Tag Archives: God

Our Spiritual Journey…

It’s not very often that I even touch on the spiritual side of my life…my beliefs, my faith or Christian community. That’s not because they aren’t an important. Rather, it’s just that I often see too many shades of grey, and wrestle with so many aspects of my own faith, that  it’s not easy to package it up and present it to anyone else in a vaguely coherent state.

I guess that’s what happens when you’re “beyond the flow”. You’re not usually the sort of person who walks into a place and immediately feels comfortable in that empty seat. Indeed, you bring your own. Ask questions. Wriggle. Don’t quite feel comfortable and look around at all the people who belong and ask: “What about me? Where’s my place? Will I ever belong?”

Above: Barney’s back in my day before it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Although I really struggled within myself while I was there, I was very happy there too if that makes sense. Found my place for awhile.

When I was in my twenties, I moved from the small Lutheran Church where I’d grown up and didn’t have many people my own age, and started going to St Barnabas Broadway. “Barney’s” was the Anglican Church aligned with Sydney University, where I’d literally swung from the chandeliers as an undergraduate, loving and being fully immersed in virtually all aspects of campus life. Barney’s was jam-packed with hundreds of young people, and I thought I’d hit the jackpot. That was until I struggled to run into the same people week after week and missed the intimacy of my home Church. Yet, I persevered and went to home groups and formed a really tight group of friends who were also mostly on the fringe of things to some extent. For example, the women among us weren’t real good at wearing floral dresses, which were a kind of uniform at the time. Over time, we came to see ourselves as the “black sheep”.   Indeed, a friend of mine and I wrote this incredibly sad, cynical story of sheep drowning in their own tears abandoned by the shepherd. This wasn’t so much a comment on Barney’s, but more a sense of the individual getting lost and overlooked. Of course, that’s nothing new, but when you feel yourself drowning in sorrow, it can feel like you’re the only one who has ever been there. However, with the exception of mental illness, it is often something everyone experiences from time to time. Moreover, your teens and twenties can be particularly turbulent as you try to launch yourself out into the so-called real world and search for love. It is difficult for most people to respond to drowning souls. However, if you know anything about life saving, you’ll know that you’re not meant to drown yourself saving someone else. Rather, they recommend using props like a broom, which enable you to save a life and not go down in the process.

Anyway, as it turned out, my sense of drowning in my own tears, wasn’t far off the mark. While I was turning to spiritual and psychological sources of help, I was actually battling the effects of undiagnosed hydrocephalus (or fluid on the brain) where the cerebral spinal fluid (CFS) was building up inside my head and squashing my brain. I didn’t have trouble with headaches, but I was clumsy right through high school  and with the pressure on my frontal lobe, wasn’t just extroverted. Stress was also quite disabling. After all, my brain was already under the pump.

When I was 25, I moved to Western Australia thinking a more relaxed lifestyle would be better. However, I was diagnosed with the hydrocephalus a few months later when I couldn’t touch my nose in a basic medical check up. Six months later, after a serious and sharp decline, I had brain surgery in 1996 where they inserted a VP Shunt from my brain under the skin through to my peritoneum. I moved back to Sydney to recover. The shunt blocked and it was decided I had to stay put and I moved back home with mum and Dad and did six months rehab to get back on my feet. I was off work for six-twelve months and went from being a Marketing Manager in a serious relationship to moving back in with my parents with my life squeezed into my bedroom cupboards. While I was grateful for their support, becoming a dependent child again was devastating. It wasn’t part of my plan, ambition and contradicted every little aspect of how I saw myself as a intelligent,  independent career woman.

Then, the shunt blocked, and my bad luck appeared terminal. Not in a life and death sense, but in terms of my morale. I remember talking to a friend and thinking I’d never get married and have kids. That I “couldn’t even take care of a goldfish”. These were gruelingly difficult days, extending into months which kept crawling along. 

Clearly, I’ve come a long way sense then. I met my husband Geoff on NYE 1998, while I was still in the recovery phase from that surgery. He took me on when I was still pretty much a rough diamond, and loved me regardless. Was part of the ongoing journey which saw me continue to recover and extend myself even to the present day. Thanks to what we are still finding out about neuroplasticity, I started rising back up and getting back into the land of living, even if I wasn’t quite back in the fast lane.

Anyway, I’ve taken you on a massive detour from where I intended to take you today.

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Praying for our son after the baptism.

The reason I’m touching on the spiritual, is that our fifteen year old son, who is known as on Beyond the Flow as the inimitable “Mister”, got baptised yesterday. When I asked him why he got baptised yesterday, he told me today that the baptisms were on so he might as well do it. However, his face told a different story yesterday when he was bursting with excitement, glowing and clearly being touched and immersed not only in the water, but also in the Holy Spirit and God’s love. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. This was clearly supernatural. I live with this character and experience the ups and downs, highs and lows and the clean versus messy bedroom. I know he’s not a saint, and yet he is. Somehow, so am I. Yet, I feel incredibly ordinary even if I’m no longer that lost, black sheep drowning in my own tears.

I am incredibly proud of our son for choosing to get baptised now. He turned 15 on Friday, and clearly this is an age group renowned for making other choices. Fantastic!

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Our family after the baptism

The other thing I was really stoked about, was that despite the last minute notice, we had a good contingent of family there. That even included Geoff’s sister and her boyfriend from Queensland, who just happened to be down. It was actually a very rare situation where Geoff’s family outnumbered my side. With my Dad being one of seven, that doesn’t happen often. Mister also had a few of his friends along and our Church (Hope Unlimited Church) also has a strong youth group and they were there literally cheering him along. Indeed, four of the youth were baptised yesterday.

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Lastly, although it spent the service out in the car, the family Bible made it inside afterwards and I managed to share it with a few people. It was published in 1872/74 in Philadelphia and originally belonged to my grandfather’s grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich who was a blacksmith in Hahndorf, South Australia. His wife’s family included the Hartmann’s and Paech’s who were among the first German immigrants to come to South Australia. They migrated to under Pastor Kavel, because they didn’t believe in changes to the liturgy back home.  On one hand, you could say they were very devout and fought to defend their faith (which for Pastor Kavel included going to prison at the time). On the other hand, you could describe them as stubborn and resistant to change.

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My grandfather photographed at his retirement service.

My grandfather became a Lutheran Pastor. A shepherd in the very meaning of the word, he told stories of driving out through the mud to reach families and connect them with Church and salvation. He and my grandmother worked tirelessly in a ministry capacity, but also as what we’d today would view as social work. While serving in Wollongong in the 1950s, their congregation was mostly made up of European migrants known as “New Australians” who were struggling to adjust to a new country, language and culture and deal with having to start over again with perhaps little more than the shirt on your back. These legendary heroics of migrant Australia, didn’t come without a cost. My grandparents and their kids, lived in a tiny matchbox-sized manse next to the Church where their door was always open and they gave more than really was a good idea. My grandfather would marry a couple. My grandmother would be the bridesmaid and my mother or aunt would play the organ. At the larger weddings, the family would have to leave before the dancing could start. These were interesting time, so different to how I have grown up.

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The Walker Family after their release from the Japanese. 

This is just my Christian and spiritual legacy to our son. Meanwhile, Geoff grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist Family in Scottsdale, Tasmania. In his twenties, he moved to Sydney where the home group he attended broke away, becoming Dayspring Church. Going back in time, his family included a Methodist lay preacher and another branch of his family, the Walkers and Brookers were active in the early days of the Salvation Army. Indeed, his grandfather Herbert William Brooker played the cornet in the band which we’ve inherited. Actually, I just found out last night that Herbert William’s cousin, George Walker, was a Lieut.-Colonel in the Salvation Army and was interred by the Japanese during WWII while serving as a missionary in China.  Geoff’s Great Great Grandfather, Robert Sleightholm,  actually built much of the historic Church of the Good Shepherd at Hadspen in Tasmania. I know that’s different to pastoring a Church, but he was still a Church builder. Incidentally, that’s far better than being a Church seller and wrecker. The Anglican Church has put  the Good Shepherd up for sale. Read here. What did I say about the shepherds and the sheep?

While we are very proud of our strong Christian heritage, that is not to discourage people my kids refer to as first generation Christians. While it can be quite encouraging to come from a Christian family and there can be that internal cohesion, it can also be quite different if your Christian walk goes off on a tangent to your family. Christian communities have seemingly become more tolerant in recent years, there are tensions between different expressions and interpretations of faith. This legacy might not always leave you with a blank slate or room for your own faith to grow unimpeded and without perhaps being pruned too harshly. So, whatever your family situation might be, that’s okay. We are all God’s children and valued members of God’s family. Jesus loves us.

Funny I should write all of this, because I usually don’t speak up and it’s been really hard for me to feel an ongoing sense of belonging and commitment to Church. As you’re probably aware since my battle with the hydrocephalus, I was dealt another whammy when I became progressively immobile following the birth of our second child, Miss, and was diagnosed 18 months later with dermatomyositis. For awhile there, I felt like God didn’t love me any more and had channelled his wrath my direction and was zapping me with thunderbolts. I was really angry, hurt and just bereft that I had a second very rare, unpronouncible disease and I hadn’t even turned 40. Of course, I was mad. Mad with God. Mad with life, but mostly petrified of dying and leaving my then three and 18 month old children without their mum, especially when they were too young to even remember their mother or what it was like to have a mum.

My ongoing struggles with chronic health and disability also made it difficult to get to Church regularly and build those ongoing, continuing relationships where I could be a part of things. Me being me, I was also radically overthinking everything. Plus, I was fighting to stay alive, particularly after the dermatomyositis started causing fibrosis in my lungs. I developed bronchitis, pneumonia. I really should wear a mask out in public during fly season, but I am who I am and that isn’t me. I want to be with people, not behind a wall of any sort.

So, life is complicated and as frustrating and exhausting as it might be, I have to keep rising back to the surface and being not only part of community, but being something of a shepherd and caring for the flock from my seat somewhere out the back and not quite out the front. That’s my place. Meantime, Geoff can be found either up the front playing base, setting up and packing up chairs often with our son in tow. Our daughter went to her first meeting of Church dancers last week. That’s quite development compared to when my Mum was growing up.

Well, although this is the extended version of the baptism, it really is very much a fleeting overview of our spiritual journey and we’d love to hear from you. Moreover, if you have written any posts along these lines, please include links in the comments below. I’d love to read them.

Love & God Bless,

Rowena

Lt-Col George Walker Dies

Lieut.-Colonel ‘George Walker, commander of the Newcastle Division of the Salvation Army, died in Newcastle last night at the age of 61. Lieut.-Colonel Walker became an officer in the Salvation Army’s Burwood Corps 37 years ago, and then joined the China and India mission service. During the Second World War he was interned by the Japanese, and is remembered by many prisoners as welfare officer in a number of internment camps around Peking. After the war, he served as a travelling evangelist in New South Wales and Queensland, before taking up his Newcastle post a year ago. Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Wednesday 16 April 1952, page 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas – Weekend Coffee Share.

This is just a brief message to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a Happy, healthy and Wonder-filled New Year.

As you may be aware, I live in Sydney, Australia where it’s looking like we’ll be having a scorchingly hot Christmas and Boxing Day. We’re heading out to Church tonight for Christmas Eve and will be heading to my aunt’s my parents and extended family for Christmas Day. We’ll be catching up with Geoff’s sister from Boxing Day.

I’ve written a few Christmas posts in the last week which may interest you:

Silent Night

A Stinking Hot Christmas (written 2015 for Solveig Warner’s Advent Calendar)

A Sydney Christmas

Christmas Door – David Jones

St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney

 

We would like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas. Happy Holidays isn’t a phrase we use here in Australia, but I understand it’s used a lot in USA and has its place.

Yet, at the same time, we understand that this time of year is very difficult for many for a variety of reasons and we would also like to acknowledge that. We hear you and I put my hand on your heart and stand alongside you. It’s not easy and while I’ve experienced the most amazing miracles myself, they haven’t come about like clockwork. I haven’t clicked my fingers and hey presto, pulled a rabbit out of my hat. I’ve also found there’s a lot I can do to both improve my lot and also completely shoot myself in the foot and make things worse.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-TS Eliot

Well, that’s a rather large dose of philosophy and reflection for what’s supposed to be a coffee share. However, so much is shared over a cup of tea or coffee in the real world. Why shouldn’t that be a part of our virtual coffees?

“Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”

-David Letterman

Best wishes,

Rowena

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

PS The photo of me as the elf was taken in the Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital. I popped down there to pick up some resources for a friend. However, 6 years ago I had a round of chemo (cyclophosphamide) to treat my auto-immune disease, which had started attacking my lungs. Treatment began the week before Christmas with my second dose on Boxing Day, when there was plenty of parking for a change. The treatment worked and I’ve been in remission for 6 years. So, I have much to be thankful for and it’s a reminder not to take the seemingly hum drum and every day for granted.

A Stone In My Pocket – Friday Fictioneers.

This was it. I took a deep breath. The 23rd Psalm echoed in my head, and I recited the Lord’s Prayer. Not deeply religious and anything but devout, I still kept a toe in with the man upstairs just in case. However, as I stuffed the heavy stones down my shirt and stared into the lake, I wondered whether he’d accept I was repentant, even if I did commit the ultimate, unforgivable sin. However, it was a done deal. I’d left a note, blown my dosh. I closed my eyes….5,4,3,2,1…Geronimo.

Oops. Next time, I’ll find a deeper pond.

…..

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s photo prompt comes from  © Sandra Crook.

 

A Shimmer of Moonlight…Friday Fictioneers.

Engulfed by a grief which knew no bounds, Bernadette refused to light the candle for Jim. No point. Whether God was dead or asleep, he wasn’t there. Otherwise, he would’ve stepped in. Plucked her husband right off the road before the truck hit. He came to rest on the banks of a creek…too late for the kiss of life, let alone a goodbye. She could still feel his arms wrapped around her in an unbroken chain.

The candle stood as still as a statue, while an owl peered through the window, eyes glowing in the moonlight.

…..

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers. This week’s photo prompt © Janet Webb. 

xx Rowena

Gyuto Monks of Tibet in Australia.

Yesterday, I shared my serendipitous encounter where I met a group of Gyuto Monks from Tibet at my local beach in sunny Australia, not far from Sydney.

Today, I wanted to share a few more photos and delve further into what the monks are about and why they’re in Australia.

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Photo: Rowena Curtin

After all, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably need to have the details pointed out to i.e these monks wear the the same robes as the esteemed Dalai Lama and “are masters of Tibetan Buddhist tantric ritual and their lives are dedicated to practicing tantric ideals. To be with them, to observe and be touched by their humanity, is to see kindness in action.”

That said, I have read and posted about The Pursuit of Happiness  by the Dalai Lama and Howard Carter in addition to yesterday’s post: Accidents, Blessings & Tibetan Monks at an Australian Beach.

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Much of this is beyond my understanding and experience but I strive to place love, compassion and empathy at the centre of my life…values which are lived and breathed by the Holy men.

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At one with the wave. Photo Rowena Newton at Wamberal, NSW.

I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of surfing as a spiritual activity before but it has to be. Obviously, surfing is intimately connected with the ocean, the waves and nature and being close to the ocean always makes me feeling closer to God, feeling his wonder, majesty and spirit all around me. It blows me away. After all, God occupies our entire universe and isn’t shut inside a building.

In an interview with Australian Surf Champion Nick Carroll,  broadcaster Caroline Jones asked: “Is there something about the moment when you’re absolutely concentrated there on what’s happening, that is, a feeling that as well as being frightening, a moment of great peace, or joy or something very extraordinary?

He replied: “Yes, surely.If you want to put it into a religious framework, Eastern religions deal with moments like that better than what we consider are usual forms of religion because they do deal with cathartic moments. The Zen Buddhists deal with them very well. You get moments where your whole body, soul and mind are just concentrated on doing something in the surf. When it’s very big and you catch a wave and take off there’s usually, on a big wave in Hawaii, several seconds during that wave where you really throw yourself over the brink, you really have to forget about everything, totally, to make it. You have to forget about trying to do something, you have to just get up, trust your instinct and just fall into the wave. It’s during seconds like that that you seem to just  totally disappear, you as a being don’t exist at that moment. It’ hard to express, you throw yourself into the moment that you’re actually inside everything that’s happening, you’re inside the wave, you’re inside your surfboard and what it’s doing. You’re inside all the landscape around you and the ocean as it’s surging, you get totally inside the moment and it’s so intense that time disappears, everything disappears. You disappear, you’re not thinking of you Nick Carroll or whoever. It’s way beyond that.

If you’re going to make a very big wave you have to be totally unified with everything that’s happeneing. You have to know absolutely everything the board’s doing, what’s happening with the wave, where the water is on the wave, how fast the water’s moving up the face of the wave, what’s happening with the wind, where there might be a couple of people in the way, and I don’t think you can know about that if you choose to take the form of thinking that we do in our everyday lives, where I’m very aware of me, Nick Carroll. Your brain just can’t handle it, it has to throw stuff away to fit it all in. And so a lot of what it throws away is the useless stuff, the ego, the “I’m Nick Carroll, I’ve got fears, worries, doubts etc”___all very useless stuff. To take all that information in about what’s happening, to get right inside it, you have to ignore a lot and discard it.2.”

I experience this myself through my writing, photography and also through playing the violin. I know that sense of merging and oneness and it’s incredible.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed riding the wave with the Tibetan Monks of Gyuta, even if it was only from the shore. Unfortunately, we left before they hit the waves…not in their robes but in the safety of board shorts and life vest.

To view TV coverage of the event and of the monks surfing: http://www.nbnnews.com.au/2016/10/05/surfing-monks-create-waves-in-umina/

Have you have any experiences with the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan Monks of Gyuta? I would love to hear your experiences and how you felt.

xx Rowena

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Hopefully some of his calm brushed off on me.

Sources

  1. About the Gyuto Monks of Tibet in Australia

2. Caroline Jones, The Search for Meaning, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1989 p. 56.

M-Mary Stevenson “Footprints” Replies.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for sharing how my poem has touched your heart and helped you through difficult times. It sounds like our Lord guided you to Heidelberg and gave you the love and community you craved. I don’t know much about hydrocephalus but it must be such a relief that you finally found out what was going on and had the surgery. I can’t imagine what it would have been like being so far away from home with that time bomb ticking and having no idea what was going on. You have great courage.

Our Lord understands us better than we could ever imagine and leads us through dark valleys and into the light, filling us with his strength. I have never understood why bad things happen to good people but I trust that our Lord will carry us through it all.

You have probably read this passage from Isaiah 40 before but I find it so encouraging

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Love and God’s richest blessings to you and your family!

Mary Stevenson

M:Mary Stevenson: Footprints Poem

Dear Mary,

As a young 22 year old Australian backpacking through Europe, a friend I met along the road gave me a much treasured copy of your Footprints poem. Despite being a Christian most of my life, I’d never come across your poem before. All of a sudden, it was like all my matches had been lit at once, sparking such a fire. Naturally, the poem was particularly poignant being a traveller at the time. I felt understood…a very rare experience for me at the time!

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While backpacking is supposedly about seeing and discovering the world, it can also become a journey deep inside yourself. Without the structure of a schedule, having no fixed plans, being far away from family, friends and any kind of personal history and simply drifting with the wind, you could easily feel like an atom drifting through space. Such freedom is incredible and indeed, I didn’t even have a watch but it’s all too easy to slip into some kind of existential angst.

Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is this nagging feeling inside which I can’t quite explain? When am I going home? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

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Of course, the quest to find true love, weaves its tentacles through all of this.

Personally, I also had a pool of excess fluid sloshing around inside my brain, which I sort of knew was there although I didn’t know what it was. I simply turned to my faith, writing, philosophy, psychology and the humble cup of coffee for the answers I desperately sought.

Overseas travel is quite different for young Australians. Given the high cost of getting to Europe, many of us save like crazy and then try to stay away as long as possible. While this makes for a grand adventure, it can also mean serious homesickness and dislocation. At least, it did for me and I wasn’t alone. I heard quite a few Aussies hanging out for the scent of gum leaves. I had a an Australia $5.00 note stuck up in my room in Heidelberg where I lived for about 6 months.

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin 1992.

As you could appreciate, I came across your poem at an intensely confusing and vulnerable time and it fortified me. Gave me such strength, knowing I wasn’t alone. That God was walking along this path with me and when the going got tough, he picked me up and carried me on his shoulders, just like a parent carries their child…right out of the quagmire. It was truly transforming. While The Bible is the word of God, somehow you translated its complexity into something I could understand, bringing alive God’s infinite love for me.

Thank you so very much for that. I know your poem still speaks to so many, possibly at a time when it might feel like the light’s gone out. Helping the broken-hearted to rekindle that light is  life changing.

I hope that I share some of that light with those I meet and through my writing. It is not that easy for me to have that physical presence but I try to share what you gave to me all those years ago…hope!

Love and God’s richest blessings,

Rowena

 Footprints in the Sand

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

– by Mary Stevenson

This is the latest installment in my series of Letters To Dead Poets for the A-Z Challenge. Please click  here to catch up on Letters A-H. This list will be updated on Sunday.