Friday, 22 November 2019

Gifted a Dancer

For quite a while now, the image of dancing has been significant in my spiritual journey. I recall moments on retreats and in my own journalling where dance has been extremely symbolic in my own learning about myself and my "calling" in life. Some of you will know that my daughter dances. It is the most important thing in her life, and, therefore, has become a large part of my life too. The costumes, the glitter, the hair, the makeup - it's all very exciting. One of my greatest joys is watching her dance (whatever style it may be). Being surrounded by dance has been a gift to me, a constant reminder of the space I need to be myself. Here is a reflection I wrote recently, after watching her annual dance concert.

Gifted a Dancer

Long before I was gifted a dancer,
I danced myself.
A taste of tap, a year of ballroom,
and a decent dose of ballet.
After doing my bit as a snowflake,
a Turkish delight and a lilac fairy,
it didn't take a prima ballerina
to recognise my need to pursue other skills.

Shortly after I was gifted a dancer,
but before we knew there was more than Wiggles bopping,
I discovered my name of grace.
Sartika, sacred dancer,
one who hears the silent music
and moves to the beat of her own drum.

As I first realised I had been gifted a dancer,
I found my soul space,
my ballroom, full of pedestals and expectations,
with no space to dance.
The music had faded,
drifted off to a distant place,
and the sacred dance became a dirge.

As I wonder at the dancer I have been gifted,
as I see her blossom,
growing in strength, maturing in expression,
floating and turning with such freedom,
I am encouraged to clear the way
for the sacred dance to continue
and for the music to return.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Crows and Ordination - Continuing Discernment

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my ordination. Ten years ago I stood in Penrhos Chapel surrounded by friends and family as people said special prayers and words that changed my life. Ten years ago I knelt as mentors and colleagues placed their hands on me and prayed for the Spirit to strengthen and gift me for this calling. Ten years ago it seemed the possibilities were endless, I was excited, full of anticipation - I was ready. Today I find myself in a very different space and I ask myself what these ten years of ordination mean while on a leave of absence from ministry. 

I have come to realise over the last two years that my view of ordination was rather narrow. There were a few choices: chaplaincy (school, hospital, palliative care, defence forces), congregational ministry or a position within the church institution. I had a go at school chaplaincy for a few years. I enjoyed this placement, but discerned that it was time to move on and minister in a congregation. I spent seven great years ministering with the Margaret River and Augusta congregations and during this time discovered so much about myself. And then everything hit the fan - so to speak.

I began to experience those familiar niggles and nudges that have become a sign to me that the next chapter is unfolding just over the page. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, the rollercoaster of discernment began once again. But the journey has seemed to end off the rails in some wasteland beyond the amusement park. Some people have politely questioned my decisions and at times I have felt like a disappointment to the church. However, I made the choice to be authentic to my sense of calling even when it seemed out of place. I have been constantly asking myself what church, ministry and ordination looks like beyond the bounds of the box I had created.

I may well have still been stuck in this spot if it hadn't been for a drama production I experienced while at the Common Dreams conference in Sydney last month. Rev Alex Sangster performed a solo piece titled 'Crow' over three days. Full of symbolism and emotion, the drama touched on themes of death, ordination, revelation and relationship. For me, it spoke deeply into my own situation and struggles to understand this space I now find myself.

As Alex portrayed her character, with all her insecurities and questions, I found myself resting more easily into my own journey. As I watched her becoming more okay with her sense of 'being' rather than 'doing', so too I became more comfortable in seeing my ministry in terms of the person I am rather than the tasks I conquer. As I experienced the presence of the crow interweaving through all the dialogue, the struggles and the peace, I too became more trusting of the continuing presence that is guiding me through this strange land.

And so, as I look back over ten years of ordination, ten years of setting my life apart for whatever God calls me into next, I am content that this space is where I am supposed to be right now. It may not be what others expected from me, or even what I expected myself, but it is proving to be a place that is surprising and fruitful. I keep listening for the crow and look forward to what adventures the next ten years will bring.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

When things come full circle

I am not often good with remembering details, but I have a distinct memory of the morning I told the Augusta congregation of my intentions to take a leave of absence to pursue further study. I was extremely nervous about how they would receive the news. We were still in the Easter season and I was preaching on the passage where Paul is in Athens and talks with the people about their "unknown God". We explored what can be known of God and what is mystery. I shared the feelings of vulnerability that we have when telling others of our personal experiences of God. At the end of the service I announced that in about a year I would be leaving my ministry with them to begin a new path.

One of the reasons that morning is stuck so firmly in my mind, apart from my whirlwind of emotions, was the present of a visitor. The lady snuck into the church moments before the service was due to start and I only had time for a quick smile and a hello, before worship begun. She participated throughout the service and seemed comfortable, but as the end of the service drew closer my discomfort rose. It felt strange having a visitor present for my announcement. I was nervous enough as it was. During morning tea I introduced myself properly to the visitor and apologised that she had arrived on an unusual morning. As it turned out, we had a great chat and she gave me her email address to send her my message from the service to revisit.

An email conversation had begun and the visitor told me that she was gathering spiritual stories from women to compile a book that would encourage other women to share their experiences and stories. She asked me if I would be willing to share my story of discernment. Part of me felt like running, or at least politely declining. But another part of me heard again my own sermon encouraging me to be a little vulnerable in order to encourage and empower others. At any rate, it would be a good exercise to write about this journey and how God had been working through it. I wrote it up and pressed send on the email before I could back out.

That was two years ago. I have received the occasional email from the visitor from time to time updating me and letting me know it is still in her plans. At one point she even asked me to add a little to the end to update the story. Every now and then I have wondered whether anything will ever come of her dream to publish these stories. Well... yesterday I received an email from her saying she had finally submitted the 14 stories to a publisher. Her dream was becoming a reality. It made me smile to think how this had all come full circle. It began on a morning when I was feeling particularly vulnerable sharing my experience of God's calling in life. It escalated in an invitation to share ore deeply that story with whoever might choose to read this lady's book. And now, two years later, I am about to begin listening to the stories of other women's experiences of God in an effort to find ways to empower and encourage women to name the "unknown God" in their lives. In some ways this strange story of the visitor and her mysterious book has been underlying my journey and I look forward to how it will continue in the next chapter.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

The "Well" Spaces we Create

On Friday afternoon I had the privilege of being the guest speaker at Bunbury's Australian Church Women's Fellowship Day Service. It is one of a few ecumenical worship services run by a small local committee throughout the year. The theme for the service was "Women at the Well: Conversing Open Heartedly with Jesus", based on John 4. I couldn't turn down an opportunity to revisit my favourite scripture from another angle with another group of people.

I decided to concentrate on the well as the stage on which this scene is set. I recounted three personal stories of encounters with the Divine at three different wells. Each story holds great significance and each teaches me something about my relationship with God and other people. If you would like to read the whole message click here. I brought my speech to a close by encouraging people to create "well" spaces for people to encounter the Divine; places that are surprising or unlikely, places that are welcoming and safe, places where people can rest, reflect and quench their thirst. 
Jacob's Well, Nablus, West Bank


I shared the challenge to create "well" spaces wherever we find ourselves and not to feel they need to be confined within the walls of our sacred places or within the time slots we assign to holy things. I reminded people of our need to hold loosely to the wells we build and to focus instead upon the living water we are drawing upon. I encouraged people to see the ordinary and everyday as potential encounters with others and the Divine.

What I didn't realise was that by simply being there and standing up the front to deliver my message, I had created a "well" space for at least a handful of women present. At the afternoon tea following the service, four Catholic women approached me and told me how meaningful it had been to hear a message from a woman that day. One shared that hearing the message from me had given her hope that she may have something of value to share from her own stories. I don't think it would have mattered what I had said for these women. This is something I certainly take for granted. I am used to women preaching, women leading and women's voices being heard. Somehow, however, within the "well" space of Friday's service a few women were able to connect with God in a new way that gave them hope. It had nothing to do with words, but everything to do with a shared encounter in a space that for that moment was gushing with living waters.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Flourishing from Failure

If I fail to blog regularly it causes me problems. There is always something going on in my active mind, and a space of three or more weeks leaves me with the dilemma of which of the myriad of reflections floating in my brain to share. And so, this morning as I sit with this conundrum, I have landed on a memory from over a week ago that has stayed with me.

Margaret River has an awesome annual event, the Readers and Writers Festival. Each year they manage to secure great presenters from a variety of genres - some big names and other lesser known authors. For the last few years I have managed to attend parts of the festival and hear some inspiring people share their stories. This year, Michael Leunig was on the program. Well, I wasn't going to pass up that opportunity. 

He was just like I imagined he would be - quiet, humble, calm and funny. His talk seemed unplanned and spontaneous as he sat with a white board in front of him demonstrating how his characters came to life for him. But amongst the simplistic cartoons there were some real pearls of wisdom. The one that has stuck with me concerned deadlines and failure, perhaps because I was about to face a deadline myself.

Leunig shared his dislike of deadlines. He walked us through his lead up to a deadline, surprisingly starting only two hours before (that was enough to make me anxious). There was something on the page, but it lacked a sparkle, something to make it something. The harder he tried to make it good, the worse it seemed to get until he decided he was a failure. His mind went into a space where the inner voice called him a fraud, an idiot for ever believing he could do this. He had failed.

But, he described, this is where the magic happened. When the ego was stripped away and was out of the way, all that was left was his humble, creative self. This is when the raw, real work of the soul begins that we know in Leunig's work. In short, Leunig's philosophy is that failure is necessary for truly creative work to begin and we must embrace it in our lives.

I guess his sentiments rang true for me as I prepared to send my PhD writing to my confirmation panel readers. I had been working on this for many months and it was time to put the chapter together. It ended up 6000 words too long and seemed like a jumbled mess of thoughts. Only a few weeks out from my deadline (not a few hours - thank goodness!!) I sent it to my supervisor feeling a little like a fraud. I can't even pull one chapter together and I have a whole thesis in front of me. 

After a minor panic, a moment of failure, and some good advice to revisit my research question I sat down to begin again. Not from scratch, but from a different perspective. It was less about getting the words right and the referencing correct, and more about sticking with my passion and initial intent. I'm not sure it has the sparkle that Leunig looks for - it is still an academic piece of writing. The looming deadline and the moment of failure, however, did change how I approached the task.

I did feel a little like a groupie the day I met Leunig. I had carefully selected a book for him to sign and raced from the main marquee to get close to the front of the signing line. Fortunately, the line was not too long as he took his time with each person. He was attentive to each one and I will never forget the slow and deliberate way he wrote my name. A true contemplative it seemed, who although in his own dreamy world, has a calm and whimsical way of interacting with the world.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

A Wordless Easter

In the last few weeks I have been writing a lot of words. Words from my head, mostly, but on a topic close to my heart. It is not because I approach Easter with no words left that I find myself wordless at this point.

Someone asked me, the other day, if I miss all the preparations for Easter worship, being my first year in quite some time this is not part of my routine. Although the high seasons are always a very creative and challenging time to prepare worship, and I did enjoy that, my answer was "Not at all". 

The reason?  I am tired from trying to find the right words to describe what is, ultimately, an entire mystery, that words cannot adequately describe. And so, in risk of resorting to words once again here, I am content to sit in the dark, shadows of the dawn garden waiting for someone to call my name. It is here in the silence and stillness that I will see the door of new life swing open once again. Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

A memory revisited

Over the last week, people have been reacting in a multitude of ways to the events of the world. We have witnessed anger, grief, compassion, ignorance, speeches from the heart, speeches out of necessity and speeches that should never have been made. It has all been a little overwhelming for many of us. A numb feeling of helplessness has been my reality. 

A memory from almost eight years ago has come to mind a few times over the last few days. Mostly, I have been ignoring it, but this morning decided to pay attention, give it a little time and see why it has emerged again in this time. This "moment", as I will describe it, occurred on a trip to Bali with friends. We had taken a day away from the shopping and the pool to cycle through the rice paddies and the more mountainous areas of inland Bali. It was an organised tour, visiting some businesses that encouraged us to spend our money, but then ventured through small villages and along precarious paths between rice paddies. It was my favourite day of the trip. I love seeing the real life of a place. Encounters with women sorting chillies, numerous chickens and pigs, workers in the rice fields and small village temples were among the highlights.


There was a moment amongst all of this, however, which I can remember like it was yesterday. We had been riding through the rice fields for a while and the tour guide stopped us for a break and to allow the stragglers to catch up. It was a quiet place, away from the noises of the village. The air was very still. The view was breathtaking. Across the valley came a haunting noise, a man chanting. I recall feeling like someone had grabbed hold of my soul. I was captivated. I asked the tour guide what the chanting might be about. He wasn't sure, perhaps a funeral, a call to prayer or a special occasion in the village. There was no need to know. The group prepared to move on and I was in another world. Eventually, my friends had to call to me to continue our tour.

I filmed a little of this moment in an effort to hold on to it forever. It does the moment no justice at all, and only has the effect of igniting the vivid memory that is still alive within. And so, I am pondering why this moment has come back with such clarity this week. I think its about connection. In that moment, I felt a deep connection to the land, to the common humanity with the anonymous Hindu chanter across the valley, to my own sense of spirituality and to my own sense of the divine. It was a moment when all the barriers were removed and all seemed to dwell in perfect unity. 

Perhaps my soul is longing for a similar moment in this space and time. A moment when my soul is grabbed by the grief stricken chants across the waters and I can be present. A moment when the barriers fall down around me and all that is felt is peace and love. A moment where I can know deep connection and unity. A moment that stops me on the journey and holds me for a while in open hands. A moment to be still. Be quiet. And listen. This moment won't change the world, but I know it will change me.