Friday 22 February 2019

Cutting Comments and Catherine Wheels

Watching 'The Last Leg' this week I heard a comment made by Tom Allen, English comedian, that spoke straight into some of the thinking I have been doing lately. He said (something like), 'I have a feeling those trolls on Twitter would have been the same people that made sure they were in the front row of a public hanging.' In every age there seems to be a way of shaming people into submission. Public executions were a form of control and power over the masses. Using fear as a motivation, the authorities would enforce discipline by holding individuals up as an example. We may not be as physically brutal in today's society, however, there are equivalents in how we 'crucify' people in social media and the media at large.

I have always been quite taken by the Catherine Wheel firework. Initially, as a child, this fascination was about how special it was to have such a beautiful thing that had been given my name. It was a firework that lasted longer than others, was closer (being on the ground) and was exciting. Later, I learnt how the Catherine Wheel earned its name. It is named after St Catherine of Alexandria.

St Catherine (287-305AD) was a princess and scholar living in the time of the pagan emperor Maxentius, known for his cruel ways. Legend states, at the age of 14 she became a Christian after experiencing visions of Mary and the Christ Child. Catherine went to Maxentius to appeal to him to turn from his cruel ways of persecution against Christians. The emperor ordered her execution. He brought 50 orators and scholars to speak with Catherine and give her a chance to change her ways. Her words were spoken so well that many of these 50 converted to Christianity and were immediately executed.

Catherine was arrested, imprisoned and tortured. News of her immense faith spread and over 200 people came to visit her. Maxentius' last attempt to bring her around to his way of thinking was to ask for her hand in marriage. Catherine refused. She was sentenced to execution by breaking wheel, a torturous and painful way to die. As Catherine was brought before the wheel, she touched it and it shattered into many pieces. The emperor ordered that she be immediately beheaded.

And so, the Catherine Wheel is also a symbol of faith, integrity and strength in the face of adversity. We may not be faced with the same fate as these martyrs from times long gone, but we may encounter ridicule, hateful words, slander or misrepresentation. When the fear of speaking out has silenced me and shoved me back in my box, the Catherine Wheel is a good reminder, a visual reminder, to stay firm in my inner faith, to speak with integrity and have courage in expressing my truth to others. A Catherine Wheel is bold, demands to be seen and is full of fire and passion. What an awesome image to hold in a world that can still be very cruel.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

A Sneaky Mandala

Last weekend, I led a day retreat on the theme "A Hidden Wholeness". In the morning we explored the idea of wholeness and contrasted it with the expectation of perfection. We also reflected on what it means to embrace our whole self by reflecting on the idea of an inner village. In the afternoon, we created mandalas - a symbol of wholeness. 

While leading mandala workshops, I tend to hold back and just be available for people to seek me out if needed. Every now and then, however, I get a bit fidgety looking at all the art supplies and want to jump in with the group. This usually only happens when the group are very settled and well in to their creations. I stood there, watching the group, realising I hadn't made any time for mandalas in my own life this year and grabbed some paper. It is never quite the same as making my own space, as I am conscious of the group and still being available, but I still love giving myself permission to throw a bit of colour on the page.

I didn't take the time to reflect on my mandala at the retreat, but looking at it now I see a great reflection of my soul space right now. There is a lot of growth and transformation, particularly around the exterior of my life. Some small and cautious blossoming is emerging from within, perhaps not obvious just yet. The peaceful, inner calm - the place where I am most grounded and authentic - is bubbling out in places, but also restricted by barriers in other places.

This sneaky mandala, probably taking 15 minutes of my time, has some important messages for me at this time. It is also a great reminder that it is not necessary to find a whole morning to complete a mandala. They can be created in those in between times, giving ourselves a little time out from thinking and planning for the next thing. This mandala was unexpected, unplanned and created very quickly, but it will be speaking with me for a while to come.

Saturday 2 February 2019

Flying Low

It has been a while since my last post. The last few week's have been rather full with one thing and another; a wedding yesterday, dance lessons for my daughter, being 'apprentice' gardener for my husband and preparing for the first residential of Dayspring's Grad Dip in Spiritual Direction which commences tomorrow. In amongst all this, the thing that has stilled me is revisiting many of Mary Oliver's poems.

Mary Oliver died on the 17th of January at the age of 84. Her poetry has travelled with me over the last 10 years. She has a way of describing her connection with nature, her own journey and relationship with the divine that is so simple, yet has such depth. Her poetry is full of wonder and awe at the surrounding world, but does not shy away from acknowledging the pain and suffering that is also part of life.

A few of my favourites are 'Sleeping in the Forest', 'The Journey' and 'Why I wake early', but considering that today is a breathing day, a day in between two full days, I want to share the poem 'Today' with you.


Today I'm flying low and I'm
not saying a word.
I'm letting all of the voodoos of ambition 

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I'm travelling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

Mary Oliver