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

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Published on Saturday, June 27, 2020

Mind over matter, maybe…


It’s a four-hour drive from Edmonton to Jasper. Visually, the highway is slightly more exciting than any road out of Regina. 

            Joan was driving. I was bored. 

            I had read stories about people who believed that by concentrating, they could burn holes in clouds. I thought that was nonsense. Since I had nothing better to do, I decided to prove them wrong. I focussed all my attention on a small wispy-looking cloud up ahead. 

            It dissolved into blue sky as I watched.

            Pure coincidence, I thought. I chose some bigger, puffier clouds. I found I could bore a hole through them, too.

            So I picked one of the least likely clouds, one with a heavy dark base. I chose what seemed to be the thickest part of the cloud. I focussed myself totally on that cloud.

            Lo and behold, the part I was staring at – or perhaps glaring at – began to lighten. To thin. To yield. 

            Then we reached the Rockies, and I quit paying attention to clouds. 


Anecdotal experience

            Another time, we set up our little tent trailer at a campsite in New Brunswick. It rained. All night. We woke in the morning to find ourselves in six inches of water.

            Other campers abandoned the campsite in droves. We grabbed a spot on slightly higher ground where we could dry out. But rain clouds kept rushing towards us, so low we felt like ducking as they passed over. 

            I parked our two children at the door. I told them to think those clouds out of the way, while Joan and I worked inside. I don’t know what they said – our daughter later confessed to using words she wasn’t normally allowed – but the clouds seemed to split as they came towards us. It rained to the left, it rained to the right, but it didn’t rain on us.

            So warm experience says it works. Cold reason says it can’t. 

            Why can’t mental energy make my dishes wash themselves? Or make Covid-19 go away? Or cause world peace?


Only for unimportant matters?

            There’s scientific evidence that thought can measurably affect non-human things. In a book I edited,  Wayne Irwin documented experiments where thoughts – including prayer – affected the growth of plants. Lynne McTaggart said the same in her book, The Power of Eight: in double-blind laboratory experiments, small groups, at a distance, deliberately coordinating their mental energies, could hasten or harm the growth of plants. Or purify water. Etc. 

            So does thought-energy only affect matters that don’t really matter?

            McTaggart described with one broader experiment, coordinated worldwide, that focussed on ending Sri Lanka’s vicious civil war. She admits it may be coincidence, but three weeks after her group’s effort, the warring factions did agree to a ceasefire. 

            I’m in two minds. A few personal experiences say that focussed thought does work; other personal experiences say it doesn’t. 

            Setting clouds aside, I know only that if thoughts CAN influence outcomes, I’d much rather have people’s thoughts focused on positive outcomes than negative ones.

            “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” states the motto of the British Order of the Garter – loosely, “Evil comes to those who think evil.” 

            Perhaps we could reverse that motto: “Good comes to/from those who think good.”


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





Last week’s column, about life choices prompted by a medical diagnosis from a dermatologist, provoked a flood of responses. I got tons of advice, which might be summarized by Candy Harvey’s: “Lather up, and cover up, but don’t hide down in a coal mine!”


Chris Blackburn offered reassurance: “I'm sure the doctor was exaggerating [about living in a coal mine] to make a point about staying out of the sun.”


Laurna Tallman suggested that after any diagnosis, we should “undertake some personal online research paying careful attention to the citations and credentials of the authors. The state of medical science is a patchwork of sometimes conflicting notions. Second and third opinions can be enlightening, although they, too, must be evaluated carefully and not just from the standpoint of ‘I’d rather.’” 


Like a number of other readers, Laurna shared some of her own experiences with pre- and cancerous skin cells. Richard Best sent some photos of his progress that certainly made me take my dermatologist’s recommendations seriously. 

            Sort of in line with Bob Rollwagen’s dermatologist, who told him, “This is your youth, Bob. There’s  nothing we can do to correct history, but we can deal with it now.”


 “It is not an all or nothing choice,” Katy Cox, a melanoma survivor, assured me: “Wear a hat, get some spf rated shirts, and avoid being out from 10- 2, or especially on the water. I still paddle lots, in a spf shirt and hat, I still cross-country ski, but I wear more sunscreen than I used to. Life is good. You don’t need to live at the bottom of a mine but you can lessen your risks and live a life you enjoy.”


Lyle Phillips is also a melanoma survivor: “I had two lesions removed from my back in late 2018. I too spent many hours outdoors in the sun as a child and young adult. I do try to stay out of the sun as much as possible and use sunscreen when I have to be out, but I won't completely cut myself off from enjoying working and playing outdoors.”


Isabel Gibson and Steve Roney both explored concerns I had raised about priorities.


Steve Roney picked my line, “I’d rather keep seeking truth that’s just beyond my grasp than hunker down behind pre-digested formulations.”

            “You seem to describe truth as a will-o-the-wisp,” Steve replied, “something forever unattainable. If this were true, isn’t it extremely foolish to keep pursuing it? 

            “It seems to me that you are rejecting the possibility of truth, calling any claim to truth a ‘pre-digested formulation.’ If you reject the existence of truth, or the possibility of attaining it, it is reasonable to say you are seeking it?”


For Isabel, it was, "Under what restrictions -- from merely annoying to seriously life-degrading -- am I prepared to live?"

            Isabel commented: “It is akin to ‘What treatments am I prepared to undergo to keep living for an undetermined period?’ 

            “The former question assumes a permanent drop in the quality of life; the latter a relatively temporary one. But both require us to face the reality that we aren't going to live forever, and force us to consider what makes life worthwhile for us.

            “I'm sorry about the necessity for the surgery, but I'd rather know the answer to that question than not, I think.”


Stephanie McClellan is living Isabel’s question: “I lie here in bed dealing with the nausea of a strong, experimental drug that is supposed to reduce the symptoms of my rheumatoid arthritis and deal with swelling and pain. The infusion was yesterday, so the nausea will last a couple of days and after a year of these treatments, we are still not sure they affect the arthritis itself. So be it. 

            “My ‘I’d rather...’ started when I was 19 years old and on bed rest for months because we weren’t sure what disease I was struck with or why I couldn’t move anything but my eyelids. 

            “All this to say, that my reaction of ‘I’d rather...’ came in stark contrast to my mother’s ‘What ifs?’ What if I got the major side effects from the medication? ‘Well,’ I would say, ‘I’d rather take the meds and face the possibilities. I’d rather be able to move now and if, in a few years, if something drastic happens and I can’t move again, I’d rather live on my memories of today. I’d rather die young than last ninety-five years in this bed wishing I had lived.’

            “[So today] I’d rather settle for a few days of nausea and even higher fatigue levels than normal if it means that I can get back to focussing on my everyday life of love, joy and adventure!

            “And I’d rather you knew how much I appreciated and needed these words and this encouragement today!”


It seems many of you spent your youth getting too much sun. 

            Randy Hall had “a youthhood spent on the golf course with no shirt on and no sunscreen. As you probably know, sunscreen with zinc oxide is the best.  It even keeps bears away.”

            Tom Watson “grew up on a farm. Worked all those hot days in the sun. I too am paying the price by having to get spots taken off, generally with liquid nitrogen. Turns out the sun isn't as good for us as we once thought it was, but I'm not choosing the coal mine either.”


Wayne Irwin suggested, “This may be a moment to live out the encouragement of St Augustine to ‘sin bravely.’ Life is to be lived in the confidence of faith, not in the uncertainty of fear.”


Quite a few of the children I started school with have died already. Janie Downs Wallbrown is still going: “Most of us have had some confrontation with skin cancer if we have survived to this age. I'm beginning to think that much of life is like this. At first mention by a doctor that something is wrong it is truly a shock to one's system. As one thing after another is added to the list of [faults in] your aging body, I'm beginning to realize that when the ‘final’ thing comes along, you'll say, like your Joan....’OK. So be it.’”


On another component of last week’s column, Muriel Lush wrote, “The words of your psalm paraphrase had me in tears from the first line!  I wish more of us could empathize with people with disabilities.”




Psalm paraphrase


The lectionary’s choice of Psalm 13 for this coming Sunday seems oddly connected to some of the letters above:


How long will you let this go on, Lord? 

How long must I bear this alone?

My own body wages war against me; 
my own cells battle against my own survival.

How long will you let them have the upper hand? 


Give me some hope, Lord, or let me die. 

Then my illness can shout: "I won! I won!"

And then those who don't care won't have to pretend any more. 


But I trust you, Lord. I know you care.

I am sure you will save me. 

So I will sing your praises, Lord, for you have been good to me,

whatever happens. 


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable 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

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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”)



                  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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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: clouds, mental energy

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