Saturday, 2 February 2019

Flying Low

It has been a while since my last post. The last few week's have been rather full with one thing and another; a wedding yesterday, dance lessons for my daughter, being 'apprentice' gardener for my husband and preparing for the first residential of Dayspring's Grad Dip in Spiritual Direction which commences tomorrow. In amongst all this, the thing that has stilled me is revisiting many of Mary Oliver's poems.

Mary Oliver died on the 17th of January at the age of 84. Her poetry has travelled with me over the last 10 years. She has a way of describing her connection with nature, her own journey and relationship with the divine that is so simple, yet has such depth. Her poetry is full of wonder and awe at the surrounding world, but does not shy away from acknowledging the pain and suffering that is also part of life.

A few of my favourites are 'Sleeping in the Forest', 'The Journey' and 'Why I wake early', but considering that today is a breathing day, a day in between two full days, I want to share the poem 'Today' with you.


Today I'm flying low and I'm
not saying a word.
I'm letting all of the voodoos of ambition 

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I'm travelling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

Mary Oliver

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Like it was yesterday

As a teenager, I recall watching a dramatic presentation at some church youth event that impacted me deeply. The basic plot went like this. Young person at home, doing things that young people do, music playing loudly. A knock at the door - Jesus has come to visit. The young person becomes flustered, quickly turns off the "inappropriate" music, and tells Jesus to take a seat. The young person only has a few minutes before their friends will arrive to go out. Jesus picks up a book that is left on the table, this is quickly whipped away (also "inappropriate"). Another knock at the door - the friends have arrived. Young person tells Jesus to stay there and he/she will spend time with him when they return. Jesus indicates that he will go with them. Young person says no. This carries on for a bit, until the young person gets very frustrated with Jesus' persistence and effectively nails him to the cross to keep him from coming along. Of course, the young person has a moment of realisation and there ends the emotional drama.

I remember thinking this drama was highly effective in teaching what the Christian life is about and may have even re-enacted it myself at an Easter Camp or the like. Looking back now, I am quite horrified by what it taught me (and potentially many other young people). Jesus was to be a priority in my life. There should be no distractions. And when I fail at making this a reality, I may as well have nailed him to the cross myself. Guilt, guilt and more guilt!

A little over a week ago now, we had some friends come to visit us for a few days. We hadn't spent time with these friends since we lived in Tonga, seventeen years ago. We were friends on Facebook, but that was about where it ended. We now both had teenage children. A lot had happened in our lives since we had last met. But somehow, when they walked through our front door it was like our time in Tonga was yesterday. In the few days we had together, we laughed, reminisced, reconnected and had a fantastic time. There was no guilt about how little we had connected in the last seventeen years. There was no expectations that this should happen every year from now on.

In my experience, this is the nature of our best relationships. Time has no effect. Yes, of course, it is preferable to see those we love often and be with them through the ups and downs of life, but when it is not possible the relationship somehow still thrives. If this is how it is in our best human relationships, I would hope it is the same with the mysterious divine. Yes, its great to have our disciplines of prayer, meditation, reading or whatever you prefer. However, when this falls by the wayside for whatever reason, I don't think our first reaction when God shows up unexpectedly should be guilt. Our encounter will probably be just like it was yesterday.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Behold - A New Year!!

There is nothing especially magical about a new year. After all, time is a human construct that has been created to enable order in what often seems a chaotic world. Look what happens when the trains don't run on time, or we have to wait for an appointment that is running late. Our lives are so dictated by the clock in order that we might be in control of this life that is ever racing towards some unknown future destination. There is some hope. As we have cleverly based our concept of time on the cycles of days, months and years, we have not veered entirely from the more cyclical understanding of time that is given to us in the natural paths of our sun, moon and earth. I find this a helpful way of looking at the new year: not so much the next step in a linear path where I am expected to be closer to perfection than 2018, but a coming around the circle again, learning from what has been and experiencing it anew. How we understand time has a significant impact on how we choose to live our life.

And so, as we come around again, looking at the path we have taken many times before from a different perspective, we ponder what we might do differently. Some make resolutions, often unrealistic and broken within a month. Others treat it as a fresh start, an opportunity to study harder, exercise more or be more disciplined. I gave up the idea of resolutions some years ago now. I can have very high expectations of myself and my lists were always far longer and complicated than was practical. 

A few years ago now, I began choosing a word for the year. This word was chosen in a very prayerful and reflective way. It has usually been a characteristic or a verb on which to focus for the year. The ones that come to mind immediately are 'integrity', 'courage' and 'cherish'. As I think on those words and the years that accompanied them, I recall moments and small transformations that crossed my path. I have been wondering for a few weeks now what the word for 2019 might be. A word has come back to me over and over like a persistent mosquito. I haven't sat comfortably with it for many reasons. It is an old word, not so used in every day language. It is not your usual verb or a personal characteristic - how will I make it applicable? It was seemingly a passive word, and I wanted something more challenging, more life disturbing. I even attempted to do a deal with this word. What if I have two words this year - this one (as it will not go away) and another that I will choose to make it more punchy!

However, I have resolved myself to trust this process and I am now happy to say that the word that has chosen me for 2019 is 'Behold'. The dictionary definition of behold is 'to see or observe (someone or something, especially of remarkable or impressive nature)'. My contemplative nature is quite content spending a year beholding the world around me; gazing upon the beauties of nature, watching those I love grow and blossom, searching out the moments and glimpses where the wonder of God is present. Seen this way, there is a sense in finding the sacred in all things and celebrating this each and every day. As Julian of Norwich said, "The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything".

But what happens if I start to use this word about myself? The initial reaction is to cringe in discomfort. I am not one to enjoy the spotlight. If the attention is turned upon me spontaneously in public, I would happily melt into my surroundings. Only use the word 'Behold' in front of my name after hours of rehearsals and all the mistakes have been ironed out. I love karaoke, but let me practice first!! So, what if I invited myself, others and God to say 'Behold, here is Cathie'. Suddenly, this word is a lot more challenging than I bargained for. To allow people to gaze upon my life and what I do before the dress rehearsals and the make up calls is something I encourage in others, but can I live it. I have always blamed my insecurities on the expectations of others, but this word is calling me to address the unrealistic expectations I put upon myself. 

I feel I am going to have a love-hate relationship with this word in 2019. I will need to hear my own words and see it as a coming around again, rather than some striving for unachievable perfection. Let's see how it goes. Behold - a new year!!

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Lectio divina

Lectio divina is a spiritual practice translated from the Latin as "divine reading". Originating from the third and fourth centuries, and used by monastic orders for centuries, lectio divina usually concentrates on a passage of Scripture. It is usually used in community, but can be used in individual reflection also. 

There are four movements in lectio divina. These are lectio (read or listen), 
meditatio (meditate/reflect), oratio (pray/respond) and contemplatio (rest/contemplate). These movements are experienced in many different ways today as people have adapted and kept the practice relevant. Essentially, the text is read aloud three times. Each reading takes those participating through the four movements at deeper levels each time. As I practice lectio divina, I ask myself during the first reading which word or phrase particularly grabs my attention. On the second reading, I ask myself what emotions are tied to this word or phrase. How does it speak into my life at this time? In the final reading, I ask myself what God might be inviting me to this day? What might God be saying to me through this text?

My Community Group at WCC Conference in 2004
My most memorable experience of using lectio divina in community was in Greece at the World Council of Churches Conference on Mission in 2004. Each morning we met in our community groups. People from all across the globe - different languages, different cultures, different theologies - were thrown together in small groups of about ten to engage in Bible study. You can imagine the problems that might have arisen. The process used, however, was lectio divina. No one commented on others' responses. The time was held in a prayerful way, that did not lend itself to theological debate. This practice enabled us to meet on a common ground that would have been near impossible using traditional Bible study methods.

Since this time, I have used this practice in my own personal life and in small groups. The text has not always been Scripture. Often we have reflected on a poem together (I particularly enjoy Mary Oliver) or perhaps the words of a song. The same process is used to take the participant deeper into the text. The aspect of this practice that particularly appeals to me is that it treats a text as living. Each time the text is heard there is an opportunity for it to speak freshly into our lives again. Lectio divina is not simply reading, it is a prayerful, meditative reading that invites the divine to enter the story and intertwine with ours. In this way, no two readings can ever be the same.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Sharing Mandalas

As many of you will be aware, this year I released "A Mandala a Month Workbook". I am gifting myself another copy for Christmas to work through in 2019. In many ways, this book achieved what I was hoping - except one. The inspiration for this book came from a program I ran in 2013 where people met together each month and shared their experience. A small group also registered online. These people would send in a picture of their mandala each month with a few words and I would add them to our dedicated website. It was wonderful to share with others as we worked our way through the year with our mandalas.

I was reminded of this recently, as I received an email from someone who had completed the first mandala in their book. It included a picture of the mandala they created and a reflection on the process and what it means to them. It was such a joy to receive. The importance of sharing the journey with someone was highlighted again. It is one thing to engage in spiritual practices for ourselves, but in sharing this with someone else I find the value is increased for ourselves and benefits the one with whom we share.

Please feel free to share your mandala experiences with me by emailing or if there was enough interest, I could launch a private group page where these reflections and pictures could be shared. Let me know your thoughts. 

Friday, 21 December 2018

A Different Christmas

This is my first Christmas in quite some time that I am not madly preparing worship services and wondering how on earth it will all happen before the big day. I love Christmas! And, to be honest, I have been anxiously anticipating what this first year without the ties of ministry might look like for me. With only a few days to go, I have been reflecting on this different advent space. What have I enjoyed? What have I missed? How am I approaching this Christmas? And how have these differences been reflected in my spiritual journey? It has still been a little chaotic, but the fact that I have time to ask these questions is a huge difference.

Let me begin with what I haven't missed. No matter how hard I tried to be super organised while in ministry, Advent always snuck up on me. I would have these super creative ideas about how to journey through Advent or some craft activity to include in the Christmas Eve service, and would only end up cursing that pesky imagination for putting me under so much pressure at such a busy time of year. At the same time, I would preach each week about spending time, not rushing, being expectant and taking time to be still. Hypocrisy gone mad!!

This year, I don't have any services to prepare, no church to decorate, no last minute nativity costumes to whip up, no orders to print off, messages to write for local papers and the list goes on. Instead, I am helping my family get ready for Christmas. I have been out gardening each day helping my husband cram two weeks of mowing, weeding and raking into one so that he can take some time off over Christmas. I have been offering advice to my daughter who has decided to take on some baking. I am taking the learner driver out for some practice, being a taxi mum and attempting to keep on top of the washing and other chores.

We will be heading to the city to spend some time with our extended families over Christmas and I get to choose where and when I would like to attend church. I must say it is a joy not to have the same pressures of the last few years. There have been a few aspects I have missed, however. The singing is one. There is nothing that bonds people together quite like singing, particularly Christmas songs. I am hoping to make up for this a little on Christmas morning.

The other aspect I have missed is the ritual of Advent and the anticipation it brings. Most of the churches I have been involved in throughout my life have participated in an Advent candle liturgy in the four weeks leading to Christmas Day. This act, often including a song, some words and the visual of the candles being lit each week, has a way of preparing me and building the anticipation for Christmas and all the meaning it holds.

All this being said, I am still super excited about Christmas. I will probably still be up at the crack of dawn as I have been for many years now (much to my parents and now my children's disgust). Christmas has always been a time of surprises. It began with God surprising the world in the incarnation and it continues in how we find the Christ anew in the people we encounter during this special time. I was concerned that without the busyness of ministry Christmas might somehow lose its shine. Instead, I have more time to be present and just let it happen, rather than being the one who makes it happen. Happy Christmas to you all!!

Thursday, 29 November 2018

What to do with darkness

What do we do about the darkness?
What do we have to change this world?
What answers?
What solutions?
What possibilities?

We use what we have to destroy.
We make weapons.
We kill. We terrorise.
We trust that violence brings peace.
But the darkness grows ever deeper.

We fear the dark and we build barriers,
to keep the darkness out.
We hate, exclude, oppress,
giving darkness a name and a face.
And the darkness grows heavier.

We reach out in compassion,
building bridges and understanding.
At times eyes meet, but often we are alone.
Standing on our half built bridge
and the dark void grows wider.

We prepare tables of hospitality
hoping places will be filled by the other.
But those who come enjoy our food,
laugh at our jokes, speak our language.
And the darkness is just outside.

What to do with the darkness?
Solutions are tiring, fleeting and fruitless.
I will build a shelter
and enter my inner room.
Let me help you build yours too.
And in our going deep,
we will find ourselves,
find meaning,
find each other.
Light and love will flow.