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Divine multiplicity

Once I started reading up on the third Person of the Trinity, I discovered how many theologians were ahead of me. The feminine pronoun is not as important to all of them as it is to me, but the idea of divine multiplicity is—the idea that one God can answer to more than one name and assume more than one form. Even if Christians will not go higher than three, the case is made: unity expresses itself in diversity. The One who comes to us in more than one way is free to surprise us in all kinds of ways. This is especially meaningful to people like me, who mean to hang on to our singular Christian identity with one hand and our love of many neighbors with the other. Within the community of the Trinity, the one and the many do not cancel each other out. They lean toward one another in eternally circling, mutually inclusive love. That is the image in which the rest of us are made.

I will never figure this out, but that is good news, not bad. To walk the way of sacred unknowing is to remember that our best ways of thinking and speaking about God are provisional. They are always in process—reflecting our limited perspectives, responding to our particular lives and times, relating us to our ancestors in the faith even as they flow out toward the God who remains free to act in ways that confound us. If our ways of thinking and speaking of God are not at least that fluid, then they are not really theologies but theolatries—things we worship instead of God, because we cannot get God to hold still long enough to pin God down.

– from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne

Honest self-reflection

Human beings are untidy collections of motives, hurts, memories, goals, fears, and so on. Much of the learning curve in any spiritual practice involves seeing ourselves honestly. Also, we must be willing to acknowledge all aspects of the self, including the parts that cause us pain, shame, or other harm. We cannot avoid the shadows and deep hurt. Neither can we dismiss those things about us that are quite lovely and amazing. A growing spiritual life leads to a growing healthy sense of self. As a Christian I grow spiritually by admitting what’s not going well with me – and also by admitting that God’s grace is already dealing with my sins and imperfections – as well as admitting that I am lovely and amazing by mere virtue of the fact that God of the universe loves me, creates me, desires me, and will never forsake me. If I am to grow spiritually, I will continue to hold all of that truth in grace-filled tension. I see the truth of myself, but that truth is complete only if it includes Divine Presence as an ongoing reality. 

In much the same way, the artist cannot help but grapple with the many and often contradictory aspects of herself and of the work she’s doing. She has to hold all things in tension and regularly train herself to look at the work as a whole, made up of the who-knows-what. She also cannot avoid dealing with how she interacts with the work she’s doing and how her complicated life interacts with that work.

Whether you’re writing a short story or just getting through the week, things get messy. You cannot afford to ignore the mess. You can’t live as if there’s no mess, and you can’t write as if there’s no mess. Self-reflection is what you do to admit to the mess and work with it. 

from “The Art of Spiritual Writing” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

Success is a collection of events

Researcher Frans Johansson codified this mysterious idea that every success starts with a “click moment” – a collision of people and ideas and circumstances that creates your one small advantage.

I like to think that this is what happened to Bruce Wayne when he discovered the Bat Cave. “Oh my gosh. The perfect lair! And it was right under my house all this time.”

According to Johansson, nearly every great breakthrough starts with one of these moments.

For instance, in 1963, the American radiologist Charles Dotter accidentally threaded a catheter through a clogged artery during a diagnostic procedure. To his surprise, he found that the accident ended up helping his patient. 

A couple of years later another physician learned of Dotter’s breakthrough at a lecture in Germany. Suddenly he made a connection and realized he could take this treatment even further by using inflatable balloons small enough to pass into tiny coronary arteries.

Thus, angioplasty surgery was born from a mistake. The regularity with which chance discoveries are made in science has led some historians to describe serendipity as a significant factor in the evolution of science. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark W. Schaefer

Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies

I was talking recently about stewardship of resources with a young man who is hoping to make a career in environmental law. We considered the fate of water, soil, animal and plant species, and food systems. In the wake of that invigorating conversation, I found myself musing on the similar problems that beset another precious shared resource: words. Like any other life-sustaining resource, language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded, and filled with artificial stimulants. Like any other resource, it needs the protection of those who recognize its value and commit themselves to good stewardship. 

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre – Eerdmans Publishing

Look it up

If the commonplace book tradition tells us that the best way to nurture hunches is to write everything down, the serendipity engine of the Web suggests a parallel directive: look everything up.

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson

Attentiveness and awareness

Paying attention is mostly what happens in good prayer and in good art. Noticing what’s right in front of you; being mindful of this moment and place rather than allowing thoughts to wander off to the past or future; regularly taking the time and energy to look, listen, touch, taste, and smell. All of this is necessary for good writing, and it’s also necessary for effective spiritual engagement. In fact, one of the benefits of bringing art and spiritual practice together is discovering how the physical senses and practical skills can enhance prayer – and also how a sense of the Eternal and Loving can open up deeper places in the art. 

from “The Art of Spiritual Writing” by Vinita Hampton Wright

The formula

The formula from the (Tim) Ferriss case study and my research is the recipe we’ll follow for the rest of the book. If we aren’t born into Cumulative Advantage, we can go around the system and make it work for us another way when we:

  • Identify an initial advantage
  • Discover a seam of timely opportunity
  • Create significant awareness for your project through a “sonic boom” of promotion
  • Gain access to a higher orbit by reaching out and reaching up to powerful allies
  • Build the momentum through constancy of purpose and executing on a plan

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark Schaefer

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