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Monday, April 23, 2018

The Human Library

I think I'm off the rollercoaster now (see previous post) .... here's hoping!

I'm still not up to normal energy levels but I risked a "busy" weekend by joining in with two groups of people with whom I have shared different parts of my life.

Before I tell you about them - if you've never heard of The Human Library this brief YouTube clip will give you an idea and there are many websites (click here for one of them) that tell you more detail. I felt that the weekend was almost like being in a Human Library.

On Saturday there was a reunion with some of my year group from Bible College Days. We graduated in 1972. It was enjoyable to re-connect and to share some stories of where life has taken us in the 46 years(!!!) since then. There were lots of laughs, some sadness we re-called those no longer with us and then prayer for current issues of concern. Looking at old photos brought back many memories (and more laughs). Although our journeys have taken us to different parts of the world and through different careers and personal challenges, we still have in common our love for Jesus and our Christian commitment. It was a joyful occasion.


On Sunday I managed to get to Church after several weeks away. Ponsonby Baptist Church is my closest community of like-minded friends and fellow travellers on life's journey. It was lovely to be back, And what a special occasion it was! A good part of the service was given to having several people introduce themselves. If that sounds rather unremarkable, it certainly was not! We heard eight introductions. Among just eight people there were differences in ethnicity, language, education, sexual orientation, mental health, confidence in speaking, ideas about God... I'd love to tell some of their stories more fully but they are not mine to tell in this forum. It struck me that all of them felt safe enough in our community to be so honest. I thought, "Jesus is very happy to be here! This is just the sort of 'mixed bag' of people he loved to welcome and accept." I felt humbled, inspired and blessed.


These two groups of people represent such very different chapters of my life! I wondered what would happen if I brought both groups together. Jesus would certainly love and affirm each and every person and hold us all in the embrace of unconditional love.


As I said in  'About this Blog': "The Blog title Concentric Circles is a way of saying that every phase of the spiritual journey takes me to a new horizon which includes but transcends the one before."
I love the way there is always more to include while still appreciating and valuing all that has gone before.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Rollercoaster ride

I have never considered going on a rollercoaster ride! It is not my idea of fun. (I'd rather walk on the beach or sit with a book in a quiet place!)



However, not all rollercoasters rides are taken by choice. I've been on one for a few months now - and it's still not my idea of fun!

My rollercoaster ride is internal - physical and emotional. Quite frequently my heart has been racing along in a totally chaotic rhythm. (Medical terminology: Paroxymal Atrial Fibrillation.) I'm learning that this is not a particularly uncommon condition. Probably some readers will say "Oh I've got that too" - or know someone who has. But that is a very small consolation!

The physical rollercoaster is not only each event when it happens. It is also the side-effects of the medications used to control these events. (Sometimes it feels as if the cure is worse than the complaint.) I'm still on that part of the ride.

The emotional rollercoaster is just as daunting (for me anyway). Fear and anxiety are hard to avoid. Not being sure I can trust my heart to behave as it should (and has done for 72 years so far!) is
de-stabilising. I'm grateful that I have many spiritual and psychological resources to call on - and believe me I do! Daily practices of prayer and meditation... plenty of relaxation exercises... doing my best with "staying in the present moment"... you name it! Over recent years (before this particular rollercoaster ride) I've come to accept that unpleasant emotions need to be accepted without judgement just as they are rather than resisting them. It's a kind of "feel the fear and do it anyway" attitude. Cynthia Bourgeault offers a Welcoming Practice which is a more nuanced, prayerful version.

All these things are helpful and I am very grateful that I have had years of building them into my life. It would be lovely though, if one or more of them would transport me into floating calmly six inches above this rollercoaster ride! But guess what - it hasn't happened yet!

A couple of days ago I was pondering something else I am grateful for - a lifetime of being immersed in  Scripture. I remembered several passages that urged us "not to be anxious", "not to worry about anything". I looked up one of my favourites in the Common English Version of the Bible and underlined the phrases that stood out.
Philippians 4:6-8:
"Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. 
With thankful hearts offer your prayers and requests to God. 
Then because you belong to Christ Jesus, 
God will bless you with peace that no-one can completely understand
And this peace will control the way you think and feel.

Finally my friends keep your minds on what is true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper. 
Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise."



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Creativity - human and divine...

Yesterday we made a very spontaneous decision and went to Auckland Museum to see the Brickman Wonders of the World Lego exhibition. No, I've never played with Lego! But I have seen some amazing creations made by both children and adults. This exhibition is of equal fascination to both. Here are a few of my favourites:
Church of St Basil the Blessed

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The leaning tower of Pizza!! (in the grounds of Tower of Pisa)

The Crown Jewels

Train (obviously!) I didn't note its significance.
There are dozens more - I don't want to spoil the surprises. There are several places where children can sit and play with huge troughs of Lego Pieces - and seats where I saw a couple of grandparents relaxing while they waited.

 Afterwards we sat outside in the beauty of the Domain and I couldn't help thinking about the creativity of the Ultimate Creator... 
...in the structure of a tree
... every cell of its sturdy bark.

The generosity and abundance of reproductive seeds on each fern frond.

The delicate beauty of a flower.

At first as we walked outside I thought - "Ah but God's creation is so much better" but I quickly adjusted my thinking. All creativity comes from the same Source. Maybe we are more likely pay money and stand in a queue to see human creativity than we are are to sit or walk freely outside and marvel at God's! However, I can imagine the Divine Creator cheering and affirming the Lego marvels made by people who are, after all, made in the Creator's image!




Thursday, March 29, 2018

Blessing for Holy Thursday


Blessing You Cannot Turn Back
(For Holy Thursday)

As if you could
stop this blessing
from washing
over you.


As if you could
turn it back,
could return it
from your body
to the bowl,
from the bowl
to the pitcher,
from the pitcher
to the hand
that set this blessing
on its way.


As if you could
change the course
by which this blessing
flows.

As if you could
control how it
pours over you—
unbidden,
unsought,
unasked,

yet startling
in the way
it matches the need
you did not know
you had.

As if you could
become undrenched.

As if you could
resist gathering it up
in your two hands
and letting your body
follow the arc
this blessing makes.


~ Jan Richardson


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love is stronger than death

This year February 14 is both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday
 - reminders of both Love and Death. 

On Valentine's Day we think about those we love most (or those whom we think love us most!) I'm actually opposed to the commercialisation of Valentine's Day. The "Hallmark Cards, chocolates and roses" expectations can put a lot of pressure on many people, I'm sure. And those who give and receive none of the above can feel left out, unloved and forgotten. The whole dynamic is full of pitfalls - and  if you look up the history of Valentine's Day you might be surprised how closely love and death were intertwined. It certainly wasn't about chocolates and roses! (I hasten to add that I'm not in any way opposed to expressions of love whenever they may be genuine and appropriate!)


So - what about Ash Wednesday? This is the Wednesday at the beginning of Lent. The weeks of Lent are designed to help us walk with Jesus towards Easter when Jesus was crucified and buried on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Sunday. In an Ash Wednesday service each person is offered the chance to have a cross made of ashes drawn on their forehead as the priest or minister says: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." This is a sober reminder of our impending death - however close or far away that might be.

It seems to me that having Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday on the same day this year is an appropriate synchronicity. Two things have come to mind as I have reflected on it. First the verse in that beautiful Biblical love poem The Song of Songs 8:6 which says: 
"Place me like a seal over your heart, 
like a seal on your arm; 
for love is as strong as death, 
its ardor unyielding as the grave. 
It burns like a blazing fire, 
like a mighty flame." 
(New International Version)

Or in a more modern translation:
 "Always keep me in your heart 
and wear this bracelet to remember me by. 
The passion of love bursting into flame 
is more powerful than death, 
stronger than the grave." 
(Contemporary English Version)

The second thing which seems appropriate as we think about both love and death is the "End of life choice bill" currently being debated in our NZ Parliament. Whatever view we may each take on this issue it is clear that both love and death are part of the equation.  That's food for thought throughout these weeks of Lent. For Jesus, love meant he was willing to go all the way to death - with no choice for a peaceful way to die. 

I greatly appreciated a recent discussion at Ponsonby Baptist Church last Sunday where those gathered expressed their stories, questions and views on the issues in the bill. There was no attempt to convince each other or to come to a joint conclusion.. There was room for respect and thoughtful reflection. I'm sure Jesus was very much present with us. I'm genuinely not sure what he might have said as the "talking stick" was passed round!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Still water Haiku

Still water covers
challenging terrain below
and reflects beauty.

Monday, January 22, 2018

God as Mother

I came across this poem as part of a FaceBook post. I want to keep it and know where to find it so I'm posting it here. It was written and spoken at an event in Boston called God Our Mother. The full hour long podcast version is here. I haven't listened to the podcast but I think this poem is wonderful!

God our Mother
- Allison Woodard (28/9/2017)

To be a mother is to suffer;
to travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.

To be a mother is to say,
“This is my body broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”

To be a mother is to self-empty,
to neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night –
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.

To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and – when all is said and done –
to gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.

To be a mother is to be vulnerable –
to be misunderstood,
railed against,
blamed
for the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe.

To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips
those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.

To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
and injustice the next.
To be the receiver of endless demands,
absorber of perpetual complaints,
reckoner of bottomless needs.

To be a mother is to be an artist;
a keeper of memories past,
weaver of stories untold,
visionary of lives looming ahead.

To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
and the first disregarded;
to be a Mender of broken creations,
and Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.

To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names
Influencer of identities;
Life giver,
Life shaper,
Empath,
Healer
and
Original Love.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

The importance of play

A recent conversation has me thinking about play. I don't think I allow myself to play enough! So just for fun (!) I looked up some quotes about play.

If it's true that..."“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” -Joseph Chilton Pearce ... then I'd better get playing!

But what is "play"? Of course it is different things for different people. I like the idea that: “Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good” -Lucia Capocchione

Mark Twain suggests that: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” I'm not sure I entirely agree with that. I can see his point but when my body is "not obliged to do" anything in particular it can sometimes slump into apathetic boredom. That doesn't seem like play somehow!

This photo seems to match the next quote:
“Play is the exultation of the possible.” -Martin Buber. I like that idea!
Kite surfing takes a lot of skill, hours of practice and presumably a lot of money for gear. Not possible (or even desirable) for many of us. Fun to watch though! Walking the beach and enjoying what I see is one of the ways I play. Taking photos and editing them later is play too. I can spend hours with photos - making books and calendars and just having fun.

As usual children have so much to teach us about play: A few plastic toys and time on the beach is all that's needed.
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” -Kay Redfield Jamison

As I've thought about the ways I play I realise that apart from walking and going to Pilates most of my play is sedentary or passive. To relax I read (a lot!), enjoy knitting and doing jigsaws, spend time on photography and go to some movies. I do swim in the summer and I always love having a coffee with a friend - one friend at a time please - parties are definitely not play for me!

We recently had a friend staying with us. She is much more extrovertedly playful than me. I enjoyed her energy and one evening we spontaneously danced around to Bee Gees music! It was fun but not something I would do without some encouragement!

Of course it's just fine for each of us to play in our own way - as long as we don't forget to play at all. Two final thought provoking quotes underline that:
“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” Brian Sutton-Smith

“Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor.” -Stuart Brown, MD

This year I'd like to add some new ways to play - maybe more of the active kind - and definitely some that make me laugh!






Saturday, December 30, 2017

Thought for the new year...

Richard Rohr's daily meditation today included this comment:

Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians. (Bold type mine)

- Richard Rohr 

New Year often makes us think of changes we would like to make. I'm not into new year resolutions myself but I do review the past year and prayerfully turn towards the one ahead. I like the thought that "change just happens" but it is my/our attitude to change that is active and transformative.

The pictures below have nothing to do with the quote other than the fact that they were taken on my morning walk as I pondered the quote! 😊



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Kiwi Christmas

I am very grateful to live in this beautiful country. Here we celebrate Christmas in summer and at this time of year the Pohutukawa trees blossom. Understandably they are often called the NZ Christmas tree. Summer is great time for walks in the bush or on the beach - so here's to a Kiwi Christmas!