IN TIMES OF WAR AND RUMOURS OF WAR

Blog posted by Barbara Stapleton

What do we do in these times; we see terrible scenes of devastation brought right into our living spaces – war, floods and drought to name a few; anxious thoughts about the future, especially the future of the children! At times like these it can be difficult to find that inner place of light and peace and silence which is there within us and where we can remain peaceful even in the middle of turmoil.

I live in a place where there are two rivers and a large inlet. Sometimes I see a lone kayaker on the river or a person wading way out on the inlet, net in hand, looking for crabs. I imagine each of them intent on what they are doing but at the same time enclosed in a cone of colour and sound and sensation – of water lapping and birds and the feel of the air around them. I think of Robert Gray’s wonderful poem, A Day at Bellingen, when he takes the rowing boat out, rows miles, until ‘the mind is turned down like a gas flame …it lies once more beneath the truth of the body.

There is always the temptation to turn the mind down by watching the screen or escaping into a book. And that can be alright at times.

Meanwhile the world goes on its unhappy way with the possibility that our long stretch of peace is coming to an end as countries like ours are drawn into a vortex of opposing interests.

My friend, who feels anguished and helpless at the screen sight of people suffering from war and famine, meets with me each week. We light a candle and she imagines a particular place – a village in Yemen, a refugee camp in Sudan – where she sees a better outcome; children playing and parents with enough food to feed them. We spend some time in silent meditation – call it prayer. Does this actually help our world or is it just a way to make us feel better?

I believe that looking at a child or a person suffering, either through a journalist’s witness or even in our imagination, can save us from that temptation to get lost in the quantitive reporting that we hear all the time; so many numbers of people killed; how many dead in this camp versus the other. Humans seen as numbers of casualities shock me but can also numb the heart. The past history and context of the situation is important but can become an abstraction.

Jesus said that the Father knows’ each hair of our head’ and that he knows the fall of a sparrow. That tells me the intimate quality of love and of the enormity of what is happening to each person caught up in these terrible happenings. I need to use my imagination to see them with the eye of the heart.

Imagination, heart-seeing, is powerful. I turn to those wisdom people we have known, the ones I see as the far-seeing ones, call them mystics if you want. They give me hope because they see with an informed heart; the doors of perception open to see beyond the present turmoil and distress. The priest-scientist, Teilhard de Chardin, I believe is one of these people.

Even as a child he was fascinated by the rocks and stones and earth-structure he saw around him and later this led him to his work as a priest-paleontologist, spending years in the vast deserts of China. He had a profound love of earth and matter: the layers and layers of the evolving earth and its creatures and peoples.

At the same time he experienced the presence of a tremendous love at the heart of all creation. He saw us all as evolving in consciousness, becoming as individuals and communities more aware of ourselves and more aware of the presence of love. As I understand from his sometimes dense writings, he also saw the thoughts and aspirations and compassionate love that we all experience, as forming a kind of cone of light around our earth that he named as the noosphere. He believed that this would one day begin to influence more and more of us until perhaps multitudes of us humans will begin to see in a more conscious way and become convinced that there is a better way to solve differences than by the violence of war.

That is our hope and why we continue to pray.

EASTER and the DAYS to FOLLOW

Some days I can walk down our long driveway to look for the post and I notice nothing. My mind is on what I’m expecting to find. Perhaps another ‘spiritual’ book!

But I find that if I pay attention to what is around me, a mysterious and beautiful pathway expands; rain puddles on the ground reflect tree branches in all kinds of patterns; the robin flies from one bush to another ahead of me. And the scent of pine needles and eucalyptus is heavy after the rain.

To me, it can be a resurrection because I’m allowing my spirit and my body to be friends with each other. Easter is a bit like that.

Easter can arrive and be all over so quickly. The shopping centres move on quickly to the next selling fest which is probably Mother’s Day.

Nothing wrong with that but for those of us who celebrate Easter, also known as the Pasch or Paschal mystery, the days following continue to unfold story after story of what happened after the momentous death and Rising that Jesus moved through – or passed through – to become The Christ.

He wasn’t just making a quick goodbye to followers and friends before rising to a spiritual existence; it seems to have been an extended time in which he ate and drank with them, lit a fire on the seashore in Galilee, cooked fish in the early morning mist, made bread and asked the unbeliever, Thomas, to touch his wounds.

He showed that he was not just a spirit but rather, a body that was changed or transfigured somehow. (What that means will be something we’ll need to keep reflecting on as we continue to discover more about the mysteries of our universe and our human selves.)

Through celebrating the feast of Easter, Christians become people who accept that body and spirit are One and that they belong harmoniously to one another. It’s not a flight of the soul or spirit from the body.

Easter means that we need to pay as much attention to our experiences of the body as we do to our ‘spirituality’.

by Barbara Stapleton

EASTER: A COSMIC JOURNEY

Hatching chick

Posted by Barbara Stapleton

Easter is here; the great cosmic feast of the Christian calendar. What do we mean by that word ‘cosmic’? One way of looking at it is to see this creation we live in as part of a whole which contains us and the universe and the divine Creator – who we may call God or some other name.

When we unite our small sense of self to the larger I AM of God we are also in tune with the energy and mystery of all that is created. That includes nature and the universe in which we exist.

The rising of the full moon on Holy Thursday evening reminds us of the waxing and waning times in our lives; times when we are full of joy and times when that joy and enthusiasm seems to die or be hidden waiting to be renewed again. It reflects Jesus’ journey from the crowds acclaiming him, and then his rejection, humiliation and cruel death. It reflects his breakthrough to a new dimension of consciousness and life because he chose love over hatred of his persecuters. A rising to a new life which is there for all of us like:

a chicken breaking through the shell of an egg.

a pupae in its cocoon breaking through its container and spreading the wings that have been forming in the darkness.

a tiny seed in the earth, dying, but at the same time sprouting up towards sky and sun.

On the Holy Saturday Vigil we sit in darkness, then light the new fire and watch it gradually fill the place with light. We bless water and time knowing that though we experience them in everyday living, they have a mysterious cosmic dimension (not divine) because they are part of our divine creation.

On Easter morning many people gather together at dawn to watch the sun rise in memory of Mary Magdalen’s meeting with the risen Jesus in the garden near Gethsemane.

The moon, light and darkness, sun and water and fire, bread and wine and Time – we are so used to them in our daily living but they take on their cosmic dimension when we recall that ‘In You we live and move and have our being.’

When we read those words of St. Paul we recognise that our small self, the limited scope of our conscious experience, is harnessed to a larger Wisdom in our soul, in the universe and in God. Everything belongs.

At the close of Easter perhaps the earth which is suffering so much from our pollution may be renewed with us as we pray at the Easter Vigil –

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth.

Rejoice O earth in shining splendour.

GOING BACK TO THE BEGINNING

Just as those who live in the northern hemisphere have a sense of something new beginning at the time of year when the snow melts, rivers begin to flow again and flowers appear, so some of us in Western Australia sense a change at the end of Summer as we welcome the end of watering the garden, the end of the fear of bushfires and a time when we can sit longer on the beach enjoying the warmth of the sun instead of sheltering from it. There is a lovely calmness in the air in Autumn and we know that we’re moving into the beginning of a new season.

At this time, for both hemispheres in the Western world, as well as in some other countries, the season of Lent creeps in almost imperceptibly. It’s early this year and other carnivals and events can sideline it. Even the merchants have nothing to ride on as they do with Easter or Hallowe’en or Christmas, because Lent is traditionally a time of reducing down, of clearing away, downsizing – so that we can look around us with clearer eyes to see where we are.

But I notice from the readings and symbols that come with Lent that it’s first of all a time to return to what it was like in the beginning. And the symbol of that means – going back to find a ‘garden’ or ‘wilderness’ where we can get in touch with the source of energy and fecundity in ourselves. This garden or wilderness is deep in our own spirit. And it’s mirrored in the natural world all around us.

We intuitively understand about the importance of these natural wildernesses that are still with us in our world. We only have to remember the huge struggle to save the wilderness area in Tasmania from logging. The ‘Greenies’ camped in rain and freezing cold for months to protect a pristine forest, an old-growth forest.  And there are people working in stretches of bushland and wilderness all over Australia to restore the land; to free it of predators and weeds. They watch the land restore itself when this work has been done.

We know about the importance of this just as we understand the great annual camping exodus we Australians make each year. We get back to the trees and the sea as though we’re restoring ourselves from some great mother-source.

But we each carry our own inner country and sometimes this world of phones and computer screens and television, marvellous though it is, can take up too much time; stop us from making our own exodus into ‘country’ when we need to.

That is what Lent is for – a few weeks to find a small practice to do each day. Perhaps taking a few conscious breaths will take us to our inner garden.  Back to the source. Back to the beginning –

The voice of the hidden waterfall  
And the children in the apple-tree 
Not known, because not looked for …  (T.S.ELIOT. Four Quartets)

Posted by Barbara Stapleton

WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?

In traditional times (not all that long ago) the weeks before Christmas were seen as a time of waiting.

There were memories, reminders, readings of other times when people waited in hope for release from a dreadful situation, or for someone they were expecting to come, for a promise to be kept.

Today we look at the people of Ukraine holding on with a terrible hope that missiles will cease raining down, that missing sons and daughters and husbands will come home, that the freezing winter will be over and that help will come from somewhere.

It must be so difficult for them to keep hope alive.

In our much gentler circumstances we wait for the feast of Christmas. But it’s difficult for us in Australia to think of these days as a time of waiting. In our hemisphere so much is about finishing; school graduations, book clubs taking a long break, parties at work, final examinations.

The year is coming to a close and we are probably waiting for a welcome holiday away camping or swimming at the beach.

But still we light Advent candles one by one and remind ourselves that the birth of a baby at Christmas means a time of waiting as it does for all women pregnant with a child growing in her womb; for all fathers waiting for the child to appear.

This is a potent image, not to be submerged by too much tinsel and shopping.

Ann Belford Ulanov, a mother, priest and psychologist, writes of the strange psychologic and physical metamorphosis a pregnant woman undergoes and that this is a model for all spiritual transformation in our own lives.

It is important to reflect on the spiritual and religious imagery of Christmas and feel the pulse of new birth stirring in our own lives.

At this time before Christmas it can be a good thing to be quiet sometimes and ask our heart

‘What are you waiting for. What new birth is longing to appear in my life?’

HIDDEN TREASURE

Who would have thought that the fate of such a small insect would cause consternation and distress among so many of us?

The news that a dangerous virus threatens our bees brings home to us just how dependent we are on nature, in spite of our huge advances in technology. Worried beekeepers have seen their hives destroyed so that an introduced mite causing this disease, cannot spread. Orchardists fear the failure of fruit trees and market gardeners their vegetables. They all depend on bees for the pollination and health of their gardens.

We depend on them as well.

We’ve always known this, I suppose, but sometimes it takes a catastrophe to wake up to the implications that what happens to the bees affects us all in so many areas.

Watching the distress of a beekeeper whose hives have been destroyed, you realise that it’s not just the material loss but some bond between them that goes deep into the soul (or psyche). The bees are such extraordinary little creatures in the way they form their communities; in the mathematically sophisticated, hexagonal cells within the hive and in the way they can communicate to each other the discovery of a bush full of honey-flowers.

Evolution has often been described as a competition – a struggle for survival. But between the bees and the flowering plants there is cooperation.

Now that flowers are beginning to appear in our gardens (even though winter is not quite over) I watched a bee struggling to thrust its way in to the centre of a tiny pink flower. The petals of the flower were trumpeting ‘Come and visit me!’ but it wasn’t an easy way to the centre. The precious stamens were hidden inside so that in the struggle to get to the centre, the bee could dislodge a few grains of pollen and the flower would live again next Winter.

In the writings of the mystics – those explorers of the invisible realities – a hidden treasure is often mentioned, as well as the struggle to discover it. The Sufi mystic, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee sometimes quotes God as saying, ‘ I was a hidden treasure longing to be found.’

Jesus tells the story of someone discovering a treasure hidden in the earth. It’s not there just for the taking; there is the struggle to go away and to earn enough money to buy that field and take possession of the treasure.

In their book Bio-Spirituality, the authors, Campbell and McMahon remind us that our biological connectedness to a vast Process of Unification will gradually reveal itself. We hope to witness to this Process by walking the Labyrinth on Saturday 20th August in a celebration of bees! Join us.

The Coming of the Light

Last week, we walked the Labyrinth For the Earth. There is a lovely Japanese myth that celebrates the earth and what comes from it. It links earth and sky together. This is a re-writing of the sketch of the story we read together. It can be found in Sansom’s Japan: A short cultural History.

The Myth of Ameratsu, the Sun Goddess. Japan. 

The Goddess Ameratsu was the Shining One. She circled the sky each day bringing light and warmth and nourishment for the crops. In her light, fish swarmed in the waters of the inland sea, great trees covered the mountains and the people were happy and prosperous. 

But all was not well among the gods. Ameratsu’s brothers were a troublesome lot, fighting and feuding the length of the land. They refused to listen to her pleas for peace and were particularly rude in the way they replied to her. 

Offended, Ameratsu decided to take herself away from the ceaseless din of warfare. She retired into a cave, deep in the earth and stayed there, refusing the other gods’ requests to come back to her place in the heavens. Earth and the heavens grew dark and cold. All life was affected. The crops failed and the fish disappeared into the depths of the sea. The plentiful streams that tumbled from the mountains, froze. People cried to the gods for assistance but to no avail. 

At last, the gods made a plan. They assembled outside Ameratsu’s cave. They covered the trees in jewels and lit a great fire that gave light and warmth. Then they joined hands and began to dance. One of the goddesses danced so wildly (and a bit disgracefully) that everyone began to laugh. 

Deep in her cave, Ameratsu heard the laughter. She was curious and crept to the mouth of the cave. One of the gods was waiting there at the entrance and, as she peeped out, held up a huge mirror in front of her. Ameratsu saw her own shining beauty (which she had forgotten about in the darkness of the earth). When the mirror drew away, she followed. As she emerged, the earth and heavens were filled once more with her light, gradually at first, like the first dawn, then growing stronger as the Sun at midday. The gods and goddesses celebrated her return; the brothers vowed that they would fight no more and the whole land and the people were at peace. 

This week some of us celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first followers of Jesus. The symbols of the feast always show a descent of fire from above. In an extraordinary way the disciples were drawn from their fear-filled hiding place in the upper room, out into the streets where they must have sounded like the fiery prophetic voices of the past. Just as Ameratsu gained courage to emerge from the darkness by seeing her own light reflected back to her

Perhaps one way to think of the Holy Spirit is as a great mirror held up to each of us so that we too can know the hidden light we all hold within ourselves.

What is Cosmic Time?

Last week, at our monthly retreat day, we took part in a guided meditation – travelling on the Road of Your Life.

It’s a popular meditation but it hadn’t been done for many years so it was a surprise to find that it still had a ‘freshness’ about it.

In a meditation like this, we tend to look back on our life and the kind of road we’ve walked – stony or smooth? And we look forward to see how we are feeling about the future: hopeful or not.

The ‘road travelled’ is mainly about past and future; linear time or ‘chronos’ time. In our contemporary Western societies time is usually seen as ‘linear’. We look back at history in a chronological way – ‘before the Christian Era’ or so many units of time after it.

This clarifies the concept of time for us; makes it manageable and concrete.

But there is another description of Time as Cosmic or Kairos-time. This experience of time happens, I think, when we have a sense of time as ‘standing still’. We seem to be in another reality which is fullness, infinite, mysterious and yet somehow familiar.

We have all had moments when time seems to stand perfectly still and we are held in that stillness; it could be a moment of utter beauty – or otherwise.

The Victorian poet, Edward Thomas, described one of these moments of what we could call ‘ kairos time’ in his little story-poem: Adelstrop.

He is in an express train travelling through the English countryside. Because of the Summer heat, everyone in the carriage is dozing. Unexpectedly, the train stops at a station, there is the hiss of steam and no other sound in the quiet afternoon. In that moment, a kind of hiatus in time, he sees the countryside with a clarity and beauty he has never experienced before.

‘And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloustershire.’

Time and space expanded for him in that moment when he was held in the stillness of the present.

(Sadly, Edward Thomas was killed not long after in the First World War.)

We can all remember moments like his – perhaps holding a newborn baby or watching a sunset or standing in the Australian bush.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book The Power of Now,  urges us to practise staying in the Present. It can be quite difficult for some of us but he describes it as powerful- a different experience! Our culture doesn’t encourage us to find these moments of presence but if we can, life can expand for us and we may see things in a new light.

News

After spending all of his Christmas holidays in S. Sudan organising the start of the school building programme James has returned to Australia with much to report and many stories and videos to share.  He is proud to announce that the foundations for 8 classrooms and an administration building have been laid, and that most of the school should be completed by early April when the rainy season starts.  His village is buzzing with activity and  enthusiasm!

 

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