Supernova and Spirit Sightings

(ABC News: Michael Black)


This week, ABC TV has televised Stargazing Live across three nights (the third episode will screen tonight). Thousands of ‘citizen scientists’, viewers on the first night, supplied ‘1 million new data points in a matter of hours, helping to classify 18,000 images from the Skymapper telescope at the Siding Spring observatory. Four of those participants identified a flash of light emitted from a galaxy 1.1 billion light years away.’


Astronomers examined the data from these four and were able to confirm on the next night’s show that they’d discovered a new supernova, an exploding star. It was ‘ridiculously exciting’, said one. Show presenter, Brian Cox, commented:

“1.1 billion light years means exactly that,

“When that star exploded, there were no living things beyond the ocean on the Earth.

“The light was almost here when humans evolved — and it was very nearly here when we began to do astronomy.

“Then we invented television, and eventually we made a television show … and ABC viewers saw it last night.

If it’d happened a week later, we’d never have seen it.”

The italics above are mine; I confess that I didn’t see it, because I didn’t look – I haven’t watched the show over the last two nights, even though last night, I did seen a news item informing me about the possibility of the discovery of the supernova.

I sometimes check in with a web-page called Spirit Sightings, where the authors reflect on current affairs in the light of the Lectionary readings. When I read about the supernova this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on Cox’s comments in the light of this week’s readings – the writers all talk about God and Spirit in the light of what they know and understand. Isaiah, moved by the death of a king, ‘saw the Lord’, David saw and heard God in the natural world around him, and Jesus saw the Spirit in the wind.

Spirit-Sightings occur in the stuff of our lives; we see God when look at our world, listen to the news, reflect on what’s happening. And sometimes, it’s ridiculously exciting.

Spirit Images

From four winds blowing
Violent, rushing, breathing
Sighs too deep for words

These are some of the images in this week’s lectionary readings for Pentecost. They are pushmi-pullyu words, images that are both gentle and disturbing.

Like the need for wind to clear up smoggy, stifling days, we long for Spirit-wind to blow life into valleys of death.

We hear the invitation to stop and take a breath, to breathe in the Spirit-breath that settles anxiety, sleeplessness and pain and restores life.

In the darkest places, we catch the echo of Spirit-sigh, the whisper of peace and hope.

Pentecost: a celebration of Spirit-work, Spirit-life, Spirit-love

Let Him Easter in Us

The Wreck of the Deuschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Deuschland was a ship that ran aground on a shoal 25 miles off the coast of England in 1875. Waves battered it for 30 hours before any rescue attempt was made and, adding insult to injury, men from nearby towns looted the wreckage, taking anything of value including stealing jewellery and valuables from the bodies of the deceased.

Among the dead were five Franciscan nuns who had fled persecution in Germany and were on their way to the United States. Hopkins dedicated his poem to them with this inscription: To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875.

‘Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east’ comes towards the end of what is a long poem. It’s the line that has captured the imaginations of writers and people of faith ever since because Hopkins, speaking on behalf of the British people who let the tragedy happen, asks one of the nuns to ‘remember us’ as she enters into heaven to be with the risen Christ before referencing and perhaps challenging our understanding of Easter.

Under Hopkins’s pen, Easter is no longer a noun, able to be relegated to a long-ago event. Rather, ‘easter’ becomes a verb in the present-continuous tense, something that continues to transform our present lives, to give us new life, and to offer us hope of what will happen when the risen Christ enters our lives.

This line of the poem becomes a prayer: Let Easter get into us. Let Easter come and live where we live. Let Easter permeate our souls. Let Easter expose the dimness in us and shine its light into our darkest corners.

I rarely witness dayspring even if I am up early enough because I don’t have any east-facing windows that give me an unobstructed view of the horizon. When I first became acquainted with this poem I was attending a prayer retreat at Queenscliff. One morning, I made it my business to get up early and walk the beach in order to witness dayspring so that I could put an image to Hopkin’s prayer. I have always loved sunrises, but what I noticed on that occasion was the way in which the sky lightened and the sand and sea took on tinges of pink before I saw the crimson crest.

As we ‘let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east’, let us acknowledge the dim places, particularly at the communal and political levels of our lives, and let us long, pray and look for the ways in which light creeps in to them, the dayspring potential for a brand new, resurrection day.

Calling Men and Women of Good Will

This photo popped up on my Facebook news feed a few days ago:

Over the years, I have often embarked on a Lenten fast – sometimes from chocolate, at others from dessert or wine or coffee. Always an indulgence, the theory being that as I abstain, it acts as a prompt to pray. Often, I have caught myself remembering my pledge as I pop the object of my fasting in my mouth.

These words of Pope Francis appeal to me on the one hand and appall me on the other. I know that I will remember my fast as I speak that unkind word or fail to see the positive in the face of all that is not as it should be. But I’ve decided to give it a go.

When I fail, it will be an invitation to remember that I aspire to more; to focus my prayer, not on my failing, but on my desire. I encourage you to join me in this Lenten fast; if the list seems overwhelming, pick one as a focus. I plan to focus most on the last one – to fast from words and be silent, so that I can listen.

Pope Francis, in his 2018 Lenten address, extends his invitation to ‘men and women of good will’ that they join him in ‘almsgiving, fasting and prayer’. Prayer might be too much of a stretch, but fasting as defined above, might not be too big an ask.  So, I call on men and women of good will to fast with me between now and Easter; surely, we would have nothing to lose and much to gain.


‘There is no ending without a beginning … beginnings and endings are always right up against each other.’
Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

I’m reflecting on these words as I find myself in an end/beginning space. On Sunday, I said farewell to the congregations of the Uniting Churches I’ve been serving and I turn my face towards beginning with a new congregation in March. Both the ending of the one and the beginning of the other were unanticipated only four months ago and in addition, the ending was unlooked for and even unwelcome.

Endings are often this way, we fight against them, wrestle with them, become overwhelmed with the sorrow inherent in them, and try to evade or deny them. Sometimes, we simply do not want them. What remains at the end is a space. Rachel Remen encourages her readers to think of endings as end/beginnings.

She illustrates her point by telling the story of a ring she once made. Crafted in silver, the design was technically difficult. When it was finished, it attracted a lot of admiration and she was persuaded to take it to a jeweler who agreed to buy her design, to recast it and sell it to others.

She left it with him, but that night, a huge storm washed a part of the road she’d traveled the previous day into the ocean. The jeweler’s shop, which had stood next to the road on the seaside, was washed away, taking her ring with it. She was left with an empty space on her hand where the ring had been – silent, huge, and filled with loss. She writes of how she learned to value the space, to let it be sacred, and to wait in the space to see what gift would come. Thus, she came to view her experience as an end/beginning.

So, here I am, in the space between the end/beginning. Today marks the eve of the Christian season of Lent, a season of prayer and reflection, of self-examination and repentance. This year, I will spend most of it in this space in between the end/beginning. I’m hearing the call to let it be a sacred space and to anticipate its gift.

YES moments

This is the subject line of the most recently received email in my Gmail account. It’s an invitation to share the stories and photos of participation in the ‘yes campaign’ for the now-closed Australian Marriage Law Survey.

But this phrase, YES moments, presents a bigger invitation to me – it invites me to listen to the many moments in any given day to which I can assent. Today is a perfect spring day in Melbourne, sunny and still. As I write, the sound of chirping birds and trickling water waft into the house through an open door.

While my mind is focused on preparation for upcoming meetings, problems to resolve, things to do, Spring invites me to pause, to acknowledge the YES that I can hear within.

There’s power in these YES moments, power to lift our spirits, remind us of what’s important, encourage us to go on.


“IT” not “I”

There’s a resident critic in my head, whom I have thought of as ‘me’ or at least a part of me. This part of me offers an ongoing critique about everything; an ongoing commentary about what I see, what I hear, what I do, what I plan to do, what I think, what I write. And, conversely, what I don’t see, hear, do, plan, think, write …

This blog testifies that I haven’t written anything for months … and the critic is both giving me grief about it AND telling me I can’t.

It’s complicated!

But, here’s something I read recently that’s helping me (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, p.118):

‘Learn to distinguish it (your inner judge) from yourself, to recognize its “voice” and its effects on you … Begin to think of that commanding voice as “it,” not as “I.” Remember it only sounds like the voice of God’

So, it’s back to writing, starting with signing up to NaNoWriMo, with its goal of writing 50,000 words during the month of November. I know, that’s a big leap – from nothing to 50,000 words! So, I’m working on a revised target – to write something, anything, every day in November and when “IT” tells me I can’t do it, “I”will do it anyway. Here’s to November.


Image by Tim Marshall


I’m pleased to announce one of my short stories has been published:

Overboard was published in issue three (June 2017) of the Swinburne University online journal, Backstory, ‘a history journal with an eye on the future’. Overboard is a work of imaginative fiction based on an historical letter written by Ellen Moger in January 1840 from Holdfast Bay, near Adelaide to her parents in England, published in Frost, L 1994, No Place for a Nervous Lady

Quantum Entanglement Meets Mindfulness

Did you see the news report last week that announced that “Chinese scientists have used satellite technology for the first time to generate and transmit entangled photons — particles of light — across a record distance of 1,200 kilometres on Earth”? This is more than 10 times the distance previously achieved using land-based fibre optic technologies.


“A cornerstone of quantum physics is a process called entanglement, where the properties of two particles — such as spin, position and momentum — intimately affect each other, even when those particles are separated by large distances.”

Last year, I attended a silent retreat which introduced me to the idea of quantum entanglement as a way to understand how prayer ‘works’, especially contemplative prayer. As we observe the way things are and prayerfully contemplate how they should be, praying for healing and wholeness in our world, this affects the object of our prayer. When we pray in this way together and agree on what we know is God’s way, we unleash a power that affects the other.

I recently attended another silent retreat with the enigmatic title of ‘One’. Here, I was introduced to these words from Teilhard de Chardin, French philosopher and Jesuit priest (1881-1955):

We are ONE,
after all,
You and I,
together we suffer,
together exist
and forever will
recreate each other.

They come together in my mind with the idea of quantum entanglement. The more I observe the other as one with me, the more I understand that my actions forever impact the other and vice versa. The expressions of hatred and violence in the world, while removed from me, none-the-less affect me. They chip away at our common humanity.

Conversely, every action of mine that works towards the healing and wholeness of the other has the power to do good, even if I can’t see any change.

The very action of publishing this spins, positions and sets off a momentum that affects the other, further calling me to the discipline of mindfulness.

I invite you to ponder this with me; we have the power to bring change to our world.

Lost and Getting Lost

I was three quarters of the way through the book Out of the Ice, when I lost it.

It happened at the Melbourne Airport. I carried it into the airport, took it through the scanners, read it while I sipped on coffee, left it in the bathroom, retrieved it again, and stuffed it in my handbag (against both of their wills) when my pick-up arrived.

That’s the last I saw of it; when I got home, it was no longer in my bag, or my car.

I was enjoying that book, it’s described as ‘a tense, eerie thriller set in the icy reaches of Antarctica‘ and it was living up to its billing. Did Laura really see a boy trapped behind a wall of ice in a cave? Can she really trust that young man (whose name I already forget, but who appears so friendly)?

I googled the local library. They didn’t have it on their shelves, but one of their sister libraries did; I placed a hold. It took over a week to arrive, but finally I got the email to say I could pick it up.

I checked it out on Thursday last week and took it with me to a medical appointment at Melbourne Private Hospital. In the tram on the way in, I found the chapter where I had left off and read the next. The mystery deepened.

I arrived in time to go the bathroom, locate where I was going, announce myself and debate with the receptionist about whether I needed a new referral.

That’s when it hit me: The book! The bathroom!

This time, there was no retrieval.

I’ve cut my losses, marked that book as ‘read’ on Goodreads and laughed over the story with my friends.

‘I can’t believe I’ve lost it twice,’ I say, ‘I guess I’m just not meant to know how it ends.’ (Don’t tell me!)

‘If I had a copy, I wouldn’t lend it to you,’ someone replies.

More laughter.

But deeper down, I know it’s symptomatic.

And I hear the call – again – to be more aware, to practice mindfulness, to pay attention, to slow down.