Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trinity worship, breath prayers and researching Lonergan

I led chapel today and had the sense that it worked brilliantly, offering a space that for many, provided a deep sense of connection with God. It connected with a range of senses, including seeing (contemplating the icon), touching (choosing a symbol of vocation), hearing (each others breathing), tasting (the communion elements). Let me explain.

After referencing Pentecost Sunday and inviting a call to worship, I introduced the icon, “Holy Theologian Bernard Lonergan in the Mystery of the Eternal Processions of the Most Blessed Trinity,” painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols.

Lonergan Icon

I gave folk a few minutes in silence to consider it.

I then offered some explanation. I introduced a quote from Fred Crowe’s biography of Lonergan.

. . . in the welter of words that with other theologians it was his vocation to utter, Lonergan never lost [the insight] that theology can be done, must be done, that when it is done, we are confronted with mystery and bow our heads in adoration. Fred Crowe

I noted that I have been reading Bernard Lonergan as part of my missiology research in recent weeks. I described how research involves lots of reading and how as part of my research, I had discovered the icon. Which I have pinned to my desk. And how it then provided another dimension to my research, inviting prayer along with my reading.

I noted a few features of the icon. It references a painting by Lawren Harris, with Canadian landscape in the background. The light around the pine trees expresses a sense of God’s encounter with Lonergan’s vocation.

On the floor of the chapel I had placed books, pens, pads, name tag holders, white board markers, Bibles. I noted how in the icon, Lonergan was bent down in front of a book, a symbol of his vocation. I invited folk to pick up something from the floor that expressed their current vocation – as student, as lecturer, as administrator. Once collected, I invited folk to return to their seat and lay it down at their feet, much like Lonergan had. I then invited us, as Lonergan was, to look up, expectantly, attentively.

Suddenly each of us were engaging with the icon not just as something visual that we were looking at, but as something we were physically participating with. Our bodies were becoming more deeply connected.

I noted how in the icon, the Spirit spoke as Lonergan looked up. So what one word might the Spirit be wanting to speak to us, as we looked up from our vocations? Which meant that we all as a group had now moved into a time of lectio divina. We had move from sermon to prayer, from explanation to worship.

I maintained this space by introducing a series of breath prayers. We breathed in strength, freedom, hope and love; and breathed out exhaustion, self-doubt, distrust and hate. That sense of looking up, expectantly, attentively, was maintained through the in and out of our breathing. There was by now a palpable sense of God in the air as together, looking up from our individual and diverse vocations, we continued to connect with God.

A seque into communion then occurred, by inviting folk to place their symbol on the communion table. Our vocations were recentered by bread and wine. We continued to breath together as we encountered grace in the sacraments.

There were many people expressing thanks at the end, for the richness and depth, for the dignity given to the practice of theology, for the space to breathe in God. In just over 20 minutes, we had worshipped, prayed, participated in the sacraments, in a way that connected our ordinary and everyday vocations with Divine presence.

Posted by steve at 11:31 PM

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

lectio decorio (reading the skin)

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

Lectio divina (divine reading) is a practice by which Scripture is read slowly, seeking for God’s voice. Today I invited the community at worship at Uniting College to enter into lectio decorio (reading the skin). (Decorio is latin for skin).

The spark was the lectionary text – John 2:13-22, when Jesus cleanses the temple. Searching google, I found the work of Amanda Galloway. As a way to connect with women in India, a system of Biblical story telling has been developed. It uses the traditional henna process to symbolize biblical stories (I’ve blogged about henna and Biblical storytelling before). Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As the story is told, the images are drawn onto the hand and arm.

Jesus-Cleanses-the-TempleDIAGRAMB

I didn’t have the time (chapel is 20 minutes, including communion), nor the materials (henna), to literally use henna. But I loved the way the Amanda Galloway’s design told the story, and told it onto skin. It seeemed to also connect with the Biblical text, which was all about whips and overturned tables and thus a story about skin in the game of justice.

So, after reading the lectionary text, I introduced the design. I noted how it is used. I then invited folk to trace the design onto their skin. Not with henna, but by using their finger, while I read the text (slowly enough to give time for the tracing).

And so skin touched skin, as the Bible story was heard and traced (decorio).

I then repeated the process, inviting folk to trace to design on their other hand. Given that folk most likely initially chose their dominant hand, it felt deeply gospel to trace the design again, this time using a weaker finger. This also created links between the two contexts – us in the first week of the semester, with all the new learning that a semester involves, women in India, unable to read, but still opening themselves to learning.

I then moved into the six minute communion. And suddenly the passing of the peace had new meaning. It was another moment of lectio decorio, reading the skin, as the gospel story traced on my hand touched the gospel story traced on the hand on another.

I’m still to unpack with those gathered what the experience meant for them.

But for me, the invitation three times to hear a Gospel story, the deeper sense of connection as that gospel was traced on my skin, the sharing of a practice from another cultural context as an expression of solidarity in learning – felt very embodied.

So there we are, lectio decorio (reading the skin).

Posted by steve at 09:42 PM

Thursday, September 25, 2014

green theologies: ancient, creative

Water gives life. The shores of Lake Galilee are richly green, filled with fruit, treelined and in places covered with grass. On the lake shore at Tagba is the Church of Multiplication. It honours the feeding of the multitudes, the rich abundance of that miracle. What is intriguing is that on the church floor, on either side of the altar, are a set of mosiacs.

churchofmultiplication

They are beautiful, and feature birds, lilies, flowers. Most are local, bird and plant life from local Galilee. The mosaics are from the 5th century and are the earliest known examples of figured pavement in Christian art in the Holy Land.

It’s an extraordinary expression of green theology. It connects the church indoors with the creation outdoors. It celebrates the local. It is a wonderful link with the miracle story, but contextualised in an honouring of the abundant gifts of land and lake.

And it’s 1500 years old. Green theology likes to position itself as modern, hip and new. The mosaic artists and the ordinary Christians of Tagba would shake their head in disbelief. Their church, their everyday worship, was ancient, ordinarily and creatively green.

Posted by steve at 04:47 AM

Monday, May 05, 2014

how a voluntary society in a rural town made eHistory

I love stories of innovation. Here is one of a voluntary group in a small, rural town, who made eHistory. The full story is here, but to give you a taster, I’ve made a summary, using words from the entire article.

Carnamah is a town and farming community [of 500 people] 300 kilometres north of Perth. The Carnamah Historical Society was founded in 1983 to collect, record, preserve and promote local history. Made up of folk with a background in wheat and sheep farming, they have no ongoing funding and are volunteer run.

To share history and heritage they created online content, 600 pages. Then primary school educational resources. Then an online data base that utilised virtual volunteers to help with transcription and indexing tasks.

The result: thousands more people have discovered and now have a strong and personal connection; donations of heritage material; featured in National Museum of Australia exhibition; appeared in Inside History magazine twice.

The difference is simply that we’ve made a lot of history discoverable online. We want to share, not just possess. We, as a [history] sector have a terrible track record of doing what we’ve always done and not straying too far from the familiar path. It comes down to attitude. Will you learn or try what you don’t know?

The essential ingredients that tend to be lacking are not ideas, examples to follow, time, availability of funding or technical skill. They are very often attitude, ethos and organisational culture.

I think there are a lot of encouragements and challenges in this story for any group in our changing world.

Posted by steve at 07:01 PM

Friday, March 07, 2014

Dispersed Lent Journal Project 2014

This week I released these around the 34 Lipsett Terrace community

Four journals. On the front cover, the following words … Open me, browse me, take me, write in me, return me.

Inside, mainly blank white pages. A few images, a few practices, in case people get stuck. And the following explanation

Dispersed Lent Journal Project

Here at 34 Lipsett Terrace, we are a dispersed community. We are students, staff, teachers. We are post-graduates and undergraduates. We are studying for audit and for credit. We are casual library borrowers and we are hard working full-time students.

The Lenten journal project invites those who cross paths at 34 Lipsett Terrace to share with each other, through a dispersed pattern, what the season of Lent means to us.

The Overview: Lent in the church year is a time to focus on spiritual renewal. Different traditions in the church do this differently. The Dispersed Lent journals invite you to share with each other what this season means to you and how you connect more fully with the God-story in the days leading up to Easter.

The concept: A journal is a place to write. We can write privately, for ourselves. We can write publicly for others. The Lent journal invites us to write publicly, to share faith with each other.

How to proceed?
1. Once you have received the journal, you have no more than seven and no less than two days to spend with it.
2. During those days, put whatever you like in the journal – thoughts, ideas, drawings, photos, recipes, reflections – anything that captures what Lent means for you and how you connect with God during this season. Be creative. Use the exercises or images. Write in your own language.
3. Write aware that what you write will be read by a stranger. That is the nature of a public journal.
4. When you are finished, pass the journal onto another person in the Department of Flinders or ACD or UCLT or Adelaide Theological Library community.
a) It might be someone in your class
b) It might be a lecturer or staff person
c) You might leave it on the table in the Common Space or Adelaide Theological Library.
5. If you get given a journal for a second or third time, it will most likely be different than the first time you received it – different time, more input. You could pass it on straight away. Or treat it as an invitation to write further.

Who gets a journal? Four journals have been prepared. Each is different – different visual, different set of potential practices. Each will be touched by different hands, passed to different people. Each will encounter you at a different time in Lent. Each will be released into the 34 Lipsett Terrace community during the first week of Lent. After the initial release, who knows where the journals will go. Such is the mystery of God in the community.

How is it shared? The journals are public. If you see one, feel free to browse it. When finished, we might scan journal pages (including onto the website) and use them in ongoing ways around the 34 Lipsett Tce campus to encourage students and enhance worship.

So please be aware that by participating in this project, your work will be shared with others.

After Easter, please return the journals to:
Steve Taylor, Uniting College

It will be fascinating to see what happens over Lent.

Posted by steve at 12:05 PM

Friday, December 06, 2013

intuitive worship: baptism, ministry, deeper water and Psalm 42

Today we farewelled a colleague. They had expressed a desire for a ritual moment, so over a number of days, by email, among a number of folk, a service of leaving was sketched.

It’s been a hectic week at College and with one of the key folk sick, I wasn’t convinced that all the i’s were crossed or t’s were dotted. Just in case, I grabbed a Bible as I left my office – a useful tool in case of emergencies.

Sure enough, it emerged on the walk over that no-one was down to do the Bible reading. I’d suggested it, so was happy to read. Especially since I had a Bible.

It was the Psalm for today in the Lectionary, Psalm 42. It fitted really well with the opening song. The colleague loves Paul Kelly, so we’d chosen Deeper Water, a song about growth, journey, life.

Deeper water, deeper water,
Deeper water, calling them on

As the song played live, I began to wonder were to stand to read. My eyes settled on the baptismal font. Water. An intuitive link gets made in my mind.

So as the song ended, I stood and walked to the baptismal font. I introduced the Psalm as about deeper water, as about where is God in deeper water. (As a hart longs for flowing streams (v. 1); Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me (v. 7).)

As the Psalm ended, I returned (Djed) the lyrics of the song. “Deeper water, calling you on, and you’re never alone.” I dipped my hands in the water of the baptismal font and walked across to our departing colleague and bent to make the sign of the cross on his forehead.

An intuitive moment – a mix of Paul Kelly, Psalm 42 and the Christian ritual of baptism. For it is in our baptism that we are called into ministry. So a re-affirmation of baptism as that which holds us on the ongoing journey into ministry.

A few extra seconds, wordless, in which the waters of baptism were applied. And I returned, in silence to my seat. It had felt, intuitively the right thing to do.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, baptism, ministry and Psalm 42). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 06:21 AM

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I journal religiously twice

I journal religiously twice. Religiously because it is a paired set of spiritual practices, that keep me in grounded, reflective and in community.

I journal religiously once, publicly, on this blog. It is a place to collect what I’m reading and doing. It’s been a discipline for over 11 years now. I began because I wanted to connect beyond Sunday with my congregation and to explore this new way of being human that is a digital world. It helps me reflect on ministry. I regularly think about stopping but then a helpful comment opens up a new insight and I realise the gift that is communication in community.

I journal religiously a second time, my own handwritten journal. It’s been a discipline from when I began formally training for ministry. I never think about stopping, for handwriting grounds me, connects me. I need to save insights, to record my pain, to jot down the spiritual insight of a moment walking or reading.

Over time, I’ve introduced new practices. Every Saturday I try and collect the achievements of a work week in a few simple dot points. This is essential, for my current work is overwhelming and relentless and I need to remind myself of progress. Or I use Celtic knots to untangle the complexity of an issue. Sometimes these notes can be worked up for public consumption, an insight becomes a sermon, a section allows me to capture a moment.

I handwrite much more than I used to and it’s such a precious space. The increase in handwriting has been a fascinating byproduct of the job. I think it’s because I need to find myself in the rush of a 7 meeting day.

I began to reflect on journalling because one of my handwritten journals is coming to an end. I’m always sad. I’m losing a familar friend and I hate the starting of something new, those first fresh pages speak of no life lived. I often leave the first page blank. A space for God to be God. And a way of beginning, of saying I’ve simply started.

This finished journal will be filed, along with others. As I come to year’s end or to an annual performance review, I will pull out my journal and read through the year. I will begin to catch patterns I’d not seen before. It helps give shape to my becoming, to the work of God in the hard places of life.

I journal religiously twice, a paired set of spiritual practices. But what is really interesting is that I have written this here – digitally – not there – in the handwritten journal.

Posted by steve at 07:10 AM

Sunday, August 04, 2013

a dynamic formation for ministry

Digital artist, Luca Agnani, takes Van Gogh’s paintings and brings them to digital life. He uses a mix of digital light and shadowing plus 3-d mapping, to provide a whole new way of viewing life.

It reminds me that life is dynamic rather than static.  It is easy to think of life, of faith, of theology, of Scripture, as a snapshot, a moment frozen in time.  The reality is that life is always about movement – the child running to the father, the sea a fluid wave movement, the streets full of people on the move.

Tomorrow, I am introducing a change to the candidate formation process at Uniting College. We will begin an exploration of practices, framed around a missional spirituality, and enhanced by storytelling – “the stories that you swap with other travellers” – about how these practices take shape in our lives.

So we’ve spent a lot of time as a team thinking about why we might do this.

Ministry formation could never prepare me for every situation I would find in life. Nor should it. Life is simply too fluid, too dynamic, to evolving, to ever make that possible.

Christian faith is dynamic – the practice of being sent, of prayer, of unforced rythyms of grace – are never static, but are always moving, shaped by those who walk toward us and away from us, those we welcome and those we let go, our experiences as we approach Scripture. Practices are our friends in this dynamic of life.

For those interested, the thirteen Van Gogh paintings are:

1. Fishing Boats on the Beach
2. Langlois Bridge at Arles, The
3. Farmhouse in Provence
4. White House at Night, The
5. Still Life
6. Evening The Watch (after Millet)
7. View of Saintes-Maries
8. Bedroom
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
11. Restaurant
12. First Steps (after Millet)
13. Self-Portrait

Posted by steve at 02:58 PM

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why the Leap of faith is a myth

Where do great ideas come from? Research indicates it never comes a golden bullet, an inspired leap of faith. Vera John-Steiner interviewed over 70 living creative geniuses. She also analyzed the notebooks of 50 dead ones (including Tolstoy, Einstein, etc.) to look at their work habits.

She even planned to title her book “The Leap” because it would be about those giant flashes of inspiration that led to breakthrough ideas.

But she was completely wrong.

Eureka! moments turned out to be a myth.

There was no inspiration moment where a fully formed answer arrived.

Strokes of genius happened over time.

A great idea comes into the world by drips and drabs, false starts, and rough sketches. (From here)

Instead, creative inspiration involves writing down ideas as early as possible, keeping everything, giving things time and being willing to wrestle with ideas and search for clarity. And the refusal to expect that inspiration will deliver a finished product.

Perhaps the only golden bullet is buying a notebook/keeping a blog ie finding some place to store your work product.

Posted by steve at 10:10 AM

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ikea worship treats

I love wandering Ikea. (I’ve blogged about this before – Confessions: the place of Ikea in worship and teaching). I invariably, as I wander Ikea, come away with a few ideas for worship, inspired by the fusion of good design with customer sensitivity all fused with the DIY ethic

Here are yesterdays offerings after a Sunday shop:

First, a world map table. It is hard to see, because overhead lighting is reflected in the glass. But it is a world map, etched in a glass table. This has got all sorts of possibilities. For example communion table, with elements placed “for the world.” Or a prayer station, in which people post prayers for the world on the table. Or with a bit of experimentation, it might well be that some pens might be able to write on glass and be washed off. So people could write their prayers on the table.

Second, pop up stations. These are advertised in the children’s section. They are made of cardboard, so can be decorated in all sorts of way. Aesthetically, they would make a great set of stations, all identical, yet all able to be named differently.

Posted by steve at 12:26 AM

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Colour my faith

Olive Fleming Drane posted a delightful picture, of the new floor in Glasgow’s new Paperchase.

It’s a delightful reminder of the power and place of colour. And the implications for our engagement with Christian faith.

Like “colour divina.” Imagine hearing the same Bible text, read slowly, read repeatedly. And each time, standing in a different colour. Where is purple in the text? Where is the colour red? Where do we see green?

Imagine different stations, placed on different coloured mats. Confession on red, benediction on green, hearing the Scriptures in purple.

At Opawa, for a period of time, part of the call to worship included the invitation:

Words of introduction: We all come from different weeks; good and bad, busy and slow, major and minor. What colour would describe your emotions and experiences this week?

Action: In baskets at various places around the auditorium are a wide range of colours. Each colour square has a “hot dot” fixed to the back. As we gather as a community in worship this morning I invite you
a) choose a colour square that says something about your week.
b) peel the backing paper of the “hot dot” on the back and place your colour on the cross.
You can do this at any time before the service.

Prayer: We will start our service with the following prayer

Leader: Arriving, we bring our current reality.
All: The good and the bad. The busy and the slow. The major and the minor.

Leader: We dare to believe that God is among us.
All: Among us as one who listens, holds, loves, heals, guides.

Leader: We dare to believe that we are safe here.
All: Safe among friends journeying together. Journeying to a deeper knowledge of, love for and service with God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(full post here)

For more on the place of colour in Christian faith, see

  • Colouring the stations of the cross here
  • Colouring formation here
  • for a fantastic resource, in the form of a children’s book, see here.
Posted by steve at 10:20 PM

Sunday, March 03, 2013

nurturing the arts: arrival of complete boxed set

A thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly wonderful surprise this week, with the arrival of the complete boxed set of CS Arts magazines.

The vision of Chrysalis Seed was to ‘generate multiplying groups of artists in a subculture centred in Jesus’. The mission was to ‘equip artists to integrate their art and faith, and to reconcile art and faith communities’. For 14 years it existed as a Trust, with a principal mechanism including a magazine CS Arts.

Which grew, from 4 pages, to 52 pages, from black and white, to colour. It covered a wonderful array of topics, interviews with artists and curators, reviews, themed essays (including a few film reviews I wrote). It was free, always distributed widely, including to commercial galleries and studios. It drew praise and gained some very high quality interviews.

The focus was creating conversations with the art world, not meeting a Christian sub-culture and so it was always incredibly classy, in content, design and paper. The decision to make it a boxed set simply underlines the class, drawing attention to entire collection and the search for quality.

Looking through the editions, realising the growth, reading the range of topics, is struck me as a fascinating attempt at contextualisation – to have a conversation with a key area of culture. It would make an interesting piece of contemporary contextual research, to explore the themes over the time period, the sources it dialogued with, the way it sought to speak of Christ.

The Trust disbanded in 2010. Having started a conversation, it wanted to shift it from a centralised office with a magazine, to a grassroots set of networks.  This now includes

  • Four groups of Christian artists in Waikanae, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
  • A social network of over 600 artists and supporters.
  • A comprehensive library of art and faith materials available nationally to artists and students through Knox College, Dunedin Christian artists and activists networking throughout New Zealand.
  • Regional gatherings of artists.
  • All published CS Arts magazines available online (but not boxed:))
  • A monthly prayer newsletter for artists, groups and arts institutions.
  • Artists’ social network: www.csartspace.org.nz
  • An online community where artists and supporters of the visual arts meet and chat online, share ideas, news and information.

They have a forum here, a website here. All the magazines archived here. But not as a complete boxed set, because that will sit pride of place in my office! And maybe one day a research article. But not this sabbatical!

Posted by steve at 08:17 PM

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Testament of Mary: a Lenten resource

I’ve really enjoyed Colin Toibin’s, The Testament of Mary. It’s an imaginative exploration of Mary, with a strong emphasis on a mother’s bewilderment as her son seems to go willing to his death. It’s by no means “orthodox” in theology, but it raises plenty of good questions about the motives of those around Jesus, including the disciples. It certainly makes sense of the fear and helplessness that would be have been faced by a country ruled by an invading army (the Romans) and thus the profound political disturbance that was part of the mission of Jesus.

It’s a small book, easily read in an afternoon.

It’s a literary book and Toibin is a beautiful writer, with a deft insight into the darkness of being human and the pain of loss. It’s no easy feat for a writer to cross genders, and to carry off a book about a figure as important to human history as Mary is ambitious.

While I don’t agree with all the theology, it’s a book that I’d want to read in the weeks leading up to Easter, as it strips bare the pain and politics of the road to Gethsemane. It thus stands as a creative resource for Easter Friday preachers and worship leaders.

Posted by steve at 05:23 PM

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Faith in the midst of violence: the La Faruk Madonna

In a side room at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, is placed the La Faruk Madonna. At first glance, it looks your standard religious fare, three paintings, an angel either side of a Madonna.

But the story behind the paintings is extraordinary, for they are painted on old flour bags in the middle of World War 2. The artist, Giuseppe Baldan, was by a prisoner of war. Hence the backdrop behind the angels and the Madonna is a prisoner of war camp, including the prison fence, the Sudanese desert, a washing line and the huts that held prisoners.

The story is that Italian prisoners of war, captured by the British in North Africa, sought permission in the camp to build a chapel. A chapel needs decoration and so the La Faruk Madonna was painted, an aid for prayer, a source of hope.

As the war ended, the paintings were saved from the camp and were given to the British commander for safe keeping. It was a mark of respect for the humane way he had treated the prisoners and honoured the art.

It is both comforting and disturbing. Comforting in the creativity of humans, even in bleak times. Disturbing in that here were British and Italians worshipping the same God, yet finding ways to kill each other. What did the British think as they saw the angels being painted and as they watched the prisoners turn up for worship week by week, as they heard the prayers to “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM