Descending from the busy highway, waves of refreshment wash over me as I enter the quieter, natural space below. It’s so close, but it seems like a different world. I retreat from the frenetic pace above gratefully. Lane Cove is delightfully rich in such experiences, with its beautiful gullies and preserved bushland. It’s common to hear kookaburras laugh amongst a variety of bird calls. Seasonal native flowers attract my eye and bring a sense of wonder. Recently, I spied a large stingray gliding gracefully along the edge of Lane Cove River and glimpsed a shy wallaby bounding away on the other side. Being amidst such diverse creation is good and restful for our souls.
As we head into the New Year, I hope you’ve had the opportunity to rest and be refreshed for the year to come. What refreshes you? What brings joy to your soul? It’s important to take regular opportunities to rest, so we can be our best for others and the demands of life. It’s written into our design according to the Bible. The seventh day was made for rest from the very beginning and longer periods of rest are advocated too.
Whereas productivity appears to be the enemy of rest, as we are urged to work relentlessly on, it’s a false assumption. To be efficient, productive and especially to be creative, we need to be in good working order. Even machines need to stop and be serviced, so how much more do people, who are also psycho-spiritual beings? Our body, mind, spirit and relationships, all need good care. Creating this balance in our lives is challenging, but it is our own responsibility. Whereas no one else can do this for you, an ally or two can be found. I have a bike riding buddy, a tennis four, a book club, and a mentor who all help me keep doing the things that refresh me. Who can you bring into your corner?
I may be one of those people for you potentially! If you enjoy walking in nature or want to experience soothing meditation, join a book club or a spiritual discussion and practice group, or just want to chat over coffee or dinner, I can help you. Contact me here .
Take action now to get the rest you need to keep you in good working order for 2021 and beyond. We will all be so pleased you did!
‘You’re one of us now’ indicates inclusion, often through an initiation. My daughter’s partner longs for the day Australia includes him via citizenship. It will be a huge milestone, passing from stateless to citizen. Less formal initiations hold significance for us too: acceptance into a social group, a sports team, or a local community group. Then there’s the darker side – the groups we reluctantly fit into and find hard to leave.
Christmas is founded upon God generously becoming one of us, with the incarnation of Jesus, the God-man. Born into humble, risky circumstances, this young family soon ran for their lives, becoming refugees. No longer ‘one of us’ but ‘one of them’. Surprisingly, Jesus didn’t come as a ruler, but identified with various disenfranchised people. Joan Osborne pictures God as ‘just a stranger on the bus’ in her song One of Us . That’s a long stretch from some of our ideas about God, but captures the common humanity of Jesus well, with a subtle, (very biblical!), implication to care for the strangers around us too.
Hence, Lane Cove Community Chaplaincy was created to intentionally enable people to become ‘one of us’ without major barriers. A Chaplain has been provided by Lane Cove Uniting Church to be welcoming, supportive, available and non-judgemental for anyone in our community. This can be simply a chat over coffee or as part of a group. Being ‘one of us’ can look very different to attending a Church service these days. Contact me (details below) if you are interested.
We were designed to be in relationships which bring mutual richness to our lives. Christmas should be a time of joyously giving and receiving love. Hence, this Christmas, I encourage you to prioritise your relationships, to build on the ‘us’ you may have been blessed with. Others are not so fortunate. Can you help to welcome someone into your circle? Especially this Christmas when many are stranded away from their loved ones. Alternatively, donate to others who are providing Christmas hospitality like Wayside Chapel .
It’s been a tough year, so let’s be gentle with ourselves and gracious to others.
‘Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other’ – Jesus
Wishing you a joyful Christmas and a refreshing break from all of us at Lane Cove Community Chaplaincy.
I recently attended a full week's teaching on the topic of Eco theology. It is the Church's contribution to face its responsibilities in our current ecological crisis. Global warming and other damage to our Earth is a 'wicked problem' requiring an inter-disciplinary approach. Communities of faith have a unique role to play, which we were trying to uncover. This is all very complex and I am happy to talk with you about it, rather than unpack it simplistically in a few words here.
We were given an interesting exercise to do, which incorporated many themes of the week for me. Not everyone will appreciate the exercise we were given - to apply an eco-feminist view point to a Bible passage of our choice. But others have appreciated it, so I share it with you. I chose Psalm 23. You can find a more standard version here.
Psalm 23 (KPV😉)
Creator God is my shepherd,
Balancing my needs amongst all creation,
I have all that I need – but no more.
She let’s me rest in green forests, desert landscapes, amazing coral reefs, under the blue sky,
To renew my strength in grateful communion with them.
These are right paths of peace,
Honouring the Creator and all creation.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
Because God is already there, inhabiting his Creation.
Loving Creator, we will continue to listen to your voice,
Attending to your principles,
From those wise ones gone before,
And from the living Earth,
So we may discern good from evil.
Then we may all share in the feast you have initiated,
Having confronted Earth’s enemies and destructive powers.
Let all creation live in harmony,
Honouring every part,
So these mutual blessings may go on and on
For all generations of all creatures, land, water and sky,
Who you the Creator love and will live amongst forever.
‘I did but see her passing by, yet I will love her till I die,’ – these are words former Prime Minister Robert Menzies used when making a speech to the Queen when she first visited Australia. We’ll never know if the Prime Minister was genuinely swept away by the Queen’s aura as he gazed at her or if he was making the most of a chance to ingratiate himself with her. But we know of other similar stories which may be less ambiguous: for instance, the Renaissance author Dante Alighieri when he caught sight of the beautiful Beatrice, was so carried away by the sight of her that Beatrice became his model for characters in his famous writings even though the two never met again.
My point is that every moment of ordinary life can be seen to be rich with special, even sacred meaning - full of spiritual meaning - if only we have the eyes to see. Jesus himself says: ‘Let anyone with ears to hear, listen,’ [Mk 4:23] and he asks, ‘Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear?’[Mk 8:18] and finally, [‘What I say to you, I say to all, “Keep awake!” [Mk 13:37]
Just recently, I noticed an item on my screen encouraging the viewer to take time to observe momentary and unexpected events of special beauty or appeal in the midst of ordinary life and to commit that small observation to memory so it could be recalled and savoured at a later time.
I have also heard Catholic Franciscan Priest, Fr Richard Rohr advise much the same thing, only he says to observe the event for at least 15 seconds before letting our attention move away because we need that length of time to commit the moment to memory for later recall.
The point of both observations is to remind us that today’s ordinary everyday life, even for those who have retired or are unemployed, can be rushed and stressful. We experience vast amounts of stimulation coming in to our minds all the time and this makes it very difficult to stay in the moment. In being held constantly mentally busy, we lose touch not only with ourselves but with the transcendent world unavailable to the passing glance. So it becomes important to rediscover inner stillness to put us back in touch with that world. We can do this at least in part by stopping to pay attention to and savouring the world around us. Pausing to notice small events happening around us is a way to reduce anxiety immediately and also to provide at the very least, some pleasant moments for reflection at the end of the day. And even better than that, these experiences can become a focus for thanksgiving for the blessings of life, or to reality, or to the universal consciousness or to God – whichever your view of what is ultimate might be.
It goes without saying that such quiet reflection later in the day on the small but lovely or fascinating events we come across is a fine way in to meditation. More prosaically, recalling to mind those events which make us smile in wonder and delight can be a very useful antidote to those times when we can’t sleep in the middle of the night. That 2.00 – 3.00 a.m. wakefulness is often supercharged with anxiety as we worry about all kinds of issues, past, present and not even here yet and about which – at that moment – we can do nothing. How much more calming and positive it can be to recall the good things!
But going further than that, I would suggest that experiencing such ordinary/extraordinary moments through our senses as we relate to perhaps a beautiful sunset; the song of a bird at dawn; the taste of a meal lovingly prepared; the perfume of a dry landscape suddenly wet with rain or the silky feel of a newborn’s skin are also reminders that God is in everything. Our response of awe or delight is but a reminder of that divine mystery which surrounds us.
And if we walk this rediscovered path with God as our companion and become newly aware that it is in God that we live and move and have our being, who knows where our path will lead us. It may not be to writing famous novels, or becoming influential leaders or martyrs for a cause, but we may become a source of hope, courage and new life to those we meet.
Now, while our chances of having a major life-change may be limited, we may have had a moment which gave a silver lining to the clouds of our day or even changed us in some way. Let’s think about that and give thanks.
Over a coffee recently, I learned that to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’ is not the norm! My coffee partner was a young Lane Cove woman discovering the riches of Christianity. She was quite taken by this piece of biblical wisdom (1 Thessalonians 5:11) which I had shared on Facebook recently. I was surprised, because I thought this was obvious. As we discussed it further, it became clear her surprise was justified. Encouraging and building each other up can easily be replaced by a competitive spirit. Unfortunately, people tend to be pitted against each other in business, sporting, educational and many other environments. Relationships can become a trade commodity based upon, ‘How can you benefit me?’ When this carries over into family dynamics, it is particularly sad. Commodifying someone is to dehumanise them.
I enjoy competitive games and I like to win, but not at all costs. (I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to my family and sporting friends!) Valuing my opponents as people and their self-esteem should always be my first priority. Competitive environments are the trickiest area for me in applying this wisdom. Seeking to encourage others is now a way of life for me in other areas. It causes me to reflect that it hasn’t always been this way. It is something I have learned through a drip feed of decades of Christian teaching. My self-esteem has also grown via the same source and through wonderful encouragers, who told me what they saw in me, when I couldn’t see it myself. Hearing the teaching, augmented by my personal experience of encouragement, combined to produce this good fruit in me, over time.
To sincerely encourage someone can help them tremendously. They may not tell you, nor show immediate signs of the benefit. If they have been subject to many discouraging or dehumanising experiences, they may even reject your encouragement initially. Their emotional ‘bucket’ may be so depleted of helpful, encouraging content that it will take a long time to fill again. They may not be able to ‘hear’ encouragement, particularly in some areas of their lives where damage has been done. But if you do care for them, continue to try and find an area of their life to build up where they can hear you. Remember, there is good and bad in everyone. Let’s choose to focus on the good and acknowledge it.
My life was rich and full in my late 40’s. I was happily married with 3 young adult children whose lives were full of interest and change, completing high school and discerning career pathways. I loved my role as Associate Pastor at our local Church which was diverse and demanded my best effort. Why pursue this Period of Discernment when it hadn’t led in the direction I was discerning? Because I am a woman of my word – and I had committed to the full process. Besides, there was still a niggle that there may be a further call on my life.
Over the decades of going to Church, I had on 2 occasions read a leaflet near noticeboards about Deacon (previously Deaconess) Ministry. Both times I remember thinking that the description of a Deacon fitted my interests perfectly. But I quickly dismissed them with an attitude of ‘I’m not good enough to be ordained and haven’t been called to it in anyway’. Coincidentally, both my Period of Discernment (PoD) Supervisor and my Ministry Supervisor were both Deacons, despite this being a minority role in the Uniting Church. One had been a long-term missionary in south-east Asia, the other a Mental Health Chaplain. A Deacon role was concerned with making a way for congregational members to enact their Christian faith in service of their local community; enactment of social justice; and as an innovative and passionate leader creating new forms of Christian leadership – to name a few. My PoD Supervisor suggested books for me to read and one of them connected with this last aspect of leading innovative change in the Church. This book spoke to me convincingly, as I read with amazement how I embodied the suggested characteristics of such a ministry agent so fully. Maybe this dissatisfaction with the status quo of our thriving church was from God after all?
I finally decided to become a Candidate for Minister of Deacon while doing the required introductory subject about Ministry in the Uniting Church. I was doing my reading while flying over to Tasmania to see my brother, concerning roles of Minister of the Word (MoW) and Minister of Pastor. It felt dead to me. I was already a Pastor in my Church and the MoW description just didn’t resonate with me. Again, I thought the process was over. On the flight home, I read the Minister of Deacon summary. It was very similar to the MoW description – just giving a different emphasis to which ministry roles were prioritised – more of an outward-looking, community focus. Unexpectedly at the time, this one resonated! Looking back, I see this as unsurprising, but at the time it startled me into action.
Both Minister of the Word and Minister of Deacon are ordained roles in the Uniting Church of equal status. Ordination has different meanings and regulations in the variety of Christian denominations, but basically the person to be ordained commits to lifelong availability for service within the Church. The Church confers a new status upon the person and also commits to their welfare. More details here .
Much process and many hurdles followed, including becoming an extremely reluctant Bachelor of Ministry student at age 50! But most subjects were enlivening and eye-opening, and at times, extremely challenging. I wouldn’t have made it through, especially given some huge personal hurdles over this period, if it hadn’t been very clear to me that I was called to this. Life was hectic and I learned that perfectionism had to go if I was going to make it through.
Despite the difficult path and clear call, it appeared there was no placement for me to be ordained into that matched my specific passion to be a change agent in the Church. But after I prayed for direction for my future, my current position of Community Chaplain, 1400kms away in Sydney, was brought to my attention within 20 minutes! This is a whole new story, but suffice to say for now that God led me very surely to meet a faithful, generous congregation, who had been arduously planning this role for many years too.
Numbers 23:19 (ESV Bible)
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
Hebrews 10:23 (ESV Bible)
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
My voluntary Church role began with providing and organising pastoral care for the congregation and caring for our newcomers. I loved it and my areas of responsibility expanded. Several years in, the Church decided to formalise the role to Pastoral Assistant and paid me too! The Church continued to grow and more help was required, so a new role of Associate Pastor was created to replace the former one. I experienced most ministry roles in this position and often mixed with ordained Ministers from many denominations, thanks to our inclusive Senior Minister who loved to mentor and encourage me. My view of the Church and its role in our community enlarged further.
However, I was shy and eschewed most ‘platform ministry’, preferring to remain behind the scenes. Over this period, I was challenged by a few people to add preaching to my role. Usually there wasn’t much need to do so and as I had no aspirations in this direction, I simply declined. When the Senior Minister asked me to fill in for a specific date, a few months’ ahead, I wondered if God may be giving me a nudge. Still not keen, I offered God a deal – if I was to pursue preaching, I wanted to be trained to do so before that date. It shouldn’t have happened, as most preaching courses require a semester and the time was less than this. However, a local Church of another Denomination suddenly offered a short preaching course for lay people, so I concluded God had answered me in the positive. Facing my fears, I was trained and immediately preached my first sermon.
Still feeling inadequate as a preacher, I enrolled in a Public Speaking course at our Theological College sometime later. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it well! I was directly challenged – twice – to consider ordained ministry over this time. I reluctantly accepted a leaflet. Whereas I continued to enjoy my role at the Church, a little dissatisfaction had been bubbling under the surface for some time, with regard to those who didn’t come to worship on Sunday. We had playgroups, Breakfast Club in the local school, various outreaches and invitations to the wider community to come and join us. A few people did, but largely our Church grew with people who moved from other churches. I knew from mixing with other Ministers that this was a common story. From my perspective, something different needed to happen. I knew there was a good and loving God, who could change peoples’ lives beneficially, but they weren’t hearing this message from us. The underlying frustration was challenging me…
For some years, I had been a leader of our mission partnership in Thailand, entailing annual visits with team members from our congregation. My husband and I wondered whether we may eventually be called to serve overseas longer term in some capacity, especially given my ‘call’ as a 15-year-old. Hence, I decided to give the yearlong ‘Period of Discernment’ a go, to confront this ‘call’ to overseas ministry finally. This PoD is the Uniting Church’s process of serious vocational discernment and a pre-requisite to ordained ministry, amongst other outcomes. After the first 6 months, I had discerned that long-term overseas mission was not my call. I was going to end my PoD, when a little voice inside reminded me that I had signed up for a full year. I asked my supervisor what else there may be to discern?
Far from being a moment in time, my ordination story spans most of my life. It has definitely been a step by step process, rather than a sudden burst of inspiration. Becoming ordained was not something I intended, nor strove to achieve. In most parts, it is a story of God over-turning my resistance to each step along the way!
Experiencing a short time in heaven around age 10, when I prayerfully dedicated my life as a Christian, was possibly the beginnings of the call. Having no knowledge of others’ conversion experiences, I mistakenly believed that although extremely special to me, this was a ‘normal’ experience at this juncture in a person’s life. Now that I know differently, I reflect, ‘to whom much is given, much is required’. (Luke 12:48) Being ‘given much’ applies to most people I know and we all bear this responsibility to give from our position of wealth. However, I have been given much in this particular spiritual way, so it is unsurprising that I now seek to give back in this realm.
In year 10, we had missionaries come and speak to us at our school assembly. I was very moved by their story and felt ‘called’ to mission service from that point. When I entered a World Vision office 6 years later to sponsor a child, I was gently asked whether I had considered working overseas in my capacity as a laboratory technician. I explored that path with the anticipation of doing so, learning French and increasing the breadth of my technical capacity with the help of my employer. It didn’t happen in the end, much to my parents’ relief, who feared Pol Pot would reinvade Cambodia where I was to be stationed. At that point, I met my husband and soon began raising a family.
Raising the family wasn’t easy in those early days. My babies didn’t sleep much and were constantly sick and the same went for me. When I was approached to be an Elder by a lady from my Church, I laughed! Was this woman crazy? But when the Minister also asked me, I decided to consider it. My practice in special times of discernment is to lay it before God as a possibility. So I said to God, ’If YOU want me to do this, please make it clear to me’ and went on with my life as normal. I also raised two objections before God: Firstly, I was a woman and I wasn’t too sure that women were called to be leaders in the Church, and secondly, my children were all-consuming at that point. I had a daily Bible reading habit, so continued reading with a heightened awareness that God could speak to me in this way. One day, I reached 2 John chapter 1 verse 1 (NIV) and read with amazement:
‘The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth--and not I only, but also all who know the truth.‘
I couldn’t argue with that specificity and I tend not to argue with God (it’s an unfair fight as Jacob found out!), so I agreed to be nominated and became an Elder of that Church. Hence, I began to learn about the deeper workings of the Church and ministry. A few years later, a new Minister arrived. By this time, we had 3 children, but the older ones had begun school, so I was still a busy mum, but had some availability during the day. At an Elders’ retreat he enquired whether I would assist him on a voluntary basis? I decided to put my toe in and have a look at what a Minister did from day to day…
F=ma is a formula we instinctively realise when a heavy object is speeding towards us. No need to explain that F stands for the force that’s going to hit us if we don’t move quickly! Multiplying the mass of an object by its acceleration is a simple law of physics that calculates force accurately. It produces a known outcome that works every time. Not all questions can be solved so simply. As a Minister, I am often asked why God allows, or does, certain things. Why does a good God allow such terrible suffering? Why does one person miraculously recover from illness, but not my loved one? Why do bad people enjoy comfortable lives, while good, honest Mr. X suffers? I read many inspiring explanations for these questions, but rarely do they satisfy the questioner. We may point to certain Scriptures, but usually they will be argued against. If there was a formula to explain God’s actions, however complex, it would make my life easier! There are many ‘tendencies’ I have observed about the way God acts, but no formulaic response. I infer God is a specialist, not a generalist.
In my mind, the answer is simple. God is infinitely beyond our comprehension, wisdom and intelligence. God does what God determines to do. I don’t know why and freely acknowledge I don’t have the full picture. Here’s a Scripture I love which backs up my stance:
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:13, New Living Translation)
Frustrating as it may be for those who want definite answers now, it’s not yet our time for answers to these complex questions. Our intelligence and breadth of knowledge about life and its complex interactions across time, place, people, environment and so much more, is deficient. Personally, I am grateful I don’t need to carry the weight of such decisions.
We are not powerless however. Many people will testify to amazing answers to their prayers. But not every prayer gets a ‘yes’ and we should be grateful for this. Some of these prayers would ill affect us, as a result of the chain of consequences following the course change. As a simple example, if I pray for rain to water my garden in Sydney, where hasn’t it fallen instead? Maybe on the farm that provides my (and many others’) food. So, when I ask, God hears and weighs the answer, and decides. Either way, our faithful response at its best, is gratitude.
The ‘laws’ of physics, and other disciplines, allow for formulae to help us predict outcomes with great success. These laws are a gift to us. But do not assume that everything will fit into a neat formula. Where is the excitement, variety and challenge of that? God offers us a loving relationship, where we may gradually develop an understanding to request outcomes that are often granted. But there is no law involved here, only grace. Let us be thankful for wisdom that surpasses our own.
Over a coffee today, I learned that to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’ is not the norm! I shared this piece of biblical wisdom (1 Thessalonians 5:11) on Facebook recently. My coffee partner was a young Lane Cove woman discovering the riches of Christianity. She was quite taken by this verse. I was surprised because I thought this was obvious. As we discussed it further, her surprise was justified. Encouraging and building each other up has largely been replaced by a competitive spirit, at least in modern Sydney. Unfortunately, people tend to be pitted against each other in business, sporting, educational and many other environments. Relationships can become a transactional commodity based upon, ‘How can you benefit me?’ This can even carry over into family dynamics, which is particularly sad. Commodifying someone is to dehumanise them.
I enjoy competitive games and I like to win, but not at all costs. (I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to my family and sporting friends!) Valuing my opponents as people and their self-esteem should always be my first priority. Competitive environments are the trickiest area for me in applying this wisdom. Seeking to encourage others is now just a way of life for me in other areas. It causes me to reflect that it hasn’t always been this way. It is something I have learned through a drip feed of decades of Christian teaching. My self-esteem has also grown via the same source and through wonderful encouragers who told me what they saw in me when I couldn’t see it myself. Both the theory, and in being the recipient of the practice of encouragement, combined to produce this good fruit in me over time.
To sincerely encourage someone can help them tremendously. They may not tell you, nor show immediate signs of the benefit. If they have been subject to many discouraging or dehumanising experiences, they may even reject your encouragement initially. Their emotional ‘bucket’ may be so depleted of good, encouraging content that it will take a long time to fill again. They may not be able to ‘hear’ encouragement, particularly in some areas of their lives where damage has been done. But if you do care for them, continue to try and find an area of their life to build up where they can hear you. To continually look to encourage others is a positive way to live anyway. There is good and bad in everyone. Let’s choose to see the good and acknowledge it.
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.