here i am

April 27, 2015

spiritual practice

I haven’t visited this place since August last year.

Lots of stuff has been happening. The Universe does indeed work in mysterious ways.

All of the balls that I had thrown into the air are starting to fall into place, some gently, some with a thud, but all in surprising ways. Limits are being stretched. Comfort zones tested. Long-held beliefs held up for critical analysis.

It’s nice. It’s hard. It’s all good.

I’m not claiming that anyone or anything is responsible. It’s just life – hard work, confusion, dismay, speaking up. There is resolution when you have lost hope for it.

I have struggled.  I was trying to control things that I had no control over.

I was told that I was losing my job at the school. The Federal government was excluding me from the work I had been doing for two years because I wasn’t a chaplain. I had become attached to the work and the spectacular results. However, men in suits, in big chairs, in offices, in lofty towers, would be making the decisions regardless of how I felt about it. The issue was burning a hole in my belly. My emotions were labile.

One day, I had an interesting conversation with a Catholic priest who was attending the school to give a scripture class. He came up to me at recess and asked me what I did at the school. I told him of the therapeutic work I was doing with some of the children. I told him how the work was changing to a chaplaincy model and how I could not do therapeutic work within this context. He vigorously disagreed with me and he enjoyed the argument. I thanked him for the challenge (but I did not believe him).

Whilst all of this was going on, I attended an ‘Understanding God’ course. Most of it I found interesting. However, the crunch came when I was told I had to put God before my family, and that God having extended an invitation to me to join Christianity would not do so again. In the facilitator’s words, I had refused the invitation to the party and another invitation would not be extended to me.

I wrote a letter to Jesus, and left everything in His hands. I was spent, and could do no more and think no more. I didn’t ask Him for any favours, I simply said that I trusted Him to manage the situation the best way He knew how. That was such a relief. I stopped going to church (the invitation issue rankled), and I poured time and energy into my mental and physical health. This allowed me to focus on long walks, patting and talking to my dogs, stopping to chat with other people who were walking their dogs, and drinking cups of tea.

So, where am I  now?

I am now studying chaplaincy, because the State government pulled a swifty and gave me a contract at the school for another year. I am using this year to gain qualifications in chaplaincy because I think that the next funding round will be more insistent about having the qualifications. As I am studying chaplaincy, I am attending church again. The other parishioners don’t quite know how to approach me, but that’s ok. I have difficulty defining myself, I’m sure it’s frustrating for others to try to define me.

Church is interesting too. I know what I like in a sermon. I like the minister to give me the historical context, some insight into the Hebrew language as it relates to the Bible, and his interpretation of what the whole thing means. It’s a history, language, and theology lesson in one. It doesn’t matter if I don’t feel comfortable with the minister’s interpretation of the Bible passages being read, it gives me a starting point for my own reflection. But more especially, I like that I can walk into a  place of worship and feel reasonably secure that I am not going to be persecuted for doing so. This is a freedom that is not accessible in many parts of the world.

I am loving the chaplaincy studies but it hasn’t been easy. I had to attend a 3 day study block in March at the Christian college conducting the course. It’s a college with a Pentecostal leaning, and I didn’t know what that meant. I am so clueless about these things. I was horrified when many of the other students in the class asked the Pastor teaching the course, “when do we get to save people?”. The Pastor, who is also a chaplain in the defence force, tirelessly told them that chaplaincy is not about delivering people to Christianity, but providing care and support and someone who will listen without judgement. He told them to go into ministry if they wanted to save people.

However, I am enjoying being part of a profession that is so old. I am enjoying the assignments. I adore the parameters of a chaplain (Pastoral Care Council ACT) …

“A pastoral or spiritual carer offers a friendship that is intentionally seeking to “walk with you along your path”. Its focus is on emotional support and spiritual care.

An effective pastoral carer is an expert ‘non expert’. The conversations she or he initiates are between two or more free and equal persons where there is no necessary assumption of ‘expertise’.
Pastoral care requires high levels of interpersonal skill focused in the free and equal relationship of friendship in which the carers intentions are formed in the interest of the patient or person, undergirded by a general motive of love and concern.”                               

Yay! Walking alongside is one of my favourite things to do. And I find it interesting that the work at the school has changed this year. Just like that. The students don’t need therapeutic intervention anymore. There is now a greater need for chaplaincy. I go into the classrooms and assist in whatever way I can. I hang out at recess and lunch. And in my other job as a family worker, I’m finding the same. Parents will ring me and chat on the phone for over an hour. They don’t want advice, they just want to be listened to. They thank me for all my help when all I have offered is listening and affirmation. It’s the strangest thing.

So, here I am. Betwixt and between, again. Going with the flow, and for once not trying to control every minute detail, and not striving. Just doing and being without knowing.


mr curly

 Image: Michael Leunig


Dear God,

We pray for another way of being:
another way of knowing.

Across the difficult terrain of our existence
we have attempted to build a highway
and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath:
Lead us there where in simplicity
we made move at the speed of natural creatures
and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel
the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where side-by-side
we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.

God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights
of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being.


– Michael Leunig



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4 Comments on “here i am”

  1. andysmerdon Says:

    Follow that path 🙂


  2. michaelwatsonvt Says:

    So often we are forced to make change. Sometimes the change gathers us and shepherds us in a new direction, sometimes we travel along with it for a while, then decide we have to stand against it. I suspect most of us resist first, instead of getting a good feel for the change. (I often do!)

    I look to avoid giving advice. Yet there are times when advice is warranted, even required. It’s only when I become too directive that the process breaks down in unpredictable, and seldom useful ways. It does not matter whether I am being an elder, healer, or therapist, although I suspect the elder role is more advice friendly.

    It is good to read of your journey, and to come away with images of the new you emerging from the flood. I suspect Jesus would agree that care is more important than proselytizing; he would likely already be in active revolt.


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