For the past few years, every time I walked on my favourite wooded path of the NCC Greenbelt, I have had to step over this fallen tree.
No big deal. The decaying trunk is small, and so many human feet and knobby bicycle tires have knocked wood chips out of it over the years, it is returning to its earthy source. I notice this fallen tree, and I must be certain not to trip, but all I need to do is take one larger-than-usual step to clear it.
Yesterday I arrived at the spot. Beside the smaller fallen tree, exactly parallel to it, lay this larger tree trunk, knocked over by an overnight storm.
This one stumped me (pun intended) for a second or two. Too big to clamber over (at least with dignity intact). Too low to crawl under. Must go around.
In only one day so many others had resolved not to let a bigger obstacle block their path that the ground around it was already trodden flat.
Every day I clear small obstacles in my path. I must notice them and take extra measures to deal with them, but I manage, no problem. I navigate the pylons narrowing the roadway on my way to work, and I take a few seconds to put on a mask before entering a store.
Iask myself though: Am I allowing some bigger obstacle to block my path? How can I go around?
May you have a day of small obstacles only. Do you have bigger ones you must go around?
“Into God’s temple of eternity | Drive a nail of gold.
—fromIn Search of a Soul by Raymond Moriyama
We are spending some time at our cottage, where renovations never cease. It gives me opportunity to re-visit one of my past posts.
I sit on the sofa and contemplate a box of nails.
“Common” nails, the box tells me. Ordinaires. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Those common nails hold together the kitchen in which I sit—the heart of our cottage home—but only because they are working together. One nail alone can only endure stress for a brief time before it snaps from the strain.
Those common nails don’t judge themselves against longer ones, or thinner ones, or younger ones. They know they are the perfect size, material, and shape for their purpose.
The nails know and accept without question that they need help from an outside source: the hand that wields the hammer. Nails on their own must wait.
Once work is underway, the hammer strikes the nail. It doesn’t feel good. It hurts! Fulfilling purpose is not a pain-free, comfortable experience.
If I am a common nail, I have a purpose for which I am the perfect size, material, and shape.
The hand that wields the hammer is with me. I’d better call up some friends.
In the early days of rail travel, steam locomotives could only travel forward. Trains required turntables, like this one at the John Street roundhouse in Toronto, Canada, to turn them around for return journeys. While at John Street, the locomotives received “servicing and light repairs.”
According to the Toronto Railway Historical Association, locomotives serviced there were so attractively maintained, their appearance became known among railroaders as the “John Street polish.”
I’ll be taking a few weeks away for some “servicing and light repairs” of my own before turning around for a return journey, or at least some spit and polish before moving forward again.
Some of the time will be spent at my cottage—one of my roundhouses.
When I was in university years ago, I applied for a job. During my interview for the position, the board asked me to place the following items in order of importance: family, sports, friends, work, homework.
All these years later I now understand that the intent behind the question was: On any given day, when nothing special is going on, will you show up for work even if you have an overdue assignment or your friends are hosting the funnest party ever?
They wanted the answer to be: work, homework, family, friends, sports.
At the time I was thinking BIG PICTURE. What is most important, really? What is most important during times of crisis? What amounts to more than what you can carry in a file box at the end of the day?
I answered: Family, friends, work, homework, sports.
Ididn’t get the job, but I still think I gave the right answer.
I was reminded of this by a video a friend posted on Facebook. It is important to take care of the big rocks first, or your life will be nothing but dust and pebbles.
Who are the people helping you through this pandemic? I have neighbours, friends, my book club, and writing circles. I also have a core group of people who support me in all things: the fellow members of my progressive faith community, tirelessly doing good in the world. Here are my top 10 reasons why they are my peeps.
10. Critical thinking
There are faith communities out there that don’t tell you what to think. (There are. Really.) There are faith communities that say, “Yeah, I don’t know what it’s all about either, but let’s explore this mystery together.” Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples provide places for you to sit and listen and ponder fundamental matters.
9. A community of support
When life brings you to your knees (and it will) a faith community helps you through. The connections forged at deep levels in these groups help people to rebuild lives after tragic events like the loss of a child, the early death of a spouse, or global pandemic.
8. Lifelong learning
“I am still learning,” Michelangelo said. An insatiable curiosity drives happiness, and faith communities come with an endless supply of brain teasers.
Our popular culture provides so few opportunities for belting out a tune. If you want to sing, play the guitar, or bang a drum, we have the place for you. Best of all, when you sing in these venues, even a solo, you don’t have to be perfect. The audiences are very forgiving.
6. Child education
What does the wisdom of Solomon mean? Under what circumstances might one require the patience of Job? What is a David and Goliath situation? How many prodigal sons, or daughters, do you know? Have you ever been the Good Samaritan? Our societies, our art, and our literature contain religious references which would be meaningless without adequate education about our heritages.
Humans create rituals. It is what we do. Jumping into, or out of, any particular activity without some form of ritual feels wrong. At a hockey game we introduce the players and sing the national anthem. At graduation ceremonies we wear gowns, deliver moving speeches, give individual rewards, and have a group celebration. Faith communities provide grounding rituals for the most pivotal moments in our lives. Sometimes the comfort of ritual is all that gets someone through the night.
When I returned to church as an atheist adult, I did it for my daughter. I was shocked to discover there was something for me too. At the time I had a young baby, I worked full time and we had just moved to a new house. I was stressed. When I went to church each week, I left my baby in the care of the nursery workers and sat in the pew. I expected to sit and roll my eyes at everything the minister said. Instead each week he said something that made me think. Each week he said things that surprised me, challenged me. Each week, at some point, I had tears in my eyes. That hour of peace fulfilled a need I didn’t even know I had.
3. Helping others
Faith communities pick up where social agencies drop off. The charitable donations and volunteer activities of members of all kinds of faith communities keep many aspects of our society afloat. Clothing donations, homework programs, soup kitchens, food banks, emergency assistance, global outreach. The charitable deeds amount to millions of volunteer hours and billions of dollars.
2. Creativity and growth
A former minister of mine used to say, “Do it, and you’ll grow.” This simple statement encouraged many to take on tasks that made their fingertips tingle with fear. Our involvement with faith communities pushes us to do work that stretches us past our comfort zone. Every time we climb over our fear and break through that barrier, we grow. We learn to get past fear. Are you brave enough to deliver a Christmas basket to a family in need and share the experience in their home? Would you teach Sunday School? Preach a sermon? Do it, and you’ll grow.
And the number 1 reason to belong to a faith community . . .
So many of the activities in faith communities are just plain fun!