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.