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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Here we are again!

 "Here we are again" is a phrase we've used a lot over the past year in relation to COVID lockdowns. I'm using it here for another reason. After writing my Caravan of Selves Blog posts up to June last year it seems a pity to wait another two years before I'm old enough (!) to write the next episode. So "here we are again" or at least here I am again!

A Blog is a funny thing. It is halfway between private journal entries and very public FaceBook posts. I've missed Blogging, because for me it is a place to keep track of the most important things I want to remember. FaceBook is good for instant moments and photos but (for me at least) not for longer reflections on deeper things.

So I begin again by copying most of the Christmas letter I sent out at the end of 2020. I find Christmas letters a great way to remember the highlights of a year.

2020 will be a year to remember…
The Covid 19 pandemic has influenced almost everyone on the planet in some way. It would be wonderful if love, joy and peace would spread as globally as the virus. Perhaps that is still possible. When we choose to nurture love, joy and peace within our own hearts it permeates in ways seen and unseen.

We began the year with a wonderful cruise around NZ for seven days. The weather was perfect and the
cruise took us to some of the most beautiful places in our amazing country. Milford Sound, Akaroa and
the excellent Waitangi visitor centre were among our favourite places. Little did we know that all too
soon cruises would be off the agenda for some time. We look back with great gratitude.

Welcomed onto the Marae at Waitangi

Arriving in Milford Sound at sunrise

Beautiful Akaroa Harbour

Since that carefree beginning this year has been dominated by unexpectedly selling our house and moving into Evelyn Page retirement village!

The timeline and circumstances of this are quite remarkable. For 18 months or so we had been
researching possible options for when the time was right to make a move. So one Saturday in February we went to an open day at Evelyn Page village. One of the show apartments was a sunny north-facing apartment with double aspect and both bedrooms opening onto a balcony. We thought it would be an ideal layout if one like that was available when we were ready to move. On Wednesday that week one of Anthea’s supervisees (K) mentioned her son, Andy, and wife and two children were looking to buy in Orewa. They wanted a house pretty much like ours. We explained that we weren’t ready to move just yet – partly because we would need to find an office space for our work. However if the family wanted to look through our place we were happy for them to come as long as they knew it wasn’t yet on the market. On Thursday K texted Anthea to say she and her husband would like to offer us an office space in their home near the beach in Orewa, if/when we did sell ours! On Friday Andy with his wife and children came to look and immediately said they loved the house and would like to buy it if they could!

We were quite shocked but also aware that something amazing was happening. We made a quick return visit that day to the apartment we had seen a few days before to make sure we still thought it suited us. It did, so we put a hold on it. On Saturday we got an updated appraisal on our house from agents we had used a year before as part of our research. Then on Saturday evening we did all the price negotiating with Andy by text message!! We came to a very happy agreement. On Monday we did the paperwork for the sale of our house and the contract on the apartment.
Our living area

So within the space of a week we had sold our house, been offered an office space and put a contract on the apartment we are now living in! All along we had said “We’ll know when the time is right to move.”We certainly didn’t have any doubt!

All of that happened just before Covid really hit NZ. In a few weeks NZ went into five weeks of total lockdown. This is not a great time to be packing up a whole house, getting rid of at least half our furniture and many books, linens, crockery and other things we couldn’t bring to a small apartment! Of course we couldn’t have anyone come to help with heavy lifting! Op Shops were closed and no-one could come to view or pick up things for sale. It was tough! I found it very stressful physically and emotionally. But we made it. Ponsonby Baptist Church is linked with CORT (Community of Refuge Trust) which houses over 400 people. CORT took all our excess furniture. Women’s Refuge were able to take all our excess linens. These were both classed as essential services. It was wonderful to know that what we couldn’t keep was going to people in real need.

The settlement date for moving was 7th May. As the Covid situation continued we thought that date
would have to be extended. But amazingly moving house was possible when Lockdown went down to
Level 3. This happened ten days before settlement date! It’s almost a “too good to be true” story. But it
is definitely true and we have been living here now for seven months by the time most of you read this.

Of course there are adjustments and settling in to be done with such a move. But we have found both
residents and staff here to be very warm and welcoming. In fact we feel quite spoiled! A great advantage
is that we are literally “just down the road” from where we lived previously. The environment, shops and
services are all familiar. We are very happy and grateful.

The Election has been another major feature of this year. We are so blessed to live in New Zealand! Our
Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has become a world renowned figure in the way she has managed the
pandemic here. The landslide victory of the Labour Party in the election is, in part at least, due to this.
Throughout her whole 3 year term Jacinda has modelled, and called us, to be a culture of kindness, compassion and inclusiveness. There is much hope for “peace on earth and goodwill to all people” under such leadership. But it takes us all to make it happen. Jacinda repeatedly
called us “the team of five million”. 
Doing my bit in the "team of five million"!

Family news includes the joy of new birth and the challenges of aging.
My niece Lydia and husband Phil are the proud parents of an adorable son, Oscar!
Oscar Andrew Miller

Anthea and I between us have five siblings (plus spouses) between the ages of 75 and 84! Supporting
where we can and observing the reality of various levels of need, makes us very grateful we have been
able to move here before we have significant health or disability needs.

Over the summer we plan a few days in Tauranga before Christmas to visit family members and four
days of retreat at the Tyburn Monastery on the outskirts of Auckland. Apart from that we will enjoy day
trips and “support local” – which is not difficult to do in this beautiful country!

None of us know what 2021 will bring but hopefully we will all be ready to enjoy each day with gratitude,
trust and love.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Caravan of Selves 11: 64-70 Years 2008-2015

Now I'm in the era of digital photos it is harder than ever to keep these seven year segments brief!
So photos and brief comments will have to do for this segment.

Northland Holiday - what a beautiful part of our country. We were blessed with equally beautiful weather!

I took up Nordic Walking for exercise. It was well worth participating in a series of eight classes to get the correct technique.

 After ten years in our house it was in need of some maintenance on the fascia and soffits (new vocabulary to learn!).

My work in spiritual direction and supervision continued. Ministry opportunities in Anglican training courses and SGM programmes were also a regular part of life in these years.

I enjoyed a newly established book club with people from our church. We read a book each month and met to discuss it. In November we choose books for the following year. It was a great time of in-depth discussion on books I might never have come across otherwise. I've always been an avid reader and this group also developed closer relationships with the other group members. It was my version of a nourishing "home group"!

The first retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault was also a very richly nourishing experience. This first retreat was based on her first book on Centering Prayer.  Since then I have benefitted from all Cynthia's books and several more retreats.
Then another wonderful holiday with my friend of many years - Marg Schrader. We enjoyed a week on The Sunshine Coast of Queensland.

As I've got older I have become more and more passionate about issues of social justice and have tried to play a small part in organisations that support change. Attending peace walks or peaceful protests was not a part of my upbringing but joining marches is a physical reminder that my presence adds to the corporate message. It is a tangible way of "walking the talk".

In 2010 there were several significant birthdays. My friend Barb Hooper turned 60. Barb had a serious stroke many years earlier and has limited ability to speak. A wonderful party for her included a totally silent performance of drumming. We all participated with not a single word spoken by the stage group. 

I turned 65. Gold Card age! I asked family and friends not to give me any presents but to buy a "Gift of Hope" or  a "Good Gift" from one of the many organisations that promote this practice.

I was delighted to receive dozens of cards signifying such gifts. 

Another friend, Aynsley, turned 70 the same year. She organised a Kayaking trip from Puhoi to Wenderholm and invited some of us to join her. It was a delightful way to share in showing that 70 isn't too old to enjoy a new physical adventure!

The final special birthday was Anthea's mother turning 100! A lovely afternoon tea was arranged at Cedar Manor rest home where she lived.

Also in 2010 I was able to attend another SDI conference. This time it was in San Francisco where I met one of my heroes in the faith, Brother David Steindl-Rast. After the SDI conference I joined some others of us for a retreat at The Mercy Centre retreat house in Burlingame 

Golden Gate Bridge

Brother David with his friend and 'minder' Anthony Chavez 

Labyrinth at Mercy Centre

2010 and 2011 Saw some tragic events in NZ. In November 2010 the Pike River mine exploded killing 29 men. Then in 2011 a major earthquake devastated Christchurch killing 185 people. 
These events were a sobering reminder that we never know what any day will bring.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the
present time.” Romans 8:22

2011 was a year of overseas friends coming to visit. 
Ruth and Dawn from Brisbane

With Maureen and Sandra from England
Carla at our place for Christmas

Anthea at lookout on our Coromandel holiday.

In June 2011 I began this Blog! Interesting now to look back at what I posted then.

In June 2012 Anthea turned 60. We didn't do very well with many photos!

In November I spent three week in Chiang Mai, Thailand at Seven Fountains retreat centre. This was a wonderful time of reconnecting with David Townsend who had been my director on the 30 day retreat in Wales in 1988. He is now part of the team at Seven Fountains.

With Fr.David Townsend.

Being a tourist!
2012 was also the year both my older siblings celebrated 50 years of marriage! A wonderful milestone and a tribute to the stable loving families they were brought up in and continue for their own children and grandchildren.
L-R Marty, Merrie, Sheila, Carla, Gwenyth,

Writing a chapter on my faith journey for a book to be published in May 2014. 
I called my chapter: Concentric Circles of Faith.

More holidays, more inspiring conferences and rich opportunities to deepen and expand my faith. What  rich and privileged life I have lived. I've been re-reading my own Blog posts for 2013. There are 60 posts! 

 More holidays:
Beautiful Adelaide - holiday with Helena

Melbourne turned on rain every single day! A lot of time spent in the city!

The privilege of  attending a conference in Auckland with Ilia Delio - an amazing scientist and theologian

Ilia Delio - an amazing scientist and theologian.

“God is … the future who holds open in the present moment
the radical possibilities of love.”
Ilia Delio The Unbearable Wholeness of Being

2014 - 63 Posts for this year! Probably the most significant event of the year was deciding to sell our house in Torbay. After five Open Homes and not selling at auction - we sold the following day to exactly the right couple. We had enjoyed15 very happy years in this house and location. 

At the end of October we moved to our next much loved  house and location in Orewa.
43 Chesterfield Way

The lake behind our house.

2015 - 75 Posts for this year so I won't attempt a summary. I'll end this very long post with a short poem from my journal in February 2015:

peeling bark reveals
a smooth new surface ready
to be written on

allow bark to peel
from all the old life layers
smooth freshness awaits

That's appropriate not only for the transition to a new home and location but also to this particular Blog Post. In the Caravan of Selves episodes I now need to wait until I reach 77 years of age to write the next chapter. That will occur in in 2022. So watch this space! I may add other "normal" Posts between now and then - who knows!

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.
Sheila and Anthea - committed trampers!

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.