Friday 22 December 2017

Grief shows you what you love

Yesterday evening, as the sun had almost disappeared, I packed up the last of the candles from a Blue Christmas service. It felt like something was ending. There was a tinge of sadness. After seven years of conducting this service annually for both the towns to which I minister, this would be the last one for the foreseeable future. Next year, I will be leaving my ministry placement to pursue further study and to develop Deep Water Dwelling further.

Over the last few months, there have been a few "lasts", aspects of my ministry that I won't be involved in again. None had brought the same feelings that arose as I put the blue baubles in the box, not sure if they would be used next year. Fortunately, the drive from Augusta home is long enough to reflect and wind down before launching back into family life.

During the service, I spoke about grief, loss and suffering. The only reason we experience grief and loss is because we loved something. As I often say at funerals, "To love someone, is to risk the pain of parting". And so, I pondered what it was I loved about this simple, reflective service that had caused this sense of loss. It wasn't the people. Not because I don't love them, but because I will continue to see them for another four months. I certainly won't miss the crazy lead up to Christmas that is part of a minister's life.

It is more about the intent of this service. When I plan Blue Christmas, there is a lot of thought into creating a safe, sacred space where people can be authentic. It is about peeling back the layers that have been plastered over the Gospel message to reveal the deep core of the story. It is gentle. It is open. It is real. That's what I love about conducting this service and that is what I will miss. The grief experienced has shown me a need within myself to create spaces that are authentic, simple and real.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

A Gemini gets Angry

I have read to beware the angry Gemini. They may go silent, but they are secretly plotting to kill you. Thankfully, for those around me, I try to live a life of non-violence. I can, however, relate to the silence. I would describe it a different way - speechlessness. Over the last few weeks I have found much to be angry about. There are injustices and atrocities happening that I find difficult to comprehend.

I watch some of my friends reacting on social media. Some are able to vent their frustration very eloquently. They find the right words and rally support from others. Others jump into action, joining protests, writing letters and signing petitions. And still others use their wicked sense of humour to deal with what is not funny at all. It takes great effort for me to do any of these things. Anger, for me, brings with it a state of paralysis. Everything seems heavier and more cumbersome.

I recall, as a teenager, struggling with my expression of anger and initiating an 'Angry Book', some sort of journal especially set aside for my times of rage. I found it a few years ago now, had a laugh, and realised there were very few pages used. In the same way, over the last few weeks, I have not been able to find the words to write this blog. Instead of taking me to some outward place of physical or mental release, setting me screaming, kicking or punching, anger sends me inward and into shut down.

Thank goodness we are all different. If everyone reacted like me, nothing would be done in this world. I realise that my speechlessness is not always helpful, but often I come out of my anger with new insights, new confidence or new awareness. I am not going to explain it away by pinning it on the fact that I was born under the Gemini sign (although this may contribute). Having more awareness of my own needs when I get angry has been very valuable. Knowing when to protect myself, when to rest and when to get up and fight has been, and still is, a huge learning curve.

I no longer need to give myself permission to be angry, but I do need to allow myself to express it in ways that are true to who I am.

Friday 27 October 2017

The Power of a Story

This afternoon, I was invited to be the guest speaker at a World Community Day Service. If you are like me and hadn't heard of such a service before, it is similar to the ecumenical World Day of Prayer services. A theme is set along with a liturgy, hymns and readings. The job of the guest speaker is to try and say something meaningful which reflects the theme and incorporates the readings.

The theme for 2017 was "Empowered to Proclaim (Love, Liberty and Life)". On first seeing this, I thought it was a very broad theme and wasn't sure where to begin. I then looked at the readings. The first was the story from Matthew of a woman anointing Jesus' head with oil. The second was the raising of Tabitha from Acts. The final reading was the story of the healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath from Luke. This was not helpful. Three huge stories about women. How could I do any of them justice in such a short space of time?

After much pondering, I decided to parallel each story with a story of a significant woman in my life. The three women I chose were vastly different and had effected me in various ways. I chose not to provide any analysis of the stories, but just to tell them with honesty, emotion and a touch of humour. To be honest, I wasn't sure if this would meet the expectations of the group who had given up their afternoon to be there. Having never experienced one of these services, I had no idea where the bar was set.

I needn't have worried. I should have realised the power of a personal story. People were obviously stirred, perhaps by relating part of my story to their own. People recognised their own ordinary stories as sacred, perhaps as a result of my holy holding of my own. As I shared a cuppa with some afterwards, the stories flowed easily between women who had only just met.

I thought I had taken the easy option in telling a few stories, but sharing of yourself is never without some cost. For me, it is much more tiring to share personal stories than to stick to a more removed style of preaching. The process, however, is extremely meaningful. The stories come alive in a new way, not only for the listener, but for the storyteller as well.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Soundtrack of Life

One of my skills in life, which is now obsolete, is the art of creating a mixtape. As a teenager, I created many such cassette tapes. Cathie's Hits One through to Fifteen, the Love Songs special and the Movie Classics are still hidden away in a drawer somewhere. My boyfriends during this period of my life also had the rare privilege of being gifted a mixtape with all the soppiest songs of the day expressing my undying love for them.

For those a little too young to understand the process of creating such a gem as Cathie's Hits 11 (I recall this being one of my favourites) let me explain. Before there was such a thing as iTunes or Spotify, we had to buy our music on cassette or listen to the Top 20 on the radio with finger poised on the record button. This required a high level of skill in order to avoid the DJ's intro or the beginning of the next song. After managing to capture the favourite tunes, you would then spend hours fast-fowarding and recording the tracks to a mixtape, creating your very own compilation.

I spent five hours in the car today, driving to retreat. As I drove, I flicked between my favourite songs on my phone and had an awesome sing-a-long. I was reflecting on what I would put on my mixtape today. It would have a good dose of Carole King, Missy Higgins and Kendall Payne. Of course, there would have to be Over the Rainbow and a couple of tunes from the musical Wicked.

As I listened and sang along, it occurred to me that each song had its own story for me. Some reminded me of certain people, while others described perfectly certain situations in life. Music holds so much power; the power to evoke tears, motivate us to new ways of being and bring clarity to the mess of life. My mixtape today would be a soundtrack to my life, a journey of ups and downs, joys and sorrows. I think I might create this 'mixtape'. Fortunately, with today's technology, it won't take me hours of pressing buttons. I will create a playlist titled 'Soundtrack of Life' and see how it changes over the months and years ahead - just for fun!!

Wednesday 11 October 2017

The Shaping of the Adolescent Girl

Today is the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child. There is a particular focus on adolescent girls and their ability to change the world for better if given the chance. This theme presents itself to me at an opportune time. Recently, I have been reflecting on my own adolescent years and watching my own children go through this turbulent time. 

I spent most of my adolescent years at a private high school. In those days, it was considered a low fee private school. It didn't have all the bells and whistles of other prestigious colleges, but certainly had a lot of heart and a great reputation for decent pastoral care. Before leaving primary school, I had already well established my place in the whole social web. I had no enemies (that I knew of), was friends with everyone, but found my social niche kicking the footy with a small bunch of guys on the oval. To begin with, they were cautious, not sure if they could tackle me for the mark and running in close for the short kicks I would inevitably execute. But soon, I became one of them and gave as good as I got. 

Moving to high school, I had to re-establish my friendships. I was the only student going to this relatively new school from my primary school. I had some friends from my local church to look out for and to begin with we banded together. By the end of the first year we had a large friendship group, girls and guys. I had girlfriends, but still seemed more natural and at ease around the boys. This was fine to begin with, however, it became complicated as we got older and the boundaries in relationships started to change.

As a teenager, I was very vocal about the fact that I really disliked being female. I may have even used the word 'hate', which seems far too strong now. At my school, the girls wore dresses or skirts. This was not my usual choice of attire and I worked very hard to develop the necessary lady-like ways to accompany the uniform. I recall, at one time, being informed by a staff member that my 'natural and easy way of being around the boys' might be misinterpreted. This confused me at the time. In hindsight, what I hated about being a girl was the fact that I could not live it out the way that was natural for me. There seemed to be an expected mould, and I certainly didn't fit into it. Being an adolescent girl, for me, was awkward, uncomfortable, tedious and a tad lonely.

I am now watching on, anxiously, as my daughter goes through that same
period of her life. Of course, all of my fears and concerns are projections of my own experiences, but I really needn't worry. She is a different person to me and she is growing up in a different generation. My daughter is a dancer and, I must admit, this did concern me when she was younger. I wondered if she too would develop with certain ideals about how a young woman should look, act and be. My fears have been allayed. I believe that her love of dancing has fostered some very healthy attributes. She is resilient, comfortable in her own skin, able to have a laugh at herself, confident and perseveres. She has a 'can do' attitude, a wholesome dose of self esteem and a love for life. She is a real natural beauty with no need for false facades, but can put on the eyelashes and costumes to shine on stage.

Perhaps, on the International Day of the Girl Child, my commitment needs to be to encourage each young girl I have the privilege of spending time with to be the best version of themselves possible. Being true to yourself is a gift, not only to oneself, but to everyone around you. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, without trying to be someone you are not. So, lets give our adolescent girls a gift today of allowing them to be the amazingly diverse young women they are.

Monday 2 October 2017

Silenced in the Name of God

Those who know me well, are aware that one of my greatest sources of annoyance is spiritual abuse. It is not talked about as much as physical, emotional or sexual abuse and, in my experience, is often swept under the carpet. Many I have spoken with have never heard of it and need to be given examples to convince them it actually exists. There are many ways that spiritual abuse can be manifested. One of these is silencing.

As a fifteen year old, I first experienced this at school. I attended a church school and as part of our Faith and Values program we were expected to keep a journal for a term. The idea of the journal was to reflect on the faith issues that had arisen in class. I was a questioner and a deep thinker. I don't recall all the theological statements I recorded in that journal, but I certainly felt it was a safe space to explore the boundaries a little.  I submitted my journal at the end of the term, proud of the depth of my ponderings, to be marked. It was returned to me covered in red pen. "Have you read your Bible, Cathie?" References to a variety of Bible passages pointed me in the right direction. I had it all wrong. I learnt from my journal submission that this class was not a place to question or speak out. It was a place to tow the line, especially if I wanted a good grade. I had been silenced.

A bit over a decade later, I had not long returned from a period living overseas. Our local congregation was having a meeting. A proposal was brought concerning the future of the congregation. I remember publicly making an observation which resonated with many in attendance. My comments resulted in a counter-proposal being brought that was widely supported. My observation had shed some light on how things really were in that community. The next week, I was called in for a 'conversation'. My outspoken nature and unrealistic hopes were linked to the obvious reverse culture shock I was experiencing and my desire for the church to be like I had known whilst overseas. I clearly was not in a fit state to be contributing to the church community. Funnily enough, I was never invited to lead the morning worship again either. I had been silenced.

These are just two stories that immediately jump to mind. I could share many more. Times when the words or actions, usually of those in authority, have let me know that it is not acceptable to question, to rock the boat, to cause ripples, to stir up trouble, to think for myself and much more. It took many years for me to realise the impact of being silenced. It occurred on a day I will never forget and yet it was so simple. It was in a Systematic Theology class at university. The class was larger than others I had attended. It seemed to be full of people who knew what they were talking about. They all seemed to have this Trinity thing worked out. I felt out of my depth and said very little in the class.

There came a week when the class discussion seemed to be going around in circles and I was imagining it all a little differently in my mind. I reluctantly raised my hand to contribute (what if I have this completely wrong?), the lecturer looked in my direction, "Yes Cathie?" (this was a mistake, what would I know?) and I begin with, "This probably doesn't mean much, but I've been thinking..."
My lecturer stopped me in my tracks (here we go, silenced again).
"I want you to start again. What you have to say is important. Say it with confidence." I was given a voice. I have no idea what I said, how eloquent it may or may not have been, or even if it made sense, but I recall very clearly how I felt. I realised how often I had been silenced, sometimes very subtly, and this felt freeing.

I wish I could say that this experience transformed me into a confident person always ready to have my say. To be honest, I often second guess myself and feel very vulnerable putting my head above the water. I wish I could say that my experience was unique, however, silencing in faith communities is more common than we would like to think. Just this week, a colleague of mine has been silenced by his denomination. His voice is not as easily suppressed as mine and, as a result, the methods used are more explicit and personally damaging.

Watching this unfold has reminded me, yet again, of the importance of solidarity. In a culture where this type of abuse is not recognised, let alone confronted, it is important that we stand with those who are silenced and where possible help them be heard. We need to be the ones who say, "What you have to say is important. Say it with confidence."

Thursday 21 September 2017

The Privilege of Choice

At the beginning of the year 2000, my husband and I were about to embark on an adventure of living overseas for two years. As part of the whole process, we attended a week of training. The course covered cross cultural considerations, culture shock, communication and other skills we may have needed in living in another country. There is one part of this training that I have been reflecting on again the last week.

I think it was Andrew Dutney who spoke to us about risk and choice. The statement made was the more choice we have in life, the greater the risk. I don't think I fully understood what this meant until we came home from our overseas experience. While living in Tonga, grocery shopping was limited. There was one brand of powdered cordial, with two or three flavours to choose from. At our local shop we could only get unsliced loaves of white bread. There was no wholemeal, multigrain, soy and linseed, toast slice or sandwich slice. The longest section in the aisles was always the tinned corned beef. This had nothing to do with choice, but everything to do with the demand for the product.

We became quite accustomed to shopping with little choice for the two years we lived there. I will always remember our first day back in Australia. We stopped in Sydney for a few days on our way home. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas. The streets were full of shoppers and we decided to join them. I recall feeling completely overwhelmed by the choice on the shelves. Where would we start? How would we choose? It was all too much. If I chose this brand I risked the fact that I should have chosen any of the other ten in the aisle. Shopping was just one area where the link between choice and risk was evident.

Over the last month I have been very aware of other choices I have, particularly the choice of how I engage with justice issues that are very current in our society. I seem to waver with my energy levels. I would never describe myself as an activist. I certainly shy away from taking the lead on issues and would much prefer to turn up to an event that someone else has organised.

Recently, however, I have had a question running through my head, "If not me, then who?" Should I sit around waiting for someone else to come up with a bright idea, or should I get out of my safe little comfort zone and do something? In some ways there has been no choice. I have felt a compulsion, a responsibility to get involved.

So, what on earth does this have to do with choice and risk? Last week I was invited to be part of another event. I was given a choice. The issue does not directly affect me, even though I am very passionate about it. The person asking gave me an out. Just because I had taken a stand before, didn't mean I had to do it again. This struck me. I had a choice whether to get involved or not. I'll be honest, I was feeling tired and drained at the time and really wasn't keen to help organise another event. I could have said no, but all of a sudden I was very aware of the privilege of choice.

I could choose to be involved or not. Unlike my friends who have no choice but to be involved, who are directly affected, I could decide to bow out. From my place of privilege, I have a choice. But with that choice comes a risk. The risk, in this case, is far greater than simply choosing the wrong product in a shopping aisle. The risk is that my privilege will make me complacent. That I will let the passionate fire be extinguished by my longing for comfort and rest. That in my silence I may as well join the injustices.

There has been a lot of talk about privilege recently - who has it and who does not. It is easy for me to sit back and label those who have more than others, but perhaps the greatest changes for good in this world come when we realise our own privilege in life and make choices to stand beside those who have less.

Monday 18 September 2017

The Fall

I often wonder about the merit of sharing personal poetry. For me, writing poetry is cathartic and takes me to a deeper level in what I am experiencing I life. This one was written a week ago and for some reason wants to be shared. It is certainly not the finest artistic piece ever written and I don't want to share what it means for me, but perhaps it will speak into someone's situation out there.

The Fall

Running free across the grassland
how did she not see?
Obscured beneath the winter grass
     - untameable , wild
wild hair flowing, spinning
so distracted by the clouds above
that forgotten was the boulder beneath.
The boulder she once stood upon as a stage
for the performance of her life
heard only by industrious ants
and birds that settled awhile.

Dancing with the breeze
how did she not notice?
Lurking unseen in this broad expanse
     - seemingly harmless, familiar.
Familiar melodies hum
as she twinkles in the mysterious twilight
deaf to the rock's warning bells.
The bells whose chimes used to
keep her close, keep her safe
with invisible walls that
have become the bars of her cage.

How did she not see?
How did she not notice
     the trip...
     the stumble ...
     the imbalance ...
     the falling ...
     the thud of earth and body meeting?

The meeting of tears with dew on the bed of green.
The mingling of hair tangled in weeds.
The soaking of life's blood deep in the dirt.
She and the earth are one.

As her face turns to the sky
her eyes become deep wells
for those who thirst.
How did she not notice? How did she not see
that the stumbling block
hiding in wild grass
was merely her path to wholeness?

Thursday 7 September 2017

Disturbing Dreams

In Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' there is a song about Pharaoh and his dreams. It starts with 'Guess what? In his bed Pharaoh had an uneasy night'. The chorus then goes on to say, 'Poor, poor Pharaoh, what'cha gonna do? Dreams are haunting you, hey, what'cha gonna do?' I can say now, that I know a little of what Pharaoh was feeling.

I have been dreaming a lot lately. About a week ago I counted waking up five times during the night each time after a different dream. It was a restless sleep and in the morning I was too tired to even think about what the dreams could mean. Usually, I might have one significant dream a week and I welcome them when they come. At the moment, it is getting beyond ridiculous.

Whenever I remember a dream, I know something is going on. Yes, sometimes they relate to an event or a person that I have come across during the previous day, but the story and the characters are often trying to help me get in touch with something much deeper. I am a firm believer that our dreams help us to tap into our unconscious and as they are sometimes called, are God's forgotten language. Dreams have certainly been important aspects of my spiritual growth over time.

I have mentioned in a previous post about the benefits of working with our dreams. I find it takes practice to work with your dreams, but with guidance and repetition it becomes easier. This also takes time. Sometimes you can reflect on a dream on the way to work and that's enough, but often it requires a lot more working through and soul searching. This is my problem right now. Life has been rather full over the last few weeks and I don't foresee a reprieve for the next little while. The irony of all this, is that I know until I decide to make the time to work through these annoying dreams, they will keep occurring. Perhaps the answer to my own dilemma is to take a few hours to sit and journal. Maybe then I will sleep a little easier and life won't seem so full. Poor, poor Cathie what'cha gonna do? I don't need to find a dream interpreting Joseph, but need to listen to how God might be trying to get my attention right now.

Monday 28 August 2017

A Desire to be Speechless

I have spent a lot of this week wondering. Wondering about disagreements, division, disputes and the unspeakable nature of being in union with the Divine. This all began last weekend at a church meeting concerning a controversial and important local decision. I must say, I found the meeting very difficult. I don't think I am worried about the presence of conflict, but this gathering disturbed me greatly. It wasn't the decision that needed to be made, but the implications on relationships that brought me concern. A lot of words were said that day; arguments for and against, some mentioned calmly, some with passion, and others with anger. We came away with a result, but also a lot of people who felt hurt or unheard. I am not mentioning this to bring any blame or to cast any judgment, but simply to say that at times disagreements are very difficult and painful.

Also this week, the Marriage Equality debate has fired up in Australia. This too, at times, has turned ugly. When people feel strongly one way or another, it can certainly bring out the worst in people. I am very passionate about this public issue and have been reflecting this week on the best way to voice my view without causing harm to those who may disagree. I have also been hoping and praying that those who think differently to me may find respectful and non-violent ways to express themselves. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in many instances. People on both sides of the fence have used damaging actions and words in an attempt to make their point. Is there a way to hold respectful dialogue and debate when people are so passionate?

In the middle of this week, I was fortunate to spend some time at the Residential Retreat for the Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction. I assisted with some supervision sessions and led a workshop on the second day. I was able to sit in on a session exploring Teresa of Avila. While delving into her Interior Castle with its different rooms, I was struck again by the unspeakable experience of God that takes place in those inner rooms. What a blessing, in a week full of words, to sit in the presence of the Divine for which there really are no words at all.

It had me wondering about the importance we put upon words. We always seem to have something to say, particularly around issues for which we are passionate. Silence can be viewed as apathy or ignorance. I wonder if there is value in stopping the talk and being still together? One church community have come out publicly in support of LGBTIQ people and marriage equality; The Quakers. Is it just an accident that this faith community are known for using far less words than other church communities?  

Our society seems so uncomfortable with wordless moments. Silences are filled. They are labelled as awkward or wasteful. But what of the easy silence between old friends? What of the reverent silence of a crowd when they know they are witnessing a significant moment? What of the stillness of the night that gives all creation rest? Perhaps we need to be deliberate about creating wordless moments and places of stillness, for it certainly doesn't come naturally for many. In my wondering this week, I have a feeling that in these silent spaces is where the healing begins. For me, it has been the place where my soul is refreshed and somehow I find the right words to say when it is time to speak. In my longing to be closer to the Divine, I desire to become speechless.

Friday 18 August 2017

Meeting Mechthilde, Marguerite and Hadewijch

My reading over the last month or so has taken me in many directions. It is like a magical, mystery tour! Early this week, I found myself back in the Middle Ages meeting a group of women that would come to be known as the Beguines. I had heard of these women and had a vague idea of who they were, but now they have come alive for me in a different way.

At the beginning of the 12th Century, women had the choice of getting married and raising a family or becoming a nun and entering a cloister. Both choices involved living under male authority. Some women, however, chose to live alone and devote themselves to prayer and good works, but did not want to take the vows involved in entering a cloister. These women began to dwell together or side by side and communities developed. To choose this way of life was a statement to others that they did not need to live under male headship. To make this counter-cultural choice, in the first place, showed signs of great resilience and strength.


Delving deeper, I set about reading individual stories. The first woman I met was Mechthilde of Magdeburg. She was born into a noble family, but left home to join a Beguine community in Magdeburg. Mechthilde had many visions during her life and she wrote about these in a series of books titled "The Flowing Light of the Godhead" and written in Middle Low German. Throughout her life she was highly critical of church dignitaries, religious laxity and claims to theological insight and gained much opposition. Some even called for the burning of her writings. In her older years, and in poor health, she entered a Cistercian community who protected her and assisted in the writing of her last writings.

The next woman I met was Hadewijch of Antwerp. Not so much is known about Hadewijch. We assume this is her name as it was scribbled in the margin of one of her poems. She wrote her visions, letters and poetry in Middle Dutch and is well known as a 13th Century mystic poet. From her letters we know that she held a leadership position in her Beguine community. It can also be established that she led a wandering life due to opposition. Hadewijch's writings were full of passion and love in her relationship with the Divine.

I then discovered Marguerite Porete. Margeurite was a French speaking beguine who wrote about the workings of divine love. Her book was titled "The Mirror of Simple Souls" in which she spoke of how the simple soul was connected to God and had no will but God's. Margeirite was arrested for heresy and ordered to take her book out of circulation. She refused and was burnt at the stake in Paris after a lengthy trial in 1310.

These women, and many others like them, were amazing. They lived in a time where women were in many ways far more vulnerable than they are today. They chose to forge their own path in life, going against cultural norms and expectations. They were outspoken, gutsy and bold in their statements. They wrote about their personal experiences of God and didn't feel they needed to answer to any religious authorities. They wrote in the language of the people, making their works accessible to more people. They faced opposition with courage and integrity. All of this, and they were the inspiration for many greats who followed, such as Meister Eckhart. These hidden women have so much to teach us about living life being true to yourself. I'm going to keep digging and find more gems from these bold women of the Middle Ages.

Friday 11 August 2017

Constantly Under Scrutiny

As part of my ministry training, it was compulsory to engage in Clinical Pastoral Education. It is a course that is challenging in many ways, but perhaps the most daunting part for the participants is the intensity of self analysis. Yes, CPE is about learning particular pastoral skills, but moreso it is about learning who you are and developing a deepened self awareness. It can be quite confronting. It is like gazing at yourself intently in the mirror for (in my case) six months. I have spoken with a lot of people who found the experience terrifying and even others who found it too probing. My experience was extremely positive. I did learn a lot about myself. Past memories and ways of being were dug up and pulled to pieces. It was hard work, but well worth it for my own development and growth.

I always admire people who are willing to enter into times of self growth. It leaves you vulnerable, exposed and raw. My experiences of these times of growth have mostly been by choice. I have chosen to enrol for a program or to go on a retreat that I know will stretch me and bring me to a place of being more true to myself. They have also been lived out in loving and supportive environments where those leading and those participating beside want only the best for you. I also have the luxury of choosing when these times of growth occur and for how long they last.

In the last few days certain friends and family have been on my mind. These people are some of the most self aware I know. They have not simply enrolled in courses at a convenient time, but have lived their lives under the scrutiny of the world around them. As they wrestle with the questions of being true to themselves they have been extremely vulnerable. I am talking about my LGBTIQ friends. Those people who have chosen the difficult path of being true to themselves, rather than living an easier life of falsehood. Some of them have been forced to make difficult choices in friendships, their faith communities and even with family members.

The cost of being true to yourself and entering that journey of self discovery doesn't take place in a confined time and place. It is ongoing. Every time a new community is entered or a new person is met, risks surround them. Sometimes this is a safe environment, but as the stories show, many times it is not. There is no reprieve from the exhausting task of being true to yourself.

I really have no idea what it is like to live with the constant judgment and anxiety about the harassment that could be around the corner. But somehow, I feel protective of my LGBTIQ friends at this time. They are some of the most awesome people I know and wonderful role models to my children. I feel for them in the days ahead as decisions are made that say it is okay for their humanity and relationships to be brought into question by people who don't even know them. I feel helpless, and can only say that I love them and I will be here for them.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Perfection vs Wholeness

If someone had told me as a teenager that one day I would present a paper at a Feminist Theology Symposium, I probably would have laughed at them. In fact, not just laughed, but a hearty, uncontrollable, belly laugh. You see, as a teen, I was not too impressed with being an emerging woman, let alone celebrating the fact or finding solidarity with other women. I was a "tomboy". I kicked the footy with the boys during lunch time and eventually went on to become an avid observer of Dungeons and Dragons. I was not interested in makeup or the latest fashion or even the to-die-for heart throb. While most girls my age had Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp on their bedroom walls - the closest I got was Tom Burlinson because he was rugged and could ride a horse like no one else in the Snowy River.

It wasn't just that I was not "girly", I actually resented being a woman. While other girls seemed to flaunt their developing bodies, I could see nothing to celebrate about reaching puberty. It all seemed more of a burden than anything. I don't remember if I said it out loud often, or whether I just told myself - "I wish I was a boy."

In my early adulthood, I resigned myself to the way things were and got on with life. I had never really experienced discrimination because of my gender and had pursued all my dreams without question. Looking back, I can only remember one Maths teacher who saw the girls in the class as a distraction to the boys, rather than a student in their own right.

Some years ago now, I was encouraged to attend a conference for women in the church. The weekend included guest speakers, workshops and creative opportunities. Although I enjoyed the input, I found myself confused by the feisty nature of some of these women. I couldn't understand what the battle was about that needed to be fought.

Today, I understand a little better. For me, it is not about equal pay or the right to an education, although I realise this is still an issue for many women in the world. For me, it is far more subtle. It is about the way that decisions are made. It is about who holds the power in a room. It is about who gets to speak and how. It is about how we deal with important issues in communities and how we look to the future. I am beginning to realise that there are more masculine ways and more feminine ways and everything in between. Too often, we fall to the default, more masculine ways of being. These are the sort of topics that I am interested in challenging and finding new ways.

So, I am going along and presenting a paper titled "An Inner Conflict: Towards Perfection or Wholeness". I am out of my comfort zone. I feel far from perfect. I don't feel like I have all the answers or perhaps even the right questions. I am nervous and running a tape of "You can do it" in my head. But, somehow, I know it will be okay. If anything, this audience should understand. I already have the feeling that the people attending will be encouraging, empowering and inspiring. Although it may have seemed like the last place I would find myself, it certainly feels like the perfect place to be vulnerable and take the risk.

Friday 28 July 2017

The Dark before the Dawn

There is a saying that the darkest hour is right before the dawn. Personally, I am not up and about enough at this time of the day to prove it true or otherwise. I can, however, vouch for it's truth in my life over the last year.

In my training and my own reading, I have come to understand a little about what St John of the Cross describes as 'The Dark Night of the Soul'. This phrase comes from a 16th Century poem written by St John of the Cross to describe the journey of the soul to mystical union with God. The darkness is not about terrible things happening in life, but about the unknowable nature of God.

I must confess, I thought I knew what the Dark Night was all about. I thought I had experienced desolation and the necessary spiritual emptiness that is necessary to allow us to grow closer to God. Perhaps I had - on a small scale. But nothing could prepare me for the new experience I have been through over the past months.

I want to be clear. At no point did I feel depressed or even completely lost. Yes, it was difficult, but mostly because of my own resistance and inability to see a different way of being. Spiritual desolation is described as a feeling of emptiness, an absence of God or a dryness. I must say, after encountering 'The Dark Night' it is a difficult experience to put into words. Last November, I gave it a shot.

The Dark Night

So, this is the dark night.
I stumbled into it.
First in fear,
I cowered in the corner,
too uncertain to reach out.
Dreading the unknown touch.

But now, it is named
and the grip has loosened.
I still cannot see my hand
in front of my face.
The darkness has depth,
    substance and weight...
    and weight.

This thick, soupy air
fills my lungs
each breath a burden
I try to resist.
No light pierces
this pit of mystery.
What is there to do?

Searching my surroundings
it feels familiar and warm.
I stretch... I breathe... I rest...
and sleep, a deep slumber.
I breathe, rest and wait.
I am one with the dark.
The dark night is me.

Now, the dawn is breaking. I can see the light that was there all the time. New paths are calling me and fresh possibilities are opening before me. The darkness of the womb gives way to birth. The cold, dark soil breaks a seed open to create new life. The darkest hour brings a stillness before the dawn breaks and the bird songs begin.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Drinks@ the well

Over the last few months, we have started a new group as part of Deep Water Dwelling. This group meets on the first Tuesday of each month at a local café or restaurant. Our first meeting began with a little hesitation as people gathered in the unknown. I shared a little about why the image of the well is important for me. Others then began to share about places they have had significant experiences. People tentatively shared stories or pulled a poem they had written from their handbag. The discussion circled from places of pilgrimage, to 'thin places', to the vastness and mystery of the Australian outback.

At our second meeting, we began with the theme 'Symbols that speak'. We discovered that some of us were more comfortable than others in thinking of our spiritual lives in symbolic terms. One person shared an image of a bowl where the crack were filled with gold. This created a great discussion about how we engage our failings and weaknesses in life. It was more obvious at our second meeting that as a group we held a diversity of understandings about life and its meaning. With our 'listen to learn' rule, however, each person was heard and their experiences valued.

Our third meeting will be held next week. Our theme for this month is 'the power of positivity'. How do we stay positive in life? What spiritual practices assist us? How do you see positivity in a spiritual way? The meeting will be held at Good Fellas Café on Bussell Highway, Margaret River at 7.30pm.

The principles of our meetings are:
* Listen to learn  - not to reply.
* Share stories and experiences to engage in the group - not to convert.
* If you think differently to someone, say "I have a different way of seeing that" - not "You're wrong"
* The group is open to all explorers - none of us have all the answers or the wisdom.

Friday 3 February 2017

Meeting at the Well

Most of the time I am extremely grateful that I can walk into my kitchen and turn on the tap. Clear, potable water pours out without much physical effort or thought on my part. My only experience of having to collect my drinking water was when we lived in Tonga. At our first house, on the island of 'Eua, we did not have a rain water tank. The water from the tap was suitable only for washing as it contained particles of coral limestone. Every second day we would walk 50 metres up the hill to our neighbour's water tank and fill a bucket with clean water. As we did our best Jack and Jill impersonation, we would often stop and chat to someone or even catch up with our neighbours through their kitchen window while the bucket filled. The act of collecting water, a basic need, was also a time of sharing, meeting and greeting.

Wells, in more ancient times, were also places of meeting. People would travel many miles to find fresh water, but would also discover new faces and fresh smiles of other travellers who had come seeking a basic need in life. There was also an element of mystery surrounding many wells. These 'magical' springs of water, that never failed to produce, were often associated with spiritual legends from the surrounding area. People would come to the well believing it was a place they could be close to the spirit world and perhaps receive healing in their life by drinking the waters.

In January, I had the privilege of visiting once such well. Chalice Well, in Glastonbury, England, is perhaps once of the oldest and most well known well in England. It is thought to be over 2000 years old. It has many legends attached to it involving King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea. People have travelled to this well for hundreds of years. People seeking healing. People longing for peace. People needing sustenance. These pilgrims have been from a myriad of spiritual traditions. The well, thankfully, has not been built over by a church or other place of worship. It is found inside a beautiful garden.

My time at Chalice Well was not long enough. I felt it was merely a prologue to a longer relationship. Even in the heart of Winter, the gardens were beautiful. It is described as a garden with many rooms, and there were many quiet nooks to be still and reflect as the water moved in different ways through the space. It was one of those places that "just felt right" for me. As I sat by the well head, I wondered about the thousands of people who had sat in the same spot. I pondered the many countries from where they came, the different ideologies about life, the range of ages and the reasons they may have come. I tried to imagine the different types of rituals, ceremonies and meditations that had taken place here. I speculated about how many lives may have been transformed in this place, how many people had gone home a different person. This was a space that did not exclude, discriminate, judge or even have the right answers. Chalice Well was just being what it had always been - a spring of living water.

What a joy it would be to be able to create a space like this for people. This year, at Deep Water Dwelling, we are going to attempt to do so. Each month we are going to gather in a local cafe or pub for Drinks @ the well. It is not a literal well, like Chalice, but a space that is similar in its inclusivity, its openness to all people and its potential for transformation. The hope is, that in meeting at "the well", we can share stories of the spiritual journey, tell of experiences that have helped us along the way and nourish each other with living water. There will be no right or wrong answers, only depth in our sharing.

Our first Drinks @ the well will be next Tuesday the 7th of February. For our first gathering, I will share more about my love for wells and where this has grown from. We will also share about those places or symbols that are important for us. The plan is for each month to have a different focus. For more information please see our Facebook page or email