Category Archives: spirituality

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.

 

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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

Thank you: Fair and softly goes far

From the Charter for Compassion Facebook page:

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We feel the influence of the United States of America here in Canada. When “sleeping with an elephant,” as former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau put it, we cannot help but feel the effects. Sometimes the association challenges us—the past year has been eyebrow-raising to say the least—but most often we celebrate the gifts of the mighty nation. Like this week, for example. Even though our Canadian Thanksgiving is long past, this week we sense the American time of gratitude. Knowing that our friends to the south are taking time to be thankful reminds us to seek it out ourselves.

We practised a “heart of the matter” form of gratitude in our house during the period within our kitchen renovation when the sink had no running water. Inconvenient, right? You betcha. But when we walked the ten feet to one of the FOUR bathrooms in our house to turn on a tap to access CLEAN, ACCESSIBLE water effortlessly, we said to ourselves, “We didn’t have to walk for miles with a bucket to fetch water that might or might not be potable.” Gratitude for the ease with which we accessed a substance so vital to survival made the inconvenience of doing dishes in a small sink something to celebrate, not resent.

Gratitude brings joy, for sure, but the real gift of gratitude is its bridge to perseverance, its ability to help you go far in celebration instead of resentment. It places you in a Now that allows you to make it to the next Now, and the next, and the next . . .

Now, America, fair and softly, thank you. Now, now, now . . .

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!

 

 

Following the urge to be artists, or how we can astonish ourselves

I felt I had to follow up my previous blog about the never-ending story with this post on a similar theme.

I was a pre-school playgroup leader for a time when my children were young. For each day’s session I prepared a craft for the kids. I cut out all the bits and pieces so I could give each child with exactly the same materials. I made a sample of the craft so I could hold it up for all to see.

“This is what we’re making,” I said before setting them lose to create.

If there were 15 kids in the group, at the end there would be 15 completely different crafts.

I admired (and envied) how freely those children followed their artist souls and created without apprehensions about what other people might think. I loved how they danced with excitement with their finished products in hand, no matter what they looked like.

A workshop at the writers’ conference I attended recently reminded me of this.

In the workshop led by Cordelia Strube  we worked together to come up with a particular set of circumstances and characters, and then we each wrote individually for about 20 minutes. After the time was up we shared our work.

If there were 20 of us in the group, there were 20 completely different stories.

Once handed the common building materials, each of us scanned them to see what resonated with us individually. We attacked the story from starting points and viewpoints that felt right to us.

Writers in a workshop setting strive to be like those children doing crafts: honouring our artist souls and opening to inspiration, ideas and images, unimpeded by barriers and apprehensions. When we succeed at this, the work we come up with amazes us—shocks us, even—because it’s better than anything we could have foreseen in advance, with all our adult barriers in place.

When we get out of the way of our artist soul, the spirit of the work is good. True.

Astonishing, every time.

 

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