Category Archives: spirituality

Bam! Lessons from a child

Monday evening is the regular “library time” for a father and a small boy, and those two are the highlight of my week.

At the time of their visit to the library where I work, I am in the room that houses the book drop. I hear through the door the murmur of their voices and the scraping of a step-stool being pulled into position. The child’s feet climb up one step on the stool and then another as he prepares for his book return ritual.

“Thank you, book. Good-bye,” he says to the first book. He pushes it through the slot. “Bam!” he shouts.

He performs this small ceremony for every book. He returns 10 to 15 books, on average, so his process takes some time. If there are people waiting behind him, he doesn’t adjust his pace; he savours his moment.

I stop whatever I’m doing and savour his moment too. I smile widely.

This child shows me:

  1. He respects and cherishes books.
  2. He expresses gratitude.
  3. He knows how to “be here now.”
  4. He celebrates each moment with a Bam!

Some lessons for all of us, from a child.

Bam!

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

One of my favourite books.

What to bring to a zombie apocalypse? Stories

“. . . the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.'” —Anthony De Mello

Perhaps there’s a simple explanation for our society’s current fascination with zombies: We are living with them right now. Something to think about anyway, according to the moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell.

At our Easter service on Sunday, the minister at my church brought to our attention a podcast interview with our moderator. During an Illuminate Faith interview, Cantwell was asked by a participant at a youth forum what she would bring to a zombie apocalypse.

I can’t imagine she could have been prepared for a question like that, so I give her kudos for providing the best spontaneous answer to an unexpected question I think I’ve ever heard.

“I think we’re in a zombie apocalypse,” she said. 

She described zombies as beings who appear alive but who are kind of dead. The “walking dead” can be . . “anything that sucks the hope and the life out of us . . .”

Cantwell suggests we can find walking deadness in ourselves and on the streets.

I’ve seen it in myself. Have you? I can think of a few people who live almost exclusively in walking deadness. Can you?

The zombies that surround us “drag us into the illusion that life is miserable, that the world is falling apart . . .” and they “suck others into their living deadness.”

And what does Cantwell bring to the apocalypse? Stories.

Zombies, she says, “believe in the power of death as stronger than the power of life and of love,” and stories refute that belief. Stories of compassion and faith feed energy and life back into ourselves and our streets.

Cantwell made her observations in the context of our Christian Easter—a story that involves missing corpses and life after death—but I think they apply to all people in all places at all times. Stories of compassion and faith don’t eliminate the reality of death for all people in all places at all times, but they do feed energy and life back into those people. 

“. . . even when death does its worst, God’s got another chapter.” —Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell


Listen to the full Illuminate Faith podcast here: http://illumin8faith.com/files/archive-april-2017.html

I know they’re millennials and I’m old, but . . . I need depth of moment

Skaters arrived in my city and hurled themselves down a steep, curving ice track at speeds of more than 50 km/h.

crashed ice starting gate

Crashed Ice starting gate with the Chateau Laurier in the background

The ice cross downhill athletes performed the feat on a track constructed in a breathtaking setting beside the historic Chateau Laurier and inside the Rideau Canal lock system. Who knows if anything like it will ever happen again in Ottawa?

Red Bull® Crashed Ice was an event not to be missed.

Off we went on Friday night. The sky lit up for miles around with the flashing light show. The bridge on which we stood over the Rideau Canal vibrated with the thumpa-thumpa of the non-stop pumping music. We craned our necks to see over the huge crowds and tried to figure out what was going on. We needed to deduce the action for ourselves because the young announcers for the event failed to live up to the basic requirements of their job description; that is, letting the spectators know what is happening. Information arrived to us in spotty patches. Skaters flew out of the starting gate with no warning. We didn’t know who most of the skaters were, where they were from or even what event they were skating in. I’d guess that five of eight skaters had backflipped down the track before the announcer informed us it was the semi-finals of the freestyle event. The commentary consisted mainly of “Whoa! Wow man.”

The Bytown Museum lit up with Crashed Ice lights

The Bytown Museum lit up with Crashed Ice lights

In the end, I didn’t marvel as long as one might expect over the daring of skaters who, by choice, (no one shoved them from behind off the starting block or anything) leaped off a precipitous ledge into a steep, icy hairpin turn. I didn’t gape at their breakneck (literally) speed.

Instead I mused about how we as a human race seem to be losing depth of moment

No need to know or remember the names, the inconsistent commentary seemed to suggest: You can Google everything later. Were you looking down at your Twitter feed when a skater whizzed by? No worries. It’ll probably be on YouTube.

Before the Internet, before search engines and social media, the announcers of such an event would have felt the weight of their responsibilities. They would have known that they were the sole, fleeting source of information about the happenings unfolding in the moment. They would have felt some urgency to get the 5 Ws and the How to the spectators at the time. Our younger don’t feel the same pressures.

We are drifting away from “living in the moment” toward “living in the moment we look up later.” 

I know they’re millennials and I’m old, but I like to live fully in the now with all the information I need for that moment.

I won’t need to look anything up later. I’ll be too busy enjoying the next fantastic deep moment. 

The Crashed Ice track under construction in the Rideau Canal lock system, with the Chateau Laurier in the background

The Crashed Ice track under construction in the Rideau Canal lock system, with the Chateau Laurier in the background

 

 

 

 

Asking is better than wishing

wishing-for-windI work part-time at a local library. Almost every day I witness a scene like this:

A child about 7 or 8 years old enters with a parent.

“Mommy (or Daddy), do they have books about (dinosaurs . . . Lego . . . dolphins . . .),” the child says.

“You’ll have to ask,” the parent replies.

The child slinks behind the parent’s leg. “You ask.”

“No, you go ahead,” the parent urges. “It’s okay. They won’t bite.”

The child peers out from behind the leg and faces the scary prospect of talking to an adult.

Last week a scenario exactly like that unfolded right beside me. As I worked I heard a young boy ask his father about a book. His father told him to ask me. The boy took some time to work up his nerve. He said:

“Do you have The Mysterious Benedict Society?

“Yes!” I said. “Right over here.” We walked together to pick up the book he wanted.

“See?” his father said. “Asking is better than wishing.”

The boy and his father left with the book and I went back to work thinking, What excellent life advice: Asking is better than wishing.

The rest of the afternoon I pondered, Have I been wishing for things without doing the asking? Could receiving those things be as simple as voicing the request?

Something to think about: Asking is better than wishing. 

Lopsided and discombobulated

I made the decision. I took the first step. An unforeseen event blindsided me.

Now I’m feeling lopsided and discombobulated.

The decision: Lens exchange eye surgery to improve my vision.

The first step: The operation on my right eye. (They do the left eye next week.)

The unforeseen event: The sudden death of the woman who was the child and youth minister at our church. Sarah was 34 years old, the mother of two young boys.

I am typing this with one eye closed as I deal with the day-to-day of lopsided vision. I’m typing this with eulogies from Sarah’s heartbroken father and husband running in a discombobulated jumble through my mind. I’m typing this feeling like I can’t see clearly and I can’t pin down the best words.

But then, I remember a theme that ran through the reflections on Sarah’s life:

Everyone does what they can.

Maybe writing about feeling lopsided and discombobulated will help someone. I hope so, because for today it’s what I can do.

A post that a friend of Sarah's shared with her on her Facebook page.

A post that a friend of Sarah’s shared with her on her Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday traditions and why you may, or may not, need a cat

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.

cat

I see the divine spark in Waffles’ eyes 🙂

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