Friday, 1 January 2021

Presence - My 2021 Word of the Year

 Happy New Year to you all!! As is my tradition over the last ten years or so now, January 1st is the day to name and explore my word for the year ahead. My word for 2020 was "horizon". Despite my own personal reasons for choosing this word, it seemed particularly relevant with the uncertainties we all faced throughout the year. It is a word that could have quite happily continued journeying ahead into 2021, but this new year calls for a new focus. Over the last week I have been searching for a word that will ground me in my last year of my PhD, that will bring me back to the core of who I am and will provide a positive focus forward to the unknowns of 2022. The word itself had remained elusive until last night.

One of the benefits of living in Western Australia is the free television reviews available on my Facebook feed from friends in the Eastern states who are three hours ahead. At around 7pm, my Facebook feed was aflood with praise for Paul Kelly's performance on the New Year's Eve concert broadcast on the ABC. I trusted these people's judgment and tuned in. I was not disappointed. As I listened to familiar tunes and watched the tweets roll along the bottom of the screen, I pondered this man's presence. There were no big flashy lights. No specky visuals. No dancers. No fancy costumes. Just him, his band and the camera operators capturing the moment for all of us. Due to COVID restrictions there was no crowd hyping up the atmosphere. Just Paul Kelly being Paul Kelly. This man has presence.

Presence is a word I use often. In the practice of spiritual direction we constantly talk about the importance of presence with the person who sits before us. In the mystical tradition, the presence of the Divine is an enduring theme. While talking about the contemplative way of life, presence is a vital part of the conversation. This "talk" has become second nature to me. But what about the practice? I recognise that it is easy for me to get caught up in the "What next?" of life. I am constantly searching for the next challenge, the next adventure, the next horizon (hmm). Perhaps a year of holding presence at the forefront might be very timely.

Another aspect of this word that I find more difficult to reflect upon is the gift of presence. I recall being in an interview situation some ten years ago now. Someone in the meeting asked me what gifts I felt I would bring to the role. I floundered a little, speaking of some practical skills I felt I could offer this community. After my attempt to answer the question, a member of the group who had known me for some time spoke up. "Presence" she said. "She has a presence that will be a gift to you". I have pondered on this comment for many years wondering what it means and how this "gift" is useful. Others have said the same thing in different ways. Is it something impossible for me to see and know? Isn't presence just being yourself? Isn't it something everyone has? How do you nurture and use such a gift?

And so, as I venture into a year where I will need to have confidence in myself and what I have to say, a year when I will explore the giftedness I take into the next chapter of my life and a year when my youngest will begin to spread her wings changing my role in her life - presence seems an appropriate word to hold close. As I journey with this word into 2021, I will endeavour to find time to practice presence more intentionally and to explore the gift of my own presence and what on earth that means. 

Monday, 5 October 2020

Tricking Myself into Self-Care

 Recently, I have been reading and writing a bit about the importance of self-knowledge as part of the spiritual journey. Getting to know myself has been an an extremely significant aspect of my spiritual life. Learning to accept who I am, with all the joys and struggles that holds, has been valuable and formative. So, after being on this path for some time now, what have I learnt? 

1. Learning and new experiences are near the top of my priority list. I am a perpetual student, which has its advantages, but also locks me inside my head at times.

2. I have to be really attentive to what my body is telling me. Listening to my 'gut' and slowing down and looking after myself don't come naturally.

3. I can be very in tune with the emotions of others, but when it comes to my own I am quick to retreat to my bubble. Being vulnerable is something I have to practice.

My list could go on and on. But the reason I am sharing this is I have figured out a way to trick myself into looking after myself a little better - I hope.

In the past, I have tried being self-disciplined, creating some program of exercise in order to live a healthier life. Each time I have centred my goals around weight loss or particular fitness goals. None of these have been successful beyond a few months. I pondered, what would motivate me to get outside and start walking? My immediate reaction - if someone invited me to walk the Camino de Santiago, I would make sure I was fit enough and ready. A new experience! A spiritual pilgrimage! Travel and learning about a new place! Perfect!

But then, there's COVID, and money, and time, and family, and study, and...

So, I have found the perfect solution. Today I begin a virtual walk of the Camino. It's cost me $50. I don't have to leave home for weeks and weeks. And I can do it over a longer period of time. I'm giving myself 6 months. Sure, it's not quite the same as being there (maybe one day), but the app I have chosen shows

me where I am on the map, sends me postcards telling me about the different stops and sends me a medal at the end (not so fussed about the medal). It is the perfect way to trick myself into self-care. This is not a weight loss program or a get fit for Summer goal. This is a spiritual pilgrimage - a new experience that is the best I can do anyway in these non-travelling times.

And the final part of my cunning plan - I have now put it out in public. Another thing I know about myself is I hate to look incapable. So, if you happen to see me, hold me accountable. I won't be sharing how many KGs I've lost, but I might share about the wonderful places I've been.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Methodology of Life

A lot of my writing energy in the last few months has been spent writing my thesis and other related projects. The current task is completing the draft of my methodology chapter. I anticipated this to be a dry, boring section to write, but, to my surprise, I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge.

Yes, there are some parts that are simply outlining the details; making sure all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted. However, there are also those big question to answer. What do I believe about the nature of knowledge? How is knowledge formed? And what are my non-negotiable underlying principles? I am using a lot of big words that a few years ago would have me running to the dictionary.

I am also asking deep questions about who I am, particularly in the context of my research. What does it mean to be a woman? A contemplative spiritual director? A church minister? These ponderings are especially significant as I see my self as co-creator of the knowledge I am seeking. The answers to all of these questions determine how I collect data, how I approach my sample group, how I analyse the data and the shape of my final thesis. Creating my framework of reference will colour all of my research. It will be the foundation to which I will refer when questions and doubts arise. Justifying my choices is a little like "soul searching". In grappling with this chapter I am addressing issues of integrity, good relationship, and my view of the spiritual life.

My thesis may be large and looming in my life, but in the whole scheme of things is a mere speck. I am wondering what our world would look like if we all had to create our methodology of life. What if we had to examine, in the same way, what is truly important to us? What if we really had to question how we were involved in the lives of others? What is we truly understood the underlying principles in our own lives that hold so much significance? 

I dare say it would be extremely confronting.  Instead of reacting to life around us, each choice made and each interaction or conversation would be held against our plumb line. I wonder what would change. I wonder what parts of my life I would need to look at closely in the mirror. If I'm honest, the "thesis"of my life would not pass. I am not saying this in a defeatist or "Woe is me - a sinner" type of manner, but more an acknowledgment of human nature.

The methodology I have chosen for my research comes from a subjective viewpoint. I am acknowledging that, as the researcher, I cannot be a passive, unbiased voice. This requires me to be extremely transparent in my writing about my insights and reactions to the data. It demands moving beyond reflective practice to a high level of reflexivity where I examine myself as I engage in my analysis.

We cannot go through life as an objective observer and, therefore, this same transparency and reflexivity is needed in a methodology of life. Perhaps knowledge of our own nature, an awareness of strengths, weaknesses and passions, is a great place to start. Recognising when we are not operating at our best and  knowing how our own needs trigger unhealthy responses all affect how we relate to others and our world. Taking a step back from the to-ing and fro-ing of life is a bit like asking those big questions. What is it that makes me tick? It may appear like a dry and tedious task, but perhaps surprises await just around the corner. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Toward the Horizon

Happy New Year!! Today many people will begin their year with steely determination to achieve their new year's resolutions in order to be a better person. I discovered long ago that such resolutions were counterproductive for me. Being a person who already sets the bar too high for myself, the last thing I need is another unreachable expectation forced upon myself. Instead, I have enjoyed the tradition of giving myself a word for the year. Rather than a challenge that seems to set me up for failure, my word of the year is a constant, gentle reminder throughout the year. Some years it seems more present than others, however, when I reflect back over the year, I can always see how the word has formed and guided me. My word for 2019 was "behold". It is not a commonly used word, but I have been surprised how many times I have heard it and been reminded of my intentions in choosing this word. 

This year the word came easily. I began reflecting a few weeks ago and thought the process was going to be difficult. In many ways, the words of the last few years have served me well; courage, integrity, awaken, cherish. The coming year holds many uncertainties and I seem continually plagued with the question of what lies beyond it. While being very peaceful about the path I am following, it still feels like a journey into the unknown. I was pondering this as I was driving last week. Looking way out ahead of me, I wondered how many people have headed towards the horizon a little unsure of their destination. 

And so, I have chosen the word "horizon" for 2020. It is that perceived line where earth and sky meet. It is not something you can touch and one could argue it doesn't physically exist
Eden Beach Sunset - Christmas Day
. The horizon is a place of mystery and beauty. It is here that we watch the sun rise and set. But, no matter how ambiguous the horizon may be, it still offers direction and draws people to explore further. The horizon is always beyond our reach, but is the steadfast point that helps us to get our bearings, orient ourselves in the world and foster a sense of wonder in life.

In 2020 I need a horizon to remind me of the journey ahead. The horizon will remind me to pause and appreciate. It will serve as a catalyst to draw me onwards to an unknown destination. That imaginary line will give me direction and orientation when I feel a little lost. But even though the horizon may seem unchanging, the points along it change from day to day. I am hoping that this word will carry me through 2020 with a wider vision, a broader hope and an everpresent spirit that will guide me through the uncertainties.

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.