Category Archives: modern faith
Last year I was part of a group that drafted a new mission statement for our church. One of our biggest questions? What word to use to describe the “awesomeness.”
God? A turn-off to too many people. The Holy? People said to us, “What does that even mean?” Spirit? Conjures up images of ghosts. Source? Doesn’t quite cover it. Creator? Edges into the whole evolution/intelligent design controversy.
We settled on The Divine. This did not go unchallenged. Grammar purists argued, “Divine is an adjective.” Others thought it too vague. It’s not perfect, but it was as close as we could come to capturing the elusive, thin-place feeling of Perfect Moments.
And what is a Perfect Moment?
It’s different for everyone, and never the same twice. If you try for it, it escapes your grasp. But you know it when it descends upon you unbidden. It doesn’t have to be in an Ashram or in deep meditation, although it can be. It happens in grocery stores, restaurants or (often) on a walk in the woods. Usually it is deceptively simple, so that when it’s over, people wonder, “Did that really happen?”
We celebrate New Year’s Eve with a group of friends. One New Year’s Eve, many years ago, we met as usual, relaxed together, and our children entertained each other in the play room. We gathered around the kitchen table. Through ceiling-high windows that lined one wall of the room, I watched inch-wide snow flakes drifting down and settling into fluffy banks. Christmas tree lights reflected in the glass. Children’s laughter wafted to us from a distance. The moment began to take on a special quality of timelessness, almost a buzzing. I felt part of the scene and apart from it. A witness. I looked at the snow, the lights, my friends, and I thought, “This is a Perfect Moment.”
I savoured it until the special quality dissipated with that noticeable shift back to reality and then moved on. I thought the moment was mine alone.
Later, one of my friends told me, “You know, I remember one New Year’s Eve, we were in the kitchen and the snow was falling, and the kids were playing and for a short time I was struck by how perfect the moment was.”
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t believe that we had shared the Perfect Moment, the thin place, the awesomeness, together.
It might have come from God, Spirit, Creator or Source, and it felt Holy, but it was above all, Divine.
Read our mission statement here: http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/about-trinity/momentum-for-mission/
“Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.” —from Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Don Wimmer and Pat Brady, creators of the Rose is Rose comic strip, must have studied Shakespeare at some point in their lives. Their work on October 12, 2002 reflects their philosophical reflection on Hamlet’s statement.
Perspective certainly does play a role in our “thinking” about the goodness or badness of an event. My Ottawa Senators NHL team lost their game last night: Bad. For fans of the Carolina Hurricanes: Good.
Rachel Homan’s curling team lost by one point in an extra end at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts curling event last night. Rachel is from Ottawa: Bad. For the Manitoban fans of the Jennifer Jones winning team: Good.
Time also dabbles with our “thinking”. A lost job: Bad. A better job comes along as a result: Good. An ugly divorce: Bad. A happy, stable relationship later in life: Good.
But when our tails get stepped on, like the cat in the comic strip, it doesn’t feel good. And in the time immediately after the stomping when the tail still smarts, we are entitled to enjoy the pain. To Hamlet, Denmark was a prison. To me, every Ottawa Senators loss hurts and every Rachel Homan team win is a joy.
So be it.
“Faith and fear have something in common. They both ask us to believe something will happen that we cannot see.” —Joel Osteen
Why is it so easy to accept fear-based dire predictions, but so difficult to believe in faith-based hope?
Why is there such societal pressure to go with fear instead of faith? Why are we so resistant to the idea of looking like a hopeful fool?
Joel Osteen has a point. Maybe the odds are 50/50 in any given situation? Maybe we should run with the faith option instead of succumbing to the grip of fear?
Maybe we’ll end up saying “I had faith that would happen,” instead of “I was afraid that would happen.”
“Onward” by Donald Smith © 2014
In Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, Dr. Eben Alexander describes the near-death experience (NDE) that granted him a glimpse of heaven. The circumstances of his brush with death differ from those of other people who reported NDE visions of heaven. In most cases, the patients’ hearts stop, or they stop breathing, but the part of their brains capable of creating visions remains functional. In Dr. Alexander’s case, bacterial meningitis shut down that vital visioning part of his brain.
Before his rare and serious illness, Dr. Alexander relied on a purely scientific view of the world. He did not give credence to near-death visions of heaven, because he credited the brain with, somehow or other, sparking the realistic images.
Then this man of science lost brain function and found an expanded view of life. After he made his unprecedented and unexpected complete recovery, he wrote about the spectacular experience.
Many aspects of his story warrant attention, but I particularly liked the phrases of reassurance he received from a beautiful heavenly girl:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.
You have nothing to fear.
There is nothing you can do wrong.”
No matter what any of us think of heaven—whether we think of it as a place, or a vibration, or a state of mind, or a figment of the imagination, or a threat wielded by organized religion to scare people into being “good”—no matter what any of us think, we can still choose to settle those phrases into our hearts as truths.
That one simple act would make the world a happier place, I think.
“In my past view, spiritual wasn’t a word that I would have employed during a scientific conversation. Now I believe it is a word that we cannot afford to leave out.”
—Eben Alexander, M.D.
Are you a clutterbug? Do you hate to part with things that are “perfectly good” in case you need them later?
In Mapping The Soulscape Of Spiritual Practice: How Contemplating Apples, Living In A Cave, And Befriending A Dying Woman Revived My Life, Michael Yankoski writes about how spiritual practices re-balanced his out-of-kilter life.
He consulted a spiritual adviser who recommended the spiritual practice of de-cluttering. Yankoski began to tackle the extraneous items in his house, sifting through them and deciding which to keep and which to recycle or donate elsewhere. Between bouts of de-cluttering, he worked in his plot at a community garden where he nurtured tomato plants and other vegetables. Near his plot, another more experienced gardener watched his efforts and worried that Yankoski’s tomato plants were getting a little unwieldy. The wise gardener recommended pruning to produce a higher yield of higher quality vegetables. Yankoski hesitated. He hated to heartlessly lop off “perfectly good” stems from his plants. How could removing potential fruit-producing branches help his plant?
He conducted an experiment. He pruned some tomato plants according to the wise gardener’s instructions, and he left the rest to grow at will. At harvest time, the pruned plants bloomed with a hearty crop of luscious tomatoes.The other plants produced much fewer fruit of lower quality.
When he applied the same principle to the de-cluttering of his house, he felt the same surge of energy the luscious tomatoes on the pruned vines felt. Without clutter to clog up his thoughts and his movements, he took better care of what was there and appreciated it more. Like his tomato plant, without extraneous branches to deplete energy and resources, he had more nutrients to nourish the rest.
Sometimes it feels wrong to get rid of the “perfectly good.” What if it could be useful someday? But pruning off branches and composting them to feed other plants is like pruning our “perfectly good” clothing, furniture or other household items and delivering them to others who really need them. The pruning serves both us and the recipient.
Do your belongings nourish you or deplete you? Maybe a little pruning is in order. It might hurt a little, it might feel counter-intuitive, but expect to feel a surge of energy at the end of the day.
The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski http://www.thomasnelson.com/the-sacred-year
epiph·a·ny: noun \i-ˈpi-fə-nē\
: a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus
: a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way
– definition from http://www.merriam-webster.com
Epiphany: a time to contemplate moments from our past when sudden shafts of light of understanding remove shadows from events or concepts. Epiphany moments make us pause; they bring us up short. Sometimes they send the path of our life off in a direction 90° from where it was moments before. Sometimes we raise our hands high in the air and shout with the joy of illumination. Sometimes we spend some time thinking and absorb the new information into our brain library.
I’m sure you remember such moments in your own life. Everyone has some.
I had a small one earlier this week. A friend of mine is undergoing cancer treatments, and in a recent Facebook post he shared some details of his radiation treatment experience. He chose to share the information widely to answer to the inquiries he receives, and I expect the sharing had therapeutic value for him too.
In his post he wrote about being bolted down and inserted into the radiation machine. He speculated about what a challenge the small space would be for people who are claustrophobic. “Thanks fully I’m not,” he wrote.
When I was reading his post I paused at this point. The phrase brought me up short. He could have written “Thankfully I’m not,” but he didn’t. His way of writing that phrase conveyed the depth of his gratitude in a way that the words “thank” and “fully” crammed together would not.
Joining those two words together diminishes each one; together they are not stronger, but weaker.
I have spent some time thinking about this new information, and I have absorbed it into my brain library.
In future, when my gratitude is deep, when I want to use the strongest phrasing to convey it, I will let “thanks” and “fully” stand alone in their power.
A small epiphany prompted by a friend facing big challenges. Thanks fully.