Once upon a time a three-year-old boy sat in a church. At the front of the cavernous space, far away from him, an adult voice yammered on. The boy squirmed. Squiggled. Stretched out on the floor.
To entertain him, a woman handed him an activity sheet. It had a maze printed on it, full of dead ends and clever diversions.
Happy to have any distraction, the boy sat up and began to trace the path with a finger. He made his way through the maze with delightful disregard for the lines. After blowing through any twists and turns that might have blocked his progress, his finger reached the end.
He raised his arms in victory. “I did it!”
“Yes, you did,” the woman affirmed.
Why tell him that crossing lines isn’t always that easy?
Why burden him with the idea that some lines are best left uncrossed, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out which ones.
Better to send him out into the world excited about obliterating barriers blocking his path. Better to equip him to cross the many lines that need to be crossed.
“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.
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!
During the pandemic, I have been participating in Zoom Around the World events. Since we can’t travel, we are sharing photos of trips we have made in the past.
Next week, I’ll be the presenter, talking about my Habitat for Humanity trip to Bolivia, so I’ve been preparing. The process of sifting through old photos reminded me of a conversation I had about El Cristo de la Concordia, the huge statue of Jesus built on a mountaintop overlooking the city of Cochabamba.
GUIDE: El Cristo de le Concordia is the second tallest statue of Christ in the world. It’s even bigger than the one in Rio de Janeiro, although that one is on a higher mountain. If it’s on a high mountain, it’s closer to God.
ME: That’s only if you believe that God is up there. (I point to the sky) I think that God is a-a-all around, and here (I place a hand on my heart), and in you (I point to his heart), and everywhere (I spread my arms wide).
GUIDE: (looking concerned and a greatly alarmed) No! No! He is up there. (He points to the sky.)
I immediately let the topic drop. The guide was not ready to let go of the “old man in the sky” version of God, and I wasn’t about to push it. He found comfort in believing that there is a great power watching over us. It was what was he needed.
I’m more comforted to feel that the Great Power is not separate and apart from me, and that it lies within us all. I find that to be a more tenable position in hard times, because then there’s no questioning or pointing fingers at a force outside of ourselves.
Also, up, down and all around includes everyone, no matter where they are on the crazy journey with spirit.
On the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light Advent candles—one candle per week, each with a different word associated with it: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
Usually the first Sunday of Advent falls on the same date as an important Canadian sporting event: the Grey Cup. [The championship game for the Canadian Football League.] Usually we host a gathering of neighbourhood friends for a Grey Cup party involving unhealthy food and beer. A kind of Canadian Superbowl party. At some point in the evening, we still the TV, quiet the conversation, and take time to be peaceful, to appreciate each other’s friendship, and to light the candle of Hope.
This year the Canadian Football League did not play at all due to COVID. There was no Grey Cup. There was no gathering of friends.
We lit the candle of Hope, but something was missing.
But that’s when we feel hope, isn’t it? When we feel that something is missing. That’s when we yearn.
This year, there is a whole lot of yearning going on. So . . . many . . . things . . . we are missing.
In these times I try to remember that the sunshine side of hope is faith. That’s when we relax in the knowledge that all shall be well.
When we hope, our bodies are taut, we lean forward with fists clenched. In faith, we relax, drop our shoulders, breathe . . .
We hope because something is missing. We have faith because someday, somehow, something’s coming. Get ready.