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Greetings from Cairns airport. I arrived a little early, could only get a 6 am shuttle to the airport from the motel, only to find a long que at Macair – where could all these people be going. There is a minning expo on at Isa. So it meant a long wait to book in. Just as well the early shuttle then. One lady was livid when she was charged $68 extra baggage. She had enough luggage to last a lifetime. And I thought I was taking too much. Anyway this is a non exciting post, just your average boring I’m at the airport post, but just to let you know all is going well. I’m certianly looking forward to arriving at Pormpuraaw – will it be a good as I remember, will I fall straight into the swing of things. That’s always the challenge having so long between drinks so to speak. But of couse you cannot take ‘drinks’ $37 000 fine if you do. More on that one later. Well best get some last ‘city supplies’ before heading off to the middle of nowhere.

I’m just about to shut down my computer so I can pack it and a million other things I need to take with me to Pormpuraaw. Internet access is not entirely reliable there, and then only dial up. So if I have not posted for a while this is most likely the reason. I return on the 15th May. Though hopefully I will be able to post some info about the trip here so you can read what’s happening up there, here.

Just in case people are not sure, you can comment on this blog. Just press ‘comments’ on the top of the article you want to comment on. Some people are sending me emails, which is fine. However, if you post them here, it means others can share in the topic as well.

The Catholic Forum lists 8 Saints as patrons of nursing, some factual some apocryphal. Alexius, Camillus of Lellis and St John of God were men who dedicated their lives to the service of the sick and poor and inspired, or founded male religious communities of nurses. Alexius the son of a wealthy Roman senator, considered to be the ‘Holy Man of God’ was to be married but his fiancee let him pursue his vocation. He lived a life of prayer and teaching the cathechism in the guise of a beggar in the home of his parents. He is the patron St of the Alexian Brothers. Camillus de Lellis  was the son of a military officer. A ‘wayward’ youth, he later joined the Capuchin order, however illness prevented him from taking his vows. He later became administrator of the San Giacomo hospital in Rome and eventually became a priest. He dedicated his life to the service of the sick and poor as a penance his is misspent youth. He founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Sick (the Camellians) who care for the sick in home and hospital. John of God, another wayward youth left the military to purse a vocation of caring for the sick, poor and homeless; giving what he had, begged for those who couldn’t, carried those who would not walk on their own. John founded the Order of Charity and the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of God. Is there a theme running here? Does God call all those wayward youths with misspent childhoods to care for the sick?

Nursing; are you man enough

I saw this poster on a website which chronicles some of the milestones in the history of men in nursing. Apparently in India (250 BC) only men were considered ‘pure’ enough to become nurses. During the Byzantine Empire nursing was also an occupation primarily practiced by men. During the time of the European plagues religious orders of men were established to provide nursing care. The earliest of these were the Alexian Brothers. In the 12th century a group of men and women banded together to care for the victims of the plague. This group were considered unorthodox and heretical because of their activities. Which of course was to simply follow the commandments of Christ. Some of this group, located around the Rhine, formed the origins of the Alexian Brothers; named so because they took on as their patron 5th century St Alexis. The also aparently recieved support from the Franciscan community. Other military, religious and lay communities continued to provide nursing care in the Middle Ages; the Knights Hospitalers, the Hospital Brothers of St Anthony and the Knights of St Lazarus are some of the more well known. St. John of God and St. Camillus de Lellis both started out as soldiers, and later turned to nursing came from this period.

An interesting point they note on this site is that in America from around the 1900s as female nursing organisations became more prevalent and organised men came to be excluded from nursing. With the formation of the Army Nursing Corps in 1901 men were no longer able to serve as nurses, the same was the case during the Korean war. It was only after the later that men were allowed to serve as nurses in the military an the numbers of men serving in civilian nursing roles also grew. Eventually nursing schools that were open exclusively to females began to open their doors to men.

This website provoked my interest partly because of the reference to nursing and male religious communities. I wonder if I’d been raised Catholic (which seems to be the predominate denomination where male religious orders existed, I don’t know if there are any Anglican Religious Orders exclusively for nurses, must find that out) and known of them whether or not I might have ended up as an Alexian or John of God brother. I was also intrigued to learn about the shift from nursing being a predominantly male profession – vocation – to predominantly female; of course the numbers today are still heavily female but the numbers of men are increasing.

Nursing; are you man enough. I had to laugh at that poster. I can vividly recall a female lecturer who stood up in front of my sociology class. Extending her hands out at the shoulder, palms facing down, with fingers loose and wiggling, she said what am I… no one answered … a… she said referring to the female reproductive organs. She then proceeded to tell the few men in my class (well most merely adolescents just out of school) how we did not belong in a woman’s profession. It strikes me now I would have liked to have known this information about men and nursing then that I read today.

I attended my first practice session with Schola last night. It was excellent. I came away feeling enlivened by the experience. It would be easy to be put off in the initial period of learning how to be part of this unique style of prayer and worship; it is of course more than simply being a part of a ‘choir’. Learning to read and pronounce Latin correctly, while deciphering chant notation and getting your voice to end up on the right pitch, all at the same time feels how I imagine it would be to take control of a helicopter (which requires exceptional coordination skills). In other words, a very daunting and perhaps overwhelming task for the novice. If the goal were not worth it, to chant the most beautiful sacred music, the journey would be a futile exercise. As one experiences, as I briefly did in the workshop on the weekend, the inner spiritual resonance of the music within one’s soul, there is the realisation that the journey is indeed worth taking, for the goal is indeed worth it. Unfortunately I’m off on Sunday for a locum up north and then a few school missions and another locum, so it will be a while before I will get back to another practice, but I certainly look forward to it.

This Sunday I attended a workshop on Gregorian Chant, facilitated by Tony Vaughan, and others, from Brisbane’s Schola Cantorum. I have a few CDs of Gregorian Chant, some classical and one or two more contemporary. There is something intensely haunting and spiritual about this music; perhaps I’m stating the obvious given its religious heritage. However, what I mean is that the chant draws you into a space which is different than I’ve experienced with say hymns or choral music. It is a kind of inner-self-space. Not too dissimilar to what I would say I experience in a Taize prayer service. It is a quietly contemplative space, the space where one can hear God.

The chant is at one level simple. There is no complexity of the music when compared to some choral works. And there is no need of accompaniment with large orchestras. Yet, with a few techniques called organum (which gives the chant a polyphonic sound by someone chanting at a prefect fifth or fourth to the rest of the group), and ison  (a continuous note is held by one part of the group whislt the other continue the main chant) the chant develops depth and character. This greatly enhances the ‘drawing’ capacity of the chant.

It was an intensive workshop, covering in a very short period of time, the history of chant, deciphering chant notation, reading and pronouncing latin, and practice with putting it all together in a short chant session in the Church we were at.

Its only been the last few years since I’ve felt comfortable singing, thanks to the supoprt of friends, and in particular Betty Beath who spent time helping me develop my voice and confidence. I still find choral and part singing difficult and it will be ages before I would feel truly confident in a choir. But I enjoy singing. I discovered on the weekend that Chant offers a great deal for me. It does not have the same level of complexity as choral music yet has equally so, if not more, a level a inner-spiritual-awareness. It gives me a space to develop my voice and confidence while chanting the most beautiful pieces of religious works.

I plan to attend practice sessions also facilitated by Tony and Schola. And who knows, when I’m more confident and able to grasp more of the fundamentals of chant I may pluck up the courage to try out for Schola.

Oh, and one thing that was especially beautiful on the day, during our practice sessions some of the children also went off and learned their own pieces. We got to hear them when we all gathered in the church later in the afternoon. Angelic is all I’ll say about that.

Scholar will be running another workshop later in the year, perhaps October, I recommend it, give Tony an email and get him to add you to his contacts to let you know when it will be.

On Saturday I attended one of a series of reflection days designed for those inquiring about ordained ministry within the Anglican Church; Diocese of Brisbane. We began by sharing a brief life sketch by way of introduction. This was followed by some reflections looking at our greatest success, our biggest sense of failure, and our awareness of moments of calling or vocation in our life. I found the reflection day quite beneficial. Although the group was relatively small, due to some technical issues, common themes were occurring in most people’s stories. There was something affirming about hearing strings of similarity among each of our life sketches.

Perhaps the most obvious was an awareness of the persistance of feelings people had with regard to a sense of being called by God toward a particular ministry within the church. I had to laugh when the facilitator had referred to this persistance as the Hound of God. When we looked over our lives we could identify consistent moments when we felt a sense of being hounded by God until a point is reached where we had to at least test this feeling outside of ourselves; hence ending up as inquirers on a reflection day.

I don’t envy the tasks of those involved in discerment, whether that be the inquirer or the Archbishop and his Examining Chaplains. From an inquirer’s perspective it takes a lot of willingness to trust others enough open up yourself and reveal parts of yourself which you would normally keep private. Also, and not speaking for the others but from my own experience, there is the battle to identify what comes from ego, or self, and what comes from God. In other words, where does our sense of calling come directly from Divine Grace and where does it stem from something about us a human beings.

This is where I think the trust and openness is hard, but vital, from an inquirer’s point of view. The Archbishop, as the instrument of unity and person ultimately responsible for ordaining people into the Church of God, through his Examining Chaplains has an equally hard task. How do they as human beings discern the Will of God in the lives of others. Of course a lot of the answer to that comes from how open inquirers are with them, and how much they are willing to reveal of their lives. The other part of the answer comes no doubt from their own (the Arch and his Chaplains) experiences of God in their lives and seeing it lived out in the lives of others.

Over the coming months there will be many opportunities through reflection days, reflection papers, interviews and ultimately selection conference, to try and put what is an external feeling out of ourselves and into the hands of others, with the help of God, to see if we are truly called my God. We will have reflections on the nature of God, the nature of the diaconate and priesthood as well as reflections on our sense of calling or vocation.

For me right now I don’t see as far as ordination. I more think about this as a process of finally putting out my sense of vocation out there for others to reflect on and comment on and see if there is a match. Then, and only then, can we talk about anything else.  

The Most Reverend Archbishop Philip Freier speaks about being a Franciscan Tertiary on ABC’s Religion Report (18th April 07). Philip Freier recently took up his appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne. Since then he has been keen to be ‘out and about’ in the public spaces of Melbourne; meeting people where they are at. In an interview with the Archbishop he was asked how much of this new initiative was related to his being a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis. Franciscan Spirituality is really… has inspired me to see something of a vision of Christianity that is passionately lived in the world (+ Freier). He goes on to speak about his concerns surrounding stem cell research.

It was interesting to hear him speak about how he sees a need for Christians to be present in the world, in the places where people are. I can very much relate to his passion. As anyone who knows me knows I believe that we rely too much on the assumption that the place for religious, deacons, and priests to be is in the bricks and mortar of the Church.

It is true that we need to be part of the established church commuities. However it is also true that our churches are no longer full and people sooner go to a sport game than attend a church service. Sundays and Churches no longer hold a significant place in society. And when people do enter our ‘walls’ we assume them to have been brought up with the same christian upbringing as we had, when a great deal of them have never seen inside a church, except perhaps for weddings, baptisms and funerals.

I have found that the more willing we are to enter the world of the ‘unchurched’ and preach without using words the more likely we are to have a hearing by those who have been lost or forgotten by the church, or have never been part of a Church community. I agree with + Freier when he intimates that it is very much a Franciscan trait to be out in the world meeting people where they are at and taking God’s love to them, rather than them waiting to come to us. There is a great need for the church to see the value and benefit of ‘mission’ deacons and priests who are not tied to the bricks and mortar but are out there preaching the gospel. I am reminded of the saying (I forget who its attributed to so if you know, let me know) you may be the only Gospel that someone will read today.

Just prior to joining the SSF (the Society of St Francis) I was beginning my PhD studies in nursing looking at the concept of Nursing as a Vocation: do nurses still view nursing as a vocation. I of course set that aside when I joined SSF in order to focus on the move to religious life. Six years on and I still find this a phenomenon which interests me. Perhaps more personally these days. Given that the word ‘vocation’ takes on both a religious and secular connotation answering this question already commences with some sense of ambiguity of definition. Definitions of vocation range from purely secular; that is relating to the appointment to a job or profession to purely religious; relating to sense of calling by God to a particular way of life. There are of course those definitions which try to hedge their bets either way.

Since entering religious life, the phenomenon of nursing as a vocation, a calling from God to a particular way of life, has had a particular place in my reflections. I think this is particularly so as I experience the art of nursing with particular revelations about the nature of God and an awareness of the desire to share those revelations or insights with the people of God. Not necessarily in a literal sense of telling people about the spiritual experience itself, however on occasion I have, but more in the sense of being aware of how these revelation insights influence the way in which I interpret and interact with events and people in the world. For example, in the art of nursing I experience an awareness of God’s love for humanity, and thus the desire to express that love to humanity; through the simple act of caring.

I think that this sense of interpreting and understanding the experiences of nursing is vastly different to the understanding of nursing as a purely caring profession. The difference being that on can care for another out of love and charity, or less altruistically for money and career, but that it hold no significant religious experience or sense of being present with the Divine; one can simply experience the joy of caring for another. However, when, in that art of nursing, one is challenged to see the face of God in the person whom they are caring for, and that that experience moves beyond the physical worldly realm to the Spiritual and Divine world then this surely moves beyond an understanding of vocation in a secular sense and is interpreted as a calling by God to a particular way of life.

I found myself thinking more about this today and I did a quick look through nursing literature that has been written on nursing and spirituality and or nursing as a vocation. I was intrigued that the plethora of articles I scanned mostly focused on whether or not nurses had an appreciation for the need to include the concept of spirituality into the care of their clients and patients. The other major area covered seems to be how one can measure or include spirituality into the care of patients. A minor segment of literature focused on the movement of nursing from a vocation to a profession; which was mostly motivated by a desire for nursing to be taken seriously as a profession and for there to be appropriate professional recognition through wages and career pathways. There seemed to be no articles which spoke about how nurses experience nursing either as a vocation in the secular or religious sense. It makes me curious, is this not an area of interest today, are nurses concerned that such discussion will repeal their achievements of professional standing and career prospects, or has the art and vocation of nursing been lost, do nurses no longer feel called by God to a particular way of life but merely a job.

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9/5 - 11/5 Formation Intensive, SFC