I am delighted to introduce our next Wisdom Council member to you, Cheryl Macpherson. Cheryl and I met about ten years ago when we were both in the same spiritual direction formation program, the Pacific Jubilee Program. I remember being impressed by Cheryl’s quiet strength and wisdom during that time and was delighted to later reconnect when she participated in the online class Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist. Now she brings her gifts as monk, artist, and spiritual director as co-facilitator of this class along with Stacy Wills, another Wisdom Council member. Read on for Cheryl’s reflections:
Christine’s invitation to write a guest post about my way of being a monk in the world and an artist in everyday life has taken me on a pilgrimage tracing connections and following threads that have been woven into the pattern of my life. They are the warp and weft of my Monkish tendencies and creative inclinations.
Many of my early memories involve time spent out doors in the stunning natural beauty of New Zealand. I always felt my heart open and my spirit respond to some mysterious then unnamed goodness when out in nature. I remember singing songs which welled up from someplace deep within and having conversations with this mysterious other when walking alone. These days it is a joy to gather with a group of ‘Sacred Web’ women once a month to sing songs created by Carolyn McDade. Through her music, songs and singing she helps us deepen human consciousness and understand ourselves as part of a living planet. This singing offers a way to both lament all that is being lost to us and sing songs of hope. My heart is opened in both new and old familiar ways. I also recognise that the poems which bubble up from the same well as those early songs are another colour of this thread of creativity winding its way into the tapestry.
My father was an avid photographer and took great pride in awards won in the local camera club competitions. I trace my own love of photography to his influence and the Box Brownie that I received as a gift. One of my first connections with the Abbey was through an image sent to Christine who then asked permission to post it. You just never know where a thread will lead! These days contemplative photography is a daily practice. Receiving images through my camera lens is a process that keeps me focused on being here now and really seeing the world. Not just the conventionally beautiful but the whole cycle of life in all its manifestations. Practicing Visio Divina with images that call to me helps to deepen the process of exploring what they have to teach me.
One way I live as my monk self in the world today is by simply being present to creation in the way that I was as a child bringing with me a rekindled sense of wonder and reverence. Being, allows me to slow down, breathe deeply and sink into the place where I am. Anne Lamott would say, “just be where your butts are and breathe” This simple way of being really present and letting life touch me somehow leads me closer to my heart, the heart of creation and the source of all that is. Listening, paying attention with my whole being and loving with my whole heart the place I find myself is not easy. I often fall down and have to begin again which is part of the monk’s journey. Sometimes though I find that I am graced with an exquisite awareness of the sacredness of every living thing and a realisation of my tiny place in the whole web of life. I am drawn to the connection between the visible and invisible worlds which the Celts saw as interwoven. One of my favourite prayers from J Philip Newell’s Celtic Psalter “Sounds of the Eternal” begins “In the gift of this new day, in the gift of the present moment, in the gift of time and eternity intertwined let me be thankful let me be attentive let me be open to what has never happened before” “Each moment contains a hundred messages from God” Rumi said. Listening with the ears and seeing with the eyes of the heart makes all the difference.
For me living into a life of monk and artist of everyday life has a lot to do with deeply listening to my heart and becoming more real. Kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit allowing myself to be loved into life. It is about being open to receive the ongoing, often painful gift of becoming a more whole and fully alive human being. Having a sense of humour is essential.
Silence and solitude are nourishing for me. As an introvert I need to make sure that I have time apart after lots of social interaction but in quite another way surrendering and opening to the ground of being in meditation or prayer bring me home. A daily practice of Centering Prayer morning and evening mark the transitions into and out of the day. Communities of support like the Abbey, having my own spiritual guide and a faith community are some of the ways I receive encouragement and feedback on the way.
For 13 years I’ve been privileged to walk along side and learn with others who are exploring their own spiritual paths. As a monk in the world I welcome them, offer hospitality and a safe space for sharing their sacred stories. Each one reverenced as an expression of divine grace. Listening with them and opening prayerfully in unknowing to guidance from Holy Wisdom is joy full work. I feel a deep connection to the long line of those who have been anam cara/ soul friends over the centuries.
This poem written while participating in the “Way the Monk, Path of the Artist” course continues to express my intention today.
I’m going to start living like a monk.
Rising early from the soft warmth of my bed
to join the birds in their full-throated morning melodies of praise and joy.
Letting go of my need to guard time.
Living in tune with the rhythm of each new day.
Listening deep within.
Risking surrender to refining love.
With each breath, each relationship, each encounter with beauty
becoming more real.