A long absent student enters class, sits with quiet determination, tries not to be noticed, you call her by name. Survival is a story ancient as the stars: light out of darkness; a distant child returned. After one hundred days of exile may she know the promise of hope and walk peaceably from joy to joy to joy from blessing to blessing to fresh immeasurable blessing.
I teach RE at a Catholic high school for girls. On Friday 11 March 2022, during period 1, my Year 8 students were to create a storyboard of key events from Holy Week and Easter. To centre the students in prayer before beginning their work, I introduced the Taizé chant “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom”. We sang the chant twice in a ‘call and response’ fashion. I wrote this poem during quiet reflection that evening.
Through the communal mingling of voices, the great Spirit moves among twenty-one young women, kindling to fire their hopes for a new world. In the quickening of call and slowing of response, these singers become carriers of joy, heralds of freedom. This is the truth being met, here are the people of God. Look at them call out in unison see them glance at each other hear their enjoined words and how can you not be moved? In awe, open your eyes, lift up your ears. These are the witnesses to faith, these are the first responders to suffering, these are the students whose lives are to rebuild all things.
When I sat down in a nearby garden, distant from life, I listened to resonant birdsong, I gazed at the golden edges of cloud, I admired the yet-to-be-planted ferns, I watched the tiny spider climb along the soil ridge.
And I heard my soft voice in the depths and I experienced my yearning hoping loving hungry self and I knew a deeper response to my day had arrived.
Then a repeat call of a bird in the tree above renewed my sense of that place: A haven for responding peacefully to life, A home for discovery, A rest stop to bring awe onto your path.
Meanwhile the sun—kept back by whiteish grey clouds— meandered its way toward dusk in this place and sunrise in another; and the cars on the street below bellowed a solemn blare to the birdlife. The birds went quiet for a minute or two, taking in several breaths listening out for their audience of trees seeing comrades launching high feeling the breeze of renewal experiencing the soft sky and readying themselves for performance.
But then across the same concert hall of trees travelled the staccato cry of an infant human and the non-human world offered an orchestral response their glorious symphonies returning me to joy.
Finally the sun’s soundless rays spread over this page, gently inviting, and my happy pen takes its rest.
The gathered musicians talk with gladness while standing under a tree, listening well for the sounds from one another: here voicing anecdotes and observations, there responding with humour and light-heartedness. In this encounter with delight each one is renewed for the practice that awaits.
Music is a communal celebration of beauty wherein players are safe to explore the spirit and emotion of their hearts. I observe the joy of these student musicians set free by melody and meaning. I imagine a culture of apprenticeship which empowers young soloists to embrace the boldness that is their own.
Soon these musicians will walk on, their quaver-feet moving to a syncopated rhythm, conversation abounding with colour and light.
The sun shines bright for everyone, people who notice and people who imitate: being a light for loved ones, bringing a candle to a friend’s darkened room, holding out a torch for strangers.
Walking barefoot on the sunlit beach, we who notice prepare to join others in the project of re-making co-creating loving this spectacular spacious wounded home for grace and doubt—our world—while swimming in the surf between the flags and among the participants of daily life who, conscious of it or not, renew and restore with all their being and effort, and sometimes miss the mark.
While we swim near one another, each one’s name sealed upon their heart, we may do well to turn and say hello, or not, and cover our eyes with goggles and dive under the next breaker. This ordinary ritual—ocean swimming—prepares us to swim the more extraordinary channels of suffering and helpless fear angst worry and illness which one day will come our way.
Meanwhile, teams of lifesavers—sitting on the sand and walking the beachside breakers—watch on, ready to intervene if necessary, poised to save a person struggling in the water, hands bouncing above head with distress and terror.
When this very situation unfolds, coffee-drinkers at the seaside cafe notice a commotion down on the water, and the quick ripple-effect of human solidarity and protection fills the sky with clouds of concern. The man, in his 30s, is saved from drowning, and splutters up water when reaching the shore. CPR is not necessary, but they will check on him in the hospital, just to be sure.
Our eyes play witness as ocean, land and air overflow with compassion and leaves flutter in the breeze. Several lifesavers are off to a barbecue, murmuring to each other as the sun retreats, expressing wonder at all that had happened in the light.
Swimming Maroubra Beach aged 12, I walk out through the chilly waters near a breaking wave and the thrill of life fills me at the point of decision: to rise over the precipice and stretch my neck high, or dive under the body of water and feel the tide roll over my back … I take a moment to taste the salty water and sense the warmth when I stand; I spy my sister Claire out beyond the breakers, a capable swimmer enjoying the surf, now dad’s on his way, prescription goggles tight, diving under each wave and slapping his arms on water, coming up for air, that thick broad glorious smile spreading wide across his face, a lifetime of joy on his home beach.
My grandfather Pop called this his swimming pool, provided just for him: a place to move and discover oneself on the edge of a capacious ocean, riding the waves and wading through troughs, ever watchful of rips.
Back on the beach, towels unfurled and glistening wet backs in the sun, we feel a satisfying sense of achievement and breathe out awe. At the arrival of fish and chips we tuck in and relish each bite.
The bright blue expanse of day is set against a hill of native grasses. Each plant’s leaf sheaths and spikelets shimmer like white gold. Motionless waves of flowering stalks stand upright and tall, awns curved out and away to absorb the sunlight.
A small family of trees rises over the crisp coastline of blue and gold. These brave trees reach out as neighbours to the thick hillside of grass. They reach up as sailors, ready to push out onto that glorious still calm ocean of sky.
In the cool of evening, the sky takes on a cooler blue. Native grasses move to a quiet breeze. The leaf sheaths and spikelets are a darker gold in the nighttime sun, this entire hillside a great fortune of grass. Long may the lawnmowers fall silent.
Four confident trees rise above the sun-soaked tussock. Branches of bold green leaves reach up towards light, drawn by the promise of sky.
Meanwhile the affectionate dog at my feet is filled with joy.
In these days marking the start of a new year, we all become more aware of time as a precious and limited resource. In 2020, our sense of time has been a little warped. Friends have said that February feels a lifetime away, whereas March feels like yesterday. So much has changed for all of us. And yet each person wants to experience our life’s time with a sense of agency and purpose.
Time is an invitation
Time is an invitation:
to feel the gift of the present;
to rise to the new with enthusiasm;
to climb to the heights of experience;
to dive into the depths of our desires;
to choose freely the more loving and generous path;
to make companions for the road;
to enlist one’s own heart in the challenge;
to walk tall and hopeful, embracing each scene;
to speak words of peace;
to listen with a compassionate heart;
to dance to the rhythm of music;
to sing from the diaphragm;
to love, to heal, to renew, to build;
to support one another in times of trial;
to attend to the inspiration of each day.
Each second, minute, day, week, month, year, decade and lifetime carries within it potential for growth and liveliness. Indeed, every moment calls us to embrace the invitation of our lives. With magnanimous and open hearts, hands poised and ready, and our feet firmly planted on the ground, we will be ready to walk the next steps toward life in fullness for all.
May our memories resound with gratitude. and our present awaken a new sense of freedom. May our new year 2021 bring forth hope and generosity.
A vision of plenty in Carlton Gardens.
Deep in the dappled light
beauty spreads its way
in Carlton Gardens. Everywhere
the sun is bringing colour and liveliness
and flavour and joy—trees
bask gratefully in the embrace,
lovers take selfies on seats,
sunglasses on and happiness
abounding. Shadows recede
and an expanding thankfulness blesses all who
walk by the fountains, exhibiting signs of delight
on their faces, residue from the noonday sun
making their smiles radiant and unabashed. This
is abundance and fullness, an experience of wonder
and awe and all that is magnificent about day.
It seems everyone can have a sunny
Autumn day in Carlton Gardens —
leaves decomposing under foot, trading
shades of green for orange and gold.
The opulence of creation is here
for all to enjoy—the hungry and the satisfied,
the grateful and the worried alike.
Somewhere close by
a troubled man walks through the gardens,
unable to fathom the light that surrounds him,
so filled up with regret, riddled with loss,
and conscious only of the ground
beneath his feet, the Autumn leaves more copper than gold.
This one lonely man trudges through the gardens
his eyes downcast, and the lovers continue taking photos, the
trees continue their earnest embrace of sky
until their branches look on him with compassion
and drop leaves into his path. Noticing, and
overcome with the emotion of all he has been carrying,
our man finds himself weeping and
dropping to his knees and the leaves fold into love
before his eyes and the world resumes its colour,
and his loss, though terrible, now seems less consuming.
The brilliant light surrounds him and the lovers begin to notice:
the sun, this man on his knees, an abundance of leaves
falling like red tears
from the branches above.
In a moment, our man will rise,
pick up his crumpled bag
and walk to the other side of the gardens.
But for now something close to
joy moves within him —
fresh as wonder, dappled as light.