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.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Spiritual Autobiography

On Thursday, I will be leading the current participants of the Dayspring Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction in a morning exploring the topic of spiritual autobiography and its relevance in their role as spiritual directors. In preparation, I have reflected on some of the spiritual autobiographies I have learnt from in my journey. These have come in many different forms; books, movies, poetry, songs, artwork. 

This process has highlighted once again for me the importance of sharing stories; listening to stories of others and having our own heard. Without giving too much away about my plans, let me tell you how I plan to start the session. I am going to read the group a beautiful picture book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce. This is such a fabulous story that speaks of the healing and restorative nature of stories. The animated film version of this story can be viewed here.

Stories hold power. They hold power for us, as the storyteller, and for those with whom we share. On Thursday, I will be encouraging the group to find creative ways to express their own story of their spiritual journey in order that they may be able to invite others to do likewise. How do you find ways of sharing your own story with others? How do you create opportunities to listen to the stories of others? I am convinced that the sharing of our stories, simple as this may seem, is the foundation needed for building understanding and breaking down barriers of difference and discrimination.


Friday, 20 July 2018

Lessons from Living in Limbo

As many of you know, I have recently returned home from attending the Uniting Church Assembly. In many ways, it is like a big reunion. During lunches and break times, I brushed shoulders with many people I have met at various national events over many years. Inevitably, the discussion always comes back around to one question, "What are you up to these days?". I must say, I got a little bit tired of answering this question. My hope had been to attend Assembly with a clear and concise answer, but instead it always turned into a longwinded explanation of this time I have aptly named 'limbo'.

In the last few days, the situation has changed and there is now more clarity about the path ahead. I have been offered a scholarship which makes it possible for me to proceed with my PhD studies, at least for now. To say I am excited about this development is an understatement. I will have a very busy six months ahead of me, but I am looking forward to asking some big questions and reading and exploring my area of interest.

This time of limbo has lasted almost three months. There have been moments where I have been disgruntled and impatient, but overall this has been a time of great learning. I feel I could possibly write a whole book about these lessons, but for now I will offer them in this simple way.

1. A path will appear when you step forwards.
Leunig Cartoon
There have been many times in the last year and a half where I have felt completely foolish. Others have been a little kinder in the way they have put it, but I can tell that what is going through their minds is, 'Are you insane?' The truth of it is, that until I chose to take what seemed like a ridiculous step, I had no idea what other doors would begin to open. It really did feel like that scene from Indiana Jones where he takes a step of faith into what seemed like an abyss of nothingness. So, I guess, the lesson has been - sometimes you just have to take that first step before the path will begin to unravel in front of you.

2. Spend time with the people whom you can be most real. 
There have been some very vulnerable times throughout this period; times when the comments and helpful suggestion of others have weighed heavier than usual. During this time, it has been particularly important to have people around me who truly know me. For some, this might include a range of people to choose from, but for me it was only a few valued and trusted people who have been with me on the journey for many years. These are the people whose only hidden agenda was my happiness and wellbeing. These are the people who were honest with me and could see the risk was worth taking. As the Rumi quote says, "Be with those who help your being".

3. Confront your doubts about yourself.
Doubts have not been in short supply these last 18 months. Who am I to think that I could actually tackle a PhD? What, of value, do I have to say anyway? Are you just running away from what seems too hard? Am I being selfish? Am I being irresponsible? What makes you think you will be happier following this path? What happened to your original call to ministry? What if you fail? This is ridiculous! Who do you think you are? Many of these doubts have arisen out of my own inadequacies. Some have come to the fore from the reactions of others. As these questions and inadequacies have gained strength, the only way I have managed to deal with them is by finding another voice to confront them. Perhaps I have a different voice to add to the conversation. So what if I fail? I can do this. I'll never know until I give it a shot. This has taken place like a never-ending, inner battle. The battle has sometimes seemed futile, the wounded scattered here and there. As much as I support a non-violent way of living, this was a battle that needed to happen. If not, I would have given up on myself months ago.

4. Bring yourself to the task.
Another aspect of self doubt that has crept up over and over is my own observation that I don't look or behave like an academic. I have to keep reminding myself of the meaning of 'big words', I can sometimes take a while to digest something I have read, I loathe writing bibliographies. Surely this is not a good start for someone attempting a PhD? In speaking with someone only a few days ago, I was encouraged to think differently. What if bringing my more contemplative way of life to this project was just what it needed? I was reminded of another time in my life, when I was filling in for someone else's role. That person was very different to me and I felt inadequate to fill their shoes. I was reminded in this instance that no one had asked me to be them, they asked me for who I was. I need to lay aside all my preconceptions and simply bring myself to the task.

State Library of Victoria - The Dome
And so, here I am about to embark on a different way of life. In the waiting, I have had a strange peace in the uncertainty. It feels like a time I needed to endure in order to learn some lessons that hopefully will hold me in good stead as I begin this journey. I am sure there will be plenty more times of doubt and questioning in the years to come, but I have some ideas how to face them now. These lessons have been learnt in remaining present, taking time to be grounded and spending time in quiet and stillness. This is who I am. This is what I bring. And I look forward to seeing how the path with unfold before me.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

What we do with the space that divides us.


I am currently in Melbourne recuperating after the Uniting Church Assembly meeting and hopefully finding some clarity for what lies ahead in my own personal life. This morning I went walking. I travelled around the perimeter of many of the colleges of the University of Melbourne. Each one has a fence separating it from the road and each is very different. Some are high and ornate, but still allowing the passer by to see the majestic buildings beyond. Others are lower, giving you a clear view. There were two, in particular, that caught my attention.

The first had well developed, bushy trees growing on the other side. These trees, some time ago, had stretched out their branches and become entangled in the fence, weaving themselves through it. Some time later, an astute gardener had noticed this and, in anticipating a nightmare job further down the track, decided to cut away those branches that were now part of the fence. This act of pruning remains obvious. The trees are pruned hard away from the barrier, while smaller pieces of dead wood form a strange artwork weaving through the fence.



In contrast, a little further on, another college has deliberately grown a plant through the fence. The fence itself is hardly visible, while the tendrils have woven in and out of the structure creating a living boundary. I even watched one young man, coming from the other direction, gently run his hand all the way along the top of it. As he passed, I decided to find out for myself what it felt like. It was a lot softer than it looked and almost tickled your hand.

Away from the demands of everyday life, I was able to be particularly present in these moments and it has caused me to reflect on what we do with those spaces that separate us from one another. They are not easy spaces to inhabit, and dare I say, in some circumstances impossible. But where we are able to meet and examine what separates us or keeps us apart, we are given a choice. We can prune hard, ensuring that we stay well away from the boundary, lest we should meet and influence each other. Or we can find some sort of life, which may look messy to begin with, but eventually overshadows that which divided in the first place.

I am proud to say that the church I belong to has chosen the latter in the last week. We now inhabit a space where most people, in differing ways, will hold some level of discomfort, but we have made the choice to move forward in life and hope. In my view, this is a more contemplative space where we are more able to live with the paradox that life brings. Who knows how it will look in years to come? But I am glad we did not decide to leave the dead wood hanging from the fence.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Getting Earthy, Staying Grounded

In the last few weeks, I have spent many days being my husband's sidekick in his gardening business. I have gathered sticks, pruned plants, weeded, raked leaves, driven a ride on mower, filled many trailers loads with branches and found muscles I didn't realise I had. I have worked in the rain, made friends with dogs and visited beautiful parts of where I live that I didn't know were there.



Before I finished up my ministry placement, I viewed the possibility of working with Guy as a needed financial arrangement. I now see it quite differently. I hadn't realised how removed I had become from the earth. Yes, I did spend time in my own garden when time allowed, but there is something profound about getting your hands dirty, feeling the wind on your face and getting soaked through for more than a few hours. It is a very spiritual experience.

Feeling the earth between your fingers, cutting away dead wood to make way for new life and nursing the scratches and bruises that hold those experiences for longer has a way of grounding me that I need so desperately at the moment. In the other people's gardens, the ego is somehow stripped away and I am left with just me, the earth and the ground of my being (and Guy, of course). With all the talk of spiritual practices and getting the right balance, it seems to me that we may have overcomplicated things. Getting back to the earth has helped me to stay centred and grounded during this time of uncertainty.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Stations of the Soul

Last year I was fortunate to receive, as a gift from my family, the beautiful prints of George Trippe's Stations of the Soul. George created these ten art works from his reflections on the spiritual life. Each one is full of meaning and contains thought provoking words for reflection. 

I am keen to share these stations with others. My thought is that we could have an open door for a period of two hours. During this time, people would be welcomed to come and engage with the stations. This would occur in a contemplative manner, with quiet music, the opportunity to light a candle and respond to each of the artworks in turn.

If you would like to host a Stations of the Soul evening, please get in touch with me for further details. I am looking forward to how they will have an impact on those who choose to engage.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Incredibly Blessed

Yesterday, I had the privilege of conducting a memorial service for a truly extraordinary lady. It was not her life achievements, or her public profile, or even her acts of service that made her extraordinary - it was her humble and grateful way of living. This woman suffered with poor health in her later years, bringing exhaustion, frustration and a loss of independence. Despite all of this, each and every time I visited her over the last five years or so, she would tell me, "I am incredibly blessed, Cathie." As she sat in the hospital chair, unable to support her own body weight, carrying the pain and hurt of her life, the first thing on her lips was gratitude for her family and the life she had led.

It is a choice to live this way. Some may call it a "Pollyanna" way of life and dismiss it as unrealistic. But seeing how it brought joy and peace to this woman's life, I see it as admirable. Robb Hillman, a life coach, once said, "I don't think Pollyanna was simple and na├»ve to reality. I think she was a badass who bent reality to her will. Optimism isn't lazy, it is a fierce battle of consciously choosing the perspective that best serves you". Living a life of gratitude, counting your blessings each day and finding the good in things is hard work. 

In today's world, we need people who will not fall prey to playing the victim. We need people who will see the good in our world and talk openly about it. We need people whose hearts are not hardened by the hate and fear in our societies. And more than anything, we need people who have hope. I certainly know that this is what I want in my life. Goodness knows, there is enough negativity and bad news around us to last a lifetime. 

There is a book on my "to read" list on this very subject, Diana Butler Bass' "Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks". One of the quotes I have read from this book is, "Gratitude is not about stuff. Gratitude is the emotional response to the surprise of our very existence, to sensing that inner light and realising the astonishing sacred, social and scientific events that brought each one of us into being. We cry out like the psalmist, 'I am fearfully and wonderfully made!'"

And so, today, I want to give thanks for the life of Belle that was fearfully and wonderfully made and hope and pray that her inspiration will help me to find that inner light that keeps me counting my blessings and remaining grateful.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Mandala Workshop - Perth

On Friday 3rd August, I will be holding a mandala workshop in Perth. The workshop will be more than simply an introduction to mandalas. We will explore together how they can be used as a spiritual tool in our own personal lives and how they could be used in the faith communities and groups to which we belong. 

The workshop will commence with a presentation and discussion, followed by a time of meditation and creation of a mandala. We will conclude the evening with some sharing time about the process. Supper will be available during the workshop and all materials will be provided. The cost of the workshop is $30 per person. Registrations are essential as places are limited. To register, please email deepwaterdwelling@gmail.com and payment details will be provided.

I will also have copies of my new book "A Mandala a Month Workbook" available on the evening. If you would like to pre-order one before the night this can be arranged. The workshop is at Noranda Uniting Church, Camboon Road, from 7-9.30pm on Friday the 3rd of August. Look forward to seeing you there!!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Mandala Book Available

Over the years, while running mandala workshops many people have asked about resources to continue learning and engaging with mandalas. Mandala colouring books are readily available and there are a few books that provide information about mandalas in general. I saw the possibility of producing a workbook that would guide people in creating their own mandalas, whilst learning more about their use in a variety of traditions and disciplines. 


A number of months ago, I began compiling the resources I had developed for Mandala a Month in 2013 and adding to them. I took the time to create a fineline mandala for each theme. I took the plunge in submitting this material to be considered for publication. I was absolutely staggered when I was informed that they would be very interested. Well, I am very happy to say that the book is now available.

The workbook contains twelve chapters, one for each month of the year. They do not have to be started at the beginning of the year, but take the participant on a journey through a whole year. Each chapter contains introductory material which outlines one aspect of the use of mandalas, followed by a meditation on the theme. These meditations are also found in the form of an enclosed CD. These meditations are accompanied by the beautiful music of Cath Connelly on the Celtic Harp. There is a space for people to create their own mandala and a fineline mandala for colouring.

The workbook emphasises the use of mandalas as a spiritual practice and the format encourages regular use throughout the year. The book is available from Mediacom for $32.75. I will also have copies available at mandala workshops in the future.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Women's Weekend Away

Yesterday, I returned from a fantastic weekend away with 30 women from around Perth and beyond. The Women's Weekend Away is an annual event that has been happening for a number of years now. I was first asked to facilitate the weekend in 2007 and was invited back this year.




The weekend was held at the Swan Valley Adventure Centre and the theme I chose this time was Meeting the Mystics: Meeting Me. The weekend began on Friday evening with establishing our groups and introductions. We then began exploring mysticism and the characteristics of mystics. The hope was to debunk some myths about these words and prevent anyone running away in fear over night.

The women all returned on the Saturday morning to begin exploring four women mystics through history. Our first was Teresa of Avila and her interior castle. The women were able to reflect on their own spiritual journey in light of what we learned from Teresa's works. After morning tea, we spent some time with Julian of Norwich and her reflection on a hazelnut. After some personal quiet time, we shared in groups about our experience.

Following lunch, we met Hildegaard of Bingen. While
listening to some of her music, we created mandalas and walked in nature between the showers of rain. The evening was a little more lighthearted as we met Theres of Lisieux. As we explored her "Little Way" we practiced seeing the world as a child with much laughter and fun.


What would it mean for us to see ourselves as mystics, that is, those who have known a real and authentic experience of the Divine? It was such a privilege to hear the stories and experiences of some of the women throughout the weekend. Some of these were painful, sharing of times when their experiences had been dismissed or devalued. Others shared their stories of God's presence in their life for the first time. There were tears, laughter, blossoming and opening up. 

If you are interested in holding this retreat theme with your group, please get in contact and we can talk about the possibilities. It would be wonderful to share it with another group.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

O, Exquisite Risk!

On a dark night
inflamed by love-longing-
O, exquisite risk! -
Undetected, I slipped away,
My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise -
O, exquisite risk! -
Concealed by the darkness,
My house, at last, grown still.


These words are from 500 years ago from the pen of St John of the Cross. They are taken from the poem later titled, 'The Dark Night of the Soul'. Recently, I watched a recording of Mirabai Starr reading these words as part of her talk at the Spiritual Directors International Conference, firstly in the original Spanish followed by the English translation. After the sheer beauty of how she read it, Mirabai continued explaining that this is precisely to what we are called. 

Mirabai was sharing her vision of the new wave of spiritual leadership in the world. She described it as less hierarchical and more relational, inclusive, feminine, embodied and creative. According to Mirabai, this is not a new structure ready for us to step into, but a great unknown. The 'exquisite risk' is calling us to not know and to drop into this space of mystery. This place was described as an arid landscape where all are conceptual constructs come undone. It is an ambiguous space of radical unknowingness. 

In a world where some people are seeking black and white truths that emerge from more authoritarian leadership, I feel the challenge to fall into a more vulnerable space that is more disruptive and uncomfortable. This is a place of yearning and longing, where hearts can be broken and held in loving kindness. It is a place of unknowing and uncertainty. It is a space of exquisite risk, where my house, at last grows still.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Untangling from the role

Some of you may recall, while travelling to the UK a year and a half ago, I travelled with a question. "Who am I, if I am not a minister?" Since finishing my placement two weeks ago, this question has come back to me in unexpected ways. I anticipated the boundaries being a little blurred, as I would remain in the community rather than moving on to some place else. I knew I would have to be clear about what I would be willing to do and not do. But I didn't expect it to be such a catalyst for self reflection.

There have been small, perhaps insignificant 'loose ends' to deal with over the last couple of weeks. Requests for little pieces of information, or phone calls from people unaware I have moved on. All of this was to be expected, I guess, and would ease off after a few weeks. But there are other aspects more difficult to simply walk away from. In my last week, a lovely lady from one of my congregations deteriorated quite rapidly. I made a decision to continue to walk with this lady to the end and have continued to visit her. 

Much more difficult, however, has been my response to a horrific tragedy in our community this week. I don't want to comment on the situation itself. There are no words that could capture the sorrow and grief of the community, particularly those closer to the people involved. My email inbox, Facebook messages and texts have been full of people thinking of us from afar or co-ordinating support services close by. 

All my natural instincts would have me jumping in, attending meetings, organising responses and caring for people. Of course, it has also been easy for people to turn to me as I am still part of the community. This has raised many questions. What makes me want to jump in? Is it a need to be needed? Is it about being valued? Who am I in this community if I am not in the role of minister? How do I just be me in this community? How do I be within this situation without finding something to do?

These are questions that may have taken a few months to emerge otherwise, but the circumstances have forced me to take time to reflect now. The untangling from the role of minister is happening rapidly, a bit like a bandaid being ripped off. It feels a little like a stripping back to discover who I am under all the layers of what used to be my role. 



Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Autumn Leaves (and other endings)

Yesterday, I drove to Bunbury to attend a Quiet Day. About a month ago, I saw the day advertised and recall thinking how fortuitous it was to be on that particular date as I wrote it in permanent ink in my diary. Knowing myself a little too well, I was aware that if I did not do something like this soon after completing my placement, I would rush straight into the busyness I would create. Sure enough, yesterday morning, many other things seemed more appealing than driving to Bunbury.

It was an important day to reflect on this in between space in which I find myself. We were given the seasonal readings to ponder on, and it struck me that we are in that in between time, after Easter and before Pentecost. I then walked outside for a while and was captured by the autumn leaves on the ground. Creation is in that in between phase also, summer has ended and winter hasn't quite begun. I gathered some of what I found on the ground, tried to capture the colour in a mandala, and wrote these words.

Autumn Leaves

Crimson and amber
tongues of fire
layer the ground
like an earthy Pentecost.
Dry and crisp
spent and worn
from the journey
but here they lie
detached
from where they once
soaked in the sun.
Transformed in the falling
transfigured in the breeze.
Sweep them together
as one
let them be beds
where children 
play and fall.
Leave them to decay
and may the seeds
among them
find strength
to die
and find life.