My eldest sister sent me a short presentation on the retirement of my grandmother. I had no idea of the influence she had had. There were newspaper articles celebrating her contribution, in particular founding the school library at Roosevelt in what was then Rhodesia.
I knew she had been a well loved teacher. But I was completely unaware of the influence that she did have. She retired at 71 – four years before I was born.
In this month when we celebrate the contribution of women, it is perhaps fitting for me to salute this woman. She clearly had great courage and great strength of will. She came out to Rhodesia from Scotland when she was 25 in 1925. No small move in those days.
She worked as a teacher for several years before marrying and having children. When she returned to full time work she took a position as an income tax assessor – the first woman in the country to have that role! She returned to her passion – teaching – ten years later.
She raised three children on her own. And took on this task of building this library when my mother was still a teenager.
As I look back now I recognise there must have been so much more to her than I ever realised. But families are never simple and she died when I was 15.
It is decades too late to speak in person, but I salute my Granny Appleby – my mother’s mother – nonetheless.
Cynthia Bourgeault speaks of Centering Prayer as a practice of kenosis. A practice of surrendering one’s thoughts through the use of the centering word.
Richard Rohr and Jim Finley are both slightly more pragmatic – it is an opportunity to encounter failure and keep on trying.
James Alison would frame it as allowing our desires to be shaped by the desires of God.
How one understands what happens is almost immaterial. It remains true for most of us that for the vast majority of time we cannot sustain not getting caught by any particular thought for a 20 minute period.
We can try, and the attempt is valuable. It is in the attempt that consciousness is rewired. All we can do is to show up and try. The rare occasion it actually does give way to contemplation is not in our hands to achieve. All we can do is place ourselves in the path of least resistance.
It occurs to me that perhaps love between two people is not dissimilar (and I mean any kind of relationship from close friendship to spouse). In recent years I have made a commitment to be as honest as I can be in my close friendships. The result is not always comfortable.
What is most evident is how often misunderstanding and miscommunication are in play. The attempt to show up as most fully myself is a business of trial and plenty of error.
Mostly I fail.
But the attempt to show up is the act of love.
There is miscommunication and there is misunderstanding, but if we are both able to presume generosity of spirit, then all is grist to the mill.
The me that is showing up is not the socially conditioned me, it is version of me which is closest to my True Self as I am capable of today. I’m not sure there is anything else.
I’m grateful to those those who have been willing to enter this space with me. And I am grateful that occasionally it does break open into a feeling of loving and being loved.
On Saturday I wandered into Greenpoint Park and walked the labyrinth. While I was slowly making my way out, a family came along. The two little girls, aged about 5 and 7, joined me. They rushed around jumping through gaps, the elder instructing the younger on what not to do. Both were slightly wary of the woman slowly walking around and around.
After successfully getting to the center (several times, using multiple ‘routes’) they left. As they departed the older one commented decisively ‘This maze is useless!’
She was right. As a maze it was utterly pointless.
Her declaration was useful to me though – it got me wondering…
When we get caught up in being successful and achieving and reaching goals that only have status meaning in the microcosmic world which we inhabit, life can feel a bit like a maze. But what if it is actually a labyrinth…
How many of us are desperately trying to solve the riddle rather than simply being present?
When we begin the labyrinth we don’t the exact path we are going to take, but we know we’ll get to the center eventually, and then we will walk back out. If we take each step slowly and deliberately, and if we try to remain present (even with interruption of little people) something will happen.
If we take each step through life slowly and deliberately, putting in the effort we should, some successes may well come. There will be a few curve balls, and perhaps some unexpected crushing disappointments. But I am sure my success is more likely with this approach than trying to ‘solve the maze’ anyway.
So I am left asking myself where am I still trying to conquer the maze when I am really called to walk the labyrinth?
I am on day six of my 30 days of beauty challenge. It is well worth doing. I have become significantly more aware of the beauty in my life.
I am much more aware of the astounding scenery which frames my daily commute from Pinelands to Stellenbosch everyday. The changing light and the beauty of the formation of the clouds. Obviously I can’t capture any of this share as I am driving, but it sets me up for my day in a wonderful way.
I am more likely to read poetry and to listen to a song which has been shared precisely because I am wanting to find beauty. And I do, over and over again.
The practice of the search for beauty is making every day significantly richer. It isn’t that I am ignoring the pain and suffering, it is just holding the tension of the entire spectrum of life rather than focusing just on one aspect.
I shouldn’t be surprised that this has been the effect, although I confess that I am. Several years ago I started a 30 days of gratitude challenge – the effect on my life has been lasting. I am more grateful as a result. And I think I am genuinely more content.
Where we choose to focus our energy really does matter. And we really do have a choice. Maybe it is time to start your own 30 day challenge – it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it has the capacity to draw you into awe, wonder and gratitude.
We need to practice savouring the good because our minds do discard the good if we don’t. We need to hold something we appreciate for at least 15 seconds or it will slip away (the teflon mind). Negative interactions require no such effort we cling to those like velcro. (You can read more about this http://www.rickhanson.net/take-in-the-good/)
I came across this picture on the Charter for Compassion Facebook page. It appeared just a day after I had posted a beautiful picture of some giraffes on my own page adding the caption ‘A little beauty goes a long way…’
With all the senseless terror
With all the hateful political rhetoric
With all the ridiculous shaming of those who dare to hold an opinion other than our own
With the terrible violence
I feel a strong draw to intentionally focus on beauty for a little while. I’m going to commit to a challenge to find one thing of beauty every day and to share it.
I’m going to do this every day for the next thirty days. Why don’t you join me?
Simply post something beautiful to your social media account every day. If you aren’t on social media – just share your object of beauty with one other person.
If you want to see what I am finding beautiful you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
I’m starting with Jessye Norman singing Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg_EHUGRgos).
I still remember watching the United States army rolling into the Baghdad and toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the realisation that violence begets violence.
There is no lasting victory in violence. The temporary relief and euphoria soon wear off. And in the world we live in now, it seems that a new threat will emerge or retaliation will be taken and cycle continues.
It is truly horrific.
I do not make policy decisions; as a foreigner I do not even have the capacity to influence which political party gets into power; I have no power in any meaningful sense to change anything concrete.
But I can make a commitment to nonviolence. This is a internal process. I need to look at my thought processes. Do I allow myself to dehumanise others by using denigrating language in my head? What do I do with my anger? What am I doing to reduce suffering?
I must also choose not to support the glorification of violence in the media.
These choices are daily choices. And if I practice enough it will impact my way of being in the world. It won’t have a major impact on our world unless others do likewise. Will you join me?
Like so many of my fellow Zimbabweans in the diaspora, I have been watching the events in Zimbabwe this last week.
It is quite awe inspiring to watch the courage of Pastor Evan Mawarire. He started the #thisflag movement some months ago. It has caught the imagination and attention of all Zimbabweans. The notion that an ordinary citizen without political affiliation can inspire the shut down of the country for a day is almost unthinkable.
One of the great joys of the Zimbabwean people is that they are quite peaceful. They do simply make a plan when things get tough. Alas that has meant that they have suffered far too long under a repressive regime.
But now, one man has inspired mass action. It is nothing short of miraculous that the charges against him were dropped yesterday. I have no doubt that the state controlled media will begin a vicious character attack against him. The combination of spurious legal allegations and libelous attack has been used over and over again to discredit those who stand up.
It is amazing to watch all the lawyers who showed up to defend him. All the church leaders who showed up in support. And the hundreds of ordinary Zimbabweans draped in the flag. Whatever happens this moment shows that there are still people of extraordinary vision who can inspire the action of thousands of others.
I pray for all those who support this brave man. I pray for his wife and for his children. And I pray for my country. I sincerely hope this marks the start of a new era.
Spiritual formation is an path unlike any other. Initially we think we are taking the initiative. We begin to engage more in prayer; we join a faith community; we read spiritual books. And it works. We feel more connected to God. We begin to trust that God might actually love us.
And then life happens. We suffer in some way. It is painful and disorienting. We discover that the God image we have constructed fails us.
There are three responses. The first and probably most common these days is to lose faith entirely. We conflate the failure of the image of God we have constructed with God and throw the baby out with the bathwater. The second is to try and recapture the earlier enthusiasm. This doesn’t work it is like trying to recapture romance. Once the projection has failed it cannot be put back together.
The third is to sit in the discomfort and wait. It helps tremendously to have companions in this time. If we are able to sit in this space long enough something new emerges. This time God takes the initiative. Ultimately we are led through our interior landscape. We discover limitations and blocks in ourselves which we never noticed before. We are incapable of increasing our faith or our love, all we can do is to pay attention to the obstacles when we see them
‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’ Rumi
It requires vulnerability and courage. But it opens us in ways that are quite unexpected and truly life giving.
It is perhaps one of the most devastating things to discover that we are capable of hurting those we love without intending to. It is awful too, to discover the ways in which we are capable of self-sabotaging ourselves.
The obvious response is to despise those parts of ourselves which cause such destruction. But that gets us nowhere.
The only way to a way through is to lovingly embrace those parts of ourselves which we are least able to accept. To pray for the grace to be able to accept that this is a part of me.
We find ourselves stumbling into self-compassion. Reaching out and caring for the least parts of ourselves. Tending to those most tender parts – which so like children from abusive backgrounds misbehave and act out. We must embrace and accept that which we find unacceptable in ourselves.
It is only at this point that our woundedness and pain becomes wrapped in the chrysalis of transformation. Our pain and our woundedness cannot be transformed unless we spin the chrysalis of compassion and acceptance ourselves.
God provides the invitation and the support we need, be we need to make the choice and do the work.
‘Anam cara’ is a Celtic term meaning ‘soul friend’. I have been tremendously blessed in the last decade or so. Slowly, slowly, I have come to know the blessing to such encounters.
Some have an inherent gentle rhythm, some have a brief intensity. But all retain a deep, soulful resonance which overcome both distance and time.
It is always a grace, always unexpected, and always healing. This time I have no words to describe the encounter, except to say that in one beautiful exchange it was almost sacramental.
There is something so moving when two souls resonate. It doesn’t happen by accident. It is a choice. A willingness to engage with vulnerability.
It is a tremendous gift, and each time I am granted the privilege of encountering this space anew, it has a different flavour, a different feel. And I am led further into the mystery of relationship which we call God.