Thursday, December 15, 2011


I recently wrote the following in relation to a service closure at my workplace.  Thought I'd share

Great Spirit,

Who resides in the land, the stars and the people,

We give thanks for this building which has provided the shelter and the location of our Family Centre.

We give thanks for all its spaces

Play spaces

Work spaces

Talking spaces

Food spaces

Eating spaces

Group spaces

Administration spaces

Outdoor spaces

Parking spaces

For all that has been inspiring and challenging, resolved and unresolved, growing and nurturing in this place we give thanks.

May the hospitality of this place be a welcome to new tenants and new service users alike in the days, months and years to come.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What is...Grace?

Recently a seminarian friend of mine emailed from Rome requesting my take on what grace is for a 'Theology of Grace' unit he is currently undertaking.  His lecturer asked the students to seek a Catholic and non-Catholic perspective.  I think I just qualified for the non-Catholic gig!  Anyway I really appreciated the request and found it valuable to revisit how I understand this old concept of Grace.  I responded in two ways the first you'll notice is more spontaneous and experiential and the second more analytic and academic in tone.  This reminded me how we can respond to spiritual notions from different internal spaces e.g. head and heart...both have value in putting language to the spiritual life.

Grace is…

a word that points to relationship with the Presence that innervates every living and non-living thing.

knowing that the reality of Jesus and God is not a fantasy.

finding one’s home in the Sacred present moment

knowing you are loved despite your failings and self-centredness

knowing you can love despite your failings and self-centredness

awareness that there is life beyond death

a sense of connection to the Australian bush

sitting by a seaside on granite rock and feeling the presence of the divine in the waves and the wind

the blessing of children who sleep safely

the embrace of a child

the chuckle of an infant

good food and drink

the deep silence in one’s heart

the deep silence in the land that captures the heart

knowing that enough is enough

true solitude


the deep joy to be found in simple things that surprise by their ordinariness

finding God’s presence in unexpected places

knowing that even hard feelings can be a call from God back to the centre

experiencing the world through touch, smell, taste, sight and sound

friendships that endure

intimacy that endures

discovering the gift of compassion for oneself and the whole world

discovering that Jesus and God are Compassion and Silence and in reality no separation is possible

discovering that prayer and Scripture can lead to silence

looking on the world with fresh eyes

both grief and laughter


Grace may be conceived of as God’s initiative in relating to and loving human persons…

With the following characteristics:

• Salvific and liberating - saving and freeing us from our limited selves. Expands our consciousness to renew or remember relationship with the divine at the ground of all being and existence…the classic lifting out of the mire (e.g. Psalm 40)

• Mystical – mysterious, amazing, beyond comprehension like the great hymn hints at. Grace leads to communion/union with God or is in fact an experience of communion/union.

• Embodied/Incarnated – experienced in the body and the world

• Freely available and unmediated – Anyone at any moment can experience grace – ie receive the sacrament of the present moment – (e.g. Francis de Sales and Quaker writers)

• Christological – in the sense that the receptivity to grace is “built into” every human person. This receptivity is a gift of the Risen Christ who resides in every human heart. Quakers call this ‘That of God’.

Thanks for having a read....I'll leave you with that lovely question from Quaker George Fox:  And what canst thou say....about Grace?

PS Picture by my daughter.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Marks of Men

For some time now I have been reflecting on what symbols men seem to use in expressing their masculinity.  I live in a city with a fairly blue collar history, still surrounded by lots of coal mining, port activity and industry.  Without pidgeon-holing and overgeneralising how men express their identities it seems to me that there are three marks of maleness that are often turned to by ordinary young Australian men.


fast cars and motorcycles...

tats (tattoos)

Some men seem to manage all three, kind of a like a masculine formula for getting ahead.   Now then I'm not into getting judgemental here.   I have trained in gyms for nearly 20 years now so I get the attraction and thrill of building muscles and strength.   Fast cars and cycles...well from what I can see a lot of money often goes on meticulous maintenance, care and repair... that and everyone certainly knows when a big V8 is around.  How could you be missed when your car dominates the sound waves?   I also have to admit to being absolutely fascinated by tattoos and what they speak to in the soul of both men and women. Around Newcastle every second bloke seems to have a tat.  While all of this is understandable and captures a spirit of adventure and risk, to a certain degree, I'm left wondering whether we can all go a bit deeper.  Later we may also want to investigate links with anecdotal increased use of steroids and deaths in car accidents and how power, prestige and wealth can also be prioritised by men.

At the centre of ourselves, our interior places there may be some different markers for men to focus on. These marks might be invisible to other people, they aren't particularly showy or easily rewarded; not particularly loud or even concerned with supporting an 'identity' but certainly worth attending to.  An alternative trinity for men, though by no means confined to men, might be...



In silence we become aware that what we put on show may not be all there is within us.  In recognising our compassionate heart we know we are part of the living reality of the suffering world/growing universe and in listening we spend time with voices other than our own....These are qualities found in Christianity and other religious perspectives and in particular in a spiritual life that might be influenced by monastic, quaker and /or a contemplative ethos.  These marks of the soul are not something we can arrange or build up but can be seen as already given.  The only thing to build up is our awareness of what is already happening...the gifts that have already been given...the 'identity' already given by the Holy One.  How might young Australian men be both adventurous and contemplative?  Who will encourage them on this journey with all that awareness of deeper layers entails?

Augustinian Martin Laird writes engagingly about these alternative realities in Into the Silent Land: A guide to the Christian practice of contemplation (2006).

"Precisely because our deepest identity, grounding the personality, is hidden with Christ in God and beyond the grasp of comprehension, the experience of this ground-identity that is one with God will register in our perception, if indeed it does register, as an experience of no particular thing, a great, flowing abyss, a depthless depth.  To those who know only the discursive mind this may seem a death-dealing terror or spinning vertigo.  But for those whose thinking mind has expanded into heart-mind, it is an encounter brimming over with with the flow of vast, open emptiness that is the ground of all.  This 'no thing,' this 'emptiness' is not an absence but a superabundance.  It is the fringe of love's cloak (Matt 9:20)."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Australian Constitutional Recognition for Aboriginal Peoples

Some of you may be aware that last year the government installed an expert panel to advise on the possibility of a referendum to change the Australian constitution to recognise the Aboriginal nations and people of Australia.  The panel is due to report back to the government in December this year with a proposal for a referendum question to be put to the Australian people in 2013.  You can find all the necessary information including a discussion paper at Submissions to this panel can be made by anyone and are due by the end of the month.  It is clear that the Australian constitution is woefully and unacceptably out of date on this issue and in essence the constitution continues to enshrine the terra nullius perspective that dominated European thinking as they settled (or more accurately invaded) this country in the late 1800s and which has done so much damage culturally and environmentally to Aboriginal people and their lands.  It is absolutely essential that such a major national document as the constitutional, even if rarely referred to outside of legal circles, reflects reality. This is particularly so given that Aboriginal peoples have called for such changes on multiple occasions over many many years...  I suspect many Aboriginal peoples and communities have lost patience with the ongoing lack of recognition and the oppression this breeds.  Recognition is code for affirmation, something every single person needs as a basis to social justice and quality of life. 

In light of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 and the increased use of Acknowledgement of Country by many sectors of the Australian population the constitution must now back this up more effectively.  I wonder whether a statement of recognition and rights could become a bit like acknowledgement of country accept at a national level for all the various Aboriginal nations.  This may be one further way of helping us to get in touch with the reality of Aboriginal presence in this land.  Or in other words rather than the implicit or actual terra nullius of the constitution we acknowledge that the land is filled with human -Aboriginal- presence and with the Great Spirit.  Importantly this Aboriginal presence is to be seen as being in relationship with the land something we recognise everytime we acknowledge the traditional owners of an area.  This may mean a letting go for white fellas but it may also be another little step (let's not get too carried away there is so much more to address!) in the healing of this land and it's peoples.

Apart from constitutional recognition there are important issues of constitutional racial equality and non-discrimination which you can find out more about at the website I mentioned above.  Many of us would love to see the country progress towards a treaty which would set a firm foundation and commitment and vision for right relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.  My understanding is that the constitution can set the tone for this to occur by providing provision for agreement making.  However it is unclear at present in my mind whether the Australian population would be well informed enough and compassionate enough to begin to consider this possibility.  The expert panel I mentioned above have the unenviable task of discerning what is achievable in a referendum and not just what might be the best vision.  Failure at a referendum would be disastrous and demoralising for Aboriginal peoples and those who care about this issue.  It might be that the idea of a treaty does not yet have its time but all this work will reflect where we are up to as a nation whether we like it or not.  Patrick Dodson has a stirring address on the youmeunity website which you can find here on the topic of the imperative of reconciliation.

My workplace has started to consider what submission we would like to make.  I learnt in talking with my Aboriginal colleagues yesterday that there are a few attitudes and actions that should be included from their point of view in these considerations: a willingness to listen, consultation with Aboriginal peoples regarding any developments that will affect them and a commitment to keep going beyond constitutional changes to address issues like access to land and fair distribution of wealth etc. Gees we have a long way to go but this is another bit in the process. 

n.b. artwork by Richard Campbell (stations of the cross)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Light with Us

It's been a while since I've posted something here but the time has come again.   In April our fourth child, Jonah was born much to our relief and delight after the loss of our third daughter Salome last year.  And so adjusting to this new relationship has occupied much of the last four months for the whole family. I'd like to offer this piece of poetic reflection that I wrote during a time of solitude yesterday. This captures a little of my experience of this new one who has entered our lives. 

First a few words about solitude... I'm aware that solitude is essential, if it wasn't already, for my emotional and spiritual equilibrium.  While the solitude of each of us is a reality that is always present, as per Eckhart, it can also require careful planning and negotiation with our loved ones to include at least some 'actual time apart' within the multiple demands of our contemporary lives.  Solitude is truly a womb to be drawn into where in we may realise our deep connections to what is seen and unseen and bring forth greater love in all our relationships.  It is also in the silence of our own solitude that a reality may dawn, something well expressed in liturgy  -   contained in the soul is the Son of God - and in the Quaker phrase - That of God in everyone. Our job is to get out of the way and let this reality shine...babies have this in spades...

A Light for Us
This Little One is waking up
He knows who is who now
He shows preference for touch
And tickles he delights in.

The baby chuckle is surely one of the most
Beautiful sounds in the whole world.
Infectious, his face lights up
He waits for my next move...

With wide open smiling expectation.
I delight in him...The simple play
Of the new relationship between Father and Son
Sets in train the motion of love...

Do you have a love heart in you? I ask him but already know
A Love heart exists in all.
How precious then that even through
My constraints and strains I see it afresh in him.

After being deprived of touch
I still take it for granted like water.
Each touch a bond
A binding of souls that already know...

Their place, together, alongside
For as many moments as life will grant
Don't let that be forgotten, not now
When so much Light is present.

Blessings, Matt

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Afternoon promise, Morning opens

is the

  for you

to wake



                       (Romans 13:11)

PS. suburban photos of Hibbertia scandens, a native creeper on side fence.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Prayer for a Wise Heart

Great Creator Spirit,
May we journey with Christ in all things seeking soul friendship and pilgrimage along the way.

 May we enfold this given life in a soulful rhythm of prayer, work and rest.

May we practice sacred reading of Scripture and spiritual writings, art and science.

May we hold the whole world in Light and prayer, as we are held.

May we simplify life such that beauty, generosity and hospitality shine forth.

May we endow the earth with our love and gentle care.

May we, with wisdom and discernment, become a healing presence.

May we listen deeply in silence to the Spirit.

May we build a true communion of love with peoples of all faiths and spiritual traditions and of none.

May we spread peace, harmony and justice wherever the winds of the Spirit may blow us.

 Adapted from the ten elements of the Way of Life of the Community of Aidan and Hilda

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rock n Roll Aint Noise Pollution

I think I have a little confession to make.  This might seem strange coming from someone who is attracted to contemplative ways of life, silence and stillness...but I have to admit that I still love a good bit of rock n roll, specifically speaking some guitar driven hard rock and good quality blues.  There's a still a hard rock guitar playing teenager ready to get out of my at times overly responsible exterior! It's clear that stillness is a beautiful gift but so too is the way certain kinds of music make the body start dancing, lift the mood and get the blood going.  Listening recently to one of ACDC's recent albums as well as some old Eric Clapton drew me to this reality.  What could be better help to get all those annoying chores done when the house looks like a tip with toys everywhere, clothes strewn around and dishes to be washed?  I also like how our girls start singing Clapton's 'Lay Down Sally' and want us to keep putting it on replay on the CD player. 

Rock n roll is well known for its excesses but one of its endearing qualities is its ability to bring some fun and soulful expression into life.  Perhaps life doesn't have to be solely a reflective exercise...perhaps we don't have to take it all so seriously...perhaps dancing is the remedy sometimes alongside prayer and meditation at other times...perhaps God can incorporate dancing and contemplation, movement and stillness...not perhaps...clearly all of this is part of the sacred.  So I say rock on...find your dancing shoes...let some of those old and new rockers move you towards the sacred dance even if that may not be their intention.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Meister Eckhart and the Practice of Presence

Further to my previous post on solitude, I've just started reading a little of "The Talks of Instruction' by that reverred Dominican Meister Eckhart (1260-1327).  There is some pearls in a chapter in which he responds to the question: 'Some people like to withdraw and prefer always to be alone.  That is where they find peace, when they enter a church.  Is this the best thing?'  His answer is a definitive NO...his view is that solitude is not necessarily a problem but by itself it is certainly not the best thing.  The reason is that there is a greater and more substantial life on offer.

We should grasp God in all things and should train ourselves to keep God always present in our minds, in our striving and in our love.  Take note of how you are inwardly turned to God when in church or in your cell, and maintain this same attitude of mind, preserving it when you go among the crowd, into restlessness and diversity.

We should not content ourselves with a God of thoughts, for when the thoughts come to an end, so too shall God.  Rather, we should have a living God who is beyond the thoughts of all people and all creatures.  That kind of God will not leave us, unless we ourselves choose to turn away from him.

We must learn to maintain an inner solitude regardless of where we are or who we are with. We must learn to break through things and to grasp God in them allowing him to take form in us powerfully and essentially.

These are stirring perhaps confronting words for those of us in active family lives for example, preparing meals, attending household chores, intervening in sibling conflict, negotiating playdates and sex lives, arranging appointments and incomes and school drop offs and friendships etc.  The 'God of all things' is a common phrase in many Christian mystical writings in particular.  The all encompassing nature of this approach reminds that we are constantly called to express the love that already possesses us but that so often we are not present to.   In one sense it might be easy in moments of solitude in lonely places, with minimal distraction, to direct our attention to God and this is good training, but the real test of our loving attentiveness is in the restlessness and hurley burley of life where presence may find us.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Solitude as a Source of Life and Community

Solitude is the womb of Christian spirituality, the space which nourishes, which allows for the birth of the new creation or the newly transformed self (Maria Santa-Maria, 1983).

Recently members of the Community of Aidan and Hilda in Australia met in Geelong, Victoria (Wautherong land) for an inaugural retreat. This was the first time that our scattered lot from different backgrounds converged and shared a short period in community life. Please see Ray Simpson's blog summary of the retreat. I was fortunate to facilitate one of the sessions on the topic of solitude, that enormously important theme in the spiritual life. I will try to summarise some of the key points here. There are countless examples of solitude in Celtic tradition as well as elsewhere in Christian history. Indeed on visiting Celtic sites such as Lindisfarne and Iona almost ten years ago now I was almost immediately captured by the reality of solitude and how this might lead one into great relationship with the land, cosmos and God. The Rule of Saint Columba, written well after his death, has this as its first statement: If your conscience leads you to keep away from crowds, be alone in a separate place near a major city.
The fruits of solitude often lead to the great monastic centres in the British Isles. Solitude can be very beautiful, opening us to the wonders of prayer and land such as recounted in the Life of Kentigern (Mungo) by Joceyln:
And thus fleeing far away from the presence of the sons of men and waiting in the solitude with his body and mind, he dwelled with himself. And in that place, being more free for God, being away from the trouble of men and from the contradictions of tongues and discussions, he lay concealed in the presence of God in secret. Therefore as he sat alone, he raised himself above himself, and frequently dwelling in the caverns of the earth, or standing at the door of his den and praying after the commotion of storm and fire, he experienced the rustling of the light air breathing on him and anointing and filling him with a certain indescribable sweetness.

The beauty of solitude or this 'indescribable sweetness' will often be accompanied by some sense of darkness and in these alone spaces we uncover unexamined, wounded, ugly, unwanted parts of ourselves that if left to run riot will soon run our lives. It is this that Carl Jung called the shadow and encouraged not the annihilation of the shadow but its integration. And so beauty and shadow are inescapable friends in solitude. So it is no wonder that traditions of solitude often contain stories of wrestling with demonic forces:
Alone but for the help of God, he drove back from this island of ours (Iona), countless hostile armies of demons visible to his bodily eyes, which were making war against him and on his monastic community (Adomnan, Life of Columba).

While some of this language may appear to be unhelpful or irrational to our contemporary eyes, it nonetheless points to something real in our inner and communal journeys that requires our respect and attention.

We often conceive of solitude as taking place only in a 'separate place' far away from others and perhaps at times largely consisting of self-indulgent naval gazing. Of course these can be possibilities.  However, true solitude always carries the wisdom that we are never ever disconnected from the rest of life or the world. For if we come into the 'cave of the heart' we also discover the 'soul of the world' and vice versa.

What relevance might these ideas have for those of us in committed relationships while parenting and leading full suburban lives? Certainly, listening to our impulses to solitude in 'separate places' is key as this may well be the spirit driving us out into a different and transfigured reality. However, we may also experience the solitariness of our being on a daily basis no matter what is happening:

To love solitude and to seek it does not mean constantly travelling from one geographical possibility to another. A man becomes a solitary at the moment when, no matter what may be his external surroundings, he is suddenly aware of his own inalienable solitude and sees that he will never be anything but solitary. From that moment, solitude is not potential – it is actual. However, actual solitude always places us squarely in the presence of an unrealized possibility of "perfect solitude." But this has to be properly understood: for we lose the actuality of the solitude we already have if we try, with too great anxiety, to realize the material possibility for great exterior solitude that always seems just out of reach. Actual solitude has, as one of its integral elements, the dissatisfaction and uncertainty that come from being face to face with an unrealized possibility. It is not a mad pursuit of possibilities – it is the humble acquiescence that stabilises us in the presence of one enormous reality which is one sense already possessed and in another a "possibility" – an object of hope (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1958).

It is in our actual solitude that life can move most freely within us...It is this life, this gift that we offer to others, that helps form true communities and listening souls. It is our actual, inalienable solitude that may assist us with the injustices of the world by embracing those who are alienated, alone, oppressed. It is from this place that we might also speak to systems that are disinterested in human transformation.

A final word, during the recent retreat session the reality of individual temperament was raised. The notion and experience of solitude, broadly speaking, tends be attractive to people who prefer to go inside themselves to find energy and life and less attractive to those who prefer to reach out to others to find energy and life. It is important to note that both are God-given impulses and require our discernment in each circumstance of life. Safe to say though that all are called to a measure of solitude.