Sunday, December 13, 2009

Study for God's Sake

Many of us attracted to the spiritual life want to find ways in which we can learn more about past traditions, Scripture, ways of prayer and relationship with God etc. From what I can gather there are numerous options these days for study in theology and spirituality. The picture above is of the previously known Centre for Christian Spirituality(CCS) in Randwick, Sydney. It was the first centre to initiate Catholic distance learning or correspondence type courses back in the 1970s with the intention of deepening faith in students and lay people. The Centre for Christian Spirituality has since moved and gone on to bigger things as the Broken Bay Institute, recently forging a link with the University of Newcastle in New South Wales. For more info visit here. The old building pictured is now a Catholic accommodation facility with some magnificent art in the foyer and hallways. The Masters study I undertook in 2002 was with this lot and at the completion I received the inaugural CCS Award in Spirituality which acknowledged the initial vision of making theological study more accessible. Certainly study in one's home has enormous advantage in relation to accessibility but it can also be isolating and lacks the physical community of students within which ideas can be tested. However, distance learning was for the most part nurturing and I learnt much. In fact I learnt much about the riches of Christian practice and traditions and of placing myself in this lineage. The great turning over centuries towards the Presence that is felt in the midst of life, sometimes barely perceptible but worthy of our attention and love, has led to incredible outpourings of faith and practice. I felt a much greater grounding in this background and renewed enthusiasm to dialogue ecumenically and with people of all sorts of backgrounds. Above all though, formal study becomes an invitation to include a little study in the everyday. The monastic emphasis on balance provides the essential technology of nurturing our minds through study in conjunction with practices that expand the heart and value the body. In reality we love God and others with our whole self and study, formal or otherwise, is simply one aspect in our overall growing as persons.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Prodigal Bear

The parable of the Prodigal Son plays out at our place on a weekly basis. Our younger daughter has a beloved brown teddy bear called Sally who is greatly prone to becoming lost in multiple hiding places around the house and backyard. Sally is sometimes assisted by our older girl who sometimes likes to taunt sister by taking Sally away and hiding her somewhere in the house. On other occasions Sally is simply included in a game which can involve being tucked away in a pretend doctor's bed or some such and then... well who know's where Sally is at the end of the day? The bane of our parenting existence comes when it is time for said daughter to retire to bed and..."oh no Sally...where's Sally!?" Thus commencing great searching, cursing and lamentation and all the usual and unusual possible hiding places are checked sometimes multiple times. There is great rejoicing and reunion when Sally is finally located after twenty minutes in some unpredicatable location cavorting with other toys that had been included in the now long forgotten game. And so everyone can breathe easier. At other times Sally is unlocatable and so, like recently, we tried the substitute comfort toy..."how 'bout lovely brown kangaroo, he wants to have a nigh nighs in your bed tonight and he's a good friend isn't he?" The sleeping certainly wasn't as good and in fact brown kangaroo was promptly ejected from the morning Sally was suddenly discovered to shrieks of delight, "Yay, I found Sally!" Do you have any 'lost and found' bears at your place?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Parenthood and Prayerfulness

Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.

An Advice and Query from the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

Many of us with young children are also called to a life of prayer and contemplation. Parenthood and prayerfulness can seem somewhat mutually exclusive at times with the various tasks that juggling parenting, relationship, a household and formal employment entails. However, the challenge to find a balance in this is of great importance so that we are trying to live the richest possible life as we guide our children into the human/earth community. The weaving together of all the seemingly disparate parts of our lives is precisely the work of prayer. Prayer can give us the necessary perspective that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. While this is an area that requires much more than a few lines I'd like to mention a few practical and attitudinal things that I and others have found helpful at various times in the journey of linking prayerfulness with parenthood.
  • find space for a short silence and prayer in the morning.
  • pray an office or part thereof on public transport.
  • Memorize a midday prayer for use during paid or unpaid work or as a prayer stop.
  • Become aware of breastfeeding as an office or vigil.
  • sing Taize style chants while driving.
  • pray with children using a 'song, little silence, short prayer'
  • look at icons with children.
  • Mindfully observe or participate in play with your children.
  • pray the Angels of the Hours at with your children.
  • allocate 1-2 spaces per week for Lectio Divina or prayerful reading of Scripture.
  • find space for a longer silence in the day somewhere (I like night prayer as silence as I am often last to bed in our household).
  • negotiate with your partner or other trusted person a 12-24 hour time of solitude a few times in the year or as possible.
  • If you use a specific prayer or mantra in your silences return to this during the day in the midst of activity.
  • Arrange to see a spiritual director who can help you to remain mindful and centred during the challenges and decisions of this stage of life.
  • Reflect on the Gospel figures of Mary and Martha as the active and contemplative parts of ourselves. View this Teaching from Lawrence Freeman from the World Community for Christian Meditation.
  • Be prepared to be interupted in specific times of prayer; Rather than respond out of irritation or frustration try to turn any interuption into an opportunity to extend your experience of prayer.
  • Be available for prayer that comes without planning or expectation; Accept the simplicity and giftedness of being drawn into Presence when this comes for you.
  • Be committed to gently returning to the Centre of your life even in the midst of stress, chaos and fatigue. Stress can contain the seeds of wisdom.

These are only a few thoughts...I'd be very happy to receive comments, tips, experiences and revisit this substantial topic again.

Best wishes to all.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

International Day of Climate Action October 24

We attended a local climate action playdate for families here in Newcastle as part of the International Day of Climate Action. This action focuses on the number 350. 350 is the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in parts per million that is the upper safe limit for humans, according to scientists. The world has slipped past this mark and therefore grassroots actions on this day call for world leaders and others to work towards bringing this figure below 350. See the website for much more information. Some photos from the event we attended which emphasised the impact on the next generation if inaction on climate change continues are available here.

Care for earth is an element of the Way of Life of the Community of Aidan and Hilda and many other religious movements and communities. It is now the perogative of every person community or no community to make some contribution to caring for the earth and to support where possible those who build the earth community through events like the 350 campaign. I am inspired by people who are able to get people together around these issues...where we care for earth we care for the soul of the world. Where the soul of the world is there is Christ and there children are deeply valuable because they contain in them the precious next steps in the earth's story.

Watching Closely

Holy One,
This day may we watch for you,
In the play of children,
In the presence of sea, sun and soil,
In subtle changes of weather,
In the lives of our neighbours,
In the still spaces between words and work.
Watching you closely so that in all things we sense your Being.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Holy Playfulness

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago....then I was beside him like a little child; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
(Proverbs 8:22, 30-31)

I have been reflecting on children's capacity for play and how natural it is. Certainly my children are drawn towards play equipment of any description and will have a go at most things in most playgrounds. Most other young children I meet are the same. We found this playground in a city setting in Sydney set beautifully amongst a grove of trees. Play is often very spontaneous and it doesn't seem to need much for imagination to be sparked not only by play equipment but with simple blocks and stuffed toys. Play is also very bodily for fearless little people trying out new things. It seems to lead to calmer children as though there is something necessary about it, something centring...something parents are often grateful for.

Playfulness can become stifled in us adult folk as we focus on responsibilities and tasks to the detriment of our soul. While adults may not play in the same way as children we can recover our spontaneity and the immediacy of what we are drawn to rather than what we are required to do or feel we must do. Is this what Jesus might be encouraging in proposing that we become like little children and that this is the pathway into Presence (Luke 18:17)? Interestingly it is possible Jesus is reflecting that older children are already losing this capacity for dwelling with God hence the reference to 'little children'. The most vulnerable among us including little children may indeed be the most receptive to spirit. An emerging tradition of new monastics represented by a number of dispersed and localised communities is transfering the insights of the centuries old monastic traditions to various contemporary settings. Children have an essential role here in leading their parents and other folk who would be the new monks and nuns of our age into the playground of the soul, earthed in divine presence, irreplaceable beings in the ongoing creation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Evening Prayer

From activity to stillness, from rush to reflection. Evening prayer is a time of drawing down, recollection and peaceful attentiveness. Even in the midst of family life and just for a few moments to listen for this transition perhaps with the aid of a psalm, prayer or chant. How has the day left me, what might I have done differently, who am I carrying in my heart? I accept who I am in this moment with all my joy and pains. I let Peace pray itself within me and my life, radiating outwards, willingly entering the mysterious darkness and silence that night brings. Go well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Acknowledgement of Country

Welcome to my new blog site...I hope you enjoy the posts that I'll put together and also feel free to follow up points of interest as you wish. I'd like to acknowledge first up that I write this blog from the land of the Awabakal people who are the traditional owners of the areas around Newcastle, Australia and the nearby Lake Macquarie. I pay my respects to the local elders and custodians who care for country and nurture the transmission of culture from generation to generation. This survives despite the destructive impact of European colonisation on Aboriginal culture from the late 1700s to the present day. The beautiful landscape above, captured by a friend of mine, is representative of coastal country in this area and one of the attractions for residents and visitors alike. Acknowledgement of country is now often spoken by Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal people at the start of important meetings or events or when necessary to remind us of the heritage of a local Australian area and that without land and the people who have nurtured it we have nowhere to rest, work and play.

I wrote the following blessing earlier this year to try and capture some of the essence of this
(re)emerging tradition in Australian society.

Tribal Land Blessing
The land on which I sit is Awabakal land.
Bless the tribal peoples who have walked here in ages past, who walk it now and will walk it in the future.
This is a land to respect, nurture and be with.
Great Spirit,
For the silence of the land be blessed,
For the water from the skies and the heat of the sun be blessed,
For the fruit of the land be blessed,
May You embrace, circle and fill our beings each moment of our lives.

Written in Solitude, Callicoma Hill, Wonnarua land, Saturday 15/2/09

Peace, Matt