This winter I am offering a series of Winter Retreats @ Home (online via Zoom) – retreats where we will join across time zones from the comfort of our own homes to reflect, share, and find stillness together as we mark the changing of seasons. The theme of the three retreats will be “Leaning into the Cycles of Darkness and Light,” and we will draw on insights from Celtic Spirituality, resilience practices, the Psalms, and Barbara Brown Taylor’s insightful book “Learning to Walk in the Dark” as well as excerpts from the conversation she and I had on the Psalms for the Spirit podcast on the theme of leaning into the cycles of darkness and light.
The dates for these online retreats will be Saturdays 5 November, 3 December, 7 January (check the event pages for your time zone). They are a series but are also standalone, if you can only make one or two of them. Each retreat will be £20 for nonmembers and *included* with paid subscriptions to Bless My Feet.
In this hemisphere, early November is a time when we move into the darkest season of the year, and it is a time that fills some with dread. Yet, how can we embrace this darker season and find gifts within it? We will explore together how we might befriend the darkness and find the gifts that lie within it.
December is a time of aniticipation and celebration, but it is also a time when we become deeply aware of our longings – for light, for joy, for peace, for hope – but sometimes it’s difficult to allow space for those longings in the midst of this festive season. As we immerse ourselves more fully into the darker season of the year, we listen for what those longings might be telling us as wait for the light that is on its way. We will explore together how we might tend to our longings when we may not be able to see the way forward.
January is a time of new beginnings, when the light increases each day and exciting plans are in the works for the coming year. As we emerge from the darker, cosier season, the year ahead can also look daunting, challenging, and overwhelming. In these early days of the New Year, we take time to welcome the newness of whatever is dawning in our lives, and to find acceptance, strength, peace and joy as we move into what lies ahead. We will explore together how we might welcome the return of light as a part of the natural cycle of seasons that we experience each year.
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The dates for these online retreats will be Saturdays 5 November, 3 December, 7 January (check the event pages for your time zone). They are a series but are also standalone, if you can only make one or two of them. Each retreat will be £20 for nonmembers and *included* with paid subscriptions to Bless My Feet. To find out more, click the image or link below.
There is something very touching about this time of year. Here on the north coast of Ireland I find this to be one of the most beautiful seasons, when the days remain surprisingly warm and the sun shines more often that you’d expect. In my garden the verbena waves its long stems with its unearthly purple buds, the hollyhocks climb higher and higher, and even the morning glories still peak shyly out to catch the last rays of sun before the darker, colder days of winter set in. Every time I walk to the back of my garden, where these flowers still grace us with their presence, I’m filled with a thankful awe at their late season blooms.
That concept captures where I am in other aspects of life, too, and maybe that’s why I find it touching. As I enter more firmly into the “middle” of my life, I look out at my remaining years and think: what will bloom in the coming decades? What beauty, color, vibrancy will emerge in this second half of my life? What late arrivals will surprise and delight? As I transition into this new midlife phase, it becomes clearer to me that we must treasure the gifts we have in our midst – while they are here, while we are here.
So I move into this new season feeling immensely grateful for my family, my home, my work, my collaborators, my various communities of support and friendship, while also being keenly aware of the fragility of life as we know it. The autumn winds are most certainly blowing their way through these days, reminding me that we are on the verge of transition.
And what this does, ultimately, is make me not want to waste another moment. No more holding back, waiting for a better time. Like that shy morning glory, I want to poke my head out and say hello to the world, even though it has taken a while to have the courage to do so. Like that hollyhock, I want to keep climbing, growing, reaching for the sky, regardless of the autumnal winds that threaten to topple. Like those verbena, I want to sway gloriously in the winds of change, without a care in the world. It may be late in the season, but it’s not too late. The time to bloom is now.
What blooms are you seeing at this stage in your life? Are you seeing surprising gifts unfold that you didn’t expect? Is there anything within you that needs a little encouragement to show itself to the world?
There are so many retreats coming up that I’d like to let you know about! Some are in person, and some are virtual. Either way, I really hope to connect with you in these upcoming retreat spaces.
Retreats @ Corrymeela
I will be leading weekend retreats in October 2022, February 2023, and April 2023, and we’ve set dates for October 2023 and February 2024 too. I’m also excited to announce that I’ll also be offering monthly half-day retreats at Corrymeela for anyone who would like to dip in to the retreat experience but aren’t able to come for longer periods of time. Contact email@example.com for more information, or click on the link below.
Because I love the global community that the internet allows, and because I still enjoy the idea of gathering in the comfort of our own homes even if it’s on Zoom, this winter I am offering a series of Winter Retreats @ Home – retreats where we will join from across time zones from the comfort of our own homes to reflect, share, find stillness together as we mark the changing of seasons. The theme of the three retreats will be “Leaning into the Cycles of Darkness and Light,” and will reference Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Dark” as well as the podcast conversation we had back in 2021.
The dates for these online retreats will be Saturdays 5 November, 3 December, 7 January (check the event pages for your time zone). They are a series but are also standalone, if you can only make one or two of them. Each retreat will be £20 for nonmembers and *included* with paid subscriptions to Bless My Feet. If you’ve been wondering whether to become a member, maybe this is a good chance to do that.
I would like to set up retreat spaces in Belfast – let me know if this appeals and I will keep you posted.
Upcoming Resilient Spirit Pilgrimage April 2024
If a pilgrimage or extended retreat is something you’re longing for, mark your calendars for mid April 2024. I will be announcing details on this soon, but it is sure to be an incredible, life-changing experience. Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in by responding to this email.
Upcoming Psalms for the Spirit Podcast Episodes
I’m delighted to say that there are new episodes of Psalms for the Spirit afoot. I’ve learned so much from these conversations and I hope you have too, if you’ve had a chance to dip in. If you’d like to listen to the 20 episodes of Seasons 1 and 2, check out the podcast page.
Speaking of our new Celtic Psalms album, it’s available for purchase through our website where you can also purchase our three previous albums.
Here in Northern Ireland, Celtic Psalms held a concert on 9 September at St. John’s Church on the Falls Road in West Belfast in aid of the Suicide Awareness and Support Group, on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day. It was an occasion to allow space for lament and loss, and we were also pleasantly surprised at the joy that emerged through people coming together around an important cause, with soulful melodies, harmonies and words, and a cup of tea afterwards. We raised nearly £1300 for the support group.
Singing Engagements Coming Up:
Friday 7 October at 7pm we will be supporting Ruth Patterson (a previous podcast guest), in her book launch at St Bride’s Parish Hall, South Belfast
Sunday 6 November at 3pm we will be participating in a liturgy marking the threshold between one season and the next, held in North Belfast.
Friday 18 November at 8pm we will be holding a concert at Cahans Church in Co. Monaghan
You can keep up with Celtic Psalms news and frequent posts on our Facebook page
That’s all the news for now… scroll down for this month’s blessing ~
17th September 2022 (online) 2-4pm Ireland/UK time
Join me in setting aside an afternoon for retreat space – an essential spiritual practice that can build resilience in our lives. These two hours will allow space for contemplative quiet, meditative music, prompts for reflection, group sharing, suggestions for prayer, and opportunities for writing or artistic expression.
This time of year in Ireland is almost blindingly bright, all the time. I went for a Solstice swim a few mornings ago and it was broad daylight at 4:30am. Could have been 10am, could have been 10pm…
The days are bright and the world around us is bursting to life. Growth along the side of the coast road I walk on is flourishing. The photos above shows the bramble berry flowers coming out, which in due time will trade places with ripe, dark fruit which my kids and I will collect to make cobbler. Everything is thriving – most of all the weeds, which I have no hope of staying on top of this year. The perennial flowers I planted last year are coming into their own again, and the annual seeds I put in the ground a few months ago are beginning to take shape and fill the flower beds, already getting unruly.
And the rest of the world, too, seems to be zipping along in fruitfulness and productiveness. We’re done with rest and quiet and withdrawal. We’re emerging from our seedbeds and bursting forth into the world, following the bright daylight, reaching towards the sky. We want to be out and about, to interact with others, to be involved and engaged, to flourish and thrive.
As I myself have been drawn towards the light, towards growth, towards creativity and productivity, I’m trying to remind myself to keep my roots nourished as well. Without healthy roots, nothing can thrive. The first song on our new Celtic Psalms album is based on Psalm 1, and the refrain goes: “They are like the trees grown in flowing streams; their leaves will not wither, their fruits are very sweet. In all that they do, they will flourish and thrive; their delight is in the love of God.”
Remembering to keep our roots healthy is essential not only to our survival but also to our flourishing. How can we be our best selves? It is by staying close to our our source of strength and life. By drawing near to our Creator, who loves us. By drawing from that overflowing stream of goodness and kindness, gentleness and compassion. And it is there that we will find true delight. It is there that we will truly thrive.
May you keep your roots watered by the source of life, and find true delight there.
After two years without any live concerts, we are delighted to finally be able to sing together in public again, and as we are also releasing our new album Celtic Psalms: May We Rise, we thought it was the right time to plan another tour. If you are anywhere between DC and Boston, please check out our concert schedule (see above). Our Celtic Psalms Facebook page will have up-to-date information along the way, as well as some links for live streaming, photos etc, if you’d like journey with us a little!
Celtic Psalms: May We Rise – Our new album is out! If you’d like to purchase mp3s of the songs or one of the limited number of Cds, go to www.celticpsalms.com. As many of you know, it meant a lot to me to be able to record and work on this album during the Covid period. I really hope you enjoy it, and that it brings you healing and hope as it did for me.
See below the dates and themes of three retreats I will be leading at Corrymeela in the coming year (2022-23 Oct, Feb, Apr). All the retreats are open to people from a variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds. If you’ve been dreaming of a chance to come to Ireland and find some spiritual refreshment, inspiration or enrichment, maybe this is your chance! I’d love to see you there. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries and bookings
14–16 October 2022 (*Early bird rate if you book by Friday the 15th of July)
In this retreat we follow of rhythm of silence and gathering, finding stillness in the midst of community. As the pace of daily life picks up following these pandemic years, it is vital for our wellbeing that we find ways to quiet ourselves long enough to hear our own voice, and God’s voice in our lives. Even in the busiest of times, we can develop skills to centre ourselves, pay attention to what is going within us, and listen for where we are being drawn in the days ahead. This retreat will be marked by times for gathering as a community for sharing, prayer, and creative expression, while setting aside time and space for silence. Our living space, the Davey Village, will be set aside for intentional silence and gatherings, and our meals will be held in the Main House as we link in with the community life at Corrymeela. This retreat is open to people from a variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds. Contact email@example.com for enquiries and bookings
This retreat offers a space to be in silence alongside gathered community. In silence, we take the time to still the swirl of daily life and really listen, deeply, to what’s going on under the surface. We listen to ourselves – to our own voices, needs, pains, grief, longings and hopes for the future. And we listen to what God might be saying to us and leading us into. In our silence, we accompany each other in our journeys and support one another. Many of us have endured too much silence in the past few years, and others haven’t experienced enough of it. But this shared silence is sacred, and by entering this retreat experience, we help create the space in which one another can be renewed and restored. Silence crosses many barriers, and this retreat is open to people from a variety of religious or spiritual backgrounds. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org enquiries and bookings
What keeps our spirits resilient, even in times of upheaval? The past few years have challenged us, and we have also found resilience within ourselves. This retreat offers space for reflection and sharing as we explore together what helps us build resilience in our daily lives – what lifts our spirits? What brings us balance? What offers us hope? Through the spacious rhythm of retreat, we learn more about what gives us life, energy, and wellbeing, so that we can return to our full lives restored and renewed. We have all endured the upheaval of the pandemic, and we have also discovered that we are resilient. We accompany each other on this journey, supporting and inspiring one another as we pay attention to what is life–giving, so that we might live more fully in the world. Contact email@example.com for enquiries and bookings
Bless My Feet Summer Break
I’m sure we all need some time to recalibrate this summer, so I will be taking a break from regular posts this summer. I’ll be focusing on creating and producing while on tour, and then tapping into some nourishment for my roots – in the form of time with family, rest, reading lots of fiction, talking long walks, letting my mind drift aimlessly, and simply being. I hope you have a beautiful summer, and I wish for you a sense of delight as you root yourself in what nourishes you. I will write again when the season begins to shift towards the “new year” of September and let you know what I have in mind for Bless My Feet in the coming year.
FOR OUR FINAL EPISODE OF SEASON TWO, TODAY’S GUEST is Rebecca Dudley – ordained minister and advisor with the New Zealand Red Cross on legal frameworks protecting people in humanitarian emergencies, speaking in a personal capacity for this podcast. Rebecca spent many years in Northern Ireland devoted to human rights issues, and I know her as a member of the Corrymeela Community. I was so grateful that in the dark winter days (on this side of the world anyway), she offered a Zoom talk which she entitled “The Hope Project.” In this talk she shared her reflections on the poignant question: how do we pay attention without losing hope? I was so taken with her question, and her findings, and of course I was drawn when she mentioned the Psalms as a part of her journey. I asked her if she would talk with me on this podcast about her Hope Project and its connection to the Psalms, which we were able to do just after Easter. Since then, as wave after wave of bad news rolls in, it’s clear that her message is as timely as ever, and essential for our wellbeing as we take in and respond to horrific news on a daily basis.
In our conversation, we talk about the power of the Psalms to reach across time and culture, about images of hope as bridge and spark and lifeline, about how psychological first aid might support us in times of distress, and how the old spiritual traditions of vocation and intercession can help us find the small thing that is ours to do in this hurting world.
The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Dudley is a member of the Corrymeela community speaking in a personal capacity for this podcast. In her day job, she is the International Humanitarian Law Advisor to New Zealand Red Cross, where she has been since 2016. She works on the legal frameworks that can protect vulnerable people in humanitarian emergencies; human rights, humanitarian and environmental law. Between 2001 and 2015 she worked on issues of human rights and transitional justice and sexual and gender based violence in Northern Ireland. Prior to that she worked for many years for Christian Aid in London. She has a BA in History from Yale (1983), an MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (1991), an LLM (2008) and a PhD in international law from Queens University Belfast (2015). She is based on the North Island of New Zealand in Wellington. Rebecca was ordained in 1991 the Presbyterian Church USA, and has also been in good standing in the United Reformed Church in England and Wales, and the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, and is active in her local church in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ.
I’ll be leading a series of retreats at the beautiful Corrymeela residential centre in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, in the coming year – in October, February, and May of 2022-23. We’re getting word out about these retreats early so that you can mark your calendars, register, and book your travel plans well in advance. Spirituality and resilience is a theme that runs through all of my retreats, and we explore those connections through silence and sharing, prayer and reflection, music and art, stillness and movement, solitude and community. If you would like to breathe a breath of fresh air, in body and in spirit, come to Corrymeela this year for one of our retreats – we would love to welcome you, and together we can seek out sources of healing and hope in the midst this hurting world. Go to Corrymeela.org for more information on how to book your place.
From 1-17 July 2022, Celtic Psalms will be visiting communities from Boston to Baltimore and everywhere in between. If you would like to recommend a venue, please get in touch with me and we’ll set something up. firstname.lastname@example.org
I write about spirituality and the daily walk in Bless My Feet. Sign up to receive a monthly free newsletter with reflection and updates on retreats, podcasts, music, spiritual direction, and other things I’m doing. If you subscribe with a small fee, you’ll receive a few extra emails per month and support me in my spirituality ministry. Find out more here
Whatever it is that brought you here, I’m so glad you’re with us. – Kiran
A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast on my daily beach walk. The podcast shared updates on the Ukraine invasion that were heart-wrenching to hear about. Tears began to stream down my face, and I felt overcome with sadness for what was happening in another part of the world, even at that very moment. The sadness cascaded down, blurring my vision as my feet crunched through the sand and pebbles and shells with each step.
As I walked a little farther, squinting through tears I noticed a figure stooped on the beach a ways up from me – so low as to almost be lying down. My curiosity drew me towards that scene as I tried to make out what was happening. I trudged in that direction, tears still streaming down my face as I grasped in my pockets for a stray tissue.
Then the stooped figure rose and marched off – it turned out to be a man wielding a rather expensive-looking camera. Now the scene made more sense. He was taking a picture down there. But of what?
I crunched through more pebbles, shells, and sand towards where he had been.
Ah. I saw it then.
It was a washed up log, with beautiful swirly contours.
But more than that.
On top of the log sat a perfect rock cairn.
Who made it? Was it the stooping man carrying the camera? Was it a teen looking for something to do late at night? Was it an anonymous artist who left their creation behind for others to enjoy?
I’ll never know.
But the simple beauty of that scene filled my eyes with a different kind of tears. The kind of tears that see both sorrow and beauty, sometimes at the exact same time. In that moment, I didn’t forget about the pain of what the people of Ukraine are enduring. But I saw the beauty, alongside it. Both are there.
I’m sure many of us have been feeling that vacillation between sadness and other emotions as we take in all kinds of awful news. It can be difficult to know whether it is ok for us to enjoy moments of beauty, or joy, or delight, when there is acute suffering going on in the world as well.
What I have learned about resilience is: it is vital for us to acknowledge that both are true. The sorrow is true. And the beauty is also true.
So going forward, I will try to hold the sorrows of wars throughout the world, and so many others stories that are heartbreaking but that need to be heard.
And I will also hold the beauty. In fact, I am obsessed these days with creating as much beauty as possible around me – planting seeds that will grow into gorgeous flowers, singing songs that touch the heart, having conversations that offer healing and hope, and gathering with community purely for fun and laughter.
As you hold the sorrow, may you also hold the beauty – because both are there, both are true, and both lead us towards being our best selves on this earth.
Celtic Psalms Northeast US Tour 1-17 July 2022 – After two years without any live concerts, we are delighted to finally be able to sing together in public again, and as we are also releasing our new album Celtic Psalms: May We Rise, we thought it was the right time to plan another tour. If you are anywhere between DC and Boston, please keep an eye out for our concert schedule, or if you have an idea for a venue, do let me know at email@example.com. Our Celtic Psalms Facebook page will have the most up-to-date information on concerts as our schedule is confirmed.
Resilient Spirit Retreat6-8 May 2022 – there are a few spaces left! This retreat offers space for reflection and sharing as we explore together what helps us build resilience in our daily lives – what lifts our spirits in difficult times? What brings us balance? What offers us hope? Through the spacious rhythm of retreat, we learn more about what gives us life, energy, and wellbeing, so that we can return to our full lives restored and renewed. We’d love to have you there.
Next Silent Retreat: 14-16 October 2022 Please mark your calendars, consider flights, dream and scheme about how you might join us for this sacred time of shared silence at Corrymeela… and some much-needed stillness as well. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be put on the waiting list.
Bless My Feet Community – Subscribing to be a part of this online community means you receive a few extra emails per month with short reflections on what’s on my mind and prompts for your own reflection, and you also support me in my spirituality ministry. Thank you to those who have signed up for a small fee – I greatly appreciate it and it means a lot to me!
Spiritual Direction – I’d love to walk alongside you on your journey. Find out more about what that might mean for you here
TODAY’S GUEST is Munther Isaac – Palestinian theologian, Lutheran minister, author and academic. This holy week many of us will be thinking of the holy land as we journey towards Easter, and in this conversation we listen to a voice many of us don’t get much of a chance to hear – the voice of a Palestinian Christian, reflecting here on the role of the Psalms in his own life and the affinity his community has for the Psalms – especially as they express complaint and lament on Good Friday, and as they point to a vision of a shared, peaceful future in his land.
Born and raised in Bethlehem, Munther Isaac speaks internationally and at the local level on issues related to theology of land and reconciliation, and has written extensively on these themes in his books “From Land to Lands,” and “The Other Side of the Wall”.
A few months ago, I was on a panel on reconciliation and worship, and Munther was one of the speakers. Having spent a year of my life during university living in Jerusalem and traveling to the West Bank, I was very intrigued by what he shared of Palestinian Christian theology and perspective, and when he mentioned his community’s connection with the Psalms, I wanted to hear more. So I got in touch, and we were able to find a time last month in early Lent, during the first few weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In this conversation, we talk about the power of reciting Psalms as a community in times of trouble; about how Good Friday reminds us that even when we feel forsaken, we’re not alone; about how persistence in prayers of complaint and lament is in fact a sign of deep faith; and about the vision of an ideal Jerusalem in which barriers are broken and enemies become friends.
So whatever it is that brought you here, I’m glad you’re with us.
Munther Isaac is a Palestinian Christian pastor and theologian. He now pastors the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. He is also the academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College, and is the director of the highly acclaimed and influential Christ at the Checkpoint conferences.
Munther is passionate about issues related to the Palestinian theology. He speaks locally and internationally and has published numerous articles on issues related to the theology of the land, Palestinian Christians and Palestinian theology, holistic mission and reconciliation. He is the author of “The Other Side of the Wall”, “From Land to Lands, from Eden to the Renewed Earth”, “An Introduction to Palestinian Theology” (in Arabic), and a commentary on the book of Daniel (in Arabic). He is also involved in many reconciliation and interfaith forums. He is also a Kairos Palestine board member.
Munther originally studied civil engineering in Birzeit University in Palestine. He then obtained a Master in Biblical Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary and then a PhD from the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.
Munther is married to Rudaina – an architect, and together they have two boys: Karam (8) and Zaid (6).
What keeps our spirits resilient, even in times of upheaval? The past few years have challenged us, and we have also found resilience within ourselves.
This retreat offers space for reflection and sharing as we explore together what helps us build resilience in our daily lives—what lifts our spirits? What brings us balance? What offers us hope? Through the spacious rhythm of retreat, we learn more about what gives us life, energy and well being, so that we can return to our full lives restored and renewed. This retreat is open to people from a variety of religious or spiritual backgrounds. It is led by Rev. Kiran Young Wimberly
From 1-17 July, Celtic Psalms will be visiting communities from Boston to Baltimore and everywhere in between. If you would like to recommend a venue, please get in touch with me and we’ll set something up. email@example.com
I write about spirituality and the daily walk in Bless My Feet. Sign up to receive a monthly free newsletter with reflection and updates on retreats, podcasts, music, spiritual direction, and other things I’m doing. If you subscribe with a small fee, you’ll receive a few extra emails per month and support me in my spirituality ministry. Find out more here
Whatever it is that brought you here, I’m so glad you’re with us. – Kiran
The fact that I never wrote a February newsletter reveals how busy this last month has been for me. After periods of slowness and waiting, everything happened at once, in one full month.
In the midst of that busyness – and probably because I needed it rather desperately – I found stillness again.
Without my noticing it, my practice of sitting in silence for half an hour every day had been pushed aside, in preference for productivity and activity, writing and reading, tending and maintaining, to-do’s and plans. But in the past weeks, a few experiences have reminded me of how much I need to cultivate stillness in my daily life.
One of those experiences was the Silent Retreat that took place last weekend at Corrymeela.
As we sat in stillness together, my mind, heart, body and spirit relaxed in such deep relief, such deep peace. Returning to that stillness again and again throughout the retreat reminded me how important it is cultivate stillness in my life.
I realized that stillness is different from silence. We can keep silence while walking, doing chores, being busy. In silence, we choose not to speak, but we can be active in other ways. We can be scribbling in journals, waving our hands to communicate nonverbally with someone, cleaning up the dishes from the table. There is something delicious about doing those normal things around other people in silence – a different way of being in the world, a new way of being around each other.
But I noticed that when we gathered for our prayer times and I invited people to continue their silence by sitting in stillness together, it was thenthat a sacred quiet descended on the room that was even more profound than silence.
In stillness, we became aware of our bodies, our breathing, any sounds outside the window – the birds, the wind, the waves.
In stillness, we let distractions drift away, and we were also able to hear the silence, lean into it, rest in it.
In stillness, we listened for our own voices, which we tend to ignore as we busy ourselves or give preference to others’ voices over our own.
In stillness, we listened for God’s voice speaking into our lives, as we centered and quieted ourselves enough to hear the heartbeat of God pulsing within us.
Finding stillness didn’t come easily at first. My body itched to move, my mind flitted about, my willingness to sit came and went.
But the more I settled into it, the more I longed to continue in that stillness.
Now that the Silent Retreat is over, I’m drawn to incorporate structured opportunities for stillness again in my daily life. As I’ve sought out that space – for 20 minutes, 10 minutes, half an hour – I feel myself returning to the sacred stillness I found in that shared silence with others.
Many of you have probably received prompts for reflection in your inboxes this week as we have entered into the Lenten period. There is so much food for thought out there, so much richness to be explored.
But this Lent, I invite you to something very simple: to find stillness.
And in that stillness, to let go, to listen for your own voice, and to hear God’s heartbeat pulsing within you.
March and Beyond
Resilient Spirit Retreat6-8 May 2022 – bookings will open soon, and you can get on the list to receive information through emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This retreat offers space for reflection and sharing as we explore together what helps us build resilience in our daily lives – what lifts our spirits in difficult times? What brings us balance? What offers us hope? Through the spacious rhythm of retreat, we learn more about what gives us life, energy, and wellbeing, so that we can return to our full lives restored and renewed. We’d love to have you there.
Next Silent Retreat will be 14-16 October 2022. Please mark your calendars, consider flights, dream and scheme about how you might join us for this sacred time of shared silence at Corrymeela… and some much-needed stillness as well.
We will also be holding an Advent Retreat on 2-4 December 2022. As you look off into the distance of 2022, keep in mind this Advent retreat at Corrymeela. We will look at the theme: “Befriending the Darkness, Longing for Light.”
A few days ago, while sea swimming in freezing water with the wind whipping across our faces, a friend and I compared notes.
Already, it’s been a start-stop kind of a year. We entered the first week of January, ready to face it head-on. And then, a few days later… crash. Things were being canceled. People were isolating due to COVID. Possibilities for the coming months were thrown back into uncertainty. Plans we thought were coming into fruition became dormant once again.
As our words volleyed between us over the frothy waves, I discovered that someone else had a similar week.
Maybe you did, too.
The waves of this pandemic have tossed us about, and sometimes we try to fight against them, willing ourselves to go in a certain direction but meeting resistance from a force much greater than ourselves.
Yet in that moment of frolicking in the waves, naming the frustration at our good intentions being thwarted so quickly in the New Year, we were actually living into another way of being.
Rather than fighting the waves, we were riding them. Rather than pushing in a direction of our own choosing, we were allowing ourselves to be guided by a force greater than our own.
I’ve been sea swimming regularly for 2 1/2 years now, and I’ve learned an immense amount about how to read the waves, swim safely, and recognize my limits. There are times when we simply need to stand on solid ground and resist the pull that would take me towards danger.
But there are many, many days when little resistance is needed. The waves come again and again, we greet them with a jump or a dive, we swoop up in the air as the waves crest, we whoop at being carried down again in that moment of delight.
There’s definitely something to be said for intentionality, resistance, standing our ground, and moving in a certain direction with empowerment and strength.
Last week, though, I was invited to simply ride the waves.
I’ve been doing that every day, literally and metaphorically. Meeting my swim buddies after the morning school drop-off to frolic in the frothy, white, cresting waves, and then returning home to ride the waves of whatever is happening or not happening in my life right now.
There are directions I wish I could go. There are steps I wish I could take. There are dreams I would love to bring into reality.
But now is not the time to do those things. Now is the time to simply be, in the moment, and ride the waves as they come.
What are the waves you are being inviting to ride this month, and can you find ways to frolic and delight in them?
Now that we’ve passed through the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice (in this hemisphere anyway), we find ourselves moving towards the lighter seasons of the year, and in just a few days we will be celebrate the story that is at the heart of Christian faith – God coming into the world to be in solidarity with us in our broken, vulnerable and beautiful humanity, and of light shining in the darkness.
Five years ago I wrote a reflection that I’d like to share today. The issues of that day were far different than the ones we face now, yet somehow the message still applies to where we find ourselves at the end of 2021. My children are older, my living circumstances have changed, and back in 2016 I didn’t have an inkling about pandemics. Yet, I still cling to the same hope that light will come.
But before I share that, I wanted to let you know about a few things coming up in the New Year. We are looking for a few more participants for our online retreat on 2nd January to welcome the New Year with a New Song. If the timing works for you, please join us!
Onwards into 2022 and Beyond
Sing a New Song Online Mini-Retreat 2 January – There are a few places available! We’ve been asked to offer another “Sing a New Song” Retreat, this timing favoring Pacific Rim timing – specifically Eastern Australia, where a friend of mine is based. We will be listening for the new song in our lives just after the turn of the New Year, on Sunday the 2nd of January 2022. This time, Paul and I will be the ones yawning and sipping our morning coffee at 7am in Ireland, in the cold of winter, while our friends on the Pacific Rim will be bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 6pm Australia in the heat of summer. It will also be daytime for East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Europe. Perhaps this is a chance to look ahead and consider what the new year could be about for you or someone you know? Book your place here
Silent Retreat 25-27 February – I’ll be leading a Silent Retreat at the beautiful Corrymeela Centre here on the north coast. It will be a chance to still the swirl of everyday life and listen, deeply, to yourself and to God, while in the midst of a gathered community. We listen to ourselves – to our own voices, needs, pains, griefs, longings and hopes for the future. And we listen to what God might saying to us and leading us into. Silence crosses many barriers. This retreat is open to people from a variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds, and it would be lovely to have you with us. Book your place here
New Psalms for the Spirit Podcast Episodes It’s by chance that these new episodes are coming out during the season of Advent, but I think it’s fitting. At this time of the liturgical year we recognize our longing for a better world, and we name our hopes for justice and peace to become more fully present here on earth. Those themes are most definitely present in the Psalms, which constantly remind us that God is with us in our broken, vulnerable, beautiful humanity.
The longest night is over. The light is already beginning to shine on this earth for a few more moments each day.
But the last few months have seemed dark indeed. Bad news upon bad news. Even good news has been dimmed by the worry that a shadow might be cast over it at any moment.
Each time I open up the paper, or look at the TV, or scroll through my social media newsfeed and see haggard bodies walking through torn-apart streets, and weary faces seeking a place to rest, and desperate people pleading for rescue, there’s no ignoring it: there is darkness in this world. When I hear story after story of individuals or communities being targeted and harassed because of race, or religion, or the way they choose to express themselves, there’s no denying it: there is darkness in this world. When I read about land being willfully polluted by greedy profiteers, or natural disasters sweeping away entire landscapes, or rising temperatures destroying ecosystems, there’s no avoiding it: there is darkness in this world.
When I look ahead at the future, it doesn’t look as bright, crisp or clear as it once did when I was younger. It looks rather shadowy. As a mother of three young children who are rapidly becoming more independent, my maternal mind is primitively wired to sound warning bells whenever I sense danger, to ensure the safety of my offspring. I’m no longer that naïve child, that foolhardy teenager, that idealistic college student, that hormone-empowered pregnant woman, that blissed out baby mama. No, I’m the mother of three children who have their own legs, with which they can (and should) walk out into this big, bad, dark, dangerous world. I’m the mother of three individuals who have their own personalities, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own hopes and insecurities, and it is heart-wrenching to think of the pain or suffering they have, are, and will inevitably go through. I’ve witnessed too much sadness in the lives of loved ones for whom things have not always turned out rosy, and I know that things sometimes go very, very wrong in this dark world of ours.
There is darkness. Many have been sitting in darkness for the past few months. Many have spent their lives sitting in darkness. Many will sit through darkness in the years ahead. There’s no use pretending that this isn’t so.
In the beginning of Genesis’s account of creation, “darkness covered the face of the deep.” God creates light, but God doesn’t destroy darkness.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:1-5)
God does not banish the darkness. It remains.
Darkness remains. Darkness covers us with its shadowy blanket, casting mystery and unknowableness around us. Ancient peoples’ great fear was that darkness would not end, and that the light of the sun would never again return. Perhaps we are not so different, anxious as we are that the darkness might overpower the light; worrying as we do, that it might swallow us up forever.
In our darkness, we utter the same words prayed by others in countless times, places, and life circumstances, wondering whether God has left us.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22)
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13)
“O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.” (Psalm 88)
The people who have prayed these psalms in their own times of trouble are our companions in our darkness.
But with voices echoing through thousands of years, these companions also testify to their own experiences of God’s faithfulness, assuring us that even though we cannot always see God’s face, our God has not left us alone.
“Even though I walk in the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23)
“In the watches of the night… my soul clings to you.” (Psalm 63)
“At night, God’s song is with me, a prayer to the God of life.” (Psalm 42)
One thing we know: there is darkness. But there’s another thing we know, and that’s that darkness does not last forever. The psalms also remind us of this.
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God saved them from their distress; God brought them out of darkness…” (Psalm 107)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27)
“Weeping may linger through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30)
Morning by morning, we know that light will come. Morning by morning, the dark shadows scatter as the sun’s rays break over the surface of the horizon. At this particular time of the year – especially following the longest night, especially in the days leading up to the birth of our Emmanuel, God with us – we celebrate this profound truth.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,”declares John 1:5.
Right now, I hold tight to this core belief. It is precious to me. It is a message that I want to live into as a parent, as a minister, and as a human being. It is a message that I want to pass on to my children, and my children’s children, and my children’s children’s children. It is the greatest truth there is, because it counters our deepest, most primitive, most reactionary fears. It is a belief both profound and simple, expressing the everlasting, undying hope to which we cling: that even though darkness remains, it will not prevail. Light will always pierce through even the darkest night, and a new day will dawn.
Until then, we wait. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Psalm 130)
And when we do sit in times of darkness – which we inevitably have, are, and will, even during this Christmas season – may we find some small part in ourselves that can trust that one day, our Light will come, and all things will be brought into the full brightness and warmth of God’s hope, and peace, and joy, and love.