I believe that God gives life and life in abundance. That gift of life is described in our Bible and in Genesis 2:7 we read, "the LORD God formed (hu)man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life (Ruah), and so (hu)man became a living being." The breath of God is the principle of breath and life for all living beings. God keeps creatures alive by His creative breath (ruah). God breathes and creatures live.
My friends Janet Paton “lived” and anyone and everyone who knew Janet could see all the signs of wonders that “ruah”, God’s breath of life, gave her. Remember that Old Testament scholars speak about ruah as creative, that the animating feature of God’s breath is creativity. As I watched and talked with Janet these last 18 months I saw that spirit of ruah alive in Janet in the twinkle of her eye, the song on her heart and on her lips, spring in her step, and the warmth of her hospitality. And you did too. Janet’s spirit of ruah, of creative, life-giving, energy, was everywhere in this church, from leading the Bethel Bible study to leading youth groups, to being a star in our plays to a valued singer in our choir, to the way she welcomed newcomers to the way she sustained long-standing members. Barry told me the story of one such member who had lost some of the ruah in her life and while witnessing Janet’s sparkling spirit was moved to return to her enduring love of quilting. Thank you Janet.
I chose these two sacred stories because they reminded me of Janet. Psalm 100 is a reminder that when looking for signs of ruah one can look no further than song. Music is a universal sign of ruah, of creative energy and life. Barry, Mark and Tara all remarked in their stories about Janet that she sang in everything she did; gardening, baking, walking. Tara shared with me, “hours spent with Mom baking lovely treats in the kitchen while she tried to teach me how to sing part harmonies. The fact that I do so today is proof positive that she would never give up no matter how long the odds.”
Janet would use music to warm up for each day and cool down as she prepared for rest. Barry told me that neighbours often commented that they knew Janet was nearby because they could hear her singing.
And Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 6 deals with a manifestation of the spirit, namely “doing good”. If we live the spirit of ruah that has been breathed into our souls then the next step is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It is like breathing in and then breathing out, in comes God’s ruah and out goes our love given/shared with others. We don’t love others to get praise, or to be acceptable, or to earn points with God, we love others because ruah is so deep inside us, so abundant, that we simply can’t contain it, the ruah must come out, and it must be expressed and shared. Barry shared with me that Janet would make everyone in her neighbourhood and later at 5 Ramsgate, feel welcome, feel loved.
But ruah is experienced less in the planned and purposeful acts that we all notice in community and more in the everyday life our friends and family see so often. Here are some examples of ruah in Janet’s rich life:
- Every summer the family would head down to the valley to pick strawberries and peas. We would be red faced, sticky and happy upon returning home. Mom would make jar upon jar of jam. A long an exhausting day but always done with a smile.
- Zip lining though the Californian redwood forest.
- The memory of coming home to the smell of fresh home-made cracked wheat bread baking in the oven and what a gift Janet offered with this kindness.
- The Paton house was always full of kids. It was a constant beehive of activity. Janet would say she loved having the kids around - plus with a little wink - that way I also always knew what my own kids were up to.
- Janet loved ice cream and she loved to treat her friends and family to same. She had a strategy, “if you have the choice always try and have your ice cream cone served to you by a man rather than a woman. A woman always serves you the amount they are supposed to but men always serve you the amount they wish they could have so you always get more”.
- At a Bethany youth group the adults were to dress up as the idols of the kids era and vice-versa. Janet dressed up as Katrina of Katrina and the Waves, she spiked her hair and had on one yellow shoe and another white one to help complete the look. A friend of Mark’s, Michelle, remarked, “Your Mom is so much fun and just has this sparkle in her eye with such a zest of life with a little hint of mischief.”
- When Barry proposed to Janet part of his proposal was “Come with me and we’ll explore the world together”. During Barry’s career he attended many conferences and workshops and once Tara and Mark were old enough to be alone Barry would take Janet along, and sometimes Tara and Mark. Ever one for being fair Mark remembers asking Barry that he noticed Janet got far more trips than he or Tara and that didn’t seem fair. Barry simply said that because Janet is just so special that he needed her with him. They visited over 50 different countries and most of the Provinces of Canada. Truly an amazing and wonderful opportunity to experience our stunning world and the many cultures it contains. Thus on Barry’s promise to explore the world together he delivered in spades.
In a quiet and still moment I asked Barry about how he and Janet met. He gave me a very full answer. And then he said in a quiet voice, “we complemented each other.” What a thoughtful and insightful analysis. But truly Janet complemented all of us as she sang and danced and swam and moved into our lives with ruah. Janet was always the animating presence that made community come alive.
We give thanks for God’s ruah that gave Janet this life and for the promise that this ruah will live on in eternal form with and for us. This reality brings comfort and reassurance but more importantly it reminds us that life never ends and those whom have brought life to us and those whom we have brought life to continue in that sacred dance forever and ever and ever. Thanks be to God! Amen.