Advent Dawns

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Advent: noun, a coming into place, view, or being; arrival
Macquarie Dictionary

Advent
When God comes
comes again:
maybe an Indian this time
or a Bantu (what do I know?)

When God comes
comes again:
maybe a woman this time
or even a woman-and-man
a couple.

When God comes
comes again:
maybe in the many
the new society
where justice dwells.

When God comes
comes again:
maybe the city of God
the land of the goddess of
reconciliation between
people and nature.

When God comes
comes again:
from one end of the earth
to the other.

This Kurt Marti poem in Flowing Streams: an Anthology of Anthologies seems a good place to start as another Advent season dawns.

It invites us to notice God in the unexpected and the unlikely, in the spaces between what we long for and what is.

Advent calls us to wake up, to be present and to clear a pathway for the coming of God.

Twice this week, I drove past the freeway exit that takes me home. Yes, I hear the call to pay attention!

Advent calls us to mindfulness.

When God comes
comes again:
maybe …

Sing and Make a Joyful Noise

 

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O sing to the Lord a new song


Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

From Psalm 98, this one of the Scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday. Inspired by it, I looked to see what I might find on TedTalks under the topic ‘sing’. I’ve got to say the choices are not overwhelming, but these three claim my attention for different reasons:

Bobby McFerrin plays the audience as an instrument is a short clip in which he demonstrates that the Pentatonic Scale is hardwired into our brains. He makes the connection between notes and neurons in what is a fun watch.

Claron McFadden: singing the primal mystery goes further. She claims that music is a primal instinct and connects it to meditation. It makes me want to connect it to prayer. A beautiful and fascinating watch.

But, my favourite is Will Hewitt, Singing yourself alive. this seven minutes contains some profound ideas and quotable quotes including this one:

Time bows to authentic commitment and it stretches to accommodate it

Will Hewitt committed himself to sing for fifteen minutes every day for a year and did it. He discovered, among other things, that the world was already alive with singing and once he entered the practice, singing, making a noise, connected him to himself, the world around him and the world beyond. Watch it with others and allow some time to reflect on his findings.

And then, in the words of the psalmist, Sing and make a joyful noise.

The 2016 AFL Grand Final Win

How are we to explain the 2016 AFL grand final win? The seventh-placed Western Bulldogs have defeated the minor premiers, Sydney, by 22 points.

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Shall we put it down to:

Belief
Tenacity
The Coach

or …

The Boys
The Bont
The Bye

All of these, and more, will be under the microscope and certainly, all have played their part, but even the commentators recognise there’s also something more mystical at play in this ‘miraculous, fairy-tale’ win, the ‘dream-come-true’.

Let us then include:

Timeliness
Momentum
Longing
Fidelity

The Western Bulldogs have a strong band of loyal, faithful supporters who have wished and willed and sighed and prayed for this win. This year, and especially during this last month of finals games, those supporters have been joined by countless others: well-wishers, dreamers, sympathetic second-team supporters (like me), and onlookers. Together, we have held our collective breath, crossed our fingers, whispered and shouted our desire and imagined this win.

And all of the above have prevailed; truly a quantum entanglement.

Western Bulldogs fans watching on a big screen outside the Sun Theatre in Yarraville celebrate their team's win over Sydney Swans in the AFL Grand Final. Picture: Andrew Henshaw

Western Bulldogs fans watching on a big screen outside the Sun Theatre in Yarraville celebrate their team’s win over Sydney Swans in the AFL Grand Final. Picture: Andrew Henshaw

 

 

Wonder Watch in the Face of Fear

Yesterday, I woke up to a discussion about the poll findings that one in two Australians want a ban on Muslim immigration. Later in the day I stumbled across this podcast of Dr Rachael Kohn interviewing Irish poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama, which offered me a way of thinking about it.

He read one of his poems, which contained the line

Who has taught us to fear?

A very good question.

Further into the interview, talking about differences in language, he said, ‘pain is never exhausted by language’ and invited his hearers to a stance of curiosity over issues of pain.

This word, ‘curiosity’, in Irish includes the idea of ‘wonder watch’. Wonder watch first puts me in mind of wonderful things – a magnificent sunrise/set, glorious colour, but Ó Tuama posed the question,

How can we observe pain and argument with wonder?

He called us to a spirituality that respects pain.

Thinking about this interview afterwards, I found myself composing my own Wonder Watch. What are the things that stir the snake-like coil of fear in me? What causes fear to stir, raise its head, prepare to strike?

What stirs the fear in you?

Let us seek to observe our fear with wonder and maintain a Wonder Watch in the face of it.

 

wonder-watch

 

Yellow Flowers

 

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Yellow flowers have sprung up in recent weeks along the Western Highway and Deer Park Bypass. This afternoon, I noticed at least three different varieties: small wattle bushes, clumps of bright yellow flowers standing out against the grasses and tiny flowers on long stems waving in the breeze.

I suppose the wattle bushes have been planted, but the other two have simply sprung up along the roadside and in the median strips, unbidden and largely unremarked.

When the sun is out, they shine and nod at the passing traffic. More than that, they serve as a kind of resistance to the landscape with its concrete and every-spreading development. For instance, they are prolific along the fence that borders the new Ravenhall Prison site currently under construction.

They were here before us and will continue long after we have gone, these humble flowers; not a ‘host of golden daffodils’, but all the same, ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’.

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Blindsided by a Shared Past

Making small-talk over coffee
The obligatory question:
What do you do?
Oh, really? Where?
And before that …
When were you there?

A shift, the widening of eyes,
Comprehension dawning.
She’s falling, grabbing for purchase, failing
Plunging back to the worse day of her life.
You ….

Now I’m back there with her
Not my worst day, but a terrible day
Memorable for all the wrong reasons
Unwillingly, reluctantly shared.

We are both stunned
Awkwardly concerned for the other
Unable to recover.
Neither of us will sleep tonight.

 

Now, What Kind of People Will We Be?

A scheduled monthly meeting
The usual agenda items
A last minute inclusion:
A visit from the highest level

It is my unhappy duty …
I can only give you limited information
All communication between you must cease
Make every effort to refrain from speculation

Mouths open, air sucked
Eyes wide, shoulders slumped
Gut-punched and winded
We are plunged into a vacuum

Then, faltering words
Grasping at meaning-making
First attempts at management
Tears, anger, doubt

Left with fallen pieces
Questions with no answers
An unspecified time of uncertainty
Now, what kind of people will we be?

Rock pile (3)

Talking About Dying

The Sapre Room

 

I’ve Just finished reading Helen Garner’s book, The Spare Room. Here’s a brief review:

Helen prepares her spare room to host her sick friend who is coming to Melbourne from Sydney to undergo alternative cancer treatment. The three weeks that Nicola stays with her turn Helen’s world upside down, test their friendship and challenge everything Helen thinks she knows about herself.

If anyone else but Helen Garner had written this book, I would have put it back on the shelf. But trusting in Helen’s ability to write about the tough subject (having read This House of Grief), I took a deep breath and dived in. I’m glad I did.

The Spare Room is a meditation on friendship, dying and living with the dying. It is brutally honest as it ranges across the complex emotions that arise for everybody when facing cancer. It is a brutal disease and the treatments are brutal. Everyone is vulnerable and it brings out the best and the worst in patients, carers and medical practitioners alike.

Helen struggles with Nicola’s approach, but as the palliative care nurse tells her, ‘that’s one way of doing it’. Likewise, this book is one way of exploring the subject – brutally honest and in places, unexpectedly funny.

Yesterday,  a cross-party state committee delivered a report recommending the Victorian State Government legalise assisted dying for people suffering from serious and incurable conditions. The debate around this will be fierce, I’m sure, but perhaps that’s another way of doing it.

We need to talk about dying, ways of doing it, ways of living with dying – our own and that of those we love, and ways of preparing.

Janet Morley in her book, All Desires Known, offers this prayer:

When I Come to Die

Prayer for the dying, and when preparing for death

When I come to die,

give me companions:

cheerful, practical,

able to walk the edge with me

and look me in the eye.

Until that time,

grant me to use fully

each day, each hour,

open-hearted, knowing your love,

savouring my life.

 To this, I add my Amen.

World Environment Day 2016

World environment day 2016Today is World Environment Day. Established by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Association in 1972, it’s celebrated annually on June 5th.

To mark the day falling on a Sunday this year, Uniting Justice Australia prepared a resource pack tied into the Lectionary readings for use in today’s services. Here’s an edited version of a story, written by Rev. Eseta Waqabaca-Meneilly, from these resources:

60-year-old Lionola in Tuvalu is packing her woven coconut basket with items she will take with her to the new place. She will have to learn to call this new place ‘home’.  What will this new home be like, she wonders. She hasn’t even been to this other island, also in the South Pacific. All she knows is that it’s called Koro, a place that doesn’t have the rising seawater problems that her islands have.

She neatly folds in some clothes and items she will need. So many things she can’t take with her – flowers and food from her garden which are now saltwater-ridden and will not grow well anywhere; her beautiful pride of Tuvalu handcrafted mats, fans and shell necklaces that she had painstakingly learnt to weave and thread from her mother and grandmother as she was growing up. She may not be able to recreate these in her new `home’. The pandanus leaves will be wrong, the stain, the texture. All wrong. Lionola starts to cry into her handkerchief.

The plane will be here tomorrow to take her and some relatives to Koro. There is no hope. She suddenly brightens up and wipes away tears. There is hope! She reaches to the bottom of her basket and pulls out two books, a Bible and a hymn book, both written in the Tuvalu language. Her hope is in these books. It is called God.

One of the Lectionary readings today comes from the Hebrew scripture found in 1 Kings 17:8-24. Set against the backdrop of drought and famine, it tells the story of a widow who is about to prepare what she thinks will be the last meal she and her son will eat. Into this desperate place comes the prophet, Elijah, who asks her to share this last precious meal with him. A big ask! When our resources are depleted and we’re running on reserve, we are tempted to clutch what we have to ourselves and harden ours hearts towards others, to turn our compassion down to zero.

This is why the story from Tuvalu moves me – I think of myself as being concerned about climate change. I’ve attended protest events, waved a placard! I worry about what kind of world my grandchildren will inherit. But I’m not really under threat, living as I do in Melbourne; at least, not a threat that I can see. I’m not going to lose my home, my country. Unlike Lionola.

The sobering reality is that the threat is very real to people not that far away from me and I have barely given them a thought.

Mandala created by Abi, Tylden Uniting Church, World Environment Day, 2016

Mandala created by Abi, Tylden Uniting Church, World Environment Day, 2016

Rev Dr Ji Zhang is quoted in the Uniting Justice Australia resources:

Climate Change, if we look closely and honestly, is about suffering. It is a modern doctrine of suffering written in environmental language and supported by scientific evidence. This suffering has a myriad of appearances. What the climate crisis teaches us is something about ourselves. Climate change is not just an environmental crisis, but also a crisis of humanity. Its essence is brokenness …

Taking action on climate change is a way of making a public confession, but also an invocation for God’s life to transform us into hope.

I like this idea of action including confession and invocation in respect to climate change. Confession helps me stare into the abyss and come face to face with what ought not to be. Invocation or prayer, especially contemplative prayer, brings me back to hope: that the universe is teeming with the life-giving energy of an all-loving God, all is not lost. Thanks be to God!