Sunday, 15 July 2018

What we do with the space that divides us.

I am currently in Melbourne recuperating after the Uniting Church Assembly meeting and hopefully finding some clarity for what lies ahead in my own personal life. This morning I went walking. I travelled around the perimeter of many of the colleges of the University of Melbourne. Each one has a fence separating it from the road and each is very different. Some are high and ornate, but still allowing the passer by to see the majestic buildings beyond. Others are lower, giving you a clear view. There were two, in particular, that caught my attention.

The first had well developed, bushy trees growing on the other side. These trees, some time ago, had stretched out their branches and become entangled in the fence, weaving themselves through it. Some time later, an astute gardener had noticed this and, in anticipating a nightmare job further down the track, decided to cut away those branches that were now part of the fence. This act of pruning remains obvious. The trees are pruned hard away from the barrier, while smaller pieces of dead wood form a strange artwork weaving through the fence.

In contrast, a little further on, another college has deliberately grown a plant through the fence. The fence itself is hardly visible, while the tendrils have woven in and out of the structure creating a living boundary. I even watched one young man, coming from the other direction, gently run his hand all the way along the top of it. As he passed, I decided to find out for myself what it felt like. It was a lot softer than it looked and almost tickled your hand.

Away from the demands of everyday life, I was able to be particularly present in these moments and it has caused me to reflect on what we do with those spaces that separate us from one another. They are not easy spaces to inhabit, and dare I say, in some circumstances impossible. But where we are able to meet and examine what separates us or keeps us apart, we are given a choice. We can prune hard, ensuring that we stay well away from the boundary, lest we should meet and influence each other. Or we can find some sort of life, which may look messy to begin with, but eventually overshadows that which divided in the first place.

I am proud to say that the church I belong to has chosen the latter in the last week. We now inhabit a space where most people, in differing ways, will hold some level of discomfort, but we have made the choice to move forward in life and hope. In my view, this is a more contemplative space where we are more able to live with the paradox that life brings. Who knows how it will look in years to come? But I am glad we did not decide to leave the dead wood hanging from the fence.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Getting Earthy, Staying Grounded

In the last few weeks, I have spent many days being my husband's sidekick in his gardening business. I have gathered sticks, pruned plants, weeded, raked leaves, driven a ride on mower, filled many trailers loads with branches and found muscles I didn't realise I had. I have worked in the rain, made friends with dogs and visited beautiful parts of where I live that I didn't know were there.

Before I finished up my ministry placement, I viewed the possibility of working with Guy as a needed financial arrangement. I now see it quite differently. I hadn't realised how removed I had become from the earth. Yes, I did spend time in my own garden when time allowed, but there is something profound about getting your hands dirty, feeling the wind on your face and getting soaked through for more than a few hours. It is a very spiritual experience.

Feeling the earth between your fingers, cutting away dead wood to make way for new life and nursing the scratches and bruises that hold those experiences for longer has a way of grounding me that I need so desperately at the moment. In the other people's gardens, the ego is somehow stripped away and I am left with just me, the earth and the ground of my being (and Guy, of course). With all the talk of spiritual practices and getting the right balance, it seems to me that we may have overcomplicated things. Getting back to the earth has helped me to stay centred and grounded during this time of uncertainty.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Stations of the Soul

Last year I was fortunate to receive, as a gift from my family, the beautiful prints of George Trippe's Stations of the Soul. George created these ten art works from his reflections on the spiritual life. Each one is full of meaning and contains thought provoking words for reflection. 

I am keen to share these stations with others. My thought is that we could have an open door for a period of two hours. During this time, people would be welcomed to come and engage with the stations. This would occur in a contemplative manner, with quiet music, the opportunity to light a candle and respond to each of the artworks in turn.

If you would like to host a Stations of the Soul evening, please get in touch with me for further details. I am looking forward to how they will have an impact on those who choose to engage.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Incredibly Blessed

Yesterday, I had the privilege of conducting a memorial service for a truly extraordinary lady. It was not her life achievements, or her public profile, or even her acts of service that made her extraordinary - it was her humble and grateful way of living. This woman suffered with poor health in her later years, bringing exhaustion, frustration and a loss of independence. Despite all of this, each and every time I visited her over the last five years or so, she would tell me, "I am incredibly blessed, Cathie." As she sat in the hospital chair, unable to support her own body weight, carrying the pain and hurt of her life, the first thing on her lips was gratitude for her family and the life she had led.

It is a choice to live this way. Some may call it a "Pollyanna" way of life and dismiss it as unrealistic. But seeing how it brought joy and peace to this woman's life, I see it as admirable. Robb Hillman, a life coach, once said, "I don't think Pollyanna was simple and na├»ve to reality. I think she was a badass who bent reality to her will. Optimism isn't lazy, it is a fierce battle of consciously choosing the perspective that best serves you". Living a life of gratitude, counting your blessings each day and finding the good in things is hard work. 

In today's world, we need people who will not fall prey to playing the victim. We need people who will see the good in our world and talk openly about it. We need people whose hearts are not hardened by the hate and fear in our societies. And more than anything, we need people who have hope. I certainly know that this is what I want in my life. Goodness knows, there is enough negativity and bad news around us to last a lifetime. 

There is a book on my "to read" list on this very subject, Diana Butler Bass' "Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks". One of the quotes I have read from this book is, "Gratitude is not about stuff. Gratitude is the emotional response to the surprise of our very existence, to sensing that inner light and realising the astonishing sacred, social and scientific events that brought each one of us into being. We cry out like the psalmist, 'I am fearfully and wonderfully made!'"

And so, today, I want to give thanks for the life of Belle that was fearfully and wonderfully made and hope and pray that her inspiration will help me to find that inner light that keeps me counting my blessings and remaining grateful.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Mandala Workshop - Perth

On Friday 3rd August, I will be holding a mandala workshop in Perth. The workshop will be more than simply an introduction to mandalas. We will explore together how they can be used as a spiritual tool in our own personal lives and how they could be used in the faith communities and groups to which we belong. 

The workshop will commence with a presentation and discussion, followed by a time of meditation and creation of a mandala. We will conclude the evening with some sharing time about the process. Supper will be available during the workshop and all materials will be provided. The cost of the workshop is $30 per person. Registrations are essential as places are limited. To register, please email and payment details will be provided.

I will also have copies of my new book "A Mandala a Month Workbook" available on the evening. If you would like to pre-order one before the night this can be arranged. The workshop is at Noranda Uniting Church, Camboon Road, from 7-9.30pm on Friday the 3rd of August. Look forward to seeing you there!!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Mandala Book Available

Over the years, while running mandala workshops many people have asked about resources to continue learning and engaging with mandalas. Mandala colouring books are readily available and there are a few books that provide information about mandalas in general. I saw the possibility of producing a workbook that would guide people in creating their own mandalas, whilst learning more about their use in a variety of traditions and disciplines. 

A number of months ago, I began compiling the resources I had developed for Mandala a Month in 2013 and adding to them. I took the time to create a fineline mandala for each theme. I took the plunge in submitting this material to be considered for publication. I was absolutely staggered when I was informed that they would be very interested. Well, I am very happy to say that the book is now available.

The workbook contains twelve chapters, one for each month of the year. They do not have to be started at the beginning of the year, but take the participant on a journey through a whole year. Each chapter contains introductory material which outlines one aspect of the use of mandalas, followed by a meditation on the theme. These meditations are also found in the form of an enclosed CD. These meditations are accompanied by the beautiful music of Cath Connelly on the Celtic Harp. There is a space for people to create their own mandala and a fineline mandala for colouring.

The workbook emphasises the use of mandalas as a spiritual practice and the format encourages regular use throughout the year. The book is available from Mediacom for $32.75. I will also have copies available at mandala workshops in the future.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Women's Weekend Away

Yesterday, I returned from a fantastic weekend away with 30 women from around Perth and beyond. The Women's Weekend Away is an annual event that has been happening for a number of years now. I was first asked to facilitate the weekend in 2007 and was invited back this year.

The weekend was held at the Swan Valley Adventure Centre and the theme I chose this time was Meeting the Mystics: Meeting Me. The weekend began on Friday evening with establishing our groups and introductions. We then began exploring mysticism and the characteristics of mystics. The hope was to debunk some myths about these words and prevent anyone running away in fear over night.

The women all returned on the Saturday morning to begin exploring four women mystics through history. Our first was Teresa of Avila and her interior castle. The women were able to reflect on their own spiritual journey in light of what we learned from Teresa's works. After morning tea, we spent some time with Julian of Norwich and her reflection on a hazelnut. After some personal quiet time, we shared in groups about our experience.

Following lunch, we met Hildegaard of Bingen. While
listening to some of her music, we created mandalas and walked in nature between the showers of rain. The evening was a little more lighthearted as we met Theres of Lisieux. As we explored her "Little Way" we practiced seeing the world as a child with much laughter and fun.

What would it mean for us to see ourselves as mystics, that is, those who have known a real and authentic experience of the Divine? It was such a privilege to hear the stories and experiences of some of the women throughout the weekend. Some of these were painful, sharing of times when their experiences had been dismissed or devalued. Others shared their stories of God's presence in their life for the first time. There were tears, laughter, blossoming and opening up. 

If you are interested in holding this retreat theme with your group, please get in contact and we can talk about the possibilities. It would be wonderful to share it with another group.