Saturday, December 4, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Even though I was present at the centre for two days only I felt very quickly that it is a profoundly special place. In my journal I found myself writing: "The silence immediately captured me when I got out of the car after Jim picked me up from Bungendore train station. The silence of the land pressing in to my heart encouraged me to join the stream. An invitation to join the flow of silence - soon my own inner silence coheres with the Greater Silence - what a marvellous gift - all I can do is respond."
I was looking for a short retreat that gave me solitude as well as time for learning about the vision for this place. It was very easy to find this at Silver Wattle and contemplation became even more natural and less forced than in my normal round of daily practice back home. While in this environment which is open to 'all seekers' I realised that all my seeking over the course of my life in all its ups and downs somehow is all relevant, somehow all purposeful even when I cannot see this. I recognised that 'the seeking is a gift and in turn becomes a gift to give away to others. Our seeking is not something for memorialising it is a living, burning, yearning movement towards what is most real". The land can always help us with what is 'most real'. The 'most real' is what we need in our journey with the planet at this time. I walked the escarpment and looked out over Lake George (Wereewa) with the sun and the moon early in the morning...then during Meeting for Worship I felt the land as a powerful presence, pressing in on our worship and asserting itself as rightful participant. How right this is! The land is indeed an alive organism which joins with us and even carries us as friends despite all the abuse.
On the second night during Epilogue (daily evening reflection) we watched a biographical film from the 1980s on the life of Thomas Merton (1915-1968), monk, author and activist. He embodied a new vision for monasticism that was less institutionalised and withdrawn and more powerfully engaged with the world and the Spirit. In recent years my spiritual life has in part entailed a dialogue between quaker and monastic insights and practices...I find much life in both...At Silver Wattle the simple things of prayer, study and work are present and by their simplicity help to heal the land (and us)....another retreatant noticed how the land at Silver Wattle is responding to the care being offered to it. Is this to be, to use a Celtic phrase, a new 'place of resurrection' for faithful people and the land?
My only regret from my visit is that I couldn't stay longer and introduce this place to my partner and our girls...hopefully an opportunity will arise.
Later in the week after leaving Silver Wattle I discovered the following poem from Gerard Manly Hopkins (1844-1889) in my in-law's bookcase. Hopkins was a Jesuit and apparently one inspiration for Merton early on in his Catholic conversion. In the following Hopkins shares his own optimistic vision of the world's resilience with deep theological overtones. The opening line is contained in The Celtic Prayer Book that I use which is now gifted with more meaning....
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smells: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.
And though the last lights of the black West went.
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs.
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Blessings on our 'bright wings' too.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
This morning we went to the beach. Our older girl and I settled into creating some sandy villages in the beach sand while the other two went for a walk. We created five 'villages' with plastic containers...it was a good chance to enjoy the spring sun, the cool sand and the good company of my daughter. We were happy with our 'work' and when the others returned it was almost time to go. Our two daughters gleefully demolished the whole scene back to sand. I stood both enjoying their playfulness and feeling the shocking quickness with which our creativity was dispatched. It reminded me of the skillful Buddhist monks I have seen who create spectacular sand mandalas and then after a few days sweep away their work. Lessons in impermanence but also lessons in caring for the moment. No wonder Jesus celebrated so liberally. How soon our creativity and the beauty around us can be reduced to nothing. Destruction can take so little time compared to creation...we only have to think of Hiroshima and 9/11 to know this reality. Go well with your moments.
Monday, August 30, 2010
I hope you enjoy this link which contains a talk (audio and transcript) by Fr Lawrence Freeman of the World Community of Christian Meditation on Contemplation and Action. He describes very wonderfully how we can live in the centre of this paradox...Most movingly, in my experience of grief, is his tackling of joy and suffering and how affliction 'pins us to the centre of the universe'...via these unexpected and unwanted experiences we can come to truly know and participate in reality with all our being.
Friday, August 27, 2010
This plant is a Senna Artisemoides (Cassia species). I planted it for one of our daughters a couple of years ago. It has been flowering prolifically throughout our winter for many weeks now....making it's presence known with beautiful yellow buttercup flowers...it is very welcome in our garden reminding one of nature's capacity to renew itself and come alive...if only we see.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
I have continued to attend Eucharist from time to time...often finding that the depths that pull me are largely not attended to. The Quaker way and indeed the contemplative Christian path both have something to say about the Eucharistic nature of silence. I am not at all suggesting a discarding of the ritual of Eucharist. Along with Lawrence Freeman from the World Community for Christian Meditation, I simply envision a deepening when both silence and ritual dialogue with each other. In the Quaker unprogrammed tradition of meeting in silence and in other forms of contemplative prayer...holy communion is very much entered into...in the silence the real presence...the light of Christ...the bread of heaven. We bring our bodies for blessing for we are a dwelling place of the light. This is my body...this is my blood. In the silence take and eat, be nourished, know reality more deeply, know your connection to this reality, feel it, live it. Do this as often as you remember me. Return to this silent dwelling from which all love, all justice flow. Let the silence and the words that flow from this encounter help us to remember more fully Christ who is all and in all. Awaken the slumbering Christ...the self-emptied, self-offering one. Let this awakening be a natural opening. Jesus' words at the Last Supper have a cosmic immensity...only the most enlightened human being could utter them...they are in the words of Pierre Lacout, Catholic Quaker, 'silent words'. They are not to stop with Jesus though. Only followers who had apprehended the silent depths of the holy communion would bother writing these Gospel words down for subsequent generations. We are invited to take our turn too, blessing all that we can see, emptying and offering. This is my body. We know of the interrelationship of the cosmos from science and in silence we know this truth at the centre of our being. What then stops every meal from being sacred? Every intake of food, every inhalation of air? Moment by moment let us reign in our forgetfulness. Do this as often as you remember me. Holy communion is not once per week or once per day but in the immediacy of life. Our lot is to receive the gifts that uncover, reveal and peel back, living our constant communion.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
They named this 'Enclosed in the Trinity'. It speaks to me of the circular communion of God...the open, silent, loving, spacious one. In my stiller moments I sense this source and destination for Salome and for all of us. This image is so capturing of the attention that it nurtures my heart.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
This is the father's touch.
To affirm a new life.
To be silently present.
To seek rousing fun and connection.
This is the father's gaze
To look and behold new form.
To be beloved and belove,
The shapes, the contours,
The skin, the will to live.
This is the father's love
That you will grow
with strong intimations of
Your centre, where you belong,
And I will guide you some of the way.
This is the father's tears,
That you did not last beyond a few days.
That your sisters cannot share
The washes and the cuddles.
That your mother's desire goes untended.
This is the father's wonder
That my love grows still.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
"I wrote this prayer to go at the beginning of an afternoon time of prayer & meditation, towards the beginning of the service. An alternative beginning call \ response is one I found in the daily office part of the Anglican book "A Prayer Book for Australia". + Peace to those who are far off, Peace to those who are near."
Peace to those absent,
Peace to those present,
Peace to those known and unknown.
God of the hopeless and hopeful.
We are here again, gathered in sacred circle,
The familiar afternoon street birds are chirping, the cars are going by and we feel the afternoon breeze as it brings refreshment from the heat of the day.
The sun sets, the day begins to end and the night descends.
Conscious of the now, we breathe in, and out, stilling ourselves, and being present in the now.
We are here for a range of reasons,
some because, life is hard and sad
For others life is good and happy.
Many reasons, many situations, but this time is for us.
Breathing in, and out, in, and out. We are here, present in this moment, the other can wait or take care of itself.
Come now Holy Spirit, comforter and guide, be present with us and bless this time making it a sacred place.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Even the Darkness is Light to You
Only it is a longing to be in Love.
Now it is a stillness.
Now it is a darkness.
Now it is a path less travelled.
Only it is the path I did not desire.
Now it is a grieving, angry determination.
Now it is a quietness and a deep rare silence.
Now it is a body of good present people.
Now this is how you speak to me, this blinded one.
Your speech is both enough and never enough.
I am consoled and I am hanging on.
I don't feel particularly grateful.
But I am alive circling, feeling my way to the Nowhere Centre of the Universe.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Today I facilitated a little session with colleagues at work on 'spirituality and helping work'. As part of the conversation I shared with them five points about spirituality in general that occurred to me as I prepared the session (by no means an exhaustive list). It struck me that our meaning making about this concept of spirituality is coloured by a number of things including our personal experience and preferences as well as traditions and communities that we link to. Spirituality is such a broad term and challenging to make sense of given we enter into territory that is a bit hidden from view, often beyond words.
So here goes (you'll note my reflections contain both contemporary and traditional elements):
A. Spirituality is not easily articulated by human language. However certain words can help point to what we might be referring to: love, compassion, wisdom, connection, interior, silence, life, death, ultimate reality, solitude, community, sacrament, justice, present moment, journeying, land, earth, faith, hope, peace, mindfulness, stillness, presence.
C. Spirituality usually privileges experience over everything else. Some writers contrast spirituality and religion. Religion is usually envisioned by these writers as hierarchical, structured, institutional, patriarchal and often oppressive of spirituality. While there is some truth to this all religious expressions have at their core an initial life experience(s) that has inspired their development.
D. There can be two important generalisable movements or experiences in spirituality: i) one takes us outwards beyond the confines of our selves, culture, nation, world and ii) the other takes us inward to our inner experience as human beings e.g. the daily interior life. Spirituality can be said to have universal & transcendent as well as personal & immanent qualities. These movements can occur simultaneously or separately but they are often interwoven together; for some people even becoming an indistinguishable experience.
How do you make sense of this intriguing term spirituality?
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
- An Acknowledgement of country reminds me that there are people, traditional owners, who have been here before...who lived on this land for many thousands of years before Europeans arrived and whose descendents still live here. It is a recognition of many generations which goes beyond recorded history...we do not tend to think in thousands of years very often and it is helpful to put our own lives in this perspective. I honour this timeless relationship with land.
- The first peoples who live here seem to value the land as part of them...even as being owned by the land. Further that the land provided everything necessary. This is a real perspective and a counter-cultural view of ownership...without the land and all that it provides we are nothing so we are obliged to it...further we take the land into our bodies on a daily basis via air, food and water...we are literally part of it. I honour this Aboriginal sense of bodily intimacy with the land.
- An Acknowledgement of country reminds us of the elders or the custodians of the land...people who care for land and culture in the past, now and the future. This can remind us of values that we dare not live without namely that ageing can bring wisdom that is worth nurturing, that care and custodianship of the land is an imperative and that generations come and go but the land remains our bedrock. I honour this wisdom in our Aboriginal brothers and sisters
Naming and claiming these things does not mean I avoid or dismiss the complexity of colonisation or of Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relationships. Or that I cannot recognise that there are positives in the arrival of Europeans, or that there aren't conflicts within Aboriginal communities, or that we don't need to back this up with addressing the issues related to the quality of life of Aboriginal communities etc. Acknowledgement of Country is not an invitation to become simplistic in any way. Nor is it an issue of superficially thanking Aboriginal people for use of the land as indicated by Wilson Tuckey, although gratitude maybe part of our response to these issues. For me it is also acknowledging the human suffering of Aboriginal peoples and of the land and the ongoing consequences of colonisation. Once this becomes our starting point we have a more real foundation for the acknowledgment of our collective suffering and for the hope that our Australian peoples can become more loving and just in the process.
May the practice of Acknowledgement of country continue to evolve into something deep and real and meaningful.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I do not speak about these things simply as theory anymore or good ideas. They have become very real to me in this last two months with the birth and death after two and half days of our third daughter. The sheer vulnerability of a birth, a very sick baby who could not stay in this life and a dying baby have drawn me to what is real like nothing else, like no other deaths that I have experienced. For me and my family the way of the cross is not a decision this year, it has been imposed by life. A real, physical stations of the cross and a touching into the heart of the crucified one. I now carry a wound that cannot be erased and an absence of life where there would otherwise be noise and breastfeeding and touch and cuddles. John O'Donoghue says this absence of a loved one is like a tree that grows beside you. I think he is right, it has in my experience a presence all of its own. Even when I am not visibly upset by our reality my heart carries this woundedness, this deep grief, that life is not what it could be.
While I find liturgy helpful at times...at this time specifically Friends silent Meeting for Worship and meditation on my own both come into their own. Silent places where my grief can be allowed to take its own time, where there are no guiding posts for the heart. My soul simply fumbles forward having experienced this death...I only really have my trust that there is the something More who draws me on. This is I think what William Johnston calls the 'prayer of suffering'...it is also a 'prayer of nothingness' that takes me into a 'terrible gift' namely the wisdom from wounds that I did not seek after and unimaginable love within me and around me. I say love, because I have never had cause to love like this. I did not really and truly and deeply know about this kind of love in myself or in all the people who have supported us.
So to draw this together perhaps lent is where we acknowledge that death and love are inconstricably linked, one cannot go without the other...love must know death, otherwise it is not really love. I leave this post with a quote from John Main (d. 1982), master of Christian meditation:
Death itself, especially the death of someone we have loved, teaches us what love teaches us. It reveals to us that the more deeply we love and enter into communion, so the more radically we must become detached and non-possessive. To continue to fall into love we must continue to fall way from the ego. It is the final and most demanding of the lessons that life teaches us. It is the absolute finality of the Cross, the single-pointedness of the Cross that yet opens up into the infinite universe of the Resurrection (Community of Love, 1990).
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Immersion in a life of raising young children can have a relentlessness that knows no bounds. It is hard to imagine where days and weeks and years go in the birthing, growing and learning. I now know by experience that rearing children is one of life's holiest and most challenging endeavours. What would lead my life to join in the conceiving and growing of new lives? What force keeps stirring me to commune with the sacred within my life and the life of the world? Something about bringing children into the world brings one closer to what is real: the holy round of life, generation after generation. From leading and controlling to being led. Led by the power of ecstatic intimacy and union with my lover to new life. Even the movement of desire within one's body, heart and mind is impossible to articulate satisfactorily. But it is something more than two lovers that desires this new life...A life so new that its uniqueness will never be seen again. And paradoxically a life shot through with the same life that every other human experiences in some way.
I imagine our first daughter who senses our readiness and decides upon a new becoming. I sense the power of our second daughter who surges from the invisible into life. I enter the mystery of our unborn child who brings great sickness but dancing feet and intriguing forms. A child is like Jesus, the teacher, who turns to the crowds on the road and demands the fullest attention. A child comes from the source of life itself, beyond the sexual encounter that sets cells in motion, and invites the greatest attentiveness. A child, like all of us, comes with the capacity for union, the one thing necessary. Why is it that only in my most contemplative moments do I see what is absolutely real? The simplest moments in the life of parenting can be the most meaningful. The heart rendering anticipation when one knows the waiting is over and birth is imminent...The delight of physical contact with a child whose feelings need soothing....Peacefully observing the imaginative play of children...The natural wonderment at the world as it is...The satisfaction that comes when children are asleep and all is finally quiet for another day. These are by no means uncommon experiences.
Becoming a parent forces a shift in the self. The vulnerability that comes with the changes in this stage of life is fertile soil for a new self to emerge. Waiting for birth, feeding at all hours, reduced sleep and energy, maintaining relationships and personal priorities and changes in sexuality all can be confronting on their own. The shift to parenthood can also bring about reflection on the wounds and strengths of one's own childhood and the qualities and weaknesses of one's own family background. So internally much is going on. In all this one's humanity and connection to the larger whole can become more real. I remember holding our first baby daughter outside a Quaker Meeting while she slept one morning in 2005 and identifying with the Mary of Orthodox iconography who is pictured contemplating simultaneously the wonder of new life and the unavoidable movement towards death. The swaddling cloth of the infant is also the burial fabric of the tomb. Reflections on mortality are not just the preserve of the sick and the elderly but also of parents! There is enormous stillness in this contemplation because the Holy One is near and both beauty and grief are close at hand. Perhaps the beauty of a child is even more precious because we know in our most aware moments that all is fleeting, all is passing away. Even one's meditation on this passes away.
In my less profound moments when I am feeling most overwhelmed by parenting and family relationships I experience the shadow side which lurks and is sometimes expressed in feelings of great impatience, irritability, isolation, anxiety and anger. It is tempting to be harsh towards my shadow side with its fire, inflexibility and self-entitlement but its fragility is palpable and carries a desire for wholeness...a desire to remember that I am not in fact alone and do not need to carry the whole thing or meet all the external and internal expectations attached to my life. In my most horrendous moments of anxiety, stress and self-judgement I long most at these points to return to the Centre and yet it seems so far in the distance and, like the Prodigal Son, I sometimes do not know how to return or indeed how I got there. It is no wonder that the unceasing prayer of the desert was: Be pleased O God to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me! (Psalm 70:1). Perhaps it is the Holy One who longs most passionately for us in this inner desert when the shadows lengthen. For me it is my instinct for prayer, silence and loving relationship which becomes the salve and the gift. This gift hidden somewhere in the depth of the shadowy places represents a longing to be-loved so I can in turn love my family and the world from my heart rather than some fearful place. God help me to minimise the harm to others in the mean time! Family life, viewed from this lens, becomes a place for peace making.
And so like the passion narratives of the Gospels, I find that when I look at the whole thing it is passion which is lived out in my parenting. I commit to reject nothing in my experience of parenting, embracing anguish and the sublime, anxiety and fulfilment, ecstasy and isolation. I commit again to a journey of peaceful ways, seeking holiness in family life and affirming those moments in which the Sacred makes itself most known.