Category Archives: modern faith
Two years ago I spent time in Bolivia volunteering for Habitat for Humanity helping a family in need to build their home.
I’m not one to talk about religion or my spiritual life on your average day, but our project took place in Cochabamba, home of the world’s largest statue of Jesus. With Jesus looming over our work every day, it was hard not to talk about him. In the course of those conversations, I revealed to the members of my team that I had been invited to speak at my church about my Bolivian experiences upon my return to Canada.
A few days later, as we worked, we joked back and forth. One girl turned to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind us joking around. I know you’re really religious.”
I was so stunned I couldn’t speak.
I was horrified at the idea of being considered religious. The word conjured images of dusty old pious ladies with pursed lips reciting Bible passages unquestioningly. I imagined judgmental battle-axes and humourless fire-and-brimstone preachers. One this is certain: She obviously believed that anyone who goes to church has zero sense of humour. Is that how she saw me? Horrors.
For someone who spent decades as an atheist and who still finds many aspects of some organized religions really worrisome, her perception shocked me. Me, religious? Ha! Religious was a label I did not want.
Okay, so I go to church almost every week. I am a Sunday school teacher. I was co-chair of our church council for three years. I’m on the Christian Development committee. But that doesn’t make me religious, does it?
Hhmmmm. . . I guess it does. So, if I’m going to be labelled “religious,” I’ll have to re-claim the word. I’ll have to change the connotations.
What does my church, my religion, my Spirit-seeking home, mean to me? It means: connection to the something more, critical thinking, compassion, kindness, caring work with people in need, acceptance of all people, questioning, evolving, progressive outlook, challenge, lifelong learning, meditating and justice seeking.
What does it NOT mean? It does not mean: judgmental, limited, blind, unquestioning, self-righteous, inflexible, exclusive, money-grubbing. That is not what my church is about at all.
I hereby reclaim the word religious. The compassionate, accepting, critical-thinking, justice-seeking, caring people who meditate on their questions to seek a connection with the something more (however that should appear to them) really need that to happen.
We are a compassionate and progressive community that nurtures and celebrates each others’ spiritual growth. We are rooted in our Christian tradition and open to the truths of other faiths.
We strive to follow Jesus’ example by applying his teachings to today’s challenges. We share our personal experiences of the Divine to help each other recognize God in all creation.
We believe a more just and sustainable world is possible through increased love, awareness and action. We invest in our children, our community and our world to help make this so.
I celebrate the sacrament of waiting for a new kind of spring beauty.
As our calendars turn from January to February, I share with you this beautiful poem by Macrina Wiederkehr. Macrina is a Benedictine sister, author, and lover of the spiritual who blogs at Under the Sycamore Tree. Her poem celebrates the sacrament of letting go as a natural part of life. When we’re stripped down, vulnerable, and “wearing the colors of emptiness” we live the sacrament of waiting, ready for a new, surprising kind of beauty.
The Sacrament of Letting Go
© Macrina Wiederkehr
she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red.
finally she let go of her own brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky,
she began her vigil of trust.
Shedding her last leaf,
she watched it journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the colors of emptiness,
her branches wondering,
How do you give shade with so much gone?
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and the sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
that kept her hope alive.
They helped her to understand that
her dependence and need,
her emptiness, her readiness to receive,
were giving her a new kind of Beauty.
Every morning and every evening they stood in silence,
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.
© Macrina Wiederkehr
The kids came to the bake tables at the church bazaar. They clutched brown envelopes in their hands, and they walked slowly up and down the length of the tables, surveying the goods and weighing their options. They wanted to choose carefully. They wanted to spend their “Sheila money” wisely.
Other kids explored the toy section. They surveyed the goods and weighed their options. They wanted to spend their “Sheila money” wisely.
Some kids wanted to buy Christmas gifts for family or friends. They surveyed the goods on the craft table and weighed their options. They wanted to spend their “Sheila money” wisely.
The week before the bazaar, a member of our church congregation visited the kids in the Sunday school classrooms. She gave each child a brown envelope with a $10 bill folded inside. Sheila needed to travel on the weekend of the bazaar, so she wouldn’t be able to attend. She wanted to contribute though, and what better way than through the children? She prepared the envelopes and gave them to the kids, so they would have their own money to spend.
She didn’t tell anyone she did this, so on the weekend of the bazaar it took us a while to figure it out. Why did all these kids have brown envelopes? Why did all the envelopes contain exactly $10?
When the kids’ parents told the story though, word spread. One by one people heard about it and turned their heads to appreciate the kids in action with their Sheila money. We watched them cherish the gift that had fallen from the sky to land on them. We saw them learn to be good stewards of their money by choosing how to spend it wisely. We bloomed with joy and smiled broadly watching the kids make their Sheila money purchases.
When I asked Sheila if I could write about this, we talked about it for a while. I told her how touched I was watching those kids doing their shopping. She told me that she received the most beautiful thank you card from one of the kids, and another child had chosen to spend the money buying a gift to give back to her. We both teared up during our brief conversation.
“That’s Christmas right there,” I told her.
I’ve thought so much about Sheila money since then that I’ve broadened the definition in my mind. I’ve come to think of it as any selfless contribution a person makes to brighten someone else’s day. A few days before Christmas one of my friends encountered a tearful woman in dire straits. The $50 bill she gave to that woman was Sheila money. Another friend helped the Red Cross during the ice storm. That was Sheila money.
A gift, selflessly given, that gives joy to all. That’s Christmas right there.
“I don’t know if bad things happen for a reason, but I do know that every moment is a starting point.” —Etienne LeSage
Here in Ottawa, Canada we creep by the hour toward a starting point that everyone agrees upon – the new year 2014. In New Zealand, 2014 already arrived several hours ago, so, really, the agreed-upon starting point is a moving target and a matter of perspective.
Here, in Ottawa, Canada, I reflect on the wise words of my friend, Etienne. New birth doesn’t happen once a year; in every moment and within every event lies the seed of a starting point.
If we fail, what can we learn and what can grow from it? If we succeed, what can we leverage from that and what can we build? If disaster strikes, how can we heal and what good can we find in it? If blessings fall upon us, how do we receive them and with whom can we share them?
Our calendars turn over and 2014 lies ahead of us. A year of successes, failures, disasters, and blessings lies of ahead of us. A whole year of starting points—not just one day.
Onward, always for the highest good.
My daughter fit nicely into this stocking on the day of her birth. She’s much bigger now—old enough to dub this time of year “Birth-mas” for herself.
Not that we ever gave her combined “birthday/Christmas”, or birth-mas gifts. No, never. We always reserved one room in the house for birthday decorations, and she received separate birthday presents wrapped in birthday paper.
We always thought this was an important thing to do, but we had no idea how important until she got old enough to communicate. Then we learned that months after the events had pass she clearly remembered which gifts were for birthday and which were for Christmas. In our minds those gifts were all jumbled up, but she had them carefully categorized.
We’ve made every effort to separate the two events, but the overwhelming entity that is Christmas interferes with the birthdays of those born any time near the event. So, birth-mas it is.
It’s not so bad really. After all, what is Christmas if not a big birthday party?