26 December 2011

Christmas at Quakers

The holiday season has been a busy time filled with many festivities. Quaker Cottage celebrates Christmas in a number of ways. We took our afterschool groups to the Belfast Christmas Market, an international market with food, drinks, crafts, and more from around the world. The kids really enjoyed going, especially the hot chocolate and the surprise merry-go-round ride in which we treated them! We also had Christmas parties for our afterschool groups. I, out of all people, was recruited to play “Silly Santa,” an easily noticeable impostor Santa character. The afterschool'ers pointed out all of my flaws, that I was too thin (I had forgotten the pillows to stuff), that I couldn't see (Santa wears glasses?), that I had a nose piercing, and that I was wearing sneakers (didn't change into boots). The whole ride home was full of the kids telling me how they just KNEW I was the one in that suit and not Santa!

A big part of Christmas giving on the behalf of Quakers is our hampers we provide for our families. Not only do we gather food, toys, and toiletries for the 24 families that come to Quakers currently, but we also make hampers for nearly all families that have been through Quakers in the last 3 years! Our afterschool room was transformed into a TESCO grocery store, and our mom's relaxation room was turned into a Toy's R Us! Almost all of the supplies for the hampers were donated to us, the majority of donations came from the Friends (Quaker) school in Belfast. We worked hard building all the hampers and distributing them to all of the families.

Our last three days at Quakers before holiday break was hosting our Christmas dinners for our mothers and babies. Sarah, my supervisor, prepared three big Christmas dinners nearly on her own; she was amazing! Ham, turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, brussel sprouts, peas & carrots, truffle, and a lovely Pavlova cake was served each day. After the dinners we had a time for singing and a visit from Santa Claus, whom I luckily did not play! Some of the families got some nice family shots with Santa, whereas some children were too scared of Santa to get a decent picture. Ah well.

In my recreational time, I performed two Christmas concerts with the community choir I joined, Grosvenor. The first was a traditional Christmas Lessons with Carols, pieced together like an Anglican worship service. The second was a live broadcast on the BBC Ulster radio station! As time drew nearer to Christmas, my roommates and I had a small Christmas dinner and exchanged gifts. Christmas eve was spent at a friend's flat enjoying cuisine from India and Poland. Christmas day I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to L'ARCHE Belfast for community time. L'ARCHE is a community living organization for persons with learning disabilities. L'ARCHE is another BVS placement in Belfast, and I was able to connect with the two BVSers I knew there. We had a lovely day together, starting with an afternoon walk in Belvoir Park, tea and biscuits at Scott and Megan's (former BVS'er), and a delicious and wholesome dinner back at the L'ARCHE house. I am gracious for the opportunity I had to spend Christmas in community, getting to know the L'ARCHE team.

So, I've been busy! I think it's fair to say I've exhausted the ways to celebrate Christmas this year, yet thankfully I haven't exhausted myself! I deeply look forward to the new year, and to see what Quaker Cottage has up its sleeve for 2012!

06 December 2011

Peace Meditation

In a few weeks we will be back to the unlit bare bones of trees gracing our landscape on whatever walk we can convince ourselves to endure in below freezing weather. The cloak of the festive holiday season will be stripped away, and we will be left to face January on our own. For these short weeks of Advent and the Christmas season, we are awash in the best qualities of humanity and God: peace, joy, love, hope, family, comfort, gratitude, beauty, grace, selflessness. A few years ago I worshiped at a midnight Mass in a very formal Anglican church. With the incense, the bells, and choir, it was easy to believe that it was magic, that the coming of the Saviour really had changed everything, ourselves, all the being of the world. In the cold bleakness of January, it's just harder to maintain that belief.

Does our attachment to the beautiful sentiment of 'righteousness and peace will kiss each other' (Psalm 85;10) mean anything after January 1, 2012? In my ministry with Brethren Volunteer Service, I have had the great privilege of meeting people and communities that have dedicated decades of their lives to the peace movement. What does it take to sustain such a commitment? Based on what I have seen, these people have given themselves as a 'living sacrifice'. As a member of Church and Peace's Administrative Committee put it, peace is not a church project, it is the way of Christ.

So how do we bring the way of Christ into our everyday lives? As The Message translation of Psalm 85: 10-13 phrases it:

Love and Truth meet in the street. Love and Truth meet on the bus. Love and Truth meet in the grocery store. Any time you recognize the Inner Light, the image of God, within another being and treat them as such.

Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Or, in the words of W.H. Bellinger, Jr., a professor in the United States: 'God's unchanging love and trustworthiness come together to bring the community into right relationship with God and each other' [1]. When we accept that gift of redeemed relationship and strive to live our lives accordingly, with grace, mercy, and compassion from God, God gives us peace and acceptance with ourselves, and out of that, we can give that to others. But it's not easy. There are many voices in our heads and in our hearts. Do something every day that helps you separate yourself from the autopilot in your mind, whether it is centering prayer, meditation, cooking, talking a walk....

Truth spouts green from the ground, Right Living pours down from the skies! When in doubt, step outside. Breathe deeply. Look. Listen.

Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty; our land responds with Bounty and Blessing. Right Living strides out before him, and clears a path for his passage.

Susan Chase Pracht

Advent 2011