Sparks will fly #50 #anticipation

Anticipation is built into this time of year. In the Christian tradition we wait for the birth of the child to model and lead us to liberation. The most vulnerable expression possible of leadership – a helpless little person completely dependent on others. Students wait for their end of year results and I still look to the purple rain of jacaranda trees as heralds of marks being posted. The calendar tells us it is time to review, pack up and plan ahead. Business plans get their mid-year check-up and revisions, tweaks are made. We reflect with gratitude on what has been and sometimes have a lump in our throats about missed opportunities or regrets vie for our attention. Lists are made for what to have on menus as friends and family gatherings, parties and seasonal activities of the summer now arrive in the calendar. It is time when we are on the move. And for me this is not academic as I will be moving into my new home by this time next week. Ending the year completely differently to how I started. I anticipated this would be a ‘getting over’ year. I anticipated I would build up some strength again in my heart and my head and maybe even find some room for imagination of possibilities.

What I didn’t anticipate was all the love and kindness I ran into along the way. I learned to receive more and understood the relationship between moving on and holding still better than I have before. I noticed around every corner there was someone who wanted to give me something – free advice, a glass of wine, a secret, an idea, an invitation. I noticed I was waking up from a fog and a malaise located deep and that could be surgically removed, it needed to be massaged out. Each act of kindness and act of kneading – pushing, pulling, stretching. The little beads of yeast being enabled to rise with each rub and fold. In waking up those beads, there has been ferment and heat, there have been releases and metabolic changes, there have been conversions. I have found myself going back to the liberation theologians and lessons I held so dear in the 80s and 90s and genuinely wondered why I let their influence on me become so dormant. I remember reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the mid 80s – more than two decades after it had been written and assuming the clever people on the planet would get it and fix things up – I truly never thought back then it would come to this. Toxic air in cities belonged to places like Mexico City and Beijing, not Sydney and Canberra. When I first studied about Palau as potentially the first climate change refugees in the 80s, I also thought surely that would be sorted too and lessons in the Pacific would be learnt and as neighbours we would take on responsibilities and support.

The idea of radical localism was embedded in the basic ecclesial communities endorsed by theologians like Leonardo Boff and economists like Manfred Max-Neff. I lived and worked with these frames throughout the 70s, 80s and into the 90s. I shifted my attention and got my hands on some bigger levers. I had roles with the word Chief in them. I also found myself focussed in almost a singular way on one person whose needs were immediate and literally all about breathing and the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. His life often spoke to me of the metaphor of the canary in the coalmine. I even flirted with the idea his lung disease was a metaphor for what was happening to the planet and bigger systems.

We can influence, but we cannot control. We can bring hope and trust to any relationship with systems and with each other. We can hold still and move on at the same time. We can remind ourselves what got us here, when we woke up and if possible we can be compassionate to our selves and work feverishly to address and be accountable, and we can kindly and generously forgive ourselves for not seeing what was right in front of us to be seen. Despite mounting evidence, sometimes it is only by hauling over the coals do we find the reason the fire started in the first place. The forensic investigations are necessary to understand exactly what brought us here so we don’t do it again. So we come to understand how an accelerant works and how the smoke fills the air.

I am in that place now, as I anticipate and discern some next steps in my own story.

Like the phoenix not consumed by the fire, but rising up transformed from having flown in and deep to the ashes and rolling around in them discovering new colours. The colour purple created by the dye of crushed conch shells around Phoenicia in ancient Greece often depicted in the feathers of the mythical bird. Purple hues are the colours of this season and made from the equal intensity of red and blue it too holds meaning about coming together to create something more than the sum of the parts. This is where anticipation arrives when elements get put together and in that moment of making, there is anticipation. I am applying what I have learnt from the past, reflecting on what has been and putting in the new learnings of this year together and am wearing purple, waiting with anticipation to see what sparks will fly.

Sparks will fly #49 #safe

The twin experience of being held and holding on has been a theme of many posts over the years, and yet again this week I had those moments. Most poignantly through exquisite facilitation and being asked to recall a moment from childhood that had been a peak experience; I was shocked to find myself holding an imaginary child in my arms before realising it was the memory of holding my baby brother on his arrival home from hospital. A moment where I took my older sibling and big sister status to a new level. To be tumbled back through the more than 40 years since that day, was a deeply heartbreaking moment too as I then recalled moments when we had been alone together when he was dying just over a year ago. I held his hand, sang him songs from childhood and recalled memories from our shared experience of the hearth and heart. I have found it hard to get past the other griefs to get to mourn him and it was a real blessing to have the memory of holding come to me with clarity and direction. The experience opened a door.

There was much to be thankful for in coming to this moment of holding. I was in a sacred place when this memory arrived, a place that linked his love of teaching and learning in indigenous communities so there was another link to him there. As the Sydney skies darkened and ash floated in the air, the haze of the smoke and the sun silhouetted in orange, I mourned him. I gave thanks for the memory being delivered where I felt safe. Safety being the pre-condition for vulnerability.

Creating a safe space enables a container for bold and brave actions and words. The place where this memory arrived has, and continues to be, such a container for the last 60 years. Crossing the threshold that morning as I entered the property I honoured it as a sacred place of rest, refuge, reflection, learning and listening. As I move in a few weeks, I am being drawn into what makes a safe place, a container to hold me, my memories, future conversations to hold and be held. How place helps and hinders, creates nooks and crannies, where little and big new ideas can form, memories cherished and beginnings, endings and everything in between can be forged.

For many years the safe places where intimate and challenging conversations took place were in the car, on a red couch, around the kitchen table and in bed. Those conversations are dead. New red couches have been bought, a new kitchen table and new bed too they are in a waiting place getting to arrive, just as I am too. I am trusting they will hold this pilgrim and sojourners to midwife the emerging sparks creating a new fire. Crossing the threshold to this new home will be an act of trust, and opening the door will be accepting the invitation to walk through it as fully as I can.


Sparks will fly #48 #decolonisation

I am going through a decolonisation of sorts. It started when I realised I had been colonised. Something like the Portuguese leaving Mozambique when they rolled out of the country, they poured concrete down the stairwells so people couldn’t use them anymore, blew up the roads and bridges behind them, left a path of destruction as they evacuated before the peace keepers came in to hold the space as the country re-organised itself, healed from trauma, held elections and tried to get back on track. Immediately after the destruction the country had the lowest GDP on the planet and land mines were everywhere. When I visited in 1994 when the results of the first elections were pending. it seemed every person in every village had lost a limb.

I have been a bit like Mozambique. A path of destruction was left by the one I loved, and there are still land mines going off when I least expect it, and while no limbs have been lost, there have been multiple wounds to the heart and head.  But I have held my own election, and while the votes are being counted, I am making provisions for a declaration of independence.  It has already started by reverting to my family name more than a year ago now, selling the site we lived in and divesting myself of personal possessions. De-colonisation requires cleaning up and noticing what has been taken, reclaiming and renaming. I had got to my own lowest GDP in the days and now am rebuilding my stocks.  Colour and movement are on the horizon.

This experience of decolonisation at a personal level is giving me new understanding of what is required at a macro level. Everything from re-naming streets and buildings and places to reverting to language and building narratives of both resistance and resilience. Listening to griefologist Rosemary Kudnarto Wanganeen this week I learnt about her views on having to go into the pain of a patriarchal and coloniser mindset and understand the experience of victimhood first as a necessary prerequisite to healing. As she acknowledged, this is a tough but necessary step in the journey to liberation. It requires a dismantling, an unlearning, and moving to practices that support learning, understanding, personal psychological work and acts of solidarity. She takes an historical overview from the time of the Roman Empire and it resonates in both the private and public spheres. This is an orientation to trauma and liberation to enable the past, present and future to co-exist. The inner journey is the only way out.

As a nation we have plenty of work to do to go deep, as we try and right the wrongs of the past and that too is going to have to be a journey inward. To own our past and face our history is going to be painful and we will need to be held by the wise and the broken, the healers and the healed, by the ones who can sit in the fire and stand in solidarity. I am trying to tune into the voices of these leaders – as I firmly believe my inner journey to healing is in the mix too. Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson articulated what Aboriginal activists groups in the 70s were saying:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

My hunch is this statement works just as well for us as individuals as we look in the mirror and experience a shift in our inner work once internal co-existence settles into the synapses. We can’t erase what has been done, but perhaps we can reclaim it as a lever for liberation. Then maybe some new sparks will fly.


Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Sparks will fly #47 #prayer

I can’t imagine prayer without preparation. Taking the moment to be still, the gathering of heart and mind to be present, the patience for arrival, the stopping to receive or just bask in adoration of the wonder and beauty of what some call God. This is what happens with the riffs, the solitary notes, the spotlight and in the darkness as a song takes shape at a U2 concert. I honestly can’t think of any other experience that explains what getting ready to pray is like. Standing for hours to wait for the messengers to arrive and strike the chord is as real to me as David picking up his lyre.  Psalm after psalm arrive covering all the same topics, we are familiar with desolation, consolation, liberation, elevation. The theatre and drama at the heart of community and any celebration or ceremony are there in living colour with sound bouncing off the walls of the stadium and the high priests invoke the faithful to every call and response in a relationship founded on love and mutuality.

Ceremony and ritual are essential and every time we gather as community finding ways to notice love showing up and making the space for it to be nurtured, held, noticed is the act of prayer.

I have had a lot of ceremony this week. I have gathered with various tribes in my life. I have been held and even done a little holding myself. I have celebrated and been celebrated. I have felt the heart of community beating inside of me and reconnected with some hearts across time and space. I have known and been known. I have been at prayer.

Some say prayer is the noticing of God. It derives from an old French root meaning to ask earnestly, beg, or entreat. I have asked earnestly, done some begging, pleading and imploring. I have earnestly asked for the winds to blow smoke in another direction and begged for another chord to be played. I have honoured the work of others, been in awe of the generosity of generations being revealed in the simplicity of a hug and a laugh. I have been resting at the feet of Zen masters of facilitation and of course the guitar (a deep bow to The Edge).

Imagine if we were all out at the edge? On the cusp of striving to be our best selves, taking a course in courage to be a step braver, half a shade bolder? Surely this is an invocation? Yes Lord, take me to the edge of my discomfort so I transform and in doing so be transformative. I have been living on this edge for a while now and I am beginning to see signs of transformation. I am rising and sparks are flying. The plumes of flames are taking on new meaning, purgatory and the purging may even be coming to an end for me. Clarity is arriving and with it answered prayer. A very long intro has been played and all for the purpose of getting ready to receive. I am recognising resistance is still turning up, but it is not in a way that it paralyses, more in a way that invites curiosity for its place and what purpose it may be serving and perhaps to protect, select and deselect needs.

The generosity of older Aboriginal people and their endless waiting in this undeclared war of more than 200 years is a constant inspiration. The bonds never loosened from the land no matter how violent the displacement, the land continues to hold them in place inviting us into the circle. I am deeply grateful to these invitations and to those who do the inviting or broker me an invitation. From these invitations, I learn about resistance, resilience, patience and prayer, how to pick up the lyre and sing the psalms.

It has been a big week of prayer and answered prayer, of celebrations and ceremony, of surprises and magic, of divine intervention, of addressing audacity and being in community. The promise of liberation is on the lips and tongues of the prophets. My job is to turn up, to praise, give thanks and pick up the mantle and sometimes to walk away. The walk of the pilgrim continues in confidence that the sparks flying are all gift, fuel feeding off what needs to be left behind, keeping what hot what needs to be kept on the boil and enabling the consumption of energy be transformative.


Photo by Tikkho Maciel on Unsplash


Sparks will fly #46 #favourites

One of my favourite leaders is going to be where I am in the week ahead. I always get a boost when I hear him talk and frame this issues important to me. I am also going to hear one of my favourite bands and I will be hanging out with some of my favourite people all week too.

To prefer, or privilege, a thing or a person or an idea over another, is one of the ways we make the paths on which to travel. I wouldn’t be without favourites. I have started looking for the shadow thrown by orientating myself to favourites – it is a bit like when you are given a plate of vegetables to eat as a child and you stick to the ones you know and like the taste of and don’t have a go at the others, even though they might “be good for you”.  Building the space where all those vegetables can co-exist and where you can safely try them with support and affirmation for at least having a go seems to be a useful approach to trying new things. In my work, we often talk about helping to create the conditions for that safety and then stretching the system to take another step to be more inclusive, more equitable, to taste and feel what it might be like to poke those other vegetables on the plate.  I notice how hard this can be and with all the ferocity of a toddler refusing to eat something new, some parts of the system dig in, yell and scream and run away as fast as their legs can carry them.  I am doing a bit of that myself from time to time.

In my still relatively new state of widowhood, I am learning what I actually like for myself and am not referencing someone else’s favourites to make decisions on how I go about in the world. I am learning what I like and what works for me. This practice is often uncomfortable even though there is so much familiarity, and even though I know what might be on the plate and what the names of all the vegetables are, I am only just beginning to recognise that there might be other plates to lay foundations on. This will seem strange to those who have spent a lot of their lives making choices for themselves, but it is genuinely novel for me still. I am discovering what my favourite things are in my familiar landscape at the same time trying to remain open to new possibilities in new landscapes. Pilgrim life offers up new roads and to orientate myself to be at the edge of my discomfort is a constant invitation to growth and adaptation. I am noticing where I am pushing back and hanging on, where wounds want to weep and where wounds want to heal.

I have an aversion to not trying some things and prefer to stick with my favourites. One of my favourite people, who I will get to see this week, says learning happens when are at the edge of our discomfort. I know this is true, I often mid-wife discomfort in others, but I am less likely to put myself into that space. It is hard to (as Arnold Mindell describes) to sit in the fire, even when I know this is where transformational change begins. Conflict, diversity, taking responsibility for our own mini-acts of terrorism means letting go or at least not giving as much privilege to favourites. It means opening and being prepared for the consequences of that opening. So I am asking myself: what lies beneath the choosing of favourites? Is it the comfort? The familiarity? The pleasure? The ease? The thought perhaps of what might happen if we move away from what we know – the disruption that might come? The sparks that might start flying? Afterall, you do have to light a fuse and let the mechanism activate for what was hidden inside the casing to explode.


Photo by William Warby on Unsplash


Sparks will fly #45 #satisfied

Happiness comes from the root word for lucky and satisfaction from the root word for being content.  Being satisfied in a deep and knowing way is not about luck, it is usually not random, it is planned, thought through, intentional. It comes from effort and often at some cost personally, professionally, physically. While happiness is more likely to be accidental, occasional and difficult to sustain. I have been in several conversations of late about these two feelings. There is an old Japanese saying I used to have on a mini-poster as a teen in my bedroom “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it eludes you, but if you sit quietly, it will come and rest on your shoulder.” Chasing happiness seems to be a past time for many. Coming to a deeper awareness about what is satisfying requires a different kind of effort. It is not haphazard. Fascinatingly it seems the earliest meaning around satisfaction was with a confessor hearing the contrition of  observing the fulfilment of the sinner’s penance.  The contrast being satisfying the other rather than yourself and I think this is quite close to the difference between the two states of satisfaction and happiness. Satisfaction seems to have deeper roots.

Getting to the bottom of things can be quite satisfying and sustaining a state of satisfaction begins with the seeds of knowing your purpose and passions and often distilling the difference between needs and wants. Some people talk about needs as work and wants as pleasures – this too might be a clue to the difference between happiness and satisfaction.  Meeting wants is probably the icing on the cake, while meeting needs holds the seeds for satisfaction.  Having a big enough worldview to capture your why above and beyond the quick rush of happy I think can put down satisfaction roots. This is how value is created in our life, the deeper the roots, the more sustenance from our source where-ever that well is we draw from. There is some kind of focus from those roots to follow the water course that offers life.  I often think of the expression “go with the flow” as really being carried along that river, when you are in it and authentically turning up, you experience being held over the rocks, and around the bends, through the cascades. Maybe after the journey you arrive to the mouth, where you are emptied into the ocean, maybe you are opened into the ocean and join with something bigger than yourself?

Rumi says: If I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without any pain”. I am not so sure about the lack of pain, but I am sure satisfying needs takes patience, flow or perhaps alignment. Wants though have more of an insatiable nature and require being fed. Only when there is some kind of emptiness, lacking even perhaps a vacuum can the need become fully visible. The homeless one knows what shelter means, the hungry know the taste of bread. I think Mick Jagger and Keith Richards might have been onto something where they moaned about lack of satisfaction because people are filling up with useless information and constant trying. Filling and chasing and constant trying, isn’t going to lead to satisfaction. It is both more gentle and more tenacious, there is plumbing to depths requiring integrity and gratitude for the stones and rocks along the way to reveal what might is needed to go deeper.

Little sparks of water dance in the light and fly in the face of the danger in the cascades, flamed by high winds in the mountains and gentle breezes on the coast.  There are times you can even see the light and water form a rainbow – that universal expression of hope. It is not always a happy journey, but there are signs of it being a satisfying one.


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash






Sparks will fly #44 #phoenix

We all know the ancient Greek myth of the ancient bird that rises from the ashes, reborn, renewed. There are three movements – the long life (legend has it at about 500 years), the plunge into the fire (some stories have the bird dying then rising from ashes), the resplendent and shining like the sun gloriously colourful soaring high as a new creature. I have been listening to a song about South Africa this week, created on the cusp of the fall of apartheid echoing the country’s journey to that of the phoenix. I have felt inspired by the present tense that is in the lyric: from the ashes of the fire the phoenix will arise.  There is such confidence and direction of onwards and upwards. There is no energy given to the death or destruction, only the power that has been gathered from being consumed and new life is the inevitable consequence.

The black residue arrives after the hisses and crackles, snaps and pops of the logs and twigs as the cinders die out and the last gasps of oxygen leave the fire. We recognise the end of the fire’s life. The ashes start to arrive long before the fire is out though, and we often detect the end is nigh. Stoking the fire to keep it alive is often a temptation and we want to linger a little longer. I have found myself doing that from time to time, not being quite ready to let something new emerge and preferring to hang on before letting go. There is also the being consumed part, letting the fire take over to eat up what remains. Afterall fires create both heat and light, so perhaps, seeing a fire in another will attract some attention and company. That has been my experience. I have been generously accompanied by others who have noticed me in the fire and all the forces human and cosmic calling me to rise, rise, rise. 

There have been three wise men around the fire this week who have each gifted me with kindness and a challenge. Challenge number 1 was to risk myself and stay open to the possibility of male companionship and intimacy. Challenge number 2 was to embrace my skills in community development and head back to do it in the burbs. Challenge number 3 was to apologise for holding bad thoughts about a couple of people that I know now was completely misguided and misinformed.  I suspect addressing each of these challenges will be part of the rising from the ashes. I have made a little start already with the apologies which of themselves are huge and deeply embedded in my synaptic pathways, but new information has arrived and healing all round will occur, I hope.  The community development challenge isn’t difficult and can easily be re-framed and put into place where I find and put myself in my work. It is a lot harder to do in my personal life, when I am living as a pilgrim and not connected to a neighbourhood.  The first one though is the Mt Everest one for me. At this point in the ashes I have only aversion and no experience, knowledge or desire. I am relishing friendships and am not lonely, although often alone.  I love the liberation and freedom and never, ever want to be a carer again. I am in credit on that ledger. It might take a long time for those plumes to appear on this phoenix, if ever! What I am taking from that challenge though is an instruction to hold doors open and see what comes through, not to keep doors shut.

When sparks fly sometimes, they are joined in the fire by ashes flying like confetti. We all know how choking and debilitating an ash cloud can be, but around a campfire the wisps of ashes offer themselves up as a forecast, floating until they can be seen no more joining with the night sky.  The phoenix doesn’t form until the old bird is fully consumed and only then does she arrive majestic in her new form. I can feel some of my early ashes turning up in the atmosphere and the embers are starting to fade with the potential of a phoenix rising. It is a relief to come to this point after so much combustion, although there are still sticks poking the fire, I think more ashes are creating a nest for something new to turn up. The three wise men of the week all love me and recognise in me the fire, the ashes and the emerging phoenix, they are calling her out. Perhaps the lesson from the week and from the phoenix is: love is the fuel of the fire.

A heart filled with love is like a phoenix that no cage can imprison.  – Rumi