Category Archives: modern faith
This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”
Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.
I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.
After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.
I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?
The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.
The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?
I am taking a summer blog break. While I’m refilling my creative well, enjoy the insightful writing of the incomparable Paulo Coelho. In “The Myth of Psyche” he ponders the elusive nature of love, and how he learned to follow the strange language of “signs.”
“Each moment shall be lived and enjoyed, but whenever we try to understand it, the magic disappears.”
Just for fun, I used this as a writing prompt this morning.
I spent the weekend at a writing retreat, and one might assume such a gathering would inspire a wellspring of words. Alas, it had the opposite effect, and I felt word-drained. To start the words flowing again, I told myself to leave my comfortable couch, walk upstairs to my office, select the third book on the top book shelf and open it to page 56. I had no idea what I would find.
It happened to be Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer. On page 56 I read:
“Gandhi was neither a conforming Hindu nor a conforming nationalist. No ism help him in its grip. He never hewed to a line. He was independent, unpredictable, and hence exciting to all and difficult for the British. “Do I contradict myself?” he asked. “Consistency is a hobgoblin.” He had the rebel’s courage to be true to himself today and different tomorrow. “My aim,” he once wrote, “is not to be consistent with my previous statement on a given question, but to be consistent with the truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result is that I have grown from truth to truth . . .”
I think most of us would agree that Gandhi lived a brave life, but before I had framed that bravery in terms of constancy or perseverance. I thought of the determined way in which Gandhi lived what he believed to be right, unwavering in his march to human rights.
Inconsistency takes courage. It takes courage to admit that we need to leave something behind, or to float free in the world without anchoring ourselves in a religion, a philosophy, a political stance or a national identity. We cling to beliefs that served us in the past, even when they don’t serve us so well in the present. We hate to “eat our words,” so we stand by them even when they don’t resonate with truth anymore.
How brave, to let go of identity anchors and evolve. truth to truth.
May this day bring you freedom from anchors that weigh you down, courage to contradict your past self and inspiration to seek your new truth.
And, I’m curious: What’s on your top shelf, third book from the right, page 56?
“Don’t give up before the miracle happens.”
—Fannie Flagg in I Still Dream About You.
Hundreds of years from now, the children of our children’s children’s children’s children face a seemingly insurmountable challenge. To inspire themselves to succeed they look to wisdom from the past. They scan their retinas (because surely they’ll have Google Retina by then) for pithy, profound insights into the complexities of life.
Might they find inspiration from Rumi? Perhaps. Jesus? Also possible. Shakespeare, Einstein or Confucius might also be strong contenders. But they might also stumble upon some wisdom from another great wise man: Jim Carrey.
Who would have thought, right? But Carrey nails it in a convocation speech at (of all places) the Maharishi University of Management. In less than a minute he alludes to one incident from his life that encapsulates these spiritual principles:
- Be here now
- Make your decisions based on love not fear
- Ask the universe for it and allow yourself to be surprised by the miracle
- You can fail at what you don’t want, so do what you love.
“. . . all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment which are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying—I’m the proof—that you can ask the universe for it.“
He went on to say:
“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
Last night at our book study we talked about Paul’s mystical experience on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9) We don’t know exactly what happened to Paul—accounts vary—but we do know that Paul experienced something dramatic enough to alter the course of his life 180 degrees.
He changed from enforcing rules to encouraging love.
We also talked about our own mystical experiences. There was no shortage. People shared stories of songs popping into their lives at the right moment, inner voices calming them or urging them into action, and visible reminders a dead loved one or feelings of their presence.
I noticed something, though. Almost everyone started their stories with qualifiers. “It might be just a coincidence, but . . .”, or “I don’t know if this is a spiritual story or not, but . . .”.
That’s the paradox of mystical experiences. We are physical beings, so we need something physical to happen so we can perceive a message: a sound, a sign, a feeling. But because the message we receive is carried via a physical medium, it makes it easy to dismiss as just the physical thing and nothing more. Skeptics and critics say, “You’re reading something into it that isn’t there,” or “It’s a coincidence,” or “You’re crazy.”
The very thing we need to perceive spirit is the very thing that makes us want to dismiss it.
Sometimes mystical moments give a person comfort or a gentle nudge in the right direction, sometimes they save lives, and sometimes, like Paul on the road to Damascus, they dramatically alter the course of a life. The common theme of all the stories we heard was this: every person received exactly what they needed exactly when they needed it.
All of the stories we heard could be dismissed as coincidence or the result of a vivid imagination. There’s no way to prove anything beyond the physical, but there’s also no way to prove that these moments were just coincidence. So we have a choice. We can choose to believe what we wish. I think it’s much more meaningful, comforting and just plain fun to believe that these moments that stop us in our tracks have spirit flowing in, through and all around them.
In future, when I hear someone begin a story with “I don’t know if this is a spiritual story or not, but . . .” I’m going to sit up and pay attention. The story is bound to be a doozy.