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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.
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. ”

Friday, October 25, 2019

Caravan of Selves 8: 43-49 Years 1989 -1994

When I arrived back from my Sabbatical there was no hint of the awkwardness of the time before I left. Soon after my return I was invited by the new Principal (Dr John Hitchen) to consider setting up a department in Spiritual Formation! This was a complete surprise and a wonderful opportunity. I felt totally inadequate but as John Hitchen said, "You are more equipped to do this than anyone else!"

So I began with a small initial class called Personal Spirituality. The following year I added a second course Spirituality for Ministry and in the third year Contemporary Trends in Spirituality.
Third year class (who were the first group to do all three years)
L-R Rilma, Liz, Shaz, Sheila, Gail, Kathryn, Dawn (on study leave from Australia), Soo Hoong
The Personal Spirituality course quickly became very popular and class sizes were soon up to 50 students which I felt was really too big for the kind of teaching I most wanted to do. But it was encouraging all the same! I introduced a silent retreat for the third years. This was a five day retreat with daily spiritual direction, held at Mercy Spiritual Life Centre. Over the years David Crawley and Margaret Marshall helped me run these retreats and offer spiritual direction.
Class retreat about 1994 I think
I also began running weekend Creative Prayer Retreats at Arjay House in Torbay. These were open to any students. After a few years I encouraged third year students to experience running these retreats themselves with my guidance. They did a wonderful job and I learned a lot from them!

I was gradually able to shift my teaching load more specifically into the Spiritual Formation department as those classes developed.
Faculty retreat 1994 I think
At the same time as this wonderful opportunity was developing Mum's health was declining through another stroke and a broken hip. It was a long road to her death in 1992. She had moved through all the stages of care at Parkwood Retirement Village in Waikanae and died in the hospital there.

In spite of the deep satisfaction and enjoyment I had in these years of developing the spiritual formation department I was still grappling with the stressful atmosphere of constant "busyness" in the academic environment. Once again I found my self wondering if I could stay long term at BCNZ. I had wonderful friends in the faculty and the college was in good heart. It was my own inner sense of something not being quite right for who I was becoming. A series of taped talks by Richard Rohr on The Spirituality of Subtraction made a significant impact. 

I am quite prone to melancholy and in 1993 I wondered to myself if this was depression or maybe even burnout. I wrote: "I often feel weary and a kind of restless boredom. Weariness is not from overwork or lack of sleep. More a kind of repression of both joy and pain." I don't think at the time I had heard something the poet David Whyte quoted in a talk about his own burnout: 
“You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? … The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” In retrospect I think this fitted my experience.
I sought out a counsellor: Anthea Harper at Christian Care Centre. Two friends of each of us had independently said they thought we would get on well together so it seemed a way to find out! The two months of counselling were very helpful especially the question: "What sort of woman do you want to become?" One sentence of my longer response to this question was: "A woman who has the courage to do and say less in order for what is said and done to mean more."

After the counselling relationship finished Anthea wanted to interview me about the similarities and differences between counselling and spiritual direction. This was the subject of her Masters in Counselling dissertation. So this time she came to my office at BCNZ. After these encounters with each other we decided our friends were right - we certainly had a lot in common and soon became good friends.
Here we are on Barry Tetley's Yacht on the Waitemata Harbour. (Barry was a faculty member at BCNZ and he, with his wife Christine, took us out sailing a couple of times.)

In 1994 I asked if I could reduce my BCNZ work to four days a week in order to give more time to my growing spiritual direction practice. This was agreed to and was a significant step towards claiming my "wholeheartedness". It was a complete surprise in December of that year to be asked if I would consider taking on the role of Associate Principal of BCNZ. Writing this now it still seems unbelievable - but I still have the official letter asking me to consider this.

So in the seven years 1988-1994 things had moved from wondering if I was even acceptable at BCNZ to being asked to consider an associate principal role. It may sound a bit of an anti-climax to say that I declined the invitation! But clearly my heart was set on "doing less, not more".

A very significant PS: On my return from Sabbatical one of the things I did was "try out" a church I had heard about which I sensed would support and encourage my evolving spirituality: Ponsonby Baptist Church. I am still a very committed and grateful part of that community thirty years later! I will no doubt write more about that in coming posts.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Caravan of Selves 7: Oasis 1988 (43)

Sometimes a caravan stops at an Oasis. For me 1988 was an Oasis so I feel it deserves a whole Post - not just a brief mention in the next group of seven! Although I'm calling it an Oasis it wasn't all calm, peaceful and restorative! In fact two of the three major Sabbatical sections were anything but, as you will see!

The first leg of the journey was to Melbourne to visit The Community of the Transfiguration. This is a Baptist Monastic community in Geelong. (I came back to this community later in the year - which I had not planned.) On my first visit of several weeks I was impressed by this "modern day" monastic community of about 20 people - married and single who lived together in a variety of dwellings. A beautiful brick chapel had been built by hand from an unused Church which they had personally dismantled.
Outside the Chapel in the garden

Sunday services were held in this part of the Chapel. Note the open Baptistry.
The hours of prayer were celebrated in the Oratory with beautiful sung liturgy. Everyone in the community welcomed me warmly and I joined in the physical work in the main house and in the garden. One or two of the community went out to work to earn money for running the property.
Most of the community were single but there was one married couple and their school age daughter. Friends came to Sunday services and often joined us on picnics and other events.
It was a big garden!

L-R Cheryl, Doug, Neil, Heather (in white blouse), Oz, Steve, Glenys,
central front: Betty, Marg and Di behind her, Graeme (Prior) and Terry behind them.

Picnic with friends

That's me riding pillion behind Neil with Steve on the other bike.
Leaving for a wonderful, bracing ride along the Great Ocean Road!

So while there was a lot that was very good about my experience in the community, some quite deep problems became evident especially on my return there later in the year. More about that below!

The next stop - England and Wales.
When I was in Nigeria I became good friends with Maureen Stringer as we both taught at Hillcrest School and lived in the same apartment building. Maureen lives in England and she was a wonderful friend to me when I got there. I stayed with her and she took me to many of the places I needed or wanted to go. A highlight is our weekend on Iona:

Arriving on the ferry from Mull

The Abbey (thanks to Iona website for this photo!)

The Abbey, The McLeod Centre and accommodation.

Me at the beach where St Columba is said to have arrived in his coracle.
He founded the Abbey in 563.

One of the many Celtic Crosses on the Island

Maureen at the marble quarry site on far side of the Island
The abandoned Nunnery
I also visited my Aunty Kath (Dad's only sister) in South Wales...
Aunty Kath dressed for Chapel!

Aunty Kath at one of her favourite places.
...and my Aunty Sheila in London. I don't think I was particularly named after her. She was Mum's brother's wife.

Aunty Sheila and cousin Elizabeth (who was anorexic)

St Beuno's Jesuit Spirituality Centre
My room was the left of the two white dormer windows at roof level.
Up four flights of stairs - no lifts then.
My three months at St Beuno's was the heart of my Sabbatical year. I'm writing this 31 years later and these three months still stand out as life changing.The three month spiritual directors' training programme included a thirty day retreat. The month either side of that involved skills training and supervised practice, all in the context of daily Eucharist in the atmosphere of the Ignatian community.

Inside the main chapel

When I applied for the course I asked if I would be able to take communion at the Eucharist. I knew if the answer was 'no' I would have to  re-consider as I would find it too painful to be excluded. I was delighted when I was assured I was welcome to participate fully. There were two of us who were not Catholics in our group of 36. The other was a High Church Anglican priest.

Our whole group

I had to smile at the hesitations of the Bible College hierarchy about me going "beyond the pale". The entire 30day retreat is based on praying one's way through the Gospels from the birth of Jesus to the resurrection and ascension. It is more Biblical and 'evangelical' than anything I've done before or since! The retreat is silent - apart from a daily conversation with a spiritual director who guides the process of the four "weeks" of meditations. I was linked with Fr David Townsend with whom I keep in touch to this day. (His mother was a Baptist - so I guess that's why he was 'given' me!!) He was exactly the right person.
My room on the top floor. No lifts so up four flights of stairs. 
The "young ones" were on this floor I think.
Fr David Townsend my director - in a mischievous mood!
(Not during the retreat!)
One of the loveliest places to go during the silence of the retreat was the Rock Chapel:
Rock Chapel - a bit of a climb but well worth it.

Rock Chapel (St Beuno's website photo)
When not in retreat we often walked and picnicked together.
Eating in the cosy village Pub was sometimes a treat -
though all the excellent meals were provided at St Beuno's
Many miles of beautiful North Wales countryside.
Daffodils everywhere in the grounds as Spring arrived.
The countryside added a great deal to the contemplative atmosphere of these three months. It felt quite safe to wander alone for miles along country lanes, beside beautiful small cottages and over hillsides "where sheep may safely graze". One of those hills had a cross at the top. I was fortunate that my retreat coincided with Easter. So at sunrise on Easter Sunday I climbed to the cross.

A major part of an Ignatian retreat is focussed on discernment. I had arrived knowing that my discernment issue was whether or not to return to BCNZ. I assumed that I would decide not to! That certainly was not "indifference" which is the basis for a true discernment. My director wisely told me not to decide too soon but let the whole retreat run its course. In the end it was clear that it was right for me to return and see how things developed. So in that light I left this life changing three month experience.

More time with friends.

It was surprisingly difficult to make the transition from St Beuno's. It felt like a genuine grief to leave there. But it was good to have some more time with friends before setting off on the third offical section of my Sabbatical time.
Heather Broers in the Cotswolds countryside
Heather and I have been pen-friends since we were about 12. We still keep in touch regularly - by email these days! At the time of writing - that's about sixty-two years of friendship! It was to Heather's place that I went after St Beuno's. She lives not far from Stratford-on-Avon.
Heather beside the Avon
 Then there were friends in Devon who ran a small Methodist retreat house called Burstone Manor. Howard has died now but (another) Heather still lives there and keeps in touch with Christmas letters.

Howard and Heather with Sally and Jos at Burstone Manor

As a good Methodist, Heather took me to visit a cottage where "John Wesley preached and rested."

Me inside John Wesley's cottage
Then more time with Maureen and Joan, a friend from Nigeria days. The three of us had been good friends for the years we overlapped as SIM missionaries all teaching at Hillcrest.

Canada and Regent College

The third leg of my Sabbatical journey was to do some study in the history of spirituality at Regent College, Vancouver under the direction and supervision of Dr James Houston. I had met Dr Houston  when he visited BCNZ and subsequently arranged this study period with him by email. He had agreed to supervise me and said that accommodation would be available at a student hostel. His book The Transforming Friendship had been significant for me and I looked forward to this time to round off my Sabbatical. 

I had friends in North America - USA and Canada. Looking back at photos I can't remember exactly how I fitted in all these visits before heading off to Vancouver! But here are few to remember:
Ines, a dear friend from Nigeria, who has MS
and was in retirement in Toronto

Living out of a suitcase!!

At Niagara Falls

Ready to walk in behind the falls
Rhoda with her brother and his wife in Michigan.
Rhoda was the school counsellor at Hillcrest for a short time.
Helen and Gordon Stanley with Karla North Carolina.
Helen and Gordon welcomed me to Nigeria when I first arrived.
I decided to travel from Toronto to Vancouver on the train! I was lucky to get a ticket for a sleeping compartment at quite short notice. I love train travel and the solitude of a couple of days before the next main part of my Sabbatical was enticing.
Passing a logging area

Seeing the Rockies from the Dome lounge

A short stop at Banff
I thoroughly enjoyed the train trip and the varied landscapes across the whole continent. I wish I had been a better photographer. No editing possible weeks later when I got the film developed!

When I finally arrived in Vancouver Dr Houston met me at the train and took me to their home. Mrs Huston was a gracious hostess. There was one other woman staying there too. After showing me round Regent College the next day it began to dawn on me that the plans for supervised study and accommodation seemed to have been totally forgotten. To this day I have no idea what happened and I was too overwhelmed and shy to confront this directly. I was told I could use the library and stay at their home for a couple of weeks while I sorted out other accommodation.

The main things I remember now are being a rather lonely tourist in this beautiful city - and playing several games of Scrabble with Dr and Mrs Houston who played every day. It was all quite bizarre!
Cycling round Stanley Park on a hired bike
The Empress Hotel where "English" afternoon tea is beautifully served!

Playing Scrabble with Dr and Mrs Houston
What made it somewhat better was a conversation with the other person staying there who said she had had a similar experience of arriving to find plans she thought were definite not eventuating. At least I didn't feel quite so crazy. I stayed for about ten days I think while I worked out what to do. I certainly didn't want to look for accommodation and embark on study by myself for the next couple of months under these circumstances. Mrs Houston was very nice and took me to a few places during that time. Somehow I never plucked up the courage to say to her how puzzled I was with what had happened. It all felt extremely awkward.

I arranged to stay for awhile with the daughter of a friend of Mum's who lived in Vancouver and whom I was planning to visit while I was there. That was a lovely friendly, relaxed time. One highlight was a visit to Buchart Gardens.


Jill, Nell (mum's friend) and Rachel
I had also contacted the Geelong community and they had warmly invited me to go back there for as long as I wanted. First I returned to England for more time with Maureen and some other family visits. While there I wanted to visit Norwich and the church where Mother Julian had her tiny cell.

I went on a double decker bus from London and as it was arriving at the Guest House where I was going to stay I looked  out the window and saw Graeme, the Prior of the Geelong community, along with Janelle, the youngest member of the community! I had no idea what they were doing in England but I must have told the community I was visiting Norwich for a few days. 
The Anglican Church in Norwich which has Julian's cell at the side.

Graeme and Janelle outside the Church

Inside Julian's cell.
It all seemed rather surreal but it was nice to see them. Apparently Graeme thought it was a good time to give Janelle a bit of an overseas trip and organised it to meet up with me along the way. Very strange looking back now but somehow at the time, though unexpected, it all seemed fine. (And in case you are wondering I don't think there was anything amiss about this. Janelle's parents, members of the community, had obviously OK'd it.)

So a few weeks later I returned to Australia and was once again very warmly welcomed by the Community of the Transfiguration. This time I was invited to be a full part of community meetings, not just a visitor. 
Inside main house - special dinner for my 43rd birthday!

Although there was much that I appreciated and learned in the context of this community, I began to be concerned about some aspects of the dynamics that were becoming very stressful for everyone. I suppose all communities have to work through underlying issues that become apparent over time.

It was a long time ago now so I won't go into details but it was an insight for me about being trusted enough to see below the surface. It showed quite starkly the influence of a leader for both good and ill simultaneously. This was not a sexual abuse issue, it was more about power dynamics and emotional wellbeing. I was very stressed and quite shaken by the fact that it fell to me to talk with two of the Guardians (external 'board members') as those in the community found it hard to reveal some of the issues. Fortunately the Guardians were excellent and action was taken after I left.
Rae and Des Darrer. Rae was a Guardian.
I did leave earlier than I had expected because the stress was something I didn't need once I had taken the action that was mine to take. I stayed with Rae (a Guardian) and Des for a week or two I think and then arranged to go on retreat to the RSCJ (Religious of the Sacred Heart) community not far away in Braybrook. I already knew one of the sisters there: Faith McMurtrie, who had started out as a Baptist minister in NZ! 

Faith in the kitchen at Braybrook RSCJ
Before heading back to NZ I also spent time with two more friends: Helena Stretton who was the Dean of Women at BCNZ but was in Australia visiting her mother; and Lee McKay a good friend from NZ who was visiting her sister.
Helena, her mum and a friend of Helena's

Lee in picnic mode!
So the months I had expected to spend at Regent College were filled in unexpected ways but I was grateful I was never "left in the lurch" without somewhere to go.

At the beginning of this year my journal reveals that I had prayed: "Reveal myself to me." perhaps a strange prayer - not "Reveal yourself to me." But then - and now - it makes sense. I learned a great deal about myself in that year. After the trauma of even being "allowed" to go St Beuno's as part of my Sabbatical, it was ironic that those three months were the only part of the year that went smoothly without stress or disruption! I learned that I was quite naive in some ways - also reluctant to ask for what I needed or be assertive. I was often lonely at the times of particular stress and difficulty. But I suppose it is also true that in spite of all that I navigated some pretty challenging situations. Most importantly, I was deeply affirmed in my direction in life. My passion for spiritual growth - my own and that of others - had deepened. Graeme (Geelong) said he thought I'd make a good novice mistress!! I thought that was quite funny - especially as he was a Baptist. But I did know what he meant in the context of my involvement with members of the community. My spiritual director (St Beuno's) said he thought I had a gift for the ministry of spiritual direction and hoped I would be able to pursue that.

So I set off back to NZ and Bible College not having any idea how I would be received!
The end of my Sabbatical year - farewelled by Kath
a friend of the Geelong community.





Melbourne - friends from BCNZ time
England and Wales Heather, Maureen, Aunty Kath
St Beunos
Julian of Norwich
Back to Geelong