Tag Archives: Inspiration

Too Busy to Listen


Listening is such hard work; waiting for the future to happen is so difficult. I struggle to get to retreats and quiet days. I’m too busy; there’s too much to get through; I want to read, to write, to learn, to do. But always, when I eventually do stop to listen, usually on a retreat or a quiet day, I am reminded (again) of how much I need to listen. The growth I strive for, the ability to serve, to preach, to be whatever God is calling me to be, will not come about by being pasted on to my life. It won’t come from reading more (although the seeds may be there); it won’t come from “wandering to and fro upon the earth”. It comes (for me at least) from within. It comes from listening.

I was privileged to spend a morning last weekend with Jim and Heather Johnston and about 30 or so friends at Beth Shalam, celebrating Jim and Heather’s ministry there over the past 20 years. The time has come for them to retire.  Many of those who were there had been to multiple retreats and quiet days over the years. Most had been through Jim’s Life Revision course (an eight-day retreat followed by two three-day retreats). All had been blessed beyond measure by the healing and nurturing that has been the mark of this home.

I have attended a couple of retreats at Beth Shalam. We are fortunate to be in the same city, just down the road, but I haven’t enjoyed the privilege as much as I could have. Then during last year (2010) I went through the Life Revision course. It was a transforming experience for me and, among other things, I began to write.

On this final, celebratory, retreat Heather pointed out that one can only harvest what has been sown; we bring out what is within us, what has grown there. I want my growth and my becoming to happen now, or at least by tomorrow morning. Perhaps one more book will do it….

Heather quoted from John O’Donohue’s meditation, “For One Who is Exhausted”. One line was particularly poignant for me: “The tide you never valued has gone out”.  Heather expanded on it saying that we often move too fast (in “the fast lane of nothingness”) and we get ahead of ourselves.

These thoughts distilled themselves into the following meditation during a quiet moment in the beauty of their wonderful garden.

O God of the mighty oak and the tiniest flower,
Of the soaring eagle and the wandering ant;
God of a future beyond my knowledge and beyond my reach,
Hold me to the present, its pain and delight.

I long to be an eagle, a significant oak,
But that longing consumes me and leaves me unfilled.
I am lost and ungrounded in a future that arrived too soon.
For the plant does not grow if the seed is not nurtured;
The harvest is barren and without any substance.

Lord, keep me from the fast lane of nothingness,
Hold me to the present, deep in the soil of your grace.
For it is here that the future takes root.

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Filed under Meditation & Prayer, Poetry

Books for a Wedding Anniversary


Some time ago a friend said she wanted to give her husband some books for their wedding anniversary.  But instead of buying them, she asked some friends to recommend and review a couple of books that she could compile into a list.  Here were my two.

The first, a ‘commentary’:

Paul Borgman (2000), Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard.

It is a superb introduction to Genesis and its great themes. Genesis as we tend not to see it: a magnificent story.

Two things stand out for me. One is that, beginning with Abraham, God initiated a partnership with us: “God won’t change things without human cooperation, and humans can’t change without divine assistance. Only when choosing to grow in partnership with God will the human recover lost companionability with both God and fellow human. That is God’s fervent wish.”

The second is, that Borgman points out how normal the very human responses of the various actors on the Genesis stage are. Then he says, speaking of Abram at this point, “Abram must learn something better than being normal. His ordinary way of being in the world must change.” This has become a regular and fervent prayer of mine. “God, in this situation, on this day, help me be better than normal in all my interactions and responses.”

The second book is Mark Buchanan’s (2006), The Rest of God: Restoring your Faith by Restoring Sabbath.

A very human and very real look at our normal responses to Sabbath-keeping. It is a call to rediscover God’s rest and the rest of God—and to delight in the process.

One of the keys for Jen and me was an almost throwaway line in the introduction, which becomes a central theme. Of his workaholic, argumentative days, he writes, “I preferred rightness to intimacy.”

Another on-going prayer for me has been, “Lord, help me to seek intimacy and relationship, rather than rightness.” I especially try to pray it in heavy traffic!

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Filed under Books & Movies

Hadedas: comic with a sickening cry


Hadeda0421“With monstrous head and sickening cry….” Such was the Donkey’s description of himself in GK Chesterton’s poem.

It could well be the description of a hadeda ibis, a large dark-coloured ibis disturbing the peace in rural and suburban Africa. Its ‘sickening cry’ wakes us in the early morning, disturbs our afternoon naps, and frightens the unsuspecting.

While graceful enough in flight (apart from the crooked neck), landing is a huffing and puffing affair usually accompanied by more cries; the latter either to express amazement at his ability to land or to inform all the cousins where he ended up.

Hadeda0422The hadeda is a drab grey/brown colour at first glance, but sunlight reflecting on the feathers displays a beautiful spectrum of colours similar to the effect of oil on water. Their long, curved beaks drill into the ground in order to feast on worms, crickets, and other such tasties.

South Africans tend to hate the hadeda—its noise and its mess. But take a South African away for a time and you’ll hear, “I miss the hadedas.” I was once talking on the phone with a South African living overseas. As we spoke the hadedas cried out in the background. “Was that a hadeda?” was the plaintive query.

We often sit in our tiny garden with a hadeda or two ambling around within a couple of metres, keeping a wary eye on us. Suddenly, with no apparent reason, one of them will let rip his awful high-pitched scream. A partner in the tree above will screech a reply. Back and forth will go the “Haa, haa” without any sense of interaction between the two—it’s more like a shouting contest than a conversation.

Hadeda0419 When quiet, and they can sit quietly for very long periods of time, they are the most comical of creatures. They look like a row of little old men, passing the time of day scratching and preening themselves, sitting on a roof or a fence in a row of five or ten or more.

Taking off, especially if they have been given a fright, is hilarious. I have occasionally (unintentionally) frightened a hadeda or two when opening the back door. Only half their energy is spent getting their not inconsiderable bulk off the ground with much flapping of their large wings. The rest seems to go into squawking their displeasure and alerting the world to our uncharitable behaviour. But in spite of the noise and their weight, they rise surprisingly quickly from a standing position.

The hadeda will not win any beauty contest, nor singing competition; there is nothing particularly attractive about them. The hadeda is simply there: a large, loud presence on the African landscape, an atrocious noise in our quiet suburbs. But without them our landscape would be poorer and our lives a little less rich. A reminder that in God’s scheme of things there is room for all: the petite and unobtrusive, the stately and graceful, and the buffoon.

And who is to say who is who? Today, perhaps it is the gracious wisdom of the sage we need. But tomorrow, who knows? Perhaps it is the buffoon who will draw us out of our sorrow and introspection and lead us into loud and carefree laughter that damages our dignity but frees our souls.

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Filed under Community, Meditation & Prayer