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Weekly Pause &  Ponder

The gift of wonder expands awareness, connecting us to the wider universe and fostering empathy and compassion.  When we are weary of terrors – nuclear threats, violence, dangers to the planet – wonder suggests a transcendent dimension to existence, a something more present within the material world that sustains our joy and courage.

Loving Creation: Christian Spirituality, Earth-Centered and Just, by Kathleen Fischer


A Community of  Exchange

I’m looking out from my kitchen table at ice covered trees today.  I’m home because of the weather, but usually I’d be working at another table in a windowless office at the back of a building on Barton Street in the east end of Hamilton, Ontario. 

I work at a not-for-profit café  called    541 Eatery and Exchange, where our mission is to welcome everyone to the table.  That’s a bold statement!  For the past four years we’ve opened our doors 6 days a week for 12 hours.  The ‘we’ is about 15 staff, mostly part time, and 200 volunteers.  The   volunteers     help do everything – cook, clean, do the dishes, serve our customers, and work alongside our youth outreach worker.  Because of them we’re able to keep our payroll costs low, and that translates into really low prices.  In case they aren’t low enough, we have a pay it forward system that uses buttons as café currency.  No, you don’t have to bring in buttons with you!  We have a jar full of buttons that ‘cost’ a dollar each.  A customer can buy as many as they like, and transfer them over to another jar.  Those buttons are then available to anyone without money that day, to put towards anything on the menu.  You can use 5 buttons every day, so long as another customer pays for them in advance.

This simple system means that our customers are a mixed crew.  It’s not unusual for business people needing a quick lunch to be lining up with one of our community who sleeps rough in the local park.  It seems to us to be a sign of God’s kingdom.  It isn’t always heavenly – sometimes people are having a difficult day, sometimes customers don’t get along (that’s true for everyone, no matter how they pay for their order).  But in general we’ve made deep friendships with people we otherwise would never have met, and have come to love people who get overlooked. 

In a couple of days I’ll lead the funeral service for one of our regulars.  Most of our staff will be there, along with many customers.  Margaret was a character.  Forthright, a wearer of extraordinary hats, she was completely dedicated to dressing up for Halloween or Christmas or Easter.  She tended to talk during worship on Sunday afternoons at The Meeting Place, the congregation I pastor that meets in the café.  She sat at the same table every morning, where she played the board game Trouble with a decided competitive spirit.  Margaret found a welcome at 541.  She had a place at the table, and we will miss her. 


Rev. Sue Carr

Executive Director

541 Eatery and Exchange



This, Too, Was a  Gift

The legacy of the late beloved poet, Mary Oliver, was her rare and amazing ability to turn our usual thought patterns inside out and upside down.  As boxes of chocolates fly off the shelves for Valentine’s Day, a friend gave me one of Oliver’s modicums of wisdom.

 The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

That this, too, was a gift.


Imagine someone you love, gives you a box of darkness instead of delicious chocolates for Valentine’s.  What would you make of such a gift?  Would you welcome it?  While I was reflecting on this poem, I happened to stumble upon Nelson Fernandez’s blog ‘A box of Darkness’.  Reflecting on Oliver’s poem, ‘The Uses of Sorrow’, he relates it to the testimony of someone who discovered how precious all of life is when he found his box full of darkness.  He writes:

I recently came across a comment from an individual who reported having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He concluded that although the resulting PTSD stuck with him for at least 4 years, the accident instantly made him decide to never waste the gift of life, so, he got both Post-Traumatic Stress and Post-Traumatic Growth. That accident became a defining moment for him.

This coined phrase, Post-Traumatic Growth, succinctly reinforces the gift of growth in darkness which is at the heart of Mary Oliver’s poem.  In reflecting upon my life, I too can attest to what I have discovered tucked into my own experiences of darkness. Within them, I grasped a deeper awareness of my own resilience, a greater sense of myself and even a deeper empathy for others. Usually, with time, the darkness of pain fades, but wisdom remains. Let me conclude with a quote by one of my favourite authors, Joyce Rupp. In her book Little Pieces of Light, she prays the following with a grateful heart: “Yes, I thank you for my darkness, (the unwanted companion I shun and avoid) because this pushy intruder comes with truth and reveals my hidden treasures to me.”

I hope someone gives you a beautifully wrapped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.  However, one day someone may also bless you with the gift of a box of darkness. What gift of sweetness might you discover in such a gift?

 - Nancy Wales, csj


Weekly Pause &  Ponder

"The success of love is in the loving – it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done. "

- Mother Teresa -


King’s University College Student Awards  Ceremony

The cost of university education is out of reach for many students. Academic or sports scholarships are available for those fortunate students who have achieved success in these fields. However, many students may have been prevented from belonging to either group because of their background or lack of opportunity. Yet students who demonstrate great promise for future contributions to the welfare of our society may need financial assistance to enable them to continue their education.  I was heartened and amazed at the number and variety of donors, awards, and recipients at the King’s University College Awards Ceremony on January 24.    

Sixty-seven donors presented a total of 102 awards. Some awards were established to honour alumni or former professors. Others represented interests of donors in socialjustice, education, social work, economics, law, science, or community development. But what was most striking was the variety and quality of the students. I was in awe of the ability of recipients whose volunteer work in the community, part-time employment or involvement in student leadership and organizations was matched by their ability to maintain high academic standards. It was a joy to listen to the hopes of these students and the efforts they were making to prepare themselves to make our world a better place. A senior member of the faculty commented to me: “The generous students who work hard and donate their time are also the students who make good progress in their studies.”  May their example inspire people and organizations to assist our young adults to pursue university studies.

-Sr. Pat McKeon

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