The Empty Creches

All around the city were empty creches. Outside and inside the churches, near shops and outdoor markets, the animals gathered in the straw, with Mary and Joseph kneeling, their arms open in anticipation, expectation, wonder, hope and I imagine a bit of fear. In each creche, the manger was empty.

In my home city, churches sometimes display the Nativity Scene, but often we put Jesus in the picture from the moment it is set up. Yet some don’t. I know in the church I last served we held him aside till Christmas Eve. Right now, I’m away in an officially Catholic country. Even though officially Catholic with many churches, it is known as a very secular country and the city is a showcase of material beauty. Yet here, creches abound and they are always with an empty manger.

Day after day, leading up to Christmas as I wandered the city doing family activities and attending events, I noticed the empty mangers with Mary and Joseph waiting. My last Advent Reflection took me to the surrender of Mary, to her openness and willingness to receive what God had for her. That place of empty willingness. The moment of openness, of reception. The moment of being an empty manger.

Emptiness and fullness are two frequent themes for Jesus. He said he came that he might give us full and abundant life, a life overflowing with Living Water and Light. But to receive such Life (a capital letter life) we needed to die, to let go of all that seemed significant, to detach from our parents, our families, even our ‘self’ and all that it clings to, in order that we might live. We must be broken open so new life could grow. We must set aside old wineskins, old ways, to taste the freshness of new wine and find the fullness of a new life.

Every helpful spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, ones who teach me to follow the pathway of Jesus, speak the same tough and true words to me. Let go Anne. Are you willing to let go of the old ways, so new life can emerge within you?  Again this year, seeing the empty mangers, I heard the invitation to open emptiness, to willingness. Am I willing to receive the new life of Christ within me? Am I willing to let his Life grow within me? Am I willing to follow where he might lead?

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A Different Kind of Chaos

 

Originally the focus of this blog was about how to be a contemplative in a chaotic world. There must be a way! I’ve been writing it for almost two years and I know it has been helpful to me. As I articulate the obstacles and challenges I’ve faced, as I’ve worked them through with you, my anonymous, gentle reader, I’ve repeatedly found my pathway. I know myself more deeply as a contemplative and I feel less and less overwhelmed by the circumstances around me. YEAH!

For the next few weeks I’ve got a different kind of chaos in my life. It’s self-imposed. I’ve initiated it, said yes to it and will stay in it. It’s a very common kind of chaos. I imagine most of you have experienced it, and many do so often. For most people it’s an enjoyable, even sought after chaos. Many simply call it ‘change’ and say it’s good for us. The chaos? I’m away from home, away from routines, away from my prayer chair, my ravine walks and with my dear husband 24/7. We’re travelling for three weeks.

Who can complain about travelling you might ask? (especially if you knew where we were, for it’s lovely!). But for me, I feel the chaos of it. Mediating in an airport or on board a plane or in a small shared space, just isn’t the same for me. Perhaps it exposes the superficiality of my practice. Perhaps it’s the level of my empath temperament. Perhaps it’s just normal. What I know, is that it simply isn’t the same. It gives me one more way to discover how to be a contemplative when I feel the chaos around me with altered circumstances and jet lag.

What anchors you? What provides you with the container for your contemplative practice? Do you know? It’s helpful to know, not only to be grateful for it, but also to know how to leave the container and keep your practice, your sense of presence wherever you go.

Added into the travel disruption is Christmas chaos too. Christmas always has it’s own kind of chaos with broken routines and celebrations, but this year for me it is even more different. It is the first year in many years without parish responsibilities and celebrations. I’m away from the usual Christmas services, away from my community of Contemplative Fire and in a foreign land, with people who don’t walk with the Christ of Christmas.

So for these three weeks, I’m walking through the disruption of travel and an enhanced Christmas chaos. I packed my travel yoga mat and a favourite Christian contemplative teacher as I re-read one of his books. I brought along good intentions to exercise, eat well (!) and keep my Advent practices in place of present moment living, fasting from negative thoughts and this week is a Jesus focus. Surely I can do it. Surely I can keep my sense of who I am, whose I am and live from a core of both peace and love. Surely I can. I know I’m never alone. Wherever I am, I’m known and valued.

If this is interesting to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Mystic in Motion

Contemplative Fire, Community Leader Canada

 

Decision-Making

I’ve currently got a major decision perking through my life and it led me to reflect on decision making and the implications of our decisions.

I have some basic guidelines I’ve been taught that make sense to me on how to make decisions – discernment principles we call them. It all depends on the size of decision of course, but some basic ones for me, for personal decisions are:

  • Don’t make major changes when in a place of doubt or desolation. Wait for consolation.
  • If I’m living lightly and in an open, loving place with God, a good choice or action will feel like a drop of water on a soft sponge.
  • Be honest and open with my needs and the needs of others around me who are affected by my decision.
  • Share my decision making with a wise Christian who knows me and listen to their perspective.
  • Wait for peace, deep internal peace and the clarity it brings.

These guidelines generally lead me to live thoughtfully, with purpose and clarity. Sometimes my pace is fast, sometimes it is slow, but it tends to be steady. People often describe me as peaceful, yet intense, anchored yet very productive. Such is Anne!

But… another whole intriguing side of decision making to me is the huge ‘what ifs’ that occur or don’t occur. What if I hadn’t said that thing, or written that email or taken that job, or married that person, or lived in that house/apartment….. and on and on and on.

Forty years ago, Hugh and I made a decision in our lives around where to live and raise our family. We decided to not move to Victoria but stay in Toronto. What if we had lived in Victoria? Who would we have met/not met? …… My daughter and her husband made a decision a year ago to raise their family in Paris. What if they’d decided to come to Toronto? How would my life, their neighbourhood, our city, our world be different?

Thomas Merton wrote that each moment in each event of each person’s life plants a seed within their soul. That was one of the life changing bits I received from him. Each decision we make has ripple effects within our own lives, but also the lives around us and the ripples extend out into the universe.

Decision-making ripples.  What choices are you making today? May you unhook your Pinball Brain. May they come from a place of quiet and peace within you. (see Nov 29 and Dec 6)

If this is interesting to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Mystic in Motion

Contemplative Fire, Community Leader Canada

 

 

The Quiet Centre at the Heart of Me

 

Last week I was ruminating on my Pinball Brain, but this week my focus is on my Quiet Centre. I’m actually writing these two blogs on the same day, just minutes apart. You’ll get them a week apart, but they are deeply connected.

At the same time as I’m living with my Pinball Brain, I also am in touch with a quietness that pervades my inner world. I’m very still inside myself these days. One day I sat at my abandoned art table and got out one of my creative books to see if it would stimulate me. As I read, the author described pictures emerging from within her. I realized that one of the reasons my art table is abandoned, is that there are no pictures emerging within me. When I started about ten years ago to intentionally learn to draw and paint, there were pictures that were emerging within me, but now there are no pictures. It’s not time to create at my table. It’s time to be quiet.

Not only are there no pictures within me, there are no lessons to teach, illustrations to share, sermons to preach, or ideas for groups. That’s a huge change for me. Since my call to ministry in 1990 I’ve regularly had a flow from within for teaching. I’m very quiet in my central core right now. I continue to hold that sense that God has lifted my gifting from me and I’m to be still. It’s unfamiliar, uncomfortable and beautiful at the same time.

No pictures, no lessons and there’s also no leadership initiative within me. I read leadership books and can feel the old stirring, but then it subsides again. I return to the quiet place.

The quiet place at my centre reaches out and touches so many parts of my life. I have no desire to be in groups, workshops, retreats or services. I’m still resting in the depth of what I experienced during my Sabbath Leave.

At my core is quietness and yet I live with a Pinball Brain.

That’s me for now. How are you?

If this is interesting to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Mystic in Motion

Contemplative Fire, Community Leader Canada

There’s a Pinball Machine Upstairs!

One night last week, I looked at the clock and it was 2.00AM. Sleep wasn’t happening. It was as if I’d forgotten how to fall asleep! I wasn’t worried about anything. There wasn’t a call to prayer that I recognized. I just wasn’t sleeping. I tried my usual ways of gentle music, repetitive prayer thoughts, even counting. It was when I tried to meditate that I realized what was going on. There was a pinball machine in my mind. The lights were flashing and bells were ringing!

I could, very briefly, sit there and watch the activity of my mind. It was racing around. This was no frolicsome roomful of playful puppies. No, this was a pinball machine of racing thoughts, banging into one another, stepping on one another, repeating again and again old or sometimes hoped-for conversations.

Whew. It was exhausting to watch. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exhausting enough to put me to sleep! 3.00AM clicked by and I was still awake.

Was it the stimulating evening I had with friends, the alcohol, abundance of both food and conversation? Most likely any one of those or the rolled-up combination of all combined to awaken in me such stimulation that sleep disappeared.

Have you ever had a time like that, when sleep eludes you, or you recognized the furious activity of your mind? What do you do?

I know for me, the first step is to recognize it. Ah yes, my mind is busy right now. I know I need to be gentle with myself, with my mind and hold the hope that I will sleep again. I know too, I can have a Pinball Brain during the day as well. I’ve come to value the ability to observe the pace of my mind, knowing there is much more to me than my thoughts. I seek the quiet, internal centre. I know that too and want to write about it next week.

Amazing – both a Pinball Brain and a Quiet Centre within one person. Aren’t we amazing beings!

If this is interesting to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Contemplative Fire, Community Leader Canada

 

The Way

I’m continuing some gentle study of First Nations spirituality. As I described a couple of weeks ago, the Elder showed me a gentle and grounded way to live. This morning, as I read about their understanding of the dependence that human beings have on plants and animals for their daily needs, I was aware how different their ways are from the ways I’ve been taught. I would need to live within a community that both carried those truths and lived from them to learn their ways. There is ‘a way’ that they follow.

In the early years, the New Testament years, to follow Jesus, the Risen Christ was to follow ‘The Way’. There was a new way to live, a way of forgiveness, of healing, of transformation that led into a new awareness of connectedness, that God’s love extended to ALL and we, who walked ‘The Way’, were to live as peacemakers and healers.

Yet as a child growing up in the church, I didn’t learn about ‘The Way’. I learnt rules, a moral code, prayers that were said like memory work, stories that were remote, not life shaping, and I learnt catechism. As a young adult, when I had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, I got closer to finding ‘The Way’ to live. I experienced some healing and re-direction in my life, yet many of my teachers still emphasized correct thinking rather than embracing me in a new way of life. They taught me a correct reading of scripture rather than an ongoing experiential encounter with God.

Is this not part of the reason many of our churches are empty on a Sunday morning?

As human beings, my awareness is that we don’t search for a moral code or correct teachings, but we do, in our most enlightened moments, search for a way to live, a well worn pathway that will brings a sense of purpose and meaning into our lives, a way that will teach how to get along with ourselves, with others, with our earth and with our Creator.

Today I sit with my Bible beside me, eager to enter the stories of Jesus, ready to follow his way of life. I know I’m to follow his way. He is my Chief Elder. I’m to continue to let him be my teacher. I’m to immerse myself within him and let him show me the other teachers he gifts me with, like my dog! I don’t need to persuade anyone else to follow me, but I will share, hopefully with growing humility, what My Elder has taught me and maybe together we will follow Him.

If this is interesting to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Contemplative Fire, Community Leader Canada

Mystic in Motion

Stillness

I’ve been drawn to the experience of stillness in the last while. A few times I’ve been aware of the invitation in prayer to be still after I leave the prayer time. I’m not to get caugstone and sand for stillness and actionht up in the busy conversations, the decisions that seem to need to be made, the city whirl. I’m to learn to be still. It’s partly emerged out of my attraction to the True Self work. I’ve experienced an inner stillness even when around me, it feels like chaos. It results in me feeling like I’m more myself, simpler, deeper, less pretentious, less a lot of things!

But it doesn’t mean I’m physically still. I’m still to be moving, but from a place of stillness. It doesn’t mean I don’t make any decisions, just that they’re to come from a still place.  A recent tag line on my email account was: Be still, be very, very still. And the I added to it: Be still and still moving.

As this was happening within me, one of our Companions inchild image for stillness and action

Contemplative Fire told me about a message he’d received during a Quaker Meeting. Ps 46 is often quoted, “Be still and know that I am God.” The speaker noted that the psalm said to be still, not to be silent. That is so much in alignment with what I’m learning. To be still doesn’t mean to be silent or not taking action. It means to be still within our soul, to be still and listening and knowing and being formed and guided by God’s Spirit.

In Contemplative Fire, part of our Rhythm is ‘Across the Threshold’. That refers to being led by the Spirit of God, perhaps into unfamiliar places. As with all our leaves, that one too is rooted in the central Wordless Space, in the deep stillness of God. We also talk about the Silence of God, about God’s first voice being silence. We become still within, listening to God’s silence and from the still, silent space we are formed and hear our life’s words and actions. How intriguing is that!  Out of stillness and silence come words and action and oh… those words and actions smell, feel so different from the ones that come out of my busyness!

What is your experience of stillness? Physical stillness? Interior stillness? Do you run from it, brush it off, find it impossible, or never consider it! How have you experienced the different sources of your words and actions?

If this is interesting to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Contemplative Fire , Community Leader Canada

Mystic in Motion

Lessons from My Dog (#257)

The dogs I’ve known love to gnaw on bones. They’ll spend ages licking, chewing, crunching and simply gnawing on their bones. After they’re done, they might hide them to pull out another day. If they dig them up again, or if I give it back to them another day, they’ll start to gnaw all over. Ah yes… a good bone to gnaw on.dog chewing on bone 1

So what’s this got to do with finding a contemplative pathway?? Well, today I was sitting on the bench in the locker room at my gym, and I took a look at what was going on in my head. Have you ever done that, stopped and become aware of the patter that is happening? Today I heard myself going over a conversation that I’ve had before. Actually, I’ve had that same inner dialogue, or variations of it, again and again in my mind. Suddenly I realized I was like my dog as he chews on a bone. I was going over the same old ground again and again. Why? What was I getting out of it?

As I stepped back to ask those questions, I put my bone down. I was able to stop gnawing on it. I was quite purposeful. I know that to replay that conversation in my head will not move the situation forward. What will help is if I’m still, if I’m quiet within myself, and trust the Spirit of God to do her work, within me, within others, throughout the world. Relax and trust in the slow work of God. Replaying, gnawing on an old situation doesn’t help. Trusting does.

I’m happy to give my dog a bone to chew on. There are times when I do need to think carefully through things, but much of the inner chatter, especially when it’s playing the same old tapes again and again – I want to set that aside. I’m not a dog. I don’t need to chew the same old things over and over.

How about you Gentle Reader….are you chewing on an old bone today?

If this is interesting to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Contemplative Fire, Community Leader Canada

Mystic in Motion

 

This Precious Treasure

Last week I had one of those nights where I wake and move to intercessions. I also read a bit and found Guujaaw’s poem, ‘The Box of Treasures’. I’ll leave you to Google that delight for yourself.  It inspired me to write my own reflection on Christian life. The poem feels a bit clumsy to me, perhaps unfinished, but so am I quite often!

This Precious Treasure

And I know the Christian life isn’t just historical, architectural space, Sunday worship, sacraments, Bible study and outreach.

It is all of these things….

And the sweep of hands that embrace the cosmos and then settle into heart space.

         It is the knowing of God everywhere

and being indwelt by Risen Christ.

It’s about the stories of Jesus as he touches, sees and draws people close to him….

places of healing, times of hope, the breath of peace,

the repeating moments of forgiveness …

offered and received,

again and again and again.

Moments of knowing we’re all in this together,

all interconnected,

all affecting each other,

all known, valued and loved.

It has something to do with seeing, in the eyes of someone so different, the Spirit of the Risen Christ.

Watching the children grow,

feeling my own bones ache ….

and attending funerals.

It’s a matter of dealing with the squabbles within…..

And the greater troubles that come from the outside,

trying to shout their way in.

Its about experiencing the mess of spring, abundance of summer, letting go of autumn

 and being confronted by the great storms of winter

and still finding peace.

It’s about being home…

within myself, my family, my community

and the troublesome world around me

as I’m home in the heart of The Beloved.

And trying to look after this precious treasure.

 

If this is helpful to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Contemplative Fire ,Community Leader Canada

Mystic in Motion

 

 

 

 

 

Being Myself

Last month I attended a week with First Nations on Manitoulin Island. One of the deepest teachings for me was from an Elder who began his day with us by assuring us he wasn’t out to convert us. He would share his teachings, if they were helpful please accept them, and if not, let them go. As he spoke, tears rose up within me. I was aware of the years of Apologetics training I experienced, the reminders of centuries within Christian history of the insistence on correct theology, the establishment of new denominations so the circle would be tight and ‘correct’, and something deep within me grieved. I enjoyed the Elder’s humility, his gentle confidence in who he is, what he knows and what he is learning. I found myself at ease, at peace. No more struggles. No more insistence on the right way, simply a clear declaration of The Way I know to be true.

I’m a One on the Enneagram so my nature is very geared to having ‘the right way’ to do things. I was vulnerable to having the ‘right’ teaching and then to helping others have it too. I was a lonely child, yet seeking to belong somewhere, so I was vulnerable to a circle being drawn, being within the circle and then inviting others to join me.

Yet now I’ve changed. I’m at home in my life. I’m growing to see God’s presence within all of creation, to experience the connectedness of all beings. Life is much less about being ‘right’, but more about loving, being open, trusting the Spirit of God who is always present, always active and drawing us closer and closer.

Emerging from my Sabbath Leave, I’m more deeply aligned with Jesus than ever before, but I don’t fit into my old theological boxes. The Elder’s teaching is that our faith truths are to be lived out, to be part of our being. That is in alignment with much I’ve learnt on my Christian contemplative pathway. For me it’s become that life is not about correct teaching or understanding, but living an authentic, integrated life. It’s about the life of Jesus being lived out through me, not in imitation, but in breath, in essence, in presence.

So I will share with you The Way of Jesus that I know, his stories, his impact on my life. I will share with you The Rhythm of Life I follow through Contemplative Fire. You may join me, or not, as you choose. I desire to do this with increasing humility and authenticity, allowing you to follow your pathway and trusting God to make it all right in the end.

And you, Gentle Reader… what is your pathway?

If this is helpful to you, please show support by sharing it with a friend. Let’s broaden the contemplative pathway.

Love and prayers

Anne+

Contemplative Fire, Community Leader Canada

Mystic in Motion