Category Archives: religion

Top shelf, third book from the right, page 56: Ghandi truth to truth

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“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?

I don’t know if this is a spiritual story or not, but . . .

p10176Last 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.

Photo courtesy of Etienne LeSage

Photo courtesy of Etienne LeSage

 

 

Fred Phelps, St. Patrick’s Day and Any Known Blood: Tired discrimination

http://i1.wp.com/topekasnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/kansas-religious-freedom-bill-ridiculous1.jpg?resize=300%2C536

Photo from TopekasNews

The state of Kansas, U.S.A. recently made headlines for proposed laws that would allow restaurants and businesses to ban gay patrons from their establishments. A sign reading “Service refused to gay couples” appeared in at least one restaurant. 

These headlines preceded the death of Fred Phelps (I won’t call him reverend) by about a month. During his lifetime, Phelps loved to make headlines—his even more hate-filled. His “God Hates Fags” tagline summed up his sorry life.

When I saw the picture here, and when I read Fred Phelps’ views on issues, I thought, “Really? Did they learn nothing from history?”

But I take comfort in seeing that their actions, intended to promote discrimination and hate, ended up encouraging more openness and love. Shocking hate prompts us to act with active love.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I remembered that signs reading “No Irish” used to appear in the windows of early New York City establishments. I’m part Irish, so this one piece of knowledge keeps me celebrating the occasion every year.

I re-read Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill this week, too. At the beginning of the book he cites this passage from An American Dilemma Vol. I, 1944:

Everybody having a known trace of Negro Blood in his veins—no matter how far back it was acquired—is classified as a Negro. No amount of white ancestry, except one hundred per cent, will permit entrance to the white race.

Good heavens, they were really covering all the bases, weren’t they? My father was adopted, so I have “unknown” blood in me. I guess I wouldn’t qualify.

No gays, no Irish, no blacks, no Indians, no Jews, no Japanese, no Mexicans, no women, no men . . . in the course of history, is there any group that hasn’t at one point or another been barred from something?

It makes me tired. Enough already, people.

If you ever feel inspired to put a sign reading “No . . . (anything)” in your window, think again. Such signs say a whole lot more about you than they do about the group of people you’re aiming to keep out.

 

Religious? Who me? Reclaiming the word

el-cristoTwo 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.

___________________________

Our Mission Statement

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.

Read the rest of this entry

The sacrament of waiting: . . .

winter-waitingThe sun shines in my window this morning in a February kind of way.  Winter wanes.

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

Slowly
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?

And then,
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 vulnerability,
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

How things happen: The stained glass story

tree-of-life-ottawaOur church, Trinity United, received some media attention in the Ottawa area recently. We created two stained glass windows.

So, what’s so newsworthy about that, you might wonder?

The part of the story that drew the media interest was the artist, Beth Jenkin, who created the original pictures for the finished pieces; she’s in her twenties, and she’s quickly losing her vision. When she began the project, she could still see, but as the work progressed, her vision failed more and more.

Now that the work is complete, she can’t see it clearly, and it is the last work of this type she will be able to do.

That heartbreaking and compelling part of the story was unforeseen at outset of this project. People who were involved from the beginning know there are many other meaningful sides to this story.

The biggest meaningful piece is a man called Chris Humphrey. (Sometimes when I’m typing his name, I inadvertently add a “t” to the end so it comes out “Christ.” That’s not so far off the mark.) I admire Chris so much that even a writer like me can’t find the words to wrap up what an exceptional human being he is. He’s much more comfortable behind the scenes, but when he’s there you can bet that he’s the one building the scenes, holding up the scenes, beautifying the scenes, making sure the scenes work properly and have good sound, and that every other person with him is taken care of back there.

At a meeting last week, Chris presented his interpretation of how this stained glass project became a reality.

how-things-happen

  1. A longing, a need. Our church building, designed by renowned architect James Strutt, is among Canada’s top 500 buildings of architectural significance. Some members of our church made their first visit it to us out of architectural curiosity. But architectural significance and beauty don’t always go together, and our building is also noted for its less than attractive exterior. The sanctuary within this architecturally significant building does not have windows. For many years the warm people who love this church have longed for, felt the need for, some stained glass to brighten our worship space.

    Trinity-United-Church

    The Trinity exterior was created to evoke the spirit of an Ark.

  2. Vision. Our church has a memorial fund to which people donate in memory of someone they love. This money is then used to beautify the building or the worship experience of the church in some way. We accept proposals from congregation members, and one of our members had a vision of light shining through stained glass.
  3. Motivation. Many visions flit into and out of our heads without taking shape in reality. For thought to transform into something physical, one or more people need motivation to take the first step. This is where Chris’s work on this project began.
  4. Inspiration. In our church, we turn to the archaic use of this word: to breathe on, or to breathe into. In this case, Beth received the breath of inspiration during one of our meditation sessions. The guided meditation led her to a vision of the tree of life, infused with light, fed by a flowing river.
  5. Creativity. Beth began her artwork—still able to see her work at that time. She began with the tree of life, and the vision she received. From there she drew on the creativity of others to make the two pieces of art true to the spirit of Trinity. Each piece has a dove to represent the active justice and outreach work of our church. Incorporated into the body of the tree of life is our Trinity Cross, designed by Rev. Dr. Glen Stoudt. trinity-logoOur cross has three flags in three corners of the cross to represent Higher Power, Body, and Soul. One corner remains open to represent our minds open to new ideas and ongoing progressive evolution. The rainbow above the Trinity Ark represents our inclusivity. One of my favourite things about these two pieces is that they aren’t generic representations of Christian ideas; they truly represent the spirit of what our church is all about. trinity-ark-ottawa
  6. Action. With the vision in place, the work began. Chris got the glass, set up the work spaces and sought volunteers to help him. He trained people to cut and solder the glass.
  7. Enthusiasm. The more people thought about this, the more enthusiastic they became. The project became a labour of love for many. Their enthusiasm drew in others to help.
  8. Community Involvement. As Beth’s vision faded shockingly quickly, she had to reach out for help. Another church member, Alex Dunn, worked with Beth to support her emotionally through her dramatic loss of sight and to help her complete the artwork. More than 30 people helped to cut and solder stained glass. We didn’t farm out this work to other people. The people of our congregation created  and completed the windows from start to finish.
  9. The cycle. Chris drew his graphic with the community involvement flowing back into inspiration, creativity, action. He believes that when a group of people see the successful fulfillment of one dream, it allows them to believe in the possibility of other miracles: the impossible becomes possible. They ask, “What next?”

I can see Chris’s ideas in other projects I’m involved in, too. A need leads to a vision and a motivation to seek inspiration. The inspiration leads to creativity, enthusiasm, action and community involvement.

And the cycle carries on in a spiral of miraculous outcomes.

__________________

Read more about the battery charger that is Trinity here:

Good Work

10 reasons to go to church

http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/

See more about our stained glass here:

CTV Ottawa, Regional Contact: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=283883&binId=1.1443144

Ottawa Sun http://www.ottawasun.com/2014/01/15/her-vision-fading-ottawa-stained-glass-artist-still-sees-the-light

Ottawa Citizen http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/window+through+darkness/9399990/story.html

CBC Ottawa http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Ottawa/ID/2430554003/?page=4

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