Scenes from the first day in Sydney

Scenes from the first day in Sydney
D, the Opera House, and the Bridge

Thursday, April 30, 2009

More Pictures from Alice Springs and Campfire in the Heart

For details, you may have to check the previous post, but this is the '76 Volkswagon "Combi"... kind of amazing, but the 8 of us fit perfectly.

Campfire in the Heart is aptly named, and this is the fire at the center of our liturgical celebration... and later, where we cooked "roo tail" and "damper" bread.

A "bush-style" liturgy.

Our group shot just before we left... great memories.

So, next stop for me is Mildura, a community of about 30,000 in Victoria, more than a 1000 km from here and situated on the Murray River. I'll be staying in Sacred Heart Parish with the two local priests, Fr.s Tom and Matthew, working in the parish but primarily accompanying parishioners in a three week retreat. I've been looking forward to this work for a while and it will be a good way of continuing to reflect on my own retreat experience from the past several weeks. Both Tom and Matt are great guys and excellent priests-- it'll be good to live and work with them.

I'm not positive that I will be able to keep the blog up, but if I do, it might be a little less eventful and more spiritually reflective. Just warning you!

Alice Springs- Campfire in the Heart

During our stay in Alice Springs, our jumping off point for the trip to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and King's Canyon, we had the good fortune of staying with Sue and David Woods at their retreat camp, a place for a less touristy experience of the Centre and Aboriginal culture. Campfire in the Heart provides a contemplative and hospitable space wherein to reflect on and relate to this extraordinary central region of Australia. We could not have been more warmly and graciously received, despite causing a breakdown of the Volkswagon bus they loaned us (a '76 edition affectionately known as the "Combi") and denting their carport on our way out for the bush tour. In fact, we all got on quite wonderfully and enjoyed each other very much.

The setting for our outdoor liturgy... the campfire in place of the Easter Paschal Candle.

You probably won't believe it, but David is cutting up a, dare I say it, Kangaroo tail that we roasted in the coals. It was, shall I say, gamey. We also were treated to "damper," bread cooked in a dutch over over the fire. Both are real treats for the Aboriginal people.

And here is a nice shot of Sue and David.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Camping out in "Swags"

Cooking "chook" aka chicken and rice on the fire.

Looks like a bush fire, but is actually the sunset!

Yes, a rainbow in the desert!
The "swag" is a canvas bag with a mattress and pillow in it... the Aussie way of roughing it. The sleepless nights were worth the experience of being under the brilliant stars... brighter and more distinct than anyplace I've ever been, except maybe Bolivia. Besides the Southern Cross, the Milky Way was unfurled above us all night, and we woke each morning to Venus, Mars, and Jupiter in a triangle, sometimes accompanied by a sliver of moon. Fabulous!

King's Canyon

These are some scenes from our morning hike through King's Canyon... formed over 800 million years ago when an inland sea existed here where there is now desert.

Those hats!

Pausing for a break in the "garden of Eden."

David "on the rocks"

More Pictures from Our Adventure in "The Centre"

Uluru in the afternoon...

Looks like Martian soil, right?

The canyons of Kata Tjuta...

Our 4WD bus with Kata Tjuta in the background.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayer's Rock)

Drat! I have to remind myself to load these pictures in reverse order, because I did it again! Then again, Jesus said something like the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, right? Maybe the Blogger folks had that in mind when then wrote this software?

Anyways... after the retreat ended in Sevenhill, the lot of us headed down to Adelaide for two days, and then eight of us flew to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Central Australia. Alice Springs is the jumping off point for visitors to the most iconic place in Australia, after the Sydney Opera House. Formerly called Ayer's Rock after a fairly obscure and less than consequential politician, Uluru is a massive sandstone monolith that rises out of the desert. It is considered a sacred site, along with the neighboring Kata Tjuta (Olgas) mountains where the local Aboriginal tribes celebrated ritual ceremonies and conducted their initiation rites for both men and women. For more information about this fascinating World Heritage Site, you might check out the Wiki at

We arrived in Alice and spent our first night at a wonderful campsite/retreat just outside of town. David and Sue Woods founded the Campfire in the Heart as a place for visitors to have a less conventional and more culturally sensitive experience of this amazing region. More about David and Sue and their lovely center in the next blog... including our some of our minor misadventures and the way these led to rather wonderful spontaneous fun!

On the second day, we began at 5:45 am as Chris, our guide from Wayoutback tours picked us up in a 4WD bus. We joined a very congenial family from Singapore making it a group of 15. The first stop was a camel farm where a few of us took the opportunity for an early morning ride. Believe it our not, camels from Afghanistan were introduced to the Australian outback during the 19th century because they were much better adapted to the terrain than horses. Today, thousands of wild camels roam the outback-- in fact, we had one browsing through our camp the second night. As it bent down to sniff the father of the family from Singapore, apparently at first he mistook the camel's warm breath for his wife's (yikes!). I got that story second hand, so I cannot guarantee its veracity. In any case, the bottom picture captures a bit of the fun I had riding the camel.

This next picture is of Uluru just before sunrise on the second morning of our bushwalk... splendid even in the rain. There is a whole story about being at Uluru at night during a thunderstorm, experiencing the effect of thousands of gallons of rain streaming down the rock, cascading in windy warm sheets, illuminated intermittently by lightning. But as is often the case, the most memorable and fantastic experiences are the ones that could not be captured in photographs. So, this is a picture of the day after that storm, just five minutes before the sunrise.
The first picture in this series is Uluru at sunrise, with water droplets on my lens. A nice effect. There was a rainbow at the same time, so you can imagine that this was one sunrise worth waking at 4:30 am.

Not much to say here except that it seems that we have an interesting variety of headgear!

And the camel... look at those chompers!

I have enough pictures of those first few days that I might just post a few rounds of pictures and let them speak for themselves.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Moving Beyond the Long Retreat

Greetings all,

This isn't quite the order of photos I wanted but I haven't figured out how to shift them. In any case, they might better be understood in reverse. This one above is a stained glass of the resurrection from the Cathedral in Adelaide; the next is of a cow and the calf she gave birth to in the third week of the retreat; the two pictures that follow are "before and after" shots of our group.

Several people have asked about the experience of the Long Retreat... for instance asking, "did it fulfill your expectations?" or "how did you manage the silence?" Some people have asked whether or not I feel changed by the experience. As you know, there are simply some events and experiences in our lives that have such a surplus of meaning and personal significance that it takes years really to understand them, let alone adequately express what they mean to us. The Long Retreat is like that. The 13 of us making the retreat each followed the general format that St. Ignatius outlines for the form and substance of the four weeks (focusing on the lights and shadows of our response to God's love, the life and ministry of Jesus, his final days and death in Jerusalem, and his resurrection); however, each of us also had a very distinct experience of what God's Spirit was doing in and through us.

I can only speak for myself here, but I found that the retreat brought up all kinds of old lines and patterns that I've been working on with God over the years, and then revealed in a rather deep and surprisingly integrated way how these lines and patterns connect. More specifically, I've struggled over the years, as perhaps many of us have, with my relationships to material possessions (excessive desire for security and comfort), with my need for the recognition and esteem of others (sometimes this can be so tedious for others in my life), and with my attraction to power and influence (I'm not quite a megalomaniac, but the potential is there)-- the basics, right? And beyond those things, (which are all good in their own right, but dangerous when they become attachments or idols), I have struggled with selfishness,vanity, anxiety around success and failure, resistance to authorities, fear of looking foolish or incompetent, etc. (I'm just hitting the highlights here.)

But on this retreat, God revealed something that is somehow at the heart of all this, and that is that I have an illusion of self-sufficiency-- of thinking that I know better than anyone else how to take care of myself... and then that somehow I have enough ability not only to take care of myself but of everyone else as well. This has made it difficult at times for me to accept being taught, led, and loved by others. This list is long, and it included God. Somehow, I have lived with this blind spot for a very long time, and gotten along fairly well in fact. But in discovering my limitations and powerlessness to work my way through a few challenges that came up on the retreat, the illusion began to fall apart. The beauty of it was that as my illusion of self-sufficiency was crumbling away, I began discovering a new level of faith in God's love. In fact, the image I had was of being held fast in God's "right hand" so to speak... of discovering just how finite I am and how this is exactly what God's needs in order to work through me.

I wish that I could express this more clearly, and in fact, it sounds trite when I re-read what I have written, but I hope that this makes some sense and that it might even resonate with your own experience. You may even be saying to yourself, "duh!" Of course you're finite and God is infinite! The fact is, some of us are very slow learners, and having a lot of education, training, and experience can actually get in the way. So, moving on to the next picture...

This calf was born on the retreat house property during the third week of our retreat. A cute little feller with a doting mom. A little wobbly, but what would you expect. But as I watched the mom taking care of and nursing this calf, I couldn't help but make the link with the retreat. If there is anything that Jesus wanted to make clear to us, it is that God longs to be in relationship with us as a loving mother or father is with her/his children. And while the notion of dependency may grate against us, I do not think that the relationship is so simple as a baby depending on her/his mother. The truth is that God delights in our maturity and in the development of all of the gifts we have been given... and that a degree of self-authorship is essential. But I never had such a powerful sense of how it grieves God when we live as if we can do it all by ourselves. Rather, I felt God calling me into an "interdependent" partnership, where we have a mutual relationship and mission in the world. Does this make sense? I know it may be simple sounding, but I know from experience that living this way takes day to day practice.

But enough of my blather... the bottom picture is our "before" shot and the one just below is the end of the retreat. In the blogs to follow, I will share pictures and stories from the bushwalking adventures that we had in Central Australia.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Retreat Opportunity Next Fall In Boulder Colorado

Hi all,

I've been asked by folks at Boulder Integral to post an ad for the retreat I will be giving next October with Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM and two other friends, Sr. Terri Monroe, RSCJ and Rollie Stanich from Integral Christianity. It will be an opportunity for participants to learn a bit about the connections between Integral Philosophy and the emerging Christianity, exploring the relationship between the gifts of the Christian tradition we receive and the new insights related to both evolution and the development of human consciousness. Sounds heavy, right? Actually, it will be a nice blend of seminar and retreat and situated in a gorgeous setting in Boulder, right around the time the aspens are turning gold. Richard is an internationally known writer and speaker, grounded in Scripture and at the same time, interested in the directions that the Church may moving into the future. For my part, I am interested in the connections between our human capacity for the evolution of consciousness and the experience of spiritual growth in relationship to God. We've been talking about doing something like this for a few years and this is our first opportunity for collaboration.

If you're interested in a unique and somewhat challenging retreat, and mixing it up with other people who are both Christian and seeking to grow in an authentic and spiritually grounded way, as well as with those who may be outside of the tradition and looking to reconnect, then this gathering may be for you. Be forewarned, it won't be like anything you're accustomed to in the way of retreat!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Celebrating Christ's Resurrection

Sunday night, Jesuits from Adelaide joined us here at Sevenhill for a wonderful feast (a break day from retreat!). Here, Arthur Leger and I are with Minh Uoc Pham, a Jesuit originally from Vietnam and now working in Manila. The three of us lived in Cambridge, MA during our theology studies and I haven't seen Minh Uoc since then.

This picture is from the Easter Vigil, the night before. (I am trying not to make a face as I spill hot wax all over my hand.)

On Easter morning, several of us got up to see the sunrise. Pictured here: Bruno (Switzerland), Ian (the Director here at Sevenhill) and me.

Sunrise... a wonderful natural reminder of the renewal of life at Easter.

A friend sent this meditation on our own process of becoming human through our relationship with the Divine. It is taken from Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I thought it was a beautiful and deep reflection on the desire the Risen Christ has to "Easter" in our hearts, like Spring becoming manifest in and through the nature around us.

"Why do you not think of him as the coming one imminent from all eternity, the future one, the final fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting his birth into times that are in the process of becoming, and living your life like a painful and beautiful day in the history of a great gestation? For do you not see how everything that happens keeps on being a beginning, and could it not be His beginning, since beginning is in itself always so beautiful? If he is the most perfect must not the lesser be BEFORE him, so that he can choose himself out of the fullness and overflow?---Must he not be the last, in order to encompass everything within himself, and what meaning would we have if he, whom we long for, had already been?

As the bees bring in the honey, so do we fetch the sweetest out of everything and build Him. With the trivial even, with the insignificant (if only it is done out of love), we make a start, with work and with resting after it, with a silence or with a little solitary joy, with everything we do alone, without supporters and participants, we begin Him whom we shall not live to know, even as our forbears could not live to know us. And yet they, who are long home, are in us; as predisposition, as burden upon our destiny, as blood that pulsates, and as gesture that rises up out of the depths of time.

Is there anything that can take from you the hope of this someday being in him, the farthest, the ultimate?

Celebrate [Easter] in this devout feeling, that perhaps He needs this very fear of life from you in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working at him, as you have already once, in childhood, breathlessly worked at him. Be patient and without resentment, and think that the least we can do is to make his becoming not more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come. And be glad and confident."

Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday and the Easter Triduum

Greetings and peace! This is the first post since retreat began several weeks ago, a brief foray from out of the cybersilence while I am on retreat. Several of the tertians were invited to serve the local church communities for the Easter Triduum. I volunteered to take anything that was left over after everyone had their first pick (trying to put my own will aside a bit more based on my retreat!) and ended up being asked to preach for today's Good Friday celebration here at St. Aloyisius Church here in Sevenhill. This is more or less what I said... please feel free to use it insofar as it is helpful for your own Easter reflections.

Jesus- The Crucified One

The Scriptures present many images of Jesus for us to relate to, many of them especially familiar to folks living in the country, as we are here in the beautiful Clare Valley. Living with drought as you are, and knowing the preciousness of water for your crops and livestock, maybe you recall the image of Jesus as the Living Water. (I noticed a young man wearing a Guinness t-shirt advertising the perfect pint, so suggested that this is not the kind of thirst I was talking about) I am talking about the thirst we have for meaningful lives, for a sense of being valued, of belonging, for refreshment when we are wearied by life and feeling interiorly dry. So, we can relate to Jesus, the Living Water.

And as many of you work with livestock, or drive by these fields and pastures every day, you may be familiar with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him. And we long for good shepherds, leaders of integrity and great concern for others, those who will lead us to green pastures and restful waters, and who are willing to put their lives on the line for us. We know Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

And how could we be in the Clare Valley, this lovely winegrowing region of South Australia, without remembering Jesus, the True Vine. Jesus, the True Vine and we the branches, bearing good fruit in the world through our lives of compassion, justice, and reconciliation... lives occasionally pruned for the sake of our bearing even greater fruit.

We can relate to these images of Jesus, but how do we relate to the image of Jesus lifted up for our attention today, Jesus- the Crucified One?

When we pause to think of it, we might ask ourselves how it ever came to this anyway? How could the life of the one we love, the one we call Lord and Savior, have ended this way, in a death more horrible than we could imagine. We wouldn't dare treat an animal the way he was treated this day.

This is Jesus, born in Bethlehem, son of Mary and Joseph, the Carpenter from Nazareth... he was the one who taught in a new way and whom crowds of thousands followed in anticipation that he was the Messiah. He healed sick people, cured the lepers, gave sight back to the blind. He brought promise and hope, and we believed he would be the one to set us free from the political occupation by the Romans. This is Jesus, the friend of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, the Master of Simon Peter, James, and John.

If before the Cross we find ourselves confused, disoriented, ashamed and sorrowful, then we are on good ground. Because signs of contradiction are confusing. The Cross is a paradox, a coincidence of contradictions and the collision of opposing forces. Such a paradox is bound to disorient us as we wrestle to make meaning of it, and only through grace does it gradually disclose its truth to us.

The two forces that collide in the Cross? First, there is the Force of Life... God's saving initiative to innaugurate a new covenant of friendship with humanity through Christ. In Jesus, God self-communicates that the Divine Nature is love, and that God desires us to receive that love in order bring us into the Fullness of Life, one and all. This is the nature of the Kingdom that Jesus lived and died for.

But if one of the forces is Life, the other force opposing it is characterized by resistance, rejection, and Death. This is the force we experience when we cling to our false images of ourselves-- that we are somehow greater or less than we truly are, that we can live self-sufficiently, that we come first... it is to cling to relative goods as if they were absolutes, so that we cling to power at the expense of the weak, and of our own vulnerability; so that we cling to possesions for the false sense of security and prestige that they afford us at the expense of the poor and our dependence on God; and we cling to popularity in the eyes of others, often at the expense of our own integrity and exclusive of those who do not meet our standards.

These two forces collide on the Cross as Jesus, the Beloved of God, and the Fullness of Life he offers is rejected.

But in this collision of contradictions, the Good News is that the Father is faithful to the last to his beloved, who was obedient to the death. God loves us despite our best attempts to push God away, and continues saying from the Cross, "I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you."

In a few moments, we will have an opportunity to venerate the Cross, this most full expression of Divine Love. Perhaps as we place flowers at the foot of the cross and kiss the foot of Jesus, or kneel before him, we might consider, what part of ourselves do we need Jesus to bear on that Cross. What part of ourselves, like the grain of wheat, must be allowed to die in order that God might bring about a more full and abundant life in us?

Perhaps it is a story we tell ourselves about who we are in relation to others that gets in the way of our realizing our God given gifts. Maybe we hold an old enmity that we need to surrender. Maybe we feel cynical about the future and do not give God room to suprise us. Maybe we have convinced ourselves that we are self-sufficient, thank you very much, and don't need God to come tampering with us. Whatever we might be clinging to might be beautiful and good in its own right, like these flowers, but it is not the ultimate good that the Giver of Life is.

And so, as we surrender this part of ourselves to death with Christ, we can be confidant that we will rise with him renewed this Easter...

much love,