Category Archives: Religion

Is There Life After Death?

A friend told me recently she wasn’t sure if she believed in a life after death. I said I wasn’t sure either but I wasn’t worried about it.

With my sons and daughters-in-law

I’ve had a really good life. I’ve loved and been loved. I have children and grandchildren who will live on after me and I take immense joy and pride in the people they have become and are becoming.

With my very first class of students

I have had a rewarding career.

I have been lucky enough to see a great deal of the world.

With Starry Night by Van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

I’ve been able to explore all kinds of interests of mine.

I’ve been fortunate to have many things I’ve written published and put out there into the world.

I’ve been blessed with great friends.

I have terrific siblings I can count on.

Sure there have been hard times in my life, times of profound loss, terrible frustration, deep disappointment and heartbreaking grief but often that was because I’d loved, cared, hoped or dreamed and I’m not sorry about taking those chances even though things didn’t end up as I wished or wanted.

If there is a life after death that would be an adventure, but honestly taken as a whole my life has been a pretty good adventure too so if there is something after death it will be a bonus.

Of course, I’d like to believe the idea that we are mysteriously reunited with those we love after death. Maybe our souls or spirits do merge in some way and we become part of an eternal force, at one with the divine. I can’t imagine how that might happen- it is beyond my ability to fathom- but I don’t discount the possibility.

Photographed in 1954 – me and my mother

I still feel really connected to some of the people who have predeceased me. I think of my mother nearly every day, the things she taught me and role-modelled for me are still a big part of my life. I think of my grandparents often and the unconditional love they gave me. My mother-in-law was a very inspirational woman.

When my new granddaughter was born last week my brother sent me a message saying that he was happy the continuum of love passed on to us by our mother was alive in a new generation. In a very real way I think my mother’s love lives on and in that way so does she.

Religious writer Nadia Bolz Weber puts it this way…… because God is love, the love we shared here on Earth is the connective tissue that unites us eternally with everyone who loved us.

I told my friend who wondered if there was life after death that even if we die and that’s final- there’s nothing else- we all still live on. My friend was a healthcare professional and I told her a little bit of her would live on in every patient she cared for and helped.

Paint party I attended

I follow author and life coach Heather Plett on social media and she wrote recently that our lives are like a canvas on which a painting is being created for each one of us. When we have relationships or even short interactions with people we leave a little dab of paint on their canvas. The dabs we’ve left on other people’s life canvases will live on even after we’ve died.

Is there life after death? I’m not sure. There might be and that could be an exciting experience.

I do think however, that no matter what happens we do live on after we die……… through the love we’ve given, the example we’ve been, the lives we’ve touched, the dabs of paint we’ve left on other people’s life canvases.

Other posts……..

The Purpose of Life

Life is Messy

Three Actions For A Good Life


Filed under Reflections, Religion

Do Children Have An Innate Spiritual Intelligence?

I recently saw the movie Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Adapted from a hugely popular 1970s novel by Judy Blume the film tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl just on the cusp of puberty whose family moves to a new city.

Margaret is anxious and worried about this move as well as about lots of other things. Will she find new friends? Will she ever have a big enough chest to get a bra? When will she get her period?

The role of Margaret in the film is played brilliantly by Abby Ryder Fortson

Margaret starts confiding in God, talking to God almost every night about her worries and concerns and asking God for help.

Margaret’s loving and caring parents played by Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie

Interestingly however Margaret has had no religious upbringing of any kind. Her father comes from a Jewish family and her mother’s Christian parents disowned Margaret’s mother because she chose to marry a Jewish man.

Because of that Margaret’s parents have brought their daughter up without teaching her about either faith or introducing her to any religion of any kind.

Still………when Margaret finds life overwhelming she turns to God. Where does she get her idea of God? She has never seen her parents pray. Why would she pray? Does she possess a kind of innate spiritual intelligence?

Margaret Sinetar in her book Spiritual Intelligence: What We Can Learn From the Early Awakening Child says that all children show signs of spiritual intelligence whether or not they come from families where they have been taught about religion.

Thomas H. Groome, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College and author of Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent agrees that children are born with a sort of innate sense of awe and reverence and creativity and an openness to the mystery of the spiritual.

He feels it is important to ground children in a specific religious faith so they have a way to express their innate spiritual intelligence.

Margaret’s grandmother in the film is played by Kathy Bates

For a school project, Margaret does explore various religious faiths, going to a Jewish temple service with her grandmother, to a Presbyterian church service with one friend, and to a Methodist Christmas Eve celebration with another friend. She even pops into a Catholic confessional while following a school classmate. But she doesn’t find what she’s looking for in the institutional church.

At one point pressured by both sets of her grandparents to choose their religion, she declares she doesn’t believe in God anymore.

But…….. by the end of the film when her life has taken a more positive turn she can’t help but send up a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

While writing Anabaptist curriculums for children’s religious education in the 1990s I was introduced to the concept of Godly Play, conceived by Jerome Berryman. It was a unique way of relating stories of faith that encouraged children to question and react and respond to them in their own way without didactic interpretation or instruction from adults.

Godly Play was a method that allowed children to use their imaginations and curiosity to experience the mystery of the divine. It respected children’s innate spirituality.

It was interesting for me to see that idea of children’s innate spirituality highlighted and respected again in the film Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

It is an excellent movie by the way and one I would highly recommend.

Other posts………

Lesson Not Required

Do I Stay Christian? No!

A World of Faith

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Filed under Childhood, Religion

Feeling Left Out

I currently live just a few blocks away from the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg. I often walk or drive there. I lived in St. Boniface for a year as a child and attended Marion School.

Marion School -photo from the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation website

A priest came to visit our class once a week to provide instruction in the Catholic faith. My parents, good Mennonites that they were, asked that I be excluded from these lessons. Whenever the priest arrived, I was sent to sit alone at a desk in the dark and often chilly hallway.

I had only my Dick and Jane reader for company. For thirty minutes I would shiver out there letting my imagination run wild, wondering what the priest could be talking to the boys and girls about that was so strange and disturbing my parents didn’t want me to hear it. 

My class at Marion School with our teacher Ms Bourreau.

Then came the day everyone went to the nearby St. Boniface Basilica with the priest to practice for their First Communion. Off trooped the boys all spiffy in their shiny shoes and dark pants. The girls waved goodbye to me as they flounced out of the room in pretty dresses, with their lace head squares perched atop their ringlets.

That day I was allowed to go back into the classroom after the other children had left. I sat there alone for what seemed like a very long time, with only the hissing radiator for companionship. I felt lonely and “left out.”

We moved to the town of Steinbach in 1960 when I was eight. I knew we were going to live in a predominantly Mennonite community. No doubt it would be a place where I would “fit in” a little better, at least when it came to matters of faith.  

Mural in downtown Steinbach with an image of Kornelson School which I photographed

I was soon to find out that this was not the case. My parents had taken me to see only two movies in my lifetime Bambi and Mary Poppins. I quickly discovered mentioning this to other children in my class at the old white clapboard Kornelson school was a big mistake. “People who go to movies, go to hell,” I was told by another student. 

My grade three class at the Kornelson School in Steinbach

I loved my grade three teacher Mrs Kihn immediately. She was fair and kind and seemed to genuinely like me despite the fact I hadn’t learned how to multiply in my grade two class in Winnipeg and was behind in math. Yet some of my Mennonite classmates made fun of my affection for my teacher and told me in a shocked whisper she was a Lutheran.

Did I realize they wondered, that the tin containers where our teacher kept those colourful little pegs we used to figure out our math problems, were really tobacco cans? Our teacher’s husband smoked. My classmates let me know this was another sure ticket to hell. Although no one in my family smoked, my parents had never told me the behaviour was sinful.

Obviously, I had plenty to learn about what was right and wrong if I wanted to be accepted in Steinbach. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it would probably be best not to mention the fact that my grandfather served homemade wine for Christmas dinner or that some of my aunts wore lipstick.  

The old Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach which I attended- This building has since been demolished

I also learned to keep quiet about which church I attended. The Grace Church was known as the ‘TV Church’ by many in Steinbach because a goodly number of the members had succumbed to worldly temptation and bought television sets.

I had been an ‘outsider’ in my predominantly Catholic school in Winnipeg, but I learned quickly that if I wasn’t careful ‘outsider’ status was just as easy to achieve in predominantly Mennonite Steinbach. 

Reflecting on these childhood experiences as an adult has helped me put them into perspective.  I think probably the exclusion I felt as a child made me try very hard as a teacher to include all children so no one would feel ‘left out’ in the classes I taught, no matter what their cultural or religious heritage.

It has coloured my own faith, making me more open to learning from those of other religious backgrounds. I think it has made me less ready to pass judgement.

My experiences of feeling excluded in both St. Boniface and Steinbach inspired chapters in my new novel Sixties Girl. It is available in Steinbach at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum Gift Shop and in Winnipeg at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Other posts……..

My First Home in Steinbach

Living at the Hospital

Mitchell School Annivesary


Filed under Education, Religion

Putting the Donkey Center Stage

Over the last few years, theologian Kate Bowler has posted a series of reflections for today, Palm Sunday, and they all focus on the donkey in the familiar Biblical scene.

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Anthony van Dyck – 1617

In one Kate writes about the plodding steps of the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He didn’t speed into town in a chariot pulled by galloping powerful horses. No, he moved forward in slow small steps on an ordinary animal.

The dedicated work of doctors moves humanity forward. My Dad delivered thousands of babies during his long medical career. – Photo credit- Jim Peters

Kate reminds us on Palm Sunday to think about all those who move humanity slowly forward with their dedicated work in hospitals, schools, homes, grocery stores and transportation services. The crowds may be shouting “Save us” in a loud and garish way as they did on Palm Sunday but the dedication of these ordinary people plodding forward like the donkey with their important work may hold the key to humanity’s salvation.

The Donkey, an illustration by John Vernon Lord for GK Chesterton’s poem ‘The Donkey’ 

In another reflection on Palm Sunday Kate quotes a poem by C. K. Chesterton called The Donkey. It describes how ugly the donkey looks with his “monstrous head and sickening cry and ears like errant wings.” People often deride the donkey and doubt its intelligence.

But Chesterton reminds us that a donkey was the mode of transportation Jesus used to enter Jerusalem. The animal we might least expect to do so stepped centre stage and played an important role as Jesus moved towards his destiny.

Who would have expected a young schoolgirl disfigured by bullets in Pakistan to win the Nobel Prize and be a leading advocate for girls’ education and world peace? photo of Malala Yousafzai from the cover of her autobiography – I Am Malala

In her reflection on Chesterton’s poem Kate Bowler uses the donkey as a symbol of the upside-down kingdom Jesus talked about as he championed the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, and the grieving. He called them blessed. He said someday they’d come first.

We never know what unlikely candidate will step centre stage to provide hope and healing to the world.

Palm Sunday by Chinese artist He Qi

The donkey might not be the first thing that draws our eye in Palm Sunday scenes. But maybe it should be.

Other posts………

Easter – A Time of New Beginnings

Easter Retrospective


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Filed under Reflections, Religion

A Black Jesus That Got Its Artist Arrested

Many years ago when I was working for the Winnipeg Free Press I wrote a column called What Did Jesus Look Like? I included a story in my column about a black Jesus that had been painted by a 22-year-old South African artist Ronald Harrison in 1962. At that time many people said depicting Jesus as a black man was blasphemous.

Just as Renaissance painters often used the faces of their patrons and their families in their Biblical scenes Harrison painted African National Congress leader, anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Prize winner Albert Luthuli as Christ.

He made one of the Roman soldiers in the painting Hendrick Verwoed, the South African prime minister who is known as the architect of apartheid and the other soldier South African Minister of Justice John Vorster, another apartheid politician.

Harrison’s painting called Black Christ was first exhibited in a church in Salt River, South Africa. The country’s Censorship Board said it was offensive and forbid it from being displayed in public.

Ronald Harrison

After the American television station, CBS did a documentary about the painting the South African government ordered it destroyed and the artist Ronald Harrison was tortured and arrested. He served an eight-year sentence.

Anti-apartheid sympathizers smuggled the painting to Britain before it could be destroyed. In England, it was hung in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

In 1994 when apartheid came to an end Ronald Harrison travelled to London to bring his painting back to South Africa.

Ronald Harrison died of cancer in June of 2011 and his Black Christ now hangs in the South African Museum of Art where I was able to see it.

I knew all about Ronald Harrison’s painting Black Christ but didn’t realize it was on display in a public gallery now, and certainly had no idea that I would visit that gallery in Cape Town.

I was so glad to have the opportunity to see Black Christ in person!

Other posts……….

What Did Jesus Look Like?

Did Jesus Have A Wife?

The Family of Jesus Portrayed in a Controversial Way

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Filed under Africa, Art, Religion

A Different Kind of Sermon

I was drawn into a unique kind of artistic sermon on the Genesis creation story when I visited the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. It is called Genesis Creation Sermon and is by an American artist named Jacob Lawrence.

In each painting you see the creation story unfolding in the windows at the top of the painting. Check out how the pastor is positioned differently in each one, how the colour of his robe changes, how the vase in the bottom right-hand corner changes and how the people look- are they scared or happy or sad? Can you find a tool box in each painting? Does it allude to God building creation?

In the beginning, all was void

And God brought forth the firmament and the waters

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth the grass, trees, fruit and herbs”

And God created the day and night, and God created and put stars in the skies

And God created the fowls of the air and fishes of the seas

And God created all the beasts of the earth

And God created man and woman

And creation was done and all was well.

Artist Jacob Lawrence 1917-2000

Studying Lawrence’s artwork for twenty minutes would make a perfect alternative sermon to the traditional kind we usually hear in churches on Sunday mornings.

Note: All the artwork are photos I took at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town.

Other posts………

Zion National Park- A Place of Worship

Sunday Worship on the Skerwink Trail

Lots of Creation Stories

A Mayan Creation Story

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Filed under Africa, Art, Religion

Utterly Fascinating

It has been a long time since I have been so utterly fascinated with a book! I just finished reading The White Mosque by Sofia Samatar.

I was so engaged by this book because of the fantastical but true story at its heart about a group of hundreds of Russian Mennonites who in the 1880s left their Molotshna colony in Ukraine and travelled to Uzbekistan.

They were led by a man named Claas Epp who had convinced them that Christ would return in 1889 and they needed to be in Uzbekistan to meet him. After many trials and tribulations, which Sofia Samatar describes in graphic detail, Epp and his followers established a village in a place called Ak Metchet- the White Mosque and lived there for some 50 years before they were all arrested by the Bolsheviks and sent into exile.

Sofia Samatar- photo from her website

I was moved by this book because of the way it describes things near and dear to me from my Mennonite heritage. Take for example Sofia Samatar’s description of Mennonite hymn singing.

“The beautiful harmony of Mennonite singing, taken in like breath in childhood so that even young children show a wonderful facility and ease with music…….

Music that most transportable of the arts accompanied the early persecuted Anabaptists, it murmured in their nights as they fled, it carried their stories from place to place, it sheltered their history, it bore them like an ark.”

Ella Maillart- photo from Wikimedia

My curiosity was aroused by this book because it introduced me to so many intriguing real-life characters that I want to learn even more about…….

– the Mennonite photographer Wilhelm Penner who helped birth the art of photography in Uzbekistan

Irene Worth a famous star of stage and screen, who was a descendant of one of the Mennonite families that trekked to Uzbekistan

Ella Maillart a Swiss photographer, travel adventurer and Olympic athlete who found her way to Ak Metchet in the 1930s and took photos of the Mennonite settlement there

-Diary keeper Elizabeth Unruh who was just a teenager at the time of the Claas Epp Trek but who writes about it in evocative powerful language

I was intrigued by this book because besides being a history book it is also a travel diary and personal memoir.

Sofia with her brother Del, a tattoo artist. They created a book Monster Portraits together.

Sofia Samatar is the daughter of Lydia Glick, a Swiss Mennonite from South Dakota whose masters thesis on Beowulf left a life- long impression on her daughter, and Said Sheikh Samatari a prominent Somali writer and scholar, and a professor at Rutgers University who worked for the American news show Nightline with Ted Koppel.

In the book, you learn about what it is like for Sofia to be part of a family with parents from such different places and backgrounds and religious heritages. How do you find a place to fit in? Sofia compares growing up amidst this diversity to being in ‘an electrical storm.’

Sofia Samatar – photo from the Free Social Encyclopedia

Sofia is a fascinating person. She is a professor of Arabic and African literature at James Madison University and the writer of four award-winning fantasy novels. She and her husband Keith Miller, who grew up in Kenya, lived in South Sudan for three years and in Egypt for nine. They are the parents of two children and I laughed out loud when Sofia illustrates their style of parenting with an image of them running after the school bus with their kids’ forgotten lunches.

The White Mosque is also a travel diary because Sofia describes in her beautiful and lyrical way a tour she went on to Uzbekistan in 2016. She was with a group of people some of whom were descendants of the Claas Epp pilgrims, to find the places important to their almost unbelievable trek across harsh and unforgiving terrain and the unique settlement they finally established at Ak-Metchet.

Sofia’s book also made me look at things from my religious heritage in a new way.

After reading her reflections on the Mennonite devotion to the Martyrs Mirror, I wondered why the people of my religious heritage are so enamoured with stories of suffering.

Her reflections on North American Mennonite service workers made it clear that their assignments in other countries perpetuate the false notion of people ‘saving’ those assumed to be less fortunate when really what service work does is provide rich opportunities for personal and professional growth for those who sign up for it.

Her story about Johann Drake who tried to swallow a Bible whole, made me think about why so many of us were taught to swallow the stories of the Bible whole without asking hundreds of questions about their origin and purpose or realizing the current Bible was a book of stories cobbled together over time by men with a political agenda.

I could probably write a dozen posts about different aspects of The White Mosque, and maybe I will, but this will have to do for now.

Huge thanks to Erin Unger who reviewed this book on her blog Mennotoba in October and brought it to my attention.

Other posts……….

Is It Wrong to Die for Your Faith?

Five Wives

A Carpet Conversation About the Universe

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Filed under Books, Religion

What’s Microchimerism and What Does It Have to Do With Christmas?

I learned about microchimerism for the first time in a sermon I read by Pastor Carol Penner given at First Mennonite Church in Vineland Ontario.

The Visitation by Raphael in the Prado in Madrid

Microchimerism occurs during pregnancy when cells from the mother are transferred to her fetus and………… this was something I never knew before…………… cells from the fetus are transferred to the mother.

In her sermon, Carol talked about how each of us has a unique DNA signature in all our cells. Our bodies can’t tolerate cells with someone else’s DNA which is why when people have organ transplants they have to take potent anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives to fool their bodies into accepting someone else’s cells.

But……. pregnancy is an amazing exception. A mother’s body not only tolerates the cells with foreign DNA that exist in the child growing in her uterus, she actually nurtures those cells and……….. her body does not destroy the baby’s cells with alien DNA that transfer into her body and remain there for the rest of her life.

Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca

The microchimeric cells that transfer from baby to mother don’t just sit in the mother’s body they grow and multiply and travel to many different places, especially to places where the mother’s body has been injured or damaged.

Scientists are discovering that if a woman gets cancer even decades after she has given birth, microchimerism cells from her child that remain in her body help fight cancer. This may explain why women who have been pregnant have a better prognosis when they get breast cancer.

Morning Star- photo by Kristyn Brown from her Modern Portrayal of Catholic Saints Project

But……….. and this was the most amazing thing for me……… the cell transfer from your child to you doesn’t happen when you give birth it happens in the very early stage of pregnancy.

So even if a woman loses a child that transfer of cells has already happened and the mother will carry the DNA of the child she lost for the rest of her life.

I had three lost pregnancies and even now forty years later, I find comfort in knowing that some cells from those children I never knew are still part of me and will be till I die.

Statue of a pregnant Mary I photographed in a cathedral in Evora Portugal

Carol Penner uses microchimerism in her sermon as an example of how amazing our created bodies are and how during pregnancy love is a two-way street between mother and child as they exchange cells that can nurture and heal. She thinks it is no accident that the Jesus of the Bible came into the world via the body of a pregnant woman.

I am reminded that during his life Jesus encouraged us to make love a two-way street running between God and us and our neighbour.

Other posts………

What If God Is Just a Stranger on a Bus?

She Was 13 Years Old

A Pregnant Mary and a Mary With Knives in Her Heart

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Filed under Health, Religion

All Those Mennonite Names!!

I was doing some research for a writing project and wanted to know what the most common last names in the province of Manitoba were. I found this site called Forebearers: Names and Genealogy Resources and it had a page for most common surnames in Manitoba.

I couldn’t believe it! At least 10 of the top 20 most common surnames in Manitoba were Mennonite names like Penner and Klassen and Reimer. Four other names that have English as well as Dutch Mennonite roots like my own maiden name Peters and names like Martin and Miller and Brown which are often considered Mennonite names, were also in the top twenty.

From what I could find online there are about 80 or so Mennonite churches in the province but of course not all attendees would have names traditionally considered Mennonite and many people with Mennonite names might not attend church at all.

Apparently in 1998 there were 60,000 Mennonites in the province but I couldn’t find any statistics for 2022. I did read that Winnipeg is the city in Canada with the most Mennonites.

I knew Mennonites had a big presence here in Manitoba but I was still very surprised to discover that the top twenty list of most common surnames in our province is dominated by traditional Mennonite names.

Other posts………..

Mennonite Humour

Mennonite on the Titanic

What Does a Mennonite Look Like?

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Filed under manitoba, Religion


I am glad I saw the television series Unorthodox before I read the book of the same name that inspired it- the memoir of Deborah Feldman. In the filmed version Deborah’s role is played by a very talented actress Shira Haas and her name is not Deborah but Esty.

The series and book are about an orthodox Jewish woman living in New York who leaves her strict Hasidic community in order to start a new life for herself.

The television series begins in a dramatic fashion as Esty is planning her daring escape. The viewer’s interest is engaged almost immediately.

By contrast I found the book’s opening chapters somewhat slow as Feldman gives a long first person narration of her life as a child. She has been raised by her grandparents.

In the book Deborah has a child of her own when she leaves the community. In the film version Esty is pregnant.

I will be honest and say that while I greatly admire Deborah Feldman for what she did in seeking a new life where she would no longer live with the oppression of her misogynist religious community I felt more empathy and connection with Esty the character in the movie.

I also liked the way the film version portrayed the other characters in a more balanced way so we could see their positive traits and their struggles and understand why they acted as they did. In the movie version there weren’t strict ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ the way there seemed to be in the book.

Perhaps I was also influenced by the fact that after I read Unorthodox I found many criticisms of the book online written by people who knew Deborah Feldman and her family and say she distorted and embellished and some cases outright lied about her past experiences.

In the film version one does not need to worry about authenticity because it is first and foremost a dramatic story. As the advertising for the television series makes clear it is only loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s book.

I would highly recommend the television series Unorthodox. If you have to choose to either watch it or read the book I’d definitely watch the series.

Other posts……..

Movie or Book? The Hate You Give

Six Things Jane Austen Movies and Books Have in Common

A Violent Movie About A Violent Story

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Filed under Books, Media, Religion