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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Wow! Three Little Stories

Here are three little stories I came across in recent months. Each one made me say, “Wow!”—for different reasons. I hope you enjoy them:

The Ice-Cream Chain:

Tina Jensen manages two Dairy Queens in Brainerd, MN. Occasionally, she said, a drive-through customer will pick up the tab for the strangers in the car behind them. Sometimes those strangers pick up the tab for the strangers behind them, and the chain goes on. At times the chain lasts for 20 cars. But last December, something amazing happened. In the midst of the Christmas season and the Covid pandemic, “the kindness almost never stopped.” In fact, the chain lasted for two days! Over 900 cars paid for the ice-cream of the strangers behind them. This means people bought over $10,000 worth of ice-cream for complete strangers!

(photo by teejay)

Heidi Bruse, one of the customers who “paid it backwards,” said, “During times like these it kinda restores your faith in humanity a little.” She adds, “The way the world is now, you see a lot of anger, tension, and selfish behavior. What we witnessed was pure kindness, and it was a breath of fresh air.”

Have you ever had a stranger pay for your ice-cream or meal? How did it make you feel?

Have you ever picked up the tab for a stranger? How did it make you feel?

The Quiet Room

I’ve never been in the United Nations building, but I picture this huge building filled with offices, meeting rooms, and enormous auditoriums. But from the very beginning, the plans for the structure included a tiny space in the center of the building dedicated to silence where people could go regardless of their faith. Dag Hammarskjold personally supervised the creation of this room. He was supported by a group composed of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The room contains one central symbol: a six-and-half-ton rectangular block of iron ore (a gift from Sweden). It is polished on the top and illuminated from above by a single spotlight. On one of the walls is an abstract mural of interlocking geometric patterns which represent “the essential oneness of God.” The room has no symbols of any specific religion. Said Hammarskjold, “People of many faiths will meet here.”

(photo by Jonathan Meyer)

When the room was dedicated in 1957, Hammarskjold wrote a text to be distributed to visitors of the room. He said, “This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.” He explains the simple symbols in the room and then writes, “We all have a center of stillness surrounded by silence… There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.”

Do you have a place or places that serve as “a center of stillness” for you? What or where are they? How do they serve you?

How important is silence in your life? On a scale of 10 to 1 (10 being VERY important and 1 being NOT important at all) where would you rate the importance of silence in your life?

Have you ever been to the Quiet Room at the U.N? If so, what was it like for you?

Drinking a Glass of Beer: A Triumphant Human Act

Someone has said “lifting a glass of beer to your lips is a triumphant human act.” The same thing applies to drinking a cup of coffee or a glass of milk, lemonade, or soda (or pop… where I live, we say pop, not soda). Says Mark Denny, what is involved in this “simple task” is quite incredible. He continues, “Complex hand-eye coordination guides your hand’s couple of dozen bones, muscles, and nerves with a flexibility and finesse unmatched in the animal world.”

Here’s an amazing fact involved in drinking anything: One-fourth of your brain’s motor cortex is devoted to fulfilling this seemingly effortless task. One-fourth! He gives some details. Muscles control your grip on the glass. You must not hold it too loosely or too tightly. Sensory feedback from your fingertips allows you to make adjustments to the glass without breaking it, tilting it, or spilling it. Then you have to raise the glass to your lips. In other words, you have to find your mouth. Then you have to tip the glass at just the right angle to allow its contents to go down the hatch comfortably. Yet all of this seems to happen automatically! You don’t even think about the process let alone appreciate what you are actually doing!

(photo by engin Akyurt)

One way to appreciate this feat is to observe a toddler who is just learning to drink without her bottle or sippy cup. Note how the toddler may grab the plastic glass with both hands, for example, to steady it. She might even drop the glass until she learns to hold it with just the right pressure. Or notice how long it may take for her to find her mouth. She might even bring her mouth down to the glass rather than attempt to raise the glass to her mouth. And note how many times she might spill the contents before she learns the correct angle for the glass. Suggestion: Today, be aware of the many times you perform this “triumphant human act.” Pay attention to every sip of water you take or any other beverage you enjoy.

What did you learn by paying attention to your drinking today?

Can you think of any other human tasks we perform every day that are “triumphs” which we tend to take for granted?

Have you ever had to have physical or occupational therapy to re-learn how to perform simple tasks? If so, what was that experience like for you?

PS: I am facilitating a retreat June 25-July 2 with the Benedictine Sisters of Bakerstown, PA (near Pittsburgh). Our topic is “Everyday Epiphanies.” These are the sisters I lived with for two years while I was studying at Duquesne many, many, many, many years ago. (Each “many” represents one decade!!!) I ask for your prayers. Thank you!

I’ve chosen two short videos. The first was sent to me by my friend, Kay. It too made me say, “Wow!” The videos highlight the work of the Swedish designer and graphic artist Andreas Wannerstedt. His perpetual motion 3-D animations have been described as mesmerizing, hypnotic, calming, and meditative. The first video (3 mins.) simply shows you several of his art pieces. The second video (5 mins.) is an interview with Wannerstedt.

Here is the interview with Wannerstedt:

Now it’s your turn. I welcome your comments below! I would love to hear some of your responses to the questions after each story. But you certainly may comment on anything else in the reflection, pictures, or videos. Thank you!

18 Responses

  1. Very moved to read the history of the Quiet Room. Secretary Hammarskjold was such a compelling figure, and it’s not surprising that he helped bring such an oasis into being.

    As chatty and garrulous as I am, I need silence. Scale of importance? At least an 8.

    And while I lean more toward water, coffee, and tea than toward beer these days, I cherished the paragraphs on the “triumphant human act.”

    Peace and light to all reading this. Happy Monday!

    1. Tom, Despite the early hour when you responded to this blog, your words are so good! Yes, Hammarskjold was a “compelling figure.” He had a big impact on my teen years and young adult years… May we “cherish” and appreciate our many “triumphant human acts”–especially our ability to love. … Thanks for your simple and beautiful response, Tom! Sr. Melannie

    2. I was baby sitting my two grandnephews today and shared the videos with CJ (age 4). He loved them and commented as he watched. I’ll be showing them to him again to keep him occupied for a few minutes each time I’m there.

      As for the story about the “triumphant human act” of drinking, it has been a delight to watch CJ’s 18-month old brother, Jack, move from mastering how to hold a bottle, to using a “sippy” cup, to drinking from a straw. The other day, he picked up a water bottle and tried to drink from that. What he’s enjoyed doing lately is filling his mouth with water and spitting it out!

      These two little guys are “Wow! Two Little Stories” themselves!

      1. Mary, What a great idea to show the video to a 4-year-old–and to know he loved it! And yes, it’s fascinating to watch little kids learn and figure things out. And they’re so proud when they master a new skill. I can see why just being with those two little guys is a Wow! experience for you. Thanks so much for sharing this with us! Sr. Melannie

  2. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    That Minnesota Dairy Queen story is truly remarkable and inspiring. In Massachusetts we have done away with toll booths; instead, we now have something called transponders that link to a device to your car’s windshield that sends the toll charge to your credit card (At least, I think that’s how it goes). Yes, we can get around faster this way, but we have lost contact with a fellow human, the keeper of the toll, so to speak. At least two or three times I have driven up to the toll both, rolled down the window, had my money in hand, only to learn that the car in front of me had payed for my toll! And, yes, I felt compelled to do the same for the car behind me. Generosity begets generosity!

    Love that the U.N. building has a quiet room, and that room was installed when? 1957? It seems to me that the world must be so much louder now, especially externally, but internally too — as the Siren’s ping of our cellular devices often dash our quiet contemplation against the rocky shores of distraction. Right now, as I type these words, all is quiet except for bird song. Just lovely!

    Regarding the third “Wow” piece, well, I drink to that!

    1. John, Another early bird… as usual. I liked your words about the importance of our human connection in little ways–like paying a toll. Even though the interchange lasts but a few seconds, it can be meaningful… I often use the self-check-out at the grocery store. When I do, I miss connecting with a real human being too… Thanks (as usual) for your comments, John! Sr. Melannie

  3. Because of Covid I have missed seeing my grand niece ‘s learning to drink but I have witnessed via video her learning to stand before she learned how to crawl! How amazing our God is! Each nerve, muscle and bone and its brain connection for mobility or rest—thank you, Melanie, for reminding us that we are wonderfully made. Blessings on your day and on each viewer.

    1. Sr. Judy, Yes, Covid deprived us of many “sacred moments”–especially with children who grow so fast! You made me re-appreciate all that must be involved with a child learning to stand–let alone walk! No wonder it entails so many falls!… Thanks for responding, Judy! Sr. Melannie

  4. Good Morning Sr. Melannie
    How I look forward to “Sunflower Seeds” every Monday. It is a great way to start my week. We discovered you through a “Faith Sharing” group I belong to at church. We started reading different books of yours and are presently enjoying “Everyday Epiphanies”. Your books and your blog has been a gift for us to enjoy together with sharing our thoughts and being present to each other.
    Thank you Sr. and God bless.

    1. Dear Dee, Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. Be sure to give my greetings to your faith sharing group. And thank you for reading my books and my blog! Gratefully, Sr. Melannie

  5. I was struck by everything in your blog this morning Sr. Melannie. When I started out on my own after leaving my parents home, I knew I wanted to a house full of “important” books. The first one I purchased (and this meant saving fifty cents a week for a few months) was Dag Hammarskjold’s “Markings” which still sits in a place of honor on my bookshelves. I have not been to the United Nations, but I was quite taken by the story of the Quiet Room. I found it compelling that symbols of world religions were left out. Sometimes such symbols “get in the way” of allowing one’s mind to quiet down and just be.

    I’ve shared before that my husband of 50 years suffers from Lewy Body Dementia. I’m his caregiver, and each day truly is a unique journey. I often think of it as a “backwards” journey, because I’m watching him slowly forget all the little things we often celebrate when a toddler learns them, such as how to lift a glass and drink from it. My husband often leaves a glass 1/3 full because he has forgotten the act of tilting it higher to get what is left near the bottom of a drink. Getting into bed at night is a puzzle every day. For the life of him he can’t figure out how to approach it, and what angle he should be at in the bed. His Physical Therapist says this is quite common for those on the Parkinson’s Spectrum. Evidently the brain is diminished when it comes to spacial concepts. While it is sad to see these things, it also has left me in absolute awe of how the human brain works. I no longer take for granted the act of sitting down in a chair, or picking up a fork to eat with.

    And finally. The films. Just wow. I found them mesmerizing and comforting. I’m not on Instagram, but these films alone make me consider signing on.

    Thank you so much for all your musings today Sister Melannie!

    1. Mary Therese, Like you, I was very inspired by Dag Hammarskjold as a young student. His early death was such a loss for the world… And I was touched by your words about your husband… How difficult this must be not only for him but also for you. My prayers for both of you. Thank you so much for sharing these precious thoughts with us. Sr. Melannie

  6. I’ve never seen these before…they’re incredible! They remind me of Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculptures, “walking” on the beaches of Holland. If you’ve never seen them, please look them up. They are also wow-worthy!

  7. The Ice Cream Shop story immediately caught my attention because several years ago our breakfast group was meeting after daily Mass at the local Breakfast Club. The waitress didn’t bring our bills and when we requested them she told us that someone had picked up the tap for the entire table (at least 10 of us!) She told us they had seen us praying before we ate!
    My husband of 65 years, Jack, connected with the story of the glass because he had a stroke 20 years ago and had to relearn everything-even how to hold the cards in his hand when playing Euchre.
    We both loved the videos (watched the first one three times) and installed Wannerstedt on our Instagram accounts!
    Thank you, Sr.Melannie

    1. Thank you, Jean, for sharing your story about that generous person picking up the tab for TEN of you! What generosity–and all because she saw your group praying together… I applaud your husband’s courage to relearn so many things after his stroke… Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Jean! Sr. Melannie

  8. My family was the recipient of a wonderful donor who paid for our dinner at a local restaurant. We were so touched by this man’s generousity. Years later my husband started randomly paying the tab at restaurants of people he saw acting kindly to others. We had no connection to these worthy people except we were in the same place at the same time. One time it was a couple who gave up their seats to an elderly couple. Another time it was for a large family on vacation, and still another time it was for a young man looking lonely at the counter. All was done anonymously, which took some co-ordination with the waitress and the cashier. This became a treasured secret Phil (my husband) and I shared and no one knew about it until l told the story after Phil passed away. And it was then that I realized what a blessing those acts were to me. It filled me with joy and gave me a wonderful memory.
    I have been wanting to thank you for your wonderful Monday Morning Sunflower. It gives me food for thought and a jolt to start Monday morning walking into grace and life.

    1. Betty, What a beautiful story! You and Phil were recipients of another’s generosity–and you kept “passing on” that kindness anonymously to others. Wow! You’ll never know what impact your kindness had on all those individuals! And best of all, you realize what a blessing those acts were for you and Phil! Love always blesses the giver as well as the receiver. Many thanks for telling us your story! Sr. Melannie

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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