I have recently returned from 14 nights away. Six nights at St Mary’s Towers Douglas Park where I had a challenging and blessed retreat as part of my immersion in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. I started the Spiritual Exercises in Daily life in January and anticipate it will take me the year to complete this 19th Annotation of the Exercises. This was closely followed by 8 nights in Melbourne for meetings, the ANSD (Australian Network for Spiritual Direction) Conference on The Dreaming and Dreams and a Professional Development Workshop on working with dreams. Such an enriching time.
While I was in Melbourne, I became aware that 12 months previously I set out on a 14-week sabbatical for rest, renewal and reorientation, hoping to explore ways of offering Spiritual Accompaniment among the fringes. Following this rich, simulating and life changing sabbatical I returned to Australia mid-December and have been framing these past months as “fallow time” as I sit with, reflect upon, ponder and open to the movement of the spirit as Spiritual Accompaniment among the fringes unfolds in my context. During fallow time the land is allowed to lie virtually undisturbed, enabling the soil quality to improve. While I can’t say that over these past 9 months I have been idle, with little being done or achieved, it has been a time for greater stillness; a time for much reflection; a time to be patient; to time wait for things to emerge into greater clarity. And what a graced time it has been. And much is coming to life.
My sabbatical commenced in San Francisco where I met with Traci Ruble who started Sidewalk Talk, A Community Listening Project https://www.sidewalk-talk.org.
As a result of this conversation, and conversations with Marie Carlson in Petaluma, CA and experiencing Sidewalk Talk in Union Square with Anna Bosatta, I am hopeful that Randwick Council will support me in trialling Sidewalk Talk here. They are finalising a report at this time. This has been slow work, but I sense it is more likely to be sustainable if I work with the Council and have their resources behind me as I recruit volunteers and promote it within the city.
“Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us”. ~ Rachel Naomi Remen.
While in California, I met with Anne Scott, with whom I had already befriended by email. It was Anne’s work of facilitating listening circles with homeless women that helped the Tuesdays Time To… listening circles at the Ozanam Learning Centre to evolve during my time at Matthew Talbot Hostel. Using a similar model, I have been working with Pitt St Uniting Church to establish a weekly 40 minute lunchtime contemplative listening circle “Reflect and Connect.” We see this “Reflect and Connect” time together as a practice set apart from casual social interaction. Through deep listening and meaningful dialogue, we have the opportunity to feel companioned by wisdom and clarity, inviting us to be transformed.
“Encounter creates communion and from there truth can be born” ~ Jean Vanier
In Anchorage, Alaska I was graciously hosted by Marcia Wakeland. Marcia had published an article in Presence “The Art of Listening Deeply with the Vulnerable and Marginalized: and it described “Listening Post” that she co-ordinates https://listeningpostanchorage.com. Volunteers offer a listening presence in a variety of venues including public libraries, a homeless shelter, an animal shelter, supported accommodation and a church.
Marica’s inspiration has led me to be a listening presence at the Saturday Morning Breakfast at St Patricks Church Hill in the centre of Sydney. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3cGToUglo0.
I don’t help prepare the breakfast; an enthusiastic team of volunteers do that. Cereal, yoghurt and breads are available from 5:30am with a wide selection of hot dishes ready by 6:30am followed by bread and butter pudding and ice cream. I see my role as simple offering a listening presence, while sitting at the tables drinking cups of tea alongside the community of men and women. Some come regularly, other intermittently and there will always be a new face among the regulars. These encounters are valuable in themselves. The added bonus is the deepening of relationships when I encounter these same people in other places in the city.
“Perhaps the most important thing we ever give to each other is our attention. And especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking there is no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they are saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important that understanding it.” ~ Kay Lindahl
In Chicago, I met with Christine Curran and others from the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP). ISP offers overnight retreats and on-going spiritual support to those who are homeless and in recovery. An ISP retreats marries Ignatian Spirituality with 12 Step Spirituality. I had the privileged opportunity to participate in a retreat at Akron, the retreat being led by Margaret Balewski . For me it was a profound experience of witnessing people, including myself, encounter a God of love. I hope and pray that I may have the opportunity of offering similar retreats in Australia. To this end I would have had more than 30 conversation with various potential “partners” and at present there is energy for this both in Sydney and Melbourne. On Sunday 13 October, a gathering of people interested and available will be hosted by Sandra Perrett ibvm and facilitated by Libby Rogerson ibvm at Loreto Convent Kirribilli. While holding it all lightly I am excited as to what might unfold.
“A retreat is always a spiritual experience, whether or not we consider ourselves ‘spiritual.’ A retreat takes us closer to the core of our beings and to a space in which we also touch the reality of God. It offers us a change of place, a change of pace and a change of focus.” ~ Margaret Silf
While in New York I met with Don Bisson fms http://www.donbisson.com. Don is a spiritual director and is widely respected as a specialist in the training, formation and supervision of spiritual directors. During my conversation sharing my passion for spiritual accompaniment of those among the fringes, Don planted a seed- why not offer a formation program to prepare others for this ministry. My immediate question was “God, what are you up to?” And I have allowed the idea to rest within me, indifferent to the outcome but open to the movement of the spirit. As a result, and with not predetermined agenda I have commenced Pastoral Supervision Training with Transforming Practices http://www.transformingpractices.com.au. Regardless of what may unfold in the future I see this as a unique formation opportunity, deepening my skills in intentional, attentive, presence and equipping me to foster contemplative reflective practice among individuals and communities.
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
One very impressive and dear to my heart experience I had, while in the UK, was to be immersed in the work of St Mungos, https://www.mungos.org and in particular the way they support homeless people on their end of life journey through the coordination of care offered by the Palliative Care Coordinator Niamh Brophy. At this point I have not found others with the energy and passion to explore this further in the Australian context, but it may happen in the future.
“Spirituality is integral to, but not confined by religion and faith, It is about what gives us a purpose to our lives, It is about our sources of meaning and hope, which is turn is intimately related to our connectedness to ourselves, to others and to the world.” ~ National Guidelines for Spiritual Care in Aged Care
I have many questions that I am gently holding:
- What is my work to do?
- Who will come alongside me and partner in this work?
- What does friendship in the margins, among the fringes looks like?
- What is sustainable?
- How can some to these opportunities be resourced?
- Where will the money come from?
- What will a “normal week” look like for me into the future?
- When is enough, enough?
In the words of Julian of Norwich I “await, allow, accept and attend.”
In addition to all this that is springing to life, my own spirit is flourishing as I have more time and space for: contemplation, prepare mandalas, write, go to art classes and the occasional yoga, facilitate reflection days and retreats, participate in conferences, attend short courses, engage with contemplative photography, be nourished by the community at Pitt St Uniting Church, volunteer for an hour a month with Bushcare, catch up with family and friends, and enjoy the world through the eyes of Tilly our granddaughter. I am gifted with the abundance of life, I am woman truly blessed!
I came that you may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10