Parallel Universes…Parallel Saints

Parallel universes. The first time I encountered this phrase was when I was reading a science-fiction novel a few years ago. Basically the concept is that if you travel through a black hole (not going to happen anytime soon) you will pass into another universe that is sort of like the inverse of where we live. The idea created is that life is like what we experience in our universe…but not really. Things have played out and play out differently in this parallel universe. I know…weird, strange and a bit scary if it was actually true. But you have to admit, it’s nice to dream up concepts like this.

This past week while on vacation I think I had a glimpse into a parallel universe of some sort – at least it sure feels that way.

Generally when I go away I will take a few books with me, either on my e-reader or the old fashioned paper kind. I will try to stay away from anything work related – so no ministry, leadership or theology books. I have a novel or two and just some books that are supposed to be light reading.

Several months ago I had about three or four books on the go and realized that if I kept this up, I wouldn’t finish any of them. So I picked one, and set the others aside. One of the books I had set aside was on Mother Teresa entitled, Come Be My Light. What draws me to this book, and others like it is it shares her journey (warts and all) in working out her call to start the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

So where does the ‘parallel universe’ play into all of this? As I was reading, I found myself scratching my head, realizing that her approach to her faith in Christ was almost the opposite of what I’m used to hearing or seeing expressed among the Christians I rub shoulders with from day to day. For instance…

‘Sold out for Christ’ meant just that – SOLD OUT! Lock, stock and barrel. Everything in. For her, this wasn’t a ‘Sunday’ thing, a volunteer ministry thing, or even a vocation thing. For Mother Teresa, this was a life thing – in every sense of the word.

‘Obedience’ is a good thing. To obey her superiors or those who she believed God had placed over her, was honouring God. In fact for her, to obey was an opportunity to reflect Christ’s obedience when he went to the cross. When she prayed to be more like Jesus, she meant in every way to be more like him.

She never (I mean never!) desired to do great things in this life. In fact her belief was to do small things with great love. That was her goal.

She really took Jesus at his word when he said ‘I will be with you always to the end of the age’, as she ventured on her own into the worst areas of one of the worst cities in the world.

As she ventured out of the security of the Sisters of Loreto convent, and into the unknown of Calcutta she told her superiors that if there was any success, it was because of God, and if there was any failure, it was because of her.

Though she battled for years with depression, it was her rule to smile and have a countenance of joy so that the focus would be on Jesus and not on her.

She solidly believed that the sick, the dying, the poor and marginalized reflected the suffering and thirst of Jesus as he hung on the cross. And so every opportunity she had to encounter the poor and sick of Calcutta was an opportunity both to satiate the thirst of Jesus, and to bring Jesus into the ‘holes’ (homes) of Calcutta.

To say that I have been humbled is an understatement. I thank God that my faith has been confounded by a petite and plain Catholic nun. It confirms for me that none of us have it all figured out, and the sooner we come to grips with that, the better off we will be, the church will be, and the the world will be.

However, there was one thing that I do share in common with Mother Teresa…

Jesus loves me…and I love Jesus.


I remember the first time I was introduced to this silvery liquid called mercury that was found in thermometers. It was elusive in that it was like holding liquid ball bearings rolling around in your hand. What fascinated me though was if it was poured out onto the desk, it was impossible to pick it up and put it into your hand. Even when it was in my hand I couldn’t pick it up. It would simply break into two or three liquid spheres

Not sure if they still let students ‘play’ with liquid mercury anymore, as I’m sure they have declared it to be a ‘hazardous’ product…NOT to be played with.

For me the mercury reminds me of this most wonderful human attribute…humility. I love humility when I see it on people. You can smell it a mile away and it is literally the ‘queen’ of human attributes (okay, I’m sure there are others – just sayin’).

I know the Bible talks about ‘clothing ourselves in humility’, or ‘putting on humility’. Sort of like a pair of well-worn jeans. But it’s not that simple and that is what makes it so profound…so mysterious.

You can see it when others wear it, but if you go trying to act it, or tell people you have it, or even try to ‘put it on’ – – well you sorta contradict what it’s all about. To me it’s a definite God-thing. It’s proof enough for me that God exists.

One of the things I love about humble people is that they don’t think poorly of themselves. They are confident, and yet have this wonderful knack about them to make others feel valued and needed. They have no problem celebrating the gifts, skills and talents of others. It’s a beautiful blend.

I tried to find a photograph, illustration, symbol or anything that would represent humility. Everything I found on Google images seemed…I don’t know…plastic…two dimensional. It was then that the memory of my introduction to liquid mercury came to mind.  So let it be known, from this day forward that liquid mercury is the symbol for humility! (kidding)

The other day I stumbled upon a poem entitled, The Man and His Shadow, by Paulo Coelho. Have a read…just read it for the enjoyment, not for theological soundness or anything like that. See if you don’t agree that Paulo paints a most beautiful picture of humility.

The man and his shadow

by Paulo Coelho

Illustration by Ken Crane

Many years ago, there lived a man who was capable of loving and forgiving everyone he came across. Because of this, God sent an angel to talk to him.

‘God asked me to come and visit you and tell you that he wishes to reward you for your goodness,’ said the angel. ‘You may have any gift you wish for. Would you like the gift of healing?’

‘Certainly not,’ said the man. ‘I would prefer God to choose those who should be healed.’

‘And what about leading sinners back to the path of Truth?’

‘That’s a job for angels like you. I don’t want to be venerated by anyone or to serve as a permanent example.’

‘Look, I can’t go back to Heaven without having given you a miracle. If you don’t choose, I’ll have to choose one for you.’

The man thought for a moment and then said:

‘All right, I would like good to be done through me, but without anyone noticing, not even me, in case I should commit the sin of vanity.’

So the angel arranged for the man’s shadow to have the power of healing, but only when the sun was shining on the man’s face. In this way, wherever he went, the sick were healed, the earth grew fertile again, and sad people rediscovered happiness.

The man traveled the Earth for many years, oblivious of the miracles he was working because when he was facing the sun, his shadow was always behind him. In this way, he was able to live and die unaware of his own holiness.

Oh I Wonder, Wonder…

I’ve been thinking a lot about church, the people that lead it, those who attend it, the programs we run, why we do what we do and why we struggle to simply row in a similar direction.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the church – not the institution or organization, but US…’the church’. By that I mean all of us who believe that Jesus is the son of God. That his message is true. That he came to give us real life. And that he has called us to be his followers/disciples…his image bearers in this world.

And I wonder…

I wonder about our different approaches to Scripture and doctrine. How we can read the same words and yet be miles apart on what those words are saying?

I wonder how it is that we can have this insatiable thirst for reading Scripture, studying it to the nth degree…and yet we forget or choose not to ‘do’ Scripture.

I wonder why we think we have God all figured out when we can’t even figure ourselves out.

I wonder why us leaders of churches never ask the question: “Why do we do what we do on Sunday mornings and during the week?

I wonder how it is that we are the ones that answered Jesus’ invitation to ‘Come to me all you who are worn out…’, and yet us Christians are some of the most worn out people around?

I wonder how it is that we can think we have it all right, and yet the way we treat others in the world you’d swear we have it all wrong.

I wonder why those who are not followers seem to be attracted to Jesus and yet want nothing to do with his church. Come to think of it, I wonder why there are so many Christians who are so attracted to Jesus and yet want nothing to do with his church?

But what we don’t see is the ‘church within the church’. I think of it as the ‘silent church’. This has nothing to do with the institution or organization, it’s the followers of Jesus who meant what they said when they said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation. They quietly go about their day-to-day lives, bringing the gospel through their actions and words to a hurting and bruised world.

They may not have taken all the Bible studies, nor attended every meeting or conference that’s offered, nor served in a leadership position. They have fallen in love with Jesus and they are the ones that are bringing real change to our world.

And so I wonder if the real church is the subversive one that is going about life doing little things with great love. They don’t have all the answers to our theological questions. They haven’t figured out who’s in and who’s not. They simply love God, love Jesus, are filled with his Spirit, and rather than trying to figure the church out, they are being the church.