too busy to write

 “Do not think you will necessarily be aware of your own enlightenment.”
– Shunryu Suzuki

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”
– Frank Herbert


now and again

mountain valley“Now and again, it is necessary to seclude yourself among deep mountains and hidden valleys to restore your link to the source of life.

Breathe in and let yourself soar to the ends of the universe; breathe out and let the cosmos back inside. Next, breathe up all the fecundity and vibrancy of the earth. Finally, blend the breath of heaven and the breath of the earth with that of your own, becoming the breath of life itself.”

– Morihei Ueshiba Osensei

commitment, service, discipleship

waterThese three words: commitment, service and discipleship, wove themselves together for me yesterday as I witnessed a baptism at church and reflected on Remembrance Day (Veterans Day).

It was the baptism of a young man who has grown up in our congregation, whose father is one of the pillars of the church, who often plays the piano and participates in services. It was one of those cases where I found myself thinking “he hasn’t been baptized yet? really? I didn’t know that.” His commitment to the Christian path was already evident in the way in which he leads his life.

In my tradition we practice full-immersion “believer’s” baptism. We hold that the choice to be baptized ought to be a choice and ought not to be entered into until one is “of an age of accountability”. Age 8. Now, you can say what you will about whether or not this age is suitable, but if this is the way things are going to go, then a line has to be drawn somewhere. Some people are ready when they’re 6, some aren’t ready until they’re 80.

I was baptized when I was 8. It kind of felt like something I ought to do. My friends were doing it. Adults I respected had done it when they were 8. I loved going to church, loved lots of things about it, so it seemed like the right thing to do. It did feel like a big decision, a big commitment to make. It was an exciting experience. We had a special service one evening at church where 4 of us were all baptized. I could feel that something important was happening as I entered the water at my Dad’s side. As he said the words “Shannon… having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, amen” I could not help but cry. I have heard those words so many times. I cry almost every time I hear them, even yesterday. I have even said those words myself as I held the hand of a small boy in the special “baptism grip” that has been handed down through the 3 generations of ministers in my family.

Over the years, as I have become part of an ecumenical Christian community at school, my theology has opened and changed in many various ways. There have been things that I have disagreed with but have been open to and have tried to allow room for. Baptism has been one of the hardest areas for me. We don’t talk about it much, but it is a sticky one for me. The primary traditions that form the basis of the school all practise infant baptism. And as generous as I have become in allowing for differences, this is one that I still have a really hard time with. I am not exactly sure why it is so difficult. Perhaps it is because I have been deeply formed by a believer-baptism framework. Perhaps it is because of my own experience of the joy of consciously committing myself to a community that has been a central part of my life.

I think it’s the three words I started with that are the ‘crux’ of the issue for me.
Baptism to me is a sign of commitment, of service, of discipleship. It is a symbol of one’s willingness to devote one’s life to a particular path and particular practises that will guide one through life. The young man who was baptized yesterday said it well in his statement before he entered the water: “This isn’t so much a huge change for me, but a public sign of the way I’m committed to living my life.”

Commitment is something that I’m going to risk saying isn’t as prevalent in our contemporary society as it ought to be. Perhaps one could argue that people don’t make commitments because there are not strong enough demands for committed people. Whether it’s a matter of a lack of opportunities or a lack of people looking for opportunities, I don’t know. I do know that I don’t see a lot of fidelity in relationships, devoted service, or deep commitment in any areas of life.

And because of Remembrance Day, I think of the commitment to service that people who choose military service make (or those who choose other voluntary public service, like teaching or working in underprivileged areas of the world). Many of the people I know who choose to enter ordained ministry are also looking for a path to devote their lives to. I think that most people yearn for something in their lives that will demand something of them, that will require commitment and service.

And this is why I like the idea of ‘discipleship’. For me, this word conjures-up all of the key things I’ve talked about above: fidelity, service, commitment, devotion. And I’m going to risk saying that discipleship is what we are meant for. Our hearts, overflowing in divine love, spur us to our natural state where love flows out of us in service to others. Being fully submersed in enough water to drown in, when one is old enough to vividly remember the experience, is a powerful symbol of devotion, a powerful experience that affirms our natural state of being: submersed in divine love, overflowing with compassion that we cannot contain.

“religious” people

religion dropdownSo I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be a “religious” person. I decided, sort of on a whim, to put up a profile on the lavalife and “plenty of fish” dating sites. Mainly I did it in order to try and meet some potential dates, since the pools I normally swim in are a little on the thin side when it comes to potential mates. What I have learnt from this online dating experience so far is various and entertaining, but I want to just reflect on one aspect: the “religion” drop-down field.

Now, there are various ways by which one might classify oneself on social networking sites (I’m speaking broadly here of not just dating sites but other networking sites like MySpace and Facebook): by which schools one has attended, by profession, by location, by interests, by tastes (in music, film, tv, books), but by far, for me, the most fascinating category is that of “religion”.

Let’s start out by saying this: I think I definitely have to call myself a religious person. I figure since I am actually an ordained minister in a church, there is really no way of pretending that I don’t find some value in organized religion or identify somehow with organized religion. But here’s the funny thing, when I signed-up for lavalife, I was reluctant to choose a religious affiliation from the drop-down box provided on my profile page. Weird, eh?

I think partly the problem is that if I choose one from the box, the closest one is ‘christian – other’, which just seems to be strange. Why can’t they just put ‘christian’ and leave it at that? Or just put ‘religious’, and if someone wants to know more, they can ask. The ‘non-religious’ field-choosers don’t have to specify what type of non-religious person they are, so why the pigeon-holing of us religious types? And then what about hybrid types? Yes, I’m christian, but I come from a strange little denomination, and I find value in the teachings of Buddhism, and I really enjoy the way the Hare Krishna folks worship, and I really love the traditions and practicality of Judaism, and I also find just being in the outdoors to be a profoundly religious experience, and not just in a Christian ‘creation spirituality’ kind of way. So what am I? What drop-down menu selection ought I to choose?

facebook religion

I like the fact that Facebook, instead of having a drop-down box where you must select from a list, instead just has a field where you can fill-in whatever you’d like, I think that is a little bit better for being able to specifically articulate what one believes in such a personal area, and for the longest time on there I have been “Christian, Process Theology, Community of Christ”.

But on the dating sites the choices are limited, so I picked “other”. Not “christian – other”, just “other”.

And I had a couple of messages. Two of which asked what kind of grad student I am. Hm. Now there’s another good question. So I told them I studied theology, and in relation to this bit of information they both asked “so, are you a religious person?” Yes, I am a religious person, but – and this is the key part – I really wanted to say “but I’m not THAT, kind of ‘religious’ person”. I’m not the shove-it-down-your-throat type of religious person, I’m not the you’re-going-to-hell type of religious person, I’m not the let’s-pray-together-on-our-first-date type of religious person.

And so after those two awkward questions, which I pretty much just avoided answering, I changed my profile. I selected “christian – other”, in order to avoid that question in the future. And yet I’m not necessarily even particularly comfortable with that, because I don’t want to get messages from, get this, THAT kind of “religious person”. And I am also afraid that someone might avoid even sending me a message, out of fear that I am one of THOSE kinds of religious people!

Perhaps I am over-thinking this and really I’m just not ready for the world of online dating sites….

But because of this little identity drama I have been reflecting on what it means to be a religious person. Is it merely because I have a card in my wallet that says I’m an ordained minister? Is it because my name is in a computer database at church headquarters on the list of “members”? Is it because I have studied theology? Is it because I go to church every Sunday? I ask these questions because there are plenty of religious people who do all of those things and are also judgemental, self-absorbed, destructive, unloving, and I don’t think any of those latter qualities are marks of a truly “religious” person.

I’m reading a little book right now called On Religion by John D. Caputo, and he has some very interesting things to say about what religion and religious people ought to be about. He says things like “religion is for lovers” and says that religion is not such a singular thing as it is often made out to be, but is instead a bunch of ways people have come up with to love God. And “anyone worth their salt” says Caputo, ought to love God.

There are points that I don’t meet Caputo on precisely, but much of his general thesis appeals to me, namely that the focus of anything we want to call “religion” ought to be love. And not just love of self or friends, but love of God, the world, and everyone.

And so on Facebook, the one place where I can freely say what I wish about what I believe, I now say this:

religious views lover

I think anyone “worth their salt” can see these religious views in me once they get to know me, and I think I will just have to trust that as I meet new people, my “religiousness” will speak for itself, and I won’t have to explain it away, nor squeeze myself into a little box.


crochetI’m not a particularly fidgety person, I have no problem with sitting still for a long period of time, in fact, I would like to spend more time sitting still. But lately when trying to sit still and quiet my mind, I’ve found it very helpful to accompany that quietening with some kind of embodied practise. Somehow, when my body is engaged, I find my mind has an easier time settling-down and ceasing to analyze everything.

So I’ve tried a couple of things to do this, walking a labyrinth and crocheting (not at the same time… though that could be interesting). I thoroughly enjoy the practise of intentional walking in the labyrinth, which itself is a source for endless metaphors about life, so often I’ll let my mind play with metaphors in order to keep it amused while I try to pray or meditate.

Crocheting is a dangerous practise because sometimes it feels a little too much like the classic female tendency to want to always be doing something “productive”, at the end I have “something to show” for my time, a proof that I have not “wasted” my time. On the other hand, at the end I have an item that is full of mindfulness, full of prayerful energy, radiating love, and I’m so happy to give those things away. And now I’m also working on one project that is just for me. At the end of the day I find it is so nice to sit down and crochet a row, calming my mind and opening my heart, making space for the world. And also there is the aspect of taking out all the stitches and starting again, returning the yarn to its ball, listening again to hear what the yarn would like to become (yes, I listen to yarn, you should try it sometime, it usually knows best what it should be used for).

Embodied spiritual practise that links new thinking with living my everyday life in new ways speaks most deeply to my soul, and hopefully these practises will lead me more deeply into mindful awareness, seeking to be so mindful that eventually every moment, every step, every word, every touch is as deeply linked to Awareness as those times where I sit or walk most intentionally.