Reflections on questions & doubt: Thomas as a model of curiosity, questioning, and courage

Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. 
– Frederick Buechner


I talk to God but the sky is empty. ― Sylvia Plath

I think the trouble with me is lack of faith… often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. – C.S. Lewis

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! ― Douglas Adams

Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one. ― Voltaire

Who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith?… We’ve all experienced this, me too. – Pope Francis

… the Old Testament, which is where many of the questions (and questioners) are. The Old Testament proves that God honors questioners. Remember, grumpy Job emerges as the hero of that book, not his theologically defensive friends. — Philip Yancey

Songs about DOUBTS & QUESTIONS:

A Sonnet for St. Thomas the Apostle
Malcolm Guite

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.
 

QUESTIONING: An Act of Faith

When I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God in the older agnostics (Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, David Hume) or the newer ones (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations.  I have respect for a God who not only gives us the freedom to reject him, but also includes the arguments we can use in the Bible.  God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually. — Philip Yancey

In other words, no matter how strong our faith is, at some point we may experience doubt. But instead of being a sign of weakness, doubt can actually be something that causes us to dig deeper into our relationship with God, and can even make our faith stronger. — Jesse Carey

Certainty is so often overrated. This is especially the case when it comes to faith, or other imponderables. — Julia Baird

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith… Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful. – Paul Tillich

Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God. Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God. – Eugene Peterson

Surely… we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. – John Calvin

I do not believe there ever existed a Christian yet, who did not now and then doubt his interest in Jesus. I think, when a man says, “I never doubt,” it is quite time for us to doubt him.  – Charles Spurgeon

The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions, and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues, and thanked God that he was not like other men… Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”– Madeleine L’Engle

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate… I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. – Brennan Manning

We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt. – Dallas Willard

All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it, tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.‘  — C. S. Lewis

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. — Anne Lamott

Who among us—everybody, everybody!—who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith? Everyone! We’ve all experienced this, me too. It is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our lives. This should not surprise us, because we are human beings, marked by fragility and limitations. We are all weak, we all have limits: do not panic. We all have them … If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. — Pope Francis

Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God … The torture and pain I can’t explain. — St. Mother Teresa

For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God. — Martin Luther

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble … Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. — Charles Spurgeon

If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. ― Yann Martel

COMMENTARY on THOMAS as a DOUBTER

Here’s my simple contention about this passage: Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist. Think about it. Everything we know about Thomas up to this point suggests that he is forthright, genuine, and even courageous …
      Thomas, I would contend, is at heart a pragmatist, one who likes his truth straight up and who relentlessly takes stock of the situation before making a decision.
     
Which leads me to believe that what changes when Thomas is confronted by the risen Lord is not that he is no longer a doubter – he never really was – and certainly not his realism. No, what changes is his perception of reality itself. Of what is possible. Of what God can do. Even of what God can do through him….
     Jesus comes and takes his mocking words and turns them back on him, not to humiliate or scold him, but simply to confront him with the possibility that his reality was too small, his vision of what is possible too limited. And when Jesus calls him to faith, he’s actually inviting him to enter into a whole new world. …
      And this issue of having too small a vision of reality is what I find interesting. Because I also fall into a worldview governed by limitations and am tempted to call that “realism.” Which is when I need to have the community remind me of a grander vision. A vision not defined by failure but possibility, not governed by scarcity but by abundance, not ruled by remembered offenses but set free by forgiveness and reconciliation …
    There are, I suspect, a lot of Thomases in our congregations…. who should not have to surrender their sense of realism, but instead be invited to a whole new reality that God created  — David Lose

So, two things I noticed and wondered about when reading this passage.
     First, Thomas only asks to see what the other disciples have already seen. … Thomas asks for no extraordinary proof to move his extraordinary doubt, but only requests what the others had already been given.
    Second, is Thomas’ reaction one of doubt or realism? Might it be that Thomas was, above all else, a realist? And that reality had come as never before ….— David Lose

This week’s gospel lection offers us a secret room, and, with it, an invitation to touch, to cross more deeply into Jesus’ story and our own… History has labeled this disciple Doubting Thomas, as if his uncertainty were the most memorable thing about this follower of Jesus who, elsewhere, is the first to step up and say he is willing to die with him Yet Jesus, as is his way, gives Thomas what he needs  — Jan Richardson

I was reminded that in the story of the raising of Lazarus, Thomas is the one—the only one—who steps forward and expresses his willingness to die with Jesus. In this week’s reading, Thomas once again crosses into a place where others have not ventured: into the very flesh of the risen Christ… The wounds of the risen Christ are not a prison; they are a passage. Thomas’s hand in Christ’s side is not some bizarre, morbid probe: it is a union, and a reminder that in taking flesh, Christ wed himself to us.— Jan Richardson

Inventory ― Dorothy Parker
Four be the things
I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow,
a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things
I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity,
freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things
I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and
sufficient champagne.
Three be the things
I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope
and a sock in the eye.

ON DOUBT

We learn from failure, not from success! ― Bram Stoker

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. ― René Descartes

Doubt everything. Find your own light. ― Gautama Buddha

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.― William Shakespeare

To deny, to believe, and to doubt absolutely — this is for man what running is for a horse. – Blaise Pascal

Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.
― George Carlin

Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned. ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess. ― Walt Whitman

And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrased, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

THE GIFT of DOUBT —from Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister (Penguin Random House)

As Voltaire remarked, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
      The problem is that certitude seduces us. It enables us to believe that what was said to be true is true because someone else said so. It simply cuts off thought. It arrests discussion in midflight. And yet we yearn for it with a passion. We spend endless, sleepless nights grappling with intellectual options in order to wiggle them into a satisfying kind of certainty without so much as a scintilla of evidence.
     Rulers of all stripe and type dispense certainties—theirs—with great abandon. They do whatever it takes—define cultural dogmas, assert organizational doctrines, impose decrees, and use power, force and penal systems—to suppress the ideas of anyone who dares to question them. Ideas, after all, are dangerous things. Ideas have brought down as many myths and mysteries as they have toppled kingdoms.
     But there is another way to live that runs hot and bright through darkness. There are always some in every population who know that life is not meant to be about certainty. Life, they realize, is about possibility. They see certitude as a direction but not an end.
     Doubt is what shakes our arrogance and makes us look again at what we have never really looked at before. Without doubt there is little room for faith in anything. What we accept without question we will live without morality. It is in populations like this that monarchs become dictators and spiritual leaders become charlatans and knowledge becomes myth.
     An ancient people tell the story of sending out two shamans to study their holy mountain so that they could know what their gods expected of them. The first shaman came back from the north side of the mountain to tell them that it was covered with fruit trees, a sign that their god would always bless them abundantly. The second shaman came back from the south side of the mountain to tell the people that it was barren and covered with rock, a sign that their god would always be with them but intended them to take care of themselves. So, which shaman was right? If both, then it is dangerous to dogmatize either position.
     It is doubt, not certitude, that enables us to believe, because it requires us to think deeply about an entire subject, and not simply depend on the side of reality that is on our side of the mountain. Only when we look beyond absolutes to understand every level of life can we possibly live life to the fullest, with the deepest kind of insight, with the greatest degree of compassion for others.
     Voltaire was right, of course. Certainty is comfortable but always unlikely and forever disruptive. As life changes so must our explanation and response to it.

The Blessing of Thomas
— Maren Tirabassi

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” — John 20:29b

Blessed are the ones, says Thomas,
to those who listen to him, this eastertide,
who don’t need a sanctuary to worship God.
Blessed are those who don’t need a choir to hear holy music,
and who don’t need to sit in a pew
to open their hearts in prayer,
and who don’t need a stained glass window,
or a preacher or even bread and cup
to find the good news.
Blessed are those who really touch
even with gloves on,
who really smile with a mask,
who can be kind on Facetime or Zoom,
who follow a livestream to find Jesus alive.
But also blessed is the Thomas in every one of us
who acknowledges our longing
to hold someone’s real warm hand
not just the story of a hand
that reaches out to someone else, and who wants to feel
not Jesus’ long-ago bleeding side
(we congratulate ourselves about that)
but at least to feel side by side
with other Christians
in order to be side by side with Christ.
Blessed is the Thomas in all of us, who lives with doubts and hopes,
and learns to let go of all expectations
when waiting to meet God.

Reflections on Pentecost: breath, wind, and new beginnings

Breath means new life — and new life means new growth, change, and ongoing development. The Spirit protects and connects, but also challenges, provoking and pushing us along. — SALT Project

You are called to be truly human, but it is nothing short of the life of God within you that enables you to be so, to be remade in God’s image. ― N.T. Wright

Bethlehem was God with us, Calvary was God for us, and Pentecost is God in us. — Robert Baer

SONGS:

O Thou, far off and here, whole and broken,
Who in necessity and bounty wait,
Whose truth is light and dark, mute though spoken,
By Thy wide grace show me Thy narrow gate.
Wendell Berry


WHAT IS PENTECOST? (excerpt from article by SALT Project, full link here)

1) Pentecost (from a Greek word for “fiftieth”) is the fiftieth and last day of the Easter season. Next week is Trinity Sunday, and then nearly six months of “Ordinary Time” begins, during which this year’s walk through the Gospel of Mark (and occasionally John) will continue. From ten thousand feet, the Christian Year appears divided almost in half: about six months of holy seasons (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide), and about six months of Ordinary Time. Like a pendulum swinging back and forth, or a pair of lungs breathing in and out, the church alternates between these two movements each year: high holidays and everyday life, the joys of celebration and the grunt work of growth.

2) Pentecost is the Christian reinterpretation of the ancient Jewish pilgrimage festival, the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot (pronounced “sha-voo-OAT,” rhymes with “coat”), celebrated 50 days after Passover. For the ancient Israelites, this festival was an explicitly inclusive harvest celebration (Deut 16:11; Lev 23:16), and over time, it also came to mark the reception of the Torah at Mount Sinai. For Christians, it celebrates the reception of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Happy Birthday! …

SPIRIT IN US and WITH US

… view the work of the Holy Spirit differently. The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems, but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence. Rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing amid the tremors. — David Lose

Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet. — N.T. Wright

Dreams grow holy put in action. — Adelaide Anne Procter

If you want to speak to God, tell it to the wind. — Proverb from Ghana

A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache. — Catherine the Great

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman
 
When you strip it of everything else, Pentecost stands for power and life. That’s what came into the church when the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost. ― David Wilkerson
 
Without Pentecost the Christ-event – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now. – Henri Nouwen

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. … But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?” — Marilynne Robinson

… Although onlookers thought that the believers who received the Spirit at Pentecost were babbling (Acts 2:13), in fact they were speaking intelligibly in several languages (Acts 2:8-11). Note well: they were all saying the same thing (testifying about Jesus) in different languages. It takes a thousand tongues to say and sing our great Redeemer’s praise. … plurality: the various … streams testify to Jesus in their own vocabularies, and it takes many languages (i.e. interpretive traditions) to minister the meaning of God’s Word and the fullness of Christ. As the body is made up of many members, so many interpretations may be needed to do justice to the body of the biblical text. Why else are there four Gospels, but that the one story of Jesus was too rich to be told from one perspective only? Could it be that the various … traditions function similarly as witnesses who testify to the same Jesus from different situations and perspectives? ― Kevin J. Vanhoozer
 
Pentecost came with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, a violent blast from heaven! Heaven has not exhausted its blasts, but our danger is we are getting frightened of them. — Smith Wigglesworth

The Worship of Nature— John Greenleaf Whittier
The harp at Nature’s advent strung       
Has never ceased to play;
The song the stars of morning sung       
Has never died away.  
And prayer is made, and praise is given,       
By all things near and far;
The ocean looketh up to heaven,       
And mirrors every star.  
Its waves are kneeling on the strand,       
As kneels the human knee,
Their white locks bowing to the sand,       
The priesthood of the sea!  
They pour their glittering treasures forth,       
Their gifts of pearl they bring,
And all the listening hills of earth       
Take up the song they sing.  
The green earth sends its incense up       
From many a mountain shrine;
From folded leaf and dewy cup       
She pours her sacred wine.  
The mists above the morning rills       
Rise white as wings of prayer;
The altar-curtains of the hills       
Are sunset’s purple air.  
The winds with hymns of praise are loud,       
Or low with sobs of pain,—
The thunder-organ of the cloud,       
The dropping tears of rain.  
With drooping head and branches crossed       
The twilight forest grieves,
Or speaks with tongues of Pentecost       
From all its sunlit leaves.  
The blue sky is the temple’s arch,       
Its transept earth and air,
The music of its starry march       
The chorus of a prayer.  
So Nature keeps the reverent frame       
With which her years began,
And all her signs and voices shame       
The prayerless heart of man.

Reflections on surprise, disruption and the Holy Spirit: themes from Pentecost and Acts 2

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. — Frederick Douglass

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. — Khalil Gibran

Pentecost Blessing — Jan Richardson

On the day when you are wearing
your certainty like a cloak
and your sureness goes before you
like a shield or like a sword,

may the sound of God’s name
spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.

May your knowing be undone.
May mystery confound your understanding.

May the Divine rain down in strange syllables
yet with an ancient familiarity,
a knowing borne in the blood,
the ear, the tongue,
bringing the clarity that comes
not in stone or in steel
but in fire, in flame.

May there come one searing word:
enough to bare you to the bone,
enough to set your heart ablaze,
enough to make you whole again.


Questions to consider about Acts 2: 1-21:

  • What gifts do you believe you have received from the Spirit?
  • When have you felt connected to something larger than yourself?
  • When have you had a sense that you’ve lost control and your expectations have been overturned? What happened next? Did that experience make a lasting change in you?
  • When have you felt like a ‘stranger in a strange land?’ What helped you reconnect?

Music about fire, wind, breath and Spirit:

Thoughts on Pentecost & Holy Spirit

Chi and the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit share many commonalities. The Old Testament ruach and the New Testament pneuma carry the same ambiguity of multiple meanings, as does Chi, such as “breath, air, wind, or soul.” — Kim

Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not for you alone.
It is stubborn about this.
Do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own …
— Jan Richardson

Both the Jews and Christians celebrate Pentecost. During the Jewish Pentecost, every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to go up to Jerusalem to participate in the feast. Jewish Pentecost is also known by the name Shebuot or  Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks). … For Christians … It is the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in the form of different tongues. It took place fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. The feasts also commemorate the inauguration of the Christian Church by apostles. — latestly.com

… Fire fell, I say, in angel-swarm, and men were changed for good,
To feast with God, to feast on God, to savor holy food.
Bread and wine, body and blood, were shed and tucked in a tomb.
But, out He strolled, and breathed His breath, and the world became a womb …
— Ross Guthrie

You burn with irrepressible, ferocious passion … we can barely stand upright in the face of your love … you would subsume us in the unrelenting hold of your peace … thank god our inadequacy defining you has never stopped you yet. — Cheryl Lawrie… look for – and expect! – the Holy Spirit to come along side us and shake things up, preparing and equipping each and all of us to share the disruptive, surprising, and life-giving word of grace of the God who will not rest until all people enjoy abundant life … — David Lose

English translations also underplay the fear-inducing, adrenalin-pumping, wind-tossed, fire-singed, smoke-filled turmoil of that experience. Those who observed this Pentecost visitation from outside the room are described in the NRSV as “bewildered” (v. 6), “amazed and astonished” (v. 7), and “amazed and perplexed” (v. 12). The Greek terms describing their reactions could be appropriately rendered (following the lead of various lexicons) as confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, completely uncomprehending. — Frank Couch

This is not a soft, cuddly Holy Spirit; this is an uncontrollable and unpredictable Spirit … the Spirit is not our private possession — it’s not “mine.” The Spirit is given to the whole community. — Patrick Johnson

The Spirit is like breath, as close as the lungs, the chest, the lips, the fogged canvas where little fingers draw hearts, the tide that rises and falls twenty-three thousand times a day in a rhythm so intimate we forget to notice until it enervates or until a supine yogi says pay attention and its fragile power awes again. … The Spirit is like fire, deceptively polite in its dance atop the wax and wick of our church candles, but wild and mercurial as a storm when unleashed. … The Spirit is like a seal, an emblem bearing the family crest, a promise of belonging, protection, favor. …The Spirit is like wind, earth’s oldest sojourner, which in one place readies a sail, in another whittles a rock, in another commands the trees to bow, in another gently lifts a bridal veil. … The Spirit is like a bird, fragile alloy of heaven and earth, where wind and feather and flight meets breath and blood and bones. … The Spirit is like a womb, from which the living are born again. — Rachel Held Evans

Excerpt from Mindfulness Exercise by Thich Nhat Hanh (full article)

Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself. What is recognizing your in-breath is your mind, and the object of your mind—the object of your mindfulness—is the in-breath. Mindfulness is always mindful of something. When you drink your tea mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of drinking. When you walk mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of walking. And when you breathe mindfully, that is mindfulness of breathing.

So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath.

Spirit as Flame and Fire

Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.
Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.
Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
— attributed to Rumi

Love in its essence is spiritual fire. — Seneca

The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. — Ferdinand Foch

Heat cannot be separated from fire, nor beauty from the eternal. — Dante Alighieri

We cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire. — George Sand

You kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire. — Cassandra Clare

… I am … setting fire to the forests
at night when no one else is alive or awake
however you choose to see it and I live in my own flames
sometimes burning too bright and too wild
to make things last or handle myself or anyone else
and so I run. run run run
far and wide until my bones ache and lungs split
and it feels good. Hear that people? It feels good …
― Charlotte Eriksson

Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden. ― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is. ― Charles Bukowski

There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. ― attributed to Vincent van Gogh

The Moth don’t care
when he sees The Flame.
He might get burned,
but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in,
he can’t go back,
he’ll Beat his wings
’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care
when he sees The Flame …
The Moth don’t care if
The Flame is real,
‘Cause Flame and Moth
got a sweetheart deal.
And nothing fuels
a good flirtation,
Like Need and Anger
and Desperation…
No, The Moth don’t care
if The Flame is real …
― Aimee Mann

Spirit as Wind and Breath

The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. — Chief Seattle

The breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind. ― Kahlil Gibran

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind. Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation. Suddenly, you know you are alive. ― Vera Nazarian

The wind shows us how close to the edge we are. — Joan Didion

To most human beings, wind is an irritation. To most trees, wind is a song. ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana 

When men sow the wind it is rational to expect that they will reap the whirlwind. — Frederick Douglass

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. — William Arthur Ward

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?— E. M. Forster


 You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of. — Jim Rohn

I hear the wind among the trees Playing the celestial symphonies; I see the branches downward bent, Like keys of some great instrument. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Reflections on trying things a new & different way plus thoughts on fishing: themes from John 21.

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. – Soren Kierkegaard

Ironically … it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance the personal relationships that nourish and sustain us. ― Kathleen Norris

Solving problems means listening. – Richard Branson

One thing becomes clearer as one gets older and one’s fishing experience increases, and that is the paramount importance of one’s fishing companions. — John Ashley Cooper

We don’t know who we are until we see what can we do. – Martha Grimes

Whatever you can do,
or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius,
power and magic in it.
— W. H. Murray

A Thirsty Fish (excerpt) — Rumi
I don’t get tired of you. Don’t grow weary
of being compassionate toward me!
All this thirst equipment
must surely be tired of me, the water jar, the water carrier.
I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough of what it’s thirsty for!
Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures, these small containers …


Songsabout difference:

Some songs for challenging times:

Fish & Fishing Songs:

Questions to consider from John 21 (link: John 21:1-14)

  • What is one thing that this pandemic has caused you to see or experience differently? What do you appreciate?
  • What do you want to keep from this experience? What do you want to let go or be done with?
  • What in your life do you now consider to be abundant, that might once have felt scarce or limited?
  • And what do you now wish you had in greater quantity or quality, that you didn’t appreciate before this time?
  • What would you wish to give or offer, without limit, if you could?
  • What simple rituals or habits create a pattern in your daily life?
  • What gives you a sense of purpose?
  • What are some comforting practices or routines that you have developed during the pandemic, or in the bigger picture, across the course of your life?

Trying a Different Approach; Attempting Something New

One country … one ideology, one system is not sufficient. It is helpful to have a variety of different approaches … We can then make a joint effort to solve the problems of the whole of humankind. — Dalai Lama

You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things. – Nate Berkus

Do one thing every day that scares you. — Eleanor Roosevelt

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. – T.S. Eliot

I hope that … you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. — Neil Gaiman

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. – Theodore Levitt

Try new things everyday. Don’t be afraid of failures. You will not lose anything. But your brain will be packed with experiences. — Akash Ryan Agarwal

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. — Neale Donald Walsch

I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’m not afraid of starting up, starting over, or even failing for that matter, because the fact that I try new things in itself is a victory. — Lynn Collins

Without experimentation, a willingness to as and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund. – Anthony Bourdain

To live an art-filled life, one must be willing to try new things & accept that things change. – Lee Hammond

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. – Walt Disney

Life is worthwhile if you try. It doesn’t mean you can do everything, but there are a lot of things you can do, if you just try. – Jim Rohn

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? – Vincent van Gogh

I won’t know if I like it until I try it, will I? ― Cassandra Clare
 
How do you know, unless you open the door? ― Casey Rislov

Change How You Think About Problems

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines. – Robert H. Shuller

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin

Every problem is a gift. Without them we wouldn’t grow. – Tony Robbins

It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem. – G.K Chesterton

Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity. – Gerhard Gschwandtner

Inside of every problem lies an opportunity. – Robert Kiposaki

There is no problem outside of you that is superior to the power within you. – Bob Proctor

You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability. – Michael J. Gelb

On Fishing: Light-hearted and Deep-minded Observations

Fishing is a discipline in the equality of men – for all men are equal before fish. — Herbert Hoover. 

Yes, Jesus poured himself out for others. But he also went to parties, had breakfasts on the beach, went into the desert by himself, and took time off from the crowds. — Joan Chittister

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. — Henry David Thoreau.

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. — Vincent Van Gogh

… fishermen are the people with the most immediate vested interest in having a healthy sea. — Mark Kurlansky

The fish and I were both stunned and disbelieving to find ourselves connected by a line. — William Humphrey

In every species of fish … it is the ones that have got away that thrill me the most, the ones that keep fresh in my memory. — Ray Bergman

…  drought affects everyone in the state, from farmers to fishermen, business owners to suburban residents, and everyone has a role to play in using precious water resources as wisely and efficiently as possible. — Frances Beinecke

What did Christ really do? He hung out with hard-drinking fishermen. — Iggy Pop

Fishermen own the fish they catch, but they do not own the ocean.— Etienne Schneider

There will be days when the fishing is better than one’s most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home. — Roderick Haig Brown

Fishing is not an escape from life, but often a deeper immersion into it. — Harry Middleton.

I go fishing not to find myself but to lose myself. — Joseph Monniger

Christianity began as a religion of the poor and dispossessed – farmers, fishermen, Bedouin shepherds. There’s a great lure to that kind of simplicity and rigor – the discipline, the call to action. — Camille Paglia

I only hope the fish will take half as much trouble for me as I’ve taken for them. — Rudyard Kipling.

Everyone should believe in something. I believe I’ll go fishing. — Henry David Thoreau.

If all politicians fished, instead of spoke publicly, we would be at peace with the world. — Will Rogers

The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of something that is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. — attributed to John Bucha

I don’t want to sit at the head table anymore. I want to go fishing. — George Bush.

The best fisherman I know try not to make the same mistakes over and over again; instead they strive to make new and interesting mistakes and to remember what they learned from them. — John Gierach

I have fished through fishless days that I remember happily without regret. — Roderick Haig Brown

The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad. — attributed to A.K. Best

Having a Sense of Purpose: Ordinary Tasks, Small Habits & Rituals as Sacred Moments

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did? ― St Mother Teresa of Calcutta

It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters. ― Rick Warren

… God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us–loves us so much that the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is “renewed in the morning” or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, “our inner nature is being renewed everyday”. Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous details in Leviticus involving God in the minuitae of daily life might be revisioned as the very love of God. ― Kathleen Norris

Excerpt from an essay by Rumi —There is one thing in this world which you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there is nothing to worry about, but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.
      It is as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don’t do it, it’s as though a knife of the finest tempering were nailed into a wall to hang things on. For a penny an iron nail could be bought to serve for that.
      Remember the deep root of your being, the presence of your lord. Give your life to the one who already owns your breath and your moments. If you don’t, you will be like the one who takes a precious dagger and hammers it into his kitchen wall for a peg to hold his dipper gourd. You will be wasting valuable keenness and foolishly ignoring your dignity and your purpose.

If you want to know if you are, in fact, loving yourself at all, ask yourself if you have ever cultivated something you like to do—like crocheting or gardening or painting or golfing or music. Ever. And if you haven’t, why haven’t you? Listen carefully to the answer. It is the key to being a whole person; it is the key to a whole other life. — Sr Joan Chittister

Reflections on seeds & weeds as change-makers: themes from Taste & See series

The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of like is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give. — William Arthur Ward

Every one of us has the seed of mindfulness.
The practice is to cultivate it. — Thich Nhat Hanh

SEEDS & SPICES – Special focus on mustard seeds.
Song about seeds:

  • Faith Like a Mustard Seed (Jamaican reggae gospel) song link
  • Sowing the Seeds of Love by Tears for Fears song link
  • How Great by Chance the Rapper (gospel and rap) song link
  • My Little Seed by Woody Guthrie (folk song) song link
  • Faith as Small as a Mustard Seed (Christians children’s music) song link
  • The Seed Song (Christian children’s music) song link
  • Just a Little Seed by Liz Buchanan song link
  • Finger Play for children “The Farmer Plants the Seeds” video link

Learn more:


Blessing That Holds a Nest in Its Branches — Jan Richardson

The emptiness that you have been holding for such a long season now;

that ache in your chest that goes with you night and day
in your sleeping, your rising—

think of this not as a mere hollow,
the void left from the life that has leached out of you.

Think of it like this: as the space being prepared
for the seed.

Think of it as your earth that dreams
of the branches the seed contains.

Think of it as your heart making ready
to welcome the nest its branches will hold.


Questions to consider: See the Buddhist parable of the mustard seed in the column below. The questions that follow focus on Biblical mustard seed references in Matthew 13 and Matthew 17.

Whereas spices are as valuable as currency in ancient times, including many of the seeds used to create them, mustard seeds were like weeds in Jesus’ time (and today, too). They grew and spread and were unwelcome in fields and vineyards. Yet mustard seeds are used as a positive image in the parable, turning our ideas upside down. When we take small actions and make simple choices, big things are possible out of those beginnings. And maybe the world of justice, mercy and compassion — holy Love’s kingdom here on earth — will grow and take shape in the most potent, surprising, and undeniable ways. Like plants that we consider weeds, that grow up to become healing, beautiful and transformative.

  • What small deeds or words have you heard that changed your perspective?
  • What simple choices and actions have you taken that may have a larger impact than you can imagine? Or what choices and actions would you like to make as a beginning of transformation?
  • Where do you see change in holy and loving ways that surprise you?
  • Who has surprised you with insights and actions that teach you to see the world differently?

MUSTARD SEED MUSINGS: Small but Persistent

I’ve read that the mustard plant is a bush, not a tree, but it seems that the point of the parable is the size, relative both to other plants and to the initial kernel from which the plant grows. — Mark Davis

They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger than the eye of a newt but not for the great banyan it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart …  ― Frederick Buechner

I have a mustard seed and I’m not afraid to use it! — Joseph Ratzinger

… in Jesus’ world … mustard was a weed, dreaded by farmers the way today’s gardeners dread kudzu, crabgrass, or bindweed. It starts out small, but before long has taken over your field. Why, then, compare the kingdom of God to a pernicious weed and pollutant? Because both mustard seed and yeast have this way of spreading beyond anything you’d imagined, infiltrating a system and taking over a host … far more potent than we’d imagined and ready to spread to every corner of our lives … — David Lose

God’s work is barely perceptible at times, and yet produces enormous results. — Pulpit Fiction

Mustard was just about as virulent as Kudzu. Once it took hold in a field, it would eventually take over the whole place. It’s just about impossible to eradicate. Modern farmers hate it because it gets in their crops. Ranchers hate it because it irritates the eyes of their livestock. What possible good could come from mustard seed? But in a very real sense, that’s precisely the point. God’s realm of justice and peace and freedom in this world is something unexpected. It works contrary to our expectations. — Alan Brehm

BUDDHIST MUSTARD SEED STORY

“A woman lost her child and was inconsolable in her grief, carrying her dead child throughout the land, begging for someone to help heal her child. When she came to the Buddha, she begged him to help her. He told him he could help her if she would collect mustard seeds for the medicine. She eagerly agreed, but then the Buddha explained that the mustard seeds needed to come from a home that had not been touched by death. When the woman visited each house in search of the mustard seeds that might heal her son, she discovered there was no house that had not suffered the loss fo a parent, or a spouse, or a child. Seeing that her suffering was not unique, she was able to bury her child in the forest and release her grief.” — Shared by the Dalai Lama

Spices As Philosophy

The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it. — Daniel Gilbert

Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor. — William Cowper

Arabian merchants controlled most of the spice trade for centuries. They became the exclusive suppliers of spices from Asia, such as cassia and cinnamon. In order to discourage the Mediterranean world from establishing direct commercial links with sources in the East, the Arabians spread fanciful tales about the dangers involved in obtaining spices. The real source of spices was “probably the best-kept trade secret of all time,” according to The Book of Spices. — jw.org

Words are like spices. Too many is worse than too few. — Joan Aiken

There has never been any great genius without a spice of madness. — Seneca the Younger

I just think you need to spice up life every now and then with a bit of adventure and excitement. — Richard Branson

Is not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, Manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man — William Shakespeare

But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain till I collect as much as possible, and for this purpose I am proceeding solely in quest of them. — Christopher Columbus

Spices in Cooking & Food

Spice is life. It depends upon what you like… have fun with it. Yes, food is serious, but you should have fun with it. — Emeril Lagasse

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go. — Erma Bombeck

I measure in my palm and use my eyes to estimate amounts; a tablespoon is a full palm of dried spices. — Rachael Ray

All those spices and herbs in your spice rack can do more than provide calorie-free, natural flavorings to enhance and make food delicious. Theyre also an incredible source of antioxidants and help rev up your metabolism and improve your health at the same time. — Suzanne Somers

Spices As Emotion

Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate. — Plautus

Variety is the spice of love. — Helen Rowland

Love is like a spice. It can sweeten your life – however, it can spoil it, too. — Confucius

Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice. — Bethany Hamilton

Fear is the spice that makes it interesting to go ahead. — Daniel Boone

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