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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Thought for the new year...

Richard Rohr's daily meditation today included this comment:

Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians. (Bold type mine)

- Richard Rohr 

New Year often makes us think of changes we would like to make. I'm not into new year resolutions myself but I do review the past year and prayerfully turn towards the one ahead. I like the thought that "change just happens" but it is my/our attitude to change that is active and transformative.

The pictures below have nothing to do with the quote other than the fact that they were taken on my morning walk as I pondered the quote! 😊

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Kiwi Christmas

I am very grateful to live in this beautiful country. Here we celebrate Christmas in summer and at this time of year the Pohutukawa trees blossom. Understandably they are often called the NZ Christmas tree. Summer is great time for walks in the bush or on the beach - so here's to a Kiwi Christmas!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Interfaith friendship

Sometimes synchronicities are really amazing. This Advent I am participating in a retreat via Abbey of the Arts. The theme throughout Advent is the life of Mary, mother of Jesus. I also get the daily reflections from Richard Rohr. Rohr's theme currently is Interfaith Friendship. Now for the synchronicity!
On the same day ... a quote from Rohr's meditation (first quoting Brian McLaren, then Rohr's words.)
"We need] a Christian identity that is both strong and kind. By strong I mean vigorous, vital, durable, motivating, faithful, attractive, and defining. . . . By kind I mean something far more robust than mere tolerance, political correctness, or coexistence: I mean benevolent, hospitable, accepting, interested, and loving, so that the stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view. 
—Brian McLaren (bold mine)
How can we learn to draw from the deep aquifer, the common Source of Love for all religions, without denying the goodness of our own small spring? This is the marriage of unity and diversity."

And from the Advent retreat a reflection on how Mary is important in the Muslim tradition too. A whole chapter is devoted to her in the Quran. He name there is Maryam. Here is a YouTube clip of Christian and Muslim women together celebrating their respect for Mary/Maryam. It begins with a short piece from a play followed by discussion. (I'd love to see the whole play!)

I am delighted in these resources because I have a very good friend who is Muslim. We have become friends this year through our training together as English Language tutors. Sometimes you just "hit it off" with someone - that's how it is with Abir. She and her family are immigrants from Syria, having also lived in Kuwait for some years. Because of the information from the Advent retreat I was fairly confident Abir would like the YouTube clip so I sent it to her. She did. She said thinking of Maryam always brings tears to her eyes. We will meet for lunch soon and will no doubt talk about our perspectives on Mary/Maryam who is part of both our traditions.

This is a quick snap of Abir (talking to Anthea) and her family at our place one day recently.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Don't be fenced in!

I love the tenacity of nature!

If you feel fenced in
use the fence as the backdrop
for your beauty.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Communion at the typewriter

We did a lovely thing in Church on Sunday. (Ponsonby Baptist Church). 
It felt like a sacrament.
We were celebrating All Souls day - not on its usual calendar Sunday I know, but so what!

It began with  a thoughtful reflection on death, dying and those we have loved and lost. Then we were invited to come to the communion table and type (yes type) the name or names of those we wished to honour and remember.

I watched the steady stream of people lining up, waiting quietly, then sitting at one of the two typewriters. It was so similar to the lines waiting to receive the bread and wine at communion. And of course this was communion of another kind. We were communing with those who have gone before.  (See here for a previous post on the cloud of witnesses.) We were also communing with one another in our shared experiences of grief and loss. It was moving to witness each other intent on recording the names of loved ones. The sound of the typewriter keys clicking was the music of this sacrament.

Personally, as well as the names of family members, I typed the name 'Pat'. It felt like a lovely closure. Pat was one of my dear older friends. In 1956 Patricia Preest was the first woman trained and recognised as a 'deaconess' in the NZ Baptist denomination. This was a long time before ordained women ministers were even considered!

For all the years I knew her Pat was an unobtrusive person who mentored and supported others in more public roles. She was a valued member of the congregations she belonged to and quietly introduced contemplative ways of prayer where she could. When she died several years ago no-one told me until after her funeral. Her family thought a mutual friend would tell me and that friend thought they would. Apparently it was a small funeral. I felt very sad to have missed the chance to honour her by being there. So typing Pat's name on Sunday felt like my chance to say "good bye, good and faithful friend."

(Sadly, the only photo I can find of her is very out of focus! Not sure who took it!)

I often think of Pat and feel her presence. Things I remember about her :

  • She loved the outdoors. When she came to Auckland in her later years I would take her to the beach and find a place she could sit and watch the sea.
  • She always dressed well and wore discreet makeup. That may sound an odd things to value about her but I thought at the time that she kept her dignity and didn't slump into "not bothering".
  • She was always eager to learn and to read. She often asked me what I was reading especially in the field of spirituality.
  • She was a forward thinking woman. Being the first deaconess was a sign of her willingness to push beyond traditional boundaries. In her 80's she was still keen to follow the growing edges of the emerging Church.
  • She loved old hymns. Several times when she was quite unwell she told me that "these lovely hymns just come to my mind".
I don't know if the hymn below was one of Pat's "lovely hymns" but she certainly knew it - and it is one of my favourites. I'm sure Pat now enjoys the fulness of "life that shall endless be". Click here for a beautiful version sung a capella by the Westminster Chorus.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
                              - George Matheson

Saturday, November 25, 2017

We really are all connected!

A few days ago I was suddenly struck by the absolute wonder of how connected we are.
Early that morning - using my phone - I read a Blog written by someone I presume was writing from India where he lives (thanks Paul Windsor!) In it he reminisced about favourite music and included some YouTube links. I clicked on one and sat listening and watching  a beautiful young woman pianist (Julia Fischer) playing a Grieg Piano concerto somewhere else in the world. (YouTube didn't tell me where!)

This kind of "clicking round the world" has become commonplace now. I do it all the time and most often don't stop to wonder and be amazed at what technology allows.

Then this morning I received an email from Avaaz - an organisation I am delighted to support. It outlined some of the truly wonderful things Avaaz and its members have made possible in 2017. Click here to share this good news! From the Masai people in Africa, to the refugees fleeing Myanmar and Syria... and so much more. Do look at this link for so many signs of hope and good will in our world.

As Advent approaches there is the opportunity to be connected to others who want to take time to reflect prayerfully and practically on what this season is really about. I've signed up for the TearFund NZ  Advent reflections (free). I am also going to participate in a more in-depth retreat offered by Abbey of the Arts. This does have a fee attached - but again, how amazing to be able to interact with others in prayerful community without travel or accommodation costs! 

Of course there are all the well known dangers and down-sides to being so connected by simply sitting at home and staring at the computer or small screen. I'm not naive about that. It's also important to be part of a real life, face to face community! I deeply appreciate my church community and many other friends. However, I am very grateful for the wider connections with people around the globe that today's technology allows. We live in a world where we can choose to use these opportunities to connect us for good purposes. 

All the wonders of this technological connection are, of course, a tangible expression of the underlying scientific and spiritual reality of our inherent connection with one another and all things! A topic for another day!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

If you want to be happy be grateful

I am so grateful for Brother David Steindl-Rast. That is as it should be since gratefulness is the message of his life and teaching! At 90 (or maybe 91 by now) he continues to bless many people through personal interviews and through all the books and recordings published over his long life.

I am delighted to read on the Gratefulness website that an archived collection of his life and work has opened at the University of Massachusetts. A good overview of the collection (including photos and a recording) can be seen here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

In the pink...

These are a few of my favourite things... 🎶
 Dewdrops on petals...

and Flowers on fences....

Colourful driveways...

all food for the senses...

When the rain pours and the wind blows
I simply remember that beauty surrounds me
and then I don't feel so bad!

(With apologies to Julie Andrews!)

Monday, October 16, 2017

The "untethered" life

I recently listened to a podcast from Sounds True. Tami Simon interviews Michael Singer: Living from a Place of Surrender.  It is a one hour interview. In my view it is worth the time spent but here are the main points I found helpful.

The sub-title, The untethered life, is a powerful image. Singer says we spend much of our life 'tethered' to things that hold us down, hold us back from true freedom. Another way of saying this is that we are held back by our old self/false self/ego (whatever term is meaningful for you.) When we let go of the things that tie us down, our true self rises effortlessly. The hot air balloon is a wonderful visual picture of this.

The theme of letting go is prominent. Surrender is another way of talking about letting go. It is no surprise that Singer and many other spiritual writers say the same thing! Cynthia Bourgeault for example talks about Centering Prayer as a spiritual work-out in kenosis - or letting go.

Singer emphasises that while all spiritual practices are important training, daily life will quickly reveal what 'tethers' us. Anything that triggers a strong emotional reaction is a clue. It might be clinging to something I want or resisting something I don't want. Either way the challenge is to let go, to surrender. When I am tethered, tied down, by my ego, my best self/true self can't rise. When you notice this, says Singer, relax and release. You have a choice. 

I was struck by Singer's question: "Can I let this take me to God"? Every time we choose to release one of the ties that bind us to a lesser life we experience greater freedom to live "life in all its fulness" as Jesus promised. There are probably dozens of opportunities every day!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Seeing God in all things

A few photos of things that drew my attention over the last few days:
"Consider the lilies of the field..." Matthew 6:28-29

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny... don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows"
Matthew 10:29-31
"Become like little children... enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Images of the Trinity

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is notoriously hard to explain. I know a certain minister who tries to avoid preaching on Trinity Sunday!

I'm currently reading a fascinating book - a discussion between Brother David Steindl-Rast and Father Anselm Grun Faith Beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Times.

In the conversation about the Trinity there are two images I find helpful. They are both expressed by Brother David. Commenting on the common description of "One God in three persons", he says:

"I would prefer to speak of ways of appearing. That is, ways God appears to us. If we go back to the mystery that is known to us through the reality we call life, we can distinguish three aspects: first the source of life, from which life constantly streams and emerges in every instant from possibility into reality. This origin from which everything springs forth we call Father. Second, the living reality that comes from the source we call Son. And third - because otherwise all that would remain static - comes the aliveness. This divine aliveness is what we mean when we talk of the Holy Spirit."

The source of Life... 
              the living reality... 
                        the animating aliveness.

Brother David goes on to recall Augustine's analogy:
Silence... Word... Understanding.

"From silence comes the word... and it proceeds by way of understanding back into silence."

I've also appreciated Cynthia Bourgeault's more visual image of the water wheel: life giving water continuously pouring from one to another in a relationship of self-giving love.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Friends, enemies and shadows

I've had a lovely time in recent weeks catching up with old friends. "Old" means both age and years of friendship! A wide variety of friends over a long span of years is a great gift. Something I heard or read as a young person has often come back to mind: you won't have all your needs met by any one person. For me that was, and is, a liberating truth. So I celebrate the three friends I have had time with recently:
Dawn (left) and I have had many holidays together in Australia and New Zealand. We first met about 20 years ago when Dawn came on Sabbatical to BCNZ when I was teaching there.

Robyn (top) and I also met at BCNZ when we were both students there in 1970. We have stayed friends ever since even though separated geographically for most of the time. Robyn in Haiti and me in Nigeria. Even in NZ we live at opposite ends of the country Oamaru and Orewa!

Pauline (lower) and I met in the context of our mutual spiritual direction roles when she lived in Auckland. I'm not exactly sure how many years ago we first met but probably close to 20 years!


PS or Coda (or something!)

This morning in Richard Rohr's daily meditation I read a quote that prompted the title of this Post. It made me think about another kind of friendship - befriending/loving even those we might think of as enemies - whether external or internal:
"I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself.
I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow.
Both acts take real and lasting courage."

In our current climate of so much fear, destruction and anguish, genuine friends are a wonderful gift. Friendship with so called 'enemies' within and without may be even more important to our survival.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Seeing the whole picture

It's sometimes hard to comprehend that this picture...
...taken yesterday morning on Orewa Beach...

and this picture...
...from a news site re Hurricane Harvey...
can be part of the same world.

But maybe it is no more shocking than the "normal" reality of houses like this:
(photo from an Auckland Real Estate site)

...in the very same city as houses like this:
or this:

There are no easy answers to dealing with these dichotomies. But as I reflect on my own response a few possibilities arise:
  • To allow myself to feel the agony of the planet and it's displaced people. Not turning the other way because it's too hard.
  • To act in the seemingly small ways I can eg: 
    • Vote thoughtfully in the upcoming NZ election - having researched policies around climate change and reducing poverty. 
    • Sign petitions. 
    • Give generously to those "on the ground" in national and international organisations. 
    • Use social media to raise awareness.
  • To pray - for those who are suffering and for those who seem to be the cause of suffering.
  • To recognise in my interior world the dichotomies of peace and anguish, plenty and poverty, hope and despair... If I can compassionately accept the seeming contradictions as part of my 'whole picture' I facilitate gradual change within me and, in a mysterious way, the wider world.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The sun will still be rising

As I opened my curtains this morning
in the east the sun was rising 
into a patch of blue sky
to the west an ominous storm cloud loomed.

I gazed to the east.

the black cloud overshadowed the sun.
With a clap of thunder
the rain began.

But I know
that the storm will pass
and the sun will still be rising.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Before the rain!

I've just welcomed a friend from Brisbane to stay. Knowing what the weather forecast predicted we spent the first (fine!) day having a look around Orewa. How amazing to live in such a beautiful place with beach and bush at hand. I don't take it for granted. Every day is a day to give thanks and to be mindful of so many people in the world right now who would think this was heaven on earth. Maybe it is if I/we also live in the fulness of gratitude and love.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Simple pleasures

Some things that have brought joy over the last couple of days:
A Korean lunch with the lovely young woman I tutor in English.

Two people (unknown to me) showing love and support as they walk on Orewa beach.

Reflections at the river mouth in the early morning. 

A "heartfelt" reminder in a Motat exhibition about the wonders of the heart and heart surgery.

The tranquil Japanese garden at Western Springs.

Monday, August 21, 2017

What's so bad about "sweetness and light"?

Recently I was leading a workshop where, among other things, we were discussing our spiritual experience and what that elusive word "spirituality" might mean. I put this quote from Anne Lamott on the screen:

"I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play."

I was surprised by the immediate reaction to the quote from several people. From memory they included: "That's glib." "All that sweetness and light... ack!" "It's kind of sugary." "Where's the space for my anger and resentment as significant in my spiritual path?" I was taken aback by the strength of these responses and didn't think on my feet quickly enough to invite further reflection on why we resist the idea that "sweetness and light", joy, beauty, dancing, singing and playing are an expression of spirituality. Didn't Jesus say "I have come to bring life in all its fulness"? Surely fulness includes these beautiful free dimensions of enjoyment.

After the first flurry of responses there were other comments (again from memory). "I can go with the second sentence. I agree with that." "She only says joy, sweetness and affection are a spiritual path - not the whole thing." "Maybe we are like the desert fathers who think we have to renounce all that positive stuff and live a desert spirituality."

These more thoughtful comments still held a certain reluctance to allow "life in all its fulness" to include such delights as joy and sweetness, affection and dancing, singing and playing. I guess this supports Lamott's comment that we have to get rid of a lot of baggage to be free and light enough to enjoy those to the full.

One final comment was from someone who said: "Wow, this is the most challenging thing I've heard all day. This is God's word for me today." I think it is God's word for me too! My natural personality is wired to think of worst case scenarios and be easily weighed down. I have my own baggage to keep on letting go gently and compassionately.

In the current climate of so much "doom and gloom" in world events I too need to re-focus on what is good and beautiful and light. I want to be free to celebrate that expression of the spiritual path without a false denial of the pain and struggle that is also a reality to be met. Life in all its fulness includes both.

Here's to more joy, beauty, dancing, singing and playing on my spiritual path - and I hope - on yours.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

History repeats itself...

Recently I began browsing through some boxes of sermons preached by my father Rev John Pritchard. The dates range from the 1930's to 1970's. There are a few news clippings included and many of his sermons refer to current events. I haven't got very far in my browsing yet but one newspaper article certainly attracted my attention. Unfortunately it is not dated! But I surmise that it was written in 1955. Here's the headline:
The first paragraphs read: 
"Eight scientists of international repute warned the world at the weekend that the continued existence of mankind was in doubt.
   They gave the warning in a statement on nuclear weapons which was made public in London.
   The statement was issued by  Earl Russell (Bertrand Russell) at a press conference crowded by correspondents from many countries. Among the signatories was Professor Einstein, who signed it in the week before his death on April 18." Einstein died in 1955 so I presume this is the date of the article. "Lord Russell told reporters that the statement was being sent to the heads of States which possessed or were about to possess nuclear weapons, and to China."

The full article is long but here are a few more paragraphs which seem even more relevant now 62 years later:
All in peril 
"We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All equally are in peril. We are speaking on this occasion not as members of this or that nation, continent or creed, but as human beings - members of the species man whose continued existence is in doubt.
The world is full of conflicts; and overshadowing all minor conflicts is the struggle between communism and anti-Communism. We have to learn to think in a new way.We have to learn not to ask ourselves what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps.
   The question we have to ask ourselves is: What steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties."
"There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom. Shall we instead choose death because we cannot forget our quarrels?"

The parallels to where we find ourselves today are obvious. Yet we are still here today! And I can't help thinking of what God said to God's people many centuries before 1955:
Deuteronomy 30:19 “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 20 You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life." New Living Translation

Monday, August 7, 2017

A playful walk.

Sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective...

...to get the mind and body into a different gear!

Or maybe just delighting in some unexpected colour and quirkiness!