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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Caravan of Selves 10: 57-63 Years 2001-2008

I seem to have a case of writer's block in getting started with this post! There's so much in these seven years it's hard to know how to put it together. There are external events - lots of lovely holidays for example! But what strikes me in summarising these years is the internal journey. I notice that this doesn't slow down as the years go by. Rather, it increases in depth and breadth.
The following Rilke poem and my journalling about it back then gives a feel for this chapter:

“I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.”
“I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?” Rilke

“Reflecting on Rilke's poem I had a lovely sense in the quietness, of God as the strong centre and the infinite circumference of whatever circle I am living. I had a sense of being joyfully swung round and round from the centre pole - while still firmly attached to it – in wider and wider circles but never being beyond the span of God’s extent. There was a vibrant, exultant freedom and delight in knowing that no matter where I spun out to, I was still held firmly in God." Written in 2007

In 2002 I started writing my book The Lost Art of Meditation. This was initiated by Scripture Union UK for whom I had been writing daily notes for some years. They noticed a contemplative and meditative style in my writing and asked for a book. It was published in 2003 and eventually had three printings, was also translated into Norwegian and used in a special edition for SIACS (South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies) in India.
It is now out of print but still available as an e-book.

In 2004 we had two significant holidays. Early in the year Anthea and I walked the Abel Tasman track the "easy way" with bags taken on ahead to lodges where we had very comfortable accommodation and lovely food! The weather was good and the scenery magnificent. For some mysterious reason neither of us can find any photos of this holiday. Very strange. So here are a couple of Google photos:

Not us - but we did kayak for one of the three days of our hike.

Then from 30th August to 10th October we did our OE! Singapore, Austria: Salzburg, Schloss Mittersill (conference and study centre); Italy: Siena; UK: Sth Wales (Risca), North Wales (St Beuno's), England (Derbyshire, London, Hampton Lucy, Cotswolds), Back to Singapore then home! So here are a few(!) pages re-photographed from my album:


In this "chapter of life" I was aware of being in Erikson's "generativity" stage of life. I enjoyed watching others take on events and roles that had previously been mine.
“I sense something about not needing special insights, feelings, words. It is as if the Spirit is gently telling me that at this stage of my journey these things are not needed. Rather, I am being taken to a deep, deep place of knowing that does not rely on any external markers. In that place I am held, whether I know it or not, by love, grace and fellowship. I no longer have to be the one who holds or searches or marks the way with signposts. I am just to be. And even if that sometimes feels empty or mundane or boring, I simply believe that I am held. – Without trying, without insight, without emotion."

I turned 60 in 2005. Anthea took me on a mystery trip north to Parua Bay and a visit to The Lion Man at Zion Gardens. (Pity that the Zion Gardens enterprise eventually ended sadly.)

The day after my birthday I wrote:“Walking the beach this morning I had a feeling of my body being just a container for the Divine Life which fills the universe. It was one of those fleeting “mystical moments” that words can’t quite capture. It was as if I scooped up a jar full of sea water and said “In this jar is the sea.” True – but also so minutely representing what “the Sea” really is. My body is the human, fragile container – and when my body is no longer useful the contents will go back into the Ocean from whence they came. Mystery! Wonder!”
I summarized the year as: “Feeling more and more at home with mystery unlimited. Letting go of so much and simultaneously being connected to All. Hugely grateful for so many converging paths via books, CDs, Gangaji, movies, podcasts etc.” I hesitate to include the names and authors of books because over the years I have read so many I may not get them attached to right eras. But Henri Nouwen, Barbara Brown Taylor, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Diarmund O'Murchu, Cynthia Bourgeault,... and of course many of the mystics of earlier times... no it's no good I'd have to itemise my whole library!

Over these years I am enjoying the freedom of "not knowing". Of being able to deconstruct some aspects of my theology without fear of losing anything essential. (Concentric Circles include and transcend what went before!) 
 “Knowledge always deceives.
It always limits truth,
every concept and image does.
From cage to cage the caravan moves,
but I give thanks for at each divine juncture
my wings expand and I touch him more intimately.”
- Meister Eckhart

I'm interested in how this quote picks up the "caravan of selves" title of this memoir - a lovely  synchronicity!

Two more lovely holidays in 2006. I almost feel guilty at having so many wonderful holidays in this "chapter". But looking back it was a space of less structured commitments and good health and energy. 

In NZ: Southland:
Larnoch Castle Dunedin

Petrified wood Catlins coast

So much unspoilt beauty!

Mitre Peak Milford Sound

In Australia: The Red Centre
I went with my friend Dawn from Brisbane (Note hat with fly protection!)

Picture perfect! But it is the real thing not a painting!

Hiking round King's Canyon

Sunrise helicopter ride

Uluru at sunrise from helicopter

2007 was a significant year as I went to the Spiritual Directors' International conference in Vancouver where the speaker was Dr. Brian Swimme. This was an exhilarating and wonderful marker point in my expanding concentric circles. Brian Swimme used his Ten Powers of the Universe to communicate with passion his cosmology and spirituality.

The whole conference was wonderful in many ways - the international mix of people, the workshops, the way it was run. It put my own journey here in "little NZ" within a broader family of like-minded people.

After the conference I went with Irene Alexander (who had invited me to go with her to the conference) to a beautiful retreat centre on Vancouver Island where she had friends.
The journey to Vancouver Island


The retreat centre
When I wasn't away on all these holidays I was continuing my private practice of spiritual direction and supervision and involved in the SGM programme, running some retreats and speaking a couple of conferences. It wasn't all holiday!!

However, having said that, 2008 saw me off again to visit Dawn and her friend Ruth in Tasmania.
Ha ha! We chose the front row on the ferry before the bikes were loaded.
Cradle mountain - many walking tracks

The much maligned Tasmanian devil

A friendly wombat!

Interesting coastline
Sadly 2008 included the deaths of my Aunty Kath (in her 90's - see photos earlier in his post). and my niece Michelle at just 40 .


I'll end this chapter with a reflection I wrote in 2002 after reading this story from the 4th century Desert Fathers and Mothers:
Then Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” 

My poem also relates to the book of Revelation 8:1-5 and writing it now (January 2020) it is sobering in light of the catastrophic fires in Australia.

If you wish you can become all flame!
Silence in heaven for half an hour
Then censers of prayer and incense causing
earthquakes and thunderclaps.
Who is this God we so casually talk about?
How dare we play with fire as if it were an interesting toy?
How dare we speak so flippantly about our “images of God”
as if we decided which one suits our fancy today.
Rain fire from heaven to consume our paltry wonderings
into the deafeningly silent wonder and awe of a nameless God
who destroys in order to create!
Destroys words, defies images in the silent flame of terrifying love.
Do I wish to be all flame?
Yes – and no.
Candlelight is more comforting.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Caravan of Selves 9: 49-56 Years 1994-2001

Thomas Merton talking about John of the Cross says:
 "We are open to God and his mercy in the inscrutable future 
and our trust is entirely on his grace 
which will support our liberty in the emptiness 
where we will confront unforeseen decisions."

This quote is a good indicator of what this seven year period would hold.

I was still fully involved in the spiritual formation courses at BCNZ and continuing to write regularly for Reality magazine and for Scripture Union materials.

The spiritual formation department was growing and at some point (can't remember the exact year) my friend and colleague David Crawley began to share the teaching of these classes. Many photos from this time show lots of happy times with friends, picnics, holidays... And in 1995 I turned 50! At one birthday gathering I asked everyone to come dressed as something beginning with S (for Sheila).
Me as Spanish dancer, Marie as Santa, Bev, Margaret and Barb...?

Lee as Sheriff 

Behind the scenes I was feeling a a lot of self doubt about where I was heading, a kind of "dark night" of "unknowing". I wrote in my journal that I sensed that "the pillar of fire had moved" but I wasn't sure where it was leading me. Certainly it felt like "an inscrutable future".
Me standing on the edge of an unknown future.
Chris and David (colleagues on the BCNZ faculty) were close friends - along with their wives and children. We met once a month for support and sharing of our journeys. I sometimes looked after  their children. Such special, deep friendship is a wonderful gift - and continues to this day.

Anthea, Chris, Sheila, David, Julie, Margaret one Christmas at my Waimumu Rd house.

Anthea and I were tossing around the idea of pooling resources and setting up some kind of small retreat place where we would live onsite and offer spiritual direction and retreats. We used to meet each Wednesday evening for prayer and some focus for sharing. On June 12th our discussion/exercise had been: "What would you like people to say at your funeral?" I still have what I wrote. The next day I collapsed at BCNZ with a brain aneurysm. The funeral could have been sooner than we expected!

I was in hospital for three weeks and the aneurysm was successfully "clipped" which was the best outcome. But the uncertain ten days before it was decided if surgery was possible, were testing. It was a time to "trust entirely on his grace". The Bible College community, the Ponsonby Baptist community and dozens of other friends  and acquaintances prayed and sent cards and messages of support. I was overwhelmed with love and prayer and mostly felt quite calm. The night before surgery was the time I felt most vulnerable as I looked straight at the reality that I might not survive the surgery or could come out with a stroke or other brain damage. I remember feeling I was staring down a totally black tunnel with no sense of any light at the end. Wonderfully (as of November 2019) I have lived 23 years since then with no ongoing after effects.

With rather amazing timing I was due for three months study leave over the next academic term so I could recover at home with no disruption to my BCNZ classes as that had already been arranged.
During those three months I wrote two TEE (Theological Education by Extension) courses on spiritual formation. 

The highlight of Christmas 1996 was that I could start driving again! Six months without driving after my surgery was a lesson in itself. I saw women with young children struggling onto buses, older people carrying bags of groceries a long way home. I had to learn to carry my own groceries home on the bus! I saw my privileged life with new eyes. (And of course I had several friends who drove me to places I needed to go!)

In 1997 I began working only 50% at BCNZ to allow my spiritual direction and retreat work to grow. Most people (understandably) thought this was because of my aneurysm but actually it was a decision based on my gradual transition away from working full-time at the college to see if I could sustain self-employment.

In 1998 and 1999 I completed two years of Psychosynthesis training. This was very helpful personally and professionally. Ongoing personal therapy was required as part of the training and this was very helpful as my "dark night" continued. My spiritual director at the time was "just right" for me too. I was, and am, grateful for a lot of support and help during these quite difficult years.

Anthea and I had continued to explore the joint retreat centre idea but so far with no success. We had several disappointments in terms of both possible financial support and finding a suitable property. We moderated our vision to simply look for a house with a flat where we could accommodate one person on retreat at a time. But even that was harder than we expected. I put my Waimumu Rd house on the market while we were house hunting. The market seemed very slow and there were many weeks of not much interest. My stress levels were high! Eventually I sold it below the GV to the only person who put in an offer.

After months of looking for a property in West Auckland we decided to try the North Shore although we expected that to be out of our range. The house we bought in Torbay had no flat and didn't "tick all the boxes" for our vision. But somehow it felt amazingly "right" and we moved in in June 1999.
42a Toroa St, Torbay. "The Lighthouse"

Anthea on a street below our house. Ours is the grey house above the green roof.

At the end of 1999 I finally left my faculty role at BCNZ. One farewell from students and another from faculty and staff marked the completion of 20 very significant years for me - and for the college. I left the Spiritual Formation department in the capable hands of David Crawley!
A huge card with many wonderful messages written inside.
(Where did they get all those photos!)

So 2000 - a new millennium, a new house, my first time owning and sharing a house with someone, my first year fully self-employed. There was much joy and many challenges. My spiritual direction and supervision work grew. I offered retreats and programmes via the Spiritual Growth Ministry  programme. Our house had a suitable downstairs room where I could see clients and walking distance away was Arjay House, a small retreat centre we could use! So God's "mercy in the inscrutable future" was evident. Anthea had her own private practice in a separate location and we were (and are) very grateful for our compatibility and shared sense of God as the "Divine Third" in our relationship and in our home. (A quote from the little book God Calling: "...when those who visit you will know that I am the Divine Third in your friendship".)

2001 was, of course, the year of the Twin Towers destruction. It happened while I was at the Spiritual Directors' Conference in Waikanae. We all stared in unbelieving horror as did so many people around the world. Together at the conference we prayed for those directly affected and for wisdom in whatever part we individually and collectively might play in the world that seemed to change that day.

My own journey continued with a lot of reading and exploring an increasingly more inclusive framework than the "conservative evangelical" one I had been brought up in. I'm not sure when I began using the term Concentric Circles as a very helpful paradigm. If you click "About this Blog" the top of this post you will see why I chose this name. I am grateful for every part of my upbringing and my Christian development. I don't reject or dismiss any of it. The Ken Wilber phrase "include and transcend" continues to express my evolving journey.

This quote from my journal on 31st December 2001 is not only my summary of that year but could stand as a summary of these seven years:

“I have taken you by the hand and kept you” Isa 42:6. That sums up my year with so many shades and colours. Overall a year I feel has been happy and for which I am so grateful. Yet as I read my journal I remember that there have been many weeks and months of difficult things... yet through all this you have taken me by the hand and kept me. ... Thank you that day by day my overall feeling has been one of gratitude and trust – even when tested. ”