Category Archives: spirituality

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!

 

 

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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.

 

The never-ending story

In a recent Sunday school class the kids and I played the “Let’s take turns telling a story” game.

I started them off with a character and a general setting and then we took turns with each person around the circle adding new characters, scenes and twists to the story. Plot development by plot development the story unfolded.

Often the ideas that other people came up with surprised us. We’d think to ourselves, “I didn’t see THAT coming.”

At a particularly challenging point in the story, one girl appeared stumped for ideas. She jokingly said, “The end.” But she quickly brushed that aside. “No, no, no,” she said. She gave the matter more thought and came up with an idea.

Sometimes we tried to think ahead so when our turn came we’d be ready. But then the person ahead of us would send the story off in a whole different unexpected direction. We’d have to adapt and think again.

Usually we’d panic a little when our turn arrived. We’d think, “Oh no. What am I going to say?” Once we set the panic aside, an answer always came.

We talked about all this after. We talked about how:

  • Life, like our story, is full of surprises. How often do we say, “I didn’t see that coming!”
  • It’s good to plan ahead but we need to be ready when things go off in a whole different direction. Be open and ready to respond to whatever comes.
  • Sometimes we want to give up. But carrying on is always more satisfying.
  • Panic paralyzes. Calm produces.
  • Working together is way more fun and interesting than puzzling through it on our own.

From this we can remind ourselves not to be surprised by the weird, unexpected plot developments in our lives and to be ready for anything. We can find the determination to never give up, not to panic, and to find some friends to make it interesting.

Have fun living your story.

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

 

 

 

 

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