Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Getting ready to move!

In three days, right after the Christmas Day service, my best friend and I are heading out for an amazing trip! First stop is Singapore, then points north with a White Christmastide in Sussex. I will try to keep some photos and impressions online as the journey progresses. And it's usually not difficult to document endless pleasures and diversions.

But first, getting some cleaning done and preparing a major Christmas Eve Feast!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Farewell from the Senior Chaplain

Dear Friends of the RMIT Chaplaincy,

The season of Advent is a time of great tension and creativity within the Christian community. Culminating with the birth of a new relationship between the most sacred and most mundane in a very surprising way and place, it is both an end and a beginning. It is also a time when new ways often come clear. This has been especially true for me this year.

I have decided that 2008 will be my last year as Senior Chaplain: there are several reasons. First, the job has changed remarkably as the number of chaplains has increased from 3 to 8, and while I have deeply enjoyed recruiting and coordinating a collegial community of professional religious volunteers who bring considerable gifts to RMIT, it has changed the focus and scope of the work. New rooms in the Spiritual Centre and increased relations with student clubs and societies embedded within faith, wisdom and justice traditions have also brought new responsibilities and duties. To juggle all these, along with increased and welcome requests and referrals for pastoral care from other University areas, within the existing and limiting structures and budget, has proved both difficult and frustrating. At this time I will likely request a year “on leave” as an Anglican Chaplain on this campus, but I will consider that option over the summer as I reconsider the priorities of my work at The Merton Centre and Trinity College, University of Melbourne.

There are so many people to thank: Chaplains Jo Dirks, Riad Galil, Rob Miller, Yvonne Poon, Simon Rande Tony Salisbury and Chaplain Soma (plus Linda Kent as our able assistant) have made the job a real pleasure. Working with Sergio Fabris as the Wellness manager was a privilege and joy, and I wish Kitty Vivekanda well in that interim position. Jane Stewart was remarkable in her oversight and we shared some happy moments. So many more should be thanked, but I must stop here.

“Opening Silence”, our regular meditation sessions, has been a bright spot for me in the last few years, and it might be good to gather one more time. I know it is late in the semester, but I will be sitting in the regular place at the regular time (Spiritual Centre, Thursday, starting at 12:30) I hope to see you there,

In any case, please know that the good people of RMIT, past and present, have given me much joy in this time, and to quote the American poet, e.e. cummings, “I will carry you in my heart.”



PS - if you wish to keep up, check my website: themertoncentre.org or visit my blog, chaplinesque.blogspot.com

Monday, December 15, 2008

POETRY AND THE OLD MAN - I just wrote this!

Poetry and the old man are friends,
Have been through many rooms and times,
Served a shared apprenticeship for all
The curved rhythms in the midst of words.

Poetry remembered many moments
Like sunlight coming through an open window
Or laughter down the hall. It loved to
Weave past and present towards some promised future.

Then things changed and even the silence begins to send its own message;
The spacious place between the beginning of breath and the start of speech
Breezed in and left packages not needing to be opened. Now
Poetry and the old man have less to say

But they listen more, with open ears
To growing things, moving light, silent addresses
That leap like the ocean spraying the sky, and
Suddenly make everything wonderfully wet.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An update from a previous post - published in this month's edition of The Melbourne Anglican

American-born Robert Whalley, now living in Melbourne, was jubilant at the news of Barack Obama’s election. He explains why.

I’ve cried more on the US Election Day than I have in the last eight years. But tears of joy this time, and hope that the land of my birth is opening a new door. For it seems a graceful sign that a man with the name of Barrack Hussein Obama, with a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, a youth spent in Indonesia and an education spanning the Pacific from Jakarta to Honolulu to Harvard, and married to a woman descended from Africans kidnapped as slaves into the American South hundred of years before; will soon be moving into the White House.

In a land where there has been much racism, much to say “Sorry” for, this may mark a surprising turnaround for the image and identity of the United States, one we might not have foreseen in recent times; and I pray it means an opening for mercy, compassion, hope and even a possibility for peace in the future for all of us.

I moved to Melbourne from Berkeley, California, shortly before 11 September 2001 and still remember the affection and support I got from my new neighbours, friends from church, that wonderful memorial service at St. Paul’s, and even one stranger on the Bourke Street Mall who heard my accent and wished me and my country well in that sad time. All showed affection for what the US stood for at its best. So it saddened me (and many others) to see what shortly felt like an avalanche of propaganda and piety, justifying incursions and invasions likely linked to industry and oil and the interests of the rich and mighty.

This grief came into sharper relief when Katrina swept over New Orleans like a parable of judgement.

I was in a local parish facilitating questions about University Chaplaincy the Sunday after the hurricane when one man noted the similarities of the Old Testament lesson for the day – the Israelites getting across the dry bed of the Red Sea while Pharaoh’s army gets mired in the mud – and the situation in Louisiana. As I responded to him I realised that while I had always seen America in a traditional line with biblical Israel, a small people getting past the old tyrannies, making towards the wilderness, to a new community of grace and justice, it could no longer claim that place. For America now was closer to Pharaoh’s army (whether in Iraq or Louisiana) protecting the mighty over the poor and fragile, with lower priorities for those who hunger and thirst. I recalled the words, known to every American, on the Statue of Liberty not far across the harbour from where the World Trade Centre used to stand: Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teaming shore, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

So when this election result came, it brought me tears of joy. If the country of my birth, that great ship of state, can turn around, make amends, repent and move towards being an agent of change and healing, mercy and justice for all colours and kinds, a light to the nations, it may be that the golden door is opening to a new beginning for us all.

Robert Whalley is Senior Chaplain at RMIT University, Director of The Merton Centre at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne, and an adjunct tutor at the Trinity College Theological School.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday of Christ the King

It’s been almost a year since I’ve been up here preaching, and that’s because it’s been a busy year at the RMIT University Spiritual Centre and Chaplaincy. Since 2004 St. Peter’s and the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne have renewed their presence and support for the Chaplaincy at RMIT and it’s paying off nicely as our ministries of liturgy, education, pastoral care, prophesy and presence grow and mature. In the last year, my third as Senior Chaplain, our interfaith and ecumenical team has grown from three to nine ministers and it looks like we might grow to eleven or twelve in the coming year. This, as well as teaching an RMIT class on Religion, Globalization and Conflict and a class on Spirituality and Prayer at the Theological School at Trinity College, makes some new and exciting connections between our parish and nearby tertiary institutions to the benefit of all.

But one of the reasons I love working at RMIT came two weeks ago when I led a morning discussion on “Spirituality and Customer Service”. I will readily admit it sounds very California, even Byron Bay; but talking about how we can practice the present of the present moment in everything we do can be an important conversation that cuts across all kinds of spiritualities, religions or lack of religion, hinging on the common hope that there just might be the possibility or dimension of holiness, integrity, justice and love in the center of the universe; and if there is, how we can respond to it in the present moment, how we can make that moment a present. It’s always surprising to me to see how many people respond to that, as if almost everyone has a secret hunch that the world is lit from within, brought forth and enlightened by love, and that’s often where our chaplaincy meets the world at RMIT.

That’s also a good place to start this Sunday, when we celebrate the lay ministries that proceed from St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, while the church season curves from Pentecost into Advent, the Sunday of Christ the King, Christ the Good Shepherd, Christ the coming child, who will give birth to a new innocence and a new beginning in the very middle of our lives. It’s a good time too to consider why we’re here. Philip Larkin wrote that people come to church because they need a place to “to take themselves more seriously”, but I think there’s more to that; perhaps we’re also here to find a serious centre, a touchstone, a founding place and focus to take up our calling as the ministry of the laity, the people of God, taking us out again to a world made new by what we see here, do here, made new by what we take out of this place, bit by bit by bit.

Some years ago an English theologian wrote about “God shaped events” that happen in every human life: instances of creativity, redemption, blessed surprise, sparking in the middle of the larger community; when the world ignites with connection, compassion, wisdom, justice, love. We come here to see those consistent God-shaped events continuing over time, shining brightly in the life of Jesus, a moving pattern of the will and the love of God in the middle of our lives, lighting up the whole world; a kind of keynote address of the Word made Flesh, a cornerstone for our remembering, but we also come here to become what we see! We come to eat and drink, to take in the refreshment and renewal of Christ, in order to be recalled and reminded, in order to serve as Gods’ continuously renewed presence in the larger world.

It’s a two sided action, we come here to take it in, so that we can take it out there on the road and live it out. As Richard Holloway, the former Primate of Scotland, writes, it’s the difference between orthodoxy (right belief)and orthopraxy (right action). And trying to keep the two sides together is not easy, working to close the connection between what we say and what we do. Again, that’s why we’re here. In Jesus Christ, God does what he says. In the life, teachings, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see the word spoken, acted out, done to death and rising in glory - the full story of the shepherd giving his life for the sheep. And we are baptized and co-missioned to be shepherds as well, so that’s our path, to go on in our own way.

For the ministry of laypeople (those of us baptized as children or adults, who affirm those baptismal vows every time we receive communion), that ministry is - like Jesus’ - highly personal; has to do with being who we are and where we are in the present moment. Being a word made flesh here has to do with being a particular servant, a one of a kind friend, a contemporary shepherd, and a sign of God’s outpouring love in every field where we meet God’s people. Spirituality and Customer Service might be one model for that, but there are other ways as well.

Some 20 years a film called “Wings of Desire,” was set in Berlin before the wall had fallen. There were angels stationed all over the city doing errands and acts of mercy, spending their days touching people in trying times, sending encouraging messages, being secret signs of hope. Other times they would meet in unlikely places to recall what happened that day: once in a closed library, another time in an empty Mercedes showroom: sharing stories of holy, ordinary day to day encounters, seen clearly in light of their great hope, encouraging human beings, enlightening in love

That’s another definition of our ministry, as well as why we need both to have and to be church, be here together in the back of the Mercedes convertible, remembering the how and the who and the why of it. That’s why this place needs to be special, why the smells and bells, words and music all matter, so that we recall how to teach the world to sing, so we can help the world remember how well it’s made, and why, to what end, That’s both the gift we receive and the gift we give: the present of the present moment. enlightening God-shaped events and opportunities in the middle of everywhere.

But there’s a paradox, for just as this place, and what we do here, needs to be lofty, lifting the mind and heart high with high liturgy and appropriate ceremonial; so the way we practice out there needs to be casual, almost undercover angels in mufti,; no major heroic action, no stained-glass vocabulary, no Bible in the right hand or Prayer Book in the left; no special clothes, nothing particularly noteworthy: nothing really except loving the world as God loves it. As people in the American South put it, it’s a “down-home” thing, nicely homely, shepherding the people that God shepherds, people you meet in your own way, being that message in all that you say or do as an ongoing exercise of very small intentions and attentions, God-shaped events extending over time, small beginning, little advents, shepherding good news. In all this, nothing special, no smells and bells, sometimes boring, going by rote, working with no clear directionals, with sometimes boring sheep, unthankful flocks, noisy, lonely, hungry, undervalued, imprisoned people who might just be angels and messengers of grace as much as us.

So we come together this Sunday, as the Church turns a corner to a new beginning, to claim the ministries that happen where we meet the world, in all our lives: family, children, partners and parents and pets, employers, employees, enemies and friends, pains and pleasure, past and potential; our longest shadow and our deepest yearning. Absolutely everywhere we walk with God, shepherding with God, creating, redeeming, and sanctifying every moment in time, every instant of the present. That is why I think we are here.

So I now ask you to stand, and remain standing for a little while. We always stand for the Gospel, and today we respond to that Gospel by remembering where we stand, and what we stand for, in our daily life, the places where we represent Christ. So take a moment and remember, in your life and ministry, where you stand for Christ, and when the Vicar asks you to come forward for a blessing on that ministry, stand at the altar rail and present your lives as a reasonable and holy and living sacrifice to God: remembering that Gospel, and all that God gives you in the present of the present moment. Please give it all up as a right and take it back as a gift and as a ministry of God. Be the body of Christ that you are and take up your ministry today.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

It is a new thing...

I've cried more in the last 20 hours than I have in the last 8 years, but tears of joy this time, hope that we can - and will - begin again, in a more inclusive community of faith and justice, spirit and matter, working together for that new beginning.

This American-Australian has spent so much time since 2001 apologizing for America's narrow vision over these years, the loud parochial imperialism that's stealthily bedded down with the rich and mighty; and it's such a blessed relief that there now seems to be an opening for mercy, compassion, solidarity, even a possibility for peace in a vision of a new world. I am so proud that the country of my birth, that great ship of state, can turn around, make amends, repent and move towards a renewed vision of these United States as an agent of change and healing, a light to the nations; In this moment of time it seems the golden door is opening to a new beginning, and I am so proud!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

to the Holy Spirit - James McAuley

Leaving your fragrant rest of the summit of morning calm,
Descend, Bird of paradise, from the high mountain:
And, plumed with glowing iris along each burning wire,
Visit in time our regions of eucalypt and palm.

Dance, prophetic bird, in rippling spectrums of fire,
Ray forth your incandescent ritual like a fountain;
Let your drab unearthly mate that watches in morning calm
Unseen, be filled with the nuptial splendours of your desire.

Engender upon our souls your sacred rhythm: inspire
The trembling breath of the flute, the exultant cosmic psalm,
The dance that breaks into flower beneath the storm-voiced mountain;
Array in your dazzling intricate plumage the swaying choir.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A recent talk I gave at RMIT

Let me start with a bit of a confession. Many, many years ago, towards the end of my teens, when most young people were planning their futures or looking forward to the next party, I started reading and following people like T. S. Eliot, Rumi, Rilke, Emily Dickenson, Thomas Merton, J.D. Salinger, D. T. Suzuki, Carl Jung, Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau: along with a long list of poets, prophets, matriarchs, patriarchs and a few politicians who hinted that there was a heart to it somewhere, some shared caring and compassion on the way. You might guess that this was in the very depths of the late nineteen-sixties.

Fast forward forty years and I turn out be a “liberal-catholic Anglican”, usually comfortable with my place in that tradition, but also valuing time spent studying the history and phenomenology of religions, living, praying and meditating in Christian monasteries and Buddhist temples, keeping my heart, soul and mind involved in ongoing conversation with Jews, Christians and Muslims, and making sure there’s time for a friendly community of silence with monks, nuns and pilgrims of various traditions and no traditions at all. With that start and that journey it could end in enlightenment, chaplaincy or jail, and most days I feel fortunate to have found a middle path. So, with that background in place, I want to talk a bit about learning, knowledge and wisdom from a multi-cultural and a multi-faith perspective.

It might be simple to posit two categories of education or formation in the modern University and TAFE: trade-skills and life-skills, and that these two areas might illustrate some crucial differences between learning and knowledge.

Trade-skills navigate the swiftly changing stream of information, learning what’s new in arts, crafts and technologies, current input, ideas, opinions, research, visions and revision, paradigm shifts and new possibilities, both software and hardware, trade-skills must try to stay afloat in the rapids of shifting inventions, applications, events which multiply as fast as the media itself in the rush to take in new ideas. This seems to be the necessary model and methodology in getting a global passport for working in the new world, it may be good or bad, but it is certainly a fact.

The problem comes in approaching what the Yale psychiatrist Daniel Levinson called the “Proteus personality”, people trained to respond to all the latest skills, fads and visions, learning to change quickly to meet the present opportunity or crisis, but lacking a critical focus or foundation grounded deeper than the present moment, deeper than the ability to adapt to change. Most chaplains and student life types come to know the look of students or staff, who sit down with a sort of hollow sadness about them and say something like, “My life looks nothing like what I see at the mall or on the web, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me”. It can break your heart, but it can also mark an opportunity for another kind of learning, a place for knowledge.

Perhaps everyone in the university community works with most of this in mind, but Student Life and Student Services primary task is this place: helping RMIT students balance career and degree objectives with all the foundational stuff of real life: balancing those tasks with the world of friends and family, wellness and illness, issues of money and housing, mind, body and spirit, integrating education with the whole person and their larger community of meaning: so that what is learned connects to where we live and move and have our being. So that education and occupation can ripen to be a kind of service in many neighbourhoods, hopefully adding value to the whole human family.

So if the modern mode of learning trade-skills moves us towards being what David Reissman used to call “other directed” persons, then mastering critical life-skills as part of a higher education remind us of the importance of relating our learning to existing structures and communities of meaning that are more “inner directed” and “tradition directed”: connect our new world with older visions that have seen the test of time. And for that we need a more formal affiliation with wisdom, a link to varied visions of wholeness and compassion or to a shy hope in the heart that there may be a heart to it all. And we need to approach this as a whole society as a necessary part of our public education.

You’ve probably guessed this is not a Canadian accent, ‘though at times in the last 8 years I often wish… but one of the things I bring as an Australian citizen who is also a Yank is a strong sense that privatising religion presence does not serve a country well. The American model of officially separating the secular and the sacred does justice to neither; on one hand, delegating issues of public meaning to a secular ideology spawned by capitalism and consumerism, industry and entertainment, without roots in wisdom or compassion; and, on the other hand, bring in a short-hand kind of private piety which demote religious affiliation to a stained glass and sentimental patriotism, a kind of leisure-time activity that justifies greeting cards and pilgrimages to Nashville or worse. I don’t mean to trivialise, these can be pervasive myths that carry much meaning: when I was a boy, the motto for General Electric appliances was “Progress is our most important product” and I still well remember the day when Disneyland opened in 1955.

Both were good products for what they were and both have since gone global. But if this world deserves a deeper vision, perhaps Australia can take a stance in new ways of approaching education, knowledge and wisdom that can make a crucial difference. And so I wonder if there could be an Australian educational process which encourages and incorporates the age-old visions and values of wholeness and holiness alongside the realms of trade-skills and life-skills, integrating learning, knowledge and wisdom in the education of the whole person in a multicultural society? It certainly would not be easy. We have to be extremely careful of both heroism and hubris when it comes to ultimate visions. Mahatma Gandhi once questioned how anyone who thinks they possess truth could be fraternal, could learn from another, and that’s a fair call, For each tradition has unique visions, specific proclamations, that can be strident and exclusive: we all exist in their echoes, and we all hear them still.

Perhaps our wisdom, spiritual and justice traditions can meet in a world of common values, not arguing right belief, not talking theory but in shared practice, walking the walk rather than talking the talk. Perhaps the picture we might strive for is made up more of actions and occasions, times spent together in small ongoing tasks and achievements that make a difference. This is one of the ways we are trying to go with our chaplaincy here; in creating new partnerships and possibilities, with people of different creeds and kinds coming together to share concern and action in areas such as ecology, economics, environmental concerns, working with youth and elders, the hungry and the homeless, areas that can be informed by the ethics and visions of a variety of faith and justice perspectives. All this in the hope that the values shown in working for justice, love and mercy, new communities of care, might in the end make a significant difference in the world we must choose to share.

So, that’s my take on it: that there is a unique opportunity for our own educational institutions in this civil society to open room to honour the wisdom of ages, the poets and prophets, holy and wise ones who speak out of a perception and a discernment both deeper and finer than either the mall or the web can offer. I believe that this could take us to new places, can ground us deep in the present moment under a very wide horizon for both possibilities and compassion, might give us a hope that working together for a more integrated structure of learning, knowledge and wisdom that could open a new possibility for the whole human family.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Prayer to God the Father on the Vigil of Pentecost by Thomas Merton

Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you. The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you. The distant blue hills praise you together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light. The bickering flycatchers praise you together with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there. I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers, and they all give voice to my own heart and to my own silence. We are all one silence and a diversity of voices.
You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy. Here I am. In mew the world is present and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence. You have made me a kind of centre, but a centre that is nowhere. And yet I am “here,” let us say I am “here” under these trees, not others.

For a long time I was in darkness and in sorrow, and I suppose my confusion was my own fault. No doubt my own will has been the root of my sorrow, and I regret it merciful father, but I do not regret it because this formula is acceptable as an official answer to all problems. I know I have sinned, but the sin is not to be found in any list. Perhaps I have looked to hard at all the lists to find out what my sin was and I did not know that it was precisely the sin of looking at all the lists when you were telling me that this was useless. My “sin” is not on the list, and is perhaps not even a sin. In any case I cannot know what it is, and doubtless there is nothing there anyway.

Whatever may have been my particular stupidity, the prayers of your friends and my own prayers have somehow been answered and I am here, in this solitude, before you, and I am glad because you see me here. For it here, I think, that you want to see me, and I am seen by you. My being here is a response you have asked of me, to something I have not clearly heard. But I have responded, and I am content: there is little to know about it at present.

Here you ask of me nothing else than to be content that I am your Child and you Friend. Which simply means to accept your friendship because it is your friendship and your Fatherhood because I am your son. This friendship is Son-ship and is Spirit. You have called me here to be repeatedly born in the Spirit as your son. Repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence and in praise.

If I have any choice to make, it is to live here and perhaps die here. But in any case it is not the living or the dying that matter, but speaking your name with confidence in this light, in this unvisited place: to speak your name of “Father” just by being here as “son” in the Spirit and the Light which you have given , and which are no unearthly light but simply this plain June day, with its shining fields, its tulip trees, the pines, the woods, the clouds and the flowers everywhere.

To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a centre in which all things converge upon you. That is surely enough for the time being.

Therefore Father, I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world: and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.

To study truth here and learn here to suffer for truth.

The Light itself, and the contentment and the Spirit, these are enough.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008


LET man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th' intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul's, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg'd and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom'd us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.

Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, ed.
London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 172-173.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

12:15, Café @ RMIT. I went to Mass at 7:15, had a breakfast meeting with another chaplain at 8:30: then a meeting with International Student Support people at 10 and two quick meetings to touch base following that. It’s good to sit down, grab a sandwich and breathe.

So Jesus goes to the desert and we follow. And I remember visiting a friend in the Nevada desert some years ago who told me that there was a different beauty there, “There are flowers here, lovely ones, but you have to look!” And when I got over the expectation of green trees and flowers, ideals and images from the gardens I knew, I found she was right. There was another style of grace, new blossoms in the shade of rocks, hidden green leaves, soft growth, bright surprises that I hadn’t seen at first, because I was looking for something bigger, more easily categorized, closer to what I had known before. That’s the wrong focus for the desert, you have to see more than you look for, you have to prepare to be surprised by the small bright spots, the ones that aren’t domesticated yet. It’s time to learn from the wild animals and the foreign foliage in an unknown wider landscape, That is one of the ways to meet the desert.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lenten Leanings

So Shrove Tuesday comes, and what do I want from Lent this year? How do I meet Jesus and the wilderness and the wild animals, prepare for Jerusalem and Golgotha and what comes after?

There are always the eternal list of to-do’s and should-do’s (both “spiritual” and “practical”) that follow around me, but I think the main task will be to take up the task my spiritual director recommended 25 years ago: a weekly or monthly one page reflection on “what I believe”, a summary of my operational theology. This year it will be a bit more often and sustained – maybe six weeks of reconnoitering around the questions concerned with where I find my faith (and doubt) right now, connecting it with the past, and moving towards the future.

I’m not thinking of a systematic theology, but just taking time to reflect on where my life finds meaning and grace at present and how that connects with the vows I made at Baptism over forty years ago. We’ll see where it goes, but a lot of it will go into the blog.

I’ve neglected this for the last year, and it was important to me before that; but four people have mentioned reading it in the last few weeks, so maybe it’s time to put some effort into Chaplinesque – here we go again!