Friday 19 January 2024

Getting to know you

 Since we moved into our new house near the river, I have been taking walks in the morning or evening to get to know the area. I am getting to know some of the familiar sights: the neighbour who puts out a bowl of homegrown cucumbers for passersby to take, the driveway decorated with chalk drawings by local children, the people catching crabs in the river. Even some of the dogs taking their owners for walks are becoming recognizable. I am getting to know this place, its characteristics and the other creatures who call it home.

Last week, as I walked by the river, I found myself asking a strange question. Is this place starting to get to know me? Is it possible for a place to know you? Certainly the people and the other creatures have this capacity, but what about the trees, the river, the rocks? 

I took this photo of myself down by the river last week and, afterwards, realised the shirt I was wearing. I bought it at the Coldplay concert last year. The message, 'Everyone is an alien somewhere', had a certain appeal and truth that saw me wanting to add it to my wardrobe. I felt like an alien in this foreign place. No one had caused me to feel this way. It was simply unfamiliar and unknown.

I can't explain how, but I feel that this place is beginning to embrace me and include me as part of the ecosystem. Each day as I walk I feel less alien-like and more at home. It has been important for me to get to know this land and this waterway, but I feel the country is also getting to know me. As I take time and notice my surroundings, the paths I walk are inviting me to engage more. 

I have entered into a relationship with this place which is still young and fresh. I am no longer an alien in this place.

Friday 5 January 2024

2024 Word of the Year - Flow

 In the last few weeks Guy and I have been in a time of great transition. In early December we packed up our home in Margaret River, helped our adult children move their belongings into their own spaces (they are staying in Margaret River), and moved to the big city, Perth. This brought with it many mixed feelings. I have not been sure about moving back to the city, the faster pace, the traffic, the noise... We are now living in a church house in a part of the city unfamiliar to both of us. We now live a short walk from Derbal Yerrigan (also known as the Swan River). 

When we last lived in Perth we were close to the beach, living near the river is quite foreign. What does it mean to live by the river? How will the river speak into our lives as we dwell so close? These questions came alive again in the last week as we took a few days holiday in Singapore. We have enjoyed visiting Singapore before, but on previous holidays always stayed in a popular shopping area. This time we tried a different area close to the river. I found walking, dining and sitting by the river delightful. Watching life pass by on the water or along its banks, staying alert for signs of wildllife, and observing how the shifting weather changed the moods of the river had the potential to while away many hours.

This experience and the location of our new home had me thinking about Mechthild of Magdeburg, one of the beguines I spent a few years studying in my PhD. Mechthild grew up by the River Elbe in Germany. She would have become accustomed to the seasons, currents and movements of the river. So much so, that when she talked of her relationship with God one of the prominent images is flowing. Living in the flow of God's love is integral to Mechthild's writing.

"Daily I offer you whatever I have:

Nothing but baseness.

And you, Lord, shall infuse me with your grace.

Then I can flow from your love."

Flowing Light of the Godhead, Book V, 20.

I spent a number of hours trying to grasp exactly what Mechthild meant by being in the flow of God. And so, now I have the opportunity to experience a little of what she saw. It is a different river, on a different continent, in a different century. Perhaps as I notice the ebb and flow, the stillness and the turmoil, the way people connect with the water, the way I come to know it more intimately - the river will be my teacher.

In the past my words of the year have had an associated goal, a longing for change or growth. This year is different. In adopting the word "flow" I am inviting myself into a year of discovery, a year of noticing, a year of being attentive to the country I live upon. I want to listen to the stories of First Nations Peoples of this land and its waters. I want to take time on the river's bank and not just speed past as many do along the adjacent freeway. There is no goal, just an invitation.

Happy new year to you all! 

Saturday 31 December 2022

2023 Word of the Year - Menuha

 As I embark on what will be a full 2023, I have been considering what my word for the year should be. There is much uncertainty leading into this new year as I take on a new role which will see me spending a lot more time away from home in Perth. There have been a few conversations about how this will work for our family and the need to ensure my work roles do not become all consuming.

As I have been preparing for this new role, I have been exploring the theme of "Sabbath" as an underpinning framework for the formation program I will be co-ordinating. This has led me to read to Abraham Joshua Heschel's "The Sabbath". This is a book I have had on my "to read" list for a while now. I read it in one sitting and consumed every word.

Heschel, a Jewish scholar, unveils the mystery of the Sabbath in poetic beauty. One section, in particular, caught my attention. Heschel explains the nuances of the term "menuha" and its significance to observing the Sabbath. I knew straight away that this needed to be my word of 2023. The Hebrew word "menuha" is usually translated as "rest". Heschel explains, however, that this rest is not simply the putting down of tools in order to recuperate before starting work again. The Sabbath, the menuha, itself completes the work of creation. In the first account of Creation in Genesis, the creative process is finished when menuha is formed on the seventh day. On all of the previous days God sees what is created and says it is good. On this seventh day God blesses the day and makes it holy.

This understanding opens up a new significance to finding times of rest amid the busyness of life. Without sabbath times, without menuha, my work will not be complete. There is an element of menuha that takes a step back and savours the work of the week before moving on. Menuha seems to take delight in what has been created. In the Jewish tradition this mystery is seeped with ritual and celebration. 

So, in 2023, as I make my way up and down the highway and juggle two roles, I hope to find my own ways to find menuha. It is unlikely that this will come in the form of a day each week, but I aim to find menuha times in the midst of life. Being intentional about creating menuha will somehow complete my work.

Happy New Year to you all!

Friday 11 February 2022

The Elusive Dunnart

Since our beautiful dog, Ava, died in September last year, wildlife has returned to our garden. The birds linger longer. The king skinks and blue tongues slither about with more courage. The possums seem more active at night. And, unfortunately, we have had more mice and rats. There is one little critter, however, that avoids a positive identification. This little fella only appears as the light is fading and skips along the fence and branches in our front courtyard. He is fast. He is small. He could be a small rat or a rather fat mouse. But we suspect he is a dunnart. For those not familiar, a dunnart is an Australian, nocturnal, carnivorous marsupial. It looks rather mouse-like - especially when it hops briskly past the window at dusk. It has become somewhat of a family challenge to get more than a brief glimpse of this critter to positively identify its species. 

A few days ago, I had my best sighting yet. It was a rare evening where I was the only one home. There was none of the usual background noise associated with family time and getting a meal prepared. I sat in the lounge chair closest to the front courtyard. It was quiet. It was still. The elusive dunnart appeared and, unusually, lingered a while. It sat on the fence - waiting. I sat still trying to focus on the sillhouette. Definitely a dunnart - - I think! I was reluctant to move closer, knowing I would startle it and send it hopping. It was but a moment. A moment of stillness and clarity and wonder.

This experience reminded me of my desire to live a contemplative life. I know, from experience, that when I am able to be silent and still I am more likely to see the Divine with more clarity. There is still mystery and the unknown, but for a moment we meet. It is not something that can be captured or repeated, but it beckons us to return and be still again. It is very easy to become caught up in the busyness of life and completely miss the "dunnart" living amongst us. It is when we intentionally find the space to be still and wait that we may be surprised by the presence already in our midst.

Monday 10 January 2022

I Can See Clearly Now

 Back in 2017 I attended a week long workshop with Pace e Bene on non-violence. Things were shifting and changing for me at the time. There were many great aspects to that week, but the one super significant thing I walked away with was a short story from Scripture. The five-verse narrative of Jesus healing a blind man in Mark 8 captured my attention. It became like an analogy for my current situation and has continued to speak to me since that day.

Last year, I facilitated a day retreat for the World Community for Christian Meditation in Perth. I based the day's reflections on this story and chose the theme 'I can see clearly now'. I approached the day with a little apprehension, as is often the case when I prepare for an unknown audience. The day was a delight!! About 50 people attended and participated with both contemplative intent and great enthusiasm. The day included discussion, personal reflection, immersing in the story through movement and even a bit of singing! We journeyed through the story together exploring what it means to see clearly in our faith life.

The WCCM group of Margaret River have asked me to repeat the day in the South West. The date is fast approaching and I am excited to see how a different group repsonds to this narrative. This retreat day will be held on the 5th of February at the Margaret River Uniting Church. You can see further details in the flyer below. If you would like to register you can click here. Why not make a weekend of it?! In case you haven't heard - Margaret River is a great place for a getaway.

Friday 31 December 2021

2022 Word of the Year - Accordance

My word for 2021 has been 'presence'. This word, and my reflections upon it, have served me well throughout the year. I have tried to be more present in different aspects of life which, in turn, have enabled me to be more available. I have also reflected on my own gift of presence which I still struggle to fully comprehend, but I end the year more aware and able to celebrate it.

Those of you who have read previous years' word of the year posts know the word is not always easily  forthcoming. This year is different. This word came to me over a week ago and has not left me alone. It is also a word I would have never have imagined myself choosing. The word 'accordance' seems quite legalistic and judgmental to me. I imagine a judge declaring that someone has not lived in accordance with the law, or some pious person informing me I haven't quite lived up to the expected standard. Although I am not a particularly rebellious person, I have spent the last few years attempting to fight the perceived need to conform and keep the peace. So, this word has come as a surprise.

Looking into the etymology of the word 'accord' has helped me understand its importance in my life at this point. The Old French origins, dating back to the twelfth century, are about agreement and harmony. It is however, the Vulgar Latin origins that ring true: to be of one heart or to bring heart to heart. For me, this is about integrity. Over the last decade I have spent a lot of time discovering my true self - the me I was before I was. While living life in accordance with your true self should be the most natural thing in the world, I find that the expectations of our society convince us to be something else. The lure of success, wealth, admiration and a myriad of other things constantly divert me away from my centre and stability. 

So, in 2022, I want to live in accordance to the heart of my life that I know to be real. I want to bring the heart of my living in line with the heart of my life more and more. But to be clear - I am not going to do this in a legalistic manner. I know I will stuff up. I know there will be times when I get caught up in what the world expects of me. But, in all my imperfection, if I can come to the end of 2022 and say I gave it a good shot I will be content. To live in accordance with my true self, who I was created to be, takes a lifetime of humility and unlearning. 2022 will be just a small step along the way.

Friday 1 January 2021

Presence - My 2021 Word of the Year

 Happy New Year to you all!! As is my tradition over the last ten years or so now, January 1st is the day to name and explore my word for the year ahead. My word for 2020 was "horizon". Despite my own personal reasons for choosing this word, it seemed particularly relevant with the uncertainties we all faced throughout the year. It is a word that could have quite happily continued journeying ahead into 2021, but this new year calls for a new focus. Over the last week I have been searching for a word that will ground me in my last year of my PhD, that will bring me back to the core of who I am and will provide a positive focus forward to the unknowns of 2022. The word itself had remained elusive until last night.

One of the benefits of living in Western Australia is the free television reviews available on my Facebook feed from friends in the Eastern states who are three hours ahead. At around 7pm, my Facebook feed was aflood with praise for Paul Kelly's performance on the New Year's Eve concert broadcast on the ABC. I trusted these people's judgment and tuned in. I was not disappointed. As I listened to familiar tunes and watched the tweets roll along the bottom of the screen, I pondered this man's presence. There were no big flashy lights. No specky visuals. No dancers. No fancy costumes. Just him, his band and the camera operators capturing the moment for all of us. Due to COVID restrictions there was no crowd hyping up the atmosphere. Just Paul Kelly being Paul Kelly. This man has presence.

Presence is a word I use often. In the practice of spiritual direction we constantly talk about the importance of presence with the person who sits before us. In the mystical tradition, the presence of the Divine is an enduring theme. While talking about the contemplative way of life, presence is a vital part of the conversation. This "talk" has become second nature to me. But what about the practice? I recognise that it is easy for me to get caught up in the "What next?" of life. I am constantly searching for the next challenge, the next adventure, the next horizon (hmm). Perhaps a year of holding presence at the forefront might be very timely.

Another aspect of this word that I find more difficult to reflect upon is the gift of presence. I recall being in an interview situation some ten years ago now. Someone in the meeting asked me what gifts I felt I would bring to the role. I floundered a little, speaking of some practical skills I felt I could offer this community. After my attempt to answer the question, a member of the group who had known me for some time spoke up. "Presence" she said. "She has a presence that will be a gift to you". I have pondered on this comment for many years wondering what it means and how this "gift" is useful. Others have said the same thing in different ways. Is it something impossible for me to see and know? Isn't presence just being yourself? Isn't it something everyone has? How do you nurture and use such a gift?

And so, as I venture into a year where I will need to have confidence in myself and what I have to say, a year when I will explore the giftedness I take into the next chapter of my life and a year when my youngest will begin to spread her wings changing my role in her life - presence seems an appropriate word to hold close. As I journey with this word into 2021, I will endeavour to find time to practice presence more intentionally and to explore the gift of my own presence and what on earth that means.