Tuesday 30 October 2012

Personal Principles

On Thursday I am travelling to Perth for my last day of the Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction. It has been quite a journey. Not only have I learnt a lot, but I have also grown a lot in my own spiritual life. The most significant change for me has been my increased confidence in what I believe and how that affects my living. It has been a liberating and confronting journey. Some things that were important to me at the beginning of the course, now have little meaning. Others that were given a low priority, I now cannot live without. 

Coming to the end of a programme that has sustained you and given you the structure you need can be daunting. Will I be able to continue in the same way? Will I slip back into old habits? I hope not. And that is why on Friday I am attending a workshop to identify the principles I choose to live by. My hope is that I can be very clear in defining my principles and this will seep into everything I do and say. Perfect timing!

It is not just about priorities and setting goals, it is much more than this. I believe identifying my principles for life will assist me in living a life of integrity and purpose. I am hoping it will help me to engage in activities that give me energy and use the gifts that I have. Some people might use the language of "call" or God's will in my life. For me, it is more about being true to the person God created me to be. Part of my discovery has been realizing that much of my life has been spent being the person that everyone else expects me to be. Living up to people's expectations now seems like hard work. 

I am excited about stripping back all the facades and masks and just being the person that God made me. Funny how it sounds so simple, but its so difficult. Sometimes its easier to put in the hard work to be someone else than it is to let go of success, ego, the need to liked and just be. In some ways its a pity that I need to attend a workshop to help me to remember to be me. I guess that is human nature. I'll let you know how the workshop goes.

Monday 29 October 2012

Mandala workshops

I had some initial discussions today with leaders in two churches about planning an introductory mandala workshop for their groups next year. It is very exciting to be contemplating sharing my passion for mandalas for the love of it, rather than for research. I am planning a 3 hour workshop that will include an introductory presentation, individual creation of mandalas and some time to share about the experience at the end. I am hoping that some of the people attending these workshops may like to join "A Mandala a Month" as well. There has been some interest in this idea and I am looking forward to seeing the unique creations that will be made throughout the year.

I see this as a wonderful way to extend my ministry and support my congregations financially at the same time. I plan to write a summary of different workshops that can be offered on this site. If you are interested in any of the ideas you have seen on this blog or you want to get a group together, let me know. 

I am really excited about the possibilities ahead of me in 2013.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Bartimaeus and Being Blind

Today's reading was the story of Blind Bartimaeus. I remember participating in an Ignatian meditation based on this reading about twelve years ago and finding it a very significant experience. This is the first time that I have preached on the reading. I based my message around a reflection I wrote putting myself in the shoes of Bartimaeus.

I think this reading speaks directly into my experience of contemplative prayer. It is when I am blind that I gain my sight. Coming into a contemplative space is about losing my sight. It is about coming before God with nothing, for it is when I have nothing that I have everything to gain. Bartimaeus knew his needs and desires. He was not going to remain quiet on the roadside. He was bold and called out his needs. Maybe, we too, need to be bold in expressing our deep desires. 

What do you want me to do for you?

Isn’t it obvious!
Can’t you see!
Dare you look in my eyes
and see what I cannot.
I know I am blind.
I have never seen the dawning day,
nor the trees swaying in the breeze,
birds soaring in the sky
or even the pity in my own parents’ eyes.

My need is great.
I need you.
I will not sit silent by the road side
hearing your footsteps pass by.
I will call out to you,
even though they muffle my cries
and demand I become dumb also.
But I will not cease calling,
crying out your name.
I need you.

And then you ask,
What do you want me to do for you?
I want to see.
Not just my own hands, or those who sneer at me.
Not just the bread I eat or the flowers on the wayside.
It is your face I want to see.
I need to see the love that is possible,
the compassion that is tangible.
I know I am blind.
I want to see – and then no choice I will have
but to follow.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Myriad Gaze

I don't consider myself to be much of a poet. It sort of happens in fits and bursts. All of a sudden, I find the urge to write a poem. There's never much of a craft to it. I don't worry about rhyming or a particular structure. The words just roll out and there's rarely much editing. My poetry is very personal and, to be honest, it is the hardest genre for me to share on this blog. (Hence my waffling now to avoid putting the poem down) I guess there is something about the abstract nature of poetry that makes me wonder if there is any worth to anyone other than myself.
Starry Night - Vincent van Gogh

However, I will continue to share them occasionally in an attempt to discover why it is important to me. I found this poem I wrote in February 2011. I cannot remember the context, but it was while we were still living in Perth. In my journal, I have pasted a print of Vincent van Gogh's painting 'Starry Night'. Reading this poem now I get a sense of the abundance of blessings in life. Dawn and dusk have always been my favourite times of the day. There is some sort of mystery about these times when the light changes and the sounds are different. Dawn and dusk are liminal spaces where transformation is possible. I think this is what I was trying to capture in this poem.

Myriad Gaze

Sink into the ground
Rise above the world
The myriad of lights never ceases
to capture my soul
To the south the blaze
of a day long gone
To the north pinprick 
hope of a promise
Splendour is caught between the past and the soon
Eastern skies shimmer
with things of the earth
Flickers to the west
wide windows unseen
Earth - sky - then - now - when?
Gaze on the blessings
that saturate life.

Thursday 25 October 2012

A Mandala a Month

Well, I did it! I managed to get the draft of my project on Mandalas complete and off to my proof reader. It's a good feeling, but it also saw the culmination of an exciting journey into discovering the value of mandalas in my own life. I have been doing some thinking about where to take this passion for mandalas next.

I have thought about offering a monthly mandala workshop in my local area for people to create a mandala a month for the year 2013. What an amazing picture of the year this would give us. It would almost be like a map of the inner journey throughout the year. This does not need to be limited to those who live locally. I am wondering if any of you out there, around the world, would be interested in engaging in "A Mandala a Month". I'm not 100% sure how this would work yet, but would love the challenge of making it available to people if there is a need.

I am thinking that the first workshop would include an introduction to mandalas. Subsequent workshops will help people to reflect on how life has been during the month and create a mandala that is like a snapshot of the soul at that time. It would be great to share some of the mandalas people have made here for all to see the diversity. 

If you think you would like to be involved in "A Mandala a Month" either from a distance or locally in Margaret River/Augusta leave a message or send me an email - cathielambert@hotmail.com

Would love to hear from you!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

The Imprint of God's Fingers

I have been reflecting a lot today, as I write up my project, on what it means to take a contemplative stance. I know that I can be guilty of thinking I am doing well at just being in the presence of God, only to realize that in fact I fill my life with righteous activities to convince myself I'm good with God. I could not have got the whole thing more backward!!

I rediscovered this great quote from Irenaeus, the second century bishop from France.

"It is not you who shapes God, but God who shapes you. Await then the hand of the artist. Offer God your heart, soft and tractable. And keep the shape in which the artist fashions you. Let your clay be moist, lest you lose the imprint of God's fingers."

It sounds so easy, yet it is so difficult. The more I try to get it right or be more 'holy', the drier my clay becomes. When I relax and just rest in the Presence, somehow God's fingerprints seem closer than ever. It certainly goes against the grain to stop striving and yearning for more. I wonder how much of my life is spent trying to shape God, rather than letting God shape me. 

You can't blame me really! Shaping God is the safest option. I am in control that way and don't need to be vulnerable. Letting God shape me only leads me into an unknown mystery. These words from Iranaeus are a real challenge. What does it mean for me to let my clay remain moist? What do I need to do to avoid losing the imprint of God's fingers? But see, I have missed the point again. Iranaeus says, "let your clay be moist". All I need to do is allow it, not get in the way with my own plans - Stop shaping and allow myself to be shaped.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Deadlines and Discipline

Some of you will be aware that I am currently writing my project to complete my Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction. I've done all the research and got all the references together, but now its time to sit down and get it all written. I've set myself a deadline and I have a proof reader lined up. Now to get busy!

I have set the next two days aside to, hopefully, finish my writing. I am finding the project very exciting. The results of the workshops have far exceeded my expectations. The problem that I have when nearing completion of a project is that my mind moves on to the next challenge before I have even finished. Needless to say, there are a lot of unfinished ideas and projects in my life.

I need to find a way to stay present to what I need to complete now. So, I'm going to the local library and taking only what I need for my project. I have to be strict with myself and create boundaries in order to get the job done. I don't know if I am unique in this way, or whether many people struggle like me. It highlights for me, however, the need to live more in the now. There is a discomfort in being still and not knowing what challenge will be next.

I have high expectations for the next few days. I am hoping that I have been realistic and I will be able to achieve what I have set before myself. It will be good practice in self discipline and staying focused on the now rather than yearning for the future. I'll let you know how I get on!

Saturday 20 October 2012

A Kiss of Delight

I went looking for a piece I wrote in my journal that I used twelve years ago during our time in Tonga. What a distraction! It is fascinating reading the thoughts, poetry and struggles of my younger-self. As part of our training week to prepare for our two years away, we were given the task of thinking about our spiritual grounding. I can't remember the exact details of this, but my memory is that when we faced times of trouble and doubt while we were away, we could turn to what we had written as our spiritual grounding and find comfort. 

The seasons and the timing of our days has always been a comfort to me. As the sun sets on the day, we sleep in the confidence that a new day will begin at dawn. Dusk and dawn have always been very spiritual moments in my life. Sometimes the most profound thoughts and experiences of God happen as the sun meets the horizon. Maybe there is something about the beauty in the sky or maybe as the sun meets the horizon it speaks of the thin places where God and I meet. Whatever it may be, this is the image I used twelve years ago to be my spiritual grounding while I was far away from home. Today, I might write something very different. However, this statement still speaks truth into a life that is very different now.

The Kiss of Delight

God has given me a new day
The rays of the sunrise tough me and bless me
You are my child
A kiss of delight
The warmth of my God wraps me up
The light of my God allows me to see
The breeze through my hair gives me life
The sand between my toes lets me know there is work to be done
I will run in delight where God will lead
I will see God in the smiles, the tears, the words
I will show God in my smile, my tears, my words
My Creator in me and me in my Creator's world.

At the setting of the sun
The rays will touch me and bless me
You are my child
A kiss of delight
Then I can rest knowing that my hurts, my struggles, my pain, my failures
Are in God's hands
Tomorrow God will give me a new day.

Joy, Paint Pots and the Sizzler

I spent much of yesterday watching children have a fantastic time. In the morning, Margaret River Church had their first session of 'Ready, Set, Go', a program to help parents and kids get ready for starting kindy next year. There was singing, wonder as we looked at flowers, painting, playing in the sand, gluing, dressing up and stories. Some children were a little overwhelmed, and others couldn't get enough of all the activities. 

In the evening, our family went to the annual Margaret River Agricultural Show. Arrangements for this big night started a week ago. As parents, we had a schedule. At 5.30pm we were meeting this friend at the Tumbler, at 6.30pm we would meet and have dinner, at 7.30pm another friend would be met at the Tumbler and at 8.30pm we would watch the fireworks. The excitement was oozing!!

The look on my daughter's face as she tried to take in the different show bags and work out which was the right one for her was priceless. Wonder, confusion and excitement all wrapped up in one little expression. Watching the anticipation as they waited in line to go on the rides and then the smiles and the hair flying as they whizzed past us on the Sizzler.We joined the circle of parents with their cameras, waving as they flew around.

Adulthood has a way of bringing restraint into our lives. Everything is more measured and contained. I guess there is a need for that in many ways, especially when it comes to spending money at the Show. I wonder how much more joy we would have in life if, just occasionally, we let ourselves go. What would happen if we allowed ourselves to splash paint on a canvas, not worrying about the cost or the mess we were making? When was the last time we felt our heart pounding in anticipation of going on a 'freaky' ride at the Show? When did we last squeal in delight? When did we last let our hair down and let it fly in the wind? Do you remember the last time you ate fairy floss?

I often here people talk about childhood like they would love to go back to those carefree days. I would like to ask the question, "Why can't we reclaim childlike joy for ourselves?" I guess it's a choice we make. Do we risk being vulnerable and experience a sense of wonder and laughter or do we stay safe, contained and in control?

Wednesday 17 October 2012

The Battle of the Head and the Heart

Shams Tabrizi image: Alex Tjoa
Some of us find that our life is dominated by our head. Knowledge, learning and exploring dominate my time and become the most important thing in my life. I need to constantly remind myself to engage my heart as well. It is when I can live from my heart that I go deeper and discover even more wonderful things than my head can handle. 

I follow Rumi on Facebook. Last week, the following quote and picture came up. 

"Intellect takes you to the door, but it doesn't take you into the house."

How true! I need constant reminding of this. I can know every theory, every fact, every date and every place in my mind. This does not help me to 'know' myself or my relationship with the Divine. These things are much deeper than my head can ever take me.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Funeral Row Boat

Much of my day was spent preparing and conducting a funeral for a much loved member of our Margaret River congregation. When I was training for ministry, a wise person once told me that as a minister we have a unique role to play at the point of death. They used the image of a lake that the family and friends cannot cross. As the minister, we have the task of rowing the deceased person to the other side of the lake. This is not only a service to the person who has died, but a huge comfort to the family and friends that their loved one is in safe hands.

This image has always stayed with me and I always find it a privilege to be with people around and after death. Today was no different. It is such a huge responsibility to hold people when they are at their most vulnerable. This is often the time when the most profound questions are asked and the veil between the spiritual and the physical becomes very thin. Often, I find that the family and loved ones allow you to become close very quickly. Stories are shared, insecurities are aired and truths are exposed. 

Funerals are often seen as morbid affairs, but for those of us who take on the role of rowing the boat, they are precious moments. So today I give thanks for the life of Kathleen and thank her family for the privilege of  allowing me to be part of this transition in life.

Monday 15 October 2012

Connecting Places

It was the last day of the school holidays today. It has been a different sort of holiday as Guy and I have both been working and trying to juggle our time with the kids. The kids went on a camp for part of it and we have had two sets of visitors staying with us. It wasn't until today that I realized we had very little time with our family all together. 

So this afternoon we took off. We drove to Dunsborough for lunch and then on to Canal Rocks. This is a place that all of our family enjoy. We have been visiting Canal Rocks with our children since they were babies. I cannot recall a time when we have not enjoyed our visit. My husband loves watching the wild, unpredictable waves. My son becomes like spiderman clambering with ease over the rocks. My daughter enjoys staying close to someone and exploring the cracks where living creatures might be hiding.

For me, I just love watching my family enjoying being close to nature and being themselves. I love the wildness of the place and the freshness in the wind and the water. There is something about our common love of this place that connects us in a mysterious way. As Harrison climbed higher and higher, his sister called our, "Be careful, Harrison". Only to get the reply, "That proves you love me!". There was lots of laughter and time stood still for a while. On returning to the car, we were somehow more connected than when we arrived. Canal Rocks has invisible threads that link us together as a family.

I guess for other people there are other special places that hold memories and the power to reconnect. For my family that one hour together in this awesome place made up for the disconnection of the holidays. So many cultures have a strong connection to the land that is not just physical, but spiritual. Western cultures are often too busy to be aware of these vital connections. Where are the places that have special significance for you? Are there places that are not only important to you, but to your family or community?

Sunday 14 October 2012

Are you a monkey??

The reading for today's service was Mark 10: 17-31. It is quite a well-known reading. Maybe it is familiar because it appears in three of the four gospels. A rich man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to receive eternal life, but the answer he gets sends him away feeling it was impossible.

Wealth, in Jesus’ time as much as today, brought about privilege and power. We are told that this rich, young ruler kept all the commandments and many perhaps believed that his riches were a sign of God’s favour on his righteous life. Something was still missing, however. He needed more in life. He was looking for a checklist, a to-do list, that would get him into heaven. He got more than he bargained for.

Jesus didn’t tell him what he needed to do or take up, but rather of what he needed to let go. It could be seen that Jesus hated wealth and this was his message, not only for this man but for all of us throughout history. We must live simply, give up our possessions and follow Christ. I am not convinced that Jesus was against wealth as such. He did not speak out of envy or bitterness, but rather out of a deep love for this man that would want him to know his real value and worth without possessions. His answer sought to show the man that God can provide for him even more greatly than his wealth might.

I am convinced this story is not only targeting those of us who may be wealthy, but all of us. We all have things that we hold on to that restrict us from moving forward and knowing life in all its fullness. Our desire to hold on to these things traps us and prevents us from knowing the Kingdom of God that is awaiting us.

There is a story of African hunters who wanted to develop a method of capturing monkeys unharmed to ship to zoos around the world. The hunters used a bottle with a long narrow neck as a trap. The bottle was just large enough so a monkey could put its hand in. In the evening the bottle would be tied to a tree, and in the bottom of the bottle they would place several good-smelling nuts. In the morning, they would find a monkey with its hand clutching the nuts, held securely in the bottle. At any time, the monkey could have released itself simply by opening its hand and letting go of the nuts.

We may smile at the foolish monkeys who get trapped in the bottles, but how often do we hold tenaciously to things from our past, or possessions, or the need for success or the need to be liked by others. We trap ourselves and stop ourselves from moving forward because we cannot possibly drag all our baggage with us.

What Jesus seems to be saying to us is that not only can we not take possessions with us, but clinging to them and other aspects of our lives, like the monkey to its food, holds us captive. There will be places we cannot go, experiences we cannot have, and insights that will never illuminate our lives if we let these things possess us. Our Rich Young Ruler is a monkey who cannot let go, free himself of the bottle, and enter into an earthly adventure that will carry him surely to the kingdom of God.

We all grip onto something in our lives. What is it to which you hold dearly, but at the same time holds you back? What is it that you need to let go, to leave behind, in order to live life more fully? Let us not become monkeys who are easily trapped by our past and our possessions.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Tourists or Locals

We have spent the day showing some visitors around our beautiful region. We have visited a winery, the chocolate factory, the olive oil and soap factory and the silk farm. It is very different being a tourist and being a local. I remember when we used to be tourists in the town we now live in and would do the rounds of all the attractions. We would make the most of each day and try to see and experience as much as possible before having to return home. Now, we try to space out our visits to places that we have been to often and sometimes just sit back while our visitors taste, smell, look and feel what the places have to offer. 

I wonder if we can become a bit too 'local' in life? Do we start to lose the wonder and the awe of the world and the people around us? I know, for myself, how easy it is to allow a week or maybe even a month to pass by without trying something new or experiencing something that awakens my senses. In some ways, we lose the hunger and the thirst for life. As a leader, it can also become easier to lead people to these experiences and just sit back and observe.

One of the great benefits of travel is that we are lead into a place of wonder and excitement. Without the familiarity and the comforts of home, we are forced to see things in different ways, listen to foreign languages, taste exotic foods and smell unusual aromas. We come back from these adventures as changed people. Our world has been widened and deepened. 

I guess there needs to be a balance. Being a tourist can be expensive, exhausting and unsettling. If we were constantly travelling and exploring perhaps we too could become complacent. Maybe it is important to have people come and stay so that we can be reminded of the wonder and the pleasure that can be found in our own back gardens. I think there is maybe some merit in having a monthly 'tourist' day, when we pretend to be tourists in our own home town and rediscover the gems around us. But, even better, maybe we should learn to look for the wonder and awe in our every day life in each and every moment.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Birthdays and Psalm 139

Tonight, at English Club, we discussed the importance of birthdays. We looked at the origins of birthday celebrations based on superstition. I had people from Taiwan, Japan and France in my group and we listened to stories of different ways of celebrating and the importance put on certain age milestones. One of the people in our group shared how her family had never celebrated birthdays and this did not seem to bother her. It made me wonder about why we place such importance on individuals' birthdays in our culture.

It seemed to me that our Western Culture makes a much bigger deal of birthdays than some other cultures might. I wonder if it may be that our need for value and worth is somehow fulfilled by being recognized and spoilt rotten one day in the year. I wonder whether our birthday celebrations would involve so much food and gift giving if we were more aware of our deep value. In Psalm 139 it says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

I often say to people that if they were to read Psalm 139 every day and learnt to believe it, the world would be a different place. If we could all realize how deeply loved we are by our Creator and our own great value, we might then see that also in each and every person we meet. Imagine what the world would be like if we all realized the value of our own self and of others. Maybe Psalm 139 should be traditionally read after the singing of Happy Birthday.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Calm Soul

I am currently arranging a funeral for a dearly loved member of our congregation. Her son has given me a note book to browse through which contains handwritten passages from Scripture, verses of poetry, song words and personal stories. This precious note book is like another window into the soul of this wonderful woman. 

It was a verse of poetry that caught my attention. Only the first stanza of the poem was recorded in the book, but I have found the whole poem.

'Calm Soul of all Things' by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

Calm soul of all things! make it mine
To feel, amid the city's jar,
That there abides a peace of thine,
Man did not make, nor cannot mar!

The will to neither strive nor cry,
The power to feel with others give!
Calm, calm me more! nor let me die
Before I have begun to live.

What beautiful words! That calm that is in our souls that cannot be altered by external factors or our own moods is for what I strive. The poem indicates that real life is known when we realize that deep calm within. This is not a calm that we can contrive or create for ourselves. It is a Divine gift. I know in my role, I often rely on this calm peace within to get me through some very tough times. A calm centre allows me to be fully present for others.

What a wonderful gift to receive so unexpectedly from a wise woman. Thank you!

Tuesday 9 October 2012


Its school holidays and both of my kids have been given some money by their grandparents to spend. I've found it amusing watching how my two handle money and the whole idea of saving. My oldest seems to understand how money works. We have a system where if they choose to save their money in the bank we will also add to the total helping them on their way to their saving goal. My oldest gets this and will put some of his money away. It seems to burn a hole in his pocket, though, and it doesn't take him long to find something he would like to buy. Similarly, this money from his grandparents needed to be spent as soon as possible. He didn't spend it all on himself, he bought each member of the family a gift. Even his sister!!

My youngest is very different with money. Although I have tried numerous times to explain the merits of saving in the bank (especially with our little bonus system), she still insists on saving it in her purse. I asked her why this was important to her and she explained that when it is in her purse she can look at it and count it whenever she wants. It is important to have it close to hand. She is not quick to spend, but can be very generous when she chooses.

My kids were on camp last weekend and were learning about 'Treasure'. They have both brought their bibles to me in the last few days to show me the passage from Matthew 13 about hidden treasure. I wonder if how we are with money has any relevance to how we are with the treasure that God offers? Do we hide the treasure away in hope that it will grow or multiply? Do we keep it close by in order to access it at a moment's notice? Do we feel a need to give it away either in generosity or in fear of what will happen if we hold on to it?

I don't think it is any accident that my pet name for my children is 'Treasure'. They are coming to the age now where it is a difficult balance between protecting them and allowing them to become independent. Is this how it is with God's treasure in our lives? We need to find a balance between protecting it and sharing it with others in our lives. Like learning how to be good with our money, sometimes understanding the presence of God in our life can take a life time.

Monday 8 October 2012

Being Contemplative

In the last few days I have been revisiting the first topic we covered in the Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction that I have now almost completed. That topic, that has been the foundation on which everything else has been built, is being contemplative. Thomas Merton, in 'New Seeds of Contemplation', describes contemplation as follows.

""Contemplation is the highest expression of [a person's] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that lie and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, an awareness of the reality of the Source."
I remember our first residential retreat, after talking about contemplation for a while, we were sent out to spend some time practicing being contemplative. I was quite used to sitting in nature and being in the presence of the Divine. I was looking around me at the beauty and the wonder of creation, but the one thing I noticed was what I heard. I could hear the wind approaching through the trees before I could see it's effects or feel it on my face. In many ways it was not an unusual experience, but as I sat I found myself listening intently and then closing my eyes to feel the gentle breeze I knew was about to meet me.

I guess being contemplative in life is about always being ready to experience the gentle breeze of that infinitely abundant Source. The times in my life where I seem to have really understood how to live contemplatively, I have been more aware and awake to the movements of the Divine in my life. At other times, when I get caught up with the busyness of life, I miss the cues that the Divine is near and don't recognize the gentle breeze when it passes me.

For me, being contemplative is about a way of life, As Merton puts it, it is life, fully awake, fully active and fully aware. It is about having my eyes open, my ears attuned and my heart inclined

Sunday 7 October 2012

Where is God in my suffering?

It is an age old question! If God is love, why does he/she allow suffering in this world? Job is a great book of the Bible to delve into and try to understand this struggle. In my message I looked at different ways the church has handled the whole idea of suffering, some of which have been very damaging. Do we blame it on 'Satan', do we blame it on ourselves, do we blame it on God or is there another way to see it? I think we can only come to an authentic understanding if we have sat in our woundedness in the presence of God. That's not a comfortable place to be!

This became very obvious for me in people's comments afterwards. Some know what it is to sit in that place, others don't want to go there and still others are happy for me to sit there and listen to me talk about it. For me, my wounds have become birth canals to the wholeness that God desires for me. This is a big change. It is liberating and healing. I have probably had far less suffering in my life than many people, but all of us know what it is to be hurt. If you would like to read the full message I gave click here.

Afterwards we came forward to the table for Holy Communion. This table is one where brokenness is talked about and where healing and wholeness is found. We gathered around the table together and brought all the mess of our lives to connect with the one who knew what it is to suffer. If we can come in this way, with integrity and honesty, our community will be a place of renewal and hope. 

Saturday 6 October 2012

Psalm of Lament

I have chosen to build my message for tomorrow's worship around the reading from Job. The Margaret River congregation has endured a tough year. Earlier in the year we had three members of the congregation die within six weeks of each other and a well-loved member move to Perth. Last week another treasured member passed away and we have a few fighting illness and their own personal issues. All of this takes it's toll and we, as a community, are left wondering when the pain will end.

So, to talk about Job and his suffering has come at an opportune time. Towards the beginning of the service I am going to invite the people to create, on the spot, a Psalm of Lament. There are at least fourteen psalms of lament in the Bible. Perhaps the most well-known is Psalm 137 - By the Rivers of Babylon. Some of them are communal, some are personal. Some are lamenting things the writer has done and some are about the injustice they are experiencing. I can recall a time in my life when I literally yelled a psalm of lament to God. I was a lot younger and felt a huge injustice had been brought upon me. I now know  I brought it upon myself. However, my little rant out to the ocean telling God how unfair life was helped. 

I don't think we allow ourselves to lament enough. Somehow we have a perception that life should be all rosy and nice when we are a Christian. Well, we all know that is not true. While looking at the psalms of lament in the Bible I have found a section that I am going to claim as my own for today.

Psalm 38: 9-15
"All my longings lie open before you, O Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbours stay far away.
Those who seek my life set traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they plot deception.
I am like a deaf [woman], who cannot hear,
like a mute, who cannot open [her] mouth;
I have become like a [woman] who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.
I wait for you, O Lord;
you will answer, O Lord my God."

Hildegard of Bingen

Saint Hildegard of Bingen
On the 10th of May this year, Hildegard of Bingen was officially named a Saint by Pope Benedict XVI. For years people had called her a Saint, but she had never been through the full process of being named and given a feast day. Tomorrow (October 7th 2012) Hildegard of Bingen will become the 35th (4th woman) Doctor of the Catholic Church. What on earth does that mean? Well, to be recognized as a Doctor you must fulfill three criteria; holiness that is truly outstanding, even among saints, depth of doctrinal insight and an extensive body of writings that the Catholic Church can recommend as authentic and life giving.

More than anything, for me, it is a good excuse to reflect on her life and her works. Hildegard of Bingen was born in Germany in 1098. She was the tenth child in her family and was offered to the church as an oblate. She started experiencing visions at the age of three, but only understood this when she was five (only five!!!). She was an abbess, a philosopher, a scientist, a poet, a composer, an artist, a botanist and a visionary. Hildegard was well known for her holistic approach to life and her use of herbal medicine. Her music, mandalas and poetry expressed the visions she received from God in vivid imagery. 

She was a truly unique person, who I believe, has a lot to teach us today about the integration of our spiritual life with our whole being. The outpouring of her encounters with God were not in orthodox, traditional ways. However, we tend to fear anything that might not fit into our neat Christian circle. Hildegard's deep intimacy with God is something that I can only yearn for and hope to understand. 
Hildegard's mandala depicting her vision of heaven

"The soul is kissed by God in it's innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God's gentle yoke,
It is a yearning to give one's self to God's Way."

Hildegard of Bingen, attributed, 'Soul Weavings'

Thursday 4 October 2012

Birds - God's Messengers

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) who has become well known for how he could communicate with animals and felt at one with all creation. One story, that was first recorded by Thomas of Celano during the 13th century is that of St Francis preaching to the birds. 

The story tells how Francis and his companions were making a trip through the Spoleto Valley near the town of Bevagna. Francis saw a great number of birds of all varieties. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in the road and ran after the birds, who patiently waited for him. He greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off into the air as he spoke. But they did not move.

Filled with awe, he asked them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God. He said to them: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”

At this the birds began to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them, turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic.Then he gave them his blessing, making the sign of the cross over them. At that they flew off and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way.

St Francis of Assisi had an understanding that God's presence was in all of creation. Today, I heard someone tell a story of how a bird had brought great comfort and guidance in their life. A true messenger of God. I have experienced, more than once, a presence in birds that have lingered in my path longer than seems natural. A friendly kookaburra often flies close to me when I am at Margaret River church. It perches on the fence as I get my things out of the car and then flies in front of me as I leave the carpark. This, now familiar, friend arrived in my life at a significant time and I have no doubt of how its presence is to reassure me. 

During my Ordination service in 2009, an inquisitive willy wagtail came into the chapel and joined the congregation at a crucial moment during the service. I was very aware of its presence and the reason it was there with us. I may not be able to talk with the animals the way Francis did, but I can certainly understand the significance he placed upon the wider creation. I think sometimes we are just too busy to notice the world around us screaming out trying to get our attention.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Do I have two lives?

One thing I often struggle with is the tension I seem to hold between my life and all its practicalities and my deep inner world. I go on a retreat or a quiet day or even just to a 30 minute meditation and come away feeling at peace, calm and very centred. Then I am plunged back into life. It never seems to be gentle. I come home to children arguing or a frantic hurry to complete a piece of homework or just the hustle and bustle of being part of a busy family and all seems lost. Sometimes it feels like living two different lives. 

Yesterday, I received a book from a wise friend. I haven't had time to read it properly yet, but a small part jumped out at me. The book is "The Testament of Devotion" by Thomas R. Kelly. He says, 

"There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings."

This offers me some hope - there is a way!! I have chosen to live my life in family and community, not in solitude and silence. I need to find a balance; find a way of living in the presence of God in my everyday life. I could just give up on meditation and quiet times seeing them as pointless and a waste of time amid my busyness, but I can see the benefits. Even though I am dragged back to the realities of my life, I return calmer, more in perspective and hopefully more able to love.

Kelly goes on to say,

"Between the two levels is fruitful interplay, but ever the accent must be upon the deeper level, where the soul ever dwells in the presence of the Holy One. For the religious [person] is forever bringing all affairs of the first level down into the Light, holding them there in the Presence, reseeing them and the whole of the world of [people] and things in a new and overturning way, and responding to them in spontaneous, incisive, and simple ways of love and faith. Facts remain facts, when brought into the Presence in the deeper level, but their value, their significance, is wholly realigned."

I love that image of bringing all things from life down into the Light. Imagine if this became a natural thing for us to do - to bring everything into the presence of God. What an amazing way to live! I guess the only way to begin is to get used to being in that deep place of the Light. The more often I go there, the more I will know the way and will just find myself there when it is least expected.

Monday 1 October 2012

How Can I Possibly Say Thank You?

A wemmick with an enviable  green nose.
Yesterday, we had our Spring Thanksgiving Service, a combined service with the Margaret River and Augusta congregations. It was a wonderful time with great singing, Max Lucado's book "If Only I Had a Green Nose", a dance, some art work, people bringing their offerings forward and brightening up a dead tree with our prayers for others. 

I struggled with what to talk about in my message and whether to even do a message at all. There are some people that enjoy having something a little 'meatier' to think about, so I ended up writing my conversation with God about my struggle to express deep gratitude. I found it very easy to write, probably because I wasn't trying to get it all right. I just wrote it from the heart and from my own experiences of trying to thank God for all the blessings in my life. If you would like to read what I came up with click here.