Thursday, 17 May 2018

O, Exquisite Risk!

On a dark night
inflamed by love-longing-
O, exquisite risk! -
Undetected, I slipped away,
My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise -
O, exquisite risk! -
Concealed by the darkness,
My house, at last, grown still.

These words are from 500 years ago from the pen of St John of the Cross. They are taken from the poem later titled, 'The Dark Night of the Soul'. Recently, I watched a recording of Mirabai Starr reading these words as part of her talk at the Spiritual Directors International Conference, firstly in the original Spanish followed by the English translation. After the sheer beauty of how she read it, Mirabai continued explaining that this is precisely to what we are called. 

Mirabai was sharing her vision of the new wave of spiritual leadership in the world. She described it as less hierarchical and more relational, inclusive, feminine, embodied and creative. According to Mirabai, this is not a new structure ready for us to step into, but a great unknown. The 'exquisite risk' is calling us to not know and to drop into this space of mystery. This place was described as an arid landscape where all are conceptual constructs come undone. It is an ambiguous space of radical unknowingness. 

In a world where some people are seeking black and white truths that emerge from more authoritarian leadership, I feel the challenge to fall into a more vulnerable space that is more disruptive and uncomfortable. This is a place of yearning and longing, where hearts can be broken and held in loving kindness. It is a place of unknowing and uncertainty. It is a space of exquisite risk, where my house, at last grows still.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Untangling from the role

Some of you may recall, while travelling to the UK a year and a half ago, I travelled with a question. "Who am I, if I am not a minister?" Since finishing my placement two weeks ago, this question has come back to me in unexpected ways. I anticipated the boundaries being a little blurred, as I would remain in the community rather than moving on to some place else. I knew I would have to be clear about what I would be willing to do and not do. But I didn't expect it to be such a catalyst for self reflection.

There have been small, perhaps insignificant 'loose ends' to deal with over the last couple of weeks. Requests for little pieces of information, or phone calls from people unaware I have moved on. All of this was to be expected, I guess, and would ease off after a few weeks. But there are other aspects more difficult to simply walk away from. In my last week, a lovely lady from one of my congregations deteriorated quite rapidly. I made a decision to continue to walk with this lady to the end and have continued to visit her. 

Much more difficult, however, has been my response to a horrific tragedy in our community this week. I don't want to comment on the situation itself. There are no words that could capture the sorrow and grief of the community, particularly those closer to the people involved. My email inbox, Facebook messages and texts have been full of people thinking of us from afar or co-ordinating support services close by. 

All my natural instincts would have me jumping in, attending meetings, organising responses and caring for people. Of course, it has also been easy for people to turn to me as I am still part of the community. This has raised many questions. What makes me want to jump in? Is it a need to be needed? Is it about being valued? Who am I in this community if I am not in the role of minister? How do I just be me in this community? How do I be within this situation without finding something to do?

These are questions that may have taken a few months to emerge otherwise, but the circumstances have forced me to take time to reflect now. The untangling from the role of minister is happening rapidly, a bit like a bandaid being ripped off. It feels a little like a stripping back to discover who I am under all the layers of what used to be my role. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Autumn Leaves (and other endings)

Yesterday, I drove to Bunbury to attend a Quiet Day. About a month ago, I saw the day advertised and recall thinking how fortuitous it was to be on that particular date as I wrote it in permanent ink in my diary. Knowing myself a little too well, I was aware that if I did not do something like this soon after completing my placement, I would rush straight into the busyness I would create. Sure enough, yesterday morning, many other things seemed more appealing than driving to Bunbury.

It was an important day to reflect on this in between space in which I find myself. We were given the seasonal readings to ponder on, and it struck me that we are in that in between time, after Easter and before Pentecost. I then walked outside for a while and was captured by the autumn leaves on the ground. Creation is in that in between phase also, summer has ended and winter hasn't quite begun. I gathered some of what I found on the ground, tried to capture the colour in a mandala, and wrote these words.

Autumn Leaves

Crimson and amber
tongues of fire
layer the ground
like an earthy Pentecost.
Dry and crisp
spent and worn
from the journey
but here they lie
from where they once
soaked in the sun.
Transformed in the falling
transfigured in the breeze.
Sweep them together
as one
let them be beds
where children 
play and fall.
Leave them to decay
and may the seeds
among them
find strength
to die
and find life.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Supervision - A Person With Whom to Journey

One of the first questions I was asked after announcing that I was going to take a leave of absence from ministry was, "Have you spoken with your professional supervisor about this?" My initial reaction was offence. Of course I have! What do you take me for? Fortunately, those comments stayed in my head. I have always taken professional supervision very seriously and have been blessed with some fantastic people throughout my ministry journey. I consider my supervisor to be the one who I can be truly honest about how ministry is travelling. In my experience, the supervisor's role is to hear you, challenge you, help you to be reflective about your role and hold you accountable.

Almost two years ago now, my supervisor of seven years became ill and was unable to continue our supervision relationship. At the time, I was upset. This was the man who had helped me define who I was in ministry, given me the courage to speak out and attempted to instil in me a good pattern of self care. He had listened to some of my most personal dreams, witnessed my confessions of doubts and encouraged me when I was feeling hopeless. I wasn't sure if I would find another supervisor quite like him.

Well, for almost two years now, I have been journeying with another supervisor. Last week, we had our final session together and I have been reflecting on how important this relationship has been for me over what has been quite a tumultuous period of my ministry. The sessions have been rather different to those with my previous supervisor, but for this I am very grateful. I think I have talked more. There has been a lot to get out of my head. Being able to do this with someone who doesn't have a hidden agenda has been very important. Colleagues, family and friends have all been there too, but sometimes they are a little too involved in the what the final outcome may be. 

My supervisor has listened to me with interest, compassion and empathy. She has reflected back what she has heard. Sometimes the images she has used have shocked me or resonated so closely they have stayed with me for days. At times I have walked into the room confused and feeling hopeless, only to emerge an hour later with more clarity and conviction. My supervisor has never told me what she thinks I should do. She hasn't given wise advice or whipped me into line, but I always left feeling heard, acknowledged and ready to face the next stage.

I guess if I was to express this relationship with an image I think of two people walking across rocks at the beach. The two don't always take the same path and will choose different rocks to jump to next, but they come back together occasionally. Every now and then, one finds a leap to the next rock a little challenging. These are the times when one reaches out their hand to the other, giving enough confidence to take that next step. This is how it has been and I am extremely grateful to have had a person with whom to journey through this time. I know she will possibly read this post - so again thank you!!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Call the Next Witness

This week I have been working on my last service with one of my congregations. The readings talk about being witnesses. I have been reflecting on what it means to be a witness and I can't go past my very recent experience of our first Deep Listening Festival last weekend. It seems that I have spent a lot of the last week sharing stories with people, listening to the experiences of others and hearing how the participants have responded to the festival. I feel I have witnessed something very special.

So what does it mean to be a witness? It seems so simple, yet so profound. I think there are three aspects to being a witness. You are present, you have an experience and you have a story to share. Being present is not just about attendance, but about allowing yourself to be fully attentive and immersed in what is happening. This seems very rare in today's world, when we are often worrying about the next thing or escaping from being fully present by drifting into the virtual world. Practising presence is vital for our spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

The second part of being a witness is to have an experience. We don't travel through life simply being an observer. Life is about participation. This was my big hope for our festival last weekend. The aim was not for people to turn up, listen and go home; but to really experience something, to be moved, to be changed. The only way we can know if this has happened is if the stories are shared. In the space of a week, I have seen evidence of two artworks that are being created in response to the festival, two poems that have been written, a labyrinth created on the beach, two people who have been moved to act in their areas of influence and a myriad of powerful stories.

The Deep Listening festival is but one example. We are witnesses to love, life and hope every day. It is a challenge to us, however, to not save our 'witnessing' for special occasions. Let us be more present, get involved more in life and share our stories with each other.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Ikigai - a reason to get up in the morning

My son is almost 16 years old. Like any teenage boy, he can be very difficult to get up and going in the morning. He is into music, video games and has a flare for sound engineering. Occasionally, he is called on by his school or other organisations to take on the role of DJ at certain events. A little over a week ago, he had one such request. It was the high school sports carnival and, not being a sporty kind himself, almost 16 year old was very happy to volunteer his time in providing the upbeat music for the day. This meant a 7.30am start at the sports oval to set up the equipment. So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard my son walking around the house before I had even got out of bed. 

This incident reminded me of a Japanese term, Ikigai, which means "a reason to get up in the morning". This simple phrase encompasses so many important aspects of our life; our sense of purpose and meaning, a feeling of well-being and a reason for living. The concept is summarised in a diagram of interlocking circles. When that which we love, that which the world needs, that which we are good at and that which we can be paid for intersect, we have found our Ikigai. Of course, it would be lovely not to worry about that which you can be paid for, but these are the realities of life. 

I discovered this term in 2015 while I was reading about vocation and calling. I spent some time reflecting on each of the circles, writing down my own reflections and exploring the intersection points. I found this a very helpful process. It highlighted those aspects of my work that I didn't enjoy, those I found more difficult and those where, perhaps, I was wasting my time and energy. It also showed clearly where my passion and sense of vocation were found. It is always fun looking back on journal entries and seeing where the journey has taken you. I wrote, in 2015, 'My Ikigai is living the spiritual journey creatively while journeying with others who also want to deepen their spiritual journey.' 

What is it that gets you up in the morning? What is your Ikigai? Discovering this is a process of discernment and it takes time. Those who are able to make their paid work their Ikigai are truly fortunate. As Confucious said, 'Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.'

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Spiritual Direction

For centuries people have sought out companions with whom to walk their spiritual journey, whether it be in an ashram in India, a monastery in the desert or a retreat centre in the outback. We are all seekers, to varying degrees, and only so much searching can be done alone. Spiritual direction is the art of accompanying another in their journey, being attentive to the movement of God/Divine/Spirit in their midst.

It may help to begin with what spiritual direction is not. It is not counselling. Counselling seeks to assist a person with their relationships and their own behaviours towards other people. Spiritual direction is focussed upon the directee's relationship with God in whatever form that may take for them. Spiritual direction is not authoritarian. Although the role includes the word 'direction', it is not used in terms of giving advice or providing judgment. The role of the spiritual director is to help the directee to become aware of how God may be working in their life for themselves. And spiritual directors are not experts in spiritual life. Although a spiritual director must complete specific training to be recognised, they also recognise that the work of the Spirit is broader and more expansive than the knowledge we can possibly hold.

So what does a spiritual direction session look like? Generally, a session would last an hour and the director and directee would meet every 4-6 weeks. There is, of course, flexibility in this arrangement depending on the needs of the person. I like to begin my sessions by lighting a candle and holding a period of silence. We often race from appointment to appointment, so it is important to spend a few moments leaving the cares of the world aside and coming into a contemplative space. The directee is invited to begin sharing what is on their mind. The presenting topics can be diverse and sometimes surprising.

As a spiritual director, my role is not to fix the problem, but to help my directees find where God is in this part of the spiritual journey. This is done with careful listening, open questions and assisting to go deeper than just the surface issues.

This is the ministry to which I feel called to develop further. I trained in Spiritual Direction in 2011 and 2012. I am now involved in the training of new spiritual directors. It is a profession that is gaining recognition and understanding throughout the world and plays a vital role in the lives of many. If you would like to know more about spiritual direction, I will be available from May for face to face sessions in Margaret River, Busselton, Bunbury and Perth or via Zoom link up. I would also be available to run a brief introductory session for groups who would like to know more.