Category Archives: metaphor

The weight and clutter of beliefs we carry

“When we carry a belief, it has a certain mental weight attached to it . . . The heavier the investment—such as religious loyalty, abortion, politics, patriotism, good versus evil—the heavier the weight of belief.”  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

In my work at a local library hundreds of books pass through my hands every shift. Most times I don’t pay too much attention, except to note where to place the book correctly. Sometimes a book stops me and says, “Made ya look!”

This week it was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson. I have not read the book yet (if only I could read every book) but I gather the principle is this: clear out your crap before you die and make someone else clean up your mess.

I’m sure Margareta is more polite about it.

Speaking as someone who has had to clear up some such clutter, I endorse the idea. And I think we can go a step farther and clear out some of our mental and emotional clutter too.

In his book, The Unfoldment, Neil Kramer talks about the cluttery weight of beliefs we carry around with us. Some beliefs weigh more than others depending on how invested we are in them. Casual or lighthearted beliefs, like believing a four-leaf clover might bring us good fortune, are light and don’t bother us much to tote around. If we add on a lot more of those little beliefs (knock three times, don’t turn the calendar page until the new month starts, don’t step on a crack, don’t shave during playoffs, don’t wash your lucky socks . . .) the pack gets lumpy and awkward.

Big problems arise when we lug around sandbag-heavy beliefs. Those become a real burden because, even though carrying the weight is hard work, we don’t want to set those burdens down.

“Strangely, the heftier the belief, the more proudly people will sometimes bear its weight. If someone has carried a belief-anvil for 40 years, she is not going to react too kindly to someone telling her that it’s been totally unnecessary. All that effort and martyrdom would have been for nothing. So people hold fast to their own obstinacy, mentally staggering around under this peculiar encumbrance.  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

And a disbelief can be just as heavy. “Disbeliefs require the same maintenance, egoic investment, and channeled consciousness as their positive counterparts,” Kramer writes. (So that’s why so many atheists look like they are a day past a good bowel movement.)

I think we need to think about death-cleaning our minds, clearing out the clutter of beliefs we shouldn’t pass along for someone else have to deal with.

Lately I have found myself avoiding conversations with certain people on particular topics if I know they carry a heavy belief, or if I know I do: Politics is a mine field, the #metoo movement has pitfalls galore, and even Easter has potential for controversy. I’ve started to think, “I need to lighten up.” The weight is getting heavy.

The benefit of death cleaning, I suspect, is keeping only that which serves life, for the benefit of health and happiness and the good of others. Sounds good to me.

four-leaf-clover

It was fun when my daughter found this four-leaf clover, but I don’t REALLY believe it brings us good fortune.

 

 

Christmas: Because we all have the Light

At the Christmas Eve service at my church, I read this short piece before I lit the Christ candle in the Advent Wreath. This is what Christmas is all about for me.


We all have the Light

Christmas is a birthday party.

We celebrate the birth of a man who, because he knew the light of God‑ness shines in all people, inspired us to live with compassion and to pursue justice.

Through stories of shepherds, Samaritans, widows, lepers, prodigal sons and mustard seeds, he embodied the idea that regardless of how we look, where we were born or whom we love, we all have the same shining Light—from the same Source—within.

Christmas Eve is also a birthday party for our daughter. She was the one who reminded me of this Light when she was born 23 years ago today. At the time of her birth I had dismissed God from my life as unnecessary, a figment of the imagination. We are all just atoms and molecules, I thought. And then she came to us with her individuality, her spark, her vibrant spirit, her Light, and I had to re-evaluate. And then our son came along—so different from our daughter—and yet shining with the same Light.

The Christ candle represents how beautiful and perfect and valuable we all are and how, because of that, compassionate justice is the only answer.

We light the Christ candle because more than two thousand years ago a man was born who showed us that deep in our hearts we have a common vision, purpose, longing and goal. Deep in our hearts we have the Light.

 

Yellow submarine: Faith in what we cannot see

For the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed my evening cup of hot herbal tea in a yellow submarine mug.

The submarine windows remain dark and wave-splashed when the mug is cold.

Yellow submarine mug with darkened windows.

But when I pour in boiling water, Paul McCartney miraculously appears and waves at me.

Yellow submarine mug with Paul McCartney

John, George and Ringo also make their presence known in other windows.

Yellow submarine mug with Ringo Starr

The Beatles stay hidden until I choose to create the right conditions to see them, and then I have to choose to celebrate and appreciate them.

The mug reminds me:

  • If I can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  • When there is something to be revealed, the conditions have to be right.
  • Sometimes I have to make a choice to take action to make those conditions right.
  • And then I have to choose to notice, celebrate and appreciate.
  • I have to trust in what I can’t see as much as what I can.

Faith, hope, peace, joy, love surround me. If they begin to feel distant or elusive, I can pour some warmth on them and notice how they miraculously appear.

 

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

Hammer and nail

“Into God’s temple of eternity,
Drive a nail of gold.
—from In Search of a Soul by Raymond Moriyama

We are renovating our kitchen, so chaos that tests my “patience and my sweet nature,” as a fellow blogger at Becoming put it, surrounds me. The up side (and there’s always an up side) is that I have plenty of fodder for blog ideas.

I sit on my living room sofa contemplating the box of nails left on my coffee table by the contractor. “Common” nails, the box tells me. Ordinaires. Nothing out of the ordinary.

For something so common, they possess golden power. Those “common” nails hold together my kitchen, the heart of my home—providing they work with their friends. One nail can do a job, but only while enduring stress and only for a brief time before letting go from the strain.

Each nail is meant to be a small part of a greater work. 

The “common” nails on my coffee table—the ones that serve their ordinary, powerful purposed so well—are one of many different kinds of nails, all of which serve different ordinary, powerful purposes. Short nails don’t judge themselves against longer ones; they know short nails fit nestle in where long nails would burst through and ruin the result. A galvanized roofing nail does not feel inferior to a brass brad; they know strength and perseverance serve better than beauty out in the elements. Drywall nails appreciate their bumpy, ridged shape ideal for slipping through drywall paper and sinking into the frame, something a finishing nail won’t do.

Nails need help from another source: the hand that wields hammer. Nails on their own lie listlessly in a box awaiting a purpose, awaiting the hand that drives the hammer. When their time comes to shine, they are perfect for the job for which they are chosen: the perfect size, the perfect material, the perfect shape. Golden.

When the hammer strikes the nail, when the work is underway, it doesn’t feel good. It hurts! Fulfilling the purpose is not meant to be a pain-free, comfortable experience.

If I am a nail, common or otherwise, I have a golden purpose for which I am the perfect size, the perfect material, the perfect shape. I am a small part of a greater work.

I know the hand that wields the hammer is with me. I’d better call up some friends.

 

A fly in the ointment

A few dead flies will make even the best perfume stink. In the same way, a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honor. —Ecclesiastes 10:1

I used the expression during a family game of euchre on our summer vacation at the cottage. I had a good hand, and I took the first four of five tricks. But on the last one my daughter snuck in there with a higher card to deprive me of the extra point. “Ah, you were the fly in my ointment,” I said.

“What did you say?” my son asked.

“I said that she was the fly in my ointment.”

“I thought that’s what you said. What does that mean?”

“Have you never heard that expression before?”

“No.”

I turned to my daughter, “Have you?”

“No.”

Her boyfriend was in the room? “Have you?”

“No.” He looked mystified.

I started to wonder if I’d been saying something wrong over the years, or if the expression was one of those unique to the Ottawa Valley where I grew up. The Valley has many quaint but not universally shared expressions. I turned to my husband, “Have you heard of that?” He nodded that he had. Phew, I thought. I’m not losing my mind!

“What does it mean?” my son asked again.

I thought it would have been obvious, but apparently not. I said, “Well, it’s the dark spot in something that is otherwise perfect, or a damaging element in something that is otherwise healing. One small thing that harms a big good thing, or is just plain annoying.”

“That makes no sense. How could a fly get in the ointment anyway? It’s in a tube,” my daughter said.

Ah ha! We’d hit the stumbling block. People of my generation can envision a vat or tub of ointment with a dark fly in the light colour, buy in the mind’s eye of people my daughter’s age, ointment comes only in a tube.

“At the time the expression came to be ointment came in pots or tubs,” I said. “Picture a container of white ointment with a dark fly in it.”

“But why would you care if you had a fly in your ointment?” my daughter insisted.

Why do I care if there’s a fly in my ointment? Because a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honour, and there is foolishness going on right now that is ruining much wisdom and honour.

I know the negative thoughts and actions taking place all around us these days don’t represent the thoughts and actions of most people, but they’re flies in the ointment. Those few people who say them, think them, act on them make life stink to high heaven for all of us. The dark spots in an otherwise happy world, the damaging elements in an otherwise healing world, the small stains blemish the big picture.

Out damned spot!

 

 

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