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
“Welcome home!” is our standard family greeting when one of us has been missing for a while. It signals warmth and a sense of belonging. It may be followed by questions about what has occurred beyond the home, bringing interest and involvement in each other’s lives. Whatever type of experience it’s been, there is likely to be reassurance that there is now comfort, familiarity and a sense of normality returning, within this special place, home.
These days it doesn’t require a family to make a place ‘home’. The most dominant household size in Sydney is two people, followed by one person households (22% - 2016 Census). However, larger households have been on the increase, a reversal of previous trends, possibly signalling a lack of affordable housing for young people. Clearly home is not just about our fellow occupants, but has something to do with a sense of our place in the world. When we moved from Adelaide to Sydney, placing our treasures from the past into the new place helped it to become home. Indigenous people relate very closely to the place where they were born. People who have migrated often have a strong sense of back ‘home’, where childhood memories were created, sensory experiences were conjured and nuances of culture deeply understood.
I wonder what happens when this place of identity is forcibly and frequently changing? If we don’t own our home, we can be moved along by the owner, so we are unlikely to emotionally invest in that place and its surrounding community to the same extent. I wonder what effect lacking the nuances of ‘home’, where there is no consistent place and, in some cases, no consistent housemates, does to a person over a period of time… This is the situation of so many of our young adults today and many not so young, too.
Sydney Alliance is pushing for tens of thousands of new, low-cost, rental homes to be made available across Sydney. Lane Cove Uniting Church will be joining them to see how Lane Cove will contribute to this solution. Contact us if you would like to show your support for this initiative.
The old saying expresses it well: ‘Home is where the heart is.’ Let us be very thankful if we live in a home where we belong, experiencing familiarity, predictability and comfort. Together, let us assist others to gain this stability for their lives too.
I changed my mind about being a leader ~20 years ago. Being identified as a leader is not a popular choice in Australia, especially for women of my generation. My impression of leaders was of big, forceful personalities, carrying huge loads of responsibility, who attracted large numbers of followers along with vocal detractors. Not really a feminine ideal, nor a match with my personality! However, a new understanding of different styles of leadership and the potential to lead for communal good, caused me to put my foot forward into that ring eventually.
Leadership, at its simplest, is having someone follow you. On a sports team, the leader can be identified as the one with the ‘ball’, who must show leadership at that moment by deciding who to pass it to next. Hence, the leadership is constantly changing and becomes a shared commodity. Parents lead their children until they are able to make their own wise decisions. There are many leadership styles, from the upfront, charismatic type we tend to think about first, to the leader in the midst who quietly invites, organises and guides others. This ‘Dorothy-style’ (Wizard of Oz) of leadership resonated with me. Fortunately, I am a part of the Uniting Church which practices a consensus style of leadership of inter-related councils and welcomes women’s leadership. (I suspect these two factors are related!) As one of the leaders of the Church now, I find I can make a greater impact for good, than if I had continued to deny my leadership qualities.
It is disappointing when leaders use the trust and power invested in them just for their own gain. It runs counter to the whole concept of good leadership, which is to help others be their best for the sake of our whole society and planet. However, it is understandable leaders may make poor choices when they are constantly criticised, feeling they are unappreciated and there is ‘no win’ for their efforts. The detractors have a place in keeping them accountable, but this needs to be balanced with thankfulness for those who have offered their skills to lead with integrity. Is there someone you could sincerely encourage with your thankfulness? Might you be a leader still in hiding, who can make a bigger contribution to the world? As always, I am happy to discuss it with you.
Anne shared this piece on our Wednesday Weekly Walk yesterday. I hope we can be as wise as geese in the way we treat each other!
Fact 1: As each goose flap its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: People who share a common sense of direction and community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
Fact 2: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
Fact 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position. Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership, as with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skill, capabilities and unique arrangement of gifts, talents or resources.
Fact 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the productivity is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.
Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay until it dies or can fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
“Lessons from Geese” was transcribed from a speech given by Angeles Arrien at the 1991 Organizational Development Network and is based on the work of Milton Olson.
She approached our group nervously, a newcomer. Spotting her early, I moved towards her and smiled. ‘Are you looking for our walking group?’ Somewhat relieved, she answered, ‘Karen?’ Five minutes later she was absorbed in conversation with her new companions. By the end of the event, eyes shining, she volunteered how she loved the whole experience and would be back next time. Moments like these never fail to strike joy to my heart.
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting a young man who deeply desired to become a Dad, despite having no current partner. The surrogacy process involved was long and very difficult. I was moved by the details and felt privileged to hear of his unusual decision and journey. Seeing the delight in his eyes as he held his baby, became my joy as well.
Each one brought their natural elements to the table with their own stories of appreciation, of loss, and of hope restored. The depth and variety of their reflections amazed me! Here were honest stories, gently offered for us to hold with respect, some raised to God too.
These are just a few examples representing the joy found by people sharing life together. There is something unique about shared moments of joy that defies rational explanation. From my perspective, God inhabits these encounters, and they enliven my spirit. These connections are sensed with the ‘heart’, and sometimes an exuberant light can be seen in people's eyes. I believe we are designed to be in community – bringing joy to each other with our genuine sharing. When God is felt to be present, it brings an even richer dimension.
Loneliness is the lack of such interactions, especially when their absence is felt. It’s always a challenge to enter a new group of people. Life contains many risks and we need to embrace them to enable positive changes in our lives. If you feel lonely, is there an activity you would enjoy doing with others? Or could you encourage someone to find new friends by accompanying them somewhere new? I am willing to help you connect with other people. Lane Cove Community Chaplaincy host intentionally safe activities where newcomers are welcomed. Or maybe I can help you begin something else you enjoy instead. Meeting you and hearing your story, will be my privilege, and hopefully a blessing to you too. Contact me to make that connection.
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.