Posted in Musings

Why Churches Are Essential and What We Are Missing

In the last few days there has been much conversation in the media about the reopening and loosening of restrictions in Victoria, Australia. Ours has been the most constrained of all the Australian states (and amongst the tightest in the world) over the last seven months of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is fantastic to finally see a glimmer of hope – pet groomers and hairdressers have been allowed to reopen, and other steps increasing our freedom of movement from 5km to 25km. More steps to open are on the horizon.

Given the high number of cases we once experienced – into the seven hundreds only two months or so ago, not thousands like other countries, but still alarming with deaths rising – it is now of course very prudent to cautiously reopen. No one wants a third wave. No one wants more people to die in our state. Our lockdown was stressful, isolating, mentally draining, and a true spiritual trial. No one wants to go back to that. I do not want to go back to some very dark places I found myself in.

But one would think that reopening would include at least a plan, a discussion, a reason to hope and look forward for all sectors of society especially communities of faith who have been very patient and completely docile to the government’s requests. However, Victorians of various faiths who expected some form of announcement or roadmap last Sunday 18 October were heavily let down by the Victorian government. The build-up was promising – citizens of Victoria were told that there would be fewer but very significant steps to emerge from our long, cold, hard winter of confinement. If those steps were not immediately implemented then at least transparency and disclosure of what would come would be welcomed.

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Posted in Musings

‘True North’ Course Review

In July this year I completed an eight-day online Ignatian Retreat during one of my city’s Covid-19 lockdowns (we’ve had four challenging stages – still in stage four…). It was a beautiful retreat and a blessing for me during a time of personal struggle since the pandemic began in March 2020.  I was (and still am) missing Mass, friends, activities, and freedom. Most of all, I was angry, frustrated, and felt abandoned and wounded. What I thought would be the start of a better year was turning out to be a huge disappointment. Allow me to backtrack for a bit…

I have longed for practical answers to big Catholic existential and theological questions, but did not want to enrol in a long, intellectual theology degree to find solutions. Before the pandemic hit my country in mid to late March, I had started a course at a Catholic university but ended up dissatisfied with it and the institution. In a way the lockdown to come was a blessing that allowed me to escape. Still, I was unfulfilled. During my retreat it was as if I became even more aware of my starvation and desire for more, and while I could see the banquet of heaven, I did not know how to reach it. Nothing satisfied me and I sank into depression.  

For those of us who are fortunate to have access to such things online, my Ignatian retreat fueled a growing hunger to dive deeper into my faith. I also had a long-held desire for a more personal relationship with Christ but, like many of us, I didn’t really know how. Sure, I was going to church and trying to be a good person, but I was mostly filling my time with study, work, and general busyness. Truth be told, I was living on the surface most of the time, and in quite a negative space.

Although I knew about St Ignatius of Loyola my entire life and grew up in a Jesuit-run parish, I found Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises too daunting and complicated to get into after a few attempts. The heavy stuff is not something you do alone. My internal nudges were the beginnings of something I knew I had been avoiding or unable to dedicate myself to for a very long time. The retreat also drove me to ask more profound questions about myself at a time of global crisis: “what does God want of me?”, “what is my true vocation?”, “how can I know Christ personally?”, “how can I best use my time?”, “what will I do after this crisis?”, “will I be single forever?”, and so on.

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Posted in Musings

Wounded in a Dark Wood

Did you know that 2020 marks the seven hundredth anniversary of the completion of Dante’s Divine Comedy?  How apt.

This post was not going to be about that, but I stumbled across this fact as I was searching for a metaphor about being ‘wounded’.  Lost in a dark wood?  Bingo. Little did I know in 2019 when took the above picture that it would come to mean so much this year.  Only three and a half months before the end of what has been a most remarkable, painful, clarifying, isolating, silent, and tumultuous year, I with many others have experienced a range of emotions.

After spending time investing in myself and my faith via spiritual activities, this latter and warmer part of 2020 is only now starting to slowly improve after six months.  The isolation was cold, not only because of our long winter, but in many other ways.  Citizens of my city have endured some of the strictest lockdowns for what feels like forever, so the general mood is one of weariness and anxiety mixed with hope, sunshine, and building expectation.  Will new virus case numbers keep reducing in the city?  Things are looking brighter.  Zero deaths for the first time in more than two months.  When can I see my friends in the flesh?  What happened to my friends who have disappeared and are no longer keeping in touch?  Will we ever communicate again?  How can I show that I love and care for them when they do not respond?  All of this is painful, and a feeling of helplessness prevails in the silent answers.  So to return to my intended topic… 

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Posted in Musings

Grace in the Wilderness

It seems that I am constantly hunting…

For books in my bookshelf,
Ways to play the piano better,
Improving my singing technique,
Tips about contemplation…

Or something else. Sometimes I am picking up where I left off, starting something new then putting it down again, or seeking ways which will satisfy my longing for connection, love, and peace. Longing, but always restless. Aren’t we all?

Talking and writing about COVID-19 has been exhausting, but as my city moved to stage four restrictions in recent times, one is compelled to look inwards to try and process what has been happening. As we start to reflect on the year and talk of Christmas begins, I am always hoping that we will find this time to be one of transformation for everyone on earth, and not just about survival or ‘returning to normal’.  It is a story of death and damage for so many – so how can we find any grace and goodness?  And why?  Because we must.

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Don’t Hold Back

I was speaking with someone about the Catholic Church’s various responses to the Coronavirus pandemic in my country and city, insofar as some parishes are doing much better than others.  The person said that it was as if some in the Church are holding their breaths.  A few are actively reaching out, going to great lengths to safely communicate with their local parishioners and being wonderfully pastoral, while others have fallen completely and disappointingly silent. It seems as though many of us have seized up and do not know what do to (or do know but feel helpless due to fear and/or the restrictions).

When do we get to exhale?  How long will it take before we realise that we can reach out in some way?  This is especially important for people of faith and those in charge of our churches. 

What can we do?  What could we be focussing on?

We can also decide that we need to work on ourselves.

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Posted in Musings

Taking ownership of our pain

Dear MuSinGer readers,

This post below over at moved me.

Take some time to read it and other posts over there, in addition to my own posts below.

I hope you benefit from other wonderful writers out there as much as I do.

God bless.

Under Reconstruction

I’ve learned that the first step towards healing is to take ownership of our pain. It doesn’t matter who or what is responsible for our pain. The wound is ours, and we decide whether to let it fester, or to begin nursing it.

We often blame people — be it others or ourselves — for the pain we experience. But at the core of it, it is often not people that we have trouble forgiving. What we can’t forgive is the fact that life has not gone according to plan.

Without realizing it, we have a pre-written script of how our lives should play out. Things that don’t usually feature in the storyboard: accidents, failures, betrayals, abandonment, humiliation, disillusionment, disability, mental illness, the list goes on.

For some reason, we keep forgetting that the universe owes us nothing, and that we have no reason to be surprised when things don’t go our…

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Posted in Musings

Prayer for Humility and 2020 Vision

Heavenly Father.

For those who are fortunate,
To soak up the sun,
Walk the streets,
Lay on green grasses,
See a friend,
And visit family,
Once more,
Gratitude abounds.

As we emerge from our stupor,
With red-rimmed eyes,
From so much crying,
Or fragmented hearts,
And minds,
Thinking, reflecting,
And reaching out for You.

Teach us,
To hold onto any humility,
You may have gifted us,
In this time of woe,
And death.

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Nada te turbe

This picture is a detail from François Gérard’s painting of St Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish Carmelite nun, contemplative, and mystic who was born in 1515 and died in 1582.  She wrote several spiritual classics considered to be masterpieces of the spiritual life, and was the first woman to be made a doctor of the church with three other females who were also designated doctors (St Catherine of Siena, St Thérèse of Lisieux, and St Hildegard von Bingen). 

I adore St Teresa of Avila.  It is because of her (and St Ignatius of Loyola, and so many other brilliant Spanish saints), that I took up learning Spanish (I don’t think she would be thrilled with my slow progress however, but I digress…).

The title of this post, ‘Nada te turbe’ translates from the Spanish as ‘(let) nothing disturb you’.  It is part of her famous prayer which is included at the end of this post.

I have had this little prayer affixed to my bed and used in books as bookmarks for many years.  While I have looked at it often, along with my half-read books written by St Teresa, only recently have I returned to her writings as a great source of comfort and reality for me, and I suspect for many others at this time.

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