Skip to content

Tag: spirituality

Go forth to the ends of the earth: Christian Life Community

The Christian Life Community World Executive Council annual meeting was held in Rome for Easter week of April 2022. On the plane home to Australia, somewhere between India and Indonesia, I penned these words in a prayer of thanks for the experience.

I reverence you, Lord, for bringing me to meet these people, spread across the distant reaches of the earth, united together in Rome, that ancient and eternal city. You blessed me through each one, you called me to trust that you would move among us. In our meeting in these days I felt your light embrace us as at your Transfiguration. I wanted to build three tents and stay at the Monte Cucco retreat house, thinking “it is good for us to be here”.

Christian Life Community World Executive Council meeting, Rome, April 2022

By now your grace is more clear than ever, a comfort in time of darkness and at all times an encouragement to keep going along the path of witness. We want to “go forth”, Lord, so show us the way*. Fan into flame our kindling twigs, be for us our heart’s desire. Help us discern the hope of your way, your truth, your life.

Send us forth, giving glory to your name. Give us courage to walk this path united with each other in prayer and service. Lead us and love us as we tread each step along the road. Make yourself known at the breaking of the bread!

Your Spirit moved for us each day at Monte Cucco. Your words of eternal life accompanied us when we did not know where to go. You brought forth laughter and heartfelt joy over meals. This community, this world community of friends, finds its life in you, in your presence and action, in your peace.

So send us out now to the ends of the earth for our lives at home, work and play await us. Send us out, Lord, to seek and find you in the ordinary moments of life in the city. May the light we saw at Monte Cucco send us out rejoicing, embracing your mission of renewal in a wounded world.


The next CLC World Assembly will be held in Amiens, France, in August 2023

*This line reflects the grace we will pray for at the World Assembly in Amiens, France in August 2023. The Convocation Letter outlines the following:

The grace we shall ask for: Lord, help us to go forth; show us the way.
The text from Scripture: You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8)
The theme of the 2023 Assembly: Discerning paths for hope

CLC World Assembly 2023, Amiens, France

Christian Life Community Australia:

Update: My friend Peter wrote a reflection on this prayer on his website

Mass in the rooms of Saint Ignatius
Leave a Comment

The great Spirit moves hope among twenty one young women

I teach RE at a Catholic high school for girls. On Friday 11 March 2022, during period 1, my Year 8 students were to create a storyboard of key events from Holy Week and Easter. To centre the students in prayer before beginning their work, I introduced the Taizé chant “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom”. We sang the chant twice in a ‘call and response’ fashion. I wrote this poem during quiet reflection that evening.

Through the communal mingling
of voices, the great Spirit moves
among twenty-one young women,
kindling to fire their hopes for a new
world. In the quickening of call
and slowing of response, these singers
become carriers of joy, heralds
of freedom. This is the truth being
met, here are the people of God.
Look at them call out in unison
see them glance at each other
hear their enjoined words
and how can you not be moved?
In awe, open your eyes, lift up
your ears. These are the witnesses
to faith, these are the first responders
to suffering, these are the students
whose lives are to rebuild all things.

Image: Hans Vivek on Unsplash

Leave a Comment

Full Quote: Dua Lipa Asks Stephen Colbert How his Faith and his Comedy Overlap

On the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night, pop-star Due Lipa asked Stephen a deep question: “So I think something that your viewers really connect with in your comedy and in your hosting skills, especially in the past few years, is how open and honest and authentic you are about the role your faith plays in your life. And… I was wondering, does your faith and your comedy ever overlap, and does one ever win out?”

Stephen replies at 03:32

“I think ultimately us all being mortal the faith will win out in the end [laughter]. But I certainly hope when I get to heaven Jesus has a sense of humour. But I’ll say this, someone was asking me earlier about what I, and this relates to faith because my faith is involved, I’m a Christian and a Catholic, and it’s always connected to the idea of love and sacrifice being somehow related, and giving yourself to other people and that death is not defeat, if you can see what I’m getting at there?

Someone was asking me earlier “what movie did I enjoy this year?” and I said I really liked Belfast which is Kenneth Branagh’s story of his childhood, and one of the reasons I love it is I’m Irish, Irish-American, and it’s such an Irish movie, and I think this is also a Catholic thing, because it’s funny and it’s sad and it’s funny about being sad… in the same way that sadness is like a little bit of an emotional death but not a defeat if you can find a way to laugh about it. Because the laughter keeps you from having fear of it, and fear is the thing that keeps you from turning to evil devices to save you from the sadness.*

As Robert Hayden said, “We must not be frightened or cajoled into accepting evil as our deliverance from evil, we must keep struggling to maintain our humanity though monsters of abstraction threaten and police us.”** So if there’s some relationship between my faith and my comedy, it’s that no matter what happens you are never defeated, you must understand and see this in the light of eternity and find some way to love and laugh with each other” [cheers and applause].

Stephen Colbert, 4 February 2022

Dua Lipa replies. “Wow. Stephen Colbert everybody.”

*Colbert actually said fear “keeps you FROM turning to evil devices” – BUT read in context what he meant to say is fear “keeps you turning to evil devices.”

** this quote may be found in Robert Hayden (2013). “Collected Poems”, p.98, W. W. Norton & Company.

Leave a Comment

New joy with the CLC World Executive Council

On 14 January 2022 I was appointed to the CLC World Executive Council. Co-opted alongside a fellow young person named Daniela (from Colombia/Netherlands), we will serve on the ExCo until the next CLC World Assembly is held in August 2023.

Christian Life Community is a world community of ordinary people who gather regularly to share faith and life. As members of small local communities, we become companions on the way. Animated by Ignatian Spirituality, we walk with each other towards fullness of life in God’s presence (see John 10:10).

CLC World Executive Council with two new members.
The CLC World Executive Council welcomes two new members, Daniela and James.

Discerning the way to Yes

During two weeks discerning the invitation, I spoke with wisdom figures and friends. I looked closely at saying no.

Ultimately I was very moved by the stirrings of joy and consolation which I felt when imagining saying yes, and especially when sharing the question with companions from the CLC Asia-Pacific Animating Team. There was a quickening of spirit and an energy and enthusiasm for our common life in CLC, where people on different paths journey together.

My Ignatian journey and CLC

My experience with Ignatian Spirituality began as an 11-year-old student at a Jesuit high school learning about “Inigo” Loyola. I now have a number of Jesuit friends.

CLC is a world community across 60+ countries.

Some years ago I joined a CLC community in Melbourne. We moved through different life seasons, encouraging each other to listen to the renewing presence of God among us. I believe this is the CLC way: to help one another respond to the Spirit at work in our experiences, friendships and choices.

In my work as a Religious Education teacher, I invite high school students to grow attentive to God’s presence in their lives. Thanks to CLC, I feel comfortable encouraging these students in their spirituality.

Young people and CLC

Australia is a pluralist and secularising society whose prevailing culture views religion with scepticism. Young people close to CLC in Australia may at times feel a certain hesitancy about engaging in church, yet there is a spiritual hunger below the surface which CLC helps us understand and meet. We are each on a personal journey to integrate our spirituality with our public-facing lives.

Feeling at home in a CLC local community, I came to feel at home in the world. Good and true friends are like diamonds.

Click here to read the letter sharing this news with the World Community of CLC.

Read more about CLC at the CLC Australia and CLC World websites.


How to listen to music: a spirituality of daily life

How do you listen to music? The path into appreciating music is one we all travel on. I began listening more about four years ago, and since then I have thought time and again about the impact of Spotify. I can say with no hesitation that an active music-listening practice each day has enriched my life immensely.

In November 2019, I delivered a session on appreciating music to a group of twenty five people gathered by the ocean an hour south-west of Melbourne. In the session, I gave participants a chance to listen deeply to a number of pieces of music, before I played something on cello.

Please find below a playlist of my selections, along with some brief reflections on those pieces of music.

Bach – Suite number one for unaccompanied cello, as played by Yo-Yo Ma.

In his cello suites, Johann Sebastian Bach brought together musical ideas from across Europe to explore the full human experience. Perhaps this first suite has the buoyant quality of youth: the bouncing enthusiasm; the joyful time of play with friends; the sense of exploring the world with eyes open wide; the seeking after life in all its fullness. Sure, there are places of darkness in the midst of all that light. But finishing with a jig (“gigue”) we are assured that happiness is reachable both in the music and in life. Celebrations are to be had! Life bends towards delight.

Taizé – The Kingdom of God

This Taizé chant is simple and repetitive. Long enough to find words worth saying. Short enough to enter one’s very being.

Philip Glass – Piano Etude Number 15, as played by Víkingur Ólaffson

Exploring depths beneath the surface of modern life, US composer Philip Glass offers a dynamic launching point for reflecting on experience. In this Etude, he draws us in with beautiful repeat phrases which seem to move us towards a wider view. He helps me look around corners, to see what I first missed. With festive enthusiasm he is unafraid of the dark, peering inside before illuminating it. Glass finds meaning in his days, and he presents a light to us in ours.

Arvö Part: Da Pacem Domine, with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

With a powerful sense of life as sacred, Arvö Part brings together choral and orchestral music with ease. The prolific Estonian composer loves to thread his way to spiritual and religious places within us. He does this with great hospitality, inviting the wide audience of music into his vision of grace at work in the world. Through hauntingly beautiful music, he invites everyone to a deep appreciation for all that is. This is not without its challenge, however, for the peace he offers in musical form also lays claim on how we live our lives – and that sense of challenge can leave us feeling a little off-balance before being brought back by the closing note.

Ola Gjeilo – Tundra, as sung by Tenebrae

This ethereal music threads its way into our ears with ease, even if we don’t understand the lyrics. Ola Gjeilo is a contemporary Norwegian composer who brings sacred and secular into conversation.

Clara Schumann, Scherzo number two, as played by Isata Kanneh-Mason

This piano piece lifts us to a higher place where we can consider life anew.

Antonio Vivaldi, Concerto for Two Cellos – Largo, as played by Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber

Two cellos harmonising together seamlessly, in this recording the duet are in fact a married couple. My cello teacher told me that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest who would often go beside the altar in the middle of Mass to write down an urgent musical idea that just occurred to him. He soon made composing his life.

Leave a Comment

The Lord of the Rings and the Spiritual Exercises

For ten years J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) moved in my imagination. I began to read The Hobbit when I was 12 years old, and then read each of the three parts of the main series, and then saw the films. The LOTR is a foundational text in my life’s library.

Lord of the Rings and The Long Retreat

When I prayed a thirty day silent retreat with the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in July 2011, the Lord of the Rings life-world soon bubbled away in my consciousness. These exercises involve a recipe of “memory, imagination, and will”, and so a spiritual meal enjoyed in God’s presence.

Over the four weeks of the retreat I encountered my memories, hopes, longings, dreams and choices in relation to God’s desires for me. I heard God’s call: “because you are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). I experienced in a felt sense God’s deepening life in me. God’s personal love enfolded me in the silence.

As the retreat progressed, I prayed with various scenes from the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels. I would prayerfully imagine a passage, with all my senses engaged, entering the encounter as a participant or observer. Walking with Jesus from his nativity through his hidden and public lives and into his passion and resurrection, I would stay with words, phrases and images which moved me deeply. In so doing I entered a pattern of relishing and savouring the movements God was bringing about within me. I felt drawn to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Each day I entered the imaginative contemplations with my whole self fully engaged. Often my memories of scenes, characters, and journeys from LOTR moved in my heart’s response to the encounter with Jesus. I remembered Frodo’s quest with Sam to overcome The Ring. I remembered the integrity of Strider, on his way to become the future king Aragorn. I remembered Gandalf the Grey and his transforming journey into Gandalf the White.

Each of these three main characters played a role in my prayer. They emerged as part of the retreat dynamic. Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf helped me meet Jesus the Christ.

Lord of the Rings and Jesus the Christ

In Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring is a community of support for the courageous Frodo as he carries a great burden (the Ring). Jesus eases peoples’ burdens and so builds communities of human freedom and responsibility.

In LOTR at a time of deepest darkness the beacons of Gondor are lit. Jesus is “the light of all people”, the light which shines in the deepest darkness, “and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

In LOTR, the journey of Strider from the edges of the known world to the centre of human life as Aragorn, king, is a profound one. Jesus is born in a backwater on the edges of empire, yet his kingship is revealed in the holy city of Jerusalem among great crowds of peoples. Aragorn is Isildur’s heir, and the last of the line to Elendil, High King of Arnor and Gondor. Jesus is the Christ, “the anointed one”, foretold by the prophets, and “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” (Luke 1:32) .

In Lord of the Rings, Strider/Aragorn wants goodness to emerge in the world, and yet is very aware that this slow work requires patience with self, others and life itself. Jesus lived a hidden life from ages 12-30, when he learnt a trade, went to synagogue, and participated in the life of family and community. Transformation occurs quietly without anyone noticing. The preparation is all.

In LOTR, Gandalf the Grey is transformed after defeating the Balrog deep in the mines of Moria. His wisdom journey involved suffering, but he can smile with delight now. Jesus dies on Good Friday. The joy of his risen life invites us to joy also. He rises with the wounds intact.

In LOTR Gandalf arrives at Helms Deep at first light on the fifth day, bringing hope. Jesus rises to new life on the third day, bringing peace.

Lasting renewal

Now a further ten years on from that retreat, spiritual exercises continue to offer me renewal. Ultimately the mythic journeys present in the Lord of the Rings were used by God to direct me towards what Saint Ignatius named as “the service and praise of the divine majesty”. And so to fullness of life in God’s presence.

Leave a Comment

Swimming in a lifetime of joy at Maroubra Beach

Maroubra Beach from Arthur Byrne Reserve, July 2018 (picture by author).

Swimming Maroubra Beach aged 12,
I walk out through the chilly waters
near a breaking wave and
the thrill of life fills me
at the point of decision:
to rise over the precipice 
and stretch my neck high,
or dive under the body of water 
and feel the tide roll over my back …
I take a moment to taste the salty water
and sense the warmth when I stand;
I spy my sister Claire out beyond the breakers,
a capable swimmer enjoying the surf,
now dad’s on his way, prescription goggles tight,
diving under each wave and slapping his arms on water,
coming up for air,
that thick broad glorious smile spreading wide across his face, 
a lifetime of joy on his home beach.

My grandfather Pop called this his swimming pool,
provided just for him: a place to move and discover
oneself on the edge of a capacious ocean, 
riding the waves and wading through troughs,
ever watchful of rips.

Back on the beach, towels unfurled and
glistening wet backs in the sun,
we feel a satisfying sense of achievement
and breathe out awe. At the arrival 
of fish and chips we tuck in and relish each bite.

1 Comment

Now is the time: invited to freedom and life in fullness

In these days marking the start of a new year, we all become more aware of time as a precious and limited resource. In 2020, our sense of time has been a little warped. Friends have said that February feels a lifetime away, whereas March feels like yesterday. So much has changed for all of us. And yet each person wants to experience our life’s time with a sense of agency and purpose.

Time is an invitation

Time is an invitation:
to feel the gift of the present;
to rise to the new with enthusiasm;
to climb to the heights of experience;
to dive into the depths of our desires;
to choose freely the more loving and generous path;
to make companions for the road;
to enlist one’s own heart in the challenge;
to walk tall and hopeful, embracing each scene;
to speak words of peace;
to listen with a compassionate heart;
to dance to the rhythm of music;
to sing from the diaphragm;
to love, to heal, to renew, to build;
to support one another in times of trial;
to attend to the inspiration of each day.
Illustration by Maggie Power

Each second, minute, day, week, month, year, decade and lifetime carries within it potential for growth and liveliness. Indeed, every moment calls us to embrace the invitation of our lives. With magnanimous and open hearts, hands poised and ready, and our feet firmly planted on the ground, we will be ready to walk the next steps toward life in fullness for all.

May our memories resound with gratitude.
and our present awaken a new sense of freedom.
May our new year 2021 bring forth hope and generosity.

Wishing all readers a peaceful new year!

Leave a Comment

For the People of Melbourne, 2020 was about Preparing for What We Can Now Enjoy

The people of Melbourne in 2020 know a lot about preparing. We lived through a long Winter of preparation for the days we can now enjoy. Today we are living in a time of greater freedom – and we prepared for this over many hours, days, weeks and months.

We prepared through our daily sacrifices, social distancing and staying home;
through our checking in on each other by phone, text and video;
through our precious one hour’s walk a day, going in pairs;
through our wearing a mask, a visible sign of our community’s shared efforts;
through our tenderness with each other, our comforting and building each other up.

A house in Richmond celebrating the Tigers AFL club

As we live with a renewed sense of freedom, we can choose to remember this year from a perspective of gratitude, tracing a ‘graced history’. There were traces of light even through the most terrible weeks of darkness, when a heaviness enveloped the land. We learnt much about our resilience in the face of adversity; we found new coping strategies in months of trial; we achieved something great and beautiful together. The people of Melbourne can now celebrate these achievements.

We have also learnt much about ourselves. We now see community where before we saw separate individuals living separate lives. We have found that we belong to and matter to each other. May our new awareness encourage us to reach out to each other more than we did in the past. May we live out a refreshed humanity.

Advent: a season of preparation for Christians

These days of greater freedom coincide with the Advent season of preparation, when Christians are invited to let God renew their lives. It’s a season for noticing the divine presence in people and experiences; for spreading peace, joy and hope among neighbourhoods, unit-blocks, communities, friends and families; for becoming aware of one’s own desires to nourish, shape and care for our world.

Soon, Christians will join the holy family in their joy at the new-born Jesus. For the people of Melbourne, joy is among us already.

Church of St James North Richmond, Melbourne. 6 December 2020. 33rd baptism anniversary.

Leave a Comment

Thomas Merton’s gift: a spirituality of friendship and solidarity

The celebrated Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton died 10 December 1968. Merton has been a touchstone for me throughout my adult life. I believe his life and writings paved a way into living out a faith engaged with the world, waging peace and justice credibly in the midst of war and injustice, and relating deeply with others through friendship across difference.

A deep faith grounded in God’s presence

Merton had become a monk to seek union with God. Blessed with an impressive literary background and extraordinary writing ability, in his early years at Gethsemani he served God (and God’s people) by writing with insight into the spiritual life. His 1948 Autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain was a phenomenon among people craving an authentic spiritual experience of their own.

Merton’s faith centred on personal and communal experiences of God’s presence. He found life through the traditions of the church: the scriptures, the Rule of St Benedict, the early church fathers, the saints, the sacraments. Through his communal prayer (monks pray the psalms in common several times a day and night) and personal contemplation, Merton came to see God’s abiding presence animating all that exists.

Merton found strength and peace in God’s embrace. He could comfortably engage with matters of faith and prayer in his writings, talks and conferences. As a monk of considerable insight, he knew his own self well. He wrote and taught with a deep understanding of human frailty and God’s goodness.

Merton was impacted profoundly by an experience he had in downtown Louisville on 18 March 1958:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers... I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

A life open to friendship and solidarity

This experience coincided with an opening up of his heart towards the wider world behind the walls of his rural Kentucky monastery. For the next ten years, until his death aged 53, Merton turned his eyes and pen more and more to matters of war and injustice, poverty, racism, and inter-religious dialogue. Merton was curious and open-minded about how he might offer his solidarity to a hurting world. Merton’s interest in eastern religious and spiritual traditions grew, and he took part in exchanges of conversation and shared experience.

Centred in his own commitments, Merton felt at ease in relating with others. He had a gift for friendship with people of varied walks of life. Merton kept up with all sorts of people: from peace activist Daniel Berrigan SJ to poet Denise Levertov, Dorothy Day (founder of The Catholic Worker newspaper/houses), and college friend and fellow poet Robert Lax. He was often in contact with writers, Buddhists, peace-activists, and leaders of world and church alike.

Thomas Merton, right, poses with writer Wendell Berry, left and the poet Denise Levertov. 

This singular monk joined the monastery only to be even more committed to the world beyond. His writing – best captured in New Seeds of Contemplation – demonstrated great love for that world and its people.

Merton’s journey into solitude led him back out into the noise; his contemplation gave him something to say to people of action; his friendships with others opened new doors into grace and peace. Merton had walked a path to life in fullness. I am very grateful to have met him through his words.