Tuesday, 12 May 2015


Blog Day 7 Corrymeela begins when you leave …



That’s the sign over the front door in the lobby of the main building at Corrymeela. Everyone who passes through that lobby is challenged to find what that statement means in their own lives as they leave.

Our last sessions are always focused on integrating what we have learned over the week into our own contexts. As shocking as the peace walls and barriers in Belfast were to us, we were challenged to see the walls and barriers in our own lives, both personally and systemically. Paul asked us to think of what needs reconciling in Canada, again, either personally or in our communities. Certainly it was not hard to come up with many examples.

In this way, the work of Corrymeela has continued over the past fifty years. When one thinks of the thousands of people that visit Corrymeela each year, plus the hundreds of volunteers, it truly is a worldwide movement.

And so another pilgrimage ends, but I think, just one leg of the journey. It’s been a privilege and a delight – thanks to co-leader Alana, program planner and facilitator extraordinaire Paul, and all the participants. Indeed, the journey continues.




Blog Day 6

The Corrymeela Community

After our busy and inspiring day on Thursday, we wondered if our brains could possibly hold any more information. But amazingly, our capacity to keep expanding our perspectives and abilities to hold new ideas was large.

Friday morning we met with Colin Craig, Executive Director of Corrymeela. A former Centre Director during the 1990s, Colin spoke about the massive change that the organization has undergone in the past year. From changes to volunteer and staff structures, reducing the environmental footprint, to changes in funding and communications, he talked about how the organization is trying to live out the mission of “living and learning well together.”

Since leaving Corrymeela as its Centre Director in 2001, Colin developed several organizations, including TIDES Training, working with communities in Northern Ireland and other countries around the world including Bosnia, Kosovo, and Pakistan. He then helped develop a city wide collaborative called Youth Intervention Network in California, and Different Tracks Global (DTG). He brings this wisdom and experience to the new position, and it is clear from talking to staff and volunteers that there is excitement and enthusiasm as folks move forward.

One of the biggest changes has been the creation of the two distinct leadership positions within the organization, with the clear division of role and responsibility. Previously, many of the administrative and organizational roles would have been lodged in the Centre’s Leader as well as being the spiritual head of the community. Last fall, Padraig O Tuoma was named Leader of the Community. This is an excerpt from a press release on the website:

Padraig brings a wealth of experience from his work in poetry, theology and conflict transformation around the world … Pádraig will work closely with Executive Director Colin Craig and the staff team to run programmes of respite, encounter, dialogue and reflective learning for the 11,000 visitors that come through the Ballycastle Centre each year. He will represent Corrymeela in current public debates and build relationships with church and faith communities in Northern Ireland and beyond.”

I had mentioned that Thursday the leader of the community, Padraig O Tuama, had welcomed us into his home for coffee and conversation. It was an amazing gift to sit with Padraig for an hour, hearing him speak about his own experiences of encounters of “faith in the public square.” As a lover of language and a poet, Padraig speaks powerfully and eloquently. He knows his own tradition well, and speaks of having the space in one’s own tradition to “question the corners”. He asks provocative questions ... “How can a community hold its story well?”,  “what is its relationship with difference?”, “How do we safeguard the virtue and value and wonder of curiosity?” and “What is the ethic of engagement when you disagree?” It was a holy space with Padraig, one that I will remember for a long time.

Friday evening was spent with Marianne and Ruth, long time community members who were on site for the weekend to do “cover” (kind of like a duty manager, keeper of the keys, the buck stops here kind of role …) They each told their stories – how they came to be community members and their first encounter with Corrymeela, why it is still important to them, its challenges, and several stories. It was a great opportunity to find out how the community works at the grassroots level.

And of course, all week long we have had the delight of being with two of the long term volunteers, Beni from Switzerland and Diego from El Salvador, and have also met many others over mealtime conversations.

Many perspectives, all interwoven to form what is the Corrymeela Community. It never ceases to delight and amaze me.

 

Sunday, 10 May 2015


Day 5 Fencing in or fencing out?

As is often the case, the days get longer and more intense as the week goes on here at Corrymeela. Once again I find myself writing backwards, filling in the experiences of the days.


Thursday when we returned to Corrymeela from Belfast we saw that one of the baby sheep had found a way through the fence and was by the side of the road, desperately trying to find a way back through to unite with its "tribe".  Presumably it's mother was the sheep right on the other side, clearly distressed and trying to encourage the little one to find a way back through. There was even a crowd of other sheep nearby, concerned for what was happening. Happily, with a bit of human encouragement and shepherding, it found its way through.


I heard the wonderful theologian, storyteller and author Tex Sample at a conference once ask the question  "are you fencing in or fencing out?" It's very hard for North Americans to fully grasp the concept of a "peace wall", which have actually increased in number since the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Dr. Jonny Byrne, a specialist in this topic from the University of Ulster, estimated there are about 75 peace walls in Northern Ireland.  He led us on a walking tour of some of them Thursday morning.


The peace walls were first constructed by Stormont and the British army in 1969 as a military response to sectarian violence and disorder. Although many outsiders, especially North Americans, see them as symbols of a deeply divided society, Jonny helped us understand that they were also symbols of a community that only feels secure and safe with the walls in place. Although the government has committed to a program that builds improved community relations and a more cohesive society, and the NI Executive has a target date of for the removal of all peace walls by 2023, Byrne said that the walls will not come down until the communities behind the walls feel safe and secure. It is a hugely complicated issue, which if nothing else, our group began to understand the complexities of the issue instead of rushing to judgements based on our own assumptions and experiences in Canada. For more information, check out http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/11/03/peace-walls-northern-ireland_n_6093634.html or google Dr. Jonny Byrne to read about his work.  Dr. Byrne took us to Alexander Park in North Belfast, where Belfast’s only divided park now has an open access point (pictured below), a huge accomplishment, he said.


That was only the beginning of the day. From there, we were all welcomed to the home of Padraig O Tuama, Leader of the Corrymeela community for a conversation about "faith in the public square" (more on that conversation in another blog), and then to Holy Cross Parish, in one of Belfast’s most contentious areas, where for 600 days there has been a protest in place about a decision to restrict a parade route for an Orange parade. The Ardoyne area experienced 99 deaths out of the nearly 4,000 attributed to “the Troubles”, and the work of this parish in the community over decades is well known and well respected, both locally and internationally.


From Holy Cross, we went to City Hall for a presentation from David Robinson, Good Relations Officer (see 2013 blog for a description of David’s work) and a tour of city hall. When speaking about the peace walls, David also suggested that sometimes it is necessary to “divide people in order that they can feel safe” and stated that sadly, 1.5 billion pounds a year are spent servicing a divided society, including the areas of education, health care, and policing.


We were all left pondering our own assumptions, the staggering amount of information we had received over the course of the day, the moving testimonials from the Holy Cross folks, and connections to our own society. Maybe we don’t have structural walls, but can we name the invisible walls in our own communities, the ones that help some feel safe and secure? Do they keep us safe inside, or others out? Perhaps a bit of both I’d say.


Below are some pictures of the day.












Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Day 4 We like sheep


What is it about baby lambs that turn everyone into a little puddle of mush? This is the time of year for it ... they are everywhere, including the adjacent field at Corrymeela. The scene of a field full of sheep which greeted me every morning when  I lived here for three months was always very comforting. I was surprised this morning to see a bunch of the little ones all together, exploring and playing. Usually they seem to stay pretty close to their mothers. Find a baby lamb, and the mother is nearby. I guess there was a feeling of safety on both parts - mother and offspring, for them to be straying a bit.

Day 4 was spent with Susan McEwan, Head of Programme at Corrymeela,  and Karin Eyben, Multidisciplinary Programme Worker, about peace and gender. Both women have a long history and much experience working in the field of peace and reconciliation. Over the course of the morning we heard how women's voices and experiences have been largely unheard in the peace process, and also in the retelling of the history. In a society where patriarchy and militarism have been the dominant influences for generations, it is hard to make change. Even the language can be symbolic. Often we hear the words "building peace", but even that evokes male imagery. Susan several times offered the image of weaving, which for me feels more holistic and inclusive. Susan offered us some questions to ask as we continue to learn ... how do politicians constantly speak a language of war? As we tour the city of Belfast tomorrow, where do we see the symbols of a cultural war and what is the gender analysis of the murals? Karin offered us a model for looking at the intersectionality of identities, and case studies from her work which helped us look at the role of the media, where we find women's power, and to begin to hear the voices of women. It gave us lots to think about as we move through the week.

Wednesday afternoon folks had a well deserved break. Some walked into Ballycastle, some went to the Giant's Causeway, some slept, some got caught up on work that needed to be done.

Thursday is a day back in Belfast. Paul has lined up a number of speakers and activities, including the leader of the Corrymeela community, Padraig O Tuama.





Day 3 pictures

The group is greeted on arrival with  refreshments  



Volunteers Beni and Diego take us on a site tour ...


The Dalai Llama's scarf which hangs in the building called the Croi


What we all hope for during game our time here...


Monday, 4 May 2015


Day 2 Team Martin

 
 

My co-leader on this trip is Alana. This is our fourth time together in Northern Ireland. We have a lot of history here together, and we each have our own history. She first visited me when I was here for three months in the summer of 2011, and walked through the experience of my mother's death back in Canada together while visiting Dublin. It was lovely to be back in Dublin last week with her and Pat, creating new memories and seeing Ireland fresh through Pat's eyes

Alana also has spent time as a mid-term volunteer at Corrymeela, and has her own set of close friends from that time. She has also been a member of St. John’s United Church, one of the participating churches, since she was a pre-schooler, and is now a candidate for ministry from there. She brings a unique set of gifts to the group – not just her experiences as a volunteer at Corrymeela and on two previous student trips, but also her years of experience as a GO Project leader, a United Church mission program for youth aged 13-19. The program runs summer programs in six locations across Canada and offers youth an opportunity to live in community for 10 days while experiencing what mission looks like in their particular locale. She is also the co-leader of the General Council youth pilgrimage across Canada this coming summer.


Last night she led us in a wonderful exercise that helped us begin to name some of the important moments of our lives, our influences, our own contexts. After experiencing the incredibly informative Hop On Hop Off bus tour of Belfast, (no small task – it was the Belfast Marathon yesterday …) folks were already beginning to see the complexities of the history of this region. In our reflection time over dinner, the questions emerging were ones that often pointed us back to reflect on our own histories and memories.


The exercise that Alana led us through was not only an opportunity to practice some very holy listening to several others’ stories, it helped us begin to understand that our experiences shape our perspectives, and sometimes we are not even aware of our own biases.


It was a great way to start the week, and set the tone for the next few days.


This morning – off to Corrymeela! The excitement is high, and the questions are building!

 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

2015 Pilgrimage

Day 1 Glendalough and Belfast

 

I’m not sure what this picture says to me, but I love it. My daughter Alana took this yesterday while Pat, (my husband), Alana and I were on a day tour from Dublin … “the Wild Wicklow Tour” … a tour of the Wicklow Mountains, and the famous ancient monastic site called Glendalough. The weather was horrendous – raining hard, misty and foggy, and cold the whole time. Our tour guide said it was one of the worst days he had experienced weather-wise as a tour guide. But we pressed on. “Believe me”, he said as he pointed out the window, “this is one of the most magnificent sights in all of Ireland. Do you see anything? Do you want to get out and take a picture?” Some did, most didn’t. It was fog, and we get plenty of that in Nova Scotia.


I was desperately looking forward to Glendalough, the early Christian monastic site which dates back to the 6th Century. Certainly we could tour the site and see some of the ancient structures, but the majesty and splendour that I have read about would have to wait for another time to experience first hand. Instead, this is the view that many of us had while listening to our tour guide. He chose not to use an umbrella, (said it got in the way) and so for 20 some minutes, he took us around in the pouring rain, telling stories and reciting historical facts while we shivered and shook under our “broillies”.
 

For some reason, this picture speaks to me as I stand at the beginning of a third pilgrimage to Corrymeela in as many years. Counting the three student trips, this makes six groups that I have brought to Corrymeela in three years – over 50 people. I never get tired of the collective sighs of wonder as we enter the site, at the delight over the hospitality received from the first moment, at the deep appreciation of the hard work that is being done in the name of peacemaking. As our whole group of 13 met for the first time this evening, it was me that was emitting the sigh of wonder as friendships began and community was formed. Over dinner, stories were told. Our participants this year come from Calgary, Toronto, and Halifax. The ages range from mid-twenties to at least mid-sixties (don’t want to make assumptions, but that’s where I am!).


We have several “tour guides” along the way this week who will help us interpret the context of Northern Ireland, and the work of Corrymeela. I suspect that they too might sometimes feel like they are standing in the cold rain without an umbrella, wondering if their words and stories hold any meaning to those listening … those protected under their own umbrellas of comfort and privilege. I wonder if I will have the courage this week to put down my umbrella and stand in solidarity with those who invite us to walk with them – encouraging, challenging, and teaching us to see in new ways. May the journey begin!


Below is the traditional first group picture on our first night’s dinner at Robinson’s. Not everyone made it into the picture … David is taking the picture and Gail and Irma are slightly hidden.
 
 

 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


February 25

Christmas cactus part 2

 

After a long day of travel, we all arrived home late last night. I was on a slightly earlier flight than the rest. After an amazingly good night’s sleep, I awoke and made my way to the kitchen for coffee. I immediately looked on the window sill to see if the plant I talked about at the beginning of my trip had bloomed. The blooms were bigger, but haven’t actually bloomed yet. But on another Christmas cactus, one that I had forgotten I even had because it is part of a collection of tropical plants I bought a couple of years ago and is often hidden amongst the other plants, there were full flowers. It took me a while to understand what I was looking at. There I was looking for something in one place, and it was actually happening in a much bigger way somewhere else.

 
It’s often the case in my trips to Corrymeela. What I think might happen often doesn’t, and I am often surprised by new learnings, insights and experiences. And, most often, it takes a while to appreciate and process everything. One of the things I am vigilant about on these trips is encouraging folks to apply their learnings to their own contexts – at school, at their workplaces, in Canada generally. How does what we learn about the peace process in Northern Ireland affect how we personally respond to conflict in our own lives? I am no different.

 
This time, my own learnings may help me understand several situations in my own context that involve conflict, but also wildly different narratives. When we went to Derry for the day, we had the benefit of hearing not only Owen’s perspective as a Catholic who grew up in the area, but also Paul’s perspective, the son of a Protestant British soldier who grew up in Belfast. Both had very different narratives of key historical events such as Bloody Sunday. But because of their deep affection and respect for each other, they were able to speak about their different perspectives in a way that opened up conversation and gave us a real view into the ongoing dialogue that is taking place in many parts of the country.

 
It was the same when we met with Alistair Little and Gerry Foster on Wednesday morning. Alistair, a loyalist, and Gerry, a nationalist, both former paramilitaries and prisoners, not only told their own stories, but embellished each other’s with jokes, jabs and comments that only true friends would tolerate. They work not only with people in their own country, but internationally, in countries such as Israel and Palestine, Afganistan, and South Africa. Those kinds of friendships take much time, great effort and no small amount of risk and trust. A worthy model for examination for sure.

 
We all went out to O’Connor’s for a drink on Thursday night. Jacqueline had the picture taken below of her and Siobhan, and then announced to everyone that I had “photo bombed” the shot. Now, I’ve never knowingly photo bombed anything, but it sure does look like it. Despite the worried expression on my face, I was happy to be there. It was great to see everyone enjoying each other’s company – many of whom didn’t know each other before last October. Sometimes I get so caught up in creating the space for others to learn, I forget that I need to be open to the learning as well. And it takes two blooming cactii to remind me that the insights come unexpectedly, surprisingly, and all in their own time.



 

Sunday, 22 February 2015


Friday

Passing Paul around the room

 
Throughout the week Paul sometimes led us in exercises by Brazilian director and dramatist Augusto Boal, who believed that theatre should be a force for radical change. Throughout my times at Corrymeela and in work with others in the social change movement over the years I have been exposed to many activities attributed to Boal. They are not only fun, but often thought provoking and a catalyst to deeper reflection.

 
We began our last morning at Corrymeela “passing Paul around the room” … with “Paul” as an imaginary large ball. Fast, slow, loud, soft. It helped lighten the mood of heaviness from the deep sharing the night before, and also helped us create a new circle with everyone fully present and ready to begin again.

 
It’s often a challenge to imagine how those who have had an intense, perhaps even transformative experience together can even imagine going back into their “normal” lives and translating the experience to those at home. This has been a concern for every group I have taken to Corrymeela, and in fact every intense learning experience I have had at Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia. How do we take our experiences back into the world? Often there is a huge disconnect between what folks think we have experienced, and the reality.

 
Paul helped the group begin the task of integration by asking folks to write a postcard about their week. Just the highlights. You can’t get much on a postcard. People seemed to appreciate the exercise. After a closing sharing circle and expressions of gratitude all around, it was over. Lunch. Then Peter, who does many things at Corrymeela, including driving the Corrymeela bus, once again performed a small miracle by getting all of our luggage, plus us, into the bus, and we were off to Belfast, then Dublin.

 
And, we were lucky enough to get the Corrymeela wave. Not every group gets one – it depends on what time you leave, which way you go (up or down the hill) and how many folks are around to run like mad from the parking lot to the edge of the cliff to wave goodbye. Kendra took the shot below – a bit grainy but you get the idea. Also, a shot of the whole group before we got on the bus, including Paul, and our volunteers AJ from Phoenix in the U.S. and Juan from Columbia.

 
 
 

Feb. 19

Carla’s Underworld

 
Underworld is the factory in the fictional long running British series Coronation Street. It’s not just a place where mostly women (and Sean!) make label knockoff fancy undergarments. It’s a place of encounter, conflict, support, gossip, and sometimes even tragedy.

 
I thought of Underworld when we were in Derry on Thursday listening to two amazing women, Catherine Cooke and Maureen Hetherington speak about their work in the peace process. Catherine is the coordinator of the Foyle Women’s Information Network, an information network for community based women’s centres, group’s, individuals and organisations. FWIN, which was established in 1994, works closely with local women’s organisations and develops relationships with women’s organisations regionally, nationally and internationally. (http://fwin.org.uk) Maureen is Coordinator of The Junction, a Centre set up by community relations practitioners in March 2000 to consolidate and strengthen community relations work. The Centre provides a space for activities that feed into the development of relationships, better understanding and mutual respect locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.(http://www.thejunction-ni.org)

 

I had specifically asked Paul to see if he could set up some conversations with women working in the peace process, as most of the folks we had heard from so far had been men. Catherine and Maureen were a delight to my feminist heart. Catherine began with the powerful statement that “Women were being written out of the peace process.” She said that women are not encouraged to take up positions in public life, and at the present rate it will take 65 years to get to 40% representation in the political process. Maureen stated that the abuse of women is still prevalent in Northern Ireland, and talked of the challenges of trying to break down 4,000 years of patriarchy. It was then that they talked about the shirt factories, one of the main industries in Derry/Londonderry in a previous time. It was a place where people gathered to form community. They spoke of the lack of opportunities for that to happen now. That’s when I thought of Carla’s Underworld in Coronation Street.

 

Granted, perhaps we don’t want to go back to some of the deplorable working conditions in factories of previous eras, but the loss of a place where people from different backgrounds gather together to form community and find support despite their differences is certainly one that I have observed in Canada.

 

Owen Donnelly from the Peace and Reconciliation Group in Derry/Londonderry (http://www.peaceprg.co.uk) gave us a tour of the walls and took the group into the Bogside, site of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in 1972. He then took us to the Peace Bridge. He told us some facts about the bridge, a cycle and footbridge across the River Foyle. It opened in 2011, and was built to improve relations between the largely unionist 'Waterside' with the largely nationalist 'Cityside', and cost 14 million pounds to build. He said that while he and Paul might not usually support the spending of large sums of money on buildings instead of people, the fact that well over 90% of the city use the bridge is an example of infrastructure spending that can be a good thing, and can bring two communities together.

 

We then walked the bridge, which ends on the Waterside at an old British barracks used for interrogation and torture and is now a cultural centre. Paul asked us to reflect on the symbolism of the transformation of that building, and also asked us to think about what needed to be bridged in Canada, Nova Scotia, Halifax, and Dalhousie University.

 

Below … a picture of an old shirt factory (the big horizontal red building in the top right); the group with Owen in front of the Peace Bridge, the Peace Bridge from the other side, and part of our evening reflection as we “sculpted” images from our day in Derry/Londonderry/Stroke City.

 



 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Day 4
Photo Journalism

It has been a whirlwind since we arrived yesterday at 3 pm. When I commented to Siobhan and Bridget that I didn't think I could post much but pictures tonight, Siobhan said "that's photo journalism." So be it.

Here's the group moments after we arrived beginning the site tour.


and a bit later, with our long term volunteers AJ and Juan ...


and the evening team building games, Helium Hoop and the Lego Game



and today, some intense conversations with Paul Hutchinson, former Corrymeela Centre Director, (during which a bombing in a shoe shop was re-enacted ...) and Sean Pettis, Corrymeela Schools Worker.




and thanks to Lisa McMahon,  a complete stranger who came up to me on Saturday at St. George's Market and said "I'm supposed to take 6 pictures of interesting strangers ... do you mind if I take your picture?" I never have pictures of myself on the blog, so here's one I can live with! Thanks Lisa!


Monday, 16 February 2015


Day 3

The Appetizer

One of the down sides of writing a blog is the pressure to write something every day when folks at home might be expecting news. I only write this blog when I travel to Northern Ireland, which turns out to be way more times than I ever imagined. This is my sixth trip back to Belfast and Corrymeela since I spent 3 months at Corrymeela while on sabbatical in the summer of 2011. With the participants of this trip, I will have brought a total of 45 people to Corrymeela since February 2013. That feels kind of mind-boggling to me.

 

This year, Corrymeela asked that we come up at the beginning of the week, instead of starting on the weekend as we did last year. That meant that we had the weekend in Belfast to explore and begin to put some content and context to the learning. It’s been a whirlwind since Saturday, which is why I haven’t had the chance to post another blog entry. We began Saturday morning with the Hop On Hop Off city tour of Belfast. I have said before that I don’t know any other way than this to get an overview of the city and the big brush stroke of its history. I do know some of the scripted lines by heart now … like about the Titanic … “anyone from here will tell you that she was fine when she left here, maybe you should ask the English Captain, the Swedish Navigator or the Canadian iceberg what happened …” or about the Belfast Giants ice hockey team that is composed of Canadian, American and Russian players. But it gives folks who haven’t been here a first taste, and also gets their curiosity peaked. Saturday afternoon was spent poking around City Centre and a few gift shops before buying some food to take back to Farset to go with the pizza we planned to order while watching a movie together.

 

We began Sunday at the St. George’s Market – a visual and literal feast of friendly people, amazing food, and interesting local crafts. After that we broke up into several small groups according to interests. Some went to the Ulster Museum and a walk around the Botanic Gardens. Some went on a “Black Taxi Tour” – a hosted tour around the murals, memorials and remembrances of the period known as the Troubles. Then we all met up at the Crumlin Road Jail for a tour. That was something I had not done before, and although I can’t really say I enjoyed the tour, it was both provocative and disturbing, and certainly provided much to reflect upon in our nightly check-in.

 

This morning, some have gone to Belfast Castle for a hike around the grounds, some have gone on part two of the taxi tour, one has gone to The Titanic Museum, one is visiting a university, and a couple of us are catching up on work … like me.

 

This afternoon, it’s off to Corrymeela. If Belfast was the appetizer, then Corrymeela is the meat and potatoes. I love to see the look on people’s faces when we turn corner and come down the hill and see the panoramic view of the beach with Rathlin Island, Fairhead, and perhaps even Scotland in the distance. It’s still breathtaking to me … and I love to see people experience it the first time. Once again, on our arrival we will be delivered into the hands of the many staff, volunteers, and resource people at Corrymeela for four days of learning and community sharing. Anticipation and excitement is high!
 



 

 

 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Zygo Cactus




February 13, 2015
Zygo Cactus

I don’t like it when people give me plants. I mean, I appreciate it and all. I know that it’s a very nice gesture. But the thing is, more often than not they die after they are in my care, and I go through all kinds of guilt feelings about how I didn’t take care of it properly. And then I go into all kinds of wonderings and imaginations about the symbolism of what that means for the relationship between me and the person that gave me the plant. It’s just all too much. I’d just rather avoid the whole exercise. But, when someone does give me a plant, I smile and pretend I’m truly thrilled. But inside, I’m shaking in my boots about yet another one biting the dust.

 
This is a picture of a Zygo Cactus, otherwise known as a Christmas Cactus. It was given to me in early November, 2013, by the students at the Atlantic School of Theology for leading a workshop during an afternoon of workshops. I didn’t think I did a very good job leading the workshop, but to be fair it was an hour after I had just found out that I had to have major surgery within 6 weeks for possible uterine cancer. I was, I felt, slightly distracted and unfocussed. I didn’t stay for the rest of the afternoon, but hurried away to process my news. Nevertheless, when I went to my office the next day, a faculty member had left the plant and a lovely thank you card for me.

 
I knew that the plant was supposed to bloom at some point, but it hasn’t since I’ve owned it. I wasn't too worried about it - I was glad that I managed to keep it alive this long. Imagine my surprise when I went to water it yesterday morning, one of the many things on my “to do” list before leaving on the latest student Dialogue for Peace trip, and I saw three buds about to bloom. I’ll try not to read too much into it, but it did feel like a wonderful sign of hope and possibility as we begin our journey.

 
The third Dalhousie Northern Ireland Dialogue for Peace study trip officially began yesterday. After months of planning, team building, and fundraising it’s finally happening. On January 1, it seemed a likely scenario that the trip might not happen because we wouldn’t meet our fundraising goal of $24,000. However, after many bake sales, bottle drives, a coffee house and auction sale, and generous donations from friends, relatives, and several departments within Dalhousie, we made our target.

 
Sadly, one of our participants had to back out this week because of medical reasons – she will be missed by the rest of us, and we will hold her in our hearts as we carry on without her. We are excited to be realizing our dream – Corrymeela here we come! But first, Toronto to Dublin, Dublin to Belfast, and the weekend exploring Belfast and its history.

Last year at this time I was filled with gratitude at the very fact that after major surgery in December my doctors gave me the all clear to travel with the group. That was a trip that nearly didn't happen as well.

It's a funny old world. From a crazy notion to take a sabbatical during the summer of 2011 at the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre has sprung a project that has seen over 40 students and other interested folks travel to this beautiful part of the world to learn about their hard work at peace and reconciliation, and how those learnings might be applied in their own contexts.

Signs of hope and possibility indeed. We’ll see what blooms on our journey!