The CN Tower, A Magical Lamppost and Advent Hope

This Christmas Season, I have been enjoying reading through a lovely Advent Reflections book based on The Chronicles of Narnia – a much loved fairy-tale series by C.S. Lewis. If you are interested, here is a link to the book, Advent in Narnia.

I found the readings of this last week very thought provoking. Anyone who has read the Chronicles of Narnia will be familiar with the lamppost which always has light no matter what else is happening. I love the imagery in this. It reminds me of when I am in Toronto and I lose my way, or get a little turned around. I always look for the CN Tower. This tower gives me my grounding and from knowing where it lies in relation to where I am standing, I know what direction to take to get where I am going. I think it’s the same with the lamppost from the fairy tale.

I find it easy to take a leap and apply this to my spiritual walk. I know that Jesus and his Word are always there to lead me when life gets confusing and even when painful things happen. The thing is, no matter what else is happening in my life, family, surrounding friends and community or the larger world, Christmas still comes each year. It comes and is a wonderful reminder that Jesus was born, that God loves us and that, ultimately, whatever is happening, it will be okay. Not necessarily okay in a way that is exactly how we would choose things to be. But okay in the sense that God has us well in hand, and when we turn things over to Him, He can transform them the same way that Aslan (an amazing Lion from the fairy-tale) could transform an instrument of destruction used by the White Witch (another character from the story), into a beautiful ever-burning lamppost.

The first set of readings has fanned the embers of hope within me – which is the whole theme of this week of Advent. Hope. Hope for my own spiritual growth and reconciliation with church. Hope for my family and any friends who are struggling. Hope for the people I meet in the community. And Hope for our world, that Peace will come and Love will overcome all the struggles and dissention that has been present in the news lately.

Hope is a good place to be at this moment, as the journey continues through Advent 2015.

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The Very Best Pre-Christmas Gift

This morning during a quick break in my busy work day, I opened a facebook message from a friend and was delighted to see this quote, all wrapped up in red and green mistletoe, like a little pre-Christmas gift.

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At first I read this quickly and smiled at the reminder of the upcoming Christmas season.

“How lovely“, I thought.

But then the words gave me pause. I read the quote again. And once more. I allowed the words to trickle down from my brain to my heart, then from my heart to my hungry spirit. Within me, I felt that spirit give a full and satisfied sigh and fall gently into a deep relaxation. My soul entered into the rest of a weary traveller who has finally found her way back home; who has once again been able to fold back the sheets of her own familiar bed and sink deep within it`s comfort.

I had been away from this for far too long.

By way of brief explanation, three years ago I left my little church to wander the wilds seeking the Divine on my own. I had a lot of wonderful experiences, and the knowledge I earned during this period has given my spirit a depth that I never experienced before.

But like all travellers, the time came when the journey was over. The path was now leading me home.

I think this is why the quote spoke to me so strongly today.  Somehow it seemed this same Divine, who I had so relentlessly sought, whispered to my world-weary soul: “Relax. Stop running. There is no need to keep on searching after Me. I`m right here. Always have been. Always will be. Open the Gift of Me, and receive my Peace.“

Yes.

Yes, that sounds wonderful. That is wonderful.

And so now, I lunch by a big window, sun streaming over my head, on to the coffee cup and along the paper of my journal.

I feel my body relax.

I breathe in the Peace.

I take claim to this beautiful gift, and I realize —

this is so incredible.

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Religious People, Misbehaviour and God

I am so over seeing one particular male “Christian’s” name in the news. I am sick of hearing about his “sins”. He will remain nameless here and I will not post a link.

This is not the first pop-star famous “Christian” who has made the news in a negative way. There seems to be numerous examples over the last few years.

Let me say right from the beginning, I am not a judgmental person. I do not hold religious people to a higher standard than anyone else. I believe we all are human, with our own lapses in judgment, flaws, things to be worked on, etc. Nobody is above making mistakes.

What is bothering me so much that I have to write a blog on this, is the attitude of a certain type of Christian. The type that always seems to bring God into the mix. The type that seems to skirt around acknowledging that their behaviour is their choice and they are solely responsible for it. It’s like they think they are entitled to a “get out of jail free” card just because they spend Sundays in a church or say the odd little “prayer”. The type that clearly lacks Integrity and Authenticity.

Lets say one such religious person hurts another person, whether through cheating, or lying or any other type of insensitive behaviour. Their response? Blah blah blah, and God forgives me so you are wrong not to blah blah blah  bear with each other (but really this means bear with their bad behaviour), blah blah blah Grace and Mercy. It’s ridiculous! And it’s not just done by celebrity “Christians”. I’ve noticed regular people-next-door religious “Christians” pulling the same nonsense.

Why do they do this? Why is God pulled into their sordid mess?

When I make a mistake, when I act selfishly or inappropriately in some way, I take responsibility for my actions. Then I apologize, and I learn from the whole experience.

That’s what grown adults who are well-adjusted do. They take responsibility for their own behaviour, and do what they can to clean up the mess.

As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I am a very spiritual person who believes there is a wonderful beautiful Creator of this world. I believe this Creator loves me as I believe we all are loved.

But I do not believe I should hide behind this Creator when faced with my mistakes and messes. I find this tendency to be disrespectful to anyone I have hurt, as well as disrespectful to myself and the Creator.

Make no mistake, the way we treat other people matters greatly. It’s an intricate part of the story we weave about who we truly are, no matter what kind of fancy words we spew.

Bottom line to me, whether you are religious, spiritual or an atheist, take responsibility for your own actions. It’s part of being an adult. And it’s how we grow into the people we are called to be.

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My Magical Garden

Fourteen years ago this month, my hubby and I packed up our kids and belongings and moved to our dream home. This home has features that appealed to all of us: formal dining room (me), an acre of land to run and play in (our kids), and a big garage and driveway (hubby).

Our new property also offered lots of potential for gardens. And planting I have done. Lovely lavender offers a gentle welcome by our entrances and around our gazebo. We have tomato and pepper plants available for a fresh addition to summer salads. There remain plenty of trees for shade and privacy. Two tiger lilies replanted from a work friend’s garden, became very fertile and multiplied along the front of our home. All our gardens have done exceptionally well.

All, except for one, that is.

One small section of the garden by our front porch absolutely refused to accept any of my efforts of planting or seeds. No matter how hard I tried, this little plot of soil yielded nothing.

Not one to give up easily, I made enquiries at garden centres, googled on-line, added new soil, put down some mulch, etc. etc. etc. All to no avail. This little garden spot simply refused to cooperate with my efforts.

Finally, five years ago, I gave up trying.

In order to keep this section from looking completely bare, I plopped a potted strawberry plant that was gifted to our family, on the soil.

At the end of that summer, the summer of 2010, when I was cleaning the gardens for the fall, I noticed the strawberry plants had climbed over the pot, and made their way down to the ground. Not only that, a couple of the little green shoots had gone ahead and somehow planted themselves into the soil. “How interesting”, I mused to myself, as I carefully snipped the planted shoots from the pot, and continued with my late summer gardening chores.

When the spring of 2011 dawned, I was delighted to discover those little strawberry shoots had survived the winter. “They actually appear quite healthy”, I told my husband. “Perhaps they like this tiny garden spot”. So I cultivated and weeded the surrounding soil, but added nothing. I decided that allowing this little garden to grow in it’s own way, seemed like the wisest course of action.

And to my delight, those small strawberry plants grew and spread, at times yielding a few sweet fruits.

As the years have passed, our little strawberry garden has grown well, with plants spreading to fill the entire plot of soil that I once struggled so intently with. All that remains necessary, is a bit of weeding, cultivating and watering.

I guess this little garden had it’s own agenda. It’s transformation has left me amazed.

How lovely.

This morning I had some alone time, and was able to pause and ponder on this garden. I wondered if there was a spiritual lesson in all of this?

I recall my own journey.

At one time, coincidentally pre-2010, I was a woman who took her religion very seriously. I attended my Christian church every single Sunday. Rain or shine, sick or healthy, even when I was so weary I could barely roll out of bed – Sunday mornings would find me in church.

I adhered to a very strict bible reading schedule, making sure to touch on both old and new testaments upon rising in the morning, as well as adding a sprinkle of an epistle during the day, and a dash of proverbs or psalms before bed.

Always having been a book-worm, my reading became limited to solely Christian works – how to be a better Christian, how to be more loving, how to be holy, how to be a biblical wife … Unfortunately, with a full time job, kids and a husband, there was no time left over to read for the simple joy of it.

I was filling my days, trying so hard to be the perfect Christian lady. In my understanding, all these activities I was doing were like seeds that I was planting in my heart and spirit, to yield a beautiful garden for God.

But in 2010, change happened and I was challenged with some situations that I had never even dreamed I would face.

I checked in on my little Christian garden that I had worked so hard on growing in my heart. After all my hard work, efforts and diligence, I was disappointed to find that this garden was barren. It was yielding nothing.

I threw my hands up and cried out to God: “Why?!”

And somewhere within the silence that followed , I perceived a subtle answer.

“Relax. You try so hard to know Me. But I am always with you. And you have all of eternity to discover Me. Breathe, and let everything unfold as it should.”

In the years since, I have done just that.

What a journey it has been! I have found new ways to know the Divine in a natural manner as I go about my day:

– Through sharing stories and giggles over a bottle of wine with a then new and now precious girlfriend;

– Through walking my sweet puppy along paths I had previously never given myself time to explore;

– Through enjoying a young adult book series, all light and fun, uplifting and easy to read;

– Through taking a few extra moments to look a homeless lady in the eyes, and help her find the coin she just lost in the grass at a park by my work.

I have discovered so many ways to see and know God in the places and people I encounter during the ordinary moments of my day. These are the seeds that have planted themselves into my heart and spirit.

How lovely is the way this garden has grown itself.

Last week-end hosted amazing weather. I spent Sunday, garden tools in hand, cultivating, weeding and watering what has become my favourite little garden plot, filled with strawberry plants. To my utter surprise and amazement, a new little gift has emerged from the soil. Unexpected and unplanned, standing strong and proud, is a mysterious little tulip. “Now, where did you come from, little one?” I asked. “Never mind, I am so glad you are here. Welcome to our wonderful, mysterious, magical garden!”

I have found so much joy and peace in this.

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A New Spin On Forgiveness

I’m not so much into spring cleaning. I prefer a winter “sweep and cleanse”. This includes clearing out both material items that clutter the home space and spiritual stumbling blocks that clutter my heart and mind.

This January I have been thinking deeply on the concept of forgiveness and what it means to me.

Coming from an evangelical Christian tradition, I have always viewed extending and receiving forgiveness as something required in order to be in good standing with God –    “… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us …”.

I have to admit, I have struggled with this concept over the last few years since I left my church. I now consider myself to be “spiritual but not religious”. That being said, I still love God, I still want to be faithful, and I still need peace within me. I recognize how vitally important forgiveness is to my spiritual health.

This morning I came to a bit of an epiphany, and I would like to share it. By way of illustration, I will use the experience I had of an unhappily ended friendship.

I once had a friendship with a woman which ended in disappointment for both of us.  Upon reflection, I wonder if our individual definitions of friendship differed greatly. Or, perhaps we simply had different ways of communicating. No matter how hard each of us tried (and we both did put in honest efforts) we could not seem to understand each other. In the end, I decided to cut off contact with this person for an indeterminate length of time. I felt I needed to do this for the emotional health of us both. She wrote to me and messaged me a few times, but I did not read what she had to say and I did not respond. At that point I simply felt too hurt and too vulnerable, and was going through some other challenging issues that I needed to prioritize and focus all of my energy on.

After about a year, this woman sent me a letter apologizing for anything she may have done to upset me. At that point, things had settled down in my life enough that I felt less vulnerable and was able to reply, telling her I held no resentment or anger against her, and I wished her well. I kept my reply brief and I did not leave an opening for a reconciliation of the relationship. I was content to leave things as they were. A little later I was comfortable to be in contact with her again, and unfortunately another misunderstanding erupted. At the end of the day, we have left each other on what I would consider to be extremely bad terms.

Which brings me to the forgiveness quandary.

Due to my evangelical Christian background, I am not content to leave a situation like this hanging without addressing the forgiveness issue. From my past church experience, I had been taught to view forgiveness as a kind of discharging of a debt. In other words, I commit a “sin” against someone, I owe them, they clear the debt. And in the same vein, someone commits a “sin” against me, they owe me, I clear the debt.

But this has never sat well with me. Especially lately. Here’s my thinking.

If I have the power to release someone from their debt, this seems to put me at a “higher” level than them. I’m not comfortable with that and this is why. I know that I am not perfect. I know that I have done things in my life that have hurt others. So how would it ever be that I would sit in a position of judgment wherein I have the right to pronounce someone free of their debt? And who is so perfect that they have a right to “release” me? Shouldn’t such a position be held solely by God? In fact, isn’t it?

To me the bottom line is this – we are all human, with flaws, bad days, bad moods, misinterpretations, disconnections, fatigue, errors in judgment, etc. Maybe the type of forgiveness God requires from us is to simply accept this.

Maybe forgiveness simply means that I acknowledge the other person’s right to be who they are, even if this does not please me. Now, this is not to say that forgiveness means I become a doormat. Absolutely not. It also includes accepting myself and my own right to live and speak my truth as well. I don’t have to be around anyone who, intentionally or unintentionally, hurts me, disrespects me, misunderstands me, etc. Let’s face it, some people are best loved from a distance. And we can acknowledge that. But it’s not healthy to live in resentment or bitterness either. In the case of my broken friendship, I have no desire to ruminate over who is ultimately at fault for the demise of the relationship. It does not matter anymore. What matters is I respect her right to live her own truth. I don’t wish her any harm. Actually, I wish her well. And now I can let the whole matter drop. Because in the final analysis, I know we are both just doing our best to live out our own destinies. I believe this applies to most everyone in the human race. We are all just pilgrims on a journey doing our best.

I have found peace in this.

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Living Among The Wild Things

A few years ago I attended a small evangelical church. Once, after I had missed too many Sundays in a row, a friend expressed her concern to me through a message: “How are you feeding your spirit if you are not regularly attending church?” she enquired. This is my response to her all these years later.

If you were to look, you would find me spending time with the Wild Things. The Wild Things live in a place far removed from any church I have attended. They inhabit a headspace fertile and lush with a variety of ideas, philosophies, and theories  – both new and ancient. They have welcomed me like I was always a part of them. This is where my spirit receives nourishment.

The Wild Things are not afraid of raw emotions – theirs or mine. Like the Psalmists before them (those great Wild Things of the past) they freely express themselves. Whether joy or sorrow, contentment or unrest, the Wild Things embrace it all for they know the only way to navigate the waves of feelings is to hit them straight on and ride them through to the end. I am safe here with the Wild Things. They acknowledge every one of us as acceptable in all of our conditions. Their strong faith far exceeds any need for pretenses or for sweeping issues under the rug. It is with the Wild Things that my Spirit has healed.

Here with the Wild Things, I am free to ask hard questions. We all are. They don’t mind inquiries that are challenging and that make us all a bit uncomfortable or at a loss for quick, presupposed answers. Wild Things accept that healthy relationships are based on equality and that we learn and grow by confronting the challenges that arise through honest and reflective interactions with each other. We are comfortable in our discomfort. It is with the Wild Things that my Spirit has awakened to it’s value.

The Wild Things are not afraid to explore new traditions, theories and customs from different regions. They ascribe to the adage “Not all who wander are lost” (J.R.R. Tolkien). How they love to listen and learn from others. They know that, though there may be superficial differences, the same One Beautiful Creator breathed life into all beings. They know this Creator to be a Wild Thing too. Wild Things gain much knowledge in their open-minded explorations. It is with the Wild Things that my Spirit has grown strong and matured.

If you are curious, the Wild Things can be found in all walks of life. Some are as old as the Bible, in the form of Mary who broke the rules and sat at Jesus’ feet instead of helping her sister make dinner. Some are found in libraries and dusty book shelves, with names like Thomas Merton and Brennan Manning. Others, having less famous names but being just as wild, can be found when hearts are open during daily life – at work, while commuting, in neighborhoods and stores.

The Wild Things are everywhere.

And I am one of them.

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