Category Archives: good faith
More food for thought from Bishop Steve Charleston
“We do not know what is around the next corner.
We do not even know what will pass in our lives between sunrise and sunset. Therefore, whether we claim it or not, we live each day in faith.
We believe. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our family. We believe in others who are close to us.
Some of us believe beyond that, to name a loving power that guides us, to walk with others who pray with us. But we all believe, in some way, in our own fashion.
Let that thin thread, that simple affirmation, bind us in a shared respect. We are not strangers in shadows, but believers searching for the light.”
—Bishop Steve Charleston
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies . . . A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do . . . so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. . . . The lawn-cutter might just as well not been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
—From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In this season of gardening, it is worthwhile to contemplate: What flowers am I growing?
What am I changing with my touch, so it transforms into something more beautiful and a little like me when I take my hands away?
“Every moment is a starting point.” —Etienne LeSage
On the weekend, I attended the ordination and commissioning of two friends of mine into the United Church of Canada. The ceremony touched me deeply, and since then I’ve pondered what to write about it.
So many aspects of the event filled our emotional wells to overflowing. We cried happy tears.
The two people involved are both joyful givers; they embrace all people, work for justice, don’t sit in judgment of others, and allow and encourage questions. Love envelopes them; their parents, spouses, siblings, friends, children and other supporters glowed with it. The two people possess the perseverance and the indefinable “something more” that propels them into the challenging work of ministry.
In the end, though, I kept coming back to the laying on of hands.
Those unfamiliar with the practice, or those who have never been on the receiving end of it, might see it as an empty ritual, or even as a showy bit of hocus-pocus. But the ancient tradition of laying on hands is a powerful experience for both giver and receiver. It recognizes the potency of human touch. Like a comforting squeeze on the shoulder of someone bent over in grief, like a cool touch to hot brow, like a gentle nudge to the back of someone who hesitates—hands have the potential to soothe, heal or empower.
After the ceremony, one of the two people, Mark, told me that he felt the love flowing to him from hands placed on him by his parents, spouse, family and friends. But when he felt the touch of his daughter and his toddler son, his heart burst—the power of children blessing a father.
I lay hands on my friend, Etienne, as he was blessed and ordained. I was a member of his discernment committee, and I walked with him—metaphorically speaking—on his path to ministry. When I lay my hands on him, it was a conduction of love, power and blessing.
I sent him love, because the tremendous amount of love I had for him grew even stronger during the psyche-testing process of discernment.
I sent him power for his journey, because the path he has chosen (or that was chosen for him?) is not an easy one. He begins ministry in the face of assumptions about Christianity that just don’t apply to him. He’s funny and open, not sombre and judgemental. He knows that love is the foundation of a strong and healthy marriage, not gender. He sees the soul in people, no matter what race, ethnicity, religion or shape the body that carries it around, so he excludes no one.
I sent him my blessing of courage and compassion to face it with strength for the highest good of all.
Both people, in their individual ways, had to overcome big difficulties to arrive at the day. They both chose to take the road less travelled, and it is one that is fraught with challenges.
They both know that their lives, in so many ways, would be so much easier if they were taking the well-trodden path. Now that they have been sent forth with the love, power and blessing of the touch of those who love them, they might just make it.
“Gardens, like lives, require choices. What will we let grow? What will we encourage? What needs cutting back because it’s growing too wildly and out of control? What’s crowding out what you really want in life?” —Rev. Sharon Moon
I listened to a reflection by Rev. Sharon Moon about spiritual wisdom gained in a garden.
It’s true, isn’t it? When we putter in our flower beds and dig in our dirt, we “plug in,” as she calls it, to a different energy level—a spirit channel, if you will.
At least some of us do. I enjoy my time in a garden and I do “plug in” to an infinite place, but I have many friends who regard gardening as a chore. But no matter whether a person loves or loathes a horticultural pursuit, the activities, complexities, the growth, the pruning and the death in gardens so closely mirrors our human existence that we can learn from them.
We learn to be ready for surprises: the flower you didn’t plant that suddenly appears or the tender sprouts you admire one day gone the next thanks to a hungry rabbit.
We learn that sometimes a plant needs to be moved to an area better suited to its needs.
We learn that when a long, cold winter buries treasures under snow, it is easy to forget the bounty we have.
We learn that weeds are inevitable, and that a garden left untended quickly becomes overgrown and filled up with “things that come in and just steal the energy from the life that you want to encourage.”
As Sharon Moon points out, a garden teaches us that pruning is a good thing—cutting out the dead wood that no longer serves a purpose. A garden teaches us to give of ourselves—generous perennial dividing and sharing for the good of both the plant and the recipient. A garden teaches us that “a material that has been allowed to die transforms into new growth.”
What is happening in your garden these days? Are you bursting with new growth? Do you have weeds that need careful pulling? Have you had a shock or trauma that requires you to take some fallow time? Do you need some support and attention from “the Gardener”?
How does your garden grow?
Listen to her reflection here:
I ponder the parable of the seed scattered on good or poor ground. (See below.)
Like any respectable parable, it can be interpreted a number of ways. Perhaps we are the “farmer.” If so, we need to choose carefully where we spread our “seed”—our ideas, our time, our friendships. Don’t share ideas with an audience that won’t appreciate them, don’t waste time on pointless endeavours, and don’t choose friends who choke out your potential. Or perhaps God (the universe, nature, Yahweh, Allah, whatever) is the “farmer” and we are the “seed.” If so, some of us have a tougher time of it—through no fault of our own—just because of the environment where we are born. Others—lucky sods—happen to land on roomy, fertile ground.
But I wonder. Why do we always put the onus on the ground?
The poor ground is just being what it was created to be. The footpath doesn’t sprout seed, but it makes the going easy for the feet that tread upon it.
The rocks of Georgian Bay near my cottage don’t welcome scattered seed—carrots would not sprout there, nor would lush lettuce leaves. But it has perfect nooks for evergreens and moss, and its granite craters pool water for birds to drink. It is not bad; it is beautiful and rugged, mineral-rich and solid. Best of all, it is not trying to be something it’s not, gripped with angst about why it can’t grow tomato plants like its cousin, the rich farmland.
And what about that loamy earth of a tilled field? How would moss manage there? The bright sunshine and the working of the soil would kill it. As judged by the moss, the rich, loamy soil of a southern Ontario tomato field would be “bad.”
Plants or soil aren’t really good or bad. They just have to match, that’s all—the right soil for the right plant.
People are like that too. Women of action sitting behind desks, or scholarly men digging ditches are like seeds scattered on the wrong ground.
They start to believe there’s something wrong with them. Their bosses air frustrations about their inadequacies. They believe they are deficient in some way. They tell themselves they need to change. All they need is the right ground.
Moss clings to the shady sides of rock, corn sprouts from the arable land: A plant for every kind of ground, and a ground for every kind of plant. All are beautiful in their own way.
They just have to match, that’s all.
3 He [Jesus] told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!
Take a moment with me to pity sporting events. They get very little respect from those who spend their days contemplating spiritual matters. Meditation, journaling, dancing or yoga make the grade for spiritual enrichment, but not sports. The idea that a person might experience transcendence during a sporting activity? Well, that receives a dismissive sniff. All too often, sports get shunted aside as “fun-but-hardly-spiritual.”
Activity: A man walks in the woods and feels at one with the trees around him.
Perception: He experiences the “All is One” of spirit.
Activity: A baseball player gets “In the zone,” slows down the ball and goes 4 for 4 at the plate.
Perception: She is swinging a hot bat.
Activity: A meditator focuses on her breath and stays present.
Perception: She is practising mindfulness and living the power of now.
Activity: A hockey goalie stays in the moment and performs well under the intense pressure of Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final.
Perception: He is mentally strong.
Activity: A dancer experiences transcendence induced by the music rhythm.
Perception: She is at one with God.
Activity: A tennis player experiences transcendence induced by the movement rhythm.
Perception: He maintains his focus.
Too bad. Athletes might not use the words “spirit” or “God” when participating in their sports, but they share similar experiences, and they reap the same benefits of those who do. Sports teach us about the human condition, relieve stress and depression, and awaken us to the message of life.
- Provides clarity and cultivates awareness (√ Check)
- Lifts mood and prevents depression (√ Check)
- Creates steadiness and grounding (√ Check)
- Helps you see the big picture of life (√ Check)
- Puts you in touch with your inner self (√ Check)
- Keeps you in the moment (√ Check)
- Gives “the assurance of practice being there for you at all times” (√ Check)
- Boosts health and well-being (√ Check)
- Restores a sense of purpose and boosts self-esteem (√ Check)
- Relieves stress (√ Check)
- Connects people with others (√ Check)
- Promotes self-actualization (√ Check)
- Builds lasting memories (√ Check)
- Encourages participants to let go of the ego (√ Check)
Sports give us heroes that transcend the game: Lou Gehrig. Sports advance social change: Jackie Robinson. Sports shine a spotlight on big societal problems: When the Baltimore Orioles played to an empty stadium, it was a siren warning. “Something is seriously wrong, and something needs to change.”
From pick-up hockey games on frozen backyard rinks to the Olympic podium, sports teach us about life.
- You can be an instant hero and fall flat in the same game.
- There are rules, and with good reason.
- You can be the very best at something, and still lose.
- Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is a millimetre or a hundredth of a second.
- You can’t win them all.
- Some days things work, and some days they don’t.
- Things don’t always balance out.
- On any given day, anything can happen.
- You can make mistakes and still come back.
- You need patience and endurance.
- It humbles you. You never stop learning.
- You cry, you get frustrated, and you celebrate.
- You play it one day at a time.
- “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” —Yogi Berra
Here’s a timely quote from a well-known athlete: “I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability; it was my mental ability.” —Bruce Jenner.
Social change in action.
“The five Ss of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.” —Ken Doherty