Poet Luci Shaw said this of the collection:
In this very personal, colourful series of reflections, Esther Hizsa, bike-rider and thoroughly human being, shows us what we recognize as utterly true, if only we can learn to view our lives and our world with eyes lensed with God’s love.
Following is the first story in the book, ‘A Heart Set on Pilgrimage’:
Saturday mornings my mother used to pile us into the car and drive to town. While my older brother and sister had accordion lessons, mom took my little brother and me shopping. Our favourite store, the only one I clearly remember, was the European delicatessen.
I can still see the grooves in the worn wooden floor and Swiss chocolate lined up next to jars of fruit-flavored candies. Wedges of cheese were displayed behind glass, and dried sausages hung from the ceiling. The smells – oh the aromas – that teased me as I watched thin pieces of salami fall from the slicer, and as I opened the bin of crusty buns.
Finally, back at the car, my mom reached into the brown paper bag she carried and handed me a bun.
“Wait here,” she said and took my brother with her to fetch our siblings. You could do that in those days. No one thought twice about leaving a five year old alone for a few minutes.
Too nice a day to sit in the car, I leaned against it and dug out the middle of my bun. After I stuck it on my thumb and finished it off, I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I put one hand on a light post and swung around it. I sang, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
As I sang, the words twirled with me, and I forgot I was waiting to go home. I felt like I had already come home to Someone big and important, and that Someone loved me. All the voices that told me otherwise flew far, far away. I knew what I knew.
Wait with me, God said. I heard the invitation again and again throughout my life, and sometimes I lingered with God, but most times I didn’t. I had too many things to do.
At 48, I was finishing a theology degree when a friend told me he had spent six hours alone with God and Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart. When I heard how my friend was both shaken and taken by the experience, I wanted to go and be with God too. Yet I had responsibilities of a job and family and assignments due. How could I possibly get away? But when I accidentally deleted one of my essays, I knew I needed a break. “You can’t give what you haven’t got,” a preacher from Ghana once repeated a dozen times in the same sermon.
I’m thinking of going to Rivendell,” I said to my husband, Fred. “Just overnight. What do you think?”
“That sounds like a good idea,” he said. “Would you like me to drive you to the ferry?”
A few days later, I carried my backpack up Cates Hill on Bowen Island to Rivendell Retreat Centre. I opened Nouwen’s little book and read, prayed and waited in the silence. For the first time, I prayed without words and simply rested in God.
“You look different,” Fred said when he picked me up the next day.
I felt different. My heart was set on pilgrimage. God was calling me to explore the height, depth and breadth of what I knew when I was five: Jesus loves me.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
– Psalm 84:5
Esther Hizsa lives in Burnaby, with her husband, Fred. She has a Master of Divinity degree from Regent College, and worked for over 20 years as an associate pastor – first in the United Church of Canada and then at New Life Community Church (On a personal note, as New Life is my home church, I can attest to the fact that Esther spearheaded not only contemplative occasions,but also fostered practical initiatives like a Free Store, luncheons and showers for the homeless, and a community garden.) They now attend St. Stephen the Martyr Anglican Church. She offers spiritual direction and co-facilitates SoulStream’s spiritual formation course, Living from the Heart.
This Saturday (October 1) she will lead “a spacious day of stories, silence and prayer” in Abbotsford. Proceeds from Praying Your Story: A Day with Esther Hizsa will go to support SoulStream.