Gratitude, Passion, Hope

It has long been my habit as the old year passes into history and the new year, with all its yet unspoken hopes and dreams begins, to spend some time in reflection and gratitude. As I sat down today, January 1, 2016 I recalled a recent reflection of Pope Francis in which he expressed three aims:

To look to the past with gratitude; to live the present with passion;  to embrace the future with hope.

So with the eyes of gratitude I reviewed my year and gave thanks:

For my family and the love we share, and I give special thanks for my beautiful niece Domenica. She graduated with first class Honours from her Fine Arts degree and stands on the threshold of living her passion for her art.

 

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No Going Back

For my friends who enrich my life and nourish my soul; who support me in good times and bad. And the joy of friendships renewed. For  my faith community that sustains and strengthens my beliefs.

For an amazing, enriching, challenging and confronting journey to Uganda to give formation retreats to the NET youth ministries. This was a very  special and graced time spent with people passionate about their country and education, poor in material goods but rich in faith and love. The banner on the NET Uganda website states:

We are a people who yearn to be remembered … for we are a people

I know that I was blessed to have been a small part of the lives of these people and I shall never forget them.

And for all the people I met, those unexpected encounters that touch the heart and gladden the soul; for conversations and laughter, for getting lost in a book. For poetry and music that inspired, soothed and healed me;  that guided  me to reflection, reminiscence and daydreams, and filled me with enthusiasm and optimism.

For concerts and ballet, painting and art galleries, for ice cream and pasta and Brown Brothers wines; and for the beauty of creation – jacarandas, poincianas and frangipani, for the ocean and walks on the beach, for pelicans, the salty air and the roar of the surf, sunset and full moons. And most of all, for my life and talents and my ability to seek and find the divine beauty that awakens all that is noble in the human heart.

My reflection then turned to living the present with passion. One of my favourite poets is Mary Oliver and the Jesuit author William Barry notes that Oliver ‘seems to have been born a contemplative’. This is very evident in her many books of poetry and the way in which she pays attention to the world around her.  In Just Around the House, Early in the Morning published in Swan she wrote:

Though I have been scorned for it, let me never be afraid to use the word beautiful. For within is the shining leaf and the blossoms of the geranium at the window. And the eyes of the happy puppy as he wakes. The colors of the old and beloved afghan lying by itself, on the couch, in the morning sun.

Now as I reflect on living the present with passion,  it is to her poem The Summer Day that I turn, with its final, haunting question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Formed in Ignatian spirituality my response to that question is, that the purpose of my wild and precious life is to make a difference – to all lives that touch mine, and to all God’s creatures. To live a life of service and to do this with passion and joy.

Today I received a New Year reflection written by Madeline Duckett and posted on the Contemplative Evolution Network – Inspired Words from the Network. In it she notes the tension we hold between what is and what might be, and the darkness and light of our  journey through 2015.  There has been much darkness she says, “but there has been light as well – so much light to balance the darkness of our world’s soul”. And so my wish for 2016 is that gratitude, passion and hope will prevail over the darkness.

To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing,

To contemplate the beautiful thing; that is enough for one man’s life.

T.S. Eliot

 

Lost in the Beauty of Creation

When beauty touches our lives, the moment becomes luminous. These grace-moments are gifts that surprise us. When we look beyond the moment to our life journey, perhaps we can choose a new rhythm of journeying which would be more conscious of beauty and more open to inviting her to disclose herself to us in all the situations we travel through.              John O’Donohue

This morning beauty touched my life with luminous moments at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha.

My spiritual formation is that of St Ignatius Loyola – Ignatian spirituality, that has its roots in the conviction that God is active, personal, and­­—above all—present to us. We don’t have to withdraw from the world into a quiet place in order to find God. God’s footprints can be found everywhere—in our work and our relationships, in our family and friends, in our sorrows and joys, in the sublime beauty of nature and in the mundane details of our daily lives. It’s often said that Ignatian spirituality trains us to “find God in all things.”

At the heart of my involvement in this spirituality is Christian Life Community (CLC), a lay organisation whose specific source of spirituality is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. And so today, I gathered with CLC friends at Mt Coot-tha for a meditation walk – a search for God’s footprints. It was a time to open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts. We were invited to sharpen our awareness and delight in God’s creation. Our scripture for reflection was Job 12:7-10

Ask the beasts they will teach you; 

the birds of the air and they will tell you;

ask the plants of the earth

and they will teach you;

and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Who among these does not know 

that the hand of the Lord has done this?

In his hand is the life of every living thing.

And the breath of every human being.

 

And so my journey began: past the lizard, waiting, unafraid of my approaching footsteps; dipping under the amazing web of two golden orb-weaver spiders; and past the magpie with its beautiful call. Then a visit to the fern house and a stroll through the arid region plants and the cacti and bromeliad house.

Then finally I reached my destination – the Japanese Garden. A feature of World Expo 88, it was created here at Mt Coot-tha as a generous and lasting gift from Japan.

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The gateway to tranquility

The Japanese feel the ideal garden should represent nature and only by the gardener’s skilful ability to observe nature is he able to arrange his materials, stone, trees and water to create a garden that soothes and refreshes the human spirit. This garden has been designed in the tsuki-yama-chisen style of mountain, pond and stream.

Central to Ignatian spirituality is the practice of contemplative prayer and noticing.

When I am very still in a place without words, steeped in silence, when the world is elsewhere with its noise and motion, what sacred hungers are inside me?

As I sat quietly, I took notice of the textures, the tones and the sounds of this garden. The water tumbling over the rocks, the bird calls, the distant  laughter of children. John O’Donohue writes that to become attentive to beauty, we need to rediscover the art of reverence, a word we now seldom use. The idea of reverence is filled with riches that we need, now more than ever. According to O’Donohue, human beings should dwell on this earth with reverence and at its heart the journey of each life is a pilgrimage through unforeseen sacred places that enlarge and enrich the soul.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis stresses the importance  of the interior life and spirituality in our quest to protect our environment. So I sat in silent reverence, in the presence of the sacred, and contemplated the beauty and wonder of creation.

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Another Ode to Autumn


Autumn – John Keats’ ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ has been a long time coming to this subtropical IMG_0639part of the world. Since early November we have been plagued by relentlessly high temperatures and debilitating humidity; and afternoon storms that tore through the city leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Last Friday we received record-breaking rainfall in a very short period of time, bringing more destruction but worst of all, the devastation of lives lost in the torrent. The normally serene and lovely Kedron Brook that meanders its way to the sea through the park adjacent to my home, rose swiftly and forcefully, uprooting trees, closing the road to traffic and turning the park into a lake. Then the water receded, and the clean-ups began, again. The sun shone, the birds sang, peace was restored, at least to this part of the city.  

Yesterday I went for a walk to the park and I was filled with delight at the beauty of this autumn day. I reflected on  the Keats’ poem Ode to Autumn – and its opening linesseason of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, close bosom friend of IMG_0286the maturing sun’. Shortly after composing this poem, Keats wrote to a friend saying, “how beautiful the season is now. How fine the air – a temperate sharpness about it….This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.” I imagined that it was such a day as today, that Keats experienced: the sky a clear cloudless blue; a mellowness in the air; the flowers of Autumn blooming brightly; and best of all, the invitation to bask in the sun that has lost its sting.  On days like this my soul rejoices in the abundance and beauty of God and creation and the joy of being alive.

Joan Chittister expresses this beautifully in the following excerpt from her book Following the Path: the Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose and Joy:

“Life is pure flame,” Thomas Browne wrote, “and we live by an invisible sun within us.” It is this invisible sun, this light within, this call to something worthwhile in life that is meant to dispel life’s darkness. It gives us our reason to be. And it is this call to the fullness of ourselves that drives us on, that becomes our internal measure of worth and, in the end, it is, as well, the judge of our quality of happiness.

Life is not just about having a job. Life is about responding to the great human call to make life more than a series of aimless occupations. A call is a sacred reason to be alive.

The spiritual value of discovering the star by which we are steering the entire rest of our lives shapes us both internally and publicly. It affects the way we feel about ourselves, it determines how we relate to others, it defines our place in the world, and it provides a sense of purpose to life. When those things are defined, the emptiness goes, the rootlessness goes, the capriciousness of life that eats away at the heart of us disappears. Days may be difficult after that, yes, but they at least have a sense of meaning. We are no longer simply spinning around in the space called our lives, fearful of the future, dissatisfied with the present. We are now going someplace for a reason larger than ourselves and feeling more humanly significant than simply self-important.

This beautiful day brought another joy to my life. It is my niece’s 22nd birthday and later, as we celebrated, I rejoiced in  her creativity, her sweet nature, and most of all, her presence in my life.

Gratitude and the art of noticing

When I was a little girl my bedtime ritual was “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep”. Now, ‘before I lay me down to sleep’ I review my day with gratitude and give thanks. In these often troubled times it is easy to become disillusioned and to join in the ‘woe is me chorus’; to forget that in spite of the newspaper stories and TV sound bites that tell us otherwise, the good and the beautiful surround us as well, if we just take the time to notice.

Thomas Moore in his book Care of the Soul, writes that the soul craves beauty, and is nurtured by beauty. What food is to the body, arresting, complex, and pleasing images are to the soul. For the soul, it is important to be taken out of the rush of practical life (out of all the messiness, and busyness of our everyday lives) for the contemplation of the timeless and eternal realities. Beauty is a necessary part of ordinary life. Every day we will find moments when the soul glimpses an occasion for beauty, and not just in our surrounds but in the people we meet, those unexpected encounters that lighten and brighten our days.

Today, as I drove to meet a friend for morning tea, I took notice of the cloudless blue sky and the winter Cassia and Golden Rain trees bursting into bloom. I noticed a new store called The White Bungalow and promised myself a visit there, later.

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And then I had one of those unexpected encounters. As my friend and I sat drinking our coffees at Primal Pantry, a delightful young man named Dimitri arrived with his eight week old puppy, Cleo. This much-loved little dog had quite a story to tell and provided a two-fold reason for gratitude: for Dimitri who had rescued her from an RSPCA Animal Care Centre and is, in his words “the best $50 I ever spent”; and for Cleo an opportunity for life in a loving home.

Now as I prepare to sleep I look back on this day with gratitude and give thanks for the loveliness of autumn, for the beauty of creation, and for friendship. The late John O’Donohue, Irish author, poet and philosopher, wrote that ‘To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged’ and at the end of this day, I feel that my life is indeed enlarged.