Recent Hope Notes

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash

April 12, 2024

It is estimated that 3.7 million people travelled this past week to a location where they could get a good view of the Solar eclipse. The unusual, if not once-in-a-lifetime opportunity inspired awe. For me it also inspires imagination as I ponder what appears to be a coming together of lights from these heavenly bodies.

From ancient times people have been awed and inspired by the heavens and heavenly bodies: the sun, moon and stars. The constancy of the stars provided stability and organization. In navigation for example, “Unlike a magnetic compass the North Star always points to true north.” (1)

The Greeks and Romans along with many ancient religions attributed masculine energies to the sun and feminine energies to the moon.  This duality of energies was universally accepted. In the Yin/Yang of Daoism, Yin represents feminine and Yang masculine energies.

It can be confusing because “masculine” and “feminine” energies are not the same as “male” and “female.” I expect the designation originated in their primary life-giving roles. “Masculine” energy is outward focused and assertive, like the sun and sperm. “Feminine” energy is inward focused, and receptive, like the moon and the womb. The moon is considered feminine because of its power to control tides and women’s monthly cycles.

The ancients further attributed feminine and masculine energies to the four basic elements of air, fire, earth and water. (2)

Earth and water are considered feminine energies. Earth is a symbol of stability, nourishment, security, fertility, health, and home. Water is a symbol of rebirth, healing, fertility, change, dreaming, clarity, and intuition. Fire and air are considered masculine energies. Fire is a symbol of love, desire, anger, power, assertiveness, and energy. Air is a symbol of knowledge, perception, communication, creativity, and strategy. (2)

Gratitude Prompt: For the solar eclipse that brought people together for a few hours in wonder and awe.

  1. https://wildernessawareness.org/articles/finding-the-north-star/
  2. https://symbolsage.com/four-elements-symbolism/
  3. Western civilization with its predominance of masculine energies was shaped by the Christian religion which for many centuries has silenced women and denigrated feminine energies. Author Elaine Kelly is one among others who is returning to the roots of Christianity to reclaim the message of freedom and inclusion that was central in Jesus’ life. Her compelling new novel “Because She was Called: From Broken to Bold Book 2” will be available on April 16. Like all of her books and articles this one is historically accurate, infused with Biblical knowledge and shines a light on the shift from the inclusive teachings of Jesus to the exclusive practices that dominated the Church in subsequent centuries. I was privileged to read an advanced copy and highly recommend it. https://www.elainekelly.ca/
  4. From “Grandmothers Counsel the World,” Edited by Carol Schaefer. Published by Shambhala Publications Inc. 2006

Vectors by Saba Vector: 44230235, Standard License

March 29, 2024

From the perspective of an acorn, it is a wild hope to become a strong, towering oak tree. How does it happen? There is a life energy within the seed that meets the life energies outside of the seed. Life, death and new life is the pattern in the natural world. We are part of nature and yet it is surprising and breath-taking to understand the pattern’s implications in every area of our lives. Instead of seeing hopes for new life we identify more readily with death.

We experience “death,” for example, as broken dreams, betrayal in relationships, loss of reputation, failure to live up to our expectations for ourselves, separation from loved ones and physical death. We have all experienced such losses and can identify with them. However, most of us have trouble believing in resurrection. In these times of significant changes, loss or death, our finite imaginations cannot grasp what could be life-giving in the future.

A towering oak tree would seem impossible from the perspective of an acorn. And, on the Friday that Jesus was crucified it was impossible for Jesus’ followers to imagine there would be an Easter Sunday.  So it is with us. In our times of suffering and loss we have to cling tenaciously to the certain knowledge that there will be an “Easter Sunday” and the new life will be more amazing and better than we could have imagined. 

For many people the crucifix, that is the cross with Jesus on it, speaks of the love of God which makes God present to us in our suffering.

Others prefer the icon of the empty cross – because the pain, suffering and death of Jesus was not the last word. The Resurrection of Jesus gives meaning to the death of Jesus on the cross. In the words of Franciscan Richard Rohr “The soul is always freed and formed through dying and rising. Indigenous religions speak of winter and summer; mystics speak of darkness and light; Eastern religions speak of yin and yang or the Tao. Some Christians call it the paschal mystery, and Catholics proclaim this publicly at every Eucharist as “the mystery of faith.” (1)

This weekend I celebrate Easter, not just as an event that happened 2000 years ago, but as a principle of life. No matter what we have done, no matter what has been done to us, there is always hope for healing, new life, love and purpose.

Gratitude Prompt: For hope that enables me to trust in new life.

  1. https://cac.org/daily-meditations/the-belly-of-the-whale-2017-08-01/
  2. I purchased the copyright for this phoenix image. The phoenix, according to some ancient mythology, is a bird that dies and is reborn from the ashes. A fitting image for hope-notes, and for Easter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(mythology)

Vectors by Saba Vector: 44230235, Standard License

February 9, 2024

Full-time parenting is mindfulness.

My granddaughter and I spent a day together this week. I had an exhausting and wonderful day. We didn’t spend the whole day talking. I think the fatigue came from being attentive for the whole time.  Our day reminded me that my present success in mindfulness practices is not all that impressive. Given the luxury of time, to be able to meditate in silence is not all that big of an achievement. Nor does meditation produce in me the learning and spiritual fruit that comes from one day or even a couple of hours of parenting. Children have a way of forcing us to be present in the moment. Full-time parenting is mindfulness.

As a grandparent I have the luxury of being able to step back from total immersion in the lives of young children. For the space of the hours I spend with children, I recognize that I am totally mindful and engaged. I am reminded of how much energy it takes for parents to be present and attentive 24/7. As a young parent I was always very appreciative of the other adults who helped with child care. Spiritual traditions recognize that we are not expected to go it alone. We live in communities.

I recently re-visited that classic parenting book, “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk.” (1) Their philosophy resonates with me: children are real people with legitimate reasons for their behaviour. Relating to children requires listening, imagination, understanding and empathy. A key take-away for me is “ears can’t hear until emotions are accepted.”

Spiritual practices across traditions give insight on practicing this simple understanding. Non-attachment taught in Buddhism does NOT mean we are not attached and don’t care about our children. Rather it means that our children’s fears, wounds, dreams and victories are not ours. By removing our own emotions from a situation, we are better able to hear our children and accept their emotions. Obvious, but still true, humour helps diffuse a tense situation.

The classic teachings on meditation encourage practitioners to sit in silence for 20 minutes twice a day. This is unrealistic for many parents of young children. Some of us will brush off the value of this practice. Others will feel worse about themselves because they can’t achieve it. There is a middle way which is to recognize and use the silence of moments. Mental health practitioners and others encourage us to notice and pause in the moment between a stimulus and a response.

Between every screaming child and my reaction there is a fraction of a moment. In the same way we tell children to count to ten before lashing out in anger, spiritual wisdom encourages us to live into that moment, that pause. The goal and hope is to remove my wounded pride from my reactions so I can respond to a child’s pain and not the chaos they’ve created in my space.

When I step back, I am able to observe my “parenting” with coolness, outside of the heat of the moment. That is, I can understand their upsets and observe my triggered responses. The authors of “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” make it sound so simple. When we look at living mindfully as a spiritual practice of parenting, we recognize that it is not simple and practice doesn’t make perfect. We will make mistakes. But I believe it’s true that “Love covers all offences.” (2.) Children who feel valued and loved will readily forgive. Trust is established when parents and grandparents demonstrate that they have heard their children by acknowledging they’ve made a mistake or by changing their mind about a decision. Our honesty provides children with important life skills such as criteria for understanding fairness and tools for discernment in decision making.

Let us not get so bogged down by a bad moment that we miss the next glowing moment of discovery and joy. Mindfulness as a parent (or grandparent) need not be a separate spiritual exercise but a deep awareness of the miracle of the moment. Mindfulness as a grandparent means for me to notice and celebrate who a child is today, because next week s/he will already be a different and equally beautiful child.  

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for children, who constantly invite me to see the world with wonder, wide awake to new possibilities unfolding.

  1. “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. Also “How to talk so little kids will listen” by Joanna Faber and Julie King.
  2. Proverbs 10:12 and also 1 Peter 4:8 in Christian Scriptures

January 26, 2024

Healing is not the same as curing. When we wish, hope or pray for a miracle we are often looking for an instant and complete cure, like the kind found in Bible stories and shared on social media. I do wish for those kinds of miracles. Instead, I have come to recognize the slower, deeper miracles of healing. (1)

Healing and health both derive from a word found in Western European Germanic languages that means to make whole, or having a wholeness. (2) I remember visiting with a friend in her last year of ALS. One day she invited me to come when some of her friends from her Bible study group were also there. As the gathering drew to a close one of the women approached Nancy and said with confidence and conviction, “we are praying for your healing. You are going to be cured from this disease. We believe God will answer this prayer.” Then she turned to me and said, “don’t we?” I stumbled over my answer, “I don’t know.” Nancy interrupted and in her whispered voice said, “I am already whole.”

Philosophies abound on how to attain a cure. Nancy’s friend, like others, say you just need more or the right kind of faith. Others promote health and diet fads: eat these super foods, take these miracle supplements, do this right energy exercise. There is also the “law of attraction” in self-help and new age thinking that says that we invite our illnesses to live with us by our wrong thinking. All of these things at the least give false hope and worse, further oppress and isolate those who are suffering with chronic pain and chronic illness. (1)

Healing is different. It is a life-long process for all of us to become more whole. Healing brings into alignment our body, mind, spirit and relationships. Active pursuit to achieve our goals is the dominant world view in our society. Healing offers the wisdom of opening to allow self-compassion to do its work on us. (1) Offering our wounds compassion creates space for that great healing balm of forgiveness.

Such self-awareness enables us to recognize not just the source of our pains but also those areas of our lives where there is health and joy. We are each complex beings with the capacity to hold suffering and joy simultaneously. Because healing is a life-long journey we do not need to wait until we are cured or well to do things that bring us meaning or joy. (1) We can begin or continue as we are able to do whatever is our own to do in this life. Perhaps we have gifts to help others in their healing journeys. 

In many indigenous traditions January 31 – February 2 is celebrated as the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, an investment in hope that warmer days are coming. I have written previously about how we look for these early signs of Spring in Groundhog Day, Maple Syrup harvesting and in the Jewish arbor day, Tu Bishvat. (3) Celtic Pagans, called this midpoint Imbolc. In the Republic of Ireland February 1 is a national holiday in celebration of Imbolc and St. Brigid.

St. Brigid of Kildare is one of the three patrons of Ireland. She is also a patroness of healing, poetry, learning and other things. To be a patron means that she takes a special interest in these things and she is an intercessor for help.

Brigid is also the name of one of the Celt’s powerful goddesses who was traditionally honoured on February 1. This is no accident. Scratch the surface of many Christian traditions and one finds deep roots in indigenous traditions around the world.

What it means to be human is something that transcends time, culture and religion. Psychologist Karl Jung coined the word archetype to refer to ideal or true human qualities that merge in an image. (4) We recognize these true qualities because they resonate with us at a deep level; we are inspired by them; we desire them and we try to emulate them to grow into our best selves. Brigid, both the saint and the goddess, is an archetypal healer. (1) People are drawn to the stories of Brigid’s compassion for those who are poor and feel powerless.

I intuit that the attraction of Brigid is not that she performed miracles of healing but that she welcomed in outsiders, and we all sometimes feel like outsiders. Brigid the healer resonates with us on our journey to wholeness; we welcome with compassion those “outsider” parts of ourselves that need healing. At a deep level we recognize our own need for healing, and our own often unrealized gifts for healing.

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for Brigid, the archetypal healer – whose story draws our minds and spirits upwards to hope in our healing and wholeness.

  1. I credit Christine Valters- Paintner for introducing me to Brigid as an archetypal healer, as presented in Abbey of the Arts Self-Study retreat: “Visionary, Warrior, Healer, Sage: Archetypes to Navigate an Unravelling World”  This hope-note reflects Christine’s presentation in an understanding of healing as giving space and compassion for our wounds, recognizing that healing is a life-long journey and we don’t have to wait to live out our gifts. Also, Christine touches on unhelpful or oppressive perspectives on healing. https://abbeyofthearts.com/programs/self-study-online/visionary-warrior-healer-sage/
  2. Etymology of the word health:  https://www.etymonline.com/word/health
  3. https://hope-notes.ca/trusting-the-sign-of-the-maple-herald-of-spring/
  4. Archetypes do not always have human forms. For example, in some indigenous traditions animals are archetypes, representing particular characteristics. The coyote, for example represents the archetype of trickster.
  5. Other resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid_of_Kildare https://susannabarlow.com/2021/03/26/understanding-the-healer-archetype/