Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow ...

Here's a little more of Wendell Berry, from A World Lost (mostly from the last page). I love these sections, for what they write of how we can know one another, of story, of death and grief, of the entering of light, of how we learn to see in our suffering:
Perhaps it was from thinking about him after his death, discovering how much I remembered and how little I knew, that I learned that all human stories in this world contain many lost or unwritten or unreadable or unwritable pages and that the truth about us, thought it must exist, though it must lie all around us every day, is mostly hidden from us, like birds’ nests in the woods. ~Ch 7

A story, I see, is not a life. A story must follow a line; the telling must begin and end. A life, on the contrary, would be impossible to fix in time, for it does not begin within itself, and it does not end.

Within limits we can know. Within somewhat wider limits we can imagine. We can extend compassion to the limit of imagination. We can love, it seems, beyond imagining. But how little we can understand!

However we may miss and mourn the dead, we really give little deference to death. “Death”, a friend of mine said as he approached it himself, “is a convention … not binding upon anyone but the keepers of graveyard records”. The dead remain in thought as much alive as they ever were, and yet increased in stature and grown remarkably near. The older I have got and the better acquainted among the dead, the plainer it has become to me that I live in the company of immortals.

One by one, the sharers in this mortal damage have borne its burden out of the present world … At times perhaps I could wish them merely oblivious, and the whole groaning and travailing world at rest in their oblivion. But how can I deny that in my belief they are risen?

I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed. It is Hell until it is Heaven. Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgement. And yet, in suffering that light’s awful clarity, in seeing themselves within it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty, and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and so are changed into what they could not have been but, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

That light can come into this world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering. Not enough light has ever reached us here among the shadows, and yet I think it has never been entirely absent.

But now I have been here a fair amount of time, and slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day. I live in their love, and I know something of the cost. Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside for all these years. ~Ch 17

Monday, March 06, 2017


Here’s a little poem Wendell Berry poem from the front of Remembering, which I think is excellent:

Heavenly Muse, Spirit who brooded on
The world and raised it shapely out of nothing,
Touch my lips with fire and burn away
All dross of speech, so that I keep in mind
The truth and end to which my words now move
In hope. Keep my mind within that Mind
Of which it is a part, whose wholeness is
The hope of sense in what I tell. And though
I go among the scatterings of that sense,
The members of its worldly body broken,
Rule my sight by vision of the parts
Rejoined. And in my exile’s journey far
From home, be with me, so I may return.

This was a very good book, which looks at what becomes of a man as he grapples with the physical loss of his right hand. Here is one part, which demonstrates how Berry can write of the human condition.
What have I done with the time? Remembering as if far back, he knows what he did with it. He stood up there in the room like a graven image of himself, telling over the catalogue of his complaints. There is a country inside him where his complaints live and do their work, where they invite him to come, offering their enticements and tidbits, the self-justifications of anger, the self-justifications of self-humiliation, the coddled griefs.

Monday, February 27, 2017

When he knows that he lives by a bounty not his own

The life updates are perhaps of limited interest, but in-between jobs I finished reading The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry. Old Jack's life was a tragedy, but this is an excellent book. Here is a fine and lovely example:
He lost his life – fifteen years that he had thought would be, and ought to have been, the best and the most abundant; those are gone from the earth, lost in disappointment and grief and darkness and work without hope, and now he is only where he was when he began. But that is enough, and more. He is returning home – not only to the place but to the possibility and the promise that he once saw in it, and now, as not before, to the understanding that that is enough. After such grievous spending, enough, more than enough, remains. There is more. He lost his life, and now he has found it again.

Words come to him: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ... Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” – the words of the old Psalm that Nancy made him repeat when he was a boy until he would remember it all his life. He had always been able to see through those words to what they were about. He could see the green pastures and the still waters and the shepherd bringing the sheep down out of the hills in the evening to drink. It comes to him that he never understood them before, but that he does now. The man who first spoke the psalm had been driven to the limit, he had seen his ruin, he had felt in the weight of his own flesh the substantiality of his death and the measure of his despair. He knew that his origin was in nothing that he or any man had done, and that he could do nothing sufficient to his needs. And he looked finally beyond those limits and saw the world still there, potent and abounding, as it would be whether he lived or died, worthy of his life and work and faith. He saw that he would be distinguished not by what he was or anything that he might become but by what he served. Beyond him was the peace and rest and joy that he desired. Beyond the limits of a man’s strength or intelligence or desire or hope of faith, there is more. The cup runs over. While a man lies asleep in exhaustion and despair, helpless as a child, the soft rain falls, the tree leaf, the seed sprouts in a planted field. And when he knows that he lives by a bounty not his own, though his ruin lies behind him and again ahead of him, he will be at peace, for he has seen what is worthy.

A new job and other updates

So, I mentioned on Valentine’s day that I received good news from work. Finally I can speak of it. A few weeks ago the Registrar of the Diocese met me in the hall and asked if he could have a chat sometime that afternoon. So, I go down to his corner office at the end of the corridor, he sits me down, then unfolds an organisational chart in front of me and starts using words like ‘service level agreements’. I sat there wondering initially whether I might be in trouble for spending too much time on the internet. But, it turns out that he was explaining to me some restructures and leading to a new position that was being created, finishing by asking whether I’d be interested in filling it.

All this was a complete surprise, but as I pondered it didn’t take long for me to realise I’d be crazy to say no, particularly when the new role would be incorporating some elements of the job I was already doing that I was enjoying the most, eg the Anglican News.

So, today was my first day as the ‘Communications and Client Services Manager’ for the Diocese. On Valentine’s day I was given my new contract, which was another nice surprise and is a help to my debt reduction and new car efforts (as a first home buyer in ACT you receive no assistance from the government if you buy an established property, but you can defer the stamp duty with ten years to pay it and nothing to pay anything for five years, so that is what I did, but I have realised that I am being charged interest, so I need to start chipping away at that for one thing).

I have been given the list of hopes and dreams of the Registrar, and some examples he is fond of, for the production of various documents (among other things) and had a mild freak out at the timelines involved today and the fact that I am not a graphic designer, but I downloaded a free InDesign template off the web, downloaded some free replacement fonts for it, asked the IT people if I could have Photoshop, and how hard can this be? ...

It’s going to be challenging but I think I am going to enjoy it and am very grateful to be given the opportunity. I will miss things from my old position as I enjoyed being involved in the ordination and professional standards/safe communities processes as concepts and working closely with the Assistant Bishops and our Director of Safe Communities, who are kind and encouraging and supportive good people, but the reality is that my role involved a lot of paper gathering and organising, and I actually feel strangely more competent about my ability to produce reports than I do about my ability to keep track of other people’s ordination paperwork, which always seemed to fail me at some point. And I have just moved around the corner so I can go back for chats.

In other news, I have a new back fence. A few months ago I got new neighbours over the back, in the place that has been empty since I moved in, and they are these fabulous retirees named Joe and Francesca from ‘Italia’. Joe pretty soon bailed my up over the fence in his singlet and asked if I was interested in replacing the fence. I was kinda fond of the weathered, dilapidated old paling fence, but it really was falling down and sliding off down the slope, and he was happy to arrange for it to be replaced, so all I had to do was go along with it. A few weeks passed before he came around with some quotes one Saturday, and by Thursday I had a new fence (I had to hastily remove my jasmine and fairy lights) – and in discussions about the fence I was sent home with spaghetti and meatballs. I love it. I now have colorbond, which is not my favourite thing, but I have since attached some lattice to get the jasmine back on it and a creeping fig, and I am hoping it is soon disguised. My pavers had started separating and sliding off down the slope also, so they had to remove some to restore the fence to its rightful place, thus on the weekend I was out trying to scrape away the extra dirt that had accumulated between them and move my pavers back to where they should be and put the last row back in. Good times. I used some spare halves to make a little edge around a garden to stop the plants and weeds running off between the pavers. It’s now looking very neat and tidy out there, but I hope it goes back to a little bit ramshackly soon.

The weekend after the new fence I had to get a plumber out as my drain blocked and no amount of plunging would set it free. Sometimes weekends feel like jobs, jobs, jobs, but I am nearing the end of things I need to deal with – for now anyway. The weekend before the one just gone, which involved the paving, I went to Church Missionary Society Canberra Mission focus weekend, which was a good day of expanding horizons beyond my back courtyard and learning of gospel work the world over.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Some people have Netflix, I have old novels

Some people spend Saturday night with TV series on Netflix, I spend them with Wendell Berry novels about a community called Port William. I recently finished Andy Catlett – Early Travels, and now I am reading The Memory of Old Jack. There are some really beautiful portions in this book on the relationships between men, and on the great place and gift of role models. A tear or two might have escaped from under my sun glasses when I read this part on the bus the other morning:
Mat is sixty-nine years old. Since before he remembers, Jack has been there to be depended on. When Mat was born, Jack was already such a man as few men ever become. He has been faithful all those years. It is a faith that Mat has reciprocated in full. But Jack’s faith has been the precedent and model. All his life Mat has had Jack before him, as standard and example, teacher and taskmaster and companion, friend and comforter. When Jack is gone, then Mat will be the oldest of that fellowship of friends and kin of which Old Jack has been for so long the center. He feels the impending exposure of that – nobody standing then between him and the grave. He feels a heavy portent in the imminent breaking of that strand of memory, reaching back into the Civil War, on the end of which Old Jack now keeps so tenuous a hold.
To have someone thus before you, in faithful dependability, would be an invaluable gift (which also holds up what is possible when people actually stay in one place long enough for such relationships to form). And when tragedy came to Mat, Jack literally caught and wrestled with and held him till his rage subsided, and so prevented him destroying his own life by carrying out a terrible revenge.

Then there’s this part, about Ben, who was Mat’s father, and of whom it is written “... Ben was the man Jack watched and listened to and checked his judgment against”:
Jack knew Ben Feltner nearly forty years, and he never saw him in a hurry and he never saw him angry. With Ben that never seemed the result merely of self-control, but rather of an abiding peace that he had made – or maybe a peace that had been born in him – with himself and the world, a willingness to live within the limits of his own fate. Both of them having grown up in his gentle shadow, Jack and Mat respected and stood in awe of the deep peaceableness they knew in Ben, both of them having failed of it, and at great cost, for so long.
That might sound somewhat idyllic, but it was not all tea on the verandah. The rest of this novel that I have read so far goes on to describe the great sadness of Jack’s life in his marriage, which is so sad I am finding it hard to read. But I will press on ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine's Day blooper

I ducked out for a latish lunchtime walk and dash to ALDI for lunch supplies today, after finishing a booklet that needed to be printed before tomorrow (I am having a lot of fun with InDesign – I said to the Bishop I was making it for, ‘I didn’t want to overdo it, but I can put more pictures in if you want’, because you can fade them away behind text and all sorts of cool things ...).

On the way in to the shopping centre I all but ignored a person with a bucket of single stem roses that people appeared to be buying. But on the way back he/she (I couldn’t actually tell) bailed me up and asked if I wanted to buy a rose to support sexual health, or something, for a gold coin donation. Without really having time to think about what I was doing or processing what they said I gave this person a gold coin, took my rose and hurried off. Then I realised, to my mortification, that there was a box of something attached to the stem, and that it contained, ahem, err, condoms, and that it was actually ‘National Condom Day’ (aimed at preventing the transmission of STIs and HIV, and unplanned pregnancies, which is not a bad thing really ...) and I might have even said out loud ‘oh, for heaven’s sake’ and shoved the whole thing top down in my shopping bag. Not only had I been walking through the city with a fake red rose, but it had those things hanging off of it! Shame on so many levels.

It made for some amusement when I got back to the office in a state of embarrassment about the whole thing. (But what I am going to do with such things I don't know ...) I then did actually get some good work-related news later in the day, which I’ll share some other time, and so I said ‘Happy Valentine’s Day to me’ in fun after telling a colleague and they respond with ‘that’s better than a condom’. Goodness gracious. Not the sort of conversation one expects to have in my workplace, and might that word never be heard again.

But for something more edifying, I had this little post in my facebook feed on Saturday, Is Their Any Purpose in Our Loneliness, from Lydia Brownbeck, whose writings I have shared here from time to time, though mostly some years ago now. (I'd recommend watching the short video, because it actually comes across better than the transcript below it.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

On regret

Not altogether unrelated to yesterday’s post, I have been reading through The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts), and I appreciated what she had to say about regrets (if there was a rewind button for life, I'd have worn it right out):
... That may be the saddest string of words that’s ever bee strung together “If only ...”

I can taste the words in my mouth. Who doesn’t know “if only ...”?

But there’s no way back. Maybe life always tastes a bit like regret. Whatever you do or don’t do, there is no way to never taste it. And though you may have to taste regret, you don’t have to believe in it, you don’t have to live in it, like rowing a boat that only goes backward, trying to find something that’s been washed out to sea. It’s God’s sea. And that means all is grace.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us ... Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because this is the thing: the prosecutor of your soul can’t ever nail you. Time can’t wreck your life. You can’t wreck your life. Nothing in all this world can separate you from the love of Christ, and His love is your life. You life is unwreckable. Because Christ’s love is unstoppable.