Category Archives: Belief

Real Bethlehem, Story Bethlehem

Last year I gathered the a group of young Sunday school children into class. We sat in a circle on the floor on big cushy pillows and talked about the two stories of Christmas—the Luke version and the Matthew version. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 7, so we didn’t delve into deep philosophical discussions, but we talked about how two very different stories get smooshed into one. We told each one separately, and we told them as they are usually woven together.

Inevitably, our road led us to Bethlehem.

“Is Bethlehem a real place?” a girl asked.

“Yes, it is.”

Gobsmacked, she rocked back on her pillow. Her mouth dropped open. Other eyes around the room also regarded me curiously.

“What do people do there?”

“Well, they do a lot of the same things we do,” I said. “They get up, wash themselves, eat food, go to school if they’re lucky . . .”

The children digested this information. In the brief period of silence that followed, I watched a transition on their faces. Before the girl asked the question and I answered, we’d been living wholeheartedly in the land of story. Before she asked and I answered, we’d been thinking about what the stories meant.

Then we crashed to earth. The minute I told them Bethlehem was real, their brains began to tick. They moved from the teaching wonder of story to literal dissection. “If Bethlehem is real,” they were thinking, “then how could all that other stuff really have happened?”

Inwardly I sighed. One second we’d been pondering possibilities and thinking about how two stories from thousands of years ago could help us live our lives today, and then—boom—we stumbled into analysis.

It’s not my place to tell them what to believe or not believe. My job is to present them with the stories handed down to us and start the discussion so they can work through it themselves over the course of their lives. I couldn’t (and most certainly wouldn’t) tell them that two different, often contradictory stories, are factually true. I couldn’t (and most certainly wouldn’t) tell them those same stories aren’t true in their own way.

“Oh yes, Bethlehem is real,” I carried on, “but let’s talk about what we can learn from these stories.”

Real Bethlehem, Story Bethlehem. Starting points for contemplation.

Story Bethlehem

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Holiday traditions and why you may, or may not, need a cat

I wrote this post in December 2012. I’m re-posting it now, because some of us might have to re-consider our “cats.”


Are you trapped in your traditions? Do they serve you, or do you serve them?

I pondered this question after reading a Paulo Coelho blog piece about an ancient Japanese story, which I will paraphrase here:

A great Zen Buddhist master had a cat. The cat was his constant companion even during the meditation classes he led. When the old master passed away, another disciple took his place and continued to allow the cat to join in meditation. When the original cat died, the disciples missed its presence, so they found another.

Disciples from other regions heard about the cat who attended meditation classes, and spread the story around to others. These disciples believed that the cat was the reason for the greatness of the Zen Buddhist master. Other temples began to bring cats to class.

Eventually, writings began to appear about the importance of cats during meditation. A university professor studied the issue and wrote a thesis about the effects of cats on concentration and energy. Disciples began to believe that cats were essential to meditation.

Soon, an instructor who was allergic to cats decided to remove the animal from his daily classes. Other disciples were aghast and reacted negatively, believing the cat to be essential to their success. But his students made the same progress even without the cat.

Generations passed and, one by one, monasteries began removing cats from meditation. After all, it was a burden feeding all those cats. In fact, students began to study the benefits of meditating without animals.  More time passed until “cat,” or “no cat” was no longer a matter of consideration. But it took many years for the full cycle, because “during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.”

Christmas is one of the most tradition-bound times of the year. Christmas trees, shortbread, gifts, overspending on gifts, turkey, family gatherings, family fights, church services, candles, crèches, Santa, pageants, parties with too much rum eggnog, carols . . . These things have been part of our current version of the holidays for so long we have started to believe that Christmas is not Christmas without them. If we were to suggest not including them, people would react with aghast negativity.

Why are those “cats” in the room? Is feeding them becoming a burden?

Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it recalls the birth of a compassionate movement toward “all is one.” It recalls the birth of a man—an activist—who sought social justice and lived the idea that every person contains the divine spark. 

As I meditate my way toward Christmas this year, whether I invite some of those “cats” to join me or not, the movement toward “all is one” by all of us divine sparks continues regardless.

cat

I see the divine spark in Waffles’ eyes 🙂

Zero: Nothing and everything

“Zero gets to represent something and nothing” —from The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music by Victor L. Wooten

zeroVictor Wooten’s fantastic book leads me to write about zero.

Zero means nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

Place it to the right of the number 1 though, and all of a sudden you have ten times that number. The zero magically creates something more.  Keep adding zeroes and you can create all the way up to . . . infinity.

Nothingness used to create infinity. Huh. Sounds sort of God-like to me.

Something to ponder.

“Zero is like space. . . . A scientist looks close enough at an atom and what does he find? Space! . . . Space can be seen as the birthplace of all things.”

_________________

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I recommend The Music Lesson. Reading that will make you think!

 

 

Like magic, our stories turn something into nothing and nothing into something

There’s a piece of paper on my desk. It measures 2 inches x 3 inches.

Is it valuable, do you think?

Let me tell you more. It has a bar code below the words “Cineplex Cinemas: Admit One. Present this ticket to a cashier to exchange for one admission ticket.”

What do you think now? Is it valuable?

But wait. There is more. “Expiration: April 30, 2016”

So, not so valuable after all.

For a moment, you and I could both believe that a mere piece of paper had power. I could take it in my hand and go places where others could not so easily go. Then, in a magical kind of way, the same piece of paper instantly became worthless recycling.

Nothing physical about the item changed, but the power it held dissipated into the ether. The science remained the same, but the story changed. Like magic.

When my kids were little, they became quite upset when they got “jinxed” by friends; they bought into the “jinx” story. I said to them, “You can only be jinxed if you choose to be jinxed.” They didn’t believe that though, because the stories of friends hold more power for children than a mother’s thoughts on the matter.

The power doesn’t exist in the object or the words, it comes from us. We choose to give it to them.

Everyone has objects to which they transfer their power: sports memorabilia, Beatles artifacts, paintings. The sticky point is: not everyone buys into the same stories. A World Series home run baseball is only valuable to people who don’t say, “Baseball? Who cares?” Beatles memorabilia only counts to those who don’t dismiss them as overrated. How about a painting like “Voice of Fire.” Is it worth 1.8 million dollars to you?

For Roman Catholics the consecrated hosts and wine of communion are much more than bread and wine. Scientific-minded sorts scoff at this. They don’t buy into the commonly accepted story. Those same scientists use money every day, so apparently they readily accept some forms of magic, but not others.

Money is big magic. If I want to go to see a movie—now that we’ve all agreed that my coupon piece of paper is not magical—I have an alternative. I can pull other magical pieces of paper out of my wallet, hand over an agreed number to the theatre and happily enjoy the film.

Of course, it depends which city I’m in at the time. If I were to pull out colourful Canadian pieces of paper at a movie theatre in an American city, they would be viewed with derision. Our paper is not so magical in the US.

The paper itself doesn’t change, but as soon as our car drives across an imaginary, magical line the story does. (Or in the case of our wonderful Canadian money, the polymer doesn’t change, but the story does. We really do have some of the finest money in the world.)

Commonly accepted stories help our society to function. If we all accept the story that red means stop and green means go at a traffic light, we prevent accidents. If we buy into the story of concert tickets, we avoid stampedes at Paul MCartney concert hall doors. (The Beatles are definitely NOT overrated.)

Beyond that, we have to recognize the stories for what they are and choose to delegate our power carefully. I’ll keep this Steve Rogers baseball on display because I love it, but you can bet that I won’t be bidding on “Voice of Fire” any time soon.

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The pixels, the picture and the story: A faith mosaic

canadian mosaic july 7th smallSince 2008, photographer Tim Van Horn has been travelling across Canada to photograph Canadians, and he will continue to do so into 2017. Each one of his photographs will become a pixel in a giant Canadian flag mosaic portrait to be completed in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. The portrait will tell the story of “the collective history and energy of 40,000 of Canadians from across the land . . . weaving together a colourful, diverse, true life look at the Canadian cultural tapestry.”

Van Horn’s Canadian Mosaic Project takes the faces of Canadians and creates a picture. The picture in turn tells a bigger story of a culturally diverse country.

Life is in the details, and life is in the big picture.

To really appreciate his masterpiece, we need to know about and consider the 40,000 unique citizens at the heart of it—the people pixels. But if we were to spend all our time microscopically dissecting the pixels without stepping away to appreciate they way they blend together, we would miss the big picture. We don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that the pixels are the only thing. Sure, we need to study the details, but we also need to enjoy the big picture and, more importantly, ponder what greater story they work together to tell.

Faith is like that.

We can study the bible. We can closely examine the many intricate details therein. But we don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that those details are what faith is all about. We need to step back and look at the bigger picture. And, more importantly, we need to ponder the greater story they work together to tell.

The faith story for me is:

  • All people are of equal value. Each unique face forms a vital part of the whole. All are one.
  • The collective history and energy of billions of people of different faiths weave together to form a colourful, diverse, true life tapestry.

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Find out more about The Canadian Mosaic Project on Facebook.

 

 

 

Epiphany: Opening to Big Magic

“Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” —Sir Arthur Eddington, British physicist

I read the quote above in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book was one way magic appeared in my life over a Christmas season replete with the word. At noisy parties, we talked about people with magical personalities. At informal gatherings with friends, conversations turned how children fully embrace the magic of Christmas. We went to see the enchanting, magical theatre production The Wizard of Oz. At our Christmas dinner, the crackers contained magic tricks. 

It was almost magical how the universe led me to ponder magic. 

Of course, each of those things has a rational, logical explanation. People don’t really have magical personalities; some people are just more outgoing and charismatic than others. Children do embrace the magic of Christmas, but there is no man coming down the chimney. The Wizard of Oz? Please. We all know we have to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. And to perform magic with our cracker prizes at Christmas dinner, we each had to know the secret behind the “trick.”

There is a rational, logical explanation. Except when there isn’t. Something unknown is doing something we can’t figure out. 

In her book, Elizabeth Gilbert encourages us to allow some of that unexplainable magic into our lives. Why not? Doing so opens doors instead of closing them. Doing so might lead to some “Wow” moments. Doing so is just way more fun.

Tomorrow is Epiphany—a good day to open the door to Big Magic. It just might be fun. 

epiphany

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