Back again

Now and again, ever since Easter, a kangaroo has been spending time in our back garden. It’s a big eastern grey and I have no idea where he or she spends the rest of the time. It looks quite comfortable sprawled across the weed that from a distance could pass for grass, until I come outside when it gets up, has a look and decides that I’m not a threat. One of my small joys.

Talking of threats, I began this post with my kangaroo story because after a break of several months I did not want to start with the threat that has become part of our lives. Wherever you live, whether you are in lockdown like me or free to move around but keeping your distance all the same, it’s something we share – the fear, boredom, frustration, insecurity, sorrow, insecurity and  vulnerability that comes with Covid-19.

I can’t recall a time when I’ve felt more hopeless. Personally, it’s not my pain, but it’s a pain that seems to have the whole world in its grip. The pandemic is still spreading all over the world. Parents working from home, or not able to work at all, their children struggling with emotions that lock-down unlocks. One after the other there are fires, floods and earthquake. I cannot begin to imagine the hopelessness of a situation that leaves you homeless and maybe destitute.

The dreams of thousands of Afghanistan women and girls have been shattered, the citizens of Hong Kong who face an undemocratic future, while here in parts of Australia Year 12s and Grade 6 students have lost the anticipation that usually accompanies the celebration of the rites of passage that mark the end of an important stage of life.  

In so-called normal times I can hide from all that – visiting friends, family birthdays, dressing up for dinner at a restaurant, a stage play, a picnic a or a trip to touristy country town, shopping, a barbeque. Escapism it’s called. Now I can’t get away from the tragedy that dominates the daily bulletins and news broadcasts. The pain of the world keeps sneaking into my everyday and I can’t fix any of it.

It’s little things that feed my hope. Like a sunny morning, a cheery message popping up on my phone, the wattle trees that punctuate the road to the nearest supermarket, reading another chapter of Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout, my newest favourite novelist. The only person they are fixing is m, but I need compassion too.

 I’m not sure about the theological veracity of what I’m going to say next, but it seems to me that by acknowledging my inability to do anything practical to alleviate the pain and suffering that touches me, that’s prayer. It doesn’t need words put around it. It’s a living- out of the communion of saints that we say we believe in every time we parrot the Creed. Compassion is like sound waves, only more so. It reaches out and in to where and when it is needed. I know, that’s not scientific, but God-stuff overrides all that! I hope.


Eastering on the edge

Eastering on the edge

It’s Easter and family, as well as friends who feel like family, are coming for lunch. At some time during the meal and the chatter I will be briefly but     aware of missing faces –  loved family members who once had a seat at the table, children, and their children, who live far away and the one or two who usually choose to absent themselves from  family gatherings. It’s a joyful occasion, being together for a few hours, not long enough really for relationship cracks to show. Because the cracks are there and all joy is tempered with regrets and loss.

There will be some family stories at our Easter lunch but I’m guessing there will be no mention of the Christ we are actually celebrating. We are a long way from the first Christians, gathered around a table set with bread and wine, telling their stories of Jesus over and over again. The shared pain of losing Jesus and the joy of his presence in memories of him gave them strength and connectedness to take back to their daily lives. I wonder how soon after his death did his followers carry out Jesus’ request, “Do this in memory of me”? 

My family, and I suspect many other families, don’t speak that language any more. Somehow, amid our must-have technology we’ve lost the religious and symbolic language we need to grasp the mysterious reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Chocolate bunnies don’t exactly fill the gap. Yet we are constantly reading each other’s Good Friday and Easter Sunday stories.

There won’t be an adult person sitting at my table this Easter who hasn’t experienced pain, grief, rejection, maybe even despair. They are familiar with joy and the vague ache that comes with it, that desire to stay in the moment, the deep down voice that says, “But wait, there’s more”. 

There’s a God pull in all our deaths and resurrections but we seem to have forgotten how to decipher God- language.  We don’t know how to read God in our own stories. Even when we share them with a friend or partner or put them on Facebook for all to see, it’s never quite enough. Two thousand years of institutional structures and wordiness have turned faith into religion, and it’s a poor substitute.

I will place a growing plant on the dinner table along with the chocolate Easter eggs and remember Jesus’ earthy words about seeds and dying and new life bursting out of that dying.  We may not be celebrating with bread and wine, but the substitutes will be enjoyed. The talk will tumble around the table and there will be laughter and a renewed appreciation and tolerance of each other. And I will know that Jesus is a guest at my table.

May you find splinters of peace amid the complexities of your Easter.

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Words from the Edge is going to take a break for a few months while I concentrate on a  book I’m trying  to write – working title, Everyday Mystics.

Some years ago I read these words attributed to Jesuit Karl Rahner: “In the days ahead, a Christian will either be a mystic or nothing at all.” I was of the opinion that mystic was a churchy kind of word, applicable to women and men who lived in convents and monasteries and prayed day and night. But as I learnt more about religious spirituality I gradually began to understand that this isn’t so. Mysticism is not book knowledge of religion, it’s not tagging along with an expert’s take on things mystical, but it’s trusting the value of one’s own inner experience.

Now I am trying to write a book that might go a little way in liberating words traditionally used to talk about spirituality and mysticism, both religious and new-age, and replace them with language that feels at home at the kitchen table, using words and experiences that tap into the reader’s own,

I began writing it early in 2019, but it’s been sitting at the halfway-stage for months now. I could blame Covid 19 for the delay but that wouldn’t be quite honest. Now I’m going to give it another go and I’d appreciate your prayerful support. If you feel so inclined, maybe you could share with me your experience of the mystic that you hide in your everyday.

Judith Scully