Thank-you Rev Miriam for creating this opportunity for the sharing of our faith stories again this year.
The beautiful contributions of the 3 story tellers before me, have been so thought provoking; thank-you all for inspiring us through this Lenten season.
Patent leather shoes, inner calm, heart break, snowballs - what could they possibly have in common? They all represent some stages of my faith journey.
I was born in Botwood and lived there until I was in grade 4. Our house was just across the street from the United Church. My first memories surrounding the whole experience of church was that it was a place that required you to dress in your Sunday best !- little white gloves then, dresses and those lovely patent leather shoes. Unlike Oliver who seemed to have a deep understanding of faith at a very early age- I afraid mine was a much more concrete view; a child’s perspective looking in on an adult world that seemed somewhat mysterious- with words everyone knew, small drinks and small pieces of bread, though not every week for some reason, and then also this lovely sense of a special quiet that I couldn’t quite identify then, but certainly recall enjoying.
There was also though an early opportunity to experience the tolerance of an adult group for a child’s mistake that is also an important memory. In other venues of adults, children’s outbursts were not always dealt with so patiently as this next situation. For those in the congregation who are old enough to remember a certain jingle that went with a beer ad back then,… you will have an even greater appreciation for this story. All 5 of us Antle kids were sitting between mom and dad in the pews one Sunday- when my younger sister Bev was suddenly struck by the thought that she knew one of those bigger adult words- she was probably 5 years old at the time. She called down the row as soon as she heard the minister say it – “ Dad, he said Dominion, chug a lug a mug of Dominion”!! Goodness you could certainly hear a pin drop for a moment as the minister paused for a second during the prayer before continuing on. I realize now there were a lot of suppressed smiles- but I wasn’t sure at the time if that outburst, not necessarily the words as I was only 7, but the outburst would cause the adults to be upset. Yet all that happened was the feeling that that beautiful “church quiet” was a little more noticeable for a moment. And without missing a beat, Dad just had a small smile and picked her up, quietly managing both her excitement and the need for continued head down position for prayer.
The association of calm presence and church impact continued on for me as we came to St John’s. We became members of Cochrane Street United Church. It was a welcoming place with beautiful music and Sunday school. For those who didn’t know me then –it might be hard to believe I was shy and quiet, yes quiet, in the presence of others! This is true! A little bit of a paradox for someone who at the same time like to push the limits and try new things- just nervous when doing so. So as a teenager my faith expression was very much an introspective experience. I was more apt to not reference the church, God or their impact on my life in any way- that was just a “Sunday thing”, those feeling were private and they were definitely not cool. It was embarrassing to be one of those how framed their lives with reference to Jesus. Ultimately, this extended to something I never spoke about with my friends then for many years.
Yet as I left home and went to University in Kingston ON at the age of 17, to start my degree in Physiotherapy, there was a silent pull that drew me one early Sunday morning when I was feeling a little out of place there. I went for a walk to the edge of the campus which was bordered by Lake Ontario- just a short walk from my residence. I could find no solace in the quiet lap of the water. It was just not the satisfaction of the sound of waves from the North Atlantic that I loved whenever I needed to sort things out.
Continuing on I found myself in front of a small United Church and went in. There was a lovely couple who introduced themselves after the service and when they found out that I was from NL with no one I knew in the area, well I was invited back to their house for what became my home away from home for the 4 years I was there. Again the common experience was that wonderful sense of physical calm that would come each time I sat in that lovely church with that congregation- I could block out the noise of the stress of my very busy student life.
Back in the province and working in a job I loved I thought I would feel very satisfied, yet something felt incomplete. So I reconnected with Cochrane Street Church and found the congregation was invited to help with a social action project. Interestingly enough it turned out to be a housing project for those with some disabilities that was being started elsewhere in the city- so I offered to be on the Board of Directors….maybe a little foreshadowing of things to come??
Then sudden heartache as I received a call from my husband, while working on Remembrance Day– he met me at the hospital to tell me my younger sister had been killed in a car accident in Toronto. It is the first time in my life that I felt the energy just drain out and began that inward struggle of dealing with the sadness while also trying to make sense of it all. How could it be that someone so young, so giving to others could be taken so suddenly? I had lost one of my beautiful solemates. There was a period of time that those very usual questions and feelings surfaced- I still don’t have answers as to why but somewhere along the way the focus shifted from questioning why, to seeing the good she did while here, the impact she continues to have through awards in her name and memories she created, that have caused others to aim high/do their best in their field. I don’t know exactly when this happened- it was gradual. But the most important part of this transition was letting go having to have all the answers. That somewhere, somehow I felt I was learning to let go of my usual need to make sense of all things, to have a clear understanding of purpose and facts. This shift opened me up to listening more acutely to the world around and to be receptive to different opportunities daily. It was such a relief and soul satisfying to know I didn’t have to have all the answers but instead leave myself open to being present with people, with everyday life events and to experience god’s purpose each day.
At the evening Lenten reflection session last week, I was referencing an example of how I just no longer think of some things as a coincidence – just accept there was probably an element of divine intervention. I was coming down from the ICU with the intention to pick up a piece of equipment and head right back up. Instead I over shot my floor by 1 level when walking down the stairs and instead ended up in the lobby of the hospital just as an old colleague of mine was coming out of the elevator. Her husband was back in for evaluation of a lower leg problem that has surfaced again and was causing them great upset- partly due to not fully understanding what was happening. He was visibly upset and angry. He was disappointed that something that had taken a long time to settle enough for him to start getting back to things he enjoyed doing, was now a problem again. Taking a moment with them to explain a few things, answer a few of their questions- gave them some greater understanding and perspective they both indicated was very relieving. They then headed out the door, indicating they felt so much better. This is not an isolated incident- in terms of timing and moments. I’ve come to accept I don’t have to know why but that it feels right sometimes that I don’t need to question the purpose.
The fellowship I’ve found in the church, the restoring of energy from Rev Miriams reflections, the choir and their awesome musical contribution to the service and the beautiful moments around tea buns and snowballs in the after service tea time continue to fuel me for the week ahead. I always feel no matter what surprizes we encounter, we will find a way to reframe the moment and move forward… though the path may have a number of speed bumps and potholes on the way!
From patent leather shoes, to questioning the meaning of a sad loss, to opening up/shifting from a need to make sense of everything to just accepting being ready to see the world differently…. My faith journey has reached a point that I see many events that occur as opportunities to live out God’s grace in helping others.
It has been and continues to be an awe -inspiring, at times frustrating – yet always a rewarding beautiful journey. I am so glad to be here with all of you to be a part of this
…. So many interesting and surprising opportunities await- I hope I will always be ready to see them.