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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Cloud

I've been thinking about clouds recently. There are some nice white fluffy ones outside my window as I write. A few days ago there were dark stormy ones depositing so much rain that some New Zealand communities were seriously flooded. But if I talk about the cloud. I wonder what first springs to mind? I wouldn't mind betting that for many people it is the cloud that stores your digital data; that mysterious 'space' that holds whatever we send there and even more mysteriously gives back our documents, photos and backups with a few clicks. I don't begin to understand this amazing capacity to hold, store and return (to the right person) what must amount to trillions of 'bits' of data. (You can see I don't even know how to write about it accurately!)

However, right now I'm thinking of another mysterious cloud which I don't 'understand' either. It is the cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

I've known this concept since childhood and I used to think of it as a nice idea to keep in mind - all those brave people in the Bible stories (Hebrews 11 etc) could encourage me to be brave too. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It's a good start. But now that I'm a little more aware of what is revealed by quantam physics, a holographic universe, and unitive consciousness, I see the "cloud of witnesses" in a new way. All those faithful people (some known to me personally) who have lived and trusted God even in the darkest of times, really are present now in some parallel universe cheering me on.

Being brought up Baptist we were never much into saints (the kind with "St..." before their names) much less praying to them or expecting them to have any influence. So I'm a late starter in paying much serious attention to the great cloud of witnesses. I probably put them all in the "saints" basket. Of course, if you read Hebrews 11 it is soon apparent that many of them don't fit the traditional definition of a saint! As I think about it now, the word 'witness' is one I can relate to. So I'm expanding my childhood understanding to a deeper level. I can imagine many faithful people - parents, friends, heroes of my own faith journey - now 'there in the cloud'. They are experiencing ultimate reality. They are witnesses to that as well as to the reality of life lived in this limited earthly domain. They are a comforting and challenging community!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It's not about Easter Bunnies...

I found this on Paul Windsor's Blog this morning. (Thanks, Paul!)
This is Father Boules George's sermon during the Eve of Monday Pascha following the two bombings on Palm Sunday that took place at St George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta and St Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria.

I found it immensely challenging. Here is a Priest who lives out the heart of the message of Jesus and the meaning of Easter. It is 9 minutes long and has English subtitles. I recommend listening to the Priest's voice even as you read the subtitles. You can hear the passion and the integrity with which he speaks.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Art of Listening

A lot of what I like to do in this Blog is pass on gems from things I read or listen to. Each week I get an email full of thought provoking material called Brain Pickings. Click here to subscribe (free or with a donation) if you'd like to get it too.
Today's topic includes some thoughtful reflections on listening. As a person who spends several hours most days listening to people in the spiritual direction setting, I was intrigued by this introductory paragraph:

“An experience makes its appearance only when it is being said,” wrote Hannah Arendt in reflecting on how language confers reality upon existence. “And unless it is said it is, so to speak, non-existent.” But if an experience is spoken yet unheard, half of its reality is severed and a certain essential harmony is breached. The great physicist David Bohm knew this: “If we are to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature,” he wrote in his excellent and timely treatise on the paradox of communication, “we need to be able to communicate freely in a creative movement in which no one permanently holds to or otherwise defends his own ideas.”

So when I (or you) truly listen to someone, we enable that person's experience to exist in a way it didn't before. And if we can create an atmosphere of freedom in the spiritual direction room (or across the cafe table!) then there is room for a creative exploration of experience that does not have to be defended.
Listening in this way is truly a sacred vocation.

If you would like to read the rest of the discussion including Erich Fromm's six rules of listening, click here.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Balancing bad news with good news

These two pictures are copied from today's email in TearFund's Living Lent series. 

Yes, definitely something to celebrate!

I think it is important to celebrate the good news while also noting that: "A billion people remain at the bottom in poverty that just won’t go away. This is especially true in war hot-spots and disaster zones that Tearfund’s partners work in. Here, the ascent out of poverty is often harder than ever. That climb remains perilous and precarious."

I find it easier to do all I can to alleviate the "bad news" when I know that over the years our combined compassion and action does lead to "good news".

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What makes you happy?

A Basic Human Approach to Happiness
by Br. David Steindl-Rast OSB

This three-part article explores the importance of shared values and action at a time when the very survival of the human race depends upon them.

Brother David is one of my most treasured mentors. I'm sure I will have mentioned him before (but I can't locate where!) I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago at a spiritual directors' conference. He is now aged 90 and continues to offer the wisdom of his years. This article is not a quick read - rather it repays sitting with a cup of tea or coffee and reading it thoughtfully.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Let it go...

I didn't realise until I had written this post that my Blog background 
has the theme of dandelion seeds blowing away. Nice synchronicity!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It's easy really...

(I'm having a lot of fun experimenting with editing photos and adding text.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Caught by God

A quote from Walter Brueggemann's: A Way Other Than Our Own: readings for Lent:

Caught by God

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow 
me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord 
my whole life long." Psalm 23:6

"'Goodness and mercy pursue me'. God's friendliness and kindness will run after me and chase me down, grab me and hold me. The verb 'follow' is an active verb. We are being chased by God's powerful love. We run from it. We try to escape. We fear that goodness, because then we are no longer in control. We do not trust such generosity, and we think our own best efforts are better than God's mercy."

I enjoyed the surprise of the words "friendliness and kindness". How lovely to imagine a friendly, kind God running after me! I'm very happy to be caught. I suspect walking slowly and enjoying the sunrise (as I did yesterday) is a way to be 'caught' by a friendly Creator who shares my delight as good friends do.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Genuine, passionate love...

In a recent post I named various books I was currently reading. Today I finished the one I thought I would "just skim" because it covered ground fairly familiar to me.
It's true that much of it covered very familiar territory. But the final chapters reminded me that it is easy for me to get a bit blase about the relevance of Biblical literature to current events. In a post just a couple of days ago (here) this was my theme. Today the following excerpt from Alexander's book had me soberly reflecting on whether we too easily ignore "the signs of the times".

Speaking very positively of the 'New Jerusalem' and the ultimate restoration of earth as it was intended to be, Alexander also points out that currently our world is more like 'Babylon'.

"In Revelation, the city of Babylon symbolizes humanity's obsession with wealth and power, which become a substitute for knowing God. History witnesses to the ongoing existence of Babylon as one nation after another has used its power to grow rich at the expense of others. We live in a world where economic power dominates national and international politics. ...

There is something deceptive about the acquisition of wealth, and those who draw attention to this are never popular. Politicians know they get votes by promising more and more, not less and less. This, in part at least, explains why Jimmy Carter failed to get re-elected as President of the US in 1979.

After a two-week retreat at Camp David, where he had spent time reflecting on the state of the nation, Carter gave a major televised speech on 18 July 1979. In a sermon-like address he drew attention to what he saw as the moral crisis facing the USA. He summarized the problem in these words:

"In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families and our faith in God, too many of us now worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns."

To underline the seriousness of this he added, "This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning."

Unsurprisingly, many Americans did not take well to this message... Although Carter's analysis was correct, when election time came, Ronald Reagan won by a landslide."

While 'New Jerusalem' and 'Babylon' might not be metaphors that we relate to in our current speech, the reality they speak of is certainly current. This final quote uses two more metaphors that we may resist: 'bride' and 'prostitute', but if what we all long for is 'genuine passionate love' read on:

"With good reason, the New Jerusalem is portrayed as a bride, whereas Babylon is a prostitute. Genuine passionate love will be found only in God's presence; what the prostitute offers is but a fleeting, deceitful shadow of the real thing."

All this has implications for each of us personally, politically and spiritually. As Jesus points out in my favourite Bible story, the God who is Love is only too eager to welcome home any prodigal son or daughter who has tried out 'Babylon' and its 'prostitutes' and not found 'genuine passionate love'.

Rembrandt's well known painting of the father welcoming the prodigal son.

(If any reader of this post doesn't know the story click here for a You Tube version which depicts Jesus telling the story recorded in Luke 15:11-32. It's a pity it uses rather old fashioned English but otherwise well done.)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A great way to start on a (wet) day

Meditation and a walk - these are the staple diet of my morning routine. But the last few days here in Auckland have been like the tropics in monsoon season!
...so some adaptation is in order...

No problem with the meditation of course. My trusty Insight Timer app gives me a gentle gong to start the 20 minutes and another to end. If you don't know this app I recommend it. It has hundreds of guided relaxation/meditation options as well as the timer which you can set to whatever times and sounds you wish. The guided options are from various religious and secular perspectives. If you are wanting guidance with Centering Prayer there is a very good 30 minute track with an introduction, then 20 minutes silence and ends with a beautiful contemporary version of the Lord's Prayer. (Search 'centering prayer').

To get my body going on a 'no walk' morning I'm using a 20 minute Qi Gong routine on You Tube. (There is also a 10 minute version of the same routine.) Qi Gong is a very integrated mind/body practice so for me this is more than just 'exercises'.
(I don't quite look like this yet .... but with enough wet days - who knows!!)