Spirit Images

From four winds blowing
Violent, rushing, breathing
Sighs too deep for words

These are some of the images in this week’s lectionary readings for Pentecost. They are pushmi-pullyu words, images that are both gentle and disturbing.

Like the need for wind to clear up smoggy, stifling days, we long for Spirit-wind to blow life into valleys of death.

We hear the invitation to stop and take a breath, to breathe in the Spirit-breath that settles anxiety, sleeplessness and pain and restores life.

In the darkest places, we catch the echo of Spirit-sigh, the whisper of peace and hope.

Pentecost: a celebration of Spirit-work, Spirit-life, Spirit-love

Let Him Easter in Us

https://quotefancy.com/gerard-manley-hopkins-quotes

The Wreck of the Deuschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Deuschland was a ship that ran aground on a shoal 25 miles off the coast of England in 1875. Waves battered it for 30 hours before any rescue attempt was made and, adding insult to injury, men from nearby towns looted the wreckage, taking anything of value including stealing jewellery and valuables from the bodies of the deceased.

Among the dead were five Franciscan nuns who had fled persecution in Germany and were on their way to the United States. Hopkins dedicated his poem to them with this inscription: To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875.

‘Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east’ comes towards the end of what is a long poem. It’s the line that has captured the imaginations of writers and people of faith ever since because Hopkins, speaking on behalf of the British people who let the tragedy happen, asks one of the nuns to ‘remember us’ as she enters into heaven to be with the risen Christ before referencing and perhaps challenging our understanding of Easter.

Under Hopkins’s pen, Easter is no longer a noun, able to be relegated to a long-ago event. Rather, ‘easter’ becomes a verb in the present-continuous tense, something that continues to transform our present lives, to give us new life, and to offer us hope of what will happen when the risen Christ enters our lives.

This line of the poem becomes a prayer: Let Easter get into us. Let Easter come and live where we live. Let Easter permeate our souls. Let Easter expose the dimness in us and shine its light into our darkest corners.

I rarely witness dayspring even if I am up early enough because I don’t have any east-facing windows that give me an unobstructed view of the horizon. When I first became acquainted with this poem I was attending a prayer retreat at Queenscliff. One morning, I made it my business to get up early and walk the beach in order to witness dayspring so that I could put an image to Hopkin’s prayer. I have always loved sunrises, but what I noticed on that occasion was the way in which the sky lightened and the sand and sea took on tinges of pink before I saw the crimson crest.

As we ‘let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east’, let us acknowledge the dim places, particularly at the communal and political levels of our lives, and let us long, pray and look for the ways in which light creeps in to them, the dayspring potential for a brand new, resurrection day.

Calling Men and Women of Good Will

This photo popped up on my Facebook news feed a few days ago:

Over the years, I have often embarked on a Lenten fast – sometimes from chocolate, at others from dessert or wine or coffee. Always an indulgence, the theory being that as I abstain, it acts as a prompt to pray. Often, I have caught myself remembering my pledge as I pop the object of my fasting in my mouth.

These words of Pope Francis appeal to me on the one hand and appall me on the other. I know that I will remember my fast as I speak that unkind word or fail to see the positive in the face of all that is not as it should be. But I’ve decided to give it a go.

When I fail, it will be an invitation to remember that I aspire to more; to focus my prayer, not on my failing, but on my desire. I encourage you to join me in this Lenten fast; if the list seems overwhelming, pick one as a focus. I plan to focus most on the last one – to fast from words and be silent, so that I can listen.

Pope Francis, in his 2018 Lenten address, extends his invitation to ‘men and women of good will’ that they join him in ‘almsgiving, fasting and prayer’. Prayer might be too much of a stretch, but fasting as defined above, might not be too big an ask.  So, I call on men and women of good will to fast with me between now and Easter; surely, we would have nothing to lose and much to gain.

End/Beginnings

‘There is no ending without a beginning … beginnings and endings are always right up against each other.’
Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

I’m reflecting on these words as I find myself in an end/beginning space. On Sunday, I said farewell to the congregations of the Uniting Churches I’ve been serving and I turn my face towards beginning with a new congregation in March. Both the ending of the one and the beginning of the other were unanticipated only four months ago and in addition, the ending was unlooked for and even unwelcome.

Endings are often this way, we fight against them, wrestle with them, become overwhelmed with the sorrow inherent in them, and try to evade or deny them. Sometimes, we simply do not want them. What remains at the end is a space. Rachel Remen encourages her readers to think of endings as end/beginnings.

She illustrates her point by telling the story of a ring she once made. Crafted in silver, the design was technically difficult. When it was finished, it attracted a lot of admiration and she was persuaded to take it to a jeweler who agreed to buy her design, to recast it and sell it to others.

She left it with him, but that night, a huge storm washed a part of the road she’d traveled the previous day into the ocean. The jeweler’s shop, which had stood next to the road on the seaside, was washed away, taking her ring with it. She was left with an empty space on her hand where the ring had been – silent, huge, and filled with loss. She writes of how she learned to value the space, to let it be sacred, and to wait in the space to see what gift would come. Thus, she came to view her experience as an end/beginning.

So, here I am, in the space between the end/beginning. Today marks the eve of the Christian season of Lent, a season of prayer and reflection, of self-examination and repentance. This year, I will spend most of it in this space in between the end/beginning. I’m hearing the call to let it be a sacred space and to anticipate its gift.

Overboard

Image by Tim Marshall

 

I’m pleased to announce one of my short stories has been published:

Overboard was published in issue three (June 2017) of the Swinburne University online journal, Backstory, ‘a history journal with an eye on the future’. Overboard is a work of imaginative fiction based on an historical letter written by Ellen Moger in January 1840 from Holdfast Bay, near Adelaide to her parents in England, published in Frost, L 1994, No Place for a Nervous Lady

Quantum Entanglement Meets Mindfulness

Did you see the news report last week that announced that “Chinese scientists have used satellite technology for the first time to generate and transmit entangled photons — particles of light — across a record distance of 1,200 kilometres on Earth”? This is more than 10 times the distance previously achieved using land-based fibre optic technologies.

 

“A cornerstone of quantum physics is a process called entanglement, where the properties of two particles — such as spin, position and momentum — intimately affect each other, even when those particles are separated by large distances.”

Last year, I attended a silent retreat which introduced me to the idea of quantum entanglement as a way to understand how prayer ‘works’, especially contemplative prayer. As we observe the way things are and prayerfully contemplate how they should be, praying for healing and wholeness in our world, this affects the object of our prayer. When we pray in this way together and agree on what we know is God’s way, we unleash a power that affects the other.

I recently attended another silent retreat with the enigmatic title of ‘One’. Here, I was introduced to these words from Teilhard de Chardin, French philosopher and Jesuit priest (1881-1955):

We are ONE,
after all,
You and I,
together we suffer,
together exist
and forever will
recreate each other.

They come together in my mind with the idea of quantum entanglement. The more I observe the other as one with me, the more I understand that my actions forever impact the other and vice versa. The expressions of hatred and violence in the world, while removed from me, none-the-less affect me. They chip away at our common humanity.

Conversely, every action of mine that works towards the healing and wholeness of the other has the power to do good, even if I can’t see any change.

The very action of publishing this spins, positions and sets off a momentum that affects the other, further calling me to the discipline of mindfulness.

I invite you to ponder this with me; we have the power to bring change to our world.

Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight

Three days ago, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the so-called doomsday clock from three to two and a half minutes to midnight, noting that ‘world leaders have failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats: nuclear weapons and climate change’.

They also cited Donald Trump’s disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as the emergence of strident nationalism worldwide.

The Board has issued a statement stressing how high the risk of global disaster is, but, for me, it’s not the risk but their concluding statement that is the most telling:

Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink.

If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

Wisdom, it seems, is currently in short supply.  Yesterday, the scriptures listed in the Revised Common Lectionary included Micah 6:1-8 and 1 Corinithians 1:18-31. Both questioned their original readers and these questions continue to resound today:

From the apostle, Paul: Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

From the prophet Micah: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Here are some questions of my own:

How might the oft-deemed foolish message of the gospel speak to the ‘high risk of global disaster’?

How has this gospel message been reduced to the question of whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, especially in the Christian discourse coming out of the USA?

If wisdom is not forthcoming from our public officials, what will the leadership of wise citizens look like?

Surely, it will begin with justice, kindness and humility.

A Call to Liminal Space

 

black-cat-on-fence-2

Ours is a dog-neighbourhood. We have two, our neighbour has one, as do the people behind him and the ones beside them.

So, I was surprised to see a black cat on our back fence last week. I was sipping coffee and reading a book when its movement caught my attention.

The image of it stalking the length of our fence before dropping into the yard behind us has stayed with me. I can’t help but admire its audacity.

Advent invites us to live in liminal space, in between a future promise and the current reality. Richard Rohr asserts that ‘we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality (because) all transformation takes place here.’

The black cat on our fence was inhabiting liminal space. She knew the dangers, but did not let fear divert her. As she walked, she was paying attention, using her finely attuned senses to guide her. And she kept on-track, navigating her way along our fence towards whatever hope or promise lured her through dog-land.

It isn’t easy to live in liminal space and there is much to divert our intention to do so, especially in these weeks before Christmas, but Advent calls us to ‘allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown’ (Richard Rohr).

This is the space into which God comes.

Living the Questions

live-the-questions

The German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, counselled:

‘Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves … Don’t search for the answers, which cannot be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’

This piece of advice contains Advent themes: patience, waiting on answers by living the questions and hope for future resolution.

I don’t generally listen to talk-back radio, but yesterday, in only five minutes of a discussion about men and women sharing household labour, I heard a man live into his answer.

He rang in to say that he couldn’t understand why his wife didn’t always react well to his attempts to help her around the house. The guest speaker replied that perhaps he could re-frame his approach: rather than offering to help, he could ask his wife what he could do to share the work.

But, he replied, he was more than willing to help, why did she not understand that. The guest speaker tried again. By offering to help, he was implying that the work was hers and perhaps, she was failing in it. They lived together, the household was theirs, by offering to share the work he would be saying he understood that.

He started to speak again, but then paused, and in that moment of silence the listening audience heard the penny drop. His next words told us that he could see the distinction.

It was an Advent moment, for both of us. Clearly, his question troubled him, he had been living it and yesterday, on public radio, he lived into the answer. And the answer surprised him, not something he could do, but a different way to think about it. A way to re-frame the question.

As for me, I witnessed the coming of light into darkness. I heard the birth of understanding and insight, made all the more wondrous because I did hear it rather than see it.

Have patience … love the questions … live everything.

An Advent call.

A Time to De-Clutter

declutter-mind-map-paul-foreman-1920x443

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

Advent is a time of preparation and way-clearing. It is a time to de-clutter. This is a tough call when everything around us calls us to come, to buy, to add more.

I suffer from piles: I let things and stuff pile up around me. The desk where I write is frequently covered with books and papers, lists and notes. My sewing cabinet is always open and littered with patterns and fabrics, pins and threads. The coffee table beside my chair in the living room is piled high with books and journals and things to which I need/should/must pay attention.

I know that this external clutter has a flow-on effect internally. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the higher the piles, the more likely I am to miss the exit off the freeway (which I did twice last week).

So, in preparation for Advent, I’ve cleared out my study. As I type this, the window in front of me is clean, I can see the desktop, only my sewing machine sits on the sewing cabinet, and a candle is burning. I still have a busy week ahead, but this external order calms me.

It helps to prepare the way.