Gungor's song 'Beautiful Things' is a wonderful modern anthem for Ash Wednesday. For it is possible to regard this key date in the Christian calendar as a gloomy day, overly obsessed with sin. death, and other aspects of human finitude. It is certainly a time for facing up to ourselves and our world, our limitations, failings and lack of ultimate control. Yet this should only be in order to be re-charged with faith, hope and love, through the grace of God. For Ash Wednesday is about renewing our participation in God's love in solidarity with others. In the midst of our personal and wider struggles, it is a message not to despair but to take fresh heart. As Gungor put it:
All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found, in you...
I have come across people who really dread the Christian season of Lent. They have experienced it as a dreary time of deprivation and dull hymns. Yet it can be a wonderful time of renewal and opportunity.
The first question when it comes to Lent is ' shall I let something go or take something on?'. Either can be effective. The purpose is to do something that helps to focus our attention and turn us God-ward. So whether it is remembering not to eat meat or chocolate, or remembering to find five minutes in a day to spend time in silence, the outcome is the same.
Great things to let go can be excess time spent on social media, TV or even email as well as more traditional abstinences from sugar or alcohol. Making a little space in our day can enable opportunity for more creative ways to interact with God and God's world.
So think about committing to taking a walk in nature each day, with God as your companion. You might like then to ask questions, such as 'what is God bringing to my attention in the things I see and hear?'. Or perhaps you might like to spend some focused time in such pursuits as reading, painting or gardening. The important thing is the intent. Remember this is time set aside to be more attentive to God.
Other activities that can bring Lent to life include interacting with others in a study group or out in the community, tidying up some waste ground or helping a refugee child to read. For remember that the idea of Lent is not just to mark the forty days in a focused way. It is also about creating habits and relationships that continue after Lent and become part of every day. So for example if you try to focus your attention every time you pass through a doorway and remember that Christ walks with you when you do that, hopefully you will always have that sense of Christ's accompanying in future.
So talk with God about what will be life giving for you and breathe new life into your spiritual journey. Use your imagination and realise that anything pretty much can be used as a doorway to the divine. And talk to others about what you intend to do, so that they can hold you accountable and encourage you. One way to do that is to take part in a Lent group. We will have two in the parish, to be held at St. Francis College, one on a Wednesday from 1.30-3pm and the other on a Thursday 7-8.30pm. The material will be the same, so if you miss a session on Wednesday you can catch up on Thursday. See you there!
The St Francis College site is such an ideal one for contemplative prayer of all kinds and It has been lovely in the last couple of days to have a simple temporary labyrinth in the grounds of Old Bishopbourne, close to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. This one was created by the School of Philosophy who also use the site and will be an encouragement to us as we explore this valuable contemplative tool in the days ahead. For labyrinths seem typically to emerge as spiritual aids at times of much societal and cultural change. Like the great labyrinths of European cathedrals in the middle ages they are a sign and means of personal and community renewal for us all. Why not pop by and try it out?
We live in such exciting and demanding times, in which we are connected in so many unprecedented ways. Yet these very connections can add such speed and complexity to our lives that we can feel overwhelmed. Meister Eckhart rightly indeed commented in his own age that 'God is here. It is we who have gone out for a walk.' Today we are typically not just walking but traveling at hyper-speed, and multi-tasking at the same time! It is into this context that the revival of contemplative prayer speaks as a vital gift.
This week we begin a new opportunity for contemplative prayer by starting a Christian Meditation group (as part of the Australian Christian Meditation Community on the St Francis College Milton site. This will be at 5.45 pm on Wednesdays, in the Annexe of Old Bishopbourne - just across from the Chapel of the Holy Spirit and in the first building on the right hand side of the through road from the Baroona Road entrance (ring 0477 444 095 or 0488 333 169 if you would like to come along and would like more information or a friendly face to meet you!).
Asked for a prayer, poem or other contribution to greeting Penny at her commissioning service, I could do no better than turn to John O'Donohue's wonderful book of blessings To Bless the Space Between Us. It was a blessing for the space that is the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, and not only for Penny, and I, but also for those who have long found their spiritual home elsewhere (above all at Christ Church Milton). Especially at this time, as we come this week to the pain and promise of the fateful date of 26 January, it is also a blessing for all human beings and their ancestors who have come to Australia. It is a reminder of the 'big history' and mystery beyond us all.
May it be a blessing to all:
Before a human voice was ever heard here,
This place has known the respect of stone,
The friendship of the wind, always returning
With news of elsewhere, whispered in seed and
The thin symphonies of birdsong softening the silence,
The litanies of rain rearranging the air,
Cascades o sunlight opening and closing days,
And the glow of the moon gazing through
May all that elemental enrichment
Bless the foundation and standing of your home.
Before you came here, this place has nown
The wonder of children's eyes,
The hope of mornings in troubled hearts,
The tranquillity of twilight easing the night,
The drama of dreams under sleeping eyelids,
The generous disturbance of birth,
The anxieties of old age unclenching into grace
And the final elegance of calmly embraced death.
May the life of your new home enter
Into this inheritance of spirit.
May the rain fall kindly,
May daylight illuminate your hearts,
May the darkness never burden,
May those who dwell here in the unseen
Watch over your coming and going.
May your lives of love and promise
Refine and deepen the spirit of this land.
The day before my commissioning the light bulbs were changed in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit - a risky process with tall ladders reaching into every nook and cranny. As the power was switched on fresh light illuminated the beautiful stone work and brought brilliance to the central picture behind the altar, the scene of Christ's birth. Today is a kind of new birth for me and for our community, so this is an important picture to contemplate. Christ is born anew in each of us in every moment, enabling us to connect in fresh and creative ways with all that surrounds us. So as the fresh light of the Spirit brightens this day, may we trust ourselves to this new beginning.
(photo: Brisbane Sunrise by Sam Petherbridge, on Flickr)
Jo Inkpin, Penny Jones, Peter Jeffery, Ann Edwards, Elizabeth McConnell