Retreating and backing away

collection late 2014 sudanese baptism and Christmas 2015 007 - Copy
Today’s Scriptures: Isa 58-9-14    Luke 5:27-32 

Today I had to reverse back down a narrow path and around a bend, most unexpectedly.   I realised that the view going backwards is always different and sometimes difficult.  I amusedly saw how I was both backing away and retreating…it left me pondering…

Hindsight is a valuable tool to be part of our guide.  Upon reflection, we can re-enter past experiences, and refresh encounters that were particularly important for us. We can find strong positive influences and quite negative factors

Taking note of really significant events and people in our past can help us decide to move forward in new directions.  We can see more clearly what the real needs are which may enable us to grow into our personal fullness and we can invite into our life new mentors,  new voices and new music to dance to. We can choose in whose steps we walk.

A spiritual retreat is a way of stepping back over a period of time, usually with some guidance, to be able to recognize the unique ways in which the Spirit  has been working in our lives and to attune to the ways in which we may be called into the future.

We retreat into that sacred place where we go to pray  … intently entrusting our time, emotions, anxieties and needs to the Holy Spirit as our companion and guide.

As we set aside the past patterns and come with a sense of holy indifference as to future options, we allow a holy spaciousness to enter our vision.  Without being attached to any outcome, we let our own truth arise and simply attend to our feelings and responses.  A spiritual guide prayerfully supports  each retreatants unique journey. Quiet and time allow for the inner most things of our heart to arise from deep within.

I must say in retreating, there is sometimes  a sense of a need to back away also … the spiritual path can be tremulous and mysterious.

copyright electric (2)


It is empowered by the Holy Spirit, the dynamo, the dynamic of life.

PSALM    139     As your accompaniment

Yahweh, you examine me and know me,

you know if I am standing or sitting,

you read my thoughts from far away,

whether I walk or lie down, you are watching, 

you know every detail of my conduct.    vs.1-3

If I flew to the point of sunrise,

or westward across the sea,

your hand would still be guiding me,

your right hand holding me.     vs. 9-10

        See  SELECT READINGS NIV bible link

Procession of life

2014-05-18 11.18.15-1
Today’s Scriptures: Isa 58:1-9, Matt 9:14-15

Today I continue yesterday’s theme:  ‘Struggles’. All life has struggles through which we become freer of our “old self,” and find a “new self.”

When I was in my early twenties I participated in a small group for personal growth.  After many months, and with the guidance of a professional, I came to recognize new visions and truths about myself.   In the process I had to sift my thoughts, feelings and values to find who I really wanted to be and how to discern my path ahead.   After a lot  soul-searching and heartache,  I remember vividly how I, somewhat valiantly exclaimed “I am a  ‘new’ me!”   The spontaneous wisdom of my guide at the time, was “old self – new self you are all one!

I had become – or – I was becoming a new creation out of the old. I was transformed but still me.  I liked the discovery of knowing I belonged to all of me – my past was an integrated part of the newer changed person I was growing to be.  The process of detachment from my former ways and ideas enabled me to embrace  and trust a new vision of me.

Again I refer to the wisdom of Joan D. Chittister:[1]

“Discernment is based on the awareness that we cannot always have what we want…. It involves independence of judgment, the ability to maintain breadth of vision even in the midst of crisis, the awareness that we are not enslaved to our past.  We can dream again….We can summon up from within ourselves parts of ourselves that have yet to see the light of life.” p.36

Without a prayerful, loving and a trusting support person the process of detachment is exceedingly hard as it is a dying to something within the heart, whilst daring to trust  there will be resurrection in me.    This is the paschal mystery at work in us and a Spiritual Director or companion on the journey holds this truth for us.

Our journey is processing through life.

The question is who leads us and who goes with us.

[1]  “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope.”

Cambridge. UK: Wm Erdman Publishing, 2005

The gift of struggle

copyright (12)
Thursday after Ash Wednesday.
 Today’s Scriptures:  Deut 30:15-20    Luke 9:20-25

A few years ago I read “Scarred by Struggle: Transformed by Hope”, written by Joan Chittister.  Today I am revisiting some of her powerful words to share them with you.

Her premise is that struggle is a gift, and through it we obtain many personal gifts which ‘grow us’ into a new creation.  From my experience, I have found there is much to be gained from struggle and the scars we carry are signs to us that our growth has come at a price. But indeed we grow out from our struggles in new directions and new life.

The following are a few excerpts from her book:

“To struggle is to begin to see the world differently. It gives a new sense of self. It tests all the faith in the goodness of God that we have ever professed. It requires an audacity we did not know we had.  It demands a commitment to the truth.  It leads to self-knowledge.  It builds forbearance.  It tests our purity of heart.  It brings total metamorphosis of soul.

If we are willing to persevere through the depths of struggle we can emerge with conversion, independence, faith, courage, surrender, self-acceptance, endurance, purity of heart, and a kind of personal growth that takes us beyond pain to understanding.  Enduring struggle is the price to be paid for becoming everything we are meant to be in the world.”[1]

[1] Joan D. Chittister  p.19

“The isolation that marks any serious struggle is a call to recognize that life is full of gifts that come and go, come and go as we ourselves come and go through the many stages of life. Detachment from the  idea that there is only one way for me to go through life joyfully is its key. The pain of loss is a real and a present thing. It manacles my soul and breaks my heart, yes. But holy indifference – detachment – teaches me that there is not room for isolation, abandonment, death of spirit when I lose one thing because I know that there is something else waiting for me in its place.

Designed to enable a person to regard all of life with an open mind and a willing heart, detachment – holy indifference – is the foundation of spiritual discernment.

To discern is to choose between available options on the grounds that both are good but that one is more likely to result in greater growth at this particular time than can be expected from the other under these prevailing conditions, though both are good possibilities. Discernment and detachment are lifelines out of the pit of loss and the island of isolation to which it threatens to dooms us.”[2]

[2] Joan D. Chittister. op.cit. p.35

Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope.

Cambridge. UK: Wm Erdman Publishing, 2005

Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister (O.S.B), a former prioress and a social psychologist.  She is a well published best selling author with a doctorate in speech communication theory.

Other titles include The Fire in These Ashes and Heart of Flesh.


copyright heartsofstoneAsh Wednesday Scripture Readings:   Joel 2:12-18,  2 Cor 5:20-6:2,  Mk 6:1, 16-18

In Monday’s blog I mentioned the quest for a sincere heart.  The prayerful cry of the heart is expressed in Psalm 51.  Verse 10 pleads:

 “God, create a clean heart in me”   …  and vs. 17:

“My sacrifice is this broken spirit,  you will not scorn this crushed and broken heart. ” 

Lent, which  begins today, is a  time of quiet contemplative prayer and of rebuilding relationships of faith with God.  It is a season in which Christians look inwards at their hearts and allow them to be transformed by love.   As we draw aside and let God be God and we humbly acknowledge our limitations in our humanity, we seek healing and restoration.

“My eyes are drawn to the person of humbled and contrite spirit, who trembles at my word.”       Isaiah  66:2

Along my travels I have gathered many stones.   It is the heart of stone that has been the source of my deepest contemplation.   In the most trying of times I came upon the blackened small stone of perfect shape.  I had been in much anguish and my prayers reflected my heartfelt cries for help.   As I wandered at waters edge on a lonely beach of clean sand, I paused and looked down to find the most unseemly treasure.

It came to me as gift with the capacity to bring me to tears.   I  was overwhelmed  and in awe of how strongly I identified with my own heart of stone and failings.  Yet gradually it transformed me.  I slowly came to love the black heart of stone.  I came to accept that in all forms, hearts are lovable.  I began to forgive myself and receive forgiveness and healing.  I encountered the living God in Spirit and Truth.

No matter how dark or desolate the place may be where you find yourself.  God is there ahead of you to meet you, sustain you and embrace you. In Lent we are reminded that we are all “prodigal” children, who have strayed on our paths, but in turning back  we are welcomed.  We come back to our senses, and sense and know that we have been heard and experience merciful forgiveness.

Prayer is our relationship with the divine.  Prayer is the union with Spirit.  It is the essence of our relationship and substance of spiritual direction.  Prayer is personal not preformated.  Pray as you can from the heart.  Simply go to your sacred /secret place and enter in to the quiet with an expectant heart.

Psalm 51   and Isaiah 66  are readings you may find helpful at this time.   By clicking the link to the NIV Bible on the Select Reading page, you will gain direct access to these and other texts.

On the Prayer page you will also find a copy of an examen  which may also be of interest.

You may enjoy song or instrumental   “Out of Ashes”  from  ‘This is the Time”      Album by Michael Mangan

Giant Stories

copyright strt art (21)
Week 5 ordinary time    Today’s scripture: 1Kgs 8:22-23, 27-30.   Mk 7:1-13

It is common now to see street art as another medium on our radar. In this “Lunar Year of the Monkey”,  we might  ponder on the street art of Herakut, international street artists, whose work in Fitzroy, as part of their Giant Story Book series (2013), centers around the monkey character.

It’s interesting to notice what  shapes our opinions, beliefs and values.  Books and storytelling clearly play a large part in our formative years.   These may be from diverse traditions, myths and cultures.

As adults how we interpret the word around us and how we  filter messages gives us insight into where we are nourishing our core beliefs and how open we are to growth from the vital new voices of our day.

It can be challenging to engage with street art, and let questions be asked.   As the front side of this work exclaims..”the most curious just tended to be the most  courageous.”

Sometimes that is exactly what it takes to stay open and to be prepared to question new ideas and influences.  Being courageous embraces taking risks that we might grow.    It means not hardening our hearts and remaining resistent to change or intransigent.

“If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts”.  Heb 3: 7-8

On the hidden side of this work, we find the question  “What would a monkey want to say”  ???   This prompts me to suggest we might listen to what our inner questions are and what we  may want to say.     Spiritual direction helps us listen to our voice and our messages.

Encouraging…is calling forth the courage. Let your heart be open to hear where the Spirit is leading you and discovering the messages  that are life giving and calling you forth into your personal wholeness?

copyright strt art (22).jpg

more on Herakut

Blessings of a Pure Heart

Wk 5 Ordinary time.  Today’s Scriptures: 1 Kg 8:1-7,9-13; Mk 6:53-56

Today is the official start of the Chinese Lunar new year.   It is a traditional 15 day festival of family and community celebration and renewal, thanksgiving, culminating in the Lantern Festival.  Prosperity, health and longevity are gifts  which are sought at this time and prayer offerings are for the living and the dead.

How lovely it was this morning to be greeted by this little innocent child and her red envelope!  I did not understand the significance of the gift, but have since found that she was receiving blessings from her parents.


Later I read that the red envelope of blessing is exchanged as a sign of respect and well wishes to all, and especially passed on through the generations  to children.  The envelopes are given with both hands signifying the wholehearted good wishes of the giver so as “to bless them with a pure heart”.

I hear echoes within me of the prayer of the Psalmist  intoned especially at this time in the Christian church as we too seek a pure heart and renewal.

PSALM 51   

Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love,

in your great tenderness wipe away my offences;  …

Let me hear the sound of joy and gladness,

and the bones you have crushed will dance.

Turn away your face from my sins, 

and wipe away all my guilt.  …

God create in me a clean heart,

renew within me a resolute spirit.    ..

Give me back the joy of your salvation,

sustain in me a generous spirit.

vs.1, 8-10, 12.

Tradition is the wisdom of the ages passed on with love blessing us through the lived experience.  So we too bless others by sharing our lived experiences.

No ordinary time

Deitrich Varez copright aku boat L62
WK 5 ordinary time      Today’s Scriptures: Is 6:1-8   1Cor 15:1-11  Lk 5:1-11

There is no such thing as “ordinary time” when you think of it.  It’s a really strange term.  A term which I think is so engaging that I keep it as part of the caption for each day.   It makes me look with fresh eyes and wonder at the extraordinary.

This morning when I woke I found I had mysteriously lost an hour. Time was not ordinary at all!   My day was underway in a timely manner for the first hour till I glanced the kitchen clock and it was an hour ahead.  I looked at my watch and it was exactly one hour behind.  I couldn’t fathom it.   It set me wondering… and also hastening.

Blogs and journals help us go back and capture something that was important to us in time.  They are valuable in our path of reflection because through them we can become a better observer or even a listener to our own emotions, values and feelings.   We can trace patterns and see ways in which we have walked.  Yesterday’s blog finished with the importance of retracing our steps to know ourselves.

My art journal gets filled with lots of seemingly random items which are attractive to me or in some way speaking to me.   When I need to find clarity around a new art direction or gain insight into what’s moving in me I sift through the images and sit with them till they inform me of what it is that drew them to me.

The spiritual journal is similar in that I write down questions, issues, inspirations and insights which come from a full range of sources, but particularly from meditative prayer, scripture and song.   When there is a flow of connectivity I feel the Spirit at work guiding me.

It is the same spirit at work in all of us calling us forth to be inspired – filled  with inspiration; from which new energy and direction flow as we follow.

Last week I rewatched “Groundhog Day” the 1993 movie.  The more I watch that the better it gets for me.   How everyday seems the same when we are stuck in a rut, with grinding certainty of what is going to happen and resolute nothing will change.   Yet slowly, and with a fair degree of humour,  things get better and better till there is a new freedom every day. No day is predictable or ordinary.  It’s a new day.

Dietrich Varez copyright no reproduction

Not ordinary in any sense of the word.

The images above are copyright property of Dietrich Varez,  from Hawaii and may not be printed or reproduced other than on www.

An blog of interest  is


All images and content on this sight are copyright to  or are attributed to the source.