My favourite pizza includes prawns, avocado and garlic. Unfortunately, our daughter doesn’t enjoy prawns, so we compromise when we order pizza together. We are all created differently and have varied preferences. How we relate to God is no exception. Not everyone finds God draws near to them via the same experience. Two of my preferences are to interact in a conversational way and to be outdoors in nature. Hence, I have experimented with activities that utilise these features to offer different ways of connecting to God and each other.
Our walking groups have been enjoyed for over 5 years by about 200 people. Being outside, particularly in the bush, is good for the soul, just in itself. The intricate beauty and diversity of creation reminds me of the goodness of my Creator and of the love and care invested in each creature. The interdependence between the species is astounding and humbling. I hope to evoke that sense of wonder in those who walk with us. People are encouraged to use all their senses to appreciate the beauty around them and leave behind the stresses of daily life. As we gratefully acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, I also give thanks to the Creator, who loves us all - past, present, and future generations of all people. Later in the walk, a contemplative exercise is offered. Walkers can process this from their own spiritual basis. We learn from each other’s insights and engage to the degree we choose. We enjoy communal conversation over the food we bring. This has formed a community that cares compassionately for each other and our environment. I find these walks refresh my spirit and draw me closer to God. The attitude we bring to the activity determines its worship content.
Our Book Club is another setting where we engage together in a respectful, conversational way. The books we choose provoke our response to social concerns. Hugh Mackay’s Beyond Belief was our first, highlighted by a visit and discussion with the gracious author. Since then, we have been educated about other faiths by their representatives and have continued to challenge our perspectives on life with Australia Reimagined (Hugh Mackay), God is Good for You (Greg Sheridan) and most recently, Dark Emu (Bruce Pascoe). There is plenty of time to discuss issues over cheese and wine (currently from home over Zoom) as we only discuss a chapter or two each time. As our perspectives change, behavioural change will often follow.
Jesus’ central command was: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (The Bible, Matthew 22: 37-39).
It’s central for me too and I encourage others to come on a journey with me to do our best to live it out. Does this mean going to Church on Sunday? I’ll be more frank about this next time – I promise!
As a practising, ordained Minister your first predictive thought may be that I would laud the many reasons I miss going to Church. But then, you could think, 'Karen can be a bit unpredictable! She is a female Minister after all – and a Deacon – which are both minority ‘Minister’ categories. And then she doesn’t particularly like preaching - and rarely does. So maybe it is worth finding out which way she will jump!'
There are a number of contributing factors to my answer. Firstly, I have long ago decided that Church and Christianity are more about what you do, and who you are, when you leave the Church building, than what goes on during that hour or two a week. Sunday Church services are about many things, but they certainly don’t exist in a vacuum – they interact with the rest of the week. However, in my case, I also ‘do’ Church-related activities during the week, outside the building.
I lead two meditation groups per week. These groups are now conducted on Zoom and are little communities of their own. We have welcomed new people over this COVID-19 period, so it has been important that we get to know each other. We take turns giving a special insight into our lives, sometimes with a bit of show and tell. What fascinating people we are! We’ve had a collection of bells and gongs from around the world, some exquisite quilts and hand-made items, garden tours of rich diversity, deep reflections about finding joy (see previous blog), a creative home altar, family insights, pets and holidays, artists showing their pictures and insight into the life of the blind during COVID-19 – to name a few. Our spirituality impacts and infuses our whole life, which becomes clearer when you witness the joy of someone’s true passion. This time of sharing is followed by a short, spiritual reflection (often from the World Community for Christian Meditation), relaxation, silent mantra meditation and a closing reading to send us out. Community, message, meditation (which is referred to as the highest form of prayer by WCCM teachers), and sending out. Does that sound familiar?
I also have the privilege of hosting multiple Explore groups each week, currently over Zoom. These are small groups of people who earnestly investigate the foundations and expression of Christianity together. Not everyone comes convinced, but they are brave enough to explore this ancient, worldwide faith, which commands our respect. Each group has a different tone and focus. One is especially about ecology and our faithful response, the others focus more on the Bible and its origins, its characters in context and how we outwork the teachings of a faith that began thousands of years ago. Each group is a community, has a Biblical context to explore, engages in prayer and is sent out to compassionately enact what we have learned.
These groups are delightfully diverse. I love to see people from different walks of life and geographies come together and learn from each other and the unexpected relationships which flourish. Diverse perspectives bring life to ancient teachings. But they are not on Sunday and they are not in a Church building and we don’t sing. Yet, they are lively and fulfilling and I believe we communally honour God. I wonder how you define Church?
I invite you to continue with me next week, because I’m not finished yet. As a Community Chaplain I also host walking groups and co-host a Book Club. (Coffee groups in non-COVID time too). Most groups are open to newcomers and I will happily respond to your enquiries.
And - do I still miss going to Church on Sunday?
This blog is by one of our meditation community, Bev Cameron, who is a retired Uniting Church Minister. Bev shared this with our group yesterday. The group's response was so positive that I thought it deserved t be shared more widely. Thank you Bev! Karen
Karen’s invitation to share how we find peace was most welcome. Our world issues are stressful enough, but when the challenges of personal issues are added to them, I find it is very easy to become stressed. Clearly, ways to find peace become critically important.
For most of my adult life, I have been very busy, swept up by our culture which applauds busyness and by the satisfactions of personal
achievements that accrue from being busy. Being continually active is also a way of escaping boredom, loneliness, anxiety and a sense of meaninglessness rather than coming to terms with those difficult inner states. That meant for most of my adult life, I had a lot of stimulation, excitement and stress but not a lot of inner peace and eventually that caught up with me through major physical illness which forced me to do some rethinking.
Stress and how to deal with it is discussed often in the media, particularly now while the whole world is dealing with the Corona virus, falling incomes and unemployment. We know some stress is desirable to motivate and rouse us to action and even to risk taking. But we need its counterpoint, peace, derived from a clear sense of what really matters including taking regular breaks for rest to keep our inner worlds in balance, or to strengthen us to take risky action when that is called for.
I have always been interested in my inner world. My studies in psychology, theology, counselling, pastoral care and meditation are evidence of that. The way I see things suggests there are two levels of inner peace. Both are necessary and desirable.
The first level, the more attainable, comes when we engage in those activities which take our minds away from our worries and ongoing responsibilities and allow our thoughts to engage fully with the activity. I’m sure you all have such activities that you love to get into and I’m equally sure that though you might feel tired after, say, a cross country run or a vigorous game of tennis or hours spent working on your family tree or getting caught up in a good book, you have found a degree of inner peace. My ways of finding that kind of peace include gardening while listening to my favourite radio programs, walking in one of the many natural reserves where we live, spending time in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes, engaging in quiet conversation with friends and watching favourite TV programs with Bruce.
But this first level of finding peace only goes part of the way to experiencing deep peace. We need something more than that to cope well with everything that life throws at us. That brings me to …
The second level of inner peace which is considerably more difficult to find, but essential to our wellbeing. Speaking personally, it is not a state I can make happen, though finding inner peace is becoming easier as I get older. The reason it is more difficult is that the state of deep peace requires an ongoing awareness of the present moment, that is, keeping your mind totally focussed on the now moment. And, as all of us who do our best to meditate know how hard it can be to stop our minds flitting from one idea to the next, from one emotion to the next, most often, even in meditation, the sense of transcendence, of feeling that I am briefly and joyfully at peace does not happen. To achieve this kind of deep peace is the aim of meditation practices and no doubt you know that. As we are all by now fully cognisant of the ‘how’ of meditation, I won’t go into that here, but I will share a little of the help I have gained from a popular speaker on spiritual matters, Eckhart
Tolle’s talks are readily available on Youtube. Years ago, a friend suggested I watch him and at first, when I tried it, I found his views unhelpful. But in subsequent periods of significant stress, I tried watching and listening again and discovered he has not only experienced the kind of stress that took him to the edge of suicide, but is also well versed in all the great faiths, in psychology and philosophy and finds parallels among these different sources of meaning which make even my trained understanding of our Bible come to life in a new way.
He has written a best-seller, ‘The Power of Now,’ which sums up his basic idea and which is at one with our ideas of meditation. His name comes up now and then in talks by both Fr Richard Rohr and Fr Laurence Freeman. He reminds us that we can only ever live in the ‘now’ moment. Yesterday has gone; it is history; there is nothing we can do to change it. Tomorrow never comes except in our minds. We are always and can only ever be in the present moment.
And, if we are fully aware of the present moment, we can appreciate everything that moment has to offer, most of which in the past we have simply ignored. Our minds are free to be enriched by the present moment as we let go of sadness or regrets about the past and anxieties about the future, anxieties which may never be realised.
Tolle has much more than this to say, of course, but that’s enough about him from me today. I can only add that when ever my life circumstances become threatening to my inner peace, I do my best to take some time out to recall his references to the Gospels which tell us that Jesus also took time out to talk to God, and then, if it’s possible, I try to let all concerns go for that period and to talk to God, giving thanks for everything.
In this faith in the Now moment of God, though I still must wrestle with doubts and failures from time to time, lies the source of my inner peace.
I asked our walking groups what practices they would choose to retain out of this lockdown period?
There is a whole gamut of experiences and we are so fortunate to be living in Sydney. Health care is good quality and accessible, housing is enjoyed by most (but fewer than before), social systems care for many of our vulnerable people (with some tragic gaps) and the spread of ‘the virus’ has been relatively contained. Some people have enjoyed this time to retreat and be at home, living more gently in a usually fast-paced city. Time to catch up with those in our households is a mixed blessing – for some it’s precious family time – for others a further strain on tense relationships.
Neighbourliness has been a big winner. It has given us the opportunity, and the responsibility, to watch out for our immediate neighbours. And they are generally home these days! The joy of new and re-established social connections has come in many other ways too. Children are calling and caring for their elderly relatives again. Strangers are more apt to smile at each other on footpaths. Families are out walking and playing together in far greater numbers than before. Walking trails are well-utilised with people appreciating the delights of the natural environment. Letters are being posted again. A new awareness of local business and the wisdom of buying locally-produced goods is happening. Different groups are working together for the first time to act for the benefit of the severely disaffected.
Learning new skills through online courses has brought joy to many. From arts and crafts to study, learning a new musical instrument or singing in an online choir, doing home-based fitness and honing new skills for re-entering the work force, these new activities will continue to bring joy, new friendships and benefits into the future.
Many have suffered great loss over this period – and there will be more to come. Let us come alongside those we know and help where we can. Our own mental health is important too, so take time to reflect on some positive takeaways and keep them happening.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." (From The NLT Bible, Colossians 3:15)
The very different Mother’s Day we are about to experience brings its meaning into sharp focus. The warm hugs and kisses between generations of loved ones will be exchanged for calls over electronic devices. Restaurant visits are likely to be replaced with home-cooked meals of varying qualities. Many gifts will be delivered by strangers to our doors in an attempt to convey love from a distance. So what really matters to Mum anyway?
Speaking as a mother of three young adult children and their two partners, it is about having their loving attention for a while. If they carve some time out of their day to be ‘with’ me in some way, tell me about their lives and take an interest in mine, I am pleased. The hugs, kisses, cards and thoughtful presents are icing on the cake. The lovingly home-cooked meal is the cherry on top! But they all boil done to one key attribute to me: they love me and want to continue to share their lives with me.
Mother’s Day is a focal time for this to happen, and like Christmas, there is a sense of loss if it doesn’t. I will miss the delight of having our children all in one place interacting well together, and joining in with games of overly competitive table tennis after lunch! However, let’s not overstate its importance. It is the constancy of relationships that matters most. To be acknowledged just on Mother’s Day means little. Being a part of each other’s lives through the ups and downs is of far greater importance.
Children, do your best to show love to Mum this Mother’s Day. She will gratefully recognise your intention. But remember there are another 364 days this year to maintain and build that precious relationship, which will touch her heart much more with its sincerity.
To everything turn, turn, turn,
There is a season turn, turn, turn
and a time to every purpose under heaven.
(Turn! Turn! Turn! Lyrics ‘The Byrds’)
In the early stages of our ’social isolation’, this song posed the question to me, ‘What time is this?’ Answers are suggested in the lyrics:
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.
Many of these are relevant, but my interest was in one that seems counter-intuitive: ‘A time to build up.’
In normal times, I can’t have longer conversations with everyone I meet in our community groups. There are many, for example, who join our bush walks. I would love to know more about them, but I just can’t get to talk to each one for very long. Besides, it’s a time to relax and reconnect with nature and ourselves, so talking about the deeper, often heavier, issues of life can work against that regenerative process. Phoning these people after a walk may well be considered intrusive. But now, in this changed season, I have both the time and the chance to get to know some of these people better. It’s a peculiar, stressful time where extra connection is often appreciated and many people have more time on their hands too. It’s an opportunity to reconnect, at a deeper level.
Whereas your life is different to mine, do you have people in your life who you have ‘let go’ - not intentionally - but due to changed circumstances, or because you have been too busy? Why not try reconnecting with them now? I sense this is a time when a call ‘wondering how you are going?’ can refresh a relationship.
Let’s not let this ‘time to reconnect’ pass unfruitfully. Take the risk and reach out to your friend or family member to experience the joy of a restored relationship. Be careful to maintain it when ‘normal life’ recommences. This may require the next ‘time’ – ‘to break down’ the elements of your life that no longer serve you well.
I remember reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ at school. Anne was faced with such awful circumstances as an early teenager. Hidden inside indefinitely, her family lived in fear, as a noise at the wrong time from any of them could potentially cost them their lives. Their crime was simply being the persecuted minority of the day, Jews. Unfortunately, their persecutors, the Nazis, wielded incredible power in those days and were hell bent on the destruction of all Jews.
Anne had so much to be bitter about. She was a promising student with big dreams with her education now on hold; her father could no longer own the business he had worked so hard to establish; and the family had done nothing to deserve this punishment. Yet Anne records amazingly positive insights in her journal:
Unfortunately, she died in a concentration camp at age 15. Imagine if she had not chosen this path of forgiveness and gratefulness over this period. How sad and bitter her life would have been. Instead, she gave hope to those around her and eventually people all over the world via her books.
Holding onto bitterness and unforgiveness isn’t making the most of the life we are given. I encourage you to begin to let them go. Let me know if you want an ear or a prayer to begin to process yours.
Here’s a riddle for you:
Where is the first tennis match mentioned in the Bible?
I’ll tell you the answer at the end. And there will be some hints along the way…
Many people have heard a bit about Joseph and his coat of many colours. And that he had extraordinary prophetic dreams. It was these dreams that originally got him into trouble. He was the favourite son in a very large, ancient Israelite family. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much tact growing up – and shared his dream of being superior to all his brothers – most of whom were half brothers and much older than him. So they sold him into slavery and thought they had seen the last of him.
But it wasn’t long before Joseph’s talent shone through and he was given greater responsibilities and found himself in a good job, albeit still a slave. Unfortunately, he was again victimised – this time by his master’s wife’s false accusation of rape – and thrown into prison indefinitely. Actually, a number of biblical heroes found their way into prison – and still do to this day.
Prison is another way isolation is enacted. So what can we learn from Joseph’s imprisonment that may give us hope in our isolation? Well – for a start – Joseph was eventually released and went on to achieve amazing things for both Egypt and rescued his own family (hence that boyhood dream came true), when a huge famine hit Egypt. The isolation period was a refining time for him. Whereas his abilities were once again noticed and utilised within the prison system, he wasn’t released back into society for a long time. He had huge disappointments when he was there too – an early release didn’t come through. Time and time again people betrayed Joseph – yet it seems he accepted his losses. This enabled him to remain responsive to opportunities that came his way. He was cooperative with authorities in the hope that the tide would eventually change and he would be better placed. And he stayed close to God through it all. It was eventually his prophetic dreams that got him out of prison too. And not just out – but a meteoric rise to the highest administrative office in Egypt! There he used his talent and godly insight faithfully, to rescue the Egyptians and his amazed family from starvation.
So let’s accept our current reality, obedient to authorities for the greater good and pressing into our faith in God, which will give us hope and hold us through the trials. Watch for the opportunities to use our talents helpfully and wisely to benefit others too. Maybe you can cheer someone up in your circle this weekend?
Now the answer to the riddle – have you worked it out yet?
Where is the first tennis match mentioned in the Bible?
When Joseph served in Pharaoh's court.
To read the entire story of Joseph in the Bible, go to Genesis chapter 37 and keep reading to chapter 50. It’s a great story! Here’s a link for you. Enjoy!
A friend of mine recently referred to life being a bit like Noah on the ark! So I read the Noah account in the Bible today in Genesis 6-9 to see if I could pick up any clues to help us in this season of our temporary isolation.
It doesn’t tell you much about life on the ark – more the before and after. Beforehand – lots and lots of preparation – including building this gigantic boat to specific specifications. There have been reconstructions of the ark and analysis as to whether it could actually work. Apparently, it did have double the capacity needed for the animals and its ratio of length to width (6 to 1) is the most stable known and used for modern tankers and freight hauling ships! It would have been able to carry 20,000 tons of cargo. I’m not going to debate whether this is a real story or a myth which aims to teach us principles for life, but it is interesting that it was a potentially functional design.
In reading the account, Noah with just his family and all those animals and supplies, were on that huge boat together for about a year! And they survived – and were very thankful. The first thing they did was thank God for sparing them when they were again on dry land.
I wonder what life was like on the ark together? Noah’s family would have had to adjust to a whole new routine of caring for lots of animals – plenty of hard, physical labour and dirty work involved – very quickly. It would have taken heaps of cooperation and good grace and flexibility. And an ongoing thankfulness to be the ones who were still alive.
These principles apply to us today too. Yes, the changes can be hard to take for many of us. We would prefer to do other things, be in other circumstances. But this is our lot at present, so let’s do the best we can. Let’s cooperate with others and the restrictions put upon us, be gracious with each other – realising others are stressed and anxious. We need to acknowledge our own grief at the changes thrust upon us, so we can move on to being adaptable to our current circumstances. Being grateful always helps our own mental health – and makes us more pleasant to be around. What are you grateful for?
It’s not only certain supermarket shelves which have been empty lately. A couple from Lane Cove Uniting Church, who regularly drop off supplies to the Asylum Seeker Centre in Newton, report that they have never seen the free grocery shelves so empty before! This is particularly sad, as these donated groceries are a life support for asylum seekers living in our community on very little. Australia has had its share of pressing issues of late – and the Australian public have been very generous in their support of those most affected by bushfires and drought. However, the needs of Asylum Seekers continue every day, as their living allowance is so low. The maximum support available to a single asylum seeker is $227/week and the Poverty line is set at $412/week. Many don’t even qualify for this level of support. (Statistics from Asylum Seeker Resource Centre).
If you can assist, the Asylum Seekers Centre web page lists suitable and urgently needed food and toiletries: https://asylumseekerscentre.org.au/food-and-toiletry-donations/ .
Lane Cove Uniting Church usually provides a depot to receive donations, at the corner of Figtree Street and Centennial Avenue, below street level. However, as it's currently closed, a direct financial donation is probably the best way to at the moment. Contact us here once physical distancing measures are lifted to contribute this way.
This activity is known as ‘Simple Love’. This perfectly describes our motivation to contribute. It’s a non-political, simple, loving response to people in real need. This is so pertinent at Easter time as love lies at the heart of the Christian message. This story of great compassion towards humanity makes minimal demands upon us – rather it’s a winsome invitation to respond. True faith evokes a loving response to God’s gracious gift to us of Jesus: God in a man’s body, fully experiencing and identifying with humanity in order to reconcile us with God and creation.
Whatever it is that motivates you to show you care for those in need, please begin to donate specified items this Easter to those who will truly appreciate them.
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.