Tag Archives: spirituality

Only in the Very Cold…

This week was frigidly cold, but the sky was deep blue, the sundogs were short but brilliant….and we even had moondogs. Who knew?

(For those who’ve never lived west of the Great Lakes -I’ve never saw them east of there…- sundogs are these parenthesis-type brackets of rainbows around the sun.  On Really Cold days, I’ve seen them so they almost form a circle around the pulsating globe of yellow.  Moondogs are the same…except at night.  And, as Tom Hanks’ character, Larry Crowne, would say “Spec-tak-u-lar!”

To me, they feel like a prize for enduring the extra-deep cold.  Because (I think) they only come with the bone-chilling cold, they are an unexpected gift.  They pull me out of myself, making me notice the beauty, and fill me with awe that such beauty can only come after the very cold.  (I suppose that after a walk outside a great mug of fair-trade hot chocolate has a similar effect.)

It’s a reminder to me, too, that the tough bits of life will pass, like a cocoon.  Life always pushes through, coaxing good out from the bad.  We can’t appreciate the good, the beauty, the light, unless we’ve endured the pain, the ugliness, the darkness that we all experience from time to time (or more often then that).  That’s a hope I hold onto through those times in life that feel like I’m mired down in take-your-boot-off mud; fearing the one slip that will take me under.

My faith tradition has these images of hope as a recurring theme: rainbows after floods, return after being exiled from that place we call ‘home’, feasts after famine, resurrection after crucifixion, the world made new overcoming one so corrupt and violent.

What images and stories do you find yourself drawing on to maintain hope during those times in life that make you feel weighed down or drowning?

Those stories and images, and the moondogs, come to me as gifts to my soul when I have those days.  This is all a kind of grace; and yes, it is amazing.

I’ve seen it work from the other end, too.  When you listen to someone’s story and validate their humanity.  (That’s sort of behind #MeToo), or do something very ordinary for someone unexpectedly, or smile at a stranger.  Hmm another grace: we are not alone.

I’m starting a 6-week block called Lent.  It’s a time for nurturing the soul, noticing these everyday gifts of grace. How each day lengthens by a mere 2 minutes…but it feels like a weight being lifted as sunrise comes earlier and sunset comes later.   For me, Lent’s a time of making space in the busy-ness, and the business, of daily living to stop and notice.  It fills the soul, this awareness.

It reminds me Life is a gift.  It is a source of immense beauty, and awe.  And if I stop long enough, and respond to that grace, I find I am in relationship with the Holy, and am Beloved.  The second gift of Lent is that it makes me to wrestle with this question: what does it mean that I am God’s beloved?

 

Found the feature image on Google Images; it’s from fineartamerica.com

Advertisements

I did what last night??

It amazes me the things I get up to….or how somene’s health situation is progressing (or deteriorating.  I’ve been embarrassed (more than once) aksing someone how they’re doing, only to discover they’ve not been seriously ill.   I’ve been embarrassed about things I’m supposed to have done.  It’s laughable, except that, truly, it’s not.

In small communities, faith groups, clusters of friends, it is important that we care about one another, and sharing pertinent information is reasonable.

When we are living our life with a spiritual lens on, we know we are all connected.  We build relationships grounded in mutual care and trust.  It makes sense that we would be concerned about one another; it makes sense to share information.  But there is a point at which ‘caring conversation’ becomes gossip.   Sometimes it’s hurtful; sometimes it’s wrong.  Sometimes it breaks trust and the relationship becomes damaged or irreparable; that what makes it dangerous.   Where do you make that line between “caring” and “gossip”?

Shared information needs to be trustworthy.  It needs to be shared for the benefit of the person being referred to.  It needs to spur action.  It needs to be shaped by love.

So here’s how I draw my “line”.  First, No Matter who is doing the telling, or the hearing:

                             If it is told in confidence, it is not to be shared. Period.

                            Who benefits from this information being shared?

When it is me who is telling:

  1. I need to know this from the person directly, or from someone who has heard it directly from them.
  2. Do I have the person’s permission to share this information? Are some parts ‘for public consumption’ and others that are clearly private?
  3. If someone is in hospitable I only share that with their express permission, and never why.
  4. Who needs to know this information? Can it, should it, be spread widely?
  5. What will we do, collectively, with this information?

How many of us want our lives spread out on the sidewalk? We all know people who share what they know – or what they think they know – without thinking much about it.  The rub is that if I’m listening to it, I am part of the spreading of it.  I need to ask myself: do I need to know this information?  Would I want this information about me shared with people I did not choose? What will I do with this information that is helpful to the person?

gossip sydenhamcurrentIt’s trickier, though, when I determine NO I don’t need to know this, or it’s inappropriate to share.  I believe most people don’t gossip on purpose; I think they want to be known as the “Person Who Knows Things”.   Relationships are on the line – both with the subject and the speaker.  That’s a finer balance.  If it’s based on caring, I wonder if I ought to interrupt the speaker and say “I don’t think we need to know this” before the information gets out?  Would it be more polite to ask those criteria questions after the speaker is finished?  What about when it clearly has no beneficial purpose?

How do you stop gossip before it gets a life of it’s own?

Cover Versions

I’m not at my best first thing in the morning…so as I stumbled around to make tea and find clothes that matched (enough) I heard this song.  I thought “I know that song. Don’t I?”  It was very weird, discombobulating even, because I knew the song, but it wasn’t the song that I knew.   It made the song compelling.   I heard words I hadn’t heard before. The tone was different.  Was it a different song?  Or just different but familiar?  Not that the original version was bad (‘cos it’s not!) but this version opened up the song to me in a whole new way.

It’s a perfect image of conversations about how we share faith stories. Is it, or isn’t it, helpful to share favourite faith stories if they are set to a new tone, tune, and interpretation?  Same words, different tune.  Take Christian stories, for example.  We can use the same words but interpretation changes make it sound like a whole new story.  Why is that so often dismissed as ‘wrong’?  If we don’t like the new interpretation does that mean that it shouldn’t exist?

This is like Belonging Part 2.  Who gets to decide which interpretation makes sense?  That’s part of what’s created the hundreds of different Christian denominations.  These stories of our faith are sharing an experience of Holy Mystery.  If they are to trying to put into words a moment of sacred encounter for which words are insufficient, is a person obliged to sing them to the same tune that has been used for dozens or hundreds of years? Or can they create a new song to sing that tell the same story?  Why would anyone say that some stories may not be shared with a new tone?  Same words, different tune.

Whether it’s brand new music, or old music rediscovered, this new, or new-to-me, interpretation doesn’t negate other interpretations.  It simply offers a new way of hearing good news that I am loved and I belong for who I am, where I am, how I am.  Why would anyone want to stifle that?

Over the centuries there’s been new interpretations that have been censured.  Copernicus: who ever thought the Earth moved around the Sun?  How absurd.  John Wycliffe & William Tyndale: who has the right to translate sacred story into the vulgur vernacular?  Burn those books!  Lydia Gruchy: How can women have anything of value to say from a pulpit?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘religionless Christianity’.   Have you ever heard the Blind Boys of Alabama sing “Away in the manger”? Class dismissed.

While not all covers of songs resonate with us, some aren’t that great musically. But there’s no denying the song comes to life in a whole new way. So if Indigo Girls can sing a Dire Straits song, or Elise LeGrow can sing ‘Who do you love?’ in a whole new way* …why can’t Bishop Spong, Richard Rohr, even gretta vosper, or me, share the old story with different tunes that resonate with us?

You don’t have to like it, just like you may not like a denomination’s way of worshipping.  But I’m not sure any of us are allowed to say that cover versions don’t belong in the songbook.

* Radio 2 Morning plays Under the Covers every morning. Thanks Raina.   And thanks to, ironically lyriquediscorde.com for the featured image.

Be-longing

Lately (literally 4 times this week, at least once a week in the past 3 months, and frequently during my 4-month hiatus this Fall) I’ve been confronted by the question “What does it mean to Belong?”  I’ve not come to a solid conclusion yet, so bear with me.   belonging Lucy

But it haunts me, this question. I have assented to statements of ‘faith’ and not felt I’ve belonged to The Group.  Like other healthy persons, I long to belong….but not at any price.   I’ve had profound experiences of truly ‘belonging’ to the Holy even when – sometimes even because – I do not agree with a statement laid down by The Organization.  I’ve felt nearly dead when I’ve felt I had to leave a group (more than once) because to be true to myself I came to a place of saying “I don’t agree” with whatever the “Belong” requirement was.  Conclusion: Assent  Belonging.  On the other hand, can a person belong without giving assent to a group’s shared statement of purpose?

When it comes to having the right, or responsibility, to be part of the decision-making, ought there to be a check-list of who belongs?

There are implied rights, and responsibilities, to belonging.  One gets to be part of the decision-making, but is it enough to attend events, or volunteer, or financially support an organization?  Is frequency or quantity thereof part of the criteria?  Think Citizenship; maybe not?  Think Firefighters; maybe not?  Think political party…golf club…sports team.  Do I belong to an arts community, or music band, if I do not produce art?  Or share an understanding of what “art” or “music” is?  Do I belong if I don’t show up to work/practise days? to performance dates or exhibitions? Does belonging hinge on the payment of fees, or contributing financially to the maintenance costs?

Does the criteria for belonging change if the organization is about support and care rather than production?  Can anyone be in on decision-making for a hospital, or service agency, for example? What about belonging to a family?  Does one still belong without showing up to family events? Can a neighbour belong to the family if they spend more time, or eat, at that house more than at their own? Is belonging to a family dependent on agreeing with a set of values?

If Spirituality is about connection, community, belonging,  do the criteria change?   Is belonging more than assent to a statement of faith? more than participation? more than finances?  Is it any less than any of things?

This is not a vague question. In my work we are coming up to weeks of decision-making meetings and sometimes who gets to votes is determined by who ‘belongs’?   It matters, this notion of belonging, because it feels like it also determines who is valued, who gets to make decisions? And I’m not sure those are the same thing.

I heard recently that belonging is about feeling comfortable to be yourself, to make a contribution to the well-being of the whole.

How do you understand what it means to ‘belong”?

belonging cycle bhma…More food for thought

from British Holistic Medical Association

 

Should I stay or should I go?*

This bright, sunny, wintery day, I was driving to a scheduled activity, tight on time as usual, when my eye caught this really bright – silvery – light to the south of me.  I didn’t think there was water, buildings or bins there, so what was that light?  I was fascinated, drawn in, by it.  I had to make a choice: do I stay with The Plan, or follow that light wherever it led me?  I was really torn, quite anxious actually.  What would you have done?

Everyone at some point is faced with an unexpected opportunity that will disruptstay or go pinterest our usual lives but draws us in; and it’s a form of spiritual crisis.  First, we have to be not so focused on what we are doing (yes, I am saying that), so nose-to-the-grindstone, that we miss them.  Then we have to question our assumptions and criteria deciding whether to risk all that we know for the possibility of something we don’t.  Not all bright lights are worth pursuing, so how does a person discern which opportunities, or lights, to investigate?

There’s story in my faith tradition about scholars who study the sky, see this “new, bright light”, realize its potential and pursue it.   On the side of that windy country road I thought of that story and I realized that the travelers in this story are spiritual giants.  First, they studied and knew how to read the skies.  I didn’t know enough to discern whether or not to pursue this light into the hills.  What are the things that you study, that matters enough to learn about it below a surface level? How does this knowledge & wisdom influence what you choose to do, or not do?

Second, they left their home country, and returned home by a different way. All enduring spiritual stories teach that to follow the path, the light, that brings life in its abundance requires a person to risk, even leave, everything that is known and cherished. Family. Tradition. Assumptions. The fears that hold us back. And a willingness to be changed on, and by, the journey.  On career paths, walking paths and life paths I’ve discovered this ‘letting go to gain’ and trusting is better for me in the end; but even so, every time, it takes me great spiritual energy to remember those experiences, and great courage, when the path takes the next turn, or the light leads me where I do not expect.

Finally, the travelers in the story turned to others when they got lost.  I’m still learning to trust companions on the journey, to listen to certain wisdom and people when I need reality-checks.  Where do your reality checks come from?  Who sustains you on your journey when it veers of course?

I confess I did not follow the light that presented itself that day, I chose to stay on the road and when where I was scheduled to be, because I feared what would happen if I didn’t.  And I have wondered ever since, what if…..?

* This song by The Clash (Combat Rock, 1982) often becomes an ‘earworm’ when I’m faced with decisions….It’s not a literal question I am asking.

Thanks to lettinggojustpraising.blogspot.com for the image.

 

 

In this baby, I find ….

My recollection is that in my family of origin, part of our celebration of someone’s birthday includes a story, or 2, that begins with “I remember the day you were born; I was…..”  Some of the stories are told exactly the same way year after year, others change in details over time, some don’t recount historical events as a camera may have caught them….but they are still true stories.   They’re true because of who is telling them; it is the story-teller’s relationship to the Birthday Girl or Boy, their experience of our coming into the world, and into their lives, that gives the story it’s life and it’s truth.

That’s how I approach the birth stories about Jesus.  Some of the stories have been told exactly the same way year after year, some change in details over time, some don’t recount  historical events like a TV camera would, but, like our own birth stories what matters about the story is the storyteller, and their relationship  to this child whose birth stories we share.  It is our experience of Jesus coming into the world and how that changes us, that makes this story true….and what makes it sacred story.  We tell about how we encounter the Holy Mystery behind all of life in the life of this child, and the man he will grow up to be.

For Christians, this child’s birth matters – although we may have difference about how and why it matters.  Because if it doesn’t matter to us in 2018, it doesn’t matter, period.  But with matters of faith and spirit, we can only speak of our own experience; what we share becomes our testimony, our evidence, of the holy and sacred experience.

For me, this is a story about finding beauty and hope in the middle of violence and anger.  In the middle of a brutal occupation, when people are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals, this child is born.  I wonder: what do his parents hope for him?  what do the shepherds see in him?  how can such an innocent — who makes me love him just ‘cos he’s here — be anything but beautiful and full of potential?  What do you see in this story?

So for me, today, I might testify that this child will grow up to be a man who is so full of Love I see through him God in the flesh, walking among humankind.   From him, I will learn how that I am loved and worthy, and so I can love myself.  I will learn how to love my neighbours, how to share, and how to the love the one I think of as “the enemy”, the “other”, the stranger.  This child cracks open my heart, like the skies cracked open by angel’s song, so we can step into a new life and way of being in the world. And this new world order begins when we open our hearts to love just one more person.

How would tell the truth and joy you find in this story?

Merry Christmas; may the love incarnate we celebrate bring you peace.

 

(Thanks to jimbakershow.com for the image.)

 

Hope Leads…

What kinds of things do you hope for this Christmas?  What kind of preparations are you making for that to happen?  And how’s that working this year?

Spiritually we get to ask the same questions: what is your deepest heart’s hope?   What kind of a world do you hope your children or nephews & nieces, grands, great-grands will inherit? And what kind of preparations are you making for that to happen?

As your busyness in this season shows, Hoping and Wishing are not the same things.   Wishing requires nothing but having an idea.  I wish I could lose 10 pounds…..Wish away, but there will be no difference come January.   Wishing is hope without work.

But Hope has Hope stonehill collegemore substance.  Hope requires imagination of what the result will look like or feel like.  Hope requires action for it to be realized; not necessarily a ‘plan’ in place but concrete steps that can be taken so that imagined Hope will take shape in Real Life.   So, I can imagine what a weight loss will look like, what I will be able to wear (again).  And if I keep that imagined hope before me, and I take the necessary actions, I can lose it 1 pound at a time until that hope is realized.

Our Hope leads us in the choices we make.   I hope for a world without poverty, without greed. So I choose to buy fairly traded coffee, tea, (most) chocolate, where the supplier pays the producers either living wages or premium prices for their commodities.  Costs me more, yes, but with my choice I can help reduce the poverty by this much.  Bonus: I drink and eat less, so my propensity for overindulgence is reduced. (It also confronts me with my own way of being greedy: I think I need more than I do.  I also realize that by always wanting “cheap as possible” – good economics notwithstanding – my spending habit is for my own benefit; someone’s got to pay what it costs – why should it be the producer?)  Hope hands me opportunities: I can choose to accept responsibility to take those small actions that I can take to make Hope happen in Real Life. Or not, and keep wishing.

The thing about Hope is requires patience; the reality is that the Hope is never complete.  It is both now, and yet to come.  I will never see it fully realized – bad word – but it will never happen unless I add my efforts.

I find that very empowering.  “We are inherently important and included [in the Big Picture] yet not burdened with manufacturing or sustaining that private importance.”*  In other words ‘it’s not all about me but without me it cannot be’ – how Hope-full is that?!

So what is your heart’s deepest hope?  And what moves are you making while you wait for it to happen?   It matters, because “what we do with our lives depends on what we’re hoping for…”**

*Richard Rohr Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, 2008 www.SAMPBooks.org

** Jim Strathdee “Waiting for the Kingdom of God” from album In Loving Partnership, 1983. Reproduced under OneLicense A-721869