I have just been to a weekend meeting called Synod, which is basically about the running of the Uniting Church in WA, where our priority’s lie, and how we support one another. It was actually pretty good, lots of discussion and ways we can continue be a presence in the community for peace, justice and reconciliation. To be Jesus followers in a world which isn’t sometimes interested. Of course it is also about budgets and rules and …..
But the best part is connecting again with those who are trying to make a difference, both inside and outside the church. I had a chat to one young man, about how we can get a message of hope to a world sadly devoid of it. I talked about my blog, that I use it as a way of sharing both little things and big things, both things that are happening in my life and things that are happening around me and in the world. I use it as a way to reflect and understand the God I truly believe is found in the midst of life. He was reasonably impressed that a person my age could be so computer savvy! But he suggested I should post more often, share my thoughts more often.,
So that is what I am going to do! If you can stand it!
The other night I was watching Q and A. Most of it was about the new prime minister, the rights and wrongs of changing a first team leader, and what Malcolm (everyone seemed to be his friend) was or wasn’t going to do.
But there was also Joan Baez, a singer songwriter from the protest years of the 60s in America, but still singing and writing the most beautiful poetic songs. Her voice lingers on in the memory.
The final question of the night was about hope, and with all the terrible things going on in the world today, did she still had hope. The questioner actually asked, “Whether deep in her heart did she feel that we can still overcome (alluding to one of the great protest songs of the 60s, which was also a gospel song)”
Her answer was beautiful (I probably have paraphrased slightly here),
“We live it a time of little victories and big defeats. We are now seeing a massive defeat. But every little victory, every little decent thing we do, makes a difference. Every little bit of the things young and old people do for others counts now more than ever. We will have a time when we are together, but we are in a mean time now and how we behave in this time will reflect in our future”
She closed the show with a song by Steve Earle, called “God is God”.
I was blown away by the song, so I chased up the lyrics and have also included a YouTube video…
I believe that as a church we should be singing these sorts of songs, because they touch the heart and soul of each one of us, and give us hope to act in the world, with God. We have to believe it is the small victories that will lead to change. Joan did, and does.
These should be the hymns of our day!
So as the song says…
“God Is God”
I believe in prophecy. Some folks see things not everybody can see.
And, once in a while, they pass the secret along to you and me.
And I believe in miracles. Something sacred burning in every bush and tree.
We can all learn to sing the songs the angels sing.
Yeah, I believe in God, and God ain’t me.
I’ve travelled around the world, Stood on mighty mountains and gazed across the wilderness.
Never seen a line in the sand or a diamond in the dust. And as our fate unfurls,
Every day that passes I’m sure about a little bit less.
Even my money keeps telling me it’s God I need to trust.
And I believe in God, but God ain’t us.
God, in my little understanding, don’t care what name I call.
Whether or not I believe doesn’t matter at all. I receive the blessings.
That every day on Earth’s another chance to get it right.
Let this little light of mine shine and rage against the night.
Just another lesson
Maybe someone’s watching and wondering what I got.
Maybe this is why I’m here on Earth, and maybe not.
But I believe in God, and God is God.
I sit here writing after being at a Light the Dark rally in Perth last night. It was good to do something to help, to maybe change a few minds and offer solidarity to those suffering around the world. And here in Australia.
The current Syrian refugee crisis has been a crisis for a long time, with over 60 million people displaced either within their own country, or in other countries. These people are not just from Syria but from all over the world where there is war or persecution. Many of the countries taking these refugees, but particularly the Syrian refugees, are the smallest and the poorest. One wonders how that can be!! What about us.
I have become involved with refugees via Amnesty International, but have long been very uncomfortable with the rhetoric and the policies not just of this Australian government but governments before them. Stopping the boats seems to have been the prime focus, without due thought to what happens to the people on the boats, or in the countries where the boats are leaving from. The silence surrounding the policy means we never find out what is really happening. By limiting the information, by using numbers instead of names, it is easy to forget they are people just like us, who want security, peace, homes and a life with and for their families. It seems to me that compassion and love for our fellow human beings doesn’t win votes.
I have been visiting people in the Northam detention centre for the past year or so as part of friendship visits organised by a friend of mine. Not too many, about 10 men, fairly young and from different places, mostly in the Middle East or Pakistan. They came to escape persecution, certain death, or both, but now find themselves in prison, for that is what the detention centre is, without much hope of release in the foreseeable future.
They have been held in detention for between 1 and 4 years, not all at Northam. It seems there is an active inertia on behalf of those who should be processing their claims, such that their hope of a resolution seems so very far away. Regardless of their refugee status, and most would or have been declared a refugee, they are locked up for years.
They speak English, most of them, and our visits can vary from reasonably light hearted to confronting when they reveal a little of what they or their families have gone through. Or when their real feelings show through. They try to engage with us but often despair and anger and frustration overwhelm them. When that happens the visits can be soul destroying.
The other day was a bad day for everyone…
I had not visited for 7 weeks because I had been overseas on a holiday. Moving from country to country freely, seeing the sights and enjoying the different cultures.
How could I tell them that I had been to Rome, visited St Peters, and swam in the Mediterranean with my two sons, similar in age to them?
When they felt isolated and alone.
How could I tell them that I could leave as I wished, with a passport not only accepted but welcomed by most countries, ah you are Australian, come in…come in…
When they felt abandoned, that no one cared whether they live or died.
How could I tell them we had just been enjoying the warm weather of Spain, the beautiful Camino walk where pilgrims hope to find direction for their lives?
When they felt caged, like criminals (which they are not) with no future.
How could I tell them of the beautiful Cathedrals, the amazing food, the beautiful coast line and the long summer nights in Spain?
When they felt deprived of all that is good in the world, what they loved and enjoyed.
How could I tell them about London, the amazing British library, and the cricket (although that wasn’t so amazing)?
When they are silenced, and unable to tell their stories.
How could I tell them about Dublin, the green and lush countryside, the incredible cliffs and the wild ocean?
When they are angry at the policies that have taken any hope of a new life from them.
I couldn’t. In fact to talk about our lives, even our ordinary everyday lives seems cruel and unusual punishment. Their lives are on hold, their families are on hold, and there is little we can do about it until our country and our government finds some heart and soul. Visiting these men seems a very small act. Let us not forget them and the others, on Manus Island, Naru and Christmas Island in the coming days and weeks.
They too deserve our compassion, now.
Thanks Eric Bogle, for the title and for the song! Look it up as I can’t upload it, but here is a taste…
“Won’t you throw me down a lifeline for the ship is sinking fast
And I’m afraid that I might drown before the storm has passed
And oh, what if I’m set adrift upon the raging sea
What will become of me? What will become of me?
Won’t you throw me down a lifeline and help me climb on board
Then together we”ll all sail to find our golden shore
Peace and joy are waiting there when the weary hearts come home
But we can’t find it on our own. We can’t find it on our own”
So as it is the first of September, and I haven’t written a blog for a while I thought this was a good time to start again. I have had lots of ideas on what to write, but as we have only been home for less than 2 weeks from our 7 week extravaganza overseas, it has taken a while to get the discipline to write anything.
However I feel I have to reflect on our holiday one more time in print, and I apologise, because it will contain some more of the walk. So here goes….
It is hard coming back from holidays. Somehow you have been in a different place, at a different pace, experiencing different things, and then, woosh, you are back. It’s a bit like time travelling. Yet the things we learn and experience on our holiday can sometimes affect us for the rest of our life.
So let me share a few.
We were in Dingle in Ireland, where I had been when I was in my 20s. I wanted to go to a bookshop/coffee shop that I loved then, and initially we found a bookshop which we thought was the one. However when I casually asked the owner, when buying a couple of books, whether there were any more bookshops in town, she surprising replied, oh yes there is one that has been here for many years. So we were in the wrong one! We followed her lead and sure enough there it was. So much for my 50 year old memory. A bookshop coffee shop before there was such a thing in Australia, which had been in the same place in Dingle for 37 years, with the same owners! It specialized in Irish writers, and had many, many books by John O’Donohue, a priest, and poet, who a friend introduced me to. So of course I bought one, for Dorothy and I to share! And took the obligatory photo.
When I took this book home, it spoke to me of Ireland, but also of the spirit, and of the God we come to find in nature. It is gentle, rather like the author, and reflects on life and the heart of our faith. It finds God or something spiritual (if you don’t want to use the term God) in the world around us. But also encourages us to find quiet time, reflective time, in which to embrace it.
So recently Matt and I have been lucky.
As you know (unless you haven’t been reading my blogs!) we completed a section of the Camino De Santiago, an ancient walking trail in Spain while we were away. It is also known as “The Way of St James” because it follows a pilgrimage taken by Christians from medieval times to the city of Santiago de Compostela. While today there are many paths to Santiago, the most popular is the French way, the one we followed, which is about 700 kms. Don’t panic though, we only did 110kms. People do the Camino, either the short or longer versions for many reasons. However while there are those who now walk it for exercise, or who bike ride or even use horses, it still has a great deal of spiritual significance. It is a pilgrimage that allows people to listen to their inner voice, what drives them, what gives them meaning and purpose, what sense if any do they have of God.
So as we walked, one step at a time, getting into a rhythm which placed us firmly in the here and now, not looking too far into the future and not looking back, these meditative aspects of the Camino were often on display.
We passed a lot of stone markers that point the way on the Camino, ancient signs that direct the traveller. These are very comforting, for those of us lacking directional sense. On them are often written notes, or notes are placed under stones. Many others have piles of stones on the top without notes. Towards the end of the Camino as you come into Santiago there are a length of steel fences that go on for some time. On these fences we found crosses, shoes, papers, poems, anything really that reflected the inner journey the walkers had been on, what they have left behind, what insight they have gained. It seems symbolic, this ritual placing of the stones or objects, as people shed things as they walked, giving up what was unimportant and superficial to them and perhaps discovering what instead was real and essential.
But it wasn’t just the symbolic letting go that occurred, people found voices about what they wanted to do as well, how they should live. There were many signs left along the way, many writings on bins, on bits of paper, on the road, that called us to act in the world, to make the world a better place. One person wrote out the song Imagine by John Lennon, on about 10 separate bins as we passed by. Every 5 kms or so there was a bin with another line on it. Others had statements written on trees, “we have two lives and the second one starts when we realize we only have one”, another one, “be the change”. Still others placed quotes and statements of poets and writers across the path on string. Anything from Jesus to Mark Twain. It was amazing. Walking the Camino is like an active meditation. By reflecting on life and even God, by listening, many people found themselves working out how they wanted to be in the world. And it was to live a life for others.
I think one of the best ones came from Anthony, our friend with the donkey, “love only love”.
For myself personally, I didn’t leave any stones or shoes or notes or even walking sticks, but I did feel lighter and freer at the end of the walk. As you all know there was a great deal of change and upheaval in my own life before we left, and so to have time to reflect, to feel and see the beautiful countryside, to engage with people from all over the world in gently conversation, opened a space in which the light shone in.
At the end of the walk once you enter the Cathedral Square in Santiago pilgrims head to what is known as the Pilgrims Office. Walkers are given a certificate printed in Latin, with your names in Latin inscribed on it, as though this was the beginning of something new. For the first time ever, when asked what I did for an occupation, I put Minister, rather than Scientist. With all the good and bad things that conjures up!
I know it seems a rather small step, but it marked a significant change in my life. A transformation in fact. Maybe I could accept all the contradictions tied up with being a follower of Jesus and that I do belong to a tradition that seeks God, and always will. I probably should have put my work book from RPH on the fence!
It also marked a change in membership, we had joined the Camino family and would never be the same again….
So my experience on the Camino, and on may other parts of our trip opened a newer way of being a person of faith. The inward journey, the meditative part, the inner voice seems more important now. I am utterly convinced that the God we meet in our deepest self, in the heart of us, drives us to be better people, better communities and hopefully a better more just world. And that Jesus leads by example!
But don’t get me wrong, I am new at this game really. I have always been a “head” person, a person of reason, I want to reason my faith, and now with the progressive Christian movement there is a place to understand Christianity and the historical Jesus and even God without leaving as they say, your brain at the door. Seeing God in all things, from the moment the universe began to what we have become now opens up a freedom not given to previous generations of people who confess a faith. It also opens up ways of seeking the wisdom in other faith traditions, sharing together our common bonds.
But I can also see in our busy, work centred lives, the lives where every second is filled that there is a need to actively seek silence or stillness, a time to empty the mind of the thoughts of the day and just be. If we find these places, then maybe we will also find the ground of our being and the being of the world. God can speak to us in these moments, just as the spirit can speak to us anywhere. But we have to be listening and that is the problem most of the time.
So I think I want to start some meditation, some quite moments in my day in an intentional way, and maybe introduce these at Wembley Downs Uniting in some way. Not that this community has not had that in the past, they have, but it is time to revisit them. We are hoping to build a labyrinth which is an ancient sacred way of replicating the Camino in the future. For not many people can walk 700kms!
So as I finish this blog I want to return to Ireland and John O’Donohue. Let me read a small passage from the introduction of the book I bought, which is called “Walking on the Pastures of Wonder”. It talks about the Burren Valley of his birth, which Matt and spent time walking in. It seems a good place to end, for today. For the journey will take a life time!
“Either way, as you travel this path and you look up at the sides of the valley as they climb to the horizon, all you can see is barren limestone speckled with green. The mind wonders how life could be sustained here, but if you could be guided by the wonder of your heart and you took a chance to cross the wall (without knocking it!) and climb, you could be starting a pilgrimage. Hidden in the fissured face of the mountain are surprising shelves of green showing to the sky, which sustain and nourish the animals over the bleak winter. Here you can gaze and graze in the wondrous pastures and the conversation begins. In this awakening you realise that, having tasted the mountains, nibbling at the sides of the path will satisfy you no longer”