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.
Standing on a Nepalese mountain, looking down on cottonwool clouds with mountain peaks emerging like islands in a frothy sea, felt surreal. Standing silently, we absorbed the scene, capturing this unique memory. When new to Lane Cove we wondered at the numerous bush corridors, the abundant wildlife, the water views, all so close to the big city – we could even see that famous Bridge from here! All was new and wonder-full. Our fresh eyes saw things others took for granted. So, we started taking people into the local bush to walk with us, appreciating the wonders along the way.
Walk and Wonder began, with many people joining us since then. Then Walk & Talk catered for fitter walkers and Wednesday Weekly Walks for those wanting a gentle, regular walk, while the appreciative, wondering aspect remains. See Groups and Events for details.
Julia Baird takes up the ‘wondering in nature’ theme in her recent book, Phosphorescence, citing evidence of the great benefits of immersion in nature for the health and healing of our mind and emotions, body and soul. She also emphasises the benefits of wonder, quoting English philosopher, Francis Bacon, who calls ‘wonder “broken knowledge”; a gap in understanding that some race to fill, if they can.’ Hence, wonder is claimed to be one of the defining elements of human spirituality says Robert Fuller (p60-61). Appreciatively wondering in nature invites an element of mystery to uplift and nurture us. What better time to do so than now?
Christmas is a season of wonder. The celebration of new life is signalled by ‘a star of wonder’ pointing to a precious baby born in humble circumstances. This babe is Jesus, God visiting us in human form, celebrated for over 2000 years now. Hence, on Sunday 19 December, we will host a 3-part celebration, starting from 3pm. We begin with an hour of
Walk and Wonder, immersing in the bush corridors near Blackman Park, Lane Cove West. Following the walk will be a Sacred Space Christmas Carols celebration. Then we feast together, because Christmas is a great time to delight in being gathered together, once again. You are welcome to join in for all, or part of, our Lane Cove Community Chaplaincy celebration. Register here .
Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas!
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Saviour was born.” (Luke 2:10-11, NCV)
What a relief to finally visit a hairdresser! This was a cherished rite of passage out of lockdown as we re-emerged, unmasked once again, along with flowers of every hue, butterflies, nesting birds and reptiles big and small. It signalled the resumption of many social activities that had been forced into hibernation with us. Maybe we are identifying with the creation around us this Spring, pushing through the barriers of protracted solitude with some effort, to resume a fuller life? Let’s not forget the gains we have made in the interim however, and choose to retain some treasures from our winter of hibernation. You may identify with some of the following...
Full marks to the instigator of the early transition to outdoor tables of five people. How often do we invite even numbers, often just couples, because it seems more comfortable? A single friend remarked how great it was to be the valued fifth person. Having missed Christmas in our state of origin last year, being with our remote family and friends will be even more special when it reoccurs (this year hopefully!) Will we continue to cherish the new relationships made with those living in our close proximity too? New skills, hobbies and friendships have been initiated, often mediated by technology. Many people have discovered the joy of being in natural places and the soul refreshment it brings. Will it continue to be a place of nurture for weary souls when there are other choices? Let’s commit to retaining what has become precious to us.
Our new worship community, Sacred Space, has recently celebrated themes of joy and resilience found in the natural world. Confined to Zoom, our intentional outdoor community brought their notable examples to computer screens, demonstrating their own adaptability. From photos of lockdown babies - mainly experienced over technology, to early garden delights grown from seed or new grafting, to indigenous sites visited by kayak – the group found hope and joy from others’ insights. Our spectrum of walking groups, book club, coffee and dinner groups are all re-emerging too, so it’s a good time to join in.
Valuing people and experiencing the restorative effects of the created order are two specialties of Lane Cove Community Chaplaincy. Would you like to join us as we re-emerge in walking, social and spiritual groups? Check out the details on our Groups and Events tab and contact me to experience ‘life in all its fullness’.
Bike riding and walking are currently great outlets for me. Utilising shared paths for both activities, makes me aware of both sides of the story! I am grateful for all the considerate people around, who move aside, greet or wave cheerfully, especially when riding. Many people are utilising our shared paths better, although others are just getting more irritated. Stories abound of locals supporting each other in considerate ways, balanced by others who have really had an overdose of their neighbours and lockdown issues. Our newsfeed makes us aware of people doing it tough all around the world, too. The reality is that we now live in a globalised way and we can’t simply turn the clock back to just living locally. Global warming and this pandemic clearly illustrate our need to cooperate together, on our shared path into the future.
Yet, how much can we realistically take, when we have very serious lockdown pressures in our mix? I found an unusual Biblical example in Mark 7: 24-30 , of a ‘foreign’ woman’s plea to Jesus, helpful to me. This woman came from outside of Jesus’ focal group, at a time he wasn’t welcoming visitors, with a request. You can almost hear the weary sigh. He is none-too-polite with her, delving to see if he’s going to expend his energy on this one. She responds to his off-putting opener with humility and great faith. Hence, Jesus relents and grants her wish. I learn that Jesus focused on his ‘main game’ (the local Jewish community), without putting blinkers on everything else, remaining warily open to compassionately extending his boundaries. He weighed the situations outside of his primary focus with more care, balancing them with his own needs for downtime.
This sits well with me. We have a certain capacity to handle the world’s pain, depending on what we are personally experiencing, and our inherent ability to cope. To limit our primary scope of compassionate influence, enables us to respond to these people and situations with relative ease. Our caring response to other areas, comes after stepping back to analyse our concern first, lest we become over-extended.
Responding compassionately has a great side benefit too. It tends to take our eyes off ourselves for a while and provide a by-product of joy in helping another. Let’s share our paths with consideration so our fellow travellers benefit too.
The title doesn't sound very positive, but actually this is a way of processing despair that takes us out the other side. Our Explore text 'Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature' by Christine Valters Paintner, commended this process to us. Two of us had a go at writing our own versions:
When I Despair by Cynthia Bartolo
I grab my keys and walk the back roads,
Peace prevails in the bursting of Spring,
I seek my friend the Magpie
In her regal manner she stares:
Am I friend or foe?
My greeting reassures her,
She continues her search
Running, stopping, listening
Aha a meal!
She does not despair
Encircled by nature’s bounty.
I am healed.
When I Despair by Karen Paull
When I despair I sit with it a while,
Too long really,
Before I turn it towards God,
To create a new perspective,
To what will be.
When I despair,
Walking helps to lift the load,
To gain perspective,
From old trees damaged by life,
But standing firm.
And ephemeral flowers,
Whose beauty fades,
As new life emerges in their place.
When I despair,
My experience tells me,
It will be all right,
In the end.
With the help of my God,
The perspective of the wise,
And the support of loved ones.
When I despair,
I am not truly alone.
Times are tough everywhere it seems. So where do we focus the wisdom of ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ (the Bible, Mark 12:31 NIV) appropriately? This was one of our light dinner table discussions recently! Is now the time to take the pressure off of ourselves because we are in pain – and just cope with our current reality? Or can we cope with a little more, like loving our family well? Maybe our immediate, local neighbours too? But then there is an environmental crisis that needs to be urgently addressed, a worldwide COVID disaster, not to mention the plight of groups around the world in extreme circumstances (in Afghanistan and Lebanon, trafficked people, desperate refugees, flood and fire-ravaged communities, to name a few).
This dilemma came into focus last week, when I reacted to a blog comment suggesting we just focus on our local community. ‘But that doesn’t work’, was my inward scream as the international list of woes cited above came rushing to the forefront of my mind. The reality is that we now live in a globalised way – and we know about the suffering of others. We can’t simply turn the clock back to just living locally. Yet, how much can we realistically take, when we have very serious lockdown pressures in our mix?
The Biblical example in Mark 7:24-37 (NRSV) of the Syro-Phoenician woman’s plea to Jesus was helpful to me. (This is not usually a favourite passage!) The woman came from outside of Jesus’ focal group, at a time he wasn’t welcoming visitors, with a request. You can almost hear the weary sigh. He is none-too-polite with her, delving to see if he’s going to expend his energy on this one. She responds to his off-putting opener with humility and great faith. Hence, Jesus relents and grants her wish. I learn that Jesus focused on his ‘main game’ (the local Jewish community), without putting blinkers on everything else, remaining warily open and compassionate to extending his boundaries. He weighed the situations outside of his chief focus with more care, balancing them with his own needs for downtime.
This sits well with me. We have a certain capacity to cope with the world’s pain, depending somewhat on the amount of pain we are personally experiencing, and our inherent ability to cope. To have an intentional scope of compassionate influence, helps us make the space to respond to these people and situations with relative ease. However, we also need to let our compassion have its way in other areas, but not too often, lest we become exhausted. This is where the weighing comes in, the listening to our hearts, combined with the facts.
Responding compassionately has a great side benefit too. It tends to take our eyes off of ourselves for a while and provide a by-product of joy in helping another.
Our cat, Prince, is loving lockdown! Prince, who is a very loved part of our family, now regards his three humans to be at his beck and call night and day. He has a range of techniques to get our attention. When outside wanting to come in, he jumps onto the window sill of my study, so I can see him looking soulful. If I choose to ignore him, he will scratch and meow at the back door nearby, with increasing intensity. At night-time when he is inside, wanting to go out, he employs more dastardly techniques. He knocks our treasures over, taps sleeping faces with his paw, and even jumps onto our daughter! He begins gently, but if we ignore him, he communicates with more and more determination. Maybe, this sounds familiar to you, and maybe it’s not a cat you’re thinking about…
Our communication skills are under the spotlight during lockdown. Being forced to live together much more intensively, will show up some cracks in our relationships. Many households are experiencing tension, frequently aroused by poor communication. Learning to adapt to life in a more difficult environment creates substantial challenges for everyone. In pre-marriage counselling, new couples are encouraged to adopt a ‘we’ mentality to life. How do they create wins for both of them? Good communication skills are required to produce satisfying outcomes. Many people are good at expressing what they want, but fewer listen as well. Effective listening takes more than hearing the words spoken. Listening from the heart goes deeper: tuning into the emotions and non-expressed words, voice inflection and volume, reading body language and facial expressions. Encouraging a conversation partner to say what is difficult for them to express, with affirming nods and noises, using open, sensitive questions, while suspending judgement, kindly elicits more specific information.
When Prince meows, we don’t always run to him. When he waits patiently for us to come, he gets a cuddle or a reward. Likewise, listening well doesn’t mean agreeing with everything we hear. However, listening patiently to understand each other’s viewpoint tends to help defuse a situation. Taking time to cool down and reflect upon our response, gives an even better chance to weigh our desires and rights with others’ fairly.
Take the opportunity to upskill your listening during lockdown. It’s the perfect time to do so!
Remember this, my dear friends! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry. (The Bible, James 1:19 GNT)
We stood admiring the peaceful myriad of boats anchored in Middle Harbour. My husband and myself were preparing our next ‘Walk and Wonder’ event, which often incorporates a group discussion midway, over a snack and a coffee if we’re in luck. So, we lingered, sampling the coffee from the van there, as good group leaders do! As we sipped, we wondered, how many of those boats remained there permanently and how many still ventured out to sea? And what about us, were we still ‘venturing’?
Crossing from Adelaide to Sydney seven years ago was so enlivening! Significant risks and complexities were involved, but we felt ‘called’ to this endeavour, so we examined it from many angles. Consultations with family members, mentors and trusted friends, future employers in situ, all undergirded by prayerful consideration, occurred. Then we pulled up the anchor! We are so glad we did. It felt like we had been transported into a new and refreshed life, while retaining important links to the ‘old’ one.
Anchors in our lives keep us stable and sane. Without some constants, life is tiring and too many changes are counter-productive. However, if there is no movement happening anywhere, I question whether this is the best life can be? We can become too comfortable and forget what it’s like to live with uncertainty, so change becomes something to fear. Fear can limit us from taking steps that would be highly beneficial for us and for others.
What stable areas of your life no longer serve you and those around you well? Could they do with some rocking? Small movements are a helpful start, if fear has taken hold. Having a friend on the new journey is beneficial too, although not essential. Getting involved in your local community may be a safe place to begin. Or are there are bigger changes to consider? Discussing them with someone who cares about you, can help move them ahead.
As your Community Chaplain, I may be able to assist you. I can be an independent sounding board if you are considering making changes to your life. I also host various groups where people enjoy meeting and including others. Why not check out Middle Harbour over a coffee and conversation with us when we can next walk there? Contact me for more details.
“A ship in harbour is safe but that is not what ships are built for” - John A Shedd, 1928
Our Friday Explore group chose to express their lament for our Earth. We are enjoying using Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature by Christine Valters Paintner, so it's no real surprise! You can hear the different voices in this lament, but the desire is similar throughout. This lament will be utilised as a part of our Sacred Space Online gathering on 22/8/21.
O God, One-ness, creator of all creatures great and small
You are the divine artist
Why do you let us rub out all this beauty you’ve put
The destruction we make on your masterpiece,
Why do you allow it?
We need your help God,
We need your encouragement to speak out against the continual hurt to our world in our time and in the past.
We have been blessed by you in our own lives, but this has not happened for everyone in our world.
We must accept that our comfortable lives are being paid for by the continuing negative impact on our natural world.
Lord, Hear the voice of the trees:
I know you hear my prayers, my griefs, my concerns.
You give me sunshine, rain, and clean air so that my leaf structures can fully use these gifts of life.
For the birds that nestle in my nooks and crannies, eat my fruit and sing to their heart’s content.
For the bees that buzz my flowers, and carry my pollen to other plants.
Help us, your people, to cooperate with You - to be your hands and feet to restore life and justice to the whole Earth in all its fullness.
Let us be life-bringers as partners with You and all creation.
For the creation reflects your beauty and is full of delight and healing.
Let all creation give praise to You for all eternity.
Written by the Friday Explore Group
The practice of lament is an ancient one, which psychology still finds relevant today. It is the expression of grief and sadness, in order to let them go. Larry Culliford in 'Psychology Today' notes:
Without lamentation, without the emotional healing process advancing towards resolution, this (assimilating our losses - ed.) cannot happen; in which case, misery can only persist.
Surely, this is a season for lament with so much pain surrounding us. Our own experience here in Sydney, of an ongoing lockdown due to COVID-19, is reason enough. Adding to that the devastating climate crisis, and the wars and woes of the world, threatens to overwhelm us with despair.
The Bible contains not only a whole book of lament ('Lamentations'), but utilises this ancient wisdom often, especially in the Psalms, the book of poetry, largely attributed to the great Jewish King David (c.1000 BCE). Hence, people from our Explore groups worked together to express our lament regarding our own pain. I will share one lament at a time (with their permission), hoping it may help to give voice to your grief, so that you may pass through that door, into hope.
Lament for the Great Barrier Reef
Our Creator and Salvation, Source of Love and Peace.
We groan at the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef that you made, as such a wonder of the world. Each place where it is ruined may be lost forever. Our children and grandchildren may never see it in its glory. Like a shadow of what was.
We know Lord you are a creator, and we have witnessed regeneration occur after fires and floods. May we be wise in how we care for our land and sea, creating an environment for regrowth.
Let this wave of climate change pass over our reef gently and without further damage.
Merciful Creator, return peoples' hearts to the wonder of this unique, underwater beauty. Have mercy on us and help us to restore what has been lost, so we may witness your splendour and diversity again.
May we know that you are the Lord of the deep
May we see your light in the dance of colour
May we care for the good gift that you have entrusted us with.
To You be all praise, honour and glory, our Creator and our God.
A joint work of the Wednesday Eco Explore Group
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.