Friday, 7 September 2018

A Busy Labyrinth

I have a bit of a love/ hate thing happening  with public labyrinths. I love the fact that they are in public and accessible to anyone who happens to be passing. I love that it is bringing an ancient spiritual tool into the here and now, giving people the opportunity to take some space in the midst of everyday life. I love that the secular community is embracing more spiritual ideas and seeing the value of including such things as labyrinths in public spaces.

The bits I struggle with are completely selfish. They have everything to do with my own desire for some peace and quiet and to have a meaningful experience of walking the labyrinth. Many people have no idea about the significance of labyrinths, observing it as a nice pattern in the paving or concrete. Many people do not have a sense of holding a sacred space or recognising that they may be part of someone else's at a particular time. 

These conflicting ideas were brought to light last weekend. While in Canberra for a conference, I was invited to travel with two people in to the National Arboretum where a labyrinth had recently been installed. I was keen to go on the adventure and so tagged along. We found the labyrinth as part of a series of small gardens. It was in a very open space, with a stunning view across Canberra. 


When we arrived, there were two mums with their four young children using the labyrinth as a soccer pitch. There was much laughter and squealing. As you can imagine, this fed straight into my dislike for public labyrinths. As we approached, read the plaque about the use of the labyrinth and made our way to begin walking, I was pleasantly surprised. Call it good timing or, perhaps, a sense of the sacred, the mums gathered up their children and moved to the next garden space. It didn't happen in a hurry, or in a way that felt we had ruined their use of the space, but it left us with the ability to walk without dodging toddlers and soccer balls.

As the three of us walked the circular path slowly, we caught the attention of other visitors nearby. Some came closer, read the plaque and joined us on the walk. I wonder if they might have just walked by if it wasn't for us walking with intent? It was Fathers' Day, and a dad with his two preteen girls came and started walking. Actually, that is not quite true - the girls were power walking, racing each other. An elderly couple came and sat and watched us walking.

One of the girls called out to her dad (who was walking slowly and reflectively), "Dad. what's the point to this? There are no choices. No challenges." 
He looked up and smiled at her, "I think you've missed the point."
"Dad, lets go to the playground over there."
"You go," he said, "I'm going to finish walking."
He seemed to walk out of the labyrinth with a different gait, a different outlook.

As he left, the older couple joined us in the labyrinth. They walked with a certain curiosity and intrigue as to what this might mean. They were unsure what to do when they met me on the narrow path coming the other direction. Our eyes met and we smiled as I stepped aside for them to pass.

It was certainly not a quiet, reflective experience walking that labyrinth. It was, however, still transformative. It taught me something about my own bias and need to retreat, but also led me to appreciate the great need in our society for bringing the sacred places closer to the people.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

On anniversaries and ordination

One thing I love about Facebook are the memories that remind you of what you were up to a year ago, 4 years ago and even nine years. Today, I was reminded that nine years ago was my day of ordination. We've had a bit of fun this morning looking back at the photos. The kids are all so little, and some important people were not even born. There are others who are no longer with us and some I have lost contact with over the years.


I have been reflecting on how much has changed since that day. Naively, I went into that day feeling the world had all been sorted out. This was my destiny, my calling, my career path mapped out. It felt complete, settled and sealed with a rubber stamp. A lot has happened since then. Many things have changed in myself and around me. But some things have stayed the same.

My ordination stole, that was lovingly made for me, still holds the same significance (perhaps even more now). The dancing flames, flickering with fragility and vulnerability, so perfectly sum up how I feel about my spiritual journey in this world. This image has shaped and grown with me over the years. Looking at the photos, and the people I chose to involve in the service, many are still very important people in my life; fellow travellers who have walked many a rocky path with me. Some of them would cringe at how highly I hold them; true mentors and close friends.

But some things have changed. I no longer see this journey as a fait accompli. I still know that my life has been "set apart" (the meaning of 'ordain') to work towards God in myself and with others. I made promises on that day, of which I still hold sacred and dear. However, the way I am living that out now is far from what I would have imagined in 2009. The last nine years has taught me that discernment is a continual process. If I ever think "I have made it", now I am suspicious and wait for what is around the corner. I wonder what I will be doing next year, when I celebrate the 10th anniversary?

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Crimson Labyrinth

A reflection from walking a labyrinth I have walked many times before and seeing it with new eyes.



Crimson Labyrinth

A deep breath
I prepare to walk this path
wandered so many times before
I shift my gaze from my ready shoes
to the weaving way ahead.
You are on fire!
The scarlet entrance draws me in
an inviting warmth
In the twists and turns
I notice your crimson flame
at every step.
In bursts of colour
and insignificantly tiny berries
Has this labyrinth ever been so alive?
Even when I peer down 
to the leaf littered path
with its browns and greys
my ruby rose shoes
take another step towards home
a place within
full of passion
of warmth
of fire burning bright.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Trapeze of Life

At the recent Supervision course that I attended, we ended each day listening to some sort of reflection and journaling about how this related to our own life and what we were learning in the course. One evening, the reflection was from the book "Warriors of the Heart" by Danaan Parry. The whole piece is too long to share here, but I will choose an excerpt.

"Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I'm hurtling across space in between bars.


Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze bar of the moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I'm in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I'm merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present well known bar to move to the next one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won't have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn't matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives."

The reflection went on further and, when it ended, I found myself thinking, I know that space. I know what it is to fly in that void and wonder where the next bar might come from. It is a place of fear, of uncertainty, but also a space of exhilaration. I  must say though, it is not a place I want to be in often. I am very happy to be holding on to this bar for a while at least.

This space between bars, however, is the place of change and transformation. Transitions are often accompanied by feelings of being out of control, but are often the most growth-filled and expansive moments. As the reflection concluded, "Hurling through the void, we may just learn to fly."


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Moon

I am not sure if someone told me this, or as a youngster I made it up as a point of comfort, but whenever I looked at a crescent moon I imagined those I loved who had died resting in it's cradle. It was a place far away, but at times seemingly so close. In many ways it was my first experience of the veil between this earth and what lies beyond being very thin. 

Recently, I was listening again to one of my favourite singer/songwriters, Kendall Payne. She is not a favourite for her musicality or her incredible success or fame, but more for how her lyrics affect me. As I listen to some of her songs, I wonder if she has secretly been watching aspects of my life for the last few decades. The way she uses words and imagery somehow connect with me at a deeper level.

In the car, on my way to Perth last week, I listened once again to her album "Grown". I don't listen to this one as often as her others and so noticed a song that I have heard so many times, but not really listened to. It is titled "The Moon". Here are the lyrics.

The moon's worn thin
Succumbed to the pressure
Her silver dress
Hangs in the sky like a rag

Her coat, her cloak
Her cover of darkness
It fails to hide the tears that she's cried
Oh she cries

But she still shines
Though the night falls around her
And by her light
I find my way
When I fear the path laid before me
I look to the light of her face
And thank her for being so brave

The moon remains
In fullness or frailty
A faithful climb
And I stand amazed at the way

Now I have no way of knowing what was happening for Kendall when she wrote this song, but somehow the words spoke right into my life. As a child, when I looked at the moon it held my grief and my uncertainties with a kind of gentleness, yet fragility, that seemed real. I remember many car rides home at night where I would stare out the window soaking in the comfort of the crescent moon. This image still has meaning, but as an adult I know I need to find that place within now. Perhaps, it was always within. 

As I emerge from a time in my life that has felt like a time of darkness and grief in many ways, I can relate to this image of the moon being a holding place within me. It is a place that shines despite the darkness. It is a brave space in its fullness and frailty. It is a place I can return to time and again to find my strength and find my way. It is a place that reflect the light that is constant and unending. So perhaps, when I look up at the moon now, it won't seem so far away, but will be as close as the breath within me.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Spiritual Autobiography

On Thursday, I will be leading the current participants of the Dayspring Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction in a morning exploring the topic of spiritual autobiography and its relevance in their role as spiritual directors. In preparation, I have reflected on some of the spiritual autobiographies I have learnt from in my journey. These have come in many different forms; books, movies, poetry, songs, artwork. 

This process has highlighted once again for me the importance of sharing stories; listening to stories of others and having our own heard. Without giving too much away about my plans, let me tell you how I plan to start the session. I am going to read the group a beautiful picture book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce. This is such a fabulous story that speaks of the healing and restorative nature of stories. The animated film version of this story can be viewed here.

Stories hold power. They hold power for us, as the storyteller, and for those with whom we share. On Thursday, I will be encouraging the group to find creative ways to express their own story of their spiritual journey in order that they may be able to invite others to do likewise. How do you find ways of sharing your own story with others? How do you create opportunities to listen to the stories of others? I am convinced that the sharing of our stories, simple as this may seem, is the foundation needed for building understanding and breaking down barriers of difference and discrimination.


Friday, 20 July 2018

Lessons from Living in Limbo

As many of you know, I have recently returned home from attending the Uniting Church Assembly. In many ways, it is like a big reunion. During lunches and break times, I brushed shoulders with many people I have met at various national events over many years. Inevitably, the discussion always comes back around to one question, "What are you up to these days?". I must say, I got a little bit tired of answering this question. My hope had been to attend Assembly with a clear and concise answer, but instead it always turned into a longwinded explanation of this time I have aptly named 'limbo'.

In the last few days, the situation has changed and there is now more clarity about the path ahead. I have been offered a scholarship which makes it possible for me to proceed with my PhD studies, at least for now. To say I am excited about this development is an understatement. I will have a very busy six months ahead of me, but I am looking forward to asking some big questions and reading and exploring my area of interest.

This time of limbo has lasted almost three months. There have been moments where I have been disgruntled and impatient, but overall this has been a time of great learning. I feel I could possibly write a whole book about these lessons, but for now I will offer them in this simple way.

1. A path will appear when you step forwards.
Leunig Cartoon
There have been many times in the last year and a half where I have felt completely foolish. Others have been a little kinder in the way they have put it, but I can tell that what is going through their minds is, 'Are you insane?' The truth of it is, that until I chose to take what seemed like a ridiculous step, I had no idea what other doors would begin to open. It really did feel like that scene from Indiana Jones where he takes a step of faith into what seemed like an abyss of nothingness. So, I guess, the lesson has been - sometimes you just have to take that first step before the path will begin to unravel in front of you.

2. Spend time with the people whom you can be most real. 
There have been some very vulnerable times throughout this period; times when the comments and helpful suggestion of others have weighed heavier than usual. During this time, it has been particularly important to have people around me who truly know me. For some, this might include a range of people to choose from, but for me it was only a few valued and trusted people who have been with me on the journey for many years. These are the people whose only hidden agenda was my happiness and wellbeing. These are the people who were honest with me and could see the risk was worth taking. As the Rumi quote says, "Be with those who help your being".

3. Confront your doubts about yourself.
Doubts have not been in short supply these last 18 months. Who am I to think that I could actually tackle a PhD? What, of value, do I have to say anyway? Are you just running away from what seems too hard? Am I being selfish? Am I being irresponsible? What makes you think you will be happier following this path? What happened to your original call to ministry? What if you fail? This is ridiculous! Who do you think you are? Many of these doubts have arisen out of my own inadequacies. Some have come to the fore from the reactions of others. As these questions and inadequacies have gained strength, the only way I have managed to deal with them is by finding another voice to confront them. Perhaps I have a different voice to add to the conversation. So what if I fail? I can do this. I'll never know until I give it a shot. This has taken place like a never-ending, inner battle. The battle has sometimes seemed futile, the wounded scattered here and there. As much as I support a non-violent way of living, this was a battle that needed to happen. If not, I would have given up on myself months ago.

4. Bring yourself to the task.
Another aspect of self doubt that has crept up over and over is my own observation that I don't look or behave like an academic. I have to keep reminding myself of the meaning of 'big words', I can sometimes take a while to digest something I have read, I loathe writing bibliographies. Surely this is not a good start for someone attempting a PhD? In speaking with someone only a few days ago, I was encouraged to think differently. What if bringing my more contemplative way of life to this project was just what it needed? I was reminded of another time in my life, when I was filling in for someone else's role. That person was very different to me and I felt inadequate to fill their shoes. I was reminded in this instance that no one had asked me to be them, they asked me for who I was. I need to lay aside all my preconceptions and simply bring myself to the task.

State Library of Victoria - The Dome
And so, here I am about to embark on a different way of life. In the waiting, I have had a strange peace in the uncertainty. It feels like a time I needed to endure in order to learn some lessons that hopefully will hold me in good stead as I begin this journey. I am sure there will be plenty more times of doubt and questioning in the years to come, but I have some ideas how to face them now. These lessons have been learnt in remaining present, taking time to be grounded and spending time in quiet and stillness. This is who I am. This is what I bring. And I look forward to seeing how the path with unfold before me.