Tag Archives: spirituality

What do we do with our grief?

I was so sad when I heard about the shootings in Las Vegas, the attack on the police officer and pedestrians in Edmonton.  On top of that, I was saddened by the death of two people in my community, and Tom Petty. What a week!  Like many, as I reeled from one story to the next, my grief compounded.

So I do what many others do.  I look for answers: how could this happen?  I remember: stories of the person, or (in the case of the attacks) similar events.  I look for community: who else is sharing this sadness with me?  I look for strength and hope: what do I learn from this person’s life, or from this incident?  Because, ultimately, for my grief to be effective, not paralyzing, I have to integrate it; I have to ask ‘how shall this affect how I live?”

I spoke with family and friends, listened to music, read websites.

But I was disturbed with a trend I saw.  Remember the June ’16 attack in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub? That single shooter killed 49 people; it was called a “terrorist attack”, by many.  The Las Vegas shooting, which killed more people, also carried out by a single person is not being called a “terrorist attack”.  The attack this weekend in Edmonton is it being called a terrorist attack; why?

Don’t get me wrong: I am appalled by the violence. It may be driven by ideology.  But I am more appalled that we live in a world where violence is an easy response – and I fear it’s beginning to be the first response.  Is this because a person doesn’t know how else to dispel their grief and anger?  Anger, often, is a grief turned outward; when our life is not unfolding as we want or think it should we explode. Literally.

I, too, am seduced sometimes by violent-think. I’ve said “would somebody just shoot [this person] and relieve me of my misery?”  Maybe it is, too, because I am deeply saddened, and cannot see a different way to alleviate it?

I wonder if we are quick to identify bad actions as “terrorist attacks” when they are done by people with particular flavour-of-the-year names*, while we dismiss other bad actions as the work of disturbed people?  And I wonder, when we denounce the violence quickly (rightly so), why we aren’t as quick to understand what in the world would push someone to such grief, such anger?

So what do I do with this grief? How will it help my spirit live?  It leads me not to take this day for granted; who knows how it shall end?  It leads me to actions which help cultivate peace; can we avoid yet another generation (here and around the world) which sees no option but to explode rage outward?  It calls me to compassionate listening because don’t we all grieve sometimes and need to have that sadness heard and shared?  “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will receive comfort.”

 

* It feels like someone picks a “bad guy” every year.  In my lifetime the  names have been Arabic, Korean, French, Irish, Russian, Pakistani, Iranian, Chinese and even some anglicized names associated with nations indigenous to Turtle Island.

Thanks,  listchallenges.com for the image!

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Be. Here. Now.

I was at a church business meeting and, after acknowledging the indigenous people’s traditional territory on which we live and work and with whom we share it, we began a very moving, powerful, sitting body prayer.  “Be here now.” What made it powerful for me was my reaction to it.

Think of our standard greeting “how are you?”  Do we ask because we really want to know?  And why do people tend to “auto-respond” by saying, “Fine”, or by listing what they (or someone else) has accomplished that day rather than how they are feeling about their life. So this body prayer is quite radical in that it upholds “being” as of value and worth honouring as holy, rather than our usual approach in “the West” of honouring only action, doing and accomplishment.

I’m a product of this culture; this spiritual work of honouring “Be-ing” takes my conscious (and conscientious) effort.  Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great spiritual thinkers of the 20th century, said: “Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy.”  He also said that when we make the time, the space in our life, to honour, to worship, what we hold as Sacred, and recognize the holiness of being, we “create a cathedral in time.”*

Reb Heschel would ‘make sabbath’ every week; this prayer is like making a mini-sabbath.   It’s power lies in our asking: What if it were true that just to be is blessing?  What if the essence of “being” (or Being, or God) is where my hands are, right here?  What would that mean for me and for how I live my life?

So I invite you to try it. I’m sure it’s undergone the “folk process” of change over crossed arms anglicanpastor comtime; this is version I was taught.**

The 3 words are spoken slowly and deliberately as if there is a period between each word; on each word place your hands on the next part of the body.  Be aware of where your hands are with each word. Three sites engaged per round, four sites…yes this is on purpose, hence the repetition. Take your time. Relax; remembering the order of the “body sites” is less important than noticing each word, and where the hands are with each one.

Site 1: hands above or towards the space above the head;

Site 2: hands flat on thighs or knees

Site 3: hands by the belly button – either on the body or just in front, as if holding a basketball

Site 4: cross arms, or put hands, across one’s heart

Ready? Let’s begin:

Round One: start with hands overhead, and say the word Be. Move hands to thighs; say the word Here.   Move hands to belly button area; the word Now.

Round Two: Move hands to heart; say Be…hands above head; say Here…hands to thighs; say Now

Round Three: hands to belly button: Be; hands to heart: Here; hands overhead: Now.

Round Four: hands to thighs: Be; hands to belly button: Here; hands to heart: Now.

 

…… How are you, now?

 

******* Of note:  Thanks to anglicanpastor.com for the photo; * Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic book The Sabbath (1951) is an easy but hauntingly beautiful read; **though Ram Dass, a Hindu teacher,  used this saying as a title for one of his works,  he is only one in a long line of diverse spiritual teachers to offer this prayer to their students.

 

 

being Home

bird rock tripadvisorLast week I was on the Avalon peninsula visiting two amazing places.  Witless Bay and Cape St. Mary’s are home to the largest colony of puffins and nesting shorebirds, respectively, on the continent, perhaps the world.  Between them more than 500,000 seabirds return from 8 months at sea to find their lifelong mate and together hatch their egg(s); they “come home”.  At Cape St. Mary’s most of the 60,000 Northern Ganeek pairs make their home on a 100 foot column of sandstone.  It amazes me that they know where to go, instinctively, like homing pigeons.

Me, I tend to call “home” wherever I happen to be sleeping that night.  When I’ve toured enough for the day, I’ll say “I’m going home now” — whether that’s the guest house I’ve been in for 3 days, the overnight B&B, or my back porch in Pierson.  I told friends I’d be “coming home” this week.  On the other hand, I’ve lived in apartments and houses for as many as 12 years without it actually “becoming home” for me.  I don’t define “my hometown” by one place.  So this “homing device” I saw in the birds fascinates me.

What makes “home” for you?

Is it the place where you “hang your hat”? “where the heart is”? (and what if your heart is divided among several people and places?) Is it the place where you can “let it all hang out” and leave socks on the floor?  “where they have to let you in whether they want to or not”?

In early September, I was at a conference at which we sang a refrain “return to the home of your soul”.  That got me to wonder if “home” is a place, or a way of being.   And after seeing the bird flocks, I wonder how does a person know when they are “home”?

Don’t get me wrong, I easily feel comfortable in many places and among many people, and that’s a form of “home”.  But not capital-H “Home”.  I’ve also had experiences, usually on solitary walks or in meditation, where I feel so “Home” I don’t want to leave it.  In those moments I feel completely not-alone, not fearful, whole and holy.   Often though, even knowing I can’t stay in that place, I feel I am being ripped back, like Velcro®, to the tasks of cooking and attending to email. ….and then I feel those everyday tasks becoming home again, but differently; somehow they are more precious and fragile, and I am full with gratitude.

What are your experiences of “home”, or “Home”? Can you describe that to others?  When, and to where, does your “homing device” bring you?  How do find the “home of your soul”?  How does it affect your interaction with the everyday tasks you face?

 

Mindfull, Mindful

Has anyone else notice an explosion in the use of the word “mindfulness”?  It seems that every topic – secular or spiritual – all have the term “mindful” in the title. Mindful Eating. Mindful Parenting. Mindful Gardening.  Even “mindful meditation”. (Really? Isn’t all meditation mindful? Apparently not.)

Turns out mindfulness is more than being aware; it’s about bringing all of our energy, being fully present – body, attention, emotion – to what we are doing.  And the payoff is that we find our self in a sacred moment.  As I am beginning to learn it, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhât Hanh saw us in North America being so busy racing around that we weren’t fully living.  Our bodies were busy, racing from one thing to the next, our minds were doing the same thing, preoccupied, flitting from one idea to the next, we were missing the point of it all.

mindfulness_poster_UK

We are so busy Doing, we are not Being, we are unaware of the sacred and precious that which is present in that moment.  With mindfulness, we are “training the monkey-mind”; pretty accurate, eh?

If we know it’s bad for our body and our mind and our emotional well-being, to be running all the time, why do we do it?  I wonder if we’ve “drunk the kool-aid” believing that “time is money”, so to waste either makes us somehow “less than”?  Does doing three things at once, or squeezing in one more activity, moving onto the next task before we’ve quite finished the one we’re on, make us more worthy?  How do you feel when you are multi-tasking? How does it affect your zest for life?

 

As I am learning, Mindfulness invites us bring all of our awareness to one task at a time.  To focus our mind, all of our body’s energy, all of our heart’s connection to What We Are Doing, right now; beginning with the breath, to slow everything down and focus On This Moment.  Harder than it sounds. That’s why it’s called a “practice”; we must try and try again. But it is worth the effort.

For example, I confess that often when I’m knitting I am thinking about something else.  But as I practice mindful knitting, when the monkey-mind is dampened, 123rf 4752720-close-up-shot-of-two-hands-knitting-with-red-yarn

I become fully present to what I am doing right now. I see how amazing the body is: that I can breathe without thinking about it, that my eyes can see, that the hand is so very intricate. I notice how the yarn feels slipping across fingers, the variances in depth of colour and texture. I feel profound amazement as I bring all my mind and heart to what my hands are doing.  I become aware of all the elements, creatures, and people which have been involved in bringing the yarn to me, and having the money to buy it; I am brought to deep gratitude.  When I am practicing mindfulness, fully present to the moment I am in, I become awed; I touch the reality of Being Alive and connected, and am touched by the Sacred.  Harder than it sounds, but worth the practice. And  I am only just beginning.

 

 

*Thanks to uhs.umich.edu for the great “Mind-full or Mindful” image! and 123rf-4752720 for “hands knitting”

Ever Wondering

EW confI spent the weekend at a conference which explored what it means to have an “expansive spirituality” beginning by asking “Ever Wonder…”: what are the values on which I make my life choices? how do I understand, or even begin answering for myself, Life’s Big Questions? How, and with whom, do we sustain the counter-cultural values and vision of this world being more just, loving and peace-full than it is now?  what it means to answer those questions without traditional – maybe without any – religious language and images?  

Do you find yourself asking what’s life about?  Why are we here? What kind of world do I want, and want my younger family and friends, to live in? How, and with whom, do I help build that? And how do I know something is true?  Who, or what, am I in relationship with what is beyond me – Planet Earth, the others with whom we inhabit it, with whatever or whoever is beyond our planet home?

Those are spiritual questions.  How we answer those questions form our belief system.  And our beliefs ground our choices in life, how we behave towards our self, towards others, towards our Home of Planet Earth.

What do you base your values and choices in life on? 

Religionless spirituality isn’t a new thought.  It’s been around in Western scholarly spiritual work at least since the 1940s.  One well-respected, highly educated, German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, asked if humanity has developed to a point of requiring a “religionless Christianity”?  From around the same time to now, other deep thinkers – from Roman Catholic monks to secular humanists – have offered non-traditional ways of asking and answering those questions.

This conference is part of this ‘chain of tradition’.  Can one be Christian without the so-called “must-believe” doctrines, and mythical stories?  What does it mean to be on a spiritual journey without requiring belief in any dogma, or an ‘outside agent’?  What does it mean to have an expansive spirituality?  And how does any of this help me to live my day-to-day life?  And with whom can I struggle those question into a place that is Life-enhancing for myself, others, the planet?

Do you have those conversations? How and with whom?  I am fortunate that, through my professional duties, I often get to be part of those conversations.  I am honoured to be asked to share my experience, strength and hope (to borrow a phrase) of what gives my meaning and purpose to my life, what supports & sustains my belief that Life is Good, that love is better than hate, that the way things are is not the way they have to be, that the world can be a more just, loving and peace-full place for all of Earth’s inhabitants.  And, since I was 23, what I share doesn’t resemble what I was taught as a child. (That story’s for another time.)

So thanks, folks who created the “Ever Wonder” conference.  These are necessary questions as we wonder together how we shall live for the common good.

We Are a Part of It All

accuweather comMy heart was touched by a scientist talking about the full solar eclipse that is happening over the continental USA on Monday.  Like the Aura borealis and meteor showers, which he also mentioned, we are fascinated by spectacular natural phenomena.  He said “It fascinates us. It brings us closer to the Universe.”

It does fascinate us; hours of reports and commentary on TV and radio, links on mainstream webpages to science-based sites, inches of print, all encouraging us to “witness this rare event”.  Experts say a full eclipse hasn’t happened this close to western Canada in about 100 years; no wonder they, and we, are excited.

Along the “path of totality”, only a few hours of driving south of us, people will experience a deep twilight at noon, and maybe a phenomenon called “the Ring of Fire”, a halo around the sun.  The eclipse is highly unusual, out of the ordinary; it’s also out of our control, which makes it a little scary.  Another scientist said “it’s a mysterious, almost spiritual, experience.”

It should fascinate us.  The ancients explained such events as the result of actions of human-like beings who lived in, or above, the sky. With their science they could predict such events in the heavens (think Stonehenge), but they still stopped business-as-usual; they realized something important was happening.  They believed they were being affected by Someone, or Something, beyond themselves and they stopped their regular lives, and did actions so the gods would be happy and return the sun.  Another scientist said “The ancients had a sense of fear and awe; we have no fear, but the awe remains.”

We should be in awe. Just because we can explain such events with our science,  if only for a few minutes, we realize that something beyond our small, finite, mortal selves is at work in the Universe.  Agronomists are watching how crops will be affected by the prolonged darkness; NASA is watching for how clouds are affected.  During this eclipse, if only for a few minutes, we finite human beings experience that we are all part of a larger Universe.  We discover a connection to a web of Creation, by which we are interconnected.

That is the spiritual experience, to feel that connection. To experience within our body and heart and mind that we are part of The More.*   Even many secular scientists experience this awe, wonder and connection and invite us to the experience. We don’t have to imagine the gods turning out the light to feel the Awe and Wonder, to be reminded that Human Beings are not in control of all things; we are only a part of it.  Such Awe and Wonder just may help some of us to regain our proper perspective, stop behaving as if we are in control of all things, and realize that we are only a part.  But we are a part of it All, Something Larger, connected to The More.  And it is The More, which is worthy of my awe and wonder and worship.

youtube comI don’t have to understand the eclipse like a child, but I can experience the Awe & Wonder like a child.   And offer a prayer of thanks.

 

 

*thanks to Dr. Marcus Borg for that phrase to describe the Holy Mystery, in The Heart of Christianity, 2004;

thanks also to accuweather.com for the picture Ring of Fire, and the 2nd picture from images.google.com, Source Unknown

A Moment of Connection

I’ve found myself with a lump in my throat so many times this week: the sun on the snow…the deep Crayola blue of the sky…this cold…the sun dogs…the moon dogs…One evening 6 deer were walking down the street towards me; I was so taken aback I turned off the car so they wouldn’t get spooked. They passed by slowly, looking in the windows and sniffing the tyres; their look reminded me of a group of young teens – curious and dismissive all at the same time. Then off they wandered in search of a place to sleep or food, with a “whatever” in their smooth gait.  (I know there’s more than one viewpoint on deer in town, but I still had a moment of profound connection.)

A few minutes later, I was out of town, just as sunset happened. Words don’t do it justice. But I might describe it as a layered-jellied-salad – colours distinct but fusing, vibrantly other-worldly, topped off with jet black silouettes of trees and bins and pump jacks. I couldn’t drive, so I pulled over and sat gob-smacked by its intensity and beauty.  I tried taking a picture…but you know how it is: holy moments just can’t be captured.

I’ve been reading the next section of Immortal Diamond by Fr. Richard Rohr this week and was reminded that the work of soul-tending is to come to know oneself as part of the whole, not separate from the land and the wildlife, nor separate from the holy which infuses it all. (What we could learn of the holy from a poem that begins “When God was a deer….”)

Soul-tending requires intentionality. But I wonder if that sometimes is simply allowing oneself to be so “taken up”, so connected, with a moment that the illusion of differentiation between “me” and “the moment” is erased?  Being turned aside from the mundane to see the holy in the ordinary? (My spiritual tradition tell a story of Moses who was out just being a herder, when a bush catches his eye. He stops, turns aside and hears a voice: take off your shoes, for you stand on holy ground.)  Does soul-tending happen when we allow ourselves to look beyond the blinkers of just-getting’-it-done?

There was a picture that caught my eye, connectionthat felt to me like a great illustration of this kind of holy moment. The light from above expands and the light from below expands, and where they meet is an elan, a point of light in the canvas (or in history) that is so vibrant with life, the point disappears.  It’s so infused with the Holiness that it becomes a sacrifice; it’s no longer a separate entity, it’s disintegrated but in a way that makes it that makes it so much more.

How have you felt that moment of connection between the power of Life Within with the Power of Life that is beyond “you”? Has it felt like a moment of disintegration of separateness? How did you respond?