Category Archives: Spirituality

Beating the Odds

I swear I didn’t plan this.

Sometimes when words won’t flow, I use a writing prompt. One of those prompts involves finding a certain page, in a certain book, on a certain shelf.

“Top shelf, third book from the right, page 56.”

I went to my office and looked at the top shelf. Among other books were some that contain short stories of mine. “Huh, what are the odds that the third book to the right is one of those?” I asked myself.

I counted and the Blood Is Thicker anthology, which contains one of my short stories, was third from the right. “That’s pretty amazing,” I thought, “but what are the odds that my story is on page 56?”

I opened the book and flipped to the right page. Yep. My story was there.

The line that stood out: “NOTE TO SELF: Those are pretty good odds.”

The title of my story?

Beating the Odds

I guess I’m supposed to write that even if something seems unlikely, if you set yourself in motion, you might beat the oddsand have a laugh while you’re at it.

Title page of the short story "Beating the Odds"

It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here

There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.

I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.

I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.

I use it at church every week.

I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!

Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,

And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?

  • A service about an Old Testament story:
    • “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
    • “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
  • Communion:
    • “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
    • “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
  • The cross:
    • “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
    • “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
  • The organ:
    • “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
    • “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
  • A short sermon:
    • “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
    • “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
  • Children in church:
    • “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
    • “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
  • The hymns:
    • “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
    • “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
  • The prayers
    • “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
    • I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”

Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.

A pewter communion cup beside bread and a candle
The cup of hope and bread for the journey.

Divine inspiration: A reason to clean your house

“Yesterday, while I was vacuuming my house,” Jackie Hawley said, “the truth came to me.”

Hawley is the Artistic Director of Cantiamo Choirs of Ottawa, a group that uses our church as a practice facility. She was invited to speak to us about her purpose and the work of the choir, and she told us that when she first started thinking about what to say, she focused on the music education, the performances, and the work in the community.

Then she vacuumed.

The repetitive physical act that required only muscle memory and no mental exertion opened her mind and invited inspiration. Her vacuuming body and open mind allowed her to realize that her purpose wasn’t really the education, the performances or the community work. They were all part of it, sure, but there was a deeper truth.

“I love through bringing music and beauty into the world,” she said.

She realized the truth about her purpose in life by cleaning her house.

Girls' choir on stage
Cantiamo Choirs of Ottawa

Some people say they do their best thinking in the shower. Same idea. I once received a story idea while stirring cooked pudding. Many writers go for long walks every day for the same reason.

Body movement that doesn’t require mental exertion allows the mind to open to ideas, truths, plot resolutions or comforting thoughts.

Suddenly, I feel an urge to do some vacuuming . . .

Sidelined: Released by my word

Many people choose a word for the year. Did you?

Or did a word choose you?

In the early days of 2019, I thought “potential” might be mine. But the minister at my church proposed the idea that, in the same way that wands choose the wizards in the Harry Potter series, a word chooses the person.

At our Epiphany service in early January, we received (distributed at random) a star word. The word Release chose me.

A yellow star with the word Release

Since then I have turned to that word far more often than “potential.” I have found peace in releasing the need to control everything, releasing plans when circumstances changed, and releasing joy too.

The last few days I’ve had to release my need to go to work. I’ve been sidelined by a flu that has left me tired and feverish and achey. I’m not a person who misses work willingly, so I’ve waged a mental battle with myself every time.

“I should go. I have deadlines to meet and not a lot of days to meet them.”

“You’ll just infect everyone there, and they won’t thank you for that!”

“But they’re already missing staff. If I don’t go, they’ll fall really behind.”

“You’re not indispensable, you know. The world keeps spinning without you.

Release . . . release . . . release . . .

My word chose well.

Devotion and transformation

“In every religious tradition there is a practice of devotion and a practice of transformation . . .
Devotion means trusting more in ourselves and in the path we follow. Transformation means to practice the things this path imposes on us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
city street with a large tree in the middle
Trusting in the path, and growing through what it brings us to do.

Christmas tree stars

Haiku Prayers: https://www.facebook.com/HaikuPrayers/
Christmas Tree lights that look like stars.
Christmas tree lights look like stars.

“Each of us is raised with a sense of ‘us and them.’ Initially the ‘us’ is just family, and everyone else is ‘them.’ As we get older and more experienced, more and more people join the ‘us’ but there is usually still a ‘them.’ …

Once in orbit, though, with time to not only work but to gaze at the world over a period of months, I noticed my perception shifting. As I sent pictures to the ground and commented on them, I found myself unthinkingly referring to everyone as ‘us.’ …

I would see a city that I knew well and just 30 minutes later, see that exact same pattern of settlement in a city I had never heard of. It forced me to face the commonality of the human experience, and our shared hopes and desires.”

Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth