Journey to the Heartland

IMAG0721My journey into spirituality or rather my recognition of this journey began just over ten years ago. It was not an easy path that I took, rather as David Tacey describes it, I took the ‘left-hand path into depth and potential growth’[1] as I experienced burnout and depression. This was not a journey that I welcomed at the time for it forced me into solitude where I not only encountered my authentic self but also God, both of whom I had been fleeing across the years. Now I can recognize the gifts that depression brought me and I thank God for bringing me to my knees, for embracing me in my grief and enfolding me in love and forgiveness.

In breaking me open God re-birthed me as someone who welcomed and embraced their spirituality and who integrated this into their life. Ten years ago, when I was claimed by God in my brokenness and journeyed to rediscover self, I could find no one else who could understand what I was going through or whom could help me to understand and make sense of what was happening to me. In his book The Spirituality Revolution[2] David Tacey talks of authentic spirituality and provides a framework in which to understand spiritual growth in a secular world. He points out that what I was going through was the beginning of mature spiritual growth where I was questioning not only my childhood faith but also all that I had been through and had questioned since childhood.

Why is spiritual growth and its developmental stages not common knowledge in the wider society? Why as a society have we severed off our spiritual selves and any knowledge or understanding of life’s spiritual journey and the stages of spiritual development or lack thereof? It seems to me to be mainly in the Christian tradition, especially the Catholic and Anglican traditions and more recently writers such as Tacey, Marcus Borg, Kathleen Norris and others that acknowledge and seek to understand the human spirit’s journey. In our secular society we deny the spiritual. In so doing we fail to recognize or acknowledge the experiences of spirit that are a normal part of the human experience. We no longer understand the questioning of life, its purpose and its meaning and we fail to comprehend the struggles of the spirit that are part of life’s journey. As a consequence many stumble and lose their way on the journey, unable to find answers, feeling empty and believing that life is pointless. I believe that as a society we ignore our spiritual selves at our peril and are witnessing the symptoms of this ignorance and denial of spirit in the mental, emotional, physical and social ills of society including environmental degradation and the resulting climate change.

My life’s spiritual journey began at birth with my childhood and teen years spent in my nominally Presbyterian family. I attended Sunday school regularly (without my parents) and was strongly influenced by a very devout Grandmother who actively lived out her faith and whom I desired to emulate. Eventually though, in my late teens, I rejected my childhood faith and during my twenties and thirties sojourned through Buddhism and later the New Age. During these years I constantly felt empty and was unable to fill the hole that I felt inside. It was not until coming to my knees did I find a new home in the spirituality of solitude, encounter with self and with God. Through retreats in Franciscan, Cistercian, Ignatian and other Catholic spiritual traditions I began to open again to my spirituality. Here in confronting self and God in the silence I found a spiritual pathway that enabled me to open to God’s healing love. I was able to finally embrace my spiritual nature, to love and be loved by God and to rediscover not only my Christian faith tradition but to discover the richness of the spiritual traditions of the Catholic Church. This is the ‘born again’ experience that some Christians talk about although I do not place myself within the Fundamentalist view of being born again. Rather, I see this ‘born again’ experience as Marcus Borg does, as a process where I have come into a new way of being, with my life centred in God and in the Spirit[3]. As I have travelled further along the road of this spiritual journey I am now, more a more comfortable to rest in silence with God and to be in relationship with God. Borg sees spirituality as ‘… becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God’[4] and that this being born again is a process that occurs again and again. Since returning to ‘faith’ I have been very conscious of God in my life and have continued to deepen my relationship with God through regular silent retreats, prayer life, spiritual practices, study, spending time in nature, mindfulness and walking. I have ventured into the study of theology in an ecumenical institution, become a Catholic, qualified as a teacher of Religious Education in Catholic schools, worked as a Religious Education Co-ordinator and now work in a secular setting with people experiencing a mental illness assisting them to open to and address their spirituality. All these steps along the path of my spiritual journey I now recognize as typical stages in spiritual growth. God has been with me in all of these experiences and has planted within me a deep desire to share with others on the journey my experiences and the knowledge that I have gained on the way.

However, despite what I have learnt and experienced I still stumble, lose my way and even doubt my faith. As a person who only seems to learn the hard way, through repeated and oftentimes difficult experiences and hard lessons, I have once again found myself lost on the journey stumbling around trying to find my way back into relationship with Spirit. Tacey points out that many, like me, who go back to tradition and embrace it, lose in the process their spirituality![5] Here in Central Australian I have been blessed to rediscover my spirituality, my relationship with my authentic self and God in the desert.

The journey continues. At times I feel weary and buck and kick against God and life, asking why, why, why won’t you let me rest? I call out to God telling God that I don’t feel strong enough for the struggles and pain anymore. And yet God keep prodding me and leading me to experience a sense of God’s Spirit and presence in this harsh landscape. Here in the Centre I am being called by God to grow more and more, to live the sacred in daily life, to embrace Spirit and be open to what God has to tell me in Creation.

I have always found God through being in nature from my early childhood until the present; even when for twenty-five years I rejected the Church and Christianity. God has been present for me in the scent of gums and the smoke of a campfire, in fiery sunsets and gentle dawns, in the texture of gnarled ancient eucalypt tree trunks, the sound of gurgling streams and the chorus of chattering finches, warbling magpies and the laugh of the kookaburra. But never have I encountered God’s presence as strongly as I have here in the Centre. What is it about this harsh ancient land that hits me in the chest, takes my breath away and says listen, be still, I am with you? It is so hard to articulate, to quantify, and to really understand what happens or why. There is something about this harsh landscape that sears my soul and calls me to be fully present to God and to self.

In the words of Noel Davis:

There are places that call us

To still and be

Places of reflection

Quiet, wild, timeless

That overflow the soul

And draw us in

To the silence of our heartland.[6]

 

 

This land and its timeless places calls me to be silent and to wait on God. Here I cannot run from God or self. When I am out here, away from town, God calls me and pulls at me, confronts me with the beauty of the land with its rugged mountain ranges scoured and uplifted over millennia, cut through by callous riverbeds which when filled with the bounty of rain erode the rocks wearing a pathway through the mountain ranges. God is teaching me to look, to listen and to learn to see the streams flowing deep beneath the sands from which I can draw sustenance for the journey, even in times of barrenness. God is using these streams to erode the rocks of my resistance to take me further along the road of my life’s spiritual journey.

 

October 2010. Alice Springs, N.T.

Excerpts from a previously submitted essay for a Master of Educational Leadership, ACU.

[1] Tacey, D. (2003). The spirituality revolution: the emergence of contemporary spirituality. Melbourne: HarperCollins

[2] Ibid.

[3] Borg, M. (2004). The heart of Christianity. New York: HarperCollins

[4] Ibid.

[5] Tacey, D. (2003). The spirituality revolution: the emergence of contemporary spirituality. Melbourne: HarperCollins

[6] Davis, N. (2003). From the wilds of the heart comes the singing of the quiet. Narooma, NSW: Lifeflow Education

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Ripples

Ripples

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Heavenward

Heavenward

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Senses

During my years of living in Alice Springs I was gifted with a deep connection to the presence of God in the land.

For me God’s presence was palpable.

Daily I could sense it in the sounds of the flurry of beating wings of flocks of budgies as they swirled and swooped through the warm air above the desert. Felt in the wind against my sweaty skin or in the textures of the sand that I sat on in dry river beds, the rocks that I climbed in the ranges spreading east and west from town, and in the trees and shrubs that I walked through daily on the trails around where I lived. Smelt in the gum leaves crushed under foot, the scent of honey rich native flowers and the sun baking on the dry ancient soils. Seen in the stark contrasts of the iron rich, red rocks and soils standing stark against the turquoise skies and interspersed with the white trunked ghost gums, topped by their canopy of muted green leaves as they lined the dry creek beds that meander throughout the centre of Australia.  Tasted in the bitterness of bush tomatoes and in the sweetness of smoky billy tea freshly made on a campfire.

All my senses called to be alert to God’s presence in this sacred land.

12/12/14 Victoria, Australia

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Consciousness

What I find in nature,

here in the Centre of Australia,

is consciousness – 

being in the present,

breathing in the now,

being at one with your Spirit.

Open.

Not resisting.

Listening with my senses,

To the land 

to its wisdom

to its energy

to what it has to teach me.

2011, Alice Springs, N.T., Australia

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I give thanks

Lord

for all blessings

whether discovered in pain or in joy

I give thanks.

For the tears of loved ones

and the frustrations on the journey

I give thanks.

For times spent in silence

and times spent laughing

I give thanks.

For the shy questions of young ones

and the angry protests of youth

I give thanks.

For the slowness of old age

and the energy of youth

I give thanks.

For the flurry of bird wings

and for the setting sun

I give thanks.

Thank you Lord

for the gift of life that you give to us.

Thank you Lord

for your everlasting love.

October 2010

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Nudgings

Lord you walk with me each and every day,

each hour,

each minute.

Often I do not sense your call,

your nudgings,

your love.

And yet

Ever patient

You wait

Until I lift my head

from my concerns and distractions

And see you there,

right beside me

Always steady,

Always strong,

passionate,

trusting

And believing in me.

Oh faithful friend

May my heart always be awake to your

Presence

Answering your call

Walking with you

through all the days ahead.

July 2010, Alice Springs, N.T., Australia

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Spring

Spring

Living in the middle of suburbia I often feel cut off from the wild places in Australia which have become such a major source of nourishment for me on the journey. Sadly, what I often fail to see is the beauty in suburban gardens and the small wild place that exist in my very own backyard and suburb.

Nature though has a way of taking us by surprise, wherever we may live, reminding us of its presence and of the creator.

Today, as I was pounding my regular beat around the footpaths of my suburb, I was drawn to the colours, fragrances and textures of spring. Behind, through and over the fences of suburban yards a cornucopia of roses, irises, daisies, callistemon, wisteria, jasmine and more were displaying their joy at the return of Spring in their riot of colours and their heady fragrances that filled the air.

I was drawn back to memories of spring as a child when the days moved slowly enough for me to spend what seemed like an eternity exploring the garden around the house and the bush that surrounded us on two sides. From sunrise to dusk, and often into dark, I would explore the world of nature around me. Outside the bees would be lazily sipping from the wild tangle of Jasmine growing crazily with the arrival of spring. Roses burst forth with their rich dark reds and soft pinks enticing me to pick their petals, to then rub the velvety petals against my cheek and to draw in their soothing aroma. Further afield in the bush where delicate orchids, pink trigger plants and pink heath appeared in spring, I would be drawn to pick a posy of wild flowers to take home to my mother as a sign of my love for her and my joy at the new growth and vitality that spring brought with it.

As I continued to walk today, reminiscing about years gone by in the tamed garden and wild bush where I spent my childhood, I was suddenly thrust, by a familiar high thin whistle, to another memory of place, that of the billabongs, backwaters and the river of my mother’s childhood and later retirement home. Looking around me, I searched for the source of the sound, finally to spy high above me, perched on the electricity wires, an Azure Kingfisher. Far from its freshwater rivers this beautiful bird reminded me that even here in suburbia, where we often attempt to tame nature, the wild intrudes just as God so often unexpectedly does in our daily lives.

I have returned to live in suburban Australia this year, after three years spent working in Central Australia. It has been a struggle to adjust to street lights, neighbours and traffic. But most of all the hardest adjustment has been living with the ache in my heart for the blue skies, the dark red rugged landscape and the deep quiet of the bush of Central Australia. Like the Azure Kingfisher far from water I have felt cut off from my source of nourishment. In the harsh often eerily quiet desert landscape God is strongly present to me. There, without the distractions of modern life, I cannot ignore God’s presence which intrudes into my senses through the sand beneath me as I sit in a dry river bed, the touch of a warm breeze on my sweaty face of the call of a falcon of the hunt.

I am slowly learning, here in the city, that God is present too and not just in the desert. Spring is an awakening of this knowledge as I marvel at the prolific growth and colours bursting forth in both suburban gardens and in the bush that surround the city. God is in both the tamed and the wild and is a source of water and nourishment but eventually, wherever I am, I must return to be fed by its life giving properties. Unlike the Azure Kingfisher however, I can find this source of nourishment in all of creation. God may sometimes have to take me by surprise to remind me of this fact but in reality all I really need to do is to look, listen, wait and remain open to God’s loving presence wherever I am and I will be nourished.

2011, Eaglehawk, Victoria, Australia.

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