Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Real Work

Recently, we discovered a poem by Wendell Berry called 'The Real Work'. Here it is.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.
From Standing by Words (copyright 1983)

This poem came to my mind today, as I underwent my customary struggle to let myself enter into retreat (the familiar internal monologue telling me I should be 'working', that other people were 'working' this morning so why was I just doing 'nothing' etc etc).

Berry suggests that our 'real work' can only really begin, can only really be revealed to us, once we are in the place of poverty of spirit - once we no longer know what to do, and no longer know which way to go, once we are baffled and to some degree blocked.

It struck me, as I sat at the edge of Lake Ginninderra, that these retreat mornings are fundamentally about returning to that place of poverty. I have no particular agenda - I don't really know what to desire or hope for. I am aware of a vast not knowing encompassing my life and the life of Benedictus. What are we being called to? How will it happen?

These mornings are about letting myself dwell awhile in that space of unknowing. They are about letting myself touch back into the ground, letting myself be renewed by its energy as I wait on the silence of God. They're about being available to become aware of 'the real work', and maybe available to let 'the real work' be done in me.

And this morning, I realised, they're also about praise - the praise that isn't forced jollity. but the rising up of wonder at things and being so deeply glad that they are. Praise isn't a word I've resonated with particularly in the past - so much of the church's 'praise' seems about just saying what we think we ought to say to God.

But did you know that the bark of a silver birch is studded with diamonds?

When we are able to be really present to what is, then gladness is our response. Gladness - and the urge to praise - so that the words of the Gloria seem suddenly real: 'We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory'.

Praise and poverty of spirit ... both doorways to, both aspects of, 'the work'. Praise be.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Walking on Country

My first Wednesday Retreat post for quite a while, and the first since returning from our 8 week pilgrimage in Portugal, Spain and France.

Today was also my first opportunity to 'walk on country' since coming home to Australia.

After some indecision about where to go, I finally decided to walk from home onto Bruce and O'Connor Ridges. These bits of remnant bush are sandwiched between Gungahlin Drive and Belconnen Way, and the traffic noise is more or less constant. Even so, there's a whole different world from the surrounding suburbs being inhabited here. It's also a world very different from the European country we've been walking recently. The bush is straggly and unkempt looking, yet beautiful in its own way. It was a joy to be in it again - absorbing its smells, the look of the vegetation, the movement of ants on the hard ground.

The birds are far more abundant and far noisier than any we encountered in the forests of France. These kookaburras were laughing uproariously - maybe it was a competition?

I was feeling a bit of agitation as I walked into this time of retreat. Since returning home, the sense of the spaciousness and well-being of pilgrimage has lingered with me. Even though life has been full, it hasn't been overwhelming, and I've experienced our re-entry into 'normal' routine as relatively easy and gentle. But yesterday, I went to visit my spiritual director and spoke about invitations I've received to do things next year - talks to give, retreats to lead and so on. All of a sudden, things seemed to start pressing in. The question of what to accept and what not to and how busy I am likely to be became real - I felt anxious and unsure how to discern my responses. A familiar fear of being overwhelmed began to rise up.

I have experienced such plenitude, I want to live plenteously. I don't want to decline invitations out of miserliness or the fear of not having enough (time, energy, things to contribute). On the other hand, nor do I want to live dissipated and stretched - unable properly to prepare for or take delight in what I do because of being spread too thin. 

Neil asked - 'what are your priorities?' This morning, the white-barked scribbly gums asked the same question. As I contemplated their clarity, the way they provide structure and definition for the surrounding bush, they asked me: what are the bones of the coming year?

And immediately I felt calmer, returned to myself. 'Country' was holding me, bringing me to the ground of things.

Vocationally in this next year, I know there are two things that are necessary. One is Benedictus, and nurturing the next phase of our life in community. The second is to explore what is called for and being called forth by this land, Australia. The particularity of place, country, has not in the past seemed so important to me ... but this feels like an area of growing awareness and significance, and one that I must explore. I sense there's a gift here for the contemplative movement as a whole, and not just for those of us in Australia.

Starting here, the question becomes: 'what must I do?' And in the light of that, what can be let go?

That still doesn't make everything immediately clear ... but I feel restored to equilibrium and to a spirit of trusting the unfolding of things. And whenever I'm tempted to think I don't have time for a morning's retreat, an experience like today teaches me that I don't have time not to!