Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Milestone :-)

Today I had a rather good piano lesson. Jenny, my teacher, was very pleased with my progress, and the way I had mastered most of the pieces she had given me to play with last week. (She said that my 'Cops and Robbers' was especially sparkly! :-)

So today, marked a milestone in my piano lessons, where I moved from Bastien Piano Basics Book 1, into the more complex territory of Bastien Piano Basics Book 2 (the blue book, for those of you, who like a certain friend of mine, can remember learning from these books as a child! :-P)

I'm still really enjoying my lessons, and can see the progress I'm making in lots of ways, and I'm still working at practising - of course having the piano in the lounge room has really helped with this, as often I find myself tickling the ivories late at night, which I wouldn't be able to do if I had to go to the church to use the piano there.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Taste and see...

On Mon-Wed this week, I attended our Presbytery Retreat, at Feathertop Chalet in Harrietville. There were about 20 people from around the Presbytery, most of us ministers, but also a few spouses and other lay people who came along for the journey.

The theme of the retreat was "Taste and See", and we got to do that both metaphorically, through the wonderful guided reflections facilitated by Rev. Joan Wright-Howie from the CTM, and also literally, thanks to the great food provided by the lovely Janette Smith.

In our first session, Joan gave us all a white porcelain plate and a lump of modelling clay, and asked us to use the clay to help us reflect on 'what's on my plate?'. In our introductions, we all said that we had come ot the retreats out of times of busy-ness or stress, and so it was good to find a creative way to represent all the things we had 'on our plates', both from church, and other sources.

At various times during the retreat, we came back to our plates, as a focus for reflection; at one stage removing the things we would like to have 'off our plates', or things that we could remove, and then, with empty (or near-empty) plates, reflecting on the questions: "What do I long to have on my plate?" and, "What is God's longing for me to have on my plate?"

At the end of the retreat, we totally cleaned off the plate, and used enamel paints to represent our responses to these two questions on the plate. It was great to be a little bit creative, especially for those of us who are not artists, and as we later shared our plates, and what they represented, in the group, there were some very special moments. Here is my plate (click on the image to enlarge for detail).

In addition to the plates, throughout the retreat, there were various art supplies available for us to use in any of our silent sessions, in order to express our responses to the prayer exercises that we had been doing, or the Scriptures we had been reflecting on.

In one of the early sessions, I chose 2 Cor 11:26-28 as my focus passage (from three suggestions, I didn't just pluck it out of the air), and after spending some time in a Lectio Divina style of prayer reflection on the verses, I tried to express some of my feeling response to the passage using coloured pencils and construction paper. Here is the result.

In another session, following the theme of tasting, eating, hungering, I used pastels to represent my response to the question, "what are you hungering for?"

In yet another session, I spent some time reflecting on the acrostic Psalm 34 (ie in the original Hebrew, each verse of the Psalm commences with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order, from the beginning). Joan had given us a number of translations of this psalm, from various books, some of which were actually written in English in acrostic form.

The version that caught my eye, though, was one that was written in the traditional church chant style, with a communal response that was to be said between each of the verses (the response not actually being part of the psalm). The response in this psalm was:

With the strings that are taut with pain
compose new music of joy.

In a way I find really hard to explain, those words just took my breath away. After a week that was probably one of the most physically busy and emotionally exhausting that I'd experienced for a long time, but in which there was also a very strong sense of God's presence and the joy of God's spirit buoying me up (see my previous entry), these words really spoke to me about how to endure the hard times (not only for me personally, but as a ministry tool to assist others).

So, all in all, the retreat was a pretty special time, and very welcome refreshment to my soul.

The observant among you, dear readers, will probably note a theme coming through in the artwork that I created during the retreat- lots of swirls and bold, sweeping strokes/lines.

At some stage, when I get the chance, I will post a separate entry to explain the symbolism of my plate, which might help you to understand where my head and hand were at in creating these designs.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A sense of lightness

... and that's not only because Daylight Savings started this morning (but I must say that it was rather splendid to still have bright sunshine after 6:30pm this evening! :-)

Today marks the end of a very busy and emotionally draining week. Some of the adventures I had included an aged care service, an afternoon at the prison, a funeral in the church and subsequent burial for a man who died by suicide, and a graveside service for the interment of ashes of a woman whose family dynamics were complicated to say the least, as well as the 'normal' Sunday morning worship (and of course all of the preparation for these events. I worked out that for the interment of ashes service, I would have spent almost 10 hours on all of the pastoral visits, phone calls, travel, preparation and the service itself- and lots of prayer!)

I'm very relieved that it's all over, and the stress and responsibility, especially of the two funeral-type services, is now past. However, I can't help but feel a sense of awe. Firstly because it's always an incredible privilege to share part of the journey with folks who are raw and vulnerable in their grief. It's a very precious and sacred space to be in, and I never take this privilege lightly.

But more than this, I was also very conscious of the Spirit's guidance and presence, buoying me up through it all. At various times during the week I felt physically and emotionally exhausted, at times forgetting what day it was, because so much was happening on so many different fronts. However, at these two services, there was a sense of God's presence and mercy in it all, as I struggled to find the right words to bring comfort and hope to people mourning a sudden and unexpected death at one service, and aiming to provide a respectful and dignified farewell to a woman, in the presence of her extended family, most of whom weren't able to make it to a memorial service held earlier.

In both cases, there was the possibility of things getting out of my control (through the contributions of others), but on the day, I was conscious of a sense of calm, as if God's Spirit was hovering over us all, like a warm blanket, smothering any potential flames.

I received heartfelt thanks from the families in both cases, and also some positive feedback from others, and I am happy with how things went in both instances, and give thanks to God for the strength to get through it all on the coat-tails of his grace :-)