Wednesday 21 December 2016

Meeting Didik (and other stories of hope and love)

A terrible old photo of Didik and I in the Bali Rock Cafe
My first real encounter with someone from a different faith to mine, apart from our guest speakers in Faith and Values at high school, was in a pub in Bali. Didik was a Javanese Muslim musician who was making a living playing Credence Clearwater Revival songs around Bali. He was a regular in the pub that we spent many of our evenings dancing in June of 1995. His music was great, but sometimes his lyrics were far from correct. I helped him to edit some of the English lyrics that he had guessed and then we got to talking about faith - as you do. He had never really spoken with a Christian about their faith and I had never spoken with a Muslim about theirs. I recall a large part of our discussion was about where we found God. I remember more his gentleness and humility. I walked away from that encounter struck by how much we had in common, rather than our differences.

My most recent encounter with people from another faith was a few weeks ago. I received a phone call at the church office. A young Muslim man was in town with his friends. They had made a day trip from Perth. He told me that he had found our number and was looking for a mosque in which to pray. After explaining to them that unfortunately there was not a mosque nearby, I invited them to come and use our space if that was suitable. Ten minutes later four young men were washing in our church, preparing for prayer. It was a brief encounter, but I was struck by their immense gratitude for the simple act of hospitality. I wondered what hostility these young men had met living in a society that is gripped by fear of the other. I also felt proud to be part of a wider church that, when not finding a mosque, we were the next place to call to find a place of prayer. 

In between these two encounters are many other stories of grace, open discussion, hospitality and understanding. I have been deeply saddened in recent times reading articles and social media posts that spread fear and damaging generalisations about other faiths. It is true that all faiths have those on the fringe who twist and contort the teachings to suit their own needs. It is true that all faiths have factions that have caused damage and hurt. On almost a weekly basis, I hear stories of people who have been hurt by the Christian church and now turn to other faith traditions or alternative spiritualities. Thank goodness the world listens to more than just these accounts of Christian faith. 

I have been criticised in the past for being more interested in working with people of other faiths rather than ecumenically within the Christian church. These accusations are not completely true, as I have made considerable efforts to work with people of other denominations and continue to work closely with our local Anglican priests. I do believe, however, that working with people of other faiths is vital in our time. The extremists in our faiths are hoping for division, hatred, fear and violence towards the other. This is where their power lies. We need to be building bridges and multiplying love wherever possible. And so, I would like to encourage people to share stories of hope, love, grace and compassion, particularly of those from other faiths, as frequently as possible. The stories are out there and they need to be heard as loud, if not louder, than those of hatred and fear.

Saturday 17 December 2016

A pilgrimage of sorts

Our family is about to embark on a journey of a lifetime. After months of saving and planning, we are ready to leave for our holiday to the United Kingdom. This is my homeland. I will be returning to the places where my life began and reconnecting with family, some of whom I haven't seen since I was eight years old. For me, the planning has been half the fun. Researching, booking accommodation and seeking out the not-to-be-missed sights has certainly been a project in itself.

As much as this is a family holiday, and there will be plenty of light entertainment, I am also seeing this trip as a pilgrimage of sorts. I have chosen to travel with a question. Not that this will consume my time away, but will sit with me much like my camera or perhaps my jacket (its going to be cold). The question is a personal one that was gifted to me by a good friend and will be important for me as we enter 2017.

I have hopes to visit three places that may help me to carry this question. The first is my first faith community, Alan Road Methodist Church in Ipswich. I was baptised there. I learnt about the Bible there. I sang my first hymns there (some of which are still my favourites). I began to learn how to serve other people there. This is where my faith journey began and I have many fond memories. I know it will seem small and 35 years will have seen many changes, but I am interested to see how I feel being there. I am keen to reconnect with this foundational place.

The second place I hope to visit is not too far from my hometown. I am keen to spend some time sitting in Julian's cell in Norwich. Those who have followed this blog for a while will know of my passion for the Mystics. Julian of Norwich was a counsellor and advisor to her community. She is known as the first woman to write a book and her near death experience brought her visions of God's love. She was an amazing thinker and theologian for her time. As with many mystics, she sat on the fringes of the church, but still remained a part. She was an amazing woman and I look forward to a little quiet sitting in her space.

The third place in my pilgrimage is Chalice Well in Glastonbury. This is one of the best known holy wells in Britain and is connected to many spiritual legends. The current theme for the well is "Many Paths, One Source"; a theme which resonates with my own ideas and theology. I see the well as a sacred place of depth, mystery and history. I know as I sit or stand by the well, I will be one of millions who over the centuries have visited this portal in search of hope and healing.

I am trying not to build up my hopes in seeing all three of these places. I know that time and the weather could work against me. So I've set a target of making it to two of them. At each place, and many other stops in between, I will carry my question like a precious stone. I do not know if I will come home with answers, but I will never know if I leave the question at home.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Blue Christmas and Aleppo

For the last five years, about a week before Christmas, I have conducted a Blue Christmas Service in my congregations. Almost every year, I question my sanity. Why do I put myself under pressure by adding another two events to my calendar? But I go ahead anyway, as a dim, glimmer of a memory reminds me this is important. And here is why.

Christmas is a time of "Joy! Joy! Joy!" If you don't get into the Christmas spirit you are frowned upon and, perhaps, guilted into wrapping some tinsel around your front door handle. But the reality is, not everyone is full of joy at Christmas time. Some have lost loved ones during the year, and the season only highlights the emptiness and the loss. Some have struggled financially, and the barrage of advertising only serves as a reminder of the "haves" and the "have nots". Some are living in pain or with illness and the isolation is even more real as families and friends gather together. Some are far away from loved ones, by choice or not. Broken relationships and the ease of travel often leave empty chairs at Christmas dinners. And all of this is before we start to look at the state of our world.

Our Blue Christmas service doesn't fix any of this, but it acknowledges the reality of life. It gives people an opportunity to stop, reflect, cry if they need to and know that it is ok to have feelings other than joy at Christmas time. We remember that the first Christmas story was not as beautiful as we tend to make it. It was a time of great turmoil and unease. We romanticise the stable, but it was probably an extremely unpleasant place to bring a child into the world. At Christmas we remember the coming of Jesus into this world, a man who stood beside the oppressed, the outcasts and the poor.

Our Blue Christmas services never attract crowds, but there is always someone; the woman who had battled breast cancer all year, the man who lost his mother, the woman battling depression and lingering ghosts from the past. Sometimes an unknown face will sneak in the back, shed many tears and leave quietly and anonymously. I may never know that person's need or how their Christmas will be. It's not so much about the words said, the songs listened to or the candles lit. It is more about a safe space created for people to be.

And so, what was going through my heart during this year's services? I thought of a dearly loved congregation member who died during the year. I brought to mind the families of those I have conducted funerals for in 2016. I thought of friends who have lost a young child this year. I wonder about people for whom we have provided food and shelter this year.

But the depth of my heart's cry was for Aleppo. I cannot comprehend what it is like to run for your life. I cannot begin to imagine the horror of seeing loved ones killed in front of me. I don't understand the despair, the nightmare it must be to feel forgotten by much of the world. I feel completely helpless. The enormity of the trauma and destruction is overwhelming. The easiest response is often denial. But I cannot ignore the pictures, the stories and the messages.

At the Blue Christmas service, we invite people to take a blue bauble or a star to hang on their tree or give to someone as a gift. I took a star for Aleppo. As the story goes, a bright star shone in that part of the world 2000 years ago. It was a guiding light, bringing hope to many. My Aleppo star is a constant prayer of hope for a people who have nothing left this Christmas time.

Tuesday 15 November 2016

The Salt Doll

Last week, I was searching for a short. meaningful story to use as a devotion. As a result, I found myself completely engrossed in Anthony de Mello's The Song of the Bird. I love de Mello's wisdom that emerges from his short, sharp and often surprising stories. I came across one that really spoke to me and I vowed to return to it at another time. So here is the story.

The Salt Doll

A salt doll journeyed for thousands
of miles and stopped on the edge of
the sea.

It was fascinated by this moving
liquid mass, so unlike anything it
had seen before.

"What are you?" said the salt doll
to the sea.

"Come in and see," said the sea with
a smile.

So the doll waded in. The further it
went the more it dissolved till there
was only a pinch of it left. Before
that last bit dissolved, the doll
exclaimed in wonder, "Now I know
what I am!"

You see what I mean? So much wisdom in so few words. I think I could write an entire thesis on what this story teaches me, but none of us have time for that. So here it is in dot points.

  • The journey is more important than the destination. The story doesn't tell us of all the important encounters that occurred in those thousands of miles leading to the sea, but we know they are part of the story.
  • Always have a sense of curiosity and ask questions. This is how we learn and grow, by having an inquiring mind.
  • We learn, not by being told, but by experiencing. The sea could have begun some lengthy explanation about its consistency, its breadth and its depth. Instead it said to the doll, "Come in and see". In experiencing, the learning becomes a part of us.
  • In our learning about the other, we discover our own self. How true is that? In meeting people who are from different cultures or hold a varying opinion to ours, we are challenged to examine our own prejudice and long held assumptions.
  • When we discover from where we came, we find our true self. There is something about knowing where you have come from that helps you to know where you are going.
  • In discovering a deeper knowing about who we are and to whom we belong we are able to let go of the ego's need to succeed. In fact, in losing our false self, our true self is found.
Such a profound little story! So much to teach us!

Tuesday 8 November 2016

What to expect in a Mandala Workshop

On the weekend, I had a conversation with someone considering hosting a mandala workshop for their community. They asked me what exactly happens at a mandala workshop, so I thought it might be worth letting you all know.

The mandala workshops offered generally last for three hours. They begin with an introductory session providing information about some aspect of the use of mandalas. Being a universal symbol, there is much to share. In the introductory workshops I try to give an overview of the use of mandalas that only touches on these different aspects. In subsequent workshops we can delve deeper into their use in various spiritual traditions, cultures and psychology.

After a time for questions and discussion, we then prepare to create our own mandala. The different tools and media available are introduced to the group and some suggestions given for how to begin. The group is lead in a short, guided meditation that links in with the theme of the workshop. Participants begin to create their own mandala. Sometimes this is slow process and at other times it happens quite quickly. I have seen participants walk away with one unfinished mandala and at other times with three they have completed in the time. It is the process that is important, not the final product.

The creative time is spent in quiet. Occasionally there is need to talk with others, but we try to allow each person to maintain their own space. Refreshments are available throughout this time and we usually play some soft music to create a contemplative atmosphere.Towards the end of the workshop we gather again as a group to reflect on the process. People are invited to share as little or as much as they would like. Creating a mandala can be a very personal and emotional experience. It can often be a time of healing and self discovery. We aim to create a safe place for sharing.

Participants in the workshops do not have to be "arty". In fact, it is often an advantage not to be. Unlike creating an artwork, the importance is not about choosing the right colours or using the correct techniques. There are no rules! So, if you think your community would enjoy hosting a mandala workshop let me know. We can tailor it to the needs of your group.

Saturday 5 November 2016

On Sunsets and Seeing

This morning I had the privilege of preaching at the opening of Presbytery and the Induction of a friend and colleague into a new ministry position. As part of my reflection I referred to three different ways of seeing a sunset, as described by Richard Rohr in his book The Naked Now. He talks of three different people seeing the sunset with three different eyes. 

The first eye is what we see, hear, smell and feel. The second eye is how our knowledge of the world makes sense of it and explains it. The third eye is that which stands in awe and has a deep realisation of the connectedness with all things. My message, in a nutshell, was the need for us to see with the third eye.

Well, on the way home I was able to practice what I had preached. Just out of Bunbury, about an hour from home, the sun began to sink in the sky. At the same time, I began to drive through thousands of flying ants. This continued for at least half an hour, well and truly long enough to see with all three eyes. My first eye felt the need to adjust my sun visor and continually adjust my position to avoid being blinded by the bright sun. My windscreen filled with the scars of bugs that didn't manage to dodge my car. I noticed the ants that had landed on the road making the bitumen seem like it was alive.

My second eye considered the temperature of the day, the changing of the seasons and the impact this had on the life cycle of these ants. I thought about the sheer size of their community and remembered days walking home through similar swarms. I was thankful that this time I was in a car.

But, my third eye enjoyed the experience. The ants seemed to dance through the air. I considered why this surge of life had chosen this time and this place to emerge. I imagined how vulnerable each little ant may feel, perhaps knowing such freedom for the first time. I noticed some of them get caught in webs on road signs. I wondered about the web of life and how we are part of it. The sun dominated and was almost painful. In all its beauty, there was also discomfort and danger. Isn't this how the paradox of life is? 

When it almost became unbearable and my eyes were blinded by the intensity and brightness, the sun faded beyond the horizon. I could see again. The flickering display of ants dispersed and it was over.

Thursday 20 October 2016

Under the Chapel

I have just returned from the Ministers' Retreat in New Norcia. The theme of the retreat was Jesus as Teacher. One of the reflection times was focussed on the topic of prayer. As well as a screed of thoughts, ranting and wonderings - this reflection emerged.

Under the Chapel

As I sit here pondering prayer;
it's point, it's purpose,
the pious parade passes
towards midday prayer.
I have chosen to be under the chapel,
within earshot,
an outside observer.
Footsteps approach and fade
on the weathered wood.
I close my eyes in the sun.
The chants begin 
like a warm fragrance,
muffled enough that the words
cannot rob the beauty.
the birds,
the wind in the trees
and the passing traffic
are part of the chorus.
I am thankful for those 
in the chapel;
their commitment,
their duty,
but I have no need to be there.
I am here,
under the chapel;
my eyes open,
my ears attuned.
I am at prayer.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Stagnant Puddles

Not exactly dressed for beach combing
but still the rock pools call,
"Come and find life".
What is there amongst these stagnant puddles
where my unadventurous boots dare to tread?
A momentary shower of bubbles
- someone is home.
A flash of light, a glimpse of a darting fish.
An unusual tugging on some kelp
reveals the tiny claws of a crab. 
(I'm not sure why I don't like crabs.)
Tiny transparent crustaceans
dare to emerge from the dark,
but if I move too quickly
they are gone. 
Oh hidden life,
life reluctant to be exposed,
of what are you afraid?
The water moves,
but oh so slowly,
as you wait for the tides to change.
Meanwhile, the sea roars behind me.
Deeper waters beckon. 

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Exploring Freedom

Tomorrow I am sharing a quiet day with two local Anglican colleagues. It is a much anticipated day that has been postponed at least once. It is the beginning of a new era for the three of us. We hope to work more closely and develop deeper relationships with each other. The theme for the day is "Freedom". Each of us will share a reflection on the theme and we will spend time in quiet, meditating and reflecting.

It has been on my list of things to do, but still I find myself the night before pondering what angle I might take. The lectionary readings from last week are heavily influencing my thoughts. In Hebrews 12 there is an image of removing what is shaken so that what is not shaken may remain. In my message on Sunday I talked about giving the tree of our faith a good shake, letting all the dead leaves fall to allow for new growth. Giving the tree a good shake makes us vulnerable, but brings freedom. 

There is, perhaps, a level of self indulgence if I decide to pursue this image for my reflection. Life seems to be a constant cycle of feeling heavy laden, giving life a good shake and having the space to grow and bear fruit. At present, I am feeling the burden of the weight of life. I could use some time to sit, be quiet and discern those things that can be shaken.

This leads me to think about another possible angle. Freedom is found when we know who we are, whose we are and live our life accordingly. Identity and integrity, for me, are key aspects of being free; free to be me. We live in a world that tells us who we should be, what we should strive to be and how we should not be. Stripping this away helps us to find freedom.

In some ways it doesn't matter which tack I take for my reflection. The most important part of tomorrow will not be any words of wisdom I may manage to concoct, but the space, the stillness, the sitting in the presence of the divine. It will be a time to remember where I belong, who I am and that which needs to be shaken. My hope is that I will leave knowing a little more about freedom.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Paisley Wallpaper and Plants on the Landing

When I was young, my sister and I would often spend Friday nights at my Nana's house while our parents helped run the church youth group. The room we slept in had a paisley wallpaper. At least that is how I remember it. When the lights turned off and I lay in the quiet, the paisley shapes became large monster eyes glaring down at me. I would hide my face under the bedspread so that my imagination did not completely terrify me. I was only seven years old, but I was smart enough to know that if I only turned on the light the yellow eyes and the thrashing tails would all disappear. All that was left behind were elaborate flower patterns in beautiful colours. My irrational fears did not stop me wanting to stay at my Nana's house or in any way change my love for her.

At about the same age, I would occasionally visit my cousins' auntie's house. We would play together in one of the upstairs' rooms. To get there, however, we had to climb the stairs and dare to pass the plant on the landing. One of the children has explained to me that if I didn't move fast enough the plant would turn into a monster and grab me. We would tiptoe up the stairs until a few stairs before the landing. Each of us had our own action movie way of darting past the plant, unseen or too quick for it to react. 

These experiences are from many years ago, childhood memories that I can chuckle at now. Sadly, though, I feel that I am living in a world full of grown adults that believe in monsters in the wallpaper and snatching plants on the landing. People believe crazy stories that are spun about why we should fear certain groups of people. Everyday, fellow human beings are turned into monsters by vivid imaginations and games that have gone out of control.

A Syrian refugee, desperate for a better life for their family, become a terrorist who is a threat to our society. A homosexual person becomes a source of corruption for our children. It horrifies me how long the list of examples has become. People bury their heads under the covers in fear. For goodness sake - turn on the lights, see things for what they are and stop letting your imaginations run wild. These "monsters" are fellow human beings, like you and I, full of beauty and potential. 

Last night our MAD group at church watched the movie "Zootopia". Essentially, it is a movie about people in power and control creating monsters to bring about fear. It took one little creature to expose the truth and dispel the myths.One little creature to turn on the lights. One little creature to see things for how they really were. One little creature to speak the truth. That is what we need in our world today. Let it start with you and I.

Saturday 28 May 2016

This Rocky Outcrop

Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting for the first time with a person who I will mentor through a specific time of discernment. The time was spent hearing hopes and dreams and sharing stories of the journey thus far. I always get a little nervous when I am asked to take on this sort of role with people, as my journey has often been filled with a great deal of uncertainty. I especially feel inadequate when people are discerning a call to work for the church, as my experience has felt like a constant battle.

I told the person, as we sat having our cuppas, that I would not attempt to paint my path to ordination or the journey since with rose coloured hues. In sharing my more recent struggles in ministry, however, I was able to see that I have come to another landmark along the way. You know those points along a hike where you stop, take in the scenery and refresh yourself before embarking on the next chapter. 

The last couple of years have been challenging. I have chosen particular paths that have kept me in ministry and the church. These have not been the easy options. Far from it, it would have been easier at times to walk away. On the positive side, I feel I have chosen the path of integrity, freedom and hope. On the other hand, it is also the path of loneliness, challenge and uncertainty. 

My battle with the church is not unique. My wondering about the future of the church, it's lethargy in bringing about change, and the vocal Christian groups who speak with judgment 'on my behalf' all leave me feeling a dull sense of despair. The questions that have run around my mind are about being real in ministry, preaching with integrity and what it means to be a Christian in today's world. These questions all come from the heart, but there are another bunch of questions that runs alongside from the mind. How do I do this without upsetting the people in my congregation? What if people leave and we don't have enough money? What if? What if? Should I just stick with the status quo? Do I have the energy to try and be different? These are the questions that, implicitly, many church meetings have taught me to ask. 

So, what has brought me to this landmark? I find myself standing on this granite outcrop, relieved to be here on solid ground for a while. I have no idea what lies ahead, how the journey will pan out. But, for now, I know I have the strength to keep going. Why? Because I have met some fellow travellers who have encouraged me; speakers at festivals, colleagues willing to chat on Skype, a supervisor who gives me bread for the next leg, friends who are just there and congregation members who let me know they are still behind me. I cannot continue in my ministry in the church if it is not with integrity. I cannot go on remaining silent about things that are important to me. I cannot keep on pretending that I can make everyone happy. 

As my supervisor said to me recently, 'Have you read the stories about Jesus? Sitting on the fence is not following Jesus. And following Jesus is not about keeping friends.' I have been very slow to learn this. This week, my supervisor of eight and a half years let me know that our supervisory relationship would need to end due to health problems. I want to thank him for getting me to this rocky outcrop in the middle of this beautiful, rugged land. The journey continues!

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Building the Labyrinth

Some of you will be aware that over the last few months we have been building a labyrinth at the side of our church in Margaret River. The piece of land that it now sits on is the hoped site for a future hall of some sort for the church. Until recently, however, all it was doing was successfully growing weeds. It was decided that in the meantime we may as well make use of this space and build a labyrinth that can be used by the whole community.

We called for donations of rocks, plants and any benches or quirky garden ornaments that could be used in the area. We were thrilled at what came out of the woodwork. Even those who didn't fully understand what we were trying to do brought along what they could offer.

On our construction day, we had people aged 6 to 80+ lending a hand. Those who couldn't haul rocks helped oil the wine barrel that acts as a seat in the centre. When some got tired, they made cups of tea for everyone. It was a real team effort. By the end of the day the labyrinth was almost complete.

We decided to open our labyrinth for the first time on World Labyrinth Day - May 7th. With a bit of hard work the day before, everything was ready. The local newspaper wrote a great article about the labyrinth and our open day which gained a lot of interest in the community. ABC Radio South West were also keen to let the public know what was happening and conducted an interview on their breakfast show.

The open day itself was quite overcast with regular showers - not the best weather for an outdoor event. But this did not stop people coming to have a look. We had some wonderful conversations with people who were local and visiting from elsewhere. Some were familiar with labyrinths, some were curious and some wanted to bring their grandchildren to look when they visited.

I feel we have built far more than a labyrinth at our church, it is a connection point. It is a way to open up conversations with people about their spiritual life that may not have happened otherwise. People have noticed, shown interest and come to see. I am looking forward to the opportunities in the future.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Beyond the Rainbow

For the last few days I have been at the Sacred Edge Festival at Queenscliff Uniting Church in Victoria. How I came to be here is another story, and there are many I could tell from my time over the weekend. For now, allow me to share one small, personal reflection. Yesterday, I went to a poetry workshop led by Padraig O'Tuama. It was far too short, but reignited my passion for being poetic with words. 

We were encouraged to reflect on an inherited text. It could be anything, but a story that had impacted on us in some way. I chose The Wizard of Oz. For me, it is a magical story that expresses so much about life's journey. We were asked to reflect for a moment on where our story had connected with this inherited text. I struggled a little, coming up with philosophical statements about the journey of life and the people we meet along the way. Other than choosing it as a theme for my 40th birthday, I wasn't able to come up with any tangible connection. 

That night, we had a Persian feast and entertainment. The final song for the evening was Over the Rainbow performed by The Deadly Duo. I imagined that, perhaps, this had all been secretly orchestrated for my benefit. My chosen inherited text was gifted to me, wrapped in mystery and love. And there was the connection. The impact of the experience of Sacred Edge and the year that has led to this point was the touchstone with The Wizard of Oz. The thoughts flowed freely now and here is the result. 

Beyond the Rainbow

As a young girl
I dreamt of distant lands,
places over the rainbow
where bluebirds sang lullabies. 
I would sit comfortably
on the fence and dream...
and dream. 

One dawn, 
I opened my eyes
and I was far from home.
The journey began
one yellow brick at a time;
a road of hope,
a road of new songs
and new friends.
Not my own road,
but for any sojourner
wishing to seek out mysterious lands.

We will compose 
our pilgrim songs together.
Words and tunes
of courage, of fear,
of hopes and dreams,
of laughter and tears.
And the dreamy song
from the fence, of the rainbow
is left behind
for I am there.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Hearing yourself speak the truth

I wonder if you have ever had the situation where you are talking with someone or a group and you hear yourself say something that takes you quite by surprise. Perhaps you have been working through something in your head for a few days, and the person you are with asks a question that is related. The answer you give comes straight from the heart, rather than the head, and all of a sudden everything makes sense.

I had a situation like this a couple of weeks ago. I had been reflecting on what it meant to be called into ministry and to name this as my vocation. Many hours have been spent with my supervisor around this very question. All of this pondering was useful and had challenged me in a variety of ways to look from different angles at where I found myself today. I still felt, however, that I had missed the point.

During Lent, our congregation engaged in a study on the topic of Finding Your Voice, based on the film 'The King's Speech'. One of the sessions explored the idea of 'being called'. Someone asked me during this study, 'How did your call to ministry happen, Cathie?' Before I knew it, the words were out of my mouth, 'Well, I don't actually think my calling is to be a minister - this is just how I am living out my calling in the here and now.'

The truth had been spoken. The words were out and they have been going through my mind ever since. It was the truth. I worked out my 'calling' a long time ago and it is still the same today. Discovering this, led me to apply for the ministry. It so happens that, in ministry, I am able to live out my calling. This may seem like a small, insignificant difference - perhaps being pedantic about semantics. For me, however, hearing myself speak this truth was an 'aha' moment, a liberation from the challenges that had been plaguing me.

This was a good lesson to listen to my heart as well as my head. A big thank you to that person for asking an innocent question!

Friday 11 March 2016

Mandalas: Menacing or Marvellous?

I was recently sent a link for a blog post that was sharing a person's deep concern about the use of mandalas. This person had been given a gift of an adult colouring book, which are all the rage at the moment. They were bewildered to find that many of the pictures and patterns in the book were mandalas. The person writing the blog had done some research into the use of mandalas and focused in on one way of understanding their use in Hinduism and Buddhism which talks about them as a spiritual tool "to merge" with the deity. This person's opinion was that this would open the door to demons. These new colouring books encourage people to spend time reflectively colouring mandalas and in so doing our tricking us into merging with deities. The conclusion - Christians should not colour mandalas.

Well, as a Christian who has a great love of mandalas, I feel I must put forward a different view. My first concern is that there is a view that one or two particular faith traditions "own" mandalas. A mandala is a circle. They are found in nature and in society every you go in this world and beyond to the universe. I don't think it is any accident that the circle in most cultures is symbolic of wholeness and universality. Some traditions have used the mandala more than others in their spiritual practices and have become known for this. Others, like Christianity, have also used the mandala perhaps without being conscious we are doing so. There are an enormous amount of old cathedrals that have beautiful rosary windows or a circular layout. We are happy to call this sacred geometry, but have not been as familiar with the term mandala. I do not see the mandala as something that particular people own. It is something we all innately relate to, but maybe our culture has forgotten its significance.

My second comment comes from my own experience with mandalas. Some of you will know that I have done a bit of work with mandalas and spiritual direction over the last 6 years that has involved my leading workshops where people create their own mandala. My own personal experience, and what I have heard from others, is that there can be a "merging with the deity" that I happen to call God. I have a large mandala on my office wall that I created and it speaks to me quietly of a time when God was stirring me about my call to ministry and my faith journey at the time. Creating the mandala was a "God moment" for me and I don't believe any demons were involved at all. To say that mandalas are not of God negates many people's experiences of connecting with God throughout history.

Thirdly, I would like to say that I don't have a problem with us (as one faith tradition) learning from another. If we become so arrogant that we shut the rest of the world out in order to believe that we have it right, we are really missing out. I have had conversations with Buddhist and Muslim friends that have truly enriched my own faith journey. In my opinion, talking and learning and experiencing do not compromise our own position. In fact, in my view it only strengthens it. I have seen my discovery of the mandala as a gift. I first learnt about them from reading about Hildegard of Bingen, a medieval Christian mystic. This lead me to explore further, reading about the Tibetan monks and many other cultures and religions that use mandalas in a variety of ways.

And so my plea to those who would say that Christians should not use mandalas - don't rob those of us who love mandalas from a rich and beautiful experience. They are not for everyone, but don't use fear or ignorance to forbid others of what I consider is a God-given gift.

I will be running an Introduction to Mandalas Workshop in Margaret River on May 28th.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Understanding Your Dreams

Tomorrow evening I will be presenting a talk in Margaret River on the topic of dreams. Most of you will be familiar with the introductory sentence, "I had the weirdest dream last night..." The following tale can often have us in fits of laughter as many dreams are rather way out and bizarre. As puzzling or entertaining as dreams can be, they actually teach us a lot about our life.

In the talk tomorrow I will outline some of the research that has been conducted by scientists and psychotherapists. I will give some of my own wacky examples of dreams and what I have learnt from them. We will then explore one suggestion for how to understand our dreams. The truth is, we do not necessarily need an expert or a good symbols book to help us with dream interpretation. Our dreams are our teacher and we only need to grow in our attentiveness to gain from them.

I am going to propose to those who come that we think about commencing a dream group. This would be a circle of trust where we can bring our dreams and help each other to understand and learn from them. If you are in the area and would like to join us, we are commencing at 7pm at Margaret River Uniting Church.

I will keep you posted and tell you more about how it went soon.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

What if I'm wrong?

There are so many issues in our society for which people form strong opinions. Whether it be a global issue, such as climate change or asylum seekers, or something more local, such as the clearing of land for housing or an increase in crime. Some people are very vocal about their view writing to newspapers, local politicians and on social media. Others join a public protest with a supportive group. Others remain quiet until their buttons are pushed in a more private discussion. 

How we act upon our opinions depends on a number of factors. Personality plays a big part. Some people are more comfortable expressing themselves in public, while others really don't want to draw attention to themselves at all. Some people are born leaders and forge the way, while others are more comfortable being part of a group or institution that provides a network in which to relate. The way we view the world and our place in it also has an influence. Is the purpose of our life here to bring about change and a better way of being for all? Are we simply a moment in time, unable to make any real contribution to the vastness of life? Is this life significant or are we waiting for something more wondrous and perfect after death? Does how I live my life now determine how next life will be? Each of these views brings a different ideology which will determine how we act upon our opinions.

I am part of a church, the Uniting Church in Australia, that is not afraid to voice its opinions and stand up for justice when it feels something is wrong in our society. I am eternally grateful for this Church, as I am a thinker rather than a doer. I will ponder the world around me. I will reflect on the wrongs I see. I will look at all the aspects of a situation and form my own opinions. I will hesitate... and hesitate... and hesitate... The question rings through my head, "What if I'm wrong?"

In the last year or so, I have been trying to get out of my head more and let my heart and gut have a bit more of a say. I have tried to find the courage to voice my opinions on some issues that I am very passionate about. I have received a lot of support, but I have also had some people tell me I am wrong. That's a big deal for me.

So, here is how I am learning to deal with that question that seems to return again and again. If my opinions, and therefore my actions as well, are based on love, compassion, peace and non-violence (all the things that Jesus and many other wise people preach about) I must be heading in the right direction. If the people who tell me I am wrong are acting out of fear, ignorance or their own lack of control I need to be very aware. I am not sure that this is a matter of being right or wrong. To me it is a matter of being a decent, loving human being who longs to be in good relationships.

So, now, if that question pops into my head, "What if I'm wrong?", I listen a little more to my heart and gut. If the way of love and compassion is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Sacred Ground

I have felt very conflicted over the last few days with the build up to Australia Day. My Facebook feed has been full of various views and opinions. Some of my friends are calling today Survival Day and I fully support the reasoning behind this. Some of my friends are calling for a change in date for similar reasons. Some are posting pictures of very "Aussie things", like shrimps on the barbie, vegemite jokes and numerous Aussie flags. And there are a few, with views I don't agree with, posting "Love it or leave" style messages. I could spend all day reading these and responding with my own personal views, but I am sure there is a more positive, life giving way for me to spend this public holiday. 

Photo: Harrison Lambert
So what have I done? Well, we spent a good portion of the day down at Contos Spring, a stunning local beach. I took my shoes off, let the sand creep between my toes, and remembered the Wardandi people, the First peoples of this area, who have taken care of this land for thousands of years. As the water splashed around my knees (it was rather cool) I thought of these people of the sea who have been custodians of this coastline and the caves under the ground for longer than I can imagine. What a privilege to live in such a stunning land!

My thoughts turned to my own being here in this land. As one of many second peoples who have called Australia home, I reflected on emigrating to Australia some 35 years ago. My parents brought me to this land for a fresh start, a new beginning. We were not fleeing a war torn land as many who come today may be, but we were certainly in search of a better life. I will always be grateful to my parents for making that choice. I would have it no other way. But I am also grateful for those people we found so welcoming when we arrived and settled here.

As I looked out at the sea, which was getting a little choppy at times, I thought of those risking their lives to seek refuge in our land. I wondered about the welcome (or lack of) that they might receive here in the years to come. I hoped that some day they might feel this sand between their toes too.

And so, I haven't felt the need today to seek out some amazing fireworks display or buy cheap Aussie bits and pieces that were all made in some other country. Instead, it has been important to remind myself of this sacred land in which we live. We can become so caught up with who owns this land, who it belongs to and who is allowed in that we have forgotten its sacredness. Millions of people have walked this beach before me, fished for their dinner and cooled off in the clear ocean. Millions of people will follow in the future. I belong here, but this sacred land does not belong to me.

Sunday 24 January 2016

Limit Not the Truth

I have just finished reading a novel that was recommended to me by a member of one of my congregations. The Last Templar, by Raymond Khoury, is a modern story that draws on the persecution of the Knights of the Temple in the Middle Ages. It was a great book and I would recommend it to those of you who enjoy a good historical mystery. There was one part of the novel that particularly grabbed my attention, however.

Towards the end of the story there is a discussion around the impact that a possible ancient discovery may have on Christianity. The content of an artefact could potentially crumble the foundation of the faith of many. The question is asked about the importance of truth and even the definition of truth. Is it believing in all the stories at a literal level or is there some far deeper truth that reaches beyond the stories? One character had a very literal faith and was faced with needing to find a deeper understanding based on their own experience the Divine. Another character never saw a place for faith or God in their life, but was faced with the mystery of life that could only be explained in spiritual terms.

What is more important for us; truth or faith? In my own life, whether the stories of the Bible are true or not does not really matter. In saying this, I am referring to whether they are factual and actually happened as the story tells. All of the stories hold truth though. Underlying the story is a theme, a relationship or an understanding that is still true in my life today. If I did not believe this I would have given up preaching years ago.

The last chapters of this gripping novel have reminded me of the importance of being open to learning and growing in faith in every encounter I may have. To hold onto an unshakeable truth embedded in writings of 2000 years ago limits the truth of God to a certain time and place. There is an old hymn that sums this up perfectly.

We limit not the truth of God
to our poor reach of mind,
to notions of our day and place,
crude, partial, and confined:
No, let a new and better hope
within our hearts be stirred:
O God, grant yet more light and truth
to break forth from your Word.

(George Rawson)

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Cherish - Word for 2016

Over the last few years I have given myself a word for the year. A friend of mine told me that they did this each year and so I thought it was worth a try. Two years ago the word was 'integrity'. Last year it was 'strength'. As I chose both of these words, I had a sense of what was in store for me in the year ahead and this somehow informed my choice of word. For 2014 and 2015, these words became very important to me and evolved into words that I clung to when I lost my sense of direction or became despondent.

At the beginning of 2016, I was reflecting on what my word for the coming year could be. Nothing sprung to mind immediately. I thought about some of the changes that were ahead and the challenges they could present, but still no word. And so, I started to ask myself some deeper, more personal questions about my own needs and areas of growth. And that is when the word appeared, almost out of the blue.

As I sat on our back deck, relaxed and content, I sensed a deep need to learn to cherish life. It is not a word that is commonly used in everyday language, but it appealed to me and stuck. I looked up it's definition; to treat with tenderness and affection; to nurture with care; to foster; to hold dear; to indulge; to encourage. The more I pondered on the word, the more I realised that I needed this word. I need to learn to cherish life's moments, rather than racing on to the next one. I need to cherish my family more, rather than taking them for granted. I need to cherish my own self and my calling in life. The list went on and on.

So, 'cherish' is the word for 2016. It is not so clear how this word will impact or what it may teach me, but I am open to allowing this word to be in my life throughout the year.