Our Mustard Seed Identity

The play that ended with glory started with a mistake. 

The Finnish player won the face-off. But as the puck drifted behind the Finn, Canadian Nick Paul reached ahead, grabbed the puck and skated full-speed-ahead towards the Finnish goal tender. Paul scored in overtime and won the world championship in ice hockey for Canada last week in Riga, Latvia.

Two weeks earlier, it hadn’t looked so good. The Canadian team had lost their first three games against opponents they were expected to beat. And everyone was, frankly, embarassed for the Canadians and counting them out of the playoff round. An unheard of national travesty!

I was even chirpped by my German cousins after Canada’a loss to Germany in the early going. I didn’t know what to say! But there was a turning point, or turning points. And what started out as a losing cause, a sure demise and failing effort resulted in an unprecedented and surprising path to victory.

Way more important than the result itself was the way in which this group achieved the gold medal. Never before was the journey itself the key, rather than the destination. Without the various elements that came to play in this group’s evolution throughout the tournament, they never would have made it to the podium, let alone the playoffs.

After those first losses and barely scoring any goals, the easy and surely understandable way would have been to stop believing. The natural instinct would have been to stop hoping and give up on the dream. The knee jerk would have been to start blaming someone, mistrusting each other on the ice and stop listening to their coaching staff. The easy way after their losses would have been to just go through the motions, and look forward to getting back on the plane to Canada sooner than later.

It is understandable in a worldwide pandemic that has lasted into its second year, that we slip into despair or deny the truth. Denying the truth goes hand-in-hand with despairing.

Selling a house in Ottawa these days ought to be very rewarding, even houses that have structural problems. Because the market is hot and a seller’s dream, one might be tempted to forgoe the inspection which might expose problems you might want to pretend were never there. And still sell your house at a premium, and get away with it.

When you see a crack, what’s your first instinct? Push the pieces back together and patch it over. Eventually a contractor comes with the bad news: there is deep damage here, and if you don’t address it, before long the whole stucture will be fundamentally compromised. You sigh and negotiate. 

We have a surprising capacity to delude ourselves about how broken the structure is. “With enough duct tape and rope, I will get back to normal.”[1]

For people of faith, as well. In the midst of dislocation and destabalization that the pandemic has inflicted on us, we may very well be tempted to re-stabalize. After all, institutions are durable partly because they obey the law of inertia. It’s in our institutional DNA, especially the church.

And you’ve heard the sentiments: “Let’s return to the building”, “Let’s get back to normal.” It’s a knee jerk reaction to the stress of the unraveling, breaking and the cracking open we have experienced during the pandemic.

Another course of action on this journey is to acknowlege the cracking, the failure and the losses as the bearer of truth for us. It’s not all perfect. Never was. There are cracks in the foundation. Always were.

And that’s ok, because a people humbled by disruption and decline may be a less arrogant and less presumptuous people down the road. We may have fewer illusions about our own power and centrality in our society. We may become more curious, honest and authentic human beings. We may have to work harder at our disciplines. We may finally embrace our mustard seed identity. And finally admit how much we need the true power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.[2]

Team Canada would never have found the way to claw out of the basement without embracing and owning their initial losses. They would never have found the way by denying their problems and pretending they deserved the championship before playing anymore games. They would never have found the way without learning to play with each other and knowing each other’s strengths and limitations in the midst of those early struggles.

Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, wrote, “Believe that farthest shore, is reachable from here.”[3] It’s one thing to believe in that farthest shore. We say it all the time in our creeds and doctrines – to believe in heaven and life after death in Christ, that one day we will be there. Amen.

It’s quite another to believe that farthest shore is reachable from here, from right now in this time and place. From where you are, that farthest shore may appear very far away indeed and unreachable. It may barely be visible on the horizon of your sight line. A vast ocean and seemingly impassable obstacles may stand in the way. And yet, as one used to say, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven …”[4]

So, believe in that mustard seed of unnoticeable worth. Believe that the beginning of something great begins in honest embrace of who you are, including and especially your failure and brokenness. Know God from your own ordinary even painful experiences of life. And trust these experiences as God-noteworthy and pregnant with possibility and unmeasureable joy. And see in others, equally challenged, as co-pilgrims on the path forward. 

So, the puck drops. Here we go!


[1] Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community (Church Publishing, 2021), p.22-23

[2] See Richard Rohr, “Letting Go of What Used to Be” An Evolving Faith (Daily Meditations: CAC Publications, 3 June 2021) www.cac.org

[3] Cited in Laurence Freeman, “The Supreme Source of Wisdom” in Sources of Wisdom (Singapore: Meditatio; World Community for Christian Meditation, 2021), p.24-25

[4] Attributed to Catherine of Siena

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