Friday 19 September 2014

Your image of God creates you

Well, I couldn't leave this one alone. My meditation from Richard Rohr today encourages the reader to repeat the mantra, "Your image of God creates you". He describes that this is the foundation to our theology, our approach to Scripture and spirituality. For me, this statement could not be more true. I see it in myself and I see it in people I meet.

When I was younger my image of God was of a loving, fatherly figure with very high expectations. God's rules were put in place to protect us and guide us, therefore, we should follow them. This image of God certainly created me as a young person. My main objective in life was to be good; to say and do the right things. Rebellious people were to be feared, but somehow intrigued me at the same time (especially if they called themselves Christians). Perfection was to be sought after and striven for in all things. I had very high expectations of myself and felt that everyone else expected the same from me.

It has taken me a long time to begin to change these things and loosen up a little. This has only been possible as my image of God has changed over the years. As I have studied scripture and theology and listened to the stories of people who have different life experiences, God has become too big for my limiting box and burst open the lid. My image of God has broadened, deepened and become more mysterious. As I have given more freedom to my image of God, so too have I found freedom. I am a little less concerned about God's rules these days and a little more inclined to think that life is messy, rather than perfect. Where my image of God had once been about perfection, it is now about freedom.

I am quite content that what I know is nothing. I am more open to the surprises God has for me. But I must say it saddens me to watch others with such different images of God create this in themselves. I have seen judgmental remarks arise from believing in a judging God. I have seen deep anger rage from an image of an angry, vengeful God. Our image of God, let's face it, is just that - OUR image of God.

Although my understanding of God is certainly limited, I can only hope that the image of God's love inclusiveness, grace and forgiveness will be created within me.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Dancing with Someone

I picked up a book of daily meditations by Richard Rohr on the weekend and committed to reading one a day. I am often far from disciplined in my spiritual life and so when I find something that might keep me on track for a while I grab it. I've only been reading the meditations for three days, but am convinced that this book found me.

Yesterday's reading took me back a few years to a retreat I attended. The group was challenged to spend some time reflecting on what our soul space looked like. This soul space is the "place" that, at the best of times, is filled with God or the Spirit and, at the most difficult times, seems empty. At the time I imagined my soul space as a large ballroom. The space was largely unused as I sat quietly, and somewhat comfortably in the centre. My realisation during this reflection was that a ballroom is made for dancing. I began to see my relationship with the divine as a dance that filled that big, empty ballroom taking me uncomfortably out to the edges of the space.

Yesterday's meditation from Richard Rohr was about a different kind of knowing God. He says, "God becomes more a verb than noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you, and you no longer need to prove to anyone that you are right, nor are you afraid of mistakes." What a beautiful image!

I can't say that I am the most comfortable dancer. It often takes a few drinks at a wedding to get me on the dance floor, but once I'm there I enjoy it. Dancing is about the experience, the relationship, being vulnerable and being held. This is how I view my relationship with God. God is not in the audience watching and waiting for my mistakes, but there dancing with me and part of the movement.

The reading for today was about prayer. This is another part of my spiritual life that I often struggle with. I have often been cynical about prayer and how it can be used abusively in churches. Part of my job each week is to choose or write prayers that connect with the people in my congregations. So often, words seem inadequate. I am far more comfortable lighting a candle, dropping a rock in water or sitting in silence. These days my personal prayer life has no words. I sit in quiet. I close my eyes and soak up the warmth of the sun. I watch intently for the signs of God around me. I listen. I gaze on God and allow God to gaze on me.

Richard Rohr comments that we sometimes make prayer "a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven." Maybe this is why I often feel cynical about prayer. He goes on to say, "It is much more like practicing heaven now." What could be more heavenly than dancing with God, no words needed. In this ballroom there is freedom and life. In the dance there is passion and spirit. In the movement there is rhythm and intimacy. How would it be to imagine our spiritual journey not as linear with a goal up ahead, but as a dance circling and turning within us?

Wednesday 10 September 2014


There have been plenty of times in the last month where I have started writing a post only to delete the whole thing. I know that I am going through a significant transition time in my own spiritual life and sometimes that can be a bit messy. You can throw the pain of it out onto other people and be a little less positive about life than usual. So you can imagine how some of those unpublished posts may have read. 

But today it seems to flow a little easier, with a little less cynicism and a little more integrity. And funnily enough it takes me back to the near the beginning of this time of change. At the end of July I attended a Christian Meditation Community retreat with our Christian Meditation group. The theme for the retreat was "The Lazarus Story - unbinding and going free". The theme spoke straight into what I was going through and gave it a name. We spoke about freedom and what this really means in our lives. 

I had just come through a time of growth and feel a new sense of freedom. What I hadn't anticipated was the learning that would need to occur in order to be free. It seemed such a simple thing - to be free. But who knew that you would need to learn to be free. There is so much unbinding, so much unlearning, so much adjusting to be done. I certainly don't claim to be through this time of unbinding, but I'm through it enough to see what it is. Here is a humble attempt to describe it based on Lazarus imagery. 


Awakened from sleep
Eyes opened to light 
All I longed for now blinds me in pain
Numb muscles of death
Now frozen in fear
Your familiar voice calls again

Freedom's lure is cast
A promise of life
Warm blood through dry veins starts to seep
At the door trembling
Each step hesitates
My heart races, the soul wants to leap

Stumbling and tripping
Bound by death's clothing
The tomb's safety beckons and calls
Constrained by the known
Held tight and secure
Life unravels and at my feet falls

"Unbind and let go
Loosen and set free"
Rags peel from my face, spill to the ground
Shallow breathing ends
Lungs fill and expand
Let this new life begin, I am found.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Everyone's Waiting

I have just got home from our Chritian Meditation group and on the way home I listened to one of my favourite Missy Higgins songs, "Everyone's Waiting". Written in a completely different context to my own, nevertheless it rang bells of truth. The lyrics are as follows.

I know all the lines to say
The part I’m expected to play
But in the reflection I am worlds away

As I put my costume on
Eyelashes one by one
Been doing this so long I can tie the knot
Behind my back

And everyone’s waiting
But it’s getting harder to hear what my heart is saying
Cos everyone’s waiting

"Just swallow and breathe," she says,
"Remember this ain’t for you it’s for them
And all of those painful lessons you’ve had to learn
You gotta use them now or never"

Cos everyone’s waiting
But it’s getting harder to hear
What my heart keeps saying
Turn it off, I wanna turn it all off

When everyone’s waiting
It makes it harder to hear what my heart keeps saying
Turn it off, I wanna turn it all off

But everyone’s waiting
I hear that answers appear when you just stand still
But make it all, how do you make it all stop
When everyone’s waiting?
Everyone's waiting.

Our Christian Meditation group is an opportunity each week to find that space to just be still for a short time. It never seems to be long enough and there is always the reality that everyone is waiting on the other side. Waiting for an email, waiting for a phone call, waiting for dinner, waiting for help with homework, waiting for the Sunday service, waiting, waiting waiting. The demands of life will always be waiting. There are times when we just have to get on with it, put the costume on, swallow and breathe. But there are also times when we need to say, 'Yes, everyone's waiting and they can wait a little longer."

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Changing Hats

There are some days that are very full and there doesn't seem to be a spare moment at all. I find I can handle days like that reasonably well. There is usually a light at the end of the tunnel and I know that the next day will be less hectic. The days that I find exhausting, however, are the days when I have to 'change hats' quickly. It is not the going from one activity to another that is difficult, but the change in emotions, mood and atmosphere. I remember the first time I experienced this. I was on placement during my ministry formation and attended a very emotional funeral in the morning. After the funeral we had a five minute drive to the next meeting- a ladies lunch at a local cafe. The women had no idea where we had come from. I found myself having to prise my funeral hat of compassion from my head only to replace it with the hat that listened to concerns about cooking the perfect sponge.

On a different day, conversations about flour and oven temperatures would have come easily. But swapping hats so quickly was like being in some crazy dream. It didn't feel right to be talking about the inconvenience caused by a supermarket's lack of variety in flour brands while a family were mourning the death of a loved one. 

I was reminded of the difficulty of 'changing hats' just last week. I had a day of changing hats. Not just once, but three times. I could really do with at least an hour in between to make the transition. I guess changing hats is a more drawn out process. It involves reflection on what has just happened. How was I affected? A few deep breaths. Some moments of meditation. A letting go. A giving thanks. And then the hat is off. 

Changing hats requires space that is not always available. If I am really honest, sometimes the hat does not actually get changed. The new hat is put on top of the old and is balanced precariously until there is time to remove them all carefully. Sometimes it feels awkward and a bit of an acting game, but this is the reality of life. We cannot always change hats with swift ease and smooth transitions. 

Thursday 8 May 2014

A Lament from the Understorey

O God of my life, 
I yearn for your light.
These people have lost sight of your face.
They stand tall in the valley and mask the sun's rays.
Their shadows are cast over me,
smothering me in near darkness.
I do not know from where the sun rises,
or to where it sets.
Without your light I am lost
and left sitting in my own disappointment.
And so, I await your wind of change
that blows where it will.
I await the old leaves that will fall at my feet.
I await the opening canopy above
and your warm rays tickling my senses once more.
And when the day is bright around me
remind me of the humility of being
part of the understorey.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Heal Yourselves!

In the song 'The Temple' from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus ends the song by crying out in a loud voice, 'Heal yourselves!'. It is a controversial line in the production and many people argue that Jesus would never say these words and was always compassionate. The song has people seeking Jesus' attention to heal their various ailments. It builds to a crescendo where it appears that Jesus is totally overwhelmed by the need surrounding him.

I must say that sometimes (especially just before holidays) ministry feels a little this way. It is all too much. The demands that people place upon you and the expectations they have of your time and energy seem neverending. Thankfully, I am at the end of a week's leave and feeling ready to emerge out of my cocoon once more. I can certainly imagine Jesus feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the continuous challenges of his life. Maybe he didn't yell out, 'Heal yourselves!', but I have no problem believing he thought it every once in a while.

In fact, I think there is some wisdom in these harsh words. In my experience as a Spiritual Director, it is those people who are ready for healing to occur in their lives who are easiest to work with. They want healing and they are prepared to do the difficult work to help the process. I ask questions and feedback what I am hearing and seeing in the person. Often, the person will thank me at the end of the session, but really they have done the work. They have 'healed themselves'. 

Many people want miracle cures and magic transformations. But, contrary to many claims, there are no magic wands waiting to fix all the problems. Inner healing comes from deep inner work. This takes time, commitment and courage. When we look at Jesus' encounters with people in the Gospels we find him helping people to heal themselves. The healing narratives almost always have a deeper conversation following which encourages the person to continue the journey of healing at a deeper level. 

Healing is an ongoing process. It never ends. For me healing is about discovering my true self, being in right relationship with others and knowing my God. Only I can do that work. And so, Jesus' cry, 'Heal yourself' is not an offense, but a call to take responsibility and engage in the hard, inner work necessary for healing.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

The Soul of a Place

I have just finished a book that I was given for Christmas titled 'In Search of My Father' by Dr Helena Popovic. It is her own account of her search for her father beyond the man of grief, despair, depression and dementia. It is an insightful and moving story that eventually leads them to travel back to her father's homeland, Serbia.

I found the last few pages of the book very thought provoking. A Serbian woman recalls a friend's reaction to Australia. 
'They said Australia didn't have a soul. They said everything looked good but somehow something was missing. A sense of hollowness was in everything - even their fruit and vegetables. They were blemish-free and picture-perfect but they'd lost their flavour. People could buy anything they wanted, but it didn't feel like enough. That's what my friends said, anyway. If you love living there, you must have discovered the soul of the place. Everything and everyone has a soul, if you dig deep enough.'

Does Australia have a soul? Can any place have a soul? How can we even measure such things? I have certainly felt drawn to places throughout my life that seem to speak to me in deep ways beyond my understanding. People have certainly told me about places that have a spirit of their own or are very sacred. Is this evidence of the soul of a place?

We talk quite openly about 'soul mates'; those people in our lives who seem to connect with us on another level and with another language. This language that has no words and cannot be translated is how our soul connects with the soul of another. It is our way of saying we have a deep connection. Could it not be that our soul somehow connects with the soul of a place in the same significant way? I know for myself there are certain places where I just feel at home; comfortable to be at one with a place. I also can understand the sentiments of the Serbian woman's friend. 
Z Bend in Kalbarri, Western Australia

Maybe it is not about a place being soulless, but simply that our soul does not connect in the same way in that space. For me one of the places where my soul connects is the Z bend in Kalbarri. It is a place of great beauty, but more than this, it is a place of connection for me. The rest of the world call fall away while I am sitting there and all would be well. It is a place of inner peace and deep knowing. I don't know why or how or what it is that causes this connection. In some ways, I don't want to know. It is the mystery of the beauty of the connection that makes it so wonderful.

Thursday 6 March 2014

The Temptation of an Every Day Minister

Then she was led by the Spirit into the wilderness of another week to be tempted by those inner voices. After toiling for at least forty hours, she was left hungry. Her ego spoke and said, "If you are a successful minister, fill your pews with people and make your church financially secure."
In the silent stillness a whisper replied, "Be still and know that I am God."

Then the minister was led to the church office where playgroup was in full swing, the phone was ringing and the emails just kept coming. "If you are an effective minister, throw yourself completely into your work."
In a deep breath and a sigh a memory arises, "Love your neighbour AS YOURSELF."

Again she was taken to a high place and shown all the members of her congregation. "All of these people will like you if you give them what they want and preach what they want to hear."
But the question lingered, "What does God require of you?" 
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Those annoying inner voices retreated for a time, waiting for a moment of weakness to strike again.

Thursday 20 February 2014

What do we notice?

We are currently using a study book based on the movie 'Chocolat' in one of our congregations. Today the session looked out how we deal with people who are different to us. There was one question that I found particularly challenging. It asked, 'What do we notice first when we meet someone new; the differences or the similarities?' On reflection, I thought of two separate but similar interfaith experiences that illustrated the effects of what we notice first.

The first of these occurred a few years ago now in Bali. I was on an exchange trip with the church. Our group of 12 people had visited various Christian programs and villages around the island. On this particular day we were visiting a Hindu temple. We walked up many, many steps until we could go no further. There were tourists everywhere, but they were restricted from entering the holiest part of the Temple that was reserved only for worshippers. A Balinese gentleman who was monitoring those who entered the holy section showed some interest in our group. He spoke with us and, on finding out that we were Christian, invited us to enter the holy area. 'You can come in and spend some time worshipping your God' he said. What a privilege! And what an experience!

The second situation was just last year in Jerusalem. We were taking an opportunity to have a close look at the Dome of the Rock, a magnificent building. For me , however, the opportunity to experience prayer and worship inside was exciting. We copied all of the other people approaching the entrance, covering our heads and removing our shoes, only to be told at the entrance, 'No tourists!'

Now, there are possibly numerous reasons for the different responses in these two places of worship. But, if I reflect in a totally selfish way about how I felt, there was a huge chasm between the two experiences. The Balinese man, although we were obviously not Balinese or Hindu, noticed the similarities we had. We were all people for whom the spiritual was important and valued times of worship. The result - a unique, inspiring and memorable time of worship. The Muslim man at the Dome of the Rock probably had good reason to notice our differences, but that is all he saw. 

What we notice does have an impact. Not only does it change who we are as a fellow human, but we may never know how it affects the one we are noticing. So, the challenge for me is to notice the similarities first and then learn to appreciate the differences later.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

If I only had the nerve

A friend of mine has a word that they focus on each year. It is a word that encourages personal growth and hopefully a change in attitude or behaviour. I was reflecting on what my word for this year might be. Two years ago my word was 'integrity' and it was a year of learning to be true to myself and my own beliefs. A lot happened in that year that contributed to my growth in this area. Last year I adopted a short phrase, 'no living in fear'. My awareness was raised at the impact fear has on our lives. It paralyses us, motivates us to behave in ways we would prefer not and distracts us from acting out of love. I don't know that it is possible to master such huge things in your life in the space of a year, but it certainly was helpful to have a focus.

So what is the word for this year? Courage! In many ways it is related to my themes of the previous two years. Living with integrity and without fear takes great courage. Courage to speak up when you know that your opinion is not popular. Courage to take risks and give new things a go. Courage to show strength and find your true potential. Courage to confront. Courage to love. Courage to stand on the margins. The list could go on.

As many of you know, one of my favourite movies is 'The Wizard of Oz'. The cowardly lion joins the journey to see the Wizard in search of courage as if it is something that can be attained or achieved. On finally speaking with the Wizard about his request he discovers that he had courage all along inside. So, learning from this piece of wisdom I need to be careful not to start a quest for the nerve I need. Instead, this year needs to be a year of going deeper within, spending more time being still and quiet and discovering the courage that already lies within. And so the Year of Courage begins!!

Thursday 9 January 2014


A few years ago, my daughter, with beautiful child-like honesty, confided in me that she was afraid of people who looked like they were from another country. My initial reaction was horror that I could have produced a child that was intolerant of differences, but after a little more conversation I discovered it was about the language difference. She was afraid that she would not understand them and they would not understand her. It was all about communication. 

Language is so important in our lives, whether it be the language we speak, our body language or the words we use to speak of things that are beyond language. I admit that these days I have a similar fear to my daughter when speaking about all things spiritual. Will other people understand what I am saying? Will I understand them? Will there be misunderstandings? And how can we even find language to describe that which is beyond words?

For me the key is to listen beyond the words. It is like learning a new language with all it's nuances and culture. It is in the conversation that I discover that we are actually talking about similar experiences, we have just found different ways of expressing that and drawn on our diverse vocabulary. I have long left behind the days of being threatened by people who use different names for God or ways different from mine to express their spiritual journey. My hope for this year is that people will really listen to each other and try to understand the different languages that we use.

Monday 6 January 2014

Bethlehem Revisited

On the morning of May the 10th, 2005 I was standing on the shore at a conference centre just out of Athens watching a boat arrive. I had no idea that this was the beginning of a much larger story for me, where my journey would intersect with the journeys of so many others. As the boat drew closer we could see a large wooden cross on board. To the sound of African talking drums, nearly 600 participants in the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, received it and prayed together. The 5-metre-high cross, handcrafted in Jerusalem, contained wood salvaged from olive trees in Bethlehem cut down in the building of the wall separating Israel from Palestine. It was a symbol of reconciliation and healing, and of churches standing in solidarity with Christians in the Middle East.

I must admit, at the time, I didn’t have a clue what was happening in Israel. Keeping up with current affairs had never been a strong point of mine. I knew there were problems, but couldn’t have told you anything about the separation wall and what that meant for the people. Despite my ignorance, however, I came away from that conference knowing I had experienced something meaningful and an event that would hold great weight in my life. Momentarily, my journey had touched the journey of Christians in Palestine.

Nine years on, in August this year, I found myself in Jerusalem. Our day trip to Bethlehem was with a Palestinian taxi driver. On the way there, he explained what life was like for his people many of whom struggled daily with Israeli checkpoints and living behind a separation wall. There was no bitterness as he told his story. He simply told us about his life and trusted that God was with him. As we drew closer to Bethlehem a mountainous wall appeared. In fact I struggled to call it just a wall – it was a barrier created out of fear. This was where the cross in Athens came from. It was real. The stories came flooding back and all of a sudden made sense.

I must say the Christmas story has had a different feel to it this year after visiting modern day Bethlehem. The stylized images of the nativity and shepherds in their fields have become a little less glossy after seeing the Jewish settlements built over Shepherd’s fields. Instead the hardship and the desperation of the Christmas story seems more stark as the story somehow repeats itself again and again in the stories of people today.

It is not only a journey that touched the stories of others in the first century. It continues to meet us in our journeys today.  And this is what makes the story so important for us. It is not a story that is out of touch. It is not a journey that is completely foreign to us. It was a journey of struggle, a journey of survival, a journey of hope. Jesus knew what it was to be a refugee, knew what it was like to fear for your life, knew what it was like to be away from home and still he reached out to all people with love and compassion. Despite his own experience and his own journey, he was able to meet others on their journeys and walk with them for a while in love.