Category Archives: modern faith
A theme ran through my conversations this weekend: darkness.
We skied at Mont Tremblant, QC on Friday, swooshing in and around magical tree sculptures created when large wet snow flakes followed quickly after freezing rain.
The mountaintops for miles around glistened with the fairy-like creations. The unusual accumulation on the wires also made the ziplines of the Mont Tremblant Zipline and Tree Course stand out against the clear blue sky. Our skiing friends told us how they had navigated those ziplines on a summer trip. They went on to talk about a different ziplining adventure at the Louisville Mega Cavern where the ziplines run underground. At Mega Cavern brave souls stand on platforms and contemplate leaps into darkness. They must decide on faith to leap, or not, when they cannot see where they’re going.
Darkness is full of uncertainties, but taking the plunge into the mysterious unknown strengthens our faith.
On Sunday morning our minister spoke in her Epiphany reflection about overcoming fear of darkness. She spoke about dualities where one extreme as perceived as being more favourable than another—reason/emotion, adult/child, light/dark—and how we can re-think those perceptions. She referred to the opening paragraphs of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, where the author writes about children being summoned back to the family home before dark, the fearful gathering in of loved ones to protect them from that which lurks in the dark. Our minister also talked about how, in the new children’s book The Darkest Dark, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield faced his childhood fear of the dark.
Darkness is scary, but when Hadfield learned to embrace darkness as the place of dreams and possibilities, his dreams came true.
“For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark. And, he realized, you’re never really alone there. Your dreams are always with you, just waiting. Big dreams, about the kind of person you want to be.” —From The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield
Later Sunday afternoon, I went to the movie theatre with friends to see Hidden Figures. I don’t remember what led our conversation in the direction of darkness, but somehow the theme reappeared. “I’m not good in the dark,” one friend observed. “I would not be comfortable with that.” A few minutes after that brief conversation, the theatre lights dimmed and we all sat—quite comfortably—in the dark. The darkness made the enjoyment of the movie possible. Without light, the picture was clear, not washed out. Any light—from a cell phone, for example—would have been an unwelcome distraction. At a movie theatre, dark is good, light in the wrong place is bad. At a movie theatre, like a person wielding a flashlight in the dark, the light shines only on what is most important.
Darkness makes us uncomfortable, but it narrows our focus to a sparkling clarity of what’s important in any given moment and let’s us choose where to shine the beam.
At this time of year where I live in Ottawa, Canada we wake up in the morning and prepare for work in darkness. We leave our offices at the end of the day in darkness. We have to work to appreciate the gifts this season of growing light brings to us.
We have to choose gratitude for the faith, for the dreams, and for the focused, sparkling clarity.
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.
It makes my shoulders rise and my teeth clench to I hear God-ness referred to as “he.” To me, there’s something misguided about that.
It’s not because I hate men or have suffered trauma at their hands; I haven’t. And I don’t have father issues; my father was what everyone would describe as a “good man.”
Describing God as “he” feels inadequate to me, off target. Dangerous even. It’s like referring to gravity as “he.”
To me, making God a “he” personifies something that cannot, and should not, be personified. It turns the Source, the Manifesting Force, the Creative Essence of our natural world into the Old Man in the Sky, and that causes all kinds of problems. The minute we personify God-ness we give a non-human force completely inappropriate human intentions.
The Old Man in the Sky can be blamed for things, thanked for things, asked for things.
We would not consider blaming gravity for an airplane that falls out of the sky, and we would not assume that gravity had evil intent. We would not thank gravity for holding our TV on the stand while we binge watch The Crown, and we would not assume it had done so as a special reward for our goodness. We would not ask gravity to alter its natural state to accommodate our favourite sports team and keep that home run ball from sailing over the fence.
Good things and bad things happen that involve gravity, but we don’t blame or thank gravity for those events. We simply accept. We don’t personify gravity, and so it goes about being gravity without everyone making judgments about it.
We can’t change gravity, but we have learned to work with it and to leverage it for our purposes. Accepting it and understanding it helps us to navigate through our world more effectively. We can choose to not believe in gravity, sure, but we’ll stick to the ground just the same.
Good things and bad things happen in our ever-creating world, and I believe we shouldn’t blame or thank God for those events. Simply accept. If we don’t personify God-ness, it can go about evolving and creating our world without everyone making judgments about it.
We can’t change God-ness, our creative source, but we can learn to align with the flow and leverage it for our purposes. By accepting it and understanding it we can navigate through our world more effectively. We can choose not to believe in God-ness, sure, but we were created, we will keep creating our whole lives, and we’ll create something else when we’re gone just the same.
If you ask me, an Old Man in the Sky has nothing to do with it.
Advent. Something’s coming. Get ready.
At our house on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light Advent candles during a pre-dinner ritual: candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love lit one by one in a countdown to Christmas. Most of those candle-lightings take place at our dining room table. Quiet, dignified affairs.
Not the first one.
As it happens, the first Sunday of Advent falls on the same date as an important sporting event: the Grey Cup. [For non-Canadians, that is the final game to determine the championship of the Canadian Football League (CFL). ] As it happens, a group of neighbourhood friends traditionally gathers at our house to eat unhealthy food, drink beer and watch the Grey Cup game. [For non-Canadians, think Superbowl party.]
We don’t let the raucous game and the noisy gathering get in the way of our ritual. At some point in the evening—at the time it feels right—we still the TV, quiet the conversation and we take the time to be peaceful, to appreciate each other’s friendship and to light the candle of Hope. Sometimes the team we’re cheering for wins and sometimes the team loses, but there is always Hope. Something’s coming. Get ready. Then it’s back to nachos, ribs, beer and raucous cheering.
The Grey Cup and the lighting of the candle of Hope have become so linked in my mind that if the CFL ever decided to change the date of the final I would have to take a moment during the game to light a candle just because. I would have to take a moment to remember, there’s always Hope.
Yesterday our hometown Ottawa REDBLACKS played in the Grey Cup. They were the underdogs, a long-shot to win against a Calgary Stampeders team that dominated the league all season. We took our quiet time to light the candle of Hope after the first quarter. Our team was ahead, but against Calgary a lead did not feel comfortable. We lit the candle.
Hope. Something’s coming. Get ready.
Against the odds the Ottawa REDBLACKS won in an overtime nail-biter. We jumped around the living room. We cheered. We blew our air horn on the street.
There’s always hope. Something’s coming. Get ready.
Just for fun, you’ll want to see these spectacular photos of the game the REDBLACKS played in the snow the previous Sunday. LIFE IN A SNOW GLOBE: EASTERN FINAL THROUGH THE LENS OF LANDON ENTWISTLE