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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,
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,
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!

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 Quran. 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!