Such beautiful images of such a war-torn land...I wonder what it is that these people who have lived through many years of conflict think, as they watch the earth that they work on being torn apart by shells and spilt blood?

From loneliness to solitude.

It's very easy to keep busy, distract oneself, avoid the pain, bury your face in friends, food, summer, whatever. I've found that I have been busier in the last three weeks that I have this entire year. Even though I feel this uneasiness in the pit of my stomach, and a whisper in my ear telling me to slow down and face the music, until now I have been ignoring it. I don't want to face my loneliness. Yet at some point, it always catches up with us. 

I'm reading a book by Henri J. M. Nouwen called Reaching Out. Talking of the loneliness that cripples our individualistic society, Nouwen writes, "It is this basic human instinct of loneliness that threatens us and is so hard to face. Too often we will do everything possible to avoid the confrontation with the experience of being alone, and sometimes we are able to create the most ingenious devices to prevent ourselves from being reminded of this condition. Our culture has become most sophisticated in the avoidance of pain, not only our physical pain but out emotional and mental pain as well." 
He later goes on to say "This difficult road is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness in to solitude. Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it in to fruitful solitude. To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. This requires not only courage but also a strong faith. As hard as ti can be to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement  from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearful play."

I always wondered where the attraction in living a life of solitude was. It seemed to me that to be a nun, or a monk, or to choose any other kind of vocation which would sentence me to a life of silence and solitude and meditation would be cripplingly boring, and to provide that space to face my innermost struggles...it's a scary thought. I recently lost someone very close to me, and it left a bit of a scar. Yet in the midst of my struggle to seal over the holes with anything that may fit so I didn't have to feel the holes gaping wide open for all the world to see, I realised what a blessing it would be to live a life in which I could sit at the feet of Jesus quietly, and just listen to his breath. A life where all the noise, and rush, and hustle and bustle of this crazy, terrifying, beautiful world would be stilled for a moment of silence in awe of the Creator. Where I could seek understanding, healing, and peace. 

This is not to say people have no place in this new solitude. People, I think, are essential. Community is irreplaceable. But I think it is when we can be with somebody, and not have to fill the void with words and deeds, but merely an understanding of each other...that is when we are able to not feel lonely in striving for the companionship of our peers, but filled with gratitude at the privilege of being in their presence. I sat on the beach with a friend yesterday, and in a brief lull in conversation I sat in silence and admired the ocean. And for those ten seconds, I was so appreciative of what little had been shared, the potential for so much more to shared, the ability to be silent, and to share that moment. Jesus is so quiet. To be silent, solitary, I think is the most precious gift of all. For it is in that moment that we are one with our Creator, and all of His creations.

Are we so afraid to step back from the mania? I know I am, most of the time. Yet there is always an oasis in the desert, a clearing in the wilderness, a calm in the storm. A Saviour with open arms. I hurt, yet that hurt is nothing next to love. Hurt inflicted upon me by man has no power next to the love gifted to me by God. To feel peace in my spirit is to be freed from the pain felt in my heart. Yet I must feel this hurt, and this pain, in order to reach deeper and grasp a hold of love, of peace. And it is in this space of loneliness that I experience solitude, a companionable silence in which I embrace my brokenness, and by the power of my God it is turned in to a beautiful mosaic, which is a gift to the world.


Returning to the homeland...

In two days, I will be back home in Auckland for three months of summer.

It's surreal. For 12 months, I've looked at the end of this year and my return to the winterless North as a beacon of hope. My return was a return to my family, the ones I loved, the beaches I grew up on, the arms I grew up in. 
For the last six months, returning home has meant spending three months with those I have waited patiently for...breathless anticipation of the long summer days to come. An escape from a city I love, but have felt cripplingly lonely in.
But now...in the last few weeks, I have begun to feel the first few whispers of trepidation. I'm actually scared to go home...excited, thrilled, overwhelmingly happy, but also nervously scared. Dare I say I've formed some sort of attachment to Wellington?

So much has happened this year, let alone in the last few months. I have changed so much. When I go home, will I be the same Olivia who left, 11 months ago? No. I am slightly older, a little bit wiser, profoundly less naive and most somewhat regretfully more cynical. I hold on to a different hope, and I sing a different song. My heart aches, so much more. And it beats with so much more passion. It has been broken, and it is being healed. I still drink way too much coffee, and I still am not a morning person. I still love words, and am rendered speechless by the beauty in this world. But I am also rendered speechless by the pain my eyes have been opened to, by the suffering prevalent in our society, and by the apathy that infects our hearts and so enrages my soul. 
Where does this leave me, where do I fit?

I am reminded of the story of Ruth. After the death of her husband, Ruth follows her mother-in-law Naomi to Naomi's homeland. When Naomi tries to convince Ruth that she should stay in the town she has always been in, where there will be more opportunity for her to find a new husband and be with the people she knows and loves, Ruth replies Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

I am left wondering where my 'true' place is, if I have one at all. Maybe instead of being in place, instead of fitting in, we are called to be nomadic followers of Christ, like the Israelites were for 40 years, and like Christ's disciples were when he sent them out to spread the good news? Ruth followed her mother for love, and she honoured God with all she had. She left the town where she grew up to be faithful to her only friend. She was a scandalous woman, but her love for Naomi and her determination meant she was later blessed abundantly. I am so conscious that I have no nesting place. Auckland will always be my hometown, and I will always love my family there endlessly. But now, Wellington is a place of whanau, where the community I am currently called to lives. Where will I be in 20 years? Perhaps in India, living amongst the red light district as an advocate for the women who's voices are not heard. Perhaps I will be in Indonesia, working with communities who are affected by the exorbitant levels of deforestation by logging companies. Perhaps I will be in Wellington still, with the beautiful people of this community, doing life with them. Or perhaps I will be back in Auckland, engaging with people there, learning what it means to follow Christ in my hometown and being humbled every day. All I know is the words in Matthew... "So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Lord...where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people. You, God, are my God. Even death cannot separate us, but instead all the glory will point to you and your splendour. I am scared. I am a traveller. But I count myself blessed to be travelling with you, for you.



From Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, 1979

From ‘the Community for Myself’ to ‘Myself for the Community’

A community isn’t just a place where people live under the same roof; that is a lodging house or a hotel. Nor is a community a work-team. Even less is it a nest of vipers! It is a place where everyone – or, let’s be realistic, the majority! – is emerging from the shadows of egocentricity to the light of a real love.

There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interest first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead. Phil 2:3-4

Love is neither sentimental nor a passing emotion. It is an attraction to others which gradually becomes commitment, the recognition of a covenant, of a mutual belonging. It is listening to others, being concerned for them and feeling empathy with them. It means answering their call and their deepest needs. It means feeling and suffering with them – weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice. Loving people means being happy when they are there, sad when they are not. It is living in each other, taking refuge in each other. ‘Love is a power for unity,’ says Denys l’Areopage. And if love means moving towards each other, it also and above all else means moving together in the same direction, hoping and wishing for the same things. Love means sharing the same vision and the same ideal. So it means wanting others to fulfil themselves, according to God’s plan and in service to other people. It means wanting them to be faithful to their own calling, free to love in all the dimensions of their being.
There we have the two poles of community: a sense of belonging to each other and a desire that each of us goes further in our own gift to God and to others, a desire that there is more light in us, and a deeper truth and peace.

Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. 1Cor13:4-7

It takes time for a heart to make this passage from egoism to love, from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community,’ and the community for God and those in need. It takes time and much purification, and constant deaths which bring new resurrections. To love, we must die continually to our own ideas, our own susceptibilities and our own comfort. The path of love is woven of sacrifice.

I will give them a single heart and I will put a new spirit in them; I will remove the heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh instead. Ezek 11;19


Moving day

I've already shared this song before, but I absolutely love it and speaks to me tonight.

I sit in a new bed. In a new room, in a different house. I have moved, from a little box on top of a car park building in the CBD, in to a huge rabbit warren of a house with 7 other people.
My sister called it a commune. I call it following Jesus' calling. It's most probably both.
The thing is, I am scared. I do find that the things God wants me to do are usually the things that scare me the most. Going against my parents expectations and taking a year to study theology ... moving to Wellington to study law ... moving in to an intentional community committed to bringing God's kingdom to the darkest corners of the earth. These things scare the hell out of me.
Funny that. Scaring the hell out of me. I fear my Lord, and love Him so. So much so that I have no choice but to follow my love blindly, afraid and in love.  I witness these amazing transformations as darkness is lit up, and hell is overcome with hope. Yet I am not alone to witness the coming of this beautiful kingdom, because I have whanau with whom to share it with. A community on whom I can lean.
So as my hands tremble, I am suddenly aware of this deep-rooted sense of peace in my belly. We are not alone. We can do this. We are called.

In two weeks I will be back in Auckland for the summer break. It will be the end of my first year in Wellington, back to square one. But so much has changed...as I sit in my old bed, in my old room, in the same old house, I will be a different person. I wonder where the change is visible? How am I different? I can't quite place it, but I have shifted, regardless of my geographical location.
Nelson Mandela said "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." I await this discovery with bated breath.


Here's looking at you, kid.

You've got to love Saturday nights in with leftover Thai takeaways and green tea, watching Casablanca. Favourite movie off all time, hands down. This scene never ceases to make me cry. Rick makes the ultimate sacrifice so that Ilsa can live, giving up his love for her life...it's Keats' Bright Star on black and white film. Why can't my life be played by Ingrid Bergman alongside Humphrey Bogart in 1942?


To love.

To love with all your strength is hard.  I've found that out lately.

I went to a wedding this weekend. It was beautiful, the union of two people from the community I am a part of who truly love and serve God, in the most gentle, witty and humble ways. It was a wonderful wedding, and it struck me...how much work it must take to get to that point. How difficult and trying it is to serve another with grace and humility and selflessness abounding. And how beautiful, rewarding, exciting, wonderful it must be.

I was never the kind of girl to plan her wedding when she was 8 years old. Actually, I never even thought about weddings and the possibility that one day I may have one until the last few years. In fact, when I was 8, I was much more of a tomboy nerd. I was determined to prove myself to the world, prove that I wasn't merely a (tiny) girl, and that I could do all the things boys could. By the time I was 13, I probably was more focussed on proving that I could date all the boys instead. But never marry...it was always more of a response to my desire to prove myself, to be good enough, to be loved. At 17, I was wrestling with what that looked like coming out of high school, seeking healing for the wounds. And now...I feel like my wounds are now scars which tend to hurt me occasionally, a dull stab where I'm not as flexible, not as naive, as I used to be. But they are healed over, nonetheless. And I go to weddings, and adore the flower girls, and admire the bride. I seek out the grooms face as the love of his life walks down the aisle, the surprise and expectation and excitement and joy written in the corners of his mouth. And I allow myself to think...what if one day that is the look someone will give me?

The thought of marriage; of the vulnerability and the trust and the communication and the respect, the sacrifice, the selflessness, the hard work...it scares the heck out of me! It is something that I will never understand until I am in that position. Having never been married, I can't really comment. But I imagine it to be an enthralling, dangerous journey, stomach-twisting and heart-warming all at once. And isn't it breath-taking to think of how that marriage, that union of two people, mirrors the relationship between Jesus and His church? His bride? Revelation 23:1-3 talks of the Kingdom of God, the Holy City dressed beautifully as a bride for her husband. "Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." 

C.S. Lewis said “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Stomach-twisting and heart-warming indeed. Painful selflessness, healing grace, everlasting forgiveness. Oh Lord.


A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, I have no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
A lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is like the falling leaf;
O Jesus, quicken me.

Sylvia Plath


Draw Your Swords

Forced to my knees

This morning, packing up my stuff in to boxes, getting ready to move out of my flat, I came across a letter. Amongst a whole draw full of letters, notes, cards and bits, I pulled out this letter.
...I want you to know that I am passionately and constantly praying for you. I am praying for an OVERFLOWING joy for out creator. For a new fresh understanding of the God we love so much. Of a COMPLETE and overwhelming fulfilment by the Holy Spirit, by our God; a RIDICULOUS sense of peace and passion and fire and burning desire to know Him more. To SEE Him more. To love Him more...and through this, the next part of your journey in OPENING up, and being oh so vulnerable. Girl. soften your heart, open your eyes, be seen, be known, by your God Almighty. Beloved, you are worthy in Christ, as are each and every one of our brothers and sisters...
My beautiful friend had written it to me months and months ago, when I was going through a tough time. And, forgive me for this Steph, but I hardly remember really taking it in when I read it at the time. But that's ok, because today leads me to think that it was in fact written for a time like now. A time like today, to begin this healing process.

I am empty. I am a vessel. But I forgot this...instead of seeking to be open to joy and beauty and love and wonder and amazement and a passion like nothing else, I sought to fill the holes with pointless things. Finite things. Things of desire and temptation and meaningless apathy. And reading these words, I remember; we are not alone. We were created to be in beautiful union with the Creator of the universe. Where else can I go but to You? 
Forced to my knees, overwhelmed with tears, I am suddenly filled with peace. Passion. Remembering who the God is that I serve, what He looks like...glorious, faithful, controversial, wonderful, kind, generous, personal, royal, worthy, infinitely mysterious, pure, holy, just, good, loving. How could I turn away? I am in the hands of a God who calls me to love mercy and do justly, whilst reigning love and justice down upon me and my brothers and sisters. E hoa ma, ina te ora o te tangata. Bless this community, Father. This equal, open family to whom I can run,  be messy with. Who have helped me to see you, once again.

Lord, I'd forgotten what it was like to yearn for you. In the midst of my grief, in the midst of loneliness, in the midst of my helplessness, I have discovered what it is to feel your peace again. It feels like it has been years...and I want nothing more than to be filled with your joy and to love abundantly. I have come from a place of prosperity and riches to a place where I have nothing but you. And I am not afraid anymore; no, for I have nothing left to be afraid of, nothing to lose. But I have learnt to fear the Lord.