This week I spent two days reflecting together with others on the next steps in the journey of peace and harmony in Toowoomba. The first day was with other members of the Goodwill Committee, developed at the invitation of the Pure Land Learning College to help give community direction to the Pure Land Venerable Master's vision of Toowoomba as 'a model city' of peace and harmony. On the second day we joined by some other wonderful key community leaders, acting as 'critical friends' to help take forward our hopes and ideas. Thanks are also due to Prof Michael Cuthill of USQ for his able facilitation. For it was a very profitable time, developing our structure (even if I was asked to be GWC chair for the forthcoming year!), our shared sense of purpose and key areas of partnership with others. GWC groups are now working particularly on specifics for: the development of agreed community values for our work, Indigenous engagement, youth engagement, peace art, further multi-faith understanding and action, and grounding our connections with UNESCO through official partnerships such as the 'Creative Cities' program.
Last Sunday it was both moving and a delight to celebrate the 20 years anniversary of the ordinations to the priesthood of my wife and colleague Penny Jones and our Glennie School chaplain Kate Powell. Both were part of the historic wave of female ordinations in England in 1994. As part of the gathering they shared something of their own journeys, including the pain and struggle to ordination (and, in Kate's case, the opposition of her own bishop, in Chichester, which led to her ordination by another bishop in a parish church at East Grinstead). The choice of songs, readings and poetry was telling and uplifting and it was a huge pleasure to be joined by people from the wider community as well as Glennie School and the Anglican parish of St Luke. We were reminded how this is but one more step on the journey of God's liberation of women and men: a 'teacup in a storm', offering comfort and encouragement. A particular joy was also the presence of other women from other denominations and religious faiths (including Venerable Wu Chin, from the Pure Land Buddhists, who brought a lovely gift of typical hospitality).
Is cross-community meditation an idea whose time has come? Does our world badly need it to transform its dysfunctionality and stress and to deepen our shared awareness and connectedness?
- such were questions, answered in the affirmative, which emerged from our wonderful 'Silence for Peace' community meditation workshop in Toowoomba today. It was a personal joy to help facilitate this and to help add a vital new level to our work of 'building a model city of peace and harmony.'
People of different traditions have been practicing meditation as part of the wisdom of the ages. Until recently however we have done this in our separate 'boxes'. Indeed, within western Christianity, the ancient traditions of Christian meditation were largely lost, until renewed lately, not least by Fr John Main and the World Community of Christian Meditation (WCCM). Undoubtedly a major force was the rise of eastern religions and philosophies in the west, especially from the 1960s. In secularised forms, meditation has also now spread to all kinds of hitherto unlikely places, including boardrooms and prisons. Meanwhile, multi-faith and multi-cultural relationships have prospered. A natural step therefore seems to bring people of different backgrounds together to share and strengthen our individual commitments and underpin our wider work for peace with shared inner peace.
From a Christian perspective, cross-community meditation awareness and practice has certainly been a major feature of recent and continuing WCCM work. As Fr Laurence Freeman has written (in a paper 'The Contemplative Parish'):
Two great challenges offer the parish and the Church as a whole an opportunity for regeneration: the rediscovery and reappropriation of its contemplative tradition as a living practice among all its members and the encounter in deep dialogue with other faiths. These two are intimately linked...
Inter-religious dialogue (like inter-denominational ecumenism) thrives in a contemplative environment. Unity is then seen as an already existing reality rather than as something to be created. Friendship and humour replace competitiveness and pomposity.
Such an outlook lies behind significant WCCM initiatives, including the development of cross-community meditation encounters across the world.
For our part in Toowoomba today, we began with an Aboriginal Acknowledgement of Country (by Aunty Gwen Currie) and reflection on 'dadirri' and the ancient 'Aboriginal Gift' of contemplative peace in our land. We then shared in brief introductions to meditation from different perspectives including: Pure Land Buddhist (from Venerable Wu Ping); Christian/WCCM (Jo Anderson, from St James' Church, Toowoomba); Quaker silence (Pam Tooth); and a wider community perspective (from Viki Thondley, a holistic therapist and owner of Mind, Body, Food, specialising in mindset, lifestyle, stress and eating disorders). Their input was interspersed by short periods of silence and introductions to meditative practice, including a memorable walking meditation together in the Pure Land Meditation Hall. Hosted as we were so graciously at the Pure Land Learning College, we then concluded with a pleasant vegetarian meal together. Key common themes were the deep connectedness of mind, body and spirit which is (re)discovered in meditation and the consequent deep re-connecting with self, others, land and universe and the deepest reality of life itself.
When I first met with others to plan this event we did not expect anything as many as the number who came: a sign that indeed this is a powerful need and joy in our hectic and distracted world. We look forward therefore to the regular 'Silence for Peace' cross-community group which will now begin to meet next week (at TRAMS (Toowoomba Refugee & Migrant SErvices), 123 Neil Street), and to future developments and encouragement of inner peace and connection within our wider community (among individuals, schools, and other groups) as a whole.
In what ways can we join together with others in praying and witnessing to peace? I am most thankful today to friends from Toowoomba's Pure Land Learning College for their kind work in putting together a video of our celebration of the International Day of Peace at St Luke's Toowoomba last year. It is a lovely new year's gift to receive at this time and can be viewed below (click on more). Our event took place in the context of St Luke's flower and music festival during Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers and is just one example of how churches and others can cooperate and be hospitable to others for the sake of the wider world and our greater mutual understanding It was the third time we have held something similar at St Luke's, with each occasion being particularly special. Last year, for example, children from The Glennie School helped us by sharing their own prayers, as leaders of different faith groups in Toowomba joined together to light candles in prayer. Through videos, speeches and songs, we were reminded of how Toowoomba can be a model city for Peace and Harmony. This video compilation shares something of how Toowoomba is giving a real lead, as well as how we try to link in with other initiatives overseas. It shows how we can find times and ways to relate together without compromising out integrity and instead be enriched by one another. Indeed, for myself, in this event last year I was especially humbled by an older Sufi Muslim man from Iraq. He greeted me before the start with deep and fulsome thanks. 'This is so wonderful', he said, 'I grew up in Iraq in the shadow of the Anglican cathedral and became great friends with many there. We truly loved one another. So it is so sad to see and feel the religious hurts of Iraq today. This however is one marvellous way we can begin to reestablish sanity again.' At the end he was full of tears of joy and compassion. He grasped my hand as we exchanged the peace. 'May the peace of Christ be with you' he said. I have rarely experienced such a truly meaningful exchange of peace in a religious setting.
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.