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 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
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.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Supervision - A Person With Whom to Journey

One of the first questions I was asked after announcing that I was going to take a leave of absence from ministry was, "Have you spoken with your professional supervisor about this?" My initial reaction was offence. Of course I have! What do you take me for? Fortunately, those comments stayed in my head. I have always taken professional supervision very seriously and have been blessed with some fantastic people throughout my ministry journey. I consider my supervisor to be the one who I can be truly honest about how ministry is travelling. In my experience, the supervisor's role is to hear you, challenge you, help you to be reflective about your role and hold you accountable.

Almost two years ago now, my supervisor of seven years became ill and was unable to continue our supervision relationship. At the time, I was upset. This was the man who had helped me define who I was in ministry, given me the courage to speak out and attempted to instil in me a good pattern of self care. He had listened to some of my most personal dreams, witnessed my confessions of doubts and encouraged me when I was feeling hopeless. I wasn't sure if I would find another supervisor quite like him.

Well, for almost two years now, I have been journeying with another supervisor. Last week, we had our final session together and I have been reflecting on how important this relationship has been for me over what has been quite a tumultuous period of my ministry. The sessions have been rather different to those with my previous supervisor, but for this I am very grateful. I think I have talked more. There has been a lot to get out of my head. Being able to do this with someone who doesn't have a hidden agenda has been very important. Colleagues, family and friends have all been there too, but sometimes they are a little too involved in the what the final outcome may be. 

My supervisor has listened to me with interest, compassion and empathy. She has reflected back what she has heard. Sometimes the images she has used have shocked me or resonated so closely they have stayed with me for days. At times I have walked into the room confused and feeling hopeless, only to emerge an hour later with more clarity and conviction. My supervisor has never told me what she thinks I should do. She hasn't given wise advice or whipped me into line, but I always left feeling heard, acknowledged and ready to face the next stage.

I guess if I was to express this relationship with an image I think of two people walking across rocks at the beach. The two don't always take the same path and will choose different rocks to jump to next, but they come back together occasionally. Every now and then, one finds a leap to the next rock a little challenging. These are the times when one reaches out their hand to the other, giving enough confidence to take that next step. This is how it has been and I am extremely grateful to have had a person with whom to journey through this time. I know she will possibly read this post - so again thank you!!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Call the Next Witness

This week I have been working on my last service with one of my congregations. The readings talk about being witnesses. I have been reflecting on what it means to be a witness and I can't go past my very recent experience of our first Deep Listening Festival last weekend. It seems that I have spent a lot of the last week sharing stories with people, listening to the experiences of others and hearing how the participants have responded to the festival. I feel I have witnessed something very special.

So what does it mean to be a witness? It seems so simple, yet so profound. I think there are three aspects to being a witness. You are present, you have an experience and you have a story to share. Being present is not just about attendance, but about allowing yourself to be fully attentive and immersed in what is happening. This seems very rare in today's world, when we are often worrying about the next thing or escaping from being fully present by drifting into the virtual world. Practising presence is vital for our spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

The second part of being a witness is to have an experience. We don't travel through life simply being an observer. Life is about participation. This was my big hope for our festival last weekend. The aim was not for people to turn up, listen and go home; but to really experience something, to be moved, to be changed. The only way we can know if this has happened is if the stories are shared. In the space of a week, I have seen evidence of two artworks that are being created in response to the festival, two poems that have been written, a labyrinth created on the beach, two people who have been moved to act in their areas of influence and a myriad of powerful stories.

The Deep Listening festival is but one example. We are witnesses to love, life and hope every day. It is a challenge to us, however, to not save our 'witnessing' for special occasions. Let us be more present, get involved more in life and share our stories with each other.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Ikigai - a reason to get up in the morning

My son is almost 16 years old. Like any teenage boy, he can be very difficult to get up and going in the morning. He is into music, video games and has a flare for sound engineering. Occasionally, he is called on by his school or other organisations to take on the role of DJ at certain events. A little over a week ago, he had one such request. It was the high school sports carnival and, not being a sporty kind himself, almost 16 year old was very happy to volunteer his time in providing the upbeat music for the day. This meant a 7.30am start at the sports oval to set up the equipment. So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard my son walking around the house before I had even got out of bed. 

This incident reminded me of a Japanese term, Ikigai, which means "a reason to get up in the morning". This simple phrase encompasses so many important aspects of our life; our sense of purpose and meaning, a feeling of well-being and a reason for living. The concept is summarised in a diagram of interlocking circles. When that which we love, that which the world needs, that which we are good at and that which we can be paid for intersect, we have found our Ikigai. Of course, it would be lovely not to worry about that which you can be paid for, but these are the realities of life. 

I discovered this term in 2015 while I was reading about vocation and calling. I spent some time reflecting on each of the circles, writing down my own reflections and exploring the intersection points. I found this a very helpful process. It highlighted those aspects of my work that I didn't enjoy, those I found more difficult and those where, perhaps, I was wasting my time and energy. It also showed clearly where my passion and sense of vocation were found. It is always fun looking back on journal entries and seeing where the journey has taken you. I wrote, in 2015, 'My Ikigai is living the spiritual journey creatively while journeying with others who also want to deepen their spiritual journey.' 

What is it that gets you up in the morning? What is your Ikigai? Discovering this is a process of discernment and it takes time. Those who are able to make their paid work their Ikigai are truly fortunate. As Confucious said, 'Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.'

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Spiritual Direction

For centuries people have sought out companions with whom to walk their spiritual journey, whether it be in an ashram in India, a monastery in the desert or a retreat centre in the outback. We are all seekers, to varying degrees, and only so much searching can be done alone. Spiritual direction is the art of accompanying another in their journey, being attentive to the movement of God/Divine/Spirit in their midst.

It may help to begin with what spiritual direction is not. It is not counselling. Counselling seeks to assist a person with their relationships and their own behaviours towards other people. Spiritual direction is focussed upon the directee's relationship with God in whatever form that may take for them. Spiritual direction is not authoritarian. Although the role includes the word 'direction', it is not used in terms of giving advice or providing judgment. The role of the spiritual director is to help the directee to become aware of how God may be working in their life for themselves. And spiritual directors are not experts in spiritual life. Although a spiritual director must complete specific training to be recognised, they also recognise that the work of the Spirit is broader and more expansive than the knowledge we can possibly hold.

So what does a spiritual direction session look like? Generally, a session would last an hour and the director and directee would meet every 4-6 weeks. There is, of course, flexibility in this arrangement depending on the needs of the person. I like to begin my sessions by lighting a candle and holding a period of silence. We often race from appointment to appointment, so it is important to spend a few moments leaving the cares of the world aside and coming into a contemplative space. The directee is invited to begin sharing what is on their mind. The presenting topics can be diverse and sometimes surprising.

As a spiritual director, my role is not to fix the problem, but to help my directees find where God is in this part of the spiritual journey. This is done with careful listening, open questions and assisting to go deeper than just the surface issues.

This is the ministry to which I feel called to develop further. I trained in Spiritual Direction in 2011 and 2012. I am now involved in the training of new spiritual directors. It is a profession that is gaining recognition and understanding throughout the world and plays a vital role in the lives of many. If you would like to know more about spiritual direction, I will be available from May for face to face sessions in Margaret River, Busselton, Bunbury and Perth or via Zoom link up. I would also be available to run a brief introductory session for groups who would like to know more.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Meeting the Mystics: Meeting Me

My first 'gig' after I finish my ministry placement in a little over a month now, is facilitating the Women's Weekend Away in Perth. This is an annual event that has been going for quite a few years now. Each year, the ladies invite a different facilitator to explore a theme throughout the weekend. I first led this retreat while still studying and it was a great time with a lovely mix of fun, laughter and reflection. Back then, we looked at the theme of creating space in our lives.

This year, I will be unpacking the theme 'Meeting the Mystics: Meeting Me'. I gave the committee a couple of themes to choose from and I am so excited they went with this one. Over the weekend, we will develop an understanding of mysticism that, I hope, removes the mystery and elitism of the term so that we can see where it is relevant for us today. We will meet some of the wonderful female mystics, including Julian of Norwich, Hildegaard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux. We will spend some time in quiet, some out in nature, some getting arty and some playing games. 

My hope is that the women who come along will find a safe space where they can share their own experiences of God and their own spiritual journey. So often, people do not share their profound experiences out of fear that it is not seen as credible or in line with the beliefs of our faith community. The mystics of the past were often on the fringes of the church, as they were not afraid to speak out. I am looking forward to hearing the women who come along and helping their stories to be valued and validated.

It is shaping up to be a great weekend and, best of all, someone else cooks for you! If you are in or around Perth and are free from May 25th to 27th, why not come along and join us? For more information or to register have a look at the form.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

What is it about that movie?

There are not many movies that pull me back to the cinema for a second viewing. Mostly, I am content to wait for the release of the DVD. But, I must say, after seeing "The Greatest Showman" twice at the cinema, I could easily go a third, perhaps even a fourth. Now, I realise that musicals are not everyone's cup of tea and I may be just a little obsessed, however, there is something about this story and its accompanying songs that has me hooked.

I was listening to the soundtrack, for the umpteenth time, in the car today and it dawned on me. Almost every song recognises the paradox in life. "I am brave, I am bruised" are held together in the same breath, while the song "Tightrope" acknowledges that the path ahead may be right or wrong, an adventure or a fall. The great love scene during "Rewrite the Stars" doesn't just say "All I want is to fly with you" but also, "All I want is to fall with you". The struggles are held closely with the joys, the tears with the laughter. Perhaps more explicitly in the story, the poor and the rich, the acceptable and shunned, the black and the white struggle to exist together.

This reminded me of a discussion I was part of recently, reflecting on the life of the mystic. We spoke about how in a world of duality, the mystic manages to live within the paradox and find a third way. Is there nothing we need more in our world right now? Liberal vs conservative, east vs west, male vs female, good vs evil, right vs wrong; we manage to split into factions over almost any issue. The mystic seems to find a way to hold both in tension while moving through and amongst in a third way. It is certainly not a popular way that gains you any friends.

In fear of appearing to read too much into "The Greatest Showman" and naively accept the portrayal by Hugh Jackman, I wonder if the character of P. T. Barnum (in the movie) was a "third way" man. He bridged the worlds of the acceptable and those hidden away. He moved between the worlds of the rich and the poor. He empowered people who had no voice and encouraged relations with people from different cultures and backgrounds. No, he was not perfect, but had a vision of how life could be and invited others to join him. In doing so, people found their true self and were liberated from whatever held them back. Sound familiar?

And so I wonder if my own fascination, and perhaps that of many others across the world also, with "The Greatest Showman" comes from our deep need. That is, the need to be valued as we are, not as the world would have us. And the need for some sense of peace and hope in a world that would have us all believe in "us and them". Maybe we all have a deep hope that a Hugh Jackman might strut into our lives and help us come alive or a Zac Efron might step into our circus and help us rewrite the stars.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Giving Up

I saw someone this morning who I haven't seen in a while. Their greeting to me was, "So, I hear you're giving up." Fortunately, I have become adept at dealing with strange reactions to the changes that lie ahead (a topic for another day) and answered, I hope, without expressing my frustration.

Shortly after, I got in my car and began the three hour journey to Perth. This is always a good space for reflection and, occasionally, for some creative planning. I came around to pondering the Lenten Reflections that I have promised my congregations. At this point, they were still a page full of scribbles and vague ideas. I knew the theme I wanted to take, but nothing had crystallized. I wondered about the assumptions people make about Lent and the traditions that people bring to this season. It is often perceived as a gloomy time of repentance and reflection and I have met people who don't attend church and say they are not religious who see it as a time to go without; giving up chocolate or coffee or alcohol.

I gave up giving up something years ago now. I only ever noticed a change for the worse in myself. Giving up chocolate made me cranky. For a few years, I tried taking up something positive. One year, I committed to a Bible reading plan throughout Lent. Other years, I have taken up a new spiritual practice or recommitted to one that I had let slip aside. For me, Lent should be a time of reconnecting with God, remembering who we are and whose we are. It should be a time to rediscover life in all its fullness and really come alive as we approach Easter when this is exactly what we celebrate. That is what I want my Lenten Reflections to be about.

"So, I hear you're giving up." Well, in some ways, I guess I am. I'm giving up on the false self. I'm giving up on obligation. I'm giving up on fear. I'm giving up on perfection. I'm giving up control. I'm giving up on the distractions I create. I'm giving up, in order to find life in all its fullness. I may see it a little differently from you. It is not in defeat, but in a crazy, irrational leap of faith. But thank you all the same for giving me some tangible headings for my Lenten Reflections. Very much appreciated!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Braving the Wilderness

It's not often that I get to the end of a book and feel I want to start it again immediately from the beginning. That is how I feel this morning. I have just finished Brene Brown's 'Braving the Wilderness' and it had a huge impact on me. At first, I thought my eyes were watering from my inability to put this book down, but then realised I was feeling quite emotional soaking in what she had to say. To be honest, I am sure I have only taken in a third of it (hence wanting to begin again).

I am not going to try and summarise the content of Brown's book as I could never do it justice. Get a copy and read it for yourself. However, I will attempt to capture my immediate reactions, as raw and uncalculated as they may be.

1. Brown's talk about polarisation in our world and her use of the wilderness image gave me a new language for trying to make sense of the crazy world in which we are living. Questions about why I get so passionate and angry and then withdraw completely found answers in her eloquent way of describing our need to belong and what that could look like.

2. My own times of experiencing loneliness all of a sudden made sense. My most tangible experience of this was while meditating in the Garden of Gethsemane. A strange combination of the loneliness of the journey, but at the same time feeling completely at home was overwhelming. Reading Brown's description of being wild at heart brought some clarity to that experience and others.

3. It was like holding up a mirror to my life. Although some parts were affirming and encouraging, others were exposing and revealing. The discomfort in realising some of my own patterns and ways of 'creating' belonging was confronting. Brown's way of sharing her own stories and being vulnerable with her readers brought reassurance that it was okay. In all the seriousness that this inner work brings, there is also the space to laugh at our own imperfections and name them as realities of life.

4. The chapter titled 'Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.' was particularly relevant for me in the changes ahead of me this year. This journey seems to have been a constant cycle of doubt and courage. Developing a strong back has been a crucial part of this learning and I am sure will continue to be in the years that follow. According to Brown, perfecting, pleasing, proving and pretending get in the way of a strong back. There is still a lot of work to be done here!!

5. One of the aspects of the book I struggled with throughout was a recurring theme. Here it is in one of its forms.
"When we are willing to risk venturing into the wilderness, and even become the wilderness, we feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters the most."
I could grasp the venturing into the wilderness, but what did this becoming the wilderness mean? The answer came in the last sentences of the book.
"There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we'll doubt our abilities to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere will say, 'Don't do it. You don't have what it takes to survive the wilderness.' This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, 'I am the wilderness.'"

There is so much more I could say about 'Braving the Wilderness', but I will leave it for you to discover yourself if you so choose. Let's just say, I am now a believer that sometimes a book finds you at the right time.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Deep Water Dwelling in 2018

Those of you who know me personally, or read my blog regularly, will know that the year ahead holds many changes for me. Deep Water Dwelling began as the name of my personal blog and shortly after was registered as a business name by one of the congregations in which I minister, Margaret River Uniting. Since that time, Deep Water Dwelling has been the umbrella under which many workshops, retreats and other activities in the area of spirituality have sat under.

Since announcing my intention to take a leave of absence from ministry and pursue further study, the congregation has discussed the future of Deep Water Dwelling. Although many people have engaged with the various programs, the focus has gradually shifted towards hosting an annual festival called Deep Listening (check out the Facebook page and website for further information). The church council have decided that they will gift the name Deep Water Dwelling back to me to further as I please. This is something for which I am extremely grateful. To be honest, I have grown quite attached to the name and all it stands for.

So, as of April the 29th, I will finish my placement with Augusta and Margaret River and prepare to commence study and developing Deep Water Dwelling. In the meantime, the year will be quite busy with Lent, Easter, the Deep Listening Festival and preparing for my next adventure. I will continue to write here when I can find the time, but stay tuned for a new logo and more information about what Deep Water Dwelling might have on offer. I hope to offer spiritual direction more widely and have some ideas tucked away for some different workshops and retreats.

I already have my first retreat booked in at the end of May. The Women's Weekend Away will be exploring the theme of Meeting the Mystics: Meeting Me. If you would like to arrange a workshop or a retreat day during 2018, get in contact with me via email. I'd love to hear from you!!