Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, May 16, 2020

Beauty: just passing through

A goldfinch landed on my windowsill. According to Peterson’s Guide, a male American Goldfinch, with brilliant gold and black feathers.

            Goldfinches tend to come every year around this time, as they migrate north to whatever address they use for their summer home. But I’ve never had one land on my windowsill before.

            The tiny bird perched there, as proud and erect as an Emperor Penguin, staring in at me.

            And then he opened his little beak and pecked on the glass. As if he wanted to come in.

            In our church, we usually open a worship service by sharing “God-moments” -- moments when, in some way, we feel closely connected to whatever we call “God.” Often, these moments deal with nature, grandchildren, or re-union with old friends. Happy moments, mostly. Moments of awe, wonder. But sometimes, a sharing of pain, of loss.

            That visit from a goldfinch was definitely a God-moment for me.



            Later that day, in a telephone conversation, a friend wondered if that goldfinch might have been the re-incarnated spirit of my wife Joan, visiting me after death. Was that why it wanted in?

            The rational side of me can’t accept that suggestion.

            I don’t believe in re-incarnation. Neither in principle nor in practice (and I don’t say that to criticize those who do believe in re-incarnation, such as Hindus and Buddhists).

            In principle, I think it’s unfair to assume that a scorpion or a mongoose exists to pay the price for some former human’s sins. All creatures, great and small, have their own intrinsic worth.

            Also, in practice, I know that this goldfinch existed prior to Joan’s death. Goldfinches can live for a decade or more. This one was already migrating up the Pacific flyway long before Joan’s soul -- whatever that may be -- left her body.

            So the little goldfinch has to be more than a repository for an unattached soul.

            Besides, if that goldfinch represents Joan, wouldn’t it rather stick around, than fly on further north?

            And do I want Joan’s soul committing adultery with some other goldfinch when it reaches its nesting habitat?


Perceiving beauty

            The real miracle here -- the God-moment -- is that I, an earthbound human with a three-pound brain, can feel communion with a bird whose whole body weighs less my thumb.

            Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, claims an old saying. It may have originated with Plato; it was certainly put into print by an author named  Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, in 1878.

            Essentially, it means that no two people see the same thing the same way. What I consider beautiful, you may find ugly. Or vice versa. (Especially in art or music.) The saying’s  original intent was to counter snobs who presumed to dictate to the masses what should be considered beautiful.

            But I think the saying may contain a deeper meaning. That my eye, that any eye, can discern and celebrate beauty.

            Scientifically speaking, a goldfinch’s colour is simply light bouncing off a surface that absorbs some wavelengths, reflects others, wrapped around an unexceptional collection of bones and muscles.

            But I see it as beautiful. It moves me. And even if I never see it again, I’m grateful that something so beautiful came to spend a few moments with me.


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





I’m sorry this column is late getting out to you. Donna Sinclair once described the difference between introverts and extroverts. “An introvert,” she mused, “thinks she’s told you something because she remembers thinking about telling you. An extrovert is convinced he hasn’t  told you this yet, for the fourth time!”

            By her definition, I’m clearly an introvert. I thought I had sent this out on Thursday. But thinking about it clearly was the same as actually doing it.


I wrote last week about kitting prayer shawls. Tom Watson knows about prayer shawls, personally: “Three years ago, I went to Trinity United Church in Cannington, Ontario to put on a show on a Saturday night. On the Sunday morning I went to church there. The congregation knew that my wife was gravely ill at the time so a prayer shawl had been knit to give to her. At a certain point in the worship time, that shawl was passed through the congregation and everyone held it for a few seconds to add their blessing to the shawl. It was a very moving experience.”


Bruce Thomas received a prayer shawl too: “Our sister church, Knox United in Port Sydney, has been doing shawls for many years and as a recipient of their fine work, I can report that these shawls bring great comfort in the thoughts they carry.  Having survived my dilemma for which the shawl was prepared, I’ve passed it on to another cancer patient and she too finds the warmth of the message.  Knit one, purl two ~- and carry on.”


“I also knit,” wrote Susan Peverley.”During my last year of studies for my Master of Divinity, knitting, especially knitting prayer shawls, allowed me to contemplate what I needed to be doing, relax my brain, and pray, and relieve stress.  Keep in mind, I have been knitting since I was ten years old(I am now 63).

            “When I began in this pastoral charge as a student minister, prayer shawls were brought to choir practice and blessed by the minister and choir members, then packed away until someone decided that they were needed.  I began the practice of waiting until there was a need, and having the entire congregation bless the prayer shawl during worship, while naming the recipient.  This way,   the entire congregation felt involved.

            “While a knitted  (or crocheted) prayer shawl can bring comfort, joy, and love to the person to whom it is given, it does the same for me (not to mention that it keeps my arthritic fingers limber(ish).”


Sheila Carey wrote, “One of the effects of chronic low-level stress of this pandemic is that I’ve developed a tendency to over react -- both with happiness and sadness -- to things in the news.

            “Thus it is that I’m ridiculously happy that you’ve learned to knit.  And even happier that you’ve jumped in at the deep end and are knitting lacy shawls.   I’ve been knitting lacy, cable and other complex patterns for about 65 years (I just turned 74) and look on garter stitch and plain stocking stitch as only good for edges.

            “I presently belong to a group of knitters who, until early March, met every Wednesday afternoon for a couple of hours.  Often there was more talking and eating than knitting but we got to show off our work and help out the beginners in the group.  We’ve tried a couple of Zoom meetings, but it’s not the same when you can’t feel the yarn.

            “I’m running out of family members who need scarves and toques -- I think it’s time I made some comfort shawls too.


Wilma Davidson wanted to know what pattern I was using.” Love that you learned to knit prayer shawls -- a wonderful tribute to your wife and marriage.  I think you just might have opened up a hornet’s nest for all of us who are doing the same thing although now in isolation instead of a group.  How many requests are you getting for the whole pattern, besides mine?!!

            Wilma, I found it online (https://www.allfreeknitting.com/Knit-Shawls/passion-summer-shawl ) but if I had realized how complicated it was, I would have chosen something simpler this time around.


Don Sandin (who recently got married): “My mother taught me how to knit while I was sick as a boy. I am also left handed and never learned to ‘cast on’.”


Sandy Warren: “As the recipient of prayer shawls from two churches at a time of terrible loss, I can attest to the warmth and comfort they bring. It is good to hear that the process of making them also is beneficial.”




Psalm paraphrase


Psalm 66 was, of course, written about the experience of the Hebrew people. But as I read it, I think it might apply to all kinds of migrants today, and maybe even to those who have come through a pandemic.


8          We owe our survival to God.
We had run out of our own resources.

9          God kept us alive and struggling;
God shielded us when no one else cared.

10        We have been rejected and despised,
persecuted and punished.
But we have come out of our ordeal stronger.

11        Once, we were simply a flood of frightened individuals.
We had nothing in common but fear.
Now we have become a people with a purpose;
our trials have unified us.

12        We were the eternal victims;
we were captives and oppressed.
Yet God brought us through to this new world.

13        We will repay God for keeping watch over us.
From now on, the best of everything we have belongs to God.

14        We made that promise when we were desperate;
we will keep our promise when we are well off.

15        For without God, we would have nothing.

16        We will tell our children,
and they will tell their children,
what God has done for us.

17        We were lost and lonely,
a wandering people, unsure of our future.
And God responded to our plight.

18        God was not like diplomats and immigration officials;
God did not judge us by our appearance.

20        Even during the toughest of our trials,
we never ever felt that God had abandoned us.
Thanks be to God.


You can find paraphrases of  most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.







If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                  And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry I posted some new poetic works there a few weeks ago.  If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca,  or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






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”)



                  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.)







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