Amidst much anticipation and excitement, my husband and myself left our Adelaide home for Sydney 8 ½ years ago. Having always lived in Adelaide and raising our children there, it was a big step saying ‘goodbye’ to our family, friends, home and our many roles there. People around us were saddened by our choice. We knew very few people in Sydney. It was such a risk! Yet we were ‘called’ here and the timing was right for us, so we went with hope. Both the two-day relocation drive, and the packing and unpacking process, helped ground the transition in reality. There was so much we enjoyed about our new life in Sydney – yet some transitioning aspects were hard. Transitions tend to be mixed blessings.
It is nearly time for us to move again. This time, we will drive south for 5 hours to the ‘Sapphire Coast’, where I will begin a Uniting Church placement as a Community Chaplain for disaster-affected people. Again, there are mixed emotions for us – excitement, challenge and loss, all rolled into one. We will embrace the changes as best we can, regarding life as a journey of change, where we are called to make a positive difference wherever we can. We feel secure, knowing our God travels with us.
We are so thankful for our time in Lane Cove! We have appreciated the people –and many organizations - that contribute to building a strong community here. We love the beautiful, natural environment and those who selflessly fight to protect it. We have found welcome and kindness – so we say ‘thank you’ to those who have embraced, included and helped us.
The opportunity to serve in Lane Cove as a Community Chaplain is unique. This is due to the extraordinary generosity of Lane Cove Uniting Church, who, in true Lane Cove style, experimented with a brand-new approach to being the Church, embedded outside of the building in many different ways. Other churches have observed the unfolding of this initiative, and some have been inspired to begin their own, in contextualised ways.
We will be here for another month or so. We would love to say ‘goodbye’ to our many friends here over that time – so please contact me via the links below. Lane Cove Uniting Church will continue to support the role and current groups while they identify my successor.
I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination - Jimmy Dean
The Soul Care Conference was all go! From John Brogden’s powerful, opening story, to electives interspersed with more great speakers, to catching up with colleagues over refreshments, it was very rich indeed. On the final day, Sally Longley’s ‘Spirituality for Busy People’, based on her book, Conversations with Silence, struck a chord with my own life and practice of contemplative spirituality.
Longley explains the importance of the musical term, the fermata, as a ‘grand pause’. Claude Debussy emphasises ‘the music is not in the notes, but in the silences in between’ (p102-3). Those pauses give richness and emphasis to the notes around them and allow space for our own interpretation. These short silences add grace, majesty and expectation to the whole piece.
Taking reflective pauses in life also adds richness and clarity. They help us identify how we have changed, what emotional burdens we are carrying and the opportunity to respond. Although taking many forms, a silent time of introspection is involved, achievable in big and small bites. I value short, daily, quiet times in a set place and time. That place soon begins to feel peaceful, becoming associated with reflective rest, and for me, communion with God. Our weekly, silent, 20-minute mantra group meditation, promotes inner stillness. A 15-second pause to take in a ‘snapshot’ of beauty, and lodge it in our memory, is one of our contemplative walking practices. Our monthly group, Sacred Space, offers time to quietly explore our spirituality together, amidst natural beauty. You are welcome to any of these – see the links below.
A longer retreat allows withdrawal from the pressures of daily life, in exchange for restful introspection. We emerge refreshed and energised. If they are currently impossible, we must find the momentary pauses life offers us instead. Even pauses in conversation are a gift of reflection and part of listening well.
To pause in the midst of the demands of our lives may feel like a waste of time. It’s not – it’s a rich gift to ourselves and to those around us. The pregnant pause beckons new life in us, as we rediscover our value base. It helps push away the loud, demanding voices that threaten to overwhelm us. Start small and be gentle with yourself – it takes a little practice. Sally Longley’s widely-researched book, describes her courageous journey to deep inside of her Australian soul, making it a helpful guide.
“You will be delivered by returning and resting;
your strength will lie in quiet confidence.”
The Bible, Isaiah 30:15(HCSB)
A recent walk through Balmain and Birchgrove delighted our Walk & Talk group with its fascinating history and beautiful views. A memorial to Tom Uren, born in Balmain when it was a working-class suburb, enabled us to reflect upon his legacy. Uren was ahead of his time, speaking out strongly for peace, and conservation of treasures for future generations to enjoy. As a Japanese POW sent to work on the Burma railway, amongst other atrocities, he emerged with deep compassion for his fellow man, including Japanese citizens. His terrible experiences motivated him to find solutions, rather than become bitter. Uren was a loving father figure for our current Prime Minister. His legacy lives on!
It is easy to be critical of our forebears. Our planet is responding furiously to the indignities thrust upon it since the Industrial Revolution. We can try to lay blame at the feet of previous generations, but know we are also complicit. There are many situations where we can step back and choose our focus. Being appreciative of the many good, well-meaning contributions that have benefitted us, is uplifting for everyone. The attitude we choose affects our self-esteem, especially when it comes to our family history. Let’s be generous in our reflections, remembering our memories contain a certain bias.
Importantly, what legacy are we leaving? Is our response to the climate crisis a reduction in our energy consumption and the waste we leave behind? Do we stand for what is good, just and kind – modelling values that will help generations to come? Maybe our contribution is in our field of expertise, as part of a team and not so visible. But it counts, so work with diligence for the good of all anyway. Financial legacies contribute to wonderful strides forward in important new areas, which would otherwise be unattainable.
Groups can also leave an admirable legacy. As society changes its ways, institutions which previously thrived and contributed much to our community, are now in steady decline. Some find renewed purpose in leaving a legacy to assist new initiatives to thrive, which often hold similar values.
Leaving a legacy is our privilege to shape the future by supporting what we hold dear. Who we are, and how we live now, has an influence that outlasts us. Let’s make our legacy one to be proud of!
Legacy is not what I did for myself. It's what I'm doing for the next generation - Vitor Belfort
‘Look at these tiny diamonds!’ Primed to notice beauty in our natural surroundings, we shared our delight in the glittering raindrops dispersed along the spiny needles of the Sheoak trees. We’d passed these Sheoaks every week, but the recent rain and sunshine had transformed them. As we walked amongst them, we wondered why the droplets stayed on those drooping needles, apparently defying gravity? And why were they so evenly spaced? A closer look showed the needles were notched along their length; and now we knew why! Each Wednesday, we walk familiar routes, but with the changing conditions, we continue to delight in new discoveries.
Child-like wonder stimulates joy and helps us to focus away from our problems in a healthy way. Sharing our observations with others lifts them too, connecting us positively. We utilise our senses to engage appreciatively with our surroundings. What do we see, hear, smell, touch and occasionally, taste, that brings delight? Appreciating our natural environment motivates us to care for it too.
Walking is great exercise and especially in nature. Even the effect of the greens and blues found there, cause us to relax. When busy minds relax, creativity returns. The air we breathe is fresh and oxygen-rich. The interdependent life around us inspires us to gain perspective on the crucial role of healthy, supportive relationships.
We encourage relationships of care. When a large group of varying abilities walks together, the distance between the leader and the last walkers increases. Hence, we pay attention to those behind us, watching they don’t miss the turns. We help each other through difficult areas. We accompany people so they don’t walk alone for long stretches, especially newcomers, unless that is their preference. We find that people who walk regularly in nature tend to be considerate people anyway. Maybe this isn’t a coincidence, but the result of becoming more in tune with nature, others and ourselves?
Lane Cove Community Chaplaincy offers three different walking groups, to encourage people to participate at their level and time availability. We’ve been offering walks for over seven years now and many people enjoy them. We warmly welcome newcomers, so check out the options on the Groups and Events page if you are interested. Alternatively, there is an excellent resource for local trails called Bushwalks around Lane Cove which will help you get started with family and friends. Plan to enjoy the many benefits of walking and wondering soon.
Wander often. Wonder always.
Looking for examples of the Spirit in our natural surroundings, we headed to the nearby rock ledge by Lane Cove River. What a beautiful sight awaited us! The recent rain was trickling in narrow, vertical streams from the edge of the overhang every few centimetres. Turning my attention from the beauty coming from above us, I noticed the effect upon the water below. Ripple patterns were everywhere – intersecting and forming ever-widening, complex patterns. Here was my illustration to share with our Sacred Space group – and blog readers!
There is a mystery about the Spirit – what it is, how it works, spreads and interacts with us. We have some clues from our experience: those mysterious moments where something speaks deep inside of us in an uncanny way. Or the way we feel so ‘connected’ with others at times. Or we just ‘know’ something and we can’t explain why. My mother wasn’t a religious person, but one night she knew there was something wrong with me while I was overseas. She was very worried, having no way to contact me. She asked on my return what happened that night. I had been very ill, amidst a new group in a foreign land. Her ‘mother instinct’ just knew her daughter was in trouble.
Ripples, like the Spirit, move outward in waves of power, interact with others to reshape, and change course. Their destination is a mystery, dependent upon what lies in their path. There is power there, capable of being harnessed, but it's mysterious too. The ripples don’t choose their interactions, but adapt as they happen.
Maybe we can learn from the adaptive behaviour of ripples? In our interactions with others, we can be open to being changed and adjusting our course to complement theirs. We can accept those with whom we are thrust together and make the best of it, acknowledging we both have a right to be there. We can choose to emanate a positive spirit, rippling warmth and kindness to those around us.
Even though our actions may be small, the ripple effect can magnify them to create extraordinary change. Who knows what effect your smile or affirmation really means to someone? As a Chaplain, I am often surprised how meaningful small acts of kindness can be in someone’s life. If we can uplift another, they in turn, will be encouraged to do likewise, creating ripples of inspiring change. Don’t underestimate your power to create the change you want to see in the world!
Small acts of decency ripple in ways we could never imagine. Cory Booker
Despite all the reasons not to trust these days, trust can still be enjoyed. At playgroup, little hands seek bigger ones to guide them up and down slides, along balance beams and to address inequities amongst small peers. Pre-schoolers’ confidence in their loving protectors is a joy to see and usually well placed. We see elderly people, whose sensory capacity has diminished, lovingly escorted into public places by those who care for them. There is a rightness to this (vastly simplified) circle of life, of trusting dependence to independence and back again.
During the intervening years, distrust takes root. We struggle to believe anyone in authority now, as seen in the last election campaign. Reasons to distrust are highlighted everywhere we look, with counter arguments and hostilities playing out before us. We are urged to distrust those who should lead us with high integrity, which creates confusion and disappointment. To add to our dilemma, there is no longer a common story to which we assent and find hope and direction. Even those with religious beliefs struggle, when their lives take unexpected, unwanted turns.
Maybe we expect too much of others? No mortal can sincerely promise to never disappoint. As much as we try, we can’t please everyone all the time. And my understanding of God’s promises is not to guarantee a trouble-free life, but an accompanied life, with some guidance and comfort along the way. Hence, lowering our bar a little, to allow room for imperfection in others and life, helps us become less cynical.
Distrusting everyone is not only exhausting, it stymies positive action. Sitting on the fence of indecision, fearing to trust either side, immobilises us. Conducting our research into issues of importance, from the credible sources we most trust, helps us move off the fence. Realising that some people really are for us, even if we don’t always agree, can be liberating. They allow us to engage in a real exchange of ideas, where doubts and uncertainties can be aired and sometimes laid to rest. Can you identify some trusted sources and people?
It's easy to be cynical, but most people I know, mean well. We can be part of the trust solution, by making good on our promises. When we let others down, an apology can restore trust for the occasional wrong. Be gentle on others for their sporadic slips too. None of us are perfect. Forming genuine relationships of trust brings joy and enables us to progress worthy goals.
Six months after adopting an adorable pup, we added a kitten to our family, hoping they would bond. Our hearts melted when they curled up together to sleep. Alas, six months later, the pup was killed on the road – and we mourned her deeply. Our young cat, Gemma, was clearly grieving too. Hence, we soon brought another pup home, hoping that, again, the two would become friends. Gemma cautiously approached the new pup, sniffed her, and drew back in horror! This one smelt awful! This behaviour continued until day three, when Gemma slapped a firm paw on Minka and licked her clean. Their relationship blossomed immediately. Soon after, her mothering instincts became even more pronounced. Minka would regularly plop down five wide steps from landing to backyard, to discover she couldn’t get back up. Seeing Minka’s plight one day, Gemma responded. With her extended arm outstretched behind Minka’s back, she guided the hapless pup up the steps! What an intrinsically selfless mothering instinct this young cat possessed.
Examples abound of inter-species, parent-like relationships. We wonder at them, intrigued by the innate love displayed. They remind me of some biblical images of God – often described as masculine – which show this maternal side.
Jesus said, ‘…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (Matthew 23:7 NIV)
The caring love of a parent for the young is embedded by the Creator, whose own parental love is unconditional. That sacrificial love dwells within us, waiting to bring mutual joy. Being the biological parent isn’t necessary, although it sharpens our instincts quickly. Foster, or adoptive, parents are a precious gift to those little ones who lack them. Grandparents have the privilege of repeating the process and sometimes to contribute wisdom into the intergenerational mix. A wider network of loving ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ provides a rich benefit, especially for those who lack their immediate relatives nearby. An appropriate response to the unconditional love offered to us is to foster loving connections, where they are needed and welcome. I hope to facilitate some intergenerational mixing where this can naturally occur. Let me know if you are interested in connecting in this way. It is important for everyone to love and be loved for just who they are.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mums - and to all those who nurture younger ones with love. Thank you for your contribution towards a hopeful future for all.
Ash Barty’s return to tennis and subsequent Australian Open victory was inspirational! As a regular tennis player, I am deeply impressed with the upbeat, gracious, young woman who was able to win from 1-5 down in the Final. I was keen to learn more – not only to win at tennis – but to understand what drives such self-belief in her. An interview with her mindset coach, Ben Crowe, on ABC’s Conversations provided that opportunity.
‘Crowie’ suggests that Ash’s transformation began when she could answer the basic questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What do I want?’ Intentional, positive re-framing of our lives from our earliest memories, provides a hopeful basis on which to build. Recognising the power of our own perspective, having self-belief, self-compassion, self-worth and recognising our God-given gifts, enables us to move forward to use them for the benefit of the world. So, when Ash takes credit, it’s always ‘we’ did it. She wins for others too – her family, her team, Aussies, Indigenous people. The resilient hope within her creates a culture of hope around her.
Finding hope amidst today’s constant bad news also requires us to focus beyond ourselves. How can we be change agents to counter the bad news? Even performing small actions to improve a difficult situation gives us hope. Climate change is an enormous issue where we can feel powerless to make a difference. Yet, concerned people find hope by deliberately consuming less, recycling more and maybe growing their own vegetables. Banding together with fellow activists, who support each other and speak with a common voice, also produces hope for a better future.
Hope is also found in looking beyond the present to a higher reality. A faith community can provide multiple dimensions of hope at once. Our new worship community, Sacred Space, encourages encounter with God in a natural environment, amidst an inclusive, supportive community. It’s a place to know and be known at a deeper level. Gently embracing our uniqueness enables us to develop confidence to be our real, best selves beyond the gathering. Contact me to join us.
A final tip from Ben Crowe for parents and grandparents: say ‘I love to watch you play/dance/draw’ to your little ones. It affirms them at whatever level they engage in the activity and emphasises their participation rather than competition with others.
The old saying, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (The Bible, Mark 12:31 NIV) holds great wisdom, intrinsically providing hope in its outworking.
This Christmas we finally crossed the border to celebrate with our family and SA friends. The reunion was sweeter for the apprehensive time waiting. Would S.A. slam the border shut as in the previous year? Would we be quarantined when we arrived? Would we catch COVID in the process? So many questions – all thankfully answered ‘No’! How wonderful it was to see everyone in person again and hang out together. It was definitely worth the risks involved.
My border crossing was easy and pleasant, being my choice to return to those who love me. This is far from the case for many people around the world, who choose a risky path of escape from hazardous situations and are then detained for their efforts, sometimes for many years. Solutions are complex, but start with our compassion. The Asylum Seekers Centre and UNHCR offer ways we can help these people.
Crossing over from one place, or station in life, to another, is often cause for some anxiety for us too, even if it’s a favourable change. Relationship changes, re-locating, changing jobs or retirement may be chosen or forced upon us, but how we embrace them is up to us. I find the apostle Paul inspirational here, the following being written from prison:
… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him (Christ) who gives me strength. (The Bible, Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)
Can we learn to be content whatever change assails us? Can we be empathic with those trying to manage their life transitions too? Having someone to walk a new path with us can be a great help. As your Community Chaplain, I am ready to offer support in your change process. You may also know someone close to you, to whom you can offer some encouragement as they cross a new border. Newcomers to this area can find a warm welcome in our groups that provide social connection over coffee, books, walking, discussion and even meditation. Contact me, or visit my website below, for more details.
The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?
The title of our Sacred Space Christmas Carols was 'A Thin Place'. So what does that mean and what does it have to do with Christmas?
A thin place is a phrase used for millennia, coming from the mystical world of Celtic spirituality and the Celtic Christians, who were deeply connected to the natural world and considered every aspect of life to be infused with the presence of the Divine, even in the ordinary elements of everyday life. Historically the ancient Celts viewed thin places as locations or moments in the cycle of the year where the veil between the world and the spiritual realm diminished. Today thin places are more commonly considered to be locations, in which there is an undeniable connection to the Sacred. I view them as sacred times when the presence of God comes near to us individually or communally. Some places seem to lend themselves to being ‘thin’ more readily than others, for example Iona. But others can be our favourite place in nature, or the place at home where we pray.
Over the last 7 years, I have provided opportunities to open up that space for our groups. From the sensory, appreciative experiences in beautiful, natural places; to weekends where we have intentionally slowed the pace in each other’s company; and in weekly meditation too; these have all been invitations to slow down and become aware that God is present with us. These practices are essentially good for us anyway, as modern research affirms. My desire for you to experience these sacred times is based upon my own joyful experiences.
I have been blessed with a number of them, varying in intensity, so I will just describe a couple. The first I can remember was the most amazing, when I was about 10 years old on a Sunday school camp. I responded to the call to become a Christian, by saying a specific prayer with the adult leader. We were alone and I had no specific expectations, as it was all new to me. To my enormous joy, I was transported into heaven and was walking on top of white, fluffy clouds (I hadn’t been in a plane at this point, but I later found out it looked just like flying above the clouds on a fine day), and I was with someone, who I assume was Jesus. The joy, love and peace I felt are indescribable! The experience was brief and I was ‘back’ as if nothing had happened – and I don’t think the person with me had any awareness of my experience. I assumed this was what happened to everyone at this decision point in their lives, but apparently, it’s not the case. It made an indelible impression on me though.
Another time, was during a holiday in NZ, while visiting Littleton Harbour. I was gazing at this beautiful scene and God came near, filling me with awe and delight again. Other times have been in more ordinary places, where I’ve prayed regularly – at home, or in a Church building. There is no formula, but stillness and quietness seem to be important factors, combined with reverence.
At this time of year we particularly remember the ‘Thin Place’ experience of the shepherds out on the Judean hills to whom the Angel announced the birth of the Messiah, and who were given a glimpse into the heavens and of the Glory, the massive overpowering, terrifying, presence of God.
At Christmas, we remember the most important, and ‘Thinnest Place’ of all, the place where the veil between Heaven and Earth melted away, where God wasn’t just close, but actually broke into our space-time in that manger in Bethlehem - God with us – Emmanuel. (See more here: https://unboundedchurch.com/2020/12/25/the-thinnest-place/ )
The danger in seeking thin places, is of becoming self-indulgent and just desiring the transitory experience. It’s understandable we would seek them, but let us focus on appreciating the Giver primarily. The baby Jesus we’ve sung about, grew up to become a bold man, who over-turned some harmful religious and societal traditions, taking the side of the poor and the victimised. He taught his followers to do the same. And in this time and space, that is us. Thin places graciously give access to the God who loves all people, and all creation, inviting us to join in and be the hands and feet, hearts and voices that enact the care.
So, I encourage you to have a few minutes of silence now, to be still and invite God, who loves you and all of us, to come near to you and speak to your heart - and then to respond.
Hi! I'm Karen, the Lane Cove Community Chaplain. I am pondering life here and in general. Some of my blog articles are originally found in our local paper, The Village Observer, and are repeated here because I would love to hear your response too.