Category Archives: spirit
Crows kept cropping up in my life this week—one of those weird coincidences. The thing is, all the stories or events were negative, but I really admire these stalwart birds.
I wrote about crows for a past freelance assignment. Before that assignment, I gave crows little thought, but my research opened my eyes to their wonders. This Sir David Attenborough video from BBC Worldwide shows crows learning how to use crosswalks. (Better than some humans I know.)
You had better be nice to crows. They remember human faces—for years—and if people treat them ill, the crows harass them, as researchers in Seattle discovered. (This article from The Guardian contains many charming uses of the word “whilst.” Now, does that not make you want to read it? American crows: the ultimate angry birds?)
Crows are intelligent, adaptable, innovative, watchful and really quite beautiful. They have striking black feathers with a sheen of blue or purple. Go back to the early slow-motion scene in the Attenborough video and watch the graceful swoop. No less beautiful than an eagle or a hawk, I think.
In mythology (Greek, Roman, Chinese, Biblical, and First Nations) crows represent creation and magic. Ted Andrews says: “Wherever crows are, there is magic. They are symbols of creation and spiritual strength. They remind us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life.”
Today is garbage day in my neighbourhood. Crows swoop along my street manifesting breakfast for themselves from our leftovers.
I choose to see it as magical.
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
I talked about Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, with my Sunday school class this week. We played a game of Pin the Drop on the Water Pump, so the kids would experience blindness. (Helen Keller had an “epiphany” at a water pump.)
We played a first round. The children put on a blindfold, I spun them around, and they plunked their drops on my hand-drawn pump. On this first round, the kids placed their drops up, down, and all around, but nowhere near the pump. Some of them weren’t even on the paper.
They said, “Can we do it again?” I had made extra water drops, and we had lots of time, so I agreed to a second round.
The kids learned. This time they used their sense of touch. They felt for the edges of the paper. They felt for the wrinkle in the middle they knew to be near the pump nozzle. When they used their touch, they did much better.
At first they floundered when deprived of one of their senses, but they quickly learned to use others. They had mini-epiphanies of their own. “Ah, ha!” they thought. “If I feel the paper, I can place the drop closer.” Imagine if we had played a third or fourth round. How steep would the learning curve have been? Would they have started to cooperate and help each other? Imagine how easy it would have been if a sighted friend’s hand helped to guide the drop.
Anne Sullivan was Helen Keller’s sighted friend. She’s not as well known, but she was equally heroic. Her patience and her perseverance made the miracles of Helen Keller’s life possible.
During the first round, the kids weren’t making use of all the tools available to them; their sense of touch was readily available, but they failed to use it. Then, their desire to improve drove them to search for other tools.
I wondered, how often I have failed to make use of all the tools available to me? How many times have I relied on one sense when drawing on the others would have made my experience richer? How many projects have I tackled alone that would have been more successful if I had asked for the guidance of a sighted friend?
From this I learned:
- Perseverance and practice improves performance because each time we use new tools.
- We achieve success if we receive help from experienced friends.
- It’s important to choose to play the game to begin with.
We think we’re being helpful.
“At least you have a job,” we say, if a friend facing financial difficulties has his hours cut at work.
“At least you have good friends ,” we say, when someone loses a mother.
“At least you have a hospital nearby,” we say, to a person sick with cancer.
We think we’re being helpful. We might even say we’re being optimistic. But what we’re really doing is avoiding the issue. We’d rather the person didn’t have the worry, the grief, the illness, and we want to brush it aside, wish it away.
Better to just empathize with what’s really going on. This RSA short illustrates that beautifully.
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.