On the Brink of Everything

I wish you many blessings for this new year.  Some people make New Year’s resolutions because there is something about new beginnings that gives us a second chance to renew our commitment to whatever or whoever it is that brings meaning into our life, and another opportunity to connect with our purpose.

Over the Christmas holiday I read Parker Palmer’s latest book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old. The book is a reflection on his 79 years of life.  Essentially it is about his understanding of what makes life meaningful. I resonated with the title as I slipped into 2019.  The phrase, “on the brink” is usually used to denote impending disaster, but Palmer uses it to say that no matter how old we are we are always on the brink of everything. He writes, “… being old is no reason to wade into the shallows.  It is a reason to dive deep and take creative risks.  I like being ‘On the brink of everything’ because it gives me new perspectives on my past, present and future, and new insights into the inner dynamics that shape and drive my life.”

I too like the feeling that I am on the brink of everything in 2019.  In 2004 I began a yearly reflective process.  The first years it was fun and interesting, but not very meaningful.  But in the last 10 years I have taken it more seriously. Each January I pick seven cards from a deck of 74 concepts (ancient and modern) that pertain to these categories: Essence, Past, Present, Future, Possibility, Blessing and Synthesis. In 2015 my Essence card was Exhaustion.  It shocked me. I would have said that I was too busy for a 73 year old, or I was tired a lot, but exhaustion was a word that suggested I needed to consider retirement.  I took 6 months to unburden myself of teaching, offering spiritual direction, and many other “jobs” that I picked up because they didn’t take much time.

June 9, with my teaching job at the FCJ Spiritual Life Centre finished, I began a work sabbatical which I defined as:  No Work for a Year.  And I did that. The next June I felt comfortable saying, “I am retired” and I got another message (and to me it seemed like it came from a divine source).   Now I understood that it was okay to say No or Yes to a request, but “yes” only if my heart responds to it and it is not “work”.  I have done that for the last 3 years.  I still spend one day a week contemplating each of the seven concepts.  My life has become a more contemplative adventure, reorienting my physical and spiritual life.  It is my way of delving more deeply into the question, “What is my life about now, in retirement?”

This year my Essence card was Maturity.  This was also my Synthesis card from last year which suggests to me that my maturity remains a primary focus.  Maturity refers to inner connection with one’s divine self/purpose.  I will be 76 this coming summer.  I felt withdrawn over the past summer and in the fall I felt restless and yearning, not for work but for engagement, as if something was coming.  This year I do feel I am on the brink of everything, but not yet sure what that everything is.  However, it does feel like a sacred adventure and I now have the tools to know how to say “yes” and how to say “no”.

Do you have a ritual or practice that helps you hear the voice of God in your life?  Does the new year hold a gift for you?  Does your faith feed you with gifts for the journey?

I heard an interview on the radio about a week ago about “luck”.  The person being interviewed is not a fan of luck. He is a statistician and used the lottery as an example of belief and reality not being the same. He said some people think they are lucky and have an inside track, scheme, or way of winning. In the end he said it is just a happy coincidence if one wins anything.  But he did acknowledge that those who believe they are lucky are more likely to be successful in their life and have more positive experiences and feelings.  Their belief in being lucky gives them a sense of self-esteem and allows them to take on more challenges and risks that lead to good things.  Whereas, pessimistic people are more cautious and do not open doors to growth and new possibilities as easily.  I would say, not that I am lucky, but that I am blessed.  Not that God has chosen me over other people to give me more life and gifts, but that through faith and spiritual practices, I am able to follow a path that leads me to more growth, more life.   I believe there is a positive impulse toward growth in all of life.  There are challenges and disasters that interrupt that process and it is how we deal with these that creates the way forward.

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The Advent-ure of Life

This adventure began when I was invited to lead a contemplative service during Advent.  I said “yes” and was assigned the second week, which traditionally has the theme of Peace.  John 14:27 came first to my mind, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Paul calls this the peace that passes all understanding in Philippians 4:7. And then a second scripture, Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, …a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household”.  There it was – the paradox. This became my focus: Peace and Conflict coming together in our life experience.

Parker Palmer, in his new book, On the Brink of Everything, says that he envies people who practice contemplative disciplines to see the truth about themselves and the world, and in doing so often avoid the train wreck. Then in his words, “I’m a contemplative by catastrophe.  My wake-up calls generally come after the wreck has happened and I’m trying to dig my way out of the debris. I do not recommend this path as a conscious choice.  But if you, dear reader, have a story similar to mine, I come as the bearer of glad tidings. Catastrophe, too, can be a contemplative path.” (P. 59) I agree with Palmer that when we are able to embrace conflict we can often find the path to peace.

In the service I had two Christ candles. The first one, standing by itself was burning when people came in, indicating the One who came with the message of good news, glad tidings.  The second Christ candle remained unlit in the Advent wreath for the One who is yet to come.  This is Advent for me, living in the tension of what has come and what is yet to be.  In expectation we prepare for the Christ who is yet to come, and in so doing we experience the presence of the holy in the gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

In preparing for the service I asked myself “What is Peace for me?”  I didn’t give up after the first few easy answers came to me.  Staying with the question is the contemplative way.  Stay with it until you get the answer your heart, God or the Holy Spirit has to offer.  Then I looked for the experience of peace in my memory, in the world or in people around me.  How does peace happen? Leonard Cohen’s words came to me from his song, Treaty. “I’m angry and I’m tired all the time, I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty, between your love and mine”. Thinking about the words ‘Peace that passes all understanding’ I wondered how do I/we get there.  I have a graphic with the word PEACE In large bold black letters and the word conflict is printed in small letters right in the centre.  There it is.  The dynamic of life, the paradox, the way forward, you can’t have one without the other. Peace and the Sword.  The promise and the conflict. Continue reading

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A Crack in Everything

Last Sunday at church hearing this reading got me thinking…

ANTHEM    by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sing
At the break of day
“Start again”, I heard them say
Don’t dwell
On what has passed away
Or what is yet to be.

Yeah, the war’s they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought, sold, and bought again
The dove is never free.

Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We ask for signs,
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed, the marriage spent
The widowhood of every government
Signs for all to see

I can run no more with that godless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud
They have summoned up, summoned up, a thundercloud
And they’ll hear from me

Ring the bell…

You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
To every heart, every heart, love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bell…

Last Sunday a guest speaker who is a poet and a theologian took us into the depths of faith that exists in the midst of darkness.  He used this reading/song by Leonard Cohen as the scripture. Cohen was a contemplative and an evolutionary thinker.  He understood the unity of everything in such a way that paradox was the mystery where God becomes visible. Two ideas that are poles apart come together in the present moment.  It is a mystery that reveals the holy presence of God.  This was the perfect introduction to Advent for me.  The paradox is: Christ has come and Christ is coming and in this moment, we embrace both realities.  Christ is here, yet still coming.  We have the ancient record and we have our own experience of the one who has come, but sometimes we experience the absence of God and are in the dark looking forward to Christ’s coming again.

The first verse of Anthem speaks of the process of entering life again today.  “Don’t dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be.”  He doesn’t say ignore the past.  In fact, faith is a celebration, a remembering of what has been; and it is also a promise, a hope, a vision of what is yet to be.  Hold these but do not dwell on them.  Because just when you think you get it, he says “…the war’s they will be fought again, the holy dove, she will be caught again, bought, sold and bought again.”  I think we do buy into wishful thinking, or is it a teaching, that if we have enough faith, if we get it right, everything will be good again and it will stay that way forevermore.  And then we get disappointed and angry when our world shifts again.  Our faith is fluid and flexible and messy.  And when the crack appears it is revelation and we understand that Christ is here in us right now. Continue reading

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My Road to “No”

The City of Calgary began an exploration process in July 2016 to assess the risks and benefits of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics.  October 2017 began a dialogue process to flesh out the way forward in getting government partners and evaluating public support.  January 2018 there was a push to support the games and get city council approval to make a formal bid by January 2019.  The bid failed to spark the vision of greatness and celebration that would get the support of the citizens of Calgary.  There was a huge discussion and negotiation process that led to a public vote this past week when Calgarians voted to not go ahead with an Olympic bid.

I got caught up in this process early because I have always been glued to the tube watching the Olympics.  My daughter was a mascot in the 1988 Olympics and I have great memories of what Calgary was able to do.  I was generally positive in support of the bid.  I kept up with the progress reports and assumed that council would make the right decision in time. In the past 8 months I found myself on the fence as the process continued and more questions emerged about the finances.  The Alberta economy played an important role for many people with both positive and negative influences.  The Olympics were put forward as a way to renew the Alberta economy, show the world what we could do, fill empty office space in downtown Calgary, refurbish aging sport infrastructure, and give us and the world a positive vision of Calgary as a forward-looking city.   But financial concerns regarding the huge expense of the games and the risk of overruns and increasing debt kept a damper on the excitement.

I answered an Angus Reid survey just after a revised last-minute budget was adopted and more money was pledged by governments.   Answering the survey was a very important experience for me because it led me to think deeper about the bid.  I surprised myself because out of 10 questions concerning the benefits of the games for Calgary I answered “yes” to 8 of them but still felt I wanted to vote “no”.  What was I thinking?  As I thought more deeply I became more aware of some aspects of the bid that were influencing my decision.

I realized that there were important issues that were not being addressed in the public conversation. Continue reading

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I’m Looking For Some Good News

I am an optimist.  I have always been interested in good news.  I used to subscribe to a magazine called Ode Magazine that turned into the Intelligent Optimist, then went out of print in 2013.  Good news does not appear to sell well.  The magazine was about the amazing things human beings can accomplish to solve big world problems when they put their minds to it (and can find someone willing to financially back them).

Good News is also the meaning of Gospel.  It is about salvation which I define as entering a better life of freedom, opportunity, justice … all the gospel values.

Lately I have been thinking about how the #me too movement is changing our perspective on human belief and behaviour.  Finally, women will have a say in their own defense and maybe this will bring more protection and less fear of being violated, abused, ignored and limited in their ability to live the lives they want to live and realize their full potential.

I just finished reading a book called Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor in world health.  He shares various data that show that the world is getting better and more people are benefiting from new discoveries and technologies.  There are fewer people living in abject poverty (which he labels Level 1 living), better health care is available around the world and many more people are experiencing some education.  He does not mean that there are no dire problems in the world, just that the trend (shown by data) is toward more people living in better conditions today than ever before.

However, this is not just a feel-good book of statistics.  The book’s purpose is to elaborate on 10 reasons why we do not have a realistic view of the world.  He was surprised to discover that no matter how educated a person was, he/she still incorrectly answered many of 20 questions about world health, wealth, or potential for change. Most people answered with a lower percentage of correct answers than if they had just answered randomly without reading the questions.

Two of his ten reasons are: Continue reading

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Silence is Really Something

It is September and I am ready to get back to a spiritual routine.  Meditation and writing my blog are two parts of my discipline.  In August I was asked to provide leadership for two 7:00 am contemplative services at the church I attend, Hillhurst United in Calgary. In the first service I used the experience of silence as my main focus.  In my blog #13 I reflected on Stephon Alexander’s book, The Jazz of Physics.  One significant discovery that Alexander explained at the end of the book was how matter (something) was created in a vacuum (which we usually think of as empty or nothing).  As I read this, my own mind made a connection with the quality of “silence” in the spiritual practice of meditation.

In several types of meditation we try to get rid of thoughts/inner chatter that are sometimes called “monkey mind”.  I find this a difficult task, but have come to understand the value of developing a way to discipline the mind in meditation. Of course there are also some forms of meditations for other purposes that use the mind to reflect and respond to guidance received in meditation.

Alexander says a vacuum (which we call space) is not empty.  That space between is where everything can happen.  It is the place of possibility.  Often when we refer to silence we mean finding a quiet place or a break in our busy routine, so we can relax, recover and renew ourselves, so we can connect to the Presence and hear the voice of God.  But the silence we seek in meditation or some other spiritual practice is something deeper–the absence of noise within us.  Spiritual teaching says that prayer and meditation are practices that connect us with the divine presence; it is the way we enter into silence where we listen and wait and come to know we are in the presence of love that renews, guides and heals us.  It is really something absolutely positive where no noise can ever penetrate. Nothing in the outside world can disturb it/us when we are rooted in it.  It has infinite depth. It is really something! Continue reading

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The Discovery of the John Griffith String Theory

I just finished reading a book called Convergence: The Idea at the Heart of Science by Peter Watson. It is a history of modern science since 1850, showing how the various scientific disciplines have been converging to influence one other and expound on the evolutionary development of life.  This fascinating book shows how discoveries in physics led to the discovery of the periodic table in chemistry; discoveries in biology (the gene) influenced the growth of politics in Russia and led to new understandings of human behavior in psychology. Watson shows how all the various disciplines in science are contributing to the one story of evolution of the universe and the evolution of human life on Earth.

In physics, the search for a unified theory of everything has been a main goal of research.  In physics research, particle theory led to the emergence of string theory.

“In physics, string theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings.  It describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_theory

Fortunately, reading this book and some recent personal experiences led to the discovery of my own String Theory:  “Any string, whether it is an electrical cord, garden hose or vacuum cleaner hose, wants to remain stationary and any attempt to move it will elicit a response whereby the string will wrap around, grab hold of, slip into any crevice, crack or opening, or just tangle itself up to impede forward movement”.  This new string theory developed from empirical observation of my own experience and continues to prove itself correct year and year.

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