Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sanctuary of the Labyrinth

I’ve walked the labyrinth: in San Francisco in Grace Cathedral, in Toronto next to Trinity church that supports the city homeless, behind St George‘s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town, in Alice Springs at Campfire in the Heart and in McLaren Vale along the shiraz walking trail of the old railway line.

Each time I’ve walked the labyrinth I have been visited by new thoughts, I’ve been comforted and had some revelation. The very act of walking in and out, tracing and retracing my own steps, strengthens my narrative.

I’ve walked the labyrinth many ways: on my own, with the love of my life and with a group. I’ve walked with a specific intention, meditation or song. I’ve found that the deeper the intention for the walk, the deeper the experience.

I recently learnt of a virus of the inner ear that causes an illness called labyrinthitis – it is not very pleasant causing dizziness and disorientation. I have been reflecting on this affliction and noticing when it flares up. It seems to take hold when there is a need for re-calibration and balance. The condition making sure that its host knows that recalibration and rebalance is required! Walking the labyrinth is similar in a way. Perhaps if you need to recalibrate and find your balance this walking meditation you might be saved from physical symptoms.

Hildegard I know you spent a lot of time in your life not well and I wonder if this ever had to do with your needing to re-charge, straighten up after being dizzy or unsettled by one phenomena or another?

The labyrinth is not a maze, it is one single path that leads to the centre and the same one leading you out. Going in deep and faithfully taking one step at a time is surely the only way into the centre, and once there to find your way out requires a good deal of fidelity and courage. Being true to your path is the universal quest. The ritual walking of the labyrinth reflects the common path of human experience. We all enter the path, and we all exit the path.

And in the places I have walked a physical labyrinth I add my steps to those who have gone before and have left my footprints for those who follow.

Grace Cathedral nurtured the first wave of AIDS in San Francisco and held so many of the gay community to its bosom. The quilts, the prayers, the poems and the sanctuary it was and continues to be is an ongoing testament to the fidelity of San Francisco to its gay community.

Toronto’s Trinity Church has a strong and fine history of being a place for the homeless to feel safe, find a meal and receive friendship, a sanctuary, especially in the winter time.

Cape Town Cathedral hosted so many moments of civil disobedience, solidarity and prophetic witness by black and white throughout the apartheid years. It welcomed everyone and in doing so putting all of the congregation at risk – it was a sanctuary on more than one occasion for those fleeing arrest, bullets and persecution. It grew its own prophets led by Desmond Tutu.

Campfire in the Heart is a sanctuary on the edge of a township riddled with racism and flooded with ancient stories holding the fragile land and communities together. It stands as witness, and is invitation to all, with warmth, wise counsel and deep compassion in the pores of those who are there and in each grain of the red sand on which it lies.

The old train track at McLaren Vale is surrounded by houses on one side and vineyards on the other, nestled in the valley behind the main part of the township the labyrinth is a quiet, still place where the wattle birds, magpies, honeyeaters, galahs and parrots sing to all those who walk the path there. The old red gums hold the stories of the land and provide the sanctuary to support the pilgrim.

I keep going, on my labyrinth way, and as I head into the half way mark, between fifty and sixty, I accept that I have now turned from the centre and am  heading out. Gathering up the lessons I have learnt on the way in, savouring the moments, reflecting on where I have trod, noticing with new eyes what I didn’t see on the way in and gratefully stepping forward.

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Spring Love

The heady scented blend of freesias, jasmine and native frangipani are inhaled and fill me with confidence that the season of spring is here. The buds on the Geraldton wax are synchronising with the roses and coming into fullness as a duet. It is however the grevilleas that support the bees and honey eaters to fill their hives and nests and bring the promise of new life, that ground me in this season of spring.

The vineyards that I see every day are beginning to green, just as the baby birds are feathering up.  It is no wonder that spring and love inspire poets, writers, composers, artists – spring and love were made for each other.

In the beautiful new collection of Australian Love Poems 2013 there is a haiku from one of Australia’s greatest living poets and lyricists, Paul Kelly writes:

Time is elastic

Together, days disappear

Apart, seconds crawl.

Distilled in new words, the essence of the longing of separation and the eternity of union is the duet of spring and love. I can’t really imagine one without the other – the blossom,  the expectation, the sanctity.

Keeping yourself in springtime and in love is knowing that the seasons all give way to one another in a virtuous cycle. It is one of the reasons I have loved living near vineyards, which I have fortunately been able it do most if my life. The seasons unfold and remind me of all the lessons of life – pruning, renewal, harvest, rest, new beginnings from old growth.

The attraction of spring can also mask the reason it is here – to herald a new era and to let the old season pass. It is seductive to want to be in springtime all the time … and it is not possible.  What is possible is to know that spring comes and love comes back to life even when it might have looked dead.

I am constantly falling in love, with new ideas, new stories, old stories, new people, people who have been with me for a long time and each time spring turns up I fall in love with spring too.  I sprout some new shoots, or birth a new part of my being, or breath in deeper to inhale the new fruits take  shape.

As I enjoy the spring, my God is getting bigger and there is more than enough room in the nest for everyone.

The seeds sown in the dark, are all finding their way to greet the light on the surface and are dancing now as new life in the sunshine and being soaked every now and again by the heavy seasonal showers.  I have even been kept awake by this full moon, insisting I remain vigilant to springtime and love.

The Canticle of the Sun by Francis of Assisi must have been written for this time and it is with great joy that I too can proclaim:  “so much in love with all that I survey” this spring.  His namesake in Rome is announcing spring; just as clearly as the magpie does; and like the maggie, is swooping down from the nest to remind us that spring is here and it is time to protect all that we love that is in the nest. Morality anxiety must give way to Big Love.

My favourite blessing to sing is the Long Time Sun Song and I offer it to all you who are reading this blog so that you too might have your spring enriched.

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One big union

Dear Hildegard,

September 11 passed my way this week, and like many others, my thoughts went to that day in New York. The city that never sleeps, had its two front teeth punched out, and irreplaceable DNA became cosmic dust forming swirling clouds of grief that choked more than the city.

Across the other side of the world I discovered someone I knew was lost and was then counted among the dead. As I often say two degrees of separation in Adelaide is often one too many.  Andrew was his name and he had given me a copy of One Big Union for me to learn more about the Australian Workers Union.  I loved learning more about the foundations of the Australian Labor Party.  Years later I gave the copy Andrew gave me to Anthony Chavez the grandson of Cesar Chavez the great leader of farmworkers in the USA.  Anthony is Br David Steindl-Rast’s assistant and a wonderful young man, just as Andrew was a wonderful young man with a vision of a better future for workers in this land.  Two young men separated by time, place and culture coming together in my little universe and through the labour movement.

This weekend Australia rejected the worker’s party and chose the party of capital – although it was hard at times to recognise much difference between them – but by the time the three years are up I am sure that will have been clarified for many voters.

The relationship between land and capital was alive and well in your time too and your crafty redistribution of property. Those young noblewomen who voted with their feet, leaving their families and promises of marriage gifting their dowries to your convent. When you set up your convent in Rupertsberg, those monks you were leaving behind I expect weren’t that excited about your move in taking your charges and their land with you!

Hildegard you had visions that guided your steps and just as surely did the nonviolent revolutionaries like Cesar Chavez and the violent leaders of al-Qaeda; I ask myself, what kind of vision do I have to bring about the reforms I yearn for? The ballot box seems such an unimaginative vessel for revolution to be birthed, and yet I am a big fan of democracy. I suspect you weren’t that much of a fan of democracy, after all the church certainly wasn’t in your time and isn’t in mine anything like a democracy.

Whether we find our selves running down the stairs to evacuate, sitting on a plane captured like an animal behind bars; abandoning our family or holding the banner and marching in the streets; we find ourselves in a big story. It is one big union we are all called to belong, and that union for me, is the uni-verse; the place where the one voice unites us all and calls us to a deep and sacred place.  My vision is for one song we all sing together in as many harmonies as we can invent; for one big union that we are all in together.

It’s not easy to hold on to this vision when planes fly into buildings, when people and their lands are separated from one another and when a government gets elected by neighbours that don’t share your values and idea of democracy.

One Big Union

The stairwell is filled with smoke.

I won’t be returning to my family home.

I remember who I am;

And where I am going.

 

The cloister is filled with incense.

I won’t be returning to my family home.

I remember who I am;

And where I am going.

 

The field is filled with cries.

I won’t be returning to my family home.

I remember who I am;

And where I am going.

 

I clear my throat;

I close my eyes;

I fold my arms;

I open my heart;

I apply my head;

I find my way;

And

I remember where I am going.

 

The workers descend.

The choirs sing.

The workers rise.

Each voice adds to the next;

One big union for one big universe.

Solitary candle waiting for another one to be lit.

The Rebellious Tambourine

Every time I go over a bump in the road there is the sound of zils. The tambourine in the back of the car surrounded by other percussion instruments has been sitting in a bucket all week.  The tambourine is such a happy instrument and heralds celebration to me. It gives a real energy boost to any soundtrack.  The tambourine is rebellious and refuses to be silent when I go over a bump in the road.

I love the joy and openness that a tambourine offers – everyone can play it and everyone recognises the sound.  You may even have your favourite tambourine song (I love the tambourine in Jet’s If You Want to be my Girl).

I am reminded of Miriam from the Old Testament. Aaron’s sister who grabbed her tambourine and all the women followed her across the parted Red Sea dancing.  Miriam the prophetess ready and willing confidently showed how she could lead and move people to a new place. It is a really exciting and challenging call and a wonderful image of women leading a community to a new land.  The tambourine is an invitation to a future of possibilities.

Each jingle and each jangle invites a new song to accompany us on the journey, over whatever Red Sea has been parted for you to dance through.  I am going to keep the tambourine in the car for a bit longer so that my journey can be accompanied by that soundtrack and invitation from Miriam.

Hildegard you were one the Miriams of your time!  Your music heralded a future to take us all time and time again to new places.  In our time I do wonder sometimes who are the women who lead us to new places and where might I find the tambourines shaking?

There is a whole lot of shaking going on right now in Australia.  Fear is the currency not courage; there has been a race to the bottom in politics and Aussies feel that they are about to be on a fiscal precipice and in fact we are amongst the most affluent in the world.

The season has turned to spring, but there are many hearts who have turned to the stone cold of winter and I grieve that very soon Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia will be making her home here for at least the next three years.  The White Witch is the complete antithesis of Miriam.

Miriam was Moses’ older sister and her young brother Aaron was the priest of the family – a fascinating trinity.  It is claimed that Miriam means bitterness and also rebellion.  The bitterness meaning gives way to the rebellion meaning. Firstly, Miriam was sad and bitter about the suffering of her people and from that place got the vision and courage to teach the women and lead her people across the parted waters.  She helped with the rebellion against the sadness and despair of her enslaved people. She helped them get their tambourines ready and to give them a good shake.  I can only imagine what a call to arms that might have been in that rebellion!

So as I feel sad and at times despairing as I will no doubt feel from time to time as, The White Witch comes to live in my Narnia, I will keep the tambourine in my car so that with every jingle, jangle, I will be invited to rebellion.

rockin' miriam

rockin’ miriam (Photo credit: tizzie)