|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, once said that “somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning”. When there is silence, words also become infinitely more powerful. An enfleshed Word, like an infant Jesus – remembering that the word ‘infant’ comes from the Greek for ‘not speaking’ – carries most meaning of all; ‘the Word without a word’ as T.S Eliot expressed it in his poem Ash Wednesday...
The contemporary mystic Andrew Harvey once wrote that ‘the things that ignore us save us in the end. Their presence awakens silence in us.’ I have been pondering this week whether this is what all wild places have in common, whether they be the Australian outback, other deserts, mountain places or wilderness forest. Regardless of the particularity of their wildness, wild places ignore us – in a healthy and health-giving way. In a wild place we cease, as human creations, to be at the centre of our own worldview and become aware of all that is beyond us. As the American Presbyterian theologian Belden C. Lane expresses it in his great work “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: exploring desert and mountain spirituality”: 'There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokenness we find within.' When we find ourselves bereft of human company and resources, then we find ourselves in a place to let go of the demands of ego, the trivialities of our everyday lives, and to receive something of the incalculable and transforming presence of God...
Today a significant event in my work and social calendar was cancelled due to concerns over COVID19. It is I am sure an experience shared by many of you. Mingled with disappointment, regret and some anxiety about the consequences of this decision down the track, came a different emotion – relief. Not just relief that a decision had been reached and that the safety of myself and others was being helped; but relief also that suddenly in what is normally a packed diary a space, a ‘sabbath rest’ had appeared.
It is very easy in this circumstance for other things simply to rush in to fill the space – a sense of obligation to contact those affected by virtual means; a sudden urge to cleanse the entire house with disinfectant; an earnest searching after other means of communication, like writing this article?!
Yet the quiet voice in my soul says something different - that this extraordinary time is about being not doing; about rediscovering who we are and what is truly important. Our world and church have become extraordinarily activist. We fill our agendas with often frenzied activity. The balance of action and contemplation has tipped decidedly in favour of action. So perhaps this period of enforced inactivity may go some way to redressing that balance.
Sometimes a space where there was supposed to be activity can feel intimidating. It is not easy to move from helter skelter business to stillness and silence in one step. So, if you are wanting to use this time with grace, but uncertain how to begin, I am suggesting adopting the technique created by Sybil MacBeth called ‘Praying In Colour'. If you Google you will find the essential steps readily enough. Essentially it uses doodling and colouring as a way to get still and listen to God. While the hand is occupied, the mind can come to stillness. And if we all hold our world, and those affected by COVID19 tenderly before God in this time, we will surely come through this crisis with a deeper faith and a greater intimacy with God and with one another.
In this time of distress, may you still find blessing; in this time of anxiety, seek gratitude; and in this time of enforced sabbath, sing (and draw) praise to God.
reflection by Penny Jones, 17 March 2020
As some of you know, I enjoy a practice called Interplay. Interplay is ‘a creative, active way to unlock the wisdom of the body. It is a group activity that uses a number of ‘forms’, physical, verbal and musical, to enable connection with our selves and our community through play. There is a variant of one of these forms that goes like this... Participants are encouraged to choose a place in the room and move towards it with great intent, but moving only very slowly, heel to toe. This is how we often move in life towards goals on which we have set our hearts. But as we all know, life has a way of disrupting those kinds of plans and movements. So, there is another variant of this form, in which participants are invited simply to move slowly as before and just see where they end up and when it seems right to stop. This goal-less movement reflects something of what actually happens in life when we thought we were doing something else. A final variant of this game, invites participants to move slowly and just occasionally take a leap forward, perhaps celebrating that with a whoop. It is great fun, and illustrates how often we forget to celebrate our leaps forward and how much pleasure can be derived from celebrating, even when we do not have a particular goal in mind, and only recognise after it has happened that a leap forward has occurred. Sometimes indeed we may find that the leap has not been forward, but perhaps sideways or even backwards and no less a cause for celebration...