Questing

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What is questing? What does a modern-day quest look (and feel) like? What is the point of a quest?

We have all read fairytales or myths or legends that incorporate some aspect of a quest. The ‘prince’ must go ‘searching’, cross a ‘bridge’ or a ‘river course’ or a ‘desert’ or some kind of barrier, fight a ‘dragon’ or a ‘monster’, climb a ‘tower’ or a ‘mountain’, save a ‘princess’ with a ‘kiss’ or a ‘sword’. In most cultures, there are stories of heroes doing great exploits or of goddess-like women overpowering evil. Many of these stories have similar themes and rely on archetypes and symbols that give deep meaning to the narrative. Some such stories concern an individual character taking a quest; usually this is done alone, or perhaps with one other companion.

But, is there such a thing as a modern-day quest? Or are we nowadays limited to computer games such as Mindcraft or fantasy fiction novels? I believe that atleast some of us (maybe all of us) at some time in our lives, find ourselves embroiled in an experience that can best be defined as ‘a quest’. It may involve the completion of an academic thesis, the endurance of overcoming a serious challenge to our health, pursuing a love partner to the ends of the earth. Equally well, it may be an entirely internal quest. Many modern-day quests seem to be about contending for our destiny; more about our inner geography and searching for answers to do with our identity and purpose. Who am I? Where do I belong? What is the purpose for my life? Although our questing as moderns may be less visible and require less physical stamina, the terrain is similar to what we read about in fairytales and ancient myths (or sacred writings). We require great stamina and perseverance and strength. Sometimes there are complex riddles to solve demanding intelligence and intuition. Sometimes we need to hide in a cave for a time. Other times, courage must charge forward wielding a sword.

During a quest, ordinary things take on heightened meaning for us. Nature appears to provide guidance and sometimes animals and plants seem to turn up to help steer our path. Our senses become more articulate and we may find we need to rely more on our dreams and imagination to help make decisions. People will wander in and out of our lives, and strangers are likely to hand us important ‘keys’ for our journey. While questing, irrational experiences, thoughts and feelings sit as equals beside our rational processes; both are required. Usually, we meet many new emotions and must make a place for each one. Although we may not feel in control, there is a sense that an unseen ‘author’ may be in control and that they will possibly help see this new narrative through to a good ending.

Carl Jung and John Sanford both understood the importance of archetypes and symbols for enabling individuals to reach their fullest potential. They dedicated their lives to helping others find meaning and healthy expressions of destiny and purpose. I believe that when we companion one another on a ‘quest’, we are enabling a miracle to occur; we are helping to birth the true identity of a human being, and, in doing so, we are strengthening the whole human race. Who knows what the world could look like if we were all living in (and out) our intended destinies?

The Quester’s Companion

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We did not set out to complete a quest (Do you ever?). It was going to be a road-trip. An adventure to throw off the shackles of normal living. A circumnavigation of our great state, anti-clockwise for no particular reason. But as it progressed, the journey took on more meaning, at least for one of us, until every moment was charged and every detour significant. And so we set out: my companion, the Quester, and, I, the Quester’s Companion.

I have already written at length elsewhere about the difference between a quest and a pilgrimage so I won’t repeat myself here. The astute reader will already understand much of that themselves. And a quester certainly will!

Our road-trip was planned with a minimum of fuss. We intended to take in a variety of environments, from beach to mountains to river side.  A couple of thousand kilometres over ten days. I had imagined the joy of the open road and the pleasure of unplanned detours. Each day sharing with the other the ritual of morning tea in a rural café, plotting that evening’s destination, and little else. And, with a circular itinerary, there was never a “destination”, or perhaps there was a series of them. Bliss and adventure, delivered by a capable Nissan.

Destiny sometimes has plans of its own, plans which are not always shared with all of the participants. Chance encounters, fleeting thoughts and inspirations were compelling one of the travellers towards a destination, not necessarily a place. For the quester’s companion, me, such thoughts had not invaded my consciousness. I was a happy traveller and a willing participant in adventure. I was soaking up the new atmosphere of places heard about but not previously visited. For me, there was such a thing as a free lunch.

Oddly, the disparity in purpose between the two travellers did not materialise until the second last night. I was all for calling an end to the constant driving by putting my feet up and laying my head back in relative luxury. The quester, however, had other plans. And this is where the quester’s companion has to earn their stripes. This is when it is time to see the more important thread that has been running through the narrative. To acknowledge those events and impulses that have brought us to this point. And so into the forest we went. Beyond communication coverage, beyond a quick turnaround and flight to comfort. And, as the companion, I was not always privy to the impulses that led us on.

I confess that it was not a comfortable choice to “companion” someone on that last day, and it was not a comfortable choice to travel into the physical and possibly spiritual remoteness, but I must say that the outcome of the quest brought great meaning to the quester and with that I was satisfied.

I am not sure what went on that night, while I slept. I know the onset of evening and darkness brought strange noises and visual oddities, such as the way the mist hung around the trees. But I also know that I managed to sleep most of the night away, once I reached some level of comfort in my surroundings.

Who knows what went on for my travelling companion? What moment of revelation or destiny. Some parts of it were related as we travelled to our next destination but many parts were withheld, simply because I would not have understood them, could not have understood them.

And so it is for a true companion. We are called to walk alongside, to share those aspects of the journey that we can share, to uphold and strengthen where needed, to walk in silence or to stand and wait.  And to rejoice in the aftermath, to celebrate the quest’s completion.

The next day brought a return to our previous plan and to some relative luxury. Our road trip ended without incident except for a near friend issuing us with instructions for our next road trip, and, it turns out, our next quest, which proved just as memorable and where the quester’s companion became the quester.

A Cosmic Pregnancy

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They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and I (re)discovered the truth of that this week. I am reading a book that is comparing two models of the God-World relationship and it caught me by surprise. I realised that all of my life I had thought in one way, and, of course, assumed that it was the only way. In fact, I thought that any other way was wrong and probably dangerous.

The discussion is about how the Creator is related to the Creation:

The first model is called the “production” model. In it, creation is made from material that is separate from the Creator, like the potter’s pot or the artist’s sketch. The picture that came to my mind was of a (slightly mad looking) scientist with a prototype universe perched on the workbench. God looks on with a mixture of pride, bemusement and concern. This is the model that I am most familiar with, without even realising that it was just one of several possible views.

The second model is called the “procreative” model where God brings forth the universe from God’s own being. (This is not the same as pantheism, where all of the universe is God. That is another possible model but one that I do not feel any connection with). In the procreative model, the universe is made from the Divine material – the potter and pot are one. In the words of the book that I am reading1 “this model does not identify the universe ‘with God’, for God is more than the universe; rather it sees the universe as being ‘of God’ or ‘in God’.”

This is completely new thinking for me and very liberating. In this view, God is invested in creation. In this view, God cannot just crush the creation and start again like the mad scientist could. And the picture that sprang to mind when I first thought about this model was of a pregnant God – the Big Bang was growing inside God’s tummy like a pregnancy. There is a much higher level of empathy than in the view that I have been used to, and I like it.

Of course, this has also changed my attitude towards all of creation – the sanctity of all living things, the wonder of the cosmos and the subatomic, the beauty of the created order. And it has changed my view of how we fit into the Creator’s handiwork.

I am not sure where else to take that picture, or if any other truths or ideas spring from it, but you are welcome to make comment about it if you would like to.

1 Reading the Bible again for the first time, Marcus J Borg

A Framework for Discussing Faith

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Nourishing Faith

What is faith?

Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing or belief not based on proof (dictionary definition).

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. (R. Tagore)

Faith is stretching out from the known and reaching for the unknown.

Faith is a crutch.  When I am injured, a crutch is exactly what I need.  When I need a shoulder to lean on, faith is what I reach for.  But, faith is so much more than that … it is a way of life … a way of seeing.

Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. (The Inclusive Bible, Heb 11:1)

Faith is trusting in the faithfulness of a good and loving God.

Faith incorporates reason and knowledge, and flourishes when partnered with feelings, emotions and intuition.  Occasionally, faith needs imagination and fantasy to survive.

These three things remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love (1Cor 13:13).

 Take a moment to read these eight statements about faith and rate your level of agreement between 1-10 where 10 is strongly agree and 1 is strongly disagree.

Faith in what/who?

Do all humans express some kind of faith?

(gravity, traffic lights/rules, ropes, parachutes, human kindness/honesty/goodness, dogs off leads are friendly, etc etc)

Faith in Deity (ies) is common in humans around the world.  The characteristics that we ascribe to god(s) will affect how we live out our spiritual faith.

Faith in the scripture and the words/promises contained within sacred texts also affect our faith practice.  Eg. Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom 4:9) and It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise … (Rom 4:13).

Christian faith relies on scripture to formulate theology.  Belief that God is Love and that Christ is the incarnation of this God of Love seems to be the basic expression of faith that all denominations share.  For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through Christ to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross (Col 1:19-20)

What does faith look/sound/feel like?

I believe the expression of Christian faith is as varied as the number of individuals that choose it.  Please read Hebrews 11 to consider how some of the ancients expressed their faith, and notice the variety/diversity.  I have written a similar reflection looking at the women of faith from the sacred text and a more general article on faith that you may wish to have a look at:

and

What color is your faith?  What color is my faith?

Does it involve justice, mercy, generosity, care of the environment, compassion for the needy, academic rigour, study of the sacred text, sharing food/company, prayer?

Ways to nourish faith in others (and ourselves)

Listen and watch for expressions of faith.  Affirm experiences/observations in others as they share their stories.  Their spiritual language may be different to that which is commonly used in the Christian narrative.  Be attentive to a range of conversations that may involve:

  • Awe/wonder of nature
  • Synchronicity
  • Coincidences
  • Dreams
  • Gratitude
  • Mortality/Death
  • Concepts of karma, guilt and/or grace
  • Hopes and wishes
  • Miracle stories
  • ‘Help’ cries
  • ‘It was meant to be’
  • ‘Everything happens for a reason’

Using prayer to nourish faith:

I pray that out of God’s glorious riches, he/she may strengthen you with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all God’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  (Eph 3:16-19) 

Celtic Heritage

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For most of my life I have considered myself to be English, as that was the country of my birth, however in recent times I have felt a greater affinity with my Scottish heritage. My mother was born in Scotland and my paternal grandfather comes from a long line of Scots. But perhaps the greatest connection that I feel is when I have connected with Celtic spirituality, particularly as expressed through a Christian lens. It is then that I feel drawn most strongly to that part of Great Britain.

We were fortunate to visit Scotland when we were first married. We had a chance to visit some of the major cities and to drive up to the lochs and the highlands. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the islands off the west coast which is considered the spiritual home of the Celts, but I have read many accounts of it. As we explored Scotland we considered it to be less colourful than the countryside in the northern half of England but the highlands had a haunting beauty about them that made them seem timeless. And the spiritual practices also seemed to stretch back further in time than modern history.

I can see in my reading of Celtic spirituality that it has been forged through the harsh landscape, through relatively long periods of time and through an absence of clearly marked structures such as buildings and clerical hierarchy.

The parts of Celtic spirituality that I have warmed to are its connection with the land and its communal nature. For me, spirituality must be well grounded in the place I live and should have some basic rituals or practices. These can be as simple as marking certain days or events, or they can mark seasons of life.

Secondly I want my spirituality to not just be a solitary pursuit but open to all, preferably without hierarchy. All of us can share our unique contribution to community and to spiritual life.

I am pleased to call myself an Australian, and to honour the timelessness of this land, its people and their ancient journey but I am also pleased to remember where my own individual journey came from as well.

This piece is in response to Recovering our personal deity-storyline. I was encouraged to look for threads of my own heritage in my current expression of self and faith.

When…

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(by Hannah Beattie)

You are strong, you are able, you are faithful, you are love.

 

When I doubt;

I choose to trust.

 

When I can’t see;

I rest knowing you see it all.

 

When I worry;

I rejoice in the certainty of your love.

 

When all is unknown;

I am safe because you are still God.

 

When I am grieving;

I know you hold my tears.

 

When I fear;

I choose to turn to the Creator and Sustainer of all.

 

When I am uncertain;

I look for your provision and new adventures.

 

When I am tired;

I rest in your gentle and humble presence.

 

When I am convicted;

I am grateful for your grace.

 

When I am wrong;

I delight in your righteousness.

 

When I am waiting;

I rest in your company.

 

You are strong, you are able, you are faithful, you are love.





A note from the author: I have had a lot of change in my life over the past year. New home, new relationship, new state, new community, new church, ending a job, starting a new job, new friends, new local shops, new hobbies, etc! As I wrote this poem, I was reminded that amongst the many changes, Creator has been my companion, has given me reassurance, and has filled me with peace. Shalom.

GOD IS NOT MALE

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This needs to be shouted from a mountain top … from every mountain top around the globe! I have frequented many ‘sacred’ places (mainly churches) over the fifty-five years of my life and hardly ever have I heard a ‘She’ or a ‘Her’ in relation to Deity. Occasionally I have heard a feminine allegory or story from the Hebrew/Greek Sacred Text but not very often.

When I ask people why they use exclusively masculine language for God, they usually answer something like ‘It’s biblical’, ‘Scripture tells us to call God “Our Father”‘, or ‘Jesus was a man’. When I ask them whether they believe God is male, they usually say ‘No, God is beyond gender’.

If God is beyond gender, why do we use language to restrict God to masculine imagery? Why do we not use more varied, inclusive language for the Divine Loving One? Why do we not use She/He/They interchangeably or together? Remembering the theology of the Trinity (Creator, Christ, Comforter) and, that one of the Hebrew names for God is Eloihym (meaning The Powers), maybe ‘They’ could become the standard pronoun. This would enable us to move-on from a restricted understanding of who God is and recover from our idol-worshipping of an entirely masculine image of Yahweh.

Why do I think this is important? Firstly, I am a woman, and scripture assures me that I am an image-bearer of the Divine. I would like our language to honour the Feminine Divine so I can get on with the task of being made in Her image. And secondly, I believe that acknowledging/honouring the feminine aspects of Creator would help facilitate the destruction of inequality, inequity, domestic violence, sexual abuse (and/or ignorance), female genital mutilation, child poverty, human slavery and many other human rights issues. You may think that’s a bit of a stretch but surely it is time we made some progress on these fronts.

I find it especially disturbing when I hear women/girls using exclusively masculine language for Deity. By doing so, they (we) are ‘othering’ themselves and disregarding their equally central role in carrying the shekinah glory of Creator. This means they abdicate that honour to the masculine; they leave the responsibility of Divine image-bearing to men and boys. Often this is done subconsciously but the consequences are none-the-less tragic. It will be a great day on the earth when women (with their daughters) embrace language like El shaddai, The Great Nourisher, Goddess, Mother God, Woman Wisdom, Ruach (Spirit), Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Paraclete, She, Her, etc. It will be an even greater day when men also take these names upon their lips in reverence/awe.

So, let me encourage you sisters, to untether yourselves and boldly take hold of your divine image-bearing mantle. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and the Spirit of the Lioness of Judah lives in you and overflows from you. The earth, and humanity, needs your courage and your wisdom more than ever at this time in history.

And, for men, intersexed people and those of you who do not ascribe to a binary understanding of gender, please embrace a broader language-base when referring to Deity. It is time for Her/Him/They to be released from the box they have been constrained within … thank God/dess!!

Interwoven

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the warp, the weft

the glory, the cleft

entwined, bereft

the child, the mother

a sister, a brother

my self, the other

a father, a son

a woman, the ‘one’

the moon, the sun

the sea, the land

a face, a hand

to fall, to stand

the yang, the yin

perfection, and sin

we lose, we win

the warp, the weft

… fabric of life

… interwoven

The Mother Well

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My mother-in-law turns eighty this year and she was born in the town of Motherwell in Scotland. This has got me thinking about all the women I have known over the years that have mothered well; some in extremely difficult circumstances. How do these women cope? How do they make ends meet? How do they give their children the best chance of flourishing? I am filled with awe and admiration as they dig deep into their mother well and draw up everything that is needed for their off-spring to have a fair go at life. They often sacrifice their own dreams and desires; some even forfeit their needs for a time. But needs are needs and eventually need to be met.

My own mothering experience included challenges but I had the support of good family/friends and plenty of resources to raise my four daughters. My name means ‘deep well’ and, certainly, there was the need to draw on depth and wisdom at times especially during the teen-age years. Now I look at these four amazing young women and my heart fills with warmth and satisfaction; one day soon they too may choose to become mothers. For now, I watch them care for others and care enough to go to where the vulnerable people need a chance to access equity.

I have always been drawn to the feminine names for deity. Some of my favourites are El shaddai (God/dess of many breasts), Ruach (Spirit) and Sophia (Wisdom). The Hebrew Sacred Text says:

The LORD said, ‘Could a mother forget a child who nurses at her breast? Could she fail to love an infant who came from her own body? Even if a mother could forget, I will never forget you. I have engraved you on the palm of my hand. You are always in my thoughts.’

These words were written by Isaiah the prophet and can be found in Isaiah 49: 15-16.

It seems that a mother’s love was the best example of unconditional faithful divine love that the prophet could find!