Thursday 27 December 2018

Lectio divina

Lectio divina is a spiritual practice translated from the Latin as "divine reading". Originating from the third and fourth centuries, and used by monastic orders for centuries, lectio divina usually concentrates on a passage of Scripture. It is usually used in community, but can be used in individual reflection also. 

There are four movements in lectio divina. These are lectio (read or listen), 
meditatio (meditate/reflect), oratio (pray/respond) and contemplatio (rest/contemplate). These movements are experienced in many different ways today as people have adapted and kept the practice relevant. Essentially, the text is read aloud three times. Each reading takes those participating through the four movements at deeper levels each time. As I practice lectio divina, I ask myself during the first reading which word or phrase particularly grabs my attention. On the second reading, I ask myself what emotions are tied to this word or phrase. How does it speak into my life at this time? In the final reading, I ask myself what God might be inviting me to this day? What might God be saying to me through this text?

My Community Group at WCC Conference in 2004
My most memorable experience of using lectio divina in community was in Greece at the World Council of Churches Conference on Mission in 2004. Each morning we met in our community groups. People from all across the globe - different languages, different cultures, different theologies - were thrown together in small groups of about ten to engage in Bible study. You can imagine the problems that might have arisen. The process used, however, was lectio divina. No one commented on others' responses. The time was held in a prayerful way, that did not lend itself to theological debate. This practice enabled us to meet on a common ground that would have been near impossible using traditional Bible study methods.

Since this time, I have used this practice in my own personal life and in small groups. The text has not always been Scripture. Often we have reflected on a poem together (I particularly enjoy Mary Oliver) or perhaps the words of a song. The same process is used to take the participant deeper into the text. The aspect of this practice that particularly appeals to me is that it treats a text as living. Each time the text is heard there is an opportunity for it to speak freshly into our lives again. Lectio divina is not simply reading, it is a prayerful, meditative reading that invites the divine to enter the story and intertwine with ours. In this way, no two readings can ever be the same.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Sharing Mandalas

As many of you will be aware, this year I released "A Mandala a Month Workbook". I am gifting myself another copy for Christmas to work through in 2019. In many ways, this book achieved what I was hoping - except one. The inspiration for this book came from a program I ran in 2013 where people met together each month and shared their experience. A small group also registered online. These people would send in a picture of their mandala each month with a few words and I would add them to our dedicated website. It was wonderful to share with others as we worked our way through the year with our mandalas.

I was reminded of this recently, as I received an email from someone who had completed the first mandala in their book. It included a picture of the mandala they created and a reflection on the process and what it means to them. It was such a joy to receive. The importance of sharing the journey with someone was highlighted again. It is one thing to engage in spiritual practices for ourselves, but in sharing this with someone else I find the value is increased for ourselves and benefits the one with whom we share.

Please feel free to share your mandala experiences with me by emailing or if there was enough interest, I could launch a private group page where these reflections and pictures could be shared. Let me know your thoughts. 

Friday 21 December 2018

A Different Christmas

This is my first Christmas in quite some time that I am not madly preparing worship services and wondering how on earth it will all happen before the big day. I love Christmas! And, to be honest, I have been anxiously anticipating what this first year without the ties of ministry might look like for me. With only a few days to go, I have been reflecting on this different advent space. What have I enjoyed? What have I missed? How am I approaching this Christmas? And how have these differences been reflected in my spiritual journey? It has still been a little chaotic, but the fact that I have time to ask these questions is a huge difference.

Let me begin with what I haven't missed. No matter how hard I tried to be super organised while in ministry, Advent always snuck up on me. I would have these super creative ideas about how to journey through Advent or some craft activity to include in the Christmas Eve service, and would only end up cursing that pesky imagination for putting me under so much pressure at such a busy time of year. At the same time, I would preach each week about spending time, not rushing, being expectant and taking time to be still. Hypocrisy gone mad!!

This year, I don't have any services to prepare, no church to decorate, no last minute nativity costumes to whip up, no orders to print off, messages to write for local papers and the list goes on. Instead, I am helping my family get ready for Christmas. I have been out gardening each day helping my husband cram two weeks of mowing, weeding and raking into one so that he can take some time off over Christmas. I have been offering advice to my daughter who has decided to take on some baking. I am taking the learner driver out for some practice, being a taxi mum and attempting to keep on top of the washing and other chores.

We will be heading to the city to spend some time with our extended families over Christmas and I get to choose where and when I would like to attend church. I must say it is a joy not to have the same pressures of the last few years. There have been a few aspects I have missed, however. The singing is one. There is nothing that bonds people together quite like singing, particularly Christmas songs. I am hoping to make up for this a little on Christmas morning.

The other aspect I have missed is the ritual of Advent and the anticipation it brings. Most of the churches I have been involved in throughout my life have participated in an Advent candle liturgy in the four weeks leading to Christmas Day. This act, often including a song, some words and the visual of the candles being lit each week, has a way of preparing me and building the anticipation for Christmas and all the meaning it holds.

All this being said, I am still super excited about Christmas. I will probably still be up at the crack of dawn as I have been for many years now (much to my parents and now my children's disgust). Christmas has always been a time of surprises. It began with God surprising the world in the incarnation and it continues in how we find the Christ anew in the people we encounter during this special time. I was concerned that without the busyness of ministry Christmas might somehow lose its shine. Instead, I have more time to be present and just let it happen, rather than being the one who makes it happen. Happy Christmas to you all!!

Thursday 29 November 2018

What to do with darkness

What do we do about the darkness?
What do we have to change this world?
What answers?
What solutions?
What possibilities?

We use what we have to destroy.
We make weapons.
We kill. We terrorise.
We trust that violence brings peace.
But the darkness grows ever deeper.

We fear the dark and we build barriers,
to keep the darkness out.
We hate, exclude, oppress,
giving darkness a name and a face.
And the darkness grows heavier.

We reach out in compassion,
building bridges and understanding.
At times eyes meet, but often we are alone.
Standing on our half built bridge
and the dark void grows wider.

We prepare tables of hospitality
hoping places will be filled by the other.
But those who come enjoy our food,
laugh at our jokes, speak our language.
And the darkness is just outside.

What to do with the darkness?
Solutions are tiring, fleeting and fruitless.
I will build a shelter
and enter my inner room.
Let me help you build yours too.
And in our going deep,
we will find ourselves,
find meaning,
find each other.
Light and love will flow.

Friday 16 November 2018

A Tribute to Father Thomas Keating

Today, in Denver, Colorado, a large crowd will gather as many tune in from around the world to celebrate the life and legacy Father Thomas Keating. Father Keating, a Trappist monk, died at the age of 95 on October 25th after a prolonged period of ill health. He is not known particularly widely in the secular world, but to those of us who try to live in a more contemplative way, he was a guru.

Thomas Keating is renowned as a pioneer in contemplative living and a world figure in interfaith dialogue. He wrote many books and spoke to many audiences throughout his life, gaining respect as a world wide teacher. He was one of the key people involved in developing the concept of centring prayer, silent prayer centred entirely on the presence of God. In a video I have watched, Keating describes centring prayer as all about heartfulness, which is a little different to mindfulness. Some may feel this type of prayer is sitting in a void, but Keating describes it as sitting in the presence of God who is already there.

It is not surprising to me that Thomas Keating was also a lead figure in interfaith dialogue. In my experience, when we strip back the words that we have padded around our relationship with the divine to discover the centre, the essence, the core, we often find ourselves in a place of mystery and silence that opens doors and windows to speaking a different language with those who are different and other. My favourite quote of Thomas Keating's is, "Silence is God's first language. Everything else is poor translation." Silence may be peaceful, but it is also extremely powerful. Thank you Thomas Keating!

Saturday 3 November 2018

The Veil is Thin

Nathaneal's Rest - One of my thin places.
The veil is very thin. I first heard this phrase about fifteen years ago and my first recollection of relating it to my own life was a very meaningful and formational experience. It refers to the divide between the physical, earthly life and the spiritual realm. Mostly we go about our daily business in a very earthed way, unaware of what lies beyond. There are moments, however, when the mysterious otherness comes very close and we are often left in awe and wonder.

Some feel the veil is very thin at particular times of the year. The Gaelic festival of Samhain (one of the roots of Halloween) and All Souls’ Day are considered to be such times. In the Northern Hemisphere, the end of October and beginning of November mark the start of Winter and it is believed that the spirits of those who have passed away are particularly present.

Some feel there are particular places where the veil is very thin, sacred spaces where we are able to be more open and aware to what lies beyond. Thin places, they are called, places that have been known throughout the centuries to be particularly sacred or spiritual. Stone Henge, Santiago de Campostela, Uluru and Chalice Well immediately come to mind.

I believe both of these to be true, but I don’t want to limit the experience of the veil being thin to specific times and places. I had a day this week when the veil was very thin for me. Yes, it was the beginning of November, and yes, I was in a space that has been a thin place for me before. However, I’m not sure these contexts were essential to my experience.

This is not the place to share the details of what happened, in fact I am still trying to work that out myself. I will, however, try to explain the effect it had. Although I was in a group situation for most of the day and engaged fully with what was going on, somehow I found myself beyond time and place. There was a feeling, or a knowing, that stretched across distances and allowed me to feel like I was present with other people, even though I clearly couldn’t be in a physical way. There were unexplained ‘nudges’ throughout the day that seemed to let me know how things were and how to respond. I had strange emotions well up in me at times that made no sense in my physical context. Now, I am quite a logical person, but the only way I can explain this is that the veil was very thin.

Some may brush this off as coincidence or being over sensitive. There was more to this experience though. I think in today’s Western world we can be very quick to dismiss these experiences. We have been taught to consider them crazy or sinister. My hope is that others will be brave enough to share their spiritual experiences, the times when God has been very close, or when the veil is very thin. It is a vulnerable space as we risk being labelled, but in doing so we give others permission to share in the same way. My other hope is that if we are privileged to hear someone’s story about the thin times and places, that we will listen with awe and wonder rather than try to explain them away. There is much mystery in life. Let’s become more comfortable sitting with it.

Monday 29 October 2018

Questions about Spiritual Authority

Over the last month or so, my reading and writing for my PhD has centred around a theme of spiritual authority. In particular, I have begun to look closely at women of Europe in the thirteenth century to explore where their spiritual authority came from, the barriers that prevented their spiritual authority and how they managed to express their spiritual authority in this time and place. It has been interesting reading and I am not sure how I would have coped if I was in their shoes.

It has also raised a lot of questions that can be asked in any time and place. Where does spiritual authority come from? What causes us to give others authority in our life? How much is spiritual authority external to ourselves and can it be internal? Do we doubt our own spiritual authority and is it even real?

In ministry, I was very aware of the spiritual authority people gave me. From time to time someone would come to chat about an issue in their life. I would listen attentively, offering support where possible, and then the question would come. 'What do you think I should do, Cathie?' I always resisted providing an answer, as I am a great believer that each person has within them the capacity to discern and find a way for their own life. My approach was to ask more questions to help facilitate this process. I did, however, find it a little disturbing that someone might trust my opinion and act upon it simply because of my position and the perceived authority given it. I have heard many stories of church leaders offering their wisdom to their parishioners and it being taken as gospel. I am aware, in an age of uncertainty, this may be comforting, but can also see the huge potential for abuse.
Lovelace from Happy Feet comes to mind!!

In saying this, I know in my own life, that some people hold more spiritual authority for me than others. In my recent decisions and discernment, many people have had something to say about my choices; sometimes positive, sometimes more sceptical. For me, these comments have held differing weight. Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with a person I greatly admire. The way they conduct their life, their 'being', their relationships have been an inspiration to me over the years. You could say I have placed much spiritual authority in this person. The words spoken during our recent conversation were weighty and important to me.

So, arising from my own experience and my reading of women in the thirteenth century, I wonder what it takes for us to trust our own inner authority? How do we recognise and know God working in our lives? Other people do play a role in our discernment. How do we decide who to trust?

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Need an excuse to be still?

I just sat for twenty minutes in silence and stillness in my garden and the time passed quickly and I don't feel guilty. Can't find the time to meditate? Feel guilty if you spend a few moments for yourself? Is your mind always thinking about the next thing that needs doing? Well, I may have a solution for you - for this week at least.

This week is the Aussie Backyard Bird Count and I thought I would get involved. There's an app for it that you can download for free. It times you for twenty minutes, while you sit in your garden and watch for birds. You record the birds that you see on the app. It even helps you identify them, if you are not a bird expert (I was very grateful for this). It is super easy to use and you are doing your little bit for science.

I don't find it hard to meditate or sit still for a period of time, but I know others do. This was such a simple, meditative act, but I can see for a more task-oriented person, it would be one way to slow down and feel like there was a purpose to it. As I sat, I became very aware of every flit and flutter around me. I noticed how quickly birds move, how many fly overhead and how noisy they can be. My eyes were opened, not only to the activity of the birds, but to my own presence in the garden. 

When the timer stopped and I was prompted to submit my results, I was surprised how the twenty minutes had passed so quickly. The dishwasher was still waiting to be unpacked, the emails were still there to be answered, the to-do list hadn't gone anywhere and life continued. I wonder if I do this every day this week, if it could become a habit? We shouldn't need the excuse of an app or a project in which to contribute to see the benefit of the quiet, still moments. Sometimes, however, we need to experience something before we are convinced.

I hope that some of you Aussie readers might find twenty minutes to sit in your garden this week and perhaps it could become a regular thing.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Beyond "Us" and "Them"?

Too many things!!! There is a lot to get angry about in the news at the moment. Domestic violence, atrocious treatment of refugees in detention, discrimination of LGBTIQ people in our schools, the #metoo campaign and the list goes on. I try not to read too many of the comments on social media, as this only fuels my despair and rage.

I must say, that it is not only the injustice of these situations that makes my blood boil, but a deeper sense of disturbance. I have read enough and lived enough to know that our natural tendency as humans is to find a tribe, a place to belong. I do feel, however, that there is a rise in dualism and tribalism. There is much uncertainty in our society and what better way to feel safe and secure than find a group we identify with and who will watch our back. When we can identify who the "us" and the "them" are, we know where we fit, we know where we belong.

People who are passionate about a cause will naturally band together to try and make a difference. Be it exposing violence against women, protecting religious freedoms, advocating for LGBTIQ people, enforcing border control, showing compassion for refugees; whenever a "tribe" is formed there is the potential to fall into an "us" and "them" mentality. Groups and movements fighting for a cause, can quickly become an angry mob defending their patch.

Now, don't get me wrong, there is an integral place for coming together to support a cause, for advocacy of the vulnerable in our community and getting angry at the injustice in our world. I do feel, however, that when we take our eyes of that focus, and it becomes more about protecting the group, perhaps we fall into the trap of stroking the communal ego rather than living out our true purpose.

My hope in all of this is that we can find another way; a way that is embedded in love and doesn't react out of our own fears. I don't anticipate it is an easy way. There will always be conflict and differing opinions. I often wonder if it is possible, in our humanity, to find a way that does not divide. But what would it look like to live within the paradox of life, navigating our way through the joy and suffering of differences without resorting to violence and devaluing of the other? Maybe I am just imagining utopian dreams, but I do have a hope that we are better than this.

The closest I have come to even touching this possibility is through living a contemplative life. Through stillness, silence and being present, I find myself in the best possible position to live an authentic life centred on the Ground of our Being. As James Finley said, "I cannot make moments of nondual consciousness happen. I can only assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by grace." 

Saturday 6 October 2018

Sing like never before

My introduction to up-front ministry and worship leading came some 30 years ago. Our congregation, at the time, was mostly singing from the one hymn book and a small group of us had learnt some new songs at church camps. We asked the minister if we could teach some to the congregation, and so began our music group. It began modestly with a keyboard, guitar, clarinet and myself singing. 

Song has always been a large part of my faith journey. As a youngster, I watched my parents throw themselves into the annual Sunday School anniversary production, my dad often taking on lead roles. I was in a Junior Choir that practiced before church and often performed pieces as part of worship. When we left that church to emigrate to Australia, the one gift I remember was the cassette tape of the congregation singing our favourite hymns and songs.

Music has been integral to how I express and understand my faith journey throughout the years. I must admit, however, that in the last decade or so, as my understanding of God and faith have changed, worship songs have become a difficulty for me. Many of the old favourites I used to sing with gusto, I find hard to stomach now. The lyrics grate and use language that is no longer part of my vocabulary in expressing my own faith. Choosing hymns each week became a constant battle. Can I, with integrity, sing this song now? But what about the people? They love this one.

I no longer lead singing from the front. Life has lead me in different directions with how I serve, but I was taken back to my love for singing during the week. On Thursday, I was at the Dayspring teaching day and one of the students led our morning prayer with a song. It is one some of you may know, "10 000 Reasons", written by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin. Its a song I have experienced a few times in worship, and I actually find the words unifying. I can sing this song! It has a great melody. My more Pentecostal, evangelical friends seem to love it and I can sing the lyrics without cringing.

As it was played to us, we were invited to join in. We are only a small group of about 15, and I found that my familiarity with the song and confidence in singing took me back to those days of standing up the front leading. Although I have sung this song a few times before, one line struck me that morning. "Sing like never before, O my soul". It immediately took me to all those Psalms that start with "sing to God a new song" (Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, 144). As I stood there singing, being drawn back to experiences of 30 years before, I reflected on how far the journey had taken me. I reflected on the "song" I was singing now. This new song has found a new life in me, a new joy, a new melody. I am finding a voice, rediscovering words and music notes that have been waiting beneath the surface. It is like a "waking up". And so, as I sang those words, "sing like never before", I actually felt that was happening. This is a new song, that has never been sung.

Sunday 30 September 2018

An act of blessing

Ava - our little, anti-social blessing!!
A lot of my Facebook feed over the last few weeks has consisted of various colleagues conducting Blessing of the Animals services and ceremonies in their communities. It is Spring here in Australia, the perfect time to bring out your cats, dogs, chickens and goldfish and cause a raucous in a local park or the church grounds. Don't get me wrong - I love animals and my reaction is out of jealousy. My own gorgeous pup is so anxious that taking her along to such an event would soon resemble some strange scene of animal sacrifice. Therefore, my inability to take my own beloved pet along causes me to avoid such events.

But what is it that we feel we are doing by blessing our pets? The word blessing is thrown around a lot today. "It has been such a blessing to spend today with you." "The new baby is such a blessing." "What a blessing to be in this place!" Some people sign off their emails or letters with Blessings... Those of us who have connections to some church or faith community will have another understanding that is to do with the words that are said over people or sacramental elements at various times during worship.

This pondering reminded me of a retreat day I attended in 2012. The facilitators were Jeff and Caryl Creswell from Parker Palmer's Center for Courage and Renewal. The theme they chose for the day was blessing. We talked about the etymology of the word that day, and perhaps the various meanings are part of the misunderstanding of the word. One origin of the word, from Old English bledsiad, means "to sanctify or consecrate with blood". This imagery, that is vitally connected to the life force of ancient traditions, implies invoking divine favour upon someone or something. I hear a lot of people use blessing in this way. Sometimes, it is inferred that a blessing is a reward for good and faithful service.

Another root of the word blessing comes from the Latin verb benedicere, which means "to speak well of". In these terms, to bless someone is to speak well of him or her. Ron Rolheiser, in his book 'Against an Infinite Horizon', takes this a little further saying:
          "To bless someone is, through some word, gesture or ritual, to make that person aware of three things:
* the goodness of the original creation where God said that it was 'good, very good'
* that God experiences the same delight and pleasure in him or her that God experienced with Jesus at his baptism when he said: 'This is my beloved child in whim I take delight'.
* that we who are giving the blessing, recognize that goodness and take that delight in the other person."

If we take this definition of 'blessing', it is not about whether the person deserves it or not, or even if the person giving has the right credentials. This understanding of 'blessing' acknowledges the wonder of each and every creation and the goodness inherent within. In a world that it so quick to let us know if we are other, not enough, not deserving - we could do with a culture of those who can learn to bless. If it is good enough for our pets, it is good enough for us. We don't need to create some special annual service to share this blessing. It is an every day thing. It is contagious. It is simple. It is unique to each of us, but it takes practice to go against the flow of the world. 

Blessings to you this day!
May you know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
May you know that you are loved.
May you be a delight and be delighted.

Thursday 20 September 2018

The Borderlands

I often spend a lot of time debating what I should share on this blog. There are safe topics that require little thought, but have less impact on people. It is usually the ones where I feel a little vulnerable that seem to speak more to people and I receive emails and messages telling me so. I have been sitting on this one for a few weeks now, wondering how willing I am to share this with the world. Some reading I was doing yesterday convinced me to take the risk.

Three weeks ago, I was in Canberra for the AECSD (Australian Ecumenical Council of Spiritual Directors) Conference. The theme was Spiritual Direction on the Borderlands and the sessions were led by Alan and Robyn Cadwallader. The sessions were challenging, contemplative, provocative, affirming and disturbing - in other words great!! Throughout the few days together we explored different images rising from scripture and contemporary life to reflect on what it means to dwell in the borderlands. I found the stories met mine on a personal level, a spiritual direction practice level and a community level.

In a personal way, the theme brought to life many feelings from the last few years. Some of you will be aware that during my discernment in this time a short passage of scripture was very significant. It was a little story about the healing of a blind man (Mark 8: 22-26). This is a story about going out to the borderlands to be healed. Here is my reflection from my weekend in Canberra that arises from this story, my story and the stories heard during the conference.

The Borderlands

You saw it
long before I
the loose threads
the coming undone
the falling apart.
Symbols from the AECSD conference

You knew what
I could never see
while caught in the midst
entangled, enmeshed
propped up by the need
held together by the pressure.

You called me out
to meet at the fringe
beyond the safety of walls
and with each step
my life fell around me
in tatters it fell
and all light fell dark.

I felt I had died
my eyes were blind
my tongue could not speak
my heartbeat had stopped
yet I was strangely alive.

You remained close
with each breath
I sensed you near
a real presence
could hear the spit
the rubbing of hands
smearing blind eyes.

You asked
what I saw
and though
the scene was hazy
with shaking voice
I spoke a truth
I was yet to understand.

You waited as
the dawn broke
the sun exposed
the nakedness
as the last threads
spilled to the ground.

You said
go home, but remain
outside the walls
in the borderlands
and I will be there.

I said nothing
for to be home
was enough.
Tomorrow, I speak.

Friday 7 September 2018

A Busy Labyrinth

I have a bit of a love/ hate thing happening  with public labyrinths. I love the fact that they are in public and accessible to anyone who happens to be passing. I love that it is bringing an ancient spiritual tool into the here and now, giving people the opportunity to take some space in the midst of everyday life. I love that the secular community is embracing more spiritual ideas and seeing the value of including such things as labyrinths in public spaces.

The bits I struggle with are completely selfish. They have everything to do with my own desire for some peace and quiet and to have a meaningful experience of walking the labyrinth. Many people have no idea about the significance of labyrinths, observing it as a nice pattern in the paving or concrete. Many people do not have a sense of holding a sacred space or recognising that they may be part of someone else's at a particular time. 

These conflicting ideas were brought to light last weekend. While in Canberra for a conference, I was invited to travel with two people in to the National Arboretum where a labyrinth had recently been installed. I was keen to go on the adventure and so tagged along. We found the labyrinth as part of a series of small gardens. It was in a very open space, with a stunning view across Canberra. 

When we arrived, there were two mums with their four young children using the labyrinth as a soccer pitch. There was much laughter and squealing. As you can imagine, this fed straight into my dislike for public labyrinths. As we approached, read the plaque about the use of the labyrinth and made our way to begin walking, I was pleasantly surprised. Call it good timing or, perhaps, a sense of the sacred, the mums gathered up their children and moved to the next garden space. It didn't happen in a hurry, or in a way that felt we had ruined their use of the space, but it left us with the ability to walk without dodging toddlers and soccer balls.

As the three of us walked the circular path slowly, we caught the attention of other visitors nearby. Some came closer, read the plaque and joined us on the walk. I wonder if they might have just walked by if it wasn't for us walking with intent? It was Fathers' Day, and a dad with his two preteen girls came and started walking. Actually, that is not quite true - the girls were power walking, racing each other. An elderly couple came and sat and watched us walking.

One of the girls called out to her dad (who was walking slowly and reflectively), "Dad. what's the point to this? There are no choices. No challenges." 
He looked up and smiled at her, "I think you've missed the point."
"Dad, lets go to the playground over there."
"You go," he said, "I'm going to finish walking."
He seemed to walk out of the labyrinth with a different gait, a different outlook.

As he left, the older couple joined us in the labyrinth. They walked with a certain curiosity and intrigue as to what this might mean. They were unsure what to do when they met me on the narrow path coming the other direction. Our eyes met and we smiled as I stepped aside for them to pass.

It was certainly not a quiet, reflective experience walking that labyrinth. It was, however, still transformative. It taught me something about my own bias and need to retreat, but also led me to appreciate the great need in our society for bringing the sacred places closer to the people.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

On anniversaries and ordination

One thing I love about Facebook are the memories that remind you of what you were up to a year ago, 4 years ago and even nine years. Today, I was reminded that nine years ago was my day of ordination. We've had a bit of fun this morning looking back at the photos. The kids are all so little, and some important people were not even born. There are others who are no longer with us and some I have lost contact with over the years.

I have been reflecting on how much has changed since that day. Naively, I went into that day feeling the world had all been sorted out. This was my destiny, my calling, my career path mapped out. It felt complete, settled and sealed with a rubber stamp. A lot has happened since then. Many things have changed in myself and around me. But some things have stayed the same.

My ordination stole, that was lovingly made for me, still holds the same significance (perhaps even more now). The dancing flames, flickering with fragility and vulnerability, so perfectly sum up how I feel about my spiritual journey in this world. This image has shaped and grown with me over the years. Looking at the photos, and the people I chose to involve in the service, many are still very important people in my life; fellow travellers who have walked many a rocky path with me. Some of them would cringe at how highly I hold them; true mentors and close friends.

But some things have changed. I no longer see this journey as a fait accompli. I still know that my life has been "set apart" (the meaning of 'ordain') to work towards God in myself and with others. I made promises on that day, of which I still hold sacred and dear. However, the way I am living that out now is far from what I would have imagined in 2009. The last nine years has taught me that discernment is a continual process. If I ever think "I have made it", now I am suspicious and wait for what is around the corner. I wonder what I will be doing next year, when I celebrate the 10th anniversary?

Thursday 23 August 2018

Crimson Labyrinth

A reflection from walking a labyrinth I have walked many times before and seeing it with new eyes.

Crimson Labyrinth

A deep breath
I prepare to walk this path
wandered so many times before
I shift my gaze from my ready shoes
to the weaving way ahead.
You are on fire!
The scarlet entrance draws me in
an inviting warmth
In the twists and turns
I notice your crimson flame
at every step.
In bursts of colour
and insignificantly tiny berries
Has this labyrinth ever been so alive?
Even when I peer down 
to the leaf littered path
with its browns and greys
my ruby rose shoes
take another step towards home
a place within
full of passion
of warmth
of fire burning bright.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

The Trapeze of Life

At the recent Supervision course that I attended, we ended each day listening to some sort of reflection and journaling about how this related to our own life and what we were learning in the course. One evening, the reflection was from the book "Warriors of the Heart" by Danaan Parry. The whole piece is too long to share here, but I will choose an excerpt.

"Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I'm hurtling across space in between bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze bar of the moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I'm in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I'm merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present well known bar to move to the next one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won't have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn't matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives."

The reflection went on further and, when it ended, I found myself thinking, I know that space. I know what it is to fly in that void and wonder where the next bar might come from. It is a place of fear, of uncertainty, but also a space of exhilaration. I  must say though, it is not a place I want to be in often. I am very happy to be holding on to this bar for a while at least.

This space between bars, however, is the place of change and transformation. Transitions are often accompanied by feelings of being out of control, but are often the most growth-filled and expansive moments. As the reflection concluded, "Hurling through the void, we may just learn to fly."

Wednesday 8 August 2018

The Moon

I am not sure if someone told me this, or as a youngster I made it up as a point of comfort, but whenever I looked at a crescent moon I imagined those I loved who had died resting in it's cradle. It was a place far away, but at times seemingly so close. In many ways it was my first experience of the veil between this earth and what lies beyond being very thin. 

Recently, I was listening again to one of my favourite singer/songwriters, Kendall Payne. She is not a favourite for her musicality or her incredible success or fame, but more for how her lyrics affect me. As I listen to some of her songs, I wonder if she has secretly been watching aspects of my life for the last few decades. The way she uses words and imagery somehow connect with me at a deeper level.

In the car, on my way to Perth last week, I listened once again to her album "Grown". I don't listen to this one as often as her others and so noticed a song that I have heard so many times, but not really listened to. It is titled "The Moon". Here are the lyrics.

The moon's worn thin
Succumbed to the pressure
Her silver dress
Hangs in the sky like a rag

Her coat, her cloak
Her cover of darkness
It fails to hide the tears that she's cried
Oh she cries

But she still shines
Though the night falls around her
And by her light
I find my way
When I fear the path laid before me
I look to the light of her face
And thank her for being so brave

The moon remains
In fullness or frailty
A faithful climb
And I stand amazed at the way

Now I have no way of knowing what was happening for Kendall when she wrote this song, but somehow the words spoke right into my life. As a child, when I looked at the moon it held my grief and my uncertainties with a kind of gentleness, yet fragility, that seemed real. I remember many car rides home at night where I would stare out the window soaking in the comfort of the crescent moon. This image still has meaning, but as an adult I know I need to find that place within now. Perhaps, it was always within. 

As I emerge from a time in my life that has felt like a time of darkness and grief in many ways, I can relate to this image of the moon being a holding place within me. It is a place that shines despite the darkness. It is a brave space in its fullness and frailty. It is a place I can return to time and again to find my strength and find my way. It is a place that reflect the light that is constant and unending. So perhaps, when I look up at the moon now, it won't seem so far away, but will be as close as the breath within me.