The School without fences

Today, EGS Trust directors Michael, Stuart, Sean and myself along with our new NDESC committee members Steve Payne, Kevin Bird, Tony Agnew and Angela Young (Associate Member EGST) – apologies from Linda Tucker, met with the Narooma High School (NHS) Executive Principal Fiona Jackson, Joseph Harper (Deputy Principal), Karen Ella-Bird (Snr Leader Indigenous Community Engagement), Shirlee-Maree Rowland (Head of Languages & Wellness and responsible person for the Breakfast Club), and other Indigenous staff members, Carl Taylor (Leader Student Support), Reece Ladmore (Student Support), and Daniel Mason Community Worker Red Cross).

This was a valuable and worthwhile meeting for everyone and we came away deeply impressed by the structures now in place at NHS that are based upon deep respect and caring for the students attending the school. It was so good to hear from Fiona and her committed team of staff members as they outlined how the school functions and their relationship with students who feel a close ownership of their school.

We heard how Fiona and other staff members meet the school buses each morning to welcome the students and how direction and decisions form, from the ground level upwards, with students having valuable input in decisions. I could see how the pride that these young Indigenous people have found in their school and education is now being transferred on to their family members and elders enabling healing and new understanding. This is bringing leadership out from within these students that is healing past attitudes and is enabling such potential and hope in going forward.

We all recognised how differently this school is approaching education to when we attended school. It affirmed for us the value and immense possibilities that our support for the planned mentoring program and the Breakfast Club will assist to enable even greater outcomes. Carl, who originates from the Northern Territory, spoke of how these boys of this age culturally, would be seen as young men. By respecting this aspect, it has evidentially shown that they react from a point of maturity.  They step up to this higher role and this has brought forth greater cultural pride and respect in their culture.

We felt such a warm connection and inclusion in the hope that was very evident in our discussions today and we were welcomed warmly by the staff.

After our meeting we enjoyed a tour lead by Kevin, Carl, Daniel and Reece. Beginning with the outdoor Gardening/Nursery program that EGS Trust assisted with seed funding for this project. This is now about to be expanded to include traditional Indigenous plants that will enable traditional bush medicines to be produced. The girls have shown interest to pursue this under the direction and instruction of Elders.

I have asked for an update on this project and their planned future development as I feel that there will be ongoing interest and support for this from those people who previously lent their support to this project.

We heard about the Canoe Building project that is now available for the Indigenous boys. This is reviving and building close connection to culture enabled in the time spent in learning and in the sharing of life stories as they work. Carl spoke of how important this is for the boys to feel able to open up within a safe group and to discuss their inner emotions and feelings. Both the girl’s bush medicine and the boy’s canoe building programs are open to those non-indigenous students who wish to participate and this interest has grown. The emphasis is upon inclusiveness within the school.

Our tour took us on a walk to the boy’s (men’s) dancing circle set within the tall trees and the native plants which are abundant at the school. We saw the girl’s (women’s) yarning circle, learned of the higher ground placement of the boy’s yarning circle and the site of a combined circle between the two sites where they all can come together. These sites were created by the students under direction from contractors and teaching staff.

We learned that the school is sited on a Song Line and we felt the honour and respect that is given to this area. Narooma High School is one of the very rare schools today that does not have a high fence surrounding it. The freedom symbolised by this ‘unconfined’ school, which is situated within the natural environment, expresses hope so strongly. Today, we all witnessed the openness and enlightened approach that is alive and well at Narooma High School.

I am sure that we all felt very encouraged that our involvement with our Narooma and District Education Support Committee, in partnership with the committed staff at Narooma High School, will auger well for current and future students of the school.

Laurel Lloyd-Jones

25th March 2024

Narooma High School’s Breakfast Club

Can we support Narooma High School’s Breakfast Club to be sustainable into the future?

What is the Breakfast Club? Here is some background information that may assist.

  • The Breakfast Club runs Monday – Friday from 8.00am – 8.45am
  • Located in the Food Tech Classroom
  • Caters for students who travel in by bus from Cobargo, Tilba, Bermagui, Bodalla, Dalmeny & Wallaga Lake. (It does not exclude Narooma resident students.)
  • Buses arrive at school from 8.10am to 8.30am
  • Attending staff set up food/equipment normally from 7.45am and repack/store from 8.45am
  • ‘Menu’ is fruit, ham, cheese, mushroom, green leaf toasted sandwiches/wraps and berry/milo smoothies.
  • Students make and toast their selection and make smoothies.
  • Students wash their plates and utensils.

We use the activity as a soft engagement with students and observe if students are arriving at school in an emotional state (Monday is the high-risk morning). This follows through on completion of breakfast in identifying if the student has brought either a packed lunch or money to purchase lunch from the canteen. Staff intervene in a non-embarrassing way to arrange lunch should this be needed.

  1. In 2023 we averaged 18 – 20 students per morning – so far this year we are averaging 30- 35 per day. Multiple reasons lie behind this!
  2. Purchase of the food is undertaken by staff and funding comes from a range of ‘shavings’ from a range of sources within the school. In 2023 average purchase costs was $50.00 – $60.00 and currently it is now $80.00 – $90.00 per week.
  3. Food is purchased from Narooma Woolworths who offer a ‘discount’.

If you would like to make a small regular or one-off donation in support of this program this can be made through our Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust Project Account –

BSB: 032-766

Account Number: 13-9061

All donations are tax deductible. Please indicate that the funds are for the Breakfast Club program.

To enable us to receipt your donations please send an email to egstrust2@gmail.com

Narooma District Educational Support Committee

Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust has an exciting new Committee

Our EGS Trust board has a new committee of committed local people who are taking a shared hope and vision forward under the auspices of our Trust. Narooma District Educational Support Committee held their first meeting last week and appointed Tony Agnew as their Chairperson. Committee members are Kevin Bird, Steve Payne, Tony Agnew, Linda Tucker, Sean Burke (EGS Director) and Angela Young (EGS Associate Member). The committee will have up to eight members. We extend to them our sincere congratulations, appreciation and ongoing support.

Their committee member, Kevin Bird has written this report.

Narooma District Educational Support Committee

Following the outcome of the Voice Referendum in 2023, the Narooma and District Community ‘Yes’ Volunteers decided rather than fade into the mist that discussion was needed on how the energy and empathy of the Volunteers could be utilised in the future.

At that time, community awareness was rising on the flow-on issues facing communities following the Covid 19 2020 / 2021 shutdowns and the closure of schools in favour of ‘Home Schooling’.

Evidence based data was starting to show the issue of low levels of literacy and numeracy competencies, poor social and behavioural skills of young people, school attendance and attending refusal now within the school environment.

It was perceived that the skills, backgrounds, and life experiences of many of the ‘retiree Community’ resident in the Narooma District, might be utilised as Community Volunteers (Refer – ABS 2021 Census Community Profile for Post Code 2546) as many had wished to be involved with young people with identified Literacy & Numeracy competency challenges to be ‘student mentors / support’ with a focus on enhancing individual students Lit/Num competency levels.

Initial discussions with Executive staff at Narooma High School were very supportive and embraced the concept and, if the proposal materialises, they would provide training for Community Volunteers, identify students requiring Lit / Num support and oversight the program once imbedded within the school. The Executive staff have provided a strong ‘Letter of Support’ for the program.

Discussions with the Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust Board resulted in the formation of the ‘Narooma District Education Support Volunteers’ as associate members of the Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust.

Under the guidance and auspice of the Trust’s Board members, a funding submission has been submitted to the Federal Department of Social Services under the ‘Strong and Resilient Communities Activity Community Grants’. We await an outcome from the Department on the funding proposal.

  • The program, on advice from Narooma High School staff, will focus on selected students currently in Years 7, 8 & 9.
  • An initial ten (10) Community Volunteers would be selected and undertake initial training provided by Narooma High School. Volunteers would have approved Working with Children and DoE Probity Clearances.
  • Volunteer Mentors/Student support would attend the school, initially twice a week mentoring a student, on enhancing their Literacy and Numeracy competencies.
  • It is projected that 20 students would initially participate each commencing Term 3 2024.
  • 2023 NAPLAN results will be used as the base starting point of student competency and 2024/25 NAPLAN results of individual and group progress (Refer – My Schools – Narooma High School – 2023 NAPLAN results)
  • An element of the funding submission is to engage a Program Co-Ordinator to oversight the program and to provide open communications with school staff, selected students, parents / care givers of the selected students.
  • Selected students would in the main, be from family settings that are within evidenced based ‘disadvantaged’ environments.

We await the advice from Dept of Social Services with bated breath on the submission’s veracity!

God on Mute

At these challenging times we are hearing so many people express the need to distance themselves from news reports in order to remain positive in their daily lives. This can be a real challenge for us all.

With Easter almost with us, our Associate Member, Anne Coutts has sent her notes on Pete Greig’s book ‘God on Mute’.

 God on Mute, by Pete Greig

These notes are mostly quotes that I felt important. I have not given extracts for the last half of the book.  I encourage you to buy or borrow a copy!

In his enthusiastic foreword Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, describes this as a profound book.

Chapter 1 opens with “If your deepest, most desperate prayers aren’t being answered, if life sometimes hurts so much that your secretly wonder whether God exists, and if He does whether he cares, and if He cares, why on earth He doesn’t do something to help, you’re not alone. Surprisingly, The Bible reveals that Jesus – even Jesus suffered the silence of unanswered prayer. … and Unanswered prayer is only a problem for those who believe.  For others, it is simply a confirmation that they were right all along.”

The book takes the form of a journey through the four days of Christ’s betrayal, death, burial and resurrection.

MAUNDY THURSDAY

HOW Am I Going to Get  Through This?

Abba, Father…everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.

  • Mark 14.36

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is wrestling for His life, in prayer…We each arrive in Gethsemane by different paths.

In Chapters 2 and 3 Pete gives the account of his wife Sammy’s terrifying seizures, trip to hospital, the bad news that she had a tumour in her brain, the successful operation, and his reflections on prayer in such circumstances.

He reflected on Christ’s prayers in the garden of Gethsemane. In saying Abba, Father, Christ reveals the tenderness of his relationship with his Father.

He quoted Karl Barth saying, “true prayer is primarily very simple; it is an asking.” He also quotes Andrew Murray, a South African writer in the last century “the power of prayer depends almost entirely upon our apprehension of who it is with whom we speak.”

Pete goes on to say that when we are scared and hurting, when life feels chaotic and out of control, it is more important than ever to anchor ourselves in the absolute and eternal truth that we are dearly loved and deeply held by the most powerful being in the universe.

C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew tells of Digory’s encounter with the great lion Aslan. Digory asks for a magic fruit which would make his dying mother well again. His wish is not granted but he sees the tears in Aslan’s eyes and realises the lion must really be sorrier…than he was himself. Digory’s prayer remained unanswered, but everything had changed, Aslan cared.

Another quote was from Hudson Taylor a missionary to China in 1900, following the Boxer Revolution he said ”I cannot read, I cannot think, I cannot even pray, but I can trust”. Pete goes on to say that when we are hurting and the pain seems senseless, we may find it hard to think clearly or to pray diligently but we can still trust, resting quietly in the Father’s love for us. It means receiving the kindness of people as gifts from God.

God cares for us more than we care for ourselves. Paul in Romans says, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Isaiah portrays God as the one who tattoos the name of his people on the palm of his hands.

Paul says in Romans 8.18 that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ‘In’ us not just to us or for us. He goes on to say God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

When Sammy was back in hospital after a vicious epileptic attack, Pete asked if she ever doubted God’s existence or power to intervene. Without hesitation she said “No, I never doubt God these days, Pete.” Then “How can I doubt God?”  then softly “God is all I’ve got”.

Chapter 4 Into the Mystery p 40

In Gethsemane, Jesus recognises that intimate love and infinite power coexist and coalesce without contradiction in the heart of God.

C.S. Lewis cautions us to remember that, for all his tears, Aslan is not a tame lion.od’s love means that He must surely want to end suffering, and His power must mean that He must surely be able to end it. So why doesn’t He? It is a profoundly important question, not least because so many people lose faith in the face of suffering.

Pete uses examples from the lives of others to help us understand.

Aaron Kushner was diagnosed with the premature ageing disease called progeria.  He would never grow more than 3 feet, have hair on his head, or reach adulthood.  His parents tried to make the most of his short life, wanting his life to matter and for him to be remembered. He died at 14.

His father, a rabbi, wrote “I am a more sensitive person, a more effective pastor, a more sympathetic counsellor because of Aaron’s life and death ..I would give up all those gains in a second if I could have my son back….but I cannot choose”

Kusher wrote the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It proposes that the only way to make sense of unmerited suffering without losing our faith in God is to reduce our expectations of what God is able to do.

Going back to the earliest book in the Bible, we find that at the conclusion to Job’s litany of agonising experiences, God appeared and revealed his power. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations. Tell me if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions? Who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy” – “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,” cries Job in awe, as if his sufferings have simply evaporated. The book of Job is therefore both the most frustrating and enlightening treatment of unanswered prayer in the Bible.

Many people resign themselves to the idea that the suffering of this world is ultimately a mystery and beyond human comprehension.

The holocaust is cited as evidence in the case against God. For this reason an American rabbi surveyed hundreds of holocaust survivors to find out how their experiences affected their beliefs about God. About half said the holocaust had no impact on their religious convictions.  About 11% lost their faith (however many continued to be angry with him). About 5% abandoned atheism and began to believe in God as a result of their experiences!

When Solzhenitsyn reached the end of his endurance working in sub-zero temperatures, he discarded his shovel and slumped on a bench awaiting a guard to beat him to death. Before that could happen, a follow prisoner came and scratched the sign of the cross in the mud and scurried away.  As Solzhenitsyn stared at it the message of the cross began to converse with his sense of despair.  At that moment he knew that there was something greater than the Soviet Union.  He knew that the hope of all mankind was represented by that cross, and through the power of the cross, anything was possible. Picking up his shovel he went back to work.

Nothing but the message of God’s suffering could have inspired Solzhenitsyn to return to work that day – he had hope that everything was possible for God.

Our God is our Father, loves us completely, is all-powerful, and will ultimately make all things new.

Revelation 21:4-5 He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

‘On P54 Pete closes the chapter with a prayer of Ignatius Loyola

O Christ Jesus

When all is darkness

and we feel our weakness and helplessness,

give us the sense of Your presence,

Your love and Your strength.

Help us to have perfect trust 

in Your protecting love and strengthening power,

so that nothing may frighten or worry us,

for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand,

Your purpose, Your will through all things

Chapter 5    Naked prayer p55

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was utterly honest in prayer.  He knew that His mission was to suffer many things and yet he asked God to take the cup of suffering away from Him, but in this heart-rending request, we are assured that it’s OK to grieve and cry and plead with God.  God accepts our honesty.

Pete tells of his experience as a young man struggling with belief. He found in the Psalms disgruntled prayers much like his own at that stage in his life. He reflects on the behaviour of disciple Peter often getting it wrong and in telling Mark the stories showed he refused to play the superhero and made it okay for us to struggle and fail and get it wrong.

The Christian gospel is the story of a God who breaks the rules of plausibility – often when we least expect it and in ways we could never have predicted. Our God is our Father, loves us completely, is all-powerful and will untimely make all things new.

Pete tells of two people who had suffered horribly but who acknowledged that goodness had somehow been worked in and through their lives through the excruciating circumstances of unanswered prayer.  They both discovered how deeply redemptive it can be if our hurts can be harnessed for the care of others. Paul in 2 Corinthians1: 3-4 says “The god of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

It is important that we learn to lament.  Jesus himself was overwhelmed by sorrow, wrestled and cried out to God and allowed his friends to see this was how he felt.

Lamenting is more than a technique for venting emotion.  It is one of the fruits of a deepening spiritual life that has learned to stand naked before God without shame or pretence.

Out of heart-rending experiences Joseph Scriven wrote this much loved poem.  He said, “The Lord and I wrote it together.”

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and grief to bear…

Chapter 6 A Darker Trust P 68

Yet not my will, but yours be done. Luke 22:42

Pete tells the story of Floyd McClung who wrote The Father Heart of God which changed Pete’s life as a teenager, who was now facing the possibility that his daughter and her unborn child would not survive surgery.  Knowing that Pete had been through the trauma of Sammy’s operation, Floyd told him of his walk on the beach where he prayed for his daughter’s life, but he also knew he had to give her back to God.

The next day Pete mobilised as many of the 24-7 networks as possible to pray for Floyd’s daughter and her child. On the fifth day the doctors took her our of her coma.  She and her child survived!

Floyd sent messages to all who had prayed, giving God the glory for the miracle but also to encourage the care of those still wrestling with their own unanswered prayer.  Some promises of God are fulfilled in Heaven.

The power to choose God’s will instead of one’s own personal preference is, according to Scripture, the defining human opportunity.  In the words of Dylan Thomas, when our lives are enveloped by darkness, our duty may not always to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but rather to “Go gentle into that good night.”

Paul challenges us to follow Christ’s example by offering ourselves to God as a ‘living sacrifice’. This could sound masochistic and morbid but counselling professionals tell us, acceptance is ultimately the healthier response to suffering than denial or defence.

Five Stages of Grief: page 75

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Pete says these five stages explain why we may initially get angry with God, then try bribery, but ultimately peace comes by accepting God knows best. You may wonder if indeed God has already answered your prayer.

On pages 77 and 78 Pete tells of his friends, Barbara and Terry, who had been missionaries in Zambia facing the diagnosis of cancer for Barbara. Terry told Pete that she wanted die well, die faithfully, die peacefully, to trust God and to love God in the most frightening days of her life.

There is faith for life, and then there is a darker faith for death.  There is faith for miracles, but also for pain.  There is faith for God’s will when it is our will too, but there is also the grace to trust God when his will is not what we would choose.

The words of the Lord’s Prayer – or the abbreviated version that Jesus uses on Maundy Thursday are worth repeating and exploring several times a day especially when we are seeking to walk through our own Gethsemane in darker trust.

The Oil of Suffering p80,81

Gethsemane means the oil press and oil was important to life in those times. It is easy to see the potency of the images of the press and oil for Jesus that night in Gethsemane to become the Light of the World, Healer of the Nations, King of Kings. Oil can flow in our lives too from the crushing experiences we endure.  We see resilient faith expressed in the rich tradition of African American spirituals, born out of slavery.

There is an anointing, an authority, that can only come to us through the darker trust of unanswered prayer, it is an illumination both in us and through us that can only come through suffering; a healing that we can only minister when we ourselves have been wounded.

GOOD FRIDAY Why Aren’t My Prayers Being Answered? p83

Jesus legitimised for all time the need we have for explanation.

Chapter 7 Wondering Why p84-89 returns to Sammy’s recovery.  Pete says through our relatively moderate suffering, Sammy and I have learned to cherish life with dimensions of gratitude that we could never know without all the pain. The journey of life proves itself more wonderful and terrifying than we could ever have anticipated.

The book goes on to focus on (1) God’s world and the way it seems to work (2) Gods Will and the way it interacts with human free will, and (3) God’s war and the cosmic struggle between good and evil

Chapter 8 God’s World starting at p90 goes through reasons for Unanswered Prayer with helpful commentary and examples:

  1. Common Sense – some prayers aren’t answered because they are plain stupid!
  2. Contradiction – some prayers aren’t answered because they contradict other prayers.
  3. The Laws of Nature – some prayers aren’t answered because they would be detrimental to the world and to the lives of others.
  4. Life is Tough – some prayers aren’t answered because the creation is “subjected to frustration” and has not yet been fully “liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:20-21). Tragically, life in such an environment is inevitably going to be acutely difficult at times.
  5. Doctrine – some prayers aren’t answered the way we think they should be because our understanding and expectations of God are misguided.

Chapter  9  God’s Will page 110

  1. God’s best – some prayers aren’t answered because God has got something even better for us.
  2. Motive – some prayers (even spiritual sounding ones) aren’t answered because they are, in fact, selfishly motivated.
  3. Relationship – some prayers aren’t answered because God Himself is a greater answer than the thing we are asking for, and He wants to use our sense of need to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him.
  4. Free Will – some prayers aren’t answered because God will not force a person to do something that he or she does not want to do.
  5. Influence – Some of our prayers aren’t yet answered because they are working gradually and not as an impersonal mechanism of forced control.

At the end of this section p131 Pete summarises his reasons for unanswered prayer:

  • Perhaps God has something better for us
  • Perhaps our motives in prayer are selfish
  • Perhaps God is allowing us to struggle a while in order to draw us into a deeper relationship with Himself’
  • Perhaps a positive answer to our prayer would violate someone’s free will
  • Perhaps God is answering our prayer subtly and slowly through the power of influence rather than control.

Pete says we are discovering that there are reasons for many of our struggles, both in the complex and fallen nature of God’s world and in the benevolent complexity of God’s will.

Chapter 10  God’s War p133 opens with another of Sammy’s seizures and Pete praying with vigor and rising faith, declaring that Sammy was a new creation, that she had been made whole by the wounds of Christ.  He claimed the power of the blood of the Lamb and continued, he said like an old-time gospel preacher.  The seizure seemed to obey, and as once before, it reversed back down Sammy’s wrist and out of her body.

The two interventions they had experienced renewed their faith in the supernatural power of prayer to impact their situation.  They felt that it was a case of God saying yes and Satan saying no. He goes on to say such apocalyptic ideas may not sit comfortably with our modern sensibilities but there is no doubting the biblical position.  See Ephesians 6:11-18

  1. Satanic Opposition- some prayers aren’t answered because God’s will is being directly contested by “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). Perseverance, faith, and authoritive use of the Word of God become vital in winning.

 

Standing in Faith p145 

  1. Keys to Faith: Prayer and Worship
  2. Keys to Faith: Fellowship
  3. Keys to Faith: Fasting
  4. Keys to Faith: Start Small
  5. Keys to Faith: Impulsiveness
  6. Keys to Faith: Adventure
  7. Keys to Faith: Bible Study
  8. Keys to Faith: Pilgrimage
  9. Keys to Faith: Journaling
  10. Keys to Faith: Listening to God

For each of these Pete gives explanations and examples

  1. Why Unanswered Prayer: Faith – Some prayers are not answered because we just don’t believe they will be.  However, faith grows as we get to know God.
  2. Why Unanswered Prayer: Perseverance

Standing with Integrity p156

Then the Lord said to Moses “Quit praying and get the people moving! Forward, march!” Exodus 14:15 TLB

  1. Why Unanswered Prayer? Sin

Some prayers are not answered because of areas of disobedience in our lives. Are there hidden sins we need to confess or actions we need to take in order to lend power to our prayers?

Justice – personal injustice and disregard for the poor

  1. Why Unanswered Prayer? Justice

Some prayers aren’t answered because of our disregard for the needs of others in our communities and in other nations too.

Finally, Stand…

Don’t get too daring.  Satan  has had thousands of years of practice and we do not know 100th part of what he knows – Martin Luther

Help me to Stand on p 160 is helpful

HOLY SATURDAY– Where is God When Heaven Is Silent p163

They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.

Chapter 11 Exploring the Silence page 164

Pete says no one really talks about Holy Saturday yet if we stop and think about it, it’s where most of us live most of our lives.

A God Who Speaks and Does Not Speak

Why Is God Absent?

The Miracle of Unanswered Prayer

Rushing the Resurrection

When God Goes Missing

Christ Became the Atheist

“Via Negativa”

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go  – The lovely Hymn written by George Matheson

Chapter 12   Engaging The Silence page  179

Because God lives…present in absence, praying and responding in silence, the Easter Saturday story which leaves us mute, is also our empowerment for utterance and prayer.

Martin Luther King Jr saidI have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.”  Life’s great trials can make us bitter or better.

Looking Back: Remembering God’s Word in the Silence

Sabbath of Doubt

Looking Around: Encountering God in Other People and Places

The Sign of the Torn Veil

The Comfort of Bethany

Learning God’s Language

Speaking Out: Expressing God’s Word in the Silence

Five Minutes with Rob p 189 Pete tells a story

Being in the Presence of the Absence

Prayer by Alan.E. Lewis p 193

EASTER SUNDAY

WHEN

Every Prayer is Answered

I have seen the Lord!

John 20.18

Chapter  13  Living Hope p 196

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 

1 Peter 1:3

The Apostle to the Apostles

The Refiner’s Fire

Who’s to Blame?

Questions That Heal

Chapter 14  Beyond Miracles p 207

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:19-20

Imagining Heaven

A Vision of Jesus

APPENDIX A

PERSONAL CHECKLIST:   WHY IS MY PRAYER UNANSWERED P 219 – This is a very useful summary! Beyond my ability to reproduce here, I’m sorry!

APPENDIX B

HEROES OF THE FAITH AND UNANSWERED PRAYER P 223

GOD UNMUTE P227  

A Forty-Day Journey of Prayer

AFTERWORD by Sammy Greig

 

Creation Spirituality

By Steve Doepel

“If you look at the disasters happening on our planet, it’s because the cosmos is not understood as sacred… a way out of our difficulty is a journey into the universe as sacred.” These are the words of Professor Brian Swimme, a trained mathematician, who teaches Evolutionary Cosmology in San Francisco. He is at the forefront of a movement that integrates science and spirituality and his approach is deeply inspired by the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin and the theology of Creation Spirituality. This is an ancient way of thinking that was all but neglected by the Christian Church for over a thousand years, but which was re-invigorated in the late 20th Century.

One of its most well-known proponents is Matthew Fox, the former Dominican priest who became an Episcopal priest following his expulsion from the Dominican order in 1993. He was heavily influenced by the progressive French theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu, who is also credited with being the grandfather of liberation theology. Creation Spirituality draws inspiration from the medieval mystical philosophies of Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa, as well as the wisdom and prophetic traditions of Jewish scriptures. Creation Spirituality is also strongly aligned with recent ecological and environmental movements and embraces numerous spiritual traditions around the world, including Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, and Native American spirituality, as well as a focus on “deep ecumenism” or interfaith dialogue. It represents a radically different way of thinking and living and a move towards ecological sustainability, greater democracy and greater respect for minorities. It also broadens our ideas about the divine.

Since the time of Augustine (5th Century) the Catholic Church’s theology has been dominated by notions of fall and redemption, which stresses the idea of original sin, the place of evil in the world and the role of Christ as redeemer. It displaced an earlier emphasis on creation-centred spirituality, which is only now starting to recover some lost ground. The Church’s theology has been psychologically centred in that it has encouraged us to focus on humanity as the central point of creation, not on creation itself. This lack of balance had led to a level of self-absorption, to the detriment of the rest of creation and ultimately to humankind.

So could Creation Spirituality have some significance and meaning for us today? It is an approach that looks at creation as a source of wisdom, and in this way re-interprets Christ’s message in a different light. It sees wisdom in other approaches that are also inspired by creation: indigenous religions, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen and Judaism. It can be said to be a feminist approach, where wisdom and eros have a greater emphasis than knowledge and control. Matthew Fox cites numerous reasons for adopting a Creation Spirituality approach, including: the looming ecological crises, unemployment (misemployment), religious and psychological awakening, the importance of science, the need for justice and liberation, the lack of feminist and right brain thinking, growing militarism and consumerism, and an emerging level of despair that afflicts many people in the 21st century. He believes that only a creation-centred spirituality can adequately address these pressing issues; only an emphasis on ourselves as co-creators will provide an approach that will enable us to focus our energies on these issues in a way that will assist us to overcome them.

Matthew Fox has also outlined 12 principles of Creation Spirituality:

  1. The universe is fundamentally a blessing.
  2. In Creation we experience God in all things and all things in God.
  3. God is beyond all words and images.
  4. Through spiritual practice (meditation and silence) we find our true selves.
  5. Our inner work is a four-fold journey of awe, uncertainty, creativity and justice.
  6. Every one of us is a mystic.
  7. Every one of us is an artist; our creativity is our prayer and praise.
  8. Every one of us is a prophet, and our work is to interfere with injustice.
  9. We rejoice in the Diversity that is the nature of the Universe.
  10. The basic work of God is compassion.
  11. There are many wells of faith and knowledge of Divine wisdom.
  12. Ecological justice is essential for the sustainability of life on Earth.

E F Schumacher, a German economist, wrote that there are two sources of wisdom: nature and religion. But as our appreciation of nature has been through the lens of science, and because religion was for so long at war with science, this aspect of nature was neglected, and hence western religion almost entirely forgot the creation tradition. It has been kept alive only by artists, poets, scientists, feminists, and political prophets. So what is necessary to foster a creation-centred spirituality? Matthew Fox describes the four paths: the Via Positiva (the positive way), the Via Negativa (the negative way), the Via Creativa (the creative way) and the Via Transformativa (the transformative way), that we can use to gain a better understanding of what it means to live with a creation-centred spirituality.

In brief these paths describe ways of knowing and experiencing the divine. The Via Positiva, or Cataphatic Way (stating what God is), assumes that we can know and understand God by studying creation (nature) and revelation through prayer, reflection, and religious experience. This is what the New Testament writers do, and this is often how those of us brought up as Christians develop our initial understanding of God in childhood. By connecting with nature we learn that life is a blessing and we learn to have a basic level of trust and faith in the world around us and in all of creation. We also learn to have an openness to experiencing those things around us that we don’t yet understand or are unfamiliar with, which are so important on the path to wisdom. This familiarity includes death, because a creation-centred approach teaches that all things have their cycles of life, death and transformation. Rather than being feared, death is just another stage of this transformation, and Fox cites the hospice movement as an example of people who are treating death in just such a wholesome way.

A creation-centred spirituality encourages us to imagine God in all things and all things in God, rather than me here and God out there. This dualistic view separates God and creation, whereas Creation Spirituality unites them with an image of a maternal God. The dualistic view also separates time into before and after death, where Creation Spirituality focuses on the present. It says each moment should be viewed as sacred, not seen as a period of waiting for the end times. Creation Spirituality, like Zen, says we are perfect the way we are. We don’t have to wait till we die to gain perfection, or strive to be one of the ‘beautiful people’. Our beauty and lovability lies just as much in our imperfections and faults as in our strengths (perhaps even more so). Fox says instead of offering perfection Creation Spirituality offers ‘cosmic hospitality’. Creation offers us an abundance of riches (blessings) for which we can only respond with gratitude. Br David Steindl-Rast says, “in our English language there is no such thing as being half full of thanks or gratitude: we are either thankful or grateful or we have not experienced the Via Positiva.”

The Via Negativa, or Apophatic Way (stating what God is not), assumes that language and understanding alone are incapable of describing God and we are left with statements that describe what God is not. This is stepping into the unknown, or what one anonymous Christian mystic from the fourteenth century described as the “Great Cloud of Unknowing“. It is a move from the more literal and concrete descriptions used in the Via Positiva to a deeper understanding of the Divine, free from the abstractions and distractions of language and thought.

The Via Negativa high-lights our fears of darkness and silence, and encourages us to have times when we can turn off the lights, sounds and images that animate our lives. At some point we benefit from periods where we can surround ourselves with ‘nothingness’, and let go of our ‘busyness’. Fox says that even Carl Jung admitted that it took a creation-centred mystic to teach him the value of letting go. We can do this most effectively by taking some silence, focussing on our breathing (the rhythm of our bodies) and by concentrating on what is most immediately present to us.

This letting go means that we must be able to let go of, or detach ourselves from, even the most precious things in our life: our possessions, our ego, our identity, even our friends and family, and especially our attitudes, so that our spirit can run free. It can mean that we have to release ourselves from trying to change those aspects of the world that we don’t like or want to change, especially those closest to us. And Fox reminds us that another name for letting go is forgiveness. It also means that sometimes we have to sink into our pain, but Fox reminds us that while our painful times can be devastating they are never superficial and they can be the most affirming experiences of our lives.

The Via Negativa can be highly informative and instructive. Its value is in its ability to recreate the tension between saying and unsaying, emotional affectivity and detached silence. The Via Negativa gives rise to silent meditation, centering prayer, and other forms of content-less practices. Its most important effect, however, may be its effect on our psyche, because we are able to hold seemingly contradictory and paradoxical truth claims. It is a state of consciousness that recognizes how emptiness, letting go, and deconstruction foster new understandings of reality. It offers us a pathless wilderness, where we move away from what can be grasped by categories and names into an unknowing, where the divine is mysterious and silent. It disrupts our thoughts and our mind’s attempt to create order. This is why Christ taught in parables, using paradoxes to bypass our logical minds, and why Zen uses koans to confuse and bewilder our thinking.

In this way it opens us up to images that are beyond what we already know or experience, and beyond what we can easily imagine. It is also where East meets West, as this tradition is found in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism as well as Christian mysticism. In Judaism there is no word for the name of God, only the tetragrammation YHWH and in Islam depictions of sentient beings are forbidden.

Sometimes we need more time in the cloud of unknowing… to explore our image of the divine using the Via Negativa which means avoiding the language we have previously used (whether negative or positive) and to find real goodness in ourselves.

While the Via Positiva is an experience of the divine as the delight, awe and wonder of creation, and the Via Negativa is an experience of darkness, letting go and letting be, the Via Creativa is about discovering the divine within ourselves by being co-creators, and the Via Transformativa is about mediating our creativity by being compassionate and just to all creation.

When discussing the Via Creativa Matthew Fox equates creativity with the Hebrew word dabhar, which may be translated as God’s creative energy, or the force that created the cosmos. So in this sense whenever we create something we are joining with this divine energy or that creative force. Our understanding of the universal creative process that lead to each of us, that is our cosmology, is now understood in western culture mainly in terms of science. But for most of human history our cosmology had a mythological importance. Without a myth of creation we have lost our connection to our cosmology. Our understanding of creation becomes impersonal and holds no meaning for how we live. But for many people, particularly in the third world, their cosmology still provides some connection to the environment and some guidance for the way they live. A big question then for us is how we can maintain a cosmology that is both scientific and mythological.

Science has helped humankind enormously and has changed our lives in ways we could never have imagined. As with art it is one of the greatest sources of creativity. Einstein recognised this when he said, “The purpose of art and science is to keep alive the cosmic religious feeling”. But as well as being constructive, art and science can also be destructive, even demonic, so they have to be kept in check somehow. While they help us to give birth to new ideas, they also require that we cooperate with the dabhar energy, that is we work with it, not just try to control it for our own purposes. In this way we create something bigger than ourselves, something greater than we could even imagine. But to be passionate enough to be creative in this way requires us to have the courage to trust in our own creative abilities and not simply say I can’t. Not trusting ourselves can lead us to become a victim, negative or depressed. In today’s world there are many voices which are telling us that ‘by yourself you can’t but with this new shampoo you can’. By trusting in ourselves we confirm our belief that ‘we can’ and we liberate ourselves, create meaning in our lives and overcome boredom and superficiality. This trusting attitude allows us to more fully appreciate the beauty that is all around us – it inspires and motivates us and it leads us to be grateful for what we have.

Fox recommends creating art as a form of meditation. He calls this the primary spiritual practice, because: it educates the right brain as well as the left; it has the benefit of increasing our awareness; it emphasises the acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgement and it relaxes the body and mind. And it requires that we learn to let go. Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. The mind that responds to the intellectual and spiritual values that lie hidden in a poem, a painting, or a piece of music, discovers a spiritual vitality that lifts it above itself, takes it out of itself, and makes it present to itself on a level of being that it did not know it could ever achieve.”

Fox reminds us that to be creative we must be able to connect with the child within us, because the child has not learnt to be afraid of letting go and is very trusting. The tendency to be creative is fundamentally maternal, and has long been neglected in our patriarchal culture, which can become sadistic or masochistic. An overly patriarchal culture deprives people of their creative power because it seeks to control them and render them powerless.

Mystics are people who are generally set apart. This is partly because they encourage a creation tradition, which encourages a dialectical approach (this and that) rather than a dualistic approach (this or that). Dualism seeks to control conflict and deny tension and difference while the dialectic approach acknowledges conflict because it is a source of love, imagination and creativity. Mechtild of Magdeburg said that we are given two wines to drink: the white wine of bliss, harmony and ecstasy and the red wine of pain, suffering and loss. To live fully, spiritually we need to drink of both. So she is telling us that a healthy spirit relies on having the courage to fully experience both the pains and the pleasures that our little life offers us.

Path IV, the Via Transformativa provides the direction and criticism that enables our creativity to be used compassionately. Without this direction creativity results in racism, sexism, adultism, militarism and impersonal capitalism. So to ensure that our creativity is always benevolent we must have a priority for compassion, even above contemplation. But it is not a compassion which looks only to those lesser than ourselves. It is a compassion which views everyone as being equally valued, whether we like them or not.

So in our quest to be creative we must be open to criticism because it can be our greatest friend. But we also must be aware that we may have a role in offering criticism to help direct the creativity of others, albeit with great sensitivity and discretion. Fox calls this being a prophet, whose main role is to ‘interfere’ with the way things are. To do this we must maintain a healthy level of scepticism about the way the world operates and we must trust our inner feelings of righteous anger and moral outrage, which are so often shaped (either softened or magnified inappropriately) by the voices around us. This takes enormous courage and it will earn us no friends. Gandhi acknowledged this when he said that our task is to prepare ourselves for ‘mountains of suffering’.

Our creativity shouldn’t just be used to satisfy our creative urge. It must be used with loving awareness of all of our emotions – positive and negative. Fox believes that anger is often overlooked as a positive force. It can energise us into action, and with active imagination it can be used artistically and constructively, for example to finally outlaw war. Those who would benefit the most from this are the poor and oppressed, because they are the ones who war affects the most. These are also the people who are often the most connected to the earth, who often have little more than their imagination intact, who remain grounded by their cosmologies, most in touch with their humility and therefore have the most to teach us. Creation spirituality, which is the theology of the oppressed, is key to a fundamental change. As so many people, especially the mystics, realise consideration of the poor and the outcast, the anawim, is key to creating a just society.

Why are the poor and oppressed always so neglected? Part of the reason is that our current theology is what may be called a futuristic eschatology, ie the belief that our destiny is determined by what happens to us in the next life. Creation Spirituality is what is called a realised eschatology, meaning that it focusses on our current existence, which is our primary sacrament. It requires that we develop awareness and wakefulness, and it puts the responsibility for this squarely on ourselves not on anyone else, including those who are ordained. It is therefore a non-clerical tradition.

Because everyone is responsible for their own awakening, the creation tradition also insists on the notion of interdependence, ie that we are all co-dependent on each other and yet uniquely responsible for ourselves. It is a basic requirement for all relationships and leads inevitably to notions of equality and justice. Fox also speaks about the importance of erotic justice, which means getting in touch with our feelings about how justice is metered out. What are our feelings towards people treated unjustly, the imprisoned, the unemployed, the homeless. An erotic justice flows from a panentheistic theology, that is one where we appreciate that the divine is in all and all is in the divine. This is where the biggest challenge for us lays, that is to have the imagination, courage and compassion to acknowledge that our ‘enemies’ are also our friends, who deserve our love and assistance as much as anyone else. This is where the greatest transformation is possible. Like Gandhi, we do not define justice making as winning or losing but as loving people into transformation; this love includes absorbing their hatred and asking ourselves if we are strong enough to love even the lowest among us. If our friend is in need and our enemy is equally in need can we help both equally?

Creation Spirituality also asks us to question our images of the divine. Are these images our own or do they come from somewhere else? As Eckhart said, “what is true cannot come from the outside in but must come from the inside out and pass through an inner form”.

To what end should our creativity be put? The fullest expression is in the transformation of our society. But this must be achieved with compassion, which for Creation centred mystics, is the fullest expression of the spiritual journey.

So how do we foster a creation centred approach in our own lives? We meditate on the wonder that is creation, we learn to let go, we acknowledge and foster our own creativity and we try always to act with a sense of justice and compassion. We accept the inevitability of paradox and we make room for humour. But more importantly we slow down and take time for silence so that we can develop our awareness of who we are and how we are right at this moment.

 

  • I feel closer to what language can’t reach.     Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Love winter when the plants say nothing.     Thomas Merton
  • Be you lamps unto yourselves.     Buddha
  • If we could learn to learn from pain even as it grasps us….     Adrienne Rich
  • I think that is one of the most important things we are learning from the tribal peoples of the world. We are learning to address the river and be addressed by the river.     Thomas Berry