the room. One shares her grief at the political situation and one by one around the circle the anger and despair is acknowledged and felt. They too are suffering.

The week is spent mostly in silence. The beauty and fullness of mother nature surrounds me: The steady pulse of the ocean, the magnificent trees and flowers, the birds, bees, rabbits, groundhogs, dragonflies and other creatures draw me into silence within and without.

It is the final afternoon. I sit in the same circle of seven. “I’m glad I came,” I say, “It is good to be here and remember nothing is black and white.” I feel solidarity with their struggle and am humbled by their honesty. I leave them, and you, with the message of hope and video that came to me on my retreat:

The humble bumble bee
Will bring humanity to
its knees.

We will only survive
If we realize
Our survival depends
Upon it!

How badly will we be
Stung, before
we wake up?

The mighty shall be brought low.
It has always been thus.

I can trust: life, death, re-birth
Same: yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Anne Simmonds, retreat 2018

On Turning Seventy

“It’s only a Number.”

“You don’t look it.”

These are the two common responses that I have heard to my turning seventy. In our culture many want to hide their age. I understand why. Ageism does exist. Not long ago I showed my GP a finger joint that has been swollen for several years.

“Can I have an x-ray and possible referral to see what is going on?” I asked.  Taking a quick look, the response was: “No, we’ll wait until it’s painful and then inject it with cortisone.”

I’m not even going to elaborate on the assumptions behind that statement. I will not give up that easily on my finger. I have come to trust my body’s healing capacity, and will rely on that, as I age, seeking out supportive practitioners.

When I turned sixth-nine, my deceased father’s words rang in my ears:
“You are in the 70th year.”

I decided that seventy is a BIG number and I was going to make a big deal of it. I planned seven special things for the year. The final was an art show opening the day after my actual birthday. It doubled as a birthday celebration.

“Grit, Grace, & Gratitude” was the title of my show. In my comments I noted how it was the grittiest experiences in my life that have brought the most pain, depth, and growth. They also lead to the moments of grace sprinkled through my life, and now to my immense gratitude for it all.

A few days after the opening of my show, a friend sent me the link to a CBC interview with Artist Ann Mortifee. Her music has been important and healing for me since I first heard her perform in the mid nineteen-eighties. She also turned seventy recently, and performed a concert in Vancouver to celebrate. Her words gave me the next bit of encouragement I needed, “Seventy feels really powerful.”  Listen to Ann here.

This I know: Any ‘power’ that wants to come into the world through me in the coming years will only be diminished by my lamenting of my age. I will continue to do what sustains the health of my body and the vibrancy of my spirit; I will encourage and support others to do the same. The world needs us to offer the wisdom that comes from living life deeply, authentically, long, and with compassion.