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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

from Cynthia Bourgeault

(This post is originally from the Contemplative Society's Blog)

As we celebrate this season of mystery, and at the end of a year which seems to have dissolved into tragic chaos, it is good to reaffirm the spiritual reality in which we journey.
Here are words from Cynthia Bourgeault’s Sounds True Audio Learning Course “Encountering the Wisdom Jesus,” 2005 in which she calls us back to the heart of the spiritual life.
What do we make of our human task here? Some traditions say that we’re here to be good, to engage in spiritual warfare to mind our ‘p’s’ and ‘q’s’ so later we have the right to go home to where we’ve come from. Some traditions will say that we’re here to work off past karma and that when we have finally worked off our past karma   and emerged whole and fused in our being, we can leave this endless cycle of birth and death and heaviness and density.
But the gist is always the same. Wherever you go in spiritual tradition it seems that here is not home, that our task is somehow to realize our way out of the illusory bonds and get back to where we belong.  That message is filtered to us even through our Christian tradition where heaven has come to represent so much that place that we go to after we die if we’re good.
But is there another way of looking at this?
I believe there is. And I believe this is actually what is at the heart of that beautiful intimation “For God so loved the world.”
Yes this is a very heavy frustrating difficult density. It seems as if by the very binary finite nature of the mind that we’re always bumping into sharp edges. It seems that our walk in time is diminishment. We are always having to choose. To do one thing means we can’t do something else. To love one person means we can’t love another. And our sharp edges, our boundaries as human beings bump against each other and we age. And we diminish. And we finally have our hearts broken. It’s a hard place. It’s a frustrating place. It’s a difficult place.
We come into constriction. But is that as punishment? I believe not. I believe it’s as sacrament.
“I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known.
And so I created the realms.”
In this realm, by its very dense nature, by its very dualistic, binary, jagged-edged nature, it becomes specifically the dimension to express certain aspects of the being of the Divine that can only be expressed in these boundaried conditions. It shows us what love is like in a certain terribly particular and intense way. It accentuates those dimensions of divine love in which love becomes costly and therefore becomes precious.
So the very sharp edges that we experience as constriction are in fact the opportunity to show forth some of the exquisite dimensions of the nature of love that can only be manifest in finitude.
Since love requires your heart being broken, we begin to see qualities such as steadfastness, tenderness, commitment, forebearance, fidelity. These beautiful subtle savours of what love is like have no real context where there’s no edges and boundaries, when all just flows. But when you run up against the hard edge and have to stand in love anyway, what comes forth is a most precious nectar of the quality of divine being.
I’ve sometimes said, and I don’t mean this entirely in jest, that the most profound product of this world is tears. Tears express that vulnerability when we can  stand having our heart broken, and still love. In the tears flows out a sweetness, a warm-heartedness to the Divine which has been known in our tradition as the divine mercy, the divine compassion.
This is the realm, I believe, in which this mercy, this compassion is most deeply, harrowingly, excruciatingly, and beautifully released.
That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re up to.
And I think this has some very important implications.
It’s not about punishment.  It’s not about coming down here as a sort of high school or proving ground for further rewards. But right here and now, we are in the process of co-creating with God the manifestations, the revelation of God’s most secret and intimate name, the heart of God. That’s a difficult assignment. In some way we chose it. We elected or consented to be part of it.
And so, in a sense our deepest opportunity is not to look at how we can get out, how we can get home, just as for Jesus, crucifixion wasn’t the hard thing, Incarnation is, so for us. And to realize in some conscious or deeply trans-conscious way, we are bearing our part in the suffering of God, in the suffering, the costliness that’s involved in the full manifestation of the Divine Name, of the Divine Love. And we’re doing it right here and now, and that these conditions as fragile and as frustrating as they are, are precisely and perfectly the only conditions in which that love can be fully manifest.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Who would have thought...

Over the weeks of Advent I have been listening to the daily Pray-as-you-go meditations - an excellent Jesuit resource for daily prayer. This morning the reading was the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1. At first I thought it was a very strange reading to feature - who wants to listen to a string of names about who "begat" whom! But what struck me as I listened was how, in the very lineage of Jesus, God made sure that the outcasts, the lost and the broken were given a crucial role. The women that are named or alluded to (in the list of mainly male names) each have a poignant history:
Tamar - a widow, abandoned by the father-in-law who should have cared for her, whom she then deceived into having sex with her which produced the child in Jesus' lineage. (See Genesis 38)
Rahab - a Canaanite prostitute who saved the Jewish spies (and her own skin!) by hiding them when they were checking out Jericho before the Israelites destroyed it. (See Joshua 2 and 6:22-25)
Ruth - another widow, who left home and travelled into completely unknown territory (where she would be considered an alien) to support her mother-in-law. Her courage is recorded in a whole book named after her!
"The wife of Uriah"- not even named -  'used' by a so called godly leader and then her having true husband murdered to hide the adulterous deed. (See 2 Samuel 11-12)
And finally Mary - a teenage single Mum from a poor family.

The way these women are carefully woven into the genealogy says we are meant to take them seriously, to know their stories, to see that they were essential to the coming of Jesus.

Yes, shocking as it sounds, without the part played by women whose lives included incest, prostitution, alienation, adultery and poverty we would not be celebrating Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Christmas Smile

I have been thinking I really should Blog some inspiring Advent reflection - but nothing came to mind!! Then someone sent me the link to this delightful re-telling of the Christmas story by Year one (5 year old) girls from Dio school. Do watch it with a smile - and notice some thought provoking lines. Click here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Half Hearted Isn't Enough

Today I "happened upon" this marvellous poem:

Half-Hearted Isn't Enough
My heart
isn't in the mood
isn't enough
I have never seen
a half-hearted bird
a mediocre mountain
the clouds and stars
I have ever seen
have given it
their all
I am the only one
has been
holding back


(It was in the Te Moata retreat centre newsletter: http://www.temoata.org )  

I looked up more of Suni's poems on her website and may well buy the whole book. I love the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz and Suni's poems have the same ring to them.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chiang Mai retreat

As I said in my last post the main reason I went to Chiang Mai was to be part of a team running a retreat for people from around Asia. This ministry has been initiated by Simon and Rinda (pictured above). They are a wonderful couple who have walked by faith for the last several years since Simon left his job as pastor of a large church in Singapore to give their full time to the work of spiritual direction and retreat ministry.

There were five of us on the team - the other two being Soo Hoong and Alfred who both work full time in Methodist churches in Singapore and also offer spiritual direction and run retreats.

There were 30 participants. Most were from Singapore with two  from Malaysia and one from Cambodia. Most of them were working in various forms of Christian ministry. The culture of Singapore is such that the norm is to work extremely long hours and to have only one day a week "off" - and even that is often taken up with family responsibilities or the overflow of yet more work. So many of the people on retreat were quite exhausted. At least those who come on retreats are already aware of the importance of time out with God to be refreshed and renewed but it is very hard for them to keep this as a pattern in the midst of daily life in such a culture.

For one person close to burnout the scripture that became her lifeline and her freedom was The Message paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30:

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.

There's a very good book expanding on every phrase of this text: Rhythms of Grace by Tony Horsfall.

You can look up more information and excellent photos of the retreat centre here. Take the "photo tour" and you'll get a great idea of the wonderful setting and facilities we enjoyed.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A few photos from Thailand

I'm home again after three wonderful weeks in Chiang Mai. As always there's so much to catch up on after being away but as an interim for any faithful Blog followers I'll show you a few photos of interesting activities and places. I might write more seriously at a later date about the retreat I went there to assist with.
In with the Tigers at "Tiger Haven"

Resting with a Tiger! (Yes a fully grown, real, live, non-sedated tiger.)

Riding an Elephant

Being hugged and kissed by elephants. 
Note the baby elephant in the middle of the two big ones is "kissing" my cheek 
with the end of his trunk.

The view from my bedroom at "Seven Fountains" retreat centre

The main Chapel at Seven Fountains

The beautiful retreat centre labyrinth at sunrise.

Me with Fr David Townsend, my spiritual director 24years ago 
and again for a week at Seven Fountains.

Buddhist monk making music with a very large "singing bowl" at a temple:
Wat Doi Suthep

The bus/taxi (songthaew) which you could hail at any point on the road.

Sukwan - a delightful 7 year old I met in the nearby park with her mother, Pit. Sukwan speaks flawless English which she taught herself mainly from a NZ child she knew for a while.  Her mother is also quite fluent.  (They were the only Thai people I met casually who did have good English). 
Pit home-schools Sukwan as she thinks Thai education is very rigid and doesn't encourage creativity. It was such a delight to meet these two. We now email each other.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A MacCafe in Chiangmai

I am sitting in a MacCafe in Chiangmai, Thailand - but not a MacCafe as we know it! This one is part of a Mac computer shop! It is just across the road from the retreat centre Seven Fountains where I am for three weeks currently helping to run a ten day retreat for a group of 30 people from around Asia. I wish I could add photos but I am doing this from my iPad and the photos are on my camera.

So this isn't a very interesting Blog! But it feels fun to be blogging with free WiFi in a MacCafe!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"I would be glad..."

This Kabir poem tickled my fancy this morning - though more seriously it has an excellent point I want to remember!

You are sitting in a wagon being
drawn by a horse
whose reins 
you hold.

There are two inside of you 
who can steer.

Though most never hand the reins to Me
so they go from place to place the 
best they can, though
rarely happy.

And rarely does their whole body laugh
feeling God's poke
in the 

If you feel tired, dear,
my shoulder is soft,
I'd be glad to steer 

from Love Poems from God - Daniel Ladinsky

Friday, October 12, 2012

Contemplation as revolutionary

Some of you may know about the Spiritual Growth Ministries programme for the formation of spiritual directors. (If not check it out here.) In an email I received today in relation to this programme was the following quote from Archbishop Rowan Williams:

“… contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do:  it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit.  To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

I have great respect for Rowan Williams and his writing and preaching. Synchronistically he has been brought to my attention twice today! Someone read me a section of NT Wright's book Virtue Reborn where some years ago Rowan Williams was able to quietly defuse a strident protest group who broke into a crowded Cathedral service. Wright's observation was that Rowan Williams had so honed his character through regular spiritual practices that when a moment of crisis occurred he instinctively knew what to do. I expect that one of Williams's well honed practices was, and is, that of contemplation.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kingdom people

I currently receive a daily quote from Richard Rohr. This one struck me particularly:

I hope you’ve met at least one “Kingdom person” in your life. They are surrendered and trustful people. You sense that their life is okay at the core. They have given control to Another and are at peace, which paradoxically allows them to calmly be in control. A Kingdom person lives for what matters, for life in its deepest and lasting sense. There’s a kind of gentle absolutism about their lifestyle, an inner freedom to do what they have to do—joyfully. Kingdom people feel like grounded yet spacious people at the same time, the best of the conservative and the best of the progressive types at the same time.
Kingdom people are anchored by their awareness of God’s love deep within them and deep within everyone else, too. They happily live on a level playing field, where even God has come to “pitch his tent” (the literal translation of John 1:14).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You Cannot Be What God Is Not

If you thought Thomas Aquinas was some dusty old theologian think again! In Love Poems from God Daniel Ladinsky has a wonderful way of selecting passages from many "Sacred voices from East and West" and translating or presenting them in bite sized pieces. Here's one from the aforementioned Thomas Aquinas:

You Cannot Be What God Is Not

All are having a relationship with God.
A pear taken from a limb and
set in a bowl,

surely it is talking to its Lord,
and happy that it is being honored for its life,

and somehow knowing
that soon it will be
returning to

We use words like "returning".
Think about that. Inherent in that word is

and separation from God is never
really possible.

What can you be that He is not? "You
cannot be what I am not,"
my Lord once said to me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Prayer is Resonance

I am re-reading Richard Rohr's book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. It is well worth many "re-reads"! Today I was struck by his thought that the essence of prayer is resonance - being "on the same wavelength", "tuned in"... Here's part of what he says:

"The traditional and most universal word to describe a different access to truth was simply to "pray about something." But that lovely word "prayer" has been so deadened by pious use and misuse that we now have to describe this different mental attitude with new words. I am going to introduce a different word here, so you can perceive prayer in a fresh way, and perhaps appreciate what we mean by contemplation. The word is "resonance". Prayer is actually setting out a tuning fork. All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always present message. Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance and the capacity for mutuality (Matthew 7:7-11). The Sender is absolutely and always present and broadcasting; the only change is with the receiver station.

Prayer is indeed the way to make contact with God/Ultimate Reality, but it is not an attempt to change God's mind about us or about events. Such attempts are what secularists make fun of - and rightly so. It is primarily about changing our mind so that things like infinity, mystery and forgiveness can resound within us. The small mind cannot see Great Things because the two are on different frequencies or channels, as it were. The Big Mind can know big things, but we must change channels. Like will know like.


Most simply put, as we've seen, prayer is something that happens to you. (Romans 8:26-27), much more than anything you privately do. It is an allowing of the Big Self more than an assertion of the small self. Eventually you will find yourself preferring to say, "Prayer happened and I was there" more than "I prayed to day". All you know is that you are being led, being guided, being loved, being used, being prayed through - and you are no longer in the driver's seat. God stops being an object of attention like any other object in the world, and becomes at some level your own "I am". You start knowing through, with and in Somebody Else. Your little "I am" becomes "We Are". Please trust me on this. It might be the most important thing I am saying in this book."

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I've heard about HeartMath for a long time but only recently decided to delve into it a bit more. It is a well researched approach to health and wellbeing (physical, emotional, spiritual, lifestyle...) I know a GP who recommends it to her patients and someone highly qualified in education who has trained to present its application to schools - children and teachers.

If you are interested in exploring the many free resources here's a link to one page: http://www.heartmath.org/free-services/solutions-for-stress/index-of-all-solutions.html  From there you can see other free downloads in the side bar or go to the home page.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The "God Particle"?

I am fascinated by discoveries in science and cosmology. I am definitely an interested layperson with no expertise in the intricacies of any of it! But I am fortunate to be part of a Church community with some "real scientists". One of whom is Dr Jeff Tallon, a physicist who specializes in superconductivity.
He recently wrote an article for the Herald on the recent excitement about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle. If you missed it click here. He has an interesting line about the origin of the term "God particle"!

Whether or not we think this discovery brings us any closer to "understanding" God's creative activity, it certainly reminds me yet again of the amazing complexity of the universe. We (Ponsonby Baptist Church community) were encouraged - half jokingly I think - to see how the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle could lead to a call to worship. Several people responded and this prayer was used last Sunday as just that - a call to worship:

In the chaos of collision comes enlightenment.
From high speed disintegration we learn something more 
of the secrets of big bangs and new beginnings.

We collide: with life, with meaning, with others, 
with a vast and unknown darkness
Our chaotic thoughts shatter and decay
pinpricks of light making momentary marks on the vast screen of reality.

We collide with you God
In our chaos and brief flashes of registered presence
Grant us insight on what really counts
and peace to live with our short moments of lucidity and light
before the flash of existence and life becomes a faded memory.
                                                                                                (Thanks to Rob Kilpatrick)

Much food for thought here! 
I think this prayer lends itself to being used for a Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) meditation. If you are not familiar with that way to pray the simple steps are:
1. Read until a word or line draws your special attention. (Lectio)
2. Reflect on what that might be about for you. (Meditatio)
3. Respond in some way - a prayer, a cry, a commitment. (Oratio)
4. Rest in the awareness of God present in all of this. (Contemplatio)

(There is a much more detailed explanation of Lectio Divina here.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Healing the Future

Following on my from my previous post about not giving up hope when the daily news seems full of atrocities... I recently bought the latest book by the Linns (Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn) They have written many books over the years - all with a healing theme. This one is called Healing the Future: Personal Recovery from Societal Wounding. On the back cover they say: "This book recounts a journey in which we were nearly overwhelmed by the toxic aspects of our society. As we noted what helped us we began giving retreats on "Healing the Future". Here we share how we and our retreatants recovered.
We are between two worlds. The world we've known, of competition, rewards and punishments, individualism and domination, is crumbling around us. A new world with different economic, political and spiritual assumptions is emerging. How can we live through this transition, in touch with our power to fulfill our dreams for ourselves and our children?
Based upon research in psychology, biology, spirituality, current affairs and other fields, this book also offers simple healing processes for facing the future with confidence and hope, drawing upon the inner wisdom that has guided us through 13.7 billion years of evolution." Denny, Sheila & Matt.

I have enjoyed all of the books written by the Linns over the years. This one is no exception. It particularly struck me that they have done a great job of blending vulnerable personal experience with rigorous research into so many current fields of expanding knowledge. Dennis and Sheila now have a son and they found themselves quite depressed about the future he might face. This I'm sure will be an experience shared by many parents. Matthew is a Jesuit priest (so was Dennis before his marriage.) All of their healing ministry is set in the context of deeply lived faith.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Nelson Mandela

The paragraph below is a quote from the Spiritual Directors' International newsletter to members. The writer had recently been in South Africa at an African spiritual directors' conference.

"On July 18, Nelson Mandela celebrates his ninety-fourth birthday. All over South Africa, I saw how people are preparing to pay him homage. On the chalkboard of the local restaurant, “Happy Birthday, Madiba! is carefully scripted in bold rainbow colors. People gathered in the streets to be filmed singing happy birthday to be given as a gift on his special day. The Johannesburg Star newspaper asks, “What are you doing for Madiba’s birthday?”"

Nelson Mandela is another "living saint" in my view. He managed to maintain a courteous and compassionate manner even when imprisoned so unjustly for 27 years. That in itself is inspiring. I'm not sure I could remain courteous for 27 days when unjustly accused! Inspiring also is the fact that he never gave up his hope and belief that apartheid could be changed. He lived - and lives - to see this hope eventuate. To me this is a powerful reminder not to give in to despair when daily viewing the atrocities that still happen in many parts of the world (sadly this includes South Africa). 

I hope Mandela's birthday gets a mention in NZ on the 18th of this month. I am celebrating it in advance by renewing my commitment to "faith, hope and love" (1 Cor 13:13) in every situation however unlikely a positive outcome may seem.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Brother David Steindl-Rast

Brother David is a living saint. He is one of the people I most admire. I was privileged to meet him at a Spiritual Directors' conference a couple of years ago. The Gratefulness website he instigated is well worth a regular visit. Recently it gave a link to a series of videos where Brother David talks about his 85 years of life. It is an oral autobiography - something I have never encountered before - but what a treat. He recalls life in Austria during the second world war, poverty, hunger and the death of loved ones. He recounts his peak (mystical) experiences from a very early age; how he came to enter a Benedictine monastery; his surprise at being encouraged to do training in Zen; his gradual calling out to be a speaker and world traveller even though he was supremely happy in the silence of the monastery... and so much more. The videos are beautifully presented with an excellent interviewer guiding the four one hour sessions. I was struck by Brother David's joy and humor - and his excellent memory! I know four hours is a long stretch but if you can make the time it will be well worth the effort. The most direct link to the videos is here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

With Passion

I very much enjoy and value the writings of Rumi the 13th century Sufi poet and mystic. He was born and lived in Afghanistan. In the book Love Poems from God translator Daniel Ladinsky expresses some of Rumi's poems in a delightful way. Here's one I read yesterday:

passion pray. With
passion work. With passion make love.
With passion eat and drink and dance and play.
Why look like a dead fish
in this ocean

Friday, June 15, 2012

Charter for Compassion

If you haven't yet heard about the Charter for Compassion I've copied it below. It was initiated by Karen Armstrong after she presented a TED talk in 2008 and won the TED prize. She is an amazing woman and a wonderful writer. Her recent book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is a very accessible (and very challenging) read. I hope you will sign the charter here and pass it on to others.

Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.