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!

 

Spirit-Wind

Judy widswept (3)I am not a fan of the wind. I’m not talking about the more romantic notion of a gentle breeze on a summer’s day that brings relief from the heat or whispers through overhead branches. No, I’m talking about the kind of wind that rearranges carefully arranged hairstyles, that wraps the laundry around the clothesline, that dumps plumes of red dust on my car and my windows, that sets off the sensor lights at the front door, which in turn sets off the dogs, that roars up and down the side of our house and whistles through cracks and crannies – you get the idea.

I am not a fan of the wind, but I have to stop and consider the reality that wind is a strong metaphor for the Spirit of God. The coming of the spirit was accompanied by a sound like the rush of a violent wind.

Some years ago, I attended a retreat at Queenscliff. It was winter and the weather was stormy. When I ventured out, I did so with lots of layers – hat, coat, scarf, gloves. On one occasion, I rugged up to go outside to walk the labyrinth. The wind was roaring, chilling my face, biting my nose and ears.

Chartres labyrinth

Chartres labyrinth

If you’ve ever walked a labyrinth, you’ll know that it twists and turns back on itself as you make your way into the centre, so one moment the wind was full into my face, the next it was pushing me from behind. At first, I persevered – I ducked my head, buttoned my coat up higher, held onto my hat and tried to keep my scarf up around the lower part of my face. But, there came a point where I decided it was too much, I would give it up rather than fight the wind and that’s when I heard very clearly, not a voice from heaven, but in my spirit, ‘turn your face into the wind’.

My first response was, ‘I don’t think so’, but the sense of the message was so strong that I eventually lifted my head, took off my hat and let the wind blow. That’s when I remembered that one metaphor for the Spirit of God is wind. God is in the wind.

Later, I walked the beach in this wild weather. The water was choppy and grains of sand stung my face, both kicked up by the wind. The tide was coming in and as I walked, the breaking waves washed away my footprints. At the time, there were a number of things happening in my experience which I knew would bring turmoil and change that I didn’t want it. But walking in the wind – first the labyrinth and then the beach, reassured me that the Spirit is in the wind. Together, we would weather the coming storms.

On the day of Pentecost, the first sign of what was happening was the sound like the rush of a violent wind. The inclusion of the word, ‘violent’ in this description tells us that it wasn’t a comforting sound.

When the Spirit comes, the experience is not always comfortable. Sometimes, a violent wind rearranges our carefully arranged lives, chills our faces and strikes fear into our hearts. Sometimes we are confused and amazed and perplexed so that we want to deny movement of the Spirit. We may even want to simply say ‘no’, or to explain it away.

Pentecost invites us to open ourselves to the holy in-breathing of the Spirit of life in whatever way the Spirit comes. Despite my dislike of the wind, I want to be ready to give my ‘yes’.

Pentecost Prayer

Spirit…
energy of the dance…
promise in the water…
rush in the wind…
rhythm in the word…
poetry of the faith…
silence in the horror…
patience in the waiting…
question in the wonder…
curve on the horizon…
brightness in the sun…
speed in the light…
life in the resurrection…

Come Spirit…
be it all…
and bring us into renewal once more…

~ written by Roddy Hamilton, and posted on Mucky Paws 

Photo taken at Faith and Fabric exhibition at Brunswick Uniting Church on 09 November 2014

I took this photo at Faith and Fabric exhibition at Brunswick Uniting Church on 09 November 2014

 

 

That They May be One

‘That they may be one’; this is the prayer Jesus prayed for those who would believe in him long after he was gone. It’a a prayer that continues to reverberate as Christ believers still behave in ways that undermine the unity of the Christian church and thus, the credibility of the idea that God is at work in the world.

Inspired by a retreat that I attended last month, which introduced me to the idea of Quantum Entanglement I’ve been challenged and excited by the lectionary readings in recent weeks with their emphasis on how our relationships with each other have the power to change our surroundings and indeed, the world.

When we observe the other with love, particularly that prickly, unlikeable other; that has the power to make a statement to the watching world about discipleship: quantum entanglement. When we love our enemy and pray for our persecutor; that has the power to push back the darkness inherent in enmity: quantum entanglement.

When we desist from labelling the clean and unclean, that has the power to change perceptions and the history of the church: quantum entanglement.

Whenever the church, empowered by the Spirit of God, allows that its many expressions and diversity of views are one under God, observers catch a glimpse of God in Christ. This, in turn, enables something of the love of God to break through: quantum entanglement.

Unity is not easy; it takes effort, but the power of unity is more than we can know or understand – it’s a power to change the world: quantum entanglement.

that they may be one

Brand New Consciousness

A simple question:

‘Do you want to be made well?

No easy answer.

 ∼

Walls already built

Reasons why we can’t or won’t

That’s the way it is.

Yet, invitation:

‘Stand up, take your mat and walk’

Brand new consciousness.

New Consciousness


Inspired by  the Gospel of John 5:1-9

Thanks for Listening

I met him last week on the steps on The Royal Women’s Hospital. He was coming up, while I was going down. He spoke to me. I hesitated, he stopped.

‘Do you work here?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I said, stopping too.

‘What do you do then?’

‘I’m a minister of religion,’ I told him. A mistake.

He immediately pounced; began to tell me about experiences he’d had, religious and otherwise. About his girlfriend’s experiences, how young she was and his need for someone with more knowledge.

It was raining. I had an umbrella, but he was getting wet. I angled my brollie in an attempt to shelter him a little. He didn’t seem to notice and talked on, asking me questions but leaving me no time to answer. He didn’t need answers.

He had a theory, a conspiracy theory. Inwardly, I groaned, but none-the-less decided I would hear him out. A mega-virus with the capacity to wipe us all out. He had a sample of it with him and he held up a small esky. He should get going. He was taking it inside and he looked up at the hospital.

‘This is the Women’s,’ he said. ‘I’m at the wrong entrance. I’m going to the Melbourne.’

He laughed and turned away from me. Continuing down the steps towards the street corner and my car, I heard him call out. I turned to see him waving at me.

‘Thanks,’ he said, ‘thanks for listening!’

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to show mercy.

silentlisten2

Image found at: http://annatrundle.com/silentlisten

The Voice

International Womens DayHappy International Women’s Day!

Today, I’m waiting on the arrival of a third grandchild (perhaps a second grand-daughter) who’s now two days overdue. With this imminent arrival constantly on my mind, I’ve watched again this video, put out by 1 Million Women, who have transformed John Farnham’s much-loved song, ‘You’re the Voice’ into ‘a powerful anthem from women for climate action and hope’.

What has most moved me in the viewing is the variations on the theme:

  • You’re the Voice
  • I’m the Voice
  • We’re the Voice

… together with the multitude of faces depicting:

  • the well-known and the unknown
  • the long-lived and the unborn
  • racial diversity

Here’s to a world where my grandchildren, both the boy(s) and the girl(s), will raise their voices together in unity, for They’re the Voice!

They’re the Voice, You’re the Voice, We’re the Voice, I’m the Voice!

Watch 1 Million Women’s Video here