On inspiration…


From Jane Campion, renowned Kiwi screen writer and director:

“Inspiration is always a visitor into a relaxed space inside of you. It comes when you’re not trying.

Creativity is quite insecure and shy of itself, and it needs a lot of love and acceptance around it. If you come up with an idea and you go, “That’s not an idea – that’s hopeless!” – then straight away the little creatures will run off again. So it’s a good idea to be unjudging of anything that arrives, just suspending unbelief, and let things be.”

From a documentary on the making of “Top of the Lake”.

Hermits are hard to come by

Hermits are hard to come by these days.

The town of Saalfelden (Austria) recently advertised for a hermit to occupy the hermitage which is over three hundred and fifty years old and built into a cave just above Lichtenburg castle.

There are a few conditions though. You have to have a “Christian outlook”, cope with no heating and no running water, and be prepared to chat with the numerous visitors to the site.

Imagine the job interview:

“What makes you interested in this opportunity?”

“Well, I like my own company. I could use some peace and quiet right now. I have some spiritual work to do and this time of silence and contemplation is what I long for. I need to hear what God has to say to me.”

“That sounds great. There would be some deprivations – you know – like no heat, no running water. How would you cope with that?”

“I think I could manage that for the summer months, anyway. People have lived here like this before, right?”

“Right. Um, we have a few expectations.”


“Yes. We’d like you to look like a real hermit.”

“A real hermit?”


“You mean sackcloth and ashes and all that stuff?”

“Oh no. A twenty-first century hermit – long hair, jeans, ruddy complexion, but holy – you know what I mean?”

“Mm. Holy – I think I get it.”

“And – we need you to talk to the tourists.”


“Yep. Lots of them. They’ll be coming up the mountain in considerable numbers to meet the hermit.”


“Yes. And we’d expect our hermit to be chatty and approachable – good company. Do you think you could do that?”



“And talk with people about this spiritual place and the spiritual discoveries you are making.


“And one final thing – we would like you to sign up with the Austrian Actors’ Guild. Would that be OK?”

It would seem that being a hermit is not exactly what it’s cracked up to be.


Humming along

I was sitting on the plane waiting, waiting for a maintenance problem to be fixed.

My neighbour was more cheerful than me. She had her earphones in and was already enjoying the music. She began to sing under her breath, completely oblivious to the fact that although the rest of us could not hear the soundtrack, we could definitely hear her version of it. I recognised the tune. It was “You’ve got a friend”.

I found it hard not to join in.

Maybe the spiritual life is like this. The music may not be heard directly but we pass it on anyway in the way we lead our lives – and the music is sweet!


Parkland – Good Friday all over again

We’re heading into Holy Week, and I’m bracing myself for the roller coaster ride of emotions that always accompany the rhythm of beautifully planned worship. I have always been disappointed that so many people find Good Friday too hard. They stay away, preferring to celebrate Palm Sunday’s excitement and return to church on Easter Sunday. “See through the pain. Confront realities. Stay present and look death in the face.” That’s been my mantra for years.

So I prepare for the sadness as we remember a death so many centuries ago that has eternal significance.

This morning I opened up my phone to read a New York Times article – “Something about Parkland has  been different” by Jonah Engel Bromwich. It’s another background piece of writing ahead of the student demonstrations planned for Saturday as teenagers rally to ask grown-ups to grow up about gun control.

What Bromwich does is like going to Good Friday services for sixty years. In story after story he simply relates the experiences of survivors – children, teachers, and parents  whose children have been shot. Each story is brief, but it carries not only the story of the day but each person’s struggle to come to terms with its meaning. It’s calmly relentless writing. Each story speaks of the returning horror when there is yet another massacre and the losses re-surface. These people are not angry, so much as beaten. They watch the Parkland developments with intensity. Some of them are joining in. Some say, “Perhaps they’ll succeed where we could not.”

I scroll down the page, and the next suggested articles are about eating fat and losing weight and the secrets of the countries where people live the longest. There are always escapes from empathy and change-making. I wonder what the youthful Parkland activists think about our pre-occupations.

Easter Sunday is the salve for the pain of Good Friday. Christians might do well to hold off celebrating the resurrection glibly ’til we have looked contemporary violence in the face and wept. And gathered courage.

We need more leaders who in humility ride into Jerusalem knowing just how much it is going to cost.

Colouring between the lines – the gift of faith

I spent time with a much loved friend yesterday. As we may not see each other much in the coming weeks and Christmas is approaching (eek!), we began to review the year that has been. It has been a remarkable and difficult year for her – challenges at work, a resignation, a transition to a whole new career, study that plumbs the depths of the soul, the death of family members, the cleaning out of a house inhabited by the family for over 50 years along with all the memories that accompany it – the list went on. She is a remarkable woman, whose life has not been easy and she handles the emotional storms of her life with apparent ease and grace. 2017 has been like Hurricane Irma for her, yet she always comes back to how good it has been.  I encouraged her to celebrate this magnificent year of resilience at by cleaning off the dining room table and, as she remembered them, to put on butcher’s paper all the examples of joy and sorrow, achievement and transcendence that have been part of 2017. We were talking about loss and William Worden’s fourth task of grieving – ritualising and memorialising as we move on.  Laughing  at the indulgence, she said. It would just be a great scribble!

It reminded me of those days in primary school when the teacher was desperate to find something to keep the class occupied. On a beautiful clean piece of A4 we were to make a scribble with large, generous strokes and then colour in the spaces to create something new.

This is what life’s about, isn’t it? Making something magical out of what seems to be a “hot mess”, learning the art of forgiveness so that relationships have a space to flourish, taking that which we have suffered and moulding it into strength and beauty?

We are “born again” everyday. I think I’ll get my colouring pencils out again.




Memo from America – Spring in the labyrinth

Notes from journal three weeks ago.
I decided to walk the labyrinth at Scarritt-Bennett College today. It’s part of a beautiful garden that separates the Hogwarts-looking buildings of an old respectable institution. It was an overcast morning and the labyrinth has been a bit neglected of late, it’s ground uneven and the pathway bricks overgrown with spring grasses. It was quite a challenge to work out whether I was on the specified track or not, and where the barriers that indicate “Go that other way!” were. I’m sure my pathway was not the accurate, careful plan set out in the labyrinth design, with its turning this way and that, seeming to go outwards when one wanted to go inwards, and so on. I carried with me a slight irritation – even the labyrinth wasn’t going to be predictably straight forward today. That was my first lesson. Despite not being able to just contemplate about other things whilst picking my way through the puzzle, I realised that the actual pathway didn’t matter much. I was out in the crisp cool of a northern hemisphere morning, with rain threatening but I really had not a care in the world. I had to let go of the “right path” idea. Then I began to notice the little flowers that were entangled with the weeds. Indeed, some of those I thought most beautiful were probably weeds to a Nashville native. They were testaments to spring – simple, uncultivated, spontaneous, short-lived. They were my second lesson – life produces the unexpected and beautiful. I confess to feeling a little silly as I carefully picked weeds to take with me as a memory of the day’s treasure. It began to drizzle so I set out for my room, passing by a tree that had not even begun to sprout the leaves of spring. Clinging on tight were a few dried up leaves that belonged to last summer. They had not given way with the chills of last autumn. Despite surviving the winter, they would soon be replaced by the lush of new green.
It made me think about retirement. Holding on is not always pretty. Best make way for the new and the fresh.
A walk in the labyrinth always brings a blessing.

Memo from America – Jimmy Carter

It seems such a long time ago, but it’s less than four weeks since Ian and I spent a thoughtful couple of hours exploring the Jimmy Carter Museum in Atlanta Georgia. We like these places. Some might think we’re addicted to American politics – and perhaps we are – but presidential libraries have a way of bringing long-past events back with vivid immediacy. Jimmy Carter was really a Washington outsider – a long shot for election really, but a trusted rural Christian American whose values could restore the American image of itself – wholesome, just, ethical, honest and personable. The saga with Richard Nixon had left deep scars. Once elected, he set about being The President of The United States, and unlike the current incumbent, did not spend much time thinking about whether he’d be re-elected. He never had his eyes on that particular prize.
Two things stood out for me.
(1)The Middle East conversations at Camp David with Sadat and Begin. It was extraordinary that Carter managed to keep the parties “at the table”. They were so very hostile to each other and negotiations had deteriorated to a sort of shuttle diplomacy between cabins at Camp David. As a mediator, I’ve been very reluctant to use personal power to keep people in the process, but Carter risked all that. After different parties had stormed off and were packing their bags to go home, Carter sat with each leader in a reflective frame of mind. He went in to Sadat with a picture of Sadat’s family in his hands. He had written the name of every child and grandchild on that photo. Carter said, “If you walk away, what will we be leaving our grandchildren that we love so much? Our common ground – you, me, and Begin – is that our grandchildren need us to stick at it.” Sadat unpacked his bags.
To Begin, he said, “If you pack up and go home I will take it as an affront to our friendship which we both value highly, and that you have reneged on your promises not to pull out”. Begin stayed. When the chips are down, relationship is EVERYTHING! They worked on and signed the peace treaty. Getting them to enact it was another challenge. Perhaps us mediators have to recognise that on very specific occasions, we have to eat every sandwich in the lunchbox!
(2) I had not remembered that the very painful negotiations around the freeing of the hostages in Iran came to a positive conclusion on the very day of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, who had defeated an embattled Carter at the polls. It was said that the Carter administration had two White Houses – the one engaged with government, and the one that conducted the negotiations for the release of the hostages without war or bloodshed. Jimmy Carter was able to greet the hostages as they came off the plane that day. Every single hostage was safe. He said, “This is the happiest day of my life!” On the day that might have been the most painful of days, Carter was able to celebrate the success of his deeply held values and cherish the outcome for the individuals for whom he had fought so hard. This is a man I could follow.
So – back to the Museum. Here there were photos of the meetings with faces wrinkled with worry and heads in hands as the negotiations inched along. It took me back to the large photos in the John F Kennedy Presidential Library of both JFK and Attorney-General Bobby Kennedy with their heads in their hands as they worked through the Bay of Pigs crisis. I recalled the agonies of diplomacy when walking so close to a catastrophe for the nation and for the world,
and I began to wonder how the new President will handle such delicate challenges. Bluster and blank assurances just won’t cut it. And now, three weeks later, Donald Trump is on the sharp end of diplomatic negotiations. Hold on, everybody!

The retreat garden

I sat in the retreat garden, bored and weary with the effort of “reflecting”, and looked at the bird bath. Nice touch, I thought, but no earthly use. Not enough birds around here for it to be worthwhile.
No sooner had the thought come and gone, when a plump magpie dropped in. With steady step she moved to the bowl, and hopped up to perch on its rim. She turned and took me in her gaze, then with an unselfconscious fluff of her feathers, she stooped down for the cool water. She raised her head up high to let the water trickle down her throat. This she repeated four or five times, before gracefully taking the short flight to an overhanging branch of a nearby tree.
I went back to my books with an acknowledgment that I was wrong again. It’s a lovely thing when birds accept our invitation for a visit, though!
I was roused by her song – that half chuckle, half chortle that maggies make with their beaks barely open. The solo came from her newly lubricated throat – sweet chatter in magpie tongue. I looked around for an accomplice – some black and white friend who would know and understand her message. But there was none.
She sang on for twenty five minutes, with an occasional pause and a turn of her head. It was as if this was her hour of worship – a hymn of praise to the Maker, sung by a choir of one – thanks for life, thanks for now, thanks for here!
I put down my books. Maybe this was a time just to drink and to chortle.

The street sweeper

Bob was a cheerful Council worker. He loved his job sweeping the footpaths of the leafy St Peters. His greatest joy was autumn when he got to use the mechanical sweeper up and down the avenues of plane trees.
We saw him early one autumn morning when the sky was that golden pumpkin colour. His hands were gripped on the steering wheel, his eyes focussed on the footpath as he manoeuvred around the trees, with the brushes twirling.
He was doing a fabulous job as the leaves disappeared from beneath him.
What he did not realise was that he had not adjusted the air intake pipe. It stretched up behind him like an organ pipe – right up into the leaves still clinging tenuously to the trees. Just as fast as he was gathering fallen leaves, he was a creating a new carpet behind him.
Sometimes it pays to look behind to see where we’ve been as well as look forward to where we are going.

Sharonne P

Hearing Voices


I have been drawn from my bed yet again. Perhaps it is the full moon – one month to Easter – and the long shadows it casts past the window. Perhaps it is the owl that has boo booked its way through the last hour from its perch in the Sturt Gorge. Perhaps it’s the man I saw today at the hospital who, 22 years after the train he was driving ran into a car and killed two people, says he hasn’t had any counselling. “It took me half a mile to stop!” he says. In his mind he still hasn’t stopped.

I realise that the owl and the patient have something in common – they keep on going – perhaps because they haven’t been heard. Hearts cannot be still until they are heard. They just grow louder. I remember meeting a minister in the corridor after he had paid a pastoral visit to a friend who had been diagnosed with a fatal illness. Reflecting on a conversation with his friend’s intellectual and questioning offspring, he was ruminating on why we need to pray and that our prayers would make no difference to the outcome. I could not engage in a theological debate. “How can we not pray?” was all I could offer. We need to be heard.

The working day of a chaplain is all about listening – but more than that – hearing. Hearing all the anxieties and sorrows, the hopes and the regrets, the pain and the
mixed–in joy, takes chunks out of us. Scott Peck in “The Road Less Travelled” explains it as a process whereby we let down our own ego boundary (that well-constructed yet fragile sense of self) in order to allow the “self” of another person into our space, our consciousness, our emotions, our world. The work of listening and hearing knocks us out of shape! It is the gift of love. Too much of it knocks us far out of shape.

I have learned the importance of healing time for my fragile sense of self and the soul that feeds it. I cannot return for more rounds in the inevitable wrestle with suffering without it. In the walks on the beach, in the quiet moments spent with pen and paper, the company of friends, the support of family, laughter, an episode of the West Wing, or yes, shopping, I am restored. We’d better not forget chocolate, and cooking, and … the list goes on. But the most important factor for me is that I am reminded that all of us and all our experiences, all our humanity, all our cries, are heard by the One in whom we live and move and have our being. I know that even my confusion and inadequacy has a place in God’s ecology of heart and mind and spirit. It makes my spirit sing. I pray because I can do no other. And I am heard.

The owl is persisting. If I knew more about owls I could tell what it was all about – but I don’t. I just know who it is that has something to say. .

Bruce Cockburn sings:
I have sat on the street corner
And watched the boot-heels shine
And cried out glad and cried out sad
With every voice but mine. (One day I walk)

Oh, my! How many prayers have I uttered “with every voice but mine.” Those endless lines of read prayers Sunday after Sunday, somehow teaching me that that was how prayer should be, drained my spirituality of any authenticity. Learning to pray has been integral to knowing who I am, and whilst I have never believed that the words that frame a prayer are important, the voice with which they are uttered is somehow defining. Just like the owl. And the one who knows the voice knows the message, and responds.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” says Jesus. The sheep follow because they know the voice of the shepherd.

One Sunday morning a young ex-patriot woman phoned Macca on the Australia All Over radio program from Europe. She said she just had to hear an Aussie voice, and confessed that she often talked to herself aloud so that she did not forget what she sounded like. Our voice is integral to who we are.

Mind you, having a voice and using it may turn out to be dangerous. Maya Angelou, African American leader and poet of note, tells how she was raped as a child. She told, as she should. Her attacker was released from jail after only a few hours, and such was the community backlash that he was bashed to death. Justice was seen to be done, but Maya the child did not speak a word for six years. She had discovered the power of a voice, and it was terrifying. But she has cherished that voice in adulthood, and it has nourished millions.

I am beginning to wonder if my boo book friend knows how many of us he’s keeping awake. Our voice may alarm and even surprise us. Our friend Matt was engaged in military training – a huge challenge. He had to jump off a bridge fully geared up. Terrified, he stepped out. As he rushed towards the water he could hear someone screaming. Not until the splash did he realise that the scream was coming from his own mouth. Sometimes after a crisis has passed, I begin to realise I have been praying – even screaming – all the way. It has taken me long time to hear and to trust my own voice, especially in the midst of life full-on.

Ian had experienced many many losses in his immediate family. Recognising the pain was one thing, dealing with it, another. One day at a retreat, his spiritual director suggested he venture out into the swirling wind and shout out all his anger at God. Shaking off his self-consciousness, he cried out with a gut-wrenching voice. The wind by now had become a gale, and the words were plucked from his breath and flung far behind him. He barely heard them. Like scraps of paper they flew far away. His lungs and his throat hurt, but it was as though God had carried the fury and the sorrow to the corners of the universe. He felt heard and healed – and surprised at the existential reality of it all.

So, when the Psalmist lifts his voice, with all its anger and lament, praise and prejudice, trial and trouble, we hear and know his anguish. Typically, as the psalm draws to a close, we witness a change in reasonability and humility. His voice has been heard, red raw, and then he can begin to listen – listen to the spirit within, the wisdom and reassurance of the heart of the Creator. There is a turning, a shaping, a new orientation. He is made new. We are made new.

A couple of years ago I attended a memorable meeting. It was full of leaders – heavyweights in Churchworld – and was convened at a time of great conflict in the church. We began with worship and the chosen hymn was not well-known. No doubt it was selected because of its sentiments of unity and harmony. To my utter surprise, the gathering launched into it with great gusto. They sang really enthusiastically, though few knew the tune. It was a cacophony so loud that we could not hear the melody amid the wall of hearty noise. And no one seemed to notice. I knew the meeting was doomed. No listening here and no transformation either.

Listening has become my greatest solace. God stalks me best in silence or in the stolen moments when I pause for reflection between clients. Mystery and paradox, healing and wisdom, are rarely apprehended by force. They flutter with wet wings from the ordinary events of life and the earthy toil of living. They leave behind the shell of what has been. If I am too noisy, too distracted with my own narcissistic story, I miss their brilliance.

But it really is time for sleep. The owl has packed it in and the street light is the only presence in the neighbourhood.

I am told that Buddhists somewhere fill a bowl right to the brim with clean water from a tap in the morning, leaving it to stand through the busy day. When it is time to sleep at night, they slowly and ceremonially pour it out again. It stays empty until the new morning when it is filled once more.

The life for today has been lived. It has been rich and blessed and tough. It is more than enough. Tomorrow will be another day of listening, hearing, and being heard. Maybe even transformation.

© Sharonne Price