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.
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.
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.