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Friday, December 8, 2017

Interfaith friendship

Sometimes synchronicities are really amazing. This Advent I am participating in a retreat via Abbey of the Arts. The theme throughout Advent is the life of Mary, mother of Jesus. I also get the daily reflections from Richard Rohr. Rohr's theme currently is Interfaith Friendship. Now for the synchronicity!
On the same day ... a quote from Rohr's meditation (first quoting Brian McLaren, then Rohr's words.)
"We need] a Christian identity that is both strong and kind. By strong I mean vigorous, vital, durable, motivating, faithful, attractive, and defining. . . . By kind I mean something far more robust than mere tolerance, political correctness, or coexistence: I mean benevolent, hospitable, accepting, interested, and loving, so that the stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view. 
—Brian McLaren (bold mine)
How can we learn to draw from the deep aquifer, the common Source of Love for all religions, without denying the goodness of our own small spring? This is the marriage of unity and diversity."

And from the Advent retreat a reflection on how Mary is important in the Muslim tradition too. A whole chapter is devoted to her in the Q'ran. He name there is Maryam. Here is a YouTube clip of Christian and Muslim women together celebrating their respect for Mary/Maryam. It begins with a short piece from a play followed by discussion. (I'd love to see the whole play!)

I am delighted in these resources because I have a very good friend who is Muslim. We have become friends this year through our training together as English Language tutors. Sometimes you just "hit it off" with someone - that's how it is with Abir. She and her family are immigrants from Syria, having also lived in Kuwait for some years. Because of the information from the Advent retreat I was fairly confident Abir would like the YouTube clip so I sent it to her. She did. She said thinking of Maryam always brings tears to her eyes. We will meet for lunch soon and will no doubt talk about our perspectives on Mary/Maryam who is part of both our traditions.

This is a quick snap of Abir (talking to Anthea) and her family at our place one day recently.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Don't be fenced in!

I love the tenacity of nature!

If you feel fenced in
use the fence as the backdrop
for your beauty.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Communion at the typewriter

We did a lovely thing in Church on Sunday. (Ponsonby Baptist Church). 
It felt like a sacrament.
We were celebrating All Souls day - not on its usual calendar Sunday I know, but so what!

It began with  a thoughtful reflection on death, dying and those we have loved and lost. Then we were invited to come to the communion table and type (yes type) the name or names of those we wished to honour and remember.

I watched the steady stream of people lining up, waiting quietly, then sitting at one of the two typewriters. It was so similar to the lines waiting to receive the bread and wine at communion. And of course this was communion of another kind. We were communing with those who have gone before.  (See here for a previous post on the cloud of witnesses.) We were also communing with one another in our shared experiences of grief and loss. It was moving to witness each other intent on recording the names of loved ones. The sound of the typewriter keys clicking was the music of this sacrament.

Personally, as well as the names of family members, I typed the name 'Pat'. It felt like a lovely closure. Pat was one of my dear older friends. In 1956 Patricia Preest was the first woman trained and recognised as a 'deaconess' in the NZ Baptist denomination. This was a long time before ordained women ministers were even considered!

For all the years I knew her Pat was an unobtrusive person who mentored and supported others in more public roles. She was a valued member of the congregations she belonged to and quietly introduced contemplative ways of prayer where she could. When she died several years ago no-one told me until after her funeral. Her family thought a mutual friend would tell me and that friend thought they would. Apparently it was a small funeral. I felt very sad to have missed the chance to honour her by being there. So typing Pat's name on Sunday felt like my chance to say "good bye, good and faithful friend."

(Sadly, the only photo I can find of her is very out of focus! Not sure who took it!)

I often think of Pat and feel her presence. Things I remember about her :

  • She loved the outdoors. When she came to Auckland in her later years I would take her to the beach and find a place she could sit and watch the sea.
  • She always dressed well and wore discreet makeup. That may sound an odd things to value about her but I thought at the time that she kept her dignity and didn't slump into "not bothering".
  • She was always eager to learn and to read. She often asked me what I was reading especially in the field of spirituality.
  • She was a forward thinking woman. Being the first deaconess was a sign of her willingness to push beyond traditional boundaries. In her 80's she was still keen to follow the growing edges of the emerging Church.
  • She loved old hymns. Several times when she was quite unwell she told me that "these lovely hymns just come to my mind".
I don't know if the hymn below was one of Pat's "lovely hymns" but she certainly knew it - and it is one of my favourites. I'm sure Pat now enjoys the fulness of "life that shall endless be". Click here for a beautiful version sung a capella by the Westminster Chorus.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
                              - George Matheson

Saturday, November 25, 2017

We really are all connected!

A few days ago I was suddenly struck by the absolute wonder of how connected we are.
Early that morning - using my phone - I read a Blog written by someone I presume was writing from India where he lives (thanks Paul Windsor!) In it he reminisced about favourite music and included some YouTube links. I clicked on one and sat listening and watching  a beautiful young woman pianist (Julia Fischer) playing a Grieg Piano concerto somewhere else in the world. (YouTube didn't tell me where!)

This kind of "clicking round the world" has become commonplace now. I do it all the time and most often don't stop to wonder and be amazed at what technology allows.

Then this morning I received an email from Avaaz - an organisation I am delighted to support. It outlined some of the truly wonderful things Avaaz and its members have made possible in 2017. Click here to share this good news! From the Masai people in Africa, to the refugees fleeing Myanmar and Syria... and so much more. Do look at this link for so many signs of hope and good will in our world.

As Advent approaches there is the opportunity to be connected to others who want to take time to reflect prayerfully and practically on what this season is really about. I've signed up for the TearFund NZ  Advent reflections (free). I am also going to participate in a more in-depth retreat offered by Abbey of the Arts. This does have a fee attached - but again, how amazing to be able to interact with others in prayerful community without travel or accommodation costs! 

Of course there are all the well known dangers and down-sides to being so connected by simply sitting at home and staring at the computer or small screen. I'm not naive about that. It's also important to be part of a real life, face to face community! I deeply appreciate my church community and many other friends. However, I am very grateful for the wider connections with people around the globe that today's technology allows. We live in a world where we can choose to use these opportunities to connect us for good purposes. 

All the wonders of this technological connection are, of course, a tangible expression of the underlying scientific and spiritual reality of our inherent connection with one another and all things! A topic for another day!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

If you want to be happy be grateful

I am so grateful for Brother David Steindl-Rast. That is as it should be since gratefulness is the message of his life and teaching! At 90 (or maybe 91 by now) he continues to bless many people through personal interviews and through all the books and recordings published over his long life.

I am delighted to read on the Gratefulness website that an archived collection of his life and work has opened at the University of Massachusetts. A good overview of the collection (including photos and a recording) can be seen here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

In the pink...

These are a few of my favourite things... 🎶
 Dewdrops on petals...

and Flowers on fences....

Colourful driveways...

all food for the senses...

When the rain pours and the wind blows
I simply remember that beauty surrounds me
and then I don't feel so bad!

(With apologies to Julie Andrews!)

Monday, October 16, 2017

The "untethered" life

I recently listened to a podcast from Sounds True. Tami Simon interviews Michael Singer: Living from a Place of Surrender.  It is a one hour interview. In my view it is worth the time spent but here are the main points I found helpful.

The sub-title, The untethered life, is a powerful image. Singer says we spend much of our life 'tethered' to things that hold us down, hold us back from true freedom. Another way of saying this is that we are held back by our old self/false self/ego (whatever term is meaningful for you.) When we let go of the things that tie us down, our true self rises effortlessly. The hot air balloon is a wonderful visual picture of this.

The theme of letting go is prominent. Surrender is another way of talking about letting go. It is no surprise that Singer and many other spiritual writers say the same thing! Cynthia Bourgeault for example talks about Centering Prayer as a spiritual work-out in kenosis - or letting go.

Singer emphasises that while all spiritual practices are important training, daily life will quickly reveal what 'tethers' us. Anything that triggers a strong emotional reaction is a clue. It might be clinging to something I want or resisting something I don't want. Either way the challenge is to let go, to surrender. When I am tethered, tied down, by my ego, my best self/true self can't rise. When you notice this, says Singer, relax and release. You have a choice. 

I was struck by Singer's question: "Can I let this take me to God"? Every time we choose to release one of the ties that bind us to a lesser life we experience greater freedom to live "life in all its fulness" as Jesus promised. There are probably dozens of opportunities every day!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Seeing God in all things

A few photos of things that drew my attention over the last few days:
"Consider the lilies of the field..." Matthew 6:28-29

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny... don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows"
Matthew 10:29-31
"Become like little children... enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Images of the Trinity

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is notoriously hard to explain. I know a certain minister who tries to avoid preaching on Trinity Sunday!

I'm currently reading a fascinating book - a discussion between Brother David Steindl-Rast and Father Anselm Grun Faith Beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Times.

In the conversation about the Trinity there are two images I find helpful. They are both expressed by Brother David. Commenting on the common description of "One God in three persons", he says:

"I would prefer to speak of ways of appearing. That is, ways God appears to us. If we go back to the mystery that is known to us through the reality we call life, we can distinguish three aspects: first the source of life, from which life constantly streams and emerges in every instant from possibility into reality. This origin from which everything springs forth we call Father. Second, the living reality that comes from the source we call Son. And third - because otherwise all that would remain static - comes the aliveness. This divine aliveness is what we mean when we talk of the Holy Spirit."

The source of Life... 
              the living reality... 
                        the animating aliveness.

Brother David goes on to recall Augustine's analogy:
Silence... Word... Understanding.

"From silence comes the word... and it proceeds by way of understanding back into silence."

I've also appreciated Cynthia Bourgeault's more visual image of the water wheel: life giving water continuously pouring from one to another in a relationship of self-giving love.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Friends, enemies and shadows

I've had a lovely time in recent weeks catching up with old friends. "Old" means both age and years of friendship! A wide variety of friends over a long span of years is a great gift. Something I heard or read as a young person has often come back to mind: you won't have all your needs met by any one person. For me that was, and is, a liberating truth. So I celebrate the three friends I have had time with recently:
Dawn (left) and I have had many holidays together in Australia and New Zealand. We first met about 20 years ago when Dawn came on Sabbatical to BCNZ when I was teaching there.

Robyn (top) and I also met at BCNZ when we were both students there in 1970. We have stayed friends ever since even though separated geographically for most of the time. Robyn in Haiti and me in Nigeria. Even in NZ we live at opposite ends of the country Oamaru and Orewa!

Pauline (lower) and I met in the context of our mutual spiritual direction roles when she lived in Auckland. I'm not exactly sure how many years ago we first met but probably close to 20 years!


PS or Coda (or something!)

This morning in Richard Rohr's daily meditation I read a quote that prompted the title of this Post. It made me think about another kind of friendship - befriending/loving even those we might think of as enemies - whether external or internal:
"I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself.
I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow.
Both acts take real and lasting courage."

In our current climate of so much fear, destruction and anguish, genuine friends are a wonderful gift. Friendship with so called 'enemies' within and without may be even more important to our survival.