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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Love Makes A Way

bring them here(3)

This morning I participated in a public action in response to the release of the #NauruFiles last week. A few of us gathered outside the offices of Brendan O’Connor, who is the federal MP in my electorate of Gorton, to protest the Australian government’s asylum seeker policy of detaining people offshore, particularly in Nauru.

The Nauru Files show evidence of sexual assault, bullying, intimidation and worse. Detainees quoted in the Nauru Files express discouragement, hopelessness, mental and physical agony and ongoing trauma. And yet, the release of the files has barely caused a ripple in the media.

Refugee advocates including Love Makes a Way, Mums4Refugees, Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children, ChilOut and People Just Like Us organised a series of actions all over Australia, all of them lawful and peaceful, ‘to draw attention to and as a symbol of each person who has suffered from abuse and trauma as detailed in the recently leaked Nauru reports‘.

These have been ongoing all week at various politician’s offices. I organised the one at Brendan O’Connor’s Caroline Springs office via facebook with a friend I really haven’t seen for years.

Nauru files signSix of us gathered, including my friend’s two young daughters. We posted paper dolls with an accompanying explanation of what they represented at the entrance to O’Connor’s office buildingBring them here and then made our way to his 2nd floor office where we were met by six Victoria Police officers. When they realised we were a small group and we intended to hold a peaceful vigil, they radioed ahead to ‘stand-down’ reinforcements who were on their way from Melton. Nevertheless, two of them stayed with us for the whole 30 minutes we were there.

We read a moving poem about leaving home, fleeing danger and seeking safety. We affirmed our faith and our intention to welcome the stranger. We finished with alternate voices quoting from Martin Luther King Jr.

This last part is what I found most moving, so I include the text here:

Reader: “The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where [he or she] stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [he or she] stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
All: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Reader: “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls ‘enemy.’”
All: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Reader: “…we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
All: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Reader: “Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with the good.”
All: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Reader: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
All: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

On Sunday, the biblical text which we read and I preached from reminded us of ‘the great cloud of witnesses’; the people of faith who have gone before us and yet, in some mystical, spiritual way are still with us. The people who make up this great cloud of witnesses are not mere spectators; they cheer us on and lend us strength to continue the race of faith. Even when we feel most alone, we are never alone for they surround us and support us and urge us to persevere.

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As the words of Martin Luther King Jr rang out in the hollow corridor space, and we affirmed that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’, I felt as if he was in the corridor with us. Our six swelled to hundreds, thousands. A chorus of ‘Amen and Amen’ could almost be heard and I knew that our action, seemingly insignificant, set against the backdrop of police laughter, was bigger than we can hope and imagine.

Indeed, Love Makes A Way.

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!

 

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