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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Advent


Advent means coming, arriving, beginning... we might say: "That was before the advent of computers."

Advent as a season in the Christian year is a time of anticipation, of getting ready to celebrate once again the arrival of God in human form. The fact that the human form chosen for this astonishing event was a vulnerable baby should make us gasp in wonder."No, surely not! If God is going to show up surely it would be a more obvious and spectacular arrival."

Those of us who have been brought up on the Christmas story have probably become immune to the astonishment and wonder of the birth of Jesus. That's a great pity! In the commercialisation of Christmas, and even just the familiarity of the story, the invitation to be fully human and divine ourselves is overlooked.

This morning I read this poem which felt to me like an Advent poem and a Resurrection poem. See what you think!

HOW IT SEEMS TO ME
Ursula K. Le Guin

In the vast abyss before time, self
is not, and soul commingles
with mist, and rock, and light. In time,
soul brings the misty self to be.
Then slow time hardens self to stone
while ever lightening the soul,
till soul can loose its hold of self
and both are free and can return
to vastness and dissolve in light,
the long light after time.

Monday, November 26, 2018

And then a wedding...

When Andrew was diagnosed with brain tumours at the end of September his daughter Lydia's first cry was "I want Dad to be at my wedding!" Her mother Lynn's response was: "Well you'd better organise it soon." Lydia and Phil had been engaged for some time and were saying, "We'll get married next year." But now it was urgent for it be much sooner.

Lydia being a great action person and organiser got on the phone the following day and had pretty much everything booked and arranged within 24hours. The date was set for 21st November.

Various treatment options were still being discussed for Andrew. But very soon it became apparent that there was no viable treatment and after two weeks in hospital he was transferred home  for palliative care. There was still hope that he might "make it" or at least still be alive by the wedding day. But even that hope soon became unrealistic as his condition declined rapidly.

So the decision was made to have a wedding blessing ceremony at Andrew and Lynn's home while Andrew was still able to be alert and witness it. It was an occasion just for the immediate family.

It was a very poignant ceremony of course - but beautiful and very meaningful. The family have shared some photos, one or two of which I can share here.





A few days later Andrew lapsed into unconsciousness and died a few days after that on 3rd November. The funeral took place on the 8th.
****
Less than two weeks after Andrew's funeral the "real" wedding took place. Lydia's brave mother Lynn walked her down the aisle, both I think, holding back tears. Andrew's absence was appropriately and sensitively mentioned several times during the ceremony and the reception. Like everything else about this family and Andrew's death, it was all faced honestly and openly. 



It was a happy occasion of genuine celebration for Lydia and Phil surrounded by friends and family. Even the Wellington weather cleared up just in time for the wedding and the photos to follow!

The wedding party


The immediate family

Looking back, and writing about this now I am amazed and grateful at the way we have all negotiated the sorrow and joy of these last fast moving weeks. Lynn and her children have been wonderful. Of course now is the time when the adrenaline recedes and the reality dawns in new ways. In many ways it still feels surreal. How can Andrew be gone - so quickly and so young? As I said in my last post his presence is now to be found in that new mysterious reality of having disappeared into God. In the album Point Vierge: Thomas Merton's Journey in Song are the lines "to disappear into God, to be submerged in his peace, to be lost in the secret of his face." A comforting reality.  



Saturday, November 10, 2018

On being a pallbearer

Being a pallbearer at my brother Andrew's funeral was a very special and moving honour. It felt a significant part of saying farewell. I've never been a pallbearer before and when Lynn (Andrew's wife) asked me I was surprised at my instant response: "Oh yes! Thank you... I would love to do that." When the time came it felt a great privilege to escort his earthly body to the hearse for its final journey.


Often there is a time for people to visit a funeral home before the casket is closed for a personal farewell. Because of distance I wasn't able to do that so I had asked for a photo so I could truly take in visually that the real Andrew was "gone". The photos I was sent absolutely confirmed that! What was in the coffin was just the shell of my lovely brother. I think that made it easier to walk into the Cathedral and see the casket. I knew he had already "disappeared into God" as Thomas Merton described it.


I also had the privilege of giving a personal reflection on behalf of the three of us remaining siblings. It was wonderful that all three of us were present. My older brother Peter (82), and sister Merrie (80) both had significant challenges in making the journey. I was able to read a short reflection from each of them as well as my own.  Here's what I said:

"I was only four years older than Andrew so the closest in age. We shared a lot of our lives together both as children and adults. Andrew and I had similar personalities– for example both being introverts and both being 5’s on the Enneagram! If some of you don’t understand that code language it means that we were always happy to go for long walks without talking much and when we settled in for a chat it was often about the latest good books we’d read or resources we'd found for retreats!

Our spiritual journeys have followed parallel paths too. We we were both drawn to the contemplative focus of retreats, and spiritual direction. In fact I think Andrew would say, as I do, that we were deeply formed by the opportunities made possible in the very early days of Spiritual Growth Ministries. Later of course we each in turn trained as spiritual directors and retreat facilitators. Over many years one or other of us was part of the SGM workgroup – Andrew co-ordinating it for many years.

Another parallel for Andrew and me has been the opportunity and privilege of teaching spiritual formation: Me at Laidlaw College in Auckland and Andrew at Booth College here in Wellington.

So as you can see our lives have been deeply intertwined. Andrew I will miss you hugely as a brother, a friend and a colleague. As Thomas Merton would say - you have now “disappeared into God” but that is the sacred dimension where we are all one. I just have to get used to finding you there – probably more closely connected than ever."


I'm writing this just two days after the funeral and I know there will be many months of both grief and happy memories. I'm already thinking of how much more I wish we had shared... but most of all I am wanting to enter even more deeply into that dimension of one-ness which of course is what Jesus prayed (John 17) we would all come to realise. Andrew certainly knew he was entering in to "the Palace of Nowhere" (Merton again). When I visited him in hospital and again when I last talked to him on the phone I said "I'll meet you in the palace of nowhere"... a special farewell message we both understood.

This is my favourite photo of Andrew about a week before he died. Sleeping peacefully after giving his blessing to daughter Lydia and "soon-to-be-husband" Phil since it was clear he would not be alive on their wedding day (21st November). The flower was his "corsage" matching Lydia's bouquet.

PS (added later) Here's the link to the audio of the whole funeral. I'm putting it here mainly so I know where to find it! But of course anyone who wants to listen is welcome to do so.








Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Love in suffering

It has been hard to Blog in the past month as I have been adjusting to the huge shock of my younger brother Andrew being diagnosed with brain tumours. He is now very close to the end of his earthly life. The decline has been rapid.

During this time I have been blessed by the daily email meditations by Richard Rohr. Two quotes from this morning's meditation on Loving the Presence in the Present:

"God is revealed in all things, even through the tragic and the sad, as the revolutionary doctrine of the cross reveals!

All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be more fully present to what is. These disciplines exist so we can see what is, see who we are and see what is happening. What is is love, so much so that even the tragic will be used for purposes of transformation into love."

 I am experiencing the reality that tragedy sadness and love are tightly intertwined. Love does not dilute or smooth over tragedy and sadness.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Amen to that, Richard!

I'm currently enjoying Richard Rohr's daily emails with themes from his writing.

This quote struck me today:

Many Christians have tried to pile a positive theology of salvation on top of a very negative anthropology of the human person, and it just does not work. The human self-image is too damaged and distorted within such a framework.

He was talking about how the notion of "original sin" has made it hard for many people to grasp their original, essential being in the image and likeness of God.

What we call sins are usually more symptoms of sin. Sin is primarily living outside of union; it is a state of separation—when the part poses as the Whole. It’s the loss of any inner experience of who you are in God.

You can’t accomplish or work up to union with God, because you’ve already got it. “Before the world began you were chosen, chosen in Christ to live through love in his presence” (Ephesians 1:4).

Personally this truth has, over the years, filtered more and more deeply into my own "knowing". It is a completely different starting place from the "original sin" perspective I imbibed in earlier years.. And in my conversations with many people in spiritual direction I see evidence of  Rohr's insight that when one starts with a distorted or damaged self-image it is very hard to truly grasp the wonder of the good news that their essential self is "chosen in Christ to live through love in his presence".

If you want to receive these daily meditations click here.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A reflective morning

Cool, grey, cloudy and calm... a serene atmosphere for my morning walk. On a day like this reflections are everywhere. This one particularly struck me:
At first I noticed the mirror image of the pine tree in the river below. But then I realised that the sun was clearer in the reflection than in the sky. Aha - a wonderful insight! When we reflect accurately what another person is saying or feeling perhaps they can "see the light" more easily in the reflection than in their experience.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

History repeats itself...

I'm absorbed in this book:

Cahill has a truly wonderful way of writing that is engaging, sometimes humorous and deeply thought-provoking.  He re-tells the early history of the Jews (ie the first books of the Bible) in a way that takes the reader right into the realities of life then - and the impact of that civilisation now.

I am struck by this quote as he re-tells the story of Pharaoh's attempt to reduce the number of Israelites by telling the midwives to kill the boy babies.

"And why must we think of Pharaoh as rational? Have we not been given evidence that he is irrational - that he thinks the Children of Israel are 'many more and mightier' than the Egyptians?  It is perhaps only in Pharaoh's eyes that the Children of Israel "swarm" as if they were breeding insects?...
I do not doubt that what we have here is the portrayal - in a few deft strokes - of an insecure Egyptian madman, an all-powerful god-king who fears that someone else could be more powerful than he."

Then a few pages later Cahill has re-told the story of Moses repeatedly asking Pharaoh to let the Israelites go - and the ensuing plagues as Pharaoh keeps changing his mind saying yes and then no.

"The comedy in this narrative lies in the ironic juxtaposition: Pharaoh, supposedly all-powerful, understands nothing. It would not be too much to say that this narrative asserts that power (because it is a feckless attempt to usurp God's dominion) makes you stupid, blinding you to your true situation - and absolute power makes you absolutely stupid."

I leave you to see why I have called this post "History repeats itself."

In spite of the horror of these events for those who were living through them, I find hope in the fact that as the story unfolds, it is God's redemptive power that directs what happens next.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Local pilgrimage

The Abbey of the Arts newsletter recently suggested ways to make a pilgrimage without needing to go far from home or to a special place. I love walking and walk pretty much every day, so today I decided to make my walk a pilgrimage. The difference between waking for exercise and walking as a contemplative practice - or pilgrimage - is simply in how and where I place my attention. It's easy to walk and daydream or walk and worry or walk and plan the next event ... nothing wrong with just an easy free flowing walk with no special agenda. But walking with a desire to intentionally "notice what I notice" has a different feel. I decided to take photos of what I especially noticed. This is not about good photography, it's about a reminder of the myriad causes for gratitude in the simple "everyday-ness" of what is around me. Here are a few of the photos:
The sun shining through leaves and flowers.

Rubbish bins and the people who empty them.
After noticing several bins along my walk I was able to thank this man for his work. He looked surprised and pleased to be noticed! I hope it added a spark to his day.


Small parks hidden between houses. Space to relax or play.

A newly built fence. Maybe it's good to know what to fence in and what to keep out. 
Perhaps these boundaries sometimes need to change.

The beach with either tide in or tide out - both necessary, both beautiful. Life too has its tide in, tide out phases - also necessary even if not always feeling beautiful.

Happy people, happy dogs!

Unselfconscious enjoyment. 
This woman was singing along to her phone the whole length of the beach. I passed her twice. 

Steps for the steep places - with a lower handrail for shorter people!
Made me think of how God graciously meets us at just the "height" we have grown to.

 Sand - such versatile material with many, many uses.

My sturdy walking shoes making this walk possible.

Stopping at my favourite cafe for an excellent coffee and a muffin after an hour's walk.

On to the library - another of my favourite places.

I went to collect one book and came home with three to add to the one I'm currently reading!
Two novels and two non-fiction seems like a balanced diet!

While in the library I could hear these tiny tots having a story time. Then they were walking back to their childcare centre all holding onto a central nylon cord with a loop for each child to hold. 
A caring teacher was keeping watch at each end of the procession.

I feel abundantly grateful for all the enjoyment and blessings on my morning pilgrimage walk!











Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Death...what happens next?

Parker Palmer is an author I've appreciated and respected for many years. He is now approaching 80 and his recent book is called On the Brink of Everything.
It is really a collection of essays on various aspects of ageing. The section I found most thought-provoking include his thoughts on what happens when we die:

"I learned long ago how much I do not know, so I won't be shocked if death has surprises in store for me. But amid all my not knowing, I'm certain of two things: when we die, our bodies return to the earth, and the earth knows how to turn death into new life. When my own small life ends in some version of wind and fire, my body will be transformed by the same alchemy that keeps making all things new, witness this wilderness. [Note: Palmer makes an annual pilgrimage to a remote area called Boundary Waters where he observes nature's rhythms.] As the medieval alchemists dreamed, dross will be turned into gold.
        It matters not to me whether I am resurrected in a loon calling from the lake, a sun-glazed pine, a wildflower on the forest floor, the stuff that fertilizes those trees and flowers, or the Northern Lights and the stars that lie beyond them. It's all good and it's all gold, a vast web of life in which body and spirit are one.
        I won't be glad to say goodbye to life, to challenges that help me grow, to gifts freely given, or to everyone  and everything I love. But I'll be glad to play a bit part in making new life possible for others. That's a prospect that makes life worth dying for.
       Twenty annual pilgrimages to this holy place called the Boundary Waters have convinced me that Julian of Norwich got it right: 'All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.' "

Like Palmer I am more and more aware of what I don't know. I certainly don't claim to know what happens when we die. Traditional notions of heaven and hell may serve a metaphorical purpose but they don't serve me well in any definitive way now. I'm not saying I agree - or disagree - with Palmer in what he writes above. But I am drawn to his observation that "our bodies return to the earth and the earth knows how to turn death into new life." I certainly believe in resurrection - but exactly what that means or looks like I really don't know. I am happy to trust the Creator of this marvellous universe to maintain the flow of life - death - life. If nature is "God's other book", as has often been said, it is constantly putting that reality before our eyes.





Friday, July 13, 2018

Small drops of kindness, justice and blessing...

I often mention the Gratefulness site. This morning I was attracted to a Blog with the heading You are Me and I am You I hope you take the time to read it. Here's just one quote:

"Every time you replace hatred with love, overcome your nagging desire for the umpteenth ‘last’ drink, replace your usual biting retort to your companion with silence or – why not – kindness, you are helping all those on the planet struggling with the same challenge, be it in an infinitesimal manner. Which drop of water constituting an ocean is unimportant? The longest mile is made up of many inches."

In some intuitive way we probably know this is true but so often my small drop of kindness can feel so insignificant. If I take one step towards justice by quietly speaking out when a casual conversation veers towards racism, it may seem to fall on deaf ears. Yet millions of drops create a river of kindness and billions of inches eventually circumnavigate the globe.

The writer of this Blog is someone I've never heard of but he has written a book about praying blessings for ourselves and others. He says: "There is hardly a moment in life during which it is not possible to bless. In the street, on the bus or underground, at work, at home with your companion or family, your silent blessings will uplift and heal."




The more well known known author, John O'Donahue, has also written a Book of Blessings so maybe this Biblical practice of blessing others is being rediscovered as something that really does carry spiritual substance.


Of course, like any spiritual practice, it can become rote and done without heart. I cringe a bit if someone says "Bless you!" as a throw away comment. But sincerely wanting the person I pass on the street, or the barista in the cafe, to feel warmed by an unseen blessing is one of those drops in the ocean of love. I expect I will fail many times every day (in the same way I 'fail' many times to stay focussed in twenty minutes of meditation!) but when I do remember it will change how I am towards others and we will both be blessed.



Saturday, June 30, 2018

Three signs of hope - before breakfast!

I don't know about you but I sometimes find watching/hearing the news rather depressing. Of course I know the media tends to focus on the dramatic, tragic and violent end of the spectrum. But it can be hard to hold hope that there are genuine alternatives alive and well in our world.

I'm happy to tell you that I was immersed in three powerful signs of hope - before eating breakfast today! Here they are:

It was very cold this morning so when I woke up I decided to stay warmly in bed for a bit longer and listen to a You Tube clip of Brad Jersak speaking about Universal Hope. It was an excellent correction to the depressing end of the spectrum and had me getting out of bed smiling! He makes a thoughtful distinction between 'universalism' and 'universal hope'. His talk is 40 minutes long so choose a time when you can settle in.

If you happen to live in Auckland there will be a day with Brad Jersak at Trinity Cathedral in Parnell on July 20th. Click here if interested and scroll down in the events list. I highly recommend Jersak's book: A More Christlike God; A More Beautiful Gospel.

Next I did my usual quick skim on Facebook and came across a very exciting clip (4 minutes) of a range Church leaders in America offering a hope-filled perspective on what a Christian approach to life (and politics) means. This was stimulated as a corrective to what is currently being spoken about by the US President and many right wing Christians who often call themselves 'Evangelicals' but definitely don't offer good news. Click here  (another 4 minutes, wait a few seconds for video to load) to see how 2,500 people joined these leaders and marched to the White House to express this confession of faith which they called Reclaiming Jesus. 

Finally I turned to the book I'm reading currently as my "spiritual reading": The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian McLaren. I am up to a section about "social movement theory" - which sounds a bit daunting but actually turned out to be fascinating. Just one quote: "When institutions fail us... members of a community arise, organise and confront the institution by forming a movement. ...Movements organise people to articulate what's wrong with current institutions and propose what should be done to make things right."  This, it seems to me, is what is happening in the church leaders initiative, and by other groups mobilising to stand up for what is right. This gives me a lot of hope. Maybe having blatant disregard for honesty, human rights and justice daily "in our face" is generating enough awareness to give rise to positive change. May it continue to be so!




Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Even in winter...

Between the rainy, windy days 
there is still beauty 
if you go out and enjoy it!




Saturday, June 9, 2018

One thing leads to another...

I love the way one thing leads to another.
Or to put it another way:
in the marvellous interconnectedness of all things
what I didn't even know I needed
pops up at exactly the right time.

A recent example:
A group from our church have been meeting to discuss a podcast series called The Bible for Normal People
⤵️
Two people talked about it to me.
⤵️
I don't go to the group but I thought I'd listen to one of the podcasts and started with the first one - Rob Bell on What is the Bible.
⤵️
 I was impressed with his animated and refreshing 'take' on reading the Bible so
⤵️
I borrowed the e-book from the library.

(The wonders of technology! I was reading the book on my iPad the same day I listened to the podcast - which was recorded in 2017. Whew! How quickly we take all this for granted.)

I was brought up on the Bible! 
I have read it devotionally, 
studied it theologically 
and written Bible study notes on it for Scripture Union
Yet I am freshly excited about the Bible right now -
thanks to: 
Rob Bell⇒those who recorded the podcast⇒the person who set up the church discussion group⇒the two people who talked about it⇒the technology that allowed me to listen and⇒borrow a free e-book.

Do you see what I mean about one thing leading to another?!



Monday, May 28, 2018

Singularity

I found this poem very thought provoking and moving. To hear it read aloud by its writer and see it in its original context - the Blog Brain Pickings - click here.

SINGULARITY
by Marie Howe

(after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?

There was no Nature. No
them. No tests

to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if

the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up to what we were
— when we were ocean and before that

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all — nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All everything home

This YouTube clip doesn't say  exactly the same thing but is similarly profound and challenging to our usual perspectives.




Thursday, May 24, 2018

Inspiration and Joy

I read a lot! The books I like best are those that bring inspiration, challenge and motivation towards are more courageous and joyful life. (It takes courage to be joyful sometimes.)

I happened upon this inspiring book recently in our local library:


"A powerful, emotional memoir and an extraordinary portrait of three generations of Tibetan women whose lives are forever changed when Chairman Mao’s Red Army crushes Tibetan independence, sending a young mother and her six-year-old daughter on a treacherous journey across the snowy Himalayas toward freedom." I was truly inspired by all three women in the different challenges and risks of each of their lives. I gave it five stars!

I've mentioned this book on my Blog before (click here):
This morning I decided to start re-reading it. The connection between the two books is interesting. Everyone featured in both books faces great challenges which can, and do, bring heartache, devastation and loss. Yet all in their own way face "life as it is" with courage and draw on spiritual practices that anchor them in a deeper reality. 


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Morning walk...

Feeling grateful for the peaceful expanse of beauty to start the day.

Marvelling at houses built on crazily tilting cliffs!

Glad that I didn't ever meet this jellyfish while swimming!!



Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Family Collage

Large photo l-r: Tanya, Carla, Sarah, Marty, Merrie, Morgan
Side top to bottom: Peter and Merrie, The four of us, Merrie and Marty.
Bottom l-r: Andrew and Sheila, Sheila and niece Sarah, Merrie and Marty

Casual family brunch next day! 
Johan, Tanya, Nicky.  Andrew, Lynn, Sheila
Andrew, Lynn. Marty, Merrie, Peter.


Monday, April 30, 2018

The older you get...

One branch of my family used to have a joke about "We'd better take a photo. This might be the last family photo we get." But of course the older we all become it is less a joke and more a reality! So I was very glad to be able to make it Tauranga to celebrate my sister and her husband both turning 80 and celebrating 56 years of marriage! No small achievement in both cases!


It was touch and go whether I would make it as both Anthea and I have had health problems recently. We seem to have taken turns at spending a night in hospital with Atrial Fibrillation. (Very common I am now discovering!) So right up to the Friday before Saturday's celebration I wasn't sure I'd make it. But wonderfully  I was able to catch a ride (and a spare motel bed) with my niece Nicky who was also taking my brother Peter and his wife Gwenyth. Anthea stayed at home for a peaceful recovery weekend. 

Considering the appalling driving conditions both days I am extremely grateful that we weren't driving ourselves! Here's the Karangahake Gorge on our return trip:

It is always very special to have all four of us siblings together in one place. Last time it was two years ago at Peter's 80th birthday. Here we are at Merrie's 80th:

Hmm the obvious question is ... will I live to 80 and if so who will be around? These aren't morbid questions for me. But a reminder to value every day and all of my family and friends.

I might post more photos later...


Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

When I was teaching at Henderson Intermediate school in the late 1960's I read this book aloud to my class. It struck me then what an amazing story it was - and still is.

I have just seen the movie. Wow! It is an intense journey through science, time travel, psychology, love, commitment and the many pitfalls of growing up. The story line grips you from the start and you so much want Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin to see what is true, follow the light and not get separated.

I don't think the trailer really does it justice. Go and see the movie! I've just happened upon a very damning review - but I also read a very glowing review in our local paper - so make up your own mind.

This movie is just as appropriate for adults as for older children and teens. The family dynamics and why it is that Meg and Charles Wallace's father has disappeared is food for thought for any family.

I have just discovered that L'Engle wrote several other book following on from this one. They are on my "want to read" list.