Tag Archives: spirituality

The Fragile Heart – Tertiary Charles Ringma’s latest book

Book review – A Fragile Hope: Cultivating a Hermitage of the Heart – Charles Ringma tssf
Publisher: Cascade Books
ISBN 9781725287013
Reviewed by Terry Gatfield tssf

Charles Ringma comes as no stranger to the bookshelves of many Christians in Australia and to many in the international community. Whereas most theologians have developed one major field of enquiry Ringma has scanned, explored and developed an extensive range of theological pursuits and avenues of interest. Often these aspects have been expressed through a large range of penned semi-devotional works, amongst them Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Ellul, Nouwen, Martin Luther King and Merton, as well as scholarly works which include a Commentary on Judges and Hearing the Ancient Wisdom.

To that are added a number of pastorally-related books, such as the Art of Healing Prayer and a number of books on poetry, while he is also the editor of many a collection of Christian-focused articles emanating out of Asia and Australia. His latest book, A Fragile Hope: Cultivating a Hermitage of the Heart, brings the total to twenty-seven publications. His extensive repertoire makes his latest book so interesting.

It is rare for theologians to write in the first person for good and not so good reasons. Generally, that has been a process adopted by Charles. He has the ability to skilfully abstract himself from the subject of his engagement. Self-disclosure is only rarely seen at the margins, if at all, in his previous works. Yet, his latest book is substantively different.


A Fragile Hope takes us on his personal journey of reflection and review following a 6-month sabbatical in a Hermitage. It is a very unusual book that highlights the big theological and social questions of the day though in a very tight and concise format. In particular, these are issues that relate to his life journey and, more specifically, to his struggles and engagement with the dilemmas of the contemporary socio-political-economic and religious western world of a Christian who desires to walk in the footsteps of Christ while maintaining faithfulness to the scriptures. It deals also with the big deep questions of how he must live and the tensions and paradoxes that are disturbing to him. This book is different in that it is about Charles Ringma and his journey though it also echoes the journey of others who have walked that path. He seems to draw from many of the saints of old. It is he who bears his mind, his heart and his soul. But don’t be fooled, this is not a narcissistic exercise in navel gazing; it is a time of listening at the altar of the authors’ confessionals. Charles is a wordsmith who skilfully and subtly takes us on his journey as we are perhaps faced with the same tensions and dichotomies of daily living in the Kingdom of God, especially in a western context. It is insightful, inspirational, challenging and, sometimes, disturbing.

The take-home message that I have personally drawn from this is of an increased hope – a greater and deeper hope to see and live in the Kingdom of God in my daily life, to be in the world but not of it nor conformed to it. To live in the transformational zone. I think a slow daily and deeply reflective reading of the book will assist that process for me, and I think for many of the readers.

I commend this book as not one to simply fill a space on the bookshelf but one to assist reflection and review of the pilgrimage journey for the thinking Christian. It is a very practical and insightful book which is relatively free of theological jargon and it would be an ideal read for individuals seeking a deeper more meaningful Christian faith experience. It is an accessible companion of about one hundred pages and it is broken into twenty-eight chapters, each loaded with nourishment and wisdom. It is incredible value at $25.

November 2021


Blessed are Christians through the Pandemic

Irene Alexander and Christopher Brown (editors),
To Whom Shall We Go? Faith responses in a time of crisis,
Cascade 2021
Paperback ISBN 9781725289550
Hardback ISBN 9781725289567
eBook ISBN 9781725289574
Available from the publishers, Koorong, or from the authors at holyscribblers.blogspot.com
Hardback $40, eBook and Paperback $25

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Part of us wants to pretend the Coronavirus pandemic has not happened, and that the Church can go back to its old ways after the worst of this is over. I have no doubt, however, that there will be enduring changes, not least in the way Church organisations use technology.

The collective of Christian writers behind To Whom Shall We Go, who call themselves the “Holy Scribblers”, are also convinced of permanent change. Their interest, as shown in this series of eleven essays, is in changes to our spiritual lives more than technology.

The book is loosely structured around the Beatitudes and this structure gives the book an optimistic feel: we Christians will be stronger and our faith will be deeper – we will be more blessed – because of living through this moment. Their grounds for optimism are historical. We have before lived through past pandemics and challenges and emerged changed and stronger.

The authors are an eclectic mix of academics and thinkers who are looking for thoughtful Christian readers, clergy and lay. Two Franciscan Tertiaries, Terry Gatfield and Charles Ringma, are among the contributors. As is always the case with essays from diverse authors, individual readers will find some essays stronger than others. For example, Chris Mercer’s explorations of Desert Father Evagrius’ “eight deadly thoughts” (gluttony and lack of thankfulness for food, sexual lust, sadness, boredom and apathy, vainglory and pride) resonate for me.

I have some quibbles with the structure of the book. Each section gave rise to prayers and questions for reflection. The reflection questions were at the very end of the book. In the eBook format, especially without hyperlinks, this rendered the questions almost useless.

The prayers were crafted along quite traditional lines, so some could be used or adapted, for example, for intercessions at the Eucharist. I found them a bit too stolid, with none of the creativity of the stunningly beautiful prayers of another Australian, Craig Mitchell, in his recent Deeper Water (Mediacom).

To Whom Shall We Go is a timely book and will stimulate lively thinking about where God is now leading God’s Church.

Coronavirus & The Noon Day Demon

The Coronavirus and the Monastic “Noonday Demon”

By Charles Ringma tssf

While I don’t know how you have been coping (I was going to say “travelling”- but that is rather inappropriate) with the present “lock-down” due to Covid-19, I do know how this has impacted me, and I do hear that many are experiencing negative emotional/mental impacts.

So, let me share something and make a link with the Monastic “noonday demon.” I won’t be surprised if you think that the latter sounds rather strange!

With the “lock-down” I was first rather happy. Being an introvert, I was happy to be at home and felt I had more time than usual to get on with research and writing, although I did miss going to the library.

However, as time went on several things began to happen. The first, was too much of a focus on the pandemic. And since I come from the Netherlands and have lived and worked in Asia and in Canada, I was constantly looking at what was happening in these countries as well as in Australia. Secondly, I was beginning to feel despondent particularly when certain countries seemed to make such poor responses to the crisis. Thirdly, I have become increasingly concerned as to what will happen in a post-coronavirus world. Will things go back to normal? Or will there be significant changes in our world? And finally, I have been impacted by a sense of boredom. Everyday seems so much like the day before. And tomorrow the day will probably be like today.

And it’s the latter that brings me to Monasticism.

If there is anything that is true about the Monastic community, it is the “sameness” and regularity of each day. As a consequence, monks have had to come to terms with the problem of acedia. Simply put, this Greek term means apathy/boredom/torpor. More deeply, it means “absence of care” and a person “afflicted by acedia refuses to care or is incapable of doing so.” This was called dealing with the “noonday demon,” because the heartbeat of Monastic life is attentiveness to God, one’s inner being, the community, and concern for the wider world. Acedia was seen as a temptation.

In the light of this, I wish to make a simple point – I am having problems with “sameness.” And this is not surprising since life in the modern world is about the opposite. It is about distraction, diversity, travel, and living with multiple options.

When this is no longer possible it is understandable that one may become frustrated and even depressed. Thus, mental health impacts of the coronavirus are very real for this and many other reasons.

If you are feeling the same, you may want to share how you are dealing with the “noonday demon”? What I am trying to do is to embrace a practical asceticism. I don’t need travel, holidays, or a night at the movies in order to be at peace and to live with gratitude. I can be thankful for what this day brings, even it is much the same as yesterday. Moreover, I need avoid seeking distraction in order to feel ok. Distraction cannot possibly meet my needs. And finally, I need to wrestle with my most basic need – why am I not at peace with what God gives me in this “ordinary” day? That is my challenge!

Charles Ringma, tssf.

Teeter-totter spirituality

Matthew 11:28-30

When we moved our young family to the United States, we couldn’t find a ‘see-saw’ anywhere. When eventually we found a playground with a see-saw, we were told it was called a ‘teeter-totter’. On reflection, the American name is more descriptive than ‘see-saw’: ‘teeter-totter’ describes the way two children play on the equipment.

Each child sits at her end of the long plank and balances up and down. Two ends, a plank, and an elevated pivot are all that it takes to make a see-saw.

Jesus describes a spiritual see-saw at the end of this Sunday’s Gospel reading. There are two ends to the see-saw: one end is ‘Come unto me … and rest’. The other end is ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me’ (Matthew 11:28-30).

These are two poles of Christian life. At one end is the delightful world of prayer, of resting in God, of basking in a relationship with the One who utterly accepts us. At the other end, is the world of ministry, of efforts for the Gospel, of actively caring for others.

Spirituality and pastoral care, being loved by God and loving others. The see-saw reminds us that, though there may be two ends, it is one plank. In the end you cannot separate prayer and ministry.

In the Franciscan tradition, we say we serve God in the Three Ways of ‘Prayer, Study and Work’. These are the three activities into which all Christians are invited. ‘Study’ is like the vertical beam of the see-saw which enables us to pivot between Prayer and Ministry. ‘Study’ is learning from Jesus (Matthew 11:29), considering mindfully both our prayer and our work for the Kingdom.

This is the foundation of the Franciscan idea of an active-contemplative spirituality.

What we learn is that prayer and ministry cannot be separated. They are the same plank, the same life. Some Christians are tempted to spend ‘sweet hours of prayer’, retreating to the safety of spirituality, and never venturing out to practise on others the love which God lavishes on us.

Some find it easy to ignore the pesky questions about God and prayer and put all their effort into social activism, caring for the refugee, standing up against racism, feeding the hungry – all fantastic Franciscan activities – and forget that it is not sustainable. We need also to be fed ourselves, and nurtured and healed.

The wisdom of Jesus is that both are needed: ‘Come unto me…’ and ‘Take my yoke upon you.’ The challenge of the end of this Sunday’s Gospel reading is this: how is your balance on the teeter-totter? Do you move ‘up and down’ between prayer and ministry, or are you stuck at one end or the other? What ‘study’ do you need to help integrate spirituality and ministry?

Coronavirus, liminality and meditation

Let me make clear that there is nothing frivolous about this heading and this is not a flippant suggestion that liminality is some weird psychology and that meditation is a cure for coronavirus.

This reflection also in no way seeks to undermine all that we need to do to stay medically as safe as we can, and to stay connected and caring in appropriate ways.

But it is most likely that most of us will suddenly find that life is no longer “normal.” That our normal routines and rhythms have disappeared and that we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. This just goes to show how much we are creatures of habit and of regularity.

When these patterns of living suddenly change, and particularly when this is due to external factors, many feel that they have been “thrown off their perch.” Scholars call this entering into a “liminal” space. Liminality has the idea of being in unfamiliar territory and in an “in-between” space. The old has suddenly been interrupted and the new is unclear and uncertain. While one may pine for the “old” and impatiently seek to grab the “new,” the liminal space invites us to something different. While this difference may well involve impatience, we need to embrace a creative waiting. And in this waiting the most productive impulse is “what can I learn here,” and “what may need to change,” and “what new things/patterns need to emerge”? Thus, liminality is akin to pregnancy or being in a “womb-like” state.

Also, we may find that we have more “time on our hands” than usual. This is particularly true of those who can no longer temporarily go to work or who have permanently lost their jobs. And while some will constructively make the most of this extra time, for others this may only increase their anxiety. And this may well result in unhelpful and even destructive forms of behaviour.

One positive and challenging move is to become more self-reflective. The well-known Australian journalist, Paul Kelly, has made the point that the cultivation of “a strong inner life is essential” at this time. He goes on to note that this has certainly not been a preoccupation of “contemporary culture.” And ends with the probing question: “do people [still] know what an inner life means”?

Towards an answer to this challenging question, here are some basic suggestions:

First of all, don’t binge out on all daily barrage of news. Don’t become fixated. Be selective in listening to reliable news sources.

Secondly, develop some new routines in your daily life. This may involve some more time in the garden or walking in the park or reading a good novel or playing games with your children.

Thirdly, in thinking of others find new ways to remain connected, while staying safe.

Fourthly, seek to also become more attentive to yourself.

Fifthly, set some quiet time aside each day to think about some of the following basic issues –
a] How are these changes impacting me: physically, relationally, economically and spiritually?
b] What am I most anxious and concerned about?
c] What changes for the better can I make in these difficult circumstances?
d] What strengths or weaknesses of mine are coming to the fore in this changed environment?
e] What can I hope for regarding the future?

In quietly engaging these and related questions one may use deep breathing techniques, differing forms of prayers, journaling, and art or music.

This call to turn “inward” is most appropriate, not only because of the changed circumstances, but also because this is something we have neglected in the more ordinary realities of life where we are busy, distracted, preoccupied, and non-reflective. In normal life one minute of mindfulness does little to ground and orient us.

And the turn “inward” is not about selfishness. It is to become more aware of ourselves in order to relate better to others and life around us.

For those who are happy to do some exploring within the Christian faith tradition, here are some rich resources you may wish to engage in order to deepen your reflections and your meditative or contemplative practices –

St. Augustine. The Confessions. Translator Maria Boulding. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001.

Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works. Editor Emilie Griffin. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Ilia Delio. Franciscan Prayer. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2004.

Hildegard of Bingen: Selections from Her Writings. Editor Emilie Griffin. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love. Translator Clifton Wolters. London: Penguin, 1966.

Bernard McGinn, ed. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: The Modern Library, 2006.

J. Philip Newell. Celtic Treasure: Daily Scriptures and Prayers. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2005.

The Desert Fathers. Translator Helen Waddell. New York: Vintage, 1998.

So, keep safe. Stay connected as appropriate. Change some of your routines. Don’t be afraid of this “in-between” space. Do become more reflective. And journey a little deeper into the rich resources of Christian spirituality.

Shalom,

Charles Ringma, tssf.
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