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Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

It is New Year's Eve and as I usually do, I'm reviewing the past year.   Here is a selection of quotes I've written in my journal in 2011. One or more of them may spark a line of thought that is useful for you too.  Happy New Year!

“He suddenly felt that what had been the source of his suffering had become the source of his spiritual joy and that what had seemed insoluble when he condemned, reproached and hated had become clear and simple when he forgave and loved.” Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

“A [person] should be so clothed in God that no-one can reach [them] without touching God’s coat… The most fundamental thing anyone can do is bring a [person] into the presence of God and leave [them] there.” Thomas Kelly in The Eternal Promise.

“Make all cares into one care,
the care of simply being present.
You will be cared for by that Presence.”  From Cynthia Bourgeault retreat.

“Whatever you are not aware of you can be sure you will be acting out of.” Charlotte Beck – quoted by Cynthia Bourgeault

“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.”
Frances de Sales

“We no more need a soap box to stand on than does the moon or a single blade of grass wet with dew. From Merton’s Palace of Nowhere by James Finlay

“Merton once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said, ‘How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.” From Merton’s Palace of Nowhere by James Finlay

“All we have to do as Christians is come back one more time than we go away.” Alexander Shaia at Spiritual Directors’ Conference.

Once when Pope John 23rd was dealing with major and delicate issues in the Church he was heard to say: “God it’s your church. I’m going to bed!”
Alexander Shaia at Spiritual Directors’ Conference.

“Your goal on the spiritual path should be to free everyone else from your ego!”  Craig Hamilton in Awakening to an Evolutionary Relationship to Life online course.

“Jesus spoke about God. Jesus spoke to God. Jesus spoke as God.”
            3rd person                     2nd person                   1st person
Ken Wilber in online interview about The Three Faces of God.

“The human heart is the first home of democracy.” Parker Palmer in a Sounds True interview Living the Undivided Life.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who better to tell the Christmas story...

If you have read one of my previous Blogs (here) you will know that I am a Green Party member because I think Green Party values match Christian values. So it was with particular interest that I listened to Green Party co-leader Russell Norman's speech in the opening of Parliament. He based his whole speech on the Christmas story and how, as a country, we need to be following Christian values in order to have a just and sustainable society that takes care of all people and the environment.

You can watch the speech in two clips Part 1 and Part 2 (15 mins and 13 mins)

The fact that Russell Norman said he is not a Christian but an atheist made his speech even more powerful in my view! If a Christian politician had said the same things he or she would probably have been dismissed by many people as just "pushing their own barrow". Russell did an excellent job of presenting accurately and fairly the Christian story and calling all politicians to account for the ways in which these values are ignored.

It's a funny thing isn't it how the presence of Christ shows up in "unlikely" places! But then that was how it all began - with God incarnate in a baby in a stable.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lucy's Carol

This is one of my all time favourite Christmas "carols". It was composed by a five year old girl called Lucy and transcribed word for word by her mother. I found it some years ago in A Pocket Book of Spiritual Poems collected by Rumer Godden.

Lucy's Carol

When the baby borned
Joseph said to Mary
"What am I going to do about
this little-born Jesus Baby Christ?
I never knew it was going to be like this,
with all these angels and kings 
and shepherds and stars and things.
It's got me worried I can tell you,
on Christmas day in the morning."

Mary said to Joseph,
"Not to worry, my darling.
Dear old darling Joseph,
everything's going to be all right,
because the angel told me not to fear.
So just hold up the lamp
so I can see the dear sweet little face 
of my darling little-born Jesus Baby Christ."

Joseph said to Mary,
"Behold the handyman of the Lord!"
Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas!
Christ is born today.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Strangely wonderful

Reflecting on the Christmas story this morning it struck me again - and somehow in a new way - how strange and wonderful the whole thing is. A poor young woman, thought by many to be carrying an "illegitimate" baby, travels a long journey in winter to find rejection instead of warm, welcoming care for her first delivery.  Then the first people to mysteriously get an inkling of something divinely important going on are the rough old guys out in the paddocks. But they take the idea seriously and follow it up enough to find - well - nothing that matched angels and glory. Yet in the vulnerability of the little family "out the back" there was an intangible "something" that changed their lives. Later, at the opposite end of the social spectrum, there are astrologers following stars... and for all their rich gifts, being brought to their knees in worship.

I know it has all been said before but it's true - God chose, and chooses, to be revealed in a context of poverty, misunderstanding, rejection, vulnerability ... and recognised by those who, to our proud minds, are the least likely characters. Who would have thought that "the shearing gang" and "those New Age types" would be among the first to receive the gift and wonder of the first Christmas? I feel both awed and humbled and I hope I can look in the right places for Jesus this Christmas.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

In Praise of the Useless Life

The subtitle of this article in Parabola is: Prayer as Creativity and Play. The writer Brother Paul Quenon is a Cistercian monk. Some quotes from this excellent article:

"Thomas Merton, in his latter days, was concerned that monks of the future would have identity crises because the monastic life seems so useless. We serve no obvious purpose and cannot be explained in terms of modern society where everyone serves a purpose, has some function, and can show a product to prove it. People can be justified in the eyes of society when they have something to show for themselves....

However, contemplation is not a commodity, nor is love. It is a reality that exists for its own sake, not for the sake of an impression it may make. ... Prayer might be compared to art and a life of art - a very pure art for the sake of making art. ... To engage in a song alone in the woods, or to play a flute on a mountainside, has no end other than itself. It might be for practice, for improvement of skill, discipline. It might be for enjoyment. Or it might be for worship done to honor beauty in the presence of God, done as a pure act of love for joy, form and beauty in the universe.

Matthew Kelty, a monk of Gethsemani, died at the age of ninety-five... He has expressed this notion of art, and implicitly the notion of prayer, in his book Flute Solo, which begins:
"I am not a flutist, yet I have a flute and I play it, for no purpose and for no ears save God's and my own. That being so, there is no need of artistry or skill and I can sing my tune without fear of correction or disapproval, let alone of another showing me how it should be done. ... I don't want to learn to play the flute; I prefer it this way. Beyond my incapacity to get far, there is the fear of my small joy being driven away by concern for doing it well and turning a natural act into a performance."

Prayer, like great art, has transcendent value in itself - even more so. Contemplation is a mind and heart engaged in the highest potential they were created for. ... What some take for absurdity and vanity, monks take for grace and a pure act of play. ... A child understands this. Commercialized play has lost its true nature and has been debased into a serious business of drawing crowds and charging tickets. Its purpose is outside of itself. ...

What then is the right way of living? We might find the answer to that question Posed by Plato by turning to Thomas Merton at the end of "The General Dance" in New Seeds of Contemplation:
"What is serious to men is often trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as "play" is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing..."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How much better is the little of those who know Love

From Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill -
Part of Psalm 37 which seemed very appropriate to current world and political situations:

In a little while, those who live with greed 
will prosper no more;
the darkness of ignorance will pass 
as a new dawn enlightens the world.
The lovers of darkness shall perish,
while the humble shall inherit the earth, and find
delight in sharing its abundance with all.

Those who are greedy plot against the weak,
those without worldly power,
and rationalize their selfish deeds.
The Beloved watches patiently, knowing 
they will stumble and have to face
their own downfall.

Those with power make war
despoiling nations,
killing the poor and innocent,
murdering in the name of peace!

O, if only they knew that their greed
will kill their own spirit;
their hearts will be broken.

How much better is the little of
those who know Love, than
the abundance of the greedy ones.
Those who are greedy borrow, using
money they cannot pay back;
the upright are generous and give.
Blessed by Love, they know inner peace,
but the selfish cut themselves off from Love.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Butterfly Experience

A guest staying with me recently saw this beautiful quilt hanging on the wall and said she remembered reading an article I had written many years ago about "the butterfly experience". So I thought I'd re-publish it here along with a photo of the quilt made for me by Marion Robinson.


I was given a most unusual gift this Easter. It came in a small plywood box. On the lid was a label: "The Butterfly Experience". I gently slid the lid open and there, nestled on spaghnum moss, was a monarch butterfly chrysalis!

The friend who gave me the gift had been given a chrysalis herself a week earlier and hers was further along on its transformative journey. We hung them both on a pot plant in the house where we were making our Easter Retreat. Each day we looked carefully to note any changes. By Easter Saturday the more mature chrysalis was darkening. We could see the red wing colour and the black body through the capsule.

Resurrection day dawned. Still the chrysalis was intact. Perhaps it was too much to hope that the butterfly might emerge today!  But wonderfully, that afternoon as we sat reflecting together on the meaning of Easter, the chrysalis split! It happened silently and quickly. If it hadn't been right in front of us we would have missed it. We sat awed at the wonder of new, beautiful life being born from a tiny enclosed case. The wings at first looked too small and almost deformed. I wondered if something was wrong. Surely this butterfly would never fly? We watched and waited. Over the next hour the wings gradually unfolded. The butterfly was in no hurry. It allowed the transforming process to be completed at its own pace. Soon the wings were full size. Now it was time to let them dry and to test their movement. A tentative opening and closing began, with long rests in between. We wanted to see the butterfly take its first flight but our retreat was over and we had to leave. We left the newly resurrected "caterpillar-turned-butterfly" on a sheltered plant in the garden and drove away.

My own chrysalis came home with me in its mossy box. It was a wonderful gift because for some time the chrysalis has been a powerful symbol for me of spiritual process. There come times when it feels as if the way life used to be (as a caterpillar!) has disappeared. It is dark, confined and mysterious in the chrysalis. There seems to be no movement, no externally observable "progress". We just hang there. There is nothing to do but stay still and trust. Staying still and trusting might sound easy to the uninitiated! But anyone who has entered a chrysalis stage of spiritual transformation will know it is not. It challenges all our notions of independence. We either surrender to the process - or we stay as we are. (Apparently some caterpillars choose not form a chrysalis until a year later than their contemporaries.)

Transformation always involves leaving behind the way things were.  But being drawn away from the familiar into a confined space where the future is unknown is usually frightening. It was so even for Jesus. He agonised over the journey to the cross. "Isn't there some other way?" he pleaded. Yet he allowed death to take him into cocoon of the tomb. What if he hadn't? What if he had not followed through on his mission? We can scarcely even imagine the alternative. But perhaps there come times when we are invited to transformation and we balk at entering the chrysalis. It feels like death. How can I let go the old familar ways? How can I be sure this will lead to something better?  Probably the answer to the latter question is: "You can't! Surrender. Stay still. Trust."

"The butterfly experience" is the Easter experience! Transformation is at the heart of God's purposes. Jesus demonstrated and accomplished the biggest transformation of all. God has built visual aids of the transformation process throughout creation - seeds buried  become flowers, caterpillars cocooned become butterflies. Humans are not exempt from the mystery, awe and joy of the same process. We are led to let go, to surrender, to stay still in the darkness of cocooned stages and to trust.

Today, a week after Easter, my cocoon hatched! I was at home most of the day and I sat with the newly emerged butterfly for several hours. I so much wanted to see it take its first flight. I had to go out for a meeting and as soon as I got back I rushed to the plant on my porch where I had left it resting. At the very moment I arrived it climbed to the top of the plant and took off with a few shaky wing flaps to a nearby tree! I gasped aloud with thankfulness and wonder. Whatever the cynics might say, I do not think the timing was just coincidence. I think God smiled on me and let the butterfly reassure me that transformation does lead to the ability to fly - even if shakily at first.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


"Understanding" the Trinity is difficult. I've heard a couple of minsters say they dread preaching on Trinity Sunday!

But I like how Paul Smith (minister with the Alliance of Baptists USA) expresses it:
Infinite God - Father/Creator
Intimate God - Jesus
Inner God - Spirit

A prayer liturgy they use in his Church is:
  Infinite God in whom we live and move and have our being;
     Intimate God you are always with us;
       Inner God we are the light of the world.

I've adapted that for personal prayer:
Infinite God in you I live and move and have my being;
     Intimate God you are always with me;
         Inner God through you I am called to be light in the world.

You can read more of Paul Smith's discussion of the trinity here: Part 1; Part 2.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Declaration of Human Responsibilities

We are all familiar with the "Declaration of Human Rights" - well with that title anyway. It may be a while since any of us have read it! But I recently came across the article below which comments on the attempt to generate an officially recognized Declaration of Human Responsibilities. Very challenging food for thought. (Bold type added by me) :
GordonBy Gordon Dveirin
Our Moment to Act:
Conscious Evolution and the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities
“Conscious evolution means that humans commit our life energy to making this planet a better place to live for all sentient beings.” Allen M. Schoen, Kindred Spirits
Implicit in the concept of conscious evolution is an ethical orientation, a guide to wise and compassionate action that naturally flows from our felt kinship with, and reverence for, the richly diverse and interdependent life that springs from the one great source with its infinitely creative potential. When we have widened the circle of our concern to this degree, embracing all that lives and the sacred life force itself, we awaken from what Einstein called “the optical delusion of separateness” and the selfishness it begets. In its place, the higher, creative intelligence from which life’s fullness springs begins to inform us and we are empowered to act not only freely and spontaneously, but also responsibly, sensitively, in synergy with others for the good of the whole. Imagine what our world can be like if we all, individually and collectively, rise to this level, with global conscience serving as our guide. Imagine what our future can be when we’ve agreed to act according to the Golden Rule that underlies all the world’s religions, doing toward all others, human and non-human alike, only as we ourselves would be done to.
This is not being fanciful. Beginning this autumn of 2011, as conscious evolutionaries, we will all have an opportunity to take an active step toward such a future by supporting a revived initiative to have the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities officially adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This effort began 14 years ago in an attempt to balance the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted in 1948 in time for its 50th anniversary. The initial effort failed because mostly Western countries felt that responsibilities interfered with unrestricted freedom.
Individualism and laissez faire competition at any cost have been our Western way of defining freedom since the Industrial Age began. But the cost is becoming unbearable, leading to a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale. For example, twenty per cent of our beloved fellow species will be extinct in less than thirty years if we don’t change our destructive patterns of behavior. As former president Bill Clinton said at a recent meeting in Quebec City, the days of win/lose in our deeply interdependent world are over. Win/win or lose/lose are now the only remaining options. Without shared responsibility to respect and protect one another’s rights and dignity, those rights and that dignity will not be protected and preserved.
The Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities is important, and we can all lobby our government representatives and each other to support its passage by the UN General Assembly. As fellow evolutionary leaders who recognize the flourishing future that wants to be born through us as our deepest impulse, we invite you to join us in this effort.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The World is a Wall St

I have become much more political in recent years! I used to think politics was an area completely out of my league. But it's hard to leave it all in the "too hard basket" when seeing the courage of protestors in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Palestine... as they are prepared to give their lives to bring about justice and some level of true democracy. And closer to home are the recent Wall St protests against corporate greed and its crippling effects on "the 99%". These protests have spread to many countries around the world - including New Zealand. I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't heard about those gatherings in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill and New Plymouth on October 15th. I hadn't either until the day before. The media didn't seem too keen to let us know! Even catching up in retrospect can generate some careful thought as we (in NZ) approach a general election. Check out these articles: The World is a Wall St  and Corporate Greed Protests Spread Around the World

And as for the coming general election I want to give my party vote to a party whose underlying values I can say yes to with integrity. Election hype makes it hard to know what are the baseline motivators for the "promises" and "policies" that all sound so good on the surface. For several years now I have been impressed by the Green Party charter - and just as importantly - how it is actually lived out by Green Party MPs. So this election my Party Vote will once again go to the Green Party. In case you haven't made up your mind yet here's their charter:

The charter is the founding document of
The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand accepts Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand; recognises Maori as Tangata Whenua in Aotearoa New Zealand; and commits to the following four Principles:
Ecological Wisdom:
The basis of ecological wisdom is that human beings are part of the natural world. This world is finite, therefore unlimited material growth is impossible. Ecological sustainability is paramount.
Social Responsibility:
Unlimited material growth is impossible. Therefore the key to social responsibility is the just distribution of social and natural resources, both locally and globally.
Appropriate Decision-making:
For the implementation of ecological wisdom and social responsibility, decisions will be made directly at the appropriate level by those affected.
Non-violent conflict resolution is the process by which ecological wisdom, social responsibility and appropriate decision making will be implemented. This principle applies at all levels.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Disability and Ducks!

I have had a very inspiring morning attending a "Journey for Change" presentation at the Auckland cbm office. CBM used to be called Christian Blind Mission. It has a 100 year history and is now involved with many other types of disability in 13 countries, so the name/logo is now simply cbm. Check out their website here. I was inspired to be reminded yet again how easily we - who in world terms are rich - can contribute to changing the life of a child or adult who is living with a disability and in poverty. Disability + poverty = almost no chance for a full life. Disability + poverty + being a child = loneliness, rejection and limited opportuntities for education or being seen as a valued person with abilities. cbm changes lives every day - every 47 seconds in fact! Somewhere in the world a person is given back their sight by a cataract operation every 47 seconds. For an adult this costs $35 dollars. For a child the amount is $230. I had cataract surgery myself a few years ago and it was many times that amount!

Thursday 13th October is World Sight Day - which I didn't know until this morning!

So where do ducks come in? Well driving home from cbm there was a mother duck with about ten tiny ducklings crossing the busy road with traffic coming both ways. All the traffic stopped until the mother had shepherded her flock safely across the road. I couldn't help thinking how compassionately we cared about a mother duck and her "children" and wondered if we do the same for mothers in poverty who desperately want fullness of life for their children - children like Justine and Ben.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Narnia with Archbishop Rowan Williams

If you are a Narnia fan you will appreciate three excellent lectures by Archbishop Rowan Williams which can be downloaded here. The lectures are entitled: 
1. Not a tame lion 
2. I only tell you  your own story
3. Bigger inside than outside
The Archbishop masterfully covers most of the Narnia chronicles and draws out themes that cover Christian theology in a way that is as engaging for adults as the original stories were (and still are) for children.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Listen! (a free download)

Spiritual Directors' International publish a free broadsheet called Listen every six months. The current issue can be downloaded here. For many other helpful resources go to the SDI home page.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Strong at the Broken Places

(First published in Reality. Re-reading this today in the face of many people close to me suffering, as well as millions of others world-wide, I stand by what I wrote 15+ years ago and find these perspectives personally helpful - having long since forgotten what I wrote back then!)

I've been thinking about pain and suffering quite a bit lately. 
CS Lewis's famous book on the subject is called The Problem of Pain. Why are pain and suffering a problem? Silly question? I don't think so. The answers we give to it are revealing. (If you can resist reading on, stop and give your own answer first).

Generally I think there are three main reasons why suffering is a problem:
         *Suffering is a problem because we can't understand how a God who is loving and powerful could let it happen. (The WHY question).
         *Suffering is a problem because it hurts; it disrupts life and we don't know how to cope. (The HOW question).
         *Suffering is a problem because it seems so pointless. If we could see a constructive purpose it wouldn't be so bad. (The WHAT FOR question).

Now the last thing I want to do with a subject as complex as this is to sound simplistic. There are no pat answers for anyone in the midst of the dark valley of physical, emotional or relational pain. One of things I find hardest myself is the sheer helplessness I feel as I sit with someone who is suffering and know that I can't make it better.

Yet as I consider the three problems above I can't help wondering whether suffering brings us face to face with the very essence of Christian faith. The Apostle Paul said that ultimately there are only three things that abide: faith, hope and love.[i] We need them all to come through suffering constructively.

The WHY Question and Faith.

Why does a loving God allow such awful suffering to happen? Theologians for centuries have grappled with this one! Some of their reasoning is helpful. Some of it makes a person in pain want to scream! In the end I don't think the question can be answered by logic, only by faith.

We can't possibly understand all the interrelated dynamics of God's sovereignty, human choices, a fallen world and the suffering of innocent people. Most of the questions we ask about all of this are the wrong ones I suspect! But what we do know is that God is loving. That non-negotiable fact is what we are called upon to trust no matter what we may be feeling.

A nine year old friend of mine provides a human analogy. He recently had his tonsils out. When he discovered after the operation how painful it was and how sick he felt, he was very very angry with his parents for "making me have this operation". He could not logically understand why it had to be this way. He was free to be angry. But he did not reject his parents and their love! In fact he relied on the constancy of their care in the midst of his pain and anger. His trust in them at the very time he could not understand why, was crucial.

Our faith in the nature of God is revealed when we face the agonising 'why' questions. If we can say (even through gritted teeth) "I don't understand it but I trust you" we are on solid ground.

The HOW Question and Love.

A person in the midst of suffering doesn't usually want theological arguments so much as the loving companionship of friends. Sheila Cassidy's excellent book Sharing the Darkness depicts this beautifully in a series of illustrations showing first a professional in the uniform of a "helper", next the same person in ordinary garb just like the sufferer and finally both sufferer and "helper" naked and vulnerable to the pain.

Dealing with the pain and disruption that suffering brings is made more manageable by the knowledge that we are loved and companioned in the midst of it. Usually we want and need the tangible love of other people who will, as Cassidy suggests, be vulnerable with us. But with or without this human support we desperately need to know the love of God. And tragically, so often this is the time when God is seen as the enemy, the heartless bystander. Yet all the time God weeps with us. Stripped and broken, hanging alongside us on the cross, Jesus is, as Peter Kreeft puts it, "the tears of God".[ii]

I know of nothing more important to communicate to a person in pain than this: Jesus suffers with you because he loves you. Everyone who has loved someone will know that when a loved one suffers your own heart is torn. God's heart is no less tender.

Antionette Bosco relates how she realised that the HOW question was more significant than the WHY question when a wise person said to her: "The question you must ask is, 'How do I come to find peace out of my pain?' ... You can only do this by walking into your grief and accepting the mystery knowing that He is with you."[iii]

The WHAT FOR Question and Hope.

That last quote ushers in the third question. Is there any purpose in all this? What is it for? If we are to walk right into the depths of our pain and accept it, we need to have some hope that it makes sense to do so. Human beings can survive a great deal if they have hope, as numerous stories from the holocaust remind us.

What hope can we cling to when suffering seems impossible to understand and our limits of coping seem to have been reached? I suggest that it is the ultimate hope of the great gospel principle that after death comes resurrection.

I am not primarily talking about physical death, though the principle certainly holds true there.  No, rather I mean the constant discovery of the life-death-resurrection principle in all the numerous "little deaths" (and sometimes big ones) that suffering brings.

A wonderful, and very down to earth, friend of mine has suffered a lot in recent years. Recently she said to me: "You know I realise that something in me has died - that old part of me that was always saying 'What about me?''I've had enough' 'I'm not putting up with this any more'. Somehow that's gone and I'm bigger inside. I can't explain it - and I certainly didn't make it happen, but yes, it's as if I am bigger inside. God has carved out a place in me that wasn't there before."

Ernest Hemingway wrote: "Life breaks us all and afterwards many are strong at the broken places."[iv]  A realistic, yet hopeful statement. Suffering sometimes does break us. The breaking is real and agonising. Yet the gospel hope is that by God's grace it is at the very points of brokenness that new life and strength can emerge. Jesus demonstrated it, Paul proved it in his experience[v] and so have countless others through the centuries. The same hope is ours to grasp.

Suffering is a problem for most of us. We don't yet "consider it nothing but joy" along with James.[vi] We find it hard to join Paul in saying we are "content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamaties for the sake of Christ".[vii] But we can inch closer to what they hold out to us as we take a firmer grasp of the three things which abide:
         * faith in a God we can trust even when we can't understand;
         * love surrounding us from Jesus who is vulnerable with us;
         * hope that even the most painful "death" carries within it the seeds of resurrection life.

The God who is Love has made such careful provision for even the hardest aspects of our human journey. Supported by such a God we can look forward to becoming strong at the broken places.

[i] 1 Cor 13:13

[ii] Peter Kreeft Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986)
[iii] Antionette Bosco The Pummeled Heart (23rd Publications, 1994) p 38
[iv] Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms (Scribners, 1987)
[v] 2 Cor 12:10
[vi] James 1:2

[vii] 2 Cor 12:10

Friday, September 30, 2011

The assassination of Fr. Jose Reynel Restrepo

In a recent post I talked about the movie "Of Gods and Men" and posted a link to the letter written by Brother Christopher before he was assassinated. Today I read about yet another killing. This time of a Priest in Columbia who was prepared to die to stand against terrible injustice. Here are the first few paragraphs of an article by John Dear SJ:

"Fr. Jose Reynel Restrepo, the 36 year old pastor of the Catholic Church in the town of Marmato in Colombia, was assassinated Sept. 1. He was riding his motorcycle through the countryside on his way home after visiting his family when he was stopped and shot dead.
A few days before, Restrepo had publicly condemned the mammoth Canadian/Colombian mining company "Gran Colombia Gold" for their plan to wipe out his entire parish and town. The week before, he had traveled to Bogota to meet with government officials to prevent the mind-boggling injustice.
This evil behemoth, Gran Colombia Gold, along with the Colombia government, was going to force the entire town of Marmato to move from its ancient present location. Founded in 1540, Marmato has a population of 10,000 people. It is one of the historic gold-mining regions of the hemisphere.
After the residents of Marmato were displaced, Gran Colombia Gold was going to dig a new open-pit gold mine in its place -- and make a fortune. Canadian mining in Colombia is favored by the so-called "Free Trade Agreement" between Canada and Colombia, and like evil U.S.-Colombian multinational partnerships, wreaks havoc upon the poor rural communities."
The full article with an embedded You Tube clip can be seen here. Towards the end of the article there is a link to a site that enables you to send emails to relevant Columbian authorities to add our voices to those of the Columbian people. It took me less than half an hour to read the article, view the You Tube and send the emails. It is so little to do from our privileged environment to stand with those whose whole future is at stake.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Water: World water monitoring day

The 18th of September was world water monitoring day. I don't think it was well advertised but here are a few interesting - and sobering - facts and perhaps some reminders of the part we can all play:
  • Although over 70% of the earth’s surface is water 97% of that water is saline (salt water), leaving a mere 3% of fresh water. Of that 3% over 2% is frozen in glaciers and frozen ice caps leaving less than 1% readily available for consumption. 
  • While fresh water is a renewable resource, the world’s supply of clean usable water is decreasing faster than it can be replenished. 
  • Here in NZ over half of our monitored rivers are unsafe for swimming, one third of our lakes are unhealthy and two thirds of our native freshwater fish are at risk or threatened with extinction.

  "We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one" ~ Jacques Cousteau

Water saving tips:
(Just 5 taken from 100 ways listed here.)
1. Don’t leave the tap running when you clean your teeth.
2. Shorten your shower time by one minute and save hundreds of litres a month.
3. Wash your car from a bucket – not a hose.
4. Save the cold water when you are waiting for the tap to run hot in the kitchen sink. Catch it in a jug for drinking water or a small watering can to water house plants.
5. Compost food waste instead of using an insinkerator/waste disposal – saves many litres every time.

If you live in Auckland make sure you go and  see AQUA at Auckland Museum (till 24th October Labour Day). Click here for more information. It is excellent – and suited for all ages.

"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry"
Thomas Fuller

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When the Tide Goes Out

(Recently someone told me that the article below was particularly significant for her when it was published in Reality many years ago. Clearly it has been remembered. So here it is again - hopefully significant for someone in 2011! The photo was taken this morning on Long Bay beach. I love walking the beach when the tide is out. It's a more expansive place to explore. I wonder if there's a parable in that!)

Do you remember when prayer was exciting, when you couldn't wait to get to your daily quiet time because God spoke so powerfully to you from his word every day? If this is your current experience, you don't need this article right now. I'm writing for those who find themselves having to admit that the tide seems to have gone out in their devotional life.

It does happen you know - even to faithful, mature Christians; maybe even to people who are in the process of discipling others! Bible reading can become boring, prayer seems pointless and a hundred and one things crowd in and sabotage quality time with God.

A vital spiritual life can be a bit like physical fitness: easier said than done! We don't dispute the theory of the value of exercise and the necessity of pushing through the pain barrier, but actually exercising until we reach fitness is something else again.  Similarly we can know, and even exhort others, about the necessity of keeping our relationship with God fresh, alive and growing. But getting out of our conversational armchairs (or pulpits) and demonstrating the reality is a challenge we'd often rather not face.

Guilt trips don't help much, however! Perhaps having one's cover blown and being forced to admit that the tide is out spiritually can provide some initial motivation for change. But in the end guilt won't carry us very far into a new reality. So, what will?  Let me suggest some possibilities.

Look at What You Really Want. Have a go right now at putting into a sentence what you most want or long for in your relationship with God. What did you come up with? If you didn't stop to formulate your own sentence do it now! One author suggests that the process of any transformation depends on the answers to three questions: What do I want? Where does it hurt? What price am I prepared to pay?[i] Ask yourself the second two questions as well.

Wanting or longing or desiring are at the heart of most spiritual growth. The Psalmists knew how to express their longings.[ii] And as Joyce Huggett points out, "The language of spirituality seems punctuated by words like desire, thirst, hunger, pining, panting, homesickness, languishing, sighing, seeking, restlessness and yearning."[iii] If you don't genuinely long for anything it is hardly surprising that nothing seems to change. But if you do  have a deep desire for a renewed, more intimate or disciplined or dynamic walk with God, then take heart: your longing itself may be the first indication of the turning of the tide.

Face Up to What is Getting in the Way: Reasons for spiritual dryness, boredom or lethargy  are many. Careful discernment as well as honesty and common sense are essential here. If ill health, emotional trauma or lack of sleep, are causing that "tide's out" feeling, then take the appropriate action and don't "spiritualise" your problem.

Then again, there are times when Jesus allows his disciples to go through desert periods as a way of strengthening faith. Here the disciple's response is to continue in consistent commitment to regular spiritual disciplines without demanding pleasant feelings or exciting experiences. In this case nothing is "wrong"; the challenge is to stay faithful to God even when God seems hidden from you.

Having drawn attention to the two possibilities above, I want to focus most attention on a third area which is likely to be more common. Strange as it may seem we often avoid the very thing we say we want most - a deeper relationship with God. We avoid spending time with God in prayer, reflection on Scripture and openness to the Spirit, for a variety of (often unconscious) reasons. For a start, the enemy is hard at work to keep us from such a vital relationship. We should never underestimate the subtlety here. Resisting him requires determination and faith. Read CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters and Letters to Malcolm About Prayer for some insights on this.

Perhaps we avoid spending quality time with God because we are afraid of what we might discover if we really became quiet enough to listen. For all our talk about a God who loves us and whose purposes for us are always good, we seem strangely reluctant to give God our undivided attention. It is true that God's love is sometimes "tough love", but to avoid loving discipline is also to reject the process which enables us to "share his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10).  Besides, if we give no priority time to God's company, we remove ourselves from the nurturing, affirming, strengthening aspects of God's love too!

Having raised the issue of priority time, let's grasp that nettle. A very commonly given reason for inadequate devotional life is lack  of time. But the truth is, no person on this earth has more time, or less time, than another. We all know that the real issue is priorities. Knowing that doesn't solve the problem though! If this is an issue for you I suggest the following diagnosis and solution: over a period of a week make a list headed "Things to Which I Give a Higher Priority Than Prayer". On that list write everything that you did in the time that was supposedly set aside for prayer, quiet time or devotions. Then spread your list before the Lord and let him respond to it. You may be surprised! Sometimes God may agree that another priority was more pressing and give you understanding support. About other things the Spirit may provide you with a creative solution you would never have thought of alone. And, yes, at times you may sense God's sadness and rebuke.

For some people the blockage to what they desire in their spiritual lives comes from being in a rut. Relationship with God is exactly that - relationship. Like any other relationship it needs to be kept vital and growing. Two essentials for relationships, both human and divine, are commitment and creativity. This is especially important when an emotional low tide tempts us to resign ourselves to mediocrity, or worse still, to give up altogether.

Having decided what you really want, and looked at what might be hindering that, let's turn to a third step which suggests some practical perspectives on commitment and creativity. 

Explore New Possibilities. Old habits do die hard, but often that's a good thing! The strength of a good habit lies right there. It sticks and carries us through many times when our feelings or willpower might let us down. Good devotional habits have the same quality. Those of us who were brought up on a carefully structured Quiet Time (probably before breakfast!) as an unquestioned priority in every day, have much to be thankful for.

But even good devotional habits can lose their original purpose. Sometimes they are no longer adequate for the new growth areas God is leading us into. Or perhaps the very familiarity of the routine has dulled the freshness of relating to a living, creative, surprising Person. In such cases we need the freedom and the wisdom to let God expand our horizons. Our focus needs to be on growth in Christlikeness rather than on adherence to a routine which no longer serves that end.

What new horizons? What kind of new creative ideas? What replaces old habits which are no longer useful? These are the obvious questions! At this point I am in a bind! I can write a few hundred words giving some specific suggestions which may be just right for some people but not at all applicable to others. Or I can give some guidelines for discovering your own answers. As you have probably guessed I'm choosing the latter!

1. Ask God. Let your desire for a deeper relationship, and your honest assessment of the blockages, prepare you to listen intently. Jot down any thoughts, ideas, questions, promptings, suggestions.

2. Consult books and people. There is a wealth of material both old and new on the subject of devotional life. There are also people whose lives give evidence that they have wisdom to share. Careful choice is necessary though. You can't follow all the ideas in all the books! And your needs, lifestyle and personality may not be the same as the person you admire. But a prayerfully discerning choice can allow God to open new doors for you. 

3. Commit yourself to a regular pattern of behaviour which strengthens your relationship with Christ. Even if some of your old habits need to change, don't allow new possibilities to be mere novelties or gimmicks. Remember that commitment as well as creativity are the essentials for a revitalised relationship.

4. Be accountable to someone. We are the body of Christ. Jesus did not teach or model an individualistic spirituality. Growth in Christlikeness involves walking in the light of honesty with one another. A prayer partner, support group, spiritual director or a "father" / "mother" in Christ, can provide support, challenge and prayerful reinforcement for our commitment to a renewed spiritual life. We all need that.

Are There Any Guarantees That the Tide Will Turn? No and Yes! No in the sense that God is both personal and sovereign. God is not a computer to be programmed to our specifications. God and God alone, knows the purpose of low tide times in our spiritual lives. Our faithfulness and not our feelings are the measure of our maturity.

But I think there is a "yes" as well. It is God's own guarantee that if we seek wholeheartedly we will find.[iv] Jesus reiterates the promise when he says that if we ask and seek and knock we will not be disappointed.[v] If we fulfill the conditions, these promises will undoubtedly be honoured, for nothing less than the "full tide" of life in Christ is our inheritance.[vi]

[i] Maggie Ross, The Fountain and the Furnace Paulist Press, 1987 p6
[ii] eg Psalm 42:1-2; 84:2; 102:2.
[iii] Quoted by Peter Toon in What is Spirituality? Daybreak, 1989 p11
[iv] 1 Chronicles 28:9
[v] Mtthew 7:7-11
[vi] Colossians 2:9-10