Thursday, November 27, 2014

Things that make us hang our head

Marilynne Robinson can be just so melancholically beautiful. Here's another couple of sentences from Lila I have flagged:
She saw him standing in the parlour with his beautiful old head bowed down on his beautiful old chest. She thought, He sure better be praying. And then she thought, Praying looks just like grief. Like shame. Like regret.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The strangeness of faces

I started reading Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, on Saturday night (which was bad, as before I knew it it was 11.30 pm, and I had many places to be on Sunday). So much that could be quoted, but I liked this little section, from Lila’s bewildered musing on reading of the likenesses of the faces in Ezekial 1:10.
But it made as much sense as anything else. No sense at all. If you think about a human face, it can be something you don’t want to look at, so sad or so hard or so kind. It can be something you want to hide, because it pretty well shows where you’ve been and what you can expect. And anybody at all can see it, but you can’t. It just floats there in front of you. It might as well be your soul, for all you can do to protect it. What isn’t strange, when you think about it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Coal Creek by Alex Miller

I have to take this book back to the library tomorrow (I am so proud of myself for joining the library and borrowing a book!), but book club isn’t till this weekend, which is a bummer. So I thought I’d write a little post.

I finished reading it on the weekend and oh my did I cry. I actually found it a hard book to keep reading, because from the beginning you know that one day some thing in some way bad is going to happen. The foreboding got so terrible that I had to flick ahead when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I just didn’t want to have to read through it.

However, it is an excellent and well-wrought book. I confess to not having heard of, or of having heard of and forgotten about, Alex Miller, but he’s actually won the Miles Franklin Literary Award twice, and by many accounts is one of the best fiction writers this country has. I’d certainly be happy to read more.

This story is set up in the stockman-inhabited ranges of far North Queensland, and perhaps I felt some affinity for that as I actually did wildlife research on a cattle station in the hills north-west of Townville for three years, and I met folks after the fashion of the characters in this novel, peculiar folks whose lives were strange to me, and I sensed that I understood what the author meant by what those folks ‘know’ about the way of things up there that outsiders don’t.

It’s a tragic tale, that is tragic beyond the circumstances, as they usually are. The moral of it is found in what comes of a failure to understand the character and intentions of another, and of a willfulness to misjudge them, and so to react in an ignorant fear and panic that unleashes terrible and altogether unnecessary consequences on them. It’s the misunderstanding that is most awful. I can still hardly bear to think of it.

But for all that it is strangely edifying, and in many ways beautiful, sprinkled with memories of a mother’s love of her bible and to Christ hanging on the cross. There’s a mature self-awareness in it, and the protagonist, who narrates the whole tale, is generous where the characters aren't, voicing thoughts such as “I believe in his heart Ben always resented carrying the cruelness that had been put there” (if I'd owned this book there'd have been some underlining).

The book closes in forgiveness and peace. I’d recommend it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

As through the veil

Time for a poem. This poem reminds me of what CS Lewis says in Pilgrim’s Regress about Sehnsucht, where he writes:
That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.
These fleeting moments of delight and/or desire sometimes feel as though they have briefly rent the veil, and we see the world as it was meant to be, or maybe even sense heaven itself.

I used to try to hold on to beautiful things, and feel a great sadness at their passing, but these days I feel more like I can appreciate them and let them go by, knowing that one day they will all return.

Image from Backcountry Gallery.

Snow Geese

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
        What a task
            to ask
of anything, or anyone,

yet it is ours,
    and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.

One fall day I heard
    above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was

a flock of snow geese, winging it
    faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun

so they were, in part at least, golden. I

held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us

as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,

but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.

The geese
flew on,
I have never
seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won't.
It doesn't matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

Mary Oliver
~Why I Wake Early

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Canberra report

I realised this last week that’s it’s been a whole year since I moved to Canberra.

I am not someone particularly given to or good at such things as assessing the state of things (let’s just run along with intuition shall we – I know when things are good and when they aren’t, I’m just not overly interested in spelling out why a lot of the time), but I tried to make myself evaluate how some things are going. So, here is some of it written down, and this post is probably more for my own benefit, than of interest to anyone else.

Work has been good. While it is not at all what I had in mind when I moved to Canberra it has proved to have some very stimulating elements, and some very stimulating people to talk to along the way I must say, and I’m enjoying it. There many peripheral aspects connected with the work that I like. For example, the part of me that is interested in psychology gets intrigued by some of the professional standards matters, and the trainer who comes up from Melbourne to work with ordination candidates on personality and style and healthy ministry etc has given me all her material to work through and so on. So there is plenty to keep my interest in life alive for the times when I am doing the administrative work.

Church has certainly been interesting, and very different. The situation is more of a mission from within, but there are many aspects of it that I can appreciate. I have also recently been going along to another church in the evenings, to meet people and for some input that is more in line with what I am used to. I know that situation could get problematic, so I need to give it all some more thought.

Home is fine. I love the suburb where I am living in the inner North, cycling along the scenic path to work, and the fabulous trees in the local streets. But I am also looking for something to buy at the moment, which won’t be this close to the city, unfortunately. However, just the fact that I can achieve buying anything anywhere here is an amazement after Sydney, and part of the reason for the move, and I hope to do it soon.

There is one element here that has not gone well at all. I tried to sort this particular point out before I moved here and was unable to, and had I foreseen how badly it would go, I would have gone somewhere else. But we are not given crystal balls, and now that I am here I have to manage with what has happened, and make the most of the other directions that road block has sent me in.

Friendship has been slow and it has been just plain extremely lonely at times, but time is necessary and I have made recent progress.

Romance is non-existent, as per the status quo here in the fog. There is a fellow here who has said to me “if you want to go for a brew or see a movie sometime, just give me a call”, but my internal reaction to that is, no, not if you are another guy who is going to leave it to me to do the asking, because I don’t want to get tangled up in that scenario again.

(I’ve learnt the hard way of the discouragement that comes from investing emotional energy into passive, half-hearted men (or at least men being passive and half-hearted towards me), and I’ve learnt the hard way what will eventuate if I do the hard things so the man doesn’t have to do the hard things, namely, I won’t be respected, or valued, and soon enough anything I do do will be taken for granted and not appreciated for the gesture that it is. And I don’t think being asked out by a man who is genuinely interested in me will involve me having to follow it up and make the phone call. (Particularly if I know that the guy has asked other women out properly in the past, but that all he has for me is “you can call me”, it makes me feel like I am to him a second-rate woman, and I don’t want to be someone’s second-rate option.) The two worst things that have taken place in my personal adult life thus far, in terms of how they played out and the ramifications for me, have begun with the two times I tried asking a guy to coffee. So I don’t want any more interactions with men beginning with me asking.

Besides, say I do ask this fellow to coffee. What is he going to think that is? Just coffee? A date? I don’t know, because it’s partly his construction. And it’s a big deal for me to phone a guy to ask him anywhere, and I don’t want to if it’s not going to be taken seriously. The last time I asked and had coffee with a guy, I made a huge effort, and the guy kept me waiting as a nervous-wreck most of the day for a time, then gave me about 45 minutes notice of where to meet him, and when I arrived he was reading his book and drinking the drink he’d already bought himself. Consequently, I felt so un-encouraged that I didn’t say what I had intended to say. It seemed rather like he had contrived the way he went about it to communicate to me that it all meant nothing to him. I got the message.

But say I do ask the guy to coffee and it actually goes OK, then who is going to ask for the second one? Hopefully that doesn’t have to be me. See, even though I have stretched out my neck in the past and asked a guy to coffee, it has been my understanding of the way these things work that if the guy appreciated/enjoyed it, he would ask me to do it again. But instead it seems rather to have absolved the guy of any responsibility, quenched any initiative he might ever have had, as though he decided that because I did it that one time I could do it ever after, and I have wound up feeling like everything is going to be up to me forever. So, I don’t want to do the asking, because I don’t want to be responsible for everything, and I don’t want to have to ask again and again. Besides, it’s horrid. I’d rather pay money to advertise myself online that have to ring a man I know, who obviously can’t be bothered ringing me, and ask him to coffee. And if I do take all the responsibility for the two great disasters in my life, well then I won’t do those things again, which includes not calling a guy asking him to coffee. And as a result of the more recent disaster, and what has been said about it, I need to do what I can to salvage what is left of my reputation in certain circles (not to mention the repair work I need to do on myself), which means not doing anything towards men.

My conclusion is that the right man for me (if there is one) will be one who, for starters, is actually being a man for me, and taking the initiative. So, no, I won’t be calling. If I am to enter into these things I want to be understood and cared for, and I don’t feel understood or cared for by men who expect me to phone them so they don’t have to do it. So there is some of the internal monologue of an INFJ on dating for you. Like they say, life is never easy for the INFJ.)

So that is about the state of things. Other things I have enjoyed are doing a little bit of gardening, and the outdoors being generally more accessible here, and having my own place to do as I please in.

Now that I am more settled and the upheaval of moving towns and job and church is over, I probably do need to make some plans (those dreaded plans), and make a more concerted effort to build friendships and get involved in a few things next year, so life doesn’t glide on by.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

St Saviour's Rose

This has been the source of perhaps a ridiculous level of anticipation and excitement at my house. I only had one rose bud, as I don't think my bushes were getting quite enough sun, but it came through and opened into a spectacular rose.

It really is the colour of a Bishop's shirt (I took many and varied photos from different angles trying to get the colour represented properly) and it smells fabulous.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The mess worth making - Part 4

I’ve almost finished Relationships – A Mess Worth Making, by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp, but here is one last little piece:
Because our relationships are always lived out in the middle of some kind of difficulty, good relationships demand character. Remember, your relationships have not been designed by God as vehicles for human happiness, but as instruments of redemption. It isn’t enough to ask for the character you need to survive the difficulties of life and the weaknesses of the other person. We have been called to minister to the people that God, in his wisdom, has placed in our lives. He wants to use us as instruments of grace in their lives. To live this way takes character.

It takes humility to live with a sinner in a world of difficulty. It takes gentleness to be part of what God is doing in someone’s life and not get in the way. It takes patience to deal with the sin and weaknesses of those around you. It takes perseverance to be part of change in a relationship because that change is often a process and rarely an event. It takes forgiveness to move beyond the times you have been mistreated by another. It takes forbearance to continue to love a person, even when you are being provoked. It is hard to respond in kindness when you are treated unkindly. It takes remarkable love to serve the good of the other person and not be distracted by daily needs. (Notice that these character qualities are mentioned throughout the New Testament: Galatians 5:22-26; Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 3:12-14.)

These are the qualities that characterise a healthy relationship, but we all must admit that these often are not the things that rule our hearts. Our hearts are more often ruled by anger, fear, hurt, self-righteousness, bitterness, and a desire for some form of vengeance.

... The hardship of relationships is not just that they can be difficult. The hardship includes what God calls us to be and do in the middle of the difficulty. God calls each of us to be humble, patient, kind, persevering, and forgiving. God calls us to speak with grace and to act with love, even when the relationship lacks grace and we have not been treated with love.

Because of this, your relationships will take you beyond the boundaries of your normal strength. They will take you beyond the range of your natural abilities and beyond the borders of your natural and acquired wisdom. Relationships will push you beyond the limits of your ability to love, serve, and forgive. They will push you beyond you. At times they will beat at the borders of your faith. At times they will exhaust you. In certain situations, your relationships will leave you disappointed and discouraged. They will require what you do not seem to have, but that is exactly as God intended it. That is precisely why he placed these demanding relationships in the middle of the process of sanctification, where God progressively molds us into the likeness of Jesus. When you give up on yourself, you begin to rely on him. When you are willing to abandon your own little dreams, you begin to get excited about his plan. When your way has blown up in your face again, you are ready to see the wisdom of God’s way.

... At some point, every relationship brings you to the end of yourself, and with God there is no healthier place to be.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Melbourne shopping haul

Apparently what you are supposed to do in Melbourne is shop, and what you are supposed to shop for in particular is clothes. I didn’t do a lot of shopping, and I find shopping for clothes while with other people to be one of the unfunnest things there is to do on a holiday. But I did buy the poetry book already shown here, and I also went to The School of Life shop and bought a few things.

I know a lot of folks sneer at Alain de Botton and his pop philosophy, but as the man himself says, “how striking that in a democracy, elites still have a problem with the 'popularisation' of ideas”. It’s like those ridiculous playwrights and theatre goers who sneer at David Williamson’s plays, because they’re a little too accessible to the general public, and people can actually understand them (and perhaps especially because he makes money from them). Supposedly good art and also philosophy is meant to be too obscure for most, even in that democracy.

But all that aside, I like some of the geeky paraphenalia The School of Life sells. I instagrammed some of my purchases, so here are those pictures.

I bought this bag because, as I said on instagram, why pretend you’re not carrying any. The least emotionally healthy people living their lives out there are those in denial, who think they're not lugging any themselves, or those simply unaware. So the aim is to acknowledge yours and learn to carry it well. The only problem I have with this bag is that it's not big enough.

Then I bought this hourglass, because when I first saw it I thought it was a fabulous idea. Apparently many of us don’t even give 15 minutes a day to the things we claim are ostensibly so important to us. As the blurb says, this hourglass “delicately shames us into doing a minimum of what really counts. It is a gauntlet thrown down to our better selves”. And 15 minutes seems so doable. I often put off doing important things in the moment, because I think I need more time than I’ve got, but you can actually achieve quite a lot in 15 minutes of dedicated time. I’ve now proved this.

I also bought the psychoanalysis pencil set, out of my strange idea of what’s fun. I like the little blurbs that come with this pencils. Like this one on “defence mechanism”:

A defence mechanism is a way to save ourselves from mental anguish, by interpreting our own behaviour and that of other people in a way that affirms our self-love. We deny responsibility: ‘It’s not my fault’. We blame others: ‘You have been mean’. Or we tell ourselves consoling lies: ‘I couldn’t help it’. But if the cause of such behaviour is self-protection, then it cannot be changed by argument and stern warnings. For we defend ourselves precisely when we feel in danger. Increasing the level of threat isn’t going to hasten the solution. We learn to be more reasonable, more accepting of responsibility and more accurate about our weaknesses in times of security. The goal of analysis is to make us less ‘defended’. We put our weapons down, and have the courage to let ourselves get hurt.
What I found really quite helpful in that is the idea that you won’t get around people’s defenses with a front-on attack on the them. You’ll do it by first enabling them to feel more secure. 

So now I can sit in a cafe and extract my psychoanalysis pencils from my emotional baggage, to take notes in a moleskine from my graphic guide to psychotherapy. Or not.

And that’s all. I bought a Christmas present for my Mum in the Dandenongs, but I won’t blog that.