Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Beyond "Us" and "Them"?

Too many things!!! There is a lot to get angry about in the news at the moment. Domestic violence, atrocious treatment of refugees in detention, discrimination of LGBTIQ people in our schools, the #metoo campaign and the list goes on. I try not to read too many of the comments on social media, as this only fuels my despair and rage.

I must say, that it is not only the injustice of these situations that makes my blood boil, but a deeper sense of disturbance. I have read enough and lived enough to know that our natural tendency as humans is to find a tribe, a place to belong. I do feel, however, that there is a rise in dualism and tribalism. There is much uncertainty in our society and what better way to feel safe and secure than find a group we identify with and who will watch our back. When we can identify who the "us" and the "them" are, we know where we fit, we know where we belong.


People who are passionate about a cause will naturally band together to try and make a difference. Be it exposing violence against women, protecting religious freedoms, advocating for LGBTIQ people, enforcing border control, showing compassion for refugees; whenever a "tribe" is formed there is the potential to fall into an "us" and "them" mentality. Groups and movements fighting for a cause, can quickly become an angry mob defending their patch.

Now, don't get me wrong, there is an integral place for coming together to support a cause, for advocacy of the vulnerable in our community and getting angry at the injustice in our world. I do feel, however, that when we take our eyes of that focus, and it becomes more about protecting the group, perhaps we fall into the trap of stroking the communal ego rather than living out our true purpose.

My hope in all of this is that we can find another way; a way that is embedded in love and doesn't react out of our own fears. I don't anticipate it is an easy way. There will always be conflict and differing opinions. I often wonder if it is possible, in our humanity, to find a way that does not divide. But what would it look like to live within the paradox of life, navigating our way through the joy and suffering of differences without resorting to violence and devaluing of the other? Maybe I am just imagining utopian dreams, but I do have a hope that we are better than this.

The closest I have come to even touching this possibility is through living a contemplative life. Through stillness, silence and being present, I find myself in the best possible position to live an authentic life centred on the Ground of our Being. As James Finley said, "I cannot make moments of nondual consciousness happen. I can only assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by grace." 

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Sing like never before

My introduction to up-front ministry and worship leading came some 30 years ago. Our congregation, at the time, was mostly singing from the one hymn book and a small group of us had learnt some new songs at church camps. We asked the minister if we could teach some to the congregation, and so began our music group. It began modestly with a keyboard, guitar, clarinet and myself singing. 

Song has always been a large part of my faith journey. As a youngster, I watched my parents throw themselves into the annual Sunday School anniversary production, my dad often taking on lead roles. I was in a Junior Choir that practiced before church and often performed pieces as part of worship. When we left that church to emigrate to Australia, the one gift I remember was the cassette tape of the congregation singing our favourite hymns and songs.

Music has been integral to how I express and understand my faith journey throughout the years. I must admit, however, that in the last decade or so, as my understanding of God and faith have changed, worship songs have become a difficulty for me. Many of the old favourites I used to sing with gusto, I find hard to stomach now. The lyrics grate and use language that is no longer part of my vocabulary in expressing my own faith. Choosing hymns each week became a constant battle. Can I, with integrity, sing this song now? But what about the people? They love this one.

I no longer lead singing from the front. Life has lead me in different directions with how I serve, but I was taken back to my love for singing during the week. On Thursday, I was at the Dayspring teaching day and one of the students led our morning prayer with a song. It is one some of you may know, "10 000 Reasons", written by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin. Its a song I have experienced a few times in worship, and I actually find the words unifying. I can sing this song! It has a great melody. My more Pentecostal, evangelical friends seem to love it and I can sing the lyrics without cringing.

As it was played to us, we were invited to join in. We are only a small group of about 15, and I found that my familiarity with the song and confidence in singing took me back to those days of standing up the front leading. Although I have sung this song a few times before, one line struck me that morning. "Sing like never before, O my soul". It immediately took me to all those Psalms that start with "sing to God a new song" (Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, 144). As I stood there singing, being drawn back to experiences of 30 years before, I reflected on how far the journey had taken me. I reflected on the "song" I was singing now. This new song has found a new life in me, a new joy, a new melody. I am finding a voice, rediscovering words and music notes that have been waiting beneath the surface. It is like a "waking up". And so, as I sang those words, "sing like never before", I actually felt that was happening. This is a new song, that has never been sung.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

An act of blessing

Ava - our little, anti-social blessing!!
A lot of my Facebook feed over the last few weeks has consisted of various colleagues conducting Blessing of the Animals services and ceremonies in their communities. It is Spring here in Australia, the perfect time to bring out your cats, dogs, chickens and goldfish and cause a raucous in a local park or the church grounds. Don't get me wrong - I love animals and my reaction is out of jealousy. My own gorgeous pup is so anxious that taking her along to such an event would soon resemble some strange scene of animal sacrifice. Therefore, my inability to take my own beloved pet along causes me to avoid such events.

But what is it that we feel we are doing by blessing our pets? The word blessing is thrown around a lot today. "It has been such a blessing to spend today with you." "The new baby is such a blessing." "What a blessing to be in this place!" Some people sign off their emails or letters with Blessings... Those of us who have connections to some church or faith community will have another understanding that is to do with the words that are said over people or sacramental elements at various times during worship.

This pondering reminded me of a retreat day I attended in 2012. The facilitators were Jeff and Caryl Creswell from Parker Palmer's Center for Courage and Renewal. The theme they chose for the day was blessing. We talked about the etymology of the word that day, and perhaps the various meanings are part of the misunderstanding of the word. One origin of the word, from Old English bledsiad, means "to sanctify or consecrate with blood". This imagery, that is vitally connected to the life force of ancient traditions, implies invoking divine favour upon someone or something. I hear a lot of people use blessing in this way. Sometimes, it is inferred that a blessing is a reward for good and faithful service.

Another root of the word blessing comes from the Latin verb benedicere, which means "to speak well of". In these terms, to bless someone is to speak well of him or her. Ron Rolheiser, in his book 'Against an Infinite Horizon', takes this a little further saying:
          "To bless someone is, through some word, gesture or ritual, to make that person aware of three things:
* the goodness of the original creation where God said that it was 'good, very good'
* that God experiences the same delight and pleasure in him or her that God experienced with Jesus at his baptism when he said: 'This is my beloved child in whim I take delight'.
* that we who are giving the blessing, recognize that goodness and take that delight in the other person."

If we take this definition of 'blessing', it is not about whether the person deserves it or not, or even if the person giving has the right credentials. This understanding of 'blessing' acknowledges the wonder of each and every creation and the goodness inherent within. In a world that it so quick to let us know if we are other, not enough, not deserving - we could do with a culture of those who can learn to bless. If it is good enough for our pets, it is good enough for us. We don't need to create some special annual service to share this blessing. It is an every day thing. It is contagious. It is simple. It is unique to each of us, but it takes practice to go against the flow of the world. 

Blessings to you this day!
May you know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
May you know that you are loved.
May you be a delight and be delighted.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Borderlands

I often spend a lot of time debating what I should share on this blog. There are safe topics that require little thought, but have less impact on people. It is usually the ones where I feel a little vulnerable that seem to speak more to people and I receive emails and messages telling me so. I have been sitting on this one for a few weeks now, wondering how willing I am to share this with the world. Some reading I was doing yesterday convinced me to take the risk.

Three weeks ago, I was in Canberra for the AECSD (Australian Ecumenical Council of Spiritual Directors) Conference. The theme was Spiritual Direction on the Borderlands and the sessions were led by Alan and Robyn Cadwallader. The sessions were challenging, contemplative, provocative, affirming and disturbing - in other words great!! Throughout the few days together we explored different images rising from scripture and contemporary life to reflect on what it means to dwell in the borderlands. I found the stories met mine on a personal level, a spiritual direction practice level and a community level.

In a personal way, the theme brought to life many feelings from the last few years. Some of you will be aware that during my discernment in this time a short passage of scripture was very significant. It was a little story about the healing of a blind man (Mark 8: 22-26). This is a story about going out to the borderlands to be healed. Here is my reflection from my weekend in Canberra that arises from this story, my story and the stories heard during the conference.

The Borderlands

You saw it
long before I
the loose threads
the coming undone
the falling apart.
Symbols from the AECSD conference


You knew what
I could never see
while caught in the midst
entangled, enmeshed
propped up by the need
held together by the pressure.

You called me out
to meet at the fringe
beyond the safety of walls
and with each step
my life fell around me
in tatters it fell
and all light fell dark.

I felt I had died
my eyes were blind
my tongue could not speak
my heartbeat had stopped
yet I was strangely alive.

You remained close
with each breath
I sensed you near
a real presence
could hear the spit
the rubbing of hands
smearing blind eyes.

You asked
what I saw
and though
the scene was hazy
with shaking voice
I spoke a truth
I was yet to understand.

You waited as
the dawn broke
the sun exposed
the nakedness
as the last threads
spilled to the ground.

You said
go home, but remain
outside the walls
in the borderlands
and I will be there.

I said nothing
for to be home
was enough.
Tomorrow, I speak.

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.