Psalms for the Spirit Ep. 15: Hope is Stronger than Fear, with Denise Bradley

TODAY’S GUEST

Today’s guest is Denise Bradley, an expert in trauma theory, particularly as it applies to people on the margins of society. Denise has extensive training the field of trauma and has spent decades helping victims of violence find healing, accompanying them as they process their experiences and eventually begin to find a way forward. I know Denise from her current work with Corrymeela in which she works with marginalized groups, particularly refugee and asylum seekers in Northern Ireland. I had the privilege of seeing Denise in her element as she created a safe, warm, welcoming space for people who had gone through recent traumas, and the joy that emerged during her time with them was palpable. I wanted to learn more from Denise about how the theory of trauma relates to the Psalms, and in this conversation we talk about using the Psalms for grounding and comfort in times of fear or traumatic stress, finding inner safety that helps us move forward even when under threat, how the Psalms express all three stages of trauma healing, and about how hope is stronger than fear. 

Find the podcast on the Psalms for the Spirit website or subscribe on Apple, Google or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

More about Denise:

Denise Bradley is currently Programme Manager for Marginalisation at Corrymeela, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation.

Since joining the staff team, she has been leading and pioneering the development of trauma informed practice as a key peacebuilding mechanism both regionally and internationally, whilst promoting sustainability for peacebuilders. She has over 25 years practitioner experience in voluntary and statutory sectors graduating with Early Years and Childhood Studies BA hons degree, Psychological Trauma Studies 1st class honours from QUB and currently a part time law student finishing MSc law, specialising in conflict, trauma and displacement . Denise is an accredited domestic and sexual and trauma practitioner, accumulating over 15 years extensive experience in leading, managing and developing specialist support services and programmes for female survivors of sexual and domestic violence in a post conflict society.

Denise is married to Paul and has 3 amazing adult sons and a gorgeous grandson who keep her grounded, alongside metal smithing and sea swimming.

FEATURED MUSIC

The music in this episode is by Celtic Psalms (Kiran Young Wimberly & The McGraths). You can purchase mp3s directly through www.celticpsalms.com

Come, Spirit, Come (Psalm 144)

All Who Dwell (Psalm 91)

Wings of a Dove (Psalm 55)

You can find our published scores, CDs and mp3s through GIA Music

We’re also on YouTube, Spotify, and Amazon

Album draft cover by Eva Wimberly

NEW ALBUM, COMING UP!

Celtic Psalms has a new (fourth) album coming out in the next few months! We were so excited to be able to do music together again. Your pre-order will help us push the album through to the finish line. Pre-order here

SUPPORT THE PODCAST

If you would like to support the production of this podcast, you can do so by contributing here. Thank you so much! Your support will means there will facilitate more meaningful conversations about spirituality and resilience into the future.

UPCOMING EVENTS

“Sing a New Song” Online Retreat Day with Paul Hutchinson (Therapist, Mediator, Storyteller and Podcast Guest from Episode 11)

18th September 2021

“Refresh Your Spirit” In-Person Weekend Retreat at Corrymeela

19th-21st Nov 2021

GET IN TOUCH!

I’d love to hear from you. Email psalmsforthespirit@gmail.com or send a message via our Facebook page to share with me how the Psalms have lifted your spirits. If you send an audio file, I may just include it in an upcoming episode!

Whatever it is that brought you here, I’m so glad you’re with us. – Kiran

Psalms for the Spirit Ep. 14: Listening in the Silence for What is True, with Brother Thierry

TODAY’S GUEST

Today’s guest is Brother Thierry, a French Benedictine monk who has lived in Northern Ireland for the past 22 years. Ages ago, when I visited Holy Cross Monastery where he’s based, I remembering Brother Thierry coming to welcome our group, and I was impressed by his gracious hospitality and the inviting and accessible way he spoke to our group about Benedictine spiritual practice, especially the role of silence. Then, earlier this year, Brother Thierry and I were a part of a panel on Contemplative Prayer for the Four Corners Festival in Belfast, and once again I was struck by the wisdom he has to offer about prayer and silence. So, I was delighted when he said he would talk with me on this podcast about the Benedictine rhythm of prayer, which includes a swift cycle of daily Psalm singing. In this conversation, we talk about finding happiness in a life of prayer, about being called to pray when others can’t, about how prayer is the only place we can be who we truly are, and about how silence is a listening relationship. 

I was grateful to get an inside perspective on monastic life, and as always, I was moved by the way prayer – and in particular, the psalms – can bring us together across religious divides. 

Find the podcast on the Psalms for the Spirit website or subscribe on Apple, Google or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Find out more about Holy Cross Monastery in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland where Brother Thierry is based.

FEATURED MUSIC

The music in this episode is by Celtic Psalms (Kiran Young Wimberly & The McGraths). You can purchase mp3s directly through www.celticpsalms.com

Come, Spirit, Come (Psalm 144)

Their Delight (Psalm 1 – forthcoming album, preorder here)

Love is Lord of All (Psalm 86)

You can find our published scores, CDs and mp3s through GIA Music

We’re also on YouTube, Spotify, and Amazon

Album draft cover by Eva Wimberly

NEW ALBUM, COMING UP!

Celtic Psalms has a new (fourth) album coming out in the next few months! We were so excited to be able to do music together again. Your pre-order will help us push the album through to the finish line. Pre-order here

SUPPORT THE PODCAST

If you would like to support the production of this podcast, you can do so by contributing here. Thank you so much! Your support will means there will facilitate more meaningful conversations about spirituality and resilience into the future.

UPCOMING EVENTS

“Sing a New Song” Online Retreat Day with Paul Hutchinson (Therapist, Mediator, Storyteller and Podcast Guest from Episode 11)

18th September 2021

“Refresh Your Spirit” In-Person Weekend Retreat at Corrymeela

19th-21st Nov 2021

GET IN TOUCH!

I’d love to hear from you. Email psalmsforthespirit@gmail.com or send a message via our Facebook page to share with me how the Psalms have lifted your spirits. If you send an audio file, I may just include it in an upcoming episode!

Whatever it is that brought you here, I’m so glad you’re with us. – Kiran

Psalms for the Spirit Ep. 13: Transformed by Grief into Agents of Change, with Sunder John Boopalan

TODAY’S GUEST

Today’s guest is Sunder John Boopalan, a professor specializing in political theology and ethics, with a personal focus on Dalit theology and social justice. I knew John way back when we were in seminary, when he also passed on his now-famous Indian Dhal curry recipe to my family. I always had a deep respect for his perspective, and John’s work recently came to mind because of the prominent book “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson. Along those same lines, John has written a powerful book called “Memory, Grief, and Agency,” in which he highlights the marginalization of the Dalit community in India – those who are considered to be outside the caste system, sometimes derogatorily referred to as untouchables or outcastes – and he proposes a theological response to caste or race-based injustices, naming the importance of grief in building our capacity to transform this world. In this podcast, we hear about John’s personal background with the Psalms as he grew up in South India, about caste-based violence and humiliations that Dalits endure on a daily basis, and about how Psalms might offer a way to express grief over society’s wrongs and transform us into agents of change. I couldn’t believe that so much laughter and heartbreak could be found within the same conversation – as you’ll hear, John isn’t afraid of looking at what’s challenging, but his warmth and joy never fails to come through. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the Dalit experience, John recommends a few films: Fandry and Sairat, directed by Nagraj Manjule, which you can find online.

Find the podcast on the Psalms for the Spirit website or subscribe on Apple, Google or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

More about John:

Sunder John Boopalan, Assistant Professor at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Canada, where he specializes in political theologies and ethics, with personal emphases in the areas of Dalit Christianity and redress of structural or systemic wrongdoing. John is the author of the book Memory, Grief, and Agency (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). His most recent essay in the journal Religions is titled “Religious Amnesias, Mythologies, and Apolitical Affects in Racist Landscapes,” and is freely available at https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110615. John is a columnist for The Blueprint (https://theblueprint.news/), a digital publication that explores identity, society, culture, human rights, and freedom by centering marginalized voices with an emphasis on South Asia and its diaspora.

Purchase John’s book

FEATURED MUSIC

The music in this episode is by Celtic Psalms (Kiran Young Wimberly & The McGraths). You can purchase mp3s directly through www.celticpsalms.com

Come, Spirit, Come (Psalm 144)

I Lift My Eyes Up to the Hills (Psalm 121)

My God, My God (Psalm 22)

From the Depths (Psalms 130, 131)

You can find our published scores, CDs and mp3s through GIA Music

We’re also on YouTube, Spotify, and Amazon

SUPPORT THE PODCAST

If you would like to support the production of this podcast, you can do so by contributing here. Thank you so much! Your support will means there will facilitate more meaningful conversations about spirituality and resilience into the future.

UPCOMING EVENTS

“Sing a New Song” Online Retreat Day with Paul Hutchinson (Therapist, Mediator, Storyteller and Podcast Guest from Episode 11)

18th September 2021

“Refresh Your Spirit” In-Person Weekend Retreat at Corrymeela

19th-21st Nov 2021

GET IN TOUCH!

I’d love to hear from you. Email psalmsforthespirit@gmail.com or send a message via our Facebook page to share with me how the Psalms have lifted your spirits. If you send an audio file, I may just include it in an upcoming episode!

Whatever it is that brought you here, I’m so glad you’re with us. – Kiran

Longing for Refuge

The Psalms have always been a refuge for me. From the time I was able to read, I stole away to my room for solace from the bustle of the household. There in the quiet, I flipped open my Bible, and the pages often opened up ward the middle, to a psalm.

“As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for you.” Psalm 42

“O God, you are my God, and I long for you.” Psalm 63

“My heart cries out and my flesh faints for the courts of the Lord.” Psalm 84

As a child, being at the heart of the family felt like both a blessing and a curse – I loved them dearly, but my emotions and thoughts also became mixed up in the midst of the relationships, the happenings, the conflicts, the conversations going on around me. I needed to find my center, my refuge, and I found it in God.

So, I escaped frequently to the quiet of my room, crawling under my covers and breaking open the psalms. These ageless words entered into me – the prayers of ancient people reverberating in my heart, becoming my own. As the deer longs to drink from streams of water, my soul is thirsty for you. O God, you are my God, and I long for you. My heart cries out to be in your presence now.

Meditating on these words, praying these prayers, I slowly found myself once again in the calming presence of God. I knew, somehow, in the depths of my being, that God had heard me, that God cared for me, and that God had met me there. I sat in that blissful place for a few moments, until I heard someone calling me to set the table, or to join the family for a movie, or to get on with whatever I was up to that day. Though it was always hard to leave that serenity, I carried a piece of it with me as I left my room and returned to the rest of my life.

The psalms have been my refuge, as they have been for countless others around the world for thousands of years. It’s incredible to me to think of the universality of this longing to be in God’s presence. For millennia, in a myriad of cultures and time periods, people have longed to find solace in God. They have longed to lay their burdens and concerns into God’s arms so that they might rest more fully in their Creator. We all long for things to be made right in this world, long to be our best selves, long to find our center, long to be at peace within ourselves, with others, and with God. No matter what separates us from each other, we share this deep inner longing to find refuge in God.

Though my longing was met momentarily during those moments of solace, it would always return. Again and again, that longing would return, and I would be called back to that same spot to seek God’s presence once more. As I got older, got married, became a minister, became a mother, it never failed to come back. That longing within me indicated that something was off kilter – that my emotions were overwhelming me, that my thoughts were careening in an unhelpful direction, that events in the world around me were whirling and swirling in a way that left me feeling turbulent inside. But as soon as I noticed that desire to return to God’s presence, and stole away to my quiet place once more, the storm within me began to die down. That longing was a signal for me to seek God again.

We might think of longing as something we want to get rid of – something to be satisfied, quenched, vanquished, gone forever. But I know that my longing has been a gift to me. Every time that longing arises within me and I pay attention to it, I find myself drawn closer to the heart of God. Without that signal, I’m not sure I would have chosen to return so frequently over the years, or found so many quiet moments of much-needed serenity in the midst of the activity of life.

Our longing beckons us to return to our place of refuge, again and again, amid the whirl and swirl of our lives. In that place of refuge, those ancient words resound in us still: As the deer longs for streams of water, so our souls thirst for you. O God, you are our God, and we long for you. Our hearts cry out to be in your presence now.

Ponderings for Your Path

  • Do you recall feeling that sense of longing in your life? If a memory comes to mind, sit with it for a few minutes. What did that longing reveal to you? Did you listen to that longing at the time, and if so, where did that lead you? 
  • What about right now. Do you notice a longing inside of you today? What is it telling you? Is there a way that you can meet that longing now? For example, is your longing nudging you to spend a few minutes centering yourself with God? Or is it pointing you towards a shift in your day-to-day life that will bring you into closer connection with God and with the deeper parts of yourself? 
  • Perhaps take a walk by a stream or river sometime this week, or if you can’t go to one in person, view the video below. Pay attention to the strength of its flow, the trickling sounds, the endless supply of water. How does the stream remind us of God’s unending supply of love, care, attention, and compassion for us? 

Blessing for our Journeys

May we listen to our longings

as we would listen to a dear friend

with attentiveness to the messages they offer 

in what is spoken and unspoken. 

May our longings draw us closer to the stream

of unending love and care,

attention and compassion

that is freely given. 

May our feet take us to that 

life-giving, 

God-given water,

again 

and again

and again. 

Amen.

Waking to Gratefulness

“Thank you.” 

For years now, these have been my first words each morning as I reach out towards the cup of coffee my husband offers me. In that bleary, not-quite-awake state, my first thought is of thanks. 

I then get out of bed and sit in what I call my “prayer chair” in a private corner of the room, and in between sips of that freshly-made coffee, I write in my journal about the previous day. My dreamy state begins to sharpen its focus as I put words on the page. 

Bless My Feet: Let’s Walk This Path Together

Dear Fellow Travelers,

We don’t need to journey alone. I’d love to walk with you.

I’ve created a space where people of open-hearted Christian perspective can walk together to reflect on how spirituality connects to our daily lives.

You can subscribe to receive a free monthly reflection with questions to ponder for your own spiritual journey, and you’ll be kept up to date with what I’m involved with.

If you’d like to become more intentionally involved in this community, you can become a member to receive weekly emails with personal reflections, prompts for pondering, images of the beautiful north coast of Ireland where I live, additional video, music or podcast to accompany the written content, and blessings for your journeys. In the privacy of this space for members, you’ll be able to share on a more authentic level with others of like mind.

Until now, I’ve written the occasional post on this blog reflecting on the spiritual journey of daily life, but I’m migrating those posts to the Bless My Feet community. The reason for this is that I feel drawn to connect on a deeper, personal level with people in a more private environment for all of us, where we can share and reflect in a more honest and real way.

Whether you sign up either for the free monthly reflection or if you’re interested in walking together a part of the members’ community, it would be great to see you there.

Your fellow traveler,

Kiran

Breathing Through the Uncomfortable

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the growing wild popularity of the outdoor sport of “wild swimming.” That is, the sport of entering near-freezing water without a wetsuit, even in the middle of winter. To be a “wild swimmer,” one needn’t be an accomplished sportsperson, but instead must be crazy enough to step into frigid water outdoors – the sea, a lake, a river- and… breathe. That’s right – breathe.

As someone who has in the past few years become a rather avid all-year-round sea swimmer, I can tell you that it’s true: provided the conditions are calm and welcoming, it’s very simple. All you need to do is walk into the water, until it’s up to your neck, and breathe. 

You see, it’s very a human response, when extremely cold, to become breathless. I know this happened to me the first time I tried sea swimming in Ballycastle on the north coast – my whole body tensed up, the alarm bells of panic started ringing inside of me, and I was out of the water in a flash. That was in August. 

Now, I swim easily in January. How? 

I learned to breathe. As the water comes up over your shoulders, and you feel yourself becoming breathless, those minutes are the most important. If you breathe, slowly, in and out, your body loses its sense of panic and begins to relax. 

As my tolerance increased, I began to experience the feeling of joy that wild swimming is becoming known for. Soon, my breathing became an act of trust in what would come: the sense of wellbeing that would wash over me and stay with me the rest of the day. 

Sea swimming has taught me to breathe through the uncomfortable and to trust not only that my body can handle it, but that something good is to come. 

I find myself breathing, these days, when stress threatens to overwhelm me – when my daughter is tearing her hair out trying to get her homework turned in online with only minutes to spare; when my son’s ipad crashes in the middle of his virtual class; when the needs and demands of work and homeschool and housework, and never having enough space to myself, leaving me feeling breathless. 

At those moments, I find myself breathing. In, out, in, out. Long, slow breaths. An act of trust that this moment too shall pass, and that a sense of calm will return. 

Don’t we all need to remember to breathe, these days. We so easily slip into a state of panic, the alarm bells ringing about the threat of COVID, the fears for the future, the state of the world, the struggles of the multitude of responsibilities we all carry in our own ways. 

Just when we’re tempted to turn on our heels and give up –  as I did on my first swim – that’s when we can call up the most simple act: to breathe. To breathe long, slow breaths, reminding our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our souls that we can trust that it will be ok.

For at the root of our faith is the belief that God can bring goodness out of even the most trying of situations. 

So let’s breathe. In, out, and trust that joy and peace and hope and a sense of wellbeing will come. 

Let us pray. Breath of life, when panic and stress rise up within us, breathe your calming spirit into us, and with that breath, remind us that your goodness will always prevail. In your holy name we pray, Amen. 

I was asked to contribute this prayer to the Four Corners Festival, held virtually in Feb 2021.

In a strange collision of circumstances, I was also featured in a BBC documentary the night before I offered this prayer. The sea swimmers recorded this last summer, as a part of a series on The Glens of Antrim, where I live. The Ballycastle Swimrise Group have been a lifeline to me over the past year – prior to COVID and through COVID. Sea swimming has breathed life into me in so many ways! Click the link below to catch a glimpse of sea swimming in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland.

Coming Soon: Psalms for the Spirit Podcast

Hello friends, 

I have been working on a new venture! A podcast about spirituality and resilience, through the lens of the Biblical Psalms.

The question I’m exploring is: how do the Psalms, and music, and other spiritual resources such as these, help us through difficult times – through times of personal or collective trauma? 

How do the psalms lift our spirits? 

I’m inviting friends and respected teachers to speak with me on the connections between spirituality and resilience. My guests will be from a variety of backgrounds – theologians, social workers, hymnwriters, musicians, spiritual directors, clergy, academics, mental health practitioners, and anyone interested in the intersection of spirituality and the lived experience. 

Through personal story, field research, and theological reflection, we will delve into the psalms and how they intersect with people lives and areas of expertise. 

For me, this is pure joy. When I record my conversations, I’m in a beautiful spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Rathlin Island – and I get to connect with people near and far to talk about things we’re passionate about.

The first few episodes will be released soon, and I hope you will join us on the journey!

Kiran

The Unboundedness of Limitation

It seems every conversation I have with people these days comes down to the theme of limitation. Each one of us, in our own unique way, is experiencing limitations that hinder us and withhold from us certain aspects of the life we knew only eight short months ago.

Limitation defines so much for us right now: we weave our lives around the COVID rules and restrictions of whatever area we live in. We either abide by or resist those rules and regulations, but we’re aware of them nonetheless – building our lives around what we can or can’t do.

Limitation is our current reality. It’s the terrain we must dwell in to keep others and ourselves safe and healthy.

And in that limitation also resides much grief, frustration, anxiety, and helplessness.

Where we used to plan and dream far into the future, this limitation freezes us in a timelessness – forces us to stay put within our homes, our routines, our locale, for an undetermined amount of time.

Where we would have traveled and explored and adventured, we can only cast our mind’s eye to past memories, or turn to images on screens to transport us elsewhere.

Where we would have broken up our days and weeks and months with gatherings large and small, enjoyed blissful moments of witnessing or performing the arts, and taken in festivals or once-in-a-lifetime events, we can only stay within the scope of our mundane daily rhythms.

Where we once extended ourselves into our busy schedules, expending our energies for a multitude of activities and projects and causes, we now struggle to find ways to contribute meaningfully to the world.

Limitation.

I read the story of Mary being visited by the angel in Luke 1 with different ears, from this context of limitation in which we reside.

Two women, both in situations where it should be impossible for new life to grow within them. Two women whose limitations seem obvious.

And yet, the angel says: with God, all things are possible. God announces that new life will spring forth where none should be able to. Limitations no longer claim hold on these women’s lives.

Caught as we are in our own webs of limitation, how freeing it is to imagine God cutting through all that to release us: to bring new life and all it entails – hope, potential, change, dreams.

Could it be that God can break through our confines even without some dramatic reversal of events – without a vaccine, without a cure – and bring forth life in and through our limitations?

Perhaps there is boundlessness within our limitation. A vast world within our boundaries, which we are perfectly free to enjoy.

I consider some of the things that fill my life now that I never had time for or interest in before.

Gardening, for one.

My body eagerly spends hours digging, hauling, mixing, planting, when I wouldn’t have had a clue about it months ago.

Within the confines of my daily existence, I looked out the back of my house and slowly began to envision something new out of what was right before my eyes. I saw flowering bushes and a multitude of bulbs bursting forth with color in spring. I saw climbers and rambling roses. I saw arches and stone paths. I saw shows of color that shifted at varying times of day and season. I saw vegetables and herbs to nourish my family.

And I quickly caught on to the fact that the possibilities are endless.

I have a world to explore, and I haven’t even left my home (except to go to the garden store, which is my new favorite destination).

Boundlessness within limitation. The possibility of new life where there seemed to be none before. The ability to plan and dream and envision something new. A way to plant hope for the future.

Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – we can glimpse that unfettered freedom within our confines.

God breaks through and finds a way to bring new life, even where it seems impossible.

May it be so for you.

Mothering Arms

Twelve years ago I was handed a tiny human to hold for the very first time. I still remember the delightful shock of seeing the curves and crevices of this new person, whom no one had ever seen before, in all her particularity. “So you’re the one who’s been living inside me!” I thought. She had a character, a personality, a uniqueness, an “I am who I am” quality about her. And she was wholly mine (ours!) to embrace, to welcome, to love, to embrace. To hold.

Holding our daughter became life’s new activity. Holding her for feeding, holding her to walk from room to room, holding her with extended family, church members, friends – and handing her to them to hold.

What a precious experience it is to hold a newborn baby! There is nothing like their newborn smell, their fragile lightness, their precious vulnerability. And the holy task – the only task we have at those moments – is to show utter gentleness toward the human being in our arms.

Holding her that first moment filled me with such a sense of awe, instantly. Over the following hours, days, weeks the initial surprise transformed into familiarity, as I came to know her every movement and expression, as I developed an intuition for what she might be trying to communicate.

In the beginning there were also hours, days, nights when I felt baffled, holding her in confusion and frustration as I attempted to understand how to meet her needs.

But eventually, sometimes after a bit of a struggle, we would melt into the restful embrace of contentedness. My arms became that place of stillness for her, that place of comfort.

Like a child with mother quieted, reads Psalm 131.

Last week as I reflected on this passage, I recalled the way I had rested in my mother’s arms as a child. Though it’s been a while, the memory was fresh and visceral. I could feel the stroke of her hand through my hair. A sense of wellbeing washed over me – a contended relaxation. I had no where I needed to go, nothing I needed to do. Only to allow myself to be held in my mother’s arms.

Though I’m a grown woman, this memory of being held felt so deeply comforting to me. I continued to remember it throughout that day and the days after. I hope I continue to return to it, over and over again.

For the arms holding me in this image were not only my mother’s – they were God’s.

I was resting in the love, acceptance, and tenderness of the Mothering God.

It made me realize how important those moments of tenderness with my own daughter are, even now. She is growing up, she is developing her independence, and rightly so. I want that freedom for her, and I want her to develop that confidence to strike out on her own, as I did.

But when those moments of tenderness come, I will treat them as sacred. In those times when she rests on me, she is also experiencing rest in the arms of the Mothering God. The God who will hold her and love her much longer, and better, and more fully than I ever could as her earthly mother. I have my limitations, my faults; I make my mistakes. But God is the one who will embrace her forever.

So for now, while I can, I will hold my little girl, who is not so little anymore, and I will give thanks that the Mothering God will continue to hold her all her life long.