In one section of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s best seller from ten years ago, she describes being taught Balinese meditation. She had just spent four months in India learning -- sometimes painfully -- Yoga meditation. Physical postures that had to be learned, and held, until her joints begged for mercy. Endless Sanskrit texts that had to be memorized and repeated, endlessly.
But her guru in Bali simply said, “Smile.”
At first, it seemed far too simple. Yet, as she thought about it, his advice made sense to her. It was the Balinese attitude, she thought. Smile. Always smile. Always face the world cheerfully.
All great truths seems to have a core of simplicity; all simple statements contain a grain of truth. Not necessarily the whole truth. But a grain of truth, somewhere.
The underlying truth to her guru’s instruction was that you receive whatever you are tuned to.
In music and audio terms, a tuning fork will vibrate spontaneously, if you play its note on a violin nearby. Or on a piano. Or even a trombone. It resonates.
When you scroll across a radio dial -- even using those terms dates me! -- you tune the inner harmonics of the electronic equipment to correspond with certain incoming frequencies.
In my teen years, I used to lie in my darkened bedroom at night, slowly rotating the tuning knob on my multi-band short-wave radio, picking up this broadcast from the Voice of America, that one from Radio New Zealand. Sometimes I picked up broadcasts in other languages -- Russian, German, or Hungarian...
Those broadcasting stations, all of them, were there all the time. But unless I could adjust the resonance of some kind of capacitor inside the radio to match the frequency of the incoming signal, nothing came through.
Perhaps a smile is a way of matching my mood to a mood that is already out there.
A friend assures me that the universe is filled with energy frequencies. Every living thing has its own frequency, she says. Every person has a frequency.
Some people radiate cheerful energy. Some, gloomy. Which ones I discern will depend on the way I tune my receiver -- my whole body, my mind, my soul.
If I wear a frown, I can’t receive the smiles that are looking for me. If I concentrate on my pain, I will receive only the pain already out there. If I want peace, I have to be seeking peace myself. If I want healing, I have to be open to healing energy.
That’s why, I suspect, two people can read the same book, see the same picture, attend the same event, and come away with radically different impressions. One perceives the anger, the hopelessness, the futility. The other discerns the caring, the compassion, the gentleness.
So much depends on what one’s receiver is tuned to.
Thoughts themselves are invisible, of course. But the way we think is reflected in our faces, our posture, our tone of voice. At the same time, our bodies affect our thoughts. It’s hard to think cheerful thoughts while wearing a scowl.
Perhaps I can only receive smiles if my receiver is wearing a smile.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week’s column about some implications of Halloween brought forth a variety of responses.
Tom Watson found in one sentence “a striking metaphor: ‘find the child hidden behind the mask’ likened to finding out what we believe hidden beneath creedal statements which we no longer hold to be sufficiently descriptive of what we believe.”
It’s something like the metaphor of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” cliché that I often here. Usually, the person using that metaphor as opposition to liturgical and theological change cannot define just what the “baby” is.
Larry Smith liked the idea of looking between the two extremes: “It resonated for me. My wife and I often say, ‘the pendulum always swings from one extreme to the other.’ It appears to be human nature, as witnessed by governments for instance, that once something is identified as unpopular or unpleasant, we go out of our way to the opposite. Moderation in such things is rare.”
Steve Roney objected to my “referring to the personal creator God of the Apostles’ Creed as a ‘fairy-godmother-God.’
“One of the enduring mysteries of European fairy tales is actually that, even though they have been created, preserved, and retold generation after generation in Christian countries, and even though they deal with supernatural occurrences, the Creator God never appears in them. Neither does Jesus. Instead, you get imaginary beings like fairy godmothers and trolls.
“It would seem that, for some reason, the concept of a personal creator God is incompatible with a fairy-tale view of life. Either it is too intellectually difficult for young children, or it is too grave in its moral implications. I suspect the latter. I suspect this is also why some adults try to skirt the concept of a personal God.”
James West took a different angle: “As long as one understands and admits that ‘the fairy godmother’ is a recent interpretation of the historic creed, then your ‘counter-creed’ becomes that which re-forms false understanding back into the shape of the faith that was delivered to us by the saints. Those historic creeds continue to do their work on us.
“Here’s a book recommendation that gets to the heart of the matter: The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God, by John R. Powers c. 1977. It’s a tasty treat of a book, suitable for the night before Hallowe’en and All Saints’ weekend.”
I took a risk by including that palindromic poem by Brian Bilston instead of my usual psalm paraphrase. But several of you liked it.
Dawne Taylor just said, “Thanks Jim for the poem – love it.”
Tom Watson noted that “On Sunday, October 18, Michael Enright interviewed Bilston on the CBC. If you missed it, you can probably still hear the interview as a podcast. Tom wrote, “You can also find his palindromic poem ‘Refugees’ and a couple of others at this link: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/the-sunday-edition-for-october-20-2019-1.5325821/brian-bilston-may-be-the-banksy-of-poetry-1.5325832
David Gilchrist also liked it: “Thank you, Jim, for passing on that wonderful Modern Psalm by Brian Bilston. It is the cleverest use of words that I can ever remember, where he gave the redneck view and the Jesus view in exactly the same words -- but just in a different order. I have sent it on to my family, and a few friends whom I believe will really appreciate it.”
David commented on the idea of a counter-creed: “I like your suggestion for a ‘counter-creed’ or Personal Creed; and yes, it certainly includes what I no longer believe in. I’ve done a lot of thinking since I retired, and have concluded that virtually everything that I can no longer accept is based on Paul’s interpretation (or misinterpretation) of Jesus through a Pharisee’s eyes -- which sometimes seems to be the opposite of what the Gospels report as Jesus’s words. I guess that’s why some Churches read so much from Paul and so little from the Gospels. When I am asked to take a service (pulpit supply), I try to base my message in the words of Jesus; I am very careful what of the Epistles I include, trying to be sure it supports the Jesus message, unaffected by the Pharisee interpretation.”
Ralph Milton: “All the staff here [at the home where he now lives] dressed up this morning. A friend at the breakfast table grumped that this was all foolishness and he wanted no part of it. But I think Halloween is becoming a festival of fun when we dress up in weird costumes so that we cannot take ourselves or others too seriously.”
Years ago, Ralph gave me a red rubber clown nose. He told me, “If you’re ever in a situation where someone is pontificating too much, just go and stick this nose onto him. It’s impossible to be bombastic while wearing a red nose.”
Rather to my surprise, I find I have never done a paraphrase of Psalm 145:1-5 (although I have of the second part of the prescribed psalm, verses 17-21). The NRSV describes Psalm 145 as “The Greatness and Goodness of God,” couched in mostly old-world-royalty terms. I tried rephrasing it in non-anthropomorphic terms, and failed.
Then I found this passage by Nando Parrado, author of Miracle in the Andes, the story of the survival of the rugby team whose chartered plane crashed in October 1972. He uses different terms to explore the “greatness and goodness” of God.
“As hard as I prayed for a miracle in the Andes, I never felt the personal presence of God. At least, not as most people see Him. I did feel something larger than myself, something in the mountains and the glaciers and the glowing sky that, in rare moments, reassured me and made me feel that the world was orderly and loving and good. If this was God, it was not God as a being or a spirit or some omnipotent superhuman mind. It was not a God who would choose to save us or abandon us… It was simply a silence, a wholeness, an awe-inspiring simplicity. It seemed to reach me through my own feelings of love, and I have often thought that when we feel what we call love, we are really feeling our connection to this awesome presence.”
For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)