Yesterday I was given a marvelous gift from a remarkable artist of both life and embroidery. This is a person of great grace and determination who, little known to most people, was a courageous female pioneer in her field of work, also engaging with Indigenous people in other places long before it was 'fashionable' (if it ever has been in a positive sense). At the same time, she has been an amazingly skilled and prolific needlewoman, whose creations, soaked in prayer and deep reflection, richly adorn not only much of the parish of St Luke Toowoomba but many other places besides.
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of this gift and also the beauty, skill and insight which has gone into it. For as my blessed benefactor put it, in an accompanying card:
Traditionally the needlepoint group gave a piece of needlepoint to outgoing priests from this parish. This continues that practice.
It was worked with care and consideration in in appreciation of all you have done in the parish and community.
The four arms of the cross symbolise the outreach in all directions.
Celtic knot work has no beginning or ending but one has to start somewhere - so in your new position may that outreach continue.
On the eve of the feast of St Hilda of Whitby, it is hard to express the Celtic Christian call to mission better, in a medium so resonant of Celtic spirit. I feel richly blessed.
It was a delight last Saturday to share in one of the first official workshops of 'Praying in Anglican Ways': a resource I developed last year, with Penny Jones' and Jonathan Sargeant's assistance, for the 360 series of educational resources produced through the Anglican Church Southern Queensland. The aim has been to provide an introduction to the depth and variety of Anglican spirituality which forms part of the extraordinary rich Christian tradition as a whole. For so much is taken for granted, confined to narrow channels, or simply not explored. Using Dr Corinne Ware's Spirituality Wheel as one way in, and employing some of my own 'Whole Body' approaches to faith and spirituality, four broad pathways are highlighted (what, in 'whole body' terms, I call 'head', 'heart', feet' and 'hands'). This offers participants opportunities to share together something of the wide range of Anglican spiritualities, deepening and widening their own journeys and understanding better those of others. It is also adaptable to other, less denominational groups, but that may be something for the future. This is part of the work I hope to be further involved in when I begin my new role next year. For more information about the 360 courses and ACSQ educational work, check out the Formed Faith website, or check out some of our You Tube clips on the link below...
For many years I have been involved in organising events (taking a whole variety of different forms in diferent places) for International Peace Day (21 September). This year is no exception, with community candle-lighting in St Luke's Toowoomba, use together of the Universal Prayer for Peace, and a special One Day One Choir community sing led by Women In Harmony (who will then sing a concert at 12.30 pm). What difference however does such a day make? It is impossible to say properly, in terms of prayer, awareness, many aspects of education and the strengthening of wills and partnerships for peace. These are real and vital and alone make everything worth doing. Yet International Peace Day is also effective in specific ways, as Jeremy Gilley, the founder of Peace One Day, illustrates (see video below and the Peace One Day website). So what will each of us do to make Peace Day every day?
As I sat in a doctor’s waiting room recently, I saw the words be. here. now. prominently displayed. How appropriate I thought. For a doctor’s waiting room is typically made up of people who would rather not be there at that moment. Indeed, in such a liminal space, we are usually full of thoughts, hurts and fears which do not make it easy for us to be present. We may be occupied with concerns about the past, such as the mishaps or illness which has brought us to that moment. We may be absorbed with worries and anticipations about the future. We may be full both of regrets and forebodings. However, whilst very human, none of this really take us very far. In the face of the, sometimes profound, dislocation of time, space and meaning caused by dis-ease, we need to be able to acknowledge and express these things. Yet ultimately they are not the deepest truth of our lives at the moment and they do not provide pathways to healing. When time, space, and meaning seem to be collapsing around and within us, knowing that we are still ultimately OK, right where we are, is vital. Terrible pain and suffering can of course certainly make it almost impossibly hard even to breathe, never mind acknowledge this reality. However what some of us call 'the divine embrace' is still always there for us, right here and now. Can we trust, and, even in death, let that eternal presence heal and re-create us?...
This morning a number of members of the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee met at St. Luke's to consider ways to strengthen our city wide work of peace and harmony in the face of violent events overseas. Several of us in Toowoomba have been to Paris in recent years to speak and work with UNESCO on peacemaking in our world. So there is a particular extra poignant sadness among us at the recent events in the French capital. Our hearts and prayers also however go out to those who have suffered similarly in Beirut and other places in recent days. All this reinforces our need to work more closely together for peace at all levels, to educate and address religious bigotry, and to extend a compassionate and informed welcome to refugees who are escaping from just the kind of horrors the media has reported.
We join with the Taize Community in France in the following prayer:
Eternal God, we want our thoughts and acts to be based on your presence which is the source of our hope.
We entrust to you the victims of the attacks in Paris and in Beirut, and in so many other places and their families and friends as they mourn.
With believers of all backgrounds we call upon your name and pray: may your peace come to our world.
my short address from the inter-religious panel of which I was a part at the UNESCO forum last week...
Amitofu - salaam alaikum - shalom - g'day...
I would like to share a special prayer - one which has been of great value to churches across the world, who together, through bodies such as the World Council of Churches, have sought intentionally, throughout this 21st century, to address violence and its causes.
There are 4 elements to this prayer. These, I believe, help to sum up and focus Christian understandings of peacemaking: 4 elements to which, of course, we need to add another, namely, repentance (understood as saying sorry for our own parts in the violence of the world - and what others have done in our name: the name of our religion, or our country, or our ethnic or other group.) This is presupposed, for without repentance - without a profound change of heart - we cannot be free.
The 4 elements of my prayer today help us seek this repentance or change of heart, as they are elements which are similarly deeply grounded in the Christian tradition but which are also accessible to all, to people of other faiths and none - and what we have heard earlier from Madagascar, for example has reflected that.
The four key elements of this change of heart are:
- because without truth we can never deal with things properly. Now of course Truth can be uncomfortable to face up to - like the truth about the violence inflicted in Australia in the past on our Indigenous peoples, or the truth of facing up to the violence of what has caused war and violence elsewhere, and continues to do so. Yet without truth there can be no reconciliation and no real healing - we are always likely to be violent again. As Jesus said - 'the truth will set you free'.
- for without Justice there can be no real peace - as the biblical tradition has it, peace and justice belong intimately together: as the Psalmist puts it (Psalm 85.10) justice and peace must kiss one another for live to triumph. Or, as Pope Francis has reminded us, "without a solution to the problems of (today's refugees and) the (global) poor, we cannot resolve the problems of the world.'
- for Compassion is, for Christians, the heart of God, and embodied in Jesus Christ. Until we have a heart for one another - until we start to share one heart, as some Indigenous peoples say, then we will always be broken people and a broken world. Until then there is a part of our own heart missing. We have to seek grace to cultivate kindness and mercy and their power to transform us and our world.
- for ourage is required to take risks for peace, justice and compassion. This is the courage of Jesus even to risk death in the hope of a better world and in the assurance that nothing can ever destroy the ultimate reality of life - the love of God - which can transform all that evil throws against it. For making peace comes at a cost but it is the path to renewal, or, as Christians put it, redemption.
All of these things - truth, justice, compassion and courage - are crucial as part of our education for peace and a repentant, or transformed, heart and world.
So let me therefore share this prayer of blessing:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that we will live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that we will work for justice, equity and peace. May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we will reach out our hands to comfort them and change their pain to joy.
And may God bless us with the foolishness to think that we can make a difference in the world, so that we will do the things which others tell us cannot be done.
In Jesus Name, Amen.
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it." (1 Corinthians 12.26) - this is part of the reality of our contemporary lives in the one world we now inhabit. It is very difficult not to be affected by the sufferings of other parts of the world, particularly if we share in Christian relationship. The situation in Iraq is a particularly grave one. As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed recently:
what is happening right now in northern Iraq is off the scale of human horror… we cry to God for peace and justice and security throughout the world, and especially for Christians and other minority groups suffering so deeply in northern Iraq.
It is therefore a sad but important duty to share in prayer and solidarity with those who suffer. As we do so, so much of scripture also comes alive in a powerful manner and we are drawn back to the cross and mercy-power of God.
Yesterday, in St Luke's Church, we shared a particularly poignant Prayer together with other Christians. The initiative was from a young Christian, Courtney Heyward, from another (independent Evangelical) church, who has been touched to the heart by the situation in Iraq. It was a reflective occasion, with readings from scripture interspersed with times for silent or shared prayer. Stones, or 'prayer rocks', were given to everyone present to hold as we prayed, reminding us of the hard things endured by others (including the burying of loved ones by the side of the roads of flight) and of the rock of God's love at the heart of all things. Towards the end of the gathering, each of us laid our stone at the foot of the cross and lit a candle of hope. We also shared some ways in which we may offer practical support to the persecuted, including giving to appeal funds and advocating for the needs of refugees. May God's mercy and strength comfort, turn the hearts of those who inflict terror, grant wisdom to those in leadership, and renew all who suffer.
Like her or loath her, Melinda Tankard Reist has made an impact. Listening to her in Toowoomba yesterday, I was struck by the challenge and cost of the activism she lives and calls others into. I would not personally agree with exactly everything she says. Yet she remains one of the foremost contemporary 'pro-life feminist' voices and her grassroots campaigning movement Collective Shout is a lively force against the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture. Melinda is also a powerful encourager and embodiment of activism. Indeed, as the Glennie School and others locally have found this week, she is a particular inspiration to girls and women to stand up for themselves and for the needs of others. Does Melinda sometimes overestimate the negative effects of pornography and over-emphasise prohibition and protection rather than choice and liberation? Perhaps. Does her socially conservative background cause liberal concern? Maybe. How far does she contribute to the deep and thorny challenges of working through shame and honour, economic, cultural and gendered power, and the place of eros, sexual identity and expression in our contemporary world? Feminists seem divided on whether they agree with her or not, and how she contributes to their cause. Yet, whatever her own failings - and all activists have them - all would surely agree that she is an impressive agent provocateur for activism...
A chance visit to the Balaclava area of Melbourne led me this week to pick up a flyer in a cafe for a deeply moving documentary (entitled 'The Songs They Sang') on the experiences of the Vilna (one Vilnius) ghetto. Negotiating my way to the delightful, and somewhat accurately named, Backlot Studios, I was variously challenged and inspired by the horrendous inhumanity, and the courage, hope, poetic and practical resistance of those had lived and died in that terrible time. I was also reminded how important it is to keep hope alive, even in the most desperate of circumstances, and to carry forward memory, so that light can continue to shine and triumph again in our world's persisting darkness. I was but one of a handful of people at the showing yesterday, and all but one other were older East European Australians. Yet the beautiful and poignant understated documentary, and accompanying CD of the songs from the ghetto, continue to share the story and lead to sanity for others too.
This work is timely, both for the Jewish community and for the wider global community as it endures further horrors of genocidal and ideological madness. As the last survivors of the Shoah dwindle, it is vital that their songs and stories are shared. A major theme of the documentary is indeed that of the third generation of ghetto survivors and it begins with a granddaughter returning to Israel for her grandfather's funeral. Like the Jewish children singing in Vilna today the ghetto songs, the affirmation of the later generations that 'we are here' is a powerful expression of hope and the reality of life surviving even abject and extraordinary death. For the experience that is related speaks both of what was and what is and will be.
In the face of the ghetto's horror, and the daily encounter with death (close at hand or in the killing fields of the nearby Ponar forest), the Jewish community used theatre to keep the spirit alive. In this they were aided by remarkable people, such as Amroz Sutzkever. Probably the greatest Yiddish poet of the holocaust and one of the most outstanding poets of the whole 20th century, Sutzkever's words were both brilliant in their expression and amazingly strengthening amid the scarcely imagineable harrowing. Nor was he alone. One of the most powerful parts of the whole documentary is the song Mother, written by Chayele Posnanski after the murder of her mother. She herself also did not survive the war and this is the only legacy she left. Like Satzkever's work, the song acts as a means of transcendence, an affirmation of life in the midst of the almost unbearable grief of existence. Poetry is thus, like other arts, not just an essential expression but a necessity at the very heart of life. It becomes prayer beyond prayer. In Sutzkever's extraordinary poem and song 'Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern' it is indeed prayer itself: 'under your white stars/offer me your white hand/all my words are flowing teardrops/I would place them in your hand.' It is hope beyond the harrowing, beyond 'the murderous quiet'.
At the end of the documentary, one survivor, Theodore, reflects that humanity still seems to want more of such tragedy, not yet having learned its lessons. Like the story and the songs, it is a sobering observation. Like the story and the songs however, it is not an expression of defeat and resignation but of centred humanity and continued hope. There is appropriate 'forgetfulness' in the story, for many survivors the only way to survive. Yet this is also subversive memory and a life-giving poetry of hope.
From the 2011 flood to future hopes, one of the important features of our life in the parish of St Luke Toowoomba has been prayer for our City, especially at Candlemas. For the feast of Candlemas (or Presentation of Christ in the Temple), traditionally celebrated on 2 February, is an important pivotal festival of the spiritual calendar, as Christians turn from the light of Christmas towards the greater light of Easter and healing for our world. In Australia, it also enables us to celebrate the full return of the working year and the beginning of the school year, praying for our local community as a whole. At Candlemas, we therefore hold a special gathering each year, involving others from the wider community, and we pray for and give candles to key figures, groups and organisations in our city. The following is a special prayer I wrote for this occasion, for the start of the new school and full working year and for other times of transition. May it be a blessing for us all:
May this time be one of delightful new beginnings for you
and for all those with whom you love and live.
When you look to the future may you rejoice,
and when you look to the past
may you be thankful and forgive.
May the peace of the Christ child
continue to bring you joy.
and may the hope of the resurrected One
bring you new life.
When you take up new challenges
may your candles burn bright
and when you stumble
may they still flame and flicker in the night.
So may you always know light in darkness
and the Eternal Light within you. Amen.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.